Wednesday, June 21, 2017

2017 IRONMAN 70.3 Syracuse Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

This past weekend Michelle and I were down in lovely Syracuse, NY as I took on my first goal race of the year, Ironman 70.3 Syracuse. I had chosen this race for a few reasons, the key one being that it was one of the final races offering qualifying spots to this year’s 70.3 Half Ironman World Championship, being held September 9-10 in Chattanooga, TN. My goal was to snag one of those spots.

I knew going into the race that it was going to be tough. Prior to signing up for it last fall I did a bit of reading and asked some people about it and it seems like many agree that it is one of the toughest Half Ironman courses in North America, and if the weather turns at all it makes it the toughest. Last year’s finishing times were slow for a big race with just 42 finishers going under 5 hours, so I knew that I had to respect this course. I put in the training over the winter and spring and I have been running better than ever the last couple of months…I was ready for whatever the day brought.

Michelle and I arrived in town on Friday afternoon and went straight to the Ironman Village at Jamesville Beach Park where we were able to zip through athlete check-in in no time and also picked up all of the race swag. One of my regrets from Ironman Mont Tremblant last year was not just buying the swag I wanted and being my typical cheap self, so this year I just got what I wanted (and tried to not think about how much that US-Canadian exchange rate was going to hurt!). Walked away with a couple of shirts and a running visor, as well as shirts for the kids. I also managed to snag some new aerobar pads for my bike from one of the vendors there to replace my gross and filthy old ones…long overdue and I got them for half the cost here in Canada. We stuck around and took in the athlete briefing and then took off to get checked into our hotel.

We are fans of local bars and hangouts, so we found a cool little place not far from our hotel called The Distillery…they featured a menu full of typical pub fare, lots of specials, and a whole mess of craft and local beer on tap. I was a happy boy! I tried out their House Ale and then switched over to the Founder’s Session (being responsible, I had a race coming up). I also loaded up on the carbs with some spicy chicken pasta…Cajun chicken with linguine tossed in a Buffalo sauce, yum! It was a great meal and the sort of place Michelle and I wish we had to go to at home. After a delicious dinner we hit the local Target to get supplies (bananas and a 12-pack of Saranac) and then went to the Sweet Frog to cap the night off with some frozen yogurt.

The next morning we woke up and went out for a little shakeout run…Michelle and I just did a few kilometres (think it was about 3 or so) and already at that time of the morning it was HOT. Plenty of hills too, no matter where we went around town. I had a feeling this race was going to live up to its reputation. We finished up and went next door to Denny’s to grab some breakfast and my sister Emily came and met us there…she had made the drive down that morning from Kingston to hang out with us and watch my race. After breakfast it was back to the hotel where I did a final tune up of my bike and took it for a quick little spin around the neighbourhood and then we were back off to the race site for bike check in. No issues there and we decided to drive the bike course to see what I was getting myself into the next day (basically a lot of hills. A LOT of hills.) After a quick stop back at the hotel for Emily to check in we were off to dinner at Olive Garden, more carbs with pasta and unlimited breadsticks. A decent fill up and I put myself to bed for the night…tomorrow was race day.

Race morning arrived at 4:45am…I was up without my alarm. Some oatmeal and a cup of coffee in my belly, we were out the door and I was setting up my spot in transition by 6:00. The race kicked off at 7:00 and I was in wave 4, starting at 7:12. We watched (and laughed) at the peacocks strutting around trying to be seen. I had joked the day before that I need to make some fake race shirts to wear to expos, something like “Lard Lad Donut Dash 5K Fun Run – 43rd Place”, just to thwart the cockiness of other triathletes. I was intimidating the other athletes with my runDisney race shirt, I’m sure they were terrified. We went down to the beach and I jumped in my wetsuit and had a quick warmup swim. It was pretty ridiculous as we were only allowed in a small little roped off swim area, so everyone was just swimming around in a big circle. I said to one of the ladies there that it looked like we were trying to make a whirlpool like we did as kids in the backyard swimming pools. It was enough to get loosened up before the start though so it served its purpose. Out of the lake and a quick kiss and goodbye to Michelle and Emily, then I was off to my corral. Race time.

Swim - 1.2 miles / 1900m
31:47 (1:39/100m), 8/159 AG

I was in the largest Age Group (M35-39) with 159 guys registered, so our age group was split into two waves. I was in the first of the two and had discussed the split-wave with my buddy Matt as he had the same situation for his Florida 70.3 race. He told me to just treat it as a time trial and go as hard as I could, knowing that there were other athletes coming in 4 minutes behind me. I took his advice with me to the start line and made my way to the front of the wave. I positioned myself right at the front and on the buoy line, giving me a straight shot on the out and back swim. The horn went off and I was ahead of the pack in clean water right from the start. Clean water didn’t last long as I was on the previous wave in minutes. From that point on it was traffic, lots of traffic. I just weaved my way through the crowd staying on that buoy line. As we got further out I noticed that the chop was starting to pick up…the wind was blowing and waves were forming on the lake. I knew that it was going to be tough once we turned to head back to shore. I kept the pace steady and focused on form, knowing that it was going to be important when the conditions worsened. Around 900m I made the turn and began the 100m swim across to the turn buoy where we would head back towards shore. Right away the waves were on me, crashing from my right-hand side. I just made sure to breathe to the left and all was good, although sighting that turn buoy was a little more difficult as I typically sight from my right. I made it though, which is better than a lot of the other people around me. There were plenty of folks struggling with the chop. Once I turned to shore the waves were crashing head on right into us. It was like swimming upstream the whole time. I just focused on my head position, roll and a strong pull. Still plenty of traffic to deal with and I got kicked twice right in the goggle…both times it completely compressed the socket on my eye and I couldn’t see a thing, so I had to pop up and fix it. It may have cost me a few seconds but it was time well wasted. I went past the final sighting buoy and approached the shore…I grabbed sand (and a few weeds) and popped out of the lake, tearing the top of my wetsuit off and running past the cheering spectators, picking out Michelle and Emily along the way, and then plopped down in front of a pair of wetsuit peelers. They were almost all available, no one was using them for some reason. They ripped the suit off of me in about 1 second and I was off on the long 500m run to transition.

Bike – 56 Miles / 90km
2:50:18 (32.2 kph), 15/159 AG

Long run to my bike in transition. It was hot already and the sun was blazing. I’m usually lousy for wearing sunscreen during a race but I knew that the sun would kick my butt today if I didn’t, so I took the extra couple of seconds to spray myself. Again, time well wasted based on all of the lobsters I saw walking around the park later in the day. All told it was 3:08 from the swim exit to the bike mount, not bad considering I had to run half a kilometre with a wetsuit over my shoulders or a bike in my hands. I hopped on my bike and zipped past Michelle and Emily again and headed up the road, getting the legs loose and ready for some serious climbing. There is 3244 feet of climbing on the bike course (almost 1000m) and it is pretty constant throughout the ride. We were hit with the first big climb just 3K into the bike. I switched into my small ring up front and spun past a bunch of people. First hill down, didn’t drop my chain, I’m happy. We cruised along for a few more kilometres before turning south right into the teeth of the wind that had whipped up for us. The wind was out of the South all day and it was blowing pretty good. The turn also marked the beginning of the biggest climb on the course…really the first 20K or so you are climbing the entire time, gaining nearly 1000 feet. I have never used my small chainring as much as I did on this bike course, it was climb after climb with barely any time between climbs to even shift back up to the big ring before dropping right back down again. Eventually we crested the top of the final climb (in this opening stretch anyways) and had a nice long decent to give the legs a bit of a break. I got it up well over 50kph in this stretch and it felt good to go finally go fast. Once it flattened out we took a couple of turns and hit the first aid station. I tossed my water and Gatorade bottles and grabbed new ones…Orange Gatorade, yuck.

One of the nice things about this flatter, more rolling stretch of the course was that I could finally enjoy the beautiful scenery. Seriously, what a gorgeous part of the country. We continued south into the wind around a pretty little lake with cottages all around it and hit the halfway point. I was aiming to put out 220W on the bike and the first half was a little high due to the big climbs, as I had expected. I was right around 30kph for the first half but I knew that I would be able to ride easier yet faster on the back half due to the wind and lack of really big climbs. I tucked into my aerobars and just cruised, ensuring that I kept the power steady by spinning quick up the rollers and not pushing it too hard on the flat sections. It was around 60K in when I finally saw someone from my age group pass by me…I considered chasing him for a split second but quickly thought the better of it. A few minutes later another one of my age groupers went past but I ended up catching him on the very next hill. We went back and forth with each other pretty much the rest of the ride…I didn’t let him get too far away from me and managed to leapfrog him on almost every hill, only for him to go by on the corresponding descent.

At 70K we made the turn north onto the appropriately named Sky High Road, another big climb for about 5K. The last 20K of the ride was similar to the climbs and descents of the first section. I swapped out my water and Gatorade at the final aid station and dug in for this last tough stretch. Right away it was going wrong…the guy that handed me my water gave me a bottle without a cap so I had to take a swig and stick it in the cage on my downtube…a lit bit sloshy but okay. Shortly after that I went to take a slug of Gatorade and…nothing. I squeezed again and still nothing, so I unscrewed the cap and, yup, it was sealed. Come on. I stuck the cap in my jersey pocket and peeled off the seal, taking a big gulp to try to avoid sticky sport drink getting all over me, but there was no way I was getting that cap back on. I was moving along at a good clip through these hills and had to hold the open bottle with one hand (my second cage is mounted horizontally between my aerobars, so couldn’t use it), and I couldn’t get the cap back out of my jersey pocket unless I completely let go of the bike…not happening at that speed on that road in the middle of a race. I took another good slug from the bottle and then just dumped the contents. I shoved the empty bottle back into my cage and trudged on to the finish. A couple more climbs and one final big descent (which had a nice sharp 90 degree turn in the middle of it, along with a 40kph speed trap) and I was jumping off my bike and running into a very empty transition area…I hardly saw any bikes at all.

Run – 13.1 Miles / 21.1km
1:37:18 (4:37/km), 6/159 AG

Without the long run from the beach, T2 was a much quicker 1:33…still a bit longer as it is a big transition area and I reapplied my sunscreen. I sprinted out of T2 with my legs feeling really good…I had been taking salt caps on the bike as I knew I would be in trouble with the heat. By the time I got onto the run course the temperatures were soaring and the heat index was in the mid-90’s, along with blazing hot sun and no shade. What wind we could actually feel at this point was certainly welcome! I ran past Michelle and Emily and Michelle said something about me being “well in the top 20”, which made sense given the lack of bikes in transition, but I had to remember that I just had to run my own race and keep in mind that half of my age group started 4 minutes after me in the other wave. I checked my pace and it was a bit too hot, around 4:00/km. I kept telling myself to slow it down and was trying to hold it around 4:30/km. I quickly caught and passed a couple guys in front of me and then pulled up beside the guy in my age group who I went back and forth with on the bike. The two of us ran pretty much side by side for the first 5K and then I made a bit of a push up a hill and put some distance between us. I also saw another guy ahead from my age group and I put the pass on him as well…I had already moved up two spots on the run.

The heat was brutal now and you could see its effects on everyone. By now there were a lot of people on the out portion of the course as I was running by them on the back and they were struggling. I was still holding on though and made my way back to the turnaround to complete my first loop in 46 minutes. I was feeling the heat though and my pace was starting to fall off. Shortly into the second loop the back and forth battle with the bike guy swung his way again as he scooted past me. He opened a bit of a gap but I never let him get too far ahead…he was looking alright but not great, no better than me I was thinking, so I was pretty confident that I could reel him in next time we hit a hill. And there were plenty of hills on the run course as well, no flats here with over 600 feet of elevation to deal with. Sure enough I caught up to him and made a pass, pulling away for what I hoped would be for good.

Once I hit the first of the two out and back sections of second loop I was feeling just about done…my pace had really fallen off and I was putting in kilometres in the 5:15 range. I continued to take water, ice, Coke, more water and more ice at all of the aid stations and was eventually able to dig deep and make a push for the final 5K. It was nowhere near fast, but I managed to get the pace back into the high 4-minutes range. I was passing a whole bunch of guys in my age group now, but with the multiple wave start coupled with the two-loop run course there was no way to know if they were anywhere near me. Eventually I made it back into the park and was running along the path towards the finish line, just a half mile to go. Wouldn’t you know it, back and forth bike guy pulled up beside me. Seriously, this guy was like Robert Patrick’s T-1000 Terminator, he just wouldn’t die! I saw him pull even and knew how hard he would have had to have worked to get back to me and I knew that I had to drop him right away, so I gave everything I had and just sprinted all out for these last 800m, dropping him right away…I finally broke the guy. I approached the finish chute and made the final turn, hearing Michelle and Emily cheering me on. It was a bit of a blur as I was getting loopy from the heat and the big finishing kick but I knew it was over. The announcer called out my name and remarked about the great time that I put in and it was over…final time 5:04:04.

I collected my finisher swag and grabbed a slice of shade under a tree, waiting for Michelle and Emily to show up. It didn’t take them long to find me and they had the cooler with them so I was able to just lie down, crack open an ice cold beer and start the recovery process. I really had no idea of how I finished, what my time was, nothing. Michelle figured I was around top 7 in my age group but wasn’t sure as the Ironman tracking had crapped out on her phone. Guys were still coming in that started 4 minutes after me, so it was hard to tell. I knew I had raced well on a tough day and had a good shot at a Worlds spot, that’s all I could ask for. I took a dip in the cool lake with a bar of soap and got myself cleaned off, then we headed into town to grab some beer and pizza at The Distillery. Once I sat down I checked my phone and saw a message from my buddy Luke saying, “5th place bud congrats!”…sweet! I had made the age group podium and had a guaranteed spot for Worlds, I just had to show up at the roll down ceremony with my credit card. We downed our meal and headed back to the park just in time for awards. It turned out that it was an incredibly tough day for everyone, even harder than the year before, with only 14 athletes going under 5 hours. I did indeed end up coming in 5th in my age group and the gap between 1st and 5th was just 4 minutes…incredibly tight. My time was also good for 25th overall out of over 1300 people. I was called up to the stage for my award and a little while later went up to claim my spot for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga this September. My age group was allocated 7 spots for Worlds plus one additional spot for 8 total…the top 7 guys all claimed their spot and the final slot only rolled down to 10. I’m glad I didn’t slack off expecting slots to roll!

It was a great day and I was happy that Michelle and Emily were able to be there to share it with me. The conditions were brutal and this was the hardest course I have raced on (it made Mont Tremblant seem like a joke), but I was smart and stuck to my plan, racing with my head as much as my legs. The weather did beat me in the end, but I held on a lot longer than most people out there. The training I had put in paid off on race day (thanks Coach Sheri!) and now I have the great opportunity to go and race in the World Championships. I’ll take it easy for a little bit but will be back out training real soon and taking on some local races over the next couple months leading up to Chattanooga. Thanks for reading folks!

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