Chariots of Fire: Jerusalem's upcoming 2nd marathon

12,000 runners to take part in Jerusalem’s second annual marathon; participants expected to boost tourism coffers.

Melanie Lidman, Nir Barkat running 150 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Melanie Lidman, Nir Barkat running 150
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Twelve-thousand runners will descend on Jerusalem next Friday for the Second Annual Jerusalem International Marathon, an integral part of Mayor Nir Barkat’s vision for creating cultural and sports events to bring the city to the international stage.
“This marathon flows through the beautiful sites in the city. It is a breathtaking and challenging marathon compared to other, flat marathons,” Barkat said on Tuesday in a jab at the marathon in Tel Aviv. “We’re making Jerusalem more exciting, open and inviting for the 3.5 billion religious people around the world who are eager to see Jerusalem,” he continued. “The marathon targets marathon runners around the world who seek sites that they’ve not yet been to, to come and enjoy both the sporting event and a cultural and spiritual event.”
The number of runners from abroad has increased by 50 percent since last year, for a total of 1,493 from 50 different countries.
There are also 2,000 more runners participating than last year, when 10,000 people ran the marathon, half-marathon, 10k and 4.2k fun races.
Barkat touted the economic impact of the marathon in an attempt to temper the frustration of Jerusalem residents over the shutdown of major city roads on marathon day. The event has generated approximately 5,000 hotel stays, and each international runner is expected to pump between $1,500 and $2,000 into the local economy through restaurants, shopping and hotels, according to estimates from the Jerusalem Development Authority.
The route, too, has changed since last year, with the climb up Mount Scopus shifted to the beginning of the race and the difficult hills of Rehavia to the end of the race. Barkat added that the route would be marked more clearly this year, especially at the end, to avoid a mix-up like last year’s, in which the leaders got lost and ended up in the wrong place.
Two weeks ago, the mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, urged the international community to boycott the marathon because it passes through east Jerusalem.
“The marathon is one more attempt by Israeli occupation to erase the Arab identity of Jerusalem,” Hussein said in a statement, according to the news website Al-Arabiya.
The route passes next to the Arab neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Issawiya as it circles the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus and threads through the Old City’s Jewish and Armenian Quarters.
Barkat dismissed the mufti’s comments.
“I am the mayor of all of Jerusalem, and the marathon runs in all of the city, period,” he said.
Many of the roads in downtown Jerusalem, as well as Highway 1 near the university and parts of Hebron Road, will be closed or partially closed on marathon day. Schools along the route will also be closed for the day.
The mayor encouraged all residents to come and cheer the runners and take part in the day’s festivities, and expressed hope that there would be more spectators than last year, when runners went kilometers at a time without seeing a single spectator.
“The route is challenging; that’s why the slogan is ‘Breathtaking,’” said Barkat. “But people just love running the streets of Jerusalem. People go to the flat cities of the world for their best [running] time. That’s not Jerusalem. You come to Jerusalem for the best experience.”