If there’s one thing I wasn’t for this race, it was well rested. Between a middle of the night flight that had me arriving in Tel Aviv at 4.30am the day before, and then a night in a youth hostel, in which people were coming and going all hours, I was exhausted. To add insult to injury, the clock change in Israel took place the morning of the race, so an already short night was truncated further. The Israeli climate being warmer than ours, all the day’s races were starting in the early morning. We got off fairly lightly, with a start time of 8:30, but I was still up at 6am to get ready.
Luckily, the race start was not far from my hostel and indeed, the first kilometre of the race was down my street. Waiting for Elisheva, I saw the half marathoners coming by and panicked briefly that we’d got the times confused and missed the start.
Elisheva laughed at me for pinning my race number to my running skirt (with the hope it would be less annoying, as I hate brushing my arms against the number the whole time when I’m running), and pointed out that people would be staring at my crotch when they read it. A valid point, but since I didn’t expect anyone to be looking at it, I didn’t really care.
The 10K was split into two waves, with the faster runners setting off at 8:10, and the slower runners, namely us, starting twenty minutes later. We wandered down the road with plenty of time, and stood on the side to watch the first runners start.
Bizarrely, as we were standing waiting, a woman came up to us, pointed at my start number and started talking to her children in rapid Hebrew, gesturing the whole time at the number pinned to my skirt. Who’d have thought? Turned out that the children’s father was running, and she was explaining to them the features of the start number – the coloured band indicating which race we were in, the number indicating our wave, and the letter indicating our corral within that wave.
I was pretty relieved that I was with Elisheva – whilst many of the announcements were also repeated in English, obviously the main language of proceedings was Hebrew, and I’d have felt a little lost on my own.
Unlike many of the races I’ve run, a large percentage of the participants (including ourselves) were wearing the race t-shirt – orange for the men, and red for the women, making for quite an impressive sight as we waited to start.
Eventually the (Hebrew) countdown began, the klaxon was honked, and after the usual shuffle to the starting line, we were off.
We very quickly found ourselves frustrated by the crowds, and spent a lot of time trying to dodge our way past people. It’s the first time I’ve run a race with someone else, and I really had to pay extra attention to pacing, and trying not to lose track of each other when we passed people, or when other people barged between us. Despite the crowds, we set off at a pretty good lick.
During the first kilometre or so we were passed by a small group of runners, one of whom was pushing someone in a wheelchair. We were torn between being impressed at their effort, and determination not to let this group get ahead of us. After a couple times passing the wheelchair, and being passed we finally surged ahead a little as the crowd thinned out and never saw the group again. Phew, pride intact!
It became clear pretty fast that Elisheva has one big advantage over me – living in Jerusalem, she’s used to running on hills. As far as she was concerned, Tel Aviv was flat as a pancake in comparison. For me it was a different story. Whilst the course in Tel Aviv was certainly flatter than Zandvoort Circuit Run and Rondje Nederland, I’d walked about 20km the day before, and the long, gradual slopes, the likes of which I can’t practice on at home, were really hard on my legs. As a result, I was pretty relieved when Elisheva suggested walking for a little bit at the 3km point. Looking back at my phone, our splits for the first 3km were 6:18, 6:17 and 6:39, which is faster than I’ve started any 10K. Looking at the elevation profile after the fact, that’s pretty impressive given we were steadily climbing the whole time, but not particularly smart!
From that point on we alternated walking and running. Sometimes walking perhaps longer than we strictly needed to simply because we were too busy chatting! There were quite a few race photographers along the way, so we did our best not to be caught walking. We didn’t entirely succeed though!
Around the 5km kilometre we reached the water stand. I had it in my head that there was only one water point, so we didn’t want to miss it. Although we were lucky that it wasn’t too hot (considering where we were), I was feeling the effects of the humidity, not helped by the fact that sweat plus sunscreen was making my face feel pretty icky.
When we reached the water though there was no-one manning the stall, and no cups available either. Following the lead of those around us, we each picked up a 1.5l water bottle and gulped away as if we were in the middle of the desert. Definitely a mistake. A pint or more of water later we continued, and straight away I could feel the water sloshing around inside me. What was I thinking? The next kilometre was rather uncomfortable until it all settled down, and I was glad when we hit another up hill section and we walked a little.
As we went, Elisheva was pointing out the landmarks along our way. I really had my own personal tour guide. We ran a small section along the highway, past the skyscraper where we’d eaten the night before. It was fun to spot familiar landmarks in a strange city.
The route was a kinky out and back, with a loop at the far end. By this time we were heading back towards the first familiar section, and began to feel that we were making good progress.
I had no idea what sort of time we were making, but after our first fast 3km we’d slowed down a lot, both running at a more leisurely pace and taking our walking breaks. I was really tiring by this point, a cumulation of inadequate sleep, too much walking the day before, and the climate. I was worrying the whole time about slowing Elisheva down, but she reassured me afterwards that that wasn’t the case.
This whole second section we’d found ourselves a new nemesis – a group of baby pink clad girls, all very skinny and perky, who were jogging along, chatting and laughing like the whole thing was effortless. Every time we passed them, they’d end up overtaking us again on a walking section, until finally we sprinted past them and put some good distance between us.
Finally we turned onto the road running alongside the beach. The cool wind was quite a relief, but unfortunately we were running straight into it, making the last stretch a little harder work.
We managed to pick up the pace a little, but no final sprint for us today. We crossed the finish line, triumphant, and for once I remembered to grab my phone and stop it straight away – 1:15, faster than I’d expected, given the walk breaks we’d taken. For some strange reason, our results have never appeared on the official website (Elisheva had to check for me, I was thwarted by the Hebrew. For an international race, they missed on a few of the finer details!), so I’m glad I had the phone with me.
Our medals were rather unceremoniously handed to us, so I put Elisheva’s around her neck for her, and she reciprocated with mine.
We didn’t head back to the hostel straight away, but first wandered over to the post-race party to check out the ‘air bar’ – rather incongruously a Dutch fietscafe (mobile bar, which the drinkers move by cycling), which was a stand provided by the Israeli asthma society.
We showed up coughing and brandishing our matching Ventolin inhalers, every bit an advert for the asthmatic athlete. After chatting a while, admiring the giant inflatable lungs, and stocking up on leaflets and stickers, we scored ourselves some free yoghurt and departed back to the hostel for a much needed shower.
One final 5km walk to the bus station, and we left the modern city of Tel Aviv for Jerusalem. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to appreciate much of the scenery between the two, or the dramatic entrance into Jerusalem, because almost as soon as we started moving, I dozed off.