New York to Philadelphia Triathlon – 27/5/2007

The 2007 Memorial Day Weekend was memorial for me as I participated in the New York – Philadelphia ‘Liberty to Liberty’ triathlon. This is a unique challenge in several ways. Firstly, there are the logistics as one starts at Battery Park in New York for the swim, connect with your bike in New Jersey, and then find your running gear in Philadelphia. Adding to this is a 1 mile swim in the Hudson river, 91 miles of cycling, finishing with a 10 k run.

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The logistics of the race was challenged further by the refusal of my race crew (comprised of my long suffering wife Lis) to drive into New York city. She had visions of being lost forever in the Big Apple. So we compromised by driving to Highlands in New Jersey and catching the ferry across to New York. The bike ride start was near by so one way or the other we would hopefully meet again in Philadelphia.

In preparing for the race one had to visualize what was needed where. The organizers provided you with four bags. At registration you dropped off: (1) Your bike and the gear you would ride with and (2) Your running gear. Hopefully (1) would be waiting for you in New Jersey and (2) in Philadelphia. Bag (3) was for your swim gear. This was put empty inside bag (4) which was for what you planned on wearing after the swim. Confused yet? The theory was that upon exiting the swim you would take off your gear, store it in Bag 3 and then put on Bag 4.

The pre-race meeting spent a lot of time on the logistics of the race, reminding people what to put where. The biggest worry was one of current. We were told that the swim was timed so that the current would be travelling with us. However, one prescient individual noted that they were told the same thing last year when some 125 of the 150 competitors were pulled from the water due to the current being against them and heavy winds creating waves. The organizer assured us that such a thing would not happen again as they had hired a specialist to advise them.

I was worried about turning over my bike but they were very well prepared. There was a moving van to carry the 150+ bikes and each was carefully wrapped and stored. The bags were treated less carefully, but at least they kept the two piles apart.

We assembled at Battery Park on the southern end of Manhattan Island at 06:15 on Sunday morning. They said the water was 62 degrees—when we got in it was more like 58 degrees so the two people without wet suits were either tough or crazy. Actually, probably both since all of us were crazy to swim in the Hudson.

We noted that the detritus in the river was moving downstream which suggested that the current was not going to be behind us. However, they assured us that it would turn any minute and not to worry. We entered the water in sequential order for a massed start. As I was number 15 I had a dreadfully long and numbing wait until everyone was in.

Finally we were off and it was the most chaotic swim start I have ever had. It felt like all the 150 competitors chose to be in my space. They swam over me, elbowed me, slapped me, etc. Afterwards, one fellow commented that it was worse than Lake Placid Ironman so I felt validated.

The swim was, in a word, horrible. I just could not get into my rhythm. The combination of the current, the waves, and having to continually worry about being bashed was not conducive to focusing on one’s technique. I also had to make sure to keep my mouth shut as much as possible—every triathlon I swallow some water but being the Hudson I didn’t want some exotic disease. Adding to the fun was the flotsam and jetsam in the river: sticks, bags, etc.

Several times I stopped swimming to get my bearings and try to work out what was happening. I knew that things weren’t going well when a kayaker came over and asked if I needed to be pulled. I told him that I may not look that elegant but I would make it. After an eternity I ended up at the marina and was given a time of just over 45 minutes. In theory that was the cutoff time. However, somehow I had managed to place 56th—just outside the top third—which shows that I wasn’t the only one to suffer.

I found my bag with my warmup clothes that I had turned in before the swim and jogged back to the hotel where my wife Lis was waiting. I was very numb so enjoyed a quick hot shower and some food. We then checked out and hot footed it down to the ferry which left at 8:30 for Atlantic Highlands NJ.

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 In NJ we found our bikes neatly racked with our bike bags next to them. The logistics were working well! It was interesting to see the array of bicycles—usually a good indicator of the seriousness of the competitors. There was one fellow with a Cervelo P3 carbon, with disc wheels and even an aero helmet. I thought to myself I hope he knows how to use it (he did: he won the triathlon). At the other end were a number of duffers.

The ride was broken into three parts. Firstly, we did an 11 mile ‘prologue’ at about 15 mph from the ferry to a local college. Then we did a 76 mile ride (as in 1776—you Americans surely got this one!) to Camden NJ. This was done as a time trial with each rider leaving at 10 second intervals based on your place in the swim. From Camden there was a 4 mile non-timed ride to the Philadelphia Art Museum.

The prologue was fun. It was nice to ride in a bunch and chat with other triathletes. We seldom get the privilege of doing this. The police escorted us through the area, eventually getting us to our time trial start point.

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 I was concerned to find that my wife Lis was not in sight. However, when I called her she reported that she had found a fair/crafts market and was having too good a time to rush to the start and that she would catch me up later. I thought this was great as I often feel guilty about dragging her to all these races (let alone being the TriCat Newsletter proof reader!). She used the Visa card to good effect so I figure I’ve got a few races up my sleeve before I feel guilty again.

The ride was through rural NJ. It was my first time in the area and all I had ever heard about the state was negative comments. I must say that it was a beautiful area we rode through, with rolling countryside, lovely towns and great scenery.

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 My usual race strategy is to try and roll in each rider ahead of me and this worked well. Starting off 56th, I passed 46 over the 76 miles. For the most part there was good traffic control, although towards Camden it petered out. There were three water stations along the way which we had to pass through, and I found Lis at the first one. She was also enjoying motoring through the countryside and so both of us had a nice day.

Towards Camden I passed one rider who was begging for a Gatorade. I gave him one of my spares. I had been using Endurolytes so had no problems at all with the weather which was sunny and about 90 degrees.

There were two other riders and as we entered Camden we decided to ride together. Not meaning to cast aspersions on my host country, but Camden represents the epitome of American urban blight. One of the riders was a woman and she commented that she would not have ridden through there on her own. It was really bad, in my experience second only to Garry Indiana in terms of a place not to be visited.

Once we clocked in we took our bikes up to the bridge and crossed over to Philadelphia. Lis followed in the car and thanks to our trusty GPS was able to find her way to the run start/end. We cycled over to the museum and racked our bikes, donning our running gear that was waiting for us.

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Since transitions were not timed one could hang around for a while but I wanted to do this as a serious race so I grabbed some Gatorade and headed out on the run. It was 92 degrees and sunny. I now know how toast feels.

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We ran along the river and the first 1.5 miles was without shade. I suffered. At each station I hydrated well, both inside and outside. On station even had a water sprayer—oh bliss! I put on my walkman to motivate me (I know—against the rules) and just focused on making it to the next mile. It was very hard work. Anyway, I survived and was surprised with my run time of 8:32 min/mile.

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 After the race I found Lis who helped me by pouring water over my head to cool down. I was definitely overheated. It was interesting because two days later I did a recovery run at the same 8:30 pace and my heart rate was 20 beats/min lower!

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 Then she noticed a fountain across the road. I was in for that—and this proved later to be a very popular stop for runners.

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 Once I had recovered a bit I found that I was 9th overall and 1st in my age group. My best race ever! I celebrated by doing the Rocky thing—running up the stairs. Lis, who was not indoctrinated on the culture of Rocky didn’t get it, but was willing to trudge to the top of the stairs anyway to get the photo.

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So ended an interesting and challenging race. It is one of the more unique triathlons and I’m glad that I did it. I saw some beautiful new scenery and the PR was a nice plus as well. So if you are not planning anything special for Memorial Day 2008 consider the Liberty-to-Liberty Tri. I just hope that they get the current in the Hudson right for you!

Results:

  • Swim: 42:53 51/150
  • T1: N/A
  • Bike: 3:52:12 10/150 (76 mile time trial)
  • T2: N/A
  • Run: 52:56 14/150

I won my age group which was a first :-).

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