Jerusalem's Annual Winner Marathon Draws 20,000

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Thousands took to the streets of Jerusalem recently... not for protesting but racing.

It was a chilly morning but that didn't stop athletes from running in the third annual Jerusalem Winner Marathon.

Four Israeli women said it was their first marathon and their hearts were pounding. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also took part.

"We have a wonderful event, very special," Barkat told CBN News. "The city is looking forward to seeing so many runners -- 20,000 runners in Jerusalem and we're very excited."

He said 3,000 years of history makes this event so unique.

"It goes in the Old City, out of the Old City. You see the beautiful sites of Jerusalem," Barkat said. "Most people come not only for the running event but also to spend some time in Jerusalem."

Almost 2,000 runners from 52 nations joined 18,000 Israelis for the race.

"I've been to many places in the world. I think it's the nicest place to run. It's a combination of many different things, but it makes it very nice," said Menachem, an Israeli who immigrated (or whose parents immigrated) from Mexico.

"I run in Berlin. I run in Cologne -- all over Germany, but [nothing as] exciting and historical scene like here," said a participant named Klaus from Germany.

At one point, four sheep unexpectedly joined in the fun, running with the racers along a Jerusalem street. 

The Bible says Jerusalem is like a city set on hill and that adds to the challenge.

"It's a great course. It's tough. It's hilly, very hilly, but the course is beautiful. It's like going through [on] a tourist bus," an Israeli runner named Eran said.

Some ran with a message.

"I thought about running with a message, and I love "God is love," said Egyptian-American Raef Guirges, who wore the message on his T-shirt.

A Hungarian woman named Monika said more than 70 runners came in a group from Hungary.

"Our message, our good news is altogether for Jerusalem because we would like to support Israel -- that Jerusalem is the only, undividable capital city of Israel," she said.

Others, like Neva Handley, said she came just because it's Jerusalem.

"It's a half marathon in Jerusalem," she said.

"Jerusalem, this is where God came to the world," her husband Dan said. "So to run a marathon here, especially through the Old City, it' beyond our comprehension.

Barkat said the marathon helps broaden Jerusalem's appeal.

"So we have integration of spiritualism, sporting event, communal event -- all that together makes the Jerusalem marathon a unique experience," he said.

He predicts this year's participants will go home as ambassadors for Israel and return to run the streets of Jerusalem in the years to come.

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Julie Stahl and John Waage

Julie Stahl and John Waage

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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