Jerusalem: Running in God's City 'The Best Experience'

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- What is it like to run a marathon in one of the world's most ancient cities?

Most visitors come to Jerusalem to see its biblical sites and walk the historic streets. But one group is literally racing through the heart of Israel's capital city.

Early Friday morning, thousands took part in Jerusalem's second annual international marathon. The runners came from more than 50 countries.

"It's part of an experience to come to one of the most important cities in the world, one of the most ancient cities in the world. And to be part of this experience is a fantastic feeling," one runner told CBN News.

"To run in a unified Jerusalem, show the world that Jewish people are alive, running, kicking. It's a normal city, a great city, [a)] destination city," another said. "There's nothing better."

The marathon is on its way to becoming one of Israel's biggest sporting events. It's only two years old, but Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told a pre-race rally the event is becoming a destination marathon.

"Jerusalem is on a short list of the most important experience marathons in the world. The track is challenging, breathtaking; people just love running the streets of Jerusalem. It's an amazing thing, unlike any other place in the world." the mayor said.

"Usually people go to a flat city to get a better result. When they come to the hilly city of Jerusalem, it's not for the best results in the world, it's for the best experience," Barkat said.

One of the highlights for participants is the opportunity to run in the land of the Bible and through the streets of Jerusalem's Old City.

"It's such a privilege...just to know this is where Jesus walked, and it's so historic. It's what I read about growing up, in the Bible. So it's really special," one runner said.

"That's going to be very special, very, very special for me. This is God's city. He gave me the gift to run and this is going to be very special," he said.

In addition to the marathon (26.2 miles), runners can choose several other races, including a half marathon and 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) or 4-kilometer (2.5 miles) distances. The routes traced in and around Jerusalem's city limits.

African runners dominated this year's race, and the conditions were cold and rainy. But despite the weather, many encouraged others to come next year.

"You cannot miss it; it is the marathon to do," one runner said.

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