Saturday, July 24, 2010

New York City Triathlon 2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010 was the tenth installment of the annual New York City Triathlon. Participants swim 1 mile in the Hudson River, bike 24.8 miles along Hudson Highway, and run 6.2 miles around Central Park. The one mile swim is considered the fastest swim in all of triathlons because of the strong current which pushes swimmers along. Professional triathlete, Greg Bennett, has the race record finishing the Hudson River swim in nine minutes and forty-one seconds. As posted here previously and elsewhere, I was just hoping to survive through as painless of an experience as possible. In the ten days leading up to the race, I had been suffering anxiety attacks at almost every waking moment. I found myself gasping for breath even when just sitting down checking my emails. All my friends kept trying to relax me with their confidence, but the truth was only I could calm myself down. I would only be able to do so if I found the confidence to believe in myself. As the plane sped down the runway and took flight towards New York, I took a big deep breath, held it, then released. I thought, "Here we go." I arrived in NYC then took a drive to meet Brendan Hermes, the man who would be guiding me on Sunday. I arrived at his house, met him and his wife, received a tour of the house, then attempted to settle in for the weekend. Prior to sitting down to dinner, Brendan sat me down to finally hear about the specifics with my panic attacks as well as get the best possible understanding what happened to me the last time I had jumped in the Hudson River in 2008 so he could finalize a strategy in his mind as to how he would best help me through the one mile swim. As he had previously done on the phone and through FB, Brendan assured me he would do everything possible to help me get through the water. I just needed to trust my abilities and him. There was something about hearing his voice up close that truly made me feel at ease. Sure I was still concerned, but now, I was a bit more relaxed.

On Saturday morning we made our way into the city to meet up with others from the C Different Foundation. This was Brendan's first time guiding an athlete who was blind so he was champing to get on a tandem for the first time ever. The last time I had been on one was two years prior while racing in the NYC Triathlon. We took a two mile ride while working out some code words which would help us communicate during the bike ride portion. We were both confident we would breeze through this portion as we also felt we would through the run. We sat in on the mandatory meetings, received our bib numbers, went to race transition to make sure our bike was there, worked our way to the restaurant where we would have our Team CDF dinner, and after our bellies were full with some wonderful food, we hopped on the train and headed home. We had been busy since 9a.m. and now it was after 10p.m. Wake up call was 3:45a.m.

Race day. By 4:15a.m. Brendan and I were out the door to make our way towards transition to prepare our gear, get our bodies marked, then make the one mile walk to the swim start. As we walked in to check on our gear, we were greeted by Matt Miller, founder of CDF, who said, "Israel, looking like Bruce Lee as always. Go get 'em today!" I thought to myself, I'm feeling scared about the swim and now Matt is calling me chubby. He knows I strive to have a Bruce Lee physique so when he makes comments like that, I know he's observing that I am not quite there. We get to the race start. I kept trying to calm my nerves by reminding myself how I had been visualizing me cross the finish line. In order to get that far, I would have to make it through the water. My friend, Mark, offers to say a pre race prayer which he does. We walk to the start. We sit on the dock. Then we slide into the water. I hang on to a rope, the horn sounds, and it is time to go! I was in shock. I take quick short breaths. Brendan shouts "It's okay. I'm here!" I try to breathe with tranquility. I gasp. I try to lay on the water and stroke my arms to do the front crawl. My arms just slide through the water, but I did not feel that I moved so I quickly spin around and lay on my back. I have a rope around my hip as race officials had informed us that he and I would have to be tethered together for the Hudson River otherwise we would be disqualified. He adjusts the rope while helping me line up in the water. I am still nervous but I move my arms and take big deep breaths. I pop my head out of the water and hear screams. I get startled and try to remind myself to stay focused on my job and Brendan's voice. I stay on my back and stroke my arms. I will see how long I can go this way and as we near the end, I figured I would try to front crawl to the end. Brendan kept saying "You're doing great." "We're really moving. We'll be done in no time." He laughed proudly and excitedly which made me so happy. I started to get tired. My leg cramped up on me. The tether kept sliding down. I would move my hands to hip level and during my recovery I would try sliding it up, but I was not successful. Brendan tried moving it too, but it would slide back down. Eventually, the rope went so far down that it trapped my legs together. I could not kick! Brendan noticed this and quickly came to my rescue releasing my legs from the rope's hold. Then he said, "We just passed the 800 meters sign. More than halfway done." Then 900 quickly followed by 1,000. I thought about Mark's prayer and I knew in my heart it was helping. Then Brendan informed me that we had about 175 meters to go. I revised my plans to front crawl. Why mess with what was working. Finally he said, "You can stand up now, Is. You're done." I made it to my feet, turned around, and was greeted by a race volunteer who pulled me out of the water. It was over. I wanted to cry, but there was still more to do. We jogged towards our equipment where Matt Miller walked up and said, "Way to go Bruce Lee. Now get on that bike and keep going."

We jumped on the bikes which would be our home for the next 24.8 miles. Brendan let me borrow his camelback. Instead of struggling to reach down to get my fluid, I would simply put the straw to my mouth and drink whenever I wanted. I was nervous about taking one hand off the handles, but after a few attempts, I was able to get it. Now we were in business. The ride was about halfway over when my butt started to hurt. We had to stop a couple times then Brendan suggested instead of dismounting, I should simply push my butt off the seat so I could give it a break without having to stop. This was a wonderful suggestion. Before long, we were off the bikes, getting some extra fluids, and moving to the run portion.

I could not feel my legs for the first mile of the run. I could not even feel if we were moving, but yes, we were. Brendan made sure we were hydrated and even gave me showers at the aid stations by taking cups of cold water and pouring it on my head. I cramped up, but poured water on my leg which helped. We kept chipping away and passing people up left and right. Before I knew it, we were nearing the home stretch. We descended a hill. As we did, my legs felt stronger than at any point during the run so I picked up the pace. We hit our stride and we made it through the final loops. I kept asking where the final shoot was because I was ready to sprint home. Brendan kept saying, "No, not yet." Finally, we reached it. The spectator support was great all race long, but there was something extra special about hearing the cow bells, screams, and yells, this close to the end that I just took off pumping my arms and rotating my legs. I heard a thunderous roar from the crowd like nothing I had ever heard at any other race. Not even New York City Triathlon two years previously. I could not tell if Brendan was still holding on to the rope. Did I take him by surprise? Did I run out too fast? Brendan was still holding on and started yelling at me to slow down. I had crossed the finish, but momentum carried me forward into a cameraman who was on the ground well beyond the finish. My leg hit his camera, but I was able to stop in time before causing any damage.

We had completed what turned out to be one of my best races. I had made it through and had beaten my finishing time from 2008 by forty-eight minutes. Two years back, my friend, Kelle said "Take what you learned today and apply it the next time." I felt I was one and done, but Kelle insisted, "There is always a next time." Not only was there indeed a next time, but after only a few minutes of celebrating this accomplishment, I could already tell there would be many more next times!

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