Tel Aviv will celebrate its centennial year with a full marathon that will circle the city. Picture credit: Sian Sport, from last year’s half marathon.New York has one, and so do the cities of Chicago, and Boston. The one in Berlin is the most popular. Running enthusiasts will be happy to know that the Tel Aviv Marathon, after being retired for 15 years, is back on track this year.
The occasion: Tel Aviv, the first modern Hebrew city to be built, is celebrating its 100 year birthday, and participants — experienced and amateur, or those just cheering their friends on from the sidelines — will find the event a perfect way to get to know the Mediterranean city that never sleeps.
On April 4 the run will start and end at an historic spot, the Charles Clore Garden on the beach of Tel Aviv, where the city was founded on April 11, 1909. With a 42 kilometer, 10 kilometer and a possible five kilometer run set, organizers are making sure that participants will run through some of Tel Aviv’s most important landmarks.
Run a ring around the White City
An annual marathon in Tiberius already takes place around the Sea of Galilee, and a half marathon finds runners sweating it out around the Dead Sea. Now, the re-inaugurated Tel Aviv Marathon, run by the company Marathon Israel, will prove to be more accessible to locals and tourists alike. Tel Aviv is a flat and long city, which offers splendid views, and a breeze from the sea.
Sponsored by the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and the major sports brand Adidas, Aviv Stein, a director at Marathon Israel, and a founder of the Tiberias Marathon in 1977, says he will be sitting this one out, making sure that all the complicated logistics are set for the day.
“It will be special,” says Stein, whose last marathon was five years ago at age 50: “This is the first time a marathon in Tel Aviv starts in the south close to the ancient Port of Jaffa.” The spot, he says, is where the founders of Tel Aviv cast lots to decide how the city’s land will be divided up.
Racing around the beach
At 6:45am after the starting gun is fired, runners will pass through the closed streets of Rothschild Boulevard, also established in 1909, and run by Independence Hall, where Israel?s Declaration of Independence is kept. Moving through Allenby Street, runners will see Tel Aviv’s old commercial heart, before they pass through the avenues of north Tel Aviv and the city?s Central Park, Park HaYarkon.
Runners on the full marathon — about 800 to 1,000 are expected — will head back to the finish line by way of Tel Aviv’s glorious beaches, on the road beside the Mediterranean Sea. “Everyone will have a fantastic finish line about 10 meters from the waves,” says Stein. “Their final view will be the ancient city of Jaffa.”
This will impress some of the foreign guests: applications from marathon runners have already come in from around the world, including the United States, Ireland, Sweden, Ethiopia and Kenya.
The first run at an annual event
Prize payouts for winners will be $2,000, $1,500 and $1,000 in women’s and men’s categories, with other prizes for everyone who participates. Local schools will send out groups of younger runners to take part in a leg of the run.
Because it’s the first marathon that’s been in Tel Aviv in 15 years, Stein says the city doesn’t wasn’t to push the marathon “too hard” to marathon tourists and celebrities from the US and elsewhere this year.
Taking place on a Friday morning, police will shut down the streets to ensure that the estimated 15,000 runners — in the full and half marathon — will stay safe. A party will be waiting for the finishers at the end of the race.
Ancient Hebrews, first marathon runners?
The run, points out Stein, is a good opportunity for lovers of the Bible to learn about Israel’s first marathon, one that happened years before the first celebrated marathon took place on a battlefield between Marathon and Athens in Greece.
“We can find some mention of marathons connected to the ancient Israeli people,” says Stein, referring to the Book of Samuel, where a bearer of bad news ran from the town of Rosh Ayn to Shilo, to announce that the High Priests had lost the battle against the Philistines.
“After the Six Day War, we measured the route and it was exactly 42 km long. From the matter of fact, Israel invented the marathon race,” says Stein, half-jokingly.
Parties and events, Tel Aviv style
But even if you are not into biblical lore, or a running freak, and are planning to visit the White City this spring and summer, you won?t be disappointed. A plethora of events will be focused on the city’s streets. These include the all night White Nights party on May 27, where visitors will experience old-style Tel Aviv with stage coaches, tea and strudel.
On June 17, an event called Blue will offer tribute to the city?s Eastern heritage, and on July 16, enjoy a free La Scala opera, as the opera group performs Verdi’s Requiem in an open-air theater in the park.
The official kick-off of Tel Aviv’s months-long birthday bash will be on April 4, with celebrations continuing throughout 2009. Between operas, marathon races, White Nights, and historic tours, gallery showings and parties, Tel Aviv — the economic, cultural and academic capital of Israel — is living up to its reputation of being a city that keeps running, and one that never really sleeps.