Monday, April 23, 2007

Tr(i)aining for my first Triathlon

Now the swim leg of my first upcoming Triathalon should be easy, that is if I had been a good boy at Sunday School done all the right things and had God as my father. Because Saturday week will see me lining up on the Shores of the Sea of Galilee to compete in my first triathlon, now JC could just run the swim leg being that it is in the plaace where legend has it he walked on water.

But I am no saint and short of a miraculous appirition of the Virgin Mark in sweat on the back of my tri suit, I doubt that I will ever walk on water. So Saturday morning I headed up for a tri training session with fellow Tri'ers, Andrea and Margret.

Not that we got off to a flying start after loading the bikes onto the back of armored car, i started to drive away but somehow managed to roll backwards into the car behind me, luckily there was no damage to the bikes and since it was dark and 4:30 in the morning, the car behind me might of picked up a typical Israeli car park scratch.

The Sea of Galilee is about an hour and half North of my place and we arrived just after dawn, managed to find a coffee shop open to help pacify my nerves and also a clean toliet. Anyone who has ever trained for any morning sporting event like running or triathalons knows what I mean about the necessity of a toilet, I mean we even have cryptic codes to assess who of us has been and we all get jealous if another person has suceeded whilst you have managed only.

The aim of the training day was to do the three disciplines on the course, so at 7.30 we lined up on the shores of the Galilee and took the plunge. It was about 250m out and back to a buoy, now swimming in open water has now concern for me as it beats the black line fever you get swimming in a pool. Margret and Andrea managed it but still do not seem happy in the open water, so hopefully they will relax and be able to enjoy the swim.

Out of the water and get the bikes ready, split into three groups depending on whether you are doing the Half Ironman, Olympic or Sprint distances. I am opting for the Olympic distance as much as I am tempted to go for the Half Ironman, the thought of riding 90km then running a half marathon is just a bit to daunting as my training is not up to that level yet and it would as they say be a long day at the office.

The Olympic distance are 1500m swim, 40 km bike ride and a 10km run.

The Coach let our group know that we would be riding for a while to get warmed up then do two 20km time trials as in race preparation on the actual course. The warmup is always much easier as you ride in a group and can draft meaning that you are only expending about 30% of the effort to ride at that speed alone, for those doubters it really does make a massive difference to be in a peloton.

The time trials are a different out there alone no drafting so you are really working hard an example is that in the peloton my heart rate sat around 90 - 100 bpm, out on the time trial i was never below 130 bpm.

I pushed hard and managed a negative split for the second half of the time trial, Margret had a puncture which sucked and Andrea somehow has a bike that weighs more than she does and was still suffering from the effects of the cold water from the swim and when I passed her on the way back she had more coats and tops hanging off her than a trolley lady in East LA.

Running after biking is one of the hardest things to do as all of a sudden you are using totally different muscles in the same limbs and the first few strides feel like your legs are going around not in front of you. But we all pushed out for a solid thirty minute run covered 6km's which given that it was my first true brick session was more than happy with what we had all done.

As a post note, Sunday night we decided to get together for a while and practise fixing punctures, yes in the training schedule we now have fixing punctures, decided not wear my heart rate monitor for that session.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Running & The Marzipan Elvis

We often remember races for things other than the run and this was the case last Friday when we ran the oldest race in Israel around Mt Tavoor in the North. This is the oldest race in Israel being run over the last 55 year, which in age terms and length of history of a nation makes this run one of the most famous in the country.

Of course being Israel it was a complete and utter mess at the begining with access being granted to the car park only after a screaming match with a policeman with me waving and flashing my Press card and pointing to the TV signs all over my car as I explained that I was there to film the event, conviently dressed in running clothes along with my friends Chaim, Judith an Rachel.

Of course they then placed the bib collection down a hill about a km away, it was just all going wrong from the gitgo and for the first time in a long time I actually considered packing it in and just going home. I had to run back up the hill drop clothes off and run back to the start covered in sweat with my pace racing, only to have to stand around and wait in mud for the next twenty minutes as someone figured out where the actual starting line was and that we all were facing the wrong way.

The run itself is a classic ballbreaker with the first three km's being straight up the mountain that you can see in the background of the photo. Following my Ultras back in Australia I soon realised that I was in for a tough race as I was walking (along with everyone else after the first half km) I am normally a good hill runner but this was tough but at least on a road rather than the mud trail we started on.

You know trhe feeling of trying to scrape off the mud from the souls of your trainers as you try to reduce the weight on your feet back down to a manufacturers level.

Now we finally got to the high pointand descended down thru an Israeli Arab village of no beauty or value whatsoever, but then there is the irony of running past a mosque in the middle of Israel.

We now looped back along thru the fields at the base of the mountain once again slipping and sliding thru mud puddles with a quick Hwy downhill before the final small uphill and to the finishing line.

I wish I could figure out my time but the organisers site is all in hebrew, I think I did the 11km in 1:01 and some change so given the conditions and proximity to the ultras I was happy with my time. The others all came in within a few minutes of each other around 15 minutes later.

So what has this to do with "Marzipan Elvis" well the area is known for its Almonds the source of Marzipan and after the race we headed down to a restaurant for a coffee which by chance is also the home of the "Marzipan Museum" all you have ever wanted to know about marzipan is here. But in pride of place behind a protective pane of glass there was a life size model of Elvis (not the slim Elvis) made from Marzipan.

So for some races it is almost funny that you remember not the sweat pain and agony of running to your maximum but hey the Marzipan Elvis "priceless".

Run Strong

Monday, April 09, 2007


Perhaps the most interesting thing about time is that it is always relevant. And nothing represents that more than entering the Old City of Jerusalem to cover the Easter celebrations for work than entering via “The New Gate”. How old is “ The New Gate” in a city that traces histories by the centuries rather than by the year, was something that fascinated me for a day and half before I borrowed a travel book to look up the history of the gates to the Old City.

Now entering the city via this gate involved running a cordon of Police all armed with guns, tear gas launchers and convenient wooden sticks stuck in the back of their flak jackets. At every corner and intersection of the old city there were police and security services not alone but in numbers.

No doubt the threat of terror determines their numbers in normal times but over the Easter period they are there more for crowd control rather than bad boys carrying suspicious back packs or wearing heavy coats on a warm weekend.

You may be scared of masked gunmen covering events over here in the Middle East but trust me they do not have the drive or determination of a group of Greek Orthodox Grandmothers determined to get a candle lit from the passing of the holy fire procession.

These pilgrim grandmothers are so obsessed that even hour later after the flame passed they still block the narrow streets outside video shops showing the video of the parade, almost weeping with devotion they kiss the glass of the store when they see the holy flame pictures.

This is a procession and ritual that again dates back in centuries, in a city where time is meaningless.

But time in our business is measured in minutes across time zones and I have spent the last two days on the roof of a restaurant in the old city a stone throw away from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre trying to get my head around dealing with three time zones. From local time in Jerusalem to local time in New York and then co-coordinating bookings in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) for satellites. I put the camera down this weekend and was assigned to working on the uplink. You might remember the posts from last year when I went to Cyprus for a training course in learning uplinking, well the Channel called in the cards and I was the Engineer for the weekend.

I actually did manage to pick up the camera for a few minutes and film some classic on in the Unholyland scenes like Priests singing behind loves of Arabic bread and women trying to blow out their sacred flames before setting everyone around them alight.

There is no doubt that running a Sat dish is a boys dream, you get lots of boxes with lots of bits and pieces, you then build to your hearts content this machine point it at the sky and get to play with more toys which to be honest I understand about 70% of. Then you ring foreign countries and talk to people about real technical stuff and before you know it. Providing you have followed the instructions all of a sudden in a Television station on the other side of the world they see you. Look I am not a geek but it still amazes me how this TV stuff works.

You get to write down all these technical stuff, which to the passing Layman or TV producer means very little but it all relates to time measured in minutes not centuries.

The worst thing is that once it is working you have time on your hands because there is very little to do. This is based on the premise that if it is working do not alter or change anything. So you sit and look at the machine that goes ping and wait for your assigned time and satellite window.

Then at the end of the day you pack it down into 15 boxes and cart it all downstairs again ready for tomorrow, and then do it all again.

There were some classic scenes amongst the pageantry over the last couple of days, every meal involves eating humus which after being away for two months from the Middle East is like an Australian craving a meat pie and sauce, except humus is just that humus and not a “dogs eye and dead horse” which is Aussie slang for a pie and sauce.

If you ever think Easter is a quiet time for reflection and contemplation, think again in the old city it means every church bell is clanging non stop and the Mosques crank up the volume on the call for prayer to the Spinal Tap Volume 11 to counter the pagan Christian churches efforts to compete, and the Mosques win by a whisker and two panadols.

In its own way, you do feel part of history covering events like Easter in the Old city next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, like Christmas in Bethlehem. You get to witness something special. These are rituals and ceremonies that date back two thousand years plus and will do for the centuries to follow. They are moments in time that I get to experience and treasure.

And as I walked out of “The New Gate” tonight I reflected on the fact that “The New Gate” was built in 1889. Here in the Old City “new” has a different meaning.

Old City of Jerusalem
April 8, 2007

Monday, April 02, 2007

Tyranny of Distance

I am probably the only person in the world, well the only one that I know who says that their favourite country in the world is Pakistan. That is I used to think that because it had been so long since I had been back to Australia for any period of time.

As the author Bill Bryson notes in his book “Downunder”, Australia is the only country in the world which has lost a Prime Minister. It was back in the sixties, but yes we lost a Prime Minister, he went for a swim and disappeared. If the rest of the world wants to know who shot JFK, we want to know where the hell is Harold Holt.

Perhaps it is one of those things that define Australians, well it happens but then again as long as you get beetroot on your hamburger then everything is ok. You cannot have a genuine hamburger in Oz unless it has hamburger on it.

There are so many things about Australia that you forget like people genuinely smile at you and say G’day mate. It is not a cliché from a movie but an acceptance of friendship. When you drive and want to say anything from hello to thanks to another driver all you have to do is lift your finger from the top of the steering wheel as you pass.

In country towns Traffic Parking Inspectors still walk around with pieces of chalk to mark your tyres with a time to see whether you illegally parked. Magazine racks in newsagents stock Caravan Weekly alongside trashy Celebrity magazines.

Talkback Radio deals with cutting issues like whether Meat Pies are healthy at the footy, and naturally Melbourne remains totally obsessed with AFL football. It still amazes me how the second largest city in the country still to this day revolves around a game that is played no where else in the world and they do not care if that is the case. The one thing everyone agrees to in Melbourne is that the best place for a steamed dim sim is still South Melbourne Market. If there is a gourmet treat downunder trust me the humble steamed dim sim from the market in a lined paper bag with soy sauce on a cold morning is the equivalent to a New Yorker telling you about a slice of pizza.

I went back to the suburb I grew up in Melbourne and walked around the shops in the street, no fancy mall or mega centre, but a strip of shops with the bakery still there along with the second hand office furniture store. Only one of the four milk bars exist and even the fire station is gone, but the bench on the corner where we as kids spent hours growing up is still there. But Green Grocer we called “Pat the Gibber” is now a outlet store for cheap Chinese imported shoes.

There exists in Australia a zest and zeal for life which you find no where else in the world, because the rest of the world is so far away and that is fine. Because in so many ways I found myself again no longer will I say that Pakistan is my favourite country because somehow your own backyard is somewhere we forget to look.

On a funny aside it took a trip downunder to come up finally with a title for my book, that people keep asking me whether I will ever write, and if I ever do write a book about the things and events I have seen then most likely it will be called …..

Footnote. Just got a message on my phone from Israel apparently the IDF attacked Gaza some kid is injured in a critical state another day in the Unholyland before I return.