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Race Report – Lifetime Fitness Indoor Triathlon 2019 (Florham Park)

Lifetime Fitness is a chain of high-end gyms that runs an indoor triathlon series at many of its locations in the winter. I had never participated in this event before, but signed up this year for the Florham Park, New Jersey race.

As the date (1/20/19) neared, a snowstorm loomed, threatening a closure of the gym. I had planned to work all night on 1/19 and then drive straight to the race after work. Watching the weather, the rain-snow line appeared to have shifted, and it turned out that the area received very little snow. What snow we did have had mostly melted by morning with rising temperatures and rain.

Check-In and Packet Pick Up

Leading up to race day, I didn’t have a lot of information from the race organizers. I knew what time to arrive (30 minutes prior to my swim wave). The rest of my knowledge was gleaned from online chats about the event.

Race bib and swim cap.

The roads weren’t bad at all that morning and I arrived very early for the event. I checked in at the front desk and was directed toward the locker rooms. Before I reached those, I found the event table at the end of the hallway on the left. This was a bit like a packet pick-up. I received my bib, a swim cap, and a mug. The organizers seemed to assume that I knew where I was going and what I was doing (I didn’t). I had to ask questions, but at least I was already familiar with triathlons in general.

Event Format and Equipment

With this being an indoor triathlon, the swim would be in the pool, the bike was on spin bikes, and the run was on a treadmill. Rather than holding to set distances, each discipline would be raced for a set time. The distance that each athlete traveled in that time period was recorded.

  • Swim = 10 minutes
  • Bike = 30 minutes
  • Run = 20 minutes

I stowed my bag in a locker and used a second one for my equipment that I would need for the race. This approach was suggested by another woman who was getting ready for her own race. I had decided to wear a swimsuit for the pool and then would change into a tri kit before the bike segment. Some people wore tri kits for the whole thing.

Everyone had 10 minutes for transition between the swim and bike, and 5 minutes for transition between the bike and run. You could go back to your locker during this time, so there was no need to drag a bag to the pool. However, the transition between the bike and run was shorter, so I saw most participants bring their running shoes up to the cycling area.

I didn’t bring anything special for the swim, just my normal goggles. I used the swim cap provided and also had a bottle of water at the edge of the pool. One small detail – Lifetime Fitness provides towel service. I had brought my own towel, but it turns out that I probably didn’t need to.

Someone had suggested that I check out the spin bikes and figure out how to adjust the seat prior to the race start. Since I had some extra time, I did do this and I think it was a good idea. I had never ridden a spin bike before. It did take me a few minutes to figure out how to set it up. Toe cages were available on some bikes, while others just had pedals to clip in.

My bike set up.

The treadmills for the run were across the room from the bikes. For both the bike and run, I had my water bottle, phone, and headphones. I had intended to wear my cycling gloves, but forgot them.

The Swim

I arrived on the pool deck 10 minutes before my start time, as recommended. I had decided to treat the swim as a practice because I hadn’t done any swimming all week and my shoulder had been sore before that. I planned to focus on my form and keep a steady pace.

The water was warm enough (although I would always prefer it to be warmer). I didn’t jump in until a few seconds before the start because I need to get moving to warm up. Nothing untoward happened. I had my own lane and I swam some laps.

SWIM = 18 lengths

The Bike

I took a few minutes to catch my breath when the whistle blew to stop the swim. Knowing that I only had 10 minutes, I clambered out of the water, grabbed my towel and went back to my locker to change.

I felt fine as I arrived in the cycling area. I had thought this would be in a spin studio of some sort, but the bikes were just grouped on one side of the main exercise floor. I picked out a bike with toe cages and adjusted the seat and handlebars.

Data displayed on the bike.

While I waited for transition to be over, I spun lightly and drank water. One of the volunteers instructed us on how to start the clock on the bikes. Soon enough, the 30 minutes began.

I pedaled easy for the first 3 minutes, trying to get a sense of the spin bike. The display contained a power reading and I watched that as I increased the difficulty using a knob rather than gears. After 3 minutes I settled in to a steady pace which I was able to maintain for the duration.

A couple downsides of the cycling arrangement became clear as my time ticked down. First – there were no fans, so my hands became sweaty and slick. I realized that I had forgotten my cycling gloves. The volunteers did bring us hand towels though, so I was able to wipe down the handlebars periodically.

The other problem was that the bike seat was not terribly comfortable. I was happy that my ride was only 30 minutes.

BIKE = 9.0 miles

The Run

Getting ready to run.

When time was up for the bike, the transition to the run was very simple. I had worn my running shoes on the bike, so I had nothing to change in terms of equipment. I refilled my water bottle and made my way to the treadmill.

I walked until it was time to begin. The volunteer made sure that I knew which buttons to push and then we started a short time after that.

I ran easy for the first few minutes and then gradually increased my pace. I felt fine so I increased my pace for the last 3 minutes also.

RUN = 1.96 miles

The display on the treadmill. The distance rolled over to 1.97 miles as the belt slowed.

Finishing Up

There wasn’t much fanfare when it was over. A volunteer came by with a medal and a high-five. I walked down the stairs to the event table and ate an orange slice. They also had chocolate milk.

I was able to find my results in an email later that day. You are scored based on how far you went in each discipline relative to everyone else. For example, if I swam 18 lengths of the pool and five people swam further than me, out of maybe 30 participants, then I would be ranked #6 in the swim.

From there, the #1 person gets points equal to the number of participants, decreasing by one down the list:

  • #1 = 30 points
  • #2 = 29 points
  • #3 = 28 points
  • #4 = 27 points
  • #5 = 26 points
  • #6 = 27 points
  • and so on …

The points for each discipline were added for a total score. I ended up with the following score, and it looks like that put me in 4th place in the women’s Masters division. The full results can be found here.

SWIM = 41 points

BIKE = 32 points

RUN = 37 points

TOTAL = 110 points

I had a nice time, despite a bit of confusion going in. I’d consider signing up for this next year. With a little bit more direction or guidance, it would be a great event for someone new to triathlon.

I’m not sure I got the right medal.

Did you race the same event or one in a different city? Let me know in the comments below!

See all my race reports here.

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Race Report – NJ Trail Series (Watchung 10K)

I signed up for this event on a whim. I had never run on trails before, but I thought it sounded fun, and it was also close to home.

Some time later, I remembered that I have always thought trail running sounded like a bad idea. I mean, I like hiking. But the thought of running on those same trails where I would probably roll one of my already busted ankles just sounded awful risky.

This was my ankle several years ago.

Oh well, I’d already signed up. I decided that I’d walk any tricky parts of the trail. The event featured a no frills approach – no medals, no t-shirts (just minimal aid stations and a timing chip). The fee of $30 (for all distances) was used as a donation to Jersey Battered Women’s Service.

The New Jersey Trail series appears to host several informal train runs throughout the year. The Watchung event is an annual ultrarunning race, with distances of 10K, half marathon, marathon, and 50K offered.

I had never run a 10K before this event, although I’ve run a few 5K’s, a 10-miler, a couple of half marathons, and the run portions of sprint, half, and full distance triathlons. The distance of this run didn’t bother me, although it was more than I’d been doing in my recent training (max 3-4 miles lately).

The course for each loop in Watchung Reservation.

The week of the race was a wet one, and rain was also in the forecast for race morning. I had to think about how to handle that. I’ve run in the rain before, but never on trails where I could expect a lot of mud. The temperature was forecast to be in the 40’s – cold enough for me to layer up, but not too uncomfortable once I got moving.

I ended up wearing an old pair of running shoes and bringing a change of shoes and socks for my ride home. I also packed a towel and dry shirts. I didn’t bring any headphones because I decided against listening to music. It just didn’t seem right for a run through the woods.

When I arrived to check in, I was running late. I walked from my car to the start area as the race began. That was fine by me. I was only here for the run, not to work on a PR or anything. I took my time getting my timing chip and then stowing my jacket back in my car.

The beginning of the course took my around the parking area and then on paved trails to start with. The rain began with a light drizzle, but was barely noticeable. Soon enough, the path took me down a steep and narrow trail and into the woods.

The route for the race was well-marked, with orange surveyor’s tape and paint. It would have been hard to get lost. After only a minute on the trail, I encountered the mud. It would have been impossible to avoid it for the whole race, although I did try to stick to the drier patches where possible.

My shoes quickly plunged into the muck and filled with chilly water. Despite being one of those people who is always cold, my feet warmed up and never went numb during the race. The beginning of the course was muddier than the later sections, although it did rain more heavily around miles 3 to 4. I was warm enough to take my gloves off for a while, but put them on again later.

I started to laugh at the mud as I went and realized that I was actually having fun. Running in the woods was a nice break from the monotony of laps around the nearby park or the same familiar routes near my house. Because of my late start, I didn’t see too many other runners, but I was not completely alone out there either. Several people were hiking the trail, despite the weather.

One aid station was located near mile 4 and I stopped for some cookies and water. The trail beyond that point was a lot wider and flatter, with one uphill section at the end. Around mile 5, I was lapped by someone doing multiple loops of the course. He reminded me of an elf because he appeared to be literally bounding through the woods with hardly any effort.

I completed the run in 1:36:25 which made me happy, as I was hoping for something under 2 hours. I was able to run more of the distance than I had thought I could, and the rain and mud hadn’t been as much of a hindrance as I had feared.

The second aid station was at the finish, and I had a few more snacks before heading back to my car. I would definitely consider a future trail run (ideally without the mud and rain)!

Do you do any trail running? Do you have any tips for someone new to trails? Were you out there in Watchung with me? Let me know in the comments below.

See all of my race reports here.

Race Report – Gran Fondo New York (GFNY) 2018

I’ve been meaning to get this written up because I think it will be helpful to anyone out there who is thinking about signing up for this race. The Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York events are a series of races held around the world in which amateur cyclists are welcome to participate. The one that is actually held in New York (and bits of New Jersey) is designated the GFNY World Championship.

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All you need to do to ride in this event is to sign up, pay some money, and get yourself there. So even though it is designated the World Championship, anyone can show up. I have to say that I was a little intimidated by this race at first. But once I was out on the course, I realized that many cyclists were there to just complete the event, rather than make any speed records. The riders also seemed exceedingly happy and excited.

Packet Pick-Up

Like many long, all-day events, you needed to pick up your race packet ahead of time. GFNY had options for Friday or Saturday packet pick-up for the Sunday event. The pick-up was combined with an Expo in New York City. We took the train in from New Jersey in the middle of the day on Friday and found the building easily (literally across the street from NY Penn Station).

I don’t know if the Friday pick-up was more heavily attended than usual (rain was forecast all day for Saturday), but we had to wait in line for maybe 30 to 40 minutes. Once they let us in, we simply followed the line around the room to acquire everything we needed. You needed your bib number (look it up on the wall) and a photo ID. Then they’ll strap a wrist band on that will give you access to everything else.

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GFNY provides a ton of swag in your packet. The race requires that you wear the official jersey, which is part of that swag. This year, the rest of my haul included a coffee mug, bottle of wine, a water bottle, and a heavy printed guidebook. Other items were available if you wanted them, so I grabbed a key fob and some noise makers. The other critical pieces in your packet are your race bib and timing chip.

Race Hotel

We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Fort Lee – George Washington Bridge, which was the only New Jersey official hotel for the event. Other options were available in New York City, but the New Jersey option was cheaper and just made more sense for us.

The main problem with the hotel was that it was off an exit ramp from Route 4, which essentially made it impossible to cycle back to. The entire area around it is full of busy roads which are not ideal for riding, so if you intend to make several practice rides out of your hotel, one of the NYC options may be better.

We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, but the service there was extremely slow. I don’t know if they were short-staffed or something, but we literally waited 30 minutes just to get our check after we finished eating.

Weather, Equipment, and Gears

The weather forecast for race day was iffy all week. It was misty and wet in the morning, with a possibility of thunderstorms in the afternoon. I ride a Giant Avail Advanced that is about five years old, with DI2 shifting. I usually have clip-on tri bars, but had to remove them for this race (not allowed).

I had recently changed out my cassette for a 11-36 so that I had more options for climbing, and I think that was a good decision. I kept my Continental GP 4-Season tires on instead of my race tires because of the predicted wet conditions.

Everyone has to wear the official GFNY jersey, but you are allowed to bring anything else that you want. I wore arm warmers, and if I had owned a vest, would have worn that too. I carried a rain jacket, which was actually a light-weight camping raincoat attached to a race belt, but didn’t end up using it.

The temperature at the start was 66°F. The only time that I felt cold was when we were waiting on the George Washington Bridge to start. It didn’t feel particularly windy (which I had been told could be a problem) there, but I started whole-body shivering. I’m also someone who is always cold, and most of the riders looked comfortable.

Getting to the Start

Everyone was supposed to be on the GWB and ready for a 7 a.m. start. One of the perks of the Fort Lee hotel was that they advertised a 5:15 a.m. police escort to the GWB. We expected to take advantage of this, but when we exited the hotel doors, the escort was already leaving (5 minutes early). We weren’t the only cyclists left looking around for them, but it turns out that it was really easy to find our way to the bridge (just follow everyone in green).

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Once we found our way to the west side of the bridge, we had to cross over the pedestrian/bike access, descend from the bridge, take a lot of turns, ride back up toward the bridge, and then finally reach the start zone. There were a few port-a-potties here as well as some bike mechanical assistance.

So – it turns out that leaving the hotel at 5:15 a.m. just barely got us to the start area in time (6:15 or 6:30 a.m.), so definitely allow more time, if you have any doubts about reaching the start.

The Start!

I had thought that the riders would be grouped into corrals by age group, but when we got onto the bridge, everyone pretty much clumped together. There may have been corrals at the front, but we never saw them. It didn’t really matter – I was certainly in no competition for anything.

Once the race began, it was a mass start. We stood for maybe ten minutes before our section started to move. Be careful and watch out for other cyclists slowing and stopping. Also, a few of the more ambitious riders started to gain speed and zip around those of us who were taking our time.

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The route took us down some major highways that had been closed to traffic, and then down onto Henry Hudson Drive. This was a beautiful section of road, but was also very hazardous at the beginning of the race. Access to it started with a steep turn on wet pavement. In several sections, the road narrowed and cyclists slowed abruptly. Off to the right, boulders marked the edge of the pavement before near-cliffs dropped to the Hudson River.

Several crashes occurred along this section, so be very wary of other cyclists, don’t go to fast, and be aware that wet roads will make your braking less effective. I lost Andrew in this section and thought he had crashed behind me (he hadn’t). I stopped and looked for him, and didn’t find him (but he had actually passed me). If you are trying to stay with a group through here, it may be tough. Have a plan to meet up at an aid station later.

Alpine climb

The first climb on the route was Alpine. All of the official climbs were marked with signs that indicated the elevation and distance. I didn’t think that Alpine was that bad and it was over soon.

After Alpine, the next section was pretty flat with some fast downhills. I skipped the first aid station, still trying to find Andrew, and met him at the second one.

Aid Stations

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I had brought plenty of nutrition with me for this ride, but the aid stations were well-stocked. Even though this was technically a race, a lot of people appeared to take their time at each stop. They offered water and and an electrolyte drink at each station, with cola at the last aid station. Snacks were fairly standard, with bananas, Clif Bars, pretzels, and cake. The last aid station also had pizza, but by the time I got there, it had been picked over.

Bear Mountain

One of the selling points (?) of this race is that you climb up Bear Mountain. This isn’t really that much of a mountain when compared to actual snow-capped ranges, but is one of the tougher climbs in the NY area. Before you reach Bear Mountain, there is a long-ish climb at mile 38 that I’m going to call False Bear Mountain. Think of it as a warm-up.

You’ll know when you reach Bear Mountain, because you make a left turn, start climbing immediately, and will pass through the GFNY signs. The climb is about 1000 feet over 4 miles, with an average grade of 5.1% and a maximum grade of 10%. I didn’t think that it was that bad, except that I was ready for it to be over about halfway up.

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Your reward for reaching the top is the race’s third aid station and some great views. GFNY actually offers a 50-mile race option, so if you selected that one, you’re done! Oh, and for everyone doing the full 100 miles, you get to rest as you fly back down the mountain.

Pinarello and Cheesecote Climbs

From here, the course traveled west along the edge of Harriman State Park. Two more featured climbs came up quickly, and this was the section of the race that I had been warned about.

The first climb was Pinarello (525 feet over 2 miles), followed by Cheesecote (262 feet over 1 mile). I started to bonk on Pinarello and had a rough time on this one. At the top I had to stop and guzzle some liquid nutrition. By the time I reached Cheesecote, I felt better (although the climb was still tough). Cheesecote featured the highest grade on the route, with a very short section of 18%. My rear tire slipped once as I pushed hard to make it up this section.

The Last Flat and Dyckman Hill

After the climbs, the next long section was enjoyable and mostly flat. This gave me a chance to get some more recovery in. The last aid station was along this part, and we stopped there for one final refueling.

Once you near the finish, there are two more notable climbs: Alpine (again) and Dyckman Hill. Alpine looked different from this direction even though this was the part where the inbound course converged with the outbound course. It certainly felt tougher at this point.

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The kicker on this course, and probably the toughest climb when taking exhaustion and mental fatigue into account, was Dyckman Hill. This lovely section spanned 328 feet over 1 mile, which a final section of 10% grade. All this fun started at mile 98.5. You can almost hear the finish line, but it’s at the top of the hill.

The Finish Line and Festivities

You have about a half mile to go once you reach the top of Dyckman Hill, and it’s flat and fast. The finish line is marked by large arches. Once you roll through, you’ll receive a medal, and can finally rest.

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They wanted you to park your bike in a large area off to one side that looks like a triathlon transition zone. At one side of the bike parking, you could pick up your labeled bag that you had dropped off at the start. I had flip-flops in there, and was happy to change out of my cycling shoes.

 

The finish area featured a pasta party, drinks (free water and soda, alcohol for purchase), lounge chairs, medal stage, and some fancy tents (not sure what was over there – massages maybe?). We ate some pasta (penne with meat sauce, yum!) and drank cola, took some photos, and then packed up to head home.

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There were showers available at the adjacent high school, but we didn’t use them. A shuttle to the Fort Lee hotel was picking cyclists up on the other side of the school, but the wait was long. We eventually made it home after a tough day.

See all my race reports here.


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