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Race Result

Racer: Steve Smith
Race: New York City Triathlon
Date: Sunday, June 27, 2004
Location: New York, NY
Race Type: Triathlon - International Distance
Age Group: Male 30 - 34
Time: 1:54:42
Overall Place: 1
Comment: First tri win (15:30/5 1:00:42/1 34:54/8)

Race Report:

Short Story

Click. Click. Click.

That's the sound of a near-perfect racing falling into place. A beautiful day for racing and I put up a race worthy of the weather. I nailed the swim to be within 1:00 of the fastest swim split on the day, dropped 1:30 off my 2003 bike time for the day's fastest split, and nailed the run to put 2:00 into the second place finisher. This was my first triathlon win on American soil, after taking five duathlons in the last two years and a small triathlon in New Zealand in the run-up to the 2003 Worlds.

Now, some caveats. 1) The swim had a pretty strong current by the time I got in the water. 2) This bike is long; I think the portion on the Hudson Parkway is 40k, but there's a decent ride up onto the parkway and then back down to transition. I measured 25.3 miles on my odometer. 3) The run was short; I'm not sure by how much, but 400m is a good starting place. Given all that, I'm a little leary to claim a new Olympic PR of 1:54:42 :)

I love this race. Some people find the race logistics cumbersome and everybody thinks the post-race food sucks. It's expensive, hard to get to, and HUGE (1600 athletes). But I love it. Standing on a pontoon and staring down a 1500m swim lane, straight as an arrow, is just cool (and a welcome sight for terrible sighters like me). The Hudson Parkway, closed to traffic, provides a great bike venue. And the run through Central Park, newly configured, is a joy. This run course is the best of the three they've had. I hope they find the last quarter mile and keep this one. New York City, love it or hate it, is an impressive place. I've made each of the four instances of this race, and I look forward to the fifth.

Pre Race

I left Reston at 5:30 a.m. Saturday to get into NYC by 10:00. I've got the logistics of this race wired (expensive as they can be) and had a parking space two blocks south of transition in less than five minutes. I jogged 20 minutes to the hotel to register & then made my way back to the car to grab my bike. I previewed the run course, riding against "traffic" slowly. I feel these slow preview rides help me tremendously in figuring out the run course. Anyway, after my run course preview I finished off the 60-minute ride with a few harder pushes. This is another one of those races where you must rack your bike the night before, so I taped on the race number, dropped my bike off at transition & then grabbed my bags & a cab from my car.

I spent the day nibbling on carb-heavy foods, V8, and wrapped it up with some tasty pasta and good company. I was in bed by 9:30 well rested, well fed, and relaxed.

I was up before the alarm went off and grabbed my Pop Tarts (still no frosted brown sugar & cinnamon at the 70th Street A&P!), coffee, and Gatorade before heading down to the Marriott's lobby. Since my wave was dead last at 7:04, I caught the last bus into transition. This race starts early, at 6:00 a.m., but it takes a while to stage since there are 1600 athletes and only 120 spots on the starting pontoon. I had left one of my water bottles in the car and managed to get double-duty out of my warm-up run as I ran back to the car to retrieve the second bottle. I stashed the bottle on the bike and made my way to the swim.

The Swim

This is a unique swim in triathlon. You start on a pontoon and 1500 meters downriver, right in front of you, is the finish. You know that feeling you get in June when you show up at the long-course pool for the first swim of the summer? ... and you look down 50m and think "Wow, that's far!" Well, it's a similar thing here, only much greater.

I jumped into the water (advertised at 69 degrees) with my sleeveless suit and waited for the swim start. The current was moving strongly and I new it'd be a fast swim. About 30 seconds before the swim start two guys get out in front of me. As everyone else was holding onto the starting rope (lest we float away from the start) I was a little peeved. I mean everyone had found a spot and we should all just stay put until the start. Oh well, I let it go.

We start and my peevishness returns. I have no problem with people jumping ahead if they can swim, but these two dudes were far from good swimmers. Unfortunately, one of 'em was a big guy. After trying to squeeze through and swim around them I finally got pissed and literally swam over the big guy. Now, it's not that I'm mean spirited, or so competitive that I'll do anything to get ahead. Really! But as Aaron has so appropriately stated, triathlon & training should be experiences from which we learn a few things. Learning is good, and I just hope these two fellows learned a little bit about proper positioning in a triathlon swim.

There was a strong current pushing us toward the wall as well as downstream and, while it took me a few minutes to adjust, I managed to correct for it. I hit my groove and found myself alone. After a few minutes I saw two guys ahead of me. I spent about 4-5 minutes trying to bridge up and, while I got pretty close, I never made it and settled into my own pace and watched them slowly, very slowly, disappear.

In the last few hundred meters I found myself in a rainbow of colored swim caps. I'd lost sense of where I was in my wave, but I figured it was pretty good; in fact, it was great, only 1:00 behind the fastest split of the day. It turns out Todd Menzel posted the day's fastest split. Todd also had the fastest split in our M30-34 age group at 2003 worlds, 2:00 faster than me, and he was only :08 off the fastest split at 2003 Nationals, where he beat me by 3:00. Most of the fastest times were from the M30-34 waves, and I think we got a little more push than other folks. However, for me to be 1:00 back from the fastest split of the day is huge and I don't think the current would account for the 2:00 margin of victory over number 2 Doug Clark (who went off 5? waves ahead of me and had a much weaker swim.)

Anyway, I got up the ramp (without cramping!) and hauled ass down the 800-some meter stretch of asphault that seperates the swim finish from T1. I passed a LOT of people during this run (and I was running hard). Transition was pretty clean, although I lost a handful of seconds when one leg got stuck in my wetsuit. It was onto the bike and into the masses.

The Bike
Being in the dead last wave I figured it would be a long day of "PASSING" and "ON THE LEFT". It was, but the congestion wasn't that bad. Right out of transition, there is a long stretch of path that we take up to the Hudson Parkway. You cannot really hammer this section because of the sharp turns and the narrowness of the path. The fellow in front of me proved this as his rear wheel slid out from underneath him as he made the final hard turn onto the parkway. All the while a volunteer was droning "Slow down. Sharp Turn." Behind me, I heard some cussing followed by some clicking (of cleats) so I assume all was okay.

This is a scenic bike course, similar to the George Washington Parkway in DC. There are three climbs on this course and lots of false flats. At least that is my memory. I can never seem to remember the specifics of this course. Suffice to say, there is no climb that is scary; there is no climb that would *require* a moderately fit cyclist to leave saddle.

Anyway, the first climb is probably the worst and comes after a few miles of false-flats. At the end of this climb are some toll booths (and the required "Do I pay the toll?" joke). Down the other side and then the climb I can never quite remember. Then back down and up the final hill, a short not-so-bad ride up Gun Hill for the turn-around. I did lots of passing and not a sight of anyone in my six. After the turn-around I started passing some faster looking folks that I'd spied on the in-bound leg, and then I hit some long stretches of empty road. Pretty impressive that there were 1600 athletes out there & plenty of road.

Somewhere on the return trip, I glanced at my HRM. Hmmm ... 152. Me thinks: "That's too low!" (I usually race my bike in the 160-164 range). Then I saw the speed: 27 mph. At the time, I was cruising up a 1-2% grade of sorts. Hmmm. I thought to myself "Who cares what the HR says! This feels fast." The effort felt appropriate and if I could bike this fast 10 beats below my normal heart rate maybe I could those extra beats on the run.

This bike course goes by quickly because, I believe, we ride pass the transition area at 72nd street before the final turn-around at 57th street (and one last little climb). Doubling back gives me some time to think about transition and prepare for the run.

One note to future racers. The dismount for this race is at the bottom of a small hill. Be prepared. I hit T2 and raced around the other competitors. I looked toward my section of the racks and they were virtually empty! I couldn't believe it. Wait, there was one bike racked in the 1640s. Crap! And what about that other bike? In my haste I didn't quite gather if there were one or two guys already in T2. I grabbed my running gear and hammered out of there.

I ended up with the fastest split of the day at 1:00:42 and, by my figuring, the course record. Not including the first year, only two people have broken 1:02:00 on this course, myself and Todd (5 seconds back). I'm pretty sure the first year's bike course was shorter. They reconfigured the swim, moving the start & therefore the finish further up river. As a result, swimmers needed right-of-way in their now massive run from the swim exit to transition forcing the race organizers to re-route the bike onto the paths and further north before doubling back to get onto the Hudson Parkway. At least that is my memory of things; even if I'm whacked and they didn't change the course after 2001, only four guys broke 1:02:00 and of those, one broke 1:01:00 with a time identical to mine.

The Run
Right away, I was expecting a good run. Again, I looked at my HR and it was still low, but I was moving okay, and it would take a mile or so to get into the rhythm of running. I had no idea whom I was chasing; I wasn't even sure if there were one or two. I'd seen very few 30-34 calves during my bike, even though there were two waves of 'em in front of my wave. It was a little unclear where I was relative to the field, but I knew I had a good bike and I thought I had a good swim.

The run leaves T2 along some paths for about 300m before you hit a nice little hill that takes you up to the 72nd street transverse and, I believe, one of the highlights of this race. 72nd street is a major cross-town artery. It is completely shut-down for the race with traffic control (and not-so-happy drivers) at every light. That they shut down part of this city, one of the largest, best known in the universe, for our little race is just cool. Anyway, it's a nice flat stretch that takes you into the park and the completion of the first mile.

Once in the park, I turned left (north) for the one-loop course. In four years this race has had three run courses. The fist two went south thru the bottom of the park for one loop. For the life of me I cannot remember where we crossed the park, but I don't think we ran all the way north into the Harlem hills. For the third year, when they reconfigured the race as a duathlon, we did three loops in the southern portion of the park, crossing the park on 72nd street.

So this was the first year we'd run thru the Harlem Hills. Thankfully, we were running the "easy" way, clockwise. I'd previewed the run on my bike and was a little worried about some of the hills. But once there, I hardly even noticed the first climb up to the resevoir. As I finished the second mile, I started to feel really strong. While I'm no Schwartzbard when it comes to downhill running, I do better than most and took advantage of gravity whenever I could. As I approached the northernmost section of the park I was really moving. When I hit the first hills as I returned southwards, I felt great. I was taking run splits and clocked 5:54, 6:04, and 5:50 for the first three miles ... they were pretty even 5:52-ish efforts & the hills probably explain the differences.

Somewhere in here I passed the eventual third place finisher, Todd Menzel. I didn't know it at the time, but after the awards ceremony I recognized his race outfit. I remember passing him (one of the few quick runners I passed) and thinking I couldn't tell what age group he was in. I was passing lots of 35-39 guys, but no 30-34 that I could see. Somewhere around mile 3.5 I thought to myself, "I'm having a great race. If someone else wins today, I'll have no regrets. They'll've friggin earned it!" And I sped things up, finally getting my HR into the race pace zone.

Mile 4 was 5:4x and mile 5 was 5:4x. The run was mostly shaded & a real joy. As I approached the last turn I was able to really push the pace. onto 72nd street, up the small hill and down to the finish line. I crossed & felt fantastic. I wanted do some kind of victory dance, but I held back on second thought. I had no idea where I was or whether I'd caught the one or two guys ahead of me. Oh well, I thought, whatever happens, I had a good race. It just felt grand, it was a beautiful day, and I was happy.

Post Race

Once across the finish line, I didn't notice that the last 1.2 miles went by in 5:00! Definitely a short run! Too bad, I realized later, because I may have PR'd the run (for a triathlon 10K). I wandered around for a few minutes and then spied the owner of the high-1600 bike I saw in transition. I looked at him, saw that he was missing one arm and congratulated him. "I've been chasing you for the last 30 minutes!" He laughed & explained that he'd gotten a prioritized racking spot and had left in a wave much earlier than mine.

After getting some of the lame food, I hoofed it (all of 100m) over to watch the pro races. I saw Loretta Harrop dominate the women's race and then waited around for the men's T2 cyclone. Transition is one of my favorite things about pro, draft-legal racing. It's total pandemonioum compressed into 12 seconds. Greg Remaly broke away from the pack and came into transition looking pretty beat. Then the pack came in a whirl & flash of color. If I'd blinked I may have missed half the pack. Amazing.

By the time I headed back to the finish line results had been up for 30 minutes or so. With so many athletes across so many waves, I wasn't sure where I would place. But I had high hopes. I snuck around to the top page of the results and scanned the names. For an instant I was disappointed ... until I realized they'd listed the women's winners first :) And there it was. BINGO! A two-minute victory. I was happy to have my first victory on American soil. I've been knocking at the door for a while now and it felt good to win a race. Even better than that, it felt good to have a great race AND win it. I'd won a few duathlons on efforts that I didn't consider 100%, and I'd placed further down in the results (Reston '02 and Worlds '03) on races I thought were nearly perfect given the situation and/or the field. But to combine a near-perfect race execution with a win in a moderately good field was a treat.

Of course, the best thing about NYC is the pizza. By the slice and on every corner. So I headed back to T1 to gather my bike and find myself a well-deserved pizza. I would end up eating a whole pizza, followed on Monday with a leisurely ride around Central Park and even MORE pizza (only three slices for lunch). All in all, it was a grand weekend.

Usually I can take away some lessons learned, some salient point for future races. Aside from the mystery of my depressed HR (which I'm just ignoring for the moment) the only thing I took away from this race was a pure enjoyment for the lifestyle I've chosen. It was such a pretty day out there, and hitting My Groove in a race was so much fun that it really didn't matter to me whether I won or came in 523rd. Of course, winning was fun too, 'cause it gave me a grand excuse to eat more pizza.