New York City, not as flat as you think!

Last year I entered the lottery to get a place in the New York City Triathlon — and won! So this July I joined over 3,000 athletes having a swim in the Hudson river as part of an Olympic distance triathlon.

Bike Shipping

My one and only Fly Away Race of 2015 meant that I needed to dismantle my bike and get it into it’s shipping bag. This is a relatively simple affair , though moving the bag and putting it back together is another matter!

  • Take the wheels off and let the air out of the tyres (don’t want them to pop in the cargo hold!)
  • loosen the headset and handle bars so they can be turned 90°
  • remove the pedals
  • drop the seat post

Last year I discovered that the insulation I bought for my central heating pipes fits really well round the frame of the bike. That way should anything rattle around in the bag at least the frame won’t get chipped.

I also bought a pair of axle spacers which stop the wheel dropouts from getting compressed together — I worry that the fork could easily take a hit and snap. I used up the rest of the weight allowance by putting in my bike & running shoes along with tools to put the bike back together. Then stuffed the bag full of bubble wrap that I had collected up over the past year!

Bike bag in Taxi

Bike bag in Taxi

Initially I had put all my race kit into a smaller carry-on sized suitcase and then shoved everything else into my main suit case. I was thinking that would give me plenty of space and not have to worry about buying things while away. My girlfriend persuaded me it would all go in the main case and so while I waited for the taxi I combined the contents of the two. I’d booked a black cab for the morning, and as you can see in the pic the bike bag just fits across the width — pretty amazing really — just a shame that you can’t get them in America. It was a good job I ended up with only one case as it was a nightmare travelling with just the bike bag and one suitcase. So much so that at the airport an amazingly kind Qantas air stewardess saw me struggling and helped me by wheeling the suitcase while I man-handled the bike bag all the way from Terminal 3 bus station to Terminal 4 where I needed to check in. Up until that point I was getting ridiculously stressed out even though I had plenty of time and I was extremely grateful for her assistance.

Any one for Champagne?

Any one for Champagne?

The flight was rather more pleasant than usual — I had finally got round to using up all my airmiles so flew Premium Economy! Watched a couple of films and then landed in the afternoon at JFK…

Fleecing tourists at the airport

I had a nightmare of a time getting to the hotel which was on 94th street on the upper west side.

Having queued at immigration for an hour, collected my bags and then exited into the main concourse I walked towards the main NYC taxi rank. There was a woman in a uniform with a badge that just read ‘Airporter’. Before I could even asses the queue she asked if I needed any help. I mistakenly thought she worked for the airport. I asked about getting a taxi large enough for my bike and she just said no that wasn’t possible I’d need to get a shuttle bus and then get a city center cab. Bit weird but at that point all I could see out the window was a string of tiny standard yellow cabs. Then without moving from her position at the entrance to the Taxi stand offered to sell me a shuttle ticket for $16. Fair enough not that bad compared to $50-70 cab into Manhattan. Only when I got the ticket which also said ‘Airporter’ did I realize she was just the sales agent for the shuttle service. Oh then she said I would need to buy a second ticket for the bike. Sneaky! The first ticket says all sales are final and tickets are non refundable. So after saying it was a bit cheeky to expect me to pay full fair for the bike when i had already said i needed to transport it she did it for $13. So ended up on a shuttle bus for $39 — that didn’t actually go all the way to my hotel.

IMG_8890The bus then dropped us off at around 42nd street near Times Square where (allegedly) there was a small mini bus that would take us uptown. This turned into ridiculous wait and then there were arguments over the size of the bike bag. By now I had been in the USA about 4 hours and still miles from the hotel so I may have been a little rude but bike bag was loaded in and we headed up to 63rd street which was as far uptown as they would go — though they only admitted this as I was getting on the bus — I would have just taken a taxi and not bothered with the hour wait if I had known! Anyway at 63rd I flagged down a fairly large taxi and even that we struggled to get the bag in but I was not giving up now!
The Hotel was basic but the bed was comfy and the room was nice and large so I could easily fit all my gear in.

Temporary Tattoos

Race Numbers

Race Numbers

On the Friday before the race I went of to the Race Hotel — the Hilton — to register. Slightly embarrassed that this is was first ever race briefing (bar the quick ones at swim start). You had to attend before you could pickup the race pack and after watching a video play through of the course and an explanation of the time trial start. In essence we will all queue up in our age groups then just jump into the water 20 or so competitors at a time form the start pontoon and then you’re racing!. Sounds mad but should be fun. Normally you get in the water and swim to the start line then the klaxon goes and you set off. Barcelona was a bit different as we were on the beach for the start and had to run into the water. Briefing over I could go collect my hat, timing chip and some temporary tattoos with your race number which was really cool — made me feel like a Pro Athlete! I’m very tempted to order some for my next race! Even though registration was on both Friday and Saturday it was packed, I found out later there were over 3,200 athletes taking part!
The logistics seem much more complex than any of my previous races and, as with Portsmouth, the bike checkin is the day before the race which complicates things though it should make race day much much easier. This was why I had booked a hotel so far uptown as the swim start was basically up on 92nd just a few blocks west of the hotel. This backfired slightly as I still needed to go to transition first on race morning!

The Hudson river

Hudson River

Hudson River

On Saturday after a few touristy things I headed to transition to drop off my bike and race kit. I cycled along the river bank to the swim start and had my first taste sight of the Hudson — I had been avoiding it up until then. Not so much a river as an ocean! It is wider than the lake I swim in at Berinsfield! The weather was looking pretty ominous so when I dropped the bike off I wrapped all my shoes inside the clear bags they’d given us so they would’t get wet. This turned out to be an excellent idea as the rest of the evening I was treated to a spectacular thunderstorm.

Race Morning
Had a stupid early start – my fellow athletes in the hotel seemed to use a fire alarm for their wake up call. At 3am. An hour earlier than I was going to get up. Oh well. Left the hotel to get the train but at the station it said next train wasn’t for 20 odd minutes so instead got a taxi to transition and sorted all the stuff out by the bike then it was a mile walk along the side of the Hudson to the start line.

The Race
Starting Corals © MarathonFoto

Starting Corals © MarathonFoto

We all lined up in groups by age, my wave was, I think, the third one. As we were waiting we were looking out at the water when someone pointed at a fish that appeared to be not long for this life as it swam soon its side around in circles. Glad I don;t believe in omens as a few moments later a dead fish floated past. We were, as I’m sure you can imagine, a little apprehensive about the water quality! After watching the pros set off it was time for the time trail start. This was amazing. We walked onto the start pontoon in groups of about 15. There were already athletes on the edge, and as they jumped in and started their race and we stepped forward to do the same. The idea was this would go on until all 3000+ competitors where done! The only problem was that I felt rushed — no time to get ready at all so much so I didn’t even remember to start my stopwatch! The swim went really well, though as they set off the older age group first I had to come through the field.
T1 Run

T1 Run — yes I am smiling

It was a ridiculously long run (about 700 yards) from swim exit back to the bike — especially in bare feet — and I could feel blisters forming before I’d even got to the bike. We had been warned to leave the bike in a low gear as there was a steep hill straight out of transition. Turned out that it was far enough to make it worth going for a hard sprint popped a couple of gears and overtook a bunch of riders who were spinning out. After the short sharp hill it was out onto the closed roads.

The bike course was great and I really enjoyed it though had a slight mechanical when the chain came off. It wasn’t too bad to get going again — I was more annoyed that I got oil on my hands!. The route went off the end of Manhattan all the way up the West Side highway to the Mosholu highway before doing a u-turn and heading back south to 57th street and looping up to transition at 72nd. One of the highlights was cycling through a toll booth which felt very surreal.

Sunny bike ride

Sunny bike ride

Crosstown run

Crosstown run

The run then cut across from the banks of the Hudson into Central Park where we did a loop up to the top and back. I didn’t realize quite how hilly it was. The bit round the reservoir where I had practiced a couple of days before the race is obviously flat and in my mind I was thinking most of it was like that but turns out there are some serious hills!

I found the heat to be really hard work and was so thankful that i was in one of the first few waves. I heard latter that the route was changed/shortened for latter competitors as they were worried about heat exhaustion. I’d bought a small CamelBak rucksack (it basically has a big bladder inside and a drinking tube) a few days before and was so greatfull for it. Slight issue was that even though I had put a load of ice in the main reservoir it was so hot that the bit of water in the drinking tube got really warm, eww!
There were quite a few people along the side of the run and they cheered for everyone which was really cool so I didn’t feel like i was just running on my own. Also quite funny was that one part of the route went parallel to a main running track in the park so there were people out for their morning jog waving and shouting encouragement.
Common with so many races is that as you approach the finish chute it looks like it is just meters away and then they send you zig zagging round the event area — in this instance round a fountain as well. I tried for a final sprint but it was just too hot. I had no clue about my time as I had made a complete farce of using my stopwatch — didn;t start it properly for the swim, then paused it mid bike ride by accident and kind of had the run time but for all I knew it might have taken me 3 hours!
Serious bling!

Serious bling!

Final time was 2:33 which in a way was a shame as so close to the magical 2:30 mark but had an absolute blast overall and will remember this one for a long time.
The finishers medal is lovely — modelled on an NYC subway token. I certainly felt I earned this one!
My next adventure will be going for a swim to the pub…
As always, thank you for reading,
 Mark
You can follow my antics on twitter as @netboy and don’t forget to comment and check out my other articles.

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