The season closer, which was ironically my season opener, was a race ‘The Dad Posse’ and I decided to race based on a night of drinks out in Midtown after work. Most of my most epic races have been chosen during a beautifully inspired happy hour.
To Train, or not to Train… that is the Question.
You may have noticed a huge gap in my writing even though I was participating in races. There have been some big life changes and I honestly just haven’t been inspired to write. But life thrives with struggle, and as this Half Ironman neared execution date I needed to get my head back in the game.
I did two 50+ rides with my Ironman training partner Dougie Dee a few weeks prior to the race and did one open water swim at ‘Super Secret Tri Training Camp’ (aka Aunt Margie and Uncle John’s lake). These were the only cycle rides and swim I had done in a year… so I was basically relying on my running skills to get me through the race.
To the End of the Earth
Jim and I (Ed and Mike couldn’t make the race) headed out on Saturday morning. It was a gorgeous day for a drive and we kinda just took our time getting out to Montauk, which ended up being around 3 hours.
To those of you who understand what ‘The Hamptons’ are… go 15 miles past them to the last town on Long Island and you get to a beautiful place called Montauk. Old salty sea dogs and surfers alike populate this earthy beach haven where there is no judgment. Jim and I immediately loved the place.
We checked into our motel and walked the 1/16th of a mile to Transition to check in. Whoa race morning was be gonna easy.
The Point Bar & Grill
Have you ever walked into a bar and felt totally welcome and at ease? Welcome to The Point. Dark with slender windows designed in the 50’s around a brick structure, the bar was primarily old wood from a different era. Everyone knew everyone and I wanted to be those people.
Jim and I posted up, grabbed some beer and ordered our late lunch. I chose the catch of the day blackened… when in Rome. Soon enough, Mike, the older salty dog to our left started talking to us. “You guys Coast Guard?” Holy shit did he just make my day. I looked at Jim and said, “He thinks we’re Coast Guard! Do we look like Coast Guard?” We corrected him and explained that we were here for the triathlon. He wanted to buy us some beers but it was gorgeous out so we left. We would return in time…
We hung out on the beach for a few hours catching up on life which was cool. It was a different kind of beach hang. It was Fall beach, the kind of beach you needed a sweatshirt for, and it was nice.
Pre Race Dinner?
We hit up Montauk Brewery for pre dinner drinks and then landed at Montauk Circle Burger for dinner. Both of us had not trained and were taking this race very light heartedly. So yea, no huge pasta dinner. (Beer is a carb.)
Jim was up at 4:30 and I was up and ready to roll by 5:30. Transition was already open and the swim waves started at 6:50… we were right on time.
We met our new friend Rob (also staying in the motel) and rode over to the start in the deep, dark and spooky fog. It was amazing, especially since the temperatures were hovering in the 55-60 degree range. Lost in the darkness and feeling extremely relaxed I did what I have done time and time again in triathlons. I was setting up my transition area and taking it all in. It can have a very eerie silence to it, all the athletes internally contemplating their day.
Me? I don’t know… let’s go have some fun chasing each other.
Into the Soup
I was in Wave 1 which started 10 minutes late. I waded out with my peers and was pretty damn excited about digging into this cushy clean lake. Our turn buoy, the furthest out, looked very daunting as far as distance goes. I fist bumped a few strangers (now friends?) and after wishing them well on their journey plunged into the liquid fun.
The first half of my swim was so relaxing. I thought about so many things and solved so many of my problems. Being in a swim is like a deprivation chamber, just you and your thoughts. I was focused on my form (since it had been a year) and was making nice headway.
Then, we turned around and eventually hit the back of the pack Olympic and Sprint swimmers… like a traffic jam. Now, I’m not a great swimmer as far as speed is concerned, but I can get kicked in the face have my head thrust down and manage just fine. These guys were all over and totally throwing off my game. In their defense, there were a lot of first time triathletes out there, which I highly support, but they were fucking up my cadence.
Ride Your Bike
Off into the oblivion that was the bike course I felt pretty damn good. I was wearing my Italian Torbole bike jersey because my Iron buddy Dougie Dee was doing a bike race simultaneously. We both got the same jerseys in Italy so it’s meaningful to me.
The Half Iron folk had to do two loops of this course while the Olympic people were doing one. I had a nice crowd as we cruised out on the empty highway. Then, we hit this big ass hill. It wasn’t as long as State Line Hill (if ya know it) but it was more condensed.
I found this guy I was calling ’61’ (since that was his age as marked on his calf). I had my age printed on my calf too. We leapfrogged most of the way for the next 10 miles which turned into a lot of fun. And… he was super badass. Like, if I make it to 61 this is the kind of athlete I want to be.
We passed Montauk Point and headed back east. Then, we turned kind of up north, east to another point. Both lookouts were super cool and in my head I was like “I’m coming here before we leave to check it out.”
’61’ left me as I had to do the turn around to do the whole freaking bike course over again. I gotta tell you, a point to point course is so much better than a looped one. It’s so mentally challenging.
Loop Two… Where is everyone?
As I made the U-Turn I immediately noticed I was by myself. A few things run through your head… am I back of the pack? Is this the wrong course? Am I in the front leading?
I was hoping for the latter so I started riding hard with my head down. I was enjoying myself but fatigue was clearly setting in. “Do a systems check Baker.” This is where I do a once over on all body parts and try to figure out what is slowing me down or causing my body to fail. I started slowly eating bits of a Cliff Bar, immediately noticing a difference. I also started taking salt tablets every hour. Life and energy was being restored, hope renewed.
I certainly had major ups and downs on loop two, especially since I was riding by myself most of the time. I tried to keep my spirits up and stay focused on the end game. My bike pace did pick up on certain stretches, so much that I zoned out and was just cutting through space and time in a daze. I finished in 2:50 with a 20 mph average speed.
Running is so fun
I came in hard to transition. Like, I skidded. Then, I popped out of the zone.
In T2 Jim was waiting for me as he raced the Olympic and had already finished. I was secretly very jealous. He hung out while I was changing and asked how I was doing, he had a great race and I told him I’d be done in an hour thirty. As I hit the course and started running I was like ‘That’s probably not gonna happen.’
The first hill was so cute. I thought that was the hill everyone was talking about and was like ‘seriously’?
I was also chugging along and my splits started coming in… 7:30’s! My standard issue for triathlons which made me happy. Sometimes in a triathlon you feel as if you are moving very very slowly, so to have some statistics come in that say otherwise can be up-lifting.
Somewhere around Mile 2 we took a left turn into a neighborhood. ‘The Neighborhood of the Biggest Hills Ever.’ Holy smokes, this one hill (and if you did the race you know what I’m talking about) came out of nowhere and was brutal. I started running up it then walked most of the way to the apex. I was looking forward to bombing down it on the return downhill.
The positive factor was that I was passing by lots of fun people who were receptive to my jovial positive reinforcement. Later, we would become friends. Oh, and it was crazy hot out, like 80, with occasional shade. If there wasn’t a gorgeous Montauk ocean breeze we all might be dead.
Things changed at Mile 5. This happens to me all the time, but normally around Mile 2. I cannot explain what went down, but I was watching my heart rate and trying to regulate it. Some new source of energy surged into me and the fatigue and pain I was feeling went away. People became targets and my pace quickened.
Halfway to enightenment
As I passed through the transition area, mile 6.5 or so, I knew I was half way done. I also knew that something was happening. I ran and I ran, in that odd place by the lake, knowing I would hang a left into the hilly neighborhood I now knew so well. My triathlon legs were gone and my runner body was here. I was in some sort of overdrive.
I ran (slowly up the hills) but kept momentum going. I saw all my old pals finishing who high fived me, competitors I would not beat as they were on fire and crushing it. I found myself running at a steady consistent pace hitting 7:30’s. In fact one spectator yelled at me ‘Nice cadence!’ An odd compliment in my head I was like ‘Cool, thanks.’
Exiting the neighborhood, we had 2 miles to go on the highway. If you wanted to talk to me about why endurance athletes can endure, I suppose I would say something like ’10 percent physical, 90 percent mental.’ That was what was going down in this moment… my mind and body were in total sync and in an unfaltering pace aimed for the finish. As I write this and reflect on it I realize that these moments are the most important in the sport. The mind and body working together in some sort of nirvana carrying you to the end. I honestly didn’t feel tired.
The Chapter Closes
During the entire race I often said to myself, especially in times of need, ‘This is what you live for. Do not wish for the end to come so soon, enjoy the moment.’
Unfortunately, the end did come and I welcomed it as the heat was getting to me. As I cruised to the finish my favorite spectator (who had been stationed all over and was great at well, spectating and getting me amped up) was by the finish. She gave me one final shout out as she left the scene waving goodbye.
I finished with a jump shot, an homage to my original coach, Coach Sonja, who taught me a lot. My run time was 1:40 flat.
Jim was there waiting and looking, might I add, super fresh. Very jealous! I accidentally had a non-alcoholic beer before collecting my things in transition. It was there I saw one of my competitors and now friend Baris. He happened to be across from me in transition and so we laughed a bit about the race. He is from Brooklyn! Hi neighbor.
After cleaning up, Jim and I headed to the awards ceremony. I had won 2nd Place in my age group (26th overall), so I got a trophy! For those of you new to me… I am an artist. Growing up I did not participate in any sports at all. I started all of this nonsense when I was the ripe old age of thirty. Point being, I never won trophies, so it’s a big deal to me when I do.
After the awards we hit The Point for dinner. We were both pretty wiped out so we spent the rest of the night chilling out in our hotel.
Back to Mighty Manhattan
We were up pretty early, which meant one thing… coffee run to Sevs! (7-11… if ya don’t know, now ya know). I wanted to hit the lighthouse before leaving but Jim did not, so we parted ways.
I drove out to the tip of Long Island, the ‘End of the Earth’ as you might call it. It was remote, it was cold, rugged and so cool. I walked around a bit and watched the dedicated fishermen in the surf. It was truly another world out there and so very amazing to take in.
I had off of work, so I took my time headed back to the city. I stopped when I wanted to, making it a true road trip. I made it home by early afternoon and just like that… it was over.
Since May I have been a walking mess. Often wondering about purpose and decisions, time and space, but mostly time. When you race for 5:25 hours you get to think about a lot of shit. I think I did most of my thinking in my total garbage 48 minute swim, finally clearing my mind. That left me open to actually compete in the bike and run and to take home a trophy after almost no training. Am I back? I think so. Battle Stations, Bitches.