To view pictures from this event, click here (the same link is at the bottom of the post).
My first triathlon. Wow. The race was likely one I will never forget. What an experience. From the trip to my aunt’s house in Edison the night before the race, to the post-race tomfoolery with all the other racers, the entire event reeked of manliness – the right stuff.
At 9:00 last night, I remember that I left my swim cap in my apartment, and hastily decide to hurry over to modell’s. They close at ten, so I get there in time, and but a shiny, new, white race cap. At which point, I return home, take a shower, and am ready to go down to Edison with Yehudah. I already loaded my bike, wetsuit, and other various triathletic trinkets in the back of grandpa’s crosstour (per Yehudah’s instructions), so we were able to make a clean brake – at 10 o’clock even. The time we arrive there is regardless, as I didn’t fall asleep until 11:40 – a mere 4 hours and 40 minutes before the alarm on my Polar wristwatch blared loudly enough to stir me from my deep slumber.
As a wrestler in high school, I was no stranger to the pre-sunrise alarm, but I greet the entire thing with closed, unwelcoming arms, all the same. I wake up Yehudah who’s purring softly on the coach, and tell him it’s time to leave. THe GPS tells us that the trip should be an hour and 20 minutes, and so I’d like to leave at 4:40 – first wave leaves at 6:50, so that would give us 50 minutes to get situated and adequately warm up . As it turned out, however, the ride was (much) shorter than expected, and we arrived with well over an hour of time to warm up, drop off my bike in the transition area, and say hi to the volunteers. After picking up my goodie bag, I made my way further down the line of volunteers to get my number markered on, only to be told that as a 19 year old, I no longer qualify for the <19 age group. You see, USAT rules state that a triathlete must compete in the age group for whatever age he will be at the culmination of that race’s year – and I will turn 20 in 5 months. Thus, when I turned to look at the waterproof markings which were just scribbled on the back of my right calf, I saw with great disdain that a large “20” was written in there.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but I’m only 19.” “Sorry sweety,” came her reply. “I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them.” Great. I’ve moved up an age group for my first ever triathlon. Oh well. I’ll just have to place in the more competitive group. My ego whispered to me, no big deal. You can take these guys. They got nothing on you.
My first reaction when surveying the competitors and their tools of infinite speed was something along the lines of…holy cow. These guys look legit. In fact, they look too legit. Some may even say they looked too legit to quit. But me? I looked unlegit. And for that, it appeared I must quit.
But in all seriousness. These were triathletes after my own heart. Men who completed ironmen (is that the correct plural), and men who can run back-to-back-to-back sub 6 minute miles while clocking a 12 mile leg at somewhere near a constant 25 miles per hour (in some cases, even more!). It was intimidating! But I sucked it up, went over to my bike and pulled on my wetsuit just like everyone else. And you know what I realized? While there were indeed pros at this race, there were regular-old first time triathletes as well. Triathletes just like me, who were peeing in their wetsuits, and had no clue what test of their very manhood awaited them in the depths of that 4.5 foot bay.
As we waddle out into the water, me and all the other sub-35 year old multi-sport athletes wearing bright green “Jersey Shore KICK OFF!” swim caps (Oh yeah, I have to return the modell’s cap now. Not much of a need for it anymore…), and after 19 years of my life on this great green globe we call earth, I finally understand what 66* water actually means. It means the feeling of a million sharp knives stabbing at every exposed part of your body. Once I loosened the neck area and let some water in however, within minutes, my body warmed up the water that was closest to it, and I was fine. Until Chris calls us back out. My expressions of “huh?” was mimicked by just about everyone around me. But we obediently make our way back to the shore, climb on out, and listen to last minute race intructions. Then we waddle back in.
The swim course was 500 meters – a third of a mile roughly, but it couldn’t have seemed further to me. As soon as the starting cannon sounded, we were off. All of us, or so it seemed. I was swimming as hard and as fast as I could, which wasn’t fast enough apparently, because the other swimmers were grabbing and clawing at me from all angles, and so I pushed myself even harder. Big mistake. About two minutes in, somewhere around the third or fourth buoy (I can’t remember, since my head was spinning at that point), I find my footing in the slimy muck at the bottom of the Bay in Bayeville, NJ, and do a semi-walk, semi0stroke while I try to regain my stroke. People are flying by me on both sides, so I put my face back in and make it another 25-35 strokes before getting too gassed to go out. Again and again and again. Over and over until I lift my head and see the first three of four swimmers make their way out of the water. I look at my watch. The time doesn’t matter – I just have to finish within a couple of minutes of them, and I’ll be happy. I put my head back in the water, and hammer away with all I’ve got. by the time I reached the end, I was told that, “Dude. You looked like you just got hit in the stomach. Repeatedly.” And that’s exactly how I felt. I finished 61st in the swim out of roughly 150, but it wasn’t over. Far from it. I ran over to the transition area, all the while stripping out of my wetsuit, goggles, and neon green cap, and looked at my watch. 2 minutes behind the pros. Nice.
I grab my bike, with my shoes already on my feet, and helmet already on my head, and I was off. I ran through the transition area, ran through the parking lot (as long as one could call running with those triathlon bike shoes running), clipped in my right pedal, and I was off. I immediately passed 4 bikers right off the bat, and had a feeling this was going to be a good ride for me. Indeed it was. I averaged a pace of just under 20 mph, one I was adequately happy enough, and somehow, subconsciously, adopted a strategy whilst on the bike. Every time another biker would pass me, I don’t know where it came from, but some second wind hit me, I would pull away from the line, pass two or three bikers, then fall back into the line (Don’t worry, my fellow triathletes. I was sure to keep a distance so as not to draft). And this went on throughout the entire duration of the race. I took down two or three cyclist’s from my (20-24) age group, and felt pretty good, considering I somehow managed to reach down, grab that bottle of blue wonder (gatorade, actually), raise it to my lips, and guzzle down a quarter of it. All while riding – something I’ve never so much as attempted before.
As I dismounted my bike and ran it into the transition area, I found a friend in a 27 year old runner (I only remember the number because the back of his right leg is the only thing I saw while trailing behind him by a few feet for out roughly 7:45 mile pace. Sorry for forgetting your name, my friend.) I followed him around the first bend where several things happened simultaneously. First and foremost, mister 27-year old triathlete cramped up. Secondly, a woman materialized with an official’s reflective vest and a rather professional-looking camera. Thirdly, I happened to turn around, and saw this mean looking gentleman, who appeared to be somewhere twice my age, gaining on us. And fast. “Sorry buddy, but why don’t you let me take the lead for a bit here?” His response? “SURE!” He barely got that word out. So we rounded the corner with me in “overtake-mode”, and Tony hot on our heels. There should be a stellar picture of this somewhere, and if I find it, I’ll definitely post it up here. Tony grabs the lead shortly afterward, and I brake away from Mister 27 (I believe his name may have been Chris?). Tony and I are now doing miles closer to 7:30, I believe, but he too, gets gassed at a certain point. So I says to him, I says, “Listen Tony. You see that guy up ahead in the bright blue shirt?” Sure enough, about 250 feet ahead of us, was a runner with a light blue shirt. “Yeah,” came his response. “I’m gonna go get him. Try and keep up.” And with that, I tried my best to keep my cadence the same, while increasing my speed, and, sure enough, I caught up to that runner. I turn around, see Tony back there, but not too far away, and so I decide to take down the next runner. And the next runner. I must have been running pretty quickly, because my average pace was brought down to 7:11 in total. Sub-7 minute miles? Perhaps…
All I know is that I passed 4 to 5 20-24 year olds, and figured I was sitting pretty for third place, but it couldn’t hurt to sprint the last 3/4 of a mile. So I did. And boy did it hurt. It hurt SO good.
The after race party was great – Kosher pretzels, Kosher cookies, Kosher Bananas, Kosher apples, Kosher grapes, Kosher (ice) water, Kosher jiff peanut butter on non-kosher bread, but boy what a selection! How thoughtful, Chris. Thanks so much. When they posted the preliminary results, I finally found my information.
Overall: 33rd place.
Official Age group (20-24): 5th place.
Actual Age group (19 & under): 1st place.
I went over to Chris and inquired as to why I was put in the 20-24 group, when in fact, I wouldn’t be 20 for another 5 months. He told me that’s just the way it is, but if I stick around, he may just have a surprise for me (accompanied by a short little wink). Sure enough, He called me up as 1st place for the 19 and under age group, even though I didn’t officially finish in that group. Yeah yeah yeah, illegal and all. Don’t worry, it’s unofficial, but still cool to win first in your (not really) AG in a race with a handful of pros.
Overall, it was a great venue with great racers (some have even seen Kona!) and a fun-filled fantastic time. Thanks, Mr. Wilcox, for providing me with a safe, fun venue and friendly, welcoming crowd, of which I will most likely never forget. Especially with the pictures!
To vies JP’s photography, click here.