Today was finally my big day, the race that started this journey for me 10 weeks ago. It's hard to believe how much has changed during those 10 weeks, how much I've changed really. What started as a mission to learn how to swim evolved into the most serious commitment I've made to training for anything. I had no idea how far it could take me so today was about discovery and possibilities.
My alarm went off at 3 a.m. and I was immediately on my feet and strangely wide awake. Perhaps because I slept very lightly and only for about 3 hours. I still wasn't nervous, but rather anxious and ready to go. I arrived at transition around 4:45 and proceeded to set up. The girl next to me offered to help with my tires so I took my time and waited for her. I got body marked, packed my Swim Start bag and left transition about 5 minutes before it closed. As I made the one mile walk to the start I saw the Pros swim by. I looked at my watch - I would be in the water in just 30 minutes. By the time I arrived at the start, I had just enough time to get my wetsuit on, pick up my chip, drop off my bag and get in the start corral. I waited no more than 5 minutes and was on the start barge.
Swimmers held onto a rope in the water to keep from being swept downriver in the strong current. They were already two deep so I sat on the edge of the barge. In three short minutes, the horn sounded and I jumped in. I got caught on the rope a bit and had to fight through the washing-machine effect of all the swimmers so it took a moment to find a rhythm. I was surprised by how great I felt. I didn't experience any panic, but did have to work to get my breathing steady in the first few minutes. The contact wasn't as bad as I expected. It was mostly just crowded so I ended up zig-zagging a lot, which likely added some time and took more energy. I raised my head to breathe at one point and saw a 600 meter sign on the seawall. I glanced at my watch - 7.5 minutes. It was a great motivator to realize I had the chance to finish in under 25 minutes.
About halfway through the swim it happened. Another jellyfish attack. It's as though they followed me from Brighton Beach just to torture me. I had been told by several people, including those who have swam in the Hudson, that there aren't jellyfish in there. But the stinging I felt first on my lips, then across my cheek and forehead said otherwise. About 50 meters later it happened again, this time on my arm. After my next breath, I looked down in the water and saw one. I scrambled to get away, but tried not to let it get to me. Of course it made my mind race and then every time I felt something in the water, I freaked out a bit. Luckily it wasn't my first experience with them so I was able to push through it.
Before I knew it, I was about 100 meters from the Swim Exit and was completely overjoyed. This was the most crowded part of the swim and the only place I really got knocked around, but at this point, nothing phased me. There are some really slimy rocks under the water at the end of the exit ramp so we had to swim just until we hit the ramp and then were helped out of the water. I immediately started my 400 yard jog to transition, stopping only briefly under the shower to rinse my face as I'd been advised to do. But then moments later, I brushed my hand across my face and it was covered in dirt! I can't wait to see the official photos snapped right as I came out of the water. I must have looked like I was wearing a Hudson River silt mask. Very attractive. And actually, if you look closely in the photos of me swimming, you can see that I have a little dirt mustache.
Transition 1 was very long due to the barefoot jog. I also took a moment to wipe the rest of the Hudson off my face before heading out on the bike. The course was great, set on the closed northbound lanes of the Henry Hudson Parkway. It was mostly rolling hills with a couple more challenging climbs, but nothing too exhausting. The course was really crowded so I may have ridden a bit conservatively and I was also afraid of burning up my legs for the run. I probably could have ridden harder, but I'm not at all disappointed in the ride. I wanted to do it in 1:30:00 or less and I did so I was thrilled. With just two miles to go, I felt an enormous sense of relief knowing that I could run my bike from here if disaster were to strike. I saw a couple people waiting for SAG due to maintenance issues and really felt for them. I was extremely grateful to have had an uneventful ride.
After a much shorter transition I was headed out for the run. I'd heard how hot the first stretch across 72nd Street can be so I was prepared for the worst, but as I took off, the clouds moved in and it was overcast. The sun re-emerged as I entered the park. What a stroke of luck. My first mile was my fastest so I slowed a little, but still maintained faster than my usual 10K pace. Once I cleared the challenging hills just past the halfway point, I decided to push it. I was on track to finish in less than 3 hours, which is something I did not think was possible coming into the race. As I approached the finish, I was overcome with emotion. I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment and could not get the smile off my face.
If I were to have a dream race scenario, today was it. I beat my open water fears, I swam comfortably without stopping, my bike held up and I ran my fastest 10K ever, setting a PR of 50:29. I'm thankful for this. I know it wasn't the perfect race day for a lot of people, including some friends of mine that had a variety of issues. As I said earlier this week, you can only prepare for so much and the rest is luck. I guess today was my lucky day.
Distance - 1500 meters (.93 miles)
Time - 23:01
Distance - 24.85 miles
Time - 1:27:31
Distance - 6.2 miles
Time - 50:29
Total race time - 2:51:20