Petra Desert Marathon 2014 – Part 2 – Vin Diesel and The Madaba Map


In 2011 I traveled to Arizona and ran the Mount Lemmon Marathon. It was billed as “The World’s Toughest Road Marathon.” The Start Line was just outside Tucson which sits at about 2500ft (760m) and the Finish Line is at 9159ft (2790m) which was an elevation gain of over 6000ft. There was no downhill section on the course. It was uphill the entire way with an average gradient of over 6% and there are places we would hit well over 10%. The closer you got to the top, the less air there was. I am not talking about a staggering difference for someone walking around, but at the end of a marathon when your body is starving and worn out, the difference was major. On the logo, you can see the elevation profile.


Mount Lemmon was easy compared to The Petra Desert Marathon.

My friend and fellow LIVESTRONG Leader, Anne had suggested running the Petra Desert Marathon to a group of us who like the taste of adventure. In the beginning there were a few of us who showed interest, but by the deadline, Anne and I were the ones with race numbers. Anne was keen on the Half and I was to do the Full. The event was put on by Albatros Adventure, a Danish outfit that runs a number of “Adventure Marathons.” Their stable includes The Great Wall Marathon in China, The Big Five Marathon in Africa and the Polar Circle Marathon in Greenland, among others. Their trips are billed as “Adventure Marathons” because they are all held in exotic locations and include adventurous travel. We were going to the Middle East.

Technically it is called “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” but most call it “Jordan” for short.


The idea of traveling in the Middle East was worrisome, and we were traveling into the heart of it all. The Syrian border is less than 50 miles from Amman. I spoke with friends in Washington DC, researched online, and everything I found said Jordan is very welcoming of tourists. There is no oil in Jordan and a large part of their economy is based on tourism. We stayed in Jordan for over a week and at no point did I ever feel uncomfortable. That said, there are some harsh realities there. There are almost 2 million refugees living in three large camps to the north. We did not see these camps, but we did see armed military everywhere. The men in the ball caps had small arms while the guys wearing the berets all had FN FAL assault rifles, AK47s or HK MP5 submachine guns. It was serious hardware.

Panorama of Amman Jordan

Panorama of Amman Jordan

Most of the buildings in Amman are white in colour, and square in shape. Most of them have rebar sticking out of the roof as if it was still under construction. It seemed out of every three buildings, one was unoccupied, unfinished and seemed to have been sitting there like that for some time. The city has spent untold amounts of money to install really beautiful, ornate tile sidewalks in the residential sections. However these sidewalks are unusable because there are very large olive trees growing in the middle of them, so people walk in the street with the cars.


Mosque with the moon. Amman, Jordan.


In Amman there are Mosques every 20 or 30 blocks. Each Mosque is different, yet all of them have the same type of structure having a dome roof and a small tower. On top of the tower will be a loudspeaker system over which a prayer will be said 5 times a day. While I don’t speak Arabic, the song, or prayer or chant would always be lovely to hear.

If someone could find a way to make money with black plastic bags they would instantly become a billionaire in Jordan because the bags are everywhere in and around Amman. The ground, roadsides and trees are strewn with millions and millions black plastic bags. That is not an exaggeration by any means. Farmers will have put up fences of barbed wire and millions of black plastic bags will drape the wire. It is an ecological nightmare. Once you get away from the urban areas, and into the desert, you don’t see any. Someone with an entrepreneurial flair could go in there, ask the government for a little start up money, and call it a “Beatification of Jordan” project, hire some of those refugees to pick up trash and pay them by the pound. Then take the recycled plastic and resell it back into the plastics industry. Jordan would get a face lift, and the business owner could get a few years of tax brakes (possibly) the refugees could feed themselves, and the country could get more tourist dollars because no one wants to hang out in a place with plastic bags in the trees. But I am just a silly American venting on the internet.

After flying in we had a day to tour Amman on our own before we met the others. We wanted to see the Roman Theater located downtown near the shopping districts. To get there we needed a taxi. We were lucky finding a taxi driver who spoke English. He was a younger guy and he drive a spotless (SPOTLESS) Subaru AWD. Driving in Amman is a contact sport… like being in The Fast and the Furious. We had Vin Diesel driving our Taxi. We told him the Roman Theater and he said in broken English “Citadel! Theater Rainbow Street! Yes! I take you! 15 Dinar to be yours for an hour. I wait. You go and see.” ZOOM! And we were off. Up on two wheels at one point, zipping past situations I know I would have hit someone, blazing across town. As quick as it started, it stopped. We were at the Citadel. (To be honest I did not know what the Citadel was.) But it had closed just moments before. The nice guard with the machine pistol and the scowl told us it was closed. I have a great photo of the Citadel in the sunset because that was as close as we got to it.


Back to Vin and YEEEEOOOOOWWW we were off. I could see the theater but we seemed to be going the wrong way… Vin stopped in the middle of the road and pointed to a rail on the sidewalk. “Come.” We got out and just over the railing…

Roman Theater. Amman, Jordan. Thanks to Vin Diesel the cab driver.

Roman Theater. Amman, Jordan.

Vin Diesel was earning his cash. ZOOM we were off again and suddenly we were at the Theater. Sadly it had closed at the same time the Citadel did, but it is more accessible and we were able to get good photos. A local man approached us saying he was an off duty tour guide. He gave us a 60 second low down of the Theater pointing out some Roman writing we had not noticed before. He then suggested we step off to the side where we could get a better photo. The hair on my neck stood up and I thought we were in trouble. This is how all the kidnapping movies start… but my fears were unfounded. He was trying to get us to go to a shop who I am sure his family owned. We looked around the shop and I bought a coffee table book of Jordan. In the middle of the shop was a bowl of different older Middle Eastern money which was for sale. There were bills which had Sadam Hussain, Muammar Gaddafi, and others I did not recognize. If I were to regret anything from my time in the Middle East, I regret not buying some of those bills. They were kinda cool. We headed out and Vin Diesel zipped us down Rainbow Street and back to the hotel.

Vin Diesel the Fast and Furious cab driver in Amman, Jordan.

Vin Diesel the Fast and Furious cab driver in Amman, Jordan.

Our group was chauffeured around Jordan in a large bus. There were about 15 of us on the bus. 11 different nations all came together in the Middle East to run a marathon in the desert. Running a marathon is no easy task, 26.2 miles (42K) A lot of people dream of finishing just one in their lifetime, they see it as a crazy thing to do. Then there are the group of crazy people who run a marathon each year, to better their Finishing Time or even to qualify for one of the 6 Majors. The first group of people often looks at the second group and calls them “Crazy.” Well… then out of the crazy group there are a select group that run Ultra Marathons. These are marathons over 26.2 miles, like 100miles. The Marathoners look at the Ultras and call them crazy. Then there are people like myself and Anne who run Adventure Marathons. We “run where the brave dare not go. “ We are the ones the crazy crazies call crazy.


Running a marathon in a Middle Eastern desert is cruel and barbaric. Anne and I were lucky we have established relationships with a few supporting companies who provided us with some outstanding equipment which made the difference on race day. X-Bionic, Polar Electro, and Raw Bite each helped us complete this monumental task. Without each of their support, this would truly have been impossible.



Our group toured Mount Nebo, where Moses looked down into the Promised Land which he was destined never to reach. The Church of Moses was under construction and we were unable to view the brilliant mosaic floor. However we were able to see some original pieces set aside in a viewing tent and two large pieces which have been done in recent times. Mosaic artwork is one of my favorites and these pieces did not disappoint.

Plaque describing view at Mount Nebo.

Plaque describing view at Mount Nebo.


Then we got to visit Saint George’s Church and view the ultimate mosaic which is called “The Madaba Map.” Dating to the 6th century, the Madaba Map has been proven accurate which has helped explorers with archaeological finds as resent as 2013. Mosaic art really is one of my favorites and I loved the Madaba Map. I could have easily made a vacation of viewing it for a week.

Mosaic sign on the front of St. George's Church.

Mosaic sign on the front of St. George’s Church.

In an adjoining building a chart hangs where our guide expertly described the Madaba Map section by section.

In an adjoining building a chart hangs where our guide expertly described the Madaba Map section by section.


The Madaba Map


My favorite section of the Madaba Map showing fish in the fresh water of the Jordan River, but another fish swimming away from the Dead Sea because of the salt.

It was a four hour bus ride to the hotel we would call home for the next week.

Beit Zaman is a breathtaking hotel. It sits on a hillside and overlooks the valley town bellow. The residents of the town are all friendly and curious about these funny runners dressed in spandex running up and down their hills. After unpacking Anne and I met in the lobby with some of the other runners to go for a training run. All I can say is damn those hills. Anne is from Copenhagen which is flat, so I know the hills were killing her. This marathon was not going to be easy.


As I said in Part 1, Anne and I were both here in support of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. We took time the night before to put LIVESTRONG decals and wrist bands on our water bottles. We wanted to make sure we had something that showed our support.

X-Bionic "The Trick" Running shirt and shorts, Asics Nimbus, Polar RC3 and RCX5 GPS, Raw Bites and LIVESTRONG

X-Bionic “The Trick” Running shirt and shorts, Asics Nimbus, Polar RC3 and RCX5 GPS, Raw Bites and LIVESTRONG

Then I retired for the evening going over plans for Race Day. Visualization, preparation, rest and relaxation are key elements to a successful marathon.


Up next, Part 3:

RACE DAY: The Goddess of Fortune and Beethoven’s “Ode to Pepsi”

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