Thursday, June 30, 2016

Syracuse 70.3 Race Report

There are some days that go exactly how you planned. There are other days that surprise as you outperform your expectations. The days that don't go your way are hopefully rare. On June 19th, 2016 I hit the rare trifecta as I outperformed, performed as expected, and laid an egg all in the same race. That's my day in one sentence. What follows is the extended version of how my day went down.


Travel from Bethlehem to Syracuse took about 3 1/2 hours with a stop to stretch the legs and get some food. Unlike travelling to race Eagleman on Maryland's Eastern Shore, a race I have done numerous times, this trip involved no traffic hassles. Cassie, Jeff and I went right to the race site for packet pickup and a quick tour of the first 11 miles of the bike course. Packet pickup was the usual WTC affair - four stops, three waivers putting all the race-day liability on you, and a final stop for the goody bag and t-shirt.

After the bike course reconnaissance we headed to the hotel to relax. A little before 6 pm we headed out for dinner with Kim and Lauren at what turned out to be a pretty good Italian restaurant. I had my usual pre-race salad + margarita pizza while the others feasted on salmon and pasta. Good food and good conversation are a great combination.

Sunday morning we woke before the sun and were on the road by 5:30 for the 20 minute drive to the race site. The traffic line on site moved smoothly as we parked with everyone else in a big grass field less than 1/2 mile from the transition area. In transition I got my space in order before heading off to find a port-o-john. Fortunately I was in the 11th swim wave and had enough time to walk to the finish
area where there were no lines for extremely clean facilities (for race day) with plenty of toilet paper.

From there I found a quiet area to get my wetsuit on and get my mind focused on racing. At 7:40 the gun went off for my swim wave (male AG 45-49 l-z) as my day officially began.

Swim: 1.2 miles 30:44 

The swim course here is as simple as it gets. The course is rectangle shaped with a right hand turn before the halfway mark, another right handed turn about 100 meters later, followed by a straight swim into the swim finish. After a scrum for the first 150 meters or so things opened up and I was ready to go to work.

My game plan here - like all big races - is to go out hard, wait for a slightly faster set of feet to pass me, then draft for the rest of the swim. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. This time it didn't.

As can happen I picked the wrong set of feet. After letting my heart rate settle down I realized I was hardly working and would be better off swimming solo. By the 300M mark I was out on my own, settled into a steady pace. With 10 waves going off before me this was also the point where we started to catch the slower swimmers. Fortunately navigation was not a problem and the swim went off without a hitch. After telling Jeff I planned on a 32 minute swim, I was pleasantly surprised to see 30:24 on my watch when I stood up to get out of the water.

T1: 3:26

This was a long transition. The run from the lake up to the transition area was not a short run as was the run to the bike mount line. Everyone had the same distance so it just is what it is. I was as efficient as I could be and made it to the bike without incident.

There was, however, a huge bonus for the day which I just have to mention - wetsuit strippers. This is a staple at Ironman events but I have never had this luxury at a shorter distance. Big shout out to the race director for making this happen!!! 

Bike: 56 miles 2:43:22

I like me a hard bike course. When I hear people complaining about the hills I get a big smile on my face. Syracuse did not disappoint. With 3200+ of vertical and a 9+ mile climb that started 5 minutes after we started riding, your day will likely get set up by what you do in the first 45 minutes of riding. Go out and kill it and you are almost guaranteed to suffer later on. Ride within yourself and you have a shot.

I decided to take the smart approach and just carry on at a sustainable pace as we slowly climbed. I made sure to take advantage of the flatter sections while fueling (which is a subject I will address later on in the post). After the initial climb you have a course that is many miles of rollers with the periodic flat section and a fair number of turns.

As we only drove the first 11 miles before the race, I was a little surprised at how slow the course actually raced. Every time I felt like I would get into a groove there would be another turn. Pre-race I determined, based on the course profile, that I should be able to ride around a 2:30. And if this was the course I thought it would be I would have been disappointed with a 2:43. After riding the loop I am satisfied with what I rode.

As for fueling, I was testing out a new approach. With Ironman Lake Placid on tap this July I saw this race as an opportunity to try out some new things. The bike change was with my bike nutrition. I separated my calories from my liquids, using S-Tabs to keep my electrolytes up. With the temperature rising I was drinking like a fish, but noticed excessive amounts of salt accumulating on my tri suit (I'm a heavy, salty sweater). Something wasn't right.

The last time I had something like this happen was at Ironman Coeur d'Alene in 2008 when seemingly all my internal salt left my body about halfway through the run. Like that day in Idaho I was caked in salt. I upped my liquids as well as my electrolytes. Coming off the bike I didn't feel great but I didn't feel terrible.

T2 - 3:06

This was longer than it should have been. Two things happened. First, someone had kicked aside one of my socks and it took a bit of time to track it down. 13 miles without socks would have destroyed my feet. Second, with the temperatures around 85 degrees as I got off my bike I decided to use my Zoot arm coolers. I had some trouble getting them on, wasting a minute or so. With the hot sun beating down on me wasting a minute is better than going without.

Run: 13.1 miles 2:15:18

Almost immediately I had issues. After leaving T2 you very quickly run through a grassy field then a short rocky trail before getting out to the main road. Overall that section is less than a 1/2 mile. You run it four times on the two loop course. Being a road guy I did not find this fun ... at all.

Unfortunately the uneven off-road terrain was the least of my worries. By mile two I started to get some cramping in my upper body and then my hamstrings. Remember all that salt that was lost on the bike? Here it is coming back to bite me hard. Didn't help that the run course has 1200+ ft of vertical, including the mile from hell going into the turnaround point.

I'll spare you the horrid details. On the negative side I went 2:15. On the positive side, my cooling plan worked well from the beginning. And if I'm being honest I packed it in around mile 9, knowing my day was done and not wanting to beat the body up for a few less minutes that would get me nothing. Instead of majorly suffering for no good reason I chose to walk/jog it in while talking with fellow competitors.

Overall: 5:35:56  M45-49 22/144, 190th overall

I was quite surprised at how well I did on a relative basis with what I consider to be a slow time, basically quitting at mile 9 of the run. All I can say is that course was a beast.

How Could I Have Raced Better?

I used this race as a test of fitness and a test of a fueling plan. From a fitness perspective I'm good. My taper was spot on and I felt great coming in. My swim was much better than I expected and my bike came in where I should have expected it. The run? Well, I blame that on the fueling plan. Come the big dance on July 24th I'll be back to my fueling routine that worked well at Ironman Florida. And while it did have a major impact on my results on this day, it could have turned out much differently. If you don't take a chance you don't know if there is something that might work better.

Overall Impressions

Ironman Syracuse 70.3 was a really great race that I hope to do again in the future and I recommend to anyone who likes a challenge. I am not an Ironman-branded race fanboy, although I feel generally satisfied with World triathlon Corporation (WTC) races. I like to race local races and support my area of Eastern PA and New Jersey. When I travel I have tended to stick with either Ironman or Rev3 events as they tend to be larger, competitive races. They also tend to be very well organized.

Syracuse was not only well organized, but it also was a great course to race. The lake was clean (a big thing for me), the bike course was challenging and fun to ride, while the run was a beast. This is not the venue for a PR effort. To do well here you need to bring your A-game. To do well here you need to be in great shape. But isn't that the point of racing to challenge yourself and find your limits?

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Confidence and My Athletic Endevors

I've been missing for a while. It has been more than three months since I last posted. THREE MONTHS!!! Time flies I guess. But it wasn't a planned hiatus, just one of time, or lack there of, and desire to write. More to the point ... Ironman training. More specifically, Ironman Lake Placid on July 24. The MIA act started with the workload increase necessary to have a good day come 7/24. These days I'm a bit more tired, certainly more fatigued, and from time-to-time a little less focused.

But I'm back. In the coming week(s) I'll be caught up with my monthly training reports as well as recaps of the three races I have done since I last posted. With the large amount of time I have spent doing swim/bike/run there are other things I have been thinking about which could easily turn into a post or three.

Today I want to talk about a pretty lousy week in the pool. A few weeks back my normal training schedule got screwed up because of a combination of work commitments (gotta hate when that happens), a pool shutdown due to over-chlorination, and no desire to swim at 7 pm on a Friday evening. When I did get to the pool at a more routine time/day the workout was crap.

Like I said, not a good week.

It happens ... more than I would like ... but like I said, it happens.

Right now my main focus is training for Ironman Lake Placid, my sixth time preparing for this grueling distance.  In preparing for these events I have had my fair share of good workouts, great workouts, and workouts from hell. Two weeks out from Ironman Coure D'Alene my final 5 hour bike turned into 38 miles of hell, where I actually stopped and laid down under a tree in someone's front lawn for almost a 1/2 hour because I bonked.

Seriously, that happened.

Then I freaked out a bit.

Then I pulled it together, figured out my final two weeks and raced a good race.

What I learned from that horrible bike ride is that fitness is important, but can be utterly useless without the confidence to deal with the day-to-day, week-to-week, month-by-month grind of training for a big event. Yes, you may look back on your training and only remember the good. But really, in real time, we all have bad days, bouts of anxiousness, and the occasional freak out.

Nothing good comes from succumbing to those voices in your head. That's where confidence comes in. Losing confidence can absolutely destroy any chance you have of reaching your goals as you do what can only be called "stupid shit" in an attempt to get your confidence back.

What is "stupid shit?" Doing hard intervals three days out from your "A" race to "test" your fitness. Overly long, long runs every weekend for weeks on end to "make sure you can make the distance" (whatever that distance may be) falls into that category as well. Or just as common, running through a minor injury because three days without running will completely rid you of all your fitness.

So what is confidence?

Confidence is knowing that a bad workout is just a bad workout.
Maybe you didn't get enough rest or are a bit dehydrated. Or maybe your legs are tired from that long ride you did over the weekend. Or maybe you just mentally weren't where you needed to be. I had a hard "long" run recently because I made the rookie mistake of not getting enough food in me the day before. Pretty obvious in retrospect. Instead of getting down about it, try to figure out the why and move on.

Confidence is knowing that a bad week, or a bad week in swim, bike or run can happen.
Just like a bad workout you can have a bad week. In my case this tends to happen because I have over-cooked my body and the bad week is my body's way of telling me to back off.

Confidence is being able let your peak fitness go as you take a much needed off-season where you let the body actually heal itself.
Fitness is fluid. It comes and goes with the amount of training stress you put on your body. Ideally we would like to have this be a continuous straight line up, but that's not how it works. The body needs a break from time to time. And by break I mean a real break from the stress of training, not an easy 10 days followed by an "off season" trying to PR at the 5k or 10k distance. It takes true confidence to let your peak fitness go away, understanding you can get it back after the body and mind

Back when I was focused on marathons I would always shut things down between crossing the finish line of my fall marathon and January 1. Nothing structured. Nothing long. Nothing very intense. I could do this because I knew over the first few months of the year I would regain that lost fitness.

Confidence is knowing that you don't have to be in Ironman shape in February when your race is in July.

This ties in with letting your peak fitness go in the off-season. Fitness takes time to build, brick by brick, one day at a time. If not taking an off-season will break you down physically due to the continuous stream of stress put on the body, trying to whip yourself into shape too quickly puts your body at risk. The "real" training didn't begin for Lake Placid until April 4th.

Confidence is having the discipline on race day to properly pace your day.
One of my favorite bonks of all-time happened at the Philadelphia Marathon (I forget the year). Looking to run a 3:10 Lo-Jack and I hit the half way point in 1:29:xx. We did this to "bank some time," thinking that extra 10 minutes would be helpful on the back half. What happened instead was an ugly, ugly final few miles with more walking that I would like to admit, some of which was more like staggering.

Being fit is vitally important to athletic success but so is the ability to have confidence in your ability to perform. By trusting in your program, trusting in your body, you give yourself the best chance of success come race day. If you let something get in the way - a bad day, a bad week, or just that little voice that tells you you need to do a little more - your chance of success goes down drastically. Pretty soon you are adding "junk" miles, hard workouts and your off-season becomes non-existent. Not good for the body; not the formula for a PR.

I have found I do my best when I keep the workload in perspective, listening to the signals my body is giving me. If I need some extra time to recover, I take it. If I feel a twinge in my calf I take a few days off from running. But if I bonk because it's 87 degrees outside I see it for what it is and move on.


Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.