Nautica New York City Triathlon

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.

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