Thousands Run Jerusalem Marathon in 'Holy City'

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Officials closed many Jerusalem streets on Friday to make way for thousands of runners from Israel and around the world. 

Some 26,000 runners gathered for the fourth annual Jerusalem Marathon -- 2,500 of them came from 55 nations to run the race.

"We're going to see the beauty of the city, the most beautiful city in the world," Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told CBN News.

The marathon course runs throughout Jerusalem, but the highlight for many is the opportunity to run through the Old City, starting at the Jaffa Gate. 

"For me it's a dream come true as a marathon runner -- somebody who understands how marathons lift cities, showcase the city of Jerusalem," Barkat said. "So it's a wonderful day."

There are three main races:  a 10-kilometer, a half-marathon and a full 42-kilometer, 26.2- mile marathon. There's also an 800-meter - ½ mile race -- to raise money for the needy.

Barkat came up with the idea for a marathon. He also runs in the race.

"It's a big deal," he said, "having such a strong, wonderful, reference-able marathon, coming in on the short list of marathons that all want to do at least once in their lifetime."

The course is challenging since Jerusalem is, as the Bible says, "a city set on a hill." 

"This is my first and only marathon, the one place I'll do it is Jerusalem," said a 19-year-old man from England. "It's supposed to be the hardest thing. It's supposed to be also the best fun."

Some of the participants came with a message.

"I want to send this message all over the world," said one man from the U.S. who was born in Egypt.  He was holding a sign that said "God is Love."

"I'm here to run on holy ground, 26.2 miles, 42 kilometers," said another man, who is from Kansas City, Mo.

"I wish I could run barefoot," said the man with the sign. "Yes I have to respect this Land. It's a holy land. I love it dearly."

"I'm running barefoot because I will be in good company with many other holy people that have traversed these streets and these hills barefoot," said the man from Kansas City. "I'll be in good company."

Some have a cause, like the man from England, who had a picture on his t-shirt of a friend who died suddenly this year from cancer.

"We are raising money for UCLH cancer research in London," he told CBN News.

Others will take a new message back when they go home.

"What we [are] used to get is from the news -- Israel or Jerusalem is quite a dangerous place," a man from Hong Kong told CBN News.  He brought a group of 30 people to visit, most of whom were running in the races. 

"But after we visit, I think it's a very good and nice city. We will spread out the message to our friends that Jerusalem is a safe place to visit, a very nice view, a nice city," he added.

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Chris Mitchell and Julie Stahl

Chris Mitchell and Julie Stahl

CBN News Middle East Bureau

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