Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

The Holy Land

Posted: July 14, 2014 in Israel
The walled Holy City of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock at center, as seen from the Mount of Olives.

The walled Holy City, or Old City, of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock at center, as seen from the Mount of Olives.  The Old City of Jerusalem is home to nearly 40,000 Muslims, Christians, Armenians, and Jews in just .35 square miles making it very much an active, living, and densely populated city to this day.

One of the great benefits to my time in Egypt was the opportunity to visit Jerusalem, the Old City, and surrounding sites on two different occasions.  In my attempts to try to describe these trips, the best way I have been able to summarize the experience is “surreal.”  Regardless of your religious inclinations, the historical significance of specific locations, as well as the general area, simply cannot be denied and seeing places that hold such importance for so many people across the globe was down right fascinating.  In terms of geopolitics now, the area as a whole still very clearly affects the entire world on a daily basis and I am incredibly grateful for such a profound cultural experience.

I highly recommend to anyone, especially those with deep religious roots, making a trip to Jerusalem if ever given the opportunity and the circumstances allow it.  The people of Jerusalem are very friendly and the area is very accommodating towards English-speaking tourists, Americans in particular.  Among the places we visited were the walled Holy City, including the Wailing Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Sea of Gallilee, Capernaum, Nazareth, from which Mary and Joseph both hailed, and the Jordan River baptismal site.  While I would have loved to go in-depth about the historical significance of every place we visited, I quickly realized that would take a number of days and far too many posts to fully do everything justice.  Instead, I have decided to share a few pictures and let those tell the tale.

One of the many narrow walkways within the walled Holy City.

One of the many narrow walkways within the Old City.

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Walking the streets of the Holy City.

The Wailing Wall with the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock just behind.

The Wailing Wall, or Western Wall, with the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock just behind.

The Wailing Wall -- the picture was taken at a distance due to the fact that electronic devices are not permitted in the worship area during Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath which falls on a Saturday.

The Wailing Wall — the picture was taken at a distance due to the fact that electronic devices are not permitted in the worship area during Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath which falls on a Saturday.  The Wailing Wall is currently the holiest site in Judaism as it is the closest one can get to the original Temple and it’s inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies.

Walkway towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The walkway towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- built in the 4th century by Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, is believed by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic tradition to be the site of Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion of Christ, and to contain the remnants of the tomb of Jesus.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre — built in the 4th century by Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, it is believed by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic tradition to be the site of Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion of Christ, and to contain the remnants of the final resting tomb of Jesus.

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Tying Up Loose Ends

Posted: July 14, 2014 in Egypt, Israel, The Army, The Blog
I'm just using this blog post as an excuse to include this picture because it falsely depicts me as a bad ass but its a reputation I hope proliferates via word of mouth.

I’m just using this blog post as an excuse to include this picture because it falsely depicts me as a bad ass but it’s a reputation I hope spreads like wild fire.

It has been an extremely busy two months but I am happy to say that I am back Stateside for the foreseeable future.  Now that the dust of our triumphant return from Egypt has settled, I have decided to quit being lazy and try to tie up a few loose ends from my time overseas.  The next few posts in the coming days/weeks/whenever I feel like it will include my trips to Jerusalem and Kuwait City, as well as a final word on my time in Egypt and at the Red Sea.  Why I didn’t use my down time while deployed to post these updates will remain a mystery to both you and me but better late than never.

Am I right or am I right?

The Tel Aviv Marathon

Posted: March 8, 2014 in Israel, Marathoning

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A week ago last Friday I had the privilege of running the 2014 Samsung Tel Aviv Marathon on Israel’s Mediterranean shore.  By the time I was made aware of the race in early January, and our unit gave those interested the approval to go, I only had about eight weeks to train and had not ran marathon distance in nearly 10 months.  Thankfully I had been participating in most of the physical activities South Camp had to offer, to include the Spur Ride, the Army 10-Miler, and the Norwegian Road March (18.65 miles with a 25-pound ruck and weapon), so I was confident I would be able to finish the race but had little idea how long it would take me.

Training for a marathon when confined to a military post with only a two mile circumference is downright boring, to say the least.  There are only so many laps one can make around the perimeter until they are tired of seeing the same scenery and the same faces conducting tower guard, not to mention the dirt track here is hardly flat and even less enjoyable to run.  Because of these factors the longest training runs I completed throughout were about 10 miles long.  During my previous marathon training I battled a fair amount of knee pain, especially as the long runs became more frequent, and without the same level of training resources at my disposal I decided to go easy on my training and simply supplement my normal Army PT with 8-10 mile runs a couple times each week up until race day.  This plan would afford me some conditioning without the risk of injury.

Apparently the Jewish Sabbath is Nike sponsored.  Just do it.

Apparently the Jewish Sabbath is Nike sponsored. Just do it.

Last April I ran the inaugural Army Marathon in 4:39:47, a time I was pleased with if only because I actually finished while having no idea how to pace myself for that distance.  Now I have never claimed to be a fast runner because I am not one, but I did have a couple of goals regarding my second attempt at a marathon.  My baseline goal was to beat my previous time and my high end goal was to break 4:30:00.  I figured, if nothing else, I could replicate my performance in The Army Marathon.  But in order to reach my high end goal I would  attempt to run with the 4:30:00 pace group for the duration and, in doing so, would finish much faster than I had before (even if I failed to come in in the 4:20s).  A plan that seemed simple enough in theory but posed to be a bit more complicated in execution.

Pace groups are made up of a bunch of paying customers following one semi-professional runner who essentially guarantees he/she will cross the finish line almost exactly at the time printed on the back of their jersey.  This is quite the impressive feat by my standards if only because my interpretation of time is a bit loose — when I tell you that “I am 15 minutes away” that could mean 5 minutes or it could mean 50 minutes, just ask most of my friends.  What is funny about these pace groups is their resemblance to the running scenes from Forrest Gump.  One guy trudges on rather uneventfully, and really appears as if he could run right on to the other side of the country once he crosses the finish line, while several less-graceful runners crowd around or closely follow behind, mimicking the pacer’s every move.  He drinks, they drink.  He takes a gel pack, they take a gel pack.  The pacer, much like Forrest, says very little and sweats even less.  It is all actually quite entertaining when taken out of context but I figured being a follower in this instance was an easy way to accomplish my goals.  Considering the 4:30:00 pacer also happened to be a senior citizen was both a shot to my pride and clear motivation that I could do it.

A little before and after.  Our hotel rooms had mirrors built for selfies.

A little before and after. Our hotel room had a mirror built for selfies.

As it turns out, I could not.  My official time at the tape was 4:39:27, a mere 20 seconds faster than my previous marathon.  While I was happy that I succeeded in accomplishing my baseline goal of improving my time, I was disappointed that I did not get discernibly closer to my ultimate goal of breaking 4:30:00 and beyond.   I was able to hang with the pace group until right around the 20-mile mark when a bout of self-inflicted cramps attacked my left leg, forcing me to stop and stretch and lose sight of the pacer, a set back I never would overcome.  An unfortunate outcome to an otherwise entertaining story.

Just prior to completing 20 miles I noticed that a tall, lanky hippie, who bore a stark resemblance to Jesus, had jumped out of the crowd and began leading our pace group.  Barefoot.  And in skinny jeans.  I really appreciated his enthusiasm and sense of adventure and figured I needed to have a picture.  In the midst of fumbling with my iPhone and trying a dead sprint to catch up with the runaway hippie, I pulled up lame as if I had just been shot in the ass like Private Gump.  I think every major muscle in my leg seized simultaneously, as if in one collective voice they were reminding me that I had just finished 20 miles and was in no shape to be sprinting on any day, let alone that one.  I was never able to catch back up to the pace group and was forced to be content with grinding out the remainder of the race a bit sore, which no doubt hurt my time.  The real travesty, though, was that I never did get that picture.  I wonder what hipster Jesus is up to today.

Aside from actually running it, one unforeseen difficulty to completing a marathon overseas — especially once I had lost my pace group — is that the distance is calculated in kilometers instead of miles, meaning a marathon goes from 26.2 mi to 42.2 km in a hurry.  When fatigue sets in towards the end, one kilometer might as well be one mile and it feels like it takes a helluva lot longer to reach 42 than it does to get to 26.  My mind was not prepared to pace myself when the route was calculated in mileage back in the States, it certainly was not ready to first convert kilometers to miles then figure out my pace all on the fly.  This is, by no means, an excuse for my showing, but it is another unique facet to running events in far off lands, an experience I am eternally grateful for having had nonetheless.

While I did not finish in the time that I had hoped, I did not particularly train well enough to deserve a 4:30 flat either. With that in mind, along with the barefoot hippie debacle, I have myself to blame. Considering my limited training, and all of the circumstances involving our presence over here to begin with, I am just thankful for having been given the opportunity to participate in and complete a marathon overseas — a likely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.  It is certainly one of those events I can add to and check off my bucket list in one fell swoop.

And at least now whenever I see people with the oval 26.2 stickers on their cars I can be that guy with the smug 42.2 sticker instead.

42.2 is just so much more posh than 26.2.

42.2 is just so much more posh than 26.2.

I Did The Unthinkable… AGAIN

Posted: February 6, 2014 in Israel, Marathoning

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I signed up for another marathon.

Technically I signed up for it back on January 6th — consider it some kind of New Year’s Resolution to quit being fat — but I am just NOW making the news public for no good reason whatsoever.  This level of procrastination on even the simplest of tasks (blogging) can only translate to success on the race course, trust me.

When I ran The Army Marathon back in April of 2013 I gave myself 8 weeks to prepare only because I did not know about the race prior to hearing a radio advertisement and signing up on one (likely) inebriated evening.  This time, I gave myself just 7 weeks, 3 days for mainly the same reason, I was not aware of the opportunity until I received an e-mail about it from my unit (along with approval for the trip from our command, which is partially to blame for the delay in the announcement to begin with).  However I decide to rationalize my lack of preparation and ensuing struggles, it by no means eliminates the reality of the situation: the marathon is fast approaching and I am not getting any younger.

The event this time around is the Tel Aviv Samsung Marathon in Israel along the Mediterranean coast.  While the race does not have quite the sentimental significance of running the first Army Marathon for my first marathon, finishing attempting to finish a marathon in a foreign country — near the Holy Land no less — was an opportunity I simply could not pass up.  Besides, if I am going to attempt the physically unthinkable and keel over in some turtle ditch what better place than in the Big Guy’s back yard?

I am at roughly the halfway point in my preparation and have an 18.6-mile ruck march with a 25-pound ruck (Norwegian Road March) under my belt thus far so I am fairly optimistic about my chances of not dying, even if my resources are a bit limited here on South Camp.  My primary goal is to beat my Army Marathon time of 4:39:47, with a secondary goal of coming in under 4:30:00 and/or not embarrassing myself;  not entirely impossible but certainly no guarantee on all of the above.  I guess I did not get enough of all of the pain, anguish, and public humiliation the first time around, I have decided to come back for seconds.

Which means the real winners of this race are those people of Israel who get to witness my suffering.

The look of a champion.

The portrait of a champion.