JERUSALEM - Hanoch Shahar discovered a lifelong love of running as a child orphaned in World War II. On Friday, the 77-year-old Holocaust survivor ran along with some 15,000 other athletes in Jerusalem's second annual marathon.
The oldest of the runners, Shahar ran six miles (10 kilometers in an hour and four minutes. He completed a full marathon two months ago and said at his age, he can run only one 26 mile (42 kilometer) race a year.
"Running gives me a sense of freedom," said Shahar, whose parents were killed by Nazis at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. He said he ran there to escape his sorrow.
After the war, in a Prague orphanage, he would pass his time running and listening to track events on the radio. For hours at a time, he said, he would chase the orphanage's German Shepherd.
"That's where I got the running bug," he said.
He has been running ever since, eventually becoming the Israeli champion in the 800-meter race before switching to longer distances in later years. He has completed eight full marathons, the last in northern Israel.
On Friday, he and thousands of other runners dashed alongside ancient sites and through Jerusalem's steep streets in the second event of its kind in the city. The route took runners through the walled Old City, alongside the president's residence and up Mount Scopus to circle the campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
"To run through the Old City is an amazing experience," Shahar said as he boarded a bus back to his home town of Safed in northern Israel.
About 1,000 people ran a full marathon Friday, and others completed shorter distances.
David Toniok, 27, from Kenya, won the marathon with a time of 2:19:52, nearly seven minutes faster than last year's best time. Ethiopian Gudeta Biratu came second in 2:22:42, while John Mutai from Kenya finished third in 2:23:31.
The fastest woman runner was Ethiopian Mihiret Anamo Antonios with 2:48:38. She was trailed by Kamila Khanipova from Russia, who finished in 2:49:20, and Alena Vinitskaya from Belarus, with 2:50:33.
Strong winds and cold rain made for difficult ideal conditions.
Despite the city's tough inclines, Mayor Nir Barkat, himself an avid runner who completed a half-marathon Friday, said he hopes Jerusalem will become on of the world's major marathon venues. The municipality said more than 1,500 non-Israeli runners came from 50 nations to compete in the city held sacred by Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The marathon caused huge traffic disruptions. Nearly all the city's main arteries were blocked from early morning to early afternoon. Police said helicopters, observation units, special patrols and undercover officers were deployed to protect the race, part of a high security presence in and around Jerusalem.
The top Palestinian Muslim cleric in Jerusalem objected to the marathon's route, which passed through east Jerusalem, the sector of the city captured by Israel in the 1967 war and annexed, sought now by the Palestinians as a capital. Palestinian mufti Sheik Mohammed Hussein said the athletic event was an attempt by Israel to demonstrate sovereignty in areas claimed by Palestinians.
For Shahar, it was all about the run. "The Holocaust is always on my mind, but when I am running, I am relaxed," said Shahar, who has four children and four grandchildren.
Six million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators during World War II.
After the war, Shahar was eventually adopted from the orphanage by a Jewish man who came looking for a daughter he lost during the war. Shahar's adoptive father encouraged his hobby and took him to track meets to watch the boy's hero, Czech long-distance running legend Emil Zatopek, a four-time Olympic gold medalist. "He was my role model," Shahar said.
In Israel, Shahar embarked on a military career as a tank mechanic and was also a longtime volunteer paramedic. But his heart remained in running, and he won numerous medals over the years.
He says his best result in the 10-kilometer race was around 36 minutes, about half his time in Friday's race.