Tri-ing in the Holy Land

The ramblings of a struggling triathlete in Israel

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Location: Israel

I'm the mother of 3, a teacher and a couch potato turned triathlete.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The most disgusting swim practice ever

There was a party or something at the indoor pool last night, so they asked us to move our practice to the outdoor pool. The pool was closed, but the coach is a certified lifeguard and there was a second lifeguard available, as well, so they opened the outdoor pool just for us.

When I got to the pool, I saw the lifeguard with a net, trying to fish stuff out of the pool. The entire surface was covered in bugs and he wasn't having a lot of success getting them out. He suggested we notopen our mouths in the water. Yuck. And if that wasn't bad enough, there were swarms of ants on the pool deck. I put my stuff (fins, kickboard, etc.) on the deck and within seconds, they were covered in ants. Blech!

Despite the bugs and ants, I managed to finish the warm up. Just as I finished, the lifeguard came and asked if we could move up to the indoor pool. The party had finished and despite the fact that the gate was closed, some kids had seen the lights on at the outdoor pool and they had jumped right in. The lifeguard didn't feel like chasing people out of the pool and he wanted to turn off the lights. So weswitched pools.

We did the main set and as we were standing at the end of the pool getting further instructions from the coach (he wanted us to do stroke drills to cool down), the lifeguard came and told us that we had to get out of the pool. It was supposed to be open for another 20 minutes and they never kick us out, even when the pool closes (we're normally courteous enough to get out on our own without having to be asked), so we asked why we couldn't keep swimming. Turns out there was poop in the pool. God only knows how long we'd been swimming with poop in the pool (although the lifeguard insisted that it had only been there for ten minutes or less because he'd been walking around the pool checking it out and hadn't seen it when he'd made his last round ten minutes earlier). Needless to say, we got out of the pool very quickly.

Bugs, ants, poop... I think I'd rather swim with jellyfish. I should be careful about what I wish for, though -- our next swim is on Saturday at the beach and there are HUGE jellyfish here this year. Maybe I should take up tennis...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Reflection on the Tel Aviv Triathlon

I am no longer drowning in matriculation exams and I finally have time to post. Yes, I know I didn't reflect on the Lehavim Triple -- too many races, too little time. Here are my thoughts on Tel Aviv:

Did you enjoy the race?

For the most part, yes. This is not my favorite race -- it's crowded, hot and humid. But I like races in general, so I guess you could say that I enjoyed this one.

Which parts of the race were easy and which were hard?

The swim was easy, but too long (because I made it too long). I didn't get beaten up for a change, so that was nice. Unfortunately, "easy" doesn't necessarily mean "good".

The bike course was very crowded and rather frightening at times. It wasn't hard, but it did require complete concentration at all times in order to avoid having an accident.

The run was hard. The course itself is easy -- completely flat, apart from a few short pedestrian bridges, but there is little shade and it was hot. And I was really pushing the run (though it's hard to see that from my time). In fact, I was second out of nine in my age group for the run -- that never happens! So in complete contrast to the swim, "hard" in this case was also "good".

Did you learn anything from the race? If so, what?

Yes, a few things. First of all, I learned that if I want to be competitive in the swim, I have to get over my fear of other swimmers. I need to find a way to swim well even when there are other people around me. Swimming around the edge of the course is easier, but it's not going to help me improve my swim times. Note that in my last reflection (on the Women's Triathlon), I said just the opposite. There must be a "happy medium" here somewhere!

The second and most important thing I learned was that I can push myself to the limit and survive. I really suffered during the run, but I didn't give up and I didn't even take a break. I just kept pushing, right to the finish line. Even meters away, I wasn't sure I could make it on my feet, but I did. I feel like I've overcome another mental barrier -- I've finally learned how to dig really deep inside myself and make a 100% effort.

Another lesson I learned was that the competition can surprise you. The two women who I was looking out for during the race, the two I thought had the potential to finish ahead of me, both finished behind me. In fact, this was the first time I'd ever beaten the woman who finished in 5th place -- she usually finishes one or two places ahead of me. However, the two who finished ahead of me both finished behind me just three weeks earlier at the Women's Triathlon. One of them is a new competitor, but the other is someone who had never beaten me before (and she was less than a minute ahead of me this time). It's great to have several women with similar abilities competing against one another -- it makes it a lot more fun (and more interesting, too!).

Which part of the race did you enjoy the most?

Strange as this sounds, the run. It was hard, but after running away from everyone else during the swim and being so cautious during the bike, I enjoyed the feeling that my performance would depend entirely on me and not on any outside factors. I felt pretty bad while I was doing it, but when the race was over, my run effort gave me more satisfaction than any other part of the race.

What do you think you did well?

My transitions were good, apart from getting on the bike (that wasn't really something I could control -- it was very crowded). And, of course, the run was relatively good. But the thing I did the best was keeping a good attitude throughout the entire race. Any negative thought that entered my head was immediately replaced by a positive one. This, more than anything else, was what got me through, even when it got really hot and my body wasn't completely cooperative. This was a milestone for me -- one I'd been aiming for for some time.

What could you have done differently?

That's easy. I could have raced the swim. I'm a strong swimmer. I'm not always fast, but I'm not slow, either. I can easily keep up with the teammates who exited the water two minutes ahead of me. I need to take that positive attitude to the starting line, rather than burdening myself with thoughts of being trampled or drowned. Two minutes less on the swim would have moved me up one place in the age group standings. It also would have taken me out on the bike course two minutes earlier, when it was less crowded. That might have improved my time. If there's one thing I regret about this race, it's my decision to wimp out on the swim. I don't want the swim, even if it's crowded, to be a limiter for me. It's time to take a good, logical look at my fear and to start dealing with it.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Tel Aviv Triathlon - 17 June 2006

Thanks to 4sport, TAN and Shvoong for the photos

This was not one of my favorite races last year. I remembered it as being crowded with too many people wandering around in the transition area and very hot without much shade on the run. In fact, although I came in 3rd place last year, it was one of my worst races. I got dehydrated and ended up walking much of the run. The main reason I chose to do the race this year was to "fix" what went wrong last year.

Although the start time for the sprint was 8:00, we had to leave at 4:00 because the kids started early -- at 6:30. The bus parked quite a distance from the race site, so we had to walk with our bikes and equipment. When we got to the transition area, I spent several minutes wandering around trying to figure out where they'd put the sprint 39+ participants. Finally, after someone went and asked, I found it -- way off in another country (almost), in a separate area in the back that I hadn't even seen. It was the furthest point from the bike and run exits (and also from the entry from the swim), but we were all there together, so it didn't matter.

After getting set up, I hung around in the transition area watching the kids race until they kicked us out. There was still an hour to start time, but with no running shoes (they were in the transition area, of course), there would be no warm up run on the course. Instead, about 20 minutes later, I did a warm up run of about a kilometer on the beach and then took a short swim.

There were close to 400 people in the sprint 20+ wave and because they wanted to open the beach and the roads to the public as quickly as possible, they decided not to break us up into two waves. This was the largest swim start in Israeli triathlon history, as they made sure to tell us while we were standing on the beach. After being hit and punched and kicked and swum over too many times in recent races, I decided to move as far to the left as possible. This decision would have both good and bad consequences.

The swim was easy. I was so far over to the side that I was hardly touched at all. And I was so far over to the side that it seemed to be taking me forever, even though I was swimming. In fact, every single one of my teammates was out of the water before I was, even the slowest ones. I don't know how far I swam, but it was a lot more than 750 meters. On my way out of the water, I stepped into a hole and fell. I'm glad they didn't catch that on camera! I quickly picked myself up and ran up onto the beach. It took me a few more seconds to remember to look at my watch. At this point, it read 17:40. Ugh. Not a good time at all.

The swim to bike transition at this race is very very long. I had to run up the beach, past a shopping center and several businesses (cafes, etc.) in the port, across the boardwalk and then across the entire transition area. It's several hundred meters and many people left shoes at the swim exit, but I chose to do it barefoot. My transition went smoothly. Total time for swim plus transition: 22:09. The split times on the results are messed up, so I'm not sure where exactly this put me, but it wasn't in a particularly good place. There were plenty of people behind me, but way too many in front of me. Not a great start, but, as I reminded myself, this was the start I had chosen. Last year, my time was 23:20 (I had a very bad transition), so I managed to improve it a bit.

On to the bike. It was very very crowded in the mounting area. I have no idea if there were any accidents there during the race, but I wouldn't be surprised. Even after managing to get on my bike, I couldn't move -- there were too many people in front of me getting on theirs. The race officials were asking people not to pass in the mounting area and I took advantage of the slow pace to get clipped in. Once I turned the corner and hit open road, I was on my way.

Because of the number of participants and the fact that the course is short (sprint competitors had to do two loops for a total of about 21.75 km), this was a draft legal race. There were hundreds of people out there on the course (sprint and Olympic distance racers) and huge groups of people riding together. From what I heard, there were also quite a few accidents. I did my best to stay away from reckless riders and to take the turns slowly. The fun part about draft legal races is that you can stay close enough to another rider to have a conversation with him and I spoke to several other people. Generally, this is my favorite part of the race, but the safety issue made it a bit less enjoyable than usual. Despite the number of people and the fact that I didn't really manage to find someone that I could work with, I managed a fair pace. I finished the course in 44:39, averaging around 29 kph -- not bad for me. Last year's time was 48:59, so I was over four minutes faster this year. Last year, however, I had a lot of knee pain during the bike and I really suffered.

The bike to run transition went smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that for a moment, I was sure I must have forgotten to do something. Actually, I wasn't in all that much of a rush. I was trying to psych myself up for the run, but memories of last year's run must have been in the back of my mind and I wouldn't have minded spending a few more seconds in the transition area. Then I remembered Michaela. Michaela, that woman in my age group who keeps passing me on the run. Michaela, the woman who I'd kindly asked earlier in the day not to pass me in this race. LOL. I did want to see Michaela again, but only after the race was over. I knew she was somewhere behind me and I didn't know how far back. Off I went.

The run was hot and the course was packed. I tried very hard to keep positive thoughts running through my head. "You can do this -- it's only 5 km." "You're in great shape, this is a piece of cake." When I ran out of those, I thought of Michaela somewhere behind me. And when I stopped caring about her, I just thought, "JFR". I made sure to take water at all the water stops. I wasn't going to get dehydrated this time. Starting at the second water stop, the water was ice cold. In fact, it was so cold, that I debated not drinking it and just pouring the whole cup over my head. Fortunately, common sense won out -- I drank and then poured. Around halfway, I found myself running with a woman in the age group below me. We stayed together for a bit and then she pulled ahead, but she called me to catch up with her so that we could keep running together. So I did. We stayed together until almost the end (when I passed her and just kept going).

The closer I got to the end of the course, the more difficult it became, but the more determined I was not to slow down. I was breathing very hard and my legs were tired. I don't get this at all. It's only 5 km (actually, if I remember correctly, it's a little bit more, but still short). I run longer distances than this all the time. Apart from three or four bridges that have to be run up and down, the course is completely flat. Why on earth is it so damn hard? And this is not just my own personal opinion. I heard lots of people talking about how hard the run is at this race.

By 4 km, Michaela hadn't passed me. I knew she couldn't be far behind, though, and I decided to give the last km all I had. That wasn't much. 500 meters to go. No Michaela. It was almost over. 200 meters -- there was no way I was going to let her pass me now. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't work up to a sprint. My legs wouldn't go any faster. I was breathing so hard that I thought I was going to die right there on the course. I was getting nauseous. Even with the finish line in sight, I wasn't sure I could make it. But I did. My time for the run including the transition was 31:49. Not a great 5 km time for me, even if it was a bit long and included a transition, but a whole lot better than last year's time of 35:03. And I'd run the whole thing. And I hadn't gotten dehydrated. And Michaela hadn't passed me. I'd achieved all my goals (and "fixed" last year's experience). My final time for the race was 1:38:37, just under nine minutes faster than last year. I was 268/387 overall and 3/9 for women 40-44. Hardware! And in a bigger field than last year! The only "downer" was the realization that if I had swum with my teammates, I would have finished in second place -- the second place finisher, a woman I normally beat, was only a minute ahead of me. I wasn't all that far behind first place, either -- about three and a half minutes -- and this, too, was a woman I have beaten before.

And Michaela? Well, she finished just under a minute after me. I was still in the finishing area when she came through. She came right up to me and said, "You did it! I looked for you, but I couldn't catch up!" Her run had been about four and a half minutes faster than mine. In previous races, she's been five minutes faster -- I'm catching up!

Last year, I was happy to be in the middle of my age group or below. Just one season later, I've actually become one of the better competitors. It's so strange to think that when other women look at the participant list and see my name, they might be saying, "Oh, she's tough to keep up with!" I never thought I'd be that person. And I've only just started. I'm pretty certain I've got a whole lot more "oomph" in me!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Enough to make you want to turn around and go home

I had a great race today. This is not my race report (that will follow some time tomorrow, probably). If I'd followed my instincts, though, I wouldn't have raced at all.

The words that no mediocre swimmer (and especially not a relatively small woman surrounded by big men on the beach) wants to hear just before a race: "Today's sprint start, with almost 400 participants, is the largest start ever in Israeli triathlon history. It should be some sight, though it might not be too pleasant for the participants."

I wonder what the chances are of someone actually seeing you drown with 400 people in the water...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Lehavim Triple Super Sprint Triathlon - 10 June 2006

Thanks to Shvoong for the photos.

It was a beautiful day for a race. I have to emphasize this point, because starting a race at 9 a.m. in the desert in June would normally be more than slightly insane. It was really hot here (high 90s) for most of the week, but in couple of days before the race, the temperatures had cooled off and Saturday was beautiful. We couldn't have asked for better weather. In fact, after the race, I went for a short swim and I was downright COLD sitting around in my wet tri suit after that.

This race is a strange one. It's three rounds, each in a different order, as follows:

round 1:
1.5 km run
200 m swim
6 km bike

2:6 km bike
1.5 km run
200 m swim

round 3:
200 m swim
6 km bike
1.5 km run

There are 40 minutes between start times. Anyone who doesn't finish a round within 40 minutes is disqualified. Everyone was able to finish within the allotted time.

They opened up the transition area for age groupers between 7:30 and 8:00 (because of our late start time), so since this race is a five minute walk from my house, I was able to sleep late. Of course, most people wouldn't call getting up at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning sleeping "late", but it's late to me! I was also able to get a decent amount of sleep last night, so I felt fresh and ready to go in the morning.

I did a short warm up run and warmed up my shoulders a bit. Everything seemed to be in working order and I was ready to race.

Round 1:

I went out slowly on the run. This was intentional. There was one other woman in my age group and I saw her running out ahead of me, but I just held my pace. I knew what she didn't -- we were running downhill (you can't see it, but you can definitely feel it on the way back) and there was a bigger hill that we'd have to run up after the turn-around. I passed her on the way back. I was still pretty much in the back of the pack, but there were only 41 age groupers in the race today and only seven of them were women, so I didn't really expect to be out front or even in the middle.

The run was short and uneventful. I quickly entered the transition area, got my shoes off, flipped over to get my swim cap on (I have to flip over to get my pony tail in quickly) and headed off to the pool, goggles in my hand -- I put them on on the way. Run time, including transition: 8:09. This would be a very fast 1.5 km time for me without the transition. I was 1/2 in my age group and 34/41 overall.

I was assigned to the indoor pool this year. I would have preferred to swim outdoors like last year. And to make matters worse, I was in the last lane, which meant I had to run (walk) across the very slippery floor before I could actually get in the pool. However, the lanes are divided by age group, so I wasn't at a real disadvantage. The other woman in my age group swam with me, as did my teammate who is one age group above me. So I slipped and slid across the floor to my lane, got in carefully (no jumping in this year -- this was the shallow end) and started swimming. All that active recovery that we've been doing in swim practice has really paid off. Despite the fact that I was pretty out of breath from running, I had absolutely no trouble swimming. I wasn't going fast, but I was swimming at a decent pace.

Eight lengths of the pool and then I got out and slipped and slid my way across the floor again and out the door towards the transition area. Total swim time (including an uphill run after crossing the mat, slipping and sliding across the pool area floor in both directions and running down the hill on my way out): 5:34. I have no idea how long I was actually in the pool. I was 1/2 in my age group and 31/41 overall.

I had a GREAT transition. Even my coach was impressed. I hope he didn't see me actually getting on the bike -- he wouldn't have been as impressed. At least I didn't actually fall over. Enough said. The bike course is tough. I heard people commenting on it later on. I'm very familiar with it, of course, as I ride it regularly. It starts out easy enough, but there's a long uphill section and parts of the hill are rather annoying. This was a draft-legal race and at one point, a guy passed me and I took advantage of the opportunity to draft off of him up about half of the hill. Since he was quite a bit heavier than I am, it started to get tough for him when the hill got steeper, so I took over and he drafted off of me the rest of the way up (and remembered to thank me later on). His weight gave him an advantage going back down the hill and I never quite caught up with him.

At the end of the course, I carefully picked my bike up over the edge of the sidewalk (there was a volunteer whose only job, apparently, was to say, "Pick up your bike" to each competitor) and then ran back into the transition area. I decided to leave my helmet and cycling shoes on for the run to the finish line after racking my bike. Running with my shoes on was a bit difficult, but I survived. Bike time (including racking my bike and running to the finish line): 15:16. This looks a bit slow, but everyone's bike times were slower this round -- I don't know why, but I suspect that this time includes the transition (because I don't think my swim time does). Anyway, I was 1/2 in my age group and 33/41 overall.

I finished round 1 in 29:01. This is about three minutes faster than last year and this year's bike course was slightly longer (but it was also a lot hotter last year). I was 1/2 in my age group, 4/7 overall women and 34/41 overall.

Round 2:

This is my least favorite of the three rounds. I don't like starting on the bike and I don't like swimming at the end.

My bike start sucked. I had this stupid idea of hitting the button on my watch, which made it very difficult to get started on the bike. My feet were flying everywhere and everyone else was pulling ahead. I was trying not to ride into the cones. And to hit the button on my watch. I spent most of the ride playing catch-up. I thought I was the last person, but there were a couple of people behind me. I passed a couple more and finished the bike course in 13:26. I was 1/2 in my age group and 37/41 overall. Not particularly impressive. I normally like the bike, but I was actually glad that I only had to go up that hill one more time after this.

My transition was ok, but not great. It's harder for me to get into my running shoes than it is to get into my cycling shoes. I kind of fumbled my way through it and headed out on the run. I don't remember anything at all about the second run, apart from thinking about how I had to swim afterwards. Before I knew it, I was back in the transition area, getting my shoes off and my swim cap on. Once again, I put on my goggles as I ran. My time for the run plus two transitions (bike to run and run to swim): 9:58. Once again, I was 1/2 in my age group and I was 33/41 overall.

I slid across the floor again and got into the pool. I made the same observation that I'd made during the first swim -- active recovery practice pays off. No problem on the swim. Not super fast, but steady, no struggling, no gasping for air. The only thing that bothered me was my shoulder, but it wasn't too bad and didn't prevent me from pulling through my stroke. Getting out of the pool was another story. I slipped on the wet floor and then tripped over a plastic bottle that someone had left there and went flying into the wall. Fortunately, my hand hit the wall first and I wasn't moving too quickly, so I was fine, though a bit disoriented. After commenting on the bottle that shouldn't have been there, I ran out and down the hill and then turned around to run across the finish line. My swim time, including the runs to and from the swim and sliding across the floor: 5:39. I was 1/2 in my age group and 30/41 overall. I finished round 2 in 29:04 -- almost exactly the same time that I'd done in round 1. I was 1/2 in my age group, 5/7 overall women and 36/41 overall. This was my worst round of the three.

Round 3:

My favorite round -- I like doing things the "traditional" way.

Although I was in the water, I almost missed the start -- I was busy talking to the other woman in my age group. When they blew the horn, my goggles were still on my forehead. I quickly put them on and took off behind the other two women. This was actually right where I wanted to be. We'd done some drafting practice earlier in the week and I had been amazed by how much easier it is to swim when you draft off of someone else, so I decided to put this into practice and save my energy for the bike and run. It was great. I drafted off of the other two women for 175 meters. When we turned around to do the last length of the pool, I stayed on the left. I passed the woman who was ahead of me and caught up with my teammate, Ronit. We hit the wall at exactly the same time and got out of the pool together. The third woman was right behind us. This time I know that they took the time from after the transition (I could tell by Ronit's time -- although we left the pool together, she crossed over the first mat before me, but I passed her in the transition area and ended up with the faster swim time). My time for swim plus transition (which was very fast): 5:36. I was 1/2 in my age group and 25/41 overall. Drafting on the swim pays off.

The bike went ok. I struggled a bit going up the hill this time and found myself breathing rather hard. There was no one for me to draft off of, so I was on my own. My dismount was particularly slow, as I was starting to get tired at this point. My bike time: 13:16 (the fastest of the three rounds). I was 1/2 in my age group and 32/41 overall.

After another clumsy transition, I headed out for the last run. At this point, I knew that I was going to finish the race on time (you can't get a flat tire on the run!) and I knew that I was going to win my age group, so there was no real reason to hurry, apart from the desire to improve my time. The problem was that I had no idea how long I'd been out there -- because I'd almost missed the swim start, I hadn't hit the button on my watch. So I just ran at a reasonable pace -- not too slow, not too fast. Towards the end, I picked up the pace a bit and tried to run hard towards the finish line, but my legs were pretty tired and it was tough. My run time, including the transition, was 9:28. I was 1/2 in my age group and 29/41 overall (I guess everyone was tired at this point). My time for round 3 was my best of the day: 28:20 - 1/2 in my age group, 4/7 overall women, 30/41 overall.

I took first place for women 40-44 and fourth place overall women. That's quite an improvement over last year, when I was 7/7 for women (I think I had tougher competitors). I also took 3:00-3:30 off last year's times for each of the three rounds, even though I had to do more transitions this year (last year I rode in my running shoes).

I was thrilled with my times and I felt great after the race. In fact, I probably felt TOO great after the race. LOL. I wasn't anywhere near as exhausted as I remember being last year. I could have even done another round! I'd had not-so-great memories of this race from last year (mentally, it's a very tough race), but it was so much easier this year and I really had a wonderful time. It's a lot of fun to race in your own town with your friends and neighbors all out watching you and cheering you on. It's nice to be handed water by kids who know your name, too.

So, beautiful day, great race, hardware and no drive home. What could be better than that?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

May totals

I'm busy checking matriculation exams, which is why I haven't been posting, but I did want to post my totals for May.

swim: 20,750 meters - less than March and April, but not too bad. Enough to make my shoulder start hurting again :-(

bike: road bike - 141 km, mountain bike - 12 km - very low. However, here I have an excuse. I did two races and a training race on three of the Saturdays in May and we went mountain biking on one other. Saturday is normally our long ride day, but we only did one long ride all month and even that one wasn't particularly long (we did a time trial). Between the really bad drivers and the less-than-friendly population around here (especially if you're a woman), I don't feel comfortable going for long rides on my own, so I'm limited to what the team does unless I want to ride in endless circles around town. And in spite of the low mileage, I broke my 20 km PR twice in May. Go figure.

run: 51.1 km - quite a bit less than April and about 10 km short of where I want to be, but better than other months

I did well in both of my races in May, lowering my times for the same races last year. The training race didn't go well, but the lesson that I learned from it was one of the things that enabled me to do well in the "real thing".

My plans for June are to do the Lehavim Triple Super Sprint Triathlon next Saturday and the Tel Aviv Triathlon the following Saturday. I also plan to do the Netanya Triathlon at the end of the month (there go all my long rides!). That will end this part of the racing season -- there's a two-month break before we start racing again in early September.

Although I'll be racing, I'm going to try to take it easy with training this month, as for the next three weeks I'll be under a lot of stress, marking 432 exams a week. The stress of marking matriculation exams always plays havoc on my body, so I'm hoping to be smarter this time and give my body a bit of a break in training.

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