Tag: dead sea

Fitness Swellness: Dead Sea Half-Marathon race recap

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When given five weeks notice and you’ve got zero base fitness, do you snap up the opportunity to run the Dead Sea Marathon?

The answer is YES.

When the idea of me running the Dead Sea Marathon came  up with iRun, it was December and I immediately told my editor I would run the marathon. The race was in February, and that would give me two months to train. It would by no means be pretty, but my only goal would be to finish the 42.2 kilometres.

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Then I actually looked at the calendar and realized we were already the third week of December and that the Dead Sea Marathon takes place at the beginning of February, which only gave me six weeks to prepare, and by the time the trip was confirmed, I had five weeks to prepare, and so I decided to run the half-marathon instead. Even 21.1k was not going to be easy given I had taken a long break from running (I took three weeks off after the Istanbul Marathon, and then I did one or two short runs and then with little notice I went to Thailand unexpectedly for two weeks).

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So, at that point, five weeks to build a base to run the Dead Sea Half-Marathon didn’t sound like too awful an idea…

And then I caught a cold.

The cold took me out for two weeks. Which meant I then had three weeks of building base fitness to run the half-marathon. I jumped into it and completed about three to four runs each week and I immediately started my long runs at the 16k distance.

By the time it came time to fly to Tel Aviv, I didn’t feel ready for the run but my plan was to just run it for fun, to take photos, and enjoy the experience.

Jet lagged and unprepared

I landed in Tel Aviv after about 24 hours of flying around midday on February 5th (two days before the race). I just rested when I got to the hotel, then stepped out to watch the sunset on the beach. Then next day, we did some sightseeing in Jaffa until lunch, and then we made the two-hour drive to the Dead Sea, during which I took the opportunity to catch up on some sleep.

When I was already on my flight to Israel, the race director had emailed saying the weather was colder than than anticipated and he recommended some layers for the 15k run planned for 6 a.m. the day after the race (this run was news to me…and I wasn’t clear as to why a run was planned before sunrise the day after racing, but that’s another story). I realized I didn’t have many layers, nor had I packed a running cap for the race. I’d purposely not brought trail shoes (which the race director had recommended a week or so before the race), since I figured it was wiser for me to run in shoes that I’m used to running in.

That evening, we went to pick up race kits and there was a bit of confusion in the process but we ended up being sent off to go eat an early dinner at the hotel (even though I’d understood we were to eat at the race’s pasta dinner, but again this again some miscommunication with regards to our itinerary). The buffet had a lot of options but I tried to stick to more of the plain items (even though I don’t typically have stomach issues before a race, I figure it was smarter to play it safe).

In bed earlier than I ever am before I race, I did end up staying awake til midnight, before I finally forced myself to turn off the TV to get some zzz’s since my alarm was set for 5:30 a.m. (remember, too, that I was also managing a seven-hour time difference with my hometown of Toronto).

Race day morning

I got up, got dressed, and went down to eat. In the lobby there was a pretty meager set up for breakfast for runners. There was bread, but literally nothing to put on the bread nor a toaster to toast it. I drank some juice and ate a slice of whole wheat bread and then went back upstairs to finish prepping. The weather forecast called for overcast skies and 18 Celsius. Warmer than I’d like, and I’d normally have run in just a sports bra and shorts for that type of weather, but one of the fellow runners thought she had read that this wasn’t permitted. My plan was to run with a tank top on top, which I’d take it off if I got too hot. As for a running cap, I didn’t end up buying one as there was one in the race kit.

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It was about a 15-minute walk from our hotel to the race start, so we headed on over, visited the portapotty for a pre-race bathroom break and then got into the starting chute.

And it’s go-time!

The race started a couple of minutes late, just after 7 a.m. I set out and was uncomfortably warm quite quickly. I also, for some reason, couldn’t get my Google Play Music to work. I couldn’t seem to find the free playlists so after several tries, I gave up and resigned myself to running without music. Which for a big race like Chicago or Philly isn’t a big deal, but in a race like the Dead Sea where there would be no spectators based on the route into the Dead Sea (a factor I hadn’t considered until fellow runner Ashley pointed out to me the day before the race), not having music is a big deal, but what could I do? My music app wasn’t cooperating, and what actually started playing on my earbud is the audio recordings of interviews I’d conducted for articles. I turned down the volume and tried to focus instead on the scenery and people around me.

Another mishap that morning? Tracking the run on Nike’s NRC app. I went into autopilot when the race was starting and tapped my NRC app on my Apple watch to track the race. I only realized a few kilometres in that for the past few months I’ve been using the NRC app on my phone to track runs since I am unable to upload my watch data to the app (long story). So at that point I started my phone app to track the run, but that meant that all the my run insights were off.

But as I said, I chose to focus on the experience and everything around me. And what scenery it was! The start of the race is a road that leads into a demilitarization zone with Jordan. The Dead Sea was on either side of the road, and up ahead was Jordan. The Dead Sea is quite blue and I had to remind myself the white formations in the water and underneath my feet was in fact salt and not snow. The salt proved hard to run on. I spent much of this portion and later on in the race trying to find the most hard-packed ground (so I wove around the course a bit) so that I would have to work less on stabilization.

The route eventually become more of a gravel road, and then packed dirt. We turned to the right and went out and back, and the terrain was much more difficult than I’d anticipated since I’m a road runner. Perhaps I should’ve worn trail runners after all.

There were water stations but as I was carrying water I didn’t stop. it was disappointing to see that plastic water bottles were what were used (something that I noted in the Istanbul Marathon as well). From what I saw, there was no electrolyte drinks offered on the course.

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The route eventually (around the 15k mark) turned to go back towards land, and this is when I spotted the significant ramp we had to run up before turning left to go back towards where we had started…

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What the–?! I’d been told the route was flat. Since I wasn’t running for time, I walked a portion of the hill, and pretty much whenever I felt like I wanted a break. I took photos, and just soaked up the scenery around me, because it was so much more surreal than I’d expected it to be. It felt like I was running on another planet between the fantastical blue sea and salt and the dry, golden sand surrounding me.

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I was tired and hot and so grateful that I was running 21.1k instead of the marathon. “Running a half with three weeks of running is not a good idea. Don’t let me do this again,” I remember telling myself. The sun was hot and making me sweat a lot the first 16 kilometres or so, but then a cool breeze picked up and I welcomed the chill in the air.

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After  turning off of the ramp, there was a significantly rocky half a kilometre of trail where I found myself wishing for trail shoes, which lead us to the paved promenade along the sea for the rest of the race. I felt like there were fewer runners around me for this section, so really had to push myself mentally to keep going. In the last couple of kilometres, there were  a few spectators cheering and I was grateful for their smiling faces.

Finally (finally!) before I realized it, the finish line was in front of me. I forced myself to spring the last few metres and finished just behind the man who ran balancing a pineapple on his head (yes, he ran a half balancing a pineapple and was faster than me!). See my fist pumping to the right!

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I took me ages to get my race time (I was having trouble navigating the results on the site), but the race director emailed me that my time was 2:08:10 (not sure if that’s chip or gun time) and I finished 71st in my category and 136th out of all the women (I don’t know how many total ran the race, though since I can’t navigate the results). I’m perfectly happy with my time given I was running it with three weeks of getting back into running and I took it easy for the experience.

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I grabbed some snacks (pita, hummus, some incredible oranges, and halva) and grabbed a seat on a chaise longue on the beach. It was breezy but I had no idea where bag check was nor if my bag was there (one of the contacts hosting us had taken my bag…and it turns out she brought it back to the hotel, which was of no help given I was chilly after the race). I took a few photos, ran into another one of the women from our media group and we walked back to the hotel together to have breakfast at the buffet.

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That afternoon, I went to explore the beach (the salty shores are magical) and took a dip in the water. A quick dip since it wasn’t hot out, but I wanted to experience this healing water that makes you so incredibly buoyant. Did it help with recovery, I’m not sure, and I’m not sure if running at 430 metres below sea level helped improve my performance, but I definitely noticed the salty air as I had a nice thin layer of salt all over me after the race.

I wrote about the race for iRun, you can check out my piece here. I knew the Dead Sea Half-Marathon would be a special race, but I didn’t realize how surreal and how incredible it would be until I completed it. It’s definitely one I would add to your bucket list if destination races are your thing, with the huge plus that you can also visit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem after the race; Tel Aviv has secured a spot as one of the best cities I’ve ever visited (some of the best food I’ve had, plus beaches and culture and markets!).

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Leave a Comment March 27, 2020


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