Europe District trio tackles Ironman event in Israel

Published Feb. 5, 2014
Three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District employees showed some game last month as the only American entry at the 2014 Israman.

Capt. Joseph Sawruk, Brian Finn and Jason Eckstein formed Team Tripod in the annual event, covering the swim, bike and run segments in a combined 6 hours, 21 minutes to place ninth in the Half-Ironman Distance Triathlon relay division for men under a combined age of 119. They finished 32nd overall out of 91 teams.

Nearly 1,200 athletes turned out for this year’s Israman, which took place Jan. 17 in Eilat, Israel.

“The course is world-renowned for being one of the toughest,” said Sawruk, who’s served as the district’s deputy area engineer in Israel for two years. “I think we did really good, and we did surprisingly well against the competition from around mostly European countries.”

The race began at 6:30 a.m. in the Red Sea, where Eckstein swam 1.9 kilometers in 50 minutes. Finn followed up with a 90-kilometer bike ride through the Eilat Mountains, posting a time of 3:43.

“The first 20 kilometers involves an 800-meter climb up into the mountains overseeing Eilat,” Finn said. “From there, it’s rolling hills through the desert along the Egyptian border. I made really good time storming up the mountain and was able to maintain a really good pace for the whole race.

“There were times when gusts of wind would come through and try to blow me off the course, but for the most part, it was pretty calm. My biggest concern was that I would burn out due to an unsustainable pace.”

After taking the chip from Finn, Sawruk faced a 21.1-kilometer run along a main highway and down into the streets of Eilat.

“It was a challenge,” said Sawruk, 33, of Shillington, Pa., who completed the last leg in 1:40 to get Team Tripod across the finish line. “My running portion was roughly 11 kilometers downhill, [so] the remaining 10 kilometers let me realize how tight my quads were going to be the next day.”

The Israman marked the first triathlon, either full or half, for all three men. The 24-year-old Finn said he’d never competed in any type of race before.

“I got hoodwinked,” quipped the project engineer from Damascus, Md. “Joe asked me if I had a bike. I made the mistake of saying ‘yes.’ He followed that up asking if I knew how to ride. I again answered ‘yes.’”

Still, no matter how it came about, Finn wound up happy with the trio’s performance – all the way around.

“When I rode the course a month before the race, I hit a wall around the 70K mark and struggled to finish the training ride,” he said. “However, on race day, I made a point to focus on hydration and was able to remain strong for the duration.”

Eckstein, 38, said Sawruk also urged him to jump in and test the waters.

“It was a fistfight for the first 300 to 400 meters,” Eckstein, a construction representative and native of Somerset, Ky., said of the experience. “I swam without a watch, so I really had no knowledge on how slow or fast I was going. That will be remedied.”

The extreme sport of triathlon is every bit as grueling as advertised, Sawruk added.

“Curiosity attracted me to it,” he said, “and I wanted to find races other than just distance-running events to stay physically fit.”

The Army captain, who’s set to leave Israel sometime this summer for another assignment, said he won’t abandon that pursuit altogether. He plans to run in the Dead Sea Half Marathon this month and Jerusalem Half Marathon in March as preparation for Team Tripod’s next outing at Israman North 2014 on May 2.

“We’re looking to go out and finish with a far better time,” Finn said. “Jason and I have also talked about going back down to Eilat for the race next year. We had a lot of fun.”