The making of a mega-jock

Welcome to the boundary-pushing world of the ‘ultra-marathoner’.

RUNNERS RAISING money for Beit Halohem, an organization helping disabled veterans of Israel, are (from L to R) Mark Goldman, Alex Dale, Oded Yogev and Ben Wahlhaus (photo credit: TOMER FEDER)
RUNNERS RAISING money for Beit Halohem, an organization helping disabled veterans of Israel, are (from L to R) Mark Goldman, Alex Dale, Oded Yogev and Ben Wahlhaus
(photo credit: TOMER FEDER)
For some extreme athletes – perhaps the rare breed who are in world-class shape – running a 42.2-km. marathon might seem like a walk in the park.
There is little doubt that the runners who succeeded in completing the Jerusalem Marathon in March or the Tel Aviv Marathon in February – or perhaps both – deserve much respect for their athletic prowess. Many of the participants can also take pride in the fact that they were running to raise funds for a slew of worthy charities, both in Israel and abroad. But some of these mega-jocks opt for longer and more grueling races to obtain their “runner’s high.”
Welcome to the world of “ultra-marathons” or “Ultras,” as they are known in the lingo of extreme sports. Ultras are races which are 50 km., 100 km., or even longer, and can take runners almost 24 hours to complete, with very little time devoted for short breaks – and with some runners opting to take no breaks at all, but simply slowing down their pace to catch their breath.
For the past eight years, Israel has hosted an annual Ultra, with routes alternating each year from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and vice versa.
This year’s route is from the coast to the capital, and is known as “The Promised Land: From the Sea to Jerusalem,” or Yam Leyam (“Yud-Mem” being the Hebrew abbreviation for “Jerusalem”). It will be held April 24-25 and will cover a whopping 144 km.
of challenging off-road racing, on the country’s Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund Canada footpath, which connects the two cities.
Carin Goldblatt, 53, who serves as the race’s director and refers to the event as “her baby,” introduced Ultras to Israel, with a group of friends looking for extreme activity. Goldblatt only started running at the age of 40, and after participating in marathons as well as Ironman triathlons – long-distance races involving swimming, biking and running – she wanted an even greater challenge, and thus joined the world of Ultras.
In fact, Goldblatt says that several years ago she became the first Israeli in history – man or woman – to complete the treacherous Western States 100, the world’s oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail race, in northern California.
Goldblatt explains that while some individuals will be running the race in its entirety on their own, another option is to enter one of three “Relay Race” divisions in teams of four, six or eight participants, who alternate turns after every eight to 10 km.
While this might sound a bit easier on the surface, it remains extremely challenging. For example, each member of a team of four runners will still end up running 36 km., and will have to deal with the difficulties of hopping in a car and driving to their next starting point, stretching to remain loose, staying hydrated and other physical challenges that come with stop/start running for long distances.
One special four-member team of top-level athletes participating in this year’s relay race is a group of Israeli friends, three olim and one Sabra, who are running while generating sponsorship from friends and family for Beit Halohem. Under the auspices of the IDF’s Disabled Veterans Organization, the organization operates four rehabilitative and recreational facilities throughout Israel, which offer a slew of therapeutic services and sports activities for IDF veterans who sustained life-altering injuries during their service to the country.
One of the group members running the relay is 30-year-old Mark Goldman, a Tel Aviv-based attorney who made aliya from Australia four years ago and was a squad commander in the IDF’s Nahal Brigade.
He says that he and his running mates compete in a variety of extreme sports competitions all-year- round in Israel, whether it’s biking, swimming, running or a combination of sports.
Goldman explains that for this race, the group chose to run to benefit Beit Halohem, after a mutual friend and fellow athlete named Alexi broke his back and was paralyzed from the waist down while hiking in India, after a fall from a height. Alexi has been undergoing rehabilitation at Beit Halohem’s Tel Aviv branch, learning to live with his new and difficult reality.
While the accident did not occur while Alexi was on active IDF duty, according to Ora Seidner, project development director for the Disabled Veterans Organization, the organization does make ex- ceptions, and employs its Beit Halohem facilities to “assist in treating victims of terror and other exceptional civilian athletes,” such as Alexi.
Goldman is quick to downplay the challenge ahead for his team, in comparison to what their injured friend is going through.
“The determination that Alexi shows, waking up and rehabbing every morning, makes what we’re doing very small compared to what he does,” he says, adding that “the people who serve the country in the army – they give of themselves, even if it’s a limb. It is the country’s responsibility to help with their rehab, and that’s why this is such a worthwhile cause.”
Oded Yogev, 30, who is the Sabra of the group and a chemist from Moshav Nehalim, says he believes that the concept of participating in sport to benefit a cause “is still rather unusual among Israelis,” although he is optimistic that it will catch on. He is glad to be representing Beit Halohem, noting, “I think with a little effort, we can improve the facilities and make sure that we can help those soldiers who paid the price. It’s the least we can do.”
The third group member, also a Tel Aviv-based attorney who made aliya, in this case from England five years ago, is 39-year-old Alex Dale. Dale says that in addition to supporting Beit Halohem through the run, he – along with the fourth member of the group, 29-year-old Ben Wahlhaus – annually takes part in a special bike ride to benefit the organization, known as “Courage in Motion,” alongside some of the veterans who are in the midst of rehab at Beit Halohem.
Wahlhaus, who made aliya from Australia in 2010, is currently a legal adviser in the IDF’s International law department.
While IDF regulations prohibit him from direct fund-raising, he is still joining his friends for the run, and is a committed advocate for Beit Halohem’s mission.
He says that while he serves in the IDF with the goal of “securing Israel, I also want to contribute in a social manner, to those who are no longer the warriors, but whose whole lives changed as a result of their service.”
Wahlhaus views the race as an opportunity to “make aliya to Jerusalem like they did 2,000 years ago – by foot, recreating what our ancestors have done.”
He adds that the run will allow the group to express their deep commitment to Zionism in a threefold manner. “We, who came to this country from all different corners of the globe, will be undertaking an aliya leregel [religious pilgrimage of going up on foot to Jerusalem], while exploring the Land of Israel, and raising money to benefit those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Leading up to the race, the four members of the group have been individually utilizing a variety of training methods to prepare themselves for the big day. From running marathons and other races, to biking great distances, they are somehow finding ways to stay in shape – even with busy work schedules.
Wahlhaus says that at least once a day the group trains together, gathering at Tel Aviv’s Gordon Beach at 6 a.m. for a swim. “We meet in all weather, and regardless of water temperature, the waves, the jellyfish or the warnings of the lifeguards, we get in a good swim.”
Seidner says she couldn’t be prouder of the group’s undertaking, calling them “goodwill ambassadors” for the organization.
“It is a wonderful manifestation of ‘Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lezeh [all Jews are responsible for each other’s well-being].’ They come from all corners of the world and put aside their hectic lives, to find the time and their hearts to do something for those who have paid a huge price, with scars on their bodies and in their souls.
“To see that from them, from young people, is very moving and touching, and hopefully will send a message to others to emulate them. It’s just wonderful.” ■
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