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.