A record 2,500 foreign visitors joined the pack of some 25,000 Israeli runners at last week’s Jerusalem Marathon, including a team of North American (and one Spanish) fitness bloggers who ran the 21-kilometer half-marathon that is part of the roster of Jerusalem Marathon events.

For Dai Manuel, a Vancouver, Canada, native whose fitness blog reaches 100,000 followers monthly, the Jerusalem half-marathon was his first attempt at tackling a long-distance run, despite nearly a lifetime of fitness and athletic challenges.

“I was familiar with the distance from doing a lot of obstacle courses and Tough Mudder (a series of 10- and 12-mile obstacle courses),” said Manuel, one of five fitness bloggers on the latest VIBE Israel bloggers trip. “But this was one of the most challenging courses I’ve ever been on. Those hills are intense.”

Manuel, along with bloggers Adam Chase (Boulder, Colorado), Rachel Brooke Smith (Los Angeles, California), Amanda Brooks (Denver, Colorado) and Paula Butragueño (Madrid, Spain) was in Israel for a week-long VIBE trip that introduced the group to fellow fitness experts in Israel.

VIBE is a private nonprofit that invites bloggers and other opinion-makers to Israel for week-long tours customized around their areas of interest.

For Manuel, participating in the half-marathon was a highlight of the trip.

“For my first half, I couldn’t have picked a better place to do it,” he said. “There’s just so much history, and to be running through the Old City, seeing those walls; and the runners, the more Orthodox ones, the women running in skirts, there were so many things to take in, it was just remarkable.”

The Jerusalem Marathon includes the 42-kilometer (26-mile) full marathon, a 21-kilometer half-marathon, races of 10 and 5 kilometers, a “family race” of 1.7 kilometers (about a mile) and a special-needs race of 800 meters.

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It was Rachele Brooke Smith’s first time participating in a half-marathon as well, said the Los Angeles actress and model who also writes a fitness blog.

“I do interval training, high intensity dance and yoga. I do run a lot, but more for speed,” she said. “A marathon was never something I wanted to do before. I went with an open mind, and it was so fun; I was on such a high afterwards.”

Manuel said the the trip offered him exposure to Israel’s fitness world, something that he hadn’t considered prior to the trip.

Besides seeing the country’s major sights, the group also rode mountain bikes in the Judean desert, practiced yoga with local teachers and sailed boats on the Mediterranean with people with disabilities.

“I had no idea it was as flourishing as it is,” said Manuel said of the Holy Land. “All these different specialties, and some great innovations out of here.”

Exercise, mused Manuel, is a great way to channel excess energy and distress, and probably helpful to those living in Israel.

“I call it active meditation, getting to the gym and getting in the zone for 30 to 40 minutes,” he said. “We would have a lot less tension in the world if everyone worked out more.”