My Namibrace 2021 – great race, amazing people

When entering the ultramarathon experience I could tell it serves so many of my needs. Spending many hours in nature, improving my physical status (well… not always :-)), and a place when the mind cleans up and mental challenges are as exciting as the physical ones. After several races I was fortunate to have the courage and take the challenge of the Gobi March 2019, that was a whole new experience for me, fulfilling in so many ways. I went to Namibia for so many reasons, all were answered in a perfect symphony of nature, people, comradeship and kindness. I would like to dedicate this post for all those being on my mind out there during good and bad times on the course: My family and its incredible support along the journey, my parents (icl. dad RIP), friends, and every child I thought I may inspire by this journey – including that Perthes-child I was almost 50 years ago. Great thanks for my fellow competitors volunteers and RTP team, so many great souls, kind people, inspiring ones.

*This post is for my non-Hebrew speaking friend. It is a rough translation of my story in Shvoong website. So here we go:

A hundred and twenty kilometers into the race, the radiation is so strong that it is hard to see the pink flags marking the way against the backdrop of canyon rocks. A dense series of markings indicates a left turn and this is clearly the beginning of five kilometers of long, steep climbing in soft sand to the end point of the day. The temperature gauge attached to the compass scratches the 50-degree bar. Another bottle of isotonic, head down and keep pushing. An hour later, the joyful volunteers at the finish line will mark the end of day three of the race.

The road to Namibia

Three days earlier on the start line, a whole two years went through my head. Right after my first race in the 4Deserts series held in Mongolia’s Gobi desert, it was clear to me that this would be the next race. Everything worked like clockwork and then all of our lives were turned upside down. The first few months of 2020, and my personal preoccupation with synchronizing the handling of the crisis, the personal and family struggles, friends whose world and future were turned on them in an instant, and me… I clung to a run to maintain a small corner of sanity, allowing myself to run for an hour at midnight just to be called back. Stealing hours at noon in the hills near my house. The main thing was to get some air. How do you maintain a training routine? After the April 2020 race was postponed to October, it was postponed again to March 2021, and finally to October 2021. It is true that each of them had a full training program, but after the first cancellation, “projects” were introduced about a month before each event to give a purpose for the program even if the race was canceled. And so I got to “Rotate Ramon Crater”, “The Sanhedrin Trail”, and even go out to the sea-to-sea trail with Avishai.

As the October 2021 race approached, everything seemed to really be taking place. Every step of progress towards it seemed like a miracle to me, and even on a plane to Addis Ababa in route to Namibia I waited to stand on the starting line to believe that everything was happening. Landing at Windhoek, shuttle on time and everything’s banging like clockwork. On the way to Swakopmund, I realized that the number of runners had shrunk to just over 30. The logistical depth of the “Four Deserts” series races is built for 100-150 participants in each race, so it was clear that it would be a slightly different race, with a different level of familiarity between the runners. Also, each of those who came carries experience and/or good reason to be here. When I found out I was sharing a tent with a Zimbabwean, and Ahmed al-Katiree from Dubai, I was even so happy. We’ll get back to the race…

This was my second race in the Four Desert Series. A 7-day race of about 250 kilometers divided into stages in a 4-stage format of about 40 km, one long of 70-80 km followed by a day of rest, and completion of the distance on the last day. The uniqueness of the races is that they are also self supported, so everyone carries everything it takes for the whole week on their back, including the food (except for water). The backpacks usually weigh between 8 and 12 kg without the water. This time I stocked up on a new kind of backpack that did prove itself, and my equipment weighed about 10 kg. Also in the food, I made some changes including small bags of almonds and nuts that proved to be the culinary peak of the day.

The day before the start, it turned out that they will be changing the course. Carlos, the course director, explained that there are 60-70 km/hr winds in the area of the first stage and the markings will not hold the migratory sands. Wind strength also puts runners at risk. I was disappointed that we might not be in the dunes, but I welcomed Carlos’ flexibility and experience, along with the ability to mark alternative routes in such a short time. As long as the race is to go ahead.

The race begins

On the first morning of the race we found ourselves 31 excited runners standing on the starting line. Recent tests that everything’s in place, the running-time snacks, the electrolytes, and also the mind aimed correctly. The team, volunteers and local staff are also excited about the very existence of the race. Just before the leap, Namibians of all colors stand and sing the local anthem together. Something that couldn’t happen 35 years ago. We don’t cry, but behind the sunglasses there are tears. The race is been run. To my left are the 28 flags that represent all the competitors and the volunteers also carry an Israeli flag next to the UAE flag.

On the first day, I’m very focused on pace control. Move forward like I’m on the last day, insist on not being dragged too fast. Up the Swakop River, the little mud in the first few kilometers changes very quickly with soft or partially compressed sand. I found myself near Russian Richard from Siberian talking about family and children. Later he picked up a beat, the two girls from Honduras and Guatemala overtook me, but I’m in pace: little by little. After 10 miles, I folded the sticks, and worked on the accuracy of the directions of the backpack to prevent shoulder pain and back rubbing. The other half of the day was mostly climbing from the dry river path, into temperatures up to 43 degrees. Hot, dry, sand, just the combination that makes me think about what I’m doing here. From the maps I remembered that the night camp is within the river route, and indeed 4 km before the end of the day I started to slide back down, until the abandoned ostrich farm, some of which were the ostriches that inhabited the gorge. The sunset over the night camp is great, dinner, preparations for the second day and an attempt to sleep most of the night.

Day two began with a long stretch of climbing into the moon valley. Some of it required ropes to pass dry waterfalls. At the end of the climb, just before the first control point, a look back reveals a crazy view, mirrors from another planet. Try to imagine the Israeli south Craters and Eilat Mountains area on steroids. Black mountains, huge granite rocks, quartz surfaces of different colors and hues ranging from deep purple to mustard yellow. The rest of the day was also taken from films on Mars with Welwitschia plants that are hundreds of years old. Before the second control point Jack was 500 meters ahead waved me goodbye. A mile later, I realized he had made a mistake on the way and reported Samantha – the point manager. A vehicle called in to look for him found him back on the track after realizing the mistake. The volunteers spray water from all directions. The hat feels like an air conditioner and the pants are dripping. For the furious temperatures, I’m not complaining. Between the second and third control points, I’m losing Jack again, who probably doesn’t feel at his peak. The fourth part of the day glides through a narrow canyon that is taken straight from a nature film to a meeting between the Swakop Gorge and the Kahan River Gorge (do not get too excited – both are dry). The encounter has enough moisture for fine vegetation and a baboon tribe that takes a distance from the human baboon camp. The local team celebrates with a big bonfire, I try to get a rest, take care of a small blister that starts to raise its head, and mostly remains overwhelmed by the times of the first quartet progressing faster than 10 km/hr! Led by Rob Ripley, a 60-year-old doctor from Oregon who will also win the race, with running abilities from another world.

Tuesday’s morning briefing talks about 45 kilometers, most of which are moderate incline, and a sharper rise outside the gorge. The end of the day should mark the middle of the distance. They say it might be even warmer, partly because there’s no wind, but it’s nowhere near what’s really going to come. At the end of the first leg Jack comes after me and tells me he’s done and finishes the race. Given that I had already finished the first two bottles, it is clear to me that the heat is severe. Even the sun doesn’t cooperate and hits hard from the early hours. This day becomes an trench battle, and the vehicles are deployed between the control stations to provide water every 5 km. A wise decision not to look at the pace allows me to manage the effort carefully. At the third control station, the book of poems that Lilach prepared was pulled out. It’s time for it to contribute to the effort. A broken translation for volunteers, and Tiago the photographer wishes to commemorate the moment. I’ve already wrote about the last ascent. At camp, I tried to pick myself up, make sure I put in the daily calorie allowance, my body exhausted and I’m fighting to get another spoon and another spoon in. Tomorrow, they say, it is expected to be an easier day, mostly flat, just 42 km. Meanwhile, the 19-year-old Korean, the youngest of the runners, crosses the finish line in the dark in tears of joy, just as the cutoff time .

Down the other half

Day four marks the friendliest day of the race. A layer of clouds protects us all day, and a pleasant wind blows across the plains. Even the surface is less sandy. The need to avoid contact with the “milk bush” from which the bushman prepare the poison maintains a healthy alertness. I’m so happy about the weather and the pace spontaneously increases with longer running segments. Towards the end of the day I catch-up with Atul that accompanies Valdami, a blind Brazilian runner who has an impressive track record. We crossed the finish line of the day together with our hands crossed as road partners should. In the evening I started calculating times… There’s a chance to end under 50 hours cumulative! A little dream I suppressed so I wouldn’t make mistakes. Tomorrow the longest stretch, the long march, stretches over 68 km.

Morning of the fifth day. Vigilance and excitement. A combination of the longest section and also the most significant last in the race. Aside from the front runners, many of us will end our day in the dark, navigating between the flags and the sticklighters. The heart wants to push to ensure enough space on the last day to finish under 50 hours, but the head dictates more cautious conduct. The first section is very fast, and the climb through purple and pink quartz surfaces to the high point of the day and the end of the second section also goes well. Here comes a descent through sand-slides and boulder climbing, which takes me almost half an hour per km. From here a new landscape opens again, temperatures are rising again but you can take comfort in the west wind. At the fifth point, after about 48 km I am offered coffee, you can’t say no to this, and this becomes a 20-minute stop, but every minute is golden. I turn on the red light on the back of the backpack and force myself to dig forward until the end. The sunset is wonderful and the cold starts to bother. Another buff on the neck, gloves are pulled out and the headlight is turned on. Between the sixth CP and the finish line, there were 10 kms. The head was in focus but the legs had will of their own and occasionally I zigzag. I pulled out the poles again to stabilize and I laughed out loud at the situation. Four kilometers from the end the dune area began. It was hard to see in the dark but the texture of the sand on the side hit by the wind gives them away. The finish line lights symbolize the beginning of a day of rest between the high dunes towards the short final stage. My times so far strengthen my desire to ensure an end to under 50 hours. Tomorrow morning we’ll wake up to a magical morning among giant dunes.

The whole day of rest was about arranging the equipment and getting rid of food that is not essential. My surplus food goes to other runners . Rest in the shade and long conversations with the competitors who became friends. Carlos can be seen with his crew members working on the final markings of the track in the dunes.

On the last day, the start is late. Coffee and two snacks, there’s no point in eating much because at the end there’s cold beer and pizzas… Running in the dunes, I tried to work smart through the compressed side of the dune with skating steps. The business works really nice and I was able to run large parts of the section. The wind already carries a smell from the Atlantic coast that is clearly visible. The sand on the beach is deep purple. To anyone who asked why I wasn’t smiling in the closing picture: less than a mile from the end, the throat choked with excitement. On the finish line: celebration, hugs, smiles, introduction to the family of Mabasa, pizzas, 3 beers, I’m set. Catching my breath so I wouldn’t fall apart on the phone, I called Lilach.

What now?

You can’t really describe in words the intensity of the experience, all the little moments, and the inspiring people I met. I write now as everything is fresh, but from my experience I know that the experience will resonate with me for a long time to come. The people, the competitors, the volunteers, the race team. Each with their own special story. Long months from the stage of the idea, the organization, the physical and mental preparations that drain into the peak event. Endless moments of falling into the abyss and ascension. Looks marvel at the intensity of the desert, and long minutes of silence that penetrates and cleanses the soul. The family photo on the phone that accompanied me every night, and the songbook that was anchored every time. This is where I feel at peace.

So many people have accompanied me this way, and everyone deserve a huge thank you. Nonprofits that have been before my eyes more than once in the track: Yadid Lachinuch (friend of education) and Perthes Israel, each in its own way paves the way for capableness. Pano Koter who knows how to guide me without digging, as I like. And my amazing amazing family with my private orchestra conductor, my beloved teacher Lilach.

And in the “what now?” thing, obviously I’m already thinking about the next challenge… There’s a chance he’s already in the log… It’s going to be fun.

Now a little rest, and in the meantime, you can use the time and contribute:

Donations to education friend Yadid Lachinuch https://www.yadidla.org.il/ to 563317 account, at the 640 branch of Bank Hapoalim.

Perthes Israel https://www.perthesisrael.com. For further donations and details, please contact Tali Ben-Dror and Merav Bar-El Meirav Bar-el 050-2340003 /052-8582000

Counting down the days: What about fear…

A couple of days ago, I got a T-shirt from friends, suggesting one way of looking at the ultramarathon psychological process. Although I do not agree with the description of most of the process as “suffering”, it made me think of other processes you go through while preparing towards a challenge.

In many aspects of life, running not excluded, we know this feeling of excitement when we take upon us a new challenge. The dictionary defines excitement as “a feeling of great enthusiasm and eagerness”, which is very true. And then comes doubt… can I do this? what happens if I fail? can I pay the toll it takes to get there?… As for me, I simply push it away. My routine is “if it (doubt) does not help, why bother worrying?”. Yet, one should not ignore the fact that without second questioning some decisions we make, we might have taken the wrong path. So let’s talk about doubt.

Doubt… “a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction”. Have to admit, I love this phase, the ambiguity, the unknown, solving the puzzles in the fog. It always intrigued me. Once doubt starts irritating the mind, it is accompanied with confusion. this is a very uncomfortable place to be, in particular when we talk about guys like me that are pragmatic (or at least try to be). The benefit of it, is this moment when the puzzle is solved, and the pieces suddenly start to make sense, have some logic order, and the road becomes clear. Having said that, it does not clear the fear away.

What Is Fear? It is a natural, powerful, and primitive human emotion. It involves a universal biochemical response as well as a high individual emotional response. Fear alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological. Sometimes fear stems from real threats, but it can also originate from imagined dangers. my fears as related to the current challenge is coping with the enormous sand parts of the race. It sounds funny coming from one living in Israel, with its Mediterranean sandy beaches, and the desert in the south. But racing through this can be a very different story.

I decided to make this fear my challenge. And at once, fear was replaced by determination. This is not to say “I am not afraid”, rather acknowledging that fear is her, and there is no way around it. So if there is no way around it, the best way is facing it and go /run /walk /crawl through it. So.. gaiters up, running poles down, focus, pace slowly, and here we go!

So here I go again…

You’re invited to follow the race (details below). And as you do so, pay your attention to these two great NGO’s:

If you want to follow the Namib race

  1. Lilach will probably post on FB
  2. For the results and CP updates: https://www.racingtheplanet.com/namibrace/results
  3. Breaking news: https://www.racingtheplanet.com/namibrace/breaking_news
  4. Photos: https://www.racingtheplanet.com/namibrace/photos

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Sliding down an iceberg… or not?

You probably know that feeling, when you push hard to achieve something you really want, and then something happens that pulls out the plug on your efforts? You are lost with zero energy, and your finger nails try to hang up to a dream but you are sliding down, as is you’re on the slope of an iceberg… That sums up pretty much my ongoing struggle get to the NamibRace during the pandemic. It started with setting this race as my goal for 2020, at the end of April 2020. Then came COVID and it was postponed to November 2020, and then to April 2021… And now, it is postponed yet another time – till October 2021. Each time, training schedule was reset, adjusting to new weather conditions, COVID limitations and what not.

So now to plan B.

There should always be a plan B.

Originally, I planned my final heavy-duty weekend of training to be on the weekend of March 26th. So we had to find an alternative iceberg to hang on to. Here comes my coach, Pano Koter. He came up with an idea to run the Sanhedrin trail, a 115 km trail with close to 3,000 vertical climb. The trail crosses the Lower Galilee from west to east, from Bet She’arim to Tiberias, passing through several ancient sites that are associated with the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Rabbinical Leadership and Court in Roman-period Galilee that was composed of 70 Rabbis. Part of this trail is merged with the main Jesus Trail hiking route that its 65km begins in Nazareth and goes all the way to Capernaum on the sea of Galilee. We decided to run the Sanhedrin trail from east to west, adding a few climbs… Going this way, our end point is Alexander Zaïd monument.

Alexander Zaïd was one of the founders of the Jewish defense organizations Bar Giora and Hashomer, and a prominent figure of the Second Aliyah. Zaïd survived two attacks by Arabs, but on the night of 10 July 1938, he was killed. He was ambushed by an Arab gang while on his way to meet members of kibbutz Alonim. The killer was Qassem Tabash, a Bedouin from the al-Hilaf tribe. In 1942, the Palmach killed Tabash in retaliation. On a hilltop overlooking the Jezreel Valley is a bronze statue of Alexander Zaïd on horseback sculpted by David Polus.

We started the trail at 08:00, morning of March 25th, in Tiberias, where Sanhedrin operated during the last period of being headed by Rabi Yehuda Ha’Nasi. The trail started with the major climb to Mt Arbel, going from -200m (sub sea level) to about +150. A beautiful climb overlooking the sea of Galilee. This climb was followed by a trail to Horns of Hattin, where on July 4th 1187, the Muslim army led by Saladin defeated the crusaders in a battle that marked the beginning of the Muslim takeover of the holy land. The road, not well marked, led us through spring blossom, and high bush. The hills carries us to finish the first 42km in Cana. This village is the traditional site of the wedding feast where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine.

We then pushed towards Zippori, halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee. The name ” Zippori” comes from the Hebrew word tsipor which means “bird,” presumably for the birds-eye view afforded from its hill. The historian Josephus described it as “the ornament of all Galilee” and it was the administrative capital of the Galilee in the 1st century. It features an impressive archeology site dating back to the Hasmoneans who settled there in the 2nd century BC, as well as subsequent Byzantine, Arab and Crusader ruins. A few km after Zippori, in the dark, we entered Netofa Valley marking the end the the first 60km.

Entering the valley also marked the beginning of the most muddy part of the trail… the valley, often flooded in winter kept its promise and our shoes accumulated significant sticky mud that tripled their weight and more… About 8km into that section we started our second significant climb to Yodfat. The place is also a symbol of the Great Revolt against the Roman empire during the 1st century. The Siege of Yodfat was a 47-day siege by Roman forces of the Jewish town of Yodfat which took place in 67 CE, during the Great Revolt. Led by Roman General Vespasian and his son Titus, both future emperors, the siege ended with the sacking of the town, the deaths of most of its inhabitants and the enslavement of the rest. It was the second bloodiest battle of the revolt, surpassed only by the Siege of Jerusalem, and the longest except for Jerusalem and Masada. The siege was chronicled by Josephus, who had personally commanded the Jewish forces at Yodfat and was subsequently captured by the Romans.

Luckily the climb to Yodfat was moderate slope, so we reached the decent towards the valley and Shfar’am (Arabic: شفاعمرو‎, Šafāʻamr, Hebrew: שְׁפַרְעָם‎, Šəfarʻam). Shfar’am is an Arab city  with a Sunni Muslim majority and large Christian Arab and Druze minorities. In Roman times – the place of the Sanhendrin, so there is also an ancient synagogue. The Crusaders built here a fort to protect the road from Acre to Nazareth. Later, a fort was built in the 18th century. We felt good on the way, personally I felt surprisingly fresh. My partner had a disturbing blister on the left foot, and we decided the take of it as we enter the town. Nothing prepared us to the drama to follow…

We entered Shfar’am at about 3AM after 90 km of the trail, looking for a place where we can sit to take care of my partners blister. We found a nice wall, 90cm or so high. He took off his left shoes to find an impressive blister at the bottom of his foot. Pulled out my blister kit and started to treat it. Before I knew it, he was down there, face down on the pavement… not believing it, I called his name, gently touched his face, making sure he is responsive. Got him sit down against the wall – now on the floor, not on top of it. he was all bloody, it was evident he broke his nose, and god’s knows what else… at this point I was relieved he was breathing and talking. Tried to support him with my right hand, and simultaneously call our support team to come over as fast as they can. My hypothermal fingers did not respond so well at first. As we wait, his face started to swell, and I was so so happy to see our support team that rushed him to the nearest ER. After numerous examinations it was concluded that it is only a broken nose… we got lucky this time.

As for me… my first thought was to finish the trail on my own. Only 21km left, I thought, but then came the adrenalin drop, and the hypothermia. Let alone our instructions, that were to proceed only in couples at nighttime. So… called my wife to pick me up, got a shower, an hour of sleep, and drove to the finish point to meet the other 3 who finished the whole trail and another 30 who ran parts of it that night… what an end, sliding down the iceberg again.

What’s next? Well now its time to focus on training for the NamibRace in Octeber (for the 4th time…).

Till then, see ya on the trails!

Israel Antiquities Authority Official Channel:

“Sanhedrin Trail crosses the Lower Galilee from west to east, from Bet She’arim to Tiberias, passing through several ancient sites that are associated with the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Rabbinical Leadership and Court in Roman-period Galilee that was composed of 70 Rabbis. The trail was formally dedicated to the State of Israel, in honor of the State’s 70th birthday, celebrated in May 2018. The trail links the trailers who hike it with the Galilean landscape and its rich cultural heritage, its environment, nature and archaeological and historical sites, and with the many varied cultures that have influenced the region down to the present day. The creation of the trail was carried out by the active participation of thousands of pupils, youth and volunteers from all backgrounds and from all fields of life, who took part in archaeological excavations, created, prepared and signposted the trail, and developed the archaeological sites along it. Jewish, Moslem, Christian, Bedouin, Druze and Circassian pupils, pre-army groups, students and youth on a pre-university ‘gap-year’ from abroad, worked alongside groups of pensioners, army-disabled volunteers and special needs groups, all experiencing the Sanhedrin Trail by hiking, learning and experiencing. The trail is undergoing continuous development by the exposure of the archaeological sites along the route, and by the significant educational activities carried out along the trail, and the developments will continue in the future.”

When I am 86 y/o

Part of my job (really) is to look far into the future, and try to figure out the world needs, how people will live, the GIGA forces that will shape the human environment. Looking far provides clarity and perspective, and also the space to assume nothing is impossible. In these games, the year of 2050 is often used as a year where global leaders and governments aim with their long term roadmaps. I just realized that this is also the year that I will be 86 years old. And if I do get there (alive…) it means that I outlived my father who passed on January 4th 2020.

When I came back from the Gobi March race in August 2019, I had this deep feeling of unrest. It was not too long that I realized that global sustainability is this bug behind this unrest. Later that year I started working on packaging sustainability strategic projects, to be followed by renewable energy strategies, then food waste reduction initiative, and recently also sustainable sourcing roadmap.

As I was thinking about 2050, and becoming 86 years old some day, it just hit me that people often ask: “what will be left for our children? what world are we handing over to them?”. Then I realized, that I am fortunate. Fortunate to actively contribute to the future of my grandkids that were not even born yet…

So below are some photos from my runs, to celebrate the beauty around us, and to remind us to keep this planet viable and beautiful for us the generations to follow.

See ya on the trails…

Running within boundaries expands my horizons all the way to the desert

Covid-19 is reshaping so many things in our lives. Society, economy, relations between people, security, confidence, all (and more) are shaken in a way most of us have never seen before. Truly, its magnitude is enormous, more of a new world war – just different battle fields. It makes you reconsider so many things in your life, what you really value? what’s important? what should i do in the future? would there be one?

During quarantine time I found running as the best relief. Since I live in the countryside, I was fortunate enough to be able to start the trails as close as 100 m from my house. Escaping from the turmoil for 1-2 hours was a true pleasure. It forced mt to cut down distances, but also to be creative and run trails close to home, that I have never run before. Having said that, my mind was distracted often, and I bet I twisted my ankle more than I could imagine. The peak was missing a hiding snake in the low grass, that bite me… luckily it was a “dry bite” wit very little venom and the effect was very local, some blood clothing, and 2 weeks of local pain.

As the quarantine was lifted, distances became longer again, and two great things happened. First, I started combining running with writing. Lilach started an “online” poetry writing group, which I gladly joined. I often find myself “writing” poems in my mind as I run, stop to record line on my mobile, hurry home to write them down. That with photos from my runs become great memories.

Then came the new challenge. Since flights are practically off, and no races, my brother talked me into taking a new challenge, here in the Negev desert. To run the “Makhtesh Ramon Circular Trail”. It is a ~125 km trail with approximately 3,500 meters climb, as a stage run in 3 days. Shortly after it became a “friends run” mini event, and it seems that at the end of September 2020 there will be over 40 of us on the trail.

Ramon Crater is a geological feature of Israel‘s Negev desert. Located at the peak of Mount Negev, some 85 km south of the city of Beersheba, the land form is not an impact crater from a meteor nor a volcanic crater formed by a volcanic eruption, but rather is the world’s largest “erosion cirque” (steep head valley or box canyons). The formation is 40 km long, 2–10 km wide and 500 meters deep, and is shaped like an elongated heart. The only settlement in the area is the small town of Mitzpe Ramon (“Ramon Lookout”) located on the northern edge of the depression. Today the area forms Israel’s largest national park, the Ramon Nature Reserve.

Running this trail is the new challenge – to be completed September 24-26th.

Till then, see ya on the trails!

MAkhtech Ramon (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mitzpe_Ramon,_Israel_(16037967337).jpg)
Makhtesh Ramon trail

“Accept the low points and move on…”

That quote of Geoff Roes (2010 Western States 100 champion) caught my attention last night…

The past few weeks have been ultra intensive. Four weeks ago I got the phone call, appointing me to run the COVID-19 crisis management team of the company. Setting teams across the globe, playing a whole new ballgame that was never played before, with its rules changing by the hour, sometimes by the minute. No working hours, just a long trail of minutes, minor, medium, big decisions. So many aspects to the crisis, beyond words. Protecting the people was always and still is the key. Safe, protected, healthy and calm people make societies win such battles. Business is not different.

Moving through extreme contrasts between operational and psychological aspects became a new normal. A time of uncertainty is probably the most challenging in human mental states.  As we applied one procedure, the regulation changed again and again. Supply chain; setting new routines and guidelines; addressing our management and board questions and concerns; as demanding as they are, these are technical “to do” things. I found managing peoples confidence and resilience to be the most challenging part. To sum it up shortly, I can describe this task as: i. Major in psychology could be useful; and ii. crisis management is like barbecue with friends… it hot… your fingers get burned… and yet there are at least three guys giving you advise…   

To keep some sanity in the process, I tried to keep most part of my training plans for the Namib Race 2020. Some of them, performed in the middle of the night, were interrupted by urgent calls. More than once of found my self sprinting home to make sure things do not go out of control. Although it was naive, I kept the belief that the race will not be cancelled. That hope died when I was notified that my flights were cancelled… That day, I committed myself to run my own solo equivalent race on the same dates here in Israel. However…

A few days later I got this from Racing The Planet team:

“We have considered cancelling the event… but we feel during this time of challenge and darkness, it is important to have a light at the end of the tunnel, a goal to work towards as athletes, adventure seekers and also as global citizens… The Namib Race 2020 will be rescheduled to Thursday 5 November 2020…”. 

Thank you guys for this light!  Together we can go through the low points and move on. Hope to see you then!

Till then… see you on the trails!

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Coronavirus and ultra-trail running, between panic and planning

This weekend runs were all about what goes on these days, the global turmoil, real or not – this is how life around the globe look like for most of us. I was thinking what I can take from running to help me go through this period of my life. Especially since it appears this COVID-19 time is a once in a lifetime experience for most of us. First thought was that we got used to live in an “instant” environment, where everything is literally at the tip or our pointing finger… we learn, consume, interact, communicate, buy, entertain, all in a split of a second. In a 20min net time of a digital episode, we get the background, go into a mega crisis, dive into bottoms and then in 30 sec we gain strength, fight back, and in 19 min “problem is solved” and we still have a 45 sec for a happy ending and credits… Well, reality as we know it is a bit different. It is not only a disappointing realistic observation, it is also a source of dissonance when we face a major challenge: no script, no pattern, no secured happy ending, unknown time frame… a land of uncertainty.

Personally, I do not believe in ‘concurring the fear’ rather in managing it and channeling it into productive activities. So, what was I thinking about while running? I thought about the long journey from anxiety to fear, and how to turn it to determination and action.

Some definitions for a start? Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Panic is a sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior. Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. All of us may have a fine mix of those as we experience current happenings. Very similar to feeling we may have during preparation, start line and all the way in a long trail running race.

Next, what can I/we do? There are many papers written about managing fear, and in theory they are probably right. I picked those suggestions that I understand how to build upon and resonate with my experience in trail running. This post is probably a reflection of the first suggestion: “Embrace it”. Do not fear the fear. It is there to help you direct your actions, so let it in, its fine. Then “take the time”; life is not a Netflix episode, so take the time, stop for a minute, consider your options, plan, and pace yourself based on the changing reality. Understand the fear, what are your main concerns, and literally write them down. Think long term but break your long-term goal/distance into shorter, measurable and doable actions. Learn, prepare, practice; get as much information about the challenge and reduce the unknown part to minimum. Then, prepare and practice, one step at a time, learn from others (someone else who has accomplished it before? someone written a book?). Stay positive, keep on pushing as if anything is possible. Do not focus on the finish line, visualize success. I find it elevating during stressful moments. Don’t be shy, get help from fellow “runners” with you on the trail, as well as the volunteers at the aid stations. There are plenty of people willing to help, use it, let them reach out for you, you are not alone. And do help others, it will help you face you own fears.

And one day, after we collectively cross the finish line, we will wake up the day after. Our muscles sore, body aces in organs we were not aware of their existence. But we will look back with pride, how we faced our fears, embraced them, got help from known and newly met friends, and helped others. It will become yet another precious moment in our past. We will try to relive moment after moment of that journey and realize how we evolved and grew stronger from it.

And remember “The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer” (George Santayana).

See ya on the trails!

Eyal

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My father; “Don’t be afraid, it’s my turn to chase the monsters away”

It is almost a month since my father closed his eyes for the last time. My beautiful father. This post is a bit different, not much running, more about memories and what’s important in life. So this is what I wrote and read in the funeral:

“On the way, driving, I heard a song saying “Abraham, do not touch that child…” and I asked too, but it did not work. A so, like king David, you went out to the yard to open the gate, and he found you there. David.

My father, a child on the laps of a Romanian girl in the village. On a wagon, deported. Walks along the room walls to avoid his dead grandma. Runs with grandpa between the bombs, seeking shelter in the trenches. Hiding in the toilets with Ezra your brother, to eat the cake grandma sent. Crossing the continent after the war by train just to catch the buns at the window in Amsterdam railway station.

Excited to see Haifa harbor lights after a week at sea. Charming mother by the water fountain in the steaming Beit Shean valley. Firing a “fiat” rocket in your army training, and remembering Leibowitz hat floating in the river as you crossed it. Building your home in kibbutz Tel Amal, work night and days out in the fields, saving young gazelle hiding in the growing wheat.

Celebrates and happy with his children, mourns the loss of his first boy, so young… over fifty years ago, seems like today. Leaves the kibbutz, build a home in the city,  a warm and hugging family nest, with diverse neighbors, and kids with bread and jam on the grass. Hikes and travel with us across the country, knowing every farmer in the fields and the mountains. Teaching me to know each soil, row and furrow. 

You, who came back from this horrible war in 1973 and sworn not to shave until peace comes. That when Sharon entered our home with her head shaved, and mother stood there jaw dropped, you said: “you look great”. That let us fall a rise and respected our will to be independent. That welcomed your guests wearing gallabieh and serving steaming coffee. You, that kept complaining that the painful back stands between the head and the bottoms, but agreed with me that the alternative is sanitary questionable. That somehow, Afula was the center of the world for you, and that your eyes shined when you talked about your grand and grand-grand children. That they remember with love how you said that each person is born what he is, and so do gay people, so why making such a big deal about this.  That of all the things you could tell my daughter when she traveled to see the camps in Poland, you asked her to contribute to the society and the community.

Dad. That I was smart enough to start telling you how much I love you two years ago. So here, one more time: I love you.

Kisses and a big hug. Rest in peace.” 

 

And all along this week, this touching song of James Blunt played again and again in my head.

“Monsters” by James Blunt

Monsters (James Blunt)
Oh, before they turn off all the lights
I won’t read you your wrongs or your rights
The time has gone
I’ll tell you goodnight, close the door
Tell you I love you once more
The time has gone
So here it is
I’m not your son, you’re not my father
We’re just two grown men saying goodbye
No need to forgive, no need to forget
I know your mistakes and you know mine
And while you’re sleeping, I’ll try to make you proud
So daddy, won’t you just close your eyes?
Don’t be afraid, it’s my turn
To chase the monsters away
Oh, well I’ll read a story to you
Only difference is this one is true
The time has gone
I folded your clothes on the chair
I hope you sleep well, don’t be scared
The time has gone
So here it is
I’m not your son, you’re not my father
We’re just two grown men saying goodbye
No need to forgive, no need to forget
I know your mistakes and you know mine
And while you’re sleeping, I’ll try to make you proud
So daddy, won’t you just close your eyes?
Don’t be afraid, it’s my turn
To chase the monsters away
Sleep a lifetime
Yes, and breathe a last word
You can feel my hand on your own
I will be the last one, so I’ll leave a light on
Let there be no darkness in your heart
But I’m not your son, you’re not my father
We’re just two grown men saying goodbye
No need to forgive, no need to forget
I know your mistakes and you know mine
And while you’re sleeping, I’ll try to make you proud
So daddy, won’t you just close your eyes?
Don’t be afraid, it’s my turn
To chase the monsters away

Thoughts for a long distance race: what works for you?

77020008_10216473372852886_6786247042931884032_oNot a psychologist or therapist, but as most long distance runners know – mental strength is definitely part of the game. Recently, during my long runs, I started thinking of the depth you reach in while competing in a long race. Particularly, I was trying to recall specific thoughts and classify them. Being an engineer, the urge of putting things in some logical order is impossible to control.

First, I tried to think of the axes along which the thoughts align. Many ideas came up, but I made the choice to define them based on my thoughts rather than reading other papers that may fit many people. This is because it is important for me to define these for my future personal experiences. The axes I chose are time and “positive-negative” scales. For simplicity I divided these axes to minimum number of categories. Time scales goes from “past” to “future” through “here and now’. The “positive-negative” scale is even more simple and split to “negative” and “positive”. Now that there is a map, it was time to place the thoughts on this matrix.

Placing the thoughts on the map seemed to be easy when they came up as I was running, but as I set in front of it in my living room the thoughts were hard to find and recall… not giving up on the concept, I did collect examples and placed them on this matrix. Figuratively I think it could look like this:

thoughts in a race

Now that I got my thoughts in some kind of logic order, my question was: where do I find myself spending more time? which part of this matrix works better for me? Honestly, “future” thoughts are not very productive for me, fantasizing on the future during the run put long term goals that I find often very useful during training are frustrating me during a race. Here and now – this is a very operational part of the race, helps me to be functional, overcome here-and-now problems and crisis. Surprisingly (or not?) what works best for me are thoughts that take me to the extreme: bring me to tears OR make me burst laughing. Deep dark memories, traumatic ones, may pop into my thoughts and somehow drive my run. Similarly, on the very end of the “happiness” scale (just invented it now…) I find laughing so helpful. This relieving laugh comes many times when I try to fool/cheat myself by thinking “it is almost over”, and then thinking how stupid I think I am…. Oh, and one that I really like is simply telling myself jokes…

And how about you?

If you got all the way down to this end, share with me: What are your thoughts? what helps you during the race?

Till then: see ya on the trails!

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Here we go again! Namib Race!

Time to follow the next dream, time for new fears, new gaps in the knowledge, new doubts, time to re-find the inner strength, time for a new search. No worries, I am not quitting my great job, only choosing my new running adventure. A couple of months ago, I decided to challenge myself with a second “4 Deserts” race, this time in Namibia. A “yellow-brown” race, unlike the green horizons of Mongolia last summer. After building the base, December 1st marks the beginning of the “official” training period for the start line on April 26, 2020.

The more I think of it I understand that this race is a completely different challenge. The more I understand this – the more I am excited to confront the challenge and test myself again. I remind myself that the best moments of running in pouring rain is spreading your hands while running through the howling wind and the thunderstorm!

This one will be different for several reasons. The first is the new territory, the unknown terrain, climate, people.  Second is the training. Now I know what it takes, I know the pain, appreciate the dedication required and the sacrifice; will I find it again? Third, I am more experienced, I know better the food and the equipment that I need… am I? did I learn what really matters? is it relevant to this race?. And then… the race itself. I learned and experienced how a “racing the planet” race goes, but also how tough it can be, remember the small victories along the way, but also how deep I had to dig in to overcome it – do I have what it takes to do it again?

So I re-embark upon this journey, to find the answers to my doubts along the way. And for sure I will.

Till then, see you on the trails.

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