my triathlon journey
A month ago I competed at the NYC Triathlon. I wanted to have a good race. My first tri race of the season did not quite go to plan – more on that in my prior post – and my second was just under the least desirable conditions (Rev 3 Quassy). I was quite happy how I handled the situation (jet lag, lack of training) but I really wanted a race I was reasonably prepared and rested for.
While I felt I had a decent chance at podium (coming in 3rd amateur two years ago), I also knew my training was not geared to this olympic distance, primarily training for the Ironman now. Two years ago I was only training for the half, more in line with the olympic distance. Still, I was determined to have a fight out there. I wanted to learn from any mistakes of 2 years ago and at least strategically execute better, even if physically not in the same shape as 2 years ago.
As always with this race, I had pre-race jitters. There was more pressure given that people I know would be cheering. It is the only triathlon that takes place in Manhattan! And I would be rather visible, starting right after the pros.
Two days before my friend and Zoot teammate Kendra visited me with two pieces of news. One was rather disappointing – she said she did not want to do Kona this year (she had an incredible chance to qualify at Lake Placid) and the other intriguing – she was contemplating going PRO! Apparently the qualifying criteria had changed a bit and now you can race as PRO if you come in top 3 amateur in a race with a PRO prize purse of $20,000 or more. She had met that criteria at Oceanside 70.3, the race I describe in my prior post. Many of us who have qualified for a world championship race before have pondered the idea here and there but normally would ultimately dismiss it as we would not want to give up our jobs/ careers, the financial stability (sanity). I knew the Nyc Tri had decent prize money, so if I came top 3, this could be a reality for me as well.
Now there was even more at stake and I wanted that qualification.
The day before I did a short swim in my rooftop pool. There was noone there and it felt meditative. I had just gotten a really thorough 2-hour massage on Wednesday and felt like the knots that had been worked on were still dissolving in my body. I went for a short run and my legs felt a lot better than before Rev 3 when I felt like I had been run over a truck and had zero juice in my body. I rode the bike to transition, met up with friends and we joked around.
The night before I tried to go to bed at 9. That is always a struggle. I took 3000mg of L-Arginine, which helped me fall asleep for an hour, after which I was wide awake. But I am quite used to not sleeping the night before a race. I did not sleep at all the night before my first Ironman in Cozumel after getting stung by a bee in my foot. And it turned out ok. I actually qualified for Hawaii, the a world championship. Maybe there was some magic potion inside that bee…
The swim start of the NYC Tri elite group is the most unique of any triathlon you dive in. As ususal, chatting with friends, etc., I came to the swim start very last minute. The pros were already on their way. I tried to be closest to the West side of the Hudson where the current is strongest but other competitors have already lined themselves up there. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and to my surprise my friend Dan who was on kayak volunteer duty that day wished me good luck.
As the gun went off and we all dove in, hoping our caps and goggles stayed on, I started to swim very fast (too fast) to try to get on someone’s feet. Since we all started next to each other during the dive (there were only 15 elite athletes – those who had completed an olympic distance tri in 2.30 or less in the last year), this really did not make sense. I started slowing and slowing till I started to get passed by others. I felt like 5 ladies had passed me at least. As I was trying to climb up on the ramp, one girl cut me off to get ahead of me. I started running the long transition behind her. I was determined to get on the road before her but everything was going wrong. My helmet strap was all twisted and I could not lock it. It was misty and my sunglasses were fogged up that I decided to take them off and put them behind my uniform. My competitor left at least 30s ahead of me. I tried not to get frustrated but decided to try to catch her on the bike.
There was no sign of her on the out trip at all. I passed a few ladies (strong swimmers) right at the beginning and did not see my competitor till the turnaround point. Ok, I had a reference point, I needed to go get her. Now I was pushing while still keeping in mind not to destroy my legs completely to have a good run. As I was going uphill I saw myself getting closer to my competitor. On the downhill she seemed to be getting further away from me. That’s when I wished I had proper race wheels, something I had been considering buying before the race but decided to just save the $2000 for the moment instead. I checked my Garmin and realized I should be done with the bike portion in about 15 mins or so. 15 mins to get my competition. I hope there’s more hills I thought to myself. I got her at the last turnaround. She really did not like that and sprinted right past me after the turnaround. That’s where another male racer got between us, the road got narrow that you could not pass and had to watch for drafting. I dropped to safety. Definitely no penalties wanted. I really wanted to stay close to her as in such a short race you don’t know how much wiggle room you have to pass someone on the run if they run well. I was trying to size her up to see if she was a good runner. Something was telling me she was a good swim/biker, but you never know. This time my transition went smoother than hers and I got on the run before her.
I wanted to execute the run better than 2 years ago. It’s tempting to think you have to go fast (right from the start) since the race is relatively short. But you can “blow up” even in a shorter race starting off too fast. So I wanted to negative split and start at a pace of roughly 6’50”, dropping it down every mile. I felt my Garmin was not giving me an accurate read, so I had to go by feel anyway. I could just imagine my competitor behind me. I felt I was alone but dared not look behind. There was awesome cheering support everywhere. I loved it and tried to smile at every one volunteer. At one point one volunteer cheered in my direction- let’s go ladies. That must mean my competition is behind me. Boom, pick up the pace I thought. The race was tough. There are some mean hills in Central Park and it was getting hotter. Each mile felt more painful than the previous. No pain no gain I thought. Knowing Central Park inside and out I tried to motivate myself that the finish line really was not that far, watching the yards go by on my Garmin watch as well. I finally saw the right turn towards the finish line and I gave it all I had, really trying to sprint which was more like just not slowing down.
I got asked if I needed medical attention when I finished. I guess looked pretty destroyed. Don’t the volunteers know you have to look that way if you’re trying to win? No thanks, I’ll be fine. Just give me a second to collect myself here.
I walked on after grabbing some drinks and then I saw some girls chatting in the finishing chute. I saw they were elite racers as well by their low race numbers. I thought I’d introduce myself. They must have beaten me. Oh well. Guess I really don’t have speed in me right now. No more ironmen next year I thought. “Hi, I’m Hana”. “Hi, I’m Darbi.” “How’d your race go”, I ask?
I think I won and you came in 2nd? Really? Wow, I got excited. Making podium is always a nice feeling. We then chatted more about racing and possibly training together.
Now the season is nearing its end with two world championships lined up. The half ironman in Las Vegas and full ironman in Hawaii. Both brutally hot races, the worst race conditions for me personally. Last year I dedicated Kona to a charity called Trekking for Kids.
The race did not go to plan. This year I just want to do better and I want to get involved with a charity more hands on later in the year.
I am contemplating being a mentor to an immigrant child in New York City as part of the Big Brother Big Sister organization. How I’ll find time for this in my activity jammed schedule remains a big question mark.
— Hana Sykorova —