June 14, 2013, near the city of Karditsa, in Central Greece, also known as the Reserve Nature Tavropos. 8:00am. It was a very rainy morning, with fog covering the whole town and most parts of the lake. It is 24 hours before the start of the competition, and most of the athletes are asleep in the picturesque hotels around the lake.
Something inside me pushed me to go out and I decided, despite the tough weather, to do a simulation of the competition route (an action that is less acceptable physiologically, especially for a rookie triathlete like me, due to the high risk of injury that may even prevent my participation in the competition the next day).
I entered the lake. The water was freezing and the visibility was poor. I navigated to the marking buoy. Although the rain did not stop for a second, inside my body I felt like I was on fire.
After finishing the swim, I ran out of the water to my hotel room, located about 350 meters from the lake, changed clothes, and went for a bike ride along the official bike route. The rain had weakened a bit, but the track was very muddy, therefore very challenging. I managed to finish one round of the route and rode back to the hotel to change into running clothes. The run course in the forest near the lake was also wet and very muddy. Nonetheless, everything looked perfect. Nature was at its peak; the air was clear and clean, the fog dissipated, the rain stopped, and the sun started to rise. In one second, in one moment, it happened...
This is where I need to talk a bit about myself for a second - where I come from and how I got to this point in the story.
My name is Erez Alon. I am 50 years old and hail from Israel, but at the time of this story I was 41. For many years (until 2013), I lived an unhealthy life. I smoked, ate junk food, was addicted to work 24/7, and did not do sports on a regular basis. In 2012, I experienced two significant health events which required significant and traumatic treatments. I was in very poor physical and mental condition. The doctors' opinion was that if I did not make a dramatic change in my lifestyle, I was likely to suffer a heart attack. But still I could not motivate myself to do anything. Mentally and physically, I was broken.
One morning in February 2013, a video clip appeared on my Facebook feed that would ultimately change my life. It was a highlights video from XTERRA Grabouw (South Africa) competition 2013.
As soon as I started watching, a cold sweat washed over my body. I was filled with adrenaline and must have watched that video a dozen times that day. That evening I Googled "XTERRA" competitions in Europe and saw that the nearest competition to Israel – my homeland – was in Greece, in June that same year. I registered immediately! In a simple calculation, I had about 180 days until the toughest and most challenging triathlon competition in the world, and I was barely able to run one mile, let alone ride and swim. Complete madness!
But the moment I received the registration confirmation, I started acting in full power. I learned all there is to know about triathlon competitions, techniques, training programs, nutrition, equipment, physiology, and much more. Once I received medical clearance from my doctor, I could start practicing sports without limitations. I built a systematic training program for running, riding, and swimming. I hired a swimming trainer. I signed up for a bunch of running, cycling, and swimming competitions. Of course, I purchased the proper equipment for a triathlete. I turned my life upside down and at a very quick pace.
From day to day, my fitness improved dramatically, so did my running, riding, and swimming skills. I gained experience in competitions, but unfortunately, I could not find any triathlon competitions in Israel that I could use as practice. The time until the competition in Greece passed very quickly, and on June 13, I found myself on a plane to Greece for the competition that would change my life.
Although the rain did not stop for a second, inside my body I felt like I was on fire.
Back to the morning of June 14.
I stood near the lake on the running track. As I said earlier, the rain stopped, the fog dissipated, the sky began to clear, and then, in one second, a sunbeam, strong and powerful, hit me. I stopped running and felt the immense energy of the sun. All my life passed before my eyes. At that moment I felt that I had been re-charged. In the middle of a forest in central Greece, thousands of miles from the house I was born in and from my previous life, I was born for the second time.
The competition the next day was amazing and a memory I will hold forever. I did it with great success, a completely recharged man compared to the person who started training only 180 days ago.
From that moment until today, I have lived a sporty, healthy life, full of adventures and achievements. To name just a few, I have completed six Olympic triathlons, one Iron Man competition, and two marathons. I have participated in amazing sports events such as the Desert Challenge and a tour of Tuscany, Italy on a road bike. I have run, cycled, swum, and hiked thousands of kilometers. My life is full of happiness and love and all because of one video and one race.
Unfortunately, I recently lost the medal from the competition that changed my life. But to my delight, the friendly people behind XTERRA Greece, and especially Kostas Koumargialis (the legendary Race Director of XTERRA Greece, 2013), arranged to send me an original medal from the competition so that the X-Factor of my life would never be forgotten.
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