Once upon a time, not so long ago, running races in Israel were something only serious athletes did. Jogging along Tel Aviv’s beach boardwalk was common enough, but competing in a marathon or even a 5-km race was best left to the pros.
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Today running has become more and more popular, both in Israel and the rest of the world. The streets and parks are packed with joggers. People join running clubs and the number of participants in the traditional marathons and shorter distance competitions has soared.
The Tel Aviv municipality understands this running fever and plays host to no small number of races over the course of the year, sponsored by major corporations such as Gillette, Garmin and Samsung.
The races here may be many, but they’re also quite expensive and commercial. The annual Nike 10-km night-run next week, for example, costs participants between NIS 130-170, plus a NIS 30 surcharge if they register for it by phone.
While the brightly colored Nike shirt provided for the race and the festival atmosphere of the event has already attracted thousands of participants, many running enthusiasts are turned off by the cost and commercialization of city-sponsored races.
If you’re the kind of runner who prefers a low-key, low-cost, corporate-free kind of race, there is an alternative. In fact, there’s one tomorrow, October 17.
Unhappy with the commercial nature of the Nike run, the organizers of the Open Night Run decided to hold this unaffiliated race for the first time in 2010.
“I realized it wasn’t for me, and I decided I would run alone in the dark,” says Ilan Zisser, one of the organizers. “And people ran with me, about 150 people.” The next year, 350 people joined the race; the year after that, 500.
More than 900 people are expected to run in this year’s race, which kicks off at 8 P.M. at the corner of Park Hayarkon East and Raoul Wallenberg Street, in front of the Brooks Maratonia store. Time chips will be distributed to registered participants between 6 and 7:30 P.M.
Registration for the race has already closed, but isn’t mandatory anyway - Zisser encourages anybody who want to run to come and enjoy the experience.
The race is free, but the organizers have asked participants to donate a symbolic NIS 10 or more to help cover some of the costs, which include time chips, glow sticks and water. A T-shirt prize will be given to the fastest three women and three men. About 30-40 volunteers will be on hand to provide water (at 3.5 km, 6.5 km, and 10 km) and point runners in right direction.
The organizers have asked the city in the past for some financial assistance, but were turned down. They plan to ask again next year, when they expect registration to pass 1,000.
“It’s important for us that people come and enjoy,” Zisser says. “This isn’t an ‘anti’ run it’s a ‘for’ - it’s an alternative. What we want is for people to come and enjoy. The goal is to show that it’s possible to do something that doesn't cost much money.”
For more information visit the Open Night Run website (Hebrew)