Monday, August 23, 2010
I flew down to NYC on Sat July 17th with my wife Natasha and checked into the London hotel on 54th street just east of 7th avenue at 3:15 pm, and rode up to our room on the 52nd floor. While waiting for our bags to follow us to the room I decided to try and make the 3:30 session of the mandatory athletes briefing. Fortunately the triathlon exposition and briefings were all taking place almost adjacent to our hotel at the Hilton.
What a scene! The halls at the Hilton were packed full with athletes, bikes, supporters, volunteers, exhibitors and organizers. Everything was clearly marked and all of the volunteers were easily identifiable and ready to process us. The whole situation reminded me us registration at university before the internet.
I found an empty seat just in time for the briefing, which was basically a review of the very thorough athlete’s guide which was sent out about two weeks prior to the race. The man leading the briefing did a good job of highlighting all of the potential pain points and clearly explaining all of the steps we would go through to complete the sign-in process. Twenty minutes later when the briefing ended the two to three hundred athletes in the 3:30 session filed to the back of the room to get our hands stamped to prove attendance which was needed to move on to waiver signing and number assignment. I figured that the hand stamping would be a big bottle neck, but like everything else connected with this event, the organizers were well prepared and the process ran smoothly.
After the hand stand we were herded over to a series of race track looking betting ticket booths marked alphabetically where our identification was verified, waivers signed and race number assigned.
I then moved to stage three - packet pick up, which was broken down by race number. As I had signed up to compete in the elite age group, my number 144 was in the first grouping on the far left of the area. My packet contained swim cap, wrist band and some additional information. After getting my wrist band attached I took the escalator down a floor to the expo to pick up my bag of promotional items and race T-shirt. I also stopped to purchase a cartridge of compressed air for tire repair. The expo hall was crammed full and it looked like people were in a spending mood.
The entire process took me under an hour. As I exited the hotel I was once again hit by the heat and humidity which was amplified by no wind in mid Manhattan. Natasha and I went down to the hotel restaurant for a drink and a snack. One cheese plate, a super thin crest pizza appetizer and 3 glasses of wine later (1 for me); we went back up to our room. Natasha was eager to begin her shop-athalon on 5th avenue; this was her first trip to the shopping Mecca of the world. Thanks to a late lunch Natasha was very relaxed and suggested that I take care of my bike check-in first. I was determined to be as efficient as possible with checking my bike in; a mandatory step that had to be completed prior to 9pm that evening. I unpacked and assembled my bike and quickly. I then put on my team kit which was sure to get drenched during the 3km ride down to the transition area at the base of 72nd street and the Hudson River.
Following the one way streets out of the hotel I ended up heading West of 55th street which may have been the bumpiest street in the city. I made my way to the bike path along the West side highway and then headed north to the transition area. The transition area was divided up into two large areas; red and yellow, to accommodate the large number of competitors and the space limitations in the park along the Hudson. The bike racks were clearly marked with race numbers and mine was ideally located at the end of a rack right beside the bike exit; this was one of the advantages of competing in the elite age group. Some people had left helmets and shoes with their bikes, but I decided to take mine back to the room and return them in the morning.
After I brief shopping excursion, a walk over to central park and dinner in the room I lay down to try and sleep. I set two alarms for 3:50am but was wide awake by 3am so I reset the alarms so that Natasha could meet me at the finish near 8am. I saw an electronic sign from my hotel room window that indicated that it was 25 Celsius. I left the hotel at 4:15 am and walked West to find a cab that was already headed in a similar direction. Just beside the hotel on the sidewalk were two men and women lingering outside of a bar. The women were stretching out on the base bars of the temporary scaffolding that had been erected for some maintenance on the building beside the hotel. All four of them were animated in drunken conversation as they awaited customers for services that the women were clearly offering. I kept my eyes low and quickened my pace as I passed down the center of the sidewalk in between them. I passed by without interruption, took a right on 7th avenue, walked north one block and hailed a cab within seconds.
The cab headed west until it could not go any further and joined into a traffic filled street where all had been diverted due to the road closure of the West side highway; which started at 4am. I asked the driver if he knew what was going on to which he replied that there must be an accident on the highway that is why traffic is being diverted. A 4000 participant Triathlon in the heart of the city is hardly a blip on the radar for most New Yorkers and at most a minor inconvenience. I got out and walked the final few blocks as we were at a standstill. I joined hundreds of others heading down through the park on 72nd street towards the transition on the Hudson.
I got to my bike and hooked up with my friend Joe right, who had just finished setting up a few racks down. I took my bike with me to one of the many bike pumps chained to the fences throughout transition and got into a line to use the pump. The lines were at least three deep everywhere and I did a poor job of choosing as the guy at the front just could not figure it out. I abandoned my line and joined another one which of course meant that the line which I had been in sped up and three more people took my place. Calm down, plenty of time, no big deal, just wait it out. Fortunately Joe was there to help with conversation and keep my mind off of the painfully slow struggles of the person at the pump in front of me. He would set up the pump and the let go of the connection to the valve, grab the pump handle and apply pressure just to see the connection to the valve spring free. This scenario was repeated way too many times. That’s it I couldn’t bear it one second longer as the guy was clearly losing more air than he was gaining and unable to figure out; I had to get involved. The poor guy had quite a sweat going. I held the valve connection to the tire as he worked the pump handle and we succeeded in inflating his tires.
As Joe and I left transition we time for a good long talk as we walked just over 2km’s to the swim start. I was in the third corral and Joe was just a couple of corrals behind me. After the playing of the national anthem, the announcer took the time to introduce most of the elite field as they headed down one at a time to the starting barge. With the sound of the horn the were off. The professional women were introduced next and took their positions on the starting barge and dove in three minutes after the men; who were quite a ways downstream aided by the current. My group was next and there were no individual introductions, it would have taken to long as there were about 70 of us. I was the last guy in our group to walk down onto the barge which was already forming a second row behind racers set to dive in from the edge of the platform. I quickly surveyed the scene noting that there were far more people towards the far end of the barge closer to the Jersey side of the river than there were on the NY side. It only took me another second to determine why, as the current appeared to be moving faster the further you got from the edge and closer you got to the middle of the river. I walked down to the far edge a positioned myself at the back of the group now three deep at this end of the platform.
The starting horn sounded and the first row dove in followed by the second row. I waited just a second and then dove in behind so as to avoid as much contact as possible. The first thing I noticed was that it was salt water. I know that this may seem obvious to everyone because it is, but I just had not even thought about it one way or another. The water was also relatively warm which at 78F translates into very warm when wearing a wetsuit. My goggles had survived the dive with only a little water entering in the left side, which a cleared out quickly mid stroke with no issue. I focused all of my attention on taking huge breaths of air, in way gulping air in on each third stroke. Visibility was zero and it was tough to tell that there was any current once in the water and swimming. I avoided any panic attacks thanks to the focus on breathing which was an important milestone. I did not spend too much time looking around to see where I was, I just kept taking exaggerated huge breaths of air. My heart rate soared and did not let up. I could not find any way to relax so I just muscled my way through the water.
After I while of this big effort in the water I began to tire and looked ahead to see how much further it was to the exit. I still had a couple hundred meters to go so I just kept up with the same effort until I got to the exit ramp; which I was happy to finally grab onto. Thanks to starting in wave three the ramp was fairly clear with many volunteers around helping to pick us out of the water. It had seemed like I was in the water for a long time, but I clocked in at 15:59 which is over 10 minutes faster than my personal best; wow that must have been some current. The leaders from my group exited the water three minutes ahead of me.
I ran off of the exit barge looking for wetsuit strippers, but there were none. While run-jogging I got my arms out of the wetsuit and pulled it down to my waist. I took another few strides and decided to stop for a second to peel off the suit completely; which I did while steadying myself along the fence that separated the path from the water along the west side parkway. With wetsuit in hand I felt much cooler and was able to increase my pace as I ran the 700 meters over to the transition area. I passed a couple of people on the way and clocked a respectable transition time considering that I even took the time to put on socks; which would help me in my second transition time.
Heading out of transition with bike in tow I crossed the line indicating riding allowed and hoped onto my bike and quickly gathered some speed. With no time to get my feet into my shoes I rode on top of them as I made a hard right and met the hill leading away from the water and onto the West side highway. Once on the highway I strapped my feet into my shoes and worked my way up to full speed. It did not take long for me to loose my one water bottle before even taking one sip. As I watched it dissappear beneath me while clumsily trying to grab it like a grasping for slippery frog while wearing a blindfold, I reflected on what the warning I had received during the pre-race meeting where we were told to bring at least two water bottles because hundreds of bottles were picked up off of the road each year after the race. I tried not to think about it as I pushed on, knowing that a full water bottle awaited me in transition.
I passed many of my competitors and was even passed by one with an Ireland kit after the mid point turn-around on a climb after I had caught and passed him on a flat. We both passed a group of 5-8 riders closely packed together who were clearly taking advantage of drafting one another. I did not think that much of the group of cheaters as it paled in comparison to what happened at the 70.3 world championships in Clearwater, Florida last year. Not long after I caught back up to the Irishman who yelled over to me “It's like the bloody Tour de France back there!”; referring to the pack riding taking place. I have to hand it to the race officials who enforced the rules at this race and handed out some steep 6minute penalties to several of the offenders in the group. I pressed on and the road continue do clear out in front of me. I eventually caught and passed the lead women before reaching the second turn-around a the technical descent back to the transition area.
Thanks to my ideal location in transition I made was able to quickly rack my bike slide on my shoes, put on some shades and run out of transition in a very respectable time. I did not realize it at the time but I had ridden my bike in to first place amongst the elite amateur category. I paced myself up the fill and onto 72nd street. Once on 72nd street I looked up to see the street blocked off for almost 1km in front of me and no other competitors in site; what an awesome feeling. Barriers on either side of the street were set up for spectators and there which there were a smattering of. Policemen and women were at each intersection holding back traffic as I approached and ran through, it was almost a royal treatment. I might return to the race just for another run up 72nd street.
The wide open view in front of me was quickly changed as another athlete in a one piece kit with his name on his ass breezed by me. Judging by his kit and running form he was easily a professional, which was a bad assumption on my part. This guy had actually won the amateur elite category the year before and ended up in second place this year, his name was Brian Duffy Jr. Another competitor passed me with a clear 41 marked on his leg, this guy was my age and in my category and there was no way I could hand with him. I watched the two runners move off ahead as I kept to my own pace. The Irishmen and another athlete passed me just before the entrance into central park.
Almost 10 people passed me on the run including 7 in my category, the women winner and a couple of elite men. Running in Central park was amazing as an endless procession of joggers out for an early Sunday morning jog offered encouragement as they passed by in the opposite direction as we made our way around the 5 mile bridle path loop. I was surprised by how hilly the park was. I was on the verge of overheating during the entire run. I used what was left of my energy reserves to try an stay within 2 minutes of the Rebecca Wassner (the lead women), as I thought that she had started the race two minutes before me and I hoped to beat the best women; in fact the women had started out over three minutes in front of us.
As I headed towards the finishing shot I saw the race clock closing in on 2:04 and I felt that I realized that I had a chance to finish the race in under 2hrs as the first few swim waves were supposed to go off at 2 minute intervals. I sprinted into the finish line at 2:04:01 and took a few minutes to catch my breath before my search for Natasha began. I was given a race towel and finishers medal and then found the VIP section were Natasha was cheering from. Hats off to the organizers for having a VIP section option which made for a great experience for Natasha after some awful ones in the past including having to walk six mile into a state park in the desert in Arizona just to miss the finish and end up wasting another two hours trying find one another (no cell phone access).
We waited around for the awards were I discovered that the top three finishers all passed me on the run including the Irishman who won the race; Robert Wade. I posted a respectable sub 40 minute 10km run but was blown away by my top competitors who took six-seven minutes out of my time. I was happy to see that I posted the second fastest bike split on the day as I was only beaten by the second placed professional. I ended up in 8th place with a time of 1:58:57.