Anglos of steel

How do four men, all of whom have jobs and children, find the time to train for the Iron Man competition?

swimmer 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
swimmer 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's a Sunday at 10 a.m. and Ari Bick and Eytan Chissick look relaxed, refreshed and ready to take on the new week. While it might not sound surprising that these two young men - who observe Shabbat - are well rested and raring to go, what might come as a shock is that the two immigrants from Australia have just spent the past four hours engaged in a high-powered 120-km. bike ride on the roads around their home in Ra'anana. "It used to be that we would save these long bike rides for Friday mornings," begins Bick, 38, a jewelry manufacturer, who made aliya 14 years ago. "We used to do a 90-km. ride on a Friday morning, come home and crash out for the rest of the day, but now, on most mornings, we do that and more before even eating breakfast. One morning last week we not only did a 180-km. bike ride but, afterward, we went out jogging." While exercise is certainly more than a hobby for these guys, the amount undertaken on a daily basis by Bick and Chissick, a 35-year-old real estate agent, might appear to most people to be verging on the edge of insanity. "Standing on the edge of the swimming pool at 5:30 on a freezing cold morning before swimming 120 lengths in 25-meter pool, I guess it probably does sound crazy to most people," admits Chissick. It's all part of their training regimen, claim the two friends, who along with fellow Ra'anana Anglos - Mark Cohen, 41, and Josh Levine, 43 - are currently preparing for one of the world's most extreme sporting events, Iron Man, a grueling competition combining a 3.8-km. swim, 180-km. bike ride and a full marathon (42.2 km.) in immediate succession and completed in under 16 hours. On July 13, the foursome will be in Zurich, Switzerland for the annual Iron Man competition there and their efforts in the ultimate test of physical fitness will be recorded for a half-hour documentary being created by the Sports Channel. "It's an amazing competition," says Chissick, the only one of the four who has already competed in and completed a full Iron Man event last December. "When I did it in Australia, there were all different types of people - they were old and young, big and small. The cutoff time was 17 hours and there were people finishing it in 16 hours and 45 minutes. They were there just for the fun of it." "It's a bit of a high," joins in Bick, who seems to have been the impetus behind the decision to enter into next month's race and, in the process, raise funds for the newly founded children's eye cancer charity, Eye Can. So far, the four have collected more than NIS 15,000 in sponsorship money and aim to raise some $20,000. "[Our] biggest challenge was signing up and finding sponsorship, but once that was set in motion, as long as the training is being done correctly, then the rest is not really a hurdle at all," continues Bick. "Last year we did a half Iron Man [1.9-km. swim, 90-km. bike ride and 21-km. run] and we just had fun with it." While all four have competed in various triathlon and marathon events, Bick says that a full Iron Man is "far more serious." "This time we had to look up programs on-line to design a training schedule, which we all have been following since December," he says. "It includes a nutrition guide, which is very important. Plus, we have stopped every other sport - tennis, walking with our wives, and we follow this routine everyday except on Shabbat." As part of their training schedule, the two explain, the iron men must rotate each sport and practice combining the competition's different sections. "It is known as a 'brick,' where you bike, finish, jump off and immediately start running," says Bick. As well as the physical preparation, both Bick and Chissick say that the competition is also about mental readiness and self-control. "Half of the preparation for the competition is mental. You really have to believe that you will make it to the end," emphasizes Bick. "You also have to know how to pace yourself and measure your breaking points." Chissick expands: "You have to use your energy up carefully during the race. You can't swim as fast as you want; you have to swim at a certain pace so that when you get out of the water at the end of the swim, you can start riding your bike. And you can't ride your bike as fast as you want either, because you need to save energy for the running. "They say that the Iron Man starts towards the second half of the marathon. It is at that point you know if you got it all [the pacing and training] right. Did you preserve enough energy? Either you did or you didn't; if you didn't then you will probably have to stop and walk, but if you did and you can see the end, then it's a pretty awesome sight." Bick adds: "You swim, you bike and you run and then you brag about it for the rest of your life because there are not too many iron people out there." ACCORDING TO the official Web site, Iron Man was started 30 years ago when athletes at an annual Hawaii-based running race fell into a disagreement over who was more fit - swimmers, runners or other athletes. One of those present was US Navy Commander John Collins, who together with his wife Judy decided on a race to settle the debate. Combining three existing competitions - the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 miles), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (112 miles, originally a two-day event) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles) - the couple set a goal that all three needed to be completed in succession. Twelve men competed in the first Iron Man, with Gordon Haller winning in 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds. While the debate over which type of athlete is fitter still seems to be unsettled, the Iron Man competition went on to become an international phenomenon, with races taking place all year round and in all corners of the globe. This year, in July alone, there are four Iron Man events scheduled worldwide, including the Zurich race, and in many of the events more than 2,000 people compete. Most of those who enter simply want to just be able to complete the course and call themselves "Iron Men." "The start of the race is an awesome sight, when you get in the water with about 2,500 other people in wetsuits all around you," recalls Chissick. "I am fond of saying that the Iron Man is like a party - it is all in the preparation for the event. What are you going to do? What are you going to eat? Obviously, you need to get a good night's sleep before, but during the party, whatever happens you know you are going to have a good time." Despite the high level of endurance clearly needed to compete in such a race, the two men claim that anyone with enough determination can reach the levels of fitness needed to stand up to the test. "We are just average people and I think that anyone, if they put their mind to it, can do this," says Bick. "I always enjoyed sports, but when I first started doing bike rides I could only make it to 12 km.; now I wouldn't even pump my tires up for that distance!" "And I remember when I first got into a swimming pool, doing 12 laps and stopping, saying there is no way [I can go on]," says Chissick. "You really have to put in the hours, but if you do, then anyone can do this." "There are some professionals who see [Iron Man] as a job; they are in it to win, but we don't even get to see them," says Bick. "The top people complete the track in about eight hours and the course closes in 16 hours. We will probably be somewhere in the middle." STILL, THE question remains as to how the four men, all of whom have full-time jobs and a total of 18 children among them, find the time to fit in their 15-hour-a-week workout program? "There are a lot of early mornings," quips Bick. "Sometimes we make it back in time to take the kids to school, but other times we don't see them until the end of the day and then they are not pleased. "Our families do suffer a little, especially on a Friday when we disappear until midday and then come back exhausted." "Actually, they suffer a great deal, especially our wives," breaks in Chissick, who stops to pay a special tribute to wives Soraya (his own wife), Sharona (Ari), Sarah (Josh) and Rivki (Mark) for picking up the slack left behind by these devoted athletes. "All hail the wives." As for the other two, who were not present at the interview, their friends say that Josh, who works for Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Mark, a lawyer, manage to fit the workout sessions in anyway they can. "I know that Mark sometimes goes out running from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m.," says Chissick. Despite the tight schedule, disconnection from their families and physical anguish, the two friends say it is the camaraderie among them that has kept them going up until this point. "We encourage and inspire each other," says Bick. "We pull each other through," agrees Chissick. "Sometimes I will ask Ari if it is me pushing him or him pushing me, but when he is waiting for me at 5:30 a.m. then I know that we are both pulling and pushing each other." While the training is all about support and mutual encouragement, Chissick points out that the big race in Zurich next month is more about "what every man can do for himself." "Iron Man is not about team work; you are not allowed to stop and help someone else," he says, adding however that the thousands of Swiss people who usually turn out to watch the race end up motivating the athletes. "All I remember from last time was how as you come down to the finish line everyone is cheering and how it felt so awesome to be at the end."