NYC Triathlon Race Report

Posted by on July 28, 2009 in Training

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Scroll down to the bottom of this post to see the photos.

I’ve had better days.  It wasn’t a disaster, well… at least most of it wasn’t, but the humidity once again served to be my major downfall.  I got creamed in the run, but more on that later in this post.

I rested well on Saturday with no major activities.  I got to enjoy a fabulous pasta meal with Fernando and the family, then relaxed on the couch while watching Le Tour de France on the DVR.  With the AC on, I had the right temperature, the perfect music (DMB – Big Whiskey), and no nervousness whatsoever.  When I awoke at 4 a.m., I heard someone tapping on my balcony door… only it wasn’t tapping but some serious rain.

The cab to transition was torturously slow, but only by perception.  It took no longer than it should have, but I kept thinking to myself that the rain would ruin my plans of getting a p.r. and that cynicism was tough to overcome.  Once at transition, I walked with the rest of the zombies along 79th Street with my umbrella and plenty of mopey-ness.  I’m sure I said hello to a couple  of people, but it sounded like, “grumble grumble grumble.”

Once I reached my bike in transition, I stood there with my tri-bag/backpack and umbrella.  I just stood.  Everyone else was active, spreading out their stuff, testing wheels, pumping tires, adjusting this and that… and I just stood… for maybe 20 minutes.  It occurred to me after a while that I should eat something and upon doing so, like a light switch, I found a new attitude.  Just then, the rain also stopped.  I’m not suggesting that my consumption of food altered the state of meteorology, but these things were simultaneous!

I’ve become a minimalist, so my set-up took barely any time.  I hadn’t yet seen Fernando, so I made my rounds until I found him.  Shortly thereafter, we made the long walk up to the swim start.  As expected, in a sea of thousands upon thousands of people, I ran into old friends and acquaintances of acquaintances.  “Hey, aren’t you Chris’ friend?  We met like 3 years ago.”  Fern ran into an old work buddy too.  I love how NYC is actually a small place.

Fast forward to the swim start:  like cattle, we were herded by group (actually, by the color of swim cap) from corral to corral until it was time to board the barge.  Soon after, we were given the green light to jump into the water.  With a fairly good tide, we had to hold onto a rope or else float down the river (and be DQ’d).  Holding onto that rope, however, turned out to be quite a challenge with so many people seemingly pushing it down.  Before I knew it, the air horn went off and we were off.  The typical craziness of the swim start was there, and I got my fair share of shoves, kicks, etc.  I did my best to angle for the extreme right periphery of the swim course since I figured the current to be strongest there, and I found that good line after surviving the melee.  I maintained a fairly straight path along that periphery and before I knew it, I was at the swim exit.  Total time wound up being 20:05 which is extremely fast under normal conditions, but the strong tide made the experience far from normal.  Oh, for those who squirm at the thought of being in the dirty Hudson, it felt and tasted like regular ocean water.  With 73 degree temps, it was actually quite enjoyable (though murky).

The run to transition was a little long, but I high-tailed it and managed to record the 22nd fastest time out of 3,500 people.  Wow!  If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to get out of a wetsuit and onto a bike quickly!

On Saturday, I actually drove the bike course along the Henry Hudson Parkway to refresh my memory of where the hills were, how long they were, and to assess road quality.  So, when I finally got onto the highway on Sunday, I was prepared to put the hammer down in a fairly strategic way.  In nearly all ways, I felt great about my performance but in the end, my time wasn’t what I had hoped it to be.  My best time years ago was 1:10:12 but on Sunday, I only managed 1:12:52.  Until I analyzed the official results, I was a little upset about this and frankly couldn’t understand it.  On every hill, I attacked.  Not one person could even come close to matching my pace and I felt super strong.  On the downhills, I minimized the effort level while holding a very tight and aerodynamic body position.  I even took my energy gels at the right times, or so I believed.  The only portion where I felt less-than-speedy was in the final 3 miles.  I was a little tired, but not muscularly fatigued per se.  I had realized from my cyclometer that I wasn’t going to get a p.r. in those final miles, so I backed off a bit to get the legs ready for the run.

Now, after analyzing the results, I realize that I did have a pretty good day.  My time was in the top 7.6%.  Pretty good, right?  And had I matched my p.r., I would have been in the top 1.5%, a near impossibility given the breadth of the field.  I can’t help but come to the conclusion therefore that the bike times in general were slower and that the wetness, super high humidity, and very crowded field played big parts in that.  Re the crowded bike course, Fernando and I saw several folks who were walking or who were sidelined post-accident.  On plenty of occasions, I had to take evasive maneuvers to avoid collisions.  With so many newbies and with perhaps some obstinate other athletes, the stay-to-your-right concept seemed to be foreign and ignored.  That’s typical with the big marquis races like NYC, Chicago, LA, Philly, St. A’s, etc.

Coming off the bike and into transition, I felt pretty good.  My time in transition was a little longer than I had wanted because I wanted to ensure that the my sneaker tongues weren’t folded in any way.  Since I now run without socks, running with a creased or folded tongue would chafe and be pretty uncomfortable.  Typically, I don’t notice the discomfort until after the race; the shower always lets me know exactly where each chafed spot is.  It’s not good.  Let’s just leave it at that.

I had such high aspirations for the run.  Right off the bat, I ran hard.  I got up the small hill that gets athletes out of Riverside Park and onto 72nd Street, and though I wasn’t in any kind of rhythm, I figured I could just run hard and partly in the “red zone” until my body settled down.  Plus, the energy on 72nd Street was incredible and I knew it would distract me from noticing any problems.  It felt like what we see on TV when they broadcast hill stages of the Tour de France with people on both sides of the street cheering, screaming, chanting, holding posters, etc.  It is a magical moment rivaled only by running up 1st Avenue in the NYC Marathon.  I saw my friends Brad and Karen and gave them high-fives, and that act further buoyed my spirits as I made my way to the entrance of Central Park.  I felt fantastic!

This whole “feeling” concept is really a remarkable thing and there’s more to it than one might think.  There is this scale we call RPE, measured from 1 to 10 based on your “relative perceived exertion”.  Simple as that.  A 10 is all out, heart thumping through your chest, extreme high and 1 is a couch potato effort like walking slowly on a moving sidewalk.  You have to make decisions in triathlon based on feelings; in my case, with an undefined RPE on 72nd Street (I just wasn’t thinking about what I was doing), I was able to perform… but it wasn’t a sustainable effort.  As soon as the crowds thinned, things got bad.

Once I made the turn within the park to head up the west drive, I began to breathe heavily.  My legs felt great and I felt as if the nutritional plan had worked well, but I couldn’t generate any power.  My heart rate was high, too high for the pace I felt I was running.  At the 2 mile mark, it was confirmed that I was running a super slow 8:40 pace… and the heart continued to rise.  I can run a 7:00 pace and maintain a lower heart rate, so I knew that the humidity was destroying me.  On an unrelated note, at one point, I picked up a wayward $20 bill on the drive; unfortunately, it wasn’t the good luck charm I was craving.

Feeling weak, at each aid station, I took several cups of water and poured them on my head and chest.  I doused myself whenever and wherever possible and the immediate effects were great; I felt cooled off… but the sensation only lasted 30-60 seconds.  Climbing the hills were a piece of cake from a leg strength perspective, but I felt as if the lungs couldn’t get enough oxygen.  It’s one of the most paralyzing sensations to feel strong and confident, yet simultaneously helpless.  I focused hard on avoiding self-pity and simply accepted this plight…  but I wasn’t happy about it!

Twice, between miles 4 and 6, I felt dizzy.  It wasn’t bad enough for me to want to stop.  I’m not sure that I’m one of those people who can ignore the serious signs of bodily distress, but I do have a high pain/discomfort threshold and this wasn’t anywhere near that limit despite the battle for maintaining my equilibrium.  So, I persevered but as I descended “cat hill”, about a half-mile from the finish, I began to experience a cramp in one of my quad muscles.  To deal with it, I began to run like I had a peg-leg.  It looked freaky for sure, but it worked enough to get it to go away.

At the right-hand turn onto the 72nd Street transverse, Mom and Dad were cheering.  I didn’t know if they were going to make it, but there they were, cheering me on with great verve.  Dad took some pics and Mom waved her hands frantically!  I felt bad that all I could muster was a wave.  My face, as evidenced by Dad’s photos, reflected my physical condition.  I was in the cellar.

I made it across the transverse and into the finishing chute.  Just 30 seconds before the finish, Brad and Karen cheered me on again and I think that I managed a smile… although it’s kind of a blurry memory.  I do remember targeting a few guys in front of me who appeared to be in my age group, and did as good a job as I could to catch and pass them.  Frankly, I don’t remember how many of them I caught because crossing the finish line was such a relief.  I immediately went to a metal barricade and grabbed on for dear life.  A volunteer put a cold wet towel on my head and before I knew it, Fernando grabbed another and put it on my back while he massaged my neck.  Turns out that despite having started two and a half minutes after me, he caught up and finished the race just six seconds after me.  After a couple of minutes, I managed to regain my composure and walk to the post-race areas.  I was dizzy as heck.

In the end, my total time was 2:32:17.  My goal was to p.r. in this race and I missed it by over five minutes.  That’s a huge failure in terms of time alone, and it’s nearly all attributable to the run.  The bike time also helped, but as it turns out, this was my second fastest result out of six attempts.  I can’t really complain much I suppose.  Had there been a lot less humidity, I might have a better shot but you can’t predict the weather.  Last year, the weather was much worse.  I guess it’s just bad luck that for two years in a row, the race was held on a day with 100% humidity.  It’s not like every day is like that, but in these cases, it was bad.

I’m planning on talking to a some doctors and professional coaches to see what I can do to deal better.  Perhaps I should take some supplements (Fernando swears by products made by Hammer), or maybe the solution to avoid summer races.  I’d hate to miss out on this and other fun summer events though.

In the event, I’m still in a pretty good place about this experience.  Hey, I got to race in an incredible event, in my home town, with family and friends there to support me, and with a respectable time even if it wasn’t a p.r.  I really can’t complain about anything and calling it a failure, which by nature I’m apt to do, is a travesty.  I acknowledge that, as well as my good fortunes.  I stand by the now-named Thank You Trio which continues to make this a hobby I love:

1)  Thank You… for being born in this country where I have freedom.  I won’t ever take that for granted.

2)  Thank You… for being born into a family situation that afforded me an education which led to employment, which led to income, and which allows me to have the financial wherewithal to pay for everything that goes into multisport.

3)  Thank You… for having the physical ability with all of my limbs and good health to do this kind of thing.

Sure, this sounds preach-ish, but for me, there’s a lot of value in it.  Mostly, I want to feel like I appreciated every moment of these years if one day, for one reason or another, I can’t do it anymore.  It shouldn’t take a retrospective for a person to see the greatness in all of this stuff.  That’s my $0.02.

Here are some photos from the race:

Swim Exit Swim Exit
Running to T1 Running to T1
Beginning of the Bike Beginning of the Bike
Focused on the Bike Focused on the Bike
On the return of the Bike On the return of the Bike
Nearing the end of the Bike Nearing the end of the Bike
Nearing the end of the Run Nearing the end of the Run
Race Finish Race Finish
Another Race Finish Shot Another Race Finish Shot
My 6th NYC Triathlon! My 6th NYC Triathlon!
Congrats to speedy Fernando Congrats to speedy Fernando
Post-race with Fern and the kiddies Post-race with Fern and the kiddies

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