There’s a smile on my face in almost every photo of me competing in Sunday’s New York City Triathlon. Which is kind of miraculous, as the race was neither painless, nor easy.

In the moments just after my finish, there beneath a canopy of leaves just above Central Park’s Sheep’s Meadow, I said to Chris, “Man, imagine what we could do if we trained!”

Years ago, the founder of the uber-grass roots Stone Harbor Triathlon casually and innocently characterized me as “a weekend warrior.” He meant no harm, but the phrase kinda’ hurt. Upon further reflection, though, it may be a fair characterization.

During peak marathon training (July-October), I run anywhere from 3-18 miles 4-6 days a week. I occassionally ride my bike anywhere from 10-50 miles, and sometimes get in a good lake or ocean swim. Lately, I’ve even learned to use the gym. (I always avoided them as they’re too enclosed, too impersonal, and full of too many weird contraptions. Abbi’s helped me get over all that.)

With the exception of running, though, I don’t do anything on the regular. So the fact that Sunday’s tri didn’t plum kick my ass is something of a miracle. The fact that I was smiling much of the time, though, has more to do with the fact that Chris, Abbi, and Ethan were there at every turn.

The best moment was when I spotted them somewhere along 72d Street. The race literally shuts down that little sliver of the Upper West, which is pretty cool. It’s a busy street, lined with bars, bagel shops, shoe stores, and apartment buildings. It’s nice to own it, if only for few minutes.

72d Street comes just a few hundred yards into the run, though. One’s legs haven’t really adjusted. Moreover, you’ve just climbed your way up from the river. It’s probably less than fifty or sixty feet in elevation, but it’s a steep climb.

So spotting Chris, Abbi, and E was a real boost. Ethan had commandeered the camera, so immediately lifted it to his face. Of course, our Canon Rebel XT is bigger than his face, and it’s pretty heavy. So watching him try and lift the camera to his face and wobbily point it in my direction was good for a few laughs all the way into Central Park. Looking over and seeing Abbi smiling didn’t hurt either.

Once in Central Park, though, it was another story. My boosters had to drop off. The course is a hilly one, leading runners north along the west side, up (and down and up again) Great Hill on the norther edge of the park, then down the east side. And the park — despite all the usual summer activity — was pretty darned quiet. Worse yet, I got goosebumps — a sure sign of dehydration — as I passed mile three.

I have a few strategies in the moments of doubt and pain. For starters, I remind myself that I’ve done seven marathons and a dozen triathlons. I take deep breaths — in through my nose, out through my mouth — and imagaine the pain leaving my body. And I bite my tongue just as hard as I possibly can; endorphines and distraction.

The east side was bathed in late-morning sunshine, so it was extra hot. I poured water over my head, and rubbed it into my arms. I reminded myself that I’d done this many times before. I breathed. And I bit my tongue. Soon enough, I was descending Cat Hill towards the finish. At Cherry Hill, I spotted Chris, Abbi, and Ethan, and smiled.

As it ends up, my finish this year was just under two minute off of my PR (2:42:01 in 2004). I was in the top 30% of my age group. More importantly, though, I found Chris, Abbi, and Ethan at the finish, and we all smiled.

Oh, and those margaritas weren’t bad either.

So… I dunno. Weekend warrior, part-time athlete — whatever. Maybe some day I’ll train in ernest. For now, it’s a great way to spend a Sunday morning. And a great way to remember what I’m capable of.

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