Panic in the Atlantic

At 4:23 on Sunday morning, my eyes peered open. I debated for a moment if I should rise or wait until my 4:30 alarm. Something about that unnatural ringing always leaves me a bit grouchy, and I needed to cream cheese my bagel, so up I went. My boyfriend graciously arose to give me a kiss, hug, and wish me good luck as I head out for the Staten Island Triathlon. Last year he and a couple of friends had competed with me, but this year I was solo. It’s a race I look forward to each summer, a totally doable challenge more exotic than the typical road races I do. With company or not, I was in!
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After riding alone in the subway car, I approached the magical Staten Island Ferry, knowing that in 2 months I’ll be there for Staten Island Half and in 3 months for the most special day of the year – the NYC Marathon. As usual, there was a small crew of friendly early risers in spandex with their bikes. I spoke to one who said it would be his first tri, which is the case for a lot of people (if you’re looking to get into tris, sign up for this one next year, it’s a great starter experience!).

 

At the start, I set up my bike and laid out my supplies. A towel to wipe my feet after the swim, along with my shoes and socks. Helmet, my bib attached to a belt, and sunglasses propped on my handlebars. Around me were others gathering, some triathlete pros, as well as newbies and a few familiar faces.
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The morning was a bit chillier than usual, which is normally great for a bike and run, but helps build up fearful anticipation of the swim. Before the start, I dipped in, it was perfect as usual! Lined up on the edge of the beach, the bell sounded and we all ran in. I kept to the side, wary of getting hit. I leaned in to start swimming and noticed something was off! – I had my nose plugs on, but I had forgotten to lower my goggles over my eyes. Oops. Off I was, and panicked too. I had finally been able to swim properly in the pool, but open water during a tri is totally different. It’s crowded, the water is completely murky, and you’re not just going in a straight line. I tried to swim the correct way, breathing every few strokes, but it wasn’t working for me. I needed to check my surroundings, and I was also getting out of breath. I reminded myself to stay calm, I can do this, and I’m in better swim shape than ever, but I still couldn’t get myself to do more than a couple of proper strokes without peeking my head up and gasping. As the 400m swim ended, I ran up a sandy hill back toward the transition area. I had clocked in at more than a minute faster than last year!

Next up was the bike, the hardest part for me. I hopped on and struggled a minute to stick my feet in the pedal cages. Meanwhile, riders kept whizzing by on my left. Over the course of 12 miles, I managed to pass 5 people. How many passed me? I may need 40 hands to be able to count that high. Riding is technically way easier than swimming, and it’s much less intense than running, but it is the longest portion and well, the most boring. So I was delighted when I ended… sadly about 2 minutes slower than last year.

Finally it was the 3mi run, my time to kick things up a notch. One by one, I passed all those in front of me, with just one person passing me. I was wary about my time because I had been running slower lately, although I did somehow manage to PR (personal record) by 2 seconds in a 5mi race the day earlier (37:16 / 7:28). Maybe I had used it all up for that, because although I ran strong and hard, I ended up running more than 30 second slower than last year finishing at 7:30 pace.

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While it was disappointing to be almost 2 minutes slower overall than last year, it didn’t take away from the fun or magic of the race. The camaraderie and community, the challenge of the open water, the joy of the commute (I biked back with my new friends along the water toward the ferry, retracing the steps of the SI Half Marathon, and then over the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn). I wonder if I’m interested enough to push myself to do longer triathlon distances, but for now, the sprint is just perfect.

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