Race Report: First-Time Triathlete Does the New York City Triathlon
I am officially a triathlete! On Sunday I completed the Nautica New York City triathlon with an impressive (for me, at least) time of 3 hours, 3 minutes, and 57 seconds. Here's a quick recap—well, as quick as I can manage without skimping on all the juicy details—of the day.
Wake up time: 4 a.m.
To avoid oversleeping or stressing ourselves out too much, my fellow Brooklyn teammates Sarah and Sharon and I planned a sleepover at my place the night before the big event. After a delicious pasta dinner (yay for carbo-loading!) sponsored by Team in Training, we headed to my apartment to write our names on our jerseys with Wite-Out and go over our packing lists one final time.
After a screening of True Confessions of a Shopaholic (I highly recommend mind-numbing chick flicks to distract from prerace anxiety), we made it to bed around 11 p.m. and slept surprisingly well. All the running around that day—dropping our bikes off at the transition area and touring the course one last time—had apparently tired us out more than we'd realized.
The alarm went off at 4 a.m., just about the same time the sky opened up and it started to pour. We were momentarily panicked: We'd prepared for almost every scenario, but no one had ever told us what would happen if it rained! But at this point there was no turning back, so we grabbed some bagels with peanut butter and bananas, hopped in a cab, stopped for some coffee, and headed uptown.
I couldn't help but be amused by all of the people we saw on the streets, trying to hail cabs after leaving the bars that had just closed minutes before. Which is crazier, we asked ourselves: what they're doing right now, or what we're about to do?
Next Page: The setup and starting line [ pagebreak ]Setting up for transition
Our official transition area, a giant fenced-in lawn in Riverside Park that now held about 2,000 bikes in neat (but very crowded) rows, was bustling. Beyonce was blaring through a loudspeaker and a race announcer was counting down the minutes until start time. Luckily the rain seemed to be letting up, and before long it had stopped completely. Whew!
I quickly set up my gear beneath my bike—socks, shoes, sunglasses, helmet, belt with official race bib attached, Gu Energy packets, and a bottle of water and towel to rinse and wipe myself off after the swim—before grabbing my wetsuit, goggles, and swim cap and following the crowds one mile upriver to the swim start.
The Brooklyn crew setting up transition at 5 a.m.
I joined the other participants in my wave, females 25 to 30 scheduled for a 6:20 a.m. start time, in a narrow corral where we could watch the earlier waves of participants jumping in and swimming downstream. The current looked fast and no one appeared to be struggling so far, which eased my prerace jitters. Apparently there were psychologists on hand to help people with last-minute panic attacks, but my group seemed to be in good spirits.
Swim: And we're off!
Then, before I knew it, we were being called out onto the start barge, jumping into the water and holding onto a rope (and each other) while waiting for the starting horn. As soon as we heard it, limbs started flailing and chaos erupted. About half of us hung back, though, letting the first group of more aggressive swimmers go ahead.
I started swimming as soon as I regained some of my personal space, remembering to breathe and sight often, making sure I wasn't heading off in the wrong direction. Luckily the canal they'd roped off for us was fairly narrow, and if you go too close to either edge there were kayakers there to shout you back toward the center. The Hudson River, by the way, was not as gross as you might think—just a little brown and murky.
For a while I was surrounded only by other red swim caps, or those in my wave. Then I started to see purple swim caps too. Dismayed, I thought to myself that the swimmers who'd jumped in minutes after us were catching up—I must be going slower than I'd thought. But then I realized that—ego boost!—the purple caps were in a wave ahead of us. I was catching up to them! (I did, later, see some green caps from the wave behind me, but by that point I was feeling good and didn't mind at all.)
The swim, overall, was very fast: In 19 minutes—and it felt like much less—I was at the exit barge, and volunteers were helping me up the ramp and onto the promenade. From here we had about a 400-yard barefoot jog to the transition area where we pulled our wetsuits off, dried our feet as best we could and wiped our faces (OK, I admit that I was a little dirty with river gunk!), and put on our socks, shoes, and helmets.
Next Page: My way or the West Side Highway [ pagebreak ]Bike: My way or the West Side Highway
We headed out of the park and up a ramp onto the highway, which we rode up into the hilly Bronx, through tollbooths, around steep curves, and back down into Manhattan. I passed a lot of people changing flat tires along the side of the road, but I did my best to avoid potholes and thankfully did not have to join them.
I had a great time on my bike: I made sure to stay in a low gear as to not irritate my bad knee, and so I was able to speed up some of the steeper hills past people stuck in a higher, harder gear. I also took time to drink plenty of water and, since my stomach was starting to grumble, eat an energy Gu before heading back into the park for my second transition.
Run: Two down, one to go
After reracking my bike and retying my shoes, I headed out of the park at a nice, easy jogging pace. Running 6.2 miles is still challenging for me by itself, let alone after a 26-mile bike ride, so I knew I would have to conserve my energy.
Running through Manhattan, though, with people lining the street was a huge motivator, and it definitely helped me pick up speed—especially when I spotted my parents, friends, and coaches who had come out to cheer. Wearing a Team in Training jersey was a huge help too: So many strangers cheered me on, thanked me for running, and yelled my name along the course. (I'd seriously consider wearing that jersey for future races, whether I raise money for TNT or not. Is that cheating?)
Pushing through to finish strong—in under an hour!
Still, by mile 5 I was beat and definitely slowing down. Then, as if by magic, my friend Sharon appeared behind me! She'd had a start time six minutes after mine and had narrowed the gap between us during the run. We decided to finish the last mile together, even though she's considerably faster than I am; I almost told her several times to go ahead without me.
The combination of Sharon trucking along just ahead of me and the increasing crowds and cheering toward the finish line pushed me through to the end. I think up until the last half mile or so, I'd been scared to really give it 100%—but once people started yelling that the end was "just over this hill" or "just around this bend" (they were all lying) I sped up and didn't stop. And I crossed the finish line in under an hour—even faster than my regular running pace!
Even though the last mile was absolute hell, I felt instantly better as soon as I crossed the finish line—invigorated by a mix of pride, excitement, amazement, and relief. I finished so much stronger and faster than I'd ever thought possible, and my training buddies all did equally well.
We were so well-trained and prepared, I wasn't even that sore, except for the awful chafing where the ankle band holding my official race-time chip had rubbed against my leg, and from the extra pack of Gu I'd impulsively stuffed in my sports bra before the run. (Note to self: Don't do that again!)
My first thought upon crossing the finish line: Must have water/bathroom/comfy flip-flops. My second thought: When's the next race? They say that triathlons are addicting, and all through my training I was skeptical. But I have to admit it: I might be hooked.