New York City. The Big Apple. Once again, I returned to the spot where in many ways my triathlon journey began. I came back to the city with one objective: going fast. While thoroughly satisfied with how things turned out as a whole, I am disappointed with my finish time. I’ll come back to that later. Though the family stayed behind in Arkansas this year visiting the grandparents, my trip turned out to be a great adventure with one of my closest friends that will not soon be forgotten.
The excitement of this race has been building for months as one of my two “A” races this season. The focused training complete and “the hay in the barn.” As I left the office, a surprising number of people wished me luck. Many more than i would have suspected. I’ve probably been a bit one dimensional for the last year. Guess that means I talk about training/racing a bit much, but it was one more boost to get me on the road.
I took the day off Thursday to give me enough time for one final gear check and a leisurely trip to the airport. The girls were still in Arkansas on their summer trip to see the grandparents, so I was on my own. Final check complete, I said goodbye to the dogs and hit the toll road.
Traveling with a bike is never fun. The trick I figured out though was that if you park in the short term parking, you can check the bike and then move your truck out to the long term parking. It cost me $4 for my twenty minute stay in ST which was well worth not having to drag the bike half a mile from the parking lot.
The lead up
As I started to write this section, I realized that my memories have faded a bit. Maybe I’ll come back to it eventually, but for now I’m going to hold off with my list of reminders and get right down to the race itself.
- Packet pickup/briefing
- Bike setup
- Calling EK
- Gear check
No sooner had i closed my eye it seemed, than the morning arrived. Excited though I was, I did not feel rested. The lukewarm Starbucks Via I made with the finest hot tap water the Hilton had to offer was not pleasant, but did both of its jobs with remarkable swiftness and effectiveness. Our morning conversation was a mix of excitement, dread and toilet humor. As always, men, even in their thirties will act like children when left to their own devices. Alex and I are no exception and today would be no different in that regard than any other.
One last gear check and we headed for the transition bus, clear plastic gear bag in hand. Since we opted for a few extra minutes of shut eye, we only left ourselves about 45 minutes to setup our transition areas. Two transitions are used for this race. Yellow is reserved for the elite athletes, women and u believe relays. The red transition is located at around 76th and the Hudson river between the West side Highway, where we would soon be riding, and the river. Two softball fields are converted for the weekend and the backstops in the center provide an easy landmark. I was 2 rows from the backstop and would have no issues finding my gear during the race. Red is used primarily for the challenged athletes competing in the Accenture Challenged Athletes Championship, and male age groupers. While crowded, the red transition has a much shorter run out of the water making T1 a bit easier if you kicked a little too much during the swim.
Removing the makeshift rain covers from the bikes, checking our machines, airing the tires, calibrating power meters and carefully arranging our gear for both transitions only took a few minutes. This left us with plenty of time to walk around the packed transition area examining the bikes that caught our eye and making up tales about how they were elite amateurs who never made it despite spending $15k on a bike and $500/month on performance enhancing drugs. People really do both of these things. I won’t judge about the expensive bikes, but dopers suck.
Transitions set, it was time to make the mile long walk up to the swim start. Last year, I did this in bare feet and swore I would never make that mistake again. Luckily, Justin Model, who runs the show for the Accenture marketing machine, hooked us up the day before with a disposable pair of flip-flops which were later deposited in the shoe donation pile. A few more precautionary trips to the men’s room and we were on our way.
By the time we began the walk, the race was underway. A professional triathlete in their element is a remarkable sight to behold. A good swimmer with a strong current is an amazing sight to behold. Alex and I spent the majority of the walk watching the pros fly by and commenting on our fellow competitors both male and female, assigning each with our estimated finishing time. It wasn’t long before we saw the first pro approaching from behind, just beginning the 25 mile bike leg. His swiftness was intimidating and the smoothness of his pedal stroke could be seen from far in the distance. In a flash, he was gone and we were back to assessing the “talent” in our immediate vicinity. It would be another hour before we hit the water.
The crowd of competitors thickened as we approached the pier where our race would begin. After a hit of sunscreen, a few clifshots and a final trip to the facilities, it was time to strap on the wetsuit and go to work. One of my last activities is to mentally prepare for the race by doing a walk through of how I want the day to go. I’ve been practicing this and getting better. Looking back now, the race unfolded very much like I imagined it would with a few minor exceptions. Prepped and ready, I wished Alex good luck and a safe race, then headed to my start group.
At around 90th Street, a pier sticks about 50 feet into the river, rising about 3-5 feet out of the water. 15 people at a time are carefully counted out and lined shoulder to shoulder a few feet back from the edge. When signaled, each group steps onto the timing mat with a beep signaling your chip was recognized. Once you step off the mat, your race begins. As I step onto the mat, all of the anxiety I had about the swim and the rest of the race floods out through my legs and into the water.
The whistle blasts in my ear and I am in the water before I had a moment to hesitate. Last year I was a weak swimmer and thought it would be a good idea to let the rest of my group jump first and start swimming. I hit the water just in time to take a heel to the right eye. Not a solid start. This year was different. I was in the water and quickly had a lead on my entire group. After an initial surge, I settled in to swim my race, focusing on being smooth, streamlined and conserving energy as much as possible. Surprisingly, it was several minutes into the swim before I noticed how salty the water was.
The current in the Hudson makes the swim go by very quickly and for the most part, I stayed with my start group. A scant 20 minutes later and I was being hauled out of the water, smiling for the camera and gliding to T1. Last year, I walked.
Passing the backstops and making a quick left, I was at the bike. I have rehearsed transitions and raced many times, but it always feels incredibly slow. Helmet on, wetsuit off, socks, shoes, emergency gear in the pocket, bike, go!! 60 yards of awkward running in the bike shoes and I was out of transition, executing a perfect flying squirrel and off to the Bronx.
I knew T1 had been quick, but it wouldn’t be until later that I would realize I was a full 25% faster than last year knocking 1:38 off. I hit the mount line with a flying squirrel and I was off and passing slower traffic as I made my way up a steep hill and out onto the Westside Highway. My goal for the race was to go fast, but not blow up aiming for just abouve 90% of FTP. Having started in one of the last groups, there were a LOT of people on the course. The bike course is tough, but not brutal. For some reason, it feels much harder than the Olympic course I regularly ride in Boulder. I attribute this to the way the hills roll and the lack of flat sections. You are almost always climbing or descending and rarely slamming gears on the flats.I would say this is one of the more dangerous races I’ve done. I’m not a fast rider, but there were very few parts of the race where I wasn’t actively passing someone both going uphill and down. The highway is divided into three lanes, one going out, one coming back and in the middle a neutral lane that you’re really supposed to avoid as much as possible.
That said, when you’re hugging the cones and riding a solid 5mph faster than the majority of riders, when someone swings out to pass, you often don’t have any choice. I don’t want to fault the slower riders who are putting out their best efforts and laying it down to make a well earned pass. It is very frustrating though when there is nowhere to go but into the middle lane, possibly into harms way.
For me, the closest I came to ending up on the tarmac was right after the turn around point where you come flying down the hill. Being a larger guy, I got down hill very well. About 500 years from the turn around there was a small wreck involving three or four people climbing up to the turn. Immediately, riders started crossing the center line in an area where it was only two lanes and rather close quarters. Myself and the other descending riders were yelling at the top of our lungs trying to make sure the traffic could avoid us as we were working hard to avoid them. Crossing into oncoming traffic in a race is dangerous and ignorant, especially in such a fast part of the course.
A few miles before the turn around, I happened to be looking up and recognized Alex in his full tuck flying downhill in the opposite direction. I yelled as loud as I could, but found out later he didn’t hear me. I’m pretty sure he was better able to find the zone than I was. The heat was eating my lunch.
The rest of the bike segment was rather uneventful, some wind here and there, but nothing to write home about. Then with five miles to go, I made a costly error. While pulling out a bottle, I hit a bump and banged the bottle against the cage and lost my grip. I was bit behind on hydration and lost the last of my water. It was probably still 3/4 full at that point, but there was no way I was slowing down to pick it up. I continued to ride hard, but could already feel what was coming and knew that I was in for trouble during the run.
My second transition was 25% faster than last year. I blame that on experience. At the end of the bike, I was out of my shoes and able to quickly dismount and run, not hobble to my transition. Again, my spot was super easy to find, 2nd rack before the backstop coming in from the bike. My hat had all my gear in it so I immediately grabbed my waterbottle and drained as much as I could before ditching it, grabbing my gatorade bottle full of now tepid water and headed out of T2 jogging and dawning my gear at the same time.
From the very beginning of the run, I knew it was going to be a long slog to the finish. I had noticed that it was hot on the bike, and losing a bottle put me behind on my hydration schedule. I like to drink my electrolyte drink first and save my water bottle for last so I can start the run as cleanly as possible. Man was it hot. And humid.
The course heads south out of the transition area for about 5 blocks right along the Hudson before winding up a very steep hill and out onto 72nd street. Cruising through the buildings trying to come up to speed was where it dawned on me that I’ll be lucky to hammer out 9 minute miles for most of the day. My HR was already in the low 170s with little chance of coming back down. That’s just how it was going to be.
The huge crowd where 72nd meets Broadway and enters the park did a great job of pumping up the racers, myself included. Throughout the race, people in the park headed the opposite direction during their weekend workouts shouted words of encouragement.
The great thing about running in Central Park is that you never get a break. The rolling hills seem to roll on forever giving you plenty of time to wonder when this hill could possible end. Then, as if by design, you fly down a short downhill and start up your next roller. I wish I could say I was passed a lot, but the rest of the field seemed to be suffering just as much as I was on this day. The finish chute could not come soon enough, and once you think you’re almost done, you still have about a mile to go.
The last mile of the race is lined with spectators searching for their friends and loved ones to come through. The electric atmosphere was enough for me to crank up the engine one last time. By “crank it up” I mean that I slogged through that last quarter mile at 9:02 min/mile. Crossing the finish line brought a great sense of relief, but this year, not much of a sense of accomplishment. I was just thrilled to be done.
Alex was waiting as I crossed the finish line and we walked around to cool off and check our times. On the way to the timing station, I had to stop and for a few moments thought I was going to end up on the pavement. Even with my finishers ice towel (from Ikea which I later pitched) I was scorched. It wasn’t until several hours later, after we had made our way back to the hotel, showered and cooled off for a bit that I began to feel better. We checked our times, and though I was faster in every section except for the bike, it was enough for Alex to edge me out by about a minute. Hopefully this is the motivation he needs to get out and do a few more races.
Getting out of town was just as ridiculous as getting into the city had been. I’ll spare the details, but the journey included a flat tire on Alex’s bike and a lost screw on the face shield of my helmet. Glad those events both waited until after the race.
Though I only have a few triathlons under my belt, NYC is my favorite of all the events I’ve done including marathons, 5ks and adventure races like Tough Mudder. It is with a heavy heart that I say so long to this race that has been such an important part of my life for the last two years. Next year, I have a conflict. The Boulder Peak will be the same weekend (or very close) and I have elected to focus primarily on the 70.3 distance and doing all three of the Boulder Tri Series races.
Traveling for races is not a simple undertaking. All the planning and logistics that go into racing, all the waiting, expenses and headaches of traveling away from home are hard to justify for a race that is over in two and a half hours. Maybe IM NYC and I will converge someday, or possibly the NYC marathon, but for now, it’s goodbye NYC. And thanks.