Some 3,000 runners took part early Friday in the third annual Biblical Marathon, along a route described in a biblical story that organizers like to say predates the original legendary run in Greece.
In addition to runners from Israel there was a large delegation from China as well as participants from Brazil, Russia, Sweden and Spain.
The race included a full marathon distance, from Rosh Ha’ayin in central Israel to the West Bank settlement of Shiloh, tracing a path described in the Book of Samuel, along with half-marathon, 10- and 5-kilometer races and a 400-meter children’s race.
The men’s marathon was won by Poland’s Lukatch Wilk in a time of 3:23:25. The women’s marathon was won by Israeli fitness coach Ayelet Shrem in 4:12:33.
The largely-uphill race rises a total of 1,097 meters from start to finish, making it one of the more challenging marathons in the world.
The route is based on a number of verses in the biblical Book of 1 Samuel 4 when Israel was defeated by the Philistines in a major battle during which the Ark of the Covenant was seized.
News of the defeat was carried by a man from the tribe of Benjamin who ran from the battlefield at Even Ezer (by modern-day Rosh Ha’ayin) all the way to Shiloh to tell the prophet Samuel.
Organizers say the distance was exactly 42 kilometers, describing it as the first-ever marathon.
The modern marathon is based on the legend of Pheidippides running the 26 miles (42 kilometers) from Marathon to Athens after the battle, to announce the Greek victory against the Persians in 490 BCE.
Last month the international marathon body decided to exclude the race as an official marathon because it passes through West Bank territory, which the Palestinians and most of the world considers to be occupied.
The Israel Marathon Association said the Association of International Marathons and Distances Races had displayed a “discriminatory nature” against the Bible Marathon that “will certainly result in great anger” among runners around the world.
In its letter, the Israel Marathon Association decried “the unjust and politicized denial of membership to the world’s oldest running event.”
Israel conquered the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, during the 1967 Six Day War. Israel has since annexed East Jerusalem in a move that is not recognized internationally, and it withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Some 400,000 Israelis live in settlements built in the West Bank.
Agencies contributed to this report.