It was a unique Jerusalem moment: on one side of Haim Bar-Lev Avenue/Highway 1,
about 30 young black-hatted yeshiva boys stood behind a fence, silently, and
watched the runners pass. Three minutes later, on the other side of the road, a
young boy and his father, both in traditional Arab dress, ran along the
sidewalk, trying to keep pace with the runners.
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As when I’d glimpsed the
Dome of the Rock between the trees while circling Hebrew University, or run on
the cobblestones of Zion Gate and up the hills of Rehavia, it was an inescapable
reminder: This is Jerusalem.
The international prestige that Mayor Nir
Barkat so desperately coveted from the First Jerusalem Marathon may have been
dented in the last few minutes of the race, when the three lead runners took a
wrong turn and finished in the wrong place. But that confusion could not
overwhelm the immense achievement of the marathon – an almost spiritual event
that went ahead, as scheduled, with all of its participants, just two days after
a fatal terrorist attack.
The trio at the front of the marathon pack got
mixed in with the half-marathon runners, and followed them to the half-marathon finish outside of Gan Sacher instead of the marathon finish inside
the park, leaving officials scrambling to work out who was the actual winner.
The final results determined that Raymond Kipkoech, 34, of Kenya, with a time of
2:26:44, had won the First Jerusalem Marathon.
Second was Mutai Kopkorir,
24, of Kenya with a time of 2:26:55 and third was Kiman Njorage, 33, also of
Kenya with a time of 2:27:19.
This was the trio that had wound up outside
Gan Sacher. The first man to cross the official finish line inside the park was
Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, also from Kenya, with a time of 2:27:48.
top female runner was Oda Worknesh, 26, from Ethiopia, with a time of 2:50:05.
Second was Rosaline David, 35, from Kenya, with a time of 2:50:06. In third was
Wioletta Kryza, 42, from Poland at 2:51:21.
The world record for a
marathon is 2:03:59, set by Haile Gebrselassie in Berlin in 2008, so the slower
times give an indication of the challenging level of the course. My finish time
was also about 23 minutes slower than I had anticipated. After all, if the pros
are slower because of the hills, I can be too.
The mini-fiasco at the end
of the race was just another reminder that Jerusalem will never be Boston, or
London, or Paris or Berlin, sites of the world’s most famous and prestigious
marathons. The Jerusalem Marathon will be about Jerusalem: ups and downs, pain,
heartache, beauty. The fact that it took place two days after the bombing
opposite Binyanei Ha’uma, and that no one – no one! – pulled out, according to
race organizer Diesenhaus, was uniquely Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, after
pushing my way to the front of a hoard of journalists at the scene of the terror
attack just 45 minutes after the bomb had exploded at the city entrance, killing
one woman and injuring dozens of people, I had asked the mayor, “Are you still
running on Friday?” This was my first time reporting on a Jerusalem bus bombing,
and what I was really asking was, “Can we continue with life so soon after a
terror attack?” The answer from Barkat, from the dozens of runners I talked to
from Israel and abroad, and when I took a moment to ask, from myself, was an
Nineteen-year-old Pia Levine was sitting in the back of a
No. 75 bus on Wednesday afternoon, when the bag with the bomb, placed underneath
a phone booth, exploded, driving pieces of the No. 74 into her
Levine, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, had planned to run the
half marathon on Friday in honor of her father, who passed away last
She had raised $6,000 for the charity Chai Lifeline, which sponsors
a camp for sick youngsters she had attended as a teenager. She emerged from
Wednesday’s attack shaken but without a scratch.
“A miracle,” she
She was taken to Shaare Zedek Hospital and treated for
“The whole Thursday, I was shaken up, I was scared to go outside
because I didn’t know if it was over,” she said on Saturday night.
thinking, I don’t know if I can do it, but I’ve been looking forward to it
throughout the whole year. Then I thought, I survived the bus bombing, so I can
survive the race.”
She had previously estimated the run would take her a
little less than three hours. She finished in two hours and 10
The same way that the history and the politics mean Jerusalem is
not just another city, this race was never just a marathon. This race was a
rallying point for so many different types of people.
It was about
Binyamin Zwickler, 19, who was diagnosed with cancer 10 months ago and was able
It was about the 25 yeshiva students from Eretz Hatzvi Yeshiva,
and two of their rabbis, who ran the half and full marathons (the rabbis ran the
It was about Randell and Edna Turner from outside of Dallas, Texas,
who had difficulties registering for the race and found the true meaning of
Israeli love through protectzia (connections) when City Councilor Elisha Peleg
(Sports portfolio, Likud) strode over to the race manager and said “Sign them
up, right now!” It was about the families dotting Emek Refaim cheering the
runners, and a chance for everyone to celebrate something wonderful in Jerusalem
that brought together 10,000 participants from across the many sectors of
Jerusalem society and far, far beyond.
Sure, it was lonely running at
Hebrew University, with no spectators save for the security guards every 100m,
who I would often high-five on my way by – to break up the monotony and take my
mind off the fact that I could actually feel each individual muscle in my
But it was also wonderful running past the Haas Promenade, hearing
“Mi Shema’amin Lo Mifahed” booming out of the speakers and passing dozens of
schoolchildren waving flags and chanting the Betar Jerusalem fight song. It was
emotional, as well: I cried with happiness when my friends handed me a cookie
after I struggled up Kovshei Katamon, in my opinion the hardest hill in an
incredibly hilly course.
Around kilometer 30, marathon runners hit what’s
known as “The Wall,” when the body depletes its store in glycogen and starts to
consume itself. A friend who had done a marathon two years ago told me “The
Wall” wasn’t like getting hit by a bus; it was like getting run over by one of
those high-speed European trains and getting dragged under the caboose for the
last 12 km.
This was my first marathon, so I didn’t know how my “Wall”
would affect me: I turned into a crazy, hysterical, emotional mess. Running by
the municipality near kilometer 29 and listening to a sad song, I burst into
tears (although I once had a similar reaction at the municipality when I saw my
municipal tax bill).
When the isotonic (Gatorade) drink wasn’t at the
right stations, I threw a bona fide hissy fit (while maintaining my pace),
demanding cups of “the orange drink” in unpublishable language while shocked
high school volunteers meekly handed me bottles of water.
with Barkat a month before the marathon, he had told me that when you run a
marathon in a city, that city enters your soul. I hadn’t realized to what degree
this is true. Everyone I spoke to after the race, especially the runners from
abroad, said it was a spiritual experience – hard to describe, difficult as
hell, more painful than they’d expected, but something that will stick with them
In the past eight months that I’ve been the Jerusalem reporter
at this newspaper, I’ve often faced the worst aspects of this city – meaningless
violence, tragic accidents, grinding poverty, and the overwhelming hatred and
ignorance on both sides of the city’s conflicts.
At one point, to
distract myself from the searing pain in my quads, I tried calculating the
number of places we passed on the route which had been the scene of
rock-throwing incidents, according to my police beeper (at least three that I
“Is it OK to recycle a congrats-on-aliya sign for your
marathon?” asked a friend when I invited her to come to the race finish earlier
in the week.
As I hobbled through the deep mud of Gan Sacher toward that
finish line, her “WELCOME HOME!” sign was one of the first things I
It was a moment of relief, and of joy.
It took almost two
minutes to slog through the mud of the last hundred meters, and the whole time I
was staring at that “WELCOME HOME,” and at the rest of my friends who had come
to cheer me on, thinking about Wednesday’s attack, and the fact that when you
call Jerusalem home, nothing, not Walls, and not terror, can stop you from