Running on African soil for the first time, Beatie Deutsch proves that anything is possible.
Beatie Deutsch is hoping to use this year’s Sanlam Cape Town Marathon as a step towards qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, aiming for a world championship time of 2:37:00 at Africa’s “must-run” city marathon taking place on the 15 September 2019.
Deutsch, an American-born orthodox Jewish mother of five, has a personal best of 2:42:00 – remarkable, given that she ran her first marathon as recently as February 2016. How did she do it? “Dream big, set the bar high, and then take baby steps to get there,” she says.
After finishing high school in the USA, Deutsch travelled to Israel to study Judaism. She met her husband there, and the couple settled down and started a family. Between parenting and holding down a full-time job as a communications officer, meaningful exercise wasn’t a possibility. “But that all changed one afternoon while on holiday in 2015,” she says. In a beach race with her five siblings – an annual family tradition – she came last. “I remember turning around to my husband while gasping for breath, and telling him, ‘I’m going to run a marathon.’”
Four months later, Deutsch ran her first marathon in Tel Aviv. She didn’t set any time goals and thought she would finish at 4:30 but came in at an impressive 3:27. The marathon bug had bitten.
A year later and seven months into her pregnancy with her fifth child, she ran the Jerusalem Marathon, a much hillier course than Tel Aviv’s. “I couldn’t walk afterwards, the last 16 kilometres were really intense. My kids pushed me in a 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!”
In 2018, for her third long run, Deutsch set the goal of becoming the fastest woman for her country on the course – which she achieved, setting a new course record at 3:09 for women at the Jerusalem Marathon.
Crucial to her many moments of success and joy is the emphasis this unassuming woman, driven by a deep sense of conviction and purpose, places on her faith. Her religion’s modesty requirements mean that she runs races fully covered, wearing a skirt that reaches below her knees. She admits that at times this has slowed her down, but adds, “My faith is what powers me to the finish line. It’s the knowledge that my strength and speed as a runner are really all a gift from God. I can’t take credit for winning any races. I know that I still need to show up and do the hard work but, at the end of the day, I know that ultimately it’s in God’s hands.”
Deutsch holds the wellbeing of others close to her heart, and was deeply affected by the tragic death at age14 of a cousin who suffered from an eating disorder. Her Jerusalem Marathon victory enabled her to raise over R380 000 to help establish a facility to help young people with mental illness adjust to life post hospitalisation. “I’m prouder of that than of the marathon victory itself,” she says.
Preparing for her country’s national championships at the Tiberias Marathon, she started doing regular speed workouts and enjoying the support of long runs with her training group, before winning the national half-marathon championships in pouring rain in a time of 1:19. But it was in January this year that Deutsch’s personal mantra came into sharp focus. Caught by surprise by the course record-holder in front of her on the turnaround point of the out-and-back Tiberias Marathon course along the Sea of Galilee, “I started saying over and over again, ‘God is with me every step of the way and anything is possible,’ and really believing it.” After crossing the halfway mark, she picked up speed. “I was right behind her for two minutes, and she said to me, ‘This is not my day,’ and she encouraged me to go ahead. I did, and won in a time of 2:42. I wasn’t even tired.”
The experience, says Deutsch, “shifted my mental perspective” and she went on to win the national championship, and then qualified for state funding to become an Olympic candidate for 2020.
Part of her preparation will see her undertake several world-recognised marathons to incrementally better her personal-best times. “I chose the Cape Town Marathon because the timing works well with my altitude training, and because it’s a Gold-standard course, which gives me an opportunity to try and place, and move up the rankings for Tokyo,” she says.
The Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, Africa’s only IAAF Gold Label-status city marathon, will this year host its strongest and most ambitious elite marathon runner field to date, with no fewer than 17 IAAF Gold Label elite athletes taking part. The 42.2km marathon follows two days of back-to-back running action, including 5km, 10km, 12km and 22km ‘Peace’ runs, a bumper registration and expo event at Century City Conference Centre, a breakfast with South African sports veteran Francois Pienaar, and an afternoon ‘high tea’ function for women in sport and health.
“Anything is possible if you set your mind to it,” says Deutsch. “Don’t let your fears hold you back. You won’t reach your goals overnight, but if you map out a plan to get there and keep showing up, then you can achieve your dreams.”
For more information regarding the marathon’s weekend festival of running, visit www.capetownmarathon.com