Charles MacIntosh, a managing director at Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc., swam 29 miles last week in preparation for the inaugural New York City Ironman triathlon. Now he and 2,499 other participants may not get to swim in the Hudson River tomorrow due to a broken sewer line.
Organizers for the 140.6-mile (226-kilometer) race, which combines swimming, cycling and running, said the swim portion may have to be canceled after an overnight discharge of several million gallons of chlorinated raw sewage into the river that separates New York and New Jersey.
As experts analyze the water quality and direction of the current in the Hudson, MacIntosh and other competitors are left waiting to learn if they should leave their wetsuits behind. Ironman spokeswoman Jessica Weidensall said a decision on whether the swim is held would be made this afternoon.
“In my mind and probably most people in the race, if there’s no swim, some of the personal satisfaction of doing an Ironman is gone,” said the 34-year-old MacIntosh, who was part of a relay team that swam around the island of Manhattan last week. “It’s just a long bike and a marathon. It’s still a lot of work, but you’re not a true Ironman.”
MacIntosh has competed in more than 100 triathlons since 1997 and said maybe five of those had the swim canceled because of bad weather. In those cases, he said, organizers have added an additional run and made it a run-bike-run duathlon, or sent the bikers off in a time-trial format before the run.
“For a lot of people this is their first and only Ironman of the year, if not their whole career,” MacIntosh said by phone following a race briefing last night. “So they’re really hoping the swim happens, even though I’m sure they’re very concerned about the quality of the water.”
Canceling the swim would be a blow for an event that’s proved enormously popular, selling out its $895 regular race slots online in 11 minutes more than a year ago. It’s the most expensive triathlon in the Ironman series, as the typical entry fee for a race is about $575.
Chris McCallum, associate director of fixed income sales for R.W. Pressprich & Co., said he’d be very disappointed if the 2.4-mile swim leg is eliminated, especially since it’s his strongest discipline.
“I don’t want an asterisk next to the race if this is most likely the only full Ironman I’m doing,” McCallum said in a telephone interview. “Taking that out really throws the whole day off, especially being the first event.”
McCallum said he’s also concerned about his health.
The Westchester County Department of Health issued an advisory yesterday urging anybody using the Hudson River for recreational purposes to “avoid direct contact with the water from Croton Point Park and points south until further notice.”
The sewage was to be dumped into the river last night in a controlled discharge near Sleepy Hollow, New York, so that repairs could be made to the broken line in Tarrytown. Sleepy Hollow is about 20 miles north of the George Washington Bridge, which is near the finish line for the swim.
Cory Terzis, who’s in his second year in a trade support role for equities derivatives at Barclays Plc, is also attempting the Ironman distance for the first time. Terzis has done six triathlons at the sprint and Olympic distances, which range from about 15 miles to 32 miles, and said it’s not a real Ironman if there’s no swim.
“You mentally prepare for the swim, which is really the toughest for me,” Terzis, 27, said by phone. “This is something you don’t want to rack your brain with before the race, however you just have to put it out of your mind because it’s nothing you can control.”
In 2011, a fire at a sewage-treatment plant led to almost 500 million gallons of waste being dumped into the Hudson River two weeks before the annual Olympic-length triathlon in New York. The race was held as scheduled that year.
“The Hudson was flowing north,” John Korff, who is an organizer for both races, said yesterday. “The Hudson is tidal, so you just don’t know.”
Terzis competed in that 2011 race, which has a swim of almost one mile, and said he was shocked by how clean the water in the Hudson was.
“You couldn’t really see too far in front of you, but you didn’t have any sewage, it didn’t smell, it wasn’t slimy,” Terzis said. “So that’s my saving grace here. That leak and fire caused, it seems, a lot more damage.”
Tomorrow’s race is supposed to begin with the swim portion, with competitors taking ferry boats to a fixed barge for the start. Korff said because of the logistics of ferrying competitors to the start, it’s “ridiculous” to make a decision on whether to scrap the swim the morning of the race.
“We don’t want to keep anybody hanging,” Korff said.
MacIntosh said participants were told at last night’s briefing that they’d know before 4 p.m. local time whether the swim will be held. If it’s canceled, competitors may instead start with the 112-mile bike ride on the closed Palisades Interstate Parkway in New Jersey and New York before finishing with a full marathon-distance run of 26.2 miles that ends in Manhattan.
Weidensall said there have been instances in which Ironman races have been shortened or had a swim cancellation, usually due to weather. In April, the World Triathlon Corporation canceled the swimming portion of the New Orleans half-Ironman race because of high winds and replaced it with a two-mile run.
Weidensall declined to say whether organizers offer refunds or discounts on future races if an event is shortened.
“We do our best to work with our athletes in situations like this,” she said in an e-mail. “We understand the sacrifices athletes make to participate in our races and do everything we can to help them reach their race goals.”