Israman Chronicals: Day I- Denver to Jerusalem
Most triathletes would say that training and completing their first long-distance triathlon is a life-changing experience. Now, combine triathlon with a visit to the Holy Land and your experience just might be transformational. I arrived in Tel Aviv this morning after a ten hour, uneventful flight from Newark. You see, EverymanTri is a lucky guest of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to participate in Israman-- Israel’s iron-distance triathlon—and to share our experience with you.
Israman, located in Eilat on north tip of the Red Sea (see red circle in the image at left), was named one of Triathlon magazine’s top 10 races. The inaugural race took place in 1999 with only 26 brave souls at the starting line. This year the race is on Friday, January 30th. Israman also holds the distinction of being one of the most difficult bike courses of any triathlon. The full iron distance race demands more than 3,188 meters (exactly 10,459 feet) of climbing after the 2.4 mile swim in the Red Sea. Imagine cycling Colorado’s infamous Triple Bypass route—a grueling 120 mile ride that summits three mountain passes-- and then running a marathon. Insane! The participants in the half distance won’t be let off-the-hook. They will climb 1,895 meters (6,217 feet); one third of which is during the first ten miles. Because I'm in my “fat season” (aka/ not training), I will only participate in the run relay. It’s another reason I feel “lucky.” Another challenge to Israman is the swing in the desert temperatures. From 50 (F) degree mornings to over 80 degree afternoons, the race is sure to challenge the best-trained triathletes.
At the airport I met another journalist, Erin, and we were quickly escorted through customs and to our driver who would take us on a one hour trip to Jerusalem. Erin and I were struck by the green, rolling landscape and vineyards just minutes outside of Tel Aviv. When I think of Israel, I think of either the sea or the desert, but not a fertile landscape. I assertively questioned our driver about the Tel Aviv lifestyle, cost of living, and the quality of life in general—a topic that I would soon learn is a point of great pride for the Israelis. He was our first introduction to the warmth and openness of the Israeli people. Their hospitality goes way back to biblical times when pilgrims would be generously offered accommodation by strangers on their way to Jerusalem.
Safely checked into the Dan Panorama hotel located just outside the old city walls, Erin and I grabbed a map, threw our bags in our room and headed into the old city. Let’s just say that Erin (a blonde, blue-eyed Californian) was very much appreciated in the Muslim quarter. Knowing that a guided tour of the old city awaits us tomorrow, we strolled the old city aimlessly. I quickly learned that the Israeli menus are great for pre-race fueling. Shawarma, falafel, hummus and fresh salads are the typical fare. And, with drinkable, tap water in abundance; triathletes don’t have to worry about stomach bugs sometimes experienced when traveling to other exotic race destinations.
Erin and I met Larry, a photojournalist from San Francisco, back at the “Dan” for a quick dinner and a few Maccabees, the popular local beer. Tomorrow we meet our guide and receive a proper tour of the Old City and Mount of Olives. Shalom!
Author Barbara Mica is a contributing editor to EverymanTri.com. Barb is a four time Ironman finisher and ITU Long-distance Championship triathlete. She has run more marathons than she’d like to remember. She and her family travel to many international race destinations and enjoy learning the lifestyle and culture of the host countries.