The spectacular challenge of Israman

Israman, by necessity, is among the hardest courses on earth. With only two roads leading in and out of the host city of Eilat the only way to craft a course is to go up and ride from the Red Sea into the desert mountains. Of course racing through a desert adds its own challenges.

But it is a triathlon, so first the 1.2 and 2.4 mile swims lead the day as the Red Sea gives athletes warm water and breathtaking views of coral and fish. Similar to Kona, the swim is as much a nature show as it is a leg of a race. Two-time Olympic swimmer Anthony Ervin led the way through the water.

After the sublime swim came the bike, a true test of athletic prowess, which begins with a seven mile stretch which climbs 2,700 feet to a desert plateau. It is where the race winners normally punch their winning ticket. But on this day, the winners found their way to the front on the run using the hard bike to soften up the competition.

T2 is set up at the top of the mountains so athletes literally fall out of the sky back to the sea for the first 12k, taxing already busted quads as athletes become runaway trucks on the super steep descent. In the full Iron-distance race, it was Dan Alterman who took the lead at the 17k mark. "I was feeling very confident because I was running strong." He added, "I was very emotional as I took the lead because this is a comeback for me after retiring several years ago and returning to the sport last year." The 8-time Israeli national champion told Slowtwitch. In the women's full race it was American twins trading places for the top spot as Rebeccah Wassner led into the run in her iron distance debut, only to give way to her more experienced sister Laurel at the midway point, and making it a 1-2 Wassner twin day.

The run is a lap or 3 around the beach and boardwalks depending on if you are doing the half or full. Israel is a sidewalk cafe culture, and countless civilians are transformed into cheering fans. Witnessing our sport draws instant recognition of the level of human achievement that it takes to simply complete our events, let alone compete in them. As unforgiving as the bike is, the run would be lovely if not last, as temperatures were mild and the wind a welcome breeze.

Full distance champ Laurel Wassner told Slowtwitch: "One of my goals for this season is to race in unique places and challenging courses. It makes the races more interesting - it's not about sticking to a certain power number or pace, and Israman definitely brought the elements - strong winds, big climbs, cold weather, and a plunging downhill run to start the marathon. At one point along the course you can look up and see three countries - Israel, Jordan, and Egypt - surrounded by mountains, with the Red Sea in the middle."

In the half, it was an all North American affair with defending champ Ben Collins of the U.S. returning to keep his crown. Collins used a superior swim [25:55] to keep former champ and pro road cyclist Massimo Cigana of Italy behind him, exiting the Red Sea 3:24 ahead Diederik Scheltinga of Netherlands and 5:23 ahead of Cigana - a gap out of the water even Moses would find impressive. Collins increased his lead with a race-best 2:39:26 bike split and a race-best 1:19:29 run to finish in 4:24:50 with a 10:53 lead on Cigana and 12:37 on 3rd-place Scheltinga.

Ben said after the race: "I left last year thinking this is the hardest race I ever did. But then you start to romanticize it and if you don't love pain why are you in the sport? If you don't like to suffer why are you a professional triathlete?"

Jenny Fletcher, a Canadian native living in Los Angeles won the women's title the 2017 edition of the Israman 113-kilometer event. Fletcher took the crown with a women’s-best swim (32:23) and bike (3:16:12) and women’s second-fastest 1:35:36 run to finish in 5:24:12 with a 4 minutes 29 seconds margin of victory over Dogana. When asked about the race Fletcher, who is also a successful model, seemed to have a touch of trauma and said, "The course is just epic. Epic."

John Hirsch is a pro triathlete and coach of the cancer charity program Team Continuum with charity spots in the New York City Triathlon and Marathon, Paris Marathon and is coach of the Warrior Pak Ambassador program.

Eilat, Israel
January 27, 2017

Israman 226
S 3.9k / B 180k / R 42.1k



1. Dan Alterman (ISR) 10:09:00
2. Dan Kony Ovchinikov (ISR) 10:28:03
3. Ohad Sinai (ISR) 10:40:13


1. Laurel Wassner (USA) 11:13:43
2. Rebeccah Wassner (USA) 11:37:37
3. Irena Mazin (ISR) 12:23:49

Israman 113
S 1.9k / B 90k / R 21.1 k.



1. Ben Collins (USA) 4:24:50
2. Massimo Cigana (ITA) 4:35:43
3. Diederik Scheltinga (NED) 4:37:27


1. Jenny Fletcher (CAN) 5:24:12
2. Martina Dogana (ITA) 5:28:41
3. Hadas Mazar (ISR) 5:48:27