01 July 2021, 7am
Eilat Desert Marathon
Fri 26 November 2021
The sun will soon peek over the mountains but here in Eilat the boardwalk is already humming with the excitement of thousands of runners in colourful running gear waiting to run into the wilderness along the tracks of the Negev. It’s another edition of the challenging International Desert Marathon.
There are hundreds of marathons around the world, each with its own uniqueness and own degree of difficulty, but there are not many marathons that are a weekend-long sporting event for professionals and amateurs alike; for those who run alone and those who come with the whole family. At the Desert Marathon in Eilat you can see the thousands of participants smiling before, during and after the race. Unlike urban marathons or off-road events, where streets or areas are closed and where the runners gather, run, finish and then leave, the event in Eilat is a weekend of continuous experiences and fun. The city becomes a large runners’ village.
The Desert Marathon offers four different distances: a full 42.2km marathon, a half marathon and 10km and 5km routes. The marathon and half-marathon are run over a stunning and challenging course which takes runners out of the city and into the Negev trails, through beautiful desert scenery, up hills and down ravines and through dry wadis to end on the sparkling shores of the Red Sea.
Finishers, and especially the first timers, all describe the course as “amazing”, “unique” or just “wow!”. They also mention the sense of quiet they experienced along the desert route. But once they return to the city limits and the finish line, the party continues.
The International Desert Marathon was supposed to celebrate its 10th anniversary last year but the event was cancelled due to Covid-19. This year there will be yet another reason to celebrate. “The Desert Marathon attracts more and more people every year,” says Ofer Padan, founder of “Marathon Israel” which created and produces the event in collaboration with the Eilat Municipality. “Over the years we have seen a steady increase of runners, especially from overseas. Runners from Europe can leave the cold weather behind and fly direct to Eilat. Within a few hours they are in the sunny desert and set for an amazing race.”
There is a surprisingly high proportion of female runners – almost 50-50. “At first there were only 10% women. I think the growing figures speak for themselves,” says Padan.
The range of activities surrounding the race begins the evening before with a “flag parade”. Contestants from around the world are invited to proudly carry their national flag, and the evening continues with a large pre-race pasta dinner. After the race, still in the morning, the winner’s ceremony is followed by an array of sporting activities for the entire family, Pilates and yoga sessions at sunset and then a party which continues long into the night…