The Insanity Race

Posted on May 6th, 2010

Not sure if the sun was setting or rising here

The sun is rising and my legs are burning from the accumulated lactic acid of the night’s running. We just passed 50 kilometers and still have another five to go.

Three of us are left from the four who started out together. I really feel like walking a bit or maybe taking a nap inside one of the hay bales we keep passing in this never ending field. I tell the other guys that I can’t keep up and they should just go ahead. But they slow down insisting that we finish together.

Not wanting to make them walk, I speed up and try to imagine how nice the finish line will feel. For some reason, all I can think about is eating a bowl of tomato soup. I promise myself that within an hour, somehow I will find a bowl and either eat it or soak my feet in it.

This is the Mountain to Valley Infinity Race, although the “insanity” race might be a more appropriate term. The total distance is 208 kilometers, and it is run by teams of 4, 6, or 8. There was even a two man team, (but unlike myself, those guys are really nuts.)

The race is divided up into 24 sections. Each section is between six and thirteen kilometers long. At the end of each section, the runner checks in with race officials and exchanges a wrist and ankle bracelet with the next runner on the team. Then you hop in the car and try to make it to the next exchange point before the runner.

We had four teams entered from the Bet Shemesh Running Club. So each segment, four of us would run together. We had set up the four man groups by putting together runners who run “roughly” the same pace (although “roughly” can really hurt if you are the slowest one in the bunch.)

Unlike other races, we would not be competing against each other. The goal was just to finish this all night adventure.

First run. 6km downhill. Easy

We started at 2:30 P.M. on the Hermon mountain. This is actually the highest part of Israel. My group was the first to run so we got the segment that wound down the mountain for a short six kilometers. Not only is this a very easy run, but the views were simply spectacular. I mentioned to one of my teammates how much fun this was. He mentioned back that when we finished, we would only have 49 more kilometers to run. I stopped talking.

Our next segment was 9.5 kilometers on a trail that ran parallel to the Jordan river. The terrain was about as flat as could be and the weather was perfect. We ran a good pace — not all out but not wasting time either. At the end we exchanged bracelets again and headed for the Hula Valley where our next run would begin.

By the next run, the sun had set and we switched on our headlamps. As the temperature was dropping, I switched shirts and tried to keep warm while waiting for the runners to come in. It still didn’t feel that bad. Our next run was  only seven kilometers and some change.

Running is much easier when you can see

Most of this run was on a flat trail, but towards the end we were running up a rock strewn path. Unlike regular running on a road in daylight, you had to stay focused on the ground a few meters ahead of you at all times. One wrong step and you could easily hurt yourself. After the uphill, there was a steep downhill that also was a little dicey. But, once again we finished and even had a little friendly sprint at the end. Then on to run #4.

In between runs I tried to eat some Nutella on bread and drink a lot of water. It’s tough to figure out how much to eat. Eat too little, and you run the risk of bonking. A bonk is when your body is so hungry it starts to consume itself for more energy. Been there, done that, not fun. On the other hand, eat too much and you could have all sorts of issues I would rather not get into.

The first problem with run #4 was that by the time we drove up to the exchange point, the previous runners were already there. So I had to jump out of the car and just run without preparation.

This run was 13 kilometers plus. The first few were fine. But after awhile the distance was really getting to me and we slowed the pace a bit. Someone suggested we switch off our lights and run by moonlight. This was fine until a few minutes later one of the runners fell in a ditch. After that, we switched the lights back on.

Much nicer to run with friends than alone

This run was entirely on trails and some were quite uneven. By this time, it really was the middle of the night. We saw lots of other runners and passed a few of them. I was very relieved to see the fourth finish line. Luckily they had water right at the table. But it was the first time I seriously worried about the rest of the evening. We had two fairly long runs left.

It was around three in the morning by our fifth run. I was feeling a lot better after drinking energy drink, water, and a few bags of pretzels. Pretzels were about the only thing I could stomach at this point. They did the trick. Unfortunately, one of the guys who had been running with us blew out his knee about halfway through the run. We slowed down to make sure we finished together. I felt terrible for him….. On the other hand, I won’t say I was that disappointed that we had to slow down a little.

Finally, it was about quarter to six and we took off our headlamps as the dawn started to break. I really wasn’t sure how the run would go, but at least, the final finish line was within reach. We took off through what looked like a corn field.

The only nice thing I can say about that last run is that I was fully aware it was the LAST run. Despite the fact that you get breaks in between segments, after awhile the accumulated millage just wears you down. The whole night seems a bit of a blur.

My hardest moment was the last five and a half kilometers. Lactic acid was burning in my legs, and I had developed a few rather nasty blisters on my much abused toes. Yet there really was nothing to be done but just slog it out. My pace was by no means setting any records, but I was determined not to walk.

How happy was I to see the finish after running all night? Let’s put it this way, even if someone offered me a lifetime supply of my favorite chocolate liqueur, I would not have agreed to run ten more meters.

Luckily, since I was with the group that had started the whole race, we got to sit back while the rest of our club had to keep on running. I used the opportunity to visit a cafe and ate a little breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Yes, I got my tomato soup. No, I did not soak my feet in the bowl. Quite frankly, I was afraid to take off my shoes and inspect the damage.

I love finish lines

All that was left was to gather at Kibbutz Timrat at the final finish line. One by one, all the other teams came in. When the last Bet Shemesh Club runners appeared, we all joined them so that 16 of us could share in the finish line glory of knowing that we had completed an event that pushed us way outside our comfort zones.

After completing two marathons, numerous half marathons, ten kilometer races, and a triathlon, I have to say that this run was to me the most fun and possibly the most challenging (I do NOT want to show disrespect to the Marathon.)

I only hope that next year I can convince a few more guys to form a Neve Daniel Team. Anyone out there been diagnosed with a mild case of insanity?

Israel may be a relatively small country, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to run across it. Our run — which was by no means direct — traversed about a third of the country not counting the desert.

Why do I do this stuff? I sometimes wonder myself. But I know that the feeling I get when I can confront my own limits and somehow briefly surpass them is about the most rewarding feeling I have ever experienced.

Look inside yourself, you may be surprised what you find.

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  1. Mother Frankl says:

    What did I do to you in your childhood to give you this streak of “!!!”. Neverless you are amazing. When are you going to write a book about amazing adventures that no one will ever believe? Love you, Mom

  2. Dennis Berman says:

    Way to go Yarden!!!
    As long as you can run over 50K at night, you will never be old!!!

  3. Paul Goldstein says:

    I’ve always been a fan of Yarden Frankl, but now even more so. I’m looking forward to hearing about the next challenge you conquer. Next trip to Potomac – tomato soup for you!