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Running the Jerusalem Marathon
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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JERUSALEM—Running through 3,000 years of history isn't just the slogan of the Jerusalem Marathon—it's fact.

However, it also seemed as though there were about 3,000 inclines along the 26.2-mile course, which featured picturesque views, multiple emotional moments, a jaunt through the Old City and a truly amazing journey through the Holy City.

The Jerusalem Marathon, held March 16, was my 15th marathon since 2007, when I first started running marathons with the National AIDS Marathon Training Program, now known as the Team To End AIDS (T2), to support the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC). This was the most breath-taking, awe-inspiring, history-rich race I have ever run, without question.

It also was, unquestionably, the toughest.

The terrain in Jerusalem is relentless. Runners are thrilled with the Chicago Marathon, with the chance to set a personal record (PR) time—and many annually do. This is not true with the Jerusalem Marathon, where survival is key.

"We know that people don't come to [run the] Jerusalem Marathon to break their [personal] record [time] since Jerusalem is a hilly city," Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said. "[The course] poses a lot of [physical] challenges, however, there's no doubt in my mind that, in a short period of time, the Jerusalem Marathon is quickly [joining] that short list of marathons that people around the world have to run at least once."

I agree.

This year's Jerusalem Marathon was only the second ever, but clearly is catching on within the global running world—not just within Israel. More than 15,000 runners braved temperatures in the 40s, rain, stiff winds and even hail. Of those, 1,000 ran the full 26.2-mile marathon, 4,000 ran the 13.1-mile half marathon, and the remainder ran the 10K race.

There were about 1,500 runners in Jerusalem from abroad and more than 50 countries were represented along the course.

The 2012 race was 50 percent larger than the inaugural edition—and no doubt will just continue to expand.

"Half the population in the world, [that's about] 3.5 billion people of faith, would like to come and visit Jerusalem at least once in their lifetime. The Holy City is a city that goes deep into the heart of people all over the world," said Barkat who, for the second consecutive year, ran the half marathon. "Myself, and the Municipality of Jerusalem, are working to make Jerusalem more accessible, to make Jerusalem more attractive, more practical to come and visit.

"The brand Jerusalem is one of the strongest in the world. [There is] huge [growth] potential for the city of Jerusalem. I set a goal a few years ago to reach 10 million tourists a year. At the time, Jerusalem had just over 2 million tourists annually. Now it's at 3.5 million."

Barkat has run five full marathons, including the fabled New York City edition in 2009 at age 50. His best marathon time is 4:13, run in Berlin.

"I'm a big believer that spiritualism, sports and health go together," said Barkat, who, multiple times per week, runs in the morning. "When you invest some time in sports, you think better, you think sharper, you feel much better and it's an example to others. [Sports are] great for the spirit and the body.

"The Jerusalem Marathon is quite breath-taking. The marathon is very inspiring; it goes through amazing sights."

From my shoes, nothing compares with running through the Old City, entering at Jaffa Gate and exiting at Zion Gate. History engulfs you.

"The sights [and] the atmosphere [along the course] are second to none," Barkat said.

I agree, though the continual up and down terrain, often with steep inclines, can be quite a strain on the quads, and elsewhere.

The third annual Jerusalem Marathon is March 1, 2013, and the question lingers—alongside my throbbing legs: Will I be at the starting line?

The answer is "Most likely." Runners truly are gluttons for punishment, or we always want to beat our previous time.

When not running, or recovering from, the Jerusalem Marathon, Ross Forman spent time researching the LGBT scene in Jerusalem. In future issues, Ross will report on LGBT travel to the Holy Land, the Jerusalem Open House, several Chicagoans now in Jerusalem, and more.

Coming next: A profile on Havruta, a social organization for religious gay men.

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