A Running Pilgrimage To The Jerusalem Marathon

Jerusalem Marathon

Runners pass the Tower of David at Jerusalem Marathon (Photo: Kobi Gideon/Flash90-IsrealTourism/Flickr)

In its fourth year, the Jerusalem Marathon has grown to become a large international event. In 2013, 20,000 runners from 54 countries competed at the Jerusalem Marathon weekend; 1,730 of them came from abroad. This year, I’ll be one of them.

I’m going to the Jerusalem Marathon on March 21 as part of a press trip sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism in cooperation with El Al Airlines. The event includes marathon, half-marathon, 10K, 5K and 800-meter races. I’ll be running the half-marathon.

Jerusalem Marathon

The 2012 Jerusalem Marathon (Photo: Uri Lenz/FLASH90 – IsraelTourism/Flickr)

The courses were designed, the race website says, to trace Jerusalem’s history, taking runners through the Old City and past the Tower of David to more modern locales like the Knesset and Hebrew University.

But the course itself has been an issue of political debate. The Palestine Liberation Organization asked runners and sponsors to boycott the 2013 Jerusalem Marathon because it traveled through East Jerusalem.

Both Israel and Palestine lay claim to Jerusalem as capital, with international bodies like the United Nations proposing the city instead have international status. Palestinians consider East Jerusalem occupied territory. Much of the world agrees. It’s been a key road block to resolving the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a result, most countries and international organizations, including the U.S. and the U.N., do not recognize Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital, and instead maintain embassies in Tel Aviv.

The Golden Tempe

At the Harmandir Sahib, a Sikh temple in Amritsar, India.

Political? Certainly.

But for me, the trip is like two worlds colliding. I was a religion major at Amherst College and set out to be a religion reporter while earning my master’s degree at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. While there, the Religion Newswriters Association named me one of 10 national finalists for Student Writer of the Year and I received reporting grants from the Carnegie and Knight Foundations to cover religion in America and the Scripps Howard Foundation to report on religion in India.

I reported stories about Hindu saints, female imams and Hispanic priests. Here’s one of them.

I was raised Catholic, but in college, Hinduism and Islam had been my major concentrations because I loved viewing the world from different perspectives. I also studied Judaism and Buddhism among many other religions. I’m fascinated by what we believe, why we believe it and what we’re willing to do in its name.

Hindu Star

Hexagrams like this at the Chhatarpur Temple in Delhi, India are common to many religions including Judaism and Hinduism. (Photo: Karla Bruning)

But even more than that, I’m fascinated by the common threads that tie us all together. As much as Jerusalem has torn the region apart, it’s because it means so much to so many people. It is a common thread that has been tied into a knot.

My career eventually lead me to write about running, but old passions never die. So traveling to Jerusalem, which three of the world’s major religions claim as sacred ground, is a dream come true for me. I get to course the streets of the ancient city, running through history. I’m breathless just thinking about it.

I’ve written a few times about running as a spiritual experience. It is very much so for me. So politics aside, I’ll travel to Jerusalem as a reporter, as a runner, but, most importantly, as a pilgrim. Shalom, salaam, shlama, shanti. In a word: peace.

All photos of the Jerusalem Marathon are © Flash 90 from IsraelTourism on Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license: Photo 1, Photo 2.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


01 2014

22 Comments Add Yours ↓

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  1. 1

    Sounds like it’ll be an amazing experience. I love travel. I’ll be looking forward to hearing about other things that you’ll do along with the HM report.
    Elle recently posted..Dovetail LoveMy Profile

  2. 3

    Oh my gosh – how amazing!! It is so interesting when you start delving into the different religions and see how many stories / concepts they have in common. It is extremely fascinating. Jerusalem is high on my list of places to visit so I’ll be interested in your thoughts.
    Emily recently posted..Wish I Was Wednesday #54My Profile

  3. 5

    This sounds like a once in a lifetime opportunity, how thrilling! I would love to do an international race and see a new city.
    Lesley recently posted..Marathon Weekend, Fun in the Parks Day 3My Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      It definitely is. This will be my first race technically outside of North America! I’ve raced in Hawai’i, which is of course the U.S., but geographically is in Polynesia, not North America. I’ve raced in Canada multiple times in Quebec and Ontario, but since my husband is Canadian and we go there often, it’s doesn’t quite feel “international,” even though it is. So this really will be an adventure.
      Karla Bruning recently posted..A Running Pilgrimage To The Jerusalem MarathonMy Profile

  4. 7

    I love the thought of doing an international race, though I’m not sure I’ll ever do it — I hope you have an amazing time!
    Sadye recently posted..Shorts reportMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      Thanks! From a racing perspective, I’m most concerned about the time change. When I ran in Hawai’i, I had a full week out there before the race to adjust. That won’t be the case in Jerusalem. But it will be an adventure!
      Karla Bruning recently posted..A Running Pilgrimage To The Jerusalem MarathonMy Profile

  5. 9

    That’ll be a fascinating trip. Congratulations on being selected. Looking forward to seeing how the reporting goes (and the running!). I didn’t even know there was a Jerusalem Marathon.
    Ewen recently posted..Coming back, ever so slowlyMy Profile

  6. 11

    Looking forward to hearing about the race and the city. What an amazing opportunity!
    Kristi Raz recently posted..A Lesson in Buying ShoesMy Profile

  7. 13

    Great story! I bet this race will be such an amazing experience – best of luck! Do you plan on traveling around while you are over there?

  8. 15

    Wow, this race sounds pretty amazing! Loved reading about it and am looking forward to reading how it goes for you and what it’s like. I’ve always wanted to visit Jerusalem and to not only visit but run, would be surreal. I totally agree how running can be spiritual…
    Angelica recently posted..Marathon Training Recap Weeks 10 & 11My Profile

  9. 17

    Wow, Karla, this is going to be an amazing experience, especially with your background in religion, what an awesome opportunity! By the way, so interesting that you were going to be a religious reporter that must have been fascinating to study!

    • Karla Bruning

      Religion was fascinating to study as a student and, especially, a reporter. Reading about it is one thing. Actually going to temples, mosques, churches, synagogues, and the like was amazing. One of my favorite stories I did was about Amma, the Hindu “hugging” saint. I trekked to the far suburbs of Mumbai and got to sit next to her on stage as she hugged one follower after another. Thousands of people were in line just to get a quick hug. It was surreal. People cried talking about her as I interviewed them.
      Karla Bruning recently posted..Disneyland Half Marathon 2014 Registration OpensMy Profile

  10. 19

    I’m terrible, my first thought was, “Damn that’s going to be some good falafel…”
    Nicole @ Pink Elephant on Parade recently posted..Shrek Foot: Or how stupid struck againMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      That’s not terrible at all! One of my favorite things about running AND traveling is eating. Masala in Mumbai? Yes, please! Asado in Argentina? Yum! Pierogi in Poland. Of course! Gyros in Greece? My fave. Heck, I even ate chicken feet in China. Very much looking forward to the food on this one.
      Karla Bruning recently posted..Run Disneyland Half Marathon 2014 Races For CharityMy Profile

  11. 21

    Wow! That sounds like it’s going to be such an incredible experience! I’m so excited for you and cannot wait to read all about it. I can only imagine how amazing that race is going to be!


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