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, December 03, 2007

Eilat Triathlon - 30 November 2007

The first test of my new positive attitude would take place even before I got out of bed in the morning. For a variety of reasons, I didn't sleep all night. I drifted off here and there, but something always woke me up and by 4 a.m., they were setting up the transition area outside my window. At 6:00, I tumbled out of bed. I should have been exhausted. I'd been tired before I ever hit bed the previous night and no sleep should have made it worse. However, I refused to even think about sleep and fatigue. I had a race to run. I didn't tell a soul about my lack of sleep -- it would just sound like an excuse for a lousy race (before I even started the race!) and talking about not sleeping would certainly make me start thinking about how tired I should be (and ultimately would be if I thought about it). So I didn't. In fact, I even managed to completely forget about it until I crashed later in the day, long after the race had ended.

I quickly got set up in the transition area, checked out the entrances and exits and then left with no intention of returning until T1. There was nothing for me to do there. I didn't need to hear athletes hanging around complaining about this and that. I'd briefly noticed that the last two racks, one of which was my assigned rack, were very close together and since there was nothing I could do about it, I needed to get that out of my mind.

I went back up to my room, put on my spare pair of running shoes and went out to watch the kids coming out of the water. That was a lot of fun, although a lot of them came out crying (it was cold). I always like to watch the kids racing -- I find them so inspiring. At 7:30, I went for a warm up run. I did about 1.5 km and it felt good. Then I headed up to my room again to take off the running shoes and grab my goggles and swim cap.

I still had more than enough time for a swim warm up before the start of the race. It took a very long time to actually reach the beach, as there was a huge crowd of people trying to pass in a very narrow area next to the kids' transition area. Eventually, I got through and went down to the water. Because of my dizziness the day before, I'd decided to swim with ear plugs. I put them in, but when I went to adjust my swim cap, one of them rolled out and disappeared. I spent a few minutes looking for it and then gave up and decided to pull out the other one and just pull my swim cap well down over my ears. Then I went for a warm up.

I don't know how long I swam or how far. I do know I drifted off to the left and suddenly, I found myself right in the path of swimmers who were just starting the race (but, fortunately, far enough away to not be seen by any race officials and also to have time to move over before anyone came close to me). I swam back to the shore, doing a sprint or two. When I got out of the water, I glanced at my watch. 8:15. Oh, 8:15, that's nice. 8:15?!?!!!!! The start for the women's sprint was at 8:17 and I had to get into the start area!!! Yikes!!!

I don't know why (new attitude, maybe?), but I was completely not stressed out about this. I noticed that the men who were supposed to start at 8:15 were still standing on the beach, so I figured I had an extra minute or two. When the men started, I was still looking for the entrance to the swim start, which I eventually found. When I walked up to the shore, I saw Ronit and went to stand next to her. Immediately, I heard, "40 seconds to start time." Well, I'd made it -- just. Then I realized that I didn't even know where we had to swim to and there were all kinds of buoys in the water for the different distances. So with only seconds to go, I remembered to ask someone. "Out to the red buoys," she told me. Ok, red buoys...

I was still in "astronaut mode" when I heard, "Ok, Eilat, are you ready for the women?! BEEEEEP!!!!" Next thing I knew, I was swimming hard. The whole start happened so quickly that it was almost surreal. In retrospect, I decided it was great. I hate standing on the beach, listening to people complain about how cold the water is or how many people there are or whatever. The only thing I'd had time to hear anyone say (besides "the red buoys") was "good luck!" That's how I want to start every race!

I have never started a race like I started this one -- no hesitation, no waiting to see what the people in front of me do (there weren't too many people in front of me). I just dived into the water and started to swim hard. I wasn't even worried about tiring myself out. I knew that if I got out of breath, I could just swim slowly. I've practiced that enough in the pool and it's so much easier in salt water where you float without even trying. I never got out of breath.

I was feeling amazing and then... BOOM! I got breaststroke-kicked in the teeth, hard enough to elicit quite a grunt. Ouch. I thought I'd have a swollen lip (I didn't), but I also knew that my teeth were intact and there was no reason for me to slow down, so I didn't. Then... OUCH!!! This one was somewhere between my side and my stomach and it hurt more than the first. In fact, it hurt so badly that I did something I've never done -- I raised my head out of the water and cursed at the woman who'd kicked me (not that I knew which one had kicked me, but she was somewhere near me). I don't know if anyone heard me and I don't really care. The two words that escaped my lips gave me the mental strength to keep swimming hard and soon, there was no pain at all in the place where I'd been kicked. Then, a third woman tried to swim right over me. I've had men do this to me before, but never a woman. I don't get the "swim over other swimmers" thing. I mean, sometimes, I accidentally hit someone or find my arm on someone's back, but I immediately back off. I would never keep going right over someone. And I wasn't going to let this woman swim over me. An elbow and some good kicking managed to get her off of me. That's not a race tactic -- it's a survival tactic.

At the first buoy, everyone around me was suddenly swimming breaststroke -- slowly. We were barely moving. I'd had enough. Once again, I raised my head out of the water, this time to scream, "SWIM!!!"

Some time after that, I noticed that most of the people around me were wearing yellow swim caps. I'd caught up with the slower swimmers in the men's 40+ sprint who had started two minutes before the women. Once again, I was surrounded by breaststrokers, but this time, they were big, strong men with big, strong kicks, so I escaped. I'm not sure where I escaped to, but I noticed that although there were quite a few swimmers around me, there were more swimmers way off to the left. I guess I went a bit off course, but at least it had gotten easier to swim.

Despite being beaten up (a complaint that all of the women I spoke to had, by the way), I actually enjoyed the swim. I have no idea how long it took me, because someone had accidentally hit the stop button on my watch. I do know that I finished two minutes faster than a couple of male teammates, who got out of the water with me. Ronit and I finished in just about the same time and we ran to the transition area together.

Check out teammate Meir and me wearing our new team tri suits:

I honestly don't remember too much about T1, apart from the fact that the soles of my feet started to hurt a little towards the end of the long run to the transition area and also that someone had placed their bike on the belt holding my number, so I had to really yank it to get it out. I recall that it was a bit difficult to actually get out of the row that my bike was in (remember those closely placed racks?), but in my mind, I turned that into a good thing -- "Look how many bikes are still in the transition area!" I also remember people stopping right at the line, in the middle of the road to get on their bikes (one of my pet peeves). I ran a bit ahead and mounted at the side of the road.

There was a lot of wind. I think. There's always a lot of wind in Eilat and my bike time would indicate that there might have been more than usual, but I'm not sure. I wasn't thinking about the wind, I was just thinking about riding my bike. During the out section, north on the Arava Road, I played leap frog with a few other riders. This was good, because it kept me on my toes, though looking back, I think I could have ridden a bit harder. For the last year or so, the bike has become the strongest part of the race for me, but I don't think it was my strong point in this particular race. Anyway, I passed my old "friend" the road block and before I knew it, I was at the turn-around. There was an official standing there directing us ("Sprint turn around, Olympic straight ahead...") and as we passed him, he said, "That's it! The hard part is over! Now have fun!!!"

I turned around and with the wind no longer in my face, the world went quiet. I let out a huge cry of joy (lots of people were "whooping" at the turn-around) and took off. I don't know why people ride so slowly at races when the wind is at their backs. There are no cars on the road, nothing to be afraid of, so why not just let loose? I was flying along at around 50-55 kph and I just kept passing more and more people. I was having a great time. That's when I heard a cyclist coming in the other direction yell out, "Slow down! Accident up ahead!" Seconds later, I could see a crowd of people standing in the middle of the road. There was also a race official indicating that we should slow down and directing us over to the right so that we could pass. I didn't look at the men lying in the road. I couldn't. I could tell by the number of people hanging around and by bits and pieces of things that I heard that these weren't just scrapes and cuts. A few seconds later, the first ambulance whizzed by, siren wailing. Then the second ambulance went past. This was the only part of the race that I didn't enjoy. It's not fun to see people lying hurt on the road. It's frightening to have an ambulance race past you. And it's stressful to start wondering who those people were -- I spent the rest of the race looking for my teammates.

It turned out that the accident had been a head-on collision caused by careless and illegal riding of cyclists not actually involved in the crash. Both cyclists were taken to the hospital. One was hospitalized in serious condition with head and other injuries. As of yesterday, he was still in intensive care. I didn't know either person involved, but I know that they were just amateur triathletes like me, out there to have fun. What a horrible way to end what was supposed to be a great day.

Back to my race report...

I don't really remember too much of the way back after the ambulances went by. I do recall being very careful in the traffic circle at the entrance to Eilat, as I remembered from training camp that there were a lot of holes in the road (and I remembered from previous races in Eilat that there's a lot of wind in that traffic circle that can blow you over if you're not careful). I don't recall seeing a photographer, but there must have been one, as I found this:

Although it's a cute picture, I don't particularly like the way I'm sitting on my bike, which might account for my less-than-fantastic bike split. I'd had fun, though, apart from passing the accident, and maybe for the first time ever, I was actually looking forward to the run.

T2 was fast and unmemorable. As I was heading out of the transition area, my number tore. We do most of our races here with permanent numbers, but in Eilat, we get special numbers for the race and these weren't made of particularly strong paper. I'd already seen them tear in the kids' race and looking at the pictures, I see that a lot of people were no longer wearing numbers by the run. I just tucked mine into my race belt, as you can see here:

There are some good shots of me running in this race, which is very unusual, but I wasn't surprised when I saw them. I had set out to enjoy myself during the run and also to run harder than I normally do in a triathlon. I accomplished both goals and looked good doing it. The only downside of the run was that I had to keep playing with my number and eventually, I ended up running with my race belt tucked under my butt, which elicited a few comments from people who were sure that it was going to slip off. Now that I've seen the photos, I understand the comments:

The run has always been the weakest and hardest part of the race for me. I've never considered myself a runner (although now that I've seen that my run time was faster than almost half of the women who did the sprint, maybe I should rethink that) and I've always managed to just "survive" the run. The night before the race, I'd asked my best friend, Itzik, who would be officiating on the run course, to say two words to me when he saw me: "You can!" These are the two words he's used to urge me on in various situations over the last few years and I knew that hearing him say them would give me the push I needed. I didn't actually see him when I set out on the run, but I heard him. He said what I'd asked him to say and I nodded my head in agreement. Of course I could do it -- and I could enjoy doing it, too.

I've often found myself walking part of the run course at triathlons, even if the course is only 5 km. Last year, I tried to break that habit and allowed myself to walk only at water stations. This season, I ran every step of every race and practice race I did. Eilat was no exception. I didn't even slow down when I took water.

Towards the end of the run, Gil was waiting for me. He had been hit by a car while riding his bike two weeks earlier and had broken his collarbone and dislocated the thumb on his other hand, so he was in Eilat as a spectator this year. As I ran past him, Gil, with one arm in a sling and a cast on the other hand, started running with me. Both his girlfriend and I yelled at him to stop running, but he kept going. I yelled again and he said, "Pass me and I'll stop running!" So I did. This is just about the only thing I remember from the last 500 meters of the run. Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line and the announcer was calling out my name. It was over. I'd finished the race without a single negative thought, without a single doubt about my ability to get out there and do my best. And I'd had a great time. I was sorry it was over!

My time for the race was actually a minute slower than last year. It's hard for me to see why, as the timing mats were placed differently last year, but I suspect that it was my bike split that was slower and since I think I went slightly off course, my swim split was probably a little bit slower, too. In addition, for some reason, the run turn-around was a bit further up this time and possibly the bike turn-around, as well. I definitely ran faster, though (despite the slightly longer course), and overall, I think I raced harder and better this year, regardless of the slightly slower time.

For those interested in the statistics...

750 meter swim + T1: 20:52, 29/133 women (note that the run to the transition area is very long at this race -- I was probably out of the water in somewhere between 16 and 17 minutes)

20 km bike +T2: 47:47, 31/133 women (and yes, that looks slow to me, even taking the transition into consideration, but my relative placement indicates that all of the times were slow)

5 km run: 30:05, 68/133 women

I was 39/133 overall (women) and 8/29 in my age group. When I got home, my 16-year-old daughter who has absolutely no interest in triathlon asked me how I'd done. I told her I came in 8th out of 29 women in my age group and much to my surprise, she looked at me and said, "Wow, that's really good!" That was the icing on the cake.

The day before...

Back in Eilat again for my 26th triathlon. Twenty-sixth!!! How on earth did that happen? This was my fourth time at the Eilat Triathlon. It's probably my favorite race for several reasons. First of all, it was my first ever triathlon -- in 2004 I did the now defunct "super sprint" -- 300 meter swim, 8 km bike, 2 km run. That was my first taste of multisport racing, which has since become an obsession. The following year, Eilat would prove to be my biggest challenge. Eilat 2005 was the only race I've ever dropped out of in the middle. About 6 km into the bike course, I crashed into (and flipped over) a road block, totaling my bike but miraculously remaining more or less intact. I have a small scar on my knee to remind me of that day (well, that and a lot of teammates who like to point out "Bari's road block" every single time we enter Eilat). The accident happened so quickly that I don't even remember part of it, but it was traumatic enough to stay with me for a very long time. The first few races I did after the crash were stressful and even now, two years later, the bike course in Eilat does something to me that I can't describe and when I complete it, whether in a practice race or in the actual race, I feel both relief and a sense of accomplishment. And of course, Eilat is the national championship -- the biggest race of the year. Everyone is there, it's a huge "happening" and a lot of fun.

So on Thursday, I was back in Eilat. A year ago, I thought I'd be doing the Olympic distance in Eilat in 2007, but this wasn't to be. However, I was in Eilat this year with a new attitude and a new set of personal goals that I hoped to achieve (oh, and a new tri suit to go with the "new me" -- pictures to accompany the race report). These weren't time goals, but rather mental goals -- I've spent the past few weeks working on a new attitude and my main goal was to tough this race out with only positive thinking.

On Thursday, we did a quick workout -- a short run, which felt great, and then a short swim. The water was cold and I was pretty dizzy when I got out (as was everyone else I spoke to). I actually don't mind swimming in cold water, but it did make me wonder how exactly I was going to get out of the water and run to the transition area on Friday. I didn't dwell on this for too long, though -- those kinds of thoughts don't fit into the new attitude and besides, I had other things to do (like drag my very heavy duffle bag from the parking lot up to the hotel entrance).

At around 2:15, we went to check into the hotel. Everyone got their rooms and started getting settled. Well, everyone except Ronit and me. Our room "wasn't ready". We were wet and cold and really wanted to shower, but that would have to wait. Instead, we grabbed out bikes and decided to make sure they'd arrived with all parts intact and everything working. We did a very short and very frightening ride (frightening because there was a lot of traffic on the road and the cars were way too close to us for comfort) and then headed back to the hotel, confident that our room would now be ready. They'd promised us the room by 3:00. It was now 2:55. No dice. Still not ready.

At 3:00, we'd both lost our patience. Our check-in was through the travel agency responsible for team reservations, but since they hadn't yet received an envelope for our room, they suggested that I check with the front desk. At the front desk, they didn't even have our names on the guest list (but we were on the list with the travel agency). I found the person in charge and she said she'd take care of it. Well, she did take care of things, but not fast enough for Ronit. After this woman told me that we now had a room and that she'd be able to give me the keys soon and that she'd call me when it was ready, Ronit had had enough. I don't know what she did exactly, but she disappeared for a few minutes and when she came back, our room was ready. It was already 3:45. We were still wet, still cold and getting colder and both dying to hit the shower, which is exactly what we did when we got to the room.

The entire hotel had been "decorated" by Nike with signs everywhere. For example, the sign in the elevator said, "Instead of riding in the elevator, your opponent took the stairs. What about you?" In our bathroom, the sign on the mirror said, "You are looking at a winner." Then there was the one on the TV that read something like, "Instead of sitting around watching TV, your opponent is out training." They were in the rooms, in the lobby -- everywhere you looked. And they left us a few bumper stickers with similar slogans, as well. It was impossible to be at Sport Club Hotel and not feel the spirit of the race.

After getting settled, we hit the expo. I bought the last of the chocolate flavored gel that I hadn't been able to find in Beer Sheva (good thing I hit the expo early or I wouldn't have found it in Eilat, either) and looked around at some other stuff. I'd been looking for a pair of long women's running tights and for some reason, I hadn't been able to find anything (all the women's running "tights" that I found had flared legs, which I don't like), but I finally found a pair in the Nike booth (at a 35% discount, which didn't make them cheap, but did make them affordable), which I would buy later on.

After the expo, we headed over to the Royal Garden Hotel auditorium for the race briefing, where Ronit and I both fell asleep! I'm not even sure why we bother to go to the briefing every year, as the course hasn't been changed for the last three years and they never say anything new, but it's just kind of a tradition. Anyway, the nap was nice and I saw Michaela, who was disappointed to hear that I was doing the sprint and not the Olympic distance (I keep promising her "next time"). I didn't talk to her after the race, but from what I heard, although it wasn't her first Oly distance, the race was tough for her this year.

After the race briefing, we had a team meeting, where we got our numbers and other race stuff. We went back to our room to put our numbers on our bikes and get our stuff ready for the next day and then we went down to the dining room and had dinner with coach Yigal, who didn't say a word about all the chocolate I had for dessert!

Before going to bed, I took a walk on the Eilat boardwalk. I needed to clear my head before the race and start concentrating on the things I wanted to achieve. The boardwalk was unusually empty -- I guess most of the people in Eilat this weekend were triathletes who had already gone to sleep. I walked and walked and even went into a store or two (but didn't buy anything) and then went back to the hotel. It was time to go to sleep. I had triathlon number twenty-six in the morning...

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