Saturday, January 17, 2009

TR - Israel

1/05 – 1/15/09
Part 1

Race Results:
Tiberias Marathon
Tiberias, Israel
Thu, Jan 8/09
Marathon # 314 – Country # 99
3:44:39 – 4 AG

NINE down – ONE to go! Country # 99 (tied the World Record)!

This marathon and country were included in a list I prepared at the beginning of 2008 because I wanted to find English-speaking countries for #99 and #100! At the time all was peaceful in Israel!
Imagine my surprise when war broke out a few weeks before the race? I contacted the tour company to ask if the war in Gaza would affect the marathon and tour plans. They said “NO” and would make any changes necessary for safety! The Sports Manager and I decided to go because the marathon and tour were not near Gaza and there was no way to substitute another race/country before #100 planned in Feb! Many of our family and friends expressed concern and advice not to go but I responded that “Maddog was faster than a speeding bullet”! Thus we departed for the long flight to Tel Aviv.

We arrived in TLV late afternoon on Tue. And quickly received surprise # 2! Very few people in Israel speak English and all signs/information are in Hebrew? I had made a false assumption that their close ties with the US would mean most would speak English. Wrong!!! We had to find our own way to Tiberias. The guide book stated that it was necessary to take a bus from the airport to the Central Bus Terminal in TLV to catch an express bus to Tiberias. What it did not inform us however was that the buses were local – even the ‘express’ bus! It was an interesting trip since it was the end of the work day and soldiers were getting on/off the buses at various locations – and carrying their rifles and sub-machine guns! By law they must carry their guns at all times. It seemed strange but we felt very safe on the bus. Other than that we did not see any signs of the war/problems in Gaza – except for a dumb bus driver who listened to the news on the radio complete with the sounds of shooting/war from Gaza?

Shortly after we arrived at the hotel in Tiberias we met up with two friends/fellow members of the 100 Marathon Club UK. Roger and Peter had also planned this trip/marathon a long time ago to join me for #99 and were not about to change their plans for a ‘little’ problem in Gaza! We agreed to meet for breakfast and tour the city in the morning. Tiberias is located on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is one of the four holy cities of Judaism and also a tacky holiday resort. There were not a lot of tourist sites to visit but we did stroll past the Greek Monastery and Leaning Tower, El Bachri Mosque and the southern Wall. Then we strolled along the Allon Promenade to the Sea Level Measurement – a visual display of the current sea level of the Sea of Galilee (213 m below sea level). We then headed to race registration to pick up my race packet.

I was concerned because the web site for the race was poorly organized/managed and the race staff refused to respond to emails. All of us were forced to ask the tour agency to register us for the race because of problems with the website. I had emailed several times to request Bib # 99 with the obvious explanation but received no response. I even had the tour agency call the race committee with my request. Thus I was not surprised when I learned that my race number was NOT # 99! I asked to speak to the race director and his excuse was that I had asked for two race numbers (99 & 100) and they could only give me # 100? I was pissed but it was too late to fix the problem! And later that day when we went to the pasta dinner they wouldn’t let us in? Roger had specifically asked what coupon or ticket in our packet was required for the pasta dinner but when we presented that coupon they informed us that we needed a different coupon? By that time I was so frustrated and annoyed with the incompetence and uncaring attitude of the race organization that I didn’t even care if I ran the race! I just wanted to run/finish the race to count # 99 and get out of there! Fortunately our hotel package for the race included meals so we returned to the hotel for a much better meal that we probably would have gotten at the race dinner.

Thursday was “M’ Day! The race started at 9 am. There were 700 runners in the marathon. The weather was sunny with temps in the high 40s F. I had a special T-shirt printed for the race that read “Country # 99” on the front and “John’s 99th Country” on the back. That t-shirt solicited some comments and conversations with a few runners before and during the race but very few runners spoke English? Roger and I have always been closely matched and competitive and although neither of us would admit it we intended to beat each other as usual. I decided to go out at a 5:20/km (8:30/mile) pace since we both felt that a 3:45 finish would be the best either could do (in our current shape)and that time would hopefully be competitive in the race?

The race started in the center of town and comprised a 21 Km loop south and then north to Ein Gev on the east side of the Sea of Galilee before returning to Tiberias. Fortunately the race and course were better organized/managed than the pre-race events! There were distance markers every Km that helped to monitor/manage my pace and water stations every 3 Km. The two lane highway was closed to traffic and there was excellent police control at intersections. I passed 5 km in 26:15, slowed a wee bit up a long, steep hill at 8 Km and reached 10 Km in 52:50. I had left Roger behind but knew he was following me. I reached 16 Km in 1:24:45 as the lead pack of Kenyans blew by me on the return loop (26 Km). The winner finished in 2:08 so it was a fast race! I passed the turn-around at the Half in 1:51:47 – almost right on pace! I didn’t think I would be able to run the 2nd half that fast but I still felt good and figured I would try to hold that pace as long as possible. I met Roger 2 minutes later which meant I had a 4-minute lead but I knew that he would come after me in the 2nd Half! I couldn’t slow down! I passed 25 Km in 2:12:28 and later learned it was around that time when Muslim extremists in Lebanon fired five rockets into Northern Israel about 10 Km north of the marathon course. I was so focused that I never heard a thing but Roger later said that he and the pack he was running with heard explosions and a few of the local runners commented “ That is not good”!

I reached 32 Km in 2:49:32 – I had 55 minutes to run the last 10 Km. I thought about trying to push the pace harder but wisely decided to wait till 35 Km before making any change to my pace. Good thing because when I passed 34 Km in 3:00:41 my split had slowed to 5:36 and I was starting to tire! It was time to summon Maddog because I knew he could accept the level of pain necessary to push the pace back below 5:20! We started playing the old mind game – “just run the next Km in 5:20 and we will re-evaluate”. It is much easier to lie and fool yourself to accept pain for one more Km than knowing that you have to do it for 8 Km! At the end of each Km you just continue the lie for the next Km! I passed 40 Km in 3:32:58 and a split of 5:26. But I was hurting and the pain level was high! Only when I passed 41 Km in 3:38:18 was I confident that a sub-3:45 finish was in the bag because I was confident that Maddog could push the pace for the final Km on willpower alone! I crossed the finish line in 3:44:39!

As I walked around the finish area trying to recover Roger finished in 3:48. He had tried to catch me as expected but just couldn’t make up the 4-minute lead I had at the Half. We figured Peter would finish close to 6 hours so we decided to go back to the hotel for a shower and return to cheer him across the line. Ninety minutes later Maddog, Roger and the Sports Manager waited at the finish line as Peter finished in 5:44. We found race results posted at the host hotel to confirm that I had finished in 4th place and Roger in 6th place in our Age group. We were both pleased with our times and performances and acknowledged that both of us had run faster than expected because of our friendly competition. However we were a little disappointed/surprised that 3:45 wasn’t competitive? Third place finished one minute ahead of me – Damn! – I could have pushed the old bod for one more minute had I known?

Later the four of us enjoyed some celebration beers at a local restaurant before a farewell dinner. We planned to start a 7-day tour the next day while Roger and Peter returned to Tel Aviv to tour and visit relatives.

I will leave the story about the tour for Part 2 and conclude this section with a review/evaluation of the race. The pre-race organization and information is very poor. The race staff will not respond to emails and do not seem to care about the runners or any requests. The race and the marathon course were well organized and managed. I would recommend that you avoid this marathon unless your list requires the addition of a race in Israel!

Although I was not happy about the race committee’s failure to provide Bib # 99 for this special race I was happy to finish marathon # 314 and country # 99! That ties the World Record held for a long, long time by my good friend and mentor Wally Herman (83 years Young and still running). I still consider Wally to be the World Champion until somebody passes him. The Sports Manager and I will meet Wally and his lovely wife Marie for pasta dinner next weekend in Miami before Wally and I run the Miami Marathon. That will be my final tune-up before I run Country # 100 in Tahiti in Feb.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this trip and the next adventure.


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