As I said in my prior post, there were two key things that Ironman 70.3 Muncie and the NYC Triathlon had in common. Goals and kindness of teammates. First, my goal for NYC was to break 2 hours for the Olympic distance. When I raced it two years ago, I missed that goal by 30 seconds. Ouch. Second, knowing how expensive hotels can be in New York, I reached out to my teammate Stefan Irion, to ask if he could put me up. He gladly accepted. This was a total difference-maker for me, and really made the trip for me.
On the goals front, I do have to say that my sub-2 goal was not realized. The weekend was ridiculously hot, and for the safety of all involved, the race organizers let us know on Saturday that Sunday’s race would be shortened to have an 8k run, instead of the normal 10k. While disappointing, it was totally understandable. I knew going in that I wouldn’t have a shot at breaking 2, but on the flip side, it really allowed me to relax and just focus on having fun, and racing three good legs.
I got in Friday, and Stefan and I met up with our teammate James Cunningham and his wife, Adriana for dinner. They live close to each other on the upper west side. Despite the heat we walked and got a great, authentic, South Indian dinner (the dosas were epic). Stefan had arranged for us to meet James and two other teammates, Colin Martin and Tim Smith, for a ride across the GW Bridge and into the Palisades. I hadn’t done that since I was in college. The 5 of us rode about an hour out, grabbed coffee together, and then James, Stefan and I rode back to the city while Tim and Colin kept on going for a longer ride (they weren’t racing). It was really cool to be around the NYC crew, and get to do a training ride with teammates.
The three of us continued on to the expo, caught a quick briefing, got our stuff and headed back. By far the easiest pre-race experience I have ever had for the NYC Tri. I can’t tell you how nice it was to not have to deal with hotels and masses of people, but instead just get to hang out with my teammates. We had an easy afternoon, then James, Stefan and I met up again to drop our bikes at transition, hit up the local Lululemon for some sponsor shenanigans, have an early dinner, and get to sleep. I should also mention that all of this was done by foot or by bike. My car literally didn’t move from Friday to Sunday, and I didn’t need cabs! Stefan’s place is walking distance from both transition and the finish line, so proved to be an ideal base of operations for the weekend.
Race Morning came and, while early, my day started about 45 min later than it would have otherwise. Stefan and I got ready, got breakfast and coffee, and jogged to transition to get set up. We got transition set up quickly and headed to the start. The NYC tri has a point to point swim, so this necessitated a walk of about a mile to the start. It was a nice walk, though, right along the river. Once at the start, the three of us caught up again and caught up with two other EMJ teammates, Ken Rideout and Rob Mohr, who were also racing. It was awesome to have a contingent from EMJ there to race with.
NYC has an Elite Amateur wave (they call it Premier) that goes off just after the pro men and women. If you have a qualifying time from another Olympic distance race, you can enter this wave. I have done it each of the 6 times I have raced there. In addition to having a point to point swim (which is quite fast, being in the Hudson River and with a pretty strong current), the NYC Tri has a dive start for the pros and elite amateurs. This is a really cool feature. So, me and 49 of my closest friends crowded onto the starting dock and got ready to race.
The swim was complete and total chaos. It wasn’t a bad swim, but definitely the roughest I have ever been in. The field was super competitive, and stayed together for about 2/3 of the course. I was getting swam over, pushed under, my arm being caught, etc. It was nuts. But I kept my cool, swam hard, and came out of the water in pretty good position, around 12th or so. It is a long run from the swim exit to transition, so I had time to get my heart rate in check, and get mentally ready for the hard bike course ahead. I came through transition smoothly, grabbed my bike, and headed out. James Cunningham and I came out of the water and transition both basically side by side. It was kind of cool, and we encouraged each other.
The NYC bike course is way tougher than it gets credit for. The climbs are tough, and spread out in such a way that you don’t get much of a chance to benefit from momentum. But it is nothing if not epic. You climb out of transition onto the West Side Highway, and ride it north, past Spuyten Duyvil, where I used to row when at Columbia, and into Harlem. From there you turn around, ride back to the south end of the West Side Highway, turn again, and go back into transition. I also think it is slightly long, closer to 26 miles than the standard 25. It is incredibly hard to break an hour on that course (one pro, Cameron Dye, did break 1 hour, and a second was right on the mark, but no others went under 1), which negates a lot of the fast swim.
Having raced it 5 times prior, though, I knew when to go hard, and when to ease back. I got into my rhythm quickly and focused on my power target. I had it dialed in about 5 miles into the ride, and stayed steady on my number throughout the rest of the ride. As I approached the first turn around, I saw that the first three guys in my group were pretty far up, and the 4th was not too far behind. Then a gap, then my group of about 6-8 guys. At the turn around I was 6th. I continued to jockey between 5th and 8th for the remainder of the ride, and came into T2 in 6th position. I definitely had a sloppy transition, with two other guys coming in right at the same time, and with rack positons right next to mine. I got my bike racked, shoes on, and headed out, but had lost two positions and was back 8th.
On to the run. NYC starts with a short, very steep, climb out of Riverside Park onto 72nd street, then levels out across 72nd and enters Central Park about 1 mile into the run. I was hurting from the hard effort on the bike, but managed the climb well and settled into my pace across 72nd. I was passed by one guy, dropping into 9th, but quickly passed another person to come back into 8th. Entering the park I passed another to come up to 7th, and started to feel comfortable at my 5:55-6:05 pacing. Central Park is one of my favorite places to do a run like this. You are out there, bib number on, going hard, and a ton of New Yorkers are out for their morning workouts. Tons of people cheer you on as you go by and the energy is infectious. I rode it up the rollers on the west side, and by the time I got to the 102nd street cut through (where they had shortened the course, eliminating the hard hills at the north end of the park), I had caught and was running with the guy in 6th. As we left the cut through and headed south on the east side of the park, I passed him to take over 6th place. I was stoked. I had regained the lost ground from T2, and was feeling pretty good, all things considered. I focused on keeping my cadence fast, and nailing my pacing, even though I was tired. Consistency again paid off, and I caught up with the 5th place runner around 1 mile to go. Knowing I had an opportunity, I pushed hard to put some distance between us, and by the time I turned into the finishing stretch I had plenty of clear room behind me. I ran down the chute, and across the line to a 5th place in my division, and later 6th overall.
My teammates came in pretty quickly after me, and we all had time to recap the day’s racing with each other and our other friends. It was a blast! I’m proud to have put up my best placing yet in the toughest field I have ever raced at the NYC Tri. Stefan, James and I capped of a good race by getting quick showers in, then going back out to cheer on the other racers as the race wound down.
While it may sound silly to say, my lesson learned from these two races is that when you stick to the plan and the pacing, you get the opportunity to race, not just to suffer. As a competitive person, that’s a hard one for me, but I think these two races really were a turning point for me in that respect. I want to thank John Heuisler of BTL Coaching for keeping the faith, even though I’m stubborn, and helping me learn those lessons. And huge thanks to my teammates Greg, Stefan, and their spouses, for opening their homes and making the races that much better for it. Not sure what comes next on my race calendar this year, but I know that next year will see me go to at least one World Championship. I’m proud of that, and glad that I finally learned how to run off the bike!