2008.07.20 – New York, NY
Heat, humidity, hills, and Hudson River jellyfish. Or, as a friend of mine put it, a typical day in the Big Apple. Even before 6am, the temperature was already in the 80’s with a humidity index that was probably also in the 80% or higher range. I used a port-a-john before the start that could have doubled as steamroom. Thankfully, unlike in 2006, the water was just over 72F, so it was a non-wetsuit swim for the pros. I’m not sure I could have gotten into my suit if it had been. As we stood on the pontoon waiting for the gun, It was pretty close to slack tide, with the standard – yet strong – Hudson current pushing down the river. Because of the stiff current, we weren’t able to do any warm-up. I hoped this wouldn’t hurt me too much, but I knew that I’d really have to focus on technique in the fray of the start, something that’s a challenge even with a good warm-up. With some good swims under my belt, I hoped that the muscle memory would be good enough. I started behind Andy Potts, assuring him that I’d give him an “and one” count to dive in ahead of me so he’d get clear water and then I’d hop in right on his feet. I started what I thought was way right, but I wish I’d gone even further right, as that current really is so strong. Diving in, I got right on Pott’s feet and had a good start. Unfortunately, in the rough conditions at the start, my technique just isn’t grooved enough yet. I ended up doing what I’d promised myself I wouldn’t – I pulled left, out of the current. When my stroke goes bad, I go left. And my stroke went bad. I got beat up a bit, and then the gap formed. Unfortunately, in these smaller fields, there doesn’t seem to really be a second pack. There is a big first pack, and then there is everyone else. And I ended up being one of the “everyone else.” Change takes a long time, but it’s happening.
As I made my way down the river I never saw anything, but I felt what seemed like a weed wrap around my arm. And then it started to burn. I was convinced, really convinced, that the pollution in the Hudson had created some crazy weed that I was allergic to. But no, that was the first of the jellyfish. I got stung a couple more times as I made my way down the course, never having any idea what was happening. I just hoped that as I got stung on my face that I didn’t end up having any sort of severe reaction. It was a little hard to concentrate on swimming really fast when you have this burning itch all over, but I tried to focus on a good stroke rather than the stings, especially not having any idea what was happening.
As I got out of the water, I checked my arms and didn’t see any crazy rash, and nobody screamed when they saw me, so I just took off on the long run to transition. This is one of the hardest parts if you come out down on the swim, since running barefoot and having no idea how fast you are going, you can easily lose a lot of time. But I tried to keep the folks around me close, and once I was out onto my bike, doing a better job of getting into the shoes than at Lifetime, I was determined to put myself back into the race. That was my only goal. Get back in the race. Even if I blew to bits on the run, I wanted to give myself a chance to actually be a part of the race. So I put the hammer down. After a mile or so, I reeled in Andrew Starykowicz, who proved to be a willing partner in pushing the pace to reel down the leaders. Being a bigger guy, he push hard and passed me on most of the downhills, but I managed to set a steadier faster pace and repass him on the flats. The course is nice and wide open, and it was a great change from Lifetime to be able to see riders up ahead and slowly but surely pick them off. Coming through the turnaround, I saw that Greg Bennett had broken off the front and had largely splintered any sort of organized stagger group. I hoped that this would take the competitive pacing out of the race, and that I’d be able to make better progress up to the front. Near the short out-and-back before transition, I managed to catch Colin, then Simon (both of whom were unfortunately having off days), and finally Paul Tichelaar. Andy Potts was riding himself back into the race after an unfortunate penalty for having a bottle be ejected, and I came into transition with Andy, Paul, and Andrew S.
After getting punted by the ITU speed transitions, I set off hoping I’d have some good legs. The run up the ramp over to 72nd street is always punishing. But once out onto the road, I focused on a good turnover. I’d forgotten my smaller race watch, so I had decided to race without a watch. I think it ended up being a good decision, as I focused on racing and technique only. With what seemed like good turnover and heel kick, I managed to pull in Andrew S. Coming into the park in 7th, I saw another runner up ahead – the young Andrew Yoder. At only 19, he’s a heckuva a racer. I kept my turnover high, especially on the hills, and managed to pass him at about four miles. Stuck in 6th, I was too far behind the guys up front to chase anyone else. I knew with the fast runners behind, I could easily give back some spots, so I tried to just keep my form efficient. Coming into the short wraparound that they added to lengthen the course, I could see I had enough of a gap that I could cruise into the finish and enjoy the moment.
I ended up with a blah swim, the second fastest ride of the day by 27 seconds (which was a bummer), and a PB run of 34:05 on a tough course in tough conditions, which really made my day. I was really happy with the race, as when I set out to do the shorter races, the goal was to really “race” rather than “pace,” as you so often have to do in long course. I’m looking forward to doing a few more of the short races, as I think each time I’ll get more out of it. Lifetime was a hard reminder, but NYC was a better course for me, and I was glad I executed to take advantage of that.