Thursday, December 23, 2010

Half Marathon Man

As I mentioned in one of my last posts, I have been getting back in shape and ran 10 miles three weeks ago – marking my ability to run a half marathon. I jumped at the first chance I had to get back into the half marathon game and ran a half marathon on Friday December 10th. The run was awesome, the commute was excessive, the scenery magnificent and the trip all in all very worthwhile. Here’s the skinny:
My cousin Anat told me about a half marathon being run near Bet Shean, a small city in the bottom or the northern part of Israel (see map). Bet Shean also houses amazing Roman ruins of an amphitheater and ancient mosaics. The race was the Israel Half Marathon Championships and Israel’s fastest runners as well as 2,500 others would be coming out to race in what I was told was a relatively flat course. It sounded like a great plan. Bet Shean is just under 2 hours from Jerusalem and there are no buses that head that way at 5:30 in the morning, the time I needed to go to the race to get there in time for registration. Luckily, my sister and brother-in-law bought a car from his parents neighbors two days before the race and they were kind enough to lend me their new 11 year old baby (yes the car is a 1999 – its sweet). Before I committed to taking their car, I wanted to exhaust all other options on how to get to the race. I logged on to Janglo (Jewish + Anlgo = a Craigslist-esqu site for English speakers in Israel. Although I did not find a ride, I found another runner looking for a ride – Daniel the 21 year old soldier. I called the number on the ad, which was actually placed by Daniel’s mother and I arranged that I’d drive Daniel and he would pitch in for gas:
On an aside, gas is a fortune in this country. A liter of gas is nearly 7 NIS (New Israeli Shekel), which is nearly $2 ($1/3.6 shekel). That means that a gallon of gas costs more than $6!
Daniel and I before the race
I arranged with Daniel that I’d pick him up – he lived about a mile from me – on Friday morning at 5:30. The weather Friday morning was cool as I got into the car before the sun rose. Once I picked up Daniel and one short wrong turn detour later we were on our way. The drive to the race was awesome. I got to chatting with Daniel whose family moved to Israel when he was a few years old from Chicago – he spoke perfect English. The first leg of our journey took us to the Jordan River Valley which houses the Dead Sea - the lowest place on earth. Once we cleared the mountains of Jerusalem, we were driving towards Jordan on the flat valley watching the sun rise before us. It was majestic. We made a left and began heading north. The road was very scenic – mountains and hills to our left with the lush Jordan valley to our right.
When we arrived, registration went pretty smoothly and before we knew it we were lined up to run. The weather was beautiful – a bit warm though for a half marathon – mid 70s° C – but when its 76° C in December you can’t complain that it’s too warm. Here are some of the observations and thoughts that I had during the run:
·         Here we go – everyone here looks really serious – I hope I don't come in last place.
·         There are lots of groups of soldiers in matching t-shirts running the race.
·         Israelis love brand names. They all had fancy techy running gear.
·         We ran on the road (in this area there is only one road) that the police block all traffic from during the race. The road had a slight lean to it so for a lot of the race I felt like I was running across a gentle hill.
·         The area was pretty barren - we ran past a cow stables – I hope the air doesn’t taste like this the whole run – it didn’t.
·         I started off way too fast – gotta slow down – when everyone around you is going fast it’s hard to let everyone pass you.
·         The scenery is amazing – the race could have been out of a scene from Forrest Gump – more mountains around this huge loop we are running around a bunch of fields and fish ponds (big business raising fish). The course is so flat I can see runners a mile in front of me and behind me.
Pic from the parking lot (didn't run w. my camera)

·         I have a dream that has only been realized once, which is to be in a race and lose track of how far I had gone, only to discover when passing a mile marker that I am actually further than I thought I was – this had only happened to me during the marathon – I thought I was on mile 18 and suddenly boom mile 19 (disclosure it may have been 17 to 18 – I was in the Bronx). That is one of the best pick me up feelings in the world. It’s like getting a huge bonus. Since the race was run in Israel, it was 21 kilometers instead of 13.1 miles – obviously these are the same distances, but instead of 13 mile markers there were 21 kilometer markers. Psychologically I find it harder to run 21 km than 13 mi. whenever I go for long runs I change my running watche’s setting to miles – there is something daunting about running 16 km, while 10 miles doesn’t seem so bad. As I was running the race, I thought I was at kilometer 12 (I had changed the screen on my watch to hide the distance) and as you guessed it, I was at kilometer 11… crushing.
·         The first 8 miles of the run were the flattest 8 miles I have ever run off a treadmill. It is no wonder that the championships are held there. At around mile 8, we entered Bet Shean. I was so upset to discover that there was a hill – nothing to bad, but a hill none the less in Bet Shean. I was really upset – I felt like I had been tricked. After I calmed myself down (I wasn't screaming or shouting or anything), I got to thinking about how people quickly develop entitlement mentalities – there I was running a race that was as flat as a pool table – 8 miles of pure unadulterated speed (or at least potential for speed if one was in excellent shape), and I have become so accustomed to the flat that I felt the course and the race owed it to me – who were they to put a hill in a perfectly flat race like this – it was yet another teaching of the lesson I am continually taught while living in Israel– don’t take anything for granted.
·         As the race came to an end, I felt elated to be back in half marathon shape – it had been 9 months since my last half and I am glad to be back. After a race, there is usually a water table, a food table and a fruit table. Here there were none of them. Until the end of the race, things were run very well. The end could have been a little better planed out.
o   A short walk passed the finish line runners were handed two liter bottles of water. While it was hot and people sweat a lot, 2 litter bottles may have been excessive – they cost more than cups of water, they end up getting left all over the place and very few people finish the bottle.
o   The food given out immediately after the race was about 400 meters (a quarter of a mile) down the road from the finish line – a man standing on top of three giant bins was handing out grapefruits. There were also pomelos and pomelites (small pomelos). I am pretty sure they have pomelo in the States, but in case they don't, pomelo is a large citrus fruit with a thick peel and very large pulp… they are amazing. Generally the fruit given out at the end of a race does not need to be peeled… the peels end up everywhere and it makes the food less accessible – none the less, Daniel and I stretched and ate citrus (he met me at the finish line – ran a really impressive 1:47 for his first ever half marathon).
o   After we snacked on the fruit we had to go return our bib numbers. I was pretty upset about this. The bib number is the paper number that is pinned to each runners shirt. I collect all my bib numbers and have never not kept one from a race that I ran – in this case, the time chip of the bib number that records each runners time was imbedded in the bib. In order to get my race medal, t-shirt and bag of treats (dates, Nature Valley bar and other goodies) I had to return my bib. Briliantly, the bib return area was inside a gymnasium with one door – picture 2,500 people pushing in and out of the door to return their numbers… not well arranged – the traffic was worsened by the fact that right inside the gymnasium, where everyone was pushing to get either in or out of the building, the race organizers were rapidly posting all the race results as runners finished. In theory this was really cool – in practicality they should have posted them somewhere else.
·         After we got our baggies, we headed to the car, stretched a bit and got on our way. The drive back was difficult – we were both really tired. Thankfully only Daniel nodded off on the way home.
The half marathon all in all was an awesome time and I hope to run it again, only next time I want to be in killer shape – it is definitely a course to set a PR (personal record). Oh by the way, I ran the half in about 1:58 – not too shabby – my 3rd best time ever. In March I ran a 1:52 – that's my time to beat.
Oh and of course:

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