Saturday, March 20, 2010

Jerusalem Marathon 10km - I Did It!

The day started out cold and wet. Looking out at the slick roads winding their way below my brother's Jerusalem apartment, I imagined that I'd be doing more sliding than running in that day's race. But, as the old Aussie song goes, "Will you tie it up with wire, just to keep the show on the road?" - yep, the show will go on, and I'll do whatever it takes to make sure I'm in it.

The taxi had difficulty reaching Givat Ram. Thousands of people were converging on the stadium. Some jogged slowly, warming themselves up for the race, others arrived by car, bicycle, and groups in sporty uniforms disembarked from coaches near the entrance.

When I arrived inside the grounds at about 8.00am, the festivities were in full swing. A band was playing Israeli tunes, with an unlikely bagpipe accompaniment. At the registration tent, I obtained my runner's pack, complete with a t-shirt, timing chip to strap to my shoe, and an energy bar.

Shortly afterward, I met my wife at the entrance. She had come in separately from Ramat Beit Shemesh. Then my brother turned up. Both halves of my cheer-squad had arrived. The half-marathon (21km) race got underway at 9.15am sharp and we watched as hundreds of them streamed along the stadium's running track towards the exit. As the last runner disappeared, I started to slowly prepare for the 10km race.

y the time I began my pre-run stretches, the sun had come out and I knew the roads would be dry. My brother gave me some last minute advice about pacing myself - apparently the last hill would be a killer. I took a very slow jog around half the running track to the starting point. I needed to loosen up a bit. I could literally feel the tension.

Standing a few meters behind the starting line, I found myself packed in amongst hundreds of other race participants. I was jostled from every side, but I tried to keep focus on the task ahead. I was about to run in the race I had been training for for nearly a year. We were only a few minutes before the starter's gun would sound. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous, but I kept repeating to myself the running strategy I had developed over months of training. An older gentleman next to me asked what my personal best time for the 10km is. I told him it was just over 56 minutes. He nodded and said that his PB was about 53 minutes and that he was going to try to break the 50. We exchanged a few wisdoms about training, noticed we had the same running shoes (Brooks Adrenaline GT9s) and then set our watches to stopwatch mode.

The countdown over the loudspeaker began: 10, 9, 8... this was it. It was now or never. The pressure to perform was on. ...3, 2, 1, BANG! If I wouldn't have started moving when I did, I would have been trampled by a stampede of running shoes. I was slowly pushed forward. As I passed under the giant inflatable arch, which was the starting line, I activated my stopwatch and I was on the way. I briefly passed my wife and brother who were standing on the sidelines, watching the avalanche of people slide by. I gave them a quick wave and the current of people swooshed me out of the stadium's exit and onto the street.

The crowd started thinning out, but it was still difficult to run w
ithout bumping into someone or having someone cut me off. The first five minutes were the most dangerous as each person tried to find a path through the swarm of people.

Only about ten or twelve minutes into the run we passed a water station. I didn't want any water at that stage, but I noticed that the day had heated up. It was no longer cold. I thought a good splash of water would be beneficial. I he
ld my arm out and swiped a water bottle from the distributor's hand, all the while keeping pace. I was pleasantly surprised to note that they had already removed the bottle cap. The ice-cold water down my back was very refreshing. I tossed the bottle to the side of the road and it was promptly scooped up by one of a team of bottle collectors.

I had no way to know how far I had run. Apparently there were signs every kilometer or so, but I didn't see them. Perhaps I was too busy concentrating on other things.

At about 20 minutes into the race a stitch began to form in my side. I altered my breathing and tried every trick in the book to rid myself of the pain. But in doing so, I felt I was losing pace, so I decided to just work with the pain and let it ride. At some point, a stream of people passed me by and I was certain that I was running in the last group. At about 30 minutes, which I assumed was approxima
tely half way, I picked up the pace, pushing myself up the hills, overtaking those who had the audacity to pass me by.

I remembered Rafi's words and wanted to save some energy for the final uphill. But I couldn't let myself slide back. I had to get a move-on.

As I ran, I thought of my last blog where I said how I would push myself beyond pain into victory. My words were being tested. My knee was holding out fine, but the stitch in my side was not going away. I had to ignore it. I strode out, trying to make up for seemingly lost time.

At some point, the map showed that the runners go along a straight road, turn and go back up the other side of the same street. I could see those who were some distance in front of me coming back towards me on the other side of the road. The sight of all those people spurred me on to push forward. I was determined. I gritte
d my teeth and let my legs take control.

I rounded the corner at the bottom of the street and made my way back up the other side. Looking back over the guard-rail at the runners who were behind me was awesome - there were thousands of them coming up behind me. I was definitely not in the top 100, but I wasn't running last, either. Then I looked to my right and saw the man I conversed with just before the race. I passed him and thought that if he does 10km in less time than I do, and I'm overtaking him, chances are I'm doing pretty darn good.

I soon found myself running up the final hill. Rafi was right, it was a killer. But I had HaYarden and HaYarkon - the two super-difficult hills in Ramat Beit Shemesh that I battle with on a regular basis. This one was nothing compared to those hills. I figured that if this is the final uphill, there is nothing left to save myself for. I looked at my watch and I was doing excellent time. I powered up the hill, overtaking more people who were struggling to reach the top.

My legs were screaming in pain. I
tried to ignore the burning sensation, telling myself that it will soon all be over, just bear with it. I rounded a corner and the beautiful soft red running track of the stadium came into view. This is it, this is the last 400m or so before the finish line. Give it everything you've got. I heard Leah and Rafi's voices encouraging me to the finish line.


I tried to push m
yself more. I tried to envisage myself sprinting to the finish line. I tried to recall what my leg muscles feel like when I break out into a fast run after a long jog. But I couldn't. I was completely spent. There was just enough juice in the tank to get me home. I pumped my arms in triumph as I crossed the line.

I looked up at the official clock - I had smashed my previous personal best (56:06) by four minutes. I ran 10km in 52:14 (the pic shows 52:13, but the officially recorded time is 52:14 - the clock showing 1:37:16 was for those completing the 21km run).

In the final analysis:

According to the stats on the official website ( I ran the first 5km in 31:59, which means I ran the second 5kms in 20.55 (that's 4:11 per-km for the last 5kms!)

I came 397th out of 1,265 participants. That means that I made it into the top third of all participants. I came 55th out of 135 people in my age category. That means I made it into the top 41% of my age category.

the real race was always going to be against myself. Breaking my PB by four minutes was a magical feeling and it is the statistic I will remember the most. There's nothing like working really hard, overcoming physical and mental barriers and achieving this kind of success.

I won.

Monday, March 15, 2010

J'lm Marathon Training #13

Monday, 15 March 2010

Well, this is it. The moment of truth approaches. The race, scheduled for 18 March, is right around the corner. Here is how I have been preparing:
  1. Got myself a knee brace. It is adjustable, so it fits well. I went running with it last night and ran 5km without feeling any twangs or twinges in the knee. Perfect.
  2. Last Friday I took a run at 10am. I decided that I really should practice running at the same time of day as the race. Boy, what a different kettle of fish (no carp jokes!) The sun beating down as I jogged impacted greatly on my performance and I was an absolute gonner after only 5km. I hear it might rain on race-day, so perhaps that will save me. In any case, I'd better remember to adequately liquify liquidate hydrogenate hydrate myself before the race.
  3. I spent last week camping with my bro in the Galil/Golan, one day of which was dedicated to hiking, climbing, jumping and swimming through a very challenging trail. 7.5hrs of near non-stop leg-workout, with a maniacle sprint on the highway at the end (wearing backpacks and with hiking boots on), just to prove we were completely nuts.
  4. Salads. Yep, for this week I'm on a strict diet of undressed salad, possibly with tuna and egg for protein and such. I don't want to overdo the dieting thing, but I'm keen to feel as light as possible on race-day. I have lost quite a bit of weight, but still feel a bit top-heavy. I don't know if this will make any difference.
  5. I'm not doing anything. Nothing. I've decided not to go running this week at all. I did a not-so-fast 5km run last night as my training grand-finale. The hot winds blowing through Ramat Beit Shemesh at 9.30pm were difficult to deal with, but I didn't want to push myself too hard, so I completed it in a reasonable, but slow, 28:59.

I've been actively training for this race since 1 November 2009, but my fitness kick started about March 2009 when I joined the gym and hit the treadmill. So I suppose that this race is a year in the making. In my first J'lm Marathon Training blog-post, I said the following:

I'm going to train for the 10k Jerusalem marathon. My new aim is to do 10k in 45 minutes. That's about an average of 13.3km/h. I'll pound the pavement and wear out the treadmill until I reach my goal. Then I'm going to find out what the times were for the top 100 people in last year's race and I'm going to aim to match it.

Well, it aint gonna happen exactly like that, my friends. My best time is about 26 minutes behind last year's winner. I blame it on my injury in February 2010, which set me back about two months (see J'lm Marathon Training #10). I'll be lucky if I break 55 minutes, let alone 45 minutes. But, who knows? I trained on a pretty tough course. Perhaps the Jerusalem 10km will work out easier. I've heard that the adrenaline, excitement and atmosphere helps to push you to your limits.

And, don't forget, "I am a self-motivated, goal-oriented, success-driven, fanatical-fitness-freak (it helps)". A mere knee injury can't take that away.

The one thing that the whole training experience has taught me is: If you want it bad enough, just go and get it. Don't let things such as physical weakness stand in your way. I quote myself:

It will hurt, the pain will yell at me to stop, my senses will shout at me to slow down. But I will not capitulate to imaginary voices. My muscles will burn, my legs will ache and my lungs will gasp, but I will settle for nothing less than magnificence.

As I run through the streets of Jerusalem, I will think of these words I penned all those months ago. I'll remind myself of the seemingly neverending 1.2km HaYarkon uphill. I'll think of the countless times I pushed myself up the torturous Yarden, leg-burning 700m climb. I'll think of the times I battled the wind, defeating it with sheer willpower.

  • Pain: does it matter? No bloody way!
  • Fatigue: does it matter? No bloody way!

I will beat my best time. I will run smart. I will be an aggressive, voracious running animal. I will not give up. I will not give in. I will be victorious.