Monday, August 27, 2012

Ironman U.S. Championship Race Report - New York City

"I want to wake up in that city 
That doesn't sleep 
And find I'm king of the hill 

Top of the heap" 
I thought this race report was going to start with something along the lines of heading off to Madison, WI or Louisville, KY. I even toyed with the idea of flying up to for IM Canada! Which Ironman race I’d be doing in 2012, my FIRST Ironman, was an absolute mystery. Why did they all have to be so far away?! In May of 2011 it was announced that a new race would take place here on the East Coast in the Big Apple. Ironman U.S. Championship in New York City! Or, more affectionately known as IM “New Jersey” since the greater part of the race takes place on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.

Most of the tabs on the race web page were mere placeholders until more information was available. Okay... what do we know about the race? Takes place on 11 August 2012. And it’s almost $900. Hmm. Being Captain Decisive, I tabled the idea for a day or so to think about dropping some serious cash on this. After a little thinking, it was decided, and with luck, I was one of the many who squeezed in during the 11 minute window it was actually open for general registration.

In the early spring season, I had a few good races and some close friends of mine recommended that I start thinking about getting a coach to help me. For anyone who knows me, I’ve always just made up my training willy-nilly and hope for the best. While I’ve had success using that method, it seemed like it would be a pretty smart choice to bring on someone who knew much more about an Ironman and how to train for it. I certainly didn’t know where to start other than to just go out in train for it by volume.

Four months of solid preparation (save, a few weeks off for a revisit from an injury earlier this year) might seem to some as too much training, especially when the hours varied from 12-20 hours. To me, it almost didn’t seem like nearly enough. Back in June of 2011 when I signed up for the race I told my friend Tuan how excited I was to have gotten into the sold out race and he gave me one very wise piece of advice which I really didn’t pay much attention to at the time: Budget for food. Lots of it. I’d soon come to realise just how true Tuan was that once it came time to get down to real training business that I’d have to seriously budget for a staggering food bill every week. I was eating more and more every day and felt completely unsatiated after each more, craving snacks, extra helpings, and even supplemental meals throughout the day. I was burning through more and more calories and more and more cash with each week that came closer to the race itself. Wow! I need to write to Chipotle to sponsor my after training meals, and to Harris Teeter and Wawa to help me with the 2-3 gallons of chocolate (and some white) milk I drank every week. My survival depended on several cases of Honey Stinger waffles and gels every other day, and almost entirely every Saturday on my long rides. I was sick of the pool. Sick of running. Sick of biking. Sick of waiting.

Before I knew it, the realization that I was doing an IM started to sink in when someone asked me when the race was and I answered without thinking first, "oh hey, it's next weekend.... oh shit..."

Having arrived a few days early, I had some downtime and spent it relaxing and keeping trying stressing out. Well, trying to, until I got an email alerting me of recent developments in a massive sewage spill upriver. Oh, and then there were 70% chances of rain and thunderstorms. It literally came down to 4:30 Friday afternoon before we got official confirmation that the swim portion of the race would even be held. Whew. I didn't want to have to make my own "138.2" sticker. It was on.

Racking my bike was scary. The skies didn't look friendly at all.
The storm before the quiet?
Ferries taking us to Ross docks for bike racking.
A downpour greeted us at transition and gave a cold introduction to Ross Docks. Amazingly, the sun popped out within minutes of putting my bike to bed and gave me a slight sunburn as I waited for the return ferry. The rest of the day was fairly low key, dinner with friends and a few hours of wondering if everything was in the right place. You reach a point where you just stop caring and just go with it. To bed.

My first alarm went off at 0256. I’m hating life at this point. Get up, Trevor! I wasn't going to hit the snooze button. Not even once, no matter how much I wanted to. There were three more alarms set in case that one didn’t get me up, as I’ve slept through a few before. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much to do before I was out the door. I slipped into my race kit, made my peanut butter and banana sandwich and coffee for breakfast, and headed out the door by 0318. In the lobby was a gaggle of people gently scurrying about to be sure they made it in time to the shuttle that departed from the host hotel. We were all zombies loading into the bus that would convey us across Manhattan to the Docks where our ferry to transition waited. I was a bit surprised, yet not surprised, how alive New York City was at quarter to four in the morning. New York is a living beast, only slowing down for a few hours between dusk and dawn, but never coming to a stop.

Transition, race morning

On the ferry we all sat quietly as we all came out of out comatose state. A number of different languages were floating across the seats and I continued to sip on my dark roast. It took awhile to actually get to Ross Docks a couple miles up river. Once there, we were to allowed make any last minute adjustments to what was in our run and bike bags as well as drop off our special needs bags. After a few adjustments to my garmins, getting my tires pumped, I was ready with time to spare. The next forty minutes I spent waiting outside of transition with everyone else who was ready to board our next ferry to the swim start. I managed to pee about four times before we actually got on the ferry, then braved the travesty that they called a bathroom on the boat to pee one last time. I figured I’d be peeing on myself enough later, I didn’t need to start so early in the morning.
Two point four miles later we got to the barge where the swim start would begin. I was a few ferries back, so the gun went off before we even got to the platform. It afforded us, however, a close up view of the professionals swimming by, then the lead group of amateurs falling into the water in a time trial start. There wasn’t much time between linking up with the floating platform and actually entering the water. It was cloudy, and I could tell the skies wanted to rain, but would hold back. 
The barge where we started the swim
Everything was grey with shades of a yellow-brown. Twenty minutes after the cannon sounded, I was in the water.

Not now, Chief, I'm in the fuckin' zone.
Immediately after submerging myself in the river my eyes could only see brown. The water was dirty and had an odor that can only be described as a curious cocktail of organic matter and chemicals. The taste, however, was very bitter with hints of petrol and sadness. I would guess the water was around 75 or 77 degrees or so, likely from the rain the day before, but it was very comfortable in a sleeveless wetsuit. Contrary to the popular belief that the swim start is a melee of people kicking and punching, there was a calmness about. I found plenty of room to move about, only making minor course adjustments as I got too close to another swimmer or vice versa. My plan was to hug the buoys closer to the middle of the river to take full advantage of the current and to stay away from the bulk of the other competitors. Success! Sighting was fairly easy, but seeing other swimmers proved to be the most difficult. The water was so dirty I couldn’t even see my own arms in front of me. This resulted in allowing myself to get kicked in the face just once. I only lost a few moments to get my goggles back on and start swimming again. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. At the halfway mark the buoys changed colour, which was a welcomed sign of progress. I was actually passing people, which kept me very excited. Every 100 yards we say a marker and eventually the swim exit started to become more visible. Maybe 40 meters out the water became black. What the shit? (No pun intended). Swimmers were starting to bunch together and it started to make sense. Sediment and other gunk was being stirred up by people touching the bottom as they began to exit. Oh, okay. That’s cool. I stepped down just before the exit stairs to prepare for getting out, but my feet sank into the bottom, if one can call it that. A strange substance constituted the bottom of the river. It had a soft texture, lighter than a mousse, but very fine. Yet another disgusting feature of the swim. 
You wouldn't believe the shit I had to go through. Literally.
Swim time: 52:33

Volunteers were there to yank us, literally, out of the water and onto solid ground. After a quick rinse under the dripping shower system the Ironman staff constructed at the end of the swim, I made my way to the bike bag pickup are. I called out my bib number to the volunteers and man held up my bag for me to snag as I passed through. Now, I had the choice of grabbing a seat in the changing rooms, or simply finding some real estate on the ground outside. With the sheer volume of people, the latter sounded my more agreeable. Exiting the changing area, there were about a half dozen young ladies with gloves on standing by buckets of sunscreen. Not missing a chance to get a rubdown by cute girls, I stopped by. Just for a minute.

Without fail, the start line was crowded by people stopping just at the mount line and in the middle of traffic. Perhaps a strange phenomenon occurs at this stage in the race where everyone comes down with a case of tunnel vision and stupidity. What this does is create a wall of folks kicking at their pedals like they’re trying start a motorcycle that forces a bottleneck at the mount line. I was able to find a hole to squeeze through and kept running my bike through until I had a safe place to mount. However, none of us were blazing out of the bike start. The first couple miles out of transition were up a long, steep hill. Cowbells and shouts came from the crowd lining the road at the top of transition as the course merged onto the Palisades Parkway. 
Who put this hill here?
This shot could be used for any point in the 112 miles.
yay, more bike
The southbound lanes of the parkway had been shut down and closed to traffic specifically for the bike portion of the race, which was a welcomed feature. We were already dealing with dense packs of riders for the beginning of the bike leg, so there wouldn’t have been any room for cars. During the first loop of 56 miles drafting was abundant and blatant. Course marshals seemed absent from the course, but then again, there was no room for people to exit draft zones. My best guess was that as long as you weren’t flagrantly drafting or blocking the marshals looked the other way. That didn’t stop one particular individual I saw drafting behind another rider (who, I would imagine, made quite a nice slipstream to ride in) following behind holding desperately to the wheel in front of him. Just like in the pro cycling races, when the pulling rider moved to the left or right, the man in violation shadowed perfectly. It irritated me since triathlon is an individual sport. While drafting is legal in ITU and cycling races, that was not the case here. It didn’t stop me from passing the two and leaving them to the will of any course marshal lurking behind.

Great volunteers from Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation
Hill after hill, we climbed high before rocketing down long descents. Some of us were hitting speeds in excess of 47-50 miles per hour. It was dangerous with the volume of other riders. You had to grip onto your handlebars for dear life in preparation for dodging all the water bottles shooting out of bottle cages from under riders’ saddles from the force of air pushing them out during such rapid descents. I found that both of my bottles had been ripped from my saddle bottle cages and left me only with one bottle of sports drink on my downtube. This was fascinating that I could go fast enough for that to even take place! Luckily, feed zones were every 10-15 miles so I was able to stock up again just a few miles later. Volunteers at these zones were great, running with you to ensure a solid handoff of bottles, and others calling out what delicious treats they had to offer such as Gu, Bonk Breakers, bananas, and girls scout cookies (Ha! I wish...).

The bike course was a lot more challenging than anticipated. On the second loop the hills seemed steeper and longer, my bladder was threatening to burst, and my man-bits were not at all happy with me. By this point the crowds from before were almost non-existent. Now, I figured, would be the most opportune moment to remedy my bladder problem. For anyone who has never done it, peeing on the bike (at least for males) is MUCH more difficult to do that you’d expect. You can’t pedal while doing it. The muscles controlling bladder release don’t want to relax. I had never actually practiced peeing on the bike before, so all of this was new to me. The best I could do was release it in three “sessions” and rinse myself with a water bottle in between each. A gentle warning to anyone who will try this on their own, be mindful of other riders behind you. As you’re whizzing along the course on your bike (no pun intended) you will spray backwards, which actually pays off if your leg is positioned right so nothing trickles down your leg into your shoes.

“I don’t often pee on myself, but when I do, I prefer during a triathlon” -The most interesting triathlete in the world

For a while I rode by myself, but would find people again at aid stations. By then, the sun had escaped from the clouds and started its rampage against fair skinned people. Putting my dark sunglasses in my bike bag and including arm-cooler sleeves was one of the best ideas I ever had. Much to my dismay, what little sunscreen I thought was rubbed into my exposed shoulders ceased to defend against the harmful UV rays. A few of us pressed on through the last few hills before the finish. It was hot. I even shared one of my last two bottles of water with another competitor who has lost his and run dry. The course descended back down to Ross Docks and gave me a glimpse of what I would look forward to when I started the run - walking and grimaces. I could see the displeasure of everyone jogging or walking up the hill out of transition as I coasted down to the transition line. Actually, I was looking forward to the run. The bike course was rather boring with very little to see, so I was anxious to have a change of scenery. That, and my nether regions were burning more than a sailor’s crotch after a tour in a Thai brothel. 

Going strong even at mile 110.
Ellen, in the background, passed me moments later. Beast.
Bike time: 5:42:31

When I exited the changing tent I came up to the same girls who were applying sunscreen. I exclaimed that my rare condition, being a Ginger, required copious amounts of sunscreen. This proved, however, pointless since I was a hot, sweaty mess and none of the sunscreen stuck to me. Not much could be done at this point except try to finish. So, up the hill and onto the double loop of sadistic hills I went. A delightful challenge! Strangely, I was having fun on these, probably because all of my long runs came in the form of hilly trail runs to get ready for this. Unfortunately, my moment of fun was short-lived. Around three miles in I was flying down a steep descent where I was able to locate a very uneven spot near the shoulder of the path which buckled my knee in a less-than-pleasant way. If anything was to go out I expected an ankle; the knee was not near the top of the list of things I thought would have any problems.

My marathon was essentially over at this point, but the race was not. Friends who’d advised me of how to should compete in my first Ironman was to take time to enjoy the course and take in everything around me. Perhaps this was Nature’s way of telling me the same. With a nagging pinch with every step, I tried to really enjoy the 23 miles left to go. This actually did something good for me: I got to take in a more scenic section of the race. The run course toured the Palisades Park with two seven-mile loops gaining around 1500 feet of elevation. I ran for a little while with a man from Denmark who was playing some trashy European dance music from his phone, I traded war stories with another fellow from California through an aid station, and I watched a man running and puking at the same time without breaking his stride. Rock on, man, Rock on. My friends Ellen, and Kendra encouraged me as they passed by during the loops. Despite the heat I was happy being there alongside everyone else. Still, the race just hurt my body. I downed my 5-Hour Energy that I was keeping in reserve, picked up my bootstraps and pushed.
Feel the burn.

Miles later, in my special needs bag for the run, I placed three notes written to me by friends in a plastic bag in case I needed to find something to bring me out of a dark place. When I came through the bag area, a volunteer already had the contents of my bag in her hand for me to pick from. Everything from the bag seemed useless to me at that point, as I only wanted those letters. I shoved them down my pants on the back side (wrapped in plastic, of course, to protect it from my sweaty ass) and saved them for later. Around mile 15 I found myself heading in that direction, so I as I walked up the last climb I took them out to read the letters. I mustered the energy to smile before returning them to my butt briefcase. I walked a few more steps, and with a bit more pep in my step, started my jog again. Another competitor, with a worn look on her face, was walking just in front of me, so, feeling inspired from my letters, I told her to keep moving. “Dammit,” she whispered with an accent, and started her jog, too. Leoni, from Copenhagen, Denmark, followed with me to the top. “Let’s make it to the next aid station,” she panted. Agreed.

We walked the aid stations to recover before the course director threw a few flights (up AND down) of stairs in our way before crossing the George Washington Bridge. 

Stairs are the devil.

Beyond a doubt, the most beautiful mile during the entire race was crossing over the Hudson into Riverside park in Manhattan along the footpath on the bridge. Quietness. A gentle breeze. Only the sounds my footfall and those of Leoni, who quietly ran beside me. Well, there was also the occasional honk from the cars flying by on the road (hopefully to encourage us).
The best mile of the run. It was flat.

The first sighting of my entourage was at the base of the stairwell at the end of the bridge. It was a glorious site! My grin was from ear to ear, and I stopped to give my friends a wave and blast my nips at them for half a second before trudging on. 
Best. Friends. Ever.
Riverside park was... well... interesting. To my right, families were barbecuing, and on my left, kids were shooting hoops. Young men and woman coasted by on their hybrid bikes and their beach cruisers. At mile 22, three of my friends were waiting for me, signs in hand and smiles on their faces. Again at mile 24 they were waiting for me and that was enough to help me pick up the pace for the last two miles. Just before the finishers chute, my friends Jefferson and Kristen from Adventure Geek Racing waited for me and send me down victory lane. 

Listening to Mike Reilly say may name.
I slowed down to get some separation from the runners in front of me so that when I tripped the chip scanner before the finish line my number would come up and have Mike Reilly sound off, “Trevor Albert from Williamsburg, Virginia... YOU-ARE-AN-IRONMAN!”

Glory was mine.

Run time: 4:40:57

Finish time: 11:24:50

I spent a while thinking about my feelings toward the race. First, I want to give my thoughts about the course and the race itself before I talk about my race.

In short, the IRONMAN U.S. Championship, as an inaugural race, went smoothly. The World Triathlon Corporation made a great effort to overcome most of the obstacles of having a logistically complicated race between two states that are separated by a river in a major metropolitan area with hardly any real estate suitable for a race of this magnitude. Yes, this race required almost as much time planning the days before and after as it did to train for it. Getting the bike to transition the day before, the ferries, and trying to get spectators to places to see were all huge ordeals. While they pumped out nearly all the info we needed for planning and provided plenty of resources to get us around, the nightmare of it all really distracted me from enjoying the experience as much as I think I would have without those elements. Racking the bikes and having was a pain in ass and took two and half hours round trip if you took the ferry. If you shuttled to the ferry race morning, you had to be on the bus no later than 3:40 in the AM. Ef that. All the morning logistics just made the whole thing a huge ordeal and messed with the morning rituals (eating, the morning constitutional, warming up). As I noted above, the Hudson wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be. The current was kicking and the temperature was perfect, even in a sleeveless wetsuit (the course was wetsuit-legal well before the race because the temperature varies so greatly in the river). The suck was not being able to swim beforehand. Not a biggie. To be honest, I thought the bike course was extremely boring with little scenery other than trees and asses (despite how many nice asses were on the bike course). On the bike description we were read there was about 3900 feet of elevation gain, but finishers posting on the Race’s Facebook page reported well over 5000 feet, as did my Garmin Edge 500 (which has a barometric altimeter). The run was very challenging and I heard many finishers saying it was terrible and how overly difficult it was. Harden the fuck up, it’s an Ironman. It’s supposed to be challenging. The scenery was better on the run and at least we had music in a few spots along the course. In the spotlight of the course shines on the volunteer crews - unmatched by any other race. They made this race work. As of now, there is speculation that the race may not return due to it's price increase (to $1200) and logistic problems. Even if it comes back, I won't race it again. 

swag was okay, just a transition bag 

Despite not having the marathon I wanted to, I am very happy with myself for finishing. My plan was good, I performed well, but as my coach said, you can go into a race with the best plan ever, but there are some things you just can’t control that will wipe it all out. The thing is, you just have to accept that as a risk and be content with all of the outcomes. My time meant nothing. The accomplishment was taking my mind and body to somewhere I’ve never been before and surviving. The win came when I resisted giving up when something went wrong or when my body ached. It wasn’t just a victory for me, though. This 18-month adventure is the product of many people to helped me get here. From friends and family to the volunteers handing off nutrition on the course, all are a part of the finish.

Thanks for my housemate, Sarge, for putting up with my sweaty, gross training gear all over the place and dealing with my bikes in the hallways at home.
Thanks to Kristin D. for flying all the way out from Cali to sherpa for me and helping me keep track of things on race day.

Thank you, Elaine for helping me secure lodging at the hotel the night before the race at the host hotel. That made the morning a cinch and eliminated any stress I would have had with morning transportation. That was key to setting me up for a successful morning and race. I couldn't have gotten through those last few months without your support and encouragement.
Thanks to my awesome coach, AJ Morrison (MultisportInMotion) for giving me the plan I needed to train for this race and for all of the insight on how to tackle something this big. Also, thanks for keeping me in check whenever I was getting too cocky. Without your help, I would have hurt myself and died an early death during training.
Thanks to Bruce and Victoria for putting me up for a couple nights in Manhattan before the race. I owe you all the beers.
Ben, thanks for putting me up for many other nights before and after the race. Or were you putting up with me?
Shaun, Virginia-Marie, Kelly, Jefferson, Kristen, Kenny, Savannah, Gordo, Kate, thanks for coming out to see me on the course and finish line. Sorry for blasting my nips at you at mile 18. No wait, I’m not sorry.
Big thanks to my training partners for being getting up at the ass-crack of dawn when you should have been asleep to push me through long rides and long runs.
Thanks to Liz, Kerri, and Scott at Fast Track Physical Therapy for keeping my body in working order after my accident so I could keep training and racing.
Thanks to Honey Stinger for providing me with nutrition all season long that helped me stay energized through my long training sessions and during the long races. I never leave the house without waffles in my jersey.

Thanks to 5-Hour Energy for giving me the boost I needed to get through the tough run. It picked me up while I was down!
Thanks to Adventure Geek Racing for their support and training throughout my early season. Jefferson and Kristen were so encouraging and excited. Your being there at the end was epic.Thanks to my family in the DC Triathlon Club and the High Cloud Foundation for your unremitting support and encouragement leading up to the race. You guys rock!

Congratulations to my friend Kendra Goffredo for her FIRST PLACE AMATEUR FINISH and her Kona qualifying slot. Good luck on the Big Island!
Congratulations to Ellen Wexler for her 3rd place Age Group finish. Also, thanks for not laughing at me as you passed me on the marathon. You rock!

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did racing.. oh wait...

Kittens and sunshine,


  1. impressive, trevor! great race report. hope to run into you again at the next happy hour!

  2. I am quite impressed with this feat of endurance that you managed to accomplish, and well at that. You have definitely provided me with inspiration and some much needed motivation down here in NC. Congratulations on a well earned achievement, IRONMAN.


  3. So, if you were well on the ferry when the thing started, how do you get an accurate time reading? Is it up to you with your fancy watch whatsit, or is there some way that the organizers keep track of it?

    Either way, congrats and we'll done.

  4. Also, any cool swag that warrants a picture? (since I do enjoyed your arm warmers from the last report)

  5. Congratulations, Trevor! Glad we could share a training run and the bus ride up. I enjoyed seeing you on the course. --Kendra

  6. Thanks everyone! I enjoyed the whole journey. Also, new pictures have been added. I'll put in a couple more as I get them.