Sovev-Emek 62km Ultra Marathon
I approached this race somewhat uncertain, with a few question marks hanging over my head. I have had some tendonitis in my right ankle over the last year. Around this time last year I took a few months off – had lots of physiotherapy and went to see an orthopedist who specializes in feet. He gave me an injection which helped for a few weeks, but the pain returned. Using a series of stretches and strengthening exercises I managed to return to a reasonable level of training. I ran the Jerusalem half-marathon in March – which was a great event and several other low-key races. Towards the end of the summer we moved from Jerusalem to Efrat. My commute to work is now longer and more tiring – getting out to run in the evenings is harder – I haven't run many weeks with over 50 kms mileage. However – I did manage to get out every Friday for a long run. Starting before our move on the trails around Jerusalem, and over the last months around our new home – runs that built up from 20 to 30 kms and beyond. I really enjoyed these runs – meeting new runners, new trails, breathtaking views, watching deer bounding down the mountainside at breakneck speed, watching my (new and first) Garmin watch clock in at 1000 meters. Not too many other midweek runs – but a couple of times I upped the pace a bit and found the results pleasing. I was all set for a big push during the Succot holiday – about a month before the race leading up to the longest pre-race run – 40km and "the taper".
On the Sunday of Succot I played in a cricket match and managed to strain my hamstring in my left leg. OK. No more running during Succot. Stretches and strengthening. A longish run where I had to walk all the uphills. A shorter run where I couldn't generate any pace. But 2 weeks before the race I did manage a decent 34km hilly run – not quite 40km – but hopefully I would be able to complete the race, although, unusually for me, I had no good idea of what pace I would be able to run.
Unlike my 3 previous ultra marathons, this course had aid stations every 5 kms with water, isotonic drinks, and various food. I didn't like the idea of having to stop to drink – but running without a backpack was tempting. I decided to compromise. The run was basically 2.5kms out then 2 loops of 28kms and 2.5 kms back. I brought a bag along which the organizers would have waiting at the aid station at the half-way mark. For the first half of the race I would drink at the aid stations – for the second half I would use my hydration backpack with 1.5 liters.
I arrived at the race start at Kibbutz HaZore'a at 4am. It was freezing cold – colder than when I had left home 2 hours earlier. The 92 km runners had started at midnight, but the only person around was 1 of the runners who had dropped out of that race. Shai, the race director and some volunteers arrived to hand out the race numbers and timing chips around 5am ahead of our 6am start. I davened and got ready. In my race shorts pockets I was carrying dates, salt tablets, sugar jellies, compeed plasters (in case of blisters) and 2 ibuprofen tablets. The race started out on time as the sun rose. In my past ultra races I have always started conservatively , not worrying too much about runners ahead of me. Generally I have had enough in reserve to pass lots of runners as the race unfolded. In my last 50km race I used these tactics and came home strongly and finished fourth. I wondered afterwards if I should have tried running faster earlier to keep in closer touch with the leaders…
With the start most of the worries and concerns quickly disappear – the legs feel OK. One of the runners, Ariel takes off ahead but I am left in a group of 7 or 8 runners – the pace is solid – probably a touch faster than I would like – but I decide to stay in contact. On the uphills some of the runners pull ahead, but I catch up and pass them on the downs. We are not running as a solid group but staying within eye contact – I am moving between 2nd and 8th place. We arrive at the first aid station at around 6km – manned by smiling, helpful volunteers. I stop to drink a cup of water and a cup of isotonic drink – some of the others don't stop and pull ahead. But I am able to catch them back up and so we continue until around 20kms. A lot of the trail is very rocky – we try and navigate between the rocks or to run on the side of the trail where it is less rocky…
Udi has pulled ahead in 2nd place now and Gavin and Benny speed up – I realise that it is too fast for me – so I let them go. I am left with Amir and Eyal and fall back to 8th. We are still averaging about 5 mins/km pace. The ball of my left foot is really hurting from all the rocks – I try landing more on my heel or curling up my toes but it doesn't help. I take an ibuprofen tablet and the pain subsides a few minutes later…As we approach the half-way mark I pass Eyal. At the half-way aid station I find my bag – take out a banana and some Pringles and put on my backpack. I feel good and quickly come up to and pass Amir.
I now feel good and I'm running at a good pace. I search the way ahead for Ilan in his blue shirt – there are lots of runners from the 32km race coming towards me – but no one ahead. After 8 or 9 kilometers I see Ilan ahead. As I get closer I see that another runner has a problem and has stopped to walk. I pass them both and now I'm in 4th . But I hear someone behind me – it's Benny – how is he there? He comes up to me and explains that he was sent the wrong way at one of the aid stations and ended up running in the wrong direction. He has now caught us back up – and we end up running together and catching Udi at around 44kms. We are now 2nd and 3rd . We run together for a few kilometers – but I start feeling nauseous and Benny pushes ahead. I look behind and see that there is noone there. At the aid stations I drink more water, splash water on my head and face – by now it's quite warm – and take some more salt tablets. The nausea subsides, but now the ball of my other foot is really hurting. Another tablet. I have slowed down, but I'm still running a respectable pace. Still no one threatening from behind, so I settle on steady running with no big push – don't know if I could have pushed harder given my lack of training and the early fast pace.
I cross the finish line in 5:25 – 2:33 for the first half and 2:52 the second.
Ariel won in a very good time of 4:41 and Benny finished in 5:18. After checking the results I saw that every runner (59 finishers) ran positive splits (2nd half slower than first). Ariel had the lowest split (5 minutes) and I had the 7th lowest. Three runners who started behind our group came through to finish ahead of all of the runners except for Ilan who finished 4th .
Overall a very well organized race – great credit to the race director Shai Hazan and his eager band of volunteers.