Tri and Stop Me

by stephancox

Hey, STSM gang! Allow me to begin this blog post by apologizing for the long hiatus. I’ve been working on a bunch of stuff that I’ll let you all know about as soon as it’s live, and I’ve also been busy training for what is the reason for this post, the 2012 New York Triathlon.

Turns out training for a triathlon is a seriously time-consuming endeavor, one that, for me anyway, meant keeping up with a schedule of about 10-15 hours a week. I’m not going to lie—it was intense. Because you’re training for three events (four, if you count the transitioning part, which most triathletes do), you’re doing tons of running, more biking than I’ve ever done in my life, and at least two full hours of swimming each week. Some days, like on Wednesdays, I did all three: a 15 mile bike ride, followed by a 5K (3.1 miles) of interval wind-sprints, then, in the evening, an hour of intensive swim training during which we’d do 3000 meters. After which I would go home and cry a tiny puddle of soreness.

All of this resulted in my dropping a pant-size. Which is all well and good, but if you ask me if I recommend triathlon training as a weight-loss program, I’d have to say: Only if you don’t mind feeling like you have a second job. It’s just a lot. Lori has a friend who is doing the Iron Man Triathlon in August, and I can’t even imagine the schedule he’s keeping up with. But if you manage to keep up with all of it (which I did for the most part), you do feel pretty bad-ass.

This is not to say I wasn’t nervous about the race itself. Hell, the whole point of doing this thing was to face my fear of open-water swimming. Ironically, the open-water swimming turned out to be the least of my concerns. I did the practice open-water swim with my training group a month before the race and got to find out first-hand just how buoyant triathlon wetsuits are. Also, I found out that the New York Triathlon is timed to coincide with the current of the Hudson, which is really swift. So much so that the course record is, like, nine minutes. So even if I totally cramped up out there and couldn’t swim another stroke, I could just float my way down to the pier like a discarded syringe (hey, it’s the Hudson River).

No, the thing that actually had me worried was the heat. I’d watched the forecast carefully the week before race day, and it was predicted to be in the high-90s. I’ve exercised in intense heat a few times before, and it’s never gone well. I sweat a lot. I mean, a lot. So much so that it’s hard to keep enough fluids in me on a mild day. And I really didn’t do a lot of training in the heat, even though I should have.

Also, I was worried about remembering everything. Did you know you have to be a member of MENSA to run a triathlon? I sure didn’t. In addition to the physical aspect, triathlons also require you to remember a TON of shit. Seriously. To give you an idea, here’s the checklist they include with your packet when you register.

You’ll notice I opted to go without my sports bra.

On the evening before the race, I made extensive preparations. In an effort to not let anything slip through the cracks, I did something really dorky: I made hand-written notes. In addition to laying all my stuff out the night before like a little, flat triathlon man, I wrote out three notes to help me remember everything at each transition. They looked like this:

Yes, I have the handwriting of a first-grader. Deal with it.

Then I took my bike and helmet over to the transition area, had my giant bowl of pasta, and went home to sit around and get nervous and try to sleep. Now, if you’ll recall from my post about doing the New York Marathon, I don’t sleep well the night before big events. I go through the motions, but I never really nod off completely. This time around, knowing that I’d have to get up at 3:30 AM, I pretty much gave up on the idea of sleep altogether. I mean, sure, I went through the charade of getting into bed at 9 PM, turning off the lights and shutting my eyes like a good boy, but I didn’t expect much. Mostly I kept bolting up, sure that I’d overslept, or that I was going to forget something really basic, like my shoes. Then I’d be forced to run the whole race barefoot, because I’m incredibly stubborn. And then I’d be hobbled for life and have to wear special shoes and be an outcast from society. Welcome to my brain.

Anyway, after about two cumulative hours of “sleep,” I hopped up, threw on my gear, and caught a cab to the race site. And did you know that 3:30 AM on a Sunday morning in New York is actually still Saturday night for most people? I saw wobbling, unsteady couples trying to hail a cab, and I tried to guess which one would regret waking up next to the other one in the morning. I also noticed, with the window down, that even at 3:30, it was still really warm and humid out. So warm and humid that, after the cab dropped me off and I was walking through Riverside Park to the transition area, I was sure I could hear those screeching, rain forest bugs that you only hear in the background of Vietnam movies. More nerves.

After I set up all my stuff to the best of my ability, the next hour was devoted to making the one-mile walk to the pier, trying not to get dysentery from using the port-o-potties barefoot, and then putting on my wetsuit. There’s an art to putting on the wetsuit. Some people put on the bottoms first and then walk around with the tops dangling around their waists like some human-arachnid mutant. It’s a timing thing, they say. You don’t want to put the wetsuit on too soon, since you’ll just stand around sweating, and you certainly don’t want to put it on too late, or you’ll miss your start.

But before I knew it, I was somehow in my wetsuit and walking up the pier to start the race. The sun was just peeking up over the horizon, the sky was this incredible, vivid pink, and as I looked out over the Hudson River, all I could think was, “This is the last thing mob informants see before some guy in a track suit pops a cap in their head.” Again, welcome to my brain.

Funny side story about swimming in the Hudson: Recently, Lori got a scrape that required her to get a tetanus shot, and so I thought I’d check in with my doctor to see if I was due for one, too. On my visit, my doctor tells me you only need to have a tetanus shot every ten years, and that I wasn’t officially due for another two years. Technically, you can get one after five years if you’re doing something risky like traveling to a third world country, but it’s not mandatory. Anyway, we chit-chatted for a while about this and that, and then, as I was going to leave, I happened to mention, “Oh, hey, by the way, I’m doing the New York Triathlon.”

My doctor asked, “Don’t they make you swim in the Hudson for that?”

To which I responded, “Yes.”

“Let’s go ahead and give you that tetanus shot. And let’s throw in hepatitis A.”

Another funny side story: as I’m writing this, my friend Katherine just posted a link on my Facebook timeline about a woman doing the swim portion of her triathlon somewhere and getting attacked and bitten 25 times by an otter(!). And then having to get a bunch of shots, for, like, tetanus and rabies. I suppose I should count myself lucky. Who knew those cute little bastards were so bitey?

Enough digression—back to the race. So, as predicted, because of the strong current, the swim part of the race was really fast. I was then on to the first transition, which required you to run, barefoot, about 600 yards to the transition area. I guess I should have practiced for that, run around in my bare feet, try to rough ‘em up a bit, that sort of thing. But no one else was going much faster than I was.

What they were doing once we got to the transition area, I felt vindicated to find, is reading their hand-written notes on what to remember! Who’s the retard now? That’s right. Turns out I was just ahead of the curve, babies. So, after a rather slow transition (over 12 minutes = P.U.), it was on to the biking.

When you attend the mandatory orientation for the triathlon the day before the race, they really, really stress all the rules about the biking portion. You will ride single-file! You will pass in five seconds or less! You will not draft! You will not ride in the left lane! Nein! Verboten! Any failure to comply will result in a DQ (disqualification). But guess what? It was f*cking mayhem out there. Everyone passing everyone, no one paying any attention to anything, drifting and drafting all over the place. And everyone shouting, “Left! On your left!” like they’ve got freaking Tourrettes. Oh, also, I found out that riding a hybrid bike (i.e., half-road bike/half-mountain bike) for your triathlon ride is simply. Not. Done. I had people cheering me on ironically from the sidelines: “Go, hybrid guy!” But guess what, haters? I was passing people on their schmancy $10,000 road bikes left and right.

And I knew their age when I did it. Wanna know why? Because in addition to making you wear stick-on tattoos of your race number on your biceps, they also make you write your age in Magic Marker on the back of your left calf. I don’t know why they do this. Maybe it’s so when you pass out from heat stroke, they know how much effort to give when they try to revive you. “Oh, he’s 43? Screw him, there’s a 22-year old with so much more life ahead of her. Let’s focus our efforts on her.”

Much like the swimming, the bike portion flew by, and then it was off on the run. And even though the photo I took making the horns of Satan makes me look like I’m full of pep and vigor and energy, that was just for the camera. The run portion really takes it all out of you. And it’s in Central Park, which despite appearances, is quite hilly in sections. It hurts. I’m serious. Part of the reason why is because you’ve just gotten off a bike, and you’re used to a certain amount of exertion yielding a particular speedy result. It feels like you’re running in Jell-o. And even though we started the triathlon at 6 AM, it was finally starting to get hot. So, similar to the last 5K of the marathon, everything slowed down once I got to the run. I’m curious to know if this is the place in which other triathletes get mad at themselves for signing up for this shit, because it sure was for me.

Nonetheless, due to my aforementioned stubbornness, I powered through and finished in what I thought was pretty decent time, 3:07:49. And, of course, as with the marathon, I find that I’m now hooked and can’t wait until my next triathlon. I went ahead and bought the wetsuit I rented, and have put a decent road bike on my wish list for Santa. First, though, this fall, I’m going to be running the Portland (ME) Marathon. Yes, I’m starting my marathon training a week after I’ve finished my triathlon. Because I’m an idiot. It’s going to be zoppity, though, because Lori, along with Ken, my father-in-law, are going to be doing the half-marathon together! It’s a family affair!

So, I did it. I finished the triathlon and lived to tell the tale. I know I’m starting to come off like a soft grader on this blog, but I’m going to give myself an ‘A.’ Don’t worry, though. I still have other stuff ahead. I’m two-thirds of the way of crawling my way through “Ulysses,” (I keep starting other books) and I’m scheduling my sky-dive for my birthday in August. My dad, the amazing Jim Cox, will be jumping with me, if you can believe it! For that challenge, though, I’m setting the bar incredibly low: I simply have to not soil myself in order to get an ‘A.’ We’ll see how that goes.