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 01, 2008

Eilat Triathlon - 28 November 2008

The swim was a single 1500 meter loop (triangle). I guess someone must have heard me talking online about those cables that hold the buoys together and help me swim straight, because they decided not to have any this year. Not only that, but there wasn't a single buoy between the start and the first turn. Even standing on the shore, it was hard for me to see the buoys in the distance. I swear they put them in Egypt... In the water, I knew I'd have no chance of spotting them from so far away, so I just decided to follow other people's feet.

The horn sounded and we were off. I forgot to start my watch, so like a complete idiot, I actually stopped swimming for a moment to push the button. It looked to me like I was all the way at the back of the pack by myself, so I tried to swim "hard" ("hard" is a relative term, I guess) to catch up. In reality, there were plenty of people behind me -- I just didn't see them. I caught sight of someone swimming a very fast breaststroke and decided to follow him, as he could see where he was going. I stayed behind him for much of the first part of the swim, until I was joined by a man who swam almost glued to my side for the rest of the way to the buoy (and, I believe, on the way back to shore, as well, though that may have been someone else).

About halfway to the first turn, I suddenly felt like I was being stung in my arms, legs and face. There are no jellyfish in the Red Sea, but there is some creature that lays eggs that sting like crazy. I remember being warned about them one year at training camp. The sensation was very unpleasant, but there wasn't much I could do about it, so I just kept swimming. I later heard just about everyone complaining about being stung.

First turn, second turn, back to shore, the first part of the race was over. As soon as I stood up, I pulled off my swim cap so that I could take my goggles off (I had them on under the cap), as I can't see that well with them on. I don't know exactly what happened, but I somehow managed to drop the cap and when I bent down to pick it up, I stumbled and almost fell and managed to make myself look pretty silly. Once I was back on my feet, I glanced at my watch and saw a less-than-spectacular swim time -- a good three minutes more than what I can swim in the pool, even slowing down at the wall. It wasn't any slower than I'd gone in the Jordan Valley Triathlon, though (that was a fresh water swim and this was salt water, which should have been faster, but whatever...).

It was a long run through one parking lot, across the street and then through the hotel parking lot into the transition area, but my transition was pretty fast. I got a bit peeved at the three guys who had to stop abreast right on the mounting line, making me pretty much stop in my tracks so they could get on their bikes. When I stopped, though, one of the volunteers moved out of the way, allowing me to inch past and move up a bit further so that I could get on my bike. I was off.

Most of the bike course is on the Arava Road, the main road that leads into Eilat. The Arava Road is always very windy and the first 20 km were directly into the wind. The wind could have been a lot worse, but it was still pretty unpleasant, at least for me -- as much as I suffer on hills, I'll take hills over wind any day (actually, in addition to the wind, there are a couple of small hills on this road, too). The entire time, I counted backwards to the turnaround point (10 km to go, 7.5 km to go, 5 km to go...). As far as I was concerned, the bike course ended at 20 km. After 20 km of being passed a lot, both by people in my heat (I had no idea so many people had come out of the water after me...) and by fast people in the following heat, I finally reached the end of the first half. I turned around and found myself flying.

For much of the second half of the course, I was riding at over 40 kph and I went as fast as 55 kph. I ran out of gears and just kept spinning as fast as I could. I love speed on a straight road (with no cars) and this was the best part of the race for me. I had a look at my chip splits and discovered that I was 25 minutes faster on the second half of the course than on the first. No, that's not a mistake -- the first 20 km took me over 58 minutes and the second 20 took me less than 34 minutes. Obviously, I've got the pedal-as-fast-as-you-can-even-when-the-wind-is-at-your-back thing down pat, but I need to work on riding into the wind!

On the ride back, I started thinking about whether or not I'd be able to run. My back had bothered me a bit during the swim, but it was fine on the bike. I figured I'd decide when I got into transition.

For some reason, the bike-to-run transition at the Olympic distance never seems to go smoothly. For once, no one had taken my spot on the rack, but when I tried to put on my running shoes, my feet refused to cooperate. It was as if the shoes were suddenly two sizes too small and I just couldn't push my feet into them. I've been racing in these shoes all season, so this didn't really make sense. Maybe my feet were swollen -- I don't know. Eventually, I did manage to get them on, and once my feet were inside, the shoes didn't feel tight. So I started heading out of the transition area -- in the wrong direction! I knew which way I was supposed to run, so I have no idea why I started running the other way and I have to admit that I felt pretty silly. I got myself straightened out and finally got out on the run course, realizing that I was going to be able to run with no pain at all.

It was almost over. All that was left was a 10k run. I was going to take the run easy, both because I hadn't run 10 consecutive kilometers in two months and also because I wasn't sure how my back would deal with anything other than an easy run. The run was four out-and-backs. On the first one, I met my coach, who was in the heat that started 15 minutes ahead of mine. He was on his third out-and-back. The first kilometer or so were a bit difficult -- my legs felt a bit sore, but I just kept going and the soreness worked itself out very quickly. The rest of the run was a breeze. I don't understand why the run at the end of an Olympic distance tri is so much easier for me than the much shorter run at the end of a sprint tri, but that has been my experience this season. At some point, I glanced down at my watch and realized that I was going to PR. Out and back, out and back, out and back, out and back (I picked up the pace at the end of this one) and the finish line was right in front of me. I crossed it with a huge smile on my face and a five minute PR.

And with that, I have ended my season. Three Oly distance triathons, two sprints and one "triple super sprint" this year. My training was less than ideal, especially in the last two months (and, in fact, if I'd listened to my coach, I wouldn't have even done the Olympic distance in Eilat, as I really wasn't properly trained for it), but I've discovered that I can pretty much do whatever I put my mind to. I look forward to doing some proper training for next year and improving my times, but even if I don't get faster, I'm going to continue enjoying this new, longer distance.

Eilat Triathlon - before the race...

This is the pre-race report. The race report will follow later on...

I arrived in Eilat on Thursday. This year, teammate Ronit and I were lucky enough to get our room right away. Or at least we thought we were lucky until we saw the room... This year's room was much smaller than last year's. Last year, we'd had a king-sized bed, this year, we had a standard double. Last year, there had been plenty of room for the two of us, Ronit's daughter and our two bicycles. This year, we had to move things around a bit just to be able to fit the bikes in the room. Ok, this was no big deal, but in addition to the smaller room, we also discovered that this was actually an adjoining room and in the other half, there were three boys from the team. These kids are around 13 years old or so and they were staying together -- either their parents hadn't come with them or they were in another hotel. 13-year-old boys are very loud...

I decided to skip the short workout meant to get us familiar with the course (the course that hasn't really changed in the last four years...). Instead, I rested a bit. Later on, I went to the briefing, checked out the expo and then went to our team briefing to get my number. At around 10 p.m., Ronit and I were ready for bed, as our race was on Friday morning. Unfortunately, the three kids in the adjoining room had other ideas. Their race was on Saturday and I guess they thought that Thursday night was a good time to "let loose". Ronit went to their room and asked them to keep it down, but that didn't work. So I went in and in my best "teacher voice", I told them that if they didn't stop screaming and slamming doors, I was calling their parents. That shut them up very quickly and we didn't have any more trouble with them that night, although this scene repeated itself the following day when Ronit and I wanted to rest after the race.

Although it was fairly quiet, I didn't get much sleep on Thursday night. I wasn't feeling at all nervous, so maybe it was just the unfamiliar bed or the fact that the room wasn't completely dark. Or maybe it was Ronit's daughter's watch that beeped on the hour. Whatever it was, I woke up at around 2 and I only got bits and pieces of sleep after that.

At 5:45, my alarm went off and I got out of bed. When I went to turn on the light in the bathroom, I discovered that it didn't work. Neither did the light outside the bathroom or any other light in the room. I somehow managed to find the right button on the phone to call the front desk, but the guy there told me it would be at least 15 minutes before anyone could come to fix our electricity. Note that this hotel was hosting the race and just about everyone in the hotel was racing or officiating or whatever. I told the guy at reception that we didn't have 15 minutes because we had to get into the transition area. He apologized and said that he understood but that there was nothing he could do. So we fumbled around in the dark, trying to light up the bathroom a bit with our cell phones (that didn't help much). Ronit later told me that she dumped an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink.

After getting dressed, I went downstairs to fill my bottles. When I got back up to the room, the lights were on. That evening, long after the race, I discovered what had happened. Some time before dinner, I went up to the room to read. When I opened the door, I noticed that all the lights suddenly came on. I sat on the bed for half an hour or so and then I suddenly found myself in the dark. Because I remembered that the lights had gone on when I'd opened the door (and that they'd been on when I got back from filling my bottles), I tried opening and closing the door and that did the trick. I called reception and the woman there told me that the lights in the room worked on movement sensors. However, she also told me that they were supposed to come on as soon as someone moved in the room, which obviously was not the case for our room. I described what had happened to us earlier in the day and she promised to take care of it. We didn't have any more electricity problems.

Back to race preparation... Once I was ready, I took my bike down the elevator and headed for the transition area, which was pretty much right outside the front door of the hotel. I got checked in and got my stuff ready. We had assigned positions on the rack and I couldn't have asked for a better spot -- I was right next to the bike exit, meaning that I'd hardly have to run at all with my bike. Cool. After getting set up, I went back up to the room for a final trip to the bathroom and then discovered that because we'd taken so long getting ready in the dark, I really didn't have any time for a warm up. I went to the beach and ran maybe 100 meters or so and then did a very quick swim, mainly to see how cold the water was (it was actually pretty pleasant). My stroke felt very "sluggish", but I haven't been swimming well, so this didn't really surprise me too much. Whatever -- it was too late now to even bother thinking about such things. I just got myself together and went to stand on the starting line.

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