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July 18, 2010 6:18 PM

Eye, Fashion

Surviving the New York City Triathlon

At least this year wasn't a near-death experience....

At least this year wasn't a near-death experience. The first time I competed in the New York City triathlon was 10 years ago, the inaugural race and the city's attempt to win the bid for the 2012 Olympics. The organizers wanted to prove they could host a triathlon along with other summer sports and mapped out a course that would show the city in all its glory.

There would be a 1.5-kilometer swim in the Hudson River, a 40-kilometer bike on the Henry Hudson Parkway and a 10-kilometer run into and through Central Park with a finish somewhere around the famed Tavern on the Green.

Well, in order to please all the spectators -- although they were few and far between at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning -- they directed those of us in the early starting waves to swim out far in the river so the onlookers could watch our progress. Well, the current was superstrong -- it was like being shot out of a cannon into a water flume. We had been told to make a left turn when we reached the 79th Street boat basin and exit the water. Easier said than done.

The current was so strong that it was impossible to turn, and the competitors -- including yours truly -- were swept under a barge. When I went under, I thought for sure I was a goner but, as luck would have it, we popped up on the other side and the barge broke the current, allowing volunteers and lifeguards to throw life preservers to us and drag us out of the river.

In the past nine years, however, the race directors have perfected the swim and competitors now swim closer to the sea wall and are funneled into a finishing shoot on 79th Street after their mile-long swim.

For five of those years, Nautica has been the title sponsor of the event. The apparel company hosts similar events in Malibu, Calif., and Miami. Karen Murray, president of the VF Sportswear Coalition, and Nautica's parent company, said triathletes, with their "active lifestyle" and love of the water, are "our core customer. And it's a way to engage with them."

Most New Yorkers will squeal in disgust when you tell them you're swimming in the Hudson, thinking it's dirty. But in actuality, the water is cleaner than it's been in a century and actually quite pleasant and slightly brackish.

The temperature was around 76 degrees today, and the current assist gives everybody in the race a personal record for the swim. Upon exiting, there's a long run to the transition area where we all left our bikes on Saturday. (Yes, they were safe. Armed guards are hired to make sure the 4,000-plus bikes are secure overnight.)

Then we're off for our scenic tour of the West Side Highway, starting at 79th Street and continuing up to Moshulu Parkway in the Bronx. We cycled on the north side of the highway, which closed at 4 a.m. and stayed shuttered until the last competitor exited. Upon returning to 79th Street, we laced up our running shoes and trotted across 72nd Street to Central Park. We then did a loop of the park and ended around 68th Street. The crowd support on 79th Street and in the park is amazing; people ringing cowbells and cheering like mad. It really helps when the heat and the exertion starts to get to you. Today's race was won by Filip Ospaly, a professional male, who crossed the line in 1:46:28. The top female finisher was a local professional athlete, Rebeccah Wassner, who came in just over two hours with a 2:00:25. She was followed to the finish two minutes later by her twin sister, Laurel Wassner, who is the first cancer survivor to earn status as a professional triathlete. She survived Hodgkin's Disease.

The race also marked the paratriathlon national championships where physically challenged athletes -- visually impaired and amputees -- also raced. Seeing someone like above-the-knee amputee Sarah Reinertsen or top finisher Willie Stewart will make any whining about the heat or sore toes stop immediately.

I can't boast a time anything like Wassner's, but at least I lived to blog about it. With any luck at all, I'll be back next year for another tri. Join me. See you in the Hudson.

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