Dead Sea Marathon

Dead Sea Marathon – 2024

 Olga Klenovskaya’s report on the Dead Sea Marathon race – distance 42.2 km

The Dead Sea Marathon was my 39th. I finished in 3:21, the 2nd woman overall. The first was Shiri Friedman, also from Haifa, with a personal best of 2:55. I never ran that fast even in my best years, so I’m not too upset. Shiri must be much more disappointed because she finished in an incredible 3:16 given yesterday’s weather, but she didn’t get opportunity to cross the pink finisher’s ribbon. Liz Shapiro, who didn’t run ahead of us, was the one who ran through the ribbon. And that’s not the only thing that distinguish the Dead Sea Marathon from the previous 38 I’ve run.

 Firstly, the Dead Sea Marathon is the lowest in the world, at an elevation of 400 meters below sea level. Secondly, it’s neither an asphalt marathon (there were 500 meters of paving at the start and finish) nor a trail run. You have to run on dams built in the Dead Sea, from Israel almost to Jordan and back. That means you’re literally running on causeways on the sea surface between Israel and Jordan, which border guards open once a year – only for marathon runners. The width of these roads in the water is 6-8 meters. When you look at the map, they look like strings, and I was afraid that when a crowd runs on them, someone might fall into the sea. Fortunately, it’s impossible to drown in it – it’s that salty. The surface is dirt, compacted salt, and loose salt. Trail shoes are definitely not needed for this, but carbon shoes don’t help much either – although, of course, everyone at the start of the marathon column was in carbon.


Oh yes, after running, I found out that there were signs about minefields somewhere there, and they were mentioned in the briefing we missed.

 The marathon starts on Friday at 6:15 am for the 42 and 50 kilometer distances. It is expected that the sun will rise at 6:30 am, and participants will enjoy its reflection on the sea’s surface. But that was not the case. On Friday, February 2nd, the sky was overcast, and the sun peeked through the clouds with one eye, as if sneaking. The first 10 kilometers (the piece of coast on the Israeli side and the first causeway from Israel to Jordan) were great to run – even the sections of loose salt weren’t too bothersome. I ran as the first woman, accompanied by a bicycle with a green flag, feeling cheerful, and not wanting to think that starting at a 4:25 pace would soon catch up with me. But on the Jordanian side, from the causeway along the shore to the right, the wind started. No, not wind – a gale. It felt like you could lie down on it. My pace dropped to 4:45, but I still tried to fight it. That’s the moment when Shiri caught up with me and passed so easily, as if there was no wind at all. The cyclist with the green flag followed her. And I was left to reflect on the importance of strength training and all the squats I didn’t do.

For the rest of the race, I only thought about the direction of the wind – as if I wasn’t running a marathon but windsurfing on the Dead Sea. Side wind – tolerable, wind at my back (when we ran along the Jordanian side of the sea back, at the 25th kilometer) – absolutely great, at a 4:20 pace, but at the 33rd kilometer, still on the Jordanian side, we had to turn around once again, facing the wind, and then my pace dropped to 5:25. It felt like floundering in water – moving your arms and legs and getting nowhere. Somehow I made it to the turn right – onto the last causeway towards Israel, and there it wasn’t scary anymore that the ground underfoot was loose sand, the main thing was the wind was not in my face but from the side, life was bearable. I imagined diagrams with vectors from the school physics course, trying to remember how much force applied to a body (mine) from the left makes it harder to move forward. And then I thought about just getting across this causeway, and then, on the Israeli side, the wind would die down between the houses (it didn’t).

On the second causeway (from Jordan to Israel – between the 12th and 16th kilometer), an unknown man (later, by the number, I found out his name was Ofer) helped me – I shamelessly hid behind him from the wind for about three kilometers, and then he got tired of running so slowly. But when we turned our backs to the wind, I ran away from him. Reflecting on the fact that I seem to have increased sail area.

And then, at the 30th kilometer, on the Jordanian shore, the fast marathon runners hit a wall of slower half-marathon runners. The forces were unequal – 458 people ran the marathon, while 2000 ran the half-marathon. And here I am, trying to maneuver at a 4:30 pace between people running at 6:00, occupying the smoothest lanes of the road. And I had to overtake them on the sides made of stone and sand. On the last kilometer, when we ran to the finish along the Israeli shore, half of the promenade was occupied by finishers with medals – they were walking home, towards the runners. The lesser half of the sidewalk was taken by half-marathoners, and there I was among them, shouting “give me the way!” overtaking on the lawns and in sandboxes.

My memory for numbers came in handy after the finish. I arrived, and at the arch, the host with a microphone met me, I told him I was the second, he said – not known, maybe third. Here I was very surprised – there was exactly one girl ahead of me. Could I have missed a second one?

Shiri, who had overtaken me, was standing near the finish. I approached her, congratulated her, and then she said that she might not be the first, but the second. Because someone finished before her. “Who?” I wondered. If I missed another girl, then the cyclist with the flag could not have missed her. There were 2 turns at 180 degrees, where I saw face-to-face everyone who ran ahead of me: men – marathon leaders, 50 km, and only one woman – Shiri.

Shiri’s coach, Gil, whom I meet three times a week at the beach in Haifa, introduces me to the marathon director, Ophir (Ophir Kindler). I tell Ophir how everything went. He asks, what bib numbers do I remember? I answer – ahead of me was only girl 521, and behind me was 82. But no, it turns out there’s also girl number 100, who neither I, neither Shiri, nor the cyclist saw, but she finished before us. That’s what is recorded in the protocol.

We go to the stage to wait for the award ceremony. The host comes out and announces that due to internet problems, the organizers don’t know exactly who won, the results will appear in about 2 hours, and the award ceremony will not happen today at all (even though the trophies are on the table on the stage).

And since instead of diligently learning Hebrew, I either run or edit podcasts, from the host’s announcement I only understood about the 2 hours, but not about the cancellation of the award ceremony. Therefore, our team @RunHaifa comfortably settled at a table in the starting village and had a party – a “mesiba” in local parlance. And this was the best moment of the entire day – carefreely drinking coffee (coffee! Which I had given up for 2 weeks so the caffeine from the gels would work!), eating everything, chatting with friends I’ve met through our joint runs in Haifa. An hour later, I went back to the stage – the trophies were removed, people had dispersed, and the DJ explained to me in perfect English that the award ceremony was cancelled.

By this time, the wind had become even stronger, tearing down the expo tents that had been operating in the starting area all this time, and I – for what seems to be the first time in my life – saw what a sandstorm looks like.

Here is the moral of the story:

1. Trail shoes are not needed at the Dead Sea,

and carbon shoes only help morally. What you definitely need are glasses for wind and sand.

2. If you don’t want to live in a hotel at the start ($600 for 2 nights),

and especially if you have a car, you can book accommodation in the surrounding villages, or bring tents with you – like our team @RunHaifa. Sasha (Alexander Elkonin – coach and husband of Olga Klenovskaya) and I lived in Arad, which is 45 minutes away by car.

3.  It makes sense to run on Friday and stay for Saturday

– to climb the Snake Path to the fortress of Masada (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), find that very pool sung about by King Herod in the opera Jesus Christ Superstar (“walk across my swimming pool”). Before the walk, read about Masada at least in Wikipedia – then you perceive all those stone ruins completely differently – it seems, King Herod definitely lived here 2000 years ago.

4. There are cities in Israel with perfectly clean streets

– Arad and Ein Bokek. We did not see a single piece of paper or cardboard cup on the sidewalks for 3 days. Shocking.

5) If you live in the north – in Haifa, or in Moscow

– it’s worth coming to the Dead Sea Marathon just to get warm. In February, temperature in Ein Bokek is 10 degrees warmer than in Haifa, and 30 degrees warmer than in Moscow. We brought sneakers that we couldn’t dry in the apartment for 5 days – in Arad, they dried overnight.

 6) You need to train.

What helped me the most was the skill of uphill running, which we practiced twice in Oludeniz. I fought against the wind and remembered the Turkish hill of 930 meters, which had to be run up 8 times. Also, the video analysis of my running technique. And, of course, a running plan – I didn’t have any plan for the last 4 years! Because Sasha and I agreed in 2019 that I wouldn’t prepare, and he wouldn’t write me plans. But when I started cooking in October 2023, Sasha ran out of arguments not to write me a plan – and voila!

 7) And regardless of the results, trophies, and ribbons, the best part about running

– are the people who run with you, cheer for you, organize a party in your honor, and share pita and hummus with you. Dear Rina, Lena, Slavik, and Igor, it was wonderful!

And, of course, the biggest thank you to my husband and coach Alexander Elkonin, who not only endures this all, but also indulges it.

P.P.S. Технические подробности для тех, кто захочет из России приехать на Марафон на Мертвом Море.

P.S. The girl number 100, Liz, who finished the marathon first, was disqualified – she cut 3 km off the course.

P.P.S. Technical details for those who want to come from Russia and other countries to the Dead Sea Marathon.

1. The marathon takes place in the resort town of Ein Bokek on the Dead Sea shore (2.5 hours by bus from Tel Aviv). Along with the registration fee, you can pay for accommodation in a hotel near the start (600 USD for 2 nights). If you don’t have a car and you want to run for a result, this is the most convenient option (though expensive). Other accommodation options for people without a car: in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, from there the organizers arrange bus transfers. But you’ll have to go without sleep all night (departure at 2:30 am from Tel Aviv, arrival to Ein Bokek at 5 am). Then the same buses will take you back to Tel Aviv at 15:00 – just as Shabbat starts and public transport stops working.

2. You can pick up your bibs in advance at the Salomon store in Tel Aviv, or on Thursday before at the starting village, or in the morning on the day of the start there as well.

3. You have to pay separately for using the storage facility at the marathon during registration. They don’t give you a separate bag for storage; they hang a tiny tag on your backpack, and you get a wristband with the same number as the tag. The numbers are handwritten. Therefore, when we were picking up our items, volunteers searched for each bag for about 5 minutes. However, if you live in a hotel at the start, you don’t need the storage facility.

4. If you have an account on the social network banned in Russia with a blue logo, don’t throw it away. The day after the race, organizers offer to download participant photos for free (I had 24), but for that, you need to share the album on this very social network owned by M. Zuckerberg, which Russians are not allowed to mention aloud. Most likely, on Saturday, you will still be in Israel, and you won’t even need a VPN to access it.

5. It’s hard to guess right with clothing because the promised plus 12 felt like plus 7 due to the wind. Those who ran in tights and t-shirts were right. I, in shorts and a tank top, was terribly cold. But when we went to Ein Bokek the next day for a walk (and to climb the fortress of Masada), it was sunny, windless, and hot.

6. Marathons in Israel are run on Fridays because if you don’t have a car, by Friday 3 pm you need to be at the place where you’ll stay until Sunday morning, along with a food supply for 1.5 days. Public transportation and stores do not operate on Shabbat, with rare exceptions (like Arab stores and minibuses – but you still have to find them).

7. Entry into Israel for Russians is almost automatic with a visa – you need to get it from a kiosk at the airport by scanning your passport (it’s important not to miss the kiosks issuing blue and green visa slips – they are in the corridor, before passport control). However, border guards at the airport can turn you back and deport, especially if a single girl is traveling alone, especially a beautiful one. Therefore, I recommend for people flying from Russia to have a printout of their marathon registration, hotel reservation, and return ticket to show at the border. You can only fly into Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, from there to get to Ein Bokek – on your own or by a transfer from the organizers (see pt.1).

8. The Dead Sea is very salty. It’s impossible to drown in it. And as soon as you get out, you need to run and wash off the salt. It will erode the mucous membranes, eyes, and just the skin. Therefore, I would not recommend getting into the water without first making sure that there is a working shower on the beach. And, by the way, we didn’t see any swimmers: plus 12-15 by local standards is the fierce Israeli winter.

9. It is said that in the hotels in Ein Bokek, you can spend a day at the SPA (staying overnight is not necessary).

10. Pros of the Dead Sea Marathon organization:

– Five different distances (from 5 to 50 km, with the 50 km being the Israeli championship),

– Quick bib distribution,

– No medical certificate needed,

– In the starting village from Thursday 16:00 to Friday 14:00 operates an expo (you can buy everything from sneakers to gels), storage facilities, toilets, vans with coffee and pastries. For children, there are trampolines and a dinosaur park there too.

– Water every 3 km on the course.

– Very unusual landscapes, especially in good weather, especially if you run without rushing. And free photos of participants against this backdrop.


– Queues for the storage room,

– The last 10 kilometers, when the marathon and half-marathon courses merge, and you have to maneuver through the slower half-marathon runners – this is tough and unpleasant,

– I couldn’t find a changing room (but there wasn’t one in New York or Boston either).