For the past week, whenever anyone asks me how my first New York City Triathlon went, I'm sure they've walked away from me secretly hating my guts.
I hear myself gushing over the race and talking about 3 hours of physical activity as if it were a trip to an amusement park - and I've thought, "Wow, I'm annoying."
But yet I can't help. Last Sunday was absolutely amazing in a way that only fellow race addicts will be able to comprehend.
Packet Pick-Up & Expo
Friday, I took advantage of my office's "Summer Friday" hours to stroll over to the Hilton Hotel where packet pick-up and the NYC Tri Expo were taking place. I happened to arrive a perfect 10 minutes prior to the 3 PM briefing that is required for all participants.
The briefing lasting about 30 minutes and had a lot of good information - all of the logistics of triathlons tend to overwhelm me so the more times I'm told what to do and what to expect, the better. Not to mention, this was my first Olympic Distance triathlon and only my second triathlon EVER.
After the briefing you received a stamp on your hand to prove you had sat through it, which enabled you to pick up your packet full of bib numbers (one for your shirt, one for your bike, one for your helmet, etc.), your timing chip (worn around your ankle), your t-shirt and swag bag.
Then, I headed into the expo to see what freebies I could snag. Since the expo had started at 2 PM and it was only 3:30 on a Friday, it was still pretty calm which was nice. I grabbed all the chip clips, hand sanitizer, keychains, chapsticks, coupons, etc. only to get home and think, "I literally do not need any of this..."
I had ordered a bunch of stuff online that didn't arrived in time - so I was on the hunt for tri shorts to wear during the race (oops). Mine have slowly disintegrated from wearing them in chlorine when I go to the pool - and the padding in my biking shorts was way too much to swim and run in.
After trying on a few pairs at the TYR booth, I found a brand I'd never heard of - Voler - and fell in love with their basic pair of $30 tri shorts which were black and teal to match my bike, helmet, cycling shoes...etc. etc.
I also bought a new Adidas sports bra for $12 - suhweet!
The NYC Tri basically takes place in my backyard, which made the somewhat daunting three-day process of Expo, Bike Check-In, Race, Bike Pick-Up a lot more manageable.
On Saturday, after a productive morning at the library and Trader Joe's, I set out on my bike with a giant backpack full of all my race essentials.
15 minutes into the ride - I realized I had forgotten to put my number on my bike - which would prevent me from checking it into the transition area.
Back to my apartment I went - dripping in sweat and cursing myself as I precariously balanced on my bike.
Finally, I made it to transition and found Callie and our friend Molly, racked my bike (my number said, "If triathlons were easy, it'd be called football") and started laying out all my things.
It's kind of crazy to think that I walked away from transition having left behind a $1300 bike, $200+ wetsuit, $75 cycling shoes, $100+ GPS watch, and various other items. That night my parents would ask me, "What will you do with your cell phone during the swim?" And I had to laugh, thinking that my cell phone was the least of my worries.
Callie, Molly and I took the 30 minutes to go on one of the transition area tours which I cannot recommend enough if you ever find yourself doing the NYC Tri or any tri that offers such a "tour." I left feeling much more at ease having a mental picture of where I would walk to the swim, where I would be exiting the swim, where I would re-enter transition, where I would leave with my bike, etc. etc. It also really helped to see "the hill" everyone talks about that comes fairly quickly in the bike ride.
The Night Before
After bike check-in I spent the evening meal prepping for the week, getting a pep talk from my parents (which ended with, "I really don't know why you do this Lauren...") and eventually eating an early dinner of chicken, vegetarian chili and spinach. I double checked that everything was ready to go for the early morning alarm (including my pre-made rice cake + PB and banana) before taking a melatonin. I fell asleep shockingly easily around 8:30 PM.
Morning Of! Pre-Race Readying
My alarm went off at 3:40 AM and I felt shockingly fine. I put on my tri shorts, tank, running sneakers, Road ID and pinned on my bib. Fun fact, I had gotten my period the day before, so I popped two Ibuprofen for cramps, brushed my teeth, grabbed my water bottle and breakfast and within 15 minutes was ordering an Uber pool to the bike transition.
I assumed an Uber pool would probably end up being a) just me or b) myself and a fellow triathlete on their way to transition but NYC truly is the city that never sleeps and I was surprised to find myself explaining to a couple why I was dressed to go workout at 4:00 AM.
Transition was daaaark when I arrived around 4:15 and I remained pretty calm - a nice departure from my crazed/stressed self prior to last year's sprint triathlon on Long Island where I had a panic attack first about my bike pump not working and then about forgetting my ear plugs in my dad's truck.
I easily found someone nearby to help me re-inflate my tires, sipped my canned cold brew coffee, ate my rice cake with PB and banana, and re-jiggered my things in a way that made sense.
I put on my flip flops, put my goggles around my neck, slung my wetsuit over my shoulder, and made sure that my ear plugs, swim cap and socks were in the bag I'd be walking to the swim start with.
Callie's bike was only a few down from me, I saw Abby right away, Molly, Emily, Alex - tons of November Project people made me feel calm. I also just kept telling myself that we still weren't starting for a long time.
After some pictures (duh) we left as transition closed at 5:15 on the dot and started the walk to the swim start. Making our way up to 99th street with Abby and Callie by my side made it just feel like a regular morning and kept me calm. We watched the Hudson River flowing on by, "The river is moving! There is a current! Hooray!"
When we approached where we would be exiting the water, I laid out a pair of socks that would save my feet from the gravely quarter-mile run back to transition. A ton of people had left out sneakers, but that seemed like a big hassle to put on.
At the swim start, I body glided up, put my flip flops in my bag, took out my ear plugs and swim cap, and gave it to the truck that would transport it to the finish line.
We continued along to Port-o-Potty Village and finally, donned our sexy wet-suits, shimmying our way into them like an extra-tight pair of skinny jeans.
As we approached the water I put two spare ear plugs in the sleeves of my wetsuit, where I was pretty sure they wouldn't budge considered how tight it was - I knew that if I lost the ear plugs in my ears mid-swim I'd probably freak (I ALWAYS swim with them, get terrible swimmer's ear, and hate the feeling of water in my ears - especially because I fly so much, it makes me paranoid!)
Callie braided my hair (best part of race day are the race braids!) and when we entered the line with our swim start/age group we completed the Tinder-profile-worthy look with our swim caps.
Soon, a giant pink pig poster came marching by and attached to it were Abby's adorable parents who snapped some WINNING photos of the three of us.
We, as usual, goofed off, joked around, and kept things as far-from-serious as possible.
When swim waves started going off, I was relieved to see lots of people side stroking, back stroking, treading water and STILL moving at a fast clip towards the finish. The river was movin' all right and I knew that even if it took me 40 minutes of backstroke, I'd make it out of the Hudson and to my bike.
The three of us decided to take the 20 second time penalty by sitting on the barge and dangling our legs into the water instead of jumping in and can I just say HOW GREAT it was that I got to start this race sitting next to my two best friends and triathlon inspirations (Hi, 70.3).
You know people who downplay their abilities constantly because they want to hear people tell them how great they are? I SWEAR I wasn't trying to be that person by panicking about the swim portion of the NYC Tri.
I was legitimately petrified of swimming .9 miles and still do not think that I'm entirely capable of doing it in other circumstances. Those circumstances = a quickly moving river, pulling you downstream whether you wanted to or not.
The promising news was that I managed to do some actual face-in-the-water swimming this time around. That being said, it was HIGHLY supplemented with the backstroke for more than half of the time. Progress?
The wave start meant that for most of the time, the route wasn't too crowded. The sea wall had signs marking each 100 meters and volunteers on both sides made sure that you were staying within the safe swimming area. By the final 150 meters, the course got crowded and hectic as everyone converged on the barge where we would exit the water. I just hung back and slowly made my way to the exit area where I grabbed onto someone's arm and they pulled me up and out.
Volunteers immediately started telling everyone to wipe their faces off - to remove the notorious "Hudson River Mustache" from their faces before they approached the photographer. Gross? Yes. Real? Definitely - I felt plenty of gravelly-grossness as I tried to get myself camera ready (LOL I mean, how camera ready can you be as you run/try to remove a wetsuit/take off goggles and swim cap? Answer: Not very.)
My swim ended up being 20:04 for a pace of 01:21/100 M (for reference, the fastest splits I've ever had in a pool are well over 2:00 per 100M).
I was pleasantly surprised when I reached back to unzip my wetsuit that it pretty easily complied. Using a tip from Abby, I held my ear plugs, swim cap and goggles in my hand while I pulled the sleeves down - ensnaring the miscellaneous swim accouterments in the inside out sleeve. SCORE.
I overshot my socks by a few steps and swiveled around to grab them and slip them on - definitely a great call to go socks instead of sneakers. I was moving at a quick pace back to transition - passing plenty of people but also trying to take a minute to breathe and mentally prepare for the bike.
Imagine the smile on my face when I got back to my bike and saw Callie ready to go out and start her ride!
I scarfed down two dates (YUM they're my new favorite fuel), took off my timing chip, fully took off my wet-suit, put the timing chip back on, slid into my socks and cycling shoes, clipped on my Spibelt with my phone, put on my Garmin, buckled my helmet, thought to myself, "that's it right?!" and picked up my bike, jogging alongside it to the exit.
My watch said 6:30 which absolutely shocked me - I'd swam .9 miles, run .25 and gotten ready for the bike in 30 minutes - something I had never thought remotely possible. Now, it was in my head that 3 hours was a possibility and the chase for 3:00:00 was on.
Transition One took me 08:27.
I mounted my bike and off I went! "The hill" wasn't as stressful as anticipated - I got there at a lucky time I guess and it wasn't very crowded. I stood up to make my way up it quickly and easily. Once we made a few sharp(ish) turns (nothing that made my stomach enter my throat) it was nothing but open highway!
It was amazing to have a whole highway shut down for us to ride on. Over the course of 25 miles, I had verrrrry few instances of overcrowding or close calls with fellow riders - everyone seemed very courteous and under control - riding to the right and passing on the left.
I felt good and was riding hard, until I passed the first 5 mile marker and realized, "I should probbbbbably dial it back a bit."
So I dialed it back and settled in, telling myself that I was going to be on here for awhile and didn't really know what was to come in terms of hills. But I felt great and my legs felt strong - I really had no way of knowing how fast I was going since I don't have a bike computer, but I was confident that I was having a good ride.
Each hill that greeted me was manageable and each downhill made me a little anxious about how I would feel on the back-half of the route. There was one major hill on the way up to the Bronx that had my legs screaming but it was over fairly quickly.
I passed and was passed by the same people back and forth for most of the ride which let me know that I was staying pretty consistent. For awhile, I was chasing down a woman who 70 and it reminded me that I want to be a bad ass triathlete when I'm well into my 40s and 50s!
The bike went really well - the final 5 miles had me trying to calculate how fast I'd need to run to finish in under 3 hours and it seemed to be slipping away.
The final turn around was the hairiest turns but once that was over it was smooth sailing back to transition, where we slowed down to a frustrating crawl/single file line. That being said, it was nice that everyone just accepted that it was going to take a minute to get back as people slowed down and dismounted and no one was an asshole barreling through the narrow path.
I ended up finishing the bike in 1:29:03 for an average speed of 16.75 MPH. This was nuts to me because that's the exact speed I normally do my Central Park loops at! I guess I'm pretty consistent!
This was probably my favorite long bike ride ever and I'm so glad I enjoyed it.
I ran my bike back to the rack and proceeded to take off my timing chip and socks - before realizing
that I absolutely had not needed to do that - oops haha. I ate two dates, put a caffeinated gel in my Spibelt, laced up my sneakers, contemplated a hat and decided against it, drank some water and made a quick dash to the port-o-potty.
After that, it was out on the run - which I had originally thought would be my favorite part of the race. In reality, it was hands down the hardest part of the race.
Transition Two: 04:00
The run course starts with a massive hill up to Riverside Dr. and I decided immediately that it wasn't worth getting super out of breath and mentally frustrated by attempting to run up it - I walked up and I think it was a good call.
For the first mile I just told myself to relax, let my legs get used to running, and get myself to Central Park. It's nice that you don't enter the park until a mile into the run, because I just told myself once I hit the park I could really start to hit my stride.
Like I said, this was hard. Running after biking 25 miles is a very strange sensation where your legs are heavy, yet also numb? You feel like you're moving so slowly because you've been moving at 16+ MPH for the past hour and a half. Even though I felt like I was running through quicksand and not moving - my first mile split was an 8:12.
It was a pleasant surprise, but I also had been aiming to start slow and go for negative splits, which wasn't going to happen with that start.
Once in the park, the hills came and I focused on quick, short steps to get myself up and over them. But that West Side of the park still killed me. I was letting my head go to a bad place where I was saying, "WHY IS THIS SO HARD this is supposed to be my favorite part!" The only thing that kept me going was that everyone I passed seemed to think I was "LOOKIN' STRONG" and had "GREAT FORM." This was news to me but I took their word for it.
Once I saw the November Project cheer squad - things changed. The energy put a huge smile on my face and from that point on I had a much much better attitude. I bee-lined for Kaitlin who was taking pictures and gave her a big high five and zoomed away in much better spirits.
The trudge up Harlem Hill began and my watch kept giving me mile splits that I was happy with - 8:26 for mile2 and 8:19 for mile 3.
Somewhere between mile 2 and 3 I took my gel which also helped - I only use the caffeine Cliff shots and they work like a charm.
I passed the water station my friend Michelle was volunteering at and gave her a huge hug which re-energized me to finish the hills.
For the entire race, my strategy was to stop at each water station and actually drink water - I hadn't even finished a full water bottle on the bike ride and new I would be in trouble if I didn't drink during the run. I'm never a walk through the water stations person but it worked amazingly for this race and I'm really glad I did it!
When I got over to the east side I saw Callie in the distance which put an extra pep in my step so I could catch up to her. We chatted for a few minutes and I continued on with splits that were making me very happy and quite frankly very surprised. Mile 4 was a 7:55.
I decided to try to take mile 5 more conservatively so I could finish the final mile strong. Mile 5 was an 8:23 and then I kicked it into high gear for mile 6.
At that point, my legs were fully in running mode and my stride was more relaxed and natural and I could tell that I was cruising along. It felt great to pass so many people in that final mile and as I approached the finish line I was pushhhhing myself to the point where I started getting chills and thinking, "Uh, this is probably not good since it's 85 degrees out."
In the final few feet I was stuck behind 2 or 3 people and desperately trying to pass. Eventually I snuck around them and sprinted across the finish line. Nothing has ever felt so amazing as the freezing cold wet towel they placed around my neck. I would have taken that over the medal.
My final mile was a 7:32.
According to the official results, my run was 49:07 for a pace of 07:55 (my watch had me at an 08:07) and 16th in my age group for the run! It was definitely the hardest part, but I guess it's obvious which of the three things I'm best at!
Final time was 02:50:39 and I was so happy to break 3 hours!
It's hard for me to remember a time I was on such an endorphin-high. Probably after both my marathons my 10K PR. But it's just the absolute best feeling in the world and I rode that high alllllll day.
So many people ask me why I wanted to do this triathlon if I was scared and nervous and thought that it was going to be hard and my answer is I wanted to do this triathlon BECAUSE I was scared and nervous and BECAUSE it was hard.
There is no better feeling than proving to yourself that you can do something you've never done before. To do something despite the fact that you're nervous - to prove that you can fight through the nerves and the fear and go for it anyway.
My biggest pet peeve is when people say they "can't" do something when they've never even tried and REFUSE to try. Complacency is so boring.
After the race we took lots of pictures, I called my parents, we walked around the finishers festival (free YASSO BARS!) and eventually Callie and I made our way to the shuttle that took us back to transition to pick up our bikes.
After packing everything up, we took the subway uptown and walked our bikes across the park to my apartment where I took the most amazing shower of my life, used my bone stimulator machine, and we got ready for food.
We met Michelle and Abby at BARE BURGER which was everything I wanted and more. A burger in a collard green wrap + crispy Brussels sprouts and sweet potato fries. Not to mention 23842 glasses of water.
Next stop was Treadwell Park to meet up with people from November Project and enjoy a refreshing alcoholic beverage (I finally tried the Wolffer Cider white wine!) courtesy of my mom and dad.
We only lasted one drink before decided we needed our beds.
I spent the rest of the night reading, watching TV, and eating summer rolls and a pint of Halo Top.
It was the most accomplished I've felt in a really long time. And now, of course, I'm wondering what the next challenge will be! Thinking about that 70.3.......
Shout out to Kaitlin, Patti, Brian and Mr. & Mrs. Reisner for all of the wonderful pictures of the day!! I'm obsessed and you can find me most days just scrolling through my phone looking at all of them and reminiscing :)
I really can't even figure out what to say about how much Callie and Abby helped me get to the start line and across the finish line so I'll just say that every run, every swim, every bike ride, every brunch, every beer, every laugh, every cry - it's 294380X better with you two by my side! Next stop, Banff!