'Tis the season to be a runner, at least in Israel, where marathon mayhem spans late winter to early spring – a perfect time for athletes to beat their personal bests without blazing heat and humidity.
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Running near Lake Kinneret
The season kicks off in Tiberias on January 10, with the 37th Winter Marathon, the oldest annual sporting event in Israel. More than 2,000 runners are expected this year on the full 42.2 km course, with thousands more taking part in a 10 km race.
The winner of the $100,000 record-beating prize will have to sprint past the 2:07:30 set in 2012 – no easy feat. Registration has already closed for this event, but fans and spectators are invited to the watch and take part in the expo.
For those who running a mere marathon isn't enough, there's the Israman - Israel's version of the world Ironman race, a 226 km race which tacks a 3.8 km swim and 180 km cycle on to the 42.2 km run. That takes place in Eilat a week later, on January 17. Registration for this crème-de-la-crème of Israeli races is open until January 4.
If the distance sounds daunting, no fear: there's also a half-distance category, which takes participants on an "easier" course of just a 1.9 km swim, 90 km cycle, and a 21.1 km run, from Eilat through its surrounding hills and back, as well as a relay event in which a team of three athletes take on each of the categories in the race.
Running in the White City
Serious athletes aiming to clock at a race every month will have about six weeks to recover for the next marathon, on February 28 in Tel Aviv. The White City will hold its annual 42.2 km marathon a couple of weeks earlier in the season than usual, presumably to avoid an unexpected heat wave that might put runners in danger.
The starting gun will blast in Park Hayarkon, from where Tel Aviv participants can choose between the full marathon course across the city, a half-marathon through the park and down the coastline, or the shorter 10 km and 5 km races. There is a hand-cycling course option as well.
Racing in Jerusalem
Jerusalem will kick off its fourth annual marathon in front of the Knesset less than a month later, on March 21. Like in Tel Aviv, there are also options of 21.1, 10 and 5 km courses. More than 20,000 runners from 54 countries (including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat) joined the race in 2012, and the city hopes for an even higher turnout this year.
With its rolling hills, the course is considered much tougher than Tel Aviv, but with undeniably cooler weather.
While these are the only marathon-distance races available in Israel so far, running races are held here all year-long, including the upcoming half-marathon in the Arava desert (with 10 and 2 km courses as well) on February 2. For a full list of running and other endurance races, check out the Shvoong or 4Sport websites in Hebrew.