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.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

It's dangerous out there...

Yesterday, my friend Gil was hit by a car while out on his bike. The driver was "nice enough" to stop to see if Gil was still alive before fleeing the scene. Gil broke his shoulder and dislocated his thumb. His helmet broke -- I don't even want to think about what would have happened to his head if he hadn't been wearing it.

This morning, I was woken up at 6:23 a.m. (two minutes before my alarm was to go off) by what sounded like a big metal object falling. My husband immediately recognized the sound as that of a car accident, so we ran outside to see what had happened. I left the house, rounded the corner and this is what I saw:

From where I was standing, I couldn't see whether or not the driver was in the car and I assumed that he was, but I quickly discovered that he had already managed to crawl out the window. The driver was a young guy, about 20, who was most likely returning home from a party or something. He wasn't clear on what had happened exactly, but from what we could tell, he hit the parked car pictured below, lost control of his car and flipped over.

Here are a couple more pictures of the flipped-over car:

Amazingly, the driver was uninjured apart from some lacerations on his hand from the broken glass. As we were standing outside looking at the scene of the accident, however, something really scary occurred to me. Our team ride this morning was to the beach in Ashkelon. The meeting time was 6:30, but for various reasons, several of the adult members of the team decided at the last minute to do our own ride in the area and to leave at 7:00. While we were outside, we saw all the kids riding down to the meeting point. That's when I realized that if my 62-year-old teammate, Ilan, who lives one street down from me, hadn't changed his mind about the team ride, he would have been making a left turn out onto the main road (where the accident was) at just about the time that the accident happened. To get a better idea of where he would have been, look at this satellite view (he would have turned right out of his house and then left at the corner, exactly where the parked car was):

It's too scary to consider what might have happened if he'd chosen to ride with the team.

Anyway, we did a short and uneventful (apart from the fog, which we hit a few kilometers up the road) 40 km ride and we all got home safely.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lehavim 3k - 10 November 2007

After registering for the 10k, I reconsidered and decided that for a whole bunch of reasons, doing the 3k at this race would be smarter. 3k is short, but in my opinion, it's a lot harder than 10k, or at least if you race it.

The race took place less than a kilometer from my house. I actually got to sleep "late" this morning, because I was racing instead of doing my long Saturday ride, which normally starts at 6:30. I walked down to the race site at about 8:30, got my number and then just hung out for a while talking to friends. The 10k started at 9:15. I watched the start and then headed out to do a warm up. The shorter the race, the longer the warm up, so I settled on 2 km, which might not have been enough, but I was starting to feel warmed up when I finished. When I got back to the starting line, a friend informed me that I'd almost missed the start because they'd decided to make it 15 minutes earlier. Uh, hello? Not a really smart move when there are people out warming up! In the end, the race started on time.

This is a really small race and even in the 3k, there were some fast runners. The start is always the worst part for me, as the faster runners take off with the slower runners trying to keep up. I, on the other hand, always try to start at a pace that I believe I can hold. Maybe my strategy
is wrong -- I don't know, but it works for me. So there I was at the back of the pack, either the last runner or one of the last. The one other woman in my age group was up ahead of me, running fast, but I just decided to keep running my own race at the best pace I could hold. Within 500 meters, I'd caught up with and passed that woman and I'd started passing other people.

My goal for this race was to do under 6:00/km (finish in under 18:00). That's really slow for most people, but it's a good pace for me and, in fact, one I've been having trouble maintaining recently. At the first km, I glanced down at my Garmin and saw about 5:25 or so. I was very happy with this pace and for a moment, wondered if I could hold it, but then decided to just keep running as hard as I could -- it was only 3 km! The first half of the race was almost entirely uphill. It's not a steep hill, but it's a long, gradual incline. I've run this route more times than I could possible count, so I knew what to expect. I also know that if I could make it through the first half without slowing down, the second half would be a whole lot easier, apart from a 100 or so meter uphill section at the end. I never looked at my watch again until after I'd crossed the finish line.

I don't remember much about the race after the turn-around. I do remember that I was still running hard. As I turned towards the finish line with less than 500 meters to go, I was faced with that short, but rather steep hill. I knew that the moment I hit the top, I'd be home free. And I was. According to my watch (I haven't seen the official results), I crossed the finish line in 16:17 and my Garmin says the route was 3.07 km -- 70 meters long. The last 70 meters took me 19 seconds to run. So I guess my goal of under 18:00 was a bit conservative. I finished 3 km in under 16:00 with an average pace of 5:18/km. I'm pretty sure I've never run that fast over a distance of more than 1 to 2 km in my life. I did actually finish this same race a second faster three years ago, but I'm almost positive the course was short that year (I remember checking it with my car and discovering that it was very short -- like 300 meters). I took first place in my age group and got a huge trophy (as you can see in the photo above).

And, of course, with the Eilat Triathlon coming up, the first thought that passed through my mind was, "Could I hold that pace for another 2 km?" And the answer is, I don't honestly know. My average heart rate was 172, reaching 184 only towards the end, when I tried to sprint (and when I had to go up that hill). If anyone had asked me yesterday if I could hold that pace for 3 km, I would have said no. Not only did I hold it, but I had a negative split (of course, the second half was a bit easier than the first). On a 5 km course at the end of a triathlon, I have to take water. I skipped the water stations today -- I don't need water to run a stand-alone 3k. That will obviously slow me down a bit, but how much? And running at the end of a triathlon is harder, but how much harder? My normal triathlon running pace is over 6:00/km, but I'm aiming to beat that in Eilat this year. I'd say, "Wish me luck," but I suspect that there's a lot more determination involved than luck.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Pictures from training camp

Here we are at the lecture on Thursday night. As you can see, we were all captivated. I'm in the blue jacket, between the two men. I'm not sleeping, just resting my had on my hand. Gil, on the other hand (sitting to my right) is fast asleep, but somehow, he was still able to tell us what the lecture had been about!

Here I am on the way up to Ein Netafim on Friday morning. You can't tell from the picture, but at this point, I was already exhausted and had already stopped for one (long) break. Shaul, the guy who took the picture, was busy talking to me from his car about some translation work that I did for the team and I was actually answering him. Gotta love the crazy pink jersey (this is the one I got for my birthday). My daughter saw this picture and all she said was, "WHAT are you wearing?!"

This is at the swim workout on Friday afternoon. I look a bit confused. That's probably because I seemed to be moving against the stream for the entire workout. While everyone was swimming in one direction, I was always going in the other!

Saturday morning before the practice race. I'm heading out for a warm up. The picture is a bit blurry, but I'm smiling!

On the way to the swim start, still smiling.

Last minute instructions before the start. Everyone else is listening -- I'm not sure what I'm doing...

Still getting instructions and I'm still standing in my typical hands-on-hips pose. It's always nice to have someone take a picture of your butt!

Into the water for the start. It was cold!

On the bike. I'm still smiling and having a great time (as is Meir, who's busy drafting off of me -- he later passed me and then took off).

This is the run start -- I think. Am I running??? Kinda hard to tell...

Getting ready for our ride to the Taba border on Saturday morning. That's me in the sleeveless red jersey. This is a jersey that I'm going to wear more often -- I look skinny!

The team at the Taba border. We look pretty good for a group of people who got very little sleep and worked very hard!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Training camp in Eilat -- part 4

We met in the parking lot at 5:30 for our first workout of the third day -- a practice race on the course of the Eilat Triathlon. The idea of doing a practice race after the previous day (with that very difficult climb) was rather overwhelming, but fortunately, my brain is not very awake at that hour of the morning, so I just kind of went with the flow of things.

Got to the "transition area", did a short warmup, took a dip in the water and then stood on the beach, shivering (it was cold!), waiting to start the "race". I'll spare you the blow-by-blow of the practice race and just supply the highlights. Remember Ronit, my teammate who I have never ever beaten in a single race or practice race? Well, she and I ended up doing the entire swim together, side by side, and that's how we got out of the water. I'm much faster than she is in the transition area and I headed out on my bike long before she headed out on hers. I'm also stronger on the bike than she is (that didn't used to be the case), so she never managed to catch up with me. It was a very tough first 10 km into strong winds (Eilat is always like that) and we both struggled, but I guess I struggled less than she did. The second half was much easier ;-) Ronit runs faster than I do, but she didn't manage to catch me. Despite sore muscles and the previous day's dehydration, I was in top form this morning and although the run wasn't fast, I felt strong and I had no problem keeping her behind me. I finished a minute or so ahead of her and as soon as she finished, she announced to everyone that I'd done a great "race" because it was the first time I'd ever beaten her.

I really had done a great race. It wasn't just beating Ronit -- it was my entire attitude. I should have been tired and sore and maybe I was, but the entire time, all I could think about was how much fun I was having. In fact, I even said it out loud on the bike (while riding uphill into the wind). And I smiled during the run. SMILED!!! I'm not sure I've ever felt like that during a race (real or practice) before. In fact, I usually hate practice races -- they're harder than races (no water stops, for one thing) and there's no finish line, no one to cheer me on (though there were a few triathletes from the Eilat team out there this morning and they were cheering all of us on), no competition -- nothing to keep me motivated. I loved this practice race. It was like someone had switched something on in my brain and I was just out there feeling great and loving every second, even when it was hard. I can't even describe the feeling and I don't know what caused it, but I hope I can get it back next time. As I said to my coach after the workout -- maybe before every race I need to do a hard climb, get dehydrated and be completely exhausted! By the way, I actually did the practice race 15 seconds faster than I did the race last year. I think the swim may have been a little bit short and the run to the transition area was shorter, but I had to ride a bit slower today (there were cars on the road and in certain places it was frightening).

After the practice race, we rode back to the youth hostel, showered and had breakfast. Then, at 10:00, we headed out for the next workout -- a ride to the Taba border crossing and back, about 8 km each way. The ride there was easy and fast (with the wind at our backs). We stopped at the border to wait for the entire team to regroup, had a few pictures taken and then headed back. Well, I tried to head back. First, before I even managed to get on my bike, I dropped my chain (I must have accidentally kicked it). I got that back on, but while doing so, I must have dislodged my pump, which I discovered falling off my bike after I'd started moving. It had actually started to fall apart (this is good -- I've been looking for a good excuse to replace it with a better one), so I had to stop, pick a piece up off the road and then hand it to the team manager, who was in his car. I ended up being the last one to leave the border with everyone else well ahead of me. There was a pretty strong headwind and a lot of traffic. Because of the traffic, I was afraid to go down on my aerobar -- the wind was making me wobbly and I didn't want to fall off in front of a moving car. So I just kept my body as low as possible and rode hard, trying to catch up with the team. Slowly, I did catch up with at least some of the team. I passed a few kids and then I passed Ronit, who I figured would hang on behind me, but she didn't. The best part, though, was that I passed one of the boys who later said to me, "I tried to draft off of you and I even managed to do it for a while!" This really made me smile. Most of these kids ride really well and the idea that one of them thought that I was someone worth drafting off of just made my day!

Here's a satellite map of our ride to Taba. The route is marked in red. To the right is the Red Sea. The yellow line is the border with Egypt. It looks here like we crossed the border, but, of course, we didn't -- whoever drew the line on the map apparently "missed". We did ride right up to the border, though.

As soon as we got back to the youth hostel, we changed into swim suits for the last "workout" of the day. This took place at the beach right across the street from the youth hostel. Eilat has a very beautiful coral reef and although we weren't on the reef itself, we were close enough to be able to see a LOT of beautiful coral and fish -- both the coral and the fish came in a variety of colors ranging from green and yellow to purple and blue. So while the kids were busy sprinting back and forth (because the coach told me that that's what they consider "fun"), Ronit and I were busy "sight-seeing". This was the perfect end to our short training camp -- it was so much fun that I was sorry I didn't have a snorkel (I had to keep taking my face out of the water to breathe -- how annoying!) and I didn't want to get out of the water. But like all good (and bad) things, training camp had to come to an end. We got out of the water and went back to the youth hostel to shower, pack, eat and head home.

So now I'm home -- sore and tired, but very content. It was a great weekend and I can hardly wait until next year (when I finally reach Ein Netafim!).

Training camp in Eilat -- part 3

After breakfast, we had a little bit of time to rest (and digest) before heading out for the second workout of the day at 10 a.m. Remember how cold it was in the morning? Well, it wasn't cold anymore and it was getting hotter by the minute. The heat, combined with the very low humidity in Eilat (normally around 10-15%, I believe), were to be major factors in this workout, which was definitely the low point of training camp for me.

The plan was to ride up to Ein Netafim, only about 10 km, but with a climb of around 550 meters, then ride back down most of the way, run 5 km and return to the youth hostel. I'd done Ein Netafim once before, during training camp two years ago, but I hadn't made it all the way to the top then (well, I did make it to the top, but I walked the last kilometer and a half or so). My teammate, Ronit, HAD made it to the top that day and I had vowed to make it all the way next time -- if Ronit can do it, so can I!

Time out for a side note... Ronit and I are teammates and we're not in the same age group (she's five years older than I am), but there is some healthy competition between us. Mainly, it serves to push us both a little harder. She's always been just a little bit faster than me and it drives me nuts, but it also gives me incentive. She took a year off from training due to breast cancer, but she came back several months ago, stronger than ever (that in itself is incredible) and I still can't keep up with her, except on the bike where I improved a lot while she was sick. Since Ronit did this climb two years ago, in my mind, there was absolutely no reason why I couldn't do it now -- I'm a better cyclist now than she was then. And back to my climb...

The climb started out great. I was trying to keep my heart rate as low as possible, spinning in low gear (although I couldn't really call it "spinning" for very long, but I still tried to save as much energy as possible). I quickly pulled ahead of Ronit and several other teammates and apart from one, I never saw them again during the climb. This is a steady climb, apart from two very very short breaks where the road goes downhill for maybe 100-200 meters. It was getting hotter and hotter (I'm talking mid 90s) and despite the dry climate and the wind, the sweat was still managing to drip down my face and into my eyes. That plus the flies was making me a little bit nuts, but I kept going. However, I have trouble drinking while I'm climbing slowly -- I really feel like I need both hands on the bike for balance. I had to wait until those short breaks to drink. I should have stopped the bike, had a drink and then continued on. Everyone is smarter in retrospect.

I don't know when the climb started getting really hard. I really was doing fine for a long time, despite the fact that I wasn't going any faster than 8 or 9 kph and sometimes even slower. I tried not to look too far ahead, because I found that looking up really freaked me out -- it's a never-ending climb. At around 8.4 km or so, I'd had it. My feet just kind of clipped out by themselves and I found myself standing on the side of the road. This is when I lost it. There was no one around (thankfully) and I just stood there and started sobbing. I admit it -- I cry really easily, especially when I'm stressed. I think it was my body that was stressed more than my mind, but crying is just my reaction to any kind of stress. I was also very disappointed. I'd planned to finish the climb and now that I'd stopped, I knew I couldn't finish because how could I possibly get back on the bike going uphill at a spot that had been so hard for me that I'd had to stop?

I stood there like that for about 15 minutes. At some point, I did stop crying (because I was literally screaming at a wasp that wouldn't leave me alone). I looked up and down and didn't see anyone. Eventually, a few of the faster riders did start coming down and then one of the drivers that was accompanying us pulled up and asked if I was ok and if I wanted to keep climbing or go back down. When I told him that I didn't think I'd be able to get on the bike, he told me that the grade wasn't too bad where I was standing and that I'd be able to do it. Amazingly, he was right. That 15 minute break (along with a lot of sports drink, though not enough) had done wonders. I easily got back on my bike and started heading uphill again.

I made it about 800 meters and then I had to stop again. The same driver stopped again and said that it was almost time to start heading down, so if I wanted to make it to the top, I had to get moving. So I got back on my bike and kept going, but it just wasn't meant to be. 100 meters later, I was off the bike again and this time, despite my great disappointment, I knew it was over. I was 500-700 meters from the top -- not too far, but it might as well have been a million miles, because I just couldn't do it. I managed to get off my bike and cross the road, intending to head back down, but when I got to the other side of the road, I realized that I couldn't get back on my bike. I was shaking like crazy, my heart rate was something like 175, which is very high for me on the bike and I was pretty certain that if I did somehow manage to actually get on the bike, there was no way I could control it going down that twisting, turning hill. I tried to call one of the other drivers, but he didn't answer, so I just stood there until the same driver came by again, this time with my coach in tow. I told my coach that I couldn't get back on the bike because I was shaking and I felt horrible and he said that I should get in the car and he'd ride my bike down (I think he was actually thrilled to get to ride!). The only problem was that I couldn't even swing my leg over the bike again. He had to hold my bike and hold on to me in order for me to get off (and I still managed to almost fall over).

So I rode down to the area where we were supposed to run in the car. When I got there, I just laid down on my back in the grass, unable to even think about running. When my coach showed up with my bike, I took the bike from him and then laid back down. I have no idea how anyone else was able to run in that heat, but I couldn't move and I certainly wasn't going to attempt to run 5 km or even 1 km for that matter. I was still shaking and I was starting to get nauseous. I was drinking, but still not enough.

Here's the elevation graph from the ride. The downhill part at the end is where I forgot to turn off my Garmin after getting in the car. I only rode the long uphill part...

After everyone was finished running, we got back on our bikes to ride down the rest of the way, maybe 3 km, to the youth hostel. We were supposed to ride down as a group, but I couldn't keep up because I still felt terrible and I was holding onto the brakes, just hoping not to fall over. I should have asked for a lift down. In the end, I did ask for a lift down. I managed to get down most of the way, but there was a spot where the road got bumpy due to road work and as soon as I started bumping all over the place, I knew there was no way I could keep my bike upright, so I clipped out and called one of the drivers to come get me. He put my bike in the truck and drove me down the rest of the way.

I somehow managed to put my bike away and get up into the dining room, but I had no appetite and I was still shaking and nauseous. My best friend (the same driver who'd driven me and my bike down the end of the hill) suggested that I try some rice, which is what I did, along with some salad and a lot of water and juice. By the end of the meal, I was feeling much better, but I couldn't take in any protein, which left me pretty hungry later on.

After lunch, I took a 2-hour nap, which did wonders. I didn't sleep all that well (stupid kids from the team were making a lot of noise outside), but just lying down was enough. I woke up feeling like a new person, but I did notice that despite the enormous amount of water, sports drink and juice that I'd taken in, I was barely urinating and, in fact, the only reason I went at all was because I thought I should -- I felt no need to pee at all. Bad sign, but not surprising considering the weather.

Note to myself: Next time I try climbing up Ein Netafim, I have to stop to drink and also take salt tablets with me. I did have salt tablets. They were back in my bag at the youth hostel.

The last workout of the day was a swim/run, which was mainly a swim. It was starting to get dark, but it was still light enough to swim. We did a few hundred meters with some running on the beach and that was pretty much it. It was a fun, not very hard workout. We then went back to the youth hostel for yet another shower (this was the third of the day -- I'd showered after the ride, too) and dinner, followed by a short lecture and then ice cream. I was in bed by about 10:30 or so, ready for another 5 a.m. wakeup call the next day.

Training camp in Eilat -- part 2

Day 2 started with a 5 a.m. wakeup call.  Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of noise at the youth hostel during the night, so I hadn't slept very well, but I got up and got myself ready for the first workout of the day.

At 5:30, the team met to take a short ride to our "transition area" (in the area where the Eilat Triathlon will be at the end of the month).  Then we had a couple of hours of transition practice.  Each team (children, youth, adults) did something different.  The adult workout was supposed to be five parts, but we ran out of time (we had to be back at the youth hostel for breakfast), so we only did four of the five.  The first drill was a short swim (I'd say about 200-250 meters) in the Red Sea, followed by a fast run to where our transition area will be at the race.  The swim was great, but the run was...  well, painful.  There are a lot of small stones on the shore (which are covered by a long mat at the race) and the road up into the parking lot had a lot of small stones, too.  Running on stones barefoot was very unpleasant, but I did it.  The second drill was identical to the first, but I couldn't face doing that whole barefoot run again, so I cut it a little bit short.  The bottoms of my feet were very sore after the first two drills, but we weren't done running barefoot yet...

The third drill was another swim of the same length followed by a run to the makeshift transition area and then a 7 km ride.  Eilat is in the desert, but the desert is cold in the morning (and the Red Sea has a year-round temperature of 22-24 degrees Celcius) and I was shivering when I got on my bike.  It was cold!  Too bad I couldn't hold onto this feeling for later in the day. 

The fourth drill resembled the third, but the ride was longer and took us up on the Arava Road, which is the major highway leading into Eilat.  It was still very early in the morning, but there were a lot of trucks on the road and it was scary.  This is the road we do our race on, which is why we were training on it (well, that and the fact that there just aren't too many places to ride in Eilat).  I was very happy when this drill was over and I have to admit that I wasn't all that disappointed to see that we wouldn't have time for the final drill (a swim and a run) because I was getting very hungry and I knew I'd be running enough later on and the next day.

At 7:45, we headed back to the youth hostel and had time for a quick shower and change of clothes before breakfast. 

More to follow...

Training camp in Eilat -- part 1

I was going to wait until there were some pictures, but I decided to just post any pictures later on.  This report is in several parts -- I'll post the others later.  Enjoy!

Day 1 was actually very short.  We left home at around 2:30 and arrived in Eilat at around 6 p.m.  It was already dark and we had to get settled in our rooms and get the bikes off the bike cart before we could do anything.  And we had to be in the dining room for dinner by 7:30.  The plan was a one-hour run, but by the time we were organized, we didn't have that much time.  I was the last person to leave for the run (not because I was lazy or slow, but rather because I drove down with the guy who took the bike cart and I was responsible for watching it while he got the rooms worked out.  When the bus arrived, everyone got off and went up to get their rooms and I was still standing with the bike cart), but my coach waited for me and then insisted on running with me, despite my best efforts to convince him that that probably wasn't a good idea.  Whenever I run with someone faster than I am, even when they promise to run at my pace, I always find myself running too fast.  We didn't actually run very fast, but either I was very tired or a little bit dehydrated, because my average heartrate for our 5.1 km run was 162. 

After the run, we had dinner (in our running clothes -- yuck!), showered, and then had a lecture on vitamins or something (I was a bit too tired to listen).  Then I took a short walk with a friend and we were in bed by 11 (which was actually a bit late, since we had a 5 a.m. wakeup call the next morning...).

Days 2 and 3 will NOT be so short...

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