How to run a race like an Israeli

I started running 5ks when I was ten or eleven, and in my early 20s (just a few years ago) I ran three marathons. But since moving to Israel, I've run two 10ks and, er, a 5.7k and a 4.9k, and I've come to realize that road running in Israel is in some ways completely different. So here's a quick and easy guide to running a race like an Israeli:

1. Go to shvoong.co.il to find races and registration info. The racing season in Israel runs from September to May, without many races in the very hot summer months. It seems more common for races to start in the afternoon or evening in Israel than in the US, so read starting times carefully. You'll see a lot of 10Ks and some other distances-- serious runners usually compete in the 10Ks. "Amami" means a fun run, "tachruti" means a competitive run.

2. Be prepared for any race info to be posted only a month or two before a race and for it to be changed at the last minute. Apparently, Israelis see posting definitive times and dates for a race as like putting on your turn signal-- it's better to do this at the last minute so that nobody else can speed up and cut you off. Kiryat Motzkin and Kiryat Bialik both posted 5Ks taking place around the same time, and after a little bit of chicken, Motzkin moved its date up a few weeks and Bialik moved its race back a few months. The brand new Tel Aviv marathon changed its date about a month before it happened, as as someone familiar with marathon training plans, that really, really isn't beseder. I can only imagine the runners who made it all the way up to their 20 mile long runs and prepared to start the taper in training before the big race... only to discover that they actually had to extend their training by four weeks. If you want a reliable marathon in Israel, go for the Tiberias marathon-- it's been going for years and draws international runners. Last year, I got to see a spidery Ethiopian runner cross the finish line in not much over two hours. The Tel Aviv marathon should be awesome when it gets its act together, but I want to wait and see.

3. Arriving at a race in the morning and picking up your race packet is basically the same as at any road race in the US, except that you might see this while you wait in line at the port-a-potties:

Yes, he brought his own toilet paper. Oh, and an uzzi M-16.

In all fairness, though, I only saw lots of machine guns at the race in the picture above because it was the army championship, so lots of Tzahal divisions bussed in to compete. I really wanted a picture of the girl in short shorts, pink shirt, and machine gun, but the guy above will have to do.

4. Israelis tend to take a pretty relaxed attitude towards the starting line (kav hazinuk). Why be a fryer and wait behind the line? At the most recent 5Ks that I've attended, most of the group started a good couple of steps in front of the line. Yiyeh beseder.

5. Race t-shirts in Israel tend to be pretty awesome. So far I've received three micro-fiber shirts (one that was Adidas brand) out of four races... the only lousy shirt was from the 10K at the Tiberias marathon, because it's one of those prestigious races that doesn't need to lure runners with nice shirts.

6. "Field races" mean that you will literally be running through fields. And trampling corn stalks.

7. Aside from blips like the Krayot (where I live in and train), Israel is very, very hilly. I don't think I'd be brave enough to run the Jerusalem half-marathon, and the Haifa 10K was intense. Check the elevation of the races you choose to run.

8. Israeli races have a slightly casual attitude towards actual distances run. The Tavor race was supposed to be a 5.5K (who knows why!) but it turned out to be a 5.7K. The Motzkin race was supposed to be a 5 K, but due to traffic re-routing, it turned out to be 50 meters short. Yiyeh beseder.

9. There are relatively few female runners in Israeli races, so sometimes our division gets awarded fewer prizes and less prize money, but that seems to be improving even in just the last few years. In the Har Tavor 5.7K, I won a trophy for second place in my age-category... wahoo!

10. The feeling of crossing a finish line is just as sweet on any continent. Enjoy!

 Me getting REALLY excited to finally pass the guy right behind me 
as my friend and I cross the finish line in Kiryat Motzkin's 5K

Have you ever participated in any road races in Israel? How about triathlons or field races? How was your experience?


  1. I'm not a runner and have no desire to be one but I still found this post interesting.
    I should imagine running it the heat could be quite dangerous but do the races go on even if it rains.
    Most Israeli I'm acquainted with seen to think they are made of sugar!

    (BTW The soldier's got an M16. I think the UZi has been taken out of use)

  2. Esther's right. It's a short M16.

  3. heh... sorry... I don't know my guns. Esther, I haven't raced enough to say if races go on in the rain, but I'd assume they would (especially the bigger ones). I think the amount of night races is in response to the heat.

  4. Where is flat? Please tell me!

    I ran 5Ks in NYC before making aliyah last summer. The one-two punch of all day heat through October and just flat out post-aliyah exhaustion killed my running. I want to get it back but the hills in Modiin are just crazy----trying to build up with intervals now, but I feel like I have nowhere to run :)

  5. lisa from swirling thoughtsApril 28, 2010 at 7:19 PM

    i love a good running post! i hope to meet you some day, maya! maybe at the next tiberias marathon...(well, the 10k portion for me!)

  6. Wow, I remember reading that you ran, but didn't realize you were a runner!
    Good runs (but how do you manage to run in the humidity? I thought the weather there was basically "sauna"!)

  7. Lisa, that would be awesome! I'd love to meet you too!

    Israel tends to be flatter along the coast, with the obvious exception of Haifa, so basically you need to move to the Krayot and be my neighbor. :) If you want to run a flat race, I'd suggest the Tiberias marathon (10K), the Kiryat Bialik race that is coming up some time in September (supposedly), Tel Aviv races... hmm... any other suggestions?

    Running in the summer is tricky. I wasn't running consistently last summer, so we'll see how I do this time! Now I get up at 7 AM to run (about a 10K) three days a week, so I'm hoping that might be early enough to make it through this summer... otherwise I might move to 6 AM *shudder*

  8. I just read that Hadassah is partnering with Susan G. Komen For the Cure:

    "This venture involves bringing the Race for the Cure to Israel for the first time, this coming October. Hadassah-Israel will be the convening NGO for the event. As you may know, Susan G. Komen for the Cure is the global leader in funding breast cancer research, and its race events take place all over the world."

    Seems to be taking place in Jerusalem, but pretty cool to check out anyway!

  9. Love it! Blogged about this a while back on my (not very consistent)
    I was so depressed when I first moved when I would see my times on routes here in J'lem due to the hills. They never get easy but they do get less scary :) And the J'lem half is an absolutely awesome race - just do it without a time goal and you'll be fine! I think they're planning a full marathon in Jerusalem next year.

  10. Ani, our posts are so similar! It's fun to read about Israeli races from another perspective.

    The next race my husband and I plan to run is the Netanya 5K, which was supposed to be June 12... except that today my husband saw a QUESTION on the Shvoong forum about whether people would prefer to have this race on the 4th or 5th of June, and registration details for any date have yet to be posted. Ah, Israeli running...

  11. I know you wrote the above ages ago but as it made me giggle I had to comment - Loved it.

    Im from the UK and coming to Israel on holiday in October and thought to try a race. On the one hand your post made me want to see an Israeli race even more, on the other Im now scared Im way too slow...

  12. wow nice run...that was tough running!!!

  13. i take a part in israel Tiberias marathon and i want to tell you i have never done a so nice race like this! just 1500 runners, wondeful views. extreamly reommended!

  14. Just came across your post!! I have taken part in 2 5K runs in (Toronto) Canada. I will be in Israel from the 19th of December until the 4th of January. I am looking for a 5 K run anywhere in the country during this time. Do you know of any? I can't seem to find any..

  15. I found two listed on the Shvoong site... maybe Google Translate can help you understand the info?


  16. My husband and I were vaguely considering running this one, which is on Dec. 24 in the Arava (between the Dead Sea and Eilat): http://www.shvoong.co.il/he-IL/166/5790/

  17. Here's the other, in Hod HaSharon on Dec. 31st... good luck and have a great visit!

  18. http://www.shvoong.co.il/he-IL/166/5788/

  19. great entry--I am thinking of visiting my friends on a kibbutz and I wanted to run a race while I was there. now at least I'll understand some of the local customs. thank you!

  20. Nice and informative!
    I have been wanting to train for a 10k for a long time... one of those items for the bucket list.
    I always hear about a race when it's far too late to start training.
    I'm going to do the 4.2k in the Tel Aviv Marthon this year, as I don't have time to get up to 10k... again!
    The tip to go to the Shvoong site is very helpful. :-)

  21. SInce my Hebrew is not so good...are there any sites in English that tell you when road races are? I'm there April 13-26. (Galil, Tsfat & mainly Jersualem. Thanks
    Jeff (countryst@aol.com)


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