A triathlete runs, bikes and swims a 226-km race. He comes in first, and last
The brighter side'It's just about doing it'

A triathlete runs, bikes and swims a 226-km race. He comes in first, and last

Ironman competitor Ari Varon completes a solo course to challenge himself during the pandemic

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Ari Vroman trained and competed in a Tel Aviv Ironman of his own making, in the wake of the coronavirus (Courtesy Ari Vroman)
Ari Vroman trained and competed in a Tel Aviv Ironman of his own making, in the wake of the coronavirus (Courtesy Ari Vroman)

It takes a strong spirit to train and compete in an Ironman — an ultra-long triathlon race — but it requires something even more indomitable to do it solo.

When the coronavirus hit in March, triathlon competitor Ari Varon decided not to give up on his training.

On June 22, he completed a 226-kilometer  (140 mile) triathlon in 13 hours and 72 minutes, in 30°C,or 86°F, heat.

“It’s an achievement for me,” said Varon, who began training and competing in triathlons in the last year and a half. “I wasn’t competing against anyone else. I was first, and last, in this competition. I told my kids that it’s a competition against myself.”

When Varon, 42, finally finished swimming, biking and running at the Tel Aviv’s boardwalk on June 22, he was greeted under an arch of blue-and-white balloons by his wife and three sons, and dozens of kids from his children’s school and kindergarten classes, who raced with him at the very end.

Now Varon and his wife, Miriam Warshaviak, are finalizing where to give $2,260 — $10 per kilometer — donated by Varon. Their aim is to help children use sports as a means for excellence, and as a way to inspire others.

“I wasn’t going to let the coronavirus stop me,” said Varon. “It wasn’t only about doing the Ironman, but trying to translate this into my own vision.”

A friend even had T-shirts made, declaring, “Coronavirus stops competitions, not my Aba (or Ari, worn by Varon’s wife, Warshaviak).” On the back of Varon’s T-shirt, it said, “Corona didn’t stop me.”

Ari Varon, with his wife and three sons at the end of an Ironman of his own making in Tel Aviv, June 2020 (Courtesy Ari Varon)

Varon trained in Tel Aviv, where he and his family live. He swam at the Gordon Pool or in the sea, rode his bike in a 30-kilometer loop around Yarkon Park or Ramat Hahayal, and ran on the beach — always during the day, when his kids are at kindergarten, nursery and elementary school.

Varon, who has his own business in China, is an impressive multitasker. He would bike for an hour while sending voice messages or holding work calls, and do the same while running or stretching, “with people who understood what I was doing,” he said.

Even so, during every single training session that was more than 90 minutes long, Varon would have at least one moment when he would say to himself, “What am I doing?”

“That’s pretty natural, apparently,” he said. “You overcome this message of being crazy. You just realize that you can.”

Since he usually flies to China once a month, and otherwise is with his three sons most afternoons while his wife, a surgical resident, works at least one night shift a week and every other weekend, he’s accustomed to divvying up his time carefully, and making the most of every minute.

Last January, Varon made a resolution to get back to running.

Ari Varon, who competed in an Ironman of his own making in Tel Aviv in June 2020, finishing the race (Courtesy Ari Varon)

Since he was born with a club foot that was corrected with surgery as a baby, his parents had been told he wouldn’t run well, but Varon had long proven them wrong, playing baseball, serving in a combat unit and running marathons.

Still, he was often plagued by pain in his right foot, and wanted to correct his training. A triathlon felt like the right way to change that, with intervals of running, swimming and biking.

Varon’s first full Ironman triathlon last June was a success, after he worked on his biking and took private swim lessons.

“I just realized I liked it,” he said. “I liked the time alone and by the time you do an hour or more of a workout, my body seems to gel.”

He also adapted his diet to an aikido ketogenic regimen, and found that he gained a very clear focus during his workouts, allowing him time to solve problems and work on being a better person and father.

“You don’t have time to lie to yourself,” he said.

He did a triathlon in January 2019 — the Israman in Eilat, Israel’s equivalent of the Ironman. “I signed up and didn’t know it was one of ten toughest Ironman courses,” said Varon.

Once he successfully completed that, he wanted the full experience of a real Ironman, and eventually registered for one on July 5 in Austria.

And then, the coronavirus began encroaching.

“We started understanding what was happening. We could see Europe closing and all the warnings of canceled competitions,” he said.

Ari Varon, who competed against himself in his own Ironman competition, with his three sons at the end of his 266-kilometer solo triathlon (Courtesy Ari Varon)

Varon didn’t want to train on his own at first. But he began realizing that doing it by himself presented a different kind of challenge.

He wanted to be a role model for his three boys, who would huddle around his stationary bike during the earlier days of stay-at-home measures for the coronavirus.

Varon decided to do the triathlon, not to prove himself to other people or even in order to excel and be the best.

“It’s just about doing it,” he said.

Got a feel-good story to share for our The Brighter Side series of articles? Email Jessica Steinberg at jessica@timesofisrael.com

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