Jeff Kolpack, Published April 02 2012
Fergus Falls grad has unique marathon experienceFARGO – It was the 11th marathon for University of North Dakota student Mark Becker, only this one came with a twist. There were about 400 armed soldiers lining the course for security.
You don’t get that in America every day. In fact, you don’t ever get it.
But that’s what Becker saw at the second annual Jerusalem Marathon in Israel, a 26.2-mile race that wasn’t part of his original intention when visiting the country. It just happened to be staged when he and Fergus Falls High School buddy Cody Peck were scheduled to be there during Spring Break.
So, why not?
Problem was, a few days of seeing the tourist sites left Becker wondering if all the walking would leave him with not enough energy for the marathon. They flew into Tel Aviv and spent three days seeing that city.
Two days before the Friday race, they climbed a mountain by the Dead Sea that wasn’t easy.
“I thought for sure that would be the end of me,” Becker said. “It turns out everything worked out OK.”
The starting line wasn’t very comforting, however. Becker remembered the story of the first Jerusalem Marathon when a bomb went off the night before at a bus stop, killing one and injuring many.
“When a ton of people lined up for the marathon is when things kind of got scary,” he said.
It was a hilly route, he said, much tougher than the Seattle Marathon course he ran. Also consider his training in Grand Forks was mostly done on either flat roads outside or inside at a local health club.
He navigated most parts of Jerusalem going through the local university, on up to a plateau and back through some of the oldest and holiest parts of the city.
“Some of the scenic views were pretty breathtaking,” he said.
His time was 4 hours, 41 minutes, 56 seconds – not close to his personal record. But it was also rainy with mud being a problem toward the finish. Becker figures there were less than 2,000 runners in the marathon but about 10,000 overall including other races like a half marathon and 10K.
Water was given all in bottles, most likely he said as a security precaution so nobody could taint a cooler of water.
Becker has finished the Fargo Marathon and Twin Cities Marathon multiple times. The Jerusalem event was just different.
He would hear people cheering him on, but it was in a different language.
“I was assuming they were saying good things,” he said. “There’s something about running a marathon outside the U.S. that makes it extra special. It was also difficult in terms of adapting to a foreign culture before you race.”
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.
Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found