First of all, let me start by thanking all of the amazing people who donated to the Aubrey Fund on behalf of my first triathlon effort. I could not be more thankful, and believe me when I say that I could not have done it without you. Literally.
That being said, onwards.
I have to tell you, I'm actually afraid to write this. The whole triathlon experience has freaked me out in a way that I have never been freaked out before, and not in a good way. Unlike the marathon, I am having trouble looking at pictures, watching video, or even thinking about it. In fact, my stomach is as clenched up writing this as it was in the days following the event.
This is going to have to be a multi-parter, because I sense the long-ness of the post.
Coming into the event, I was more nervous than I was for any of my marathons, although I would venture to say that I was about as prepared as I could have been. What was freaking me out in the days leading up to the tri was not my prep, but the weather. All forecasts predicted rain and thunderstorms. Great. While I have plenty of experience running in the rain, I've never biked in a heavy rain, nor swam in it. So I was sweating it big time.
For once in their lives, the weather people had it right -- thunderstorms all Saturday night, and a steady rain at 3:30 am, when I set out to catch the shuttle bus to the start line. Talked to a couple of people from the CNN team who were also doing their first tri on the way over.
Arrive at transition, where my bike was, a little after 4:00. I was in the yellow, or first transition area. That's for pros and the first wave of amateurs. I guess the idea is get the slowpokes going first, so that the faster folks later catch up to them, and we all finish more or less together. Otherwise, they'll be waiting for me forever. I've never set out a transition area. Find my bike, where I left it the night before. Lucky for me, the person next to me did not show, and I'm on the end, so I have about a foot more room. I split it with the gal next to me. Since it's still raining, I don't want to lay everything out. I had packed everything into a "bike" bag and a "run" bag. I just left everything in the bags, put my helmet on top, covered it with a plastic bag, and headed out to the start, taking breakfast with me.
It's a one-mile walk to the start. I walked with a 70-year-old gentleman (our ages are written on our legs) who had done all the NYC tri's since they started, and about 50-something marathons all over the country. Damn. He was talking about how this was his last one.
Arrived at the start line, and saw one of my Fred's Teammates, Dr. Mark. He's been my running buddy for a number of events, as we ran at the same pace for a while. He's one of the top thorascic and lung cancer doctors in the US. He runs with Fred's Team, and his donation $ goes back to his department to fund research studies. Amazing. It's his first tri, too. His daughter and son-in-law are there with him. We sit together and attempt to put our wetsuits on.
Still raining, and I'm still freaking, and then they announce that there's been an accident on the Henry Hudson (the bike route) and the race will be delayed until the roadway is clear. Great. Delay my pain. Fortunately, the rain lets up somewhat, and by the time the accident is cleared and they call us into the corralls, it's let up to a light drizzle.
Mark and I part company, and as I move to my corrall, I see Teammates Abby and Matt. Matt actually works for Fred's Team, but he'll be running NYC. Abby and I joined the Team together, and ran at the same pace for the first couple of years, so we became good buddies. Abby actually did the Tri her third year with the Team, and hurt her hip shortly thereafter, knocking her out of the marathon, which she hasn't done since. Amazing person that she is, she still comes to all the practices and races, volunteering as bag watcher and cheerleader. She's an excellent swimmer, and was giving me tips beforehand. I was glad to see her, as she kept me reasonably calm and together up until, 45 minutes late, the race actually began.
I have been told by everyone who has done this swim that the swim is the easiest portion of the race. You are with the current. The current is strong. A bag of chips can make it point to point in 20 minutes.
Well, let me tell you, the Hudson River, right after a series of thunderstorms, is not the easiest portion of the race. And I am no bag of chips.
Unlike years past, they changed the swim start so instead of 100 people jumping in at once, it's 20 people every 30 seconds. It spreads out the field a little and makes the whole swim safer. But what it means is, you get on the dock, sit down (no diving) and whoosh, you're off, with no time to adjust. Maybe that's good. Maybe not. All I know is, I jumped in, came up, got smacked with a faceful of water, and instantly realized that I was not doing the crawl.
The water was rough. People I spoke to who had done the race in past years said that on a scale of 1 to 10, the water was a 7. Usually, it's a 1. Why do I get the 7 year?
If you did not already hear this, two people died during the swim this year -- a 60-year-old man and a 40-year-old woman. There have been studies done that show that 90 percent of deaths during triathlons happen during the swim. There are many theories and factual reasons for this that I won't get into right now, but let me say right now that it is not the fault of the race organizers. As horrifying as the swim was for me personally, the race organizers made the course as safe as it could possibly be. There were kayaks every couple of hundred of feet along both sides of the swim, plus fire boats, medical boats, other boats -- there was help that could get to you in less than two minutes, and I watched them do just that in a couple of instances. So when you hear about a tragedy during an event, don't be so quick to blame the event.
Anyways, rough, rough water. Yes, we were with the current, but the waves were coming at us, so it was making me very seasick, and made moving forward exhausting -- two-steps-forward-one-step-back. After a couple of aborted attempts to try the crawl, I switched to sidestroke, but again, fighting the waves grew exhausting.
Here's the thing -- as terrified as I was, I never thought I was in danger of drowning. I don't know what the terror was. But I was clearly terrified, and had to roll over on my back a number of times and just float for a minute or two to rest and get my heart rate down. I thought a lot about Liam, and this amazing picture of him in a wetsuit. Liam loved the water. I prayed to Liam to help me through.
I was soon getting passed by wave after wave of swimmers, and I tried not to care, but it was starting to upset me. At one point, a woman from my wave who was similarly struggling looked over at me and said, "You're doing fine." Thank God for her, because I thought I'd be out there by myself forever. Someone in my boat, so to speak. I thanked her. I did find it weird how easy it was for people to speak with each other in the water, as there was a lot of "Sorry," "Coming through," and "Fuck, that's my goggles."
Just when I thought I couldn't swim another stroke, I finally made it to the dock. A volunteer grabbed my hand and pulled me up the ramp. I was wearing my VFF Flows, and my feet felt like lead. They instantly propel you towards land -- no waiting around. You walk off the dock and to your right is a series of showers to go through to wash some of the Hudson muck off you.
Through the showers, and now it's a half mile to the transition area (which is why I wore the Flows.) I tried running, but I was exhausted. Some of the Fred's Team cheering section was right there, and I think I gave them a little wave, but that's all I had energy for. So I walked/jogged down the path to get to the bike.
One of the few advantages of being in the yellow transition is that there are benches along the path to the transition area, and it's much easier to sit on a bench, remove your wetsuit, and take it with you than it is to try to sit in the mudfield that is now the yellow transition and do it in eight inches of space. So I did that, and that break helped me rest up a little.
Got into my bike gear, lubed up, and headed out of transition. I was glad I kept my stuff in bags. Everything was still dry. Some of the people were there talking about how hard the swim was, which made me feel a little better about it.
Out of the gate and past the yellow "mount" line, I mounted my bike and headed out.
The top of the bike leg is the hardest, because it involves a sharp left turn in which you head up a two-part hill to 79th Street. I had practiced this. At all the briefings, you are told over and over again to leave your bike in an easy gear because of this hill. I was prepared for this hill. Alas, not so the woman next to me, who turned and instantly wiped out. Fortunately, I was able to avoid her, but as I'm halfway up the second hill, the idiot in front of me stops and gets off her bike. Now I'm stuck. I have to stop and unclip, and three people around me do, too. Now I have no momentum and can't get up the rest of the hill. The volunteer is screaming, "Walk it! Walk it!" but I can't unclip my right foot. So I half pedal, half push myself up the rest of the hill, hop onto the seat, and head, literally, for the hills.