02 August 2009

Pain is temporary, pride is forever.

- High School Wrestling Motto

This past weekend I raced in the Nautica New York City Triathlon, and had an amazing time.  This was my first triathlon, and I thought that I should share my experience, and discuss the race, why I did it, and what I feel now that I’m done.

First, a little background about the race.  This was the ninth annual New York City triathlon, and it is one of the largest triathlons in the world, with almost 5,000 participants.  Registration for the race sold out in only 15 minutes!  The race is an Olympic distance triathlon, and is comprised of a one mile swim, 25 mile bike ride, and six mile run.  The events are scheduled in reverse order of how bad it would be if someone collapsed from exhaustion, so swimming goes first, because exhaustion leads to drowning, followed by the less fatal falling off a bike, and finishes with running, where exhaustion can lead to walking or sitting down and taking a nap.

The race begins in the Hudson River at 96th street on the west side of Manhattan.  Participants swim down one mile to 76th street, and then run to their bicycles.  The bike leg goes up the west side highway from the seventies into the Bronx and then back down to 76th street.  It’s then a little under a mile run to get to Central Park, where the remainder of the 6 mile run takes place.

Why I wanted to do a triathlon:

There are a number of reasons I decided to participate in a triathlon.  One of the biggest is that I hadn’t had a physical challenge in my life for a while.  In high school I wrestled, and my first year of college I rowed on the crew team, but for a number of years I hadn’t really had any physical challenges.  I definitely felt a void, and when a friend tossed out the idea of doing a triathlon, I jumped on it, and we decided to sign up.

Additionally, I believe that having a healthier body leads to a healthier mind, and healthier life.  I found that training helped me feel more energized and made me an overall happier person.

Finally, the idea of attempting to do something difficult and succeeding appealed to me.  I want to be the kind of person who sets ambitious goals for life and achieves them, and the only way to become that person is to practice.

Training:

My training was not particularly structured or scientific.  Three or four times a week I would workout, and either swim, bike or run.  Each workout I made sure to push myself, and I expected myself to improve and be able to go farther and faster as time went on.

About a month and a half before the race, I began to feel confident that I was in good enough shape to be able to finish.  At that point, I focused on training and toughening my mind so that, when I faced obstacles in the race, my brain would force me to push on, instead of nagging me about giving up.

The Race:

Race day was beautiful.  There were a lot of worries about the weather leading up to the race, but, although it rained before and after, during the race the weather was perfect.  It was bright, with a light cloud cover so it wasn’t too hot, and it didn’t feel like the sun was beating down too badly.

I finished the race in a total of 3 hours, 21 minutes, and 51 seconds.  The time is on the lower end of what I thought my possible times could be, so I am very happy with the performance.

The swim was amazing.  Even though I got a few mouthfuls of the Hudson river, and got kicked in the face a few times, It was a really great experience.  I had a wetsuit on so the water wasn’t too cold, and I was able to relax and really enjoy myself.  I was a bit nervous because this was my first open water swim, but all the training really paid off.  The biggest difference I found is that in the pool, I could see exactly where I was going, so I knew if I was swimming straight.  In the Hudson, I couldn’t even see inches in front of me, so I ended up zigzagging a lot in the water.  I finished the swim in a little over 25 minutes, so it went by pretty fast.

The bike course was a bit hillier than I expected, but went pretty well, and I finished in slightly under an hour and forty minutes.  There were a few points in the bike where I was really zooming, and my top speed was 34 miles per hour as I went down a hill, which was quite exhilarating.

The run was the most difficult part of the race.  My legs got really cramped up between mile one and mile two, and I had to walk for about 15 minutes while drinking water and trying to massage away the cramps.  When I passed the two mile marker I decided to just power through the cramps, and after a few minutes of running managed to get myself into a decent rhythm.  Towards the end of the race, one of the volunteers shouted that I only had a half mile left, so I started giving it everything I had to finish the race strong.  Unfortunately, the volunteer was off about the distance, and there was actually about a mile left.  When I realized this, after sprinting for a couple minutes before having another volunteer tell me there was still a half mile left, I told myself that I couldn’t slow down when I was so close to finishing, so I forced myself to keep sprinting all the way till the end.  The run took a total of one hour and five minutes, which I’m very happy with, considering I spent about 15 minutes walking.  My body was hurting for a few days after the race, but that’s what happens when you force your body to keep moving for over three hours.

Post Race Thoughts:

Participating in the triathlon was a fun, incredibly fulfilling experience.  It feels great to know that I challenged myself to do something difficult, and succeeded.  Also, succeeding with this goal helps give me confidence and motivation that I can succeed in the other ambitious goals I have set for myself.

There are ancillary benefits as well.  As a result of preparing for the race, I am in better shape, eat healthier, and am living a healthier lifestyle.  I have more energy, and feel like I attack life with a bit more zest than before.

It was also very rewarding to share this experience with family, friends, coworkers, and mentors.  I am very thankful to all the people who provided me with support and encouragement during the training.  It has made this experience even more enjoyable.

Special thanks must be given to my former roommate.  It was his initial idea, we trained together, and we kept each other motivated whenever we faced the temptation to slack off.

I had initially only rented my wetsuit, but decided after the race to buy it, so I guess I’ll just have to do a few more triathlons so that my investment pays off.