MY SPORTING year culminated today, December 13, with a half-marathon in Beit Shean. It has been quite a year. Some of the competitions were relatively easy, but some I will never forget.
It started in Eilat, in February - a half-ironman, comprising a swim, bike ride and run. I should have figured out what was in store for me when I discovered that apart from one other enthusiast on the wrong side of 60 like myself, everyone in the small field of 61 participants fell into the 35- 45 age group. I should have gotten a clue from Channel 10’s invitation to their studios in order to interview me on the Monday morning before the race. I just supposed they wanted to see what a true iron-man looked like, or for some other obscure reason.
This should be a piece of cake: a 2 kilometer swim in the Red Sea, a short 90 kilometer cycle through the mountains (really only hills), and then an easy 21 kilometer trot down and back to Eilat and my hotel. Little did I realize that this would be the toughest competition that I had ever experienced.
Melanie and I drove to Eilat on Wednesday, arriving in time for a swim in order to check out my wetsuit which is used to keep the body warm and conserve calories and also to help with flotation.
On Thursday morning I went for a little 30 kilometer spin on the bike, making sure everything was in working order. Thursday afternoon we received the last rites, sorry, last instructions, followed by a carbo-loaded dinner (lots of pasta) and then early to bed.
Friday morning, breakfast at 5 am, last check of bike and equipment, and then down to the beach for the 2 kilometer swim. A short run to the transition area where we prepared for the next stage - 90 kilometers on the bike up to Ein Netafim on the border with Egypt. The route comprised seemingly never-ending up hills and down dales, with no level stretches at all. Quite soul destroying. At Ein Netafim we changed into running togs and took off back towards Eilat. The first 10 kilometers were a steep downhill, and afterwards just a gentle downward slope.
All the time on the bike and on the run I had to drink in order to avoid dehydration and to eat power jells to replenish loss of minerals due to sweating. Water stops were provided every 2.5 kilometers, with isotonic drinks loaded with minerals, and dates that I ate in handfuls, as one becomes very hungry.
Eventually, after more than 8 hours on the course, I crossed the finish line and swore that this was the last competition of this nature that I was going to do. At least I was able to walk afterwards, and I managed to get to the awards ceremony where each participant received a trophy for having taken part and another one for being first in the age group. One competitor, older than me, was taken to hospital later that day suffering from dehydration and erratic blood pressure.
My vow to give up taking part in such challenges lasted until the following month, when I started to prepare for the next one, the Argus bicycle race in Cape Town, which is the largest timed cycle race in the world. This is a mere 107 kilometers around the Cape Peninsular, with varying weather and lots of mountains just to make it interesting. In fact I was able to handle this with relative ease due to my cycle training for triathlons and half-ironman races.
I guess that most sensible sportsmen my age would be satisfied with these races, but I have never claimed to be sensible. I went on to participate in every possible triathlon and running race in Israel, and then decided, against my better judgment, to run in the Enzo Ferrari marathon in Italy in October 2007. This is a one-way marathon of over 42 kilometers run from Ferrari’s home in Maranello through Modena to the finish at Carpi.
My group and I chose this marathon because it is relatively small, approximately 1,400 runners in all, and because we run in October when the weather is cooler. This meant training in summer. We devised a three-month training program: during the week we trained as a group with our trainers and the program got us up at 4.30 am on Fridays to do the long run, with a shorter cool down run the following day.
On the Friday before the race we flew to Milan, boarded our private bus to Maranello, and went out for a good pasta dinner in a select restaurant. The following day we went over the route (all level, no surprises). Sunday dawned bright and clear, slightly chilly as expected, and we walked from our hotel to the start which was at the Ferrari Gallery next to the assembly line. Ferrari’s granddaughter was in the lead car.
Our start time was 9.30 a.m. and the route took us through the center of Maranello and a few other small towns on the way, with lots of encouragement from crowds cheering us on. After Modena, we reached the halfway mark, where a string of balloons across the street marked an official timing point. At 22 kilometers, a young runner came up to me and said her friends could not keep up with her, so that she would run with me! We ran until the 38 kilometer mark where we parted company, and while we were together she greeted everyone on the course; first aid workers, police, officials, she spoke to all of them, shouting encouragement to those runners we overtook.
The finish was in the center of the town of Carpi, and as I crossed the finish line, I raised the Israeli flag, as I always do, and drew an appreciative response from the crowd. So that’s it for 2007. Next year starts for me in January with the Tiberias marathon, and down again to Cape Town in March for the Argus and then the really big one, the Two Oceans Ultra-Marathon; 56 kilometers around the Cape Peninsular including grueling uphills via Chapmans Peak, Constantia Nek. The story continues…