02 October 2023, 10am
Sea of Galilee Tiberias Marathon
Fri 5 January 2024
Only a few hundred runners turned up at the start line for the inaugural race in 1977 – far from the thousands who now run the full marathon course. This race was the first running event in Israel to include women. Zahava Shmueli, then 23 years old, took first place in the women’s category with a time of 3:02:58 – just two weeks after she decided to run her first ever marathon.
The Sea of Galilee Marathon is also designated as the Israeli marathon championship under the aegis of the Israel Athletics Association. Since the course is extremely flat and straight, with only one U-turn at the halfway mark, thousands of runners come to Tiberias from all over the country to set new personal records. Elite runners and guest runners from abroad also participate due to the mild winter weather in January.
The Israel Athletics Association managed the event for 38 years. “In 2015 we were contacted by the Tiberias Municipality to produce the following races,” recalls Ofer Padan, owner and CEO of Marathon Israel. “We had created the first Tel Aviv Marathon in 2009 and two years later my company brought the excitement to Israel’s capital by partnering with the municipality to produce the Jerusalem Marathon. The Mayor of Tiberias felt that the popularity of his city’s race was falling behind, and it needed to be rejuvenated to bring the growing running community back to the city.”
This is one of the core values of Marathon Israel: putting runners’ satisfaction first and foremost in any event it produces. “To make the Tiberias Marathon attractive again, we turned the concept around so that the race would serve the hosting city, and not vice versa. We created a connection between the runners and the city; we made it a family-friendly event with attention to everyone; we added a Half-Marathon course and we made sure that local Tiberias runners were at the centre of our attention. We leveraged the race to serve the city’s hotels, restaurants and commerce, we included all the local school kids in the ‘family race’ and turned the Tiberias Marathon into a huge local festival. It was a great success.”
During the Covid-19 period the Tiberias Marathon suffered a setback but in 2023 the Tiberias municipality once again turned to Marathon Israel to manage the city’s major event. “Our main focus has always been the individual runner”, Padan says. “We’re going to turn the Tiberias Marathon into a celebration of wellbeing. This won’t just be a race where you come, run and go home. For 2024 we’re planning to bring back the ‘42 Party’ – celebrating full marathon runners who will be turning 42 during the coming year. We’re also going to reinstate the ‘Tiberias Pacers’, and give special honor to the marathon veterans who have run this course many times in the past. There will be professional media coverage as well as a live broadcast.
Although Israel is a small country its running events, especially Tiberias, attract hundreds of international runners. “The Tiberias International Marathon is recognised by AIMS and it is held at the beginning of January when most of Europe is in the grip of the cold rainy season,” says Padan. “Thanks to its unique location runners can hop on a plane from any destination in Europe and in just 2–4 hours enjoy moderate weather and a fast flat marathon course. It’s a win-win for everybody.”