Gan Shmuel Triathlon - 27 September 2008
Wow. What a day!
It started at 3:42 a.m., when I actually woke up three minutes before my alarm went off. Imagine not needing an alarm clock at such an early hour! By 4:15 or so, I was on the road. 15 minutes north of here, I hit rain. Rain?! I knew it had been raining further north, but I didn't expect the rain to have moved this far south. It's very early in the season for rain for us. I hadn't seen rain in months. I wasn't even sure my windshield wipers would work properly! (They did.)
I got to the race, got my number and got set up in the transition area. It was very windy, but the sky was mostly clear -- it didn't look like it would rain. Suddenly, I heard the following: "Athletes are requested to start making their way to the boat harbor, about 500 meters up the beach." One look at the waves in the sea explained why we were going to swim in the boat harbor, but 500 meters up the beach (which was another 200-300 meters from the transition area)? And we'd have to run back all that distance? Hmm...
Well, they hadn't lied about the distance. It was far. I got there just in time to hear the briefing for the Olympic up to 39 heat (which is the same briefing that we would get). The instructions were to swim from one side to the other, get out and run back -- four times. Run back? Like, run up the sand, over the breakers and then all the way back to the starting point? And after all that we have to run all the way back to the transition area? Wasn't there a shuttle bus or something? Yikes. The swim looked easy enough, anyway, and it certainly didn't look like it was going to be 1500 meters.
A short warm up on the beach (not too much -- there would be enough running today!) and then a short dip in the very dirty water. Yuck. I couldn't see a thing, but at least we didn't have to swim in those waves.
I started the race way in the back. There wasn't enough room to spread out, so I knew it would be crowded. Fans of being beaten up during the swim would not have been disappointed by this race. I was kicked so many times that I stopped counting. I was swum over, but unlike on previous occasions, where people have tried to swim over me and then backed off, these people felt me underneath them and just kept going. I'm fortunately to have a nice strong kick that comes in handy when someone is about to drown me. Up to the first buoy, things were going well, apart from the violence, but then the swim got interesting. The currents from the buoy to the exit were so strong that I could hardly swim. There was no panicking involved here -- I just kept swimming -- but I was going nowhere. Every time I looked up, the buoys were in the same place. It was like swimming in an endless pool. I'm a pretty good swimmer and, fortunately, a very confident one, but I'm not physically strong. The swimmers with strong pulls were moving forward and I was just fighting the current. All I could think about was having to do this four times.
I did finally reach the other side, but getting out of the water was almost as hard as swimming in it. There was no way I could run out -- I could barely walk. The run back was ok, apart from the fact that I couldn't see a thing with my goggles on (I solved this problem in the subsequent laps by putting my goggles on my forehead). I jumped back into the water for round two, which started out a bit better, because there were far fewer swimmers around me. Just as I got to the first buoy, though, someone charged into me from behind and suddenly, I was being pushed right and left. I was being lapped. That was fast! When I got out of the water after the second lap, I asked the guys around me how many times they'd swum. They told me three. Great.
The third lap was much like the second, but when I got out of the water, I found that I was alone. Now there had been a few people who had been swimming with me from the beginning, but I didn't see them anymore. When I jumped back into the water for my last loop, I was sure that I was the only one still swimming (and, in fact, I was almost correct). When the nightmare finally ended and I got out of the water for the fourth and final time, I looked behind me. There were maybe one or two stragglers (it was hard to tell, because there were already people warming up for the next heat), but that's it. I was completely by myself.
I ran back across the beach all alone. There were plenty of people on the beach, but none of them were racing -- they were either in later heats or specators. I don't even think they realized that I was in the middle of a race, because none of them bothered to get out of my path. Finally, when I reached the turn off the beach, I heard someone yell out to clear the way. He sent me in the right direction, and eventually, I made it to the transition area. A few people shouted out words of encouragement on the way and all I could think was, "Yeah, they're all pitying the last one out of the water!" Note that in all of the races I have done, I have NEVER been last or even close to last out of the water. It was a very hard swim for me today, but there is no doubt in my mind that there were people who didn't do all four laps. I don't really care, as this was my race and I wanted to do it the right way, but being all alone on the course was a very strange experience.
Obviously, I had no trouble finding my bike, waiting there for me all by itself. I hopped on and started riding.
At first, it seemed like the bike leg would be ok -- I didn't feel any signficant wind and the road was dry. At the first turn, I discovered why I hadn't felt the wind -- it had been behind me. There was wind and plenty of it. I generally do worse in wind than I do on hills (there were a few of those, too) and people started passing me right and left. The course was five 8-kilometer loops and I had no idea how far behind I was, though I did notice that I'd passed one woman right at the start, so at least I wasn't last. I struggled in the wind as people raced past me. It wasn't easy, though it was easier than the swim.
During the second loop, it started to drizzle. This was nice -- it wasn't raining hard enough for the road to be wet, but the rain was very refreshing. During the third loop, it started to pour. So now I had it all -- wind, rain, wet road... I took the turns very slowly, kept my hands away from the brakes and just kept riding. There were several accidents and it was a bit scary, especially since I have almost no experience riding on wet roads.
When the sprint racers came out onto the course, I started to feel a bit more confident, as I passed plenty of them. I wasn't riding fast, but I was riding faster than many of them. To be honest, though, once it started raining, I stopped trying to ride fast -- I just wanted to finish the course on my bike, rather than on the road.
It eventually stopped raining, but the road remained very wet. I managed to finish in one piece and I have to say that I have never been so happy to run. First, though, I had to find my spot in the transition area. I don't know why, but I was completely confused. I ran into the wrong row and couldn't find my stuff (because it wasn't there). I looked behind me and didn't see it. I looked in front of me and then I saw my bag (and someone else's bike in my spot, but there was room next to him). After looking very stupid for a minute or two, I racked my bike and crawled under it to get my shoes. My hat looked very wet, so I decided to leave it in the transition area. My transition was very slow -- I took some time to drink and just generally get myself together.
My goal for the run was to run the entire 10 km. No walk breaks. I actually felt quite good on the run -- I wasn't running fast, but I was running easily. I did the entire thing at conversation pace -- I guess this is something I have to work on, but today, I just wanted to be sure to run the whole thing, so I didn't mind doing it slowly. The only difficult part about the first five kilometers was the discovery that after the first water station, just past the start of the run, there wasn't another one until the halfway point. I really wanted water and I had expected water stations every kilometer, so this was a bit of a surprise. There were a few people walking on the course and others running even more slowly than I was, so I passed a few people. Many of those, though, were doing the sprint, so they only had to do one loop. I had to do two.
The second loop was nice, in a way, because there was almost no one left on the course. This made it rather strange, though, as well. I actually started the second loop with a very nice man and we chatted a bit, but then he pulled ahead of me. A minute or two later, I suddenly took a spill -- I have no idea why I fell -- I either tripped or slipped -- I just know that I suddenly found myself sitting in the dirt with a scraped hand and leg. Apart from that and some mild humiliation, I was fine, so I got up and immediately continued running. This was the only time that I stopped running during the entire course and since it wasn't exactly something that I could control, I don't think it counts! ;-)
As I ran through the water station at the turn-around, I heard one of the volunteers say something like, "She just won't give up." Now why would I want to give up? I wasn't even struggling during the run and if my lousy swim hadn't put me all the way in the back of the pack, I probably would have looked a lot better than many of the people around me. I just smiled to myself and thought, "No, of course I won't give up -- it's been a very hard day and it's almost over and this run is a piece of cake!"
At 9 km, my coach met me and we ran the last kilometer together. I picked up the pace at the end and crossed the finish line with a big smile. My time was a frightening 3:31, but I actually did the run faster than I had planned -- I had planned on 7:00 per kilometer, figuring my legs would be tired after the bike, but my run time, including the transition, was 1:08 and I believe that without the transition, it was around 1:05 or so, which is a 6:30 pace and not a bad time for me, especially considering that I was running off the bike, I fell in the middle and part of the run was on sand. In fact, for the first time EVER, my highest relative ranking was for the run (one place higher than the bike).
I was 5/5 in my age group (no big surprise there...), but I didn't finish last -- there were still several people on the course when I crossed the finish line. And to be honest, even finishing last would have been ok. It had been a day full of challenges and I'd faced all of them successfully. It was a great workout (which is all I was looking for) and a lot of fun.
Just one final comment -- if I had raced the sprint, I wouldn't have taken a spot on the podium (there were a LOT of women in my age group in the sprint), but I wouldn't have finished anywhere near last, either (not overall and not in my age group). However, I now know that it's not about beating other people, or at least not for me. I wouldn't have traded places with anyone in the sprint distance today, not even the person who finished first. For me, it's about "relentless forward motion" (I know I've stolen that phrase from someone...) and about distance, not speed. I don't want to do a race that is shorter than the workout I would have done that day unless there is no longer option. The only challenge in the sprint course for me is trying to get around it fast (which I will probably never do). The Olympic distance, on the other hand, is still challenging to me. I'm really starting to understand why so many people want to do an Ironman. I'm not there yet and I may never be (although I do see the possiblity of a half Ironman distance in my future), but at least I "get it".
Thanks for reading this far.