Israel conducted its third successful Dead Sea Marathon last Friday (Feb. 4) with thousands of Israeli and international runners setting out on a unique course – starting from the diving embankment in the middle of the salty inland sea, continuing through the side of rocky mountains, and finishing at the Dead Sea Hotel boardwalk.
The Dead Sea is an extraordinary place as it is 1,414 feet below sea level and one of the saltiest bodies of water on earth. The runners set out at 6:00 AM to a foggy morning, watching the sunrise light up the Jordanian and Israeli mountains and glisten on crystallized salt, heaped up on the side of the running course.
Once a year, special permission is given to the Dead Sea Marathon to connect the shore to the embankment, a natural border between Jordan and Israel – making this marathon one of the most surreal and unique experiences for marathon lovers.
Salomé van Oordt, a 24-year-old nurse from Amsterdam in the Netherlands, flew all the way from Europe, supported by her dad and sister, to participate in the marathon.
Many run marathons competitively, as a hobby or novelty; for Salomé, there was a deeper motivation as she combined her love of running with a cause close to her heart. Partnering with Israelity, a Netherlands-based youth movement that teaches Dutch youth about Israel, she hoped to raise €13,000 in support of the children of ADI, an organization for the advancement of people with disabilities.
When I spoke with Salomé, I encountered a positive spirit and a wide smile, and I couldn’t help but feel her enthusiasm for running and her beautiful vision to help the disabled in Israel.
Israel Today: How did you start your journey with running?
Salomé van Oordt: It’s a funny story. I started running because me and my dad had made a bet! The bet was if I ran a half-marathon, he would one day buy me a plane ticket to Israel. Since then, I’ve been running for eight years and ran many half-marathons. So, this was the perfect opportunity to fulfill his side of the bet.
Why did you choose to run a marathon in Israel?
As far back as I can remember, my family has been involved with helping Israel as my dad is also a partner of Israel Today. I love the diversity, that different cultures can live together.
You planned to raise €13,000 for this cause. How much did you end up raising?
Israelity and I partnered together to raise funds for ADI, an organization that helps disabled people in Israel; for example, they provide walkers and feeding tubes. As a nurse, this is close to my heart. I find it interesting that running involves taking care of the body and nutrition, and I’m happy to use these things to help people experience health in the same way. We ended up raising €23,000!
You landed in Israel; what was the first thing you wanted to do?
I really wanted to walk around and explore the city and soak up the landscape. I love the weather and the countryside.
How did you prepare physically for the marathon?
For 20 weeks before the marathon, I would run five times a week; each week, I made more progress, running a little longer and faster. Upon arriving, I went to the Dead Sea to get used to the weather and tried to get a good night’s sleep the night before.
Were you excited waking up the morning of the marathon?
The days before, I was a bit nervous and didn’t know if I could do it, but I was really excited on the marathon day; I felt like a child on my birthday. We left the house while it was still dark, and when we started the run at 6:00 AM, it was already light outside.
How was the weather that day?
It was warmer than in the Netherlands and a bit cloudy in the beginning, but when it cleared up, you could see very far, and we had an incredible sunrise. At the end of the marathon, it was 18 degrees Celsius, which feels very hot when you have been running for a while.
You ran to incredible views of the Dead Sea; what was that like?
It is so amazing. You run on the border of Jordan and Israel with all the salt, blue and white colors, and yellow-and-orange mountains. It helped motivate me when I was tired. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
What was the best part of the marathon?
The best part is the energy you feel with everyone running for the same cause, enjoying the weather and beautiful views. Even when I reached the finish line, I was tired; it was beautiful to see my dad, sister and the people from ‘ADI’ waving the Dutch, Israeli and ADI flags and cheering me on.
What was the most challenging part?
When I reached the 34-kilometer mark, my legs were so sore, I was tempted to quit, but I didn’t. At some point, the wind was heavy and blowing against us, so the last few kilometers were hard, but it was worth it.
Was it worth coming to Israel for this marathon? Would you recommend it to others?
It was worth it, and I would do it again. I would love to run in the Jerusalem Marathon next time.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We raised so much money because of Israelity; they did everything to fundraise. I did the running part, but they did the hard work. In addition to that, ‘ADI’ also did everything they could to make this happen.
Author’s Remarks: Running the Race With Joy
The Dead Sea Marathon ended with panting and proud runners, happy to cross the finish line to the clapping and cheering of hundreds of family, friends and spectators, as they completed their race, exhausted but high on adrenaline and joyful in the camaraderie of runners.
Salomés grueling running routine and determination paid off, awarding her 2nd place in the women’s division, finishing her 50-kilometer marathon in 3.5 hours.
Her inspiring story of compassion for the less fortunate is a great example of how some Christian Gentiles use their God-given abilities to serve Israel, and marathons are a great way to do that – with beautiful Dead Sea views, the euphoria of running and staying healthy while doing it. Could that be the perfect win-win for Israeli-loving athletes? I think so.