Sunday, July 14, 2013

Aquaphor New York City Triathlon 2013 race review

July 13th, 2013 was my second time doing the New York City Triathlon.  Entry into the Aquaphor New York City Triathlon is via lottery.  I think about 5000 people get in through the lottery.  They also have a pro division, para-athlete division, and relay division.  Included in the weekend's activities is a Diaper Derby at the expo, the Underwear run (where 400 people run through central park in their skivvies the Friday before the race), and a Doggy Dash at the finish line festival.  

Why the heck am I doing this race again?
I had done the race as a bucket list item in 2011 and was not planning on do it again.  I am not a huge fan of triathlons because I am not a strong biker and the idea of swimming in the Hudson River is some what less than exciting.  But the morning of the race in 2011 while walking into the transition area, I realized I had forgot my time chip at home.  With no time to go home and get it, I had to run the race without an official time.  So this year was for the official time.  I had to complete the mission and get my name officially in the books.  I applied for the lottery in 2012 but did not get in.  I applied for 4 race that were lotteries in 2013, thinking I would get into 1 maybe 2 of them.   I got into all 4: Empire State Building Run-up, NYC half marathon, Cherry Blossom 10 miler, and the NYC triathlon.  Yay, luckily me, right?  Now I just have to do all of these races, crap!

My friend Maria had applied and also got in.  Donna had got in for the 2012 but had to defer because she had to travel for work.  After her husband tragically drown in August 2012, the first thing she said to me was that she never wants to do another triathlon or go near water again.  I said of course no one would expect you to.  So I was surprised when she changed her mind in Oct and registered for the race.  She wanted to have it as a goal to help her conquer her new fear of the water.  Sadly, she did not manage to get over her fear of the water in time and had to sit this year out.  But I know one day I will be cheering her on from the sideline as she completes this race just as she was there for me this year.  

The Expo:
On the Friday before the race, Maria meet me at the for the expo.  Everyone has to sit through a mandatory briefing.  The briefing lasts about 10 mins and they had one every hour half all day Friday and Saturday.  We went to Friday because we were both off and wanted to beat the crowds.  You can not pick up your packet until you get stamped that you did the briefing.  

Because of the Boston Marathon bombing, they had added new security measures.  They had to review the security measures to the groans of everyone in the room.  Namely, that they would only allow items be carried into transition in the clear plastic bag they provided.  They did allow you bring your stuff to the start in a backpack then transfer it into the plastic bag as long as the backpack also fit in the plastic bag.  I was a bit bummed because I had just bought a fancy schmancy transition backpack this year.  It was specially designed with pockets for everything you need for a triathlon.  It would have keep things more organized but what are you doing to do?

I wish I could manage to look this good when I actually crossed the finish line

The Swag:
After the briefing, we got our bibs, champion chips, and t-shirts.  They also give you a fabric backpack.   Usually the bags you get at races are pretty chintzy, but these were nice.  Thick fabric, mesh so you can put wet stuff in it and it will dry, and a little pocket on the side for your phone or keys.  Also everyone got temporary tattoo sheets with their race numbers in their packets so you don't have to write on yourself with a sharpie marker.  Since I have a superstition about wearing a temporary tattoo for a race, this killed 2 birds with one stone and I was thrilled.  Aquaphor had a station where you could do a "finish line" photo.  They also were giving out shoe wallets which made me very happy.  I needed another shoe wallet for my other pair of running shoes.  They are great to hold your keys and money when you are out running.   We walked around the vendors.  I also got a free hand towel from somewhere.  I have to say I pretty happy with my swag pickup from this expo. 

Bike Drop-off:
On Saturday Maria came into the city from NJ and was planning on sleeping at my apartment.  You must drop your bike off at the transition area on Saturday.  I think you have from 2pm-9pm to drop your bike off.  They do not allow people to bring bikes in on the morning of the race. 

Maria and I rode our bikes over to transition and set up our spots.  The transition areas are at the 79th st boat basin.  All the athletes are separated into either yellow and red transition area.  Yellow is mostly the women and the pros and red is for the men.  They have a lot of security around the transition area.  Usually they had security to guard the bikes, but this year they beefed things up and were searching everyone's bags as they entered.  You were only allowed in if you had a bike with a number on it.   It was drizzling a bit and I realized most people had a good idea to bring plastic bags to cover the seat and the handle bars. 

Transitions through Triathlons:
There was a really cool art instillation on the west side river park called "Transitions through Triathlons"  not far from the transition area.  So we walked down and got some pics.  This helped get me psyched up for this race, as my attitude going in was less than enthusiastic.

The Night Before:
After our little photo shoot, we went and meet Donna for dinner at Bodrum, this Turkish restaurant that I am currently obsessed with.  We were swapping stories about previous races.  Both Donna and I have had an issue with a flat tire during a race and been unprepared.   I usually carry all the equipment I need in my bike bag but honestly I did not really know what to do with it.  Luckily, the one time I had a flat, 2 guys riding by stopped and changed it for me.  We talked about taking a bike maintain class to at least learn how to change a tire, but we did not manage to get around to it.  So being the serious triathlete that I am, I decided that if we watch a YouTube video we would be just fine.  I found a 'how to change a tire 101" video on my phone, and we instantly felt more prepared;)

Doing a little pre-race research on YoutTube

After dinner we went back to my apartment.  Maria settled in for an early night, smart girl.  I had to get ready for a birthday party.  My friend Amit's birthday always lands on the weekend of a race.  Last year, I was covered in the mud at the Warrior Dash in the afternoon.  Then had to get all dolled up and go to his 30th birthday Bollywood bash later that night.  Had it been anyone else's party I would have skipped it but Amit's parties are always fabulous and I had not seen my gang of friends in the while.  Only problem was that it was in Brooklyn, ugh.  I drove over to Brooklyn and managed to make an appearance at the party.  I was able to get back home and be in bed before midnight.  Only to be up at 4 am for the race.  

Morning of the race:

We were up before the sunrise and got suited up with our tats on.  Maria ended up have the same trisuit as me only in red.  We took a few pre-race photos and headed out the door.

I decided carry my stuff over in my fancy triathlon backpack even though I know I had to transfer it into the plastic bag they gave me.  We jumped in a cab and were dropped off at 79th and Riverside dr.  It was a bit of a hike to the yellow transition area so I was glad to have my backpack.  When we got to security I dumped the contents of the my backpack in the clear plastic bag and was allowed through.  

Transition Area:

The transition areas are huge.  They start at 79th st and go down to 72th st.  I found my bike and got set up.   I really liked the fact that they have measured out spaces for everyone and predetermined which direction your bike had to face.  It was a tight squeeze but that system made sure you had enough space to lay everything out.  A lot of the races I have been to, the transition areas are not very organized.  You can end up on the same side as the person next to you and end up bumping into each other.   Yellow transition closed at 5:15 am.  I managed to use the port-a-potties and get out of transition before it closed. 

Swim Start:

Maria and I start walking to the start.  Swim start is at 99th st, which is over a mile from yellow transition.  They allow you to check a bag at swim start that will be transported to the finish.  So we wore our flip flops and carried our wetsuits.  I checked my bag that had a change of clothes, towel, and my flip flops.  The finish line is in Central Park about a mile from transition and I knew I would want to get out of my trisuit and sneakers before I made that trek back.  

Everyone has to wear the color-code race swim cap that designates your wave.  There were nice tall signs at each corral making it is easy to find yours.  The swim start is off a barge in the Hudson River.  There are no practice swims allowed.  They do a Time Trial start.  There are waves for the pro men, pro women, elite men, and elite women starting at 5:50am.  Then at 6:05am they start the time trial.  They send off 15 athletes every 20 seconds.  So the start goes pretty quickly.  Everyone has to jump off the barge.  They only allow the pros to dive in.  The barge is a few feet off the water so some people prefer to sit and slide in rather than jump in from standing.  20 seconds does not sound like a lot of time but it is enough time for you to get off the barge and far enough away so you don't have to worry about people jumping on top of you.  After all of yellow starts, there is a 20 minute break then they start the time trial of red.  If you miss your wave you can start anywhere within yellow.  But if you don't make it before the end of yellow, they don't let you start.  The women had to start earlier, but we get the benefit of the height of the tide.  

The Swim:
It is a 1500 meter point to point course.  They have lot of kayakers, swimmers on surf boards, and even police boats in case you get in trouble.  Yes, swimming in the Hudson is as gross as you would think it is.  At least there was not a sewage leak the week before the race like in 2011.  As I walked up to the barge I saw a lot of crap getting stuck around the edges of the barge and I was pretty grossed out.  They have a little sprinkler to wet you down before you jump in.  This year I decided to be daring and jump in from standing.  I started off slow and steady.  I really did not do much swim training.  I was definitely regretting that.  The Hudson River is a tidal river and the joke is that with the current a bag of chips can do it in about 20 minutes.  I had a disappointing swim.  I saw that most of my age wave had passed me.  It felt like it took for ever.  I felt like I had swam miles before I could even see the barge at the end.  Finally, when the finish barge was in sight, I turned up my speed because I just wanted to get it over with.  There are a lot of volunteers assisting people up the ramp onto the barge.  When I got to the end, I stuck my hands out and someone picked me up and threw me on land.  I was so happy to be out of the water.  I had some gross crap hanging off me and I could not wait to rinse off.  

Transition 1:
It is 400 meter run from swim finish to yellow transition.  The women have a longer run before the bike.  The men have to add that 400 meter on before they start the run.  There are sprinklers to wash yourself off as you run.  As soon as I was on land I ripped off my googles and my cap.  I unzipped my wetsuit as I was running and started to work my arms out.  I did most of the run with my wetsuit peeled down to my waist.  Right before turning into transition, I stopped at a bench on the left side of the path.  I got my feet out of the wetsuit and peeled it off me.  I figured it would be easier to take the suit off sitting on a bench then sitting on the grass in transition.  As soon as I got to my spot, I poured some water over my head and wiped myself down.  I was so happy to get the Hudson River water off me.  My towels were definitely brown and there some kind of gross crap that was in my hair.  I put my bike shoes and helmet on pretty quickly.  I have managed to improve my transition times a bit since I started doing triathlons.    

The Bike:
They recommend you start in a low gear because there is a big hill you have to climb to get out of transition.  There can be a bottleneck at the hill sometimes, but I managed to easily get on the course.  You leave out the 79th st traffic circle then turn onto the West Side Highway.  The bike course is 40K (about 22 miles).  You head up the North bound land of the West Side Highway to the Mosholu Parkway.  You make a U-turn and continue back down to 57 th st.  For another U-turn then back into transition at 79th st.  

Right at the start of the bike I passed Maria and gave her a shout out.  She was fueling up and getting ready to go into what she calls "beast-mode."  I'm sure she passed me shortly after that but I missed her.  The course is not too scenic because you are just riding along a highway.  There is no crowd support along the bike route either.  There are a lot of rolling hills.  The good thing is that usually the downhill selection to use as momentum to tackle the uphill selections.   They had signs and a lot of people direction you to slow down for all the turn arounds.  You do need to be prepared if you get a flat.  Apparently, the sweep trucks don't come by until the last person starts the bike which could be a really long time to be waiting if you started in yellow.  

I was happy with my time.  I am not a big biker.  The last few miles of the loop pass transition down to 57th and back to transition was rough for me.  It was mental breakdown.  I felt like it should be over.  But it was more miles than I thought.  My shoulders were starting to get sore and my left hamstring was bothering me.  Did I mention this race is held in July?  The day was starting to heat up and I was starting to be miserable.    Finally I made it back to the transition area.

Transition 2:
They are really organized.  They have guys with colored flags waving you in the right direction.  They shout out to you "yellow on the left, red goes right."  The split worked out really smoothly.  I changed into my sneakers, dumped some water on my head, put on my Pro Oxygen head band, snapped on my race belt and put on my shades.   

The Run:
Usually I take off within a few yards of starting the run.  After about a quarter mile or so I usually managed to shake the bricks out of my legs and get up to my usual 10k speed.  This was not the case for this race.  My calves were extremely tight.  My left hamstring was killing me.  I just keep telling myself it is only 6 miles.  I can do this in an hour or less.  It was so hot.  I just trudged along at a snails pace.  One of the things I love about this race is that so many para-athletes do it.  It is ready inspiring to see someone who is missing a leg running next to you.  It is hard to feel sorry for yourself just because your calf hurt when you see that.  

The first mile is along 72nd street.  There is always good size crowds along this part of the route.  Normally, I like the cheers but it was not a good day for me.  I was just happy after mile 1, when I turned into the park.  They had water stations along the run course every mile.  I stopped to dump water over my head at every stop.  They had a few misting stations as well.  The heat of the day was getting to me.  I was feeling a bit delirious.  This is one of the few races where I can actually remember wanting to quit.  I really just did not want to be out there any more.  But I reminded myself if I quit I would not get an official time and that would mean I would have to try this again.  I can remember my legs cramping.  I was almost to the point of tears.  The fans cheering "come on, you can do it" were only serving to irritate me.  

Donna had said she would try to get up and cheer us on in the park around W 88th st.  I was hoping you would be there.  I could definitely use a friendly face.  But I know it was early to get up.  Plus, I know it was going to hard for her to watch knowing how much she really wanted to get to participate in the event instead of being a spectator.  So I would have understood if she did not come.  When I ran passed the area I thought she would be I did not see her.   A little disappointed, I ran on.  Up the hill by the reservoir to 90th st.  There at the top of hill was Donna smiling and cheering away.  I honestly wanted to cry when I saw her.  She had her phone out ready to take a picture.  It felt like it would take all my remaining energy just to flash a smile.  I managed to put on a smile and throw up the devil horns in honor of Harry.  

I have to say that was just the pick-me-up I need.  My legs started to loosen up.  I managed to get up and over the Harlem hill.  I turned up the gas and picked up the pace on the east side of the park.  My parents were waiting and cheering for me at E 90th st.  I was definitely a lot more cheery when I ran by them.  I was so happy to make it to Cat hill, a nice downhill leading into the finish line area.  I made the turn onto the 72nd st transverse and knew I was in the home stretch.   I forgot that you have to do this little loop around the Cherry Hill fountain, which meant I was not as close to the finish as I thought.  But I made the loop and crossed back over the 72nd st transverse onto dead road.  I started to sprint.  I just told myself the faster I run, the faster I'm done.  I made the turn and I could see the finish line.  So happy to be done.  

The finish line:
As soon as you cross the finish line, they hang your medal around your neck.  But the best thing was the towels soaked in ice water.  I threw it on my face and I was in heaven. I grabbed a bottle of water and got out of the finisher shoot.  There was an area with food for the athletes.  They had bagels, fruit, coconut water, gatorade, and muscle milk.  Also there was a glorious, fresh water shower.  I was feeling a bit salty and was hoping it was sweat and not Hudson River water still dripping down me.  The shower was great!  They had finisher photos and baggage claim next.  Aquaphor was giving out free flip flops. 

I actually managed to find Maria somewhere around the bagels.  She had finished a few minutes before me.  We got a finisher photo with our medals.  I called my parents, told them to get the car, and meet us at transition.  Maria and I stopped at the restroom by Bestheda fountain to change out of our trisuits so we would not be as wet and smelly when we got in the car.  We shuffled back down 72nd to transition.  They have free pedicab rides back to transition but the lines were really long so we walked.  We packed up our stuff and met my parents at 79th and Riverside Dr.  My dad put the bikes in the car and drove us back to my apartment.  

I was so happy to be home.  I took a nice long shower and soaped up a few times making sure to get the river water off me.  Donna was coming over to meet us for lunch so I got a quick nap while we waited for her.

Donna had stood out on the course for hours until the last athlete ran by.  He was a double amputee Marine veteran.  She said that when she yelled out to him, he responded back "as long as I keep moving, I'll be ok."  Again definitely puts the whole "my legs are sore, poor me" in perspective.  At least I have legs to be sore.  

I got my official time of 3:45:08!  That is definitely a bit slower than 2011.  That year the clock said 3:50 when I crossed the finish line and the guy on the barge said I started 22 minutes after the clock started.  So I had done about 3:30 in 2011.  But at least it is on the books and this time I mean it I say I will never do this race again.  It is a really well run race.  Just too hot for me.

Swim: 30:23
T1: 8:45
Bike: 1:55:07
T2: 4:00
Run: 1:06:56

Also on a side note,  I thought I washed all the clothes and towels from the race the next day.  But I found a small towel in the my dirty laundry 2 weeks later.  It definitely had some funky looking mold growing on it the likes that I have never seen before.  So gross.  I just threw it out.  Ewwww!

I dedicate this race to my dear friend Donna.  
I know the fear of the water since you lost your HHH Harry is incredible difficult for you.  I know you wish you did not have to face this fear.  But you will get there someday, you will run this race.  When you do I will be waiting for you on the sideline cheering you on.  You will get there in your own time.  Just remember to breathe.  

The wrap-up:
Pre-race info- A+
Expo- A
Overall organization- A+
Course- B-
Course support- A
Swag/post-race food- A
Medal- B+
Theme- N/A
Surrounding area- A