Jerusalem Marathon - Olivier Fitoussi - 18032012
The Jerusalem Marathon on Friday morning. Runners filled the streets despite inclement weather. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Near the Foreign Ministry, just before the first ascending slope, we saw the sign "Half marathon - 1 kilometer." One of the runners next to us breathed heavily: "Come on guys, only 20 kilometers to go." At this point, most of us could still laugh.

The night before, when according to the weather forecast we were due seven to nine degrees, plus raging winds and fierce rain, we already expected an amusing race. But there are some things a person just has to see with his own eyes, and some things can be seen only in the Jerusalem Marathon.

Before the start, in the car parks and assembly points, groups of men wrapped in prayer shawls and tefillin were holding the morning prayers in the painful cold. They obviously didn't skip the part about the one who brings wind and rain, but they didn't take into account the hail that awaited us around the tenth kilometer. And how did they explain the winds that hurled us back in the Armon Hanatziv Promenade?

But, wait; try to forget the stereotypes about religious Jerusalem. The prayers in the car parks, as well the large number of female athletes in skirts and coifs, only underlined the fact that the Jerusalem Marathon is the most cosmopolitan event around.

Add them to the various races that included 13,000 cheerful Israelis in colorful clothes, and 1,600 tourists; consider the fact that the event was meticulously produced according to un-Israeli standards; add the setting and beautiful sites, and the result is an extremely unique marathon. Don't forget how beautiful Jerusalem can be. All this city really needs is a decent dose of endorphins, and some quiet and surprising silence when thousands of people run in the streets.

The weather made fools of everybody. Some athletes showed up in shorts and undershirts, while others arrived dressed in long sweat suits and Windbreakers, while others improvised plastic bags that protected them from the rain. Still, eventually everyone was soaked.

Anybody who runs in Jerusalem comments about the sharp slopes - poor Ze'ev Jabotinsky received a plethora of curses and rants, but only because the street named after him was so difficult to negotiate. In this weather, though, the rare plateaus weren't that much fun either, because of the puddles. No matter what you wore, or where you ran - you eventually got drenched.

For two months now, the preparations for the marathon could be felt throughout the city, and the excitement was rising as the date approached. We're a deep-rooted Jerusalem family, going back many generations. Grandfather taught Torah all his days, making a living as a milkman in the mornings. I doubt if he made a big fuss about his bicycle, or that he kept colorful clothes in closets especially for riding. One wonders how he would react to the fact that all the entrances to the neighborhood he built were sealed to accommodate the new faith - the fitness religion of the runners.

But that religion is already strongly rooted, and mayor Nir Barkat decided to set aside a central ritual ceremony for it. Some Jerusalemites despise the marathon because it closes down whole neighborhoods, but even those who love it still stare at it in disbelief. It's especially hard to get used to the idea that almost 15,000 people in colorful clothes fill the streets for a happy festival. Hard to get used to the inspiring and moving sight of men and women fighting the forces of nature, still trying to reach the finishing line six hours after the marathon started.

My partner, who came from Tel Aviv, contributed an insight: The Jerusalemites cheer you on with cries of "Bravo!" and "Well done!" While in Tel Aviv they cheer you on by saying, "Go on, faster!" The difference points out contradicting points of view concerning ambitiousness and competitiveness, but also the simple truth that in Jerusalem, people are truly amazed by the fact that other people take to the streets, to the difficult slopes, to the pouring rain - and run for the mere fun of it.