It wasn’t yet 7 a.m. on a Sunday, and I was swimming as fast as I could down the Hudson River. Although it was the end of July, the brown, murky water felt ice-cold, even through my wetsuit, and I could smell the exhaust from a nearby boat. I couldn’t see where I was going, but I could feel dozens of feet kicking near my face and someone else’s hand digging into my side. As I lifted my head to take another spluttering breath—trying to avoid the bits of unidentifiable debris floating by me—all I could think was: What the hell am I doing here?
I was competing in the 2007 Nautica New York City Triathlon, an event I didn’t even know existed the year before. To be honest, when I signed up in November, I wasn’t completely sure what a triathlon entailed. A 1.5-kilometer swim, a 40-kilometer bike ride and a 10- kilometer run? The metric numbers were so big, they meant nothing to me. At 28, I was more used to spending my nights on the town than sweating in a gym, and in fact, I secretly disdained the exercise-obsessed. Working out seemed narcissistic and, frankly, a waste of time.
But one day last fall my cousin, an experienced triathlete with five years of racing under her belt, called to tell me she was planning on doing the race. “It’s no big deal,” she claimed. “You could do a triathlon tomorrow—you should do it too.” While I didn’t quite believe her, I agreed to give it a go. The training would be an excuse to get into shape and get me off the treadmill of going out every night. And, I told myself, I could always back out.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was actually part of a national trend. In the past two years, the female membership of USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing body, has nearly doubled. And, as I discovered, these so-called tri girls aren’t all hard-core Ironwomen and muscle-bound jocks. New York social fixture Fabiola Beracasa, for instance, has been training for her first race this fall, a goal inspired by her personal trainer, himself a triathlete. “The first time I actually ran a mile, I was so impressed with myself, because a mile seemed like the distance between here and Long Island!” she says.
“More women are competing in triathlons because they’re aspirational but less stressful and take less time to complete than a marathon,” says John Korff, organizer of the annual New York event. “Once you get into it, it’s easy to stay into it, because the maintenance isn’t that high. It’s just the going from zero to 60 that takes a while.”