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I Came, I Raced, I Showered

2011 August 17

By Elizabeth Myer

Rewind to Saturday, August 6 at 10 p.m. Instead of getting a few solid hours of rest like I had planned, I lay awake completely preoccupied. I’d been training intensely for the Nautica New York City Triathlon for months, meaning I was probably in the best shape of my life. Physically, I was ready to race at 6 a.m. the following morning. Mentally, I was not so sure.

I grew up training with a USA swimming club team and was accustomed not only to the concepts of individual competition and setting ambitious personal goals, but also to swimming in open water races. In what seemed like short fashion, however, my focus turned from swimming to my studies at NYU, and eventually to my career at EPA. While each of those things shaped me in a unique way, never before had my personal and professional lives intersected so sharply until July 20, 2011, when a fire at the North River Sewage Water pollution Control Plant in Harlem released hundreds of millions of pounds of untreated sewage into the Hudson River.

The author stands alongside the Hudson River just before the start of the race with her father Greg, also a triathlete.

After learning about the spill, my first reaction was to consult the news, which I admit, did little to calm my nerves. Swimming in untreated sewage can cause skin rashes? Ear infections? Ingesting the water may result in KIDNEY FAILURE, you say? Then came the announcement from New York City: Four popular city beaches were temporarily closed due to plumes of pollution. Additionally, the city issued health advisories for portions of the Hudson River, and people were cautioned against participating in water-related activities, such as kayaking, canoeing and swimming.

In a more clearheaded state, I reached out to some EPA subject matter specialists, who reminded me that the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and the City Health Department were continually taking water samples and would not lift swimming advisories until they could ensure that bacteria levels remained within acceptable ranges. I had mentally prepared for environmental factors associated with competing in early August in New York City. I knew it would likely be hot and sticky, and I had even accepted that thunderstorms loomed in the weather forecast. At the end of the day, I went with my gut; I trusted the science, and needed to overcome this minor mental hurdle. When I jumped into the Hudson from a barge located just off 99th Street, I was focused on one thing: performance (okay, so I may have spent a few extra minutes under the showers at the swim/bike transition). Here I sit, nearly two weeks later (infection-free, might I add), counting down the days till next year’s race and maybe – just maybe – a cleaner Hudson…

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Gianna permalink
    August 17, 2011

    To a cleaner Hudson!
    PS Your dad is cute: is he available?

  2. David permalink
    August 17, 2011

    Gianna should consider looking elsewhere. I think he is very taken. Very proud of you Elizabeth. I am curious about the water temperature and how that impacts performance.

  3. emyer permalink
    August 18, 2011

    Thanks for your kind words, David. Indeed, my Dad is spoken for.

    With regard to your question about water temperature: This year, the Hudson was 77 degrees on race day, meaning that the temperature was what USA Triathlon deems “wetsuit-legal”. In the event that the water temperature is between 78 and 79 degrees on the morning of the race, athletes are not eligible to place if they choose to wear their wetsuits. If the water is above 79 degrees, a wetsuit may not be worn at all.

    While wetsuits were originally introduced to the sport as a safety tool during races in cool waters, triathletes soon figured out that wetsuits are a speed-enhancer of sorts. The theory is that the buoyancy of a wetsuit lifts the swimmer, making it so that they face less water resistance. Many triathletes count on wearing wetsuits on race day for physical, and even more so, in my opinion, psychological reasons.

    On the other hand, wearing a wetsuit means taking OFF a wetsuit in the transition area, which inevitably adds minutes to your overall race time. For this reason (and because I grew up swimming and never trained in a wetsuit), I prefer not to wear one (though I did in the NYC tri).

    I hope this at least partially answers your question about water temperature and its relation to performance. I only compete in the summer so have yet to race in colder waters, which I imagine is an entirely different experience.

  4. August 23, 2011

    Great article! It was nice to hear your personal feelings regarding the hudson on and before the day of the race. My fear of the hudson has kept me from doing the nyc tri, but after reading your article I am ready to sign up for next year.

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