Triathlon isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when when you mention Israel. More likely conflict, bloodshed and religion flash before your eyes. As host to the European Championships in July this year it may start becoming so.
On the 20th of January this year, 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 at all. Most pressing was my lack of any swimming training in the past sixmonths and absolute none existence of any open water swimming. My heart was beating with nerves rather than with 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 a glorious warmth of 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, reflected on the race afterwards and 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 triathlon 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. The 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, already sun blessed, 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 their were a large number of Israeli soldiers present, all casually attached to guns that wouldn’t look out of place in a futuristic sci-fi film. Amongst the sandstone mountains they looked like my old toy soldiers standing to attention in my childhood sandpit, which made me smile even as I summited the 12% toughest climb of the day. This smile soon faded when I remembered the decapitation of a number of these toy soldiers at the jaws of my neighbours escaped Collie. I raised a hand to say hi and with the hope that they wouldn’t meat the same ends and they raised the fists in response cheering my spinning legs and gasping breath.
Meanwhile at the front Lior Zach Maorwas had moved into first place and was extending his lead on Tom Marmareli after beating him by five minutes in the swim. 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 decent 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 still clutching the finishers ribbon 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 organisation and pre and post race pampering this race has a Kona cum Lanzarote feel to it.”
The super star of triathlon 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, before I was tackled by a mob of helpers offering massage, soup and drinks. Perfect.
With an opportunity to see Jerusalem, float in the Dead Sea (don’t put your head under the salt burns your eyes), with one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Petra in Jordan, and Mount Sinai, in Egypt, a stones throw away, a triathlon in Eilat Israel could fast become one of the most action packed, exciting, intoxicating holiday you’ll ever have.
Danny Bent previously cycled from London to India on a bike called Shirley. He’s currently building an army. That’s right an army. An army of 1111 warriors, well, everyday people who want more adventure out of life and to raise some money to help others too. Why not take a look at www.oneoneoneone.org. And maybe even bung the cause a fiver…
first place: Tom Marmareli. age: 25. time: 10:26:36
second place: Lior Zach Maor. age: 39. time: 10:30:20
third place: Amir Bachar. age: 43. time: 11:17:54
first place: Rory Mguire (Ireland). age: 30. time: 05:01:28
second place: Avishai Raviv. age: 41. time: 05:12:35
third place: Matan Kassif. age: 25. time: 05:13:13
first place: Irena Mazin. age: 40. time: 11:45:45
second place: Dora Heller. age: 44. time: 11:48:14
third place: Miriam Bar On. age: 24. time: 13:04:02