Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One Week

It is incredibly hard to believe that we have only been in Israel for one week. It feels like we have been here for months already! Yet, at the same time, the days are flying by. I think it is because we have been so busy getting settled, learning our way around our new home of Karmiel and starting to volunteer. It's also amazing to me how fast a group of strangers can become like a family. To see our group of 23 interact, you would never know that most of us have only known each other for a week.

So what have I been doing in Karmiel?

We had a scavenger hunt around the city...

Made a potluck dinner in our kitchens that are equipped with hot plates and toaster ovens...

Put on a carnival for the kids living in the Mercaz...

Spread mulch around a city park to help prevent water from evaporating...

Finding great places to run...

And finally started learning hebrew! Yesterday was our Ulpan test, and we were split into two groups. I was placed in the beginner group, but I for sure fall smack in the middle of the two groups. I'm torn between staying the easier class and waiting for them to catch up to me, or moving to the more advanced level and struggling for a little while. Or possibly struggling for a long time. I think I was a little bit disappointed because I have been looking forward to Ulpan for so long, and it was not what I was expecting. Luckily it was only day one, and there are two months to go.

Tonight we are off to meet our adoptive families for dinner. I am so excited to meet them!

Sunday, August 26, 2012


It’s hard to believe it has already been 5 days since I said goodbye to by friends and family. It’s also hard to believe it has only been 5 days since I left. On one hand, the time is already flying by, and on the other, I feel like I’ve been here for a month.

We left the Jewish Agency building on Wednesday and headed south for our Opening Tiyul, or trip. But first we stopped at an overlook outside of Jerusalem called Yamim Moshe, where we said Shechianu. This was also our first real introduction to Israeli weather – it was hot!

From Jerusalem, we made our way south to the town of Arad and the Arad Youth Hostel. On our way, we also stopped to learn about some Israeli current events and taste the fruit of the Locust tree (otherwise known as Carob).

We turned in early that night, so that we could be ready for our 5:30am wake up call the next morning. Yes, you read that right! After downing several cups of instant coffee (for some reason I love this stuff!) we grabbed our 3 liters of water and hopped on the bus for the short drive to Nachal Gov. The hike at Nachal Gov was amazing! Ladders, ropes, steep climbs and rock scrambles. It was exactly up my alley and a real learning experience for many in the group who had to push themselves way outside of their normal boundaries. After hiking we headed to Tsell Harim, a hotel and spa on the Dead Sea for some lunch and swimming. It was the perfect post-hike reward!

Later that night, after dinner and a safety and security briefing, we were allowed to leave the hostel to explore Arad, visit the music festival, or, if you are me, finally go for a run! I was only able to fit in 15 minutes that night, but it was just enough to help me feel like I was not falling into a trap of not working out that would perpetuate more laziness.

The next morning we were up just as early to hike to the Hidden Waterfall at Nachal Agurout. This is an amazing oasis in the middle of the desert. Our sweet reward for this hike was the chance to swim in the waterfall. After a short return hike we were off to our next stop, the Almog Guest House, where we would celebrate our first Shabbat together as Otzmanikim.

A beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat was led by a few participants. To hear a group of 50 voices come together in the prayers and tunes that I grew up singing at home, camp or Day School. It was truly moving to hear all of our voices rise in sync as we all realized we knew the same melodies.

This Shabbat felt really special, and I think it was the knowledge that it was the first of many!

Ok, so now it is getting late on Sunday night and I should be unpacking my room in the Mercaz Klitah (absorption center), but we have wi-fi so I will definitely keep you posted! 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Israel, Day 1

Hey, just a quick post from my phone on my first morning in Ertez Yisrael (the Land of Israel)! We arrived safe and sound in Tel Aviv this morning after a surprisingly smooth and easy(but very full) flight from Newark. There were 20 other Otzmanikim on my flight, so not only did we get to meet each other before the flight, but our staff met us at the airport with a bus to take us to Jerusalem for Orientation.

So that's where I am now - phone blogging from the Jewish Agency Office in Jerusalem while we wait for the rest of the group. It was a little bit harder to say goodbye to all the people I love back home than I expected, but once I was on the plane I was surprisingly ok. I know that I have an amazing network of family and friends back home that will not let me forget them (and I don't intend to let them forget me, either!). Plus, I know that I will soon be making some amazing new friends, too.

Landing in Israel and the feelings I felt was a definite confirmation that this is the right thing for me. I was beaming from ear to ear and definitely singing along when our plane launched into Shalom Alechem as soon as the wheels touched the ground. 

Alright, enough for now. Keep in touch!


Sunday, August 19, 2012

USAT Age Group National Championships

Stepped a little outside of my league this weekend and headed north to Burlington, VT, home of this year's USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. I had qualified for the Olympic distance race, but opted to race the Sprint on Sunday instead. With my trip to Israel looming very closely (36 hours!) I was glad I opted for a distance that I was familiar with. You're reading the blog of one of the newest member of Team USA!

So here's the race report....

Race morning started out like any other for me. Up and unable to sleep at about 2 am (this time because I was dreaming about not knowing what to do with my wetsuit after the swim since the bikes were racked so close to each other), I was showered, race tat'd up and done with breakfast in time to be one of the first people into transition when it opened at 5:30 am.

Somehow, despite being out of transition before 6:30, done with my warm up by 7:45 and into the wetsuit shortly after, I nearly managed to miss my swim wave. Yes, you read that right. Me, miss type A, always early and anal about time Elyssa nearly missed the start of the race. As a National Championship, I expected someone to be announcing when the waves were lining up and get us into the water on time. However, even though I was standing less than 10 feet away from the staging area, when I looked at my watch at 8:08 am, and started asking around where the red caps were, no one knew. Turns out they were already in the water! This was the only qualm I had with the whole race.

The calm before the swim start - what a beautiful place for a race!
So I went running down the dock, yelling, "wait, wait, it's not 8:12 yet, please!" but the race official blew the air horn to start the wave right in my ear! I was about 10 feet from the end of the dock at this point, just to the left of the group of swimmers. So I threw on my goggles while running, took a running leap into the water and started swimming. Unfortunately, the first two turns on the swim course were rights, so I was now swimming a little wider than I would normally like. I got into the thick of the group and was instantly in the most physical swim start I have ever been in. Luckily I was expecting it, so I tried to just put my head down and swim. The anxiety and adrenaline rush from the harried start got to me more than I would like to admit, so did a tiny bit a breast stroke and tried to calm down. Other than that the rest of the swim was uneventful and before I knew if I was running up the boat launch.

Swim - 14:12 (1:44/100)

I had a great transition spot very close to the swim in, but that meant that I was really far from bike out, so my transition was a little slow. But I was also moving a little slowly. The swim start took a lot out of me!

T1 - 2:25

I hopped on my bike with the plan to go hard, harder and hardest, but my lungs and stomach had other ideas. I was spent! After about a mile, I was finally able to get down a sip of water and start to breath more deeply. Getting passed by a few girls in my age group also helped me wake up! There's really not much to say about the bike - the course was disappointing. No fewer than 4 turn arounds, and the longest stretch was on a highway. The entrance ramp was cool, but the roads were in rough shape. Hearing the "whoosh, whoosh" as one of the men with a sick tri bike and a disc wheel from the wave behind me went flying by gave me some serious bike envy! A tri bike is definitely going to be my next purchase. Now who wants to help me with that....

Bike - 37:28 (19.9 mph)

So it wasn't my best bike ever, but I managed to average just under 20 mph (my goal), and I was actually looking forward to the run. I wanted to tackle it - pain be darned, there was no reason to hold back! I was in and out of T2 semi quickly, and headed for the run.

T2 - 1:28

Right out of transition there was a steep hill. I knew I didn't want to push too hard so early, so I focused on just running up and over it, knowing I was going to turn it on as soon as I crested the top. My plan seemed to work as I passed two girls from my age group by the time I made it to the top. There was a girl in pink just ahead of me with a 26 on her calf, so I set my sights on her. She was about 10 yards in front of me, and I was totally focused on not losing her and maintaining a high turnover. At about the 2.5 mile mark, I made my move and finally passed her. I was terrified she was going to come sprinting past me, which definitely helped me keep up the pace. Sure enough, that was the last I saw of her until after the finish. Hitting the 'red carpet' platform leading up to the finish line was so cool! Felt like the big time!

Run - 23:01 (7:25 pace)

Total time - 1:18:33

Phew! I have never been so glad to finish a race, ever! I have to admit, after the rough start, there were times I wanted to give up. But I wanted to make Kelly, T2, my friends and family proud before I leave them and head to Israel. But it was all worth it in the end. I had my fasted 5k off the bike (23:01), which is something I've been working towards. I had ben feeling like I had this mental block off the bike, where I would always run a 24, even though I know I can go faster. (My stand alone 5k is 21:12.) so to get a minute faster today felt great! The girl I passed in the last 1/2 mile even came up to me afterwards, to say that she couldn't have gone with me at my pace for the end. I thanked her for pacing me through the first 2/3s!

Once I grabbed my phone from bag check I was ecstatic to see all the messages from my awesome support crew back home, who had been group messaging throughout the race. Love them! You should have heard the screams when the message came from home that I was 15th in my age group - which meant I had qualified for Team USA! The opportunity to possibly get to represent the USA in London at the World Championships is so crazy cool to me! After a quick lunch and shower, we headed off to the awards ceremony so I could claim my spot.

We didn't stay for the whole time since we had to get home, but the highlight of the whole thing had to be the guy who got the award for the longest combined transition - 17 minutes! The gave him a lawn chair, which was hysterical. Can't forget the 88 year old man, either, though. I hope I am still rocking the spandex when I am 88!!!!

All in all it was an awesome weekend, cheering for my fellow T2ers and CNY Tri pals that rocked the Olympic on Saturday and laying it all on the line one last time before I leave for Israel. Though I guess now I have to plan my next season around London, September 2013. I better start training!

But as I'm off to Israel in less than 2 days, time to focus on that! I'll be blogging about my trip, marathon training (hopefully) and trying to fit in tri training in a whole new country. I'd love for you all to follow me as I head off on my next adventure!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Final Push

Today marks two weeks until I'm on a flight bound for Israel, which means that my second 'A' race of the season is less than two weeks away. I'm trying to live in the present, enjoying every minute of my two weeks left at home, instead of only looking ahead to all of the exciting changes that are coming. But I do need to start packing. Does anyone have advice on how to pack for 10 months in two suitcases? Each has to weigh less than 50 pounds. I keep thinking I should start, and then I realize that if I pack now, I'll have nothing left to wear for the next two weeks. So for now it'll be lists and piles of winter clothes.

But anyway, with less than two weeks until USAT Sprint Nationals, this is my final hard week of training and I'm all in. Knowing I have a very busy weekend coming up (all good things!) I talked to Kelly about front loading the week.

As I sit here writing, it's just before 5 am and I'm heading out to Boot Camp to kick off a three day training block that has me doing three hours today (lift, run, swim), three hours tomorrow (swim, bike) and two-and-a-half hours on Thursday (lift, run, swim), I guess this is a little taste of what life would be like as a professional triathlete. I am pumped! Who wants to sponsor my fantasy life as a professional triathlete so I can do this all the time?

In other good news, I got some exciting information about my Israel program. From the title of this blog alone, you could probably guess that running, triathlon and fitness are big parts of my life. I've been a little nervous about the track my fitness would take over the next year, and had formulated a bare minimum, focus on the run training plan that I knew I could execute anywhere.

During a group Facebook chat with the staff and other participants, it quickly became very clear that I was in good company with many other like minded people. There's at least one other triathlete, several runners and a few cyclists. Our excitement at finding this out about each other led to several others getting excited about our workout endeavors as well. One of the staff members even sent me information about a Women's only Tri in Herziliya next June. We are talking about the Jerusalem Marathon, and there is an English speaker's running group that meets in our first city. They've already been informed that there are several interested participants arriving in just a few short weeks.

The bike issue (bring it and eat the $500 shipping, find a way to ship it cheaper, buy once I'm there and sell before I leave, buy there and only ship home, rent there) hasn't been resolved but I'm confident that I'll find a solution. That being said, I'm also open to suggestions!

Off to get my butt kicked! Have a good day!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Athleta Iron Girl Syracuse 2012

Athleta Iron Girl Syracuse 2012. My third time at this race. So much for 3rd time's the charm. Here we go again. Another post, another race report with nothing in the middle. This blog is starting to feel like a PB+J with no peanut butter and no jelly. I keep thinking I'm going to have more time and more to write about but then the days go by and all of the sudden here I am, racing again.

I was super psyched to get my race plan from Kelly on Thursday night with instruction to race hard, hard and harder. Use this race as a trial run for USAT Nationals in two weeks. Showed up to the race this morning ready and raring to go, despite having woken up at 2 am, not able to fall back asleep. I was in transition by 5 am, only to discover that the tire I thought I had successfully changed on Thursday was flat again! I headed straight to bike support to have a tech change it, figuring better them than me, since I must have messed something up when I changed it myself. Got it all fixed up and finished setting up my transition area. I was able to rack right next to my friends, which made the morning so much more fun!

Before I knew it it was 6:30 and time to clear out of transition and get in a quick 10 minute warm-up jog. This was the first time I have ever done a warm up for a tri as part of the test for Nationals and I loved it. I was ready!

Swim - 11:28
It seemed to take forever for our wave of 29 and unders to be called into the water, but the gun finally sounded and we were off! I started swimming right away, but it was the most physical swim I have ever been in! We haven't had much rain this summer, so the water is really shallow and a lot of people chose to walk aways, even though the gun had sounded. I finally got out in front of the walkers and had some clear water out to the turn buoy. Got caught up behind some slower swimmers from the wave in front of me, but was able to swim strong and sight well the whole time, so it was a great swim. I was third out of the water in my wave, 1st in my age group and 22nd overall.

Bike - 58:58
The bike started off great. I ran out and got clipped right in, no problems! Headed out on the bike course feeling strong and passed a bunch of people pretty quickly. There is a railroad crossing on this course, just before the 5 mile mark. As I approached it, I started to hear a train's whistle. At first I was in   denial. Saying, "No, no, you've got to be kidding me, this isn't happening, I hope they are kidding, they'll stop the train, right?" Well no, they don't stop the trains, they stop the racers. A group of about 30 was waiting for the train to pass and a USAT official took our numbers so that we wouldn't be penalized for the down time. Luckily it was a short train and I was off again almost as soon as I stopped. I quickly passed everyone in the train group and had an awesome stretch of road all to myself. I was hammering along when everything started to feel soft and my speed slowed. I was in denial again (sensing a theme) for .2 seconds before I realized if I was going to get a flat, now was the perfect time since bike support was right in front of me! I waved them down and they got to work changing the tube and finding the cause more quickly than I ever could have (especially since I was shaking and trying not to cry). While my tire was being fixed I gave myself a little pep talk - "You are not out of this, you are not quitting, race your own race and practice pushing through for Nationals." I got back on my bike and took off with a very grateful thank you to Syracuse Bike! Now I had to go catch all my friends that had passed me while I was stranded on the side of the road. One by one I found them all :) I hate to say it but that setback may have been just what I needed to get refocused to push hard for the rest of the time on the bike.

Run - 24:08
I was in and out of T2 quickly, and almost immediately saw Coach Kelly yelling and cheering for me to run hard. I couldn't help but smile as I yelled out to tell her about my flat. I'm pretty sure she said something about forgetting it and just running. So run I did. It was very unremarkable - flat, one loop out and back. For some reason there was only one water stop (there were supposed to be two) but I have to thank Doug and his wife for remembering I had said before the race that I would be looking for a cup of ice. Sure enough when I came around the turn they were waiting for me. Huge, huge thank you! But the run was the only piece of my race today that I'm not thrilled with. I know that I can run faster. For some reason I just seem to have this mental block racing off the bike. But I know what I have to work on.

Total time  - 1:37:05
I wound up just 6 seconds behind 1st place in my age group and 24th overall, despite the flat. I didn't time the stop on the bike but if I had to guess it was at least 5 minutes. Figuring that in, I would have cracked the top 10 (8th I think?). I am thrilled. This race was an important lesson in not giving up. I have heard so many times, from so many different people, that if you flat in a sprint you should just give up. Well I'm here to prove that it isn't over till it's over. There is no reason not to pick yourself up and keep going. Podium spots are fun, but until I'm a pro making a payday from placing in the money, it doesn't make a lick of difference whether I came in 1st or 2nd or off the age group podium all together (although I do love my Iron Girl charm!).