Thanks again to Tan for the picture
The setting was beautiful and the sponsor was great -- there was a free dri-fit shirt, a free massage, unlimited free icicles, pillows under a tent to sit on during the award ceremony or whenever and nice prizes for the first three places in all of the children's categories and for the Olympic distance.
It's good that something was great.
When we arrived in Caesaria at 6 a.m., I got off the bus, looked at the water and said "No way." The waves were already about a meter and a half high and it didn't look very swimmer-friendly. It wasn't quite as bad in the area where we had to swim. We still had almost three hours to wait, though.
There was some confusion about the starting time. It had been changed from 7:30 (I think) to 8:55, but a lot of people didn't know this (it had been announced on the Internet). Then, this morning, they changed it to 8:30. And then they changed it again to 8:50. And then they changed it back to 8:55. Somehow, everyone managed to get to the start at the right time.
At around 8:30, I went down to the beach to warm up. The first thing I noticed (besides the waves) was the rocks. One of my young teammates had cut his foot on one of them while warming up. It was very hard to find good footing in the water. I went in, though, did a very short warmup and swam back out. The waves were hitting the beach very hard and taking stones with them. Some of those stones were rather large and they were hitting me in the feet and legs (and I couldn't move back any further). One actually cut and bruised my ankle. And the race hadn't even started yet!
For some reason, the swim route was only 375 meters, so we had to do two loops. It was very hard to hear the briefing and I wasn't sure if we were swimming inside the buoys or outside (apparently, no one else knew, either, because people were swimming everywhere!). Doing two loops wouldn't have been so bad, but there were over 300 people on this very short course and the swim was wall to wall people or, as one of my teammates put it, "people soup". I had been concerned about the waves and undertow, but those were nothing compared to the human wall. I was kicked, pushed and swum over and I couldn't move forwards. I found myself treading water several times, not because I needed a break, but simply because there was nowhere to go -- there were people stopped in front of me and all around me. I actually had conversations with people during the swim. And if the sheer number of people trying to navigate the course wasn't enough, there were those who insisted on stopping to turn around and yell at those who had accidentally bumped into them. This slowed things up even more. The whole experience was very tiring and very frustrating. Some time during the second loop, I was finally able to swim normally. I suspect, though, that I went a bit off course, because the three teammates that I'd been swimming with (two of whom are slower than I am) all came out of the water way before me. I didn't even see them pass me. I couldn't see the course because of the waves and I didn't know which side of the rope I was supposed to be on (and, as I mentioned, there were people swimming on both sides), so I just followed the people closest to me. Probably a bad move, but even in retrospect, I'm not sure what else I could have done. The first words out of my mouth when I got out of the water were: "What a nightmare!"
My swim time, which included a very long transition from swim to bike, was an embarrassing 26:26. However, ALL of the swim times were really bad. I was 7/11 for women 40-44 and 243/315 overall. This was not a good start, as the swim is usually the best part of the race for me. Not only had I been slow, but I came out of the water frustrated and not feeling much like going on.
My transition was a bit slow, but not too bad. However, it was a VERY long run with the bike to the start of the course -- at least 200-300 meters. Uphill (well, a slight incline), on rocks which were covered by a rug, but the rug was blowing in the wind and at some points, it was impossible to run on it. This was the first time I'd ever done a transition in cycling shoes. Running in my cycling shoes on rocks was not fun.
The bike went ok for me. Not great, but ok. There were several speed bumps and a lot of turns, all of which slowed me down (I'm still afraid to take turns too quickly). It was mostly flat with a few small hills here and there, but there was a lot of wind. In fact, there was so much wind that people were losing things all over the course -- I saw several pumps and a lot of bottles. And my bottle joined the others about 5 km before the end, when it flew out of my hand. Fortunately, there was no one behind me. I should have stopped to pick it up, but I didn't -- it took me a few seconds to actually realize what had happened and I couldn't have safely ridden my bike back, as the road was split at this point and the traffic was in one direction. And I was having a hard enough time controlling my bike in the wind. My bike split was not particularly fast, either -- 47:59 for 20 km. I was 6/11 in my age group and 240/315 overall. This was surprisingly my best section of the race. Go figure.
It was another 200-300 meters back to the transition area, over those same rocks. This time it was a slight downhill, which was actually harder than uphill. I could barely run and reverted to walking at some points. The transition itself was fairly slow. I was tired and feeling sluggish. I managed to get my shoes on, though, and to start running.
The run started out ok. It actually felt great to be running without my bike in tow. However, that didn't last long. Before I'd even finished the first km, I got the urge to walk. I kept running, promising myself that I could walk at the water station, but it just never seemed to appear. Finally, there was water at about 1.5 km or so. I slowed to a walk, took two cups, poured one over my head and downed the other and then started running again. This helped for a while, but then we started running on sand. Ugh. I managed to keep running until we got to a small bridge, where I decided I needed another walk break. I walked over the bridge and there was water on the other side. Took another two cups and kept going. Things went downhill from here. The run was two loops and after finishing the first one, I had had enough. I slowed to a walk and ended up walking for quite a while. There was a woman in my age group behind me and my goal was not to let her pass me. That was it. Little did I know that there were two more women in my age group not too far up ahead. I walked and ran and walked and ran most of the rest of the route. Just after the second time over that little bridge, I took off running as fast as I could and sprinted to the end. I was VERY happy to cross that finish line. I wasn't so happy when I saw the clock -- 1:52. Yikes! This was by far my slowest sprint time ever. The 5k run including that long, slow transition took me 37:35. My PR is more than 9 minutes faster than that. Of course, I didn't set that PR running on a hot summer day at almost 11 a.m. I was 6/11 in my age group for the run and 262/315 overall.
For the entire race, I came in 7/11 in my age group and 254/315 overall (note that "overall" includes men and women). I can't say I was happy with my results, especially after I saw how close behind 5th and 6th place I'd been. If I had run the run, I could have beaten both of them.
After the race, I got a massage that seems to have gotten rid of all of the stiffness and pain that I've had in my neck for the last two weeks, so something good did come out of the day :-)
My coach says that you learn something from every race. I learned several things from this one:
All the swim training in the world can't prepare you for all of the challenges you may meet in the swim. I'm a decent swimmer and the swim leg really sucked for me today, though I can't say there was much actual swimming involved...
I need to start taking running more seriously and I need to talk to my coach about getting my mileage up. Longer runs make 5k seem like a piece of cake, but all of my runs in the past month were short and that 5k, which should have been short, seemed to last forever.
When I grow up, I want to be Gil (my teammate who I love dearly and who took 1st place in the men's 45-49 category -- he's the guy who called the swim "people soup")
The next race is in just under 2 weeks in Netanya. I haven't decided if I'll be doing this one or not. There's another race two weeks after that, then a couple of duathlons in October and the Eilat Triathlon in December to close the season.