First Jerusalem Marathon hits City of Gold streets

Two days after bombing, more than 10,000 participants forecast for Friday’s festivities in the Holyland capital.

nir barkat_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
nir barkat_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The first-ever Jerusalem Marathon will go ahead as planned on Friday morning despite the terror attack that killed one woman and wounded 39 people on Wednesday afternoon when a bag exploded next to a bus stop across the street from the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyanei Ha’uma), near the capital’s western entrance.
“Our answer to the murderous terrorists is that we will never stop running,” Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat said at the Marathon’s gala dinner on Wednesday night.
“Jerusalem doesn’t stop and won’t stop. The real Jerusalem will be showcased in the marathon. A peaceful, happy and healthy city which is more beautiful than ever.”
The world’s holiest – and maybe hilliest – city will play host to the first-ever Jerusalem Marathon on Friday.
Over 10,000 runners from 40 countries worldwide will step off from the Knesset at seven o’clock in the morning, ending at Sacher Park.
Runners competing in the half-marathon, the 10- and 4.2- kilometer races, and the 400-meter charity race for the Shalva organization begin an hour after the full marathon.
Jerusalem has hosted a halfmarathon for the past two decades. Mayor Barkat, a veteran of five marathons, saw advantages to bringing the 26.2 mile (42 kilometer) race to his city after running the New York Marathon last year.
“The marathon is an important economic driving force for the city and will bring many runners and spectators to the capital,” he said.
The marathon is likely to boost tourism, which has been improving steadily.
In 2010, Israel’s capital met 3.5 million tourists, 26 percent more than the previous year.
The Municipality of Jerusalem announced that hotels are booked to capacity with 4,000 runners and journalists from the international media staying locally over the weekend.
“The city is proud to be the hosts for this truly historic event,” said Uri Menachem, Director of the Jerusalem Sports authority.
Running in Jerusalem is about more than just the race itself. The views of 5,000+ years of history are “phenomenal” and “breathtaking,” according to Barkat.
The race passes into the Old City and along its walls, Mount of Olives, Sultan’s Pool, Ammunition Hill, and other sites.
For many runners, competing in the Holy City has a religious aspect as well.
“Running the marathon – whose origins lie in ancient Athens–in Jerusalem poetically symbolizes Jewish survival in the face of Hellenism and many other cultures that have assailed it,” said New Yorker Marshall Huebner, who is running to raise money as part of a Yad Vashem/Blue Card joint team.
Three participants – one Jew, one Muslim, and one Christian–in the marathon will wear shirts that read “Three religions; One God.”
For other runners, religion is what will get them through the marathon.
Friday’s race will be the twentieth marathon for Lisa Jackson. The South African native who currently lives in London, England, runs in a summer dress and a flamingo hat as a form of entertainment for the crowd. She and her husband, Graham, are nervous about the course’s difficulty.
“I’m going to need some help from above,” Lisa said, pointing skyward.
“It’s not as difficult as one would expect,” Nir Barkat assured reporters at a dinner Wednesday night, stressing that his goal is to “put Jerusalem on the international marathon map.”
Barkat plans to run the halfmarathon this year and hopes to run the full marathon next year, at the Second Jerusalem International Marathon on March 16th, 2012.
There was some worry in the wake of Wednesday’s bombing, right across the street from where a pre-race Sports, Health and Leisure Exhibition was held.
However, Barkat and other local government officials assured runners and reporters at the Mamilla Hotel that the race would go on, as an indication of Israel’s resilience and unwillingness to feel threatened by terrorists.
The mayor finished his remarks by honoring guest of honor Rosa Mota, one of the world’s best runners in the 20th century, and other elite runners.
Elite runners this year will compete for the $11,500 in total prize money, to be divided between the top five finishers, and bonuses for men breaking 2:22:00 and women breaking 2:40:18.
There is $5,000 at stake for half-marathoners and $3,000 on the line for those running the 10-kilometer race.
On Thursday night, runners gathered for a pasta party, the traditional pre-marathon meal high in carbohydrates. A portion of the dinner was held by candle-light to raise awareness of global warming.
The marathon will be broadcast live along the route on screens and on television by Sport 1, beginning at 6:45 a.m.