A track record?

Seven members of the Beit Shemesh Running Club will run the full Tel Aviv Gillette Marathon after doing so in Jerusalem.

Beit Shemesh Running Club, Tiberias Marathon 521 (photo credit: Couresty Chaim Wizman )
Beit Shemesh Running Club, Tiberias Marathon 521
(photo credit: Couresty Chaim Wizman )
Being fit enough to run a marathon is beyond many people’s dreams. Completing two marathons within two weeks is unthinkable even for most seasoned runners, unless of course they belong to the Beit Shemesh Running Club.
Seven of the club’s runners, led by founder Rabbi Chaim Wizman, took part in the full marathon in Jerusalem two weeks ago and will also run 42.195 kilometers in Tel Aviv today.
Organizers of the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem marathons have become fierce rivals over recent years. It all began in 2011 when the Jerusalem Municipality scheduled its first marathon since the 1990s just two weeks prior to Tel Aviv’s, a scenario repeated this year.
The bickering became so childish that the Jerusalem organizers advertised their race on a giant billboard on Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv right opposite the office of Mayor Ron Huldai. The problem with both marathons being run only two weeks apart is that professionals do not compete in two races within two weeks.
In fact, they rarely run more than two or three a year.
As a result, the organizers of both marathons have become adversaries in a war of attrition, each trying to attract runners to their race at the expense of their rivals.
They need not fight over the runners of the Beit Shemesh club.
Not only will seven of them run the full Tel Aviv Gillette Marathon after also doing so in Jerusalem, but 15 of the members will also undertake their second halfmarathon in two weeks and 40 runners will race a 10-km. course yet again.
Over 25,000 runners will participate in the seven races taking place as part of the Tel Aviv Marathon festivities, with some 2,000 of them enlisting for the full marathon, which will pass through Dizengoff Street, Rothschild Boulevard and Rabin Square, among other sites.
Wizman, 45, only took up running 13 years ago, but since setting up the club in Beit Shemesh’s Nofei Aviv neighborhood in 2004 he has become a local running guru.
Tel Aviv MarathonTel Aviv Marathon
Some 35 of the club’s members took part in the Tiberias Marathon this year, with eight women from the club, including his wife Sarah, fully fledged marathon runners. Despite giving birth just five months ago, Sarah, 38, is one of the 15 runners who will take part in the half-marathon in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It should therefore be of little surprise that 15-year-old Batya Wizman, the second of their six children, ran with her mother in Jerusalem, with Chaim’s methods clearly having as much an impact in his home as they have in Beit Shemesh and the six satellite clubs set up across Israel according to his training programs.
“I decided on a whim to train for my first marathon, which I ran in January 2004,” he says. “After that, my running partners and I decided to formalize things a bit. I did a huge amount of reading and started to write training programs and we formed this club.
“There are a lot of innovative things about the club,” he continues. “For one thing, there is no membership fee. There is a huge amount of guidance but no membership fee. To the best of my knowledge it’s the only free running club in Israel.
“The club caught on like wildfire. In fact, our neighborhood, Nofei Aviv, probably has the most marathon runners per capita of any neighborhood in Israel.” Another unique aspect of the club is that virtually all its members are religious, with many of them also attending Wizman’s weekly Shabbat class.
Wizman, who made aliya from New York in 1996, spent 10 years teaching at the Aish HaTorah yeshiva in Jerusalem before deciding to set up a specialty running and biking store on Burma Road two and a half years ago.
He guides the club’s different running groups, including the youth division, from which around 60 children will ran the 10-km. race in Jerusalem and will also do so in Tel Aviv.
Despite requiring so much of his time, Wizman loves every moment at the club.
“First of all, the fitness side of it is incredible. At 45 I’m in the shape of my life,” he says. “But the thing I like the most is the extraordinary sense of camaraderie that we have with the club members. The club members are really like brothers. I guess there’s a lot to it based on the fact that we meet at 4 a.m. to run crazy distances together and go on all these adventures together. It is the kind of friendship which is very hard to come by when you’re an adult. There’s an unbelievable bond between us. The uniqueness of having so many likeminded people and so many terrific runners in the same neighborhood that are also all so close-knit and so family-oriented is really just a very unusual type of phenomenon.”
As well as taking on the standard running courses, the Beit Shemesh club also has an adventurous side. Every Hol Hamoed Succot they embark on their very own pilgrimage to Jerusalem, running 33 km. almost entirely uphill from Beit Shemesh. If you think that’s extreme, every summer the club arranges an all-night run all the way to the Western Wall, beginning at midnight in Beit Shemesh and arriving for sunrise prayer services.
No wonder running marathons comes to them as naturally as running for buses does to most people.