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.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lior Triathlon, Rishon Letzion - 14 April 2007

This race report is a bit late -- I wrote it after the race, but I've been lazy about posting it.

My biggest concern going into this race was the water temperature, which was about 19°C - rather chilly without a wetsuit. Last year, I got really dizzy while swimming in the cold water in April and it was very frightening. I was afraid it would happen again. This is the last time I bother worrying about anything before a race, as you just never know what is going to be thrown at you on any particular day.

I got to the race site fairly early and had time to get myself set up, take a good look at the course and do a short warmup (wearing my Crocs -- my running shoes were in the transition area and I'd forgotten to bring a second pair). Then it was time to head down to the beach for a quick dip in the water. Yes, it was kind of cold, but not too bad, and two swim caps plus ear plugs seemed to do the trick for me -- I had no dizziness after my very brief swim warmup.

Standing on the beach watching the youth and elite waves start, I noticed that the sea was rather choppy. So did a lot of people. I also noticed that it took forever for the kids to actually start swimming -- they couldn't seem to get into the water. And watching them get out of the water was even worse -- they came out all over the place looking confused and exhausted. This was not a good sign.

I stood on the beach trying to drown out my negative thoughts and before I knew it, we had started. We ran, walked, stumbled into the waves. One hit me right in the face, water got into my goggles and up my nose and panic started setting in. I tried to start swimming, but I couldn't seem to get anywhere -- the waves were just pushing me all over the place. I ended up doing something between breaststroke and treading water, all the while, looking up ahead at the rest of the swimmers. This made matters even worse -- what I saw were people being washed up onto big waves or big waves washing over them. People were screaming like on a rollercoaster ride. Somewhere along the line, I just froze. I didn't know what to do. I was sure I was going to die.

As the other swimmers pulled further and further ahead, the waves still rocking them (and me) in all directions, I decided I was going to swim back to the beach. I was just too scared to go on. I turned around and looked back and almost started swimming in, but then I remembered that my husband, who rarely comes to races, was back there watching me. How disappointing it would be for me to have him see me DNF. And if everyone else could somehow manage to swim in that very choppy water, why couldn't I? I'm not such a lousy swimmer!

This is when I saw the first buoy (the turn around buoy for the 14-15 year olds) and remembered commenting before the race that the water seemed to get smoother after that buoy. That was enough. Finally, I started to swim. I was at least 100 meters into the swim at this point and it had taken me forever to get that far, as I'd actually swum maybe a dozen strokes.

The rest of the swim out to the next buoy wasn't too bad. There were still some waves, but they weren't as brutal as the ones at the beginning. The swim between buoys was the easiest part. That was the only time during the swim when I actually felt safe. The nightmare started again at the next buoy.

As I turned back towards the beach, I felt relief wash over me. The nightmare would soon be over. I swam next to the rope as I was having trouble sighting. I thought this would keep me in a straight line and it did, but it also caused me a lot of trouble. It was only going back towards the shore that I felt the current -- and it was pulling me left, right into the rope. The closer I got to shore, the worse it got. The rope was scraping my arm, my foot kept getting tangled in it and it even ended up on my neck at some point. I kept trying to swim away from it and kept getting pulled back into it. And to make matters worse, a guy came up on my right, also being pulled left by the current, and pushed me right up against the rope with nowhere to go. He actually stopped to apologize, which I found rather amusing.

I was exhausted. The stupid 750 meter swim felt more like 10,000 meters. It just wouldn't end. And it kept getting worse. Now, not only was the current pulling me to the left, but every time a wave came in, it was preceeded by an undertow that pulled me out away from the shore, making me feel like I was swimming backwards. And then, rather than throwing me towards the beach, the waves were crashing over my head. Finally, maybe 50 meters from the end, I saw someone standing and realized that I could touch bottom. This gave me a bit more confidence and I actually did stand for a moment -- I was tired and frustrated and did not want to swim anymore. I did swim more, though, of course, until it was just impossible to swim anymore. That's when I got up and walked out, slowly, just like every single person around me. It was impossible to exit the water quickly. At this point, I understood why the kids had looked so strange coming out of the water.

A glance at my watch proved what I already knew -- I'd swum a personal worst. My time for a measly 750 meters was so ridiculously slow that I'm embarrassed to share it. There were people behind me, though.

Note that every person I spoke to after the race said that the swim had been a nightmare. It made me feel a lot better to know that it wasn't only me. They actually cancelled the swim for the kids' races (the youngest kids to swim were 14) and turned the race into a duathlon.

Interestingly, the horrible swim didn't ruin the race for me or make me less motivated -- quite the opposite. The only thing I remember about the transition is that someone had thrown his socks into my back wheel and I had to remove them before I could move my bike. I got my number, helmet, sunglasses and shoes on, grabbed my bike and took off running faster than I have ever run before out of the transition area. I jumped on my bike and started passing people, determined to make up at least some of the time that I'd lost on the swim.

Apart from getting a little confused about the course (there were a bunch of traffic circles and a few strange turns), I had a very good ride. I passed a lot of people and felt very strong and confident on my bike and I think I loved this part of the race just as much as I'd hated the previous part. I finished the 20 km in a good time, especially considering the number of turns on the course and the annoying hill that I had to ride up twice.

I remember almost nothing about the second transition, either, apart from the fact that the rest of the sock guy's stuff now seemed to be scattered everywhere.

The run was four times around a rectangular course that went right through the parking lot. Weird. The first 500 meters or so of each time around were on an incline, but it wasn't too bad. I didn't feel great during the run, but I didn't feel terrible, either, and I managed to run through the pain that I had in my lower legs for the first 3 kms or so. A lot of people passed me on the run, mainly very fast guys who were already on their third or fourth time around when I started. I also saw one woman in my age group pass me, but I had no idea if she was on the same lap as I was or not, as I'd passed her on the bike and I didn't know how far behind me she'd ended up.

Before I knew it, the race was over. I finished with a huge smile on my face, only to discover several hours later that the camera at the finish line had apparently stopped working for about half an hour and that it hadn't taken my picture. Oh well! My final time for the race wasn't bad at all, considering the horrible swim time. I finished the swim 2/3 in my age group, the bike 1/3 (actually, the third woman only did one lap, but her time for that lap was two minutes slower than my time for each of the two laps) and 3/3 on the run. The woman who passed me finished a minute ahead of me and I ended up in second place in my age group. The woman who came in third was supposed to be disqualified (originally, she was listed in first place, but her 22 minute time for 20 km on the bike was completely unrealistic -- none of the elite men even came close to a time like that!), but for some reason, instead of completely disqualifying her, they moved her back from first to last place and I couldn't care less.

This was definitely not one of my better races, but what started out as a really bad experience ended up with me smiling at the end, so I guess it wasn't that bad! Oh, and was the water really cold? I don't have the slightest idea! I was too terrified to notice!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Nitzana Duathlon - 31 March 2007

Thanks to 4sport for this photo and to Shvoong for the one below

It was a beautiful day for a race -- we couldn't have asked for better weather. Logic would suggest that duathlons should not be a big favorite of mine because there's no swimming, which I like, and I have to run twice, which I generally dislike (note that I did not say "hate"). And unlike in a triathlon, a duathlon requires me to bike on somewhat tired legs. What on earth could be enjoyable about that? And yet, I always like duathlons. Go figure.

Because I haven't gotten my running mileage back up since being sick, I decided to do the sprint distance at this race -- 5 km run, 20 km bike, 2.5 km run. This is generally a small race, but it was particularly small this year. There were only 40 participants in the sprint, as opposed to over 60 last year. I don't know why so few people came, but those who didn't show really missed out. This is one of my favorite races -- in a special place (right on the border with Egypt), well organized, a mainly flat course.

The first run started out ok. Everyone passed me almost right at the start and I ended up running with this other
woman, who, at about 1.5 km or so, also ran ahead and left me alone (but by this point, we'd managed to pass a couple of the people who had passed us earlier, so at least I wasn't quite last). The first km was fast for me -- probably too fast. I looked down at my watch and saw 5:20 and wondered if I'd be able to keep up that pace. I wasn't. I kept running, though, frustrated at the gap that was opening up between me and the people in front of me. The course had a lot of small stones on it and one of them managed to get into my shoe, which was incredibly annoying, but didn't prevent me from being able to run. My time for the run wasn't stellar and was slightly slower than last year, but it wasn't my worst 5k time by a long shot.

When I got to the transition area, it was very easy to find my bike ;-)

The transition was so-so at best. First of all, when I took off my right shoe, I saw that there was blood on the back of it, where the stone had rubbed me. Maybe that was a good thing, as it reminded me to shake the stone out of my shoe before I had to put it on again for the second run. I don't actually remember much more about the transition itself, apart from the fact that I remembered to turn my number around, which is something I usually forget.

I knew that mounting my bike would be problematic and I was right. I haven't practiced transitions in ages. I decided to just do it slowly, but even that didn't go well. I was very wobbly and almost fell off and even had trouble finding the pedals. That was something new. I was all over the place and right at the start, some guy yelled at me to move right -- I still wasn't properly on my bike and I yelled back that I was trying. Ugh.

As bad as the mount was, the ride itself was incredible. Right at the beginning, I started passing people. First it was the guy who had passed me while I was still trying to get on the darn bike and then the woman right in front of them. There were maybe one or two other people that I could barely see up ahead at this point, so I just gave it my all and started picking off more and more people. I even tried counting. I lost count after passing 13 or 14 people (remember -- there were only 40 people in the whole race and quite a few were really far in front of me because they were mainly men who run a lot faster than I do).

There was a bit of wind on the out section, but I just got down on the aerobar and pushed. I figured that it didn't matter how much energy I used up on the bike -- I wasn't going to run fast with or without energy and I wanted to make up as much time as possible. This was a very good strategy.

The way back was a piece of cake. I did it about four minutes faster that I'd gone in the other direction (4 minutes on 10 km -- that's quite a difference). I was flying, still passing people.

The only "bad" part on the bike was that in typical duathlon style, my left calf cramped up. I had to stop pedaling several times so that I could stand up and stretch it and although it hurt a bit, I managed to deal with it pretty well and I don't think it slowed me down too much.

Getting off the bike was not as bad as getting on. I almost got run over by a kid, but apart from that it was ok. Mounting and dismounting are definitely not my strong points, so if I end up on my feet, that's good. When I got into the transition area, I was amazed at how much empty space there was on the rack. I knew I'd passed people, but it was still weird for me to see so many missing bikes. I may have to start getting used to that, though! Just before I set off for the run, a guy came in with his bike, looked at me and said, "Hey, you're not bad on the bike!" Needless to say, that made me feel good :-)

The second run was... Well... Short. 2.5 km. And thank God for that. My legs were tired, but I was able to run on them. As I was going out, I saw a woman who I know is very fast just finishing up. I realized that she was probably the first woman finisher, so I looked for some more. I didn't see a single other woman on the way out (there was one more, just up ahead of me -- I didn't see her for some reason, but I did hear them call her name when she finished). It suddenly occurred to me that for the first time ever, I might take a place in the overall results. This wasn't enough to make me sprint the rest of the way (I didn't have it in me), but it was enough to make me run fast enough to keep the women that I saw behind me away. My time for the second run was pretty bad, but none of the women passed me (even though I think that just about all of them ran better times).

Despite my slow run times, I finished almost a minute faster than last year. And I got first place in my age group. And I finished third overall (but they didn't give trophies for overall finishers in the sprint -- only in the Olympic distance). But the most thrilling part for me wasn't any of those things. When I went to look at the results, I saw that my bike split was the 10th best for women AND men. Out of 40 people on the course, only 9 had faster bike times than I did. Two of those people are my teammates who are pretty good cyclists. And the absolute best part? I had the best bike split of all the women in the sprint.

At the awards ceremony, I got another compliment. The woman who I'd run with at the beginning of the race was sitting behind me. When I turned around and noticed her there, she said something like, "You're really strong on the bike! You just whizzed past me and I couldn't catch you after that!" That made my day.

In the last year or so, I've made amazing progress on the bike. What used to be the weakest part of the race for me has become the strongest. My bike splits used to be among the slowest. Now they're up there with the fastest. And even the partial break that I took from cycling in the winter (once a week instead of twice) so that I could train for the half marathon doesn't seem to have caused any regression whatsoever. I just keep getting stronger and stronger. And unlike the run, where I always feel like I'm giving it everything I have and I'm about to die, on the bike, I always feel like maybe I can give just a little bit more and I always finish feeling like I could have doubled the distance at the same pace. Whereas I feel "stuck" on both the swim and the run, I feel like I'm only starting to get a glimpse of my potential on the bike. I look forward to continuing to test my limits.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

To the person who asked about rentals...

Sorry I haven't replied until now -- as you can see, I haven't posted to my blog in a while.

I'm pretty sure you can rent a bike, but I honestly don't know where. I suggest, however, that you contact the race organizers or the Israel Triathlon Association -- I'm sure they can give you an answer.

As for wetsuits, I don't know if they can be rented in Israel. You don't see them often here, as the water is rarely cold enough for them to be allowed. If you are doing the half Ironman distance, you'll find, however, that just about everyone is wearing one. If you're doing the Olympic or sprint distance, chances are they won't even be allowed (only if the water temperature is under 22 degrees Celcius, which it usually isn't in the Sea of Galilee in May). In any case, you can get a better answer from the ITA than from me.

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