Saturday, August 13, 2011

NYC Triathlon, Part II: The Swim

Not caught up? Read Part I.

R___ and A___ stay with me until we see the first batch of athletes plunge into the water, and then it’s time. I strap my goggles around my head and lick the inside lens of each one before suctioning the cup to my eye. We moved forward in a mass of bodies, and right at the starting line, there they are: my mother, father, and R___, shouting their heads off and waving signs on sticks reading, “Tri ur hardest, Allison!” and “We don’t tri, our daughter does!”

I’m grinning like a nut until suddenly, I am on the barge and the row of white caps in front of us has disappeared. Nineteen other women and I move to the edge of the barge and sit down on a hard red mat, dangling our legs over the water. A few seconds pass and then “brrrrrrrrr!”—the horn goes off and I launch myself into the water.

I had intended to get a good strong push off of the barge, but when I shoot my legs out behind of me, my legs make contact with absolutely nothing. With grayish-green water clouding my vision, I feel a quick second of panic before I start clawing my way forward. The water is choppy, with waves either blocking my view or hitting me squarely in the face each time I lift my head. After several mouthfuls of briny water, I decide to breathe exclusively to my left side, to allow the waves to wash over my head instead of hitting me in the mouth. This is when I discover that every 250 meters a “mile marker” sign is attached to the shore-side wall, indicating how far we have swum.

Soon I have left all of the white-capped swimmers behind, and am now surrounded by purple caps. What’s next? I think. What color was in front of purple? It turns out the next wave is blue. Now I am surrounded by blue-capped swimmers.

This is awesome, I think. I have never swum so fast! I am over halfway through the swim, and my adrenaline is still pumping. Just don’t leave it all in the water, I tell myself. Calm down, because if you spend all of your energy here, you’ll have nothing left by the time you get to the run.

I pass athletes doing everything form freestyle to backstroke, breaststroke, side stroke, and even one man in a red cap doing doggy paddle. Suddenly, I glimpse the triangle of orange finishing buoys in sight. I do my best to almost-sprint for the final 200 meters, and then I bump into other athletes at the dock before being gripped and hauled out of the water by a male volunteer. He passes me along up the ramp, with other men gripping my elbow and forearm as my legs stumble and buckle, until I am able to will them to stand.

I make it out to the path, where I follow a line of other athletes performing the same tip-toe run along the pavement toward the transition areas. By the time I cover the 700 meters of pavement to the transition area, the soles of my feet are on fire. I throw my goggles and cap on the ground beside my bike and unroll my socks onto my feet. Shoot, I realize as I reached for my right biking shoe. I forgot to un-Velcro the straps on my biking shoes. I rip them open as fast as I can and stuff my feet inside. Donning my rain-spotted sunglasses, I smash my ponytail under my helmet and clip the strap under my chin. This is why it pays to be a good swimmer, I congratulate myself as I unrack my bike and wheel it down the empty row. No other women had arrived to claim their bike, and the path is clear straight to the exit. What a mess that would have been!

The bike path out of transition is actually the same path that the swimmers use to run to the transition areas. Swimmers run on their right, bikers ride on their right, and so long as no one crosses the center line, crisis is averted. The bike path then takes a sharp right turn, followed by a steep hill that cuts directly through a crowd of spectators. At the top, I follow a roundabout, turn left, and am suddenly on my way up the West Side Highway, off to complete the second part of the race.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was so impressive to see 20 swimmers enter the water every 10 seconds, until all 5,200 bobbing swimcaps were making their way down the Hudson River!