Running to Tiveria: Back at the Tiveria Marathon

Posted on January 9th, 2011

A quick update from last week’s post. A representative of the Jerusalem marathon was in Tiveria and told us that they were NOT going to change the route — contrary to media reports. This now seems to be a fight between Meeretz (left-wing Israeli political party) members of the Jerusalem City Council and the Mayor’s office. For the time being, Adidas will stay out. Certainly the publicity does not hurt our cause, so good job to all who sent letters to Adidas.

Now, while that marathon is still 2 months away, let’s talk about Thursday’s Tiveria Marathon. Those who have followed my adventures know that last year, the last half of the marathon was complete hell for me as I misjudged the heat and didn’t drink enough. I ended up dehydrating and almost crawling across the finish line. While I do cherish the fact that I was able to finish, I was quite miserable at my own stupidity. If only I could do it over I thought at the time, I would do it better by being smarter.

Well, one year later, I got my second chance. If I had trained a lot last year, I trained even harder this year. Unless I was in an airplane, I would not miss a training run. I ran my long runs with guys who are a lot faster than me just so I would push myself to keep up. I woke up at four in the morning and drove to Bet Shemesh every Friday and many Wednesdays. I did speed workouts every week. For four months, I was consumed with the drive to be at my best in time for the marathon.

I burned through running shoes and toenails as if they were disposable. I ran in the cold and in the heat. Yet all along, I wondered if despite the training, I would crash again. I often asked myself why I was doing this. I had run two marathons and really had nothing to prove.

Except to myself. I wanted to prove that I could run not only fast, but smart. I wanted to finish with my arms in the air and a smile on my face, not on the verge of passing out in the throes of twenty-four hour nausea.

Don’t get me wrong. Running a marathon is tough. No matter who you are, the last few kilometers are torture. The first ten are far easier than the last two. But with a good game plan, you can run a marathon and finish smiling.

Through training and a reliance on my GPS watch (a runner’s favorite toy), I knew that I could sustain a pace of around 4:35/kilometer. That would work out to a total time of 3 hours and 15 minutes, an ambituous goal but one that I thought was possible. I decided to stick to this, maybe go a little faster in the second half if I felt good.

I worked out a nutrition plan so I knew exactly how much water I should drink, electrolyte pills to swallow, and energy gels to eat. I planned where I would take each one. I planned out the run as much as I knew how.

But no matter how much preparation you do, there is still a huge unknown. There are so many variables that you really don’t know how you will do until your start running. One of the leaders of the club told me to relax and just let my legs do what they had been trained to do. He also said to just give myself a mental check every ten kilometers and adjust my pace accordingly.

It seemed to take forever for the race to start while all I could think about was how much it would hurt to finish. Then, we were off.

I found myself running a bit fast for the first twenty. My pace was 4:31. But I was comfortable and decided to try and sustain it. Unlike last year, the weather was cooler, there were no wild crocodiles on the course, and dare I say it — I was actually having fun. Everything felt perfect and even though I knew the finish would be tough, I started to believe that I could lick last year’s demons.

Smiling at the half

At the thirty kilometer mark I still felt good. My average pace was at 4:32 so I figured I was still 3 seconds/kilometer (which worked out to 2 minutes and 6 seconds) under my goal. But I remembered the words of advice a veteran runner had told me — the real race begins after thirty. So I kept plugging away and visualizing cruising to the finish line.

At thirty-three, with nine kilometers to go, I felt myself slowing. Each step got harder and I watched my pace start to climb by a few seconds each kilometer. I wondered if I had started too fast , but there was really nothing I could do about it at that point. I did some fast arithmetic in my head and realized that if I could keep the slow-down managable, I would still hit my goal.

I was able to continue through kilometer 38 at a 4:45 pace. My average rose to my goal pace of 4:35 but I still had the hardest four kilometers to go. At kilometers 38 and 39, I was hitting 4:50 per kilometer. That was not slow enough to immediately change my overall pace, but I knew it was going to be very close.

By kilometer 40, my pace had slowed to 5:00/kilometer. I knew that this was not going to be good enough.  I would come close but miss my goal because I really had nothing left in the tank and was running on mental energy alone. I was hitting the wall. My body didn’t want to keep going at any pace.

Just then, I saw my coach and leader of the Bet Shemesh Running Club Chaim Wizman. Chaim is an amazing runner and even though he has had an injury plagued season, he decided to run the marathon partly to help the rest of us. I saw him and felt embarrassed because I would not meet the goal that the two of us had decided I could do. “I just can’t do it,” I mumbled to him.

“Dude, you already did it,” he said back. Somehow, I sped up to 4:50 for kilometer 41. Would it be enough? I had no idea. But I knew I wanted it bad.

Suddenly, I realized I was within about a kilometer of the finish. Then it was 500 meters. Then it was about a 100 meters away. Just a few more seconds of agony.

And then it was over.

Bigger smile at the finish

I looked up in some disbelief and saw the official clock reading 3:14 and some change.

Ever had a dream that seemed impossible and then you are able to live it? Everything was a blur as I sprinted across the line feeling like an Olympic Gold Medalist. I followed Chaim and the Israeli third place women’s champion over the line by about a second.

Memories of nothing but pain and missed opportunities were suddenly replaced by one of the most glorious feelings I have ever known. I am still wearing the smile more than twenty-four hours later.

There are now three full lengh (42.2 kilometer) marathons in Israel. If you have never run one, I encourage you to give it a try. While it is very demanding, I don’t know of anyone who says they ran a marathon and really regrets it.

If you still need motivation think about this. If you run a marathon you can go to the Waffle Bar the next day and have one of their 2,000 calorie specials and not feel a tiny bit of guilt.

If a Belgian waffle loaded with ice cream and chocolate sauce isn’t enough motivation to spend four months waking up before the sun and running until your toenails fall off, then something is wrong with you.

But hopefully there is someone out there reading this who will decide to put a marathon on life’s bucket list and will end up with an experience to treasure all their life. The memory is even better than the waffles.

See you on the road.


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  1. Paul Goldstein says:

    Yarden, I’m not going to wake up before the sun and run my toenails off, but I am inspired by what you’ve done. Good for you!

  2. Jill Smudski says:

    My thoughts exactly. Yarden, you are an inspiration! And not only in running, you live your life with that same passion. Mazel Tov!

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