Although my start time was 9:10, the bus left at 4:15, so I had to be up and out very early. When I walked out the door, I found myself in total darkness. There was no moon and all of the street lamps were out. I had planned on riding my bike to the meeting spot, but I was a bit afraid because I had taken the light off my bike and I was wearing a black t-shirt and in total darkness, the chances of an approaching car seeing me were pretty slim. However, if I didn't ride my bike, I was going to miss the bus, so after turning off of my street, I got on and prayed. I could hardly see the road and I was afraid I was going to ride over something. Fortunately, it's a very short ride to the square that I had to cross and I knew there would be no cars there (there were no cars anywhere at 4 a.m.) and the street lamps were on in the square and in parking lot where we were meeting. I don't know what happened to them here -- some kind of electrical failure just in a small area.
I managed to get a bit more sleep on the bus and because we'd arrived so early, I got a very good spot in the transition area. That left me with two and a half hours to burn. So I spent two and a half hours walking down to the beach and back up, making a short trip to the bathroom, walking the run course (barefoot) and doing I don't know what else. Eventually, I did a short run (barefoot on the sidewalk -- they wouldn't let us into the transition area) and then headed down to the beach again for a short swim.
I was almost sorry I'd decided to go in the water before the race. The sea was much rougher than it had been at this same race last year. There were waves and a strong current. And to make matters worse, there were lots of jellyfish. I didn't actually see them (other people did), but I could feel tiny stings. Everyone got stung today, though it was mainly tiny little stings, which are annoying, but not painful.
The race started and I prayed. I don't think I would have done the swim alone, but with 150 or so other people, I felt a bit more comfortable. There were waves hitting me in the face at first and I was swallowing water. Yuck. I wasn't getting beaten up too badly, but the water was throwing me around quite a bit. I'm at a big disadvantage in choppy water, because although I have good swimming form, I'm not a physically strong swimmer. I just kept my cool and kept moving forwards.
At some point, when we were out far enough for the water to have calmed down a bit, I realized that I was just kind of swimming along at a leisurely pace. "Umm... Hello??? This is a race!" Oops. I started to swim a bit harder. It was still a bit choppy, though, and I was very glad to see the first buoy, until I realized that it wasn't the first buoy for us -- it was the buoy for the youth "mini-sprint" (they swim 500 meters). So I kept going, looking for the orange buoy, which eventually appeared.
I thought that once I got around the buoy, things would get better. Nope. The water felt just as choppy swimming parallel to the shore.
Around the second buoy, it was a bit better. The waves were behind me. But now I was being pulled to the left, towards the rope. They'd actually changed the direction of the swim because of the current. I tried to stay away from the rope, but every couple of minutes, I'd find myself back up against it. At one point, I got pushed over the rope and when I went back to the other side, I noticed people standing. I normally swim in as far as possible, but I'd had enough. I got up, too, and that's when I saw my teammate, Gil, right in front of me. It was comforting to know that my swim couldn't have been too bad, as he'd gone into the water way ahead of me. I ran/walked out carefully and then glanced at my watch. Ugh -- 17:45 for 750 meters. Definitely not my best time ever -- not even close. But it was over and I was happy to be out of the water.
The run to the transition area is up a steep hill. I was really panting when I got to my bike. I got my shoes and helmet and number on and headed out, together with my teammate, Ronit, who had had a better swim than me, but is slow in the transition area. Time for the swim plus the transition: 21:17. Last year I did it in 20:51, but last year, the water was a whole lot calmer. I was 1/4 in my age group for the swim.
It took me what seemed like forever to actually get on my bike (I was still panting), and by the time I did, Ronit had pulled far away. This was a draft legal race, so I really wanted to catch up with her so that we could work together. She normally rides just a little bit faster than I do, so catching up wasn't easy, but I pushed really hard and caught her fairly quickly. Then I just sat at her wheel. I pulled ahead of her several times so that she could draft off of me, but she didn't like the feeling of not making an effort and she kept passing me back. Finally, I gave up and just sat at her wheel for the entire 24 km. This didn't bother her a bit and I'm sure we looked cute together -- two women wearing the same thing with almost identical numbers (I'm 1555 and she's 1525) doing the entire ride together. She really helped me -- it was so much easier for me to draft off of her than it would have been to do the entire ride alone. I finished in 49:48 for an average of almost 29 kph. I was 1/4 in my age group. Last year's time on the same course was 56:14, so this was a huge improvement.
By the time we headed out on the run, it was really hot. REALLY hot. People were wilting on the course. At some point, they stopped handing us cups of water and starting giving us bottles instead. I drank and poured (over my head), drank and poured. I did NOT enjoy the run, but I was determined to keep running, unlike last year. Nothing was hurting me -- my legs felt fine, in fact -- the only reason I had to stop running was that I was hot and breathing hard. That's not a good enough reason. I knew that Michaela, the woman who passes me on the run, was a couple of kilometers behind me. I'd hit the 1 km mark just as she passed by on the bike and yelled out my name. No matter how slowly I ran, she wouldn't be able to pass me. In fact, she probably wouldn't have passed me if I'd walked, but I wasn't sure who was in front of me and I wasn't going to lose a race because I was hot. EVERYONE was hot.
So I ran and ran and ran. Two out and backs. I was SO happy to see the finish line and even happier to cross it. My time for the run plus the transition was 31:17. Not a really great 5k time, even if it does include racking my bike and changing shoes, but good enough for 2/4 in my age group (only Michaela ran faster) and much better than last year's time of 34:06 (I walked part of the course last year). My final time was 1:42:23, nine minutes better than last year's time of 1:51:12, despite the slower swim.
I thought I'd finished first in my age group, so I was a bit surprised when they finally posted the result sheet and I was listed as second. I scanned the results to see who was first. It was someone who had been slower than me on the swim, much slower than me on the bike and had run 5 km in just over 17 minutes. Hmm... Turns out she had apparently only run one loop. The head referee somehow missed this, but the ITA chairman didn't and when he saw her times during the awards ceremony, he disqualified her and presented me with the first place trophy. 1/4 in my age group! Yay!!!
When I looked at the results again later on, I noticed that I'd closed the gap between Michaela and me in the run a bit. She was beating me by about five minutes. In our last race, it was four minutes. Today, it was three and a half. I'm catching up!