Ironman US Championships: A Retrospective

Our Assessment of Personal Race Logistics

Now that a few days had passed since Ironman on Saturday, I feel like we can offer our perspective on the event. Triathlons are difficult events to hold because of all of the different moving pieces and I have tremendous respect and appreciation for all those who are involved in holding triathlons.

Overall, both Ben and I were impressed with how well Ironman NYC was held. It was the inaugural race and of course, there would be more than the average number of hiccups when you’re holding an event for the first time. We had a great experience and the problems we had did not detract from the fantastic event.

Ben took Friday off in order to make sure he got everything ready for Saturday and to rest. The transition area for the bikes was in Ross Dock in Fort Lee, NJ. The Ironman organization told us that the two ways to drop off the bike was either to drive and park in Fort Lee and then walk 2 miles to drop the bike and then walk 2 miles uphill back up to parking or to use the ferry that would be picking people up in Weehawken and Manhattan. We opted for the ferry. The ferry was supposed to make trips every 20 mins, but something happened (we don’t know what). I dropped Ben off at 10:45 am. He thought he would be done in about an hour (maybe an hour and half). It took 3 hours. He waited well over an hour for the ferry to arrive. It took him 3 mins to drop off his bike and then he waited for more than an hour again for the return ferry. Plus because of the lack of shelter, he was waiting outside in the rain. In retrospect, we should have driven up to the park to drop off the bike. Although the Ironman organization had made it seem as if driving right up to the transition area was impossible because they had closed it off to vehicle access, in reality the road was still open. They would just ticket you if you had parked. I could have driven Ben up there and then just circle around until he was done.

Ben was really impressed with how efficient and professional the volunteers were. He felt that he received excellent support from them (stripping off his wetsuit, taking his bike when he was done with the bike course, slathering sunscreen on him, giving him water, etc). He wished he had known that the medical tent had anti-nausea pills because he was feeling quite sick when he was done (actually he had started to feel ill in the last few miles).

Picking up the bike from transition was an arduous task. The information about picking up the bike was not clear. I had a hard time finding the transition area. I was coming from the New Jersey side, so it may have been easier if you were coming from Manhattan and taking the ferry. I had a long walk downhill and then a long walk uphill. The volunteer who helped me get Ben’s bike was wonderful (he tied the run and bike bags so that they formed a saddle bag that I could drape over the bike seat for easy carrying), but there was some general chaos in the area. There was a huge line of people who were waiting to be helped and a large number of volunteers just standing around doing nothing. It’s not as if getting a bike and bags is technical work that only certain people can do, so I don’t know why they weren’t providing help. There was some miscommunication going on, as on paper, we were told that bike pick-up could happen starting from 3:30. When I tried to see if I could go down, volunteers were telling people that no bike pick-up could happen until 10 pm. It wasn’t until about a half hour later that they relented and we could pick up bikes.  The Ironman organization said that bike pick-up would take about an hour. Even if I discounted the hour that it took me to figure out where the bike pick-up was, the process took 2 hours (3 hours total if I start counting from when I intended to get the bike). In retrospect, I wish I had done a reconnaissance mission to see where the bike pick-up was on Friday.

In an Ironman, you can have two special needs bag: one for the bike and one for the run. Ben felt he didn’t need one for the bike, but he was uncertain about the run. He wasn’t sure if he would want to eat and also there would be plenty of food in the form of bars, gels, fruit, pretzels, and chips along the race course. I made Ben pack a roast beef sandwich (just the meat, mustard, and bread – no lettuce or tomato because I didn’t want it getting soggy) thinking that by the time he got halfway through the run he’ll be sick of sugar and would want real food and protein. I bought a thermal back from a dollar discount store and packed the sandwich in there so that it would stay cool in the hot afternoon sun. He was really glad to have a sandwich (he ate the meat, but not the bread) because as I had predicted, he was sick of sugar. We both feel that having some form of real food is important during a long endurance race. Ben also had an Odwalla strawberry-banana smoothie for breakfast, which he also found that he liked. The smoothie was easy on his stomach and provided valuable calories for the long swim.

Ben developed a mild hyponatremia (salt deficiency) during Ironman. He doesn’t like pretzels and chips, so he was relying solely on Gatorade for sodium replenishment. The problem is that he doesn’t like Gatorade and if he drinks too much of it, it upsets his stomach. I wish I had insisted that he took some salt tablets with him. He hates carrying stuff, but he could have had it with him on the bike without much trouble. At the very least, it would have delayed his having to drink Gatorade until the run. Ben has a tendency to macho things out, but after this experience I’ll put my foot down more.

Jack Black Dragon Ice

We had expected that Ben would be really sore the day after. After I took him home and he showered and ate, I rubbed Jack Black Dragon Ice Relief & Recovery Balm all over his legs. It’s a balm like Icy Hot or Bengay, but much stronger. It helps with recovery from soreness and aches. The balm has a pleasant menthol scent that’s not too strong. A few minutes after application, you begin to heal the “heat.” The more sore you are, the stronger the heat will feel. Then there’s a chill that sets in. Immediately after the Ironman, Ben hobbled. The next morning, surprisingly he could walk with very little soreness. By the afternoon, aside from some general fatigue and a little leg heaviness, he was completely fine. He walked liked he hadn’t completed an Ironman the day before. I give a lot of the credit to his speedy recovery to this magical balm.

Assessment of Ironman US Championships

Now there’s no such thing as an “easy” Ironman, but with a fast swim (the average swim time was 51 mins, whereas the previous fastest average time was 1 hr and 1 minute) you might wonder if this was just a tad easier than other Ironman races. It doesn’t appear to be so.

The average finish time was 12:56, compared to an average of 12:35 of all other major Ironman races. The tough weather (hot and humid), along with a bike course with rolling hills and a tough hilly run negated the easiness of the swim. Even Jordan Rapp, the pro male winner with a time of 8:11:18, did not feel that this was an easy Ironman.

Ben thought the bike course was fine, but the last downhill descent with its tight turns and the fact that cyclists had to share the road with runners going up and spectators walking up and down was a little harrowing. The run was tough because of all the stairs and hills. Many of the runners were also annoyed by the seemingly endless loops that took place in Riverside Park. When the sun set, some sections of the path were rather dark. Running alone in a rather isolated section of the city does seem scary and unsafe. Also unfortunately NYC has a noise ordinance that prevents loudspeakers after 10 pm. So athletes who cross after 10 pm were not greeted with “You are an Ironman!” over the loudspeakers and it  became a more quiet affair.

Ben was really happy that he had participated in this Ironman. We’re not sure about the future of this one. As usual, the Ironman organization opened up registration for next year’s race the day after at 5 pm. They raised the entry fee to $1200 because of the steep costs of holding such an event in a large metropolitan area. We were told that Ironman actually lost money in this year’s event (and the entry fee was $895). On Monday, they suspended registration for next year because of the logistics of the changes that need to be made in order to improve the Ironman US Championship experience. It’s clear that they can’t keep it as is, but the changes that need to be made are not simple things to fix (a lot of bureaucracy to clear things with the city and other surrounding areas). We loved our experience with Ironman in NYC and had a lot of fun, so we hope that somehow they’ll be able to host this again for the upcoming years.

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