This trip is already just so good, it needed a mid-camp blog post.
So where to start: I am in Israel training for Worlds with Cycling Canada and the National Israeli team. The group we have here is a mix of U23 men, elite women, and elite men both from Canada and Israel.
Worlds is in Doha, Qatar this year and the race is later than usual by almost a month, with race day being held October 15th. I think the hope was that there would be fewer cyclist suffering from the extreme heat that is typical in Doha during September. However, the temperature in October will still be scorching - high 30s to 40s. So due to time zone ( Doha is 10hrs+ different from Vancouver) and heat adaptation, Cycling Canada thought it was wise to have a pre-Worlds camp in a climate and time zone as near to Doha as possible, hence Israel!
Day 1 - Welcome to Israel
One thing that stands out about Israel is how passionate and boisterous the Israelis are. It started on the flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv; as soon as I stepped on the airplane I was hit with a wall of excitement and noise. I typically like to sleep for large portions of flights, it helps me change time zones. You pop a melatonin when you take off and then hope is you wake up in or as near to your new time zone as possible. However, no amount of melatonin, ear plugs, or eye covers would deter my fellow flyers. The noise levels were on the brink of a party for the full duration of the ten hour flight. Every time I took off my eye cover the nice man and woman sitting on either side of me would greet me with "shalom" and inquire about the quality of my sleep. Which being so Canadian I would respond "Oh great" when in reality I was dying inside.
Once we arrived I was eager to set up in our new home, but our hosts were having none of it, which in hindsight was amazing, although at the time I was suffering just a bit from lack of sleep. They picked us up at the airport and declared "we have an amazing day of excitement planned for you". I am a pretty easy going person and, strangely, cycling has increased my ability to roll with the punches and channel my inner zen. So I was like, bring it on! That day would literally be the longest day of my life. I think I set a new travel personal best staying awake for over 32hrs.
Due to work and training I did zero research on Israel. Like, zero. I had no idea what to expect. So when we got cruiser bikes and went to the beach I was pleasantly surprised. It was 10am and hot out already (high 20s) but all of us jumped on the cruiser bikes and pedaled our way to the beach. The beach was next level cool complete with shops, a huge beautiful wood boardwalk, and luxurious white sand. We grabbed lunch at a humus bar which, for a vegetarian and lover of humus, was excellent. Our guide, an ex-racer, made it her personal mission that we would have a good time. She ordered enough food for 20 people while there were only ten of us. She kept yelling at the restaurant staff to bring more pita, more humus, more falafel - it was awesome.
Next we got a coffee, also at the beach, and went for a dip in the ocean. The ocean is beautiful, a bright tropical blue and is literally like a warm bath. It’s so warm that it’s not quite refreshing, especially for a cold blooded Canadian like myself who was already dying of heat exhaustion and sleep deprivation. At this point our guide declared we were going to "The Party" which was a penthouse event at the home of the training camp’s sponsor. I thought party, great, who doesn't love a party.
So after the beach we made a quick stop at a Power Watts studio to shower and clean up, then we headed to the party. The penthouse was spectacular with ocean front views, a massive double-height loft space, a huge training gym (which is altitude controlled so you can simulate training at high altitudes), and monstrous deck. This is where we first met the Israeli National team members.The Israeli athletes were genuinely excited to train with the Canadians and to be part of this project. That warm welcome was something I have come to love about Israel; the people are really genuinely friendly. After chilling at the amazing penthouse for a couple hours, the long day of travel was most certainly starting to wear on me. I wanted a bed and as soon as possible. However, we still had to get to our desert home - a mere two hours’ bus ride away. There was a little confusion about the junior Israel riders and if they were coming to the camp or not, but the juniors were not to be stopped and we all crammed into a bus and took off into the desert. In true Israeli fashion the bus ride was a loud one with many people yelling and laughing and having a great old time. We arrived at the Kibutz around 10 pm and finally I found that bed to rest my head in.
What's a Kibutz?
Israel was built on the Kubutz model, which is a form of communal village living. Everyone in the Kibutz shares everything equally, has a similar house, and works for the good of the Kibutz. Kinda like small scale Communism. The Kibutz usually have some sort of industry, agriculture, dairy or manufacturing. The awesome thing as a cyclist is there is a communal dining room where meals are served, so you just get to walk in and get all the tasty Israeli eats. Our Kibutz was located in the south of Israel in the middle of a desert and the middle of nowhere, which was perfect for training and heat acclimatization.
Training in the Heat
One thing you learn very quickly is to hydrate hydrate hydrate. Not only water but also salt. As you sweat you lose fluids and electrolytes ( salt and potassium exc.). Drinking only water is almost as bad as not drinking anything at all as it can lead to Hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is bad. It’s a condition that occurs when the level of sodium in your blood is abnormally low and this really messes with your performance, and at extremes it could even be fatal. One of the measures I used to combat dehydration while training in the heat was sweat testing and a personalized hydration plan. The idea is if you know how much salt your sweat contains, you can dial in what you are drinking and its electrolyte content to suit your body's needs. Precision Hydration helped me out with the salt sweat test and a bunch of electrolyte replacement products. For long hot days I would pre-hydrate the night before with water and a large amount of electrolytes. In the mornings I would also pre-hydrate with another large dose of electrolytes. During the ride you would test how much water and mix you could drink without feeling terrible. At the rate I was sweating , which was a lot, I would easily drink 7+ bottles over a 3-4 hour hard ride. I don't think I have ever sweated so much for so long. After a ride your jersey and helmet would be crusted with salt. Even after all those bottles and at pre-hydration I would return back to the Kibutz slightly dehydrated. Obviously hydration / lack of hydration can hugely affect performance, so this was one of the main goals of the camp: to get used to race efforts in extreme heat and dialing in your nutrition and hydration as well.
Motor Pacing Forever
Due to the fast, flat, yet technical Worlds course we did a lot of motor pacing efforts, which was awesome. I love motor pacing. You are just ripping along behind a motorbike doing 40, 50, 60+ km/hr. It's so much fun. The idea is you draft the motorbike and get used to putting out efforts at speed. You can practice lead outs, or practice sprinting at that high speed. As an athlete you are sitting behind the motorbike in the draft then jumping out of the draft into the wind at 50 km/hr. This process simulates a real race effort - an explosive finishing lead out or sprint. Israel is not only flat, it’s windy, which is great because you are constantly practicing your drafting and positioning in a echelon. You are pretty much always trying to hide from the wind. We were in Israel for ten days and over half of those days had huge motor pacing blocks.
Just over a week to race day. Feeling strong, feeling hydrated , next stop Qatar!