Palestine Marathon

To be honest, I am not very fond of running, and I never have been. It is hot and tiring, and you get injured easily if you don’t practice appropriately with the right gear. Nevertheless, doctors seem to suggest that it is good for your health, keeping your heart healthy and your body fit. So I have picked up jogging many times, regularly when I was younger, less so when I started to lead a busy adult life, but that doesn’t mean that I was loving it. I had never jogged seriously let alone participated in a marathon. Those were things for skinny runner geeks and had nothing to do with me. Until one day, about three years ago, a dear friend and neighbor offered an invitation: “You must join the Palestine Marathon with me; it’s the best, trust me!” I thought, dear me, running in a marathon? It sounds scary and terribly taxing, especially under the bright Palestinian sun. But since I really like that friend and trust her judgment, my curiosity got the best of me, and I signed up for the 10K. It felt like the minimum I could do to really feel that I had taken this seriously, but it was definitely above my punching weight. Thus, I had to do this properly or I was going to get injured and be out of commission for the rest of the year. I read online all about joining marathons and started training three full months in advance. The daily run around Jerusalem’s old town walls is indeed breathtaking, and I must admit, it soon became a rather intoxicating habit, which included quite a few joint runs with friends also planning to run the marathon in Bethlehem.

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A few days before the marathon, my friend apologized. For work reasons, she would not be in the country on the day of the marathon. I, of course, panicked, thinking: I will never make it…It will be boring to run alone…The crowd will swallow me up in a big gulp… But after all those months of training, the anticipation was too strong to allow me to give up so close to the finish line. The day of the marathon came, and I admit, I was rather nervous. Probably more about where I was going to park my car in Bethlehem than running, but adrenaline was high as I drove excessively early in the morning from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, in my very blue branded EU technical t-shirt.

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What was waiting for me there, on that day, was something I would have never expected. The sun was (obviously) shining, Bethlehem’s old city looked as beautiful as ever, and all these people, coming from all over the world, were slowly filling every corner of Manger Square. Smiles, laughs, music, children, happy voices, colored balloons: it looked like I had been pushed into one of Mary Poppins’ animated drawings. The atmosphere was magical. And all of a sudden, running was the ONLY thing I wanted to do. It just made perfect sense. The lead-up to the beginning of the run was charged with energy. The start was messy, but I felt like one big running spirit with the rest of the participants. There I was, part of this very special moment, absorbing all that was happening around me second after second. Dancing and singing shows, volunteers handing out fruit and water, the crowd of bystanders cheering, so many inspiring slogans shouting from the runners’ t-shirts. Among all this, the future generations of Palestine looked wonderful and full of hope, against the many colors of the separation Wall graffiti. Together with numerous foreigners like me, we were all running together for peace.

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At the end, 10K in the blazing heat left me with a purple face and sore calves, but the feeling of accomplishment was incomparable. Loads of water and a few sugary dates later, with my medal around the neck, I knew I would come back every single year to join this feast.

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Last year I lowered my expectations as a runner to be able to take my seven-year-old son. I knew he would love every second of it. He has been wearing the EU branded t-shirt and cap since, the 5K medal is proudly hanging from his bedroom wall. I am dreading the next marathon as I know that my much younger daughter will surely also want to join! But trust me: it is worth it, every drop of sweat.

Article photos courtesy of the European Union.

 

Sara Dominoni is an Italian who has been living and working in the Middle East for over 13 years. She has worked with the United Nations and the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. Currently, she is with the European Union in Jerusalem.