Prologue – A Journey to ‘The Promised Land’
… and Moses said unto his followers, “Put on your running shoes, pack up your beds, we’re off to The Promised Land” so, here started my journey to the Amman Marathon. My first stop was Mount Nebo, where Moses spoke to his followers, pointing towards the Plains beyond Jordan. My next stop was Bethany, where Jesus was baptised. Unfortunately it was shut, so I moved on down to the Dead Sea for a traditional mud bath and float in the very salty and very buoyant water. This was an amazing experience. It was not possible to swim on my front as I kept getting flipped on to my back. Onwards to Amman, via the bustling town of Madabo, complete with Roman mosaics, the beautiful Church of St Georges and cows heads hanging in shop doorways!
Prelogue – Getting to the Marathon Start Line
The following day I got up at 4:30am for a short walk to the race start at 6:00am. However the reality was….
Mad panic, as I realised that we had to meet somewhere out of town, to be bused back to the start line. I tried to hail a taxi in street but two taxis arrived at the same time and the drivers proceeded to fight each other for the business.
I climbed in to the winner’s taxi but he did not speak English. He then took us neither to the assembly point nor the race start but to somewhere entirely different and quite random. Finally, we directed him to the assembly point using Blackberry GPS.
We arrived at the assembly point but it was deadly quiet. The few passers-by did not speak English but we were directed to a nearby park, where pop music was being played very very loudly. By sign-language and an Englishman’s default in a foreign country of shouting louder and louder, we eventually realised that we had been directed to the start of the 10km.
I hopped on the back of a passing quad bike – the driver had something to do with the race but I have no idea what. I ended up back at the assembly point and grabbed a lift with a very friendly local, who drove like a man possessed, to get us to the start line. Thwarted with about 5km to go due to police roadblocks and soldiers who would not let us pass, I got out of the car.
I then waved down a passing police truck which gave us a lift to within 2km of the start. By now it was about ten minutes after the start of the race and runners were starting to go past us in the opposite direction.
Spent the next ten minutes running in the opposite direction to the other runners who continuously pointed out that we were running in the wrong direction. Stopped by officials who said we could not run in the wrong direction. Why would this be? We ignored the officials, who could not catch us.
Arrived at the start line about 20 minutes late, set watches and set off in hot pursuit of the rest of the field!
The race was four laps of the town, running through the main markets. This was fine on the first lap, as the roads were closed to traffic, and there were police at every 20m or so and everything was very orderly.
However, things started to degenerate gradually as the race unfolded. My target time had been somewhere around 4:00 to 4:30 hours and at the end of the first lap I was feeling good and on target.
On the second lap the market started to become alive and groups of children started to run alongside me.
They were friendly for the most part but they were also practicing their English on me – mostly swear words and other words that I did not understand. The field of just over 175 runners were well spread out by now and I felt very self-conscious in the market, particularly in my shorts and singlet.
On the third lap I began to fade as the walls of market folk started to encroach on the road and the police were powerless to stop them getting in the way. It then became virtually impossible to run properly as the Marathon field of 175 were joined by just over 5,000 10km runners and walkers – these were mainly kids, out for a laugh, cue more English practice.
On the last lap the kids began to thin out but the market was now in full swing, the police had all gone home and I was left to fend for myself. This youtube video clip here should give a good idea of what I had to get through, with men carrying half goats and more cows heads across the road.
By now I was pretty much a spent running force and I just had to endure to the end.
There was no water on the last lap, probably all drunk by the kids, but there were still banana stops at the turn-around points. I must have looked quite a state, because at one point someone jumped out of the crowd, grabbed me by the shoulder and asked me “How age are you?”. When I responded that I felt like 100, he gave me a friendly smile, a thumbs-up sign and cheered me on my way
At the end, the finishing judges had all gone, and whilst there was water, it had to be paid for, and guess what? – I had not thought of carrying any money in my race shorts. So, while I distracted the water sellers, a fellow competitor swiped a couple of bottles of water. I probably now have a Jordan criminal record. The race finished in a Roman amphitheatre which was very spectacular but by now full of 5,000 children.
In the end only 83 of the starting 175 Marathon runners actually finished – I wonder why? One of the runners who had pulled out after three laps insisted that I took his medal (because the medal giver-outers had also gone home) and he felt that he did not deserve it as much as me. Funny, I don’t usually value race medals but I will treasure this one.
My race time, is of no real consequence. All that matters is that I finished and that I took a few minutes off my Riyadh Marathon time.
Would I do this race again….? You bet I would.