Reporter's Notebook

Climbing a mountain in my first 10K race

A novice runner shares some agony and ecstasy from Friday’s Tel Aviv Marathon

Runners in the Tel Aviv Gillette Marathon, April 2012 (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash 90)
Runners in the Tel Aviv Gillette Marathon, April 2012 (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash 90)

I got to the 10K race of the Tel Aviv Marathon at about 8 Friday morning. Club music was blasting on the streets. There was a sea of orange shirts surrounding me. Everywhere people were laughing, some talking, others stretching, and a general mood of carousing and excitement was in the air.

“Oh geez,” I thought to myself. “I’m not really a runner.”

It would have been easy for me to get overwhelmed in this type of situation. And yet, by the day’s end, I had to admit that the run was one of the best experiences I’ve had while in Israel. I never imagined that running with thousands of people would be so exhilarating.

My friends Emma Datny and Amer Dacca cajoled me into signing up for the race. I thought that the challenge would be a good impetus for breaking my recent sloth-like habits. Plus, a good friend of mine once told me she liked running with her friends and training for marathons because it was one avenue of socializing that didn’t involve food, coffee, or alcohol — and while I didn’t get it at the time, I have since learned there is a lot of truth to that idea.

Emma and Amer were in the earlier heat; by 8:10 they were gone. My race started 20 minutes later. The announcer revved up the crowd — “You are part of the largest 10K ever in Tel Aviv! You are making history!” — to which everyone cheered.

Thousands of runners participated in the Tel Aviv Marathon Friday. The 10K race was the largest in the city's history. (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Some 25,000 runners participated in the Tel Aviv Marathon Friday. The 10K race was the largest in the city's history. (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

I ran track in high school, but I was not particularly stellar at the sport. My coach used to give me the honor of running the very last leg of the 800-meter relay — until he quickly realized I was a bad bet. If it hurt, I did not want to run faster! I just didn’t have that sort of passion for winning on the track.

Now that I’m older, however, I see running as something other than a race against others; it’s about encountering yourself. I was secretly glad I was running alone. I participated in the race to compete — with myself. That’s why a marathon (or even a 10K) is such a unique experience: It lets you do your own thing in the company of so many — and I loved it.

My father — who scaled many mountains in Central Asia when they still belonged to the USSR — used to tell me that people climb mountains because it’s easier to conquer them than it is to fight your own demons. The idea still resonates with me: Climbing a mountain is a tangible ‘win’ that helps you achieve other goals in life. And it isn’t easy.

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Route of the race

We started near the old rail station, Tachana, across the street from the beach. We ran along the shore and turned right onto Allenby, and after running all the way down Rothschild, we made a loop toward the Cinematheque and the Azrieli towers, and then swerved back via Rothschild and Allenby, all the way to the finish line along the shore.

The crowd today was kind, patient, and helpful. As I jogged down the empty streets of Rothschild, my mind began to wander. “Races are microcosms of society,” I said to myself, still feeling energetic. Indeed, many human qualities are displayed in a race. Not just the desire to socialize and compete, but also kindness, agony, drive, exhilaration, hard work, empathy, and domination, they’re all there. It’s a beautiful thing, I thought.

Kenyan Sammy Tu won the race, with a local record time of 2:15:14 (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Kenyan Sammy Tu won the race, with a local record time of 2:15:14 (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

That was my positive mental state. It didn’t last — especially when I noticed I was only halfway.

Somewhere around the far-end of the course, things got rough. We were near the Menachem Begin Highway and the Azrieli Towers. The road felt wide, but it wasn’t the prettiest scenery. The line of runners started to stretch out, and I was falling behind.

“This race really does have a long route!” I complained to myself. My fear was mounting, so I tried self-motivation: “You have nothing to fear, but fear itself!” Yet I couldn’t shake the image of how much there was left to run. The finish line seemed far. I got nervous, and started to walk for a bit.

Then, when I hit Rothschild again, the sun came out. Something about the quiet streets, and the small groups of people who enthusiastically cheered us along, made me hit my stride again. I still had it in me. In that moment, I imagined myself in a “Rocky” sequence, racing up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Suddenly, it didn’t seem so ridiculous — it was powerful!

I continued to race down Allenby, until I saw the crystal and deep blue ocean water ahead, beyond the Opera Tower.

From left: Emma Datny, Michal Shmulovich, and Amer Dacca, after completing the 10K race at the Tel Aviv Marathon Friday (photo credit: courtesy)
From left: Emma Datny, Michal Shmulovich, and Amer Dacca, after completing the 10K race at the Tel Aviv Marathon Friday (photo credit: courtesy)

What an ending!

Despite about two hours of sleep, and a negligent record of exercising and nutrition, I had done it. I saw Amer and Emma beyond the finish line — and we were elated. We stretched and basked in the sun with the other ‘orange shirts.’

“Next year, a half-marathon!” said Amer, “but we’re training this time.”

I smiled. If I can do this, I can do anything, right? The race was my “mountain” — and I had conquered it. That’s why my father would say.

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