Wednesday, December 4, 2019

2019 Inspiring People of the Year Galit Birenboim-Navon

Meet the Beautiful and Talented Galit!
Running to My Next Dream

My name is Galit Birenboim-Navon. I’m married and the mother of two wonderful girls. By profession, I am Marketing Communications Manager at the national airline of Israel. Several years ago, I felt the need to do something new, to take on additional challenges. And I found them in running.  I started at the very beginning, right from kilometer 1, and slowly but surely worked up to a marathon distance.  After internalizing the fact that I had a marathon under my belt – and another and yet another – I realized that I was seeking a different experience: it just didn’t satisfy me completely. Fortunately, and entirely by chance, I learned about a new world – the ultra-marathon. And that is how I was exposed to new experiences that light up my life.

Training in the trails, in nature. Setting out in the darkness of night and finishing with the rising sun and the light of day. After a period of training, the first goal was set, the dream that was both great and frightening: running an ultra-marathon – 61 kilometers.

This was my first step in this magnificent world. And from there I continued to run, to train and to compete.

What began as a hobby, became part of who I am, a part of my body and soul.
The hard work paid off and apart from the pleasure gleaned from the training period, I also had achievements in Israel – including becoming Israel’s 60 km ultra-marathon champion, placing first in a 100-km trail race, and more.

In 2015, after winning the 100-km trail race, I heard of an ultra-marathon niche unfamiliar to me: an area that did not exist in Israel – the multi-day race. This is a race against the clock in which the winner covers the greatest distance in a given time span. At the same time, I met an ultra-marathon runner and coach named Kobi Oren who competes – and wins – in many multi-day races around the world.
I decided to enter the world of multi-day races and Kobi became my coach – and continues to be my coach up to this day. our training began and very quickly I began to participate in races around the world.

The first dream was scheduled: a 12-hour race in Switzerland – 2016

Basel. Midnight. The starter’s pistol is sounded. The 12-hour race begins. It’s raining. And raining. And it is cold!! And here I am, from Israel, where rain often means a few drops. Is Europe so different? Evidently. Rain. Rain. Never-ending rain. Twelve hours of cold and rain drench the body and freeze, and water-log the clothing. The body becomes petrified.

Noon comes and so does the final whistle. I hear it and simply don’t believe that this moment has come. Twelve hours of torrential rain, temperatures of 2 - 6 C, accompanied by strong winds. And here I am, the first time in my life, on the finish line of a race, broken and in tears. I ran 105 km. but the experience was hard for me. Very hard.

24-Hour Race: Redemption – 2016

Half a year later, I am again on the starting line in Switzerland, this time for a 24-hour race.
In the morning, the sun is shining and with it, my doubts. ‘What was I do I run 24 hours?’ Before I can answer myself, the whistle blows and I’m off.

And yes, this was my redemption. Racing with a happy heart. It was a challenge. It was hard. But the energies were good. My running flowed and with it I set new records for myself. I ran 100 kilometers. And then, 100 miles, for the first time in my life! And then on to the end of the race – 187.6 km. Second place among the women. An unthinkable distance for me. This time my face shone at the end of the race. Happiness and tiredness joined forces to smile. Yes. I deserved this redemption.

 48-Hour Race – 2018

My dreams continue to evolve. New targets. And now a target that is harder than ever to say out loud: a 48-hour race. After months of training, I take off for the Czech Republic.

48 hours is a very long time. Time for joy, time for song, time for calm, and now the sun begins to set, red and orange: my first sunset in the race. Friday evening. Quiet. At home, my family is probably sitting around the Shabbat table and the weekend calm falls on the streets. I am here, running into the night. Thoughts float and flow. Sometimes they plunge deep into subjects and sometimes they disappear, and with them, there is a kind of quiet. Hours pass and its sunrise. Like the tide coming in and going out, the light rises and the night dissolves. The cold takes over and then is replaced by the pleasant warmth of morning, followed by the hard heat of noon. Hot soup at night gives way to cold melting ice cream in the day.   

The hours pass. This time the journey is different. Different for the soul and different for the body. The body covers distances that are simply numbers. But I really can’t grasp their meaning. And here I am at kilometer 190...191 and soon it’ll be 200. Such a perfect round number. And I am enjoying a wonderful wave of energy, running with a “party” playing in my headphones and the flag of Israel at the ready. My heart is bursting from emotion ready for the next step that I make and for the announcer intoning: Galit Birenboim-Navon, from Israel, 200 km! It’s mad excitement and it’s happening.

I did it. but... just a minute... the race isn’t over... the clock continues to tick and I have to continue to run. Minutes upon minutes. And again, the sun is about to set, but this time the darkness brings the rain. The body is already tired when it meets the long rainy night. Until it happens, the final siren sounds. And that’s it.

I am happy. Tired. But happy.
I can’t take it in – 281.6 km. it doesn’t make sense. It’s inconceivable.

72-Hour Race – 2019

Last June I reached a peak when I took part in a 72-hour race in South Africa – and came in first overall, after running 333 km. Again, an inconceivable journey. A journey of the body, a journey of the soul, the mind and the psyche. But this time, the journey was created in order to reach what I believe is the ultimate target – a 6-day race.

I am the first Israeli woman to participate in multi-day single-stage races, and today I am the Israeli woman who has run the farthest distance. But that is ‘only’ statistics. For me, the real thing is what running has done for my life.

Today, I breathe, think and dream running. I ‘work’ at it on a daily basis, diligently. In return, I gain moments of joy, pleasure and satisfaction. Running has become part of who I am. When I don’t run, I feel something is missing, I am incomplete. When I run, I am filled with energies.

To the observer, this is not always clear. I am often asked what running means to me, what I find in it. So I will try to explain. In running I find quietude. I find excitement, both internal and external. I find a place for thinking and inner searching. I find answers to questions that I asked and to some questions that I have still not formulated.

Through running I am open to the beauty in life, beyond the daily sights. I am exposed to nature at the most unusual hours, sometimes at sunrise and others at sunset. I am exposed to it in open spaces, in forests, at the sea. Sometimes I see the whole picture and sometimes only small particles; I even enjoy a patch of sky and a sun ray peeking into the city.

In running I find a physical and mental challenge through journeys that I dream about. To the onlooker watching a runner in action, running may seem to be a mechanical, structured, physical act. Technical movement and progress. It’s possible that that is how I began too, but along the way something changed in me. My journey became something else. The act changed and with it the depths of adherence, pleasure and fulfillment.   

Since then, I have been living in an amazing journey, in which I discovered a passion for running, for distances and for nature that help me to develop both my professional and personal lives. Running the ultra-marathon is for me, a complex physical journey that is emotionally and mentally charged.  It means coping internally and externally. It is challenging, fulfilling and meaningful to me. To my essence, my faith and my actions. I know that the road is hard and that I have to work to get there. I aim high and ‘run long distances.’
In my daily life, my family and friends see me coping, breaking down and also succeeding. I work hard and believe in the way I have chosen and in my own capability. I break through barriers and manage and deal with the various challenges that arise. My daughters know that I am not Wonder Woman, but rather a regular woman who dreams, dares, with passion and devotion to the journey, to my way of life.

Today I am moving forward. My next dream is already in place – a 6-day race. It is there when I sleep and it is there when I am awake. I am in awe of it and yearn for it and will continue with the same passion until I stand breathless with excitement at the starting line, on the way to my next dream.


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