It Takes An Army: My NYC Triathlon Win
In triathlon, one person swims, bikes, and runs to the finish. But victories aren’t won just by the person executing on race day. They say it takes an army. I think it takes two armies…and some fast leggies too.
A Pair of Races
Rewinding a week from race day, I did my first bike race. I wanted to really push myself on the bike, but a road race seemed like a risky way to do it, with drafting, breakaways, and my general inexperience. So I entered a 13 mile time trial at the Giro de Cielo in Augusta, NJ. It was refreshing and humbling to be a total n00b at something. I pinned my race numbers on facing inward at first, I did a start with a man holding my saddle for the first time ever, and - triathlete alert! - I was the only one wearing a Garmin on my wrist. I ended up winning the Category 4/5 of the time trial.
Also, I did the Party with Purpose 5K in Hoboken the Tuesday before the NYC Triathlon. I had a surprise PR of 17:53! The course was very flat, albeit with turns and my own unspectacular pacing, but it was a great confidence boost for the coming weekend.
I got 5 hours of sleep with a 3:55am alarm. While walking to meet Juan and Liz for our traditional 4:30am cab ride to transition, a couple was walking down the sidewalk. They had obviously had a fun night and asked if I was doing the triathlon, and I hoped at that moment that I’d be as celebratory after my race as they were walking home.
I ate my plain bagel with peanut butter and banana in the cab and set up my transition area in about 12 minutes, something for which I usually allot 40 minutes. I used the extra time to say hi to friends, like my teammate, Ross, who went on to have an incredible performance, getting second in the premier amateur division. I also checked several times that my wheel wasn’t rubbing, because this cost me an immeasurable amount of time and funny noises last year. I jogged the mile to the swim start, this year without my racewife Cecilia, who started almost 20 minutes before me.
Like last year, I opted for the premiere amateur wave, which is a totally, delightfully different experience from the age group waves, with its early start and, therefore, noncrowded course. When it was my wave’s turn at 6:07am, I joined the single file march onto the pier, walking past the daisy yellow shirted lifeguards standing in front of sky blue surfboards. I’m pretty sure they were staged just for the ‘Gram.
A Swimulating Start
On the pier, the announcer counted down from 10, and we dove right in (another benefit of the premier amateur wave – you get to go into the Hudson head first!)
The lead swim group pulled away after the first minute, and I found myself deciding between chasing a woman who was swimming more inland and swimming closer to the middle of the river, where the current was stronger. I never really reached a decision, and I basically swam straight for the swim exit.
Result: 14:53, 1:00/100 (LOL CURRENT!), 26th woman overall
The run from the swim exit to yellow transition is so long that it deserves its own paragraph. The nearly half-mile run to transition was highlighted by wearing a pair of 5 year old shoes, the original Brooks PureFlow. The outsole is as dried up as a stale raisin, and it’s a wonder I did not slip barreling down the West Side Highway path with my wetsuit pulled halfway down, empty sleeves flapping at my hips all the way. I passed two women on the run and entered the transition area in the top 3.
Result: 4:28, 2nd woman overall
Psych Out Bike Out
I exited transition, confident in my well-fitted race wheels. After a few miles, I was passed by last year’s second place finisher, who I knew was a strong cyclist. I yoyoed back and forth with a few men who had a couple things on me: 1. 30-40 lb and 2. fast disc wheels. One of them even said, “My fat ass can’t climb, I’ve been eating too many cookies!” Every climb displayed my lighter weight (and high power), while every descent displayed my…lighter weight. Every uphill reminded me how much harder I could work and to keep the same pressure on the pedals during the flats and descents. I saw Coach Cane at the northern turnaround, just before the halfway point, who gave me encouraging words. It gave me a huge boost to see him and know that I was headed back to transition with a net descent.
Result: 1:09:04, 21.60 mph & 2nd woman overall
I exhibited a case of shoe change-induced amnesia in T2. I must have knocked loose a few brain cells on the bumps every 30 feet of the West Side Highway, because as soon as I changed into my running shoes and started running a little too fast, I almost fell over. I literally laughed out loud, sounding like a crazy person, and consciously shortened my stride as I headed out of the transition area. I knew that, at best, I was the second premier amateur, giving me at least one woman to run down. But were there more? I wished in that moment for a radio a la Tour de France competitor getting information from his coach.
Result: 0:56, 1st woman overall
A Home (Turf) Run
Despite it being a hometown race, the NYC Triathlon does not offer much of a home court advantage. We’re not allowed to swim in the Hudson (except for the few sanctioned open water swimming events) and we’re definitely not allowed to bike on the West Side Highway. However, Central Park is home to most of us who run in New York City.
I exited transition and ran up the hill to 72nd street. As soon as the tree horizon of Central Park was visible two avenues ahead, I saw the woman who passed me on the bike. I ran past her convincingly and grew the lead to over four and a half minutes by the end of the run. By no means did this mean I was enjoying a little jaunt in Central Park. It was quite the opposite – I wasn’t sure if there were any more women left to pass, and I wanted to ensure I beat everyone in the age group category as well.
Soon came the west side hills, with a November Project cheer station, then the quiet Harlem hills, then the sneaky-but-expected hill from E 102nd to Engineer’s Gate. Here there was loud dance music, water, and the best sprinkler that must have been streaming straight from heaven! It was like angel tears of joy poured upon me, and I got a second wind to take me through the final 10 minutes of the race. Near the Met, my roommate from my freshman year of college was cheering with her sister. I heard more cheers as I turned right onto 72nd street and ran around the Cherry Hill fountain and turned into the final straightaway.
Result: 37:37, (About 6.0 miles from yellow transition for 6:16 pace) & 1st woman overall
The Final Result
My finishing straightaway was nothing celebratory, and I still did not know if I won! It wasn’t until I picked up the bag I checked pre-swim and consulted results on my phone to congratulatory texts that I realized I had won. Then, I saw my finishing time – 2:06:56 for the first amateur woman, and I would have been the 8th of 13 professional women. Holy shit. I had wanted to break 2:10 since 2015. I found Cecilia twenty minutes after my finish and told her, “I think I won?” and we embraced. Cecilia won this race last year and returned to race it as a professional this year. She is my role model for balancing professional and athletic endeavors and a fabulous workout partner, and to follow her footsteps in winning both the Philadelphia Triathlon and the New York City Triathlon has been as satisfying as it has been serendipitous.
To be as serious as a pinch flat, this victory took an army. I have a coach, Coach Cane, who advises how I spend 11-16 hours a week. His wife, NSQ, who taught me how to ride (and make jokes on long rides). I have teammates who meet me from Red Hook (Cousin Brian) to Riverbank (Cecilia). There’s the Rapha Cycle Club who pushes me up hills every Wednesday. Earl from Tailwind who hosts swims at the Palisades which brings back a flood of memories competing as an 8-18 year old exclusively at outdoor pools. Fast friends who join me on weekend rides in Harriman and recent training trips at Eagleman and Lake Placid. My parents who supported my evolution from a softball-throwing, tennis-playing grade schooler to a Cross Country, track-running collegiate athlete.