Sunday, August 23, 2009

"TRI'd and true": RACE REPORT: NYRR Sprint Triathlon

The day of reckoning was finally upon me. No matter how many hours I invested this summer towards imperfecting the art of the swim, I just did not feel comfortable about this. At least it was not the same feeling I had 4 years earlier, when I had signed up to do the Long Island Gold Coast Triathlon. There, I chickened out and only did a duathlon (replaced the swim portion with another 5k).

Triathlons require a ton of pre-race day preparation. First, you have to make sure that your bike is in excellent condition. I had my heavy, Trek 7200 hybrid, but with only 10 miles to do, I didn’t think it was going to be much of an impact to the overall race. As with any race, one has to temper the amount of respect one gives to an event. If you give too little respect, the course will eat you alive. If you give it too much respect, you will perform out of fear, diminishing moments where one should take risks to excel.

I had been very fearful about this race. But yet, here I was getting up alongside Karen at 4am in the morning to prepare and make sure we have everything. I was right about one thing though. This had the atmosphere of a marathon to me. Thank heavens I slept well on Thursday night, as I only had 5 hours of sleep last night.

I was wired, and Karen was nervous and punctual herself. We left our building with all of our battle gear in tow. I bunji-wrapped her Canondale and my Trek onto the bike rack of my 115k miled Honda, and made our way to Flushing Meadows Park. Home of many childhood memories to me (both good and risqué) and soon to be the home of my first ever Triathlon (albeit a Sprint one).

We got there early and found parking right away underneath the Van Wyck overpass, right alongside the Aquatic Center, where my adventure in terror would officially begin.
Karen and I switched emotional states. Whereas I was calm in organizing at home, and she a nervous wreck, the opposite was now true. She was looking forward to kicking ass, whereas I kept wondering how long it would be before my ass would wind up a Booth Memorial (Hospital).

Was it machismo, that made me say “Yes” back in July when Karen said, “Oh look Alex! New York Road Runners’ is doing a triathlon! We should sign up!” Partly. I also wanted to do a Triathlon, and no longer be afraid of the water anymore. My only concern is getting the ability to take breathers at one either end of the pool. Once it was confirmed to me that I was allowed to do this, some of my biggest fears were alleviated.

We placed our bikes in the staging area in our appropriate locations. I had problems placing my bike up on the rack, until someone nearby pointed out that I was putting the bike in backwards. I wonder how long he kept watching and laughing at me before pointing this out?

Everyone complained about the lack of portable toilets there were. Of course, me, Mr. Camel, sudfdenly had the urge to go.

We went up nearly three flights of stairs to enter the aquatic center. It was enormous. Bested in size only by the Aquatic Center at Eisenhower State Park in East Meadow, there were 10 swim lanes, each 50 yards in length here in Flushing.

The goal was to jump in anyway one liked into the shallow side of lane 2, and snaking your way up and down the pool, crossing over to from one lane to the next, until exiting the shallow side of lane 9. The shallow side was 3’ 7”. The deep side was 12 feet.

Karen had wanted for us to line up closer to the front. I said, “Are you kidding? Those swimmers are great up there! Many swimmers behind us will be elbowing their way past us causing us hell!”

A roar of applause engulfed the indoor, temperature-controlled center, when the first swimmers jumped in. Spectator seating surprisingly full given the 7am start time, but the hand-clapping came from the 1000 or so sweaty-palms from us nervous denizens of the deep. The race was capped at 500 people. It seemed like there were 5,000 people here instead.Within 6 minutes, the first swimmers came out of the pool. Remarkable. Then we saw them run through the exit door that we all came in from. Holy cow. Not only did we have three events, but now we had to add flying down 3 flights of concrete stairs to the mix. TRANSITIONING. This was something that I had not trained for AT ALL.

The rule was that each person would have 10 seconds to jump into the pool before the next one jumped in. As the line kept moving, I began noticing that no one was paying attention to that rule at all, not even the judges. It was more like 5 seconds at most.

The nerves of steel within me, were beginning to change. How does one turn steel into overcooked fettucini? “Can I really do this? - I feel like quitting – No. Don’t Quit! – But I’m afraid – BE A MAN! (spoken just like Brando in the Godfather)” I would be wrestling with these thoughts that just kept echoing louder and louder in my brain until,


A man in a wheelchair, was helped off by his escort, and jumped into the water. Again, another roaring applause ensued. Here I was acting all puny over my insecurities, while a crippled man just jumped in to swim 400 meters. He didn’t even bat an eyelash.

As they say on my local radio station, when they recap the highlights of a baseball game just concluded, “This was the turning point of the game!”

The vision of this handicapped person facing the challenge head on, made me feel so proud of him. Shortly thereafter, I felt that if he could do it, then why couldn’t I?

I only had about two minutes of self-mental campaigning to do, but the pom-poms were out. The ring of fire was as well. I was suddenly transformed into an extremely confident high school quarterback at a football prep rally. Time to jump through that ring of fire, and show them what’s what, yo!

We finally turned the corner. Here we were, next in line to jump in. All Systems Go.

Karen jumped in first. I’ve never parachuted out of an airplane before, and I’m sure that it would probably be one thousand times more terrifying then this, but it had the same procedural qualities. I waited about 3 seconds after she jumped in, and did the same
myself. Goggles don’t fail me now ( as opposed to ‘Google’. The search engine someone might use to see my name appear when they type in – “First person ever to drown in 3 feet of water while Triathaloning” )

Karen is not only a better cyclist than me, but a better swimmer too. In the 50 times or more that I swam leading to this event, she may have swam 3 times. Yet here she was pulling away. It was cool though because I needed a goal to distract me from attempting to achieve what was unthinkable just back in May.

I chased her in hot pursuit, making up fictious prizes of what I would attain if I caught her (of which most would earn an NC-17 rating). However, she was too fast. I was falling behind.
As I got to the end of the first lap, I was noticing the depth of twelve feet beneath me. Comforting to me were two things. One, I wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be. Adrenaline, for sure. Secondly, the depth no longer bothered me. Hey. I have improved!

The handicap man was going slow and as we got to the 3rd lap, the bottleneck of swimmers behind him was dangerously increasing. At one point, I was forced to tread water and no longer swim. That was not fun and somewhat frightening too. Legs and arms from many were flailing around me. At this point, all that was missing was a nice school of sharks, and a sinking ship dubbed the “USS Indianapolis” to reflect a horrific moment in US Naval history.

So Karen was right after all. We should have lined up closer to the start. Next time.

I had no choice but to get aggressive and do what ever I had to, to pass this brave soul.
I swam hard and cut a sharp angle at lap 4, passing him by. It was clear swimming ahead, but I had expended a lot of energy in doing so. There was an overhead clock, but I didn’t even bother to focus on time. My goal for my first triathlon was to finish in last place, because that would mean that I actually finished. Completing the first part, the swim, was the only thing standing in my way, I felt.

When I got to the sixth lap, my heart was beating very hard. I stayed at the edge, and even though I saw people exiting the pool to my left (final lap # 8), I felt totally expended. This is where I had to draw upon my reserve, using all my mentality to pull me through, since I was physically shot.

Karen was the first of our tag-team to finish the 400 meters.

I started making my way to the deep side to complete Lap # 7, thinking to myself how little I had left. I had been doing this earlier too, when I passed the half way mark, but by now it was all I could focus on. My swim technique was utter garbage by now too. My head was out of the water the entire time, as I was also gasping for air. I was a complete mess. But a complete mess who was about to do anything to complete.

As I rounded lap 7 and headed back to shallow and the happy end of lap 8, I could hear people cheering by the exit. “Almost there! Swim your fucking ass off to the end, sonny boy!!!”, I silently screamed.

And then the greatest moment of my race came true. In the extremely-ambiguous reflection I had of a Twilight Zone episode whereby Martin Landau, exlclaims “I have reached them” in a deeply tired but happy Russian accent, I too felt that “I have reached it” or the end of phase 1.

With all my might, I hoisted myself out of the pool. My arms were so tired, that I had to heave-ho twice before I could pull myself out of the water. Once I came out, I got a “nice job, now get moving” from one of the race marshals, as she pointed towards the exit door.

I did the 400 Meters in 15:20. I placed 297th best out of 368 finishers.

Transition (nightmare part 1).

So here I am opening the glass door, and making my way barefooted of course, down some thirty-odd impersonally cold and hard concrete steps. This was followed by running into the staging area; a grassy mudfest from last night’s heavy rains.

I actually had to take my towel out of my bag that was next to my bike, just to wipe off the mud from my feet, before putting on my socks, and a cheap ugly pair of Pro Keds that I bought at Modells the night before. Why Keds? My running sneakers were too wide for the metal cages that Larry’s Bike Shop had put on for me the day before, and I just didn’t have the payola to afford bike shoes at $100 or more. As it was, this race alone was $85, second only in expense to the NYC Marathon.

After my shoes were on, I had to take my bike off. The rack that is. I then raced with the bike alongside, because you are not allowed to mount the bike until you get to the mounting area, to the east side of the staging area. Too bad the mounting section was on the west side of the staging area. Did I mention that I did not practice transitioning at all?

I completed Transition 1 in 4:18. In that, I placed 308th out of 368 finishers.

The time poorly spent caused me dearly. To top it off, I had hoped to be slightly ahead of Karen until I got on my bike, because I knew how much faster she was then me in cycling. By now she was probably running towards Oregon with Forrest Gump. Oy Vey!

"I Want To Ride My Bicycle!"

The bike ride was precarious as I thought it would be. Without even having to look at the route map, I already knew that the condition of the surface of the roads inside Flushing Meadow were horrible. Basically, the last time that these surfaces were repaved, my father was taking Ruth Olmstead to the Spanish Pavilion. That was in Flushing Meadows during the World’s Fair in 1964. I also had a race there once when I was 20, and nearly cracked my ankle in half while landing in a pothole during the race while further enduring a rainstorm. Ahhhh, experience…..MILK!! (Note: Only if you were a Brother Theodore fan would you even remotely recognize the reference…)

Not me, but of someone else at this race. Looking back, it was pretty well organized.

I had to do three loops around the park. Halfway through loop 1, the route hairpins you back a portion of the way. It was there where Karen spotted me. She was already over a mile ahead of me.
“Go Alex! Go!!!!!” Her words came right through my bike helmet and down into my heart. I looked back and yelled to her that I loved her. At that response, a woman that was ahead of me, looked back, with a confused expression, and nearly wiped out. Did she think I was yelling this to her?
I take back one thing about the roads. The Parks Department did do one thing to the surface. And it was a bad thing. They added speed bumps. Lucky for me, I was city-smart enough to know that to avoid a speed bump, you just have to ride along the edge closest to the pedestrian area. This was such a good move on my part, that coupled with a renewed enthusiasm thanks to Karen, I was passing a lot of people now.

I finished the second loop, but did not see Karen at all. Despite my pickup in speed, she actually sped up herself. At the end of my second loop, there was a split-second where I thought I had completed three loops. Amazing what can happen to a mind that’s diseased with tiredness!

The third loop went a little bit slower in the beginning, but I picked up where I left off by the end. The level of encouragement in knowing that I was about to kick ass on the run part was beginning to increase geometrically. Damn, I wasn’t even confident anymore, I was a downright cocky bastard!

I completed the 10-Mile Bike stage in 38:50. Average Speed was 15.45 mph. This was good enough for 260th place out of 368 finishers.

Transition #2 (The Second Coming of another nightmare)

We got back to the staging area, and I dismounted. I ran alongside my bike, racked it, and did the best I could to replace these awful Pro Keds with my Brooks Infinity sneakers. Alas, I was about to take this school of participants to school. My transition was still horrible though, as the changing of the sneakers was more like a changing of a government bureaucracy instead.

Completing Transition #2 took 2:33. That was good for 311th out of 368 finishers.

I was so horrible in this transition that I had to use a picture of someone doing it right instead!


But alas, I finally took off. Out through the other end of the transition, and into the final stage of my first ever Triathlon. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was. I looked at my Garmin, and the numbers were pretty unreal. I was consistently in the 7’s and several moments in the 6 minute per mile range too.

This would also mark the first race in quite a long while where I had no music on my ears. This is due to the fact, that my iPod shuffle sustained irreversible water damage at the NYC Half Marathon the week before. Always remember kiddies: cover your tunes player before running under an open water sprinkler!!

He wasn't the only one with challenges at this event. Look at this photo above. What an inspiration...

Still, it was a complete shock to me, when at some point shortly after Mile 2, I start to see this very attractive looking, long-legged, blonde female running ahead of me, in the asphalt jungles of Flushing Meadows.

How it was possible that I had caught up to Karen, would remain a mystery until the results were later posted on the NYRR website. What became clear to me right away however, were Karen’s words a few days before. I had told her how my swimming was poor, and how she was going to do so well, that she would beat me by a landslide. She told me that I would pass her, surely enough somewhere around the halfway point of the run portion.

I gotta admit, it is so refreshing to be with someone this smart.

As I passed her, we kissed each other while running (how cute, right? Or if you’re a guy then start puking, whatever your fancy). She yelled out “Get a room!” a private joke that I’ll tell you about some day.

“I thought something had happened to you! I thought you would have passed me long ago! But I’m glad, Alex. ….. Don’t wait for me. You finish up as fast as you can. Go, Alex. GO!!!!”

Her final words of encouragement all but sealed the fate of any runner that stood in the way of me and the finish line. Not one runner ever passed me along the race portion. Not one in the entire 5K stage. That’s a first.

I didn’t just break through the finish line. I crushed it!
It wasn't too long before the other half of this dynamic duo would surge through the finish line as well....
*******************************GO KAREN. GO!!!!************************

Sure enough I did some serious kicking-of-the-ass in this final stage of the triathlon. Despite how tired I was in accomplishing something I thought I might never do, this old dog still has it in him to overtake many 20 year olds. Hah!
I completed the 5K run portion in 24:40. That's a pace of 7:57 per mile which was good enough to be 78th out of 368 finishers. I AM a good runner! :-)

After the triathlon, we drove home and I eagerly awaited the results. And here they were

Alex Gonzalez - 1:25:39 good enough for 237th overall place out of 368 finishers.

I DID NOT FINISH IN LAST!!!!!! :-))))))

Karen was oh-so-close to my time as well. She beat me in the swim by almost a minute, and over a minute after the first transition. In the end, it was the run that allowed me to catch up with her. But Karen did very well as well. Her finish time was 1:27:24. Only 1 minutes and 45 seconds behind and in 247th place.

Later on that day she treated us both to massages, and then in the evening to a visit to a winter wonderland.............................The Tasti-Delight Graveyard!!!!!

Lastly, are some videos taken professionally by NYRR and Anh Than (thanks to them and to all for making beautiful videos to share with everyone).

1 comment:

DGA said...

So far, this is probably the most entertaiing blog of yours. I really enjoyed it and it gives me enough material to do my "thing" when commenting. You know what I mean...teasing with sarcasm.
Let's beat 71 swimmers who use wheelchairs, no? I'm only making this conclusion based on your fear to your swimming abilities. Hahaha!
By the those red sneakers, sailor!
I also noticed that on your first transition you were passed by another eleven handicapped creatures.
Ruth Olmstead! Oh, my God! You got me there. It's been over 40 years of that airlines interline romance, which could have been and never happened.
Question: Was the runner with the reversed question mark leg sending a question to all other runners gone and watching from above? The guy had balls! Determination is the mother of of all situations, good for him!
Last, but no least, the Dinamic Duo did a great job! Congratulations, in spite of the passing kiss and the "I love you" to another woman. Well done!