Anyone who has ever participated in the Bible Marathon swears that this is Israel’s most challenging road race. Yet in the same breath they will say that this is a hypnotic route and a worthy challenge. The toughest marathon attracts a crowd of fans
If you have reached this article, you may have already done a marathon, two or twenty, maybe you ran a half marathon and you are looking for the next challenge. Maybe you ran an ultra-marathon and heard that between the roads of Benjamin region there is a route that even ultra-marathoners fear.
Let’s agree that challenges are not foreign to you. You may even love challenges, “playing chicken” with complexity, flirting with boundaries.
If we were right, stay with us.
Welcome to the Bible Marathon – much has been said about it, but no matter which heat you choose, it’s the toughest road race in the country, in a good way of course. “I ran ‘only’ 15 kilometers,” says Moran Shabtai, an experienced marathoner, “and it was tough, ‘the mother’ of tough.”
The race that begins in Rosh Ha’ayin and runs toward ancient Shiloh can be followed till way back in history. The story of the ‘Man of Benjamin’, written in the Book of Samuel, tells of a runner who ran from the battlefield in Even HaEzer to Shiloh, to notify the High Priest about the defeat in the battle, the death of his sons and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant.
After the Six-Day War, the Maccabiah initiator Joseph Yekutieli decided to reconstruct the path of the Benjamin Man, and to his surprise he discovered that it was 42 kilometers, the official distance of the modern marathon. It turns out that the Bible Marathon is in fact the earliest marathon in recorded history.
The route has been attracting the toughest runners for 4 consecutive years, with nearly 1100 meters of cumulative ascent over 42 kilometers in the breathtaking landscapes of the Binyamin region.
“The run is on a well-paved central road, surrounded by breathtaking scenery, green hills, no buildings hiding the landscape, only nature in all its glory.” Segev (Speedy) Appelbaum describes the incredible scenery surrounding the challenging course. But don’t get distracted by the pastoral atmosphere. “The last few kilometers are a constant ascent to the finish point. Oh, those inclines… until you get there, you don’t know what to expect. If you love challenges – this one’s for you!”
Ayelet Shrem, winner of the women’s category in the Bible Marathon in 2107, a running coach who loves running challenges, describes the hills which have been given many superlatives: “Most of the inclines are moderate and long. It’s one of the most difficult marathons, but it’s also one of the most exciting!”
Eyal Yariv, who ran the Bible Marathon 2 years ago, describes the difficulty in flowing humor: “In 2016 I participated in the half-marathon that began at Ariel and ended in Shiloh. It begins with a slight incline as you exit Ariel, then there’s a crazy descent, followed by a flat run alongside villages until the final ascent to ancient Shiloh – an endless climb that saps your desire to live. But towards the end you can hear the noise of the finish line, which gives you a boost. At the end, you don’t know whether you are happy that you are alive or happy that you finished. The funny thing was that at the finish line I met Ofer Padan with his eternal smile, and the first thing that came out of my mouth was ‘See you next year in the full marathon’… and that’s exactly what happened.”
Among those friends who joined Eyal at the 2017 marathon was Moti Lugasi, a veteran runner and Bible teacher. This was his first encounter with the full marathon course in this event. This Bible teacher found himself on the same route he taught and read many books about. Despite the difficulty, Moti describes an exciting and fulfilling experience. “The route is almost constantly an incline, but it’s peaceful and quiet and the landscapes are just stunning. At some point you enter the city of Ariel, where a “nice” ascent takes you around town and out the back. Once you leave the city behind you a beautiful region unfolds which most of us do not know, a region that we read in Bible lessons in elementary school. Ancient mountains with striking views, scattered small settlements, villages, orchards and fields with traditional agriculture. The course is now descending and I use it to breathe the clean air and enjoy the scenery. The direction is to the ancient Shiloh, the same city we all read about in the book of Samuel I in 5th grade, the city that served as the capital of the Biblical Jewish state, where the Holy Ark was located. The route ascends (sort of a pilgrimage, no?) and I hear the sound of the drums and feel the upbeat mood. The end gate is in front of me, like an ancient stone gate, surrounded by drummers dressed in robes and a real holiday atmosphere.”
Beating the challenge
Have the stories scared you off? It’s not that bad. As Motti and Eyal describe, even amateur runners can beat the toughest race, with proper preparation.
Runner and coach Orna Altman participated in the preparatory run of the challenging 10 km route, and will participate this year in the marathon as part of her preparations for an ultra-marathon. She explains how to deal with such a challenging race: “The combination of the challenge of distance and the challenge of the cumulative ascent, in addition to the amazing landscape and connection to the heritage of the Jewish people, create a unique event, demanding yet moving. Mental preparation for the race is very important, preparing a “route map” that will support you through the hard parts, positive thinking, and dividing the route into short sections will help you reach the finish line.”
Also Ariel Rosenfeld, coach, ultra-marathoner and a runner who is well acquainted with the podium of the Bible Marathon, shares the experience of a certified tough guy: “The Bible Marathon is no run in the park, but the most challenging marathon I’ve ever attended. To succeed, you have to pace yourself: if you feel the first half is difficult, the second half is even harder. It is recommended to combine walking during the steep segments (such as at the entrance to Ariel). Run with a particularly high cadence in the continuous descent section between 26-31 km. Run according to effort and pulse and not according to a set pace, because the rhythm is strongly affected by the elevation profile. And most importantly, enjoy the wonderful scenery and the way.”
Ready for the challenge? Registration to 5km, 10km, Half Marathon and full Bible Marathon are open and waiting for you, and as we promised they are all tough. Let’s see you there!