Friday I won my second race of 2016, the Garmin Israman 113 Triathlon, with a time of 4:27:12. While I won with a substantial margin over Evert Scheltinga (4:36:38) and his brother Deiderik (4:41:10) of the Netherlands, I can say that without a doubt the course was the most challenging of any triathlon I’ve done. It was a combination of the elements (windy with temperatures of 38 at the start, and below freezing on the bike), the terrain (2,000 meters of climbing with a net gain of 800 meters) and the mental solitude of riding 33 miles into the desolate (but beautiful) Negev Desert. This race is one that stands out, and that I will remember fondly, long after my professional career.
It started in the Red Sea. The water was crystal clear, and while the temperature would have been fine for a non-wetsuit swim, the organizers chose to allow wetsuits because of the extreme cold outside the water. There were both half and full iron distance races being held on the same day (both with pro fields) so the competitors doing the Garmin Israman 266 started ten minutes ahead of us. About half way through the swim I was with a group of swimmers, but as we started passing large packs of full distance age group competitors the pack broke up and I was able to exit the water alone, 45 seconds behind Evert.
From T1 there’s about two miles of flat riding, which are the only flat miles of the race. Then the climb starts that takes you from sea level up to the second transition area, 800 meters above the town of Eilat. That climb took me about 43 minutes, which was the fastest climb of the day. T2 is 10 miles into the race, so at an hour into the race I still had over 60 miles of the 70.3 I was racing.
The climb itself was tough, but steady. The grade was consistent, so there were only a couple times that I had to stand and my SRAM Force 1x drivetrain was just fine (54t chainring with an 11-36 rear cassette – same gearing I’ve used for the past year). The temperature, however, was not consistent. The winds kept gusting stronger as the sun came over the Jordanian mountains to the east. As I climbed out of the valley and into the rolling terrain of the Negev Desert, the winds were howling without any vegetation to slow them down. At 800 meters it was about 15 degrees colder than it had been in town, and even as the day warmed it was just 30 degrees during the bike course. At one point I tried to grab a bottle and found that, despite gloves, my hands were too cold to grab it. I had to come to a complete stop to get the bottle and
still had trouble getting it into the bottle cage.
At the turnaround I had built a 3-minute gap on Evert, and I doubled that on the 23 mile stretch back to T2. At T2 a volunteer took my bike from me and another volunteer handed me my gear bag. I struggled to get socks on with numb hands and toes, then shoes. Finally I stood to begin the run, took three steps and fell on my face. I couldn’t feel my feet at all.
The beginning of the run goes uphill for about 200 meters before continuing down the same road that we climbed at the beginning of the bike. It was 5 miles of long meandering switchbacks where I could finally see the view that I had missed while climbing. Down below was the shimmering water of the Red Sea, the green trees and resorts of Eilat, and just beyond it the beige buildings of Aqaba nestled against the red mountains of Jordan. To the right there was occasionally a fence, marking the border to Egypt.
After five miles of descending, with the bottoms of my feet about to combust from friction, the course takes a turn for a 2km out and back on a dirt bike path. From there, another mile, or so, of descending back to sea level, then a right turn away from the resorts that took me past the port of Eilat before turning back around for the last 5 kilometers, finishing on the boardwalk in the center of Eilat where the day had started.
This was one of the most fun races I’ve done. The location is amazing – Israel boasts some incredible natural beauty, along with tourist attractions of biblical proportions (literally). Abby came with me, and claims this is one of the best races she’s attended as a spectator, as she had an abundance of fun things to keep her occupied while I was off on the bike. She went to an underwater aquarium, ate a casual breakfast at our hotel (all the hotels are right next to the start/finish), went shopping at the mall (right on the course) and – since the bike leg took much longer than a normal half – she still probably had time for a glass bottom boat tour.
The rest of our week in Israel was spent touring history. We went to Timna Park, where humans first discovered copper. We visited the old city in Jerusalem, and some of the famous markets in Tel Aviv. In six days I was able to swim in the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. I’m still floating from the thrill of the experiences we had in Israel. If you’re looking for a destination race for the family, with a course that will truly challenge you and an unparalleled location, I would strongly consider the Garmin Israman.
I’m really proud to start the year off with two wins at the half-ironman distance, with Ironman 70.3 Pucon and now the Garmin Israman 113. Next up is my first Paracycling race of the year as Aaron Scheidies and I take the tandem to the velodrome in Carson, California for the World’s Team Selection Event.