On the differences between races in Israel and Spain

Visiting my home country, I discovered a half-marathon race during my visit and signed up. It was the Merotz Ha’Aviv, or the Spring Run in Ramat HaSharon, a suburb of Tel Aviv. It was a small town race run on a Saturday morning.

I began my racing “career” in Israel but went very far with running and racing in Barcelona. In the past few years I had the chance to participate in dozens of races, so I am able to note various aspects of the organization.

I don’t usually run in Israel recently, so my observation is far from being wide, but anyway, here goes. I also try to provide explanations for the variations, be them good or bad.

  1. Coffee and food before the race: It was nice being greeted by a table full of sweet chocolate chip cookies, salty Abadi cookies and also coffee and tea. The snacks can serve as last minute fueling options and a hot drink is always welcome before the race. I cannot remember seeing such an option in any race in Spain. Occasionally, a group organizes some treats for its members, but nothing else. The organizers provide snacks and refreshments at the end (as well as along the way), but nothing else.
  2. No place to leave your stuff!: In Spain, there is always a guardarropia. Some, such as in my excellent experience in Granollers, are perfectly managed, while others can consist of queues, but it’s elementary. I mentioned the absence of this to a fellow runner. He told me that it’s usually like that in Israel. The explanation most probably originates from the dearth of public transport usage. And there’s public transport on Saturdays. So, organizers assume that runners arrive by car, and you can always leave your stuff there.
  3. Lots of music along the way: I didn’t count the number of times I heard music coming out of speakers but it was clearly more than one would hear in a small town or even big town race in Spain. There was no live music, but that only happens in the really big events. That’s the advantage of the Middle East: you enjoy life.
  4. Lots of races in one day: As I remembered from previous runs in the Holy Land, organizers tend to cram in as many races as possible. In this case, there was a half-marathon, a 10K, a 5K and two separate 2K races. In Spain, the options are more limited: either a single race, two races (such as 5K and 10K) or a main race and a small kids race. There is always pressure to do as much as possible, be it at work, driving faster on the roads or in running races.
  5. Lots of water stations: I would hazard a guess that there was a water station every 3-4K or so. It makes sense in a warm country, even if weather conditions were quite comfortable on that day in April.
  6. Messy road signs: The half marathon route was somewhat complicated. We ran from the starting point to a distant Point A, ran back to Point B, again to A and back to the starting line. Reaching Point A for the first time, I almost continued running off-course. The sign had an arrow to continue going and the people stationed there were late to tell me to do a U-turn. I turned back to Point B, alongside another runner and back to Point A, this time knowing where to turn. I thought that from this point onwards, it’s just backtracking. Well, apparently I missed some turning point and eventually made a 700-meter shortcut. Am I that stupid? OK, maybe. Nevertheless, clear signs and a person pointing to the right direction should have prevented any mistakes. When I was half way in the wrong direction, a girl that was running there for her leisure told me I was off-course. I thought she was wrong and continued. I then saw a race staffer and was sure I was OK. He told me that I should have turned beforehand, but then he also said: “nevermind”. Only after seeing the next kilometer mark, I understood the magnitude of the shortcut. I guess that´s a disadvantge of the Middle East: organization leaves a lot to be desired…

What about the race itself? It was a fun 20.3K run for me, with generally comfortable weather and an opportunity to participate in a half-marathon in my home country.

Some excuses/explanations for the not-too-great time: I started out too fast in the downhill and was out of my element when backtracking and running uphill. Some parts were not asphalt but rather hard earth and perhaps it also imposed a tax on my time. The aforementioned mess with the route also erased a few seconds, but well, these were more than compensated with the shortcut…

Here is the run and some pictures with Edan.

Next on my backlog of posts is my experiences from the Barcelona Beer Festial. Cheers!

Running the Seville Marathon in 3 hours – the full race report

I recently ran a 3-hour marathon in Seville, and I am very proud of myself. I penned this very long race report to share my experiences and lessons with others and to take it to my next marathon.

Over a year has passed since I wrote that I didn’t want to turn this into a running blog (after saying I would write regularly) and apparently neither happened. Not making any new promises!

Anyway, here is my full and long race report. I hope to post another post with concise conclusions.

Last minute to the first mile

The clock strikes 5:00 and the alarm clock startles me. It’s race day, and I am fully awake after a weird dream. Intense dream = intense sleep, so that’s a good start. Check.

After my usual breakfast and my usual overindulgence of coffee, I paid a visit to the bathroom. Check.

My parents (which accompany me to every marathon since that miserable near-death experience following my first marathon) and I step out the door at 7:00. It’s still dark in Seville, and the weather is cold and fresh. I keep on munching on more light carbs and sip some isotonic drink, waiting for the taxi that I had reserved two days in advance.

But there’s no cab. Repetitive calls to the taxi station result in a busy line, and we decide to try heading towards the Giralda. Fellow runners also seem befuddled. The clock continues ticking, and we find ourselves in a herd of runners heading towards a bus station by the river, and that is my Plan B.  Plan C involved just running some 4K to the starting line.

La Giralda. Not on the morning of the race

Luckily the bus comes, and we get on by the back door. We never paid. Sorry Seville. We owe you 5€. Getting off the bus, I was very lucky to have my parents with me: we decided not to go the stadium and leave the stuff but rather approach the starting line.

I managed to squeeze in a very light 1K warm-up, falling short of my usual 2.4K (1.5mi) one. While I was re-retying my shoelaces just before the entrance to my running corral, my father directed my attention to the fact that the runners were on the move. A quick selfie and I joined in, basically chugging along the 3:15-3:30 group instead of my 3:00-3:15 one.

Pre-race selfie. The stand-out t-shirt is made by a Spanish company called Hoopoe. I bought it at the expo.

And here we go!

8:30: Four months and it’s time to cash in. I felt the excitement crossing the start line hitting Go on my watch.

Following the sound advice of Aurelian (Strava), I adopted the Hansons’ Marathon Method plan. The training program focuses on maximizing performance on race day and discourages races along the way. While I didn’t fully adhere to that guidance, I basically followed the plan by a ratio of 90%. So now it’s money time.

I sifted through the other runner to complete the first kilometer at 4:32, significantly slower than the magical number of 4:15 needed to hit the 3-hour mark.

During my marathon pace tempo runs on Thursdays I reached 4:10 once and my last run saw 4:15. However, as this was my first experience with the program, I was telling everybody that I could run around 4:20 min/K which is a marathon in around 3:03, a more conservative approach.

Apart from running crisscrossing slower runners, I guess I needed time to warm up after that rush to the start. The body needs the first few minutes to ease into the aerobic mode, so I wasn’t worried.

I picked up my pace and managed to compensate for the first kilometers gradually. Crossing the Triana bridge and passing by the Torre de Oro was rewarding. The crowds cheered and I was feeling good.

Torre de Oro. The picture was not taken during the race…

Seconds in a bottle

The first aid station appeared to my left, and I ran towards it. Being right-handed, I feel more comfortable picking up things on the right-hand side. Well, a few meters on, there was a stop on the right as well. I actually read that water would be available on both sides in the manual. OK, this won’t happen again – next time I’m only sticking to the right.

The water was handed out in paper glasses rather than bottles. This is great for the environment, but I’m not used to it and found myself using two hands to pick up the glass. A fellow runner explained (in English of course) the best practice in taking the glass and sipping off the water. I thanked him, but I must say this skill still lacks perfection.

Throughout the race, I stopped at almost every aid station to pick up some sweet Aquarius or wash up the gels with water, and I felt it slowed me down. I used to ignore complaints about glasses and praises for bottles, but I guess that getting a grip on a bottle is time-efficient.

Fueling – just do it

After a few kilometers in the race, I felt a very mild sense of hunger. After having my usual cereal and yogurt breakfast, I kept on chewing on quite a few energy bars and a banana. Apparently, another small something was amiss, and I pulled out my spare energy bar very early in the race. Better push those calories in. Bar eaten, problem solved.

Around 9K into the race, it was time for the first sports gel, executing my game plan of a gel every nine kilometers. I pulled one out of my pouch, and it wasn’t the one I imagined to see. It was another one I was familiar with, but not the one I intended to consume on race.

What’s going on? I pulled out another one, and it was the same, wrong one. Oops, I probably bought the wrong package. How could I miss that with all the planning? I signed up to the race ten months in advance, begin reading the training book six months in advance and started the program on time.

Instead of diving into the mire of self-pity, I just took it in. And I decided I’m going to like it. The show must go on. The gel didn’t taste like I wanted it to taste (makes sense when it’s the wrong one), but it was A-OK. It also did the work of energizing me. Next time, double-check that as well.

Mid-race at max racing

After 14K I was stable, going at a good pace and having mostly compensated for the lost seconds early on without burning myself. My wife Galia and my parents waited for me at the Macarena Church by the walls, and that gave me a boost.

Things got better from there on: while the views weren’t that exciting (Avenida Kansas City seemed neverending), the temperatures dropped (at least that’s what I felt) and looking at my watch, my heart rate ticked down, a sign I was doing great.

I crossed the half-marathon mark at 1.29:48, close to my half-marathon race two weeks before the big day and set to tackle the 3-hour mark.

But maybe I felt too great and also greedy. I ran at a pace under 4:10 until the 25K mark. I felt that I could pick up my speed after having cruised through the first half.

If I were to run a negative split race, the halfway mark was the place to hit the pedal, right?

Wrong. In hindsight, I know the right place to push is somewhere after “the wall,” with less than 10K to go. Another lesson for the next time.

I slowed down to 4:22 in the 26th kilometer but and never ran under 4:10. I managed to stabilize around 4:15-4:17 for a few more kilometers

Struggle sí, wall no

Around the 34th kilometer, we entered the long stretch of Avenida de La Palmera. The wind became stronger and was slowing me down. At least they cooled down my legs, which were on fire. A light burning sensation crept in the bottom of my feet. New blisters were being formed, and I could follow every phase.

I wasn’t the only one slowing down. Others were also suffering from the wind and/or hitting the wall. I can blame the wind and can blame my greed, but I could not blame the wall. Looking at the data, 4:13 in the 33rd K, 4:17 in the 34th, 4:27 in the 35th and 4:20 in the 36th is no wall.

The program emphasizes that you learn to run on tired legs and the longest long run of 16 miles simulates the last 16 rather than the first ones. So here I was, in the middle of the last 16 miles, tired but prepared.

During this long stretch of slowing down and facing the wind, I had a dilemma. Bypass the slower runners and confront the wind? Or slow down with them and preserve some energy?

I had no clear answer, just doing a bit of both. I brought forward my gel intake to the 35th kilometer, every bit helps.

What I did do is play three psychological mind-games I had read about:

  1. Imagine your friends and family cheering you: It sounds stupid, but imagination can do wonders. Just thinking they have your back whatever result you make keeps you pushing on.
  2. Tell yourself the next aid station is close: This was not that relevant on that cloudy day, as I didn’t yearn for any drinks. I hardly missed any station.
  3. Sing the songs I heard during the fast workouts: I wasn’t singing out loud, that would waste energy at a critical juncture, but running through some of the tunes that were the soundtrack of my bigger efforts helped.

Here is my running playlist, followed by a live album by the Israeli band Mashina from 1995. Both accompanied me:

Crowds come in and near crash

In the 36th kilometer, we left the neverending Avenida behind and entered the Parque Maria Luisa that was to our right most of the way. The change of the views was also accompanied by growing crowds.

Entering the vast Plaza España, the winds had changed, at least temporarily. The round-trip in the square which features a round-trip of Spain’s province in 1929 felt like a victory lap, or at least a powerful second wind.

Here is a picture of the Plaza:

Can I still run sub 3 hours? Probably not, but I’m going to my best. It’s money time.

Oh, the wind came back as we were heading northbound once again. But the masses were already aplenty: passing via the Avenida Constitución alongside the Giralda and the city hall, I felt empowered even though I could not duck under the 4:20 min/K mark.

Somewhere along the way, while running on some cobblestones in the old city, I misstepped and nearly fell. A rush of pain passed through one of my ankles. These worries didn’t last for more than a few seconds: it was just a small distraction, no sprained ankle. On with the show.

As I entered the Alameda de Hercules (if I run this race again, my hotel will be there, closer to the start line), the pain had totally dissipated, but I the second wind from Plaza España was replaced by stronger wind and accumulated fatigue.

Victory lap

Crossing the Barqueta bridge, the small ascent seemed like a mountain. Nevertheless, I was piercing through and was surprised to discover many had lined up in the last two kilometers, in an area which is not residential to cheer us.

And there was the stadium. Going down into the tunnel I took advantage of the descent to accelerate. Upon entering, the roar of the crowds, including my family, made me forget about shaving off another second or two.

The lap around the track felt victorious, and I used my remaining energy to raise my hands and wave to the people. As aforementioned, I might have a future in politics.

I crossed the finish line and well, after hitting the Stop button, I began clapping my hands.

My watch showed 3:00:34. The sub-3h will wait for next year, and running a 3h marathon is much more than great.

Post Race

After running slowly for a bit, I began walking and shaking my legs, stopping to pose for the camera.

In the tunnel, I grabbed everything I could. Finishing the marathon, I had a license to eat whatever I wanted and at any quantities. And that’s what I did, munching on Doritos while I was changing clothes and downing a jamón sandwich my family had bought me while we were walking back to town.

We continued to lunch at the fabulous Eslava restaurant (thanks, Julia!) before taking going to rest. In the evening, I indulged into Ocumare’s gourmet chocolate and had dinner at conTenedor (thanks, again and again, Julia). All are highly recommended in Seville, with or without running 42.195 kilometers.

More Thanks

Thanks to my family for supporting me. This was my fourth marathon, the first out of Barcelona and the second one in which I succeeded in running a great race. Here is the finish of the previous one, in Barcelona 2015, where I clocked 3:18 alongside my friend David:

Running a rigorous 18-week plan which peaks with a few weeks atop the 100 K/week mark means making some changes to the routine. At least this time was different: I was logging more miles while Galia said it affected her less than the previous challenges. Running long runs only every other weekend instead of each and every one makes a big difference. And it makes more significant difference when these runs are shorter.

So, I am happy with the Hansons’ plan not only for what did happen: a great season with an excellent result but also for what did not occur: less interference with social life and no injuries, touch wood. Increased volume is probably necessary for upping the game, but it comes with an increased risk of injury. And that did not happen. I recently bought the Hansons’ Half Marathon book.

And here’s the opportunity to thank Aurelian again for recommending the plan.

Aurelian also asked some of the smart and less smart questions during the season. Many thanks! He warned me that the high dose of easy runs could bore me out. Well, I found myself listening to tons of podcasts, so I also learned a lot on the way, not only about running but also about many other things, unfortunately too much about American politics…

What’s next?

I went to a pre-planned physiotherapist at Fisioterapia Sevilla Seville in the morning after the race. Alejandro identified my weaker muscles but said I am perfectly fine. He did a good job, and I can recommend him.

I took a full week off running as we toured the south of Spain. The first two days saw some challenging descents of stairs but everything was in the realm of normality, and no damage was done.

Those three hours and the thirty-something seconds passed quite fast. I want more!

Three days after the 2017 Barcelona marathon I already signed up for the 2018 edition, which is the 40th of my city’s race. 51 weeks to go.

Below you can find another view of the rac, more pictures and comments, which are welcome as always.

Half marathon < An hour and a half - mission accomplished!

I made it! A half marathon in 1:29:23, achieving my goal of running the 21.1K challenge under 90 minutes. February 7th, in Granollers.

Ready to run

In the second out of three consecutive races, I knew it was possible: In the previous weekend I broke my record again, with 1:30:43 in Seville, shaving 10 seconds off the previous record set in Sitges. And, I felt not-too-exhausted.

In addition, the Granollers race, which has the lucrative domain name lamitja.cat, aka, The Half, is a fast race. The profile is not that easy, but straightforward: 11K uphill and 10 downhill. It isn’t a full triangle, but the two halves are quite clear.

The key is finding the sweet spot between running uphill fast enough, almost as if it were a 10K race in terms of effort, but not fully burning out. Climbing nicely then allows the runner to fly downhill.

After consulting this excellent and very detailed blog (pre-race and also post-race, great comments as well) about tactics, I decided to take the advice and run at around 10 seconds slower than race pace going up and then compensate for this on the way down.

Granollers Half Marathon - Before
Granollers Half Marathon – Before

Smooth uphill and slippery downhill

It all went according to plan going up, and even marginally better than expected in terms of pace, but without feeling tired. I did notice it the clouds becoming somewhat darker. It was a cloudy day but the very latest forecasts had excluded a chance of rain. Oh well. So, I left my cap in the storage room.

In the village of La Garriga, in the middle of the race and at the highest point, I felt the first drops. At the 12th kilometer, I already removed my glasses. During a few fast but long minutes downhill, the wind sent the rain into my eyes and it was quite challenging to continue running at full speed and also wiping the water out of my eyes.

Towards the end, the descent becomes more pronounced. Luckily, the wind changed direction and I could keep my eyes open. However, now the challenge was maintaining the even higher pace amid a slippery slope.

I was amazed by the amount of people standing with their umbrellas in the rain, cheering non-stop. This had been one of my best experiences of the race in 2015 and I was worried the rain would scare them off. But they braved the rain.

I was brave enough to run through the downpour, but not enough brave to cheer back. In fact, given these conditions, my eyes were on the next steps, afraid of falling and still trying to keep up with the rapid descent, concentrated on every step.

At the 19K mark, I saw 1:20:30 and understood that I have it: I would seriously need to mess it up in order to top 1:30. I began getting excited and I think this triggered some kind of side stitch. Nevertheless, I continued at a good pace and crossed the line, smashing my record by 1:20 and the target by 37 seconds.

Here are the details:

Rain rally?

The side stitch disappeared instantly and I began clapping my hands to myself, while seeking the entrance to the pavilion and shelter from the rain.  The dry cap came in handy as a makeshift towel. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring spare shoes. Well, only the girl in the group was wise enough to do it…

Granollers Half 2016 - after, warm everywhere, but not in the feet
Granollers Half 2016 – after, warm everywhere, but not in the feet

Apparently, 5 out of 8 of us made their personal bests in the race. We chatted for some time before heading home, with frozen legs but with lots of satisfaction.

Did the rain underpin or undermine the race? It didn’t feel as fun: not cheering back to the audience and hardly noticing the views is not the experience I had in sight. However, being concentrated on every step, or giving my best at money time, probably contributed to the achievement.

It was certainly hard: the absence of those 80 seconds left me much more exhausted in the following days. But maybe the fatigue has accumulated. Who knows…

I have the last race this Sunday: the Barcelona Half Marathon. The conditions should be better: it starts early, 10 minutes walk from the house and the course is flatter. However, the aforementioned fatigue and a chance of wind could certainly result in a significantly slower run.

But hey, I earned my beer!


Now it’s time to think about the next challenge, evading Runners’ Blues.

But I guess it’s better having ’em blues than suffering an injury. These are just too common. The latest victim in my circle is my partner for running the 2015 marathon. He trained sensibly, aiming for a marathon under 3 hours, but bad luck struck him. He was ordered to rest and this dream will have to wait. It certainly made me sad and reminded me I’m quite lucky.

Spanish politics and I

Living here in Barcelona for nearly 5 years, my blood pressure clearly remains more sensitive to anything going on in Israel than here. I guess that news about the metro get me much more excited than politics at any level here.

Living in a different place means making an effort to integrate here as much as possible, speaking Spanish and understanding Catalan is only the interface – it’s also a cultural experience: from understanding the different types of foods in the various holidays and from the various regions, listening to some good music from around the country and even becoming acquainted with Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, Spain’s dramatic version of David Attenborough are all part of the living here. The list could go on and on of course.

And being a political animal means trying to understand what’s going on. Spain is probably Europe’s most decentralized country, with 4 official languages, 17 regions having various degrees of autonomy, 50 provinces and an endless amount of politicians. Add the shadows of the civil war, the long dictatorship and the amazing transition to democracy, and politics can be not only complex but also fascinating.

Recently, it has become even more interesting on the local and national levels. The past 4 years of an absolute majority for the center-right Partido Popular (PP) which rejected any dialog and the financial crisis have fueled the Catalan independence movement. I can write about that in so much detail given everything that’s going on here in the past few years.

But I’ll stick to the title and focus on Spain, that cannot be detached from the Catalan question.

For a change, there was no clear winner. The right wing PP came out first but lost a third of the votes. Some of them were taken by the new center-right and nationalist Ciudadanos (Citizens) which originated in Catalonia as anti-independence and became a party at the national level. However, together they command only 163 seats while 176 are needed for a majority in the 350 strong parliament.

On the left, the center-left PSOE came in second, also losing votes, with some of them taken by Podemos, the fruit of the 15-M protests from 2011, and friends of SYRIZA in Greece. Also here, these two parties have 159 seats between them. Adding the Izquierda Unida (IU) which means united left, they have 161 seats. The Spanish political system not different from other countries, favors big parties over the smaller ones. In a proportional system like in Israel, they would have received over 10 seats.

So, these are the left-right blocs and both fall short. So who got the rest of the seats? Regional parties, mostly from Catalonia and from the Basque Country.

These could be compared to Arab parties in Israel: they represent their constituents but can never really share power. And like in Israel, having them support a left-wing government from the outside is a possibility, but the government would seem “unpatriotic”.

The pressure is on Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the center-left PSOE. Like the labor party in Israel, he is called to “show responsibility” and join a grand coalition under the right-wing PP. When this happened in Israel, the Labor party basically opted for short term political benefits, while providing a rubber stamp to right-wing policy in the world, removing the option of a real opposition and eliminating itself as an alternative to right-ring rule.

In Spain’s PSOE, the conservative members of the party, some in the south of the country, prefer this option over a real change. Voters in Andalucia for example, are conservative but vote socialists, similar to the old guard of Israel’s Labor party until not so long ago.

The other option facing Sánchez is leading a Portuguese left-wing government with Podemos. But the hurdles are huge: opposition within his party, the initial demand by Podemos to hold a referendum on Catalan independence, the need to rely on regional parties and pressure from the EU.

Regarding Podemos, they have also seen better days. Crushing Podemos was the main reason for crushing Greece in 2015. Punishing those who didn’t obey Brussels served to deter many Spaniards from voting for change, as they feared the fate of the Greeks.

But you cannot blame everything on external forces. Had I been a Spanish national, I would have voted Podemos: the country needs a serious tackling of corruption with banks always enjoying immunity, welfare budgets being cut and capitalism which only favors big business. As a small business owner, my social security tax was hiked 22% in 2014. Isn’t capitalism all about small businesses? The right-wing is not only corrupt, reactionary in terms of human rights but cannot even provide the fruits of capitalism.

And also on the Catalan question, I certainly favor a referendum, just like Podemos. Going to a binding vote, just like in Scotland, would have probably resulted in the exact same result like in Scotland and would put the story to sleep. And if Catalonia wins independence? So be it. Politicians on both sides have vested interests in keeping the flames high and diverting attention from social issues, corruption and mismanaging the economy.

If you have followed me so far, you may assume that also in Spanish politics, I seem to have a grip on things and also possess an opinion. After swimming through all this, I am now stuck with my sentiment towards Podemos.

Their behavior has been somewhat erratic of late. They drew red lines like the Catalan referendum and now backtracked. Are they one united party or are they fully split between the regional subsidiaries? Why did they jump to divide ministries before setting out a plan?

And what’s this ministry of pluri-nationality? I understand that they need some stepping stone to back off their promise for a referendum, but this idea seems quite ugly. It implies giving a job to someone instead of solving the problem.

Anyway, I do hope that a left-wing government emerges, as this would be better for battling inequality, corruption and would help defend human rights. In addition, it has very wide implications for the whole continent. Spain is not Greece and not Portugal. A change against austerity here would force a bigger change in the EU’s thinking.

However, Pablo Iglesias and Podemos need to get their act together…

Here’s a picture of really tasty Basque food consumed in a restaurante called Maitea, highly recommended. Pluri-national Spain is something I certainly admire, but not as some kind of job for disappointed politicians….


New Half Marathon PR: 1.30:53

The new era of blogging is not supposed to turn into an appraisal of myself breaking records, but well, it’s easy and fun to write about, especially when records are broken. In the first challenge for 2016, I participated for the third time in the Sitges Half Marathon, and hit the nail on the head.

Crossing the finish line. Photo credit: JJ VIco on Flickr 

The flat course and my good shape resulted in smashing my previous record by nearly 3 minutes. The previous record was set in the same pretty coastal town exactly one year beforehand.

I’m still short of my < 1:30 goal. At the first few kilometers, I thought it was within reach. At the 8K mark my clock showed 33:42: I had a margin of 18 seconds to achieve the season goal. But I soon realized that I couldn’t keep up, especially after a minor uphill knocked off the momentum.

Nevertheless, I continued pushing ahead at a strong clip, gradually understanding that it’s going to be a good result in any case. Losing pace after a strong start is not uncommon. The fatigue felt in the legs can be exacerbated by seeing fellow runners pass you by, seeming fresh. There weren’t too many runners around me in the latter stages of the race. I passed some and some passed me, so I was lucky not being run down by a big herd, keeping my mental strength intact.

Here are fellow runners from the Barcelona Casual Runners group:


Maybe I could have shaved off a few more seconds, but running 4:15 instead of 4:19 per kilometer was unrealistic. I have three weeks until my next race, down in Seville, Andalucia. This time will not only enable me to write about other stuff, but also to do my hardest training sessions in my plan and reach the southern challenge at an even better shape.

At this season, it isn’t really warm in the south of Spain and the course is very flat. I may find excuses in an excessive wine and dine experience in the previous night, but that won’t count.

Here is the Sitges effort:


‎DiEM25‬ – Varoufakis launches new movement on February 9th – some hope

In the past year+ I have been following the roller coaster activity of former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and became a fan. I even got to see him here in Barcelona in October (covered the event here).  The man himself even used my live blogging for his own coverage. Well, he was quoting me quoting him. A few other Varoufakis fans in my circles and myself were excited about it… and now there’s a new movement and a draft manifesto included here.

While he was in office, I covered the actions of the government he was serving as it was critical to the value of the euro in which my readers over there are interested. His new movement, an attempt to democratize Europe, will probably have no immediate affect on markets, so I chose to write about it in these more personal pages. Politics were always of interest to me, and Mr. V. is certainly a colorful character.


A bit about Varoufakis’ past year

Varoufkis is colorful for basically saying it is as it is and his short time as a politician was due to the fact he wasn’t playing games. Others couldn’t digest a politician with whom they couldn’t cut an easy political deal that would favor him personally and therefore they used his past as an expert for Game Theory and said he was playing games.

His basic attempt to change the course of 5 years of failure of the EU’s policies, together with his colleagues in SYRIZA was eventually crushed with closed banks, threats of a Grexit and a 17 hour marathon of talks which saw PM Tsipras surrender, but it was actually a shameful day for all the continent. The wounds of that July 13th aGreekment are still open. As he said, the masses that came to see him around Europe did not only come to show solidarity with the Greek people but were actually afraid it might happen to them as well.

His lesson from 5 months in office was that it is not enough for individual change in a country (especially not a small scapegoat one which consists of 2% of the euro-zone economy) but rather a wider movement to democratize the euro-zone. In his speeches, which I had the chance to participate in one thanks to the good people of FXStreet, and which he publishes on his blog, he described the Eurogroup as a sausage: you don’t want to touch it if you know what it’s inside. In less colorful terms, he described a very non-democratic, undocumented way of doing business, or basically dictating action.

This movement now has a launch date: February 9th, and the location is an interesting one: Berlin. Will he meet German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble during this visit?  Anyway, the new movement will be called Democracy in Europe 2025, or #DiEM25‬, at least according to the latest reports.

Here is a draft manifesto I found online and uploaded to Scribd:

DiEM25‬ Preliminary Manifesto 6

Direct Democracy and Me

I can ramble relentlessly about what happened with Greece in 2015, but this is a more personal blog, isn’t it?

In any case, his desire to democratize Europe resonates with my activity in the not-so-distant past – in the previous version of the blog. I was with Black Labor (Hebrew) from the very start and retired not too long ago. This site, which is still active and close to celebrating 10 years, stands for social values of course, but perhaps no less prominently for direct democracy – holding elected politicians accountable for their actions.

The “core business” of the site was motivating readers to send letters to politicians (originally only from the Israeli Labor Party, hence the name), raising issues, praising them or also quite commonly demanding explanations and calling them to act according to their promises.

We are deep in the internet era, where decision making can be much more than just casting a vote once every few years. An atmosphere where the common thought is “all politicians are bad and nothing really matters” serves those in power. They can wave various ideological flags in order to divert attention from their stronghold on power while serving those who “donate” to them and the interconnected friends in the media rather than doing anything related to their promises.

So, I’ll be looking forward to February 9th and the launch of the DiEM25‬ with hope for a change. Hopefully there will be some related activity here in Barcelona and I’ll see if I can fit it.


4 New Year’s Resolutions

I’ll give this fun game a shot and I may even check up on this by end 2016. To make it real, I’ll list 4 goals and completing 2/4 will be good enough. 3/4 would be great and reaching 4/4 impossible.

  1. Breaking 1:30 in a half marathon: This isn’t really a new goal: it’s been with me since the summer, but in early 2016 it may or may not come to fruition. I’m reaching the “money time” in the season in good shape, but is it good enough to achieve this goal? I just smashed my 10K PR and ran at a pace of 4:12 per kilometer. Clocking 1:30 in 21.1K implies running 4:15/K. That’s 3 second faster in the shorter distance but not there yet. In the previous season, my best efforts were 4:26 in a half and 4:19 in a 10K. Let’s see my progress in the Sitges half on January 10th.
  2. Maintaining at least one blog post per week: This should be the easiest goal to reach, as I fell a lot of enthusiasm. Maintaining something has less barriers than lifting something from the ground up. But well, I’ve abandoned this space in the past, so maybe it’s not that easy.
  3. Getting back to playing guitar: As with blogging in 2015, I’m looking for a comeback in 2016. I have played the base guitar and even performed and beforehand I played the classic and electric guitars. Playing the base requires a band and that’s time consuming with other priorities at hand. So maybe I’ll get back to a classic guitar and just sing along.
  4. Making more effort to stay in touch: With all the individualism and despite the ease of communication with all these social networks, I’ve been on passive mode with too many people. I want to take time and effort to be less passive. However, this does imply being even more passive or just letting go other relationships. Contrary to the previous goals which are more measurable, this one is a tough to calculate, thus making it harder to achieve, but it’s certainly worth trying and shouldn’t be too hard.

These resolutions aren’t hugely ambitious. Choosing achievable goals makes life easier and there’s no need to set high-in-the-sky goals for a period of 12 months. Maybe I’m lazy, but I live with myself in peace 🙂

Here’s a nice photo from a recent trip, waking up and smelling the coffee. The coffee was actually terrible, but it still makes a nice photo:


New 10K PR to finish 2015!

I made it to the second blog post! OK, it’s a long weekend. Anyway, I participated in the traditional end-of-year run in Barcelona, Cursa dels Nassos, and set a new personal record (or personal best) at 41:58, smashing my previous clocking at 43:18. Yes!

The race, which begins at daylight and ends in darkness hours before the new year begins has a festive atmosphere. Nassos translates to noses – the days left for the year equal the number of noses. That’s what they tell the children and that’s the name of the competition. People come dressed with noses, Santa suits and what not. I had the dilemma: take it easy and run with a friend or two, or take it seriously.

Well, the result spells it out: I did give it my best, skipping the festivities. I guess I channel my competitiveness into running. And well, I knew I was in shape to make it, especially given the extremely flat course.

During the first part of the race, I was within a crowded group of fast runners all chugging along at the same pace, making it almost impossible to slow down or speed up. I guess that’s what bicycle races feel like. I later realized we were all following the pacemaker.

Running in a group breaks the wind. Did that give me some edge? But is it relevant for non-professional runners?  And wind wasn’t an issue anyway in the streets of Barcelona yesterday.

I don’t think it made a difference as I continued pushing also in the latter part of the run, and ended the race with a bit of energy left. So, I attribute the flat terrain, 34 meters of accumulated elevation, which is nothing and my hard work.

I set a goal of breaking 1:30 in a half marathon, my favorite distance. My current record, which I matched recently, is 1:33:47. These ~4 minutes are tough, but I’m on the right path, running 5 times a week on some weeks and making progress. My 10K result reflects 4:12 per kilometer and to reach my goal I would need to complete those 21.1K in 4:15/K. I can’t keep up with this pace for more than double the distance, but I’m getting there and the Nassos performance underpins my confidence.

Here’s the pre-race picture of our Barcelona Casual Runners group:



Back to blogging?

Hi there. I haven’t written anything on my blog in over two years, and it wasn’t even here at the time. So I guess this is version 2.0 or perhaps reigniting blogging in the era of social media or post-bloggerism if you wish.

Anyway, for those of you who haven’t followed me back then, I began writing Things and Stuff back in July 2006 under the now defunct address things.co.il. The bi-lingual Hebrew-English blog included all sorts of musings. It was very active until around 2009, when I switched from working as a computer program to blogging professionally (OK, not only blogging) and writing here dwindled down.

Posts did appear sporadically afterwards, with the How I almost lost my life drinking water series, but since then I’ve been living well but blogging died out. Worse off, I didn’t follow an old inbox and missed the renewal of the domain name.

The good news is that all that content has been saved, including all comments (those nasty ones as well). And, I managed to copy everything to this new domain, which, as a personal blog, bears my personal name.

So why am I renewing it?

  • New Year’s Resolution: Back in December 2014 I thought of renewing the writing and even conceived the idea of using this domain name. Once I stopped procrastinating, the process wasn’t hard, but it came to fruition only in December.
  • Social media is not good for everything: I use Facebook for personal stuff and Twitter for work. I played around with Instagram (for personal photos) and I know I should use LinkedIn more for advancing my professional career. Anyway, social is not everything…
  • I want my own space: Following the previous point, a personal space is still the best for anything and everything, without any framework. I guess this point repeats the previous one, but maybe that’s the beauty: a perfect structure is not necessary…

I’ll be writing in English. Why?

  • I feel very comfortable in this language, even though I don’t master it 100%.
  • English allows me to reach everybody, or at least be accessible to everybody.
  • I really like the bi-lingual blog idea, but if I am to really renew writing on a regular basis, I’ll start with the international language. I might use Hebrew for angry political posts, but I’ll take it one step at a time.
  • I feel comfortable enough in Spanish and I’m very happy to have local and other friends here in Barcelona with whom I speak the language. This includes political opinions and telling everybody who I would vote for in the local elections. However, writing more than Whatsapp messages and short emails to the bank would result in sloppy language that I would be ashamed to read afterwards. Who knows, maybe I’ll do that as well some day, but not today.

What will I write about? I think I’ll take the path of least resistance and talk about running. As I write these words I am one day from the traditional Cursa dels Nassos – a traditional New Year’s Eve 10K race and I am certainly in shape to break my record. My second post in the new era will be easier if I make it. The picture is from the Barcelona Marathon this year. I still pound my chest proudly when remembering the achievement.

Regarding the design, it will change a bit, but I’ll try to spend time on writing rather than designing, beginning from the most standard theme possible.

So, here goes, let’s see if I can keep up with writing…


Signs of Hummus Success

Hummus is on the rise. We’ve already discussed the rise of web searches for hummus on Google. The following examples don’t dive into stats and graphs, but show the success of hummus in North America. First, let’s look at this picture inflatable slides:

Thanks to shane_curcuru on Flickr for the picture.

We see here a full aisle of hummus in a supermarket. Not a shelf in the organic foods stand. Not a product in a remote corner for imported goods, but a significant floor space in a regular supermarket.

I guess that our Middle-Eastern readers are unexcited. But this picture wasn’t taken in the Middle East, but in Arlington, Virginia, USA. Arlington is one of Washington DC’s many suburbs. You may say that Washington is an international city with many immigrants, so this scene just answers demand. Just note that also the photographer is surprised (but satisfied).

Now, here’s a fresh article that proposes a green version of hummus. The article compares the recipe it gives to hummus. This is already an indicator that hummus already gained traction and is known rent Jungle Bouncer to the public. The other sign is the articles’ publisher: The Calgary Herald. Calgary is in the province of Alberta, Canada. The city is famous for something smooth – snow, not hummus. Calgary hosted the winter Olympics in 1988.

This “green hummus” recipe is the publisher’s healthy green option for the upcoming green Saint Patrick’s day.

I’m sure that American readers have seen more hummus around them, and can share examples of their own. Hummus is gaining ground with American consumers, but it’s still the tip of the iceberg.

In their vision, hummus providers such as Sabra and Tribe want to see hummus stand alongside other common dips such as mayonnaise and ketchup. There’s still a long way to go. We’ll discuss this in a separate post.

Happy Saint Patrick’s!