Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tel Aviv Half Marathon

Hi folks! Sorry for the blogging hiatus. It was completely out of character for me but I was traveling all over Israel for two weeks and didn't want to take time away from our adventures to blog. So I took a Running on Carbs holiday.

I am back now and feeling a little jet-lagged and travel-weary but otherwise happy to be home and yet sad to have left such a wonderful country.

You might remember that one of the reasons I went to Israel was to run the Tel Aviv half marathon. I trained for it during a rather cold and relentlessly windy Canadian winter. I was a little worried about training in the cold and running in the heat but I took comfort in the fact that March in Tel Aviv is typically a comfortable time with temperatures in the 20s (celsius aka 68 fahrenheit).

As the date of my departure approached, I began looking at the long-term weather forecast so I could have an idea of the clothes I needed to pack. The days leading up to the race were exactly what they were supposed to be - low 20s and sunny. Perfect.

As the race got closer though, the temperature started to climb.

They predicted 30C. Then 32C. Then 38C (100F).

Three days before I arrived, I received an email saying that my race time had been moved 30 minutes earlier (from 7:45am to 7:15am). The day I arrived, I learned that it had been moved to 6am.

At the race expo, I learned that they had postponed the marathon to the following weekend.

I began to feel very afraid. If the Israelis are worried enough about the heat to postpone an international marathon, was I crazy for wanting to run the half? I also felt the same horror I felt at the New York marathon last fall when I heard it was cancelled. People travelled or were in the process of traveling from all over the world to run in Tel Aviv. They had trained for months and months to run Tel Aviv. Now it was the following weekend? Would people even be able to stay that long? How many hearts were broken with that announcement? And yet I also agreed that it probably made sense given the circumstances.

On race day, we were up at 4am. I was as hydrated as I had ever been after taking extra steps the previous two days to drink water and electrolytes. By 5am, it was heating up. By 6am, it was hot. I had opted NOT to bring my water belt for the race. The organizers talked about how much water would be available and I didn't want to have to carry any more weight than necessary. I had my little race belt with my glucometer, gels, edisks and salt tablets. I wore shoes, shorts, a t-shirt and a hat. C'est tout.

Right from the start, I kept my pace controlled at about 6:30min/k. Not superfast but I wanted to survive this run, not collapse from heat stroke. There were water stations every 3 kilometres and you could have the regular cup of water or an entire bottle. I grabbed two cups and drank each of them - at every station. I fell into a routine pretty quickly. Start off feeling good, run for about 1.5k, start to feel dehydrated. keep running to the next water station by which point my lips were dry and my throat was parched. Drink two large glasses of water, feel much better, repeat cycle.

I have never had that much water in a race before. I had over 15 cups of water. Normally, that amount in such a short period would put me at severe risk of overhydration but not that day. I also had two edisks and a salt tablet every 30 minutes.

I ran a pretty good race until about 17k. By that point it was 8am, about 35C and sunny. I began to overheat and started to walk/run. The walk periods got longer and the run periods got shorter but I felt that it was just too dangerous out there to overheat. I walked until I cooled down enough to run and stopped running when I felt my temperature get too high. I started to see people collapsed on benches and on the street with emergency response personnel helping them. I saw runners with IVs lying on sidewalks. I heard sirens constantly. I walked, I ran, I drank. I focused on how I was feeling and how much further I had to go and tried to ignore all the craziness going on around me.

I ran the last kilometre to the finish line and had to dodge two runners near the finish who had collapsed and were getting emergency assistance in the middle of the street. I crossed the finish line in just under 2 1/2 hours. My usual time is about 2:18:00 so that was pretty good all things considered.

My blood sugar, which had been very well behaved the first three days of my trip, spiked at the start of the run and stayed very high (around 14) for most of the race. I took insulin three times during the race (unheard of) to try to bring it down but I think I was just too hot and dehydrated for it to be very effective. After lunch, a nap, a shower and a site change, things were back to normal by dinner.

50 people were taken to the hospital with heatstroke during the half marathon.
1 person died. He was a fit, special ops army personnel who lives in Israel. They believe he underestimated the heat.

I am glad I ran and proud of how it went. I was impressed at how much water support was en route and at the finish line. I was impressed at how many support people were on the course. I was humbled by the heat and completely understand how it can be absolutely deadly if you don't take care.

The temperature dropped back down the very next day and I spent most of the next two weeks in pants and a jacket. It spiked again exactly one week later - on the day that the marathon had been postponed to. It was again predicted to be over 30C. The media had been slaughtering the race organizers for allowing the half to go on and having so many people brought to hospital and one person dying.

So,  two days before the rescheduled marathon was supposed to take place, they cancelled it.

I understand and yet feel awful for everyone involved.

I am glad I ran. I would do it again. I feel like I took part in a particularly memorable race. And I was relieved when it was over and I could spent the next two weeks just enjoying my holiday.


  1. History in the making!
    congrats on finishing and being smart listening to your body in that kind of wacky heat. You done good, you took care and you got to experience something not many people have.

  2. Wow, Celine, what a story! I agree with Scully - you did an excellent job of listening to your body and being careful.

    I'm glad it all went well for you, and that you made it through in one piece.

  3. I have been eagerly waiting to hear how it went as I had checked what the temps were going to be and wondered/worried about how you would fare. Very glad to hear that you got to run the race and ran it so smartly! In circumstances like that you need to adjust your expectations and you did a fabulous job. Welcome home!