You know Murphy’s Law, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong?” That is what happened to me at the Mighty Hamptons Race in Sag Harbor.

EventPower LI does an Awesome Job

The race itself is a class act. It takes place in the beautiful Sag Harbor area of the Hamptons. The swim is on a gorgeous beach. The bike takes you on a tour of amazing homes and farmland and the run is simply magnificent. I could understand why Steve Tarpinian, master triathlete and the founder of EventPower LI who tragically died in 2015, called this his favorite. 

EventPower LI is an incredible race company. They do things right, from the awesome goody bags with great long sleeve, comfortable tee-shirts to the foam stress balls in the shape of a bike. (There were a ton of other goodies in the bag as well.) They are extremely organized, always have great volunteers who are super excited, and their Master of Ceremonies, Terry Bisogno, is a great announcer!

Besides the beauty of this race and the organization of the EventPower LI team, this race is tough. Some years, it is easier than others but this year, 2018, it was one of the toughest conditions. 

Murphy’s Law

So, let me get back to the point I tried to make earlier about Murphy’s law. 

4:45 am – I look at my phone. It never went off. I needed to be at the race site between 5 and 5:30 am. I jumped out of bed. I was staying at Forever Bungalow in Sag Harbor, a cute little bungalow colony for weekend renters. I was glad I was so close to the site. I put on my WeRTriathletes tri kit and started to apply the tattoos for the body marking.

I quickly noticed that my bike, helmet and running belt said I was “399” but my tattoos said I was “398.” So, I didn’t apply. 

5:15 am – I arrived at the race site. It was less than 10 minutes from where I was staying. I didn’t sleep well. I wasn’t nervous about the race, but I’m still trying to come to terms with my sister’s sudden passing. So, different scenes pop up in my head and replay over and over and over again, which prevents me from sleeping.

Pumping up the tires… 

I went to the Babylon Bike tent and asked them to pump up my tires. I was going to do it, but it was so dark, I couldn’t see a thing. The guys at Babylon were delighted to help me out. That put a smile on my face.

After dropping off my bike, I went to get my timing chip. When I got there, I could see there was a problem. “We don’t have a chip for you, but don’t worry, we will take care of this. We’re really sorry. Don’t let this spoil your race,” the volunteer said to me. The timer came over and cleared up the mistake quickly and after getting body marked, I went back to transition to set up. 

There I immediately saw my friend and running partner, Ray Cushmore. This was his first triathlon but I knew he would do great. His bike was next to mine. Funny coincidence! 

Photo of Ray Cushmore courtesy Laura Giardino

I set up and was ready. I put on my wetsuit and noticed that the water looked choppy. I was only concerned that my tooth would get knocked out.  We headed down to the water.

At the Swim Start

I got on line and immediately saw my coach, Danielle Sullivan of Iron Fit Endurance. She said that the water was choppy, “but you can definitely handle this. You’ve swam in worse conditions this summer.” she said.

I was going to stay in the back because of this fear of getting kicked but once I entered the water, I found myself in the front of the group. The gun went off and we were off. I swam nice and easy. I wasn’t sure which direction the current was going. I just took it nice and easy and had fun with it. 

To me the choppier the better. I’m not sure why I like it that way but after swimming in Fire Island and then Pt Lookout where it was pretty choppy, I started to really enjoy that. I had no issues with the swim. I swam out and back. A couple of times, people crossed over me but like Shawn Tannenbaum of Total Master Swimming, said, “just stop and tread water. Let them pass and then you will pass them!”

photo of Hilary Topper and Danielle Sullivan, courtesy Laura Giardino

The swim went quick and before I knew it I was back at the transition area. All the bikes were in. I was in a good position and I knew it. I quickly got on my gear and ran out with my bike. At that very moment, I saw Coach Danielle. “You did great on the swim. I was spotting you and your stroke looked perfect,” she said. I smiled. Now for the challenging part… the bike!

And now the bike…

I hopped on and went. I was feeling strong in the beginning and I knew what was ahead — a hilly ride. I was actually looking forward to it. I had done hills before in NYC, Milwaukee, Montauk, etc. But for some reason, between the cold weather, the wind and the climbs, my chain dropped and I fell off the bike.

“Bike down,” some of the other triathletes yelled. A police office came up to me.

I told him what had happened. As I was trying to fix the chain, Ray rode over. “Can I help?” he said. I was so grateful that he was there and was able to help me because the chain just wouldn’t easily go on. The two of us were covered in bike grease and I realized that it wasn’t the chain but there was a piece that was bent and out of line. 

I told him I was good and he waited for me to get back on the bike. I fell again. “Why don’t you just walk it up and then ride?” he said. He was right. I told him to go on his way. I didn’t want him to have a bad race because of my mishaps! 

I got back on the bike and fell again. The chain came off again. The police office asked if he should get a patrol car to get me. “No, I’m going to get this done,” I said. (Now my bike computer was busted, my chain wasn’t working right but I was going to push on. “Hmmmm, I guess I’m now a true triathlete,” I thought. I started to think about Irene Lam. She had issues too at one of these races and yet she pushed through it. She inspired me to continue.)

The rest of the ride wasn’t easy for me because the chain wasn’t right and the gears weren’t shifting. I was struggling. I kept thinking that I should end this. “A DNF isn’t the worse thing in the world,” I told myself. “It will make for a good story.” 

But every time I saw the police, I didn’t stop. I forced myself to keep going. I’m the weakest in cycling but I think it’s my absolute favorite of the three disciplines. “Let me get thru the bike and then I’ll DNF,” I thought.

I saw Danielle again on the road. She was running. “How’s it going?” she asked. “Not good,” I told her. I went on to tell her I fell a couple of times because of a dropped chain. “Okay, well you got this,” she said. Then I road away. 

Laura Giardino and Hilary Topper photo courtesy of Ray Cushmore

At the dismount… 

Finally, I got to the dismount. I kept looking for this forest that Charlie, one of my triathlete friends told me about. He said, “once you reach the forest it’s all down hill, so just go for it.” I just couldn’t figure out where he was talking about. All I kept thinking was I need to get off this bike, it’s way too difficult with the mechanical issues.

As I was dismounting, another woman in my row said, “that’s it for me. I’m done.” Like me, she had just finished the bike. I thought about quitting too but something inside me said, “just keep going.”

The run… 

I put on my sneakers and headed out of transition. Do you know what a downer it is to see so many people coming in while you’re heading out? I saw Vicki Edwards, owner and coach of East End Tri. “Do you think I’ll have time to finish?” I asked her as I was running. “Yes, go for it Hilary,” she said. 

I ran out. There was no one around me. I thought I was the last one on the course. I kept seeing tons of people heading in with everyone telling me, “You got this.” But there was no one around me.

I started to get disheartened. I’m going to be dead “f’ing” last. This stinks… But then I remembered what my sister told me, “it doesn’t matter how you finish as long as you finish.” 

Instead of being negative, I started to do the Galloway method first at 15/30, then 20/30, then 30/15. I wanted to finish strong. I looked around at the beautiful course. I was happy. I was going to finish this. As I was running, I started to see lots of other people in front and behind me. “It’s okay, I’m not going to be last.”

It was great to see Noah and Irene on the run course. I saw them throughout as well but that last bit helped push me further. It was also great to see Barbara Stanley, a friend and triathlete. This was her first and she was killing it on the run! 

Racing and life… 

As I was running, I started to think about this race and compare it to the year I just had. I had so many obstacles get thrown my way and yet, I continued to move forward. I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to, just like this race. 

That’s why on the run course I screamed out, “if I make it to the finish line, I’m going to cry.” (If you were out there, now you know why!) 

Having fun coming in off the run. Photo courtesy Laura Giardino

As I was finishing the race, my friend and running partner, Laura Giardino was out at the finish line volunteering. She wanted to see Ray and me race. (We all run together.) She just made me smile!

I finished strong through the shoot and I was happy I didn’t take myself off the course. Lesson learned – things will go wrong, sometimes tragically, but there are also good things too. Go through life with a smile on your face and, if you believe, you can make anything happen!