THE ISRAMAN Negev Eilat competition, which takes place today, gives participants a real perspective on the beauty of southern Israel.
(photo credit: TIM CARLSON)
Pride and determination are two extremely powerful sentiments, and both were on full display in Friday’s Israman Negev Eilat, the country’s annual edition of the grueling Ironman competition.
Inspiration was definitely another operative word of the day, as that was the overriding feeling one was left with after watching more than 1,600 participants power through the tremendous challenge of completing an event that, for most people, would be classified as impossible.
For those unfamiliar with the format of the event, the Ironman is a long-distance triathlon race that combines 3.8 kilometers of swimming, followed by 180 kilometers of biking, concluding with a full-marathon, 42.2 km of running.
As well as the main event, there were half-versions of the race, as well as combined-relay teams taking part in the festivities in Eilat this weekend, which brought together some of the most extreme athletes Israel has to offer, as well as more than 100 international competitors who flew in to take part.
“An Ironman is far harder a mental challenge than it is a physical one,” noted Israman spokesperson and six-time past participant in the race, Lior Zborover.
“Yes, the distances are extremely difficult on the body, but without an intense mental strength, even the most fit person in the world could not complete a race of this magnitude.”
It was, indeed, an emotional moment to stand on the beach of the Gulf of Eilat at 5:30 a.m. and watch the pent-up excited anticipation of the competitors as they prepared to jump into the water.
After all was said and done, Bart Candel of the Netherlands won his first Israman on Friday, ending the reign of Petr Vabrousek, who had won the past two years. The two-time defending champion from the Czech Republic had dominated the rest of the field in years previous, but wasn’t at his physical best on Friday and took part in the event despite suffering from a fever.
The 25-year-old Candel made the most of Vabrousek’s illness and finished in first place in a total time of 9:42.24 hours. Vabrousek still made the podium, clocking a time of 10:15.31.
Lior Zach-Maor finished in fourth place overall and first among the Israelis in 10:21.20.
Israel’s Irina Mazin won the women’s event in a time of 11:53.51.
Far more impressive than the specific timing of the results was seeing the extreme passion exhibited by virtually everyone taking part in the event.
To put the difficulty of the race in perspective, one has to keep in mind that the terrain of southern Israel is not an easy one to conduct a long-distance race. Triathlete magazine has consistently rated the Israman as one of the top-10 long-distance competitions in the world.
While the swim in the crystal- clear waters of the Red Sea is relatively tame, the bike ride along Route 12, featuring an ultra-steep climb to the surrounding mountains overlooking the Arava Valley, is one of nightmares. Even in a bus, the sharp incline is one that takes some time to navigate, leaving one only able to imagine how hard it would be to do on a bike.
After the biking, the full-marathon course began downhill to the city of Eilat, a deceptively difficult component of a race that taxes the body like no other.
“When it comes to completing an Ironman, most of the people involved are not racing against each other, but again their own goals,” notes Zborover. “It is an accomplishment of the human spirit and its ability to accomplish whatever it sets out to do that is the true hero of such events.”
That may be the case, but one other aspect must be given its due credit.
To a tee, every single person who finished the race – at whatever time and whatever distance – was greeted by an open-armed, cheering family that couldn’t be prouder of their father, mother, sister, brother, son or daughter and their momentous achievement.
For all the physical feats that left one in awe, it was the personal and family pride that made the greatest impression, an inspiring lesson that will last long after the race is complete.