Triathlon isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you mention Israel. More likely conflict, bloodshed and religion flash before your eyes. But, as host to the ETU European Championships in April this year, Eilat is certainly now on the world triathlon map.
On 20 January, 850 people from 17 nations stood in darkness wondering whether a January ironman or half ironman (run simultaneously) was the best New Year wake up call. My mind was struggling to remember the time perfected routines of last summer, and questions were beginning to arise in my mind whether this was a good idea. Most pressing was my lack of any swimming training in the past six months and non-existence open-water swimming. My heart was beating with nerves rather than excitement.
Tinted goggles dimmed the light further as I pulled over my blue swim hat. The pro wave entered the water as the sun jumped above the horizon bathing the rest of us in glorious sunlight before it was our turn. With 20ft visibility and coral fed fish, my swimming woes soon disappeared replaced with awe and wonder. The eventual winner of the half, London Irish Rory Maguire, laughed, "I was so transfixed by the underwater beauty that I realised I’d stopped trying and had to call on my mental whip to get me moving again."
In the full race, Amir Bachar was first out of the water and began layering clothes and arm warmers as he prepared for a long climb into the mountains. This Friday (the Jewish Saturday) was the coldest day in Israel for the past five years, which meant the local competitors were shivering, but us Brits were relieved to only be struggling through the mountainous course in temperatures amongst the high teens.
The course follows the Egyptian border and, after unrest between the two countries recently, there was a large number of Israeli soldiers present, all casually attached to guns that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi film. I raised a hand to say hello, and they raised their fists in response and cheered my spinning legs.
Meanwhile at the front Lior Zach Maorwas had moved into first place and was extending his lead on Tom Marmareli. Tom is a renowned runner in Israel and Lior knew he had to do something special on the first two disciplines if he was to stand a chance. After racking the bikes in the mountains a very fast descent by foot followed into town and 30km of loops left the boys level but Tom, pushing himself to new limits pulled clear and finished three minutes ahead.
Collapsed by the railings at the end of the race, Tom recognised my true British looks and stated he was glad Maguire wasn’t in the full race. I laughed, looking at Rory, hobbling in the back ground saying, "I think he feels the same way."
Two times Kona supremo, Norman Stadler, was by the sidelines to watch the race and said, "With the wind, hills, deserted landscape, superb organization, this race has a Kona cum Lanzarote feel to it." The tri superstar looked a little out of sorts – you could tell he was craving to give this course a run for it’s money.
I finished with a smile and in 10th place overall (not bad given there were 10 pros racing), before I was tackled by a mob of helpers offering massage, soup and drinks.
With an opportunity to see Jerusalem, float in the dead sea, with one of the 7 wonders of the world, Petra in Jordan, a stones throw away, a tri in Eilat Israel could fast become one of the most action packed, exciting, intoxicating experiences you can have. Register for 2013 at www.israman.co.il.
Full distance (general):
1st: Tom Marmareli. 10:26:36
2nd: Lior Zach Maor. 10:30:20
3rd: Amir Bachar. 11:17:54
Full distance (women):
1st: Irena Mazin. 11:45:45
2nd: Dora Heller. 11:48:14
3rd: Miriam Bar On. 13:04:02
1st: Rory Mguire (Ireland). 05:01:28
2nd: Avishai Raviv. 05:12:35
3rd: Matan Kassif. 05:13:13