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The Real Life Runner — A Run Across Palestine

Erin Crowell -- The Real Life Runner

While running a marathon is an amazing accomplishment, a Bucket List item for many before they die, imagine running five marathons in five consecutive days across a country torn by religious conflict.

That’s what a group of runners did this past February when they ran 129 miles across Palestine’s West Bank.

The Run Across Palestine (RAP) was an effort between On the Ground—a non-profit based in Traverse City, Michigan—and the Palestinian Fair Trade Association to raise money and awareness for olive farmers in the West Bank region.

The event raised scholarship money for the children of olive farmers and helped to plant thousands of trees in hopes to reestablish sustainable olive growing practices in a place whose history, economy, culture, and identity are all rooted in the ancient olive tree.

Photo: Aubrey Ann Parker

Chris Treter, OTG vice president and co-founder, said he chose a long distance running event because it’s something that grabs the attention of the general public due to the shear challenge of accomplishing it.

“By tying (long distance running) to something that is of benefit for the world makes sense to me,” he explained. “In my eyes, too many of the long distance ultra runners do it for their own gratification rather than to use the uniqueness for the greater good. What better way to know what you’re supporting than experiencing that place firsthand?

“When running long distances day after day you get to have a real sense of a place, country and culture; and you can connect with the people. As a development organization, I view this is very valuable.”

The group started in the Southern Hebron Hills then continued through Bethlehem, Jerusalem and into the olive-growing regions where they stayed with farmers from the Palestine Fair Trade Association and their families. Not only did they run, they planted olive trees along the way. The trees served as replacements to those destroyed by Israeli forces throughout the years.

“A typical day would be awaking about 6-7 am, our host family or community would have a simple Palestinian breakfast ready for us…pita bread, hummus, jam, cheese etc. We would attempt to run 23-26 miles per day,” explained Treter.

While Treter stuck mostly to the foreign relations and business affairs of the trip—occasionally hitting the dirt every now and then—he trained hard as one of the several runners who ran across Ethiopia last year in support of fair trade coffee bean farmers. “For the Run Across Ethiopia, I would do 10 consecutive days of running with a break between building each mileage up to 18 miles per day per
10 day segment.”

Runners for both the Run Across Ethiopia and the Run Across Palestine each had their own training schedule, fitting in whatever spare time they had between work, family and fundraising. While the physical aspect of the run was challenging, the group also experienced social hurdles.

Just 10 kilometers into the first run, the Israeli military stopped the group of 15 runners and support team and an argument ensued. “They told us that if we stuck to the side part of the road and avoided the pavement itself, there would be no arrests,” recounts Jacob Wheeler, a member of the RAP media team. After they agreed, the runners continued only to be stopped two kilometers down the road again by Israeli police and military. After an hour and a half, three of the 15 group of runners are arrested and detained by military police.

The reason? An illegal demonstration.

Despite those hurdles, the RAP team made it through their journey and were welcomed by the Palestinian community at the end of every day. “Each community we ran from and to we were sent off and greeted…In addition to running a marathon each day, we would immediately follow that with a cultural marathon where hundreds of people at times would greet us with ceremony; speeches, dance, song, food and more.”

Erin Crowell, Travese City Michican, USA
Contributing Writer, Running Advice and News


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