Israman takes place in Eilat, Israel, the furthest southern point in Israel. Located on the Red Sea, it is home to some of the best diving in the world. It is also known for its tax free shopping zone and opportunities to splurge on jewelry and clothing. Eilat is accessible via a quick flight from Tel Aviv’s domestic airport, or by car via two main highways. If you’re considering a winter race, particularly if you’re based in Europe, this is the race to consider. The ten hour flight from Newark to Tel Aviv—and 12 hour return flight—can make an active person stir crazy. Don’t forget compression tights or socks to keep legs on both legs of the flight. The race is on a Friday, which works best for observing the Sabbath from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset.
If you are doing this race don’t miss a tour of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Masada and the Dead Sea-- at a minimum. Remember, stretch your mind not just your hamstrings!
Now let’s address the elephant in the room—is it safe to travel to Israel? I am not the authority on this issue, but I can honestly say that I never felt “unsafe” during my week stay in Israel. Check the travel.state.gov website and heed warnings of the U.S. Department of State to stay away from high risk areas (Gaza Strip) and to be smart traveling in the West Bank. Also, register your stay online so that the U.S. Embassy can contact you in an emergency. There is significant police and armed military presence throughout the country and especially in the touristy areas. Don’t be surprised to see armed security on the course.
The Eilat Mountains make the Israman one of the most challenging full- and half- iron distance courses in the world. The inaugural relay option was offered in 2015 and greatly increased the number of participants. While I would normally say that anyone who puts the time into training for a long distance triathlon and stays healthy can and will finish an iron-distance race. This may not be the case at Israman. In both distances, athletes must prepare for steep climbs on the bike and an arduous descent for the first 12 miles of the run. The difficulty of the course is a true differentiator from the many other 226K/113K courses. You may be two hours or more off of your personal best; but, it really means something to be an Israman finisher!
The race has an early morning pro start at 6:15, followed by the full and half waves. Most athletes wore their wetsuits from the hotel as it was cold at the start. The race doesn’t provide a pre-race gear bag so just show up in your wetsuit, cap and goggles. The swim is in the Bay of Aqaba and is a triangular course. Full distance athletes swim the course twice. The water was quite calm this year, and the swim course well-marked. Be prepared to run a quarter mile (400 meters) to T1.
The 226K bike course has over 10,000 ft of climbing, and the 113K course has 6,000 ft. Need I say more? And, athletes in the 2015 race did not have to contend with strong winds as in previous years.
The run course descends the same road that is climbed on the bike, and is mostly blacktop. Once in town the course weaves along the beach promenade made of stone and concrete—tough on the legs but great for spectator support. Wear cushioned trainers instead of racing flats to lessen the punishment, and ensure that you have plenty of downhill training runs under your belt.
Israman knows how to seamlessly pull off a race. The mountains and geographic limitations of neighboring Jordan and Egypt require creative planning by race organizers. For example, T2 is in the mountains, 13 miles from T1. The bikes and transition bags are transported back to T1 by the Israman volunteers. Nutrition was plentiful on the bike at about every 20K, and on the run every 2-3K. Bring fuel for the 16K ascent on the bike in the event that you bonk. Medical support was available on the course and in the finish area. The finish area offered athletes the typical end of race fare, in addition to delicious hot noodle soup.
One criticism is that race registration and the race expo are located in two different venues located about a quarter mile from the other. The race organizers are losing merchandising revenue by not combining the two, and it makes it more difficult for families with younger children to accompany their athlete to the venues. The expo is small; don’t count on finding necessities like socks, fuel, fuel belts and other products you find at major races in the U.S. Unfortunately, there was no Israman-branded swag available at the expo.
For the “Iron Sherpa”
My son and I have sherpaed (is that a word?) many athletes through the years. This is a great race for the Sherpa, other than on the bike course. Organizers bus spectators up to T2-- a cold and windy spot to hang out and wait. But, there are plenty of opportunities to support your athlete on the second half of the marathon—and to hit the many restaurants and shops on the beach while you’re waiting. The fantastic pre-race party held on Wednesday night continues at the finish line until midnight. There is no fast food available at the finish area, so plan accordingly on race day.
For non-racers there is so much to see and do in Eilat. Kings City is a biblical amusement park in Eilat that the kids will enjoy. Caves, waterfalls and slides will keep the kids amused for hours. Scuba diving at Coral Beach, swimming with the dolphins at the Dolphin Reef, camel rides, and mountain biking in Timna Valley are other attractions that racers and supporters will enjoy.
Are your ready to call yourself an “Israman”?
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.