Thursday, August 25, 2011

NYC 2011 Accenture Triathlon

Awoken by my phone alarm at 3:15AM, I actually felt like I had a solid 4 hours of sleep.  I got up and had my breakfast understanding that I would probably not be in the water until about 7AM with the first pro wave expecting to go off at  5:50AM.  I consumed 1/2 a bagel with PB, a banana, some fruit and yogurt, and a glass of milk with protein powder.  I packed up my bags, checked out of the hotel and made my way to my car.  At this point it had stopped raining but the streets were wet.  I got to my car and packed away any gear I would not need and starting walking to transition.  By the time I reached my bike the rain started again.  I got my transition area ready and luckily I was on a extreme side under a tree so my gear was not getting hit with the full force of the rain.  I did bring some small plastic bags to keep shoes in and covered other things with small towels.  I got my tires inflated and then joined a LONG line to use the porta-potties.  After getting my water bottles all filled I left transition and walked the mile down the sea-wall to the swim start.  I carried one bottle and a small clothing bag that I would turn in and get after the race at the finish line.

The rain was starting to really come down hard now.  As I neared the swim start we slowed down simply due to the fact that there were 3100+ people waiting to race.  The had corrals set up and I looked for the OPEN PARA area and when I found it, it was empty.  I remembered there was a special tent for us right up near swim start.  I chose to stay near the corral and watch the swim start.  After turning in my bag I hear an announcement that the start would be delayed.  There had been an accident on the highway and they needed to clear it up before the bikes hit the road.

As I waited a good friend Elizabeth found me.  Given the number of people waiting it was a total surprise.  We met last year at Timberman and she had taken the pics of me with Chrissie and Andy when my camera batteries had gone dead.  It was nearing 6:30AM now and they announced that the swim was to start soon as they were calling the PROS to the start barge.  I took a trip to the PORTA-POTTIES, took my GU and continued to drink a bit more water.  Once the two PRO waves started, then the ELITES, the age-groupers started next.  Simply waiting there I was amazed at the number of people I talked to who were doing this race as their first triathlon.  The current was picking up (in the RIGHT direction) but the wind was as well and there was quite a bit of chop forming.  As the waves of people started into the water I was noticing a number of swimmers in distress.  The kayaks were getting to them fine, but it would be a long day for the lifeguards if this trend continued.

The day after the race, I found the following video online.  I certainly hope the person was DQed.

I even spoke to a gentleman getting ready for the race who was wearing a wetsuit and had never worn one in the water.  I'm sorry, but people can't just believe a triathlon is something you do on a whim.   They were trying something new this year that seemed to work well for me.  Instead of waves of large numbers going off every few minutes, they were having a TT start with 20 people at a time.  My wave went off after a 20 minute break so when I got to the swim exit it was not too crowded.  Others later in each group mentioned that the swim exit was very congested.

Anyway, 40 minutes later than expected, they announced that the para-triathletes were up next after a prolonged break.  I proceeded down to the swim start and was ushered onto the starting barge.  All capped and goggled, I was ready to go.  The "official" paras would go first and then those of us in the OPEN division.  Well, when the announced it was our turn, without hesitation I went out the to edge and sat down ready to start.  I was amazed at how relaxed and ready I was.  The horn sounded and off we went.  I waited until the 2 guys beside me jumped in and then I went in feet first.  The water was felt fine and I do not recall any strong odor.  Off I went and found my groove pretty quickly.  As I breathe on my left, I was able to see the crowd of about 1500 more athletes waiting to get in and could also hear their cheering.  I got a couple of waves hitting me hard, but it felt no worse than FIRMMAN down in Narraghansett last year.  I noticed a large sign on my left and I realized it was marking the first 250m.  I looked at my watch and freaked out.  My watch read 3:52.  In the pool I usually take that same amount of time to swim 150 yards.  I was CRUISING.  I looked and kept trying to keep to the right (where I thought the current was the strongest) anbd continued on.  The swim proceeded along pretty much the same for the entire 1500m.  I noticed a few passing me as I neared the half way point but I never felt like I was getting bumped or banged.  As I neared the end I could see the lifeguards at the exit pulling people out.  As I lifted my head one last time I caught the eye of a guard who reached out for me.  As he grabbed my hand he told me to turn around as he would lift me out.  I assume he knew I was a para-triathlete by the color of my cap.  I said "No, I will walk out."  He pulled me closer and when my feet hit the ramp, I started to run.  I said excuse me as I ran past an athlete being pushed in a wheel-chair.  Remembering the run was pretty long to transition I slowed down a bit. 

Heading into T1
As I passed over the timer, I looked at my watch and I had 23:26 which placed me 9th out of 14 in my division.  I was PUMPED with that swim. For sure it will be the fastest 1500m (1 mile) swim I will ever do.

It was probably a good 1/10th of a mile just to get into the back of transition and then back up to front to where my bike was.  I got my wetsuit off pretty quickly, with helmet, shoes and glasses on as well.  The rain was continuing pretty strong now, so my biggest concern would be the slickness of the roads.  I got my bike off the rack and proceeding out of transition to the mounting line.  Things were pretty congested but I got on my bike with no problems and then proceeded down the path on the right with swimmers running up the other side.  There were plenty of volunteers yelling to "take it slow" with the "HILL" coming up.  There were only a few cyclists on the hill so I increased the gearing just a bit, got out of my saddle, and got up the hill with no problem passing a few people on the way.  It probably helped that I  was in the 34rd wave of swimmers after there had been a 20 minute break.  I am sure things were crazier both earlier and later on.  I got up to the traffic circle at 79th-80th and then proceeded to avoid the HUGE potholes (some of which were filled with rain) and follow the course up and onto the Henry Hudson Parkway.  Having the course closed to traffic is a huge plus.

The course was fairly hilly all the way up to the turn-around in the Bronx.  There were a couple of long steep climbs with some cool downhills to follow.  You can't really have the downhills without having the uphills as well.  The only problem was, with all of the rain and the roads being so slick, I felt I could not go full speed down the hills without increasing the possibility of an accident.

Riding through a toll-booth near the Bronx.
Even though some of the puddles looked pretty small, I tried to avoid them not knowing what was underneath.  I heard later than one of the pro women crashed out of the race going through a small puddle that happened to have a pot-hole in it as well.

I was surprised at the number of cyclists who were walking their bikes up some of the big hills.  I would have to admit that many of them were part of sponsorship teams that encourage people to enter a triathlon in order to raise money for a charity.  I am not criticizing them at all, hey they are out there racing and not sitting at home.

I got some chuckles from the police as I yelled out going through the toll-booth, "I'm sorry, but I forgot my EASY-PASS!"

The crowds along the route were pretty sparse but that's understandable since we were riding along a major highway and the only way people could come and watch was to come up a closed on or off ramp.

The only stop I made was at the northern turnaround in order to fill my aero bottle with the bottle I keep in the cage on the back of my seat.  My arms are not long enough to reach it while riding.  There was a stiff head-wind going south, but I loved the ride.  We had to go south to 55th? I think and then head back north to the exit.  It was great because we got the benefit of a cheering crowd twice as we passed the exit going south.  The southern turn-around came pretty quick and it was great to know I only had a mile or two left.  The exit ramp was lined with lots of spectators who were cheering as the rain had now stopped and in fact the sun was starting to shine.  It was great for the fans, but it also meant the run would be a bit of a scorcher. 

Returning to the traffic circle (rotary here in MA) there were lots of cyclists there but no one was being silly.  It was a real sharp downhill to the dismount line which was on a downhill, but not much else to do with the space we were using.  Off the bike and into transition was a real short trip for me.  Great knowing that my spot was right near the CLIF sign. 

My time for the bike was 1:41:58 which put me 12th out of 14.  The times in both T1 and T2 are noticeably slower for this race due to the fact that the transition areas are huge and it takes a while to get in and/or out depending on your spot.

I had not run this course and had been warned that the exit out onto 72nd street is quite steep.  They were right but just getting down that far from 79th street took a while as well.  I knew I was going to have lots of water stops along the route, so I didn't take anything with me save for a couple of gels and an inhaler.

Suffice it say, this was a pretty challenging run.  The clouds had completely disappeared now and the sun was pretty hot.  I had come to the conclusion that I would walk all of the uphills in order to have something left for a strong finish.

Running up 72nd street towards the Dakota and Central Park
When I came out of the park and onto 72nd street I was prepared for what I was about to see.  The street was closed to traffic, barricades were up and the street was lined with cheering fans.  Honestly, it felt like the BOSTON MARATHON to me.  How could I not run?  I did my best to take it easy but the adrenaline was pumping for sure.

At every corner there throngs of people and police.  On at least two occasions I raised my arms up in the air and the crowd responded with cheering.  It was euphoric.

I got to Central Park and then realized the hills would be coming.  The rest of the race prior to the finish was simple.  Walk all of the uphills (MANY!) and run the flats and downhills.  There were lots of others out running and cycling the park as well and some cheered us on.  At about the 4 mile mark, Scout, who I referred to earlier, passed me.  She looked strong at when I talked to her at the finish, she PRed the course as well.

With less that a mile to go to the finish I was doing my best to run hard and then I heard "Hey Mr. Young" behind me and it was Austin Esecson, a former Pingree student.  He was doing then race for the second year and was in the LAST wave of swimmers so he had probably started at least an hour after me if not more.

At the finish and pretty exhausted.
I had remembered the finish chute from the "Underwear Run" from Friday so as I entered it I knew how much longer I had to go.  I did my best to keep going at a solid and strong pace and with about 20 yards to go, I heard the announcer call out, "John Young from Salem, Go Johnny".  They actually have a video of both my swim exit and finish I can purchase online.

My run time was 1:34:37 which game we the slowest run in my group but a final time of 3:51:31 which placed me 12th out of 14 overall.  A new personal best for an Olympic distance course by over 8 minutes.  I am sure the FAST river helped a lot, because my run time was not my best at all, but a PR is a PR.

After the finish I found some food, water and MUSCLE MILK and then went to the tent to find my clothing bag.  After changing I found the VIP tent for some additional refreshments.  There really wasn't much else but being under the tent in the shade helped.

After getting my results and started heading out of the park.  I met up with two other athletes, one who had DNFed due to a nasty bike crash.  We agreed to split a cab to ride the few blocks to transition to get our bikes.

I got my bike and gear and then walked the few blocks to my car.  I went back into the hotel where I had stayed and asked to use a bathroom to freshen up a bit.  After changing I made my way to a restaurant for some additional food.  John Korff, the owner of the race, was hosting a party for all of the para-triathletes where we could get some lunch.  I had a burger and beer, said my good-byes to some real GREAT athletes all with the CAF and then walked back to my car.  I called Sue to let her know I was on my way home.  I was so surprised that the 5 1/2 hour drive home really was not that bad.  Listening to books on CD sure help pass the time.  I never really felt sleepy at all.  Getting home around 7:30pm or so was a real relief as I got to see Owen before he was off to bed.

I did mange to race the following weekend at the Westborough Sprint triathlon and compete the race in 1:49, which was a new PR for me for a sprint distance race.

A gift from the WTC !
I got an email the following Monday from the WTC who run the HyVee 5i50 US Triathlon Championships and they invited me to Des Moines to race on September 4th.  Well, after some encouragement from fellow triathletes and teammates, I am GOING. 


Friday, August 12, 2011

NYC 2011 - Leading up to the RACE !

Before I get into my report I want to pay respects to two triathletes who lost their lives in the race yesterday.  A 64 year-old man and 40 year-old woman both died of apparent cardiac arrest during the swim portion of the race.  I completed the race and drove 5 hours home only to hear about the tragedy after arriving back home.  My prayers go to the families of both victims.

This race was on my radar since last summer.  As a para-triathlete I knew this race would be the chance I might be able to take in order to try and qualify to race in the Paratriathlon World Championships in Beijing China this coming September.  If any of you are Facebook "friends" you surely know the problem I have been having with the International Triathlon Union (ITU) leading up to this race.  

There is a classification for dwarfism in the ITU.  They actually have a maximum height listed and I am considered too tall.  I asked how they determined the height and an answer is not available.  Needless to say, I will talk more about this later in the post, but I am still fighting with the ITU and hopefully, they will resolve the issue prior to the 2012 racing season.

Okay, I traveled down to NYC on the Friday preceding the race.  Sue and Owen and decided to stay home since I would be dealing with lots of classification details on Saturday and my mind would not really be on sight-seeing with them.  We had just traveled to NYC last summer, so if (WHEN) I do the race again, they will surely come along.

Travel to NYC was not a problem at all and I arrived there around 3:30pm in the afternoon.  The hotel I chose was a STEAL at a fraction of the "official" hotel and it was 2 blocks from transition with FREE STREET PARKING.  I found a spot right away a 1/2 block from the hotel.  Once I parked, I never moved the car again until I left after the race on Sunday afternoon.  It looked to be a safe neighborhood and in the end, it certainly was. I checked in and got all my gear upstairs while leaving my bike in the trunk of my car.  There was an Underwear Run planned for the evening in Central Park, so even though I was not registered for it, I brought some appropriate clothes and made my way to the Sheraton for the Race Expo.  After looking around at the Expo I ran into Stephanie and her husband.  She is a member of Team Comp and would also be racing.  I find there are RARE deals at the Expos and I simply had fun looking at stuff.  You could really tell who the newbies were as they were buying gear and clothing to wear in the race.  That kind of goes against the idea that should never try something new in a race.  That tip has done me well.

"Cool runnings"
Cav, Adrian, Josh, Bill, and Julie
I left the Expo and made my to Central Park to try and figure out where the Underwear was.  I met up with another athlete named Ben who lives in NYC and has done the race for a number of years.  We chatted a bit and he gave me some good tips about the race course, especially about starting on the bike portion.  I had already been reading about this, but he reinforced the idea about the BIG HILL leading out of transition onto the highway.  The tip was to keep your bike in the lowest gear, get up the hill and then worry about racing.  Be careful about all the rookie riders as some of them tend to stop on the hill and cause problems.  I thanked him for the tips and made my way to the "run".  When I got there, there were plenty of people getting ready for the run.  I had not registered and realized I would not be able to leave my bag and would have to carry it for the run.  Then I saw my friend Jen who was working for the race organizers.  I had met her at the Minuteman race last year and knew she would be there.  She offered to get me an official entry into the race, so I was set.  I got changed and was ready to run 1.7 miles in Central Park and it was WARM by this time.

This was in the Huffington Post

This is a video of the start of the race, and if you watch long enough, you can see me at the end.  I found it on YOUTUBE.

The race was a BLAST and I am so glad I did it.  So I didn't look like most of the other buff bods out there, since when has that ever stopped me.  Josh and Julie from the pic above got ripped off in the costume contest.  Winners were to receive a trip to Jamaica.  In my opinion, they had the best costume and completed the entire race as shown in the picture.  A team with a "similar" theme won, and it was a much poorer attempt.  Walking back to my hotel I met up with Cav, Julie and Josh and we chatted a bit.  I found out that Josh and Julie were also doing the race.  Cav invited me along for a beer and I said sure.  He lives in a SMALL apartment in the area but he is lucky to have a roof top deck.  Friday night in Manhattan enjoying a beer and some snacks on a rooftop.  Many memories of Hong Kong came flooding back.  Bill and Adrian, their other friends showed up and we had great times chatting about triathlon.  I excused myself after a while and walked the 4 blocks to my hotel.

Sleep did not go very well since I knew that Saturday was going to be a stressful day starting with a breakfast hosted by John Korff who is the race organizer.  He was putting the breakfast on for all of para-triathletes.  It was at a lovely restaurant around the corner from the Sheraton which was the host hotel for the race.  I managed to stop by a Tim Horton's for a quick coffee first !  I met a number of great athletes at the breakfast including the 2 pictured below.

Me along with Scout Bassett
Hector Picard with me.

I had to leave the breakfast a little earlier than most for my classification meeting at 10:15am back at the Sheraton.

When I arrived at the appointed location both Eric and Joan were there to greet me.  They both work with USAT and were both lobbying on my behalf in order the change the current classification.  Eric even had me write a last minute appeal to send to the ITU, but alas, I was told it would do no good as they classifier had to follow the current guidelines.

As an example to how crude their measuring was, I have always been told by my own doctor, that I am 4'4" tall which is 132 cm tall.  When they measured for my classification, they pegged me at 130.5cm tall, with the cut-off being 129.5cm.  I refused to try and slouch down, which was difficult anyway since they measured me while lying on the floor.  So even they got it wrong.  They proceeded to measure the range of mobility of all of my limbs and when they were done I asked to leave so they could go over the numbers.

Less than 5 minutes later I was called back in and told, I failed to meet the criteria for the classification and would be racing in the OPEN category.  I was glad about that somewhat, because months ago, I was told if I was not classified, I would have to race in my AGE-GROUP, so at least I would be in a group of 15 other para-triathletes.  One of those other OPEN racers, actually was denied because he failed to bring a note from his physician.  This was a man who lost his leg in Iraq and it could plainly be seen that he is missing a limb.  Sorry they said, no letter, no classification.

The classifier and her assistant both thanked me for being so honest about being measured.  She said I would be surprised to find the number of people who try and bend the rules.  From the onset of this I have tried to be forthright and direct about my concerns.  I told the classifier I was "A rule changer, not a rule breaker."  She ensured me that my letter had been taken to the highest level in the ITU and than changers were going to be made, where they were going to base future classifications on "real data" from athletes.  I looked at her in amazement and asked, "What are the current ones based on?"  She just looked at me and said nothing.  More evidence to support my belief that this maximum height of 129.5 cm was selected arbitrarily.

I then went on to explain that I would be much happier if I was 25 years old and dealing with this instead of 45.  They hope to have things completely in line for the Paralympic Games in Rio in 2016.  I explained I would be 50 at that time, to which the classifier replied, "Age is just a number."  Of course I replied, "So is height.".  She just stared again.

I do not blame her at all as she is just the messenger, but as the Head Classifier for the ITU, she will certainly have a lot of say as they make changes in the future.  I can only hope and of course keep writing letters.

I left the meeting room and then chatted with Eric and Joan again before leaving to clear my head.  I walked around the Expo a bit more and then ran into Bryan Lyons another triathlete from MA.  He is a member of Team Hoyt and we have done a number of races together.  He raced the Wicked 1/2 Marathon last fall and gave me his finishers medal since they had run out of them.  We decided to have lunch together and found a quiet Irish pub off of Times Square.  After lunch I returned to the Sheraton for the mandatory briefing where I also received my race packet and number.  There were lots of rules to go over in regards to para-triathletes and their handlers and guides.  I had chosen to not use a handler since I had not needed one yet, thought it might have been nice to hand my bike to someone and have them rack it prior to going out on the run.

I then decided to return to my hotel room on the west side to get my bike to transition for check-in.  I was able to leave my bike in the trunk of my car prior to check in.  With the forecast for rain on race morning I was so glad to have a large plastic bag (from Jay Curry) with which to cover my bike.  It was so nice to return to my hotel and simply get my bike out of my truck and then walk it down to transition only 2 blocks away.

My bike all checked in and ready for the rain.

After bike check-in I had a tour of the transition area.  They reviewed the big hill we were to face leaving transition and since I had just ridden it prior to checking my bike in, I was all set.  They took as down to the swim exit and then we were down with the tour.

The swim exit where lifeguards would be stationed to pull you out.

Returning to the hotel I spent some time catching up on Facebook and then went out to find a place for some dinner.  I walked up to Broadway (in the rain) and looked for a nice "family style" restaurant that served pasta.  I found a small place called "Cafe Eighty-Two" and what a pleasant treat it was.  I had a HUGE plate of pasta and grilled veggies along with a salad.  The neat thing about the restaurant was how friendly the wait staff was with a lot of the customers.  Obviously a place frequented by locals.  It was great watching the waiters hugging and kissing this one table of older ladies as they each came in to meet up for dinner.  A place I will surely re-visit when I race there again.

On my way back to the hotel I stopped at a shop called ZABAR'S.  I bought some milk and water for the morning.  I thought it was a neat shop with lots of different things to buy.  It looks like it started with one shop and then as others closed, they purchased them as it represented almost a whole block on Broadway around 81st Street.  I found out later it has a bit of a reputation as Sue said to me when I got home, "YOU WENT TO ZABAR'S?"

Back in my room I got ready for the night, send a few more emails and then laid down to sleep.  I was set to expect rain in the morning and tried not to worry about it since it is not anything I can change.  I slept pretty well and was woken by my alarm at 3:15AM.

Race report is the next POST!