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Beatie Deutsch: from non-runner to Israel’s national marathon champion in three years

Beatie Deutsch has some distance to go to fulfil her dream of going to Tokyo for the marathon, but her inspiring story is grounds for optimism

Beatie Deutsch trains hard, but she also understands the mental game like no else. Talking to her about her marathon experience is like receiving divine inspiration, it’s that powerful. And it’s a good thing, because as Israel’s national marathon champion trying to go to the Tokyo Olympics, with a personal best that’s sitting at 2:42 (world championship standard is 2:37:00, and Olympic standard is 2:29:30), Deutsch knows she has some work ahead of her.

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Beatie Deutsch, Israel’s national marathon champion, with her children

For Deutsch, her religious faith is the biggest part of the mental game. Raised an ultra-orthodox Jew in Passaic, New Jersey, she did what many Jewish teenagers do after high school, and travelled to Israel to study Judaism. She met her husband there, and they decided to emigrate and become Israeli citizens. That was in 2009. A former gymnast and a black belt in taekwondo, Deutsch spent the next six years having four babies, and getting no exercise. She told her husband she was tired of being out of shape, and that she was going to run a marathon. She was 26.

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Birth of a marathoner

Unlike many people who quickly discover that going straight from couch to marathon is not the wisest plan, Deutsch’s body adapted well to the four months of training. She didn’t have any injuries, and, not surprisingly, she relished the time to herself. Her first marathon was at Tel Aviv in February 2016–”a nice, flat course.” She didn’t set a time goal, but figured she would run around 4:30. She finished in 3:27. She was hooked.

The following year Deutsch trained for and ran the Jerusalem Marathon, where she lives–a much hillier course than Tel Aviv. By the time the race came around, Deutsch was seven months pregnant with her fifth child. Not surprisingly, this marathon went a little slower–4:08. “My foot was bothering me, and the last 10 miles were really intense,” Deutsch says. “I couldn’t walk afterwards. The kids pushed me in the stroller! But it’s the best I’ve ever felt in pregnancy, labour and delivery. You don’t have to run a marathon, but I highly recommend exercise during pregnancy!”

Beatie Deutsch

Strong values, fast legs

With marathon training, Deutsch says, “Much of it is… mental. It gives you strength for other challenges.” Her religion’s modesty requirements mean she races with her hair covered, and wearing a skirt that reaches below her knees. She admits that on those occasions when running in a private area has allowed her to don a tank top and shorts, she felt freer and more comfortable. And she volunteers that her clothing choices may cost her a little time on the course. She also says, without a hint of judgment of other women’s choices, that she’s very proud of not compromising on something that’s so important to her. “My gift of running is not from me, it’s from God,” Deutsch asserts. “I worked hard, but God helped me and gave me the strength, and it’s a reminder of that.”

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For her third marathon, Deutsch decided to set a more serious goal: to be the fastest Israeli woman in the 2018 Jerusalem Marathon. She did it, in 3:09, a new course record.

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“My goal is to encourage other women to pursue distance running and improve our field in Israel,” says Deutsch. “In America it’s amazing.”

It sounds almost too good to be true, until you learn that Deutsch was driven not only by personal goals and her deep faith, but also by a family tragedy. Deutsch’s cousin Daniella, who had suffered from anorexia nervosa, died by suicide at age 14. Deutsch and her aunt (Daniella’s mother) had a vision to create a facility to help young people with mental illness adjust to life post-hospitalization. Thanks to the publicity from her marathon victory, Deutsch was able to raise $25,000 in seed money, and Beit Daniella (Daniella’s House) is now open and serving clients. “I’m more proud of that than of the victory itself,” she says.

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The national championship

“After that, people told me, you’ve got to get serious, get a coach and join a group,” Deutsch says. So she did, and started training for the Israel national championships at the Tiberias Marathon in January 2019. For the first time, she was doing regular speed workouts, and she enjoyed the camaraderie of the long runs with her training group. A month before the marathon, she ran the national half-marathon championships in the pouring rain, and won. (Her time was 1:19.)

“It felt so good!” Deutsch exclaims. “I knew I was doing well and that my training was coming together.” Finally her biggest day yet arrived. She and her coach targeted 2:48. Just before reaching the turnaround point on the out-and-back course, right on pace and thinking she was in the lead, Deutsch saw the current course record-holder already on the return stretch. “I was shocked, because she was not on the start list,” says Deutsch, “and she has a 2:35 personal best. My heart sank. I’m a big believer in mantras, and I started saying to myself, God is with me every step of the way and anything is possible. And I really believed it.”

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“When I crossed the halfway mark, I decided to speed up, since I had nothing to lose, and the third-place woman had dropped back. My coach had said ‘don’t go fast til 30K.’ But I just kept repeating my mantra the whole time, God is with me every step of the way and anything is possible. And I really believed it. And finally I caught up to her. I was right behind her for two minutes, and she said ‘this is not my day,’ and she encouraged me to go ahead. I felt good, so I did–and I won, in 2:42. I didn’t even feel tired! My mind was blown and my mental perspective shifted. This was the most powerful experience for me.”

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What’s next for Beatie Deutsch?

As a result of her winning the national championship, Deutsch qualified for funding from the state of Israel to be an Olympic candidate for 2020. “Now I have to improve a lot,” she concedes. But given the rate at which she has lowered her personal bests, it seems obvious she is only just starting to tap her full potential as a marathoner. Deutsch is currently training at altitude in Mammoth Lakes, California for three weeks, and plans to run the Capetown Marathon on September 15. Though she realizes it’s unlikely she’ll reach Olympic standard (2:29:30), she hopes that a good result–potentially world championship standard, which is 2:37– will improve her international ranking enough to get her to Tokyo. (Deutsch will not attend the world championships even if she qualifies, since the marathon is scheduled for a Friday evening, and she observes shabbat.)

Like many runners with young children, Deutsch mostly trains at 5:30 in the morning. Her kids range in age from two to nine, and she loves to get them involved, making signs for her races, and bringing them souvenirs when it’s not practical to take them along. Deutsch has gear sponsorships from Nike and Garmin, but no salary. Money is tight since she quit her job with a non-profit two months ago in order to focus more seriously on her training, and her husband is studying computer programming (though she credits him with always being willing to help around the house). The Israeli Olympic Committee funding helps. Deutsch earns a little money from motivational speaking, and she is building a following on Strava and Instagram (her handle, appropriately, is marathonmother).

But when Deutsch says her Olympic dreams are not entirely for herself, we believe her. “I want to empower women,” she says. “I didn’t even realize how much I needed this outlet for myself as a mom. So many women have told me I’ve inspired them to start running and to take time for themselves. What is the expression? You can’t pour from an empty cup.”