Earlier this year when Alasdair and I registered for our 2015 triathlons, the Ironman Syracuse 70.3 was not on our list (a 70.3 race is also known as a “1/2 ironman” and is named for the total length of the race: 1.2 mile swim + 56 mile bike + 13.1 mile run)! We had to withdraw from the June 14 Welland 1/2 because of a conflict with cadets, but still wanted an early season half (because we like to torture ourselves). We decided that a 3 1/2 hour drive to Syracuse wasn’t too bad. It was to be our first time racing in the USA! (Heck, I hadn’t been to the USA in nearly 19 years until earlier this month when I went to Buffalo for a basketball tournament.) Big thanks to Chris for taking K and A for the weekend!!!
In the days leading up to the race, I got all my gear organized.
We headed out Friday at around 4 PM, and arrived at our hotel in Brewerton, New York around 8 PM (hotel recommended by a local friend who was also doing the race).
I had been obsessively checking the weather for Syracuse all week, but by Saturday morning, the forecast was still for rain with a risk of thunderstorms. However, Saturday’s weather was perfect! We drove 25 minutes or so south to the race site at Jamesville Beach Park in the little town of Jamesville, a great race venue.
We were impressed right away by the volunteers in the parking lot and at registration – there were lots of them, they were efficient, and very helpful! All told there were 1,500 amazing volunteers for this race! Thank you volunteers!!
We were given a “morning clothes bag” and a small black backpack, as well as our race bib, stickers for our bikes and helmets, a wrist band identifying us as athletes and as the owners of our bikes, race t-shirts and some sample products. We signed our lives away on 3 separate waivers, and then picked up our timing chips (verifying that our names appeared on the computer screen).
Next we headed for the 10 AM mandatory pre-race briefing (one of several that athletes could choose from), where they covered the details of the course, rules, and how things on race day would run.
We did a 10 min bike ride, checked our bikes into transition (each athlete had a specific spot to rack his or her bike – marked on the racks by bib number), removed everything that someone could steal (pump, under seat bag for tools and tubes, cross bar bag for food), did a 5 min run, and then did a practice swim when lifeguards opened part of the course at 1 PM (we had thought that we would have to swim in a little roped off public beach area). When the lifeguards told people that they could swim past buoy #1, turn at 2, swim across to 7, and head for 8 (the course is an upside down U), a few asked, “Do we have to?” Alasdair and I swam without our wetsuits and it was fine at 68 degrees Fahrenheit (though cold first getting in!), but we would be wearing them on race day!
We left the race site, drove the first 12 miles (19k) of the bike course to the highest point we would reach, headed back to Jamesville for a delicious lunch at a little place called Half Moon Bakery and Bistro, went back to the hotel, organized our stuff for the morning, then had dinner with my local friend Christina and her husband. It was off to bed early with plans for a ridiculous race day wake up time!
SUNDAY (RACE DAY)
Sunday morning our alarm sounded at 3:30 AM, our earliest race day start yet! It was very strange to eat my oatmeal, yogurt and banana so early! We left the hotel just after 4 AM and were at the race site before 4:45 AM (it was still dark out)! I have never arrived so early for a race, but with a 7 AM race start and only one way into the park, we didn’t want to get stuck in traffic trying to get into the race site. It worked out perfectly – we encountered no traffic, and were one of the first 25 or so vehicles to arrive! We walked toward the transition zone with one very excited man from the Manhattan area, who told us to have fun, smile, thank a volunteer… “the best 7 hours of your life!”
We went through body marking before arriving at the transition zone, getting our bib number on both arms and age on our left legs. I put my pump and bags (including food) back on my bike, added my gatorade and water bottles, had a volunteer tell me to reverse my bike (odd bibs faced their bikes one way, and even the other – who knew?!) and set up my spot below my handlebars (they were very particular about athletes not taking up too much space), wrapping everything in a garbage bag so it wouldn’t be drenched before the race even began! And then the rain started! I went back to the van to take my big triathlon bag (thanks Dervish – it’s awesome!) and grab my phone to take a few pictures.
When I got back from the van it was pouring rain, so Alasdair and I went to hang out under a picnic shelter. I started getting cold, and when the rain let up a bit, I decided that I would put my wetsuit on, even though I wasn’t starting my race until 8:04 (I figured it would warm me up!). So we went back to transition to grab our wetsuits, goggles and swim caps, made final portajohn stops (somehow I find that word odd), and got ourselves into our wetsuits! If you’ve ever seen an athlete struggle to put a dry wetsuit on a dry body, now imagine what it’s like putting a wet wetsuit on a wet body! One athlete put her feet in plastic bags and then pulled the wetsuit on, and seemed to have an easier time of it. Someone suggested she should charge $10/athlete for use of the bag. Another athlete wondered where she could get a marker to write her name in her wetsuit – I suggested body marking, where 20 or so people were standing there with sharpies! “I’m surrounded by geniuses!” another athlete said.
1.2 mile (1.9 km) SWIM
With more than 2,000 athletes in the race, we would be sent off in waves, Alasdair in wave 4, and me in wave 17 with all women 40-44 – the final wave (and according to the race announcer, “the best looking wave!”)! Just before the 7 AM race start, we all paused for the singing of the American national anthem on the beach. Very soon after that, a gun went off and the first wave was swimming! By this time, the rain had stopped. After Alasdair started (an air horn replaced the gun after the first couple of starts, which is good because it was very loud), I went to use the bathroom one more time, and then headed for the water to do a short warm-up swim (in the small roped off area). I started to doubt my decision not to put sunblock on, with sunny skies and visions of sunburn in my head! I swam a U shape, no more than 75m, stood up, and felt incredibly dizzy. I stumbled, thought I might pass out, and wondered what the heck was going on. I slowly – wobbling – made my way out of the water, tried to clear water from my ears in case that was the problem, and hoped that I would be fine in 25 minutes or so when my race was to start. My stomach felt pukey and I was worried that I wouldn’t even get to race. I decided if I was okay at the swim start, I would attempt to swim, and if I had to stop, I would.
I lined up with the rest of my group near a volunteer holding a big sign with our wave and age listed on it (this race was superbly well organized). A power boat brought a swimmer from the wave before us back to shore, and everyone cheered for him. Eventually, we were in the water, and then the horn sounded! I remembered to start my watch, began swimming, and felt FINE! The swim start was a little congested even though there were only 91 swimmers starting – I had women close by on either side of me, making it hard to get away, but eventually things spread out. There were yellow buoys (“booeez” in the USA!) numbered 1-8 on the way out which we kept to our right. At the red buoy, we turned right and headed across the upside down U shape. The turn wasn’t congested, and neither was the next turn to head back toward shore. Heading back, we kept the orange numbered buoys (1 to 8) on our right. It didn’t feel like I was swimming fast, but I knew I was swimming pretty straight – no going off course for me! I concentrated on finishing my stroke, as instructed by my swim coach Mat. I thought I might see 0:47 when I finished swimming, but as I was running to transition, I looked at my watch and was pleasantly surprised to see 43 something!
I pulled my wetsuit down to my waist as I made the long run toward transition, stopping at the wetsuit strippers for an experience unlike any other! I said to the volunteer, “What do I do?” (though I had watched a video to know what to expect) and she said “Get your wetsuit below your waist. Sit down.” I did, leaned back, and she pulled the wetsuit off my legs! Much faster than me struggling through it. It looks like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CsX0ls1eaQ.
Time: 42:57 (2:13/100m)
Women 40-44 placing: 46/91
Gender placing: 294/591
Overall placing: 1,143/2,076
I quickly stopped for a pee break at a portajohn inside the transition zone, then ran to my spot to get my bike stuff on (helmet, race bib, socks, shoes, sunglasses) and ate a banana while doing so. T1 lasted 5:29. There was an uphill run out of transition to the mount line, and then the fun began!
The first 19km of the bike course has an 1,100 feet (335m) elevation gain, with the 1st real hill an 11% grade! In general, the entire course was a very hilly ride, not just the beginning. Up one very long hilly road (where you would go up, plateau, go up more), a rider behind me said “KIRA, you’re setting the pace!” There were a few great downhills, but they always seemed to end with uphills! At one point I could hear sirens, then was passed by a first responder in a pickup truck. The athlete needing help was an awful sight, face completely bloody. He was standing though, so hopefully he only had superficial wounds.
I didn’t feel like I was going fast, and decided to only look at my watch at the half way point. I thought it might be too depressing otherwise! I forced myself to eat some of my homemade granola bar, but for some inexplicable reason I actually felt like it had too much chocolate!? I knew I had to eat during the ride, so I had little bits of food over the course of the 90k (more granola bar, a delicious peanut butter chocolate ball that I will bring more of next time, and dates and chocolate chips). I drank a full bottle of gatorade, and almost a full bottle of water. I didn’t touch the gels I had packed “just in case”. There were aid stations on the bike too, but I didn’t take any of the food or liquids they were offering (1. I’d most likely have to stop, and 2. I had what I needed).
Some spots on the course had super enthusiastic spectators cheering for the athletes, in particular on the long climbs! Little towns had people on their lawns or driveways. One little girl (8 or 10?) was playing a trombone for us! Two women elsewhere had a boom box playing.
At one point, I nearly crashed into the guy in front of me when he wobbled, swerved and cut me off. I hit my brakes hard, yelled “GEEZ!” and somehow ended up not falling off my bike! He ended up in the oncoming traffic lane (thankfully there were no cars). Crazy!
Later a woman that I passed read my bib on my back and said, “Go KEEERA!”
The skies looked ominous in the distance, but I didn’t see any lightning or hear any thunder, and it didn’t rain!
The last 10 miles (16k) was mostly downhill, but some athletes were acting crazy and were riding across both lanes of traffic (thankfully no oncoming cars), but I couldn’t pass them. It was very annoying to have to brake on the downhills at this point. I yelled “On your left!” to try to get them to move but no go. It was dangerous.
Near the very end of the bike course there was a no passing zone as we were riding just to the left of runners who were on the right hand side of the road. We were being led by a motorcycle so we couldn’t go very fast. The riders in front of me slowed down on the last big uphill, I did the same, and then the woman behind me nearly ran me over! She may have touched my wheel, and then apologized. At least we didn’t crash!
I figured I would probably end the bike 4 hours 30 min or so into the race, but was shocked and happy to end it at 4:07!!
Time: 3:18:48 (27.04 km/h)
1st 25 miles took 1:34:01 (25.26 km/h) and remaining 31 miles took 1:43:47 (28.67 km/h)
Women 40-44 placing: 45/91
Gender placing: 233/591
Overall placing: 1,143/2,076
I racked my bike, took off my helmet and bike shoes, put on my running shoes and hat, forgot to grab gels, and took off. T2 was 3:57.
13.1 mile (21.1k) RUN
Remember the forecast for rain and thunderstorms? Well with no rain on the ride, I decided to stop on my way out of transition to get sprayed with sunscreen by a volunteer. She warned me that it might sting, and boy was she ever right!
My legs felt okay at the start, but it was hot out! I stopped at the first portajohn on the run, not yet out of the park. I ran the first hill out of the park, but then walked the big ones after that. It was an out and back course that we ran 2 times. I knew I’d see Alasdair eventually! At 2.5 miles my left quad right by my knee started to scream, tighten and clench, and I thought I might have to quit the race – I stopped to stretch it and had another runner ask if I was okay, “Do you need any nutrition?” I told him that it was just tight and I thought I would be okay. I kept going and it got better, thankfully! The aid stations each had gatorade, water, soaking wet sponges, energy gels, bananas, oranges, pretzels, and flat pop. Over the course of the run I ate orange slices and pretzels (washing the pretzels down with water they were so hard to swallow!). I walked through all of the aid stations, drank gatorate or water, and poured water on my shoulders, head and back! I took a soaked sponge and stuck it under my shirt strap. I got ice from a volunteer and put it down the front of my top, but later, I ate it! I got more at other aid stations from little kiddie pools that were filled with ice and jugs of water.
I saw Alasdair just after I reached the turnaround. I was dealing with side stitches and a stomach that felt too full of liquid! Eventually I got back to the park near the finish line where we turned to do a 2nd loop. I couldn’t believe I had to do all those hills again! I stopped to pee on my way out but couldn’t manage to go. The rain had returned and it felt quite nice – it was cooling! I heard thunder but it didn’t sound too close.
As I turned a corner, ran down a hill and reached an aid station, runners coming toward us said that we had to turn around, that they had lifted up the timing mat (at the turnaround) and the race organizers thought a thunderstorm was coming so we couldn’t continue. It was very disappointing but I wasn’t upset that I didn’t have to run those hills again! I figured then that I was about 1 mile from the turnaround (1.6km). I turned back with everyone else and ran/walked almost all of the way with my new friend Franklin from the Bronx, whose first language was not English. We had a few communication challenges but I enjoyed our conversation and it helped to pass the time. I likely ran more than I would have on my own but he was having muscle cramps so we took walking breaks. I had gotten a second wind I think, knowing that those big hills weren’t coming! The thunder was getting louder as we entered the park. He told me “You can run ahead!” since by then he was having knee issues. I said, “It was nice to meet you!” and he said, “Me too!” I ran to the finish, by which time the rain was just pelting down! I received my medal and finisher’s hat, and saw my finish time on my watch of 6 hours 32 minutes and change (knowing that I was approximately 3.2 km short on the run). I was so glad to be done!
Because athletes wear timing chips and cross timing mats at various points in the race, the race organizers are able to determine the last timing mat you crossed. Therefore they knew that I didn’t finish the full run.
Official stats on ironman.com give me a time of 0 for the run, but the following splits:
first 3.3 miles or 5.28 km – 40:09
next 3.2 miles or 5.12 km – 40:02
This was a slow running pace for me, but given all that had come before these hills on the run, I wasn’t that surprised.
Since I didn’t officially finish the race (my first DNF or “did not finish”!), I didn’t get a finishing time, but ironman.com gives me a predicted finishing time of 6:51:33, which is based on my run time being consistent over the remainder of the course. I think it’s probably a pretty good estimate!
I am thrilled with how my swim and bike went. I know I have room for improvement in all 3 events, but I probably have the most to gain on the run! (It turns out I beat Alasdair on the swim for the very first time – by less than a minute – but he beat me on the bike by about 5.)
After the race, I found Alasdair, we picked up our “morning clothes” bags that we had checked, and then waited outside the transition zone with lots of other athletes until there was a “window” in the storm and we could get our stuff out. We grabbed food for athletes on our way to the van. It turns out the thunderstorm was very short lived, but unlike some athletes who apparently argued with the officials when the decision was made to end the run, I am grateful for race organizers who take safety seriously – I want to return home to my kids!
Syracuse, we’ll be back!