The New York City Triathlon, in many ways, has become an annual tradition in our family. Starting way back in 2002, we began reserving one weekend in August—and later, July—for this event. An early-morning affair punctuated with emotional highs and lows, nerves sparking like live wires as my we watched my sisters, friends, and 3,000 other athletes grit it out on this tough, urban course.
Historically, my role at the race has been a spectator. I tried my hand at the race back in 2006 and 2007 and enjoyed it, but then, I had Eamon. And then, I was way out of shape. Then I was pregnant again. And again. But last year, I set the goal: I’d be in that race in 2015. No. Matter. What.
So I registered. In November. When it seemed so far away. The winter rushed by, and the spring. Then June, and half of July. In a blink, I was staring race-week in the face, and my anxiety reached an all-time high. Even though I’d been training and racing almost every week and had three triathlons under my belt since May, the weightiness of the New York City triathlon made me question everything. Was I strong enough? Fit enough? Would my results in smaller, local races stack up against so many serious, much more experienced triathletes?
The anxiety manifested itself into stress, bad moods, and fear leading up to the race. I didn’t want to think about the race. I procrastinated with packing, with planning logistics for the weekend. But by Thursday, the black cloud hovering above meparted and I felt a sense of overwhelming calm wash over me. This was going to be a challenge, yes. But I was ready. There was no doubt in my mind about that.
But first. We had to drive five hours to get there. Find parking in mid-town so I could make the race meeting and expo. Check my bike at transition by the river. Sit in more traffic to get to Hoboken. Unpack the car. Feed the kids. Visit our old neighborhood and see our good friend, Rachel. Get three very excited kids to bed in our friend’s apartment filled with new (to them) toys. We would up sleeping with the girls, four across in our friend’s king-size bed, with Nellie’s legs—slung over Nora’s body—about a millimeter from my face. My 3:45 a.m. alarm came way too early. I felt sick as I choked down a piece of bread and peanut butter. I brought the kids down one by one to the car, I sat and cuddled with a snoozing Nellie for about five minutes, closing my eyes and reminding myself that regardless of the outcome of the race, I would always have this sweet, unconditional love to come home to.
We zipped into the city and Mark dropped me off at 72ndstreet and I marched with hundreds of other triathletes down to transition, where I quickly arranged my stuff and bolted—we had a one-mile walk to the swim start. I tried to stay focused and calm, even after spotting no less than 10 fish floundering in the river below, some already dead. By the time I got to the start, I’d chugged my large bottle of water. Fortunately, someone had left a large case of water by the tree where I decided to stretch, so a few of us took some bottles. But it just wasn’t enough. After using the bathroom, watching the pros start and cheering for Laurel, briefly chatting with my friend Emily before she took off with the elites, then waiting in my age-group corral, I was so thirsty. A sign of things to come, for sure.
While the pros and elites can dive into the Hudson, all age-groupers are required to jump in from a seated position on a barge. Our start was quick and sudden, and as a result, I half-jumped, half-slid in with a pathetic plop. The girl to my right launched herself at least four feet in front of me so I panicked a little thinking I’d ruined my swim from the start. But I took about 30 strokes as fast as I could and managed to get some clearance between me and the rest of the green caps. Becadvised to swim as far right as possible to take advantage of where the current is strongest, so I did, prompting one of the paddleboarders to basically put himself in my path so I would move over. Heard ya loud and clear, buddy. I shifted my direction slightly, but stayed way right knowing that I’d soon be swimming up on people from the waves before me. And did Iever. The one major drawback to starting so far back in the waves is that the swim becomes an obstacle course. I (inadvertently) swam over a few people, swam around dozens more, and basically bulldozed my way in around who seemed to be confused about where the end of the swim was. Imagine: You’re trying to swim as fast as possible to the finish and there are about 40 people treading water, forming a brick wall in front of you. Trying to stay calm, I weaved my way towards the ramp and swam until I felt the strong grip of a volunteer on my arm who hoisted me up to the top of the ramp. I flung my goggles off, gave a thumb’s up to my sister Aliza who was waiting at the swim-out and was on my way to T1—a .5-mile run on the gravely, concrete promenade along the water.
Swim Time: 16:10 (3rd AG)
And then…gridlock. To be expected in NYC, I guess! My plan was to bolt out of the water and run to my bike as hard as I could. But the narrow path along the water was packed with triathletes, most of whom were walking. Slowly. We were supposed to stay within the parameters of the cones to avoid colliding with the bikers coming towards us from the other direction, but out of frustration, I started to run outside the cones. I was sure I’d get some sort of penalty for it, but I was too frustrated to care. I had to stop a few times, but for the most part I was able to keep up a pretty decent pace before I reached my bike. T1 Time: 5:16 (3rd AG)
Not much to say here. It wasn’t my finest performance. Things got weird from the start when the race officials suddenly stopped a group of about 15 of us in the first 400 meters of the bike because of a medical emergency on the course. By the time they let us go again, some 30-45 seconds had passed, which threw me off because I knew any lead I’d built in the swim/transition would soon be lost. But I can’t blame that hiccup on the rest of my ride. To be honest, I don’t really know what went wrong. I was about six minutes slower than the lot of my competitors’. About five women passed me on the ride, and as much as I tried to keep up, I couldn’t. I didn’t feel exhausted or like I was holding back—in fact, I passed at least 50 people out on the course from the earlier waves. But I didn’t have any oomph. I reminded myself to drink and eat my gel, to match the cadence of the people in front of me. I enjoyed the views, tried to crank up the hills and power down the descents. But the entire ride felt really long, and by the time I rode back into transition, I was more than ready to get off and start running.
Bike time: 1:19:03 (10th AG); T2: 1:17 (4th AG)
Shoes on, hat on, race belt on, and I was off. You hit a steep, short incline as soon as you run out of transition, and I was really happy to charge up the hill feeling great. I’d been looking forward to the first mile of the run up 72nd street, having been along the sidelines for so many years and knowing how electric the air is with so many people cheering. I held a smooth, even pace, as we entered the park and began the long, hilly trek to the finish line. Bec and Anne, on bikes, caught up to me. They were so encouraging and positive, and as much as I wanted to break focus and chat with them, I was scared that I’d snap out of the zone. I knew I had at least four women to catch from my age-group, so I kept my eyes trained on the runners in front of me. By mile 4, I’d reeled in two of the women. By mile 5, another.And, with no other women in sight, I let myself relax a bit, thinking I did everything I possibly could. And that’s when my mind quit, and my body followed. Instead of being propelled to keep up the pace after making the pass, I completely slowed down. For the last mile, I went into survival mode. I so wanted to sprint into the finish, smiling, waving, celebrating. But all I could do is shuffle in, my arms flailing, my jaw slack, my quads cramping, and my eyes barely able to stay open. I was done.
And finally, the finish line. I slowed to a stop, and that’s when things get fuzzy. I wound up in the medic tent for about 15 minutes…first time for everything, I guess. The verdict? Heat exhaustion. And dehydration. Talk about a buzz kill. No one wants to end a race in the med tent. Especially when you have about 15 family members and friends waiting for you at the finish line. But it have been worse. It could have been an IV, a trip to the ER. I’m grateful that I was able to walk away, although woozily, and recover rather quickly.
Run Split: 42:02 (2nd AG)
The takeaway? I desperately need to work on my race-day fuel. Something is amiss there, and my body is telling me loud and clear. I need to drink more, eat more. A gel on the run—which I stubbornly refused around mile 3—would have likely given me the boost I desperately needed to get to the finish line. Lesson learned. And I need to learn to bike faster—but that’s not quite as easy of a fix!
I can’t say I’m that I’m thrilled with my race. I went in with the goal of placing in my age-group, which I did—3rd place! And I’m happy about that. My time was 10 minutes faster than when I did the race in 2008, and my swim and run were among the top splits overall (not including elites and pros). But I didn’t execute the race the way I wanted to, which was to swim strong, bike strong, run strong. A better bike would have had me in contention for the win, and slowing down so drastically at the end of the run cost me 2rd place. Still, I am so grateful—and a little shocked!—for making it on the podium given the way I felt. This level of racing is all new to me, and I’m learning with every race my strengths and weaknesses that are not as apparent when I’m training. I’m going to zero in on my biking in the next couple of weeks to gear up for my next race: USAT Nationals in Milwaukee on August 8! --Sarah