This Sunday morning, I stepped aside from my fall marathon training for a day to participate in the New York Road Runners’ inaugural Sprint Triathlon in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The event featured a 400-meter indoor swim in the brand-new (and beautiful) Flushing Meadows Aquatic Center pool, a 10-mile bike ride around the park’s perimeter, finishing with a 5K run through the center of the park.
For me, the race offered an opportunity to participate in my first multisport event, and also a chance to test all the cross-training I’ve been doing while training under the Furman Institute / FIRST marathon plan (“Run Less, Run Faster”). With only a few months of serious swimming and cycling under my belt, it was to be an interesting test.
Roughly 500 participants gathered in the pre-dawn hours outside the Aquatic Center to set up the their transition zones and gear up for the race. I ran over my checklist several dozen times, noting the relative logistical simplicity of putting on running shoes for a marathon. In conversing with others in the transition area, it became clear that there were many first-time triathletes brought in by their familiarity with the NYRR’s road races.
As the sun began to peek out, the racers herded into the aquatic center for the 7:00am start. The swim portion required participants to snake through eight 50-meter lanes of the pool. Participants self-seeded by predicted 400m swim times, and were allowed in the water in 10-second intervals. This led to a substantial start delay for some, but that afforded the ability to be both competitor and spectator. My 21-minute start differential (as I had seeded mid-pack, based on a 12-minute swim time estimate) allowed me to cheer on as the elite swimmers glided seemingly-effortless through the course.
Once in the water, it became quickly apparent that, just as in road racing, self-seeding is an inexact science – only as good as everyone’s knowledge of and honesty about their speed. Thus, I got a crash course in what more experienced triathletes tell me is the hidden aspect of the sport – the sort of aquatic wrestling that takes place while trying to move through crowded water. I’ve trained in a pool, but not while being kicked in the face and pushed into the lane lines (and, naturally, dishing it out, too). After that experience, it was a relief to spring out of the pool in a slower-than-expected 14:28 split.
The bike portion featured three loops of a flat, fast course around the park’s Perimeter Road, past the World’s Fair Pavilion, Queens Museum of Art, Queens Zoo and Arthur Ashe Stadium. The course marshals did an admirable job of keeping riders alerted to road hazards (speed bumps and potholes) on a rather poorly-maintained road. I was pleasantly surprised, having trained a bit slower on hillier terrain, to find myself keeping a sub-3:15-mile pace (about 18.5mph) through the first 2-2/3 laps of the course... which is when the race gods decided to smite me.
With a mile left in the course, my rear tube blew out, and I faced a quick decision. Weighing my questionable ability to change a tire quickly against my ability to run a mile in socks (can't run in clip shoes) while carrying a bike, I opted for the latter. It cost me roughly 10 minutes on the bike split, dropping my split from a likely mid-80s place to 316th place. On the bright side, it gave me a chance to joke with the course marshals, the funniest Garmin pace chart I’ve ever had, and a good reason to finally buy a Brightroom race photo (I made sure they snapped a shot of me carrying my bike). I hobbled into the transition area in a 42:53 split, far off my hoped-for 32:00 split, but simply happy that I could put on shoes and leave the bike behind for the final 5K run.
As a light rain began to mist the course, I fought through the predictable post-bike leg fatigue to a slow-but-steady 28:49 on the run course, a quick loop through the center of the park, down the central promenade and looping around the Unisphere. I pulled in for a 1:31:47 overall finish, 282nd of 368th finishers overall. Though smarting over the nearly 100 places my mechanical issues likely cost me, it was a treat to finish my first triathlon, and as much fun as I’ve had in a (non-VCTC) race all year.
For an inaugural event, the Road Runners did an impressive job of putting together an event with few noticeable hitches, one I’ll be glad to race again if they keep it on the schedule for future years. I recommend it to anyone looking to branch out into multisports who isn’t quite ready to dive in the Hudson or the ocean quite yet.