Nautica New York City Triathlon

July 29th, 2010

Yes it’s been a long time since I posted! A lot has been going on and the overwhelming majority of it has been good. The biggest event in my life has been the Nautica New York City triathlon.

It seems like once someone has gotten married and had kids, there aren’t too many events left that are on the same level of “big deal”. That’s not to sound depressing or anything. It’s just that there aren’t too many events when suddenly every circle of friends and family are on board with you and are calling or emailing to say they’re thinking of you. That alone made this event really amazing for me. Plus we each get choose which events in life are a big deal for us. I was touched by how people knew how important this race was to me and wished me luck. Training and doing this event really was a “big deal” for me. As such, this post is going to be rather lengthy.

Much like realizing the upcoming pains of labor that are sure to start upon approaching 38 weeks of pregnancy, all of the sudden the realization of the race, and the pain!, was there. Race weekend had really, and finally, arrived. Just like a baby, it was 9 months in the making. I had been training since the fall and working with a coach doing a 16 week training program in the spring.

The race itself was on a Sunday. We left for the race the Friday before the race. Due to a major shoe debacle, we ended up arriving a couple hours later than I had hoped. Apparently it is common knowledge that if the transition area is locked down and you want to walk the 1.2 miles from the transition area to the swim start in gym shoes or warm up on race day you need to have two pairs. Also due to my last minute panic realization of the shoe situation I had unknowingly left the house in my flip flops and thus needed to stop back at my house instead of heading straight from the shoe store to NYC.

Saturday I attended a mandatory meeting. I have to say that it was very well organized. To sum it up, there was a roped off escalator leading to the meeting room. 5 minutes before the meeting the escalator was opened and then promptly closed off again once the meeting starts. This ensured that everyone had attended the full length of the meeting. After the meeting the exit (which had been roped off and was located on the opposite end of the room from the entrance) was opened and volunteers stamped our hands as proof we had been there.

Next we went into a hallway that had kiosks lined up in alphabetical order. I showed the volunteer my stamped hand as well as my USAT card and my driver’s license. I received a piece of paper with my bib number on it and a stamp for signing a liability waiver. One also received a stamp for having the USAT insurance. A yellow bracelet with my bib number was also fastened onto my wrist and I needed to wear it for the duration of the race and any race related activities. If perhaps one forgot her USAT card, she was directed over to the USAT table where it was looked up and then received her stamp; not that I had any experience with that mind you.

To get into the next room I had to show the volunteer manning the door all three stamps. This new room had all the race packets. If you were racing Athena or Clydesdale, that is also where you weigh in. Don’t worry it’s very discreet and no one announces anything. Before you leave you need to check your packet to make sure you have everything. Everything that is except your racing chip.

“Why is that?” you may ask? Hold that thought. The next thing I did was body marking. Yes, I did it the day before the race as was advised! Some people even did it on Friday since there were briefings offered on Friday evening as well. The kids made complimentary signs for me at the sports expo while I was doing all of this.

After, I met my friend and his sister to take our bikes to transition area. Bikes have to be checked in on Saturday. I think it was from 2pm-9pm. Because his sister was doing the running leg, but still obviously needed to see the transition area, we walked our bikes there. I do not recommend this. Particularly if it is 90 degrees outside. It took us 45 minutes. Then there was the tour of the race starts and transitions. Needless to say we took a cab back. I would recommend taking a cab there as well. They have minivan and SUV cabs. Do you really want to be riding or walking in that heat the day before doing an Olympic tri?

In order to check your bike in, your bike tag has to match your bracelet. There’s no cheap paper bike numbers with twist ties at this race either. It’s a sticker! That’s right no chaffing your legs. Pretty nifty!

To say that the transition area was crowded was an understatement. The race is so large that there are actually two transition areas: yellow and red. Your bracelet is colored coded accordingly. Also each bike has an assigned spot which was a little different. In a lot of ways it was easier because it didn’t matter what time we got there. The downside was the space on the racks was tight! I was glad that I didn’t have to try and squish my bike into its spot. They have it set up so that front well face forward for one bike and then the other way for the bike. You put your towel to the left of your front wheel. No buckets or balloons allowed at this race. Also your space allotted is the size of a handtowel.

Sunday was the race day. I met my friends in the lobby at 4:45 to take the shuttle. It was already almost 80 outside. We dropped our stuff off with our bikes and checked our tires because of the heat. There were bike pumps located all around the perimeter of the transition area. Fortunately ours were fine. We then head over to the swim start leaving his sister locked in the transition area. Yes, really and truly they locked the transition area at 5:45 with only the cyclists and runners for relay teams in it.

It was again very crowded. I had been worried about knowing where to go, but once I felt reassured. It’s like walking to the parking lot after a big concert. Unfortunately the crowd moved slowly. My friend and I allowed an hour to get to the swim start after hearing at the briefing to allow at least 40 minutes. I wish we had given ourselves about 15 minutes more.

We picked up our chips without a problem. It was very well organized. You just showed the volunteer your bracelet. So why the big deal over the chips? It’s an extra safety check for them in case athletes decided not to race for whatever reason after checking in their bikes. That’s why instead of wondering if they were still in the Hudson (scary for a number of reasons!) or somewhere in Central Park, they could check the bike number against the chip and see if the athlete even competed.

We had also been given plastic drawstring bags with our bibs numbers printed on them in our race packet. The idea was to put anything you had worn but didn’t want to swim with in the bag. The big catch is that it also has to be anything you don’t need for the rest of the race since you don’t get it back until the race is over. That’s where my second pair of gym shoes went along with shirt I had on over my trisuit. I was really happy I had that second pair!

Then I needed to locate the U-Haul type truck that had my bib number range on it and give them my bag. It was actually really easy, but given the crowd it seemed more difficult that it really was. I noticed a lot of veteran NYC racers had family members right there and were handing them their items. I had grandiose dreams of using the port-a-potty before I swam that despite the fact that I had never seen so many outhouses in my life the line was just too long. I didn’t have enough time before my heat. I wish that I had a camera to take a picture of the crazy number of outhouses, but not as much as I wish I had been able to use an outhouse!

The swim heats were broken down by category and well marked with signs. That also made it easy for families of veteran NYC triathletes to locate them and handover their items. The rest of us were busy locating our trucks or throwing out barely used tubes of BodyGlide since there was no where to put it. About ten minutes before the start of my heat, I lined up in my group’s corral and zipped up my wetsuit. That’s the only time during the race I felt really hot. By the time I hit the run, it was 94 outside. I was so hot waiting for the race that I think I sweated off the BodyGlide because I had a giant bleeding wetsuit mark on my neck when I finished racing. Since I had put mine in my bag that was now located on some truck in the middle of some box, I couldn’t reapply it when I felt myself sweating profusely while waiting for the swim start.

As each heat entered the water, each group moved forward. It took a while before I could even see the beginning of the race. The tour the day before had shown the end of the swim, not the start. When it came to our time, we walked across the pier and looked down. There was a rope that had been attached at both ends to the pier and went about 5 feet out. I jumped in, while briefly wondering if I would whack my head on the pier since space was tight, and quickly grasped the rope. I was so glad that my goggles were well adjusted because I couldn’t have let go of the rope to fix them. That’s how strong the current was. Every time someone jumped and grabbed hold of the rope, it would sway back and forth. I won’t lie: I did feel a little panicked. Nervous swimmers were able to sit on the pier until the horn sounded but then needed to wait until the water was clear before entering.

The horn sounded, I let go of the rope and was quickly carried down the river. To be honest, it was sort of what I would imagine it would feel like to be flushed down a toilet. Not that I’ve spent a lot of time pondering that or anything! Actually with the tire at the start of the race and various pieces of debris, maybe my imagination wasn’t that off!

The swim was fine. It was fast! I don’t know how this was allowed, but I saw a woman floating on a swim noodle. She was zipping right along. It was a little choppy in places as well. There were giant printed signs every so often that marked the distance which was really nice. When I got to the other pier aka the end of the swim leg, I didn’t stand as instructed in the meeting (something sketchy about a slit problem) and sure enough a bunch of big burly men grabbed me under my arms and yanked me up.

The run was 700 M to the yellow transition area. The red area was 400 M. Guess which one I was in? It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t pleasant. There were showers for swimmers to run through to wash off the slit which was nice particularly when I later saw a picture of myself as I exited the water and to my surprise discovered that I had apparently grown a beard and mustache during the swim; a silt beard and mustache that is. No wetsuit strippers at this race. Guess there was just too many people.

My bike unfortunately got tangled in the bike next to mine, but another athlete (feels weird to think of myself as an athlete! But yet I think about myself being flushed down a toilet. Go figure!) was really nice and helped me get it out. The first part of the bike race had about 2 million volunteers reminding everyone to go slow and to be in a small gear. The distance for this was surprisingly long. We were allowed to be on our bikes after the initial quick run part, but were were not allowed to ride it quickly. I realized that my chain had partly fallen off in the tangle and was able to fix it without a problem probably because I had been going so slowly. The tricky part of this course is that the steepest part of the race is right as you are leaving the transition and of course have to go really slow. It was fine though and once I finished that it was smooth sailing on the Henry Hudson Parkway through a toll booth and back. No, I’m not kidding either!

I really enjoyed the bike course. There were some challenging parts, but it was fun and not overwhelming. The first part flew by so quickly that I thought I surely was confused about the route. I also got to see the Big Giraffe and the boys which was amazing along with the signs. I also drank the two bottles of Gatorade and had Cliff Shot Bloks as recommended by my coach which for me was a miracle. Given the choice though between risking breaking my arm falling of my bike and risking getting massive GI problems from dehydration I choose to risk the former! Of course as I approached the transition area, everyone was telling us to slow down.

The bike was over before I knew it and then it was the run. Oh the run! There is no other word to describe other than these two: hills and heat. It was hilly. Sure if you’re from San Francisco you probably would think it was flat. I however am not. It was fine but it was hard. It was also hot, except towards the end when I was freezing and had goosebumps. Ah, heat exhaustion. Here’s the thing though, by this point I had already completed the majority of the race so even if I had to crawl I was finishing it. Other than walking a couple hills at the steepest part and a quick bathroom break behind a tree, I ran it. I made sure to stop at all the water stations and get a glass of water and one of Cytomax since I wasn’t running with any water or anything.

When I finally finished it was a giant rush. Back to the wedding and having kids. There were ice showers for us athletes to walk through and we were handed a towel soaked in ice water for around our necks. Not only did it feel fantastic because of the heat, but it felt great on my wetsuit burn. Then we were each given a medal and I can honestly say I felt like I had earned it.

Unfortunately the Big Giraffe and little giraffes didn’t see me cross the finish line. Why is that? My estimated time was off by an hour. I actually finished way ahead of what I had thought.

The race finished up with checking out some booths at the post race party (which by the way doesn’t have food or water even for sale which I was annoyed by) we took a complimentary pedicab back to the transition area. Yes the transition area is pretty far from the end of the race.

Someone named Balex Melliot may have also almost lost it when she realized she had to get her bike from the transition area back to the hotel before the transition area closed at 2pm. Fortunately she was able to located an SUV cab on the main street outside the transition area and popped the front wheel off her bike and forced her bike into his trunk despite his feeble protests that the bike wouldn’t fit. The driver realized that he was dealing with a possibly deranged triathlete suffering from heat exhaustion and that he was wrong about the bike. The cab had excellent air conditioning…at least that’s what I heard of course.

So to wrap up this incredibly long post, I’ll end with a few final thoughts. First, I was so glad I was able to do this race with a friend. Even though I never saw him after we hugged goodbye at the swim line up, having someone to go through as the pre-race activities with was priceless. You are given all the info you need but frankly if he hadn’t been there I would have been overwhelmed. Think college orientation. I would have done it, and I would have been fine, but it would have added a layer of anxiety to the anxiousness I was already feeling. Along those lines, I wish I had done a smaller Olympic race before this one. In some ways, it was great having it be my first Olympic race because the race is such a big production. In other ways, it was the first time I had attempted to do this rather long distance and the big production was a little intimidating. Despite all that though, it was just so much fun. The crowds cheering us on were amazing. I felt like I was starring in a parade. I particularly liked the people who would shout out how much further to the top of the hill or the next water station. It leads to my final speculation of the event which is that it must have been planned by something 20 Somethings, perhaps who had had a few drinks, who said “Wouldn’t it be totally awesome to swim in the Hudson, and ride our bikes through toll booths on the highway?”

And no I didn’t have one single GI issue.

A. Elliot’s Lesson Learned: Doing the NYC tri is a “big deal” and a lot of fun.

Treblinka

June 17th, 2010

Suzanne hired a tour guide through a Jewish genealogical society in Warsaw to pick us up at our hotel and take us on a tour of Treblinka. It is a couple hours from Warsaw and in the middle of nowhere. I’m not kidding about it being in the middle of nowhere either. The location was picked because it was unlikely to be discovered yet at the same time also had a train stop so it was easy to transport people there. Seriously writing this post is making my stomach hurt.

On the way to Treblinka the tour guide explained to us the difference between a concentration camp and an extermination camp. In the former, some prisoners were forced to do labor while in the later people were murdered.

Treblinka was burned to the ground and a memorial now stands in its place. When we first arrived, we saw where the train tracks used to be both; both the train that ran through the town and the special section of the track at ran to the camp. My pictures are up on Facebook.

A fake station was built there to reassure people that they were indeed being relocated and there was nothing to fear. There were even signs for the bathrooms. People gave their suitcases and belongings to coat room counter, received a ticket, and then headed out to a changing area where there heads were shaved and they were given a towel. They were then told to head to the showers which of course weren’t really showers. Their valuables were sorted through and loaded back on the trains.

After seeing that, we went to the small museum where there is a model of Treblinka I and Treblinka II. Treblinka one was used for Polish prisoners who were forced to build Treblinka II. They were then murdered so they couldn’t tell anyone about it.

From there we went to the where Treblinka II was. Large stones lined where the border had been. A railroad track monument was also there as well as large boulders where the guards barracks had been.

Two gas chambers were housed behind the station. Behind that was a fire pit to burn the bodies and two large pits for the bodies and later the ashes. In memory of the victims, stones have been placed on top of the pits. There is a stone for each city where the Jewish people who were murdered at Treblinka lived. In addition, at the beginning of the memorial there are large stones with the names of the countries where the Jewish people who were murdered there lived.

To say it’s overwhelming in an understatement. To say it’s sickening doesn’t do it justice. I am definitely glad that I went, but I felt sick the entire time I was there.

Days 1 and 2 in Warsaw

June 14th, 2010

The Big Giraffe dropped me off at the airport and after satisfying my CrackBerry addiction for a couple hours, I got on the airplane and popped my Valium. The Valium worked great in that it completely relaxed me. Also for some reason I swear it affected my sense of taste and caused me to think my airplane lasagna and salad was the best food I had ever eaten. It didn’t make me sleep. Hmm…perhaps it was the lack of sleep that made me think my meal was gourmet?

I arrived at the airport and had 2 hours to wait for Suzanne and another 4 before our flight. To sum it up, it involved being over tired, one waiter who totally thought I was trying to pick him up, and a bunch of slap happy conversations with Suzanne due to going for 24 + hours without sleep. Our flight from London to Warsaw seemed to be much longer and the airplane was old. We did wonder if they were using paper, pencil and a compass.

Yesterday we met up with Suzanne’s husband’s friend Tom, his girlfriend Ewa, friend Bagus and her husband Krystof. They took us on a five hour walking tour of the Warsaw Ghetto. It was totally depressing but at the same time I was so glad to be able to see it. Of course everything is different now because the city was completely destroyed. However, there were a lot of memorials along the way although they were mostly donated by Jewish people in the US in the 80’s and 90’s. There were also some sections of the wall.

At one point I asked Bagus about her husband’s name because I swear he had told me that he was Jewish. Then again with his name I wasn’t sure if maybe I hadn’t heard him correctly. It turns out that his mother was smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto and lived under a Christian identity. When Krystof was 15 his parents sat him down and told him that he was really Jewish. He and B sent their daughter to Jewish schools and his sister works for a Jewish foundation in Chicago. On the tour, Krystof showed us the courts where his mother went in the Jewish only side and was smuggled by a police officer she bribed out the Polish side. He also showed us the sewer where she escaped outside the Ghetto. A monument was put there to her and others about a month ago.

The walk was really informative. Interestingly, none of our group had been to many of these sites before yesterday. Although there were many, it did seem like you had to know where you were going and where to look from them or you could just walk by without recognizing them. In other words, it’s not like the Freedom Trail in Boston where a red line is painted on the sidewalks.

Afterward we went to the Jewish cemetery to try and find Suzanne’s great-grandfather’s grave. He died in 1939 before the ghetto. Unfortunately we could not find his grave. The cemetery is massive and many of the gravestones were falling over on top of each other. Of course they are also not written in English. We plan on going back later this week.

Tom took us all out to dinner where we learned a lot more about Poland. I also shared some of my family’s Polish traditions. Yeah…you know how Chicago is very different from Southern IL. Afterward he dropped us off at our hotel and Suzanne and I explored Warsaw some more.

This morning we went to the Jewish Heritage Museum where Suzanne was able to meet with a genealogy researcher. She was able to give Suzanne some more information. We also saw the exhibit on the Warsaw Ghetto. Afterward we went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum and then the Novyk Synagogue which was the only synagogue to survive because it was outside the Ghetto and Nazis used it as a stable for their horses.

I’m having a terrific time with Suzanne and am enjoying being here but needless to say it is also emotionally draining. Tomorrow we will be going on a tour of Treblinka.

Poland Again

June 5th, 2010

I’m going to Poland! Suzanne and her hubby got me a ticket. Needless to say I’m pretty excited. I’ve been obsessively going over tour guide books and researching Poland on-line. I’ve sent Suzanne far too many emails about sights I would like to see and little travel tips I’ve picked up here and there. Alright quite honestly I went with a group of friends to see Sex and the City II last week and found myself identifying with Miranda.

Obviously I’m excited…but…at the same time I’ve also…do I dare say it? I’m having just a tad bit of anxiety. Just a touch. The teeniest tiniest bit that in all honesty seems to pick up in speed and size like a snowball down a hill when I think about it too much: I’m scared about flying over water. The five hour flight to Aruba was about my limit. And yes I’ve had a drink on the airplane and yes I do feel more relaxed, but not that much more and airplane drinks aren’t anything to write home about so to speak.

Hence my phone call to the doctor. I was all prepared to give my long-winded explanation of why I have a fear of flying over the water. Let’s just say that it’s tied in to my fear I had of wearing my wet suit in the ocean when Aunt Flow came to town. Before I could even begin the verbal diarrhea that would undoubtedly leave me feeling overexposed, she simply said that a fear of flying was quite common and wrote me a prescription. That’s it? I was glad I didn’t go into my fear because I might have left with a prescription and a referral to a psychiatrist.

In the meantime, I’ve heard from countless people that I shouldn’t be scared about crashing in the ocean because there’s never any survivors. Um..yeah.. that’s not helpful. You’re telling a person who has openly told you she has anxiety about flying that she wouldn’t survive a crash because why?

Last week when I was cycling someone repeated those idiotic words words meant to soothe and said that given the odds between crashing during our bike ride and my airplane crashing I should go with the former. Guess he was right because about 5 minutes later I completely wiped out on my bike.

Next week, my sore body and I will be boarding the airplane and popping a happy med; or as the bottle reads, “two if needed”.

A. Elliot’s Lesson Learned: 1)Anxiety over flying is common 2)The last thing someone who has a fear of flying wants to hear is statistics on survivors or therefore lack of survivors.

Poland?

May 23rd, 2010

Suzanne and I have been friends since our freshman year of high school. We met through friends that first year and our junior year of high school we were lab partners in physics class. We remained friends through college and she helped set me up with the Big Giraffe when I moved to NYC after college. She’s also a godmother to our kids. Obviously she’s a pretty good friend.

A few days ago when I was talking to her on the phone, she told me she had a bizarre question to ask me. With Suzanne you just never know! I said sure. She wanted to know if I would go to Poland with her in a couple weeks!

Suzanne won a grant to travel to Poland for a week in June and research her ancestors. Her mother is supposed to accompany her, but unfortunately she’s having some health issues and may not be able to join her. After a bunch of phone calls, I was able to arrange childcare for the boys.

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about it! My family is Polish. As much as I would love to visit Poland with the Big Giraffe, out of all the places to go, it’s not on the top of the list simply because we would like to go to places like England, Spain, Ireland etc. and since we rarely travel it seems unlikely that we would ever get to Poland. It would really be an opportunity of a lifetime. Of course I’m still hoping it will work out with her mom. Suzanne and I can always go on a trip another time.

Raynaud’s Phenomenon

May 12th, 2010

I’m not sure exactly when I noticed it. Looking back it was around the time that I developed my strong attachment to my fleece. Those who know me have probably noticed that my fleece is like my second skin. Inside or outside, I pretty much always have it on. To try and lessen the dirtbag appearance I even bought a second fleece in a different albeit similar color.

So back to the “it”. It primarily happens when I searching through the freezer at the grocery store or when I jump first jump in the shower. My fingers go white and throb. In the shower it’s the weirder because my hands will be bright red from the heat while my fingers are white. Sometimes my nail beds go blue. I brought this up when my friends took me out for my birthday dinner and I got some strange looks. Then again we had all had a glass or two of wine by that point.

So weird, but not weird enough to warrant a visit to the doctor. Who goes to see the doctor for cold fingers? In the meantime, I searched for vampire bites. I’m kidding! Well sort of. In general my fingers are like ice although the rest of my hands are fine. Just call me Alex Elliot Cullens. I will soon be relocating to Forks and appearing in any future Twilight saga books. I wonder who will play me in the movies?

Yesterday I went in for a physical. While I’ve seen my doctor a few times for ear infections, it’s been two years since I officially had a physical. I showed up with my short list of questions that basically were about my big triathlon in July. Then I got to fingers. I told her that I knew this sounded nuts, but my fingers are always cold. Remember my second skin the fleece? That’s why I like wearing them so much because I can stick my hands in the pockets to warm up. They’re at the perfect level and oh so cozy! Plus whenever my hands are cold, I’m cold too.

She felt my hands and while I couldn’t get her admit that they most certainly felt like Cullens’ hands* she did comment on how cold they were. After a few more questions and an examination it turns out I have Raynaud’s Phenomenon. While it sounds almost more exciting than being a vampire, it is in fact no big deal. I just need to wear gloves with fingers when I’m exercising outside (I did have some problems with my tri on Sunday being able to get my shoes on and off because my fingers were so cold**) until it gets much warmer and also obviously wear gloves when my fingers are cold…or invest in a few more fleece; preferably ones that are distinctively different colors less it looks like I wear the same one every day. Given the choice between continuing to look like a dirtbag with my hands shoved in my pockets or a weirdo wearing a v-neck shirt with gloves, I choose the former.

And that should end all my medical woes. I was given a clean bill of health. Everything looks good and I feel really good.

*The vampires in Twilight are all ice cold to the touch.
**So this explains some of my difficulty with my transitions. The rest unfortunately appears to be “user error”. I did drop about 4 minutes from this same race last year though on my overall time and about 3 of it was in the run alone!

And finally a link from Wikipedia because you know it’s just such a reliable source!

A. Elliot’s Lesson Learned: If you have ice cold fingers and don’t see any vampire bites, it may be Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Going Out Looking Like This?

May 11th, 2010

It won’t take a frequent reader of my blog to realize that something looks very different, and it hopefully won’t look this way for long.  Consider this a transitional appearance…basically, imagine that I went shopping for new clothes and am lounging around in a plain smock in between trying on some appealing looking outfits.

Those of you who use Blogger are likely aware that they no longer allow you to host a blog on your own domain.  Sure you can create a custom blog with a slightly different URL if you are willing to break all existing links to your previous posts.  But even though I dont intentionally “dog ear” my books, I like the idea of permanent links and permanent bookmarks on the web.  I want all of my old content to stay as is.

So I have installed WordPress into my existing domain.  All of the old content is still there, and after I spend some time fiddling with templates and widgets, I will also make sure to rebuild links to the old stuff.

For now, the fastest way to get to my previous content is through my April 2010 archives.

A. Elliot’s Lesson Learned:  Although it is fun to shop for a new look, you may not enjoy your look while you are shopping.