Halfway through the Tiberias Marathon in Tiberias, Israel, on January 4, Bracha “Beatie” Deutsch thought victory was in the bag. But then she saw another female runner, Israeli marathon record holder Elena Dolinin, far up ahead, and her heart sank.
“She is a 2:35 marathoner, and I didn’t think she would slow down,” Deutsch told Runner’s World. “I was disappointed, because my family was all there watching.”
Cheering on the sidelines were the 29-year-old’s husband and their five children. If being a mother didn’t make the runner stand out from the rest of the elite field, her running attire—a long-sleeved top, head scarf, and skirt that hits below the knee—certainly did. She practices ultra-orthodox Judaism, in which modest dress is required, she said.
If her running outfits turn any heads, though, she doesn’t notice—she’s too focused on her race to care.
Deutsch passed through the half marathon mark around 1:24, running a pace that felt fluid and easy. A few weeks prior, she’d won Israel’s half marathon national championships in 1:19, and she knew she had more left in the tank. But it was her faith that drove her to turn up her turnover and reel in Dolinin.
“I said to myself, ‘If God is with me every step of the way, then anything is possible,’” she said. “The race wasn’t over until I crossed the finish line.”
Deutsch picked up the pace, dropping the third place female and picking off men in front of her. A few miles later, someone from the crowd shouted that the leader wasn’t too far ahead. With her Nike 4% Vaporfly shoes light and fast beneath her, Deutsch ticked off mile splits that were surprisingly quick. She hoped that the dreaded wall wasn’t looming. At last, she caught up and passed Dolinin, holding the lead all the way to the line.
She won in a 27-minute personal best time of 2:42:18. And she set another record: Her second half marathon split was 1:18, a minute faster than her best.
“It was amazing,” Deutsch said of her victory. “My dream is to represent Israel in the Olympics, and it’s really validating to run that time on a windy and hilly course. I know now that my dreams are in reach.”
Though she’s now within striking distance to the best marathoners in the world, Deutsch is still, shockingly, new to running. Before moving to Jerusalem in 2008 and becoming an Israeli citizen, she grew up in New Jersey, where she did gymnastics, but didn’t participate in track or cross country, she said.
She met her husband, Michael, an avid cyclist, shortly after immigrating and becoming an Israeli citizen, and they married in 2009. Over the next six years, she had four children—and between raising them and working full-time as a communication officer for an Olami international Jewish organization, she didn’t have much time for exercise.
“I realized how out of shape I was when we went on a vacation in 2015,” she said. “Every year, our family races each other on the beach, and I usually win. But this year I came in dead last. That’s when I knew I wanted to get in shape again.”
To keep herself motivated to run, she registered for the Tel Aviv Marathon on February 26, 2016.
“I figured that nobody shows up to a marathon without doing the training, so I would have to commit to it,” Deutsch said. She slowly built up her mileage, waking up at 5 a.m. each morning to run an hour or so before her children woke up at 6:30. When she toed the line in Tel Aviv, she figured she could finish in around 4:40. Instead, she crossed the line in 3:27.
“It was so much faster than I expected, and I felt great,” she said. “I was hooked after that.”
She signed up for the following year’s Tel Aviv Marathon soon after. But when she started her training for that race, she discovered she was pregnant with her fifth child.
“It’s hard to motivate yourself to train when you’re pregnant,” she said. “But I knew running gave me energy and made me feel better, so I kept doing it.”Despite being seven months pregnant on the February 2017 race day, Deutsch finished her second 26.2-miler in 4:08—a respectable time for anyone, but even more so considering her circumstances. Her bulging belly, along with her long sleeves and skirt, caught the attention of many during the marathon. “I think people were surprised to be passed not only by a pregnant woman, but by a woman wearing so much clothing,” she said. “People have this misconception that skirts hold you back. But it’s just something I’m used to.” After she had her baby, Deutsch some time off, then joined a competitive running club in Israel to train for the Tiberias Marathon. To prepare for the January race, she built up base mileage in August, then September through December, worked up to 62-mile weeks, mixing in intervals, tempos, and long runs with her daily miles. On occasion, her coach would ask her if she was overheating in her modest clothing—especially in the blistering hot summer, when the temperatures can reach the upper 80s and 90s—but Deutsch just laughed.
“I feel really proud of the way I dress,” she said. “I’m proud that I can still pursue my dreams without sacrificing my values. There are a lot of messages out there telling runners to look and dress a certain way, but it doesn’t have to be all about how your body looks when you run.”
She continued, “I get a lot sweatier than others, but that’s it.” To help keep herself cool, she has her shirt sleeves cropped to quarter-length, and she buys lightweight, sweat-wicking skirts with leggings attached, like those made by Kosher Casual.
For now, Deutsch is taking a few weeks off from running, but the “Marathon Mother” (as she’s known on Instagram) is looking forward to shaving more minutes off her marathon time this fall. But first, something a little shorter.
“My daughter really wants to run a 5K,” she said. “I think she wants to beat me.”