Israel’s ‘marathon mom’ gets back on track in Africa

Israeli marathon champion Beatie Deutsch, who is currently in Kenya training for the Tokyo Marathon, hopes to inspire more women, especially Orthodox women, to take up – and enjoy – long-distance running.

When Beatie (Bracha) Deutsch ran her first marathon in Tel Aviv seven years ago, she cut an unusual and surprising figure. Hair covered modestly with a scarf and donning a stretchy running skirt, the 4-foot-11 inch Deutsch stood out among the hordes of other runners as one of the few Orthodox Jewish women.

“I did not see a single woman in a skirt running in that marathon,” Deutsch, who surprised everyone, and even herself by placing sixth in that race, recalled recently to Jewish Insider, speaking from Kenya where she is training. “I also didn’t see a lot of women at all running in the marathon… it felt like women were intimidated by the distance… and I was like, we got to get more women doing this.”

While the number of women ­running marathons in Israel is growing, female participation – and notably Orthodox female participation – in such long distances remains markedly low compared to the men. 

With annual races such as the Tel Aviv Marathon, which takes place next week, and the Jerusalem Marathon, set for next month, becoming a staple of the Israeli sporting calendar, and with both the men’s and women’s national running teams scooping up more and more medals on the world stage, Deutsch, who joined the national team four years ago, said she hopes to see a change in the sport.

A Haredi mother of five, the runner, who is better known by her nickname, “Marathon Mom,” is already serving as an inspiration of sorts for other religiously observant women – and women in general – who are interested in taking up running.

“I can’t take credit for everyone, but many, many, many women and girls have now started running,” Deutsch said proudly.

“This is something that I’m kind of passionate about,” Deutsch, who daily shares motivational clips with her nearly 30,000 followers on Instagram, continued. “It does not matter where you are, what you’re doing, or what you’re up to in life, you can do a marathon if you want.”

“You could be a mom and run a marathon, you could choose any distance to run and all you need to know is how important it is to get out there and do it for yourself,” the former New Jersey native added. “It’s so empowering to pick a distance and you train for it, get to the race and execute it.”

“For me,” Deutsch said, “that was the biggest message I learned from my first marathon. I was just so amazed by the fact that I did it, that I could do that distance because I never in my life thought I could.”

Since that first marathon, Deutsch, whose story as an Orthodox female runner has drawn international headlines, has been defying the odds. A year after running that first Tel Aviv Marathon in 2016, she ran the race again, but this time she was seven months pregnant. A year after that, 10 months postpartum, Deutsch beat out all other Israeli female runners to win the Jerusalem Marathon.

In total, she has run 10 official marathons, including also winning the 2019 and 2020 marathons in Tiberias, as well as taking part in countless half-marathons and other races all over the world.

Now, Deutsch, 33, is in the midst of preparing for her next big race, the Tokyo Marathon on March 5. This time, she is ratcheting up her regimen a notch by training with other world-class distance runners in the professional sports village near the Kenyan town of Iten.

“Basically, all endurance athletes will train before big races at a high altitude,” Deutsch told JI in a phone interview from the East African nation. “Most of the Israeli marathon runners are Ethiopian, so they go to Ethiopia, but I decided on Kenya because there is more English spoken here and it is better set up for foreigners.”

“If you train at altitude or higher elevation then when you come back down, you’re stronger, and running feels a lot easier,” she explained.

According to Deutsch, most professional runners spend at least five or six weeks at the village, tackling ultra-long distances in the morning, soothing in ice baths in the afternoon and completing the day with shorter five- or six-kilometer runs “just to shake out the legs.”

“For me, it wasn’t easy leaving my family for three weeks, but it seemed like I was at the right point to do it,” admitted Deutsch, whose children range in age from 13 to 5. “My kids are a little bit older now and my husband felt comfortable with me leaving, so I took the opportunity.”

Despite her shortened stay, Deutsch is in good company on the dusty trails in Kenya. Israeli marathon champion Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, who is considered one of the fastest female long-distance runners in the world, after winning the World Championship in Eugene, Ore., last July and finishing second in the New York Marathon in November, was born in Kenya and also trains at the village. And Deutsch, who has one week left in the camp, proudly documented her run with Kenyan-born Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo, who runs for the U.S. team, on Instagram.  

“It’s an amazing opportunity for me that I don’t normally get to have,” Deutsch confessed. “I run when I am at home obviously, but I have less recovery time because I am still really busy with my family and the kids, there’s so much to take care of and I just don’t seem to get enough sleep.”

“This is what most professional athletes do,” she continued. “It’s nice to have this period of time where I can be very focused on the training, and I think it will set me up for success in my next marathon.”

Deutsch’s upcoming run in Japan will be her first in more than a year after suffering injuries that forced her to miss out on what she calls “the two biggest opportunities in my career.”

After failing to achieve her desired running time in the Seville Marathon last year and believing she had failed to qualify for the World Championship, a disappointed Deutsch returned to Israel and participated in the Tel Aviv Half Marathon race to “cheer herself up.”

It was a mistake, she said, because running two competitive races so close together caused a serious injury, rendering her unable to join the Israeli team at the World Championships and, a few months later, at the European Championships, which saw the men’s team win a gold medal.

What made the blow even harder for Deutsch was that for the first time in her short career, both international races were held during the week and not on Shabbat, meaning that she could participate. In 2020, Deutsch qualified for the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics, but was unable to participate because the event was held on a Saturday.

“It was a lot of processing, emotionally and mentally and it was also physically challenging to finally get back to myself,” Deutsch said of her year trying to recover. “I really only felt like I was running the way I used to a week before I left for Kenya, so coming here has been quite nerve-wracking.”

“I had to really tell myself to just focus on the process,” said Deutsch. “Not to think about the outcome or the results but to really get to the source of just loving and appreciating myself, no matter what I do running-wise.”

As Deutsch gets back on track, she shared with JI the frustration of being a professional track and field athlete in Israel and the struggle for sponsorships and contracts to support her career. In 2021, Deutsch was featured in a local Adidas campaign titled Impossible is Nothing, but such opportunities are rare, she said.

“I don’t get any sponsorship, other than a stipend from the Israel Olympic Committee and my [running] league,” Deutsch said. “Most of my income comes from doing speaking engagements and the occasional social media collaboration, but I still have to hustle, even though running is a huge sport in Israel.”

“I also have a niche and think I would be a great brand ambassador,” said Deutsch, who uses her influence to fund-raise for Beit Daniella, a center just outside Jerusalem that treats and rehabilitates teens with mental health struggles. “Unfortunately, there’s just not enough money in the sport in Israel.”

Despite the lack of funding, the injuries and the joys of motherhood fivefold, Deutsch said she has no intention to stop running for a living.

“My next big goal is the 2024 Olympics in Paris and after that, I have my eyes on the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles,” she concluded. “My family is very religious, they all come from the Orthodox community, and they struggle to comprehend the whole running thing, but I tell them that I don’t have any plans to retire soon ­– I plan to keep this going for as long as I can.”  

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