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.
Pre-RaceTravel 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
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 30:44The 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: 3:26This 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 2:43:22I 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 - 3:06This 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 2:15:18Almost 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 overallI 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 ImpressionsIronman 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.