GU, gels, Powerbars, Gatorade, etc., on the bike and run portions of the race. Others had cold drinks set up in the transition area, since there was no official area that provided such supplementation. Learning from them, I wore my triathlon singlet for the half marathon, so I could carry items in the large pockets. Electrolytes take up little space, add minimal weight, but can prevent cramps, spasms and help you or a teammate finish the race. As long as you are not lugging peanut butter & jelly sandwiches to eat in transition (like my bride !), the few ounces will be more than compensated for in increased performance.
Hydration – this is a separate topic than nutrition, because international events have ideas about providing water that may be foreign to those who only compete in the continental United States. It will be a salt water swim. You will want to rinse your mouth with potable fresh water. Bring your own. In Ashkelon, the half marathon started in the evening. The street surface temperature was in triple digits. Wonderful volunteers gave the lead groups WHOLE LITER BOTTLES of water ! We could not carry them, so we took a few swigs and then chucked them. There was plenty for us for the first 15km., and when the sun set, it cooled off quite a bit. However, my wife relates that in the “back of the pack,” there was NO WATER. So, runners would pick up what we had tossed, and then share it amongst themselves. My wife was taking water from complete strangers after who knows how many men drank for this liter bottle that had been lying in the street ! She was in “la-la-land” and required several hours of medical attention from the Canadian and Israeli doctors, before coming around from heat exhaustion and dehydration after eating an entire box of saltines. I had severe muscle cramps, and collapsed right on the finish line, much to the delight of the Israeli television crew and Russian doctors. The former tried to then drown me in water even though that was the least of my problems !
Wear your uniform, race kit, etc., before the week of the race. If you get your kit ahead of time, WEAR IT (and not just around the house to impress your girlfriend or boyfriend) ! Better yet, race in parts of it before getting to Israel. Blisters are bummers and getting rubbed the wrong way can put a hurt on your day. The dress clothes from 2001 was well made designer brand stuff, but the event gear was not what I could wear for competition, and had the race taken place, I would have used my own tri shorts. Because I usually race without a shirt unless international rules require otherwise, I cut the pockets and extra fabric off of my singlet, and went with the swimsuit instead of the shorts. I also butchered the race number, which turned out to be a big mistake, as the remainder disintegrated during T-1 and I risked getting DQ’d. At the Ashkelon marina, there was a terrific expo AFTER the race (my wife still races in some of the gear she got there !), so do not depend on buying any items the morning of the event.
Make arrangements to disassemble, ship and re-assemble your racing bicycle. Preferably NOT on the day of the race. Because I did not fly with the team because of family weddings, we had our bikes sent to the Cannondale shop in Tel Aviv a fortnight before the race, where it was expertly assembled. Other team members brought their bicycles with them on their flights and then over to this same shop. The shop stored the bike boxes and then broke down the equipment and got them ready to take to the airports. Those that flew first-class on SwissAir and Continental had their bikes transported free of charge. Check with your travel agent or airline as to their rules and offerings, as the bike boxes can be a real headache if you do not plan in advance.
Don’t try new foods the 48 hours before the event. As much as you may want to try exotic local dishes, stick with what you know works the night before. In Ashkelon, they had one of the greatest spreads at the Dan Hotel that I have ever seen before a raace. They had everything. Some countries’ athletes went “meshuggeh” and tried everything. Big mistake, as we easily passed them on the sands above the Mediterranean the next day. On the other hand, the feed AFTER the half marathon in the ancient amphitheater i the industrial town of Ashdod looked like a wonderful Oneg Shabbat, with salads, fruits and dishes you do not normally see after an endurance event.
Ride or drive the bike course; run, ride or drive the run course; and, if possible to do safely with other athletes, swim the swim course. Some teams had the advantage of knowing the precise course and practicing on it for several weeks, others, like our, rode and ran what we thought were the correct routes, in the 48 hours prior to the starting gun. It appears that things are more accurate this year, but it is a good idea to “walk the walk.” And maybe drop matzoh crumbs, just in case. If they have citizens races after or during the “main event,” there may be signage for half the distances/loops or alternate finish lines. Make sure you know where YOUR finish line is and how many laps or loops you will be required to complete. My wife did the citizens half Olympic distance race, which started while we were still on the course. There were also a juniors race (those kids passed me on the sands), a full Olympic race (won by my friend Bonnie Eschel, Columbia University track star and Israeli bike champ) and the sprint distance. That way the race directors could maximize their income after they already paid to close streets and provide security. Your friends or family may want to participate in those events, if offered.
Visit the course AT THE TIME the race will be held. In Ashkelon, it was dark when we arrived at the Transition area. Instead of blinding sun, I had to feel my way around and the swim course looked completely different. Plus, typical of Israeli resourcefulness, the sprinklers went off at 7:00 AM, before the sun got the streets hot, and so there were dangerous puddles on the bike course turns. Know the conditions you will encounter and prepare accordingly.
One of the only sore spots of the entire experience was when I saw several American half marathoners quit and ditch their team singlets in the sewer. Don’t ditch your kit mid-race. It’s unpatriotic. Most competitors are extremely patriotic. Most come from countries where there is compulsory military service. And quitting is bad, but tossing your country’s colors, according to some spectators, is something they would expect only from spoiled Americans. If you are in true distress, get medical attention. The doctors and medical personnel were terrific and from all over the world. But do not quit and “diss” your own country. Luckily, the multisport athletes from the U.S. team filled the void. Triathletes Jonathon Vakneen (CA) finished 10th overall, Sara Somberg (FL) got an age group silver, and they may have helped the Americans get a team silver.
Do bring stuff you can throw away. There were no clothing corrals like you have at big American races; no U.P.S. trucks to scan and store your valuables like at the Richmond Marathon. And, there may not be any bushes, burning or otherwise, to stash your stuff. SO, bring stuff you can part with. Old race t-shirts, sweats, towels, bottles, etc. Ditching this stuff will also free up your luggage for NEW shwag and souvenirs ! In our conference call I will go over what I learned about trading during, and outside of the program, as that is a big topic in and of itself. One trick is to pack lots of stuff into your bike box. It pads the frame and wheels and saves room in your limited luggage. Also, pack t-shirts and other clothes TIGHTLY, with zip-lock bags, sit on them, seal them and they a “Vacuum packed” for minimal space. Put stuff inside water bottles, shoes, sneakers and hats. Pack extra bags and tape for the return flight and packaging. Opt for powders over liquid electrolyts, gels and post-race recovery drinks. And do not forget to pack toiletries and liquids for TSA inspection separately in the required, see-through bag.
Bottom line: Think it through in advance, as the best surprise is NO surprise. Have fun ! Doug