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, March 10, 2007

My Saturday ride

The team workout today was ten times up and down a very nasty 2.5 km hill. Since, apart from a measly 14 km on Wednesday night, I hadn't been on my bike in four weeks and because it was due to illness and I'm still recovering, I didn't think this was the workout for me. Plus, I hate that hill. The greatest number of times I've ever gone up it on one day is three or four. Not ten. And it's incredibly boring.

Choice number two was to ride to the area where the team was doing the workout and then just ride back and forth on the straight, boring road.

Choice number three was to do hill work here in town, up and down the same hill that I ride on all the time.

Choice number four was to join my friend Itzik on his long ride. He was planning to do 80 km and ride to an area where I've never ridden before. I wasn't sure about the 80 km -- it sounded like a lot after not having been on my bike for so long. But the rest sounded a lot better than any of the other options, so I decided to just do it.

The first 35 km weren't hard at all. For much of the way, I drafted off of Itzik, which made things easier, but also meant that I was missing the scenery. Everything is green right now, which is a very big deal when you live in the desert. It'll only be like this for a little bit longer and then we'll be back to the boring brown that we see most of the year. But instead of looking at all the things that were growing along the road, I was looking at Itzik's back tire, which is pretty unremarkable. However, I suppose that was better than both of us getting a close up look at asphalt.

After about 45 km, we took a break. We ate, rested a bit and then went back out on our way. About a km or so later, I shifted down to the small chain ring and I saw something fly off my shifter. I had no idea what it had been, but I stopped to find out. This shifter has been giving me trouble for a while -- I can shift down ok, but shifting up is getting harder and harder and as far as I've been able to determine, it's the shifter, not the derailleur, that's causing the problem. Anyway, I stopped and got off my bike and found the little black thing that I'd seen fly. It looked more or less like a rubber band and I don't know what it's purpose was, but I guess it wasn't all that important, because the shifter worked fine without it (or as fine as it had been working before this rubber thing fell off). What I didn't notice until I was about to get back on my bike was that I had also dropped my chain. So I had to get my hands all dirty getting the very dirty chain (my whole bike is filthy -- time for a good cleaning) back on the chain ring.

Off I went again. Apart from the fact that I was falling behind, things were pretty much ok. But by 60 km, I was getting really tired. That might have been ok if I'd known that there were only 20 km to go, but apparently, Itzik misjudged the distance of the route he'd chosen, because at the 60 km mark, we were at a place that I know is 30 km from home. There are two ways to get home from this point. They're the same distance, but one involves a lot of hills. Itzik took pity on me and chose the other way (which is also basically uphill, but there are no steep hills and it's generally easier).

With 12 km to go, we took another short break. I was exhausted. My legs were screaming at me. I didn't have too many options, though, so I got back on my bike and headed for home. One km later, I heard "pssssssss..." So once again, I was off my bike, this time to fix a flat (in my front tire -- I've had plenty in the rear tire, but for some reason, this was the first time I'd ever had a flat in the front tire). I have to give credit where it's due -- it was Itzik who fixed the flat and not me (this is why I have friends). My job was to take off the wheel, hand him the tools and the pump and then put everything away and put the wheel back on.

Once again, we were back on our bikes and headed home. I was watching the numbers move very slowly on my bike computer and I was sure I'd never get home. I'd just die right there in the middle of nowhere with my tired and achy legs. Ugh. Everything was green on both sides of the road and on the left, I saw a camel grazing. What I really wanted to do was to stop my bike and take a picture, but if I'd done that, I'd probably still be there now. Instead, I just kept moving.

Eventually, I did get home. And my legs are still attached to my body. The ride ended up being 91 km. I don't remember the last time I rode that far and I never did it after coming back from an illness. Well, I have now.

Friday, March 02, 2007

To my gym teacher

I wrote the following letter three or four years ago, but today, I edited it a bit to reflect my more recent achievements. If I could meet my gym teacher today, this is what I would want to tell her.

Dear Gym Teacher,

Do you remember me? Somehow, I doubt it. After all, I never stood out in your class, unless it was for my lack of achievement. I was the one who couldn't run once around the field in elementary school, the one who was always the last one back and always ran and then walked alone. I was the one who would duck rather than trying to catch the ball. I was the one who not only never hit a home run in softball, but never managed to hit the ball at all. I was the one who was picked last for every team except dodgeball (I was good at getting out of the way of those balls). I was the one who couldn't climb the rope until we got the kind with the notches on them (everyone could climb those).

In high school, I was the one who always played somewhere in the outfield and was always looking in the other direction when the ball was actually hit that far. I was the one who chose weight-training over team sports so that at least my classmates wouldn't get sick of my lack of ability. I got dressed for every single class because that was the only reason I was passing phys ed (amazing! I was an excellent student in every other subject). Yes, I was that kid you hated to see two or three times a week because I was so untalented, but you had to teach me. In 12 years of public school, I never once made you proud and you never once told me "Great job!"

Even back then, though, there were a few things that I'll bet you didn't know about me. I'll bet you didn't know that I was an equestrienne. Yes, I rode horses and competed regularly in horse shows. I probably had the strongest leg muscles of all the girls in my class and I had excellent hand-eye coordination, even if I couldn't catch a ball. If we had had an equestrian team in high school, I would have been the star. And I'll bet you didn't know that even as a little girl, I loved going for walks and I could just walk on and on forever. There weren't too many places to hike where I grew up, but I always loved hiking trips and no one ever had to wait for me to catch up. Too bad we didn't get phys ed grades based on our hiking ability. And did you know that in junior high school, I rode my bicycle everywhere? I would even ride to school on the weekends for play rehearsals -- that was a few hilly miles. I loved to ice skate, too. No, I wasn't meant to be a champion figure skater, but I would go to two or three two-hour sessions in a row and skate around and around and around. Maybe I wasn't so lacking in my athletic abilities after all. Too bad you never noticed.

When I was 22, I hit a softball for the first time. Funny, you tried, unsuccessfully, to teach me to do that for 12 years. Do you know who taught me to do it (in five minutes)? A 14-year-old. I was her summer camp counselor. All she did was come up behind me and move my elbow up and tell me to keep my eye on the ball. She was patient with me and believed that I could do it. And she was right. For the first time in my life, I stood on a softball field and didn't make a complete fool of myself.

When I was 36, I had this crazy idea that maybe I could learn to run. After all, I'd learned to hit a softball, right? So I went out and bought running shoes and headed out the door. I didn't get very far. I couldn't run for more than 30 seconds at a time (oh, I forgot -- you already knew that about me). But I decided to keep trying. The thought occurred to me that maybe I was just running too fast (how come that thought never occurred to you??). I tried running a little bit slower. And I was able to run for longer. Because I'm not athletically inclined (you know that), or maybe just because I was a little bit too enthusiastic about doing something that you never thought I could do, I suffered a few injuries and spent some time not running. But I didn't give up. I kept going back and trying again. I got better running shoes, I learned how to prevent injuries, I started taking better care of myself. And I believed that I could do it. And I started lifting weights, too. Yes, me. I went to the gym. And I found out that not everyone there had huge muscles. In fact, most of the people there looked like me. And I looked more fit than some of them.

But I didn't stop there. When I was 38, I had a silly dream. For sure, you'll laugh when I tell you what it was. I wanted to do a triathlon. Yes, me. I wanted to swim, bike and run. "Sure," you're saying now, "Like you could really do that." I found a coach (he's a gym teacher, too, by the way, and maybe one you should meet) who believed that I could do anything I wanted to do. He made me believe it, too. Well, guess what, gym teacher? I did it. And not just once. In fact, I've done so many triathlons and duathlons that I've stopped counting. And here's the most incredible part -- I have a whole shelf full of trophies. Yes, me. Trophies! No, I'll never qualify for the Olympics and the truth is, I'm not all that fast, but I'm out there swimming and cycling and running while most women my age never even dream of being able to do the same. Maybe you were their gym teacher, too.

Oh, and remember that little field behind the elementary school -- the one I couldn't run around once? Well, I think I could tackle that now. In fact, I've run 20 kilometers and more. I'm strong and healthy and in the best shape of my life. And I'm going to live a long and healthy life, because I'm an athlete. Yes, you read that correctly, I'm an athlete. My body is muscular, too. No, not those big muscles that you see on weightlifters, but lean, hard muscles that are no longer only in my legs. I'll bet I could climb up those ropes now.

Dearest gym teacher, you taught us the rules of team sports, timed our runs and sent us to home plate to swing at the ball. But you missed the real lesson. Phys ed isn't only about knowing that you get two points for a basket. It's supposed to teach children about the benefits of sports and how they help us to stay healthy. It's supposed to be fun, even for the less-talented. And your job is to make it fun -- to make us want to stay active long after our years in school are over. You may have done a great job teaching my talented friends -- the ones who won races and hit home runs. But gym teacher, you missed the mark with me. Maybe if you had just once told me to slow down on that field behind the school so that I could make it all the way around or if you had picked up my elbow and told me to keep my eye on the ball or if you had just said, "You're doing great! Keep it up!" I might not have waited until age 36 to try again. Still, I'm one of the lucky ones. I had a few friends that were about as talented as I was, at least in your eyes. Most of them will never join me on one of my morning runs because they believed that look in your eyes that said even trying was a waste of time -- and they still believe it. It may be too late for them, but it's not too late for the young generation of non-athletes. They still have time to become athletic -- not to win trophies and medals, maybe, but to enjoy using their bodies and to have the healthy mind that comes with a healthy body. Please, gym teacher, encourage them, tell them that they CAN do it (and believe it yourself) and praise them for every small effort. Your influence and encouragement will stay with them for their entire lives. They may forget algebra or dates in world history or even how to speak Spanish, but if you teach them that they can do anything, that's a lesson they won't forget.

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