JERUSALEM, Israel – Tens of thousands of runners from around the world converged on Jerusalem Friday for the city's annual marathon. Some say it's more than just a sporting event, it's a spiritual journey, too.
This is the seventh annual Jerusalem Winner Marathon, the largest yet. More than 30,000 runners got up very early to take part in the marathon and other races.
"We have three-and-a-half thousand runners from over 60 countries around the world and you have to listen to what they're saying," Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told CBN News. "Before they run, they're into the spiritual event not only the sportive event."
That was point was made clear from Bollywood Star Milind Soman, who came from India to run the marathon.
"This is not just a marathon, it's a sign that the time has come for me to visit," Soman told journalists at a pre-marathon briefing. Soman choked back tears when he spoke of his experience so far in Israel. "Whatever I felt that I would feel is really nothing compared to what I feel today," he said.
Barkat had the idea for the marathon as a way to draw people to the city who wouldn't have otherwise visited. This year they're marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.
"And for me the Jerusalem Marathon is showcasing the city," Barkat said. "As a marathon runner we designed the track so it goes through the beautiful sites of our amazing city of Jerusalem."
Ilanit Melchior is the tourism director of Jerusalem. Since it's her job to promote the marathon, she decided to try running for herself.
"I started two years ago with one minute basically because I was involved with the Jerusalem Marathon and I wanted to feel it for myself," Melchior told CBN News
"And, you know, it became like a whole happening where families and kids and children and it gave motivation for all the city to start run," she said.
Runners choose from the marathon, half-marathon, 10K, 5K or a race for families.
"We all got up at 5:00 in the morning to be running in the beautiful Jerusalem atmosphere," said Danny Gimpel and as he, his wife and four teenaged children prepared to run one of the races.
The different tracks take runners past the ancient walls … through the Old City … along historical routes and modern neighborhoods and past the city center.
Some, like Rick Roeber, author of The Barefoot Running Book, ran to support causes. He ran for CBN's Operation Blessing.
"I read something about the Israeli relief that Operation Blessing has and I was delighted to find out you guys do so much to help the poor of Israel, to help displaced people, to help Holocaust survivors," Roeber said.
But whether they're running for a cause or just for fun, the Jerusalem Marathon is becoming a destination for more of the world's runners.