ENDURING EILAT: ISRAEL’S FULL-DISTANCE RACE
EACH JANUARY, EILAT, a city at the southernmost tip of Israel, welcomes athletes from around the world to one of the most challenging and scenic long course triathlons you’ll find. The Israman triathlon pushes competitors to their physical limit in ways other triathlons can’t, all while they experience one of the most interesting parts of the world.
The Israman offers half- and full-distance races. Both require some serious hill-climbing in your race preparation. Athletes enjoy a spectacular view of the sun beginning to rise over Jordan as they start the swim on the beach and head into the Red Sea. Once they complete the swim loop and head out of T1, the climbing on the point-to-point bike course begins – 3,200 m for the full and 1,890 m for the half distance – all through a lunar-like landscape of mountains above the Arava Valley, part of the Sinai Desert. ISRAMAN TRIATHLON
It’s important to bundle up for the ride as temperatures are typically under 10 C in the morning and drop as you ascend. Those who can focus on anything other than the cold, the strong crosswinds and the pain in their legs will notice the massive steel and barbed wire fence that separates Israel from Egypt.
Because of a history of conflict in the area, extra security measures are taken during the race, according to race director Boaz Ribak.
Athletes complete a rolling out and back section before returning to T2, which is still up in the mountains. From there they begin the descent back down to Eilat on foot. For athletes not used to running downhill, the first 10 km of the run provides quite a shock to the system. While you get fantastic views of the mountains and the Red Sea below, pacing and attention is required on the steep descents. The latter half of the run course takes you along the boardwalks around Eilat’s seaside resorts and entertainment stretch, where crowds of spectators cheer the competitors into the finish line.
While the resort-town of Eilat offers lots to do for the entire family – there’s a fantastic underwater observatory nearby that showcases the Red Sea’s beautiful coral reef and sea life – a trip to Israel for Israman would not be complete without touring the country’s other top destinations. Getting around Israel is easy. A flight between Eilat and Tel Aviv is around an hour, or a couple hours drive, and it’s about a four-hour drive to Jerusalem. While each of the three cities offer their own unique flavour, there’s equally as much to see en route between each.
Between Eilat and Tel Aviv lies the Makhtesh Ramon, a breathtaking desert valley and regional landmark. En route from Eilat to Jerusalem, stopping to float in the mineralinfused Dead Sea is a must, as is spending
some time in beautiful Timna National Park and touring the fortress of Masada with its stunning views of the turquoise Dead Sea waters below.
It’s worth spending a few days in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as well. The former is a modern city renowned worldwide for its nightlife, but it also is home to the ancient Jaffa Port, which has been in use for centuries. Jerusalem deserves a dedicated trip in itself, as you could spend days just wandering through the various pockets of the city, all of which offer a unique glimpse into Israeli life and the diverse groups of people who call it home. The markets, Old Jerusalem and the Western Wall are incredible.
If you’re apprehensive about travelling to Israel or the Middle East in general, a word of advice is to live like the Israelis do – without fear. The gruelling and beautiful Israman is a true bucket-list race for any endurance junkie, but Israel is one of the most fascinating and eye-opening countries you’ll visit, with some of the friendliest people who welcome everyone who visits their country with open arms.—cd