Israman Half Iron Race Report

>> Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The people at Kinetis sent me and 4 others to race / cover the 2014 Israman Negev triathlon in Eilat, Israel. And boy oh boy, this was a world class race. There were about 1,200 racers: roughly 200 in the full iron distance and 1,000 in the half.

The race was on Friday. The day before, we attended the pre-race briefing. They had great animated slides showing how the transition areas would work:

T2 was up in the mountains before running back down to finish by the sea.

It was going to be a great day for a race!

Pre-race party.

Later that night (the night before the race), I met the cyclist in the relay that I was doing. His son and I walked from my hotel to transition so we could walk through the steps of T1:

Bikes ready to sleep for the night.

A sweet trainer set-up with lots of space for relays to warm-up!

I got a half night's sleep, and then had this for breakfast:

I walked to the Red Sea about 90 minutes before the race started. There was a long run (a few blocks) from the sea to T1, and I wanted to make sure I knew where I was going. The next 5 photos show the route:

1: Looking out over the Red Sea with more of southern Eilat on the right.
That SINGULAR light in the middle is a beacon on one of the swim course buoys.

2: Looking back towards the beach after walking up the path from the shore.

3: A long stretch along a beach-front hotel.

4: Crossing the street to head behind the Sport Hotel where T1 was set up.

5: The bright lights in the distance are the start of T1.

10-foot gates protected everything overnight.

People getting their T1 bags set.

Changing area before heading to the bikes.

Final bike inspections.

I got back to the hotel and got all changed for the race. The "tutti frutti" shorts and I were going to be hitting the sea soon!

Race number tattoos ready to go!

Selfie riding down the elevator.

The calm Red Sea with the sun getting ready to rise over the hills of Jordan.
And a big-ass yacht - it was there during our pre-swim the day before. It had a helicopter on it.

Pre-race tradition. The first time in an Israeli porta-potty.
It was held to the same high standards as US porta-potties. :)

Cheering on the 200 full iron distance racers who started 15 minutes before us half iron racers.

Full iron racers just after the start.

I dropped my camera bag with Adi (our AWESOME leader from Kinetis), and I headed for the start. The swim course was 900 meters straight out, 100 meters to the left, and then a final left turn for 900 meters more back to shore (so a long, skinny counter-clockwise triangle). I worked my way to the outside (the right). Before I knew it, someone shouted GOOOOOO!

Me and 1000 buddies starting the race!

I'm probably just out of frame to the right (swimming, not standing).

(click to enlarge)

That's about a 5-story Israeli flag on the far shore!

Just after starting, I realized I was in a horrible spot. I was probably 30-40 people from the far right, so I was pretty far right. But I should have either been ALL the way to the right, or I should have been in front of those 30-40 people. I started swimming, but I was catching and swimming over those few people out there with me. After maybe 30 seconds of that, I stopped trying to swim forward, and I made a sharp right turn and practically swam parallel to the shore to get outside to some clear water. I lost a lot of energy doing that, and I was out of breath.

Shit. I was out of breath.

I can totally ruin a swim if I'm stupid in the first few minutes, and I was stupid in the first few minutes here.

I thought back to the 2010 Liberty Olympic Triathlon where I set a BIG overall PR but had a crappy, crappy swim, and I hoped that this race would go similarly: I started that race poorly, but then settled in and had my first ever negative split in a swim. "Yes Steve, do that here. Settle down, catch your breath, and then nail it on the way back to shore."

According to my Garmin, my first 300 yd laps were 1:38 (right where I wanted to be), 1:59 (oh crap), and 2:18 (as I was catching my breath and doing Lord knows what). Those are NOT the splits to be starting a race with! I maybe fell into a bit of a rhythm around the 500 meter mark, but that didn't last long, and my splits were still crap. Until the first turn, I swam splits of 1:49, 1:57, 2:02, 1:50, and 2:04. I wanted to be 10-20 seconds faster / 100. (And I wanted to be swimming a lot more comfortably.)

I hit the turn and was doing pretty good along the 100 meter back stretch, and I actually swam a 1:37 back there. Then I made the final turn for shore, took a BIG gulp of sea water, and started crashing into some small waves. I had hoped that the 3rd 100 split of 2:18 would be the slowest, but then I swam a 2:38 split as the first 100 headed back to shore. I was not going to negative split this (at least not as much as I would have hoped), and now it was just all about survival. I wasn't afraid I was going to drown, but I just needed to "get through" this swim.

Some lead swimmers and the big yacht.
(I want to be a good enough swimmer someday to create a little wake like that.)

More swimmers heading back.

I tried to calm down. I noticed the sun hitting Eilat when I breathed to the left, and I saw it was about to crest the mountains in Jordan as I breathed to the right. My new goal was to get to the shore before the sun hit me in the water. (And as I was trying to do that, I was in awe at the beauty of the sunrise over the Jordanian mountains as I was swimming in the Red Sea - I felt VERY blessed to be where I was and doing what I was doing... even if I WAS doing it pretty craptasticly.)

I tried to put my head down and race. My final full 100 splits were 1:48, 2:02, 1:42, 2:01, 2:04, 1:55, 1:35, and 1:36. My splits were a BIT better, but I was swimming all over the place - at one point I looked up to find swimmers coming at me. I had crossed nearly all the way across the middle of the triangle, and I was headed towards the full iron swimmers who were coming back out on their second lap. Sheesh. Then a kayaker caught me and helped get me back on course. I thanked him, and he smiled and said "It's a race, it's a race, go, GO!" Love that.

I was hoping to be out of the water around 33:00, but it was just under 36:00 when I hit the transition mat on the beach.

(Click to enlarge)

Happy to have my feet on the sand!

(click to enlarge)

Finishing up my 1.2 mile swim in the Red Sea.

Shot by our leader Adi.

Under the arch at the edge of the beach.

Other swimmers running up the beach.

I ran past a LOT of people in the run to T1. But duh - I was a relay swimmer with nothing to lose by sprinting up to T1, whereas the athletes I were passing were looking forward to 15K straight up a mountain to start their ride. I found Rany (my relay biker) very easily in transition, I put the chip on his ankle, and he was off. I was done. I did very poorly, but I felt very lucky to have taken part in such a fantastic race at such a fantastic venue.

As I started walking back, I ran into Adi just outside of transition:

Awkward, as always.

This includes 200 yds of running up to T1, so I was actually a bit slower than this.

I wore my wetsuit back to my hotel. It was chilly out, but it was JUST FINE in my wetsuit. I had to stand in the tub when taking it off because it was filled with sand and schmutz:

Awkward bathtub selfie while rinsing out my wetsuit.

Then I had some breakfast before going back to the race:

Fresh, hot homemade donuts at our hotel's buffet!

Another donut? Yep. Don't act so surprised.

No, not a 3rd donut. What do you think I am? A monster?!?

The bike ride out there is epic. This race was label by Triathlete Magazine as one of the "top 10 triathlons in the world." And the scenery and course don't disappoint. I was talking with a fast biker post-race (it was either Ben in our group or someone else - I forget). This person said that in half iron races, they usually hit 40K in an hour. (Yep, that's pretty fast.) But in this race where there's OVER 2,000 feet of climbing in the first 15K, his first 40K took TWO hours.

The run SOUNDS easy, but it's tricky: the first half is steeply downhill (running out of T2 in the mountains), but that downhill running FRIES the runner's legs, and then there's still a 10K left. I'd love to take it on some day, but I was OK *not* doing it last week.

I cheered on the winners in the half iron distance, and stuck around for my relay finish. I waited and waited. I had a crappy swim - were my biker and my runner having crappy times too?

Rany (the biker) did a little worse than he had hoped: he was shooting for 4 hours but finished in around 4:40. And Sharon (the runner) had hoped to do the run in 1:40, but it took him 1:50. So, oddly, I feel a little better about my slightly-worse-than-I-had-hoped-for swim split because the guys with me were slightly slower than they had hoped too. If misery loves company, maybe slightly slow guys love company too.

Sharon on the outskirts of Eilat.

Crossing the line with his wife!
Unlike Ironman-sancioned races, you can finish with family at the Israman.

Sharon and his wife post-race. I had talked with Sharon's wife quite a bit
the day before the race and while her hubby was running - they're a great couple!


Steve Stenzel, Bib 291, USA, 33, M
Ran Yeheskel, Bib 291, ISR, 56, M
Sharon Aviv, Bib 291, ISR, 44, M

Swim: 39:21.55 [35:57 at the timing mat: 1:53.3 / 100 yd average for the 1.9K swim]
Bike: 4:33:20.80
Run: 1:50:24.00
[T1 is included in the swim, and T2 is included in the bike]

Overall: 7:03:06.3

Division: Men 120+ [the relays were split by age: all added up to < 120 or > 120]
Division Rank: 17
Overall Rank: 66 out of 90 teams

They didn't break down the splits, but I looked through the results to find that I was the 38th fastest swimmer out of 90 half iron relays.


• This was easily my worst performance in a race ever. Dang. At least I got to enjoy some incredible water and views as I was sucking so hard.

• So apparently triathlon relays don't work well for me. Back in September was my first triathlon relay, and that's what injured me and kept me from running all Fall. And now this one.

• Salt water chafes. Like, BADLY. I've rarely had an issue with my wetsuit rubbing me raw in my armpits or around the back of my neck, but it chafed and rubbed something fierce on my pits and neck. My first post-race shower was not fun.

• Out of the 1,200 people racing the full and the half, only about 100 were American. How is that the case? This was a world-class event. Seriously. I wasn't sent to Israel by the race company, and I owe them nothing. I'm not saying this for them - I'm saying it because it's true. This was an incredible race that more people should be doing. As one of the racers said, "You hear about races bragging that they're 'so tough,' but this one actually meant it." I'll have more photos showing this in upcoming posts.

Before going back to the finish line to cheer on the later full iron distance finishers, we did one of my favorite things on our trip: we had a Shabbat dinner with a local family. They were so welcoming, and it was a treat to be invited into their home:

Ben, Nick, me, and Tim.

The blessing of the bread and wine before the meal.
(He had 5 great-grandchildren, and 3 generations were at the table with us.)

The 2 on the left did the race with us.
The 2nd from the left is a coach to many athletes who were racing as well.

It looks like no one is chatting in that last photo, but that must have been just after the food was put out. We were normally talking with everyone at the table. It was so great to share a meal with such a great family.

Most family members brought a few dishes. I counted that I had 12-14 different foods!

Then it was back to the finish line for another hour to cheer on some of the final full iron distance finishers:

Finish line party girls! (That's Sharon's wife on the right!)

A finisher coming in with his significant other in just over 15 hours.

The moon coming up over the hills in Jordan.

Back with more photos from the race and from my Israel trip soon.


Shinianen 10:50 AM, January 22, 2014  

Even though you think you did poorly, you did more than most of us could ever do! Congrats, and I am totally jealous of such an awesome trip!

Unknown 11:18 AM, January 22, 2014  

Thanks for the nice words. Seems you had a great time. Hope yo see you back soon. Karin & Sharon

Steve Stenzel 2:38 PM, January 22, 2014  

KARIN! It was great to meet you! Thanks for volunteering all weekend long, and thanks for letting your hubby race with me! :)

Anonymous,  8:21 PM, January 22, 2014  

Steve! So cool. Congratulations and what an amazing experience. Well done:)

caroline B,  4:44 AM, January 23, 2014  

So cool! Sounds like an awesome race!

Carolina John 12:36 PM, January 23, 2014  

Very cool! So glad you had a good time and got to promote the sport and the race. What a trip!

Unknown 7:24 PM, January 23, 2014  

Once in a lifetime trip, Steve. Life experiences like this one will be a memory to keep forever. Eating with those people must have been awesome. Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

Anonymous,  6:52 PM, January 25, 2014  

As an Orthodox Jew myself I really enjoyed your post.

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