2013 Israman pre race

A decade or so ago, some Israeli triathletes wanted to create an endurance challenge that could rival the rigors of Gerardmer, the UK Ironman in Wales, or the thrill of Kona. Twenty hardy souls took off on the course centered around the resort city of Eilat on the Red Sea, at the tip of the wedge of land known as the Negev desert. Though the years, organizers have made the full Israman subtly harder each year until the course now boasts of nearly 10,000 feet of climbing on the 112-mile bike course that skirts the city and roams through nearby mountains. The run lays a trap for the already weary competitors, as it starts at a transition high in the mountains and is primarily downhill. But just ask the winners how the shock of running downhill for epic distances feels at the end of their Ironman bike and you heard terms like "feels like knives," "shatters the legs" and you understand there is no escape from Israman's challenge.

On Friday morning at 6:15, the original field of 20 has grown to 1,100 thanks in large part to teams and the addition of the half Ironman distance event held concurrently with the classic Israman. This day, three-time Ironman winner and 2009 Ironman World Championship runner-up Chris Lieto will be contending for the half distance and Ironman glutton Petr Vabrousek of the Czech Republic will be fighting with defending champion Tom Marmareli of Israel for the full distance crown.

All photographs Timothy Carlson

A view of Eilat's beaches and the Red Sea, with some of Jordan's mountains on the background.

The Royal Beach area of Eilat looking past large resort hotels to the swim start.

Lior Zborover, Israman spokesman, welcomes a contestant at the Eilat airport.

Israman entrant enters the lobby of the Isrotel Royal Garden Hotel.

A quintet of best buddies ready for a pre race swim.

Entering the 70-degrees Fahrenheit water for a practice swim.

A woman from Stuttgart, Germany practices a run from the water.

Chris Lieto gives a short seminar on tips for a smooth Ironman swim.

The swim finish arch.

Planes land on the 1.5-mile runway near the center of Eilat. Future plans call for a longer runway 12 miles out of town.

Two competitors leave the hotel for a short spin.

A curious young boy examines one of the high tech race bikes.

Man dons a shark face at the Expo.

Ronit Wigler is ready for her race.

A competitor clicks in his bike after checking in at registration.

A man and his family attend a pre race briefing.

A man with a well shaved head at the briefing.

This man with the generous beard has competed at Israman for several years.

Chris Lieto gave a well received talk at the WOW Auditorium on which he recounted a smashed ankle in a 1998 crash, his 2009 runner up finish at Kona, and why he founded the More Than Sports organization.

Defending full Israman men's champion Tom Marmareli joins other pre race favorites at a late afternoon gathering.