My journey to doing my first Olympic-distance triathlon was quite the adventure. After getting a free 2017 2XU New York City Triathlon race entry from my friend Janelle, I decided to get a bike and learn to swim this year. I spent months training (read my prequel to this race report!) and finally found myself up at 4 a.m. (yes, that early!) on Sunday, July 16, getting ready to do the triathlon.
Fortunately, my transition area in Riverside Park was only two blocks away from Squawker Jon’s place, where I had stayed over that night.
I knew that I wasn’t 100% ready for the race, but I also knew what I didn’t know. I wasn’t going to be too brash and do anything stupid. Thanks to a race seminar from Tailwind Endurance, an open-water swim put on by the Empire Tri Club, the mandatory session that the NYC Triathlon organizers put on, and advice from my friend and fellow Staten Island Athletic Club member Chris Calimano, a real extreme sports legend, I actually had a race strategy.
My plan was to treat the swim as a warmup and not stress out over it, do my best in the bike ride, and try to leave something in the tank for the run. I just wanted to finish before the race cutoffs, and stay healthy. I had a time goal of finishing under 5 hours; I wrote on Athlinks.com that I thought I would finish in 4:45:00.
I also knew I couldn’t listen to music during the race, so I did a lot of training without tunes, to get used to the feeling. Not fun! I like my music!
As I walked over to Riverside Park on race morning, I stayed calm as I schlepped my gear over to where I had put my bicycle the night before. I had two minor mishaps in the morning, though. I misplaced the required number on my helmet (fortunately, somebody wrote me a new one with a marker.) And I forgot to take off my non-waterproof Garmin and Fitbit before leaving transition (a volunteer brought my watches back to my bike area.)
I had been able to fix these items, but what about the race itself? When I, along with a few thousand of my fellow triathletes, walked up the pathway by the Hudson River, I started to get a lump in my throat about what I was about to do. In just a few minutes, I was going to be in that water swimming! Was I really ready for it? As the adage goes, if you get tired running, you can walk. If you get tired cycling, you can coast. If you get tired swimming, you can drown. Scary stuff!
I also wondered what was up when I saw a slew of sneakers lined up around West 79th Street. They didn’t cover *that* in the orientation. I’d soon discover what all those shoes were was all about.
After a restroom break near the swim start around 99th Street, I took my sneakers and socks off, checked them in a bag, and walked barefoot to the start (the flip-flops I had brought broke almost immediately!) I lined up by the water with my fellow Athenas (women 165+ pounds and over — since I’m six feet tall, I wasn’t embarrassed about having to do a weigh-in at the expo to prove I qualified for the category!) as I waited for my turn to start the race.
I remember that the race organizers were playing loud music while we were waiting, and that spectators can get much closer to you than before a typical running race. (There was one loud guy talking to people in my group who seemed to be getting way too close!)
As I watched the first few waves of swimmers in the Hudson, I thought to myself, “What the hell are you doing? How are you possibly going to swim almost a mile in the Hudson?” And I wondered if I was really going to be able to survive this. Then I thought, “What could possibly be worse than running a marathon when I felt I was going to throw up for 13 miles?”
I then psyched myself up for this part of the triathlon by thinking how pumped I was going to be when I got out of the water and survived the swim. If I could do that, it would be totally amazing. After all, I had spent more time agonizing over this swim than anything else in the triathlon.
By the time my Athena group was called on the platform, I was surprisingly relaxed. I remember smiling and bopping around to the Kris Kross song “Jump.” Shortly thereafter, the race organizers told us, to, well, jump, and before I could overthink it, there I was, in the Hudson River!
I had heard about people panicking when they hit the water, and I had seen just that in this race, but I had personally gotten that all out of my system between my first triathlon and the open water swim I had done the week before.
So I was just able to relax, swim, and enjoy the moment. I took it all in and felt an overwhelming wave of gratitude. Here I was, 50 years old, getting the chance to participate in this triathlon, and being in good enough shape to do it. Not many people can say they got to swim in the Hudson! There’s a reason the slogan for this race is “See you in the Hudson”!
I was also very glad I rented a wetsuit. It gave me real confidence — and buoyancy — in the water. Several times, I got on my back and alternated between doing the backstroke and just floating and soaking in this beautiful day. Seeing the New York sky from the vantage point of the Hudson River was pretty amazing, and something I won’t ever forget.
As I swam, I could see people cheering on the shoreline, and I could also see the numbers tick off towards 1500 meters. But I didn’t really push myself until the end. My goal was to treat this as a warmup. I wasn’t going to wear myself swimming and then run out of gas for the bike ride.
Less than 26 minutes after getting in the water (quicker than I had expected!), I had reached the end of the swim. I was thrilled to have finished. All those months of swimming lessons had paid off. I still wasn’t a very good swimmer, but I had managed to muddle through without wearing myself out. I was ecstatic to walk up the steps onto the pier and get out of the water, knowing I had done my best.
TI — The first transition
Now I had to go about seven blocks to my transition area. It finally hit me what those sneakers I saw earlier were about — people were getting out of the water and putting the shoes on to run quickly. Since I was barefoot, I decided to walk quickly instead of running. I took advantage of an outdoor shower head to clean myself up, took off my wetsuit, and headed to my bike for what is known in the triathlon world as T1.
Those seven blocks of walking on rocky pavement were painful. I joked later that it was worse than swimming in the Hudson, but it really wasn’t a joke. It actually was!
In all, my T1 took 18 minutes, which was a terrible time. But I wanted to keep my wits about me before I got on the bike, and make sure that I didn’t forget anything. I methodically put my wetsuit down, put on my socks and running shoes, got my bib, race belt, sunglasses, and helmet on, as well as my Garmin and Fitbit, and got ready to ride. I also took in some nutrients. Fortunately, I didn’t forget anything as I grabbed my bike and started the second part of the race — a 40k (nearly 25 miles!) bicycle ride.
The bike ride
When I started triathlon training, I was dedicated to it, but I really didn’t know if I wanted to do this sport again after my sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. Which is why I didn’t buy a wetsuit, and why my Jamis Sport hybrid bike was not a tribike. I loved the idea of having a bicycle, but I wanted a practical one I could use around town, not a race bike. So I was one of the few triathletes without the handlebars (and fancy machinery) you see on road bikes. My bike was slower than other types, but I wasn’t planning on setting records. I just wanted to finish in one piece!
My friend Chris had warned me about the very steep hill getting out of Riverside Park. So I walked the bike up the hill, rather than wearing myself out right away.
I heard my friend Janelle yell my name as I headed onto the West Side Highway, and craned to look for her. Then I got on the road and faced hills. Lots and lots of hills, which you don’t fully realize when you are riding on that road in a car.
There were two lanes at each side of the road during the race — the left for passing, and the right for riding. Since I knew that I would be a slower cyclist in this race, I got used to people saying “On your left,” letting me know they were passing me. Contrary to the bad reputation some NYC cyclists have, most in the race were extremely polite. For weeks after the race, though, I did have dreams of being on a bike and hearing somebody say, “On your left.” The only people I saw pass on the right and do other dangerous things were inexperienced people who may have been snoozing during the mandatory triathlon briefing.
I knew I hadn’t yet mastered being able to grab my water bottle at high speeds while cycling, so I made it a point to pause in areas where it was safe in order to get nourishment. When I did a sprint triathlon the month before, I never touched my water bottle, and felt very out of it by the end of that race! I wasn’t going to let that happen again, even if stopping cost me some time.
And I knew there were going to be hills in the race, but I didn’t realize how draining they would be, as we rode in upper Manhattan and the Bronx. Not to mention the very sharp turns. By the time I reached the turnaround point in the Bronx, I was worn out. There were people with signs welcoming us at that area, and I said hello and mentioned I was happy to reach the halfway point. They reminded me that it wasn’t really the halfway point; I still had to ride down to 59th Street, and then turn around. Oh, joy.
But at least I had reached that area well before the cutoff time for the race, and would be able to finish!
I learned a lot about switching my gears during this part of the race, something I hadn’t needed to do as much during training. And I remember that I was physically exhausted by about Mile 19 or so. I stopped on the side of the road, took in some Science in Sport electrolyte drink (I had won a gift pack at a triathlon orientation session!) and wondered how the heck I was going to get through. The road was pretty empty by that point; most of the cyclists were ahead of me by then. And I was soooo tired and sick of riding the bike at that point. It was the closest I felt to despair during the race.
But the only way to get through was to just keep on pedaling. Which I did. When I turned my bike around again at 59th Street, with less than a mile to go, I was thrilled to realize that this part would be done soon. I love riding a bike, but this race was really rough on me. I finished in over 2 1/2 hours, when I was hoping to have a finish more like two hours. I was totally exhausted by this point. How was I going to run a 10K?
T2: Getting ready to run
One of the adages about doing a race is to do nothing new — you shouldn’t eat or drink or wear anything you’re not used to. Yet after I got off the bike, I tempted fate and drank a delicious Pineapple Punch juice from Living Juice, a company I had seen at the triathlon expo. It was extremely refreshing after my bike ride, and gave me energy for the run. After drinking that, putting my bike and helmet away, and taking a quick bathroom break, I was ready for the run, with this T2 taking me less than five minutes. But I still had to run 6.2 miles in order to finish!
As I headed out to Riverside Park onto 72nd Street, I was expecting to see the crowds I had heard about for this race. But by the time I was running, the mass of crowds had noticeably thinned. Which meant that I could clearly see and hear Squawker Jon when he cheered me on at 72nd Street and West End Avenue. He even ran alongside me for a little while, asking how I was doing. I wasn’t really up for conversation, though, and kind of grunted to his responses. It was good to see him, though. (An aside: I hear about people having great conversations while running. Maybe it’s because I usually run by myself, but I find that much talking way too exhausting!) I also saw my friend and fellow club member Diane there as well.
My friend Chris had described this part of the course as “easy peasy” when talking about the race. I thought when he told me this that doing a 10K after a 1500 meter swim and 40K bike ride would be anything but easy peasy. But it turns out he was right, although it didn’t seem like it when I started.
Once I got into Central Park, a place I knew very well, I kept on focusing on doing the race one mile at a time, and stayed calm and relaxed.
Most New York Road Runners races in the park go counterclockwise, so going clockwise was a different perspective, and some of the part of the road course was different than what I was used to, but I kept on my game plan to just focus on the miles. The volunteers for the race were mostly very good at keeping civilians off the clockwise race course, which eliminated distractions (I’m always worried I’m going to collide with somebody!)
I also saw a bunch of triathletes who had finished the race cheering the rest of us on. It meant a lot to me. I appreciated the gesture.
Normally in races, I have certain songs I listen to in order to pump me up. But since the NYC Triathon does not allow headphones, iPods, or phones during races, I had to be alone with my thoughts. I just kept on checking my watch to work on keeping a steady pace, so that I would finish well.
I saw my friend Diane again in Central Park at around Mile 4 (she had given me a nifty Swim, Bike, Run hat before the race, which I had promised I would wear afterwards.) She ran with me for a while and talked to me to see how I was doing. But again, I wasn’t really up for talking. I felt bad about begging out of the conversation, but I needed to focus on getting through the next few miles.
I regularly looked at the numbers on the streetlights in the park to know what street I was by, and knew I was making progress. But I wouldn’t let myself think about how it would feel to finish; I just focused on getting to the next mile.
Finally, I saw the fencing for the finish line, an area I had seen two days before while doing the Gildan Underwear Run in Central Park. When I ran around Bethesda Fountain, I knew I didn’t have that much longer to go. But while the volunteers had done a great job for most of the race of keeping people off the course, there was a pedestrian area they couldn’t control. And there was some guy taking his own sweet time crossing there that I nearly hit into!
So I was a little heated as I ran in the tunnel-like area that headed to the finish line. And I thought about everything I had been through in my life, especially during my fitness journey, and especially what I went through this year. All the negativity I had faced, and the harsh words. (I’m saving the gory details for my memoir!) Thinking about everything I went through made me put my game face on and finally think about how satisfying it would be to finish this triathlon. I had something to prove. Not just to others, but to myself.
When I heard the Spencer Davis Group’s song “Gimme Some Loving” play on the loudspeaker system, I kicked it into high gear for the rest of the race. I ran literally the fastest I ever have in my life. According to my Garmin, I reached a 4:59 per mile (!) speed then (12 miles an hour!), which is out of this world, especially for me.
Squawker Jon managed to make it this area and saw me shortly before I crossed the finish line. He called my name, but I didn’t hear him, because I was so focused on finishing. Nor do I even remember hearing the announcer say my name at the end. I was just in the proverbial zone.
Jon said he had never seen such a look of determination on my face. Even the announcer commented on it, as I later heard on the videotape of me, saying, “Look at you!” (You can watch the video here. My favorite part is at the end (you’ll see what I mean!)
I remember screaming “Oh my God, oh my God!” as I was about to cross the finish line. The feeling of exhilaration I had upon finishing was amazing. If doing the 2016 NYC Marathon was No. 1 in my athletic accomplishments, finishing the 2017 NYC Triathlon was 1A. It ranks up there with the happiest moments of my life.
I wept tears of joy after finishing, it was so emotional for me.
My 10K finish time was 1:18:41, and I even had a negative split (my second half was faster than my first!), which was a great time for me and the best I did in any of the race splits. Yes, my overall race time was 4:39:59, which put me at the back of the back of the pack. But it was faster than I expected to finish. And the important thing was that I finished!
After the race
It was thrilling to get that hard-earned triathlon medal, and be able to say that I finished this race. I was even in good enough shape afterwards to enjoy the post-race festivities, including food (like Yasso frozen yogurt bars!) and freebies, including Minute Rice and quinoa to take home. A special treat was relaxing in the Finish Line’s NormaTec compression sleeves, something that sped my recovery after the NYC Marathon.
Afterwards, Squawker Jon and I went for a drink at the Boat Basin Cafe and then at Blondie’s. Both places had events for triathletes. We had a celebratory lunch at Shake Shack. Then we carried my stuff (including my bike and gear) back to Staten Island. It was a triathlon of its own, with the subway, ferry, and train ride. Between going to my home with me, and then heading back to Manhattan, Squawker Jon had to spend more time doing this than I did doing my triathlon. Thanks, Jon!
While I wasn’t sure before the race if I would ever do a triathlon again, I made a decision afterwards to ensure that more triathlons would be in my future.
The very next day, when I returned my wetsuit to Paragon Sports, I used the $75 credit for the wetsuit rental on buying one of my own — the TYR Hurricane Cat 1 sleeveless model. Yes, I took the plunge. Both the salesman who helped me there and the manager of the store had done the triathlon as well, and they gave me great advice on both the rental and the purchase.
I don’t know when my next tri will be, but I have been practicing open water swims in anticipation, including at Coney Island last weekend.
Ironically, I survived the tri without a scratch, but got injured in a bicycle accident on a routine bike ride in Central Park just two days after the race, and messed up my right hip, hamstring, and piriformis, as well as bruising some ribs and hurting my left hand and right shoulder. It has been a long road to recovery, including lots of physical therapy, but I’m almost completely healed now, and getting back on track for the 2017 NYC Marathon.
Six weeks later, I’m still amazed I could complete the NYC Triathlon. I hope to do the race again in the future and see how I can build on what I did. But at any rate, I’m thrilled to be able to call myself a triathlete, and July 16, 2017 was the best day of the year — and one of the best days of my life — for me.