Traveling for races is always exciting, but the opportunity to race in my favorite city in the world, caused an overwhelming explosion of emotions that may have actually hindered me. I will explain that last part a bit later, but let me start from the beginning.
In order to race in the NYC Triathlon from out-of-state, a lottery is performed and in February of this year I was notified that I had been chosen to race. At the time I was not quite sure about it, as my race schedule was already pretty full, but I had heard great things about the race, so I decided to go ahead and put it on the calendar. How many times was I going to be chosen via a lottery…right? I have entered the lottery for the NYC Marathon for the last 3 years and was never chosen, therefore I felt like this may be a one-time opportunity. I made my arrangements immediately, and found some inexpensive accommodations at Hotel Belleclaire which ended up to be a very nice boutique hotel on the upper west side of Manhattan, beautifully positioned directly between transition and the finish line.
The challenge I had was, how do I transport my bike to NYC. I had a few choices.
1) Tri-bike Transport which was $300 each way.
2) Take my bike completely apart and take it with me, then take it to a bike shop to be put back together for $75 and again when I returned, not to mention possible oversize luggage fees at anywhere from 75-150 bucks.
3) Use shipbikes.com and buy a reusable AirCaddy for $100 and then ship my bike via FedEx, directly to my hotel and back home for $100 each way with very minimal dis-assembly of my bike.
I chose option 3, which turned out to be very convenient. The Air Caddy came in a very flat box and was assembled in 10 minutes and my bike was then placed in the box within 5 minutes and ready to ship. It comes with a fork plate that stabilizes the bike in the box and then a series of other corrugated cardboard is placed around the bike which secures and stabilizes it even more. The only small adjustments that need to be made are to remove the saddle and seat post together, and fold down the aero bars. Each is just the loosening of two allen screws. I only had to bring my small bike tool with me in order to tighten them back up upon re-assembly. I taped up the box, added the label which is purchased through shipbikes.com and then called for a FedEx delivery representative to come by and pick it up. Easy breezy. It all happened like clockwork. Of course since this is the first time I was shipping my bike I was a little anxious, and I was going to be, until I re-assembled in NYC.
I left Friday Morning two days before the race and was so excited I could barely contain myself. Not just for the fact I had the opportunity to race in my favorite city I have ever been to, but I was also going to spend some time with friends I hadn’t hung out with in what seemed like forever.
All of the pics online of Hotel Belleclaire were of course beautiful, but in New York City it is sometimes a crap shoot. The marketing pics look great, but when you get there, sometimes you get a room that a little worse for wear. Hotel Belleclaire was absolutely beautiful and the service was first-rate. I was in my room for about 30 minutes when the front desk called just to ask if everything in the room was alright. I was a little shocked because I never experienced that before. It is such a simple concept to give a 30 second call to the guests and it made me feel kind of special. Before I knew it, there was a knock at my door and there was a bellman with my bike. Talk about service. After I put my bike together I phoned the front desk and requested that they store the box since the room was small. I didn’t really care about the size of the room since it was just me, but the box and my bike took up a little more room. It turned out that they could not find anywhere to store the box, so instead of just saying “Sorry, we cannot do anything about it”, they upgraded me and put me in a larger room to accommodate the box. That, was to me, an amazing touch. On Sunday after the race, I boxed up the bike and the concierge told me to just leave it in my room. Monday morning I received a text from FedEx notifying me my bike was picked up and that the estimated date she would be back home was Thursday. If you are going to be in NYC on the upper west side, I highly recommend the Hotel Belleclaire. I think you will enjoy it.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program(after my little endorsement).
After I checked in I planned on going to the expo at Hilton Midtown, so I started walking. The hotel was on 77th St. and Broadway and the Hilton was on 55th and 6th so it was 22 blocks south and two blocks east. No big deal, and it was nice outside so I decided to walk. Here is where I started with a little hinderance. I saw my favorite hot dog place in Manhattan. Grays Papaya. OMG! Now remember that I am about 90% paleo and I haven’t digested a slice of bread in over a year, so you can imagine how my system was going to react to a couple of white flour, processed, buns with grilled hot dogs and all the trimmings. They sure tasted good going down, however they left me in a lurch later that evening. Grays Papaya is famous in the city for their hot dogs and papaya drink. I had both and they were sooo good. It was like a sin to eat something that tasted that good as processed as it was. I always talk about balance right? Well, I figured I hadn’t had one in so long, it wouldn’t hurt. WRONG!!!! I will spare you the details of what happened a couple of hours later.
Inside the Host Hotel. I just had to take a pic.
I called a good friend of mine, Michael who moved to the city almost four years ago. Michael and I used to to perform in plays and musicals together semi-professionally. Michael was keeping the dream alive in New York while I turned to health and fitness. To my surprise he was willing to go to the expo with me so I could check-in. The New York Triathlon required the attendance of all the athletes at a mandatory meeting in order to verify everyone had the information in the Athlete Handbook. In order to get your packet you had to attend a meeting and get your hand stamped. Because I had been to so many races prior and never usually went to the meetings, that I would be a little annoyed but the person whom MC’ed the meeting was hilarious and had us all in stitches. He also was great about getting the info out specifically and succinctly, so all of us whom attended could have our hand stamped and out of there in about 25 minutes. The rest of check-in was a breeze.
The expo was, well…interesting. Mainly because I was in a different part of the US, it had different vendors. What I did notice was that Zicco Coconut Water was a huge sponsor. They were giving out coconut water like it was, uh…water. Even in our SWAG there was one of those huge liter bottles that usually sell for around $9. I love Zicco so I was beyond freaking thrilled. The only unfortunate thing was that they only were giving the original version and I know that the chocolate flavor is amazing, but I enjoy the natural flavor too. The rest of the expo was what you would expect of a triathlon which is minimal compared to marathon’s and big road races, but it still had that great race aura and energy.
Michael and I hung out for a bit and caught up and then headed to Restaurant 44th&10th which is located, can you guess? You are correct. 44th st and 10 Ave just about 20 more blocks from the hotel. The place is a corner of a set of stores and is decked out in white with colors used as accents on the walls and cushions of the chairs. The food was amazing. I had the grilled tilapia with steamed spinach and a sweet potato, butternut squash mash. Deliciouso! For desert was a dark chocolate flour-less cake which tasted more like mouse, and an organic banana sundae. WOW! It was an outburst of flavors that stimulated my taste buds with the cool essence of banana, chocolate and toasted marshmallow. O-M-G was it good!
Now all fat and happy, Michael and I headed off to my hotel, so I could drop off all the swag from the expo and that, ladies and gentlemen, is when Grays Papaya decided to fight for control of my digestive system away from my incredible food from 44th&10th. That is all I have to say about that. Needless to say after a couple of syndicated comedies, conversations about theatre in the city and dealing with my stomach I wasn’t going anywhere else that night.
I woke up Saturday feeling a lot better. I took a shower, put together everything I needed for transition, which didn’t open until 2 pm, and headed out into the city. Around 1 pm I stopped at my favorite pizza place. The restaurant will remain, forever, a planned event whenever I am in NYC. The place with the best pizza on the planet. John’s Pizza on 44th St between 7th an 8th avenues. This place has the absolute best pizza with all natural ingredients I have ever tasted. The thinnest flakiest crust with a spicy tomato sauce, mozzarella that strings to ceiling if you let it and the best ingredients ever resting on top. Personally, I am a minimalist so I prefer a nice pepperoni and fresh garlic, but my friend Jorge Acosta whom joined me for this amazing meal, was all about the pineapple and Canadian Bacon. I never tried it, but I have to say it was pretty good too.
This part of 44th st is a kind of home to me. It is where all the best theatres are located. Across from John’s , Phantom was playing. Directly next door, Let it Be. A little further down and across the street was Lucky Guy with Tom Hanks and two doors down was the famous Sardis of which Jorge and I headed to afterward to continue catching up. Jorge is one of those guys who has had such an amazing life that we can just talk forever. If I wasn’t participating in the triathlon the next day, we would probably still be talking. He is an amazing and talented guy and I am so excited he is making it in NYC as an actor. Knock on wood, he hasn’t needed another job to get him by. That is how talented this guy really is.
I left Jorge and headed back to the hotel to grab my bike and head to transition in Riverside Park. There are
two transition setups for the NYC Tri. Yellow and Red. My wave was in the Yellow which was schedulted to start at 5:50 am on Sunday and included the pros and elites along with half the Age Group athletes, while red didn’t start until 7:20. The transition setup was just like any other triathlon, no
frills with metal rods to hang the bike from the seat. The only somewhat different protocol was the transparent bags that were handed out and highlighted during the mandatory meeting. This was new after the incident
at the Boston Marathon. Instead of bringing in a transition backpack like I usually do, now a plastic transparent bag is the only thing allowed to bring gear into the transition area. I didn’t want to leave anything besides my bike, so I personally didn’t bring anything at this point but my bike. I left my bike with a plastic bag covering the handlebars and seat and headed out to meet another friend of mine from high school, Kyle.
Kyle, a professional Opera singer, is just as interesting. He had just opened a show, so we were able to meet just outside of Lincoln Center for a bit before he needed to be at the theatre. Kyle has an amazing wife, Laura and an eleven year-old prodigy daughter. A prodigy in what? It would probably be easier to tell you what she is NOT a prodigy in . She is incredibly smart as well as an Olympic swimmer in the making. Maybe I can get lessons from her? Kyle and I talked for an hour about his shows, my races, Alana’s talent and Laura’s singing as well. When it was time to head out Kyle said something to me that made me so proud. He started with, “I know you will probably taught this but Laura and started doing this ‘Insanity’ workout and I feel better, taller and stronger than I have ever been.” I praised him, because I use the Insanity workouts and I am a Beach Body coach. I was so excited to hear about his and Laura’s results. He went on to tell me about how everything was better. He was singing even better, he felt taller, slept better and was craving the workouts. It made me smile when I heard about it. Right here was proof, that with a child that needed to be brought to school, activities, swim practice, his daytime rehearsals, night-time performances, and Laura’s full-time job, they both still found time to workout six days a week. Remember that living in New York City means taking even more time for transportation as well. There are very few people that are as busy as Kyle and Laura and they still find time, six days a week. No excuses. I love it.
That finished my day. I went back to the room, took a shower and fell into bed exhausted. I know it would feel like no time at all, before the 3 am alarm would go off and my phone would remind me again at 3:10. I would try, but I wouldn’t get as much sleep as I wanted.
My room prior to the move.
September 11th will always remain a significant event in the history of this country. The day when Osama Bin Laden dared to bring terrorism to the United States and unfortunately succeeded, at least at that point in time. Where were you on that day? I bet everyone I ask that question will remember exactly where they were. Me? I was getting ready to go on an interview for a job.
I was just coming out of the shower when the phone rang and it was a neighbor and really good friend of mine, Sue. She told me that a plan had struck the twin towers and to immediately turn on CNN. I swear I told her it must be a hoax until I actually did turn on the TV. I was completely wrecked at the site of the replay of the first plane hitting the tower. As the camera went back live to grab a shot of the destruction, the other plane struck the towers. I was completely floored and I felt like my whole body was over stimulated with anxiety. Then the worst thing happened, I heard another explosion except this time it was not coming from the television. It came from a distance outside my condo. Oh, I didn’t mention that at the time I was living just outside of Washington DC and I had recently separated from the United States Army where I was stationed at the Pentagon.
Within three minutes CNN was relaying the story of the Pentagon. I put some clothes on grabbed my Pentagon badge and left. When I arrived just outside of the gate, guards were already posted at the parking lots and the entryways were fortified. A soldier came to my window and told me to turn around, so I flashed my Pentagon badge and told him I wanted to help. I had people in there and I was a trained EMT and I could at least help triage. He wouldn’t have it. I then asked to him to radio the head of security because I knew him and he knew me very well, but he had his orders and he was not going to make any special provisions. I couldn’t argue with that. All of the military police, security, and medical personnel were all under a great deal of pressure and being that I knew what that was like, I wasn’t going to argue. I turned the car around and went home. It took twice as long for me to arrive at home as it did for me to get there, but after walking in the door and immediately turned on the TV and there I sat, on and off, for two weeks. I was a sponge for information. I made frequent calls back to my old unit asking about people I knew. On that day there were three soldiers who were, subordinates of mine at one time, missing. Friends in other units also missing and two of my mentors pronounced dead; Sergeant Major Robert Strickland and Lieutenant General Tim Maude.
It was a crushing blow for me. I had dinner at both of their houses. General Maude would take me to the Officer’s Dining Room where “a little lunch” was a huge steak and baked potato with all the fixings. SGM Strickland filled in instructing a couple of classes at Ft Jackson when I was in training and then continued my mentorship when I ended up at the Pentagon after Korea. The only thing I could think of was that if I felt this bad, it had to be 100 times worse for any of the victim’s families.
My best friend Sean was living outside of Times Square at the time, and his auditions and work took him all over the city. I immediately picked up the phone and gave him a call, but the circuits were overloaded. I wouldn’t talk to him for three days. The mood around DC and Virginia was somber throughout the coming weeks. It was heavy with dread and confusion, but something positive happened. I noticed that there was very little hostility toward one another.
Everywhere I went I could see citizens going out of their way for one another. For example, an incident that happened to me; the roads were slick after a little rain and I ended up in a 4 car fender bender. Maybe not a fender bender, but a hard love tap. The front car hit the brakes, the car in back of her hit their brakes, then me, then the guy in back of me. We all, got out, looked at our cars and we all had some small dents or paint nicks. My Xterra had part of the bumper had come askew but it looked like it could be fixed pretty easily. The weirdest thing was, no one was mad. We looked at each other shrugged asked if anyone was hurt and basically agreed there was just too much crap going on at that time to worry about such a minor incident. We didn’t call the cops, we didn’t exchange insurance info, we didn’t even exchange names. We shook each other’s hands and went on our way. I saw this happening everywhere I went. Their were customers actually moving their carts to the corral at grocery stores or even helping the employee stack them. I saw two, three, sometimes four cars stopping on the side of the road when a motorist was changing a tire asking if they could help. The whole country was supporting each other. It seemed to last for months before it started to slowly return to the normal disdain.
It was just an amazing sight. I guess the question is why can’t we always feel that way toward each other? Why does the country have to go through an incident of massive destruction for citizens to realize we need each other?
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of people that read my blog, but those of you who do, I challenge you to take an hour every day and think about other people before yourself. As you are in your car, and you see another car that is really trying to merge into traffic but no one is allowing them to enter the line, stop and let that person in. If you notice someone having issues loading groceries into their trunk, offer to help. It is just these little acts of kindness that can change the world as we know it. Lets prove that we do not need a major incident to bring our country together again.
I thought it was kinda nutty when I was invited to the Sunrise/Sunset Challenge, but I wasn’t sure the impact it would have on me. I looked at the distances of the two races, Top Gun and the Twilight Triathlons, and thought, “What the hell? The two distances do not even add up to an Olympic. How difficult could it be?” What I didn’t count on was the increased effort level?
The plan was hammer the Top Gun and do the Twilight for fun. (I am a poet and didn’t even know it.) Yeah. Right. Considering I have been competing and training for more long course triathlons lately, I really thought I would finally be able to conquer the sprint. My last full sprint was two years ago, when I competed in a few sprints in order to get ready for a marathon my times were less than admirable. To be honest, I was happy with 1:20 at the time. Now, after a few Ironman 70.3s and last year’s full Ironman I really thought I could do a lot better. Figuratively, I actually did, but in my mind it still wasn’t what I wanted, but there were some small achievements.
I picked up an A-Train Tri member, Jaime Breibert, around 5am and headed out to Ft. DeSoto. After the experiencing the pay-to-park line for the Escape from Ft. DeSoto Triathlon, I was pleasantly surprised this event was exempt so there were no delays driving into the park. Nice! Like every other race I have competed or watched at Ft. DeSoto the organization of the event was outstanding. The line for body marking was minimal, the transition area was large enough to accommodate all of the athletes bikes, space for their transition setup and extraneous bags. Walking into transition I spent minimal time setting up my bike, helmet and sunglasses, towel, bike shoes, and running gear including my choice of shoes (this time being my Brooks Pure Cadence), running belt and hat. I wasn’t rushed for time, or inconvenienced by other athletes. It was smooth sailing which is always nice since it eliminates any unwanted stress.
I headed on down to the beach with Nick Zivolich and Jaime where the low pitched but high energy voice was repeating instructions over the speaker system. It was a nice and comfortable environment I have come to love over the past years. The energy of the upcoming race increasingly becoming more and more intense as the time for the first heat was getting closer. I caught up with a bunch of friends and familiar fellow tri community members I have accumulated over the last years. This is absolutely one of my favorite times of the race. I have been really lucky this year as my age group has been assigned early heat times, so the intense anticipation has been minimal. Last year, I was not so lucky, but I understand the race directors strategy of moving the groups around each year to be fair. It will be interesting to find out what they where I will be starting next year. I was in the fifth heat this year only 12 minutes after the first and immediately following Jaime’s heat.
I wished Jaime and Victoria luck and intensely watched them swim out to the first buoy. Just a quick disclaimer. I totally and utterly suck at swimming. For me triathlon is survive the swim and get on the bike where the competition really begins. Not that I haven’t been working at it, but honestly, if for some reason I have to skip a workout, I’ll skip a swim before a bike, run or strength workout, but I digress. The horn finally went off and my personal race had started. I had been analyzing my swim prior to this, and just recently had the epiphany that maybe my pull of my arm through the water was possibly to shallow to allow me any kind of real speed. I usually finish with the heat behind me, and even sometimes with the heat behind that one, but this time following my experiment of dipping my arm deeper and pulling a little harder, (Voila!!) I actually finished in the middle of my heat. As I ran to my bike I noticed silver swim caps in front of me and coming behind me. A huge smile came over my face as I was slipping into my bike shoes and put on my helmet and sunglasses. I really couldn’t believe it. At this point I already felt like a winner.
I ran out of transition, jumped on my bike and headed out to the course I knew so well, due to all of the brick workouts I completed here with my A-Train Triathlon family. My goal; keep my speed above 21 while keeping a cadence under 96. The whole ride was pretty uneventful. The same word came out of my mouth more than anytime in the short period I have been racing. I continually yelled the word “left” as I was passing other athletes on my right, of course it was disconcerting when I heard it coming from my left. The ego boost came when I finished the final roundabout yelling “left” to a male athlete that had passed me at the beginning of my ride. As, I came into transition the only thought was how fast can I get in and out of transition, start the run and whether or not I had pushed a little to hard on the bike. According to my computer I had averaged well above 21, so was that too much?
I pulled on my shoes, grabbed my hat and ran out of transition buckling my race belt with my number attached to the front. I grabbed water on the way, a little disappointed when it turned out to be very warm, but it was wet. As I started trying to increase the cadence I noticed that my legs were very heavy, not a good sign. I kept saying to myself this is fine, just lean from the ankles and let gravity fuel your momentum. As much I told myself to lift my legs and lean a little more, my body refused to submit to what my head was commanding. I continued through the first mile to the fort, and very, very slowly my legs started to loosen a little, and my cadence started to increase. Passing the 1 mile aid station, I noticed a little more energy in my step and my hip flexors obeying my will. Then I turned the corner and I remembered. Crap! The middle mile of this race is on SAND! The lower extremities of my body surprised me as they adapted immediately to their new environment. I guess all those beach runs with Amy Eck had actually done something for me. All of the sudden I found myself enjoying the run. My legs stretched out, by body leaned, my cadence finally reached 180 (I think) and I was flying. Who would’ve thought feeling all that resistance under my feet would actually transform into moving faster? Not me, but after begging my body to obey earlier I was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, so before my body decided any differently I picked up my pace. Turning on the path back to the asphalt I caught another athlete with a 44 on his calf. Hmm…an athlete in my wave I will place in front of…cool. With that thought completed I noticed another male runner in front of me with the number 41 on his calf. My only thought; “You are mine!” With the finish line in sight and the 3 mile marker on my left, I started to sprint with the finish line getting larger in my view and the runner in front of me coming closer and just a few feet from the timing mat, I caught him and jumped in front. A short term goal accomplished. I was so wiped out I could not immediately put my foot on the stool in order for the volunteer to remove my chip. I had to step over to a section of baracade and keep myself from falling for a quick second. After a half a minute I recovered enough to get my chip removed, grab some water and meet some friends at the end of the finish line assembly. Jaime had just finished and Speedy Nick was there already dried off and drinking some water.
With as exhausted as I was how was I ever going to this again in less than 12 hours?
After greeting some friends and coaches, watching some other friends and athletes come across the finish, I headed out to find some water and Gatorade. I noticed some preliminary results were posted, so I walked over in the hopes mine might just be posted and as luck, good or bad, would have it they were. My first split was the swim, and I was pleasantly surprised 7:53…cool. Less than 2 min per 100m…I’ll take that considering my miserable swimming performances leading to this race. Second split was the bike..26:51 averaging 22.3 MPH…Sweet! I never did that before. Finally, a 26.35..5k run. Well, I have run much faster, but not during a triathlon. 8:33 miles per minute…honestly I thought I did better, but I accepted it. More Bricks, more bricks, more bricks.
Overall, 1:06:36. A personal record(PR) since my last Sprint was 1:19 so you would think I would be happy and at first I was, until I looked at my place; 38th with only 67 athletes in my age group. Not even in the top 50 percent. That dropped me from my high pretty fast. There were still runners on the course so maybe there a few more in my group out there where I can at least be in the top half. As I check the results while I write this, it turns out there were I am ranked 39th out of 84 so I made it, just barely but I did make the top half.
The end of the morning consisted of congratulating friends, socializing and grabbing some breakfast at Lucky Dills in downtown St. Pete. I couldn’t have imagined a better morning.
Next up, the two race day continues.