Racing the NYC Triathlon was quite an experience, as is anything in New York. Everything there is big and that included my race nerves. Although I was comfortable with my training (thank you Coach Kathy and TriDot), I was not comfortable with the logistics of moving around New York.
This race required me not only to get to New York from Gainesville (Florida), but to drive into the city itself (a first in my 32 years of driving). I also had to ride my bike from Midtown to Transition on the West Side and back again.
Luckily, this was an incredibly well organized event AND I had my NY guide and generous friend, Jonah, to lead me to transition and take me on his first transition tour of the day. I am pleased to say that I had no logistical issues with moving through the city and both drove and rode on the streets of New York without dying or killing anyone else.
The NYC Triathlon is an Olympic distance race which includes a 1500 meter swim in the Hudson River, a 40k bike ride on the Henry Hudson Parkway, and a 10k run through Central Park.
Sunday morning, I was up at 3:00 AM to eat breakfast, get dressed, and catch the shuttle to transition. I puttered around transition until about 4:30, when I couldn’t move my gear around any more, so headed to swim start which was about a mile up the river (although it seemed much further than a mile). The swim was wetsuit legal – water temps about 74 – but it was warm enough to carry the wetsuit and put it on at swim start. It was amusing to watch several thousand people all doing the wetsuit struggle at the same time.
We lined up in our corrals: pros, elites, men 55 and older, then men 40-44, then women 45-49 (my group), then the rest of the women. There was a 20-minute break, then the rest of the men. No clue as to why they picked this order, although I assume it had something to do with balancing the number of entrants in the two transition areas. I carefully turned my Garmin to the Triathlon setting and was greeted with the message “The battery in your HR monitor is low.” Not comforting, since most of my plan was based on competing within a certain heart rate range.
The corrals were right on the Hudson River, so we could watch the folks ahead of us start. The swim began by jumping off a barge that stuck out from the bank of the river. Fifteen swimmers lined up and jumped in every 20 seconds. It was amazing to watch the pros on their swim. There was a strong current, so the pro division was super fast – the top swimmer (Lauren Goss) completing the 1500 course in 11:43, a pace of 47 sec/100 meters. As a comparison, the world record for the 100m in the pool is 48.2 sec.
I was right in the front of the corral because I didn’t want the nerves of having to wait on the ramp to get in. I basically made it down the ramp to the edge and they yelled, “GO!” I didn’t even have time to think about the fact that I was about to swim in a polluted waterway. Since I had watched the pros and the elites swim, I realized the strongest current was out towards the middle of the river. Luckily the course was lined with sailboats on that side, so it was easy to make my way out there, but then swim fairly straight. Because it was a time trial start and there was lots of room on the course, we were not all on top of each other. I ran into a few of the men who had chosen to roll over on their backs and float the whole way to swim exit, but they were pretty easy to get around. I spent most of my time focused on keeping my head down and rolling through my hips (thank you Coach Karyn).
At the barge on the other end, the volunteers basically yank you out of the water and thrust you up the ramp, which was helpful because climbing up the ramp on my own would have been an exercise in supreme ungracefulness. I looked down at my watch and realized that I had turned it on, then paused it right at the beginning of the swim, so my watch said I swam about 43 yards and I had no idea of how long it took.
From the swim exit, we had to run about 600 yards down an asphalt path to transition. My feet were basically numb by the time I hit transition, but I managed to get on my shoes and helmet and get out on the bike course. The first thing I realized as I was pulling away from transition was that my bike computer was not registering my power meter. Luckily, the HR monitor seemed to be working despite the previous warning, although I know from experience when the battery is low, it is not particularly reliable. So perceived effort it was.
During the expo and transition set up and waiting for the start, everyone talked about how hilly the course was. Since we don’t have that many hills in Gainesville, I was a little worried, although I had looked at the elevation profile and it didn’t seem that horrible. It turned out that any fears were unfounded, as it was no more hilly than the Horse Farm Hundred down near Ocala, FL. And one thing I realized quickly was that most of these people where used to peddling up hill and coasting down. I passed almost as many people going downhill as going up.
Since I was one of the first women out of the water, I was riding mostly with the men. As I passed riders, I realized that there was one person with whom I kept trading places, number 988. Amusingly, it seemed like he just couldn’t stand being passed by a woman. He’d pass me, then slow down, so I’d pass him, but then he’d speed up and pass me again. I wasn’t particularly concerned because obviously he’s not my competition, but as the race continued, I could tell it was more of a strain for him to keep doing this. By the turnaround, I thought I’d lost him, but about mile 18, I could feel a tail and sure enough, he was sitting on my wheel. I think he finally pooped out and decided to let me pull him the rest of the way. He sat on my wheel right up until about mile 24, when he shot around me to finish in front of me. So weird.
The bike course was really fun. The hills were long enough that I could really get going on the downhill, and the Henry Hudson Parkway was closed to traffic, so I felt relatively safe putting on a lot of speed. I was passed by two women, both of whom were in my age group, but they passed me fairly late in the ride so I was right behind them coming into transition. The last half mile was back through the park, so I was able to get in a high gear and spin my legs.
Transition to the run was pretty quick and my legs felt pretty good, which was nice, since right out of transition we ran up a very steep hill. At the top of the hill was one of the women who’d passed me on the bike. She was running so slowly she was almost walking, but running is my weakness, so I discount no one.
I headed up 72nd towards Central Park. At this point, the race turned super fun. Because I was one of the first women out on the course, people (especially women) were so excited. I heard someone say, “Hey look, it’s Wonder Woman.” So many people were cheering me specifically and a lot of them were yelling “Go G3!” which was also fun (and reminiscent of home). I came into the park feeling really good. I continued to get cheers, especially from women throughout the run.
In addition to the pre-race hilliness talk of the bike course, people also talked about how hilly and up and down the run course was; however, the hills were no worse than Lucky’s Hills, the only hills in Gainesville, so they didn’t seem so daunting.
My goal was to make each mile a little faster than the last and finish with a negative split. Because of one hill in the middle, I think my 4th mile was a little slower than the 3rd, but aside from that I was able to follow my plan.
I actually got a big boost during the 4th mile hill. As I came around the corner, I could hear someone yelling loudly in a foreign language. There was a guy in front of me walking up the hill with his friend/coach yelling at him in what I thought was Polish. Although I don’t speak Polish, it was clear, he was telling the runner to get his butt in gear and run.
As I came up on him, guess who it was? My tail, number 988! I was really tempted to say to his friend, “Oh, he’s just waiting for me to pull him up the hill!” I restrained myself. Though he managed to run a few steps when I passed him, he’d burnt himself out on the bike course and walked again as I left him in the dust. HAHAHAHA!
I’d only been passed by a couple of 30-34 women, so I started to realize that I must have been pretty close to the top of my age group. The last woman in my age group would have started about two minutes behind me, but I assumed that the fastest swimmers had moved towards the front and when I went into run transition, there had only been a couple bikes racked in our area.
At mile five and a half, a woman passed me at a pretty quick pace and made a comment about 45+ year olds kicking butt. I didn’t have enough juice to keep up with her, but it panicked me into thinking other women might be breathing down my neck, so I picked up my pace at that point. I am happy to say that I staved off any other competitors and crossed the line at 2:32:40. I was 6th out of 102 in my age group and 50th out of the 911 women who competed.
Afterwards, I enjoyed the post race events, getting both a massage and a turn in the NormaTec boots. My favorite booth give away was a pair of running socks from Gildan. I don’t wear socks for Sprint and Olympic length races and my shoes were slightly damp from running through the sprinklers they had on the course. Nothing felt as good as putting on those nice cushy, dry socks after the race.
I managed to ride my bike back from transition to the hotel without incident and make it through the Lincoln Tunnel without getting lost. All-in-all, a super successful and fun day that I would be happy to do again. I want to thank Richard Smith, one of my G3 teammates, for his great comment before the race. I don’t know why, but it really hit home and made me so confident as I went into this race.
“Greatness is inside all of us, let your greatness free to do amazing stuff.”
CAROLINE WORRALL has been a competitive triathlete since 2013, qualifying for USAT Nationals every year since she started. After playing varsity soccer and racing horses in high school, she took 25 years off of sport to pursue her career and raise a family before picking up triathlon. She has competed in 13 triathlons of various lengths as well as becoming an ultracyclist, reaching 202 miles in her second 12 hour race. After starting with TriDot this spring, Caroline completed her first Ironman 70.3, got her first triathlon win at the Crystal River sprint triathlon, and completed the New York City Triathlon, where she finished sixth in her age group with a time of 2:32:40. She lives and trains in Gainesville, Florida, with her husband and two children, where she spends her free time encouraging other women to try their hand at triathlon and educating them in the joys of cycling.