Thursday, 23 July 2009

Maccabiah Games Netball - a personal reflection

July 14-21, 2009.

I've always loved sport – but netball? Come off it – it's
a girl's game – it's what Michal goes and plays with Susie and
all their chevra 3 times a week. Definitely not for me.

But slowly I was drawn in. Michal "volunteered" me
to help the Jerusalem girls with their fitness training. I agreed
somewhat reluctantly, but managed I think to contribute to the
effort, and thereby got to know the girls, and what they were going

From the first game it was very different from the last Maccabiah,
where Shira played as 1 of the "youngsters". This time she was
team captain, and Michal was the assistant team manager for
many months.

There was cheering, there was ruach, there were jokes with the
other Dads, and discussion of tactics with all the "mavens".
There was hope and there was disappointment. But above
everything else, there was great pride.

There was Shlomit's shy smile and apology if she fouled her
opponent, and the picture of her standing next to Shayna,
Australia's gentle giant. There was the understanding between
Gila and Devora, and their shooting which improved from game
to game. There was the sheer delight on Nomi's face when she
got to play Wing Attack and show everyone what she really could
do (almost as much as on Susie's face). There was the speed, the
excitement, breathtaking for me, as Gila passed to Shira, to Efrat
back to Shira and to Gila and the cheer which rose to a crescendo
as the ball went through the hoop. There was Miriam intercepting
on the line, and Gila – the strength and power of the defence.
There was Michal, who literally played until she dropped. There
was Nemi, fast and determined, Tamira and Yael happy to cover
any defensive position. There was Roni who put in all the hard
work, and stayed on the bench to cheer everyone on.
And there was Tanya calling the shots – even if they were hard,
and Shira, the manager, keeping everyone happy and in order.

And why was Shira crying after she got injured and had to come
off? Not because it hurt – and it did hurt. She was crying because
the Doctor told her she couldn't come back on – and she
desperately wanted to come back and help her team. And that's
what they were all about. From captain to coach to manager to
every last player. With great spirit, and love and joie de vivre.
And we felt a part of it. And we can be very thankful for that.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Of Tortoises and Hares

"Whatever you do - don't start off fast! All the young kids will start sprinting and then will run out of steam. Take it nice and easy at the start, and then gradually increase your pace."

This is my mantra to myself, and now I was passing it 0n to my youngest kids - the secret of racing success in 1 easy lesson. Our 2 sons, now both married were the top runners in their school, and represented the school in inter-school competitions in 1500 meter races. Using this well-guarded secret they started off at the back of the field, and then passed almost all the other runners.

Our 12 year-old and 7 year-old daughters, Elisheva and Noa, were running their first competitive 2 kilometer race, on a wide trail in the Hulda forest on Friday May 15. Noa was especially excited. She like her 17 year-old sister, Shira, and her 2 brothers is slim and a natural runner. Elisheva is a keen sports player, but is a different build to her siblings. She is a terrific sprinter, but longer runs are a struggle for her. Nevertheless, the lure of missing a day's school, together with the excitement of competition were too tempting for her to refuse.

So, after my own successful return to competition in the 5 km race, where I managed to follow my own advice, and gradually passed several runners, my 2 daughters found themselves on the start line listening to Amir, the race starter giving the final instructions:

"Listen up kids! It's 1 kilometer straight down the trail, then turn around and run back. And don't forget! Don't start fast! Save your strength because 2 kilometers is not a short race!"

Oh no. Amir had given the game away! My kids' advantage was lost...The hooter went off, and
what do you know? In one ear and out the other. While all the kids sprinted off, my kids stayed back and bided their time.

Noa on extreme left, partially cut off, Elisheva in the green top.

I joined in and accompanied them. They were the 2 last runners in a field of 10 boys and 10 girls. Gradually Noa edged ahead, and I stayed with Elisheva. It was roughly 500 meters slightly downhill, and then 500 meters slightly up, and then down and up on the way back again.
Noa started passing runners, and Elisheva found it hard on the uphill. I stayed with Elisheva until the turn around, and then told her I was going ahead to see how Noa was doing. Noa was passing almost all the girls. She was getting faster all the time, and sprinted in to the finish in 11:24 - first in her category and 2nd girl overall. I thought I would then go back to get Elisheva, but as I turned around I saw her sprinting towards the finish. In the last 200 meters she passed 4 girls, and finished 2nd in her category in 12:28 and 4th girl overall.

Noa, the youngest competitor, ran a beautifully paced race - no slowing down and totally in control. But for me, the hero of the day was Elisheva. It was tough, very tough for her. But she hung in there, and with grit and determination came through and finished in style. I couldn't have been prouder of both of them.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

80km (50 mile) trail ultra - March 27, 2009

Race report – 80km (50 mile) trail ultra
Ramot Menashe, Israel – 27 March, 2009


On the Sunday before the race, deep into the taper, I went out for an easy run. This would be the last time before the race running the hills on a forest trail near our house – each hill is about 550 meters. During regular training I would typically run 10-12 repeats of these hills. This time I was only running 6 repeats. I never really "push" these hills. Start off gently and ease up to a moderate pace – and then easily cruise the downhills. Towards the end of the workout I felt a slight twinge in the groin area – nothing really to worry about – we runners get these twinges all the time, and usually they disappear as if they were never there…

Wednesday, 2 days to go

I went for my last pre-race run yesterday- 5 easy kilometers. Two days off now as the race draws nearer. Getting up from bed I felt a sharp pain in my left calf – I had almost the same experience last year before the 60km race, and before my last regular marathon in 2006. In both these races I didn't have any problems with the calf muscle, so I wasn't overly worried. I tried some stretching and self-massage. Apparently the massage was a little over-aggressive – the results were increased pain and more worries…


I left work around midday, we got ourselves organized at home, and headed up North. My wife, Michal and 2 younger daughters, Elisheva and Noa were coming along as cheering and support crew. Our second son Nahum, his wife Hanna, and our older daughter, Shira were to join us after the race. For the pre-race night we had booked a room in Kibbutz Dalia, about 20 minutes from the race start. Last year the start/finish line, at the same place as the refueling area, was at the nearby and easily accessible Kibbutz Ein-HaShofet. This year the start/finish/refueling area was moved to the middle of nowhere – 15 minutes off the main road on winding dirt tracks. We tried to find the area on our way to Dalia – it was well sign-posted by the organizers – and we eventually found it. Michal wasn't sure how she would find it in the pitch black at 4:00 the next morning, or more accurately how she would find her way out after dropping me off.
We arrived at Dalia – I asked if there were any other 80km runners booked in. They told me there was 1 other runner – Avi Horowitz. I called Avi and we arranged to meet at this car, the following morning at 3:55. Afterwards I drove off to another Kibbutz – HaZorea which was hosting the pasta evening and where I picked up my race number. Back at Dalia, I got all my gear organized, had a bath to try and relax, but only managed about an hour's sleep…

Check list

For pre-race application:

Suntan lotion (with bug repellant)
3M tape for preventing chafing

For the race:

An hydration backpack with a 3 liter capacity –
Filled initially with 3 liters of Clif Shot Isotonic drink for the initial 30km loop.
The plan was to refill with 2 liters for the 20km second loop. Then have 1.5 liters ready for each of the 2 final 15km sections – Based on last year's experience when I couldn't stomach any more of the sweet isotonic drink after 45kms, I gave myself the option of switching to water plus salt tablets and carbohydrates from other sources for the later stages.
A lightweight headlamp for the first hour in the darkness.
"Race ready" shorts with lots of pockets.
Pocket 1 had salt tablets, 2 anti-inflammatory tablets, and 2 "compeed" plasters in case of blisters.
Pocket 2: dates
Pocket 3: Sugar jellies
Pocket 4: tissues
Pocket 5: photocopied pages for morning prayer (complicated story…)
That still left me with a few spare pockets. ( I *love* shorts with pockets)

At the refueling area we could leave a bag with supplies:
Food: bananas, energy bars, Pringles, dates, jellies (not gels)
Medical equipement: more salt tablets, anti-inflammatory tablets and voltaren gel. Compeed plasters and a sterilized needle (blisters…)
I also had two spare pairs of running shoes and socks, and a spare hat.
Prescription sunglasses to switch my regular glasses after the first loop.

Friday morning 2:15

The first morning of "summer time". I'm up and getting organized. I eat a roll with lots of jam, and a cup of herbal tea. Michal gets up – the girls are sleeping soundly. I give Avi his requested 3:30 wake-up call – but he sounds wide awake. At 3:55 we meet at his car. If I slept an hour – Avi didn't sleep at all. We drive in the darkness. Everything is still. We reach the turnoff on the main road and turn off towards the trail. There are other cars following us. We arrive at the parking area. I turn on my headlamp and walk down the dirt path to the start/refueling area. I meet up with comrades from last year's race. Elon, last year's winner, and Levi with whom I ran the first 30 kilometers. We place our bags in the tent. I venture out of the lit up area into the darkness to check out my headlamp on the first stage of the race. A surrealistic, almost magical experience. Thoughts of all of those childrens' stories about wandering in the forest in the middle of the night flick through my mind…
4:50 – ten minutes to go. I take off all the outer layers that I had been wearing. It's cold but not freezing – around 6C (43F). I put on my backpack and start sipping the sports drink. We gather around the start area. Our timing chips are embedded in our race numbers on our chests. Each time we return to the refueling area we will go through the timing area and be recorded. Carin, the race-organiser gives us our final instructions. There's a 10 minute delay for some of the runners to move their cars out of the race area. A few words from the head of the local counsel, Carin counts down and leads us on our way!
Start line photos:

Of mice and men

Finally, we are on our way! Months of training. Hills and long runs, and more hills. Hopes, fears and dreams. All narrowing down to the next few hours (well… not exactly few). Last year, in the 60km race there were 105 starters and 87 finished. This year there are only 44 of us starting...
We start all bunched together. Flickering fireflies in the glooming. The whole pack almost misses one of the first turns. I find myself running next to Aviv. We run at an easy pace, and almost immediately we reach an uphill climb. The two of us revert to a brisk walk – Gavin, slightly ahead, also. Others continue running and open up a slight gap. We watch Reuven pass us at a quick pace – not for us, we agree. My calf muscle feels fine, everything is going smoothly. And then suddenly, with no warning, after 24 minutes and around 4 kms, in one step I feel a sharp pain in the upper right leg/groin area – the same place I'd felt on Sunday, but much more severe. I don't stop. Perhaps because I was running next to Aviv and Gavin – I'm not sure why. If this happened in a training run I would stop immediately. I think to myself: "Anti-inflammatory – now!" I take off my gloves, search in the pocket for the tablet and swallow it. Of course it makes no difference…But I think that the inertia of the race keeps me going – the fact that I didn't actually stop, combined with being physically able to run, albeit in not insignificant pain. So – I make the decision. If I am able to continue – I will. I'll only call it quits if I am physically unable to go on. "Mind over matter". Even now, almost a week later, I'm not sure that it was the correct decision – or a wise one. I will admit that I had other considerations going through my head – all the people that had supported and encouraged me. Friends, running club, family, Michal, and the kids. I had also agreed to use my race as a fundraising venture for an organisation for which Michal works on a daily basis – for "abandoned" women, and those whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce (a sore point in Orthodox Jewish law). I decide not to tell the other runners around me about the injury. If I don't actually speak it out, maybe it will get a bit better…

Pacing and placing

We started on wide trails, but while it was still dark we turned onto single trails. A word about the trail markings. The race organizers managed this brilliantly this year. The arrows were clear and unambiguous. Wherever there was a possibility of running in another direction there was tape placed on the ground to indicate *not* to go there. On the single tracks we had to be more careful – and not just because of the cow patties. Gavin lead, followed by Aviv and then me. In last year's race I never knew my exact position in the race. I would pass other runners and ask them, and they also didn't know. This year I told myself I would watch it more closely. It didn't help. I am by nature a "conservative" runner – I prefer to let the others race ahead, and them haul them in during the latter stages. It works well in races of most distances – 5k, 10k etc. If you've ever run a marathon in a negative split you'll know what I'm talking about. In an ultra marathon I think that pacing is even more critical. If you burn yourself out early on, as an ultra veteran told me – you'll turn into "road kill". I knew that Eilon, Reuven, and Aviv's friend Eyal were ahead of us. I wasn't sure if there were others. Slowly darkness lifted and first light dawned. Aviv turned to me and said that he thought the first 3 places would be Eilon, Eyal and me. I told him now about my injury and said that I doubted I would repeat last year's success. He told me that I'd be OK, but I was less optimistic. We turned off our headlamps. Gavin stopped to relieve himself. Aviv and I continued on and I told Aviv that soon I would have to pray.

Up up and away

Uphills. In my opinion the course was significantly more difficult than last year's. The word that kept floating back to me – brutal. And I don't think that it's a subjective assessment based on my condition this year. On the difficult uphills I reverted to walking. And not because this is some nature hike as opposed to a race. I'm walking to improve my time – and walking is a skill that I practice on the steep hills on my long runs at Mount Eitan – pumping your arms to increase your speed. You even sometimes find yourself outpacing other runners who keep running. In any case, on some of this course's uphills, and especially during the first 50k, the uphills were barely walkable. They were that steep. And I am remember my late grandfather, of blessed memory who was a major in the British army during WW2. He was a keen sportsman and a lover of sport. I think I inherited a lot from him. He would go out every day for his "constitutional" - his one hour walk. And when I accompanied him and we would come to a hill he would always say: "Short sharp steps, short sharp steps". And that's what I do.

A new day

Usually my practice as an Orthodox Jew doesn't directly affect my running. My observance is a part of me. I don't run or compete on Saturdays. I always run with a hat. But – I also pray every morning – almost always in a synagogue. The time for the morning prayers is bound by Jewish law from dawn until midday. Not usually a problem. But today we started well before dawn, and we would be finishing after (hopefully not *too long after*) midday. So, I prepared photocopied pages of the prayers and determined to pray on the run. There is one central section of the prayers that must be said standing still – that would take me about 3 minutes…In addition the morning prayers are said with a special prayer shawl and phylacteries – these I would be able to wear after the race…I first stopped to relieve myself. Gavin and Aviv together with another couple of runners who had caught up forged ahead. I pulled out my pages and began. Even though I was still battling through the pain, the experience of praying while running through such beautiful countryside was uplifting – it surprised me. Another climb and a breathtaking view. I stop for the Amida – the standing prayer. Noone else catches up. I continue on my way and wonder when and if I will see Gavin and Aviv.


We run into Nachal HaShofet. This is a well developed tourist spot. We are running for a few seconds on a wooden path and bridge. We'd visited this spot after last year's race on the weekend and it was swarming with visitors. Now in the early morning I pass a solitary woman walking her dog. The trail turns back towards the refueling area. We cross the main road under the watchful eyes of the local police. I make a mental list of what I have to do at the refueling station. Switch glasses. Take off the headlamp and dump the gloves. Take out the pages. Voltaren on the injury. Refill the hydration pack. Grab a banana and an energy bar. Getting closer. I catch up with a runner who I didn't know was ahead of me.

We approach the timing gate and I joke that we should sprint for the line. I crossed the line in 3:01 and enter the tent. Panic stations. They moved my bag! It takes me about a minute to find it…I remember everything on the list – except the pages which stay with me for another 20km…All up I was in for 4 minutes. Out of the tent and onto the green trail. (Each loop is colour coded).

Knees up

In the tent Carin told me that we had a great climb coming up with a wonderful view of the Hermon mountain range at the top. Out we go.
Besides our race, there is a 50km ultra which was schedueled to start at 8:00. The 50km course is the final 50km of our race. Similarly a 30k race at 11:00, and a 15k race at 12:30. The cutoff for finishing for all the races is 5pm – 12 hours after our start.

According to my calculations, we started at 5:12 am, and with the refueling stop I had been running for 3:05. The 50km race started on time at 8:00, so I was 17 minutes behind them. Afterwards I heard, and saw from the photos that Eilon had started his second loop with the 50km runners, a little way behind Reuven. I continue with the regimen. Sipping sports drink every 10 minutes. From time to time a date or a jelly. A salt capsule every hour. I planned to take another anti-inflammatory tablet 4 hours after the first one. Up ahead I see Aviv who is running with another runner who was ahead of us – Yuval. I run up to them – wish them luck, and onwards. I reach the climb that Carin told me about. Up and up and further up. At the top – a 360 degree vista – pity I don't have a camera. The only problem with the uphill is the downhill that follows. Having overcome the burden of running with the groin pain, an old friend comes back to visit – ITBS on the outside of the left knee – and together with that a new pain on the inside of the right knee. These 2 knee pains make the downhill running very problematic. And what downhills! Once I return to flatter terrain I realize that here I can run OK – the uphills are also good. I undergo a transformation. I make a determined decision. In races I usually conserve myself on the uphills, and let myself go on the downhills – I seem to have a good technique for the downs. From now it was going to be pushing more on the ups, and gingerly managing the downs. I had no choice. That's all I could do. I'm starting to haul in the slower 50km runners, and towards the end of this loop I pass my club-mate, Alon. He thinks that there are 4 or 5 80km runners ahead of me…I realize that once again I'll have to switch from sweet sports drink to water. I can't take the sweet stuff anymore. I can barely swallow a date, and have no appetite for an energy bar.
This time we enter the tent before crossing the timing gate. I've drunk around 4.5 liters of the sports drink in 5 hours. I pour out the remaining 0.5 liters, and the organizers refill with water, while I grab a banana and some Pringles. I'm in the tent for 2 minutes, and whilst the photo shows me heading out at 6:08, believe me that it was really 5:08. That gives me 2:01 for the 20k loop.


As soon as I head out on the third stage, I see Gavin ahead of me. I join up with him. We start talking and run together. We're both waiting to catch Reuven. The switch to water is a big boost for me. Whereas by the end of the second stage I felt I had to force myself to drink the sweet stuff, now I feel I can drink as much as I want. Also – I only intended to take 1.5 liters on this loop, but the organizers filled it up with 3 liters. The extra weight doesn't bother me – I take some water and pour it over my head. And while not hot – the sun is out and it's warming up. From now on I'll take a salt tablet every 15-20 minutes (Saltstick, 215mg Sodium), and try and eat more bananas and Pringles for the calories and carbohydrates. We approach an uphill and start walking. The transition from walking to running is hard for me. A lot harder than running continually. We now come to a short, but very steep incline. We maneuver our way up. We've been running together for about 5 kilometers. Gavin says that he needs to stop and have some food. I keep going. A little later I see that I've opened up a big gap on him. He told me after the race that he bonked on this loop and had a hard time, but managed to recover and run a solid final loop. I've already passed my longest run time-wise. That was 5:40 in last year's 60km ultra. But I'm not yet at 60km…I get there not long after 6 hours, and not long after that I see Reuven. It's hard to miss him – he's wearing a bright orange top. He's walking on a flat trail, and tells me that he's having a break to celebrate his (and my) longest ever run. We run together, but he says that my pace is too fast for him. We part company. I reckon that I'm now in 3rd place. Only Eilon and Eyal are ahead of me…I feel that I'll manage to finish respectably with my adjusted race tactics…Suddenly, without warning, Reuven goes flying by me on a downhill. I make an extra effort and attempt to stay not too far behind, waiting and praying for some uphills. He trips on a branch and goes flying, but somehow manages to regain his footing. We cross a cattle-grate and he stops. I run past and start to push even harder on the uphills. As I'm approaching the refueling point I hear a loud "Woohoo". That voice can only be one person – my daughter Elisheva. Michal managed to get here with the 2 girls. What an adrenaline surge!

The last 15 kms were covered in 1:31, and I headed out after another quick stop for bananas, Pringles, voltaren and more water with the time for 65kms showing 6:39.

Down but not out

This is it. The final stage. Another 15 kilometers and we're home. So I won't make it under 8 hours like I planned – but there are good reasons for that. And with a bit of luck I might even grab 3rd place…maybe…

The 3rd stage wasn't that hard – significantly easier than the first 2 stages. This stage opens up with a nice steady climb. The climb continues, and continues, which is good, but after every climb…Once the descent begins I discover that I can hardly move. The pains in the knees are worse. Each descent is harder than the previous one. I keep looking behind expecting Gavin or Reuven to come flying by, but the only person there is a 50k runner whom I've passed and who seems to be suffering as much as me. Closer. Some of the lead 30km runners pass me. I wish them good luck. The younger ones don't say anything. The older runners encourage me on. Dovev, in charge of the timing is also running the 30km race. He runs past and tells me "only 4 kilometers left". 4 kilometers. I've run 95% of the distance. So why is it all now downhill???
I approach the finish. It looks like no one will catch me after all. The last descent. I see Michal and the girls. Elisheva and Noa join me and holding their hands I approach the finish. I'm floating as I cross the line in 8:20 – a tough 1:41 for the final 15 kilometers.


Mixed feelings of happiness, fulfillment, pain and tiredness swell over me. "What place did I finish?" It's unclear. The timekeepers won't say. Michal saw Eilon finish well before me (7:29!) and thought that 2 others had also finished. That must be Eyal and one other who I hadn't counted on…So – fourth place – still a good achievement in the circumstances. I don't have much of an appetite. I keep drinking and eat a little. Michal goes off to pick up Nahum, Hanna, and Shira, and I wait with Elisheva and Noa. We watch runners finishing all 4 races. I shout out encouragement – especially to my 80km comrades – some of them are only finishing the third loop…Alon, my club-mate finishes the 50km race strongly. Michal makes it back before the awards ceremony. They put up the results – I'm second! More excitement – apparently at some stage I'd passed Eyal and hadn't noticed. The ceremony starts on time – every few minutes another 80km runner comes in. They call me up and the family entourage goes wild.

Last words

It was a totally different experience to last year.
I ran the 60 km race with less preparation, and minimal aspirations.
This year I was well prepared and more experienced.
Last year I ran according to plan, comfortably and with a pleasantly surprising result.
This year everything was put out of kilter. I found myself facing difficult decisions, and running was always a struggle.

In retrospect my decision to continue after the injury was a complex and confusing one. I hope that I'll get off relatively lightly. Time will tell.

Finally words of thanks. To Carin Goldblatt and all her team for putting on a wonderful race. The atmosphere and all respects of this race are unique – incomparable to other races. To Michal and all my kids for all the support and understanding and love.

Congratulations to Eilon Brachfeld on a monumental race and result. Also to Reuven Milman for surprising lots of people. To all the 80km runners and to Eyal, Gavin and Levi for making it home in under 9 hours.

Anthony. Jerusalem, Israel.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


I'm planning to run my second ultra marathon this Friday (March 27 2009). It will be in the same area as my first venture. The differnce is that last year's was 60km, and this year's is 80km!

Here is the write-up from last year:

60 km Trail Ultra, March 7, 2008
Ramot Menashe, Israel.

Short summary: Best race of my life, in more ways than one.

Long report:

I thought about running this ultra about 6 months ago when the organisers announced that the race would be run on a Friday.. The plan was build the base for 2-3 months, then specialize with long runs, hills, and lots of kilometers. Just after I had a little base and a few weeks solid running I felt a twinge in my ankle, so I stopped running for a couple of weeks and hit the bike. One cold morning I took a turn too quickly, and the bike slid out from under me. I collected a nice knock on my knee which ironically didn't affect my biking, but left me unable to run for about 6 weeks.

So…that brought me to Plan B.
Forget the base.
Increase mileage gradually, but a lot quicker than usual (or generally advisable). Compensate for this by only running 4 times per week (instead of the usual 6) and add 2 bike sessions (exercise bike) instead of the 2 extra runs.
Hit the hills straight away.

I started this plan in December. 125 kms (78 miles).
January 291 kms (181 miles).
February 306 kms (190 miles). Biggest week was 81 kms (50 miles).
Long runs went in successive weeks 16-20-24-28-32-36-40 on a hilly trail circuit. (Har Eitan)
2 other hill sessions per week starting at 7 repeats and up to 10 repeats of 600m up then down. The uphills were run on a light trail near my house, starting very easily with a gentle increase of pace. Downhills cruising.
1 easy session per week.
2 Exercise bike sessions were at low resistance and usually from 60-75 mins covering from 35-45 kms.
I ran 1 speed session during the 3 months. Two weeks before the race I ran a 10.34 km race in the National Cross-country championships. Ran around 42 mins and felt good.

I tapered the last couple of weeks, and on the Friday before the race went for a massage session. I wanted some massage mainly for my right hamstring and left calf muscles which have troubled me in the past and sometimes flare up. It seems to have done well for the hamstring, but the calf felt tight during the last week, so I cut right back. The Friday before the race I had run 16km on the hilly circuit. From then I just ran a very easy 5k on the following Tuesday and some short, easy bike commutes.

So – Thursday afternoon I drove up to the race site with my wife and 2 youngest daughters. We were staying around 5 minutes from the start, and I went there in the evening for some pasta, to collect my number and chip, and to hear the final instructions. The chip was actually imbedded in the race number – first time I've had one like that – it was light and didn't bother me at all. One thing that did bother me that night was some cramping in my toes! Never had that before and no doubt it was entirely psychosomatic. I had been drinking mostly isotonic sports drink during the day and during the night I added some salt capsules…I only managed about 3 hours sleep…

The race was offering prizes and trophies for the first 3 men and women. No age-group prizes…It was due to start at 6:30. I got a ride with a fellow runner and we got there in good time to put our bags in the feeding zone. We were to return here at 30km and at 45km. I had 3 litres (100 oz) of Isostar in my hydration backpack, salt tablets and dates in my pockets, as well as tissues and an anti-inflammatory tablet. In my bag I had bananas, jelly beans, dates, energy bars, tape, more anti-inflammatories (tablets and cream), vaseline, bodyglide, suntan lotion (with insect repellant (picked that up in Oz)). I had all the necessary tape on me, anti-inflammatory cream where I might need it, vaseline, bodyglide, suntan etc. I also had another 6 litres (200 oz) of isotonic drink, and plenty of salt capsules. The organizers provided water, a different isotonic drink, gels, pretzels, bananas, and bread. I was wearing regular lightweight training shoes (Saucony Sinister) and injinji socks (individual toes). I had trained with lightweight trail shoes (Inov8 Mudrock 290) and a pair of the "Sinisters" with screws, but the hot weather had dried out most of the course.

After a short pep-talk and words from some sponsors we set off exactly on time. The race favourite was last year's winner. A sub 2:40 marathoner and very tough competitor. He was wearing a fuel-belt that looked to me like it carried less than 1.5 litres (50 oz). I remember thinking that looked like too little for 30 kms. Originally the organizers had said that there were not going to be any intermediary fueling stations besides the 30k and 45k stops. But given the hot weather (maximum around 28C / 82F) they said that there would be a couple of points where race marshals would have water and you could refill your packs…

As we started off I was caught towards the back of the 106 starters. I gently eased my way through carefully drumming into my head: "Run slow, run smart, check that everything feels relaxed". I made it up to about 20th place, and then settled into the first few kilometers of easy paced running – at this stage mostly flat and downhill. The runners gradually separated. The leaders disappeared in the distance. We came to a water crossing. Most crossings could be bypassed on the side or crossed on rocks. Nothing too deep. A few times we got our feet wet, but my shoes drained quickly and the socks were brilliant. A few meters of squelching and then back to normal. There were also a few sections of "squelchy, oozy" mud. Again it was usually possible to bypass. Once I slowed down too much and sunk in a bit. Thankfully my shoe didn't get stuck. I eased past a few runners, and settled into a group of 4 – Avi, Levi, Amit and me. Sometimes one or more of us moved forward. Amit tended to push the ups and ease off on the downs. The rest of us were just the opposite. I had determined to "power-walk" all the steep uphills – there weren't too many, but it felt good to both get a short break, and know that I wasn't pushing the heart-rate up to where it shouldn't be. Two of our group had garmins, and they told me that we had reached 15km in 1:19:40. Just under 5:20/km (8:35/mile). Faster than I had planned, but it had been mostly flat and downhill up until now, and we had avoided the sun in the early morning relative coolness.

Levi, Amit and me at around 15km:

Another one:

The second half of the first loop was harder. More uphills and less shade. Our pace eased off as we passed some stunning cyclamens blooming:

We made it to the half-way point in 2:45:40 (the 2nd 15km split was 1:26) and we were now averaging just over 5:30 pace (8:50/mile pace). I spent about 3 minutes in the feeding zone. I had almost finished my 3 litres, and added another 1.5 litres of Isostar for the next 15 kms. I also downed a banana, and drank some water and poured some water over my head. I made it out of the station ahead of my group, but stopped just after heading out of the stadium to relieve myself – a good sign…I was still ahead of our group. I was now in 14th pace. This section was more exposed, and the wind had sprung up. A hot "hamsin" wind. The course was marked very well, but unfortunately the wind had knocked some of the stakes down, and blown some of the arrows off some of the other stakes. This led to no small amount of confusion…I was managing to gradually haul in runners ahead of me. One by one. During this 15kms I passed 5 or 6 runners. One of them was cramping so I gave him a couple of salt tablets. I came to a junction. There were 2 right turns, sharp and regulation. But the arrow pointing right was ambiguous, and the other arrow there had been mangled. What to do? I waited for the 2 runners behind me (for about a minute but it seemed like longer) Together we reckoned that it probably means the regulation right. We ventured on and yes! Another arrow…Towards the end of this stage I felt some slight nausea, and the sweetness of the Isostar was starting to get to me. I realized that I should switch to water and salt tablets for the last stage. I started making a mental list in my head of what I needed to do at the last change. Try and finish what's in the backpack during these last few kms, fill up with water, take a salt capsule every half-hour, eat some jelly-babies, take an anti-inflammatory, rub some anti-inflammatory gel on the calf muscles. During the last kilometers of this section I passed 2 landmarks. My longest run by distance (42.2), and by time (3:48 for my 40km training run). At around 41kms I happened to pass a point that was close to the stadium and heard the race announcer say that the leader (the earlier mentioned favourite) was coming in to finish the 2nd section. He was 4 kms ahead of me, and I made it there in about 24 minutes. The last kilometers of this section were tough. I had passed the last of the runners that I would catch in this section. I was now in 8th place (I didn’t know exactly what place I was in then), but the 2 runners running together were not getting any closer – if anything they were drawing away slightly. But I was running slightly uphill into the hot wind, so I didn't push. Still too early.

I made it back at around 4:16 – around 1:27:20 for that 15km (5:50/km or 9:23/mile).
I had slowed down, but it was a tougher section. I followed my list of things to do. I drank a lot of water besides filling my pack with 1.5 litres of water, and took a salt capsule. Lots of water over my head. I felt refreshed, and headed out on the final stage. The ultra also had races for 30 and 15 kms. The 15k race was the same course as our last 15kms and they were due to start about 10 minutes after I set out…
As I headed out of the grounds in a different direction to the first 2 stages, I met a runner who looked slightly desperate – he had got lost so I pointed him in the right direction, and we set off together. He told me that he felt OK and that he had been ahead of the 2 runners who were now ahead of him (the 2 that I had seen previously). He thought that prior to that he had been in 5th place, but he wasn't sure…We ran on. Despite the heat, the time, and the effort I realized that I felt good. I was ready to start racing! I eased away from my partner and onto a single track through some flowers. I came up to the 2 other runners and passed them also. One said to the other that I must be from the 15km race…I told them that wasn't the case. Onwards. The elevation map that the organizers had given us indicated that this last section was a lot flatter than the earlier ones. Wrong! A nice downhill, brought us into some beautifully shaded forest and then turned up to the steepest uphill of the day. Even in my "revved-up" state I knew that this was walking territory. At the top of the uphill there was a "T" junction. But where's the arrow??? As I released a loud expletive I looked (somewhat frantically I must admit) both ways. Maybe to the left there, possibly…I tentatively jogged in that direction as thoughts of wandering aimlessly around forced their way into my mind.
Yes – an arrow! So I continued although for a few seconds I thought that maybe I'd already run this section and that I would find myself running in circles! But I looked over my shoulder and saw that a few 100 meters behind were the 3 runners that I had passed. I now felt that I could run harder on the uphills. As I ran up the 15km runners were coming down in the opposite direction. I asked them how far I was behind the runner ahead of me. They shouted back – "about 300 meters". I came up to 2 other people who were clapping me and shouting encouragement. They said I had just over 5 kms to go. They told me I was 200 meters behind the next runner. Around another corner and there they(!) are – 2 runners. I recognized one as one of only 2 runners who had passed me running very strongly during the first stage. The other runner turned out to be his pacer. I was now running through the little water and mud without slowing down. Ahead of me looked like….the race favourite – he was barely running and didn’t look in great shape…

Not much further. I thought I might be in 3rd place but I wasn't sure. I was running the fastest I'd been running all day and feeling good. And then ahead of me I see 2 runners. I move up to them on the uphill and pass them. They tell me that we are in the leading pack…Later on it turned out that they were runners from the 15km race who (I hope inadvertently) took a shortcut…But I didn't know that at the time. These last 3 or so kilometers were the same ones as the last kms of the first stage. I came up to a lone supporter. She told me that I was in 4th place and about 4 minutes behind 3rd place! Oh well – nearly but not quite – I continued to press hard but knew that I had little chance of catching anyone. 2 kms to go, and then finally, the last kilometer. I approach the stadium and see my wife and daughters. I call out to my 11 year-old to join me for the last lap. She runs with me and I power on home. I cross the line and someone tells me that I finished third! One of the other runners had been another 15 km short-cutter…I had run the last 15kms in 1:21:10. Afterwards the first place runner told me that he thinks that he and the second place runner may have inadvertently taken a short-cut during that confusing middle stage. They had converged with the race leader at some point from different directions, and he had admonished them…This guy was a very modest, good sportsman and he had explained to the organizers what had happened. He also said that he ran some extra kms at another point. He refused to go up on the podium or to receive his prize, even though I told him that he should.

The organization for this race was first-class. You could tell that runners were involved. The pasta evening was punctual, quick and with lots of the right food and drink. Plenty of tables and chairs!! Instructions were clear and concise.
The volunteers in the feeding zone went out of their way to ask you what you needed and to deliver it quickly. The course was marked well – it was the strong winds in the second section that caused some confusion…
Special thanks to Carin Goldblatt for the inspiration and the determination to produce this special event, and to all who were involved in the preparations and on race day.
And extra special thanks for agreeing to hold the race on a Friday so that I and other religious runners could participate!

In short: It was the most challenging race I’ve run, on the most beautiful course, and it was the most rewarding running event that I have experienced.

Anthony Waller. HaSolelim Jerusalem running club.