Westchester Toughman Half Triathlon
On Sunday, September 12th, 2010 I raced the Westchester Toughman Half Triathlon. It is a Half Ironman distance race, which means a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run. This was the 3rd year of the event. It was by coincidence that I happenned to enter the Toughman this year, especially since I did not plan to do a race of this distance in 2010. I wanted to stick to the short and fast stuff in order to get back to running fast. My “A” race for this year was to be the NYC Triathlon, a big time Olympic distance(.9mi swim, 40k bike, 10k run) race in New York in mid-July. Of course, something interupted my plans. While coaching my team in May, I tore my right calf muscle demonstrating a warm up. Yes, I know, it’s a sure sign of aging when you injure yourself warming up so as NOT to injure yourself!!! While I did manage to recover enough to race in NYC, it was no longer an “A” race, but just a test for my leg to see if it could make it through. It did. I managed to run, not very fast, but I did indeed run.
I needed a new “A” race to train for, and the Toughman seemed to line up perfectly schedule wise, and to top it all off, it was a local race, VERY LOCAL!(30 minute drive) I contacted race director, Rich Izzo, whom I was familiar with through past races, and just being a part of the triathlon community in Westchester, and he was gracious enough to let me enter the event. Knowing I was a USAT Coach, he asked if I would volunteer my time to help with the race clinic on August 14th, and help out with registration on the Saturday before race day. I couldn’t say no. It was a great opportunity to check out the race course, give something back to the sport that is my job, and also learn a little more about the inner workings of staging a race. Of course, it was also a way to thank Rich as well.
I thought I had plenty of time to get myself ready to take on the challenge of a Half IM, but naturally, life gets in the way sometimes. I’m married to a wonderful woman, a father of two great kids, with a new puppy(Diesel is the new team mascot), and a growing business as well. Sound familiar? Even though I’m a triathlon coach, I’m just like all of my athletes. So, of course, I went into this race not sufficiently trained, but with experience, guile, and a certain amount of pain tolerance on my side. (note to all of my current and future athletes: THIS SHOULD NOT BE ATTEMPTED AT HOME!)
The first thing I noticed during the clinic on 8/14, was what a great location it was for a race. Croton on the Hudson is full of scenic views, and challenging terrain. It reminds me why I enjoy living and training in Westchester. Amazingly, it was the same on race day… Thankfully, it was perfect weather for a long course event; overcast skies, slightly cool, and threatening rain that never came.
The swim takes place in a secluded harbor on the Hudson in “FRESH” water. The fact that the water was very shallow at the start was not a detriment. In fact, if I were stepping up to this distance for the first time, and nervous about the swim, I would find it a comfort. There was a slight current leading out into the main section of the river, but in no way, was it difficult to navigate, or swim through as long as you took the time to sight, and took a good line out and back. I took a wide line going out letting the current pull me to the buoys, and a tight line coming back to keep from drifting too wide. To my surprise, my legs started cramping even though I was purposely just dragging them to conserve for the bike and run. This was an ominous sign for the day to come…
The Bike course is where the Toughman starts to earn it’s name. When I did the clinic, I stayed with the back of the pack to help navigate the newer riders through the course. Even though I was riding at a casual, non-race pace, I found the course to be a good challenge with a number of varying climbs, from long and steady to short and steep. There were also a number of flat sections to really let it all out. It was a nicely scenic ride rolling past resevoirs, horse farms, and lush greenery. On race day, I purposely rode conservatively on certain sections realizing what lay ahead, not just on the ride, but on the run as well. This was a good thing because I started to feel slight cramping in my thighs at mile 32. It was nothing serious until mile 51. At that point a severe cramp attacked my right quad, right hamstring, and inner thigh. I was able to clip out just in time to stop from just falling over. This is where that lack of quality training really started to bite back. I obviously needed to make a serious adjustment to my nutrition strategy as well, which probably could have been addressed during that missed training time. After stretching and downing an entire bag of GU Chomps, I was back on my way, but not entirely happy about my upcoming run.
Now, if the bike course was challenging, the run course was equally, if not moreso. Since my legs were doing the cramping dance, the first three miles weren’t pretty for me. Those miles wouldn’t be very difficult on a normal day. At about mile 3, you enter a trail that leads you to the Croton Dam. It’s refreshing to be off the roads and under the trees, even on an overcast day. Between mile 4 an 5, the course takes a decidely upward turn to the top of the dam. This is where the Croton High School Cheerleaders really come in handy. Even though I was partying in my own little sufferfest, the cheerleaders chants reminded me of my old football playing days, and motivated me up the climb. My only regret is that they didn’t have enough girls to keep the cheers going all the way to the top, but it was a nice and unique touch that I’m sure most of the male athlete’s will remember. After that climb, you run through a number of small rollers and flats. I took particular notice of a nice downhill because the elite racers were on their way back up it. This would be mile 10 on the way back, and is the signature climb of the race called the “Toughman.” I confess to not running up the entire hill. My quads at this point had had enough. At mile 11 a long time friend of mine was there on his bike, and escorted me to the finish. He did not provide any outside assistance(no penalties, or disqualifications required), just encouragement, and for that, Jeffrey, I’m very grateful. I hope my athletes get the same sense of motivation when I cheer them on in their races. It’s always a good thing!
It felt great to cross the finish line! My time of 5:48 was not rocket fast, but I was satisfied knowing that I did what I could with what I had on that day. I stayed in the moment, adjusted to how I was feeling, and JUST KEPT GOING FORWARD! Through a hard physical challenge, I succeeded, and am motivated to go at it again!
The Westchester Toughman Half is a well organized, and well run event. It is the only Half Iron distance triathlon in Westchester, and is worth your time to TRI! Congratulations go to Rich, and all the event organizers and volunteers. You have added a “Must Do” race to every area triathlete’s race calendar. Next Year, I promise to train for it! I say this in my best Terminator voice, “I’ll be back!”
Coach Jeff Boyer
B Athletics Racing