By Ulla Hadar
TIMRAT, Israel–Several weeks ago I attended a lecture performed by a man that had gone through several difficulties in his life but nevertheless had decided to participate in an Ironman competition, which involves a 180 kilometer bike ride, 42 kilometer run and 3.8 kilometer swim.
He was sharing his experiences with the audiences and his accomplishments, explaining that you can do anything as long as your mind is set to it. He finished the lecture by throwing the question to the listeners “So what is your Ironman???”
Well I think I found mine, I signed up for the 2nd annual Mountain to Valley, a 200 kilometer relay race. A competitive run that starts at Kalat Nimrod in the North, near Mount Hermon and finishes at the town of Timrat situated in the valley of Jezreel. The relay competition has 24 pieces each of a different length, ranging from 4 to 13 kilometers.
The participants run along dirt roads, cobblestones paths, ascending and descending, far from the lights of the city. Each and every runner passes to a team member at 23 exchange stations along the way a relay bracelet and a chip which records the time.
Gidon Gal and Shmuel Ruchin, the two main organizers of this event, brought the idea to Israel after participating in Vermont, USA, in a similar race known as the “Green Mountain Relay” a 320 kilometer race.
Two hundred sixty groups comprised of 1350 runners signed up for this competition, each group containing 2, 4, 6 or 8 runners. Several ultra runners did 120 kilometers on their own and one Brazilian runner Maoro Chasilev started from Kalat Nimrod and did the entire 200 kilometers on his own.
Based on the time estimation for each runner, the teams were sent off between 8 AM to 4 p.m in an attempt to spread out the crowd and ease the pressure on the 24 stations and enable everyone to arrive at Timrat at the same time more or less.
My stomach was turning upside down in the days leading up to the event. I kept asking myself, Why do I need this? What have I gotten myself into? And surely I will fail to finish this race. Among the four in our group I was the weakest link and I knew that before starting. As a lover of sport I need a new target to train towards, lest weekly running or biking training get boring and not challenging enough.
You want to prove to yourself how much power your body contains, what hurdles you can overcome and what you are able to push yourself through to reach the limits and even stretch them further on, to an unbelievable point.
On a nightly training run two weeks before the event I stumbled and strained my left ankle. I had to convince myself that it was nothing, just continue more or less as usual and it will pass. This was in the midst of the BikeIsrael2010 and one day I rode 60 kilometer with a sprained ankle.
The night before the race, my team arrived at a small hostel at Nimrod close to the starting point. Our team was a four member group two men and two women: Rafi Hadar (my husband), Atara Ron, Dubi Dover and myself, all of us 40+, some of us even 50+!!
Logistically we were very organized thanks to team member Atara Ron. Two cars driven by Dalit Dover (Dubi Dover’s wife) and Eliezer Shamir (Atara Ron’s husband) escorted us along the way, dropping off and collecting the runner from one station and driving the runner to his or her next assigned race leg.
The drivers also supplied runners with food and drink along the route as it is important that the body is nourished throughout the different relays. In the middle of the night you can become disorientated and distracted and can easily forget this important factor.
An hour before our start the air was electric, all runners very excited and everyone eager to start. For my part I had “saved” myself from running for a few days and the adrenalin and the need of endorphins was making my body scream out to start. My number in the chain was four so I still had a couple of hours to wait before it was my turn.
The sign to start went off and Dubi our first runner ran down the steep road going from Kalat Nimrod towards the Baniass. The escort car drove towards station number 3 where I was to wait for Rafi for my first relay shift. As a pilot project this year, 55 teams where provided with a GPS phone in case of an emergency, and we were among the teams receiving one.
We all had 6 runs to finish; mine were of the following lengths: 9 km, 8.9 km, 7.4 km, 5.3 km, 6.4 km and 10.6 km for a total of 47.6 kilometers (approximately 29.5 miles).
At the beginning it was very hot. Descending from Carcum towards Kfar Nachum and the Kinneret I felt all my senses being intoxicated. It was just so beautiful I didn’t feel the heat, noticing the orange groves, the fields and the lake shining with sun beams gently touching the water. Two weeks ago I was at exactly the same spot with the bikers from BikeIsrael2010, but now I was crossing the fields not the roads.
The relays I was most worried about were the night runs. As a woman it is not the nicest experience to run on your own through fields and forests. Although there are other runners, most of the time you are by yourself.
Luckily a good friend of mine Ofra Gafni waited for me at station 12 for the start of my first nightrun (I had three in the dark) and she ran with me as a companion until we reached Timrat.
At one of the night runs we passed through the forest of Ramat Hashofet and again our senses were intoxicated by the smells, the sound of the Shofet stream tingling next to the path we were passing. At the same time, 5 a.m., the birds were starting to sing their morning tunes–sweet melody for the ears.
The last relay leading to Timrat was mine to run. One of my advantages was that each run I started I was sent off by my husband and he awarded me with a kiss on my lips which each time gave me a push to go forward.
The route was not easy; it was the hardest of all my relays. The path started winding up the hillside. Ofra kept feeding me with optimistic words and joy. I had to walk some of the ascent because my body was just starting to say to me that it was tired and had just a bit too much by now. Once we reached the top of the hill and had another 2 kilometers to go towards the finish line suddenly my body filled with energy and I started to run as if it were the beginning of the race. I just raced towards the end, being greeted by people who shouted words of encouragement and compliments. All my teammates waited for me at the last corner and we entered the finish line together everyone hugging and cheering.
It is an event that I will never forget. The togetherness, the friendship. the patience and empathy everyone was showing towards each other. If this could be copied throughout the world it would be a better place to live.
The adrenalin rush is still in my body. The excitement of the event and the feeling of achievement of finishing and conquering the problems on the way are impossible to describe. Perhaps only the people who experienced the event can fully understand what I am talking about.
The teams that shared the same moments, the volunteers that even at four o’clock in the morning had the power to smile to you, to encourage and cheer you filled my heart with joy and pleasure. I am glad that I decided to sign up for this although having been very hesitant before. This is something I will remember anda story to tell my grandchildren about. It was my “Iron man.”
Hadar is the Sha’ar Hanegev, Israel, bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World