Marc Hendel ran a few marathons and hated them. He learned that he was better suited to only run half that distance.
Now he’s biting off Israel in 13-mile chunks; to be specific, he’s consuming three of those helpings daily.
The goal is to run the length of the country in nine days and raise money for American and Israeli nonprofit organizations.
The 23-year-old Florida native — whose family now lives in Broomall — ran competitively in high school and for a club at Washington University in St. Louis. As an undergrad, he attended a Panim el Panim seminar advising people on how to use their personal passions for the greater good. He decided that his feet could do more than just pound pavement.
In 2009, Hendel started a race to benefit Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri; the event grew to become the largest student-run 5K in the Midwest, he said.
The 292-mile Strengthening Bonds Run from north of Haifa to Eilat will raise money for Big Brothers of Eastern Missouri and for Youth Futures, a similar Israeli organization. He said he and others researched the subject and could not find another American who had done a similar run.
“I’ve seen the tremendous impact that having one mentor can have for these kids, how it can change their self confidence, their goals,” said Hendel, speaking by telephone as he set off on his journey on March 12.. “This is me doing one little part that I can in Israel to give that one extra kid the mentor they deserve”
Hendel is in Israel as a participant with the Philadelphia delegation of Project Otzma, a 10-month community service program sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel. He worked as an English teacher in an elementary school in Karmiel and then moved south to Netivot where he volunteered with Youth Futures. Netivot is a sister city to Philadelphia through The Jewish Agency’s Partership2Gether initiative.
He started the run at dawn Tuesday with a backpack containing a pair of two-liter water bottles. For the first three days, he will largely be on his own but volunteers will start to join him on the fourth day, he said.
The timing of his run is perfect — for a dip in the Mediterranean Sea. Israel is in the midst of an unseasonal heat wave, with temperatures forecasted to climb into the 90s on Friday.
Hendel said he hopes to avoid running during the hottest part of the day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. He plans on draining one bottle about every 45 minutes and stopping at gas stations along the way.
When he started Tuesday, he had only done an ultra-marathon distance once before and was unsure how his body would respond. That evening on a phone call from a dinner in Haifa, he sounded upbeat. But earlier in the day, he had been dragging.
“I drank a little bit less water than I should have,” Hendel said. “And the result was me feeling pretty crappy during my afternoon break instead of pretty chipper.”
Hendel and his supporters launched a website, RunIsrael.org , where visitors can follow his run and donate to the cause.