Looking for a Challenge? Tri Israman! *Video Added*
When Laurel and I heard about how difficult the Israman triathlon is, we both knew immediately that we needed to do it. It's a race where you have to embrace the suffering and be ready to take on whatever comes your way. Just finishing this race is a major accomplishment. Winning it? That's reserved for the very tough and the very determined. And that, plus lots of talent is how you would describe Laurel, the 2017 Israman Champion.
Keep reading below to see how she did it.
Everything I had heard about the Israman triathlon was about how "epic" the course is and how it is the "hardest iron distance race in the world". It definitely lived up to those expectations and beyond. I was trying to describe the race to someone but it's so different from other races that it is impossible to find a comparison. My best description is a beautiful swim followed by climbing Latigo (a popular climb in the Santa Monica Mountains where I train), then two times the Wildflower bike course (but really cold and with A LOT more wind), then run DOWN Latigo to start the marathon and finished with 3 flat loops at the bottom of the mountain. If you are not familiar with these places, it's a lot of mountains! I loved it. It took forever (6 hours and 30 minutes on the bike!) but it was challenging and spectacular, as you can see from the photos.
As for my race, I typically don't race in January, but after extending the season into December since Bec was just getting in her groove, we decided to train through the holidays and do a race in January and then go into off season mode. Initially we were going to race in Pucon, Chile, but it was a bit too expensive and far away. When the opportunity to race in Israel came up and we heard about the challenging course, we decided to go for it.
I went to Los Angeles to get in some good training in the hills with Jenny Fletcher (she also raced- the half distance - and won!!). We really kicked ass in our mini training camp. I got in some great rides and was blowing away my strava segments on running routes I have done hundreds of times. My running partner, David Welby, was reigning me in. I showed Bec my track times and she said, you're finally ready to run the marathon you are capable of. THEN I GOT SICK! I went through the motions of training but the idea of doing the hardest ironman on the planet was very daunting. I was just hoping I would get over the cough and just feel ok enough on race day to finish. I basically made the race really, really hard on myself!
We flew to Tel Aviv and then rented a car and drove to Eilat (4 or so hours south). The drive goes through the Negev Desert. It's not a flat desert and we were soon going up and over and through mountains that looked almost like the Grand Canyon. We made a stop in Mitzpe Ramon and saw an Ibex family - really cool looking deer. The days before the race we were able to acclimatize and I started to feel a bit better, like I could actually do the race. What really scared me was how cold the bike ride was supposed to be (mid 40s and very windy). I packed every warm thing I own in my transition bag and just hoped for the best.
The swim was a mass start with everyone doing the iron distance race. We started an although I was sprinting, I got caught up on the fray and decided to just let people swimming over me go in front. The group ended up making a wrong turn, and I followed, but when they made another wrong turn I decided to not follow and not skip a buoy. Turns out I was the only one who did that. I got a bit behind Bec which wasn't part of the plan! Then in transition I put on all those clothes I packed. It took me 9 minutes to get them on. Putting on tight bike clothes when wet is not easy!! But, I didn't get cold on the bike, so it was worth it! I stayed warm except my feet which froze and went numb for all 6 hours. I actually felt pretty good for 5 hours and fueled very well with Xrcel every 45 minutes or so. Then the last hour and a half was into a headwind. Like that last part of Kona to the airport but worse and cold. My power was sinking and I was still way behind Bec. I knew it was just a test of finishing the race. I finally got to T2 - and had to take all those clothes off... there went another 5 minutes. I put on my running shoes and started flying down the mountain. I had read some tips on downhill running from Golden Harper of Altra running and they worked. I just went for it and my Garmin 735XT reported a 4:53 opening mile!! My first 5k was 16 something...Gravity works wonders! I forced myself to stop after 20 minutes because it was comical how fast I was going, and not smart. When I finally got to flat ground 7 miles in my legs were trashed. I had just run down a mountain!! I had to walk and when I started running it was not fast. I managed to catch Bec at around 18k, and she was not feeling great (turns out she was battling pneumonia!). I had to really, really focus on just keeping my legs moving. I managed to come through the half in about 1:30, but then it was just a long 13 more miles of running, walking, stopping, and then running slow. But, somehow I managed to run under 6 for my last mile- I realized I was close to the course record, but ended up missing it by about 40 seconds. Would have been easier if I had just put on those clothes faster ! My marathon was 3:24 with over three minutes of stopped time on my watch!
The race was a really hard 11 hours and I was incredibly happy to break the tape for my 10th ironman finish. This one was really about a battle with myself and overcoming being sick, cold and still able to run down a mountain and not hurt myself. When I crossed the line I learned that Jenny had won her race and could not have been more happy. We put our minds and energy into this race and our hard work and paid off! It was also incredible to meet Bec at the finish line of her first iron distance race. I am so proud of her for truly gutting that out. A 1-2 finish to start the year! And, American Ben Collins won the men's half, so it was a good day all around.
Thank you to Boaz and the Israman staff for an incredible race. We were treated very well throughout our stay and the organization of the race was very professional. I'd also like to thank everyone for reading this and for all the messages after the race. Thank you for your support and looking forward to a nice break before taking on Ironman Brazil.