It seems I’ve managed to keep a secret from just about everyone unless I happened to mention it in passing. (And “mentioning something in passing” never happens on a blog since most posts actually have a purpose, or at least I try for them to have a purpose.) On Sunday, I participated in the New York City Triathlon. I say “participated” because “raced” is just about the opposite of what I did. Apparently it’s easy to keep a race a secret when you’re not actually training for it. Let’s rewind.
For the newer readers in the bunch, last year, I did my first (maybe last?) 70.3 triathlon. After my back problems reared their ugly heads (again) in 2013, I decided to take 2014 off from running marathon. In order to make myself do so, I decided to sign up for the Princeton Half Ironman. Training was interesting (aka sometimes non-existent), but the race was pretty fun. In the months following the race, I got a little caught up in “I could do triathlons!” and signed up for the NYC Triathlon lottery. I had hoped to get in last year as a warm-up for Princeton, but that didn’t happen. But of course, I got in this year. Having already paid the large entry fee required for when you get in via the lottery, there was no way I wasn’t doing the race.
I know what you may be thinking – “Susan, you were just injured and took time off from running. Wasn’t that a GREAT time to be cross training? Things like swimming and biking?”
Ah, yes, my smart readers, this is so true. But I quit the gym back in March-ish, conveniently the week before my hip/groin pains started. Oh, life, you’re troublesome sometimes. So basically, I didn’t have a pool to swim in. I do have a bike, but biking in the city makes me really nervous, so the only time I was out on my bike was when Eric and I went out for a few afternoon rides. And if I haven’t mentioned it, I really, really like to run.
Which is how I ended up completely undertrained and unprepared for race day. This is also why I decided on a low stress race day where I just wanted to have fun.
Away we go.
I set up my bike and other bike/run stuff in transition on Saturday, as transition closes at 5:15am and that’s the time I wanted to leave my apartment. Baker recommended this, and it seemed like plenty of other people were doing it as well. I racked my bike the wrong way the first time (oops) and then hung my giant plastic bag of transition stuff on my bike seat. I hoped I hadn’t forgotten anything since I’m not really in the triathlon mindset (and have only done two my entire life…), but I think I was good to go.
Heading to transition the day before the race!
On race morning, I wake up at 4:30am to drink some coffee and Nuun and eat a banana and Honey Stinger Waffle. I knew it was going to be a hot one, so I tried to hydrate plenty before even starting the race. We left the apartment around 5:15am to walk up to the start on 98th St and the Hudson River. It was a nice walk in the morning, and super convenient since I live on the west side. My weather worries were confirmed as it was already 80 degrees and ridiculously humid so early in the morning, but at least it wasn’t anything surprising. I did get nervous (as I always am, all day every day) walked up to the swim start, as we weren’t down by the river yet and I didn’t see anyone else heading up that way. This all changed once we cut from Riverside down to the river path and we saw TONS of people. Alright, let’s do this.
We stood around for a bit before I decided I wanted a bathroom stop before getting into the swim corrals. I waited in line what seemed like forever and heard the pro women start on the loudspeaker. After making it through the line, we headed back down to the river and I squeezed into my wet suit. Plenty of people were already lined up in their corrals, so we started heading that way. I kept an eye out for Amy, as she is in my age group, and triathlon corrals are done by age group.
Amy, Eric, and I chatted along while we watched the corrals in front of us jump into the Hudson and start their race. The good news about swimming in the Hudson is that you get to swim with the current, so you can go pretty fast. (Or, for the alternative, you can put forth less effort and still have a pretty good time.) Some people seemed like they were barely swimming and they still moved quite quickly down the river. For those who were actually swimming well, they FLEW. Impressive. We stood around in corrals for what seemed like forever – I’d figured we’d start around 6:15-6:30 at the latest, but my corral didn’t go off until 6:50. Yikes! This gave me plenty of time to be nervous about swimming – if you read my Princeton race report, I panicked a bit in the water despite feeling comfortable and safe as a swimmer, and I wasn’t looking to repeat that…but of course, I haven’t been in the water since then, so I certainly had a right to be nervous. To add to that, I’m pretty sure I had the “I need to pee because I’m nervous” feeling, and Amy had to also, so we really just wanted to get this race started.
Nothing says “attractive” quite like a swim cap and wet suit…
Walking down to the dock…
After not moving for what seemed like forever, our corral was moved up toward the start. I pulled up my wet suit, Eric kissed me good luck, and we walked through showers (not sure why…) to get on the dock. They lined up fifteen triathletes on the dock at a time, starting 20 seconds apart. I was happy that I was still in the same start as Amy – I was nervous! (Thank you to Amy for listening to all my pre-race nervous talk…). You could either sit down on the dock or stand to jump off – we both sat down and then it was our time to go!
Swim – 1500m – 22:52, 1:22/100 yards
I’m the closest one to us, still sitting on the dock…
I don’t remember what they used to start the race – Was it an air horn? A bell? Someone yelling, “GO”?? No clue. But when it was our time to go, I let other people around me jump in, waiting a second, then slid myself off the dock into the water. I’m not winning this race and I certainly didn’t need to land on someone, or the other way around. Having not trained at all, I knew this wouldn’t be the prettiest swim, so I took it easy. I started with plenty of freestyle with my face out of the water – just don’t panic! Sometimes I put my head in the water and counted ten strokes, and I moved along pretty well. Other times, I went back to freestyle with my head up, or I did breast stroke or side stroke. It was easy to see myself moving along the river because you’re right near the wall with boats on the other side of you. I feel like it was comforting to be able to see my progress. I had no clue how fast I was going, but I was feeling better about my effort because I actually put my face down and swam for a fair amount of it.
I knew the swim would be fairly short – hopefully around 20 minutes, but it still crawled along. I was going to be much happier once the swim part was over, I just needed to get there. Put your head down and swim! The Hudson River, as gross as everyone says it is, really wasn’t that bad. The water temperature was about 73 degrees, so plenty warm. Sure, it’s not crystal clear water, but you’re a fool if you think it’s going to be that clean. I like to say that whatever is in that water, I’ve probably been exposed to at work, so no worries, right? Ha. I did have some seaweed touch my foot at one point, so that freaked me out for a second, but just a little motivation to move faster!
I may or may not be in this picture.
Due to the wave starts, the swim wasn’t ever that crowded. I caught up to a few people and some people passed me. The only time that things got a little crowded was when someone would be swimming in a straight line, then someone else would be coming in at an angle, and I’d be caught in the middle. No getting kicked in the face or anything like you hear about in triathlons, so I was happy about that. I just swam along on my way, sometimes looking up at the path to see if I could see Eric (nope) and looking at how fast I was moving along. I swam past the 300m sign, the 600m sign, then wondered where in the world the 1200m sign was – it happened to be at 1250m, so that threw me off a bit. It also meant that I was getting close – keep going! The current was really great until about the last 100-150m, in which case it looked like the Hudson started swirling. A wake from a boat went horizontal across us, and I felt like I wasn’t moving. Very frustrating in the last part of the swim, and I really had to work to get to the dock. One woman was struggling ahead of me, and another swimmer threw her arms up to get help. Props to the lifeguards for their quick response to give her someone to hold onto! I kept pushing because I really just wanted to be out of the water, although it still seemed like I was going nowhere. Finally, I just put my head down and swam hard onto the ramp to the dock.
Volunteers were in the water and on the dock to help pull us out of the water. I was really thankful for their help because swim legs on dry land are a little wobbly!
T1 – 9:20
I know what you’re thinking – WHAT WERE YOU DOING IN TRANSITION?? Well, the fun part about this transition is that you get out of the water at 79th St and enter transition/where the bikes are at 72nd St. 20 blocks = 1 mile, so you do the math! I walked a little bit, then started jogging (barefoot…) to transition while pulling down my wetsuit. I ran passed Eric who tried to hand me my Garmin, but I yelled, “I don’t want it!!” and moved on. Thanks for the effort, though, Eric. I had to jockey around some people who were walking/running slower than me, which wasn’t easy because bikes were also on the path. A few sprinklers were set up, so I ran through those before heading into transition.
If this doesn’t make a tri look fun, I don’t know what will.
I made sure to note my rack number so I could quickly locate my aisle. I ran to my bike and sat down to pull off my wet suit. The race didn’t have wet suit strippers, so we were on our own. Luckily it was pretty easy to pull off – hooray! I wiped my face and feet off with a towel, and I must have had some of the Hudson on my face because it was quite dirty! I threw on my helmet, socks, shoes, and pinned on my bib before grabbing my bike and jogging/walking as fast as I can in bike shoes. I got to the mount line and it was time to bike!
Bike – 40km – 1:35:01, 15.7mph
At the prerace meeting, the race announcer guy talked about taking it easy on the “big hill” at the start of the bike portion. I was a little nervous at how steep it was to get out of Riverside Park and onto the West Side Highway. We had a little bit of flat along the river before making a few sharp turns to get up the hill at 79th St. The hill wasn’t as bad as everyone made it sound like, and I got up and over it, into the traffic circle, and off onto the West Side Highway easily. Then, we were off!
Coming up on the bike!
I don’t have a car, so I’ve only ever been on this road a handful of times (or less…). It is pretty cool to be on a highway that has been cleared for you. I focused on dialing in my cadence, making sure to keep a solid effort but not spinning too hard. Basically, I tried to remember everything that Baker and Joe had taught me last year when I was in training for Princeton. I didn’t want to push too hard, but I also didn’t want to just be out for a ride. Without a watch, I had no idea how far or how fast I was going, which was actually pretty cool. All I had to go off of was my knowledge of the streets, which is limited once we got further north, but it’s also fun to just be out there.
The course was pretty flat for awhile, and there were cyclists everywhere. There are pretty strict drafting and passing rules in triathlons, but I feel like I was always either passing or being passed. The first part of the race seemed pretty flat, and then we got into a bunch of long inclines and declines. Everyone was kind of like a slinky-stretching out on the downhills and packing together on the uphills. I tried to keep moving on the uphill portions while not burning myself out, and I think I did a pretty good job of that. Downhills still make me nervous because I’m convinced I’m going to fly over my handlebars and end up in the ICU with q1 hour neuro checks. (This has yet to happen, nor have I ever seen anyone actually do it. I’m just a nervous person.) Time felt like it was moving pretty quick, but outside of watching the numbered streets go by, I had no idea how far along I actually was.
It was a hot day, but I was on the bike by about 7:30am, so I at least had that on my side. I knew it was going to be important to hydrate and eat on the bike, so I focused on doing both. I had a Honey Stinger waffle and a pack of energy chews with me, so I ate those throughout the bike, as well as going through a bottle of Nuun and a bottle of water. I’m good at getting my bottle in and out of the diagonal cage on my bike, but it’s been awhile since I’ve reached for the vertical one. I got the bottle out and had to hold onto it for a solid minute before I was comfortable enough to put it back in. Part of me thought I was either going to have to ride with it the rest of the way or ditch it and go without water. It was certainly worth the seconds lost slowing down!
The route was basically an out and back with two 180 degree turns (not so fun on a bike…), and the first out and back included a good size hill. Zooming back down it, I wanted to tell everyone riding the other direction, “It’s worth it, I promise!!” Then we had to climb all the hills we zipped down on the way out, and that wasn’t so fun. I spent much of the second half of the bike going back and forth with a couple other women, which was fun. They’re apparently much better at going down hills than I am, which I’m not sure if that’s an acquired skill or if gravity just doesn’t like me much. The way back was also fun because the men were starting on their way out – I wasn’t sure how far behind me Baker and Doug would be, so I kept an eye out. I never saw either of them, but it definitely helped the time move along to look for them.
One highlight of the bike was riding through the tollbooths. I don’t know why I thought this was so fun, but it seemed cool at the time. My other favorite part was near the end – you pass 79th St and head to 42nd St before doing another 180 to head back north. Seeing all the Midtown buildings (and knowing that the end was near!) was really cool. I smiled quite a bunch at this point before cranking it back up to the finish. We entered back into the traffic circle on 79th St where they tell you to take it slow, as it’s a small path back down to transition.
T2 – 3:02
I ran with my bike back to the rack and reracked it – the right way this time! Took off my helmet and switched my shoes. For some reason I decided I needed to start throwing all my other gear into the giant plastic bag that I originally had my stuff in. Not sure if I thought it was too messy or if someone would make my stuff, but it’s certainly not the way to have a fast transition time. Oops? I started to walk/jog out of transition, when I realized that I didn’t like how my shoes were tied (too loose), so I stopped to tie them. Not winning any races here, my friends.
Run – 10k – 50:07, avg pace of 8:05
I grabbed a cup of Gatorade right when I got out of transition and drank it quick. The course starts up quite a steep incline to get from the river area up to the street area, and I had decided before the race even started that I would walk up this. Definitely no need to burn my legs out in the first 0.05 miles. Right? Right. I chatted with another woman who was walking up the hill and then we wished each other luck before I started running. I still had a smaller longer incline to run up to get to 72nd St, but I knew I just needed to get up it and life would be good.
I hit 72nd St and heard, “SUSAN SUSAN SUSAN SUUUUUUUSSSSAAAAAAAN!!!” Eric and Abbe are excellent spectators and hearing people screaming for me was a great way to kick off the run. Eric is also an excellent race photographer, so I don’t look like death in my pictures! (Pro tip: Use “burst mode” on your phone – you’ll get at least one good shot!) I ran along 72nd St and spotted the Gotham City Runners banner on my left – with Josh and Maura out to cheer! I figured I wouldn’t see anyone I knew for awhile, so I tucked in for the long haul.
HOORAY RUNNING YOU ARE FUN.
I was really happy to be running – this is my sport, and I was about to enter Central Park, which is my home stomping grounds. Needless to say, I was excited. I got extra excited between Columbus and Central Park West, as I spotted a girl wearing a skirt with the Maryland flag print. As a Maryland graduate, I love anything with a Maryland print, so I got some pep in my step to catch up with her. As I got beside her, I leaned over and said, “I love your skirt!” to which she said, “I love that you can talk normally!” Fair enough.
The course curves down just a bit to get into the park, which is also where the one mile marker is. I liked knowing that I only had about five miles to go once I was in the park – it seemed less daunting than a 10k, and that first mile went by pretty fast. Since it was hot, I decided to walk through water stations, so I grabbed a cup right away. I also really appreciated the shade that the west side of the park had to offer – along with a sprinkler! Life is good.
I cruised along, completely unaware of my pace. Both because coming back from injury means that I’m not sure what any pace quite feels like right now and because I haven’t done any runs off the bike in almost a year. Those bike legs make a big difference! It also doesn’t help that it’s been years upon years since I’ve ran without a watch. I told myself to keep the effort solid and just do what I can. As I headed north in the park, I saw Jocelyn out running/cheering! I’m pretty sure I said something like, “It’s so good to see you!” which it was! Unexpected familiar faces in races are the best.
Super excited run photo compliments of JB!
Although I run in Central Park quite often, I run counterclockwise 95% of the time, but the race was run clockwise. This meant that I was completely familiar with the route, but I haven’t tackled the hills in this manner very often. I continued my plan of running most of the time and walking through the water stations. I also took some time to walk on some of the uphill portions, knowing to kick it in on the downhills. I think the plan worked pretty well, but I was counting down the miles for sure.
At the top of the park, I knew I had some hills and sun in store for me. Getting up Harlem Hill wasn’t going to be fun, and the east side of the park tends to be sunnier than the east side. And I was hot and tired. This is evident by the fact that my first run split was at 7:45 pace and my overall run pace was 8:05…oops? ha.
I definitely had many more walk breaks in the second half of the run, but I was okay with that. It seemed like we were going uphill forever on the east side, and I just kept telling myself to make it to 90th St and the hills will be done. It was a struggle between running, walking, the sun, and the shade. Should I run in the sunny parts so I wouldn’t be in them so long? Run in the shade because it was cooler? Walk in the shade to make the most of it? SO MANY DECISIONS. Once I hit 90th St, it was pretty shady to the finish, which was nice. The 90th St aid station also had signs that said, “LAST CALL” which I thought was funny. And it meant the end was near, HOORAY.
Running down 90th to 72nd St reminded me of the marathon, and I certainly felt better than when I would enter the park during the marathon. A little rolling hills, a little more running and walking, SO CLOSE SO CLOSE. I rounded 72nd St onto the Transverse, took one more little walk break up the tiny hill there. (Pretty sure I’m mentally weak or something.) Across the transverse where you can hear the finish line, but oh NO NO NO, you must do a little loop-de-loop in bright sunny Cherry Hill. Luckily that was over quick and I was off and running into the finish line chute. I kept my eye out for Eric (who didn’t make it to the finish line, sad), picked it up to pass a couple people, and YES I’M DONE!
Immediately after finishing, volunteers handed us ice cold, wet washcloths. This is the best thing I’ve ever been handed (probably even better than the chicken broth after the finish of the Philadelphia Marathon), and I covered my face with it before hanging it behind my neck. It felt so good. Next up was the medal (hooray!) and someone taking the chip thing off my leg. A nice cold bottle of water to follow, and life was good. I headed to the meet up area to find Eric, who apparently took the long way to the finish line by trying to take one of the free pedicabs offered by the race (don’t do it, it’s a trap!), and then we met up with the rest of the crew.
The medals are awesome because they’re shaped like the old subway tokens!
With Eric post-race!
Then the post race celebrations began! Food, beer, and a bunch of smelly triathletes and awesome spectators. Hooray!
Final Stats – 3:00:21
Overall: 1511/3217 – Top 46%
Gender: 280/965 – Top 29% (Men are fast, apparently)
Division: 69/233 – Top 29% – Pretty event!
Overall: 1989/3217 – Top 61% bahhhh.
Division: 142/233 – Top 60%
Overall: 2446/3217 – Top 76% bahahhahha.
Division: 111/233 – Top 47% (Men are fast on bikes?)
Overall: 498/3217 – Top 15% YESSSSS.
Division: 22/233 – Top 9% Hoooooray.
Clearly we can see where my strong sport is…..
This was a fun race! I am pleased with my effort and I met my goal – to have fun. I basically had no expectations going into this race, as I haven’t swam since September and have hardly been on my bike since then as well. Plus, it’s not like my running has been amazing as of late – my max long run so far was nine miles, so six isn’t that far off. Plus, my paces hover between 8-8:30, so I’m actually quite pleased with the 8:05 pace given that it was after swimming and biking in the heat! Of course I would always like to be more competitive, but not being trained at all certainly takes away from that aspect. I enjoyed doing this race for the fun of it, and I liked that I was able to keep that mentality throughout the race rather than going into “MUST GO AS FAST AS POSSIBLE” mode. I knew my limits and worked within them. And biking/running without a watch removed the pressure and was actually kind of freeing.
As for triathlons, I do think they’re fun. Longer races are broken up into smaller chunk (obviously…), so you just have to think about getting through the swim….and getting through the bike…..and YAY I GET TO RUN NOW. A three hour race goes by quite fast! (And yes, I do wish I hadn’t collected my belongings in T2 and therefore done sub-3, but oh well.) But, as you may guess from my lack of training, I don’t love training for triathlons. I love to run. I don’t love swimming, and I don’t love biking (in the city). But actually doing the race is really fun! Ever since Princeton, I’ve thought about doing an Ironman because it would be an amazing challenge, but SO MUCH TRAINING. I recently talked to a woman who did an Ironman years ago, and she said, “I don’t regret a single second of race day. But the months leading up to it were hard.” And that about sums that up.
But back to the race at hand – the NYC Tri was awesome! It was so cool to do a race right outside my doorstep and to see the city in a different way. If you have any interest in triathlons, I definitely recommend trying for the lottery. (Or don’t…because I want a spot next year.)