My alarm rings, it’s 3:30 AM. I get up right away, excited and determined. Down on the street Broadway is surprisingly busy. It’s before dawn and humid already,not a good sign, I think to myself that I will suffer during the run. At every triathlon, I am amazed by the amount of equipment that we need: wetsuit, goggles, swim cap, helmet, clips, running shoes, bottles, gels, sunblock, race belt etc. So of course, I am convinced that I forgot something important. I walk by twenty ambulances parked in a backstreet, for a second I feel like I’m going to battle.
The transition area is gigantic, I’ve never been part of such an important triathlon. Everyone is getting ready, I have almost three hours before the start, but I feel nervous. For breakfast, I brought a few things, mainly donated items from the race sponsors, beet juice, energy bar etc. As you can imagine, it doesn’t taste good, especially when inhaled quickly, but I feel great. Nacho, my guide is all over the place, he changes the pedals of the tandem, he helps me tattoo my race number on my arms, he hands me a coffee, I feel like a pro. It’s 5:45 AM, time to leave the transition area and walk to 100th street, where the swim will start. Of course I did forget something, flip-flops, so I walk barefoot with my wetsuit on my shoulders. We follow the Hudson, it’s beautiful in the morning stillness. At 6 AM, the pro race starts, they swim by us, it’s indescribable. They are pushed by a heavy current, they are shockingly fast.
There is a good crowd, people from all over the world, the music is loud, the sun rises, I am ready. We put on our wetsuits, (it’s always a very fastidious and sometimes embarrassing process), I find my coach and hug them, and walk to the start line. We are all standing on the pier, it’s a great moment. One minute warning, I can hear the crowd, the current is strong. 10 seconds, Nacho tells me that there are a few dead fish ahead of us, 3 seconds I hope that I will be brave, start, I don’t even think and jump in the river.
To my surprise, the Hudson is salty. I get kicked in the face several times, I accidentally punch a few people, but slowly we find our rhythm and speed up. Nacho and I are tethered at the waist, I get tangled once or twice, but everything works out ok. I feel good, most importantly I am very relaxed. I make note of that because I tend to have anxiety attacks in the water, which is not ideal for a triathlete. Aside from staying calm, the most difficult thing for me during the swim is to go straight, I zigzag a lot, especially with the powerful current of the Hudson. I have no idea how my opponents are doing, I focus on myself.
Suddenly I hear a familiar voice, it’s my wife!
I slowdown, I wave to my left, and here she is with a group of friends, going nuts. They get mad at me, they don’t want me to stop to wave. I laugh and keep going. I believe that we are half way through, so I start pushing. Nacho says something, I’m not sure what, I look up, and someone grabs my hand, we are not half way through, we are done! I yell “strip!” And two woman rush toward me and help me remove my wetsuit in no time. In the triathlon world, we call those woman strippers. Nacho grabs my arm, we run to our bike.
“We are second Charles!”
Wow, I’m a terrible swimmer and we are in second place in our category, this looks promising. I know what you are thinking, how far is the guy ahead of us? First, let me tell you that he is from Russia, and by definition Russians have an unusual tolerance to pain. In addition, his guide is a US Marine that did several Iron Mans, so they are moving quickly. In a triathlon it’s always difficult to know where your opponents are, but what I do know is that I’m a better runner than him, so I’m hopeful.
The bike course is relatively easy, we go north on the Henry Hudson Expressway, until the Bronx. It’s fun to go through the toll, we pass a lot of people, but no Russians. Time for a drink, Nacho and I joke around, the speed is exhilarating, we average something like 20 miles per hour. We push hard, I keep thinking of my wife and my friends waiting for me in transition, I don’t want to make them wait too long. We are finally done with the 25 miles, I hop into my running shoes, Nacho says that there are very few bikes around, we are doing well. Quickly though, reality catches up with me, my legs are hurting terribly, and it’s starting to be very hot. We start easy, I smile to the crowd, Manhattan is awesome.
When we enter Central Park I have the chills, the crowd is super loud, so loud that I feel like they are right next to me, I’m even a little afraid to bump into people. I feel better, I breathe slowly, I love this! But then it’s the dreadful hills of Central Park, and up there, there is no one! The silence and the intolerable heat are getting to me, I wonder how long I can stand this, I promise myself that I will never signup for another triathlon. A friend of mine appears out of nowhere on a scooter, I am amused, then another friend jogs after us for a little while. I stop thinking, nothing matters now, it’s all about my next step. I keep hearing people telling me that I’m almost done, I want to scream. I moan, my breathing resembles that of a bear, my head is swaying more and more with exhaustion. In the background though I hear a microphone, it’s the finish line! Nacho says something in Spanish, I dig even deeper, it’s all mental from there. Someone empties a bottle of water on my head, I want to kiss them. I don’t have my usual speed, I know that I pushed too hard on the bike and I’m paying for it now, but I’m close and I’m still doing a great time. People keep saying “go Achilles”, I feel like I have to represent my group and push even harder. My moaning gets to shameful levels, but I don’t care. One last turn and I hear my wife again, I know that this is it. I try to smile but I can’t, we are finally done.
My Russian friend and his guide come and hug me, I congratulate them, they deserve their victory, I have renewed respect for them. I did my best, I really did. I finished a little over a minute behind them. But I will face them in October again, we have a date. Yes I know, I will do this to myself again.
A woman from Fox News comes to interview me, I really want to sit down but I have lost every bit of self determination, I follow the move. I respond to her questions, my words are empty. From now on, I will never make fun of a silly answer of a football player right after a game.
I placed second in my category, 766 overall, out of over 4,000, I finished in 2:44, a new PR, I’m a Happy Camper!