My first time solo traveling the Middle East! Why is that? One hour before taking off, my travel buddy casually informs me that he won't show up. Luckily, I meet a super nice local on the plane who offers to help out and gives valuable tips for the city. A few hours later, his girlfriend picks us up at the airport and we explore the late night food markets together. Not a bad start, huh?
The travels were super exhausting - stopping over in Istanbul at the small, shitty airport without proper wifi, hence I have a good rest in a small, family owned hotel downtown. Saturday morning, I meet up with two Iraqis (using Couchsurfing Hangouts, a fabulous App when solo traveling) and we join a local walking tour through the city. I love learning about culture, politics and the astonishing history of the city, though the extrem contrast between luxurious shopping malls and absolute poverty amongst the refugees deeply shocks me. It appears like a wild mixture of Las Vegas and New Delhi with a massive hipster touch everywhere. I get to explore co-working spaces, talk to the startups here and even have a glimpse at a luxury wedding nearby.
Nothing big to say about it back in 2016, the race grew a lot and the expo moved into a bigger area (update 2018).
The Expo is just a small stall in a luxury mall, which ist really hard to find for me - no internet connection, no Arabic skills. Two friendly guys hand out my bib and race pack and I am ready to go back within five minutes. Dinner is well spent with two friends at a salsa party - though people seem disappointed that I am not drinking and dancing, as I want to save my legs for the next day.
Alarm clock at 4:30 AM. My excitement is very limited and I have a really hard time to get up. The nervous feelings have disappeared over the years which leaves me with grumpiness. I pull the blanket over my head and turn around for another round of snoozes. Second time the alarm goes off, I grab two bananas and a chocolate croissant (exzellent preparation this time I guess) and get dressed into my ladybug outfit. While walking to the start area, my mood improves significantly - people are already cheering me on and many ask for selfies (guys, have you never seen a running ladybug before?)
The start line is very very impressive - there was a lot of work put into the organization and general management. Many runners already gather around, waiting for their race to begin. Lebanese music makes the atmosphere a lot more fun and I start smiling for the first time today: the sun is coming up, everybody is super cheerful and friendly and I can't wait to race.
Start signal - I am at the last batch of runners (comfortably, I want to go for an easy five hour pace) and the route leads straight up the first hill. Being an ultra runner, I start walking immediately - why ruin your legs at the first kilometer of a marathon anyway. None of the "real" runners is any faster, by the way. The race atmosphere in general is breathtaking. I haven't encountered anything comparable in Europe - the amount of armed soldiers to protect the runners is uncountable and somehow it makes me a bit queasy. Nonetheless, I give everybody a bright smile and try my best to create a good mood.
To me, this isn't an easy start. The hills are tough and the air is full of smog, besides, the heat is really starting to kick in. But as usually, I take around half an hour to warm up and get comfortable. At the aid stations and during the race, there are many volunteers to help the runners and I have the feeling that the whole military is here to support and help out.
Between the aid stations, the whole city is celebrating a massive party. DJs, dancers, school classes, NGOs - Everybody showed up to cheer and enjoy the mood. It is colorful, loud and crazy and there are "piece" signs all over the place.
While running, I am more and more fascinated by the "disaster" scenery around me. We left the more luxurious parts and major shopping streets of the city and went on to a more authentic and local area. There are numerous small streets, street vendors and elderly people sitting on the street in plastic chairs, smoking water pipes. Just one minor problem - I have been looking for a toilet since kilometer one on. There were none at the aid stations, hence I ended up in a small street food restaurant. (2019: This issues was fixed).
The rest of the race is a lot more pleasant - I really feel the rhythm of my steps, there is no wall at 30k and I am so fascinated by all the people around me, I don't even feel the upcoming finish line and hard efforts. During the last minor part, a relay runner joins me and together, we finish strong.
The finish line is at the main square, near the big mosque. After a final sprint, I finish just around five hours and receive my medal. A second later, there is a big queue of people requesting pictures of my ladybug outfit. Overall, I see a lot of positive reactions to my outfit by mostly female runners, which surprises me a bit. Of course I did not mean to offend anybody, but I expected a lot more attention from the male runners section with that fluffy skirt. What a lovely surprise!
After another banana and some refreshing drinks, I walk home for about twenty minutes. Best part of solo traveling? Nobody around who wants to "explore the city" after waiting for you the whole day. Just you, your bed and plenty of time to rest. What a bliss! The second I arrive at the hotel, the grandpa already awaits me with some fresh pineapple juice. "Did you win? What a nice medal!". No comment on that, but I appreciate his effort and patience.
Great event! 2016 has been a very decent event and they even improved and grew bigger until 2018. It's a great and fun race to join, but moreover, an astonishingly beautiful country to visit full of warm souls, open arms and amazing cuisine. The local running community was also very welcoming and I truly enjoyed my time in Beirut, Shukran!
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