With the 2016 London Marathon clashing with Pesach, Friday’s Tel Aviv Marathon has become a popular choice for British runners keen to put on their trainers for a good cause, finds Lisa Sanders
I’ve always considered myself a reluctant runner. When our mum passed away four years ago, my sister, who lived in Borehamwood, was already into the running thing. First a “Fun Run” 5k (although how a slog through a wet park could be fun was beyond me), then a Race for Life, followed by 10k for Shaare Tzedek Medical Centre. Running was a great stress-buster, she’d tell me, breathless on the phone after a training session. I’d politely disagree and reach for the chocolate. I thought she was mad. But never underestimate the power of sibling persuasion. Thus I ended up running my first 10k, at the Tel Aviv Marathon in 2012, alongside a big crowd of family and friends. We fundraised for Magen David Adom UK, raising enough to purchase and equip a new paramedic motorbike in my mum’s name.
Back then, the concept of participating in a sporting event for a good cause was totally unknown in Israel. Israelis are, by and large, notoriously competitive, insanely adventurous and crazy about keeping fit. And tzedakah, giving to charity, is the bedrock of both secular and religious values. But the idea of marrying these ideas together was considered, frankly, just weird.
Again and again, I would explain to baffled Israeli friends and colleagues, that sponsoring people to run, or bike, or trek up a mountain, was a worthwhile thing to do. “But why?” they would ask, bemused. “If you want to run, great! Why should we have to pay you to do it?”
I don’t think our MDA fundraising drive was the game changer here. Probably a bunch of Israelis doing the Helsinki, London or New York marathons noticed all the guys and girls in the furry costumes and thought: “Cool!” Charity sponsorship took off and, as is the way of things in this country, became a hit. This year, the organisers of the Tel Aviv Marathon have created a special ‘Running for a Cause’ website, under the banner ‘Make a Change with Every Step’. Participants can pick one of 76 different non-profits, create a fundraising page, and Marathon TLV will distribute the funds. So far participants have raised nearly £54,000.
I will be joining the 40,000 other nervous lycra-clad nutcases on the starting line in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park tomorrow. This will be my third time at the 10k event in Tel Aviv, but my first as part of an all-women team of ex-pat Brits and assorted English-and-Hebrew speakers. Nicole Monk, née Bliss, 49, originally from Kenton, says taking up running has brought back memories of her schooldays at North London Collegiate, where her speedy legs earned her the nickname “Bomber Bliss.”
Five children and two grandchildren later, the former hundred-metre school champion says she’s determined to keep it up now she’s started. “Hardest has been finding the time to go out running,” she says. “I’ve always loved sport, but it just got pushed by the wayside with work and kids and everything.”
Julia Feuer, 50, a law lecturer originally from Edgware, describes herself as “the original couch potato”. When I spoke to her last week she was back in north London. “How’s the training going?” I asked her. “Okay,” she said. “Well, it was a bit tricky as I didn’t have GPS, so I did get fairly lost.”
She may have unwittingly jogged past brothers Bradley and Adam Wine while they raced to work in the City from their home in West Hampstead. They, unlike us mere 10k-ers, are heading out to Israel to do the full Marathon, as part of a 10-strong team running on behalf of the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board. When the London Marathon team announced it would hold this year’s event on the second night of Passover, the LJWB decided to put together a team for Tel Aviv instead.
“It’s our first marathon,” confesses Bradley, 27, who works in corporate finance at Deloitte. “Am I nervous? I’m dreading it. I’ve only ever run 17 miles – I can’t actually believe I’ve got another nine to go after that.”
Adam, 24, a trainee accountant with PwC, says they’ve been training pretty intensively for three months. Both are keen footballers and Bradley plays for Oakwood.
The whole family is involved in their adventure. Sisters Elissa and Vikki are each running the half marathon; brother-in-law Mark Popplewell is also doing the full marathon. Their mum and dad and their two other sisters, Natalie and Carly, will be cheering them on from the sidelines.
“Obviously it’s very special, very emotional because we’re coming especially to Israel to do it. [My brother-in-law] Mark’s never really been to Israel properly before, so we’re going to have a fantastic time.”
Johnny Carr, 46, a regional director for Sainsbury’s, is running the TLV marathon in aid of the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund. Does he have any tips for the rest of us? “I don’t listen to music while I run,” he says. “I just ask myself, ‘What would I do if I won a hundred million pounds?’, and then I spend the whole 42 kilometres coming up with different answers, different charities I’d like to give the money to. But sometimes it’s just hard,” he admits. “The first three and the last three kilometres are the hardest.”
Tell me about it. Like my fellow runners, I’m anxiously watching the weather forecast and hoping for an overcast day with gentle breezes coming in off the Med. Yallah, let’s run.