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Tel Aviv Marathon

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv Marathon

The journey to the Tel Aviv started out in New Jersey with breakfast at a diner with Monica and Amber before making my way to Newark Airport for the first time. It was soon apparent that the security process in clearing immigration for travels to Israel was amongst the most stringent on the planet. The interrogation process was intense with a million questions as to the purpose of my travels despite the fact that I was an invited guest of the Tel Aviv Marathon.

The fact that I had attended marathons in the previous year in both Bali and Kuala Lumpur may have raised flags with the fact that both Indonesia and Malaysia are not on the best of terms with Israel. Following an in depth process, I was then cleared to check in and told that I would have to present my carry-on bags in a matter of minutes again at the gate prior to boarding.

Now following clearing the USA screening process, I was directed to a small room close to the departure gate where there was a small waiting room and another screening machine similar to the one that I had just been through. It was mentioned that I could return in around 15 minutes to retrieve my luggage and on my return I found my bags were being rumbled through with a fine tooth comb. This process was a little invasive and like nothing else previously experienced. I guess it is better to be safe than sorry although I must admit I found it a little mystifying at the time. When I was finally given the green light it was time to board the El Al flight bound for the big adventure to Tel Aviv.

I was relieved to be onboard and as I was approaching my seat a gentleman seated in the middle aisle looked at me and said are you from Brooklyn? I mentioned that I was not and he insisted that I tell him where I was from believing that he knew me. When I mentioned that I was from Sydney, Australia it was pretty clear that he had the wrong guy. It was great to find that I had a full row to myself when I reached my seat and I would soon make the most of having the three seats to rest a little during the flight to Tel Aviv.

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv MarathonThis adventure would be one of the largest for 2013 and I was really excited to be on the way to Israel for the first time. It was great to land into Tel Aviv in the early morning hours and it had been organised that I would turn up as the “Marathon Man” on arrival into the terminal. Following the previous security reception I decided it may not be the best option to suit up during the flight or when making my way through Immigration. I collected my luggage off the belt and then found my way to make the identity update to introduce “Marathon Man” to the people of Israel.

In making my way through the doors I found my name on a sign and soon discovered a film crew and driver was waiting my arrival. It was lots of fun playing up to the camera with travellers and family members looking on curiously. I recall being extremely thirsty on arrival with the driver kindly helping to buy a Coke Zero on arrival to help wake up to the early morning. It was not too long before we made our way to the car where I discovered a Mercedes Taxi that was soon to be a common sight in Tel Aviv. The timing of the flight arrival and preparation in making our way from the airport coincided with the peak hour traffic into Tel Aviv and the ride towards the hotel was a slow introduction to the city with some sights pointed out along the journey.

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv MarathonIt was great to finally arrive at Herods Hotel and meet up with my contact after spending so long in bringing the details together to be able to include the Tel Aviv Marathon on the schedule. The first impression was a little alarming as I was greeted with the words – “I am so sorry Trent …”

Now here I am having travelled half way across the world and these were not the words that I had been expecting. I said all was ok, what is wrong as I was still in state of excited exhaustion following the arrival into Tel Aviv. It was then revealed that it looked like the Tel Aviv Marathon would have to be cancelled due to expected high temperatures on Friday. WOW – I really did not see this one coming and was in shock.

So close and yet so far...

So close and yet so far…

It was only a matter of seconds later that a phone was handed to me with a lady informing me that unfortunately the Government was soon to announce the marathon would be postponed and that the 10km and Half Marathon would still proceed half an hour earlier and which event did I want to register to run. OK – so this year is all about the marathon for me and I really was not very excited to run a small fun run in preference to a marathon. I asked if I could have some time to think and it was mentioned that she would try back in five minutes.

This certainly had presented a curve ball and following check in and a little breakfast it was time to continue the photo shoot in the room to help promote the Tel Aviv Marathon. It was a very strange feeling at this point with so much uncertainly around the next few days although was placing my faith in the Tel Aviv Marathon Organising team that had been brilliant up to this point and were doing the very best possible to adapt to the developments on the run. Following a little rest, I decided that it was important not to miss any further events and looked to see whether it was possible to return for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Washington DC Marathon prior to the LA Marathon. Thankfully after some incredible work by Inbal Ranan and her team plans were in place to return to the USA Capital for the first time to run on Saturday morning. The time in Israel would now be to familiarise myself with the city of Tel Aviv and visit Jerusalem.

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv MarathonFollowing the majority of the day attached to the computer looking to bring plans together, I ventured out into the streets of Tel Aviv to find a late meal when I spotted a group more than 100 Inline skaters gathered speeding down a large hill into the main street along the beach front with Inline Skating Police Officers bringing up the tail of the field to support the athletes. Now I am not too sure if this is a normal sight in Tel Aviv or if this group were simply training for the Inline skating competitors in the Tel Aviv Marathon event on Friday. It was soon clear that the streets were alive in Tel Aviv with live coverage of a Barcelona football match on the big screens in many bars around town seeing bars overflowing with people on the streets watching the games. I soon stumbled across a late night sandwich at Subway and found some drink supplies at the local supermarket before returning to find a little rest before the tour of Tel Aviv the next morning.

It was great to meet up with Inbal and a local tour guide to make our way to Old Jaffa and then see a few of the best sights in Tel Aviv. It was interesting to discover that Old Jaffa was where it all started and this was one of the most sacred grounds in the Jaffa-Tel Aviv municipality. The history of the area was diverse and complex with the original streets narrow walkways paved with limestone reminiscent of many European cities. There were a number of streets in the Old Jaffa area named after the astrological star signs such as the Lion and Aries.

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv MarathonIt was interesting to check out the Ran Morin Oranger Suspendu that was created in 1993 with a steel, artificial stone and orange tree suspended above the ground. There were ancient remains of Jaffa discovered during the archaeological extractions carried out on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority dating back to the Hellenistic period (332 – 140BC). It was great to see the Pharaoh Rameses II (1304 – 1237 BC) Gateway with hieroglyphic inscriptions featuring the name and royal titles of Rameses II. The Statue of Faith was beautiful with rich history dating back to the dream of Jacob and the fall of Jericoh the big city into the hands of Joshua and the sacrifice of Isac who survived due to the special Goat. The views looking back towards Tel Aviv were sensational from Abrasha Park and it was interesting to find St.Peter’s Roman Catholic Church located close by in Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

The next adventure took us into a small house in Jaffa with a business operating at the street level although when guided through there is a small room filled with ancient relics dating back to the 3rd Century with Greek plates and storage jar handles from Rhodes. There were coins from the Byzantine period, a bronze spoon from the Roman days, Ottoman relics and further relics under the floor still to be unearthed with additional funds required to continue the delicate process. Apparently there is a floor under the floor with work stopped for now and it will be interesting to see what is discovered in time should this process resume. It really was an amazing look back on history and the playing of the “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” music in the background was a little amusing as I studied the relics with great interest.

The next part of the expedition took us along the coastline towards The Railway Station Building where The Jaffa Railway Station was erected in 1892 as the terminus for the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway. This marked the beginning of modern transportation in Palestine with a strong influence from modern 19th Century European architecture. There was signs of a old military equipment close by that had now been retired to the museum. It was great to then pass by the Tel Aviv Marathon Start line for a quick photo where I was filled with mixed feelings as I really wanted to get out and run while in Israel.

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv Marathon

It was interesting while walking into Tel Aviv that the history was detailed behind the manchala where since the 19th Century these small window shuuters had signified for both men and women that the coast was clear for lovers to enter when the husband or wife was away. This was thought to have originated during the time of the Germans arrival to Israel in 1869 when they were looking for the Saviour. This sure was a fascinating story and I wondered whether the manchala were still used for this purpose in modern day Tel Aviv. It was interesting in passing down one small laneway that we come across what looked like an original street sign for Abbey Road in the City of Westminster NW8 so this was either a copy of some Beatles fan had creatively managed to get a hold of one of the original street signs and shipped this to the streets of Tel Aviv.

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv MarathonThe tour was drawing to a close in Tel Aviv and it had been an enlightening experience to see the city and experience the rich history and culture of Israel. Following a bite to eat it was time to check out the large variety of vendors at the Tel Aviv Marathon Expo before getting a little rest prior to meeting up with Inbal and her friend Nicole for an Italian feast ahead of the early start to visit the holy city of Jerusalem. It was a fun night meeting the girls for a tasty Italian meal although with the time differences I really didn’t know what time of day it really was right now and was fading fast.

The new morning started with meeting our tour guide Avihai Tsabari that would look after us for the day. It would prove to be a action packed day with so much to see making it challenging to see everything in Jerusalem. Starting out at the Rehavam Observation Point overlooking such historic icons as Zion Gate, the Jewish Quarter, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock, City of David, Mt. Of Olives Cemetery we would soon make our way down the steep hill to Gethsemane and the Garden of Olives.

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv Marathon“Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.” (Gospel of John 18:1)

“Gethsemane, a place where the Saviour prayed before the passion. It is at the foot of the Mount of Olives and today the faithful eagerly go to pray there.” (Eusebius of Caesarea end of 3rd Century AD).

The ancient Olive Trees were an amazing sight to behold with the Franciscan Monk wondering around the Garden making the moment all that more special. Inside the Basilica of the Agony people prayed on a large rock as Jesus had done with people all kneeling with hands and heads touching the large rock.

There would be so many incredible moments on this day as we were to visit the 12 stations of the cross through Jerusalem and witness the final resting place of Jesus with many people having visited of the previous year’s leaving money and personal notes where they could. The rich paintings and tapestries on the walls were amazing and the ancient golden candelabra and fixtures like a scene out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Approaching Lions Gate it was revealed that this Gate while names Lions Gate was actually surrounded by ancient images of Pumas.

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv MarathonThe first sight of significance was a door we passed that signified the Birth Place of the Virgin Mary before spotting Sainte Anne Catholic Seminary. It was a Via Delorosa that the stations of the cross were highlighted and these included 1) Jesus is condemned to death 2) Jesus receives his cross 3) Jesus falls the first time under his cross 4) Jesus meets Mary his Mother 5) Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross 6) Veronica wipes the face of Jesus 7) Jesus falls the second time 8) Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem 9) Jesus falls the third time 10) Jesus is stripped of his garments 11) Jesus is nailed to the cross 12) Jesus dies on the cross 13) Jesus is taken down from the cross 14) Jesus is held in the tomb.

The Church of the Condemnation was built in 1903-1904 by the Franciscan Brother Wendelin of Menden on the ruins of the 13th Century chapel. The Church of the Flagellation was first built in the 12th Century by the Crusaders and then left abandoned after the Crusader period ended. It was given to the Franciscans in 1838 and rebuilt. It was not too long before we took some time out to visit the Austrian Hospice for a drink and seat when the traditional Muslim call to prayer started providing for a amazing experience before moving on. It was interesting to see on the corner of Via Delorosa six armed guards with machine guns gathered in discussion catching up. The markets were owned and operated by the Palestinians as we continued to explore we passed through some of the stalls.

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv MarathonIt was a surreal moment when I placed my hand in the palm print of Jesus where he fell carrying the cross as we continued towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was amazing the strength of the inter-faith and religions here with an agreement entered into for each faith and country to occupy different areas. The first sight was the Ethiopians and they occupied a little room at the top of the Church where they would worship in song. This really was a moving moment and perhaps one of the most special periods of the day. In entering the Church evidence of the lighting splitting the entrance was seen before we made our way to the sight of the Crucifixion for a very special moment of prayer. There was a calmness and peace that fell over people amongst the opulence of the fittings and surroundings in tribute.

In descending the stairs we then came across the final resting spot where the body of Jesus was cleansed with large white lamps hovering over the cold stone slab surrounded by amazing artwork. The next moment will stay with me for a lifetime – this was when we walked into the tomb of Jesus Christ to discover that the Greek Orthodox faith were the Gatekeepers to the tomb and were conducting the traditional Ceremony swinging large golden ornaments filled with incense with bells ringing loudly during the process. This large two story box like structure featured a small dome and appeared as though it may have been transported to this spot with the structure purposely built to protect the sacred site. It was clear that we had been fortunate to be early in the queue with large lines of people soon forming for a glimpse of the tomb to pay respects prior to the Greek Orthodox keepers moving people on quickly to ensure everyone had an equal opportunity to visit. This was a special and powerful moment in my life and I was fortunate to be able to light a candle to honour my Mum and Grandma.

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv MarathonIt was also special to look up and see the beautiful ornate done on the outer structure above the tomb surrounded with large golden stars and beams. The sight of the resurrection was also highlighted and while interesting certainly was a little different to the lessons of a cave with the large builder that I had been accustomed. It was much smaller from first sight and was in a state of disrepair that I found a little disappointing although all the same was great to see. It was interesting to learn that the columns and pillars had all been electronically tagged with microchips located on all major structures so as the heritage, structure and design would always be protected and the most detailed record maintained into the future. The final stop within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was to visit the final resting stop of the Cross with a cross like sign imprinted in the rock face and many notes at the site. The next stop we see us rush to the Wailing Wall to meet up with a Guided Tour under the Western Wall …

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv MarathonOn first sight of the Wailing Wall, it sure did not look as large as what it appears on TV and in the movies with the largest section of the wall reserved for men and a smaller section set aside for the ladies. The guided tour would take us through tunnels along the Western Wall with the dig site still live with large machinery excavating places throughout the tour. It was mentioned early on that the tunnels were digging under the Muslim land and exploring previously unidentified areas that had been lost for centuries. The construction of the wall was simply incredible and on a similar scale to the development of the Pyramids. The Tunnels took us through Medieval Structures built in order to support the row of Muslim buildings forming the western facade of the temple Mount enclosure above. There was Herodian Masonry visible with each stone fitting the adjoining block perfectly throughout and each course recessed about 2cm from the one below providing additional stability to the Western Wall. The 14th Century Medieval Cistern supplied water to the inhabitants of the buildings above. The end of the broad paved street constructed in Herod’s reign at the foot of the Western Wall started at the Southwest corner and halted apparently due to the death of Herod.

Marathon Man - Tel Aviv MarathonThe next adventure was to the Room of The Last Supper to recreate the possible imagery that Leonardo Da Vinci so well created for us all. This was medium size room and smaller than it appears in the paintings and images that had changed slightly over the years. There were some beautiful stain glass windows in this room that have again been updated over the years. The next special location was the place where Mary is thought to have lived and died after the Resurrection of Jesus with the crypt and final resting place of Mother Mary in the basement. It was a very special moment when Nicole started to sing a song of praise in front of the tomb. It sure had been a very special and long day in Jerusalem and we were soon back on the road to Tel Aviv to prepare for the Tel Aviv Marathon Pasta Party a little later in the evening.

It was great to arrive at the Pasta Party following an incredible experience in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem meeting up with the Race Director and other key Tel Aviv Marathon support staff. The Mayor, Race Director and Sponsors all addressed the audience prior to the band coming on stage and the athletes enjoying a great mix of pasta, salad and bread rolls with supplies of Coca-Cola products for all. The Adidas store was close by and this was a popular place for some last minute purchases in the lead up to the Half Marathon and the 10km event the next morning.

Now for my part it was time to pack my bags and head back to the airport to start the return journey to make it into Washington DC via Paris and JFK Airport. There is no doubt that I was disappointed not to run while in Tel Aviv although I totally understand the concerns in relation to the heat shown by the Government. While never a perfect science I appreciate the care and professionalism taken by the Tel Aviv Marathon to place the priority on safety and ensure the event prospers into the future. The time in Israel has been out of this world and one that I can thoroughly recommend to all as a must visit. I look forward to the opportunity to return to Israel and finally have the opportunity to run the Tel Aviv Marathon  on 4th April 2014 …

Note: My trip to Israel for the Tel Aviv Marathon was made as an invited guest of the marathon organisers, and my airfares, accommodation and race entry expenses were all subsidised.

2013 Statistics:

Marathons Run – 24
Total Distance Run – 1,012.7 km / 628.8 miles
US States Completed – AR, AZ, CA, FL, LA, NV, SC, TX, WA
Total Drive Distance – 5,720 km / 3,555 miles
Total Flight Distance – 30,590 km / 19,009 miles

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