Why you should run the Beirut Marathon

December 18th, 2011

 

I started running marathons when I moved to Lebanon. Actually, I started working out again when I moved to Lebanon. Oh, and I quit running marathons since moving to Lebanon. It’s just been a whirlwind.

 

First of all, I did not start running because I became more concerned with my health or my appearance.  It happened when a friend urged me to go down to the seafront. Oh no, I haven’t run in a while, I told her. She explained that it was fine! That the running group would meet at 6 pm by the McDonald’s on Raouche corniche and there I’d find a friendly group who would not point and laugh.

 

My first 2k ended in panting myself right out of the cluster of runners. The next time I did the full 5k, from McDonald’s to Sporting and back. And the next time I did 10 while running with a new buddy and singing “Eye of the Tiger” for the second half of the run. I was motivated – it was a rush as well as a peek into my potential. Eventually, running became about mental strength, just as much as physical.  But it also became a draw to the busy corniche with the secret conversations and the many colorful feet; the sea in all its moods; the friendly faces; the endless recounting of races and marathons and an increased familiarity with endorphins.  But none of this would have happened without the weather. I’ve never seen my breath while running in Beirut. When I think of running in a Chicago winter, my muscles instantly scream like car horns in Beirut traffic. I’m not an obssessive runner type, but I enjoy it. There’s a freedom in it, a power gained, a camaraderie that’s motivating and strengthening.

 

Last year’s marathon was a fluke for me. I decided to run it 2 weeks before the start gun. But I had been doing regular training with my group to stay fit, which included sprints and uphill running. I told my running mates – I cannot imagine running for 4 or 5 hours, sorry. And I couldn’t. It was beyond my comprehension, or desire even. Then one day someone said, If you can run 21k, you can run 42k – walk part of it if you have to. And so I melted into the hype, joined and finished in 5:06. It was awesome. There was a feeling at the 40k mark that I had never felt before, and I literally started sobbing as I ran. The Killers were blasting in my ears – I woke on the roadside/in the land of the free ride…higher and higher we’re gonna take it/ down to the wire/ we’re gonna make it out of the fire/ higher and higher… we’re gonna make it out of the fire... It was one of those rare moments when you feel that things are okay, things will be okay, and you’re okay too.

 

Then came this year’s marathon. As with anything, the second time around is clearer, there are more expectations. I couldn’t help but think back to how so many fellow runners complained last year about everything from the route’s dullness to the media coverage’s insistent superficiality and bowing to more politicians than to the real athletes who had been sweating blood for the previous months to the finish line’s congestion. These things I did not notice last year. It was all about whether I would finish and how and the highs that came along with it. This year, my high came with an extremely warm welcome as I finished 4th to last (in the entire marathon). I’m cool with that. Really.

 

According to the elite runners, this year’s marathon was supremely organized. I wonder if this is a relative assessment. Or if the view is better at the front of the line. May Khalil, the founder of the Beirut Marathon, started it in 2003, the first ever Beirut Marathon, after she was hit by a car while running the streets of Beirut, damaging her from head to toe.  She is now the one who takes the heat – and the glory – for all things marathon as well as jumps out for celeb pics each moment she can. I do have a few questions, though… What does the city gain from the marathons, in which more than 30,000 runners join (5k, 10k, 42k) from over 50 countries? It’s not like the roads are somehow better, or water fountains are available on the main corniche, or traffic has somehow changed. Yes, I am very curious about how the revenue from the Beirut marathon, which you can imagine by multiplying $40 by 30,000 and adding umpteen sponsors, including most major companies in town, benefits the city and the runners who spend so much time and energy making it happen.

 

Now that it’s been 3 weeks since the marathon, and since writing the first sentence of this post, I’ve decided I may run another marathon, but it’ll have to be in another city. Beirut gave me the spirit for running, the thrill of weaving through the corniche traffic. The lovely feeling of running down from my house toward the sea, closer and closer, until I hit the pavement and join my buddies in rhythm for the haul. Thank you Beirut for giving me this. But there is one difficult Truth: You may be able to get a Lebo into a marathon, but you sure as hell cannot get the Lebo out of the marathon…

 

Ten Reasons Everyone Should Participate in the Beirut Marathon

by Rami Rajeh

 

1. Trying to get to the starting point is just as hard as getting to the finish line. Just when you think you may have reached the starting point per the directions given to you by one of the absurdly several over-qualified* ushers, another one directs you further down the road to the next street – making you, thrice, run down a whole block to the “entrance,” only to be turned back around to the next. It’s 6:40 a.m., then 6:45 a.m., then 5 minutes to start… (You make it just as the gun goes off…)

 

2. As soon as you start, and before you even get to the one-kilometer mark, a slew of energy and Snickers bars are on offer by outstretched hands, belonging to BMA staff and volunteers. When you really need them past the 15k mark, they’re nowhere to be seen.

 

3. Past nine o’clock, after two hours of running, the path becomes accessible to cars, especially if they are driven by military or police driving officers to their Sunday hangout. Dodging honking cars becomes part of the race technique.

 

4. The majority of the people who stop to cheer you on are expat laborers caught by chance in the middle of clogged off roads. And oh, they don’t really cheer. They’re gawkers, or to put it more politely they’re even more silent than UN observers in war zones.

 

5. You come across two “Speed Bump Ahead” signs, even though there are more than twenty speed bumps. One runner adequately pointed out they put those signs up so we don’t crash into each other. Besides the speed bump signs, there are around a 100 or 150 signs warning runners of the potholes**.

 

6. Even though it is called the Beirut Marathon, only a third of it takes place in Beirut. The rest of it goes out into Beirut’s scenic suburbs: Ghoubayreh, Shiah, Bourj Hammoud, Dora, Jdeideh, Zalka and Antelias. These areas are known for their century old pinewoods and olive groves.

 

7. If you’re a female, no matter how old or young, you will be subjected to howls, whistles and one-liners that would put R. Kelly to shame by none other than the police and military spread out all along the path with cigarettes in their hands and smoke swirling from their nostrils.

 

8. Just about every policeman you come across asks you why you are “so late” and “How come you don’t cheat and turn back from here?” as opposed to going to the end of the route.

 

9. You realize only a tiny fraction of Beirut’s roads are paved. (You suspected this though.) The rest of the roads are wobbly bumpy causeways covered in what resembles asphalt. As a result, several tiny daggers pierce into your knees, heels and calves.

 

10. After 25km, you not only find most of the sponsors to have packed and gone, but the organizers are keen on implementing the rules after the marathon is over and done with and the last man, who happened to be a 70-something-year-old with a Quasimodo has crossed the finish line where you are offered a “goody” bag filled with colorful, useless commercial flyers, a bottle of water, nuts, juice, and a shirt, which if you happen to get sizes bigger than you and you ask if you could get it exchanged, mind you after the last man has crossed the finish line, you’re subjected to a power trip by the overqualified* staff. These same braniacs who couldn’t direct you to the start line, these same Einsteins who couldn’t advise the Snickers people to position themselves somewhere after the halfway point, these same bright sparks who could not prevent cars from crossing the running route, these same masterminds who fittingly made you run two hills in the last 3k, these same gifted prodigies decide to suddenly implement the “rules” on people who just ran 42-freaking-kilometers (for what?): You may not under any circumstances backtrack your steps into the finish line area, even after the marathon is over. But, but, the shirt (“I ran Beirut Marathon”) is 2 sizes too big. There aren’t any your size. Their posture, their tone, their walkie-talkies tell you that they are proud of their stance and achievement. You “give” them back the t-shirt.

 

*insert sarcastic tone

**j.k.

 

 

 

 

One Response to “Why you should run the Beirut Marathon”

  1. Angie says:

    you are so super cool.

Leave a Reply