The Dead Sea Half Marathon

Although the Dead Sea Marathon website said that "all runners can leave their bags and personal belongings in the luggage buses," we couldn't.
Although the website said that the half-marathon and 10K would start at 7:45 am sharp, they didn't.
Although the website said that times would be read out loud at various points throughout the race, I never heard any indication of my pace (although there were stations with volunteers with stopwatches, who just stared as runners shuffled past).
Although the website said that there would be restroom facilities at the starting line and at the 44 km marker, there were only trees and bushes.
Although the website said that water would be available at the starting lines and every 3 km throughout the race, there wasn't enough for all runners.
And although the website said that there were cash prizes for the first three male and female finishers in the half-marathon race, they only received a plastic medal, water bottle, and apple - the same reward given to all finishers.

It wasn't at all a bitter experience; I am so proud that I did it and if I had to do it all over again, I would. But I guess that the only way to explain some deficiencies in my Dead Sea Half Marathon experience is, "Well, we're in Jordan."

Chaos is the only way to describe the check-in process. Over 2500 runners were all told to check in at 5:30 am, herded in groups by distance racing to a plastic table where they were asked to check in their bags. When I asked about leaving my bag on the luggage buses, as written on the website, I only got a blank stare and the reply "This is the only place that you can check in your bags." So runners were stripping down and stuffing sweats into their bags at 6:00 am, 2 hours before the race actually began.
After standing around for an hour, the buses arrived to take runners to their starting points. Only the ultra-marathoners would start near the check-in point, but buses had to transport marathoners to a starting line 7 km further down the road, half-marathoners to their starting point 21 km after the marathon start, and 10K-ers to their starting point 11 km past the half-marathon start. Once the bus dropped me off at the half-marathon starting line, I saw herds of heads darting off into the desert, ducking behind boulders to squat and do their business. There were no portable bathrooms as claimed on the website; out here, it was do it in the dust.
Around 7:30 am, runners began to line up at the starting point. It was surprisingly easy to push near the front, unlike most races in the States. The first row of runners were Egyptian and Jordanian men, greeting each other with handshakes and Assalama-alaykum and kisses on both cheeks. I stood next to a British woman who had run this race 3 times before, had bad knees, didn't like the German female runners who came to the Dead Sea Marathon and won all the medals, and was chewing bright green gum.
At 7:45 am, the elite men began to assume their elbowing to ensure that no neighbors got too close. However, the race was delayed because there were still, at this point, runners being transported by bus to their starting lines. After 25 minutes of announcements of "5 more minutes" from the race official, we finally had the confirmation by radio. The official raised his gun, and counted down: "5! 4! 3! 2! 1!" We half-marathoners burst through, charging down the Dead Sea Highway to our awaiting fans...and apparently there was a malfunction with the gun, because about 10 seconds later, I heard a gunshot behind me.
It felt great! Running, on pavement, surrounded by motivated and enthusiastic people from all over Europe and the Middle East, wearing a tank and shorts for the first time in a year and 7 months...this would be worth the sore legs! Not even 4 km into the race, when the runners had settled into their paces and now stretched the expanse of the highway, I heard quick and light footsteps behind me. For two seconds, I had the feeling that I was running in slow motion and this man was running a fast-forward pace; the first marathoner was passing me. The marathon had started only an hour and ten minutes before my half-marathon race, and only fifteen minutes into my race, this speed demon had already completed 25 km.
The next 10 km drifted by. I saw lots of desert, I kept 3 seconds behind a guy wearing a "Beirut Marathon" jersey, and I took every water station as an opportunity to take a sip or pour water over my head. I was definitely feeling the effects of being in one of the hottest and lowest places on Earth.
At the 16 km mark, I was really feeling it. My left calf was sore, I was dehydrated, and I had a slight cramp near my right collarbone. I saw a water station about 200 meters ahead, and focused on that. Water, water, water. Run, Mindy, and you'll soon taste the sweet sparkle of H2O. As I approached the water station, though, the two volunteers were standing with empty hands. In Arabic, I yelled "Water!" The response I got was a shrug, and they solemnly watched me plod past. Reality set in. The race officials had irresponsibly underestimated how many runners there were. The 10K-ers ahead of me had greedily taken all the water. I and the half-marathoners, marathoners, and ultra-marathoners after me were stranded for the next 5 km without water. We were in the middle of an empty desert, and there was no oasis. I convinced myself, for the sake of motivation to finish the last 5 km, that there would be an emergency water station further down. There never was; all the remaining water stations I passed were empty and dry. I grew desperate for any liquid, and as I passed the 10-K walkers, I saw that some of them were carrying water bottles. It looked so delicious, I was so thirsty, and I convinced myself that, as a half-marathoner runner, I deserved that Aquafina more than a 10-K walker.
"Gimme water!" I panted in Arabic as I approached a group of 5 Jordanian women walking the 10-K together. One of them turned and stared at this approaching Chinese girl whose lips looked like sandpaper. I repeated my command: "Gimme water!" I held out my hand, and one of the ladies took pity on my parched lips and stuck out her water bottle. I dashed past, grabbing it and yelling "Thank you!" behind me. I greedily glugged 2 gulps of water and poured the rest over my head. What a nice lady, I thought, then quickly forgot about her as my attention focused to the painful 4 km remaining.
About 200 meters from the finish line, I got a surge of adrenaline. I knew my Peace Corps 10K friends were waiting there, and I didn't want them to see my suffering gait and dragging heels. I envisioned litres of water awaiting me at the finish line, and relished in the thought of stripping off my running shoes and sweaty socks. Maybe they might have a buffet of fruit or a massage tent. My feet grew lighter, my footsteps quicker, and my pace a bit faster. I crossed with a time of 1:54 and finished 10th among females (which is a clue to how un-competitive the field was).
After meeting up with friends, we each congratulated each other on a race well run or walked. I was dehydrated, since the water stations for the last 5 km of my race were empty, and I set out on a mission to bloat my body with as much water as possible. My friends and I proceeded to wander around the gathering area, hording apples and water. I followed a man giving away samples of pseudo-Red Bull drinks and collected 3 cans of the fizzy stuff for my friends and I. I admiringly watched as the first ultra-marathoner crossed the line and was interviewed by the Jordan news station. I knew that all the runners crossing after me had had no water for at least the last 5 km, and I felt genuine pity for their parched throats.
Some runners cooled off in the Dead Sea, others salvaged their dehydration with beers. My Peace Corps friends and I opened up our potluck buffet and shared grapes, cookies, almonds, and chocolate. I love people-watching, and post-race parties are the ultimate entertainment for me. I munched on Don's fantastic oatmeal-raisin cookies and watched as Jordanian male teenagers gawked at women wearing swimsuits, a group of cross-dressed runners paraded around the pool area, and a very tired Peace Corps gang proudly proved that, after more than 18 months of living in small desert villages, we still have the lungs and legs to run 10 km or even a half marathon.

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