Race report: Ironman 70.3 Syracuse 2016

After last year’s Ironman 70.3 Syracuse race was cut short due to a thunderstorm, I definitely wanted another opportunity to take on this challenging course.  And this year, the already hilly bike route was made even tougher. So, Alasdair and I headed to Syracuse on Friday afternoon to race in the USA for the second time. We were greeted by resident bullfrogs when we arrived at our hotel in East Syracuse.

SATURDAY

In the morning we headed to the race site at Jamesville Beach Park, New York State, a beautiful venue for a race. The Hamlet of Jamesville rolled out the welcome mat!

On Saturday morning we went to the race site, where we did a short ride on the beginning part of the bike course, attended a mandatory pre-race briefing, registered and picked up our race kits (t-shirt, race bib, timing chip, swim cap, bike and helmet stickers and matching wrist band, and product samples), checked our bikes into transition (I removed my pump and bags), did a short (weedy) swim, and found my friend Christina, who was volunteering all day Saturday and Sunday. I was relieved to discover that I didn’t feel any pain just below my ribs on the right side of my chest while swimming or biking, a random pre-race pain that started on Thursday afternoon.

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Alasdair gets an explanation of how this year’s bike course differs from last year’s.

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My friend Christina, race volunteer extraordinaire!

We left the race site, ate lunch at the Half Moon Cafe nearby, shopped for a few things that someone (who shall remain unnamed) forgot, had dinner at the Olive Garden, organized all our race stuff, set our alarms for 3:30 AM, and went to bed!

SUNDAY – RACE DAY

I slept pretty well, but 3:30 AM came too soon. It’s pretty strange eating breakfast so early, but I forced down a banana and some muesli with yogurt. I took one last look at the day’s weather forecast, which I had been watching obsessively for days, and saw that there wouldn’t be much wind, but the afternoon temperature would approach 35 degrees Celsius. We drove the 10-15 minutes to the race site (loved being so close!) and arrived there under a nearly full moon at 4:30 AM, with about 50 cars there already. It was really nice to have my friend Christina do my body marking! Next I found my bike in transition, made sure I knew exactly how to find it after the swim and bike, and set everything up (including putting my bike pump and 2 bags back on it, as well as my food for the ride). I checked my tires, and was pretty much ready to go!

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My set-up was used by a race official as an example of how things should be done. I did move my helmet and sunglasses to the ground though, as I found them there at one point before the race began!

I had trouble finding Alasdair – it seems that when I was in transition, he was in a bathroom lineup, and when I was in the lineup, he must have been in transition!

At one point, I spotted an athlete in a portapotty lineup wearing a pink and purple tri suit with the name Grace on his thigh. I looked at him and realized he must be the man whose 7 year old daughter, Grace, was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting on December 14, 2012 in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. I didn’t remember his name at the time, and didn’t approach him (and now wish I had), but I had watched an inspirational clip about him after the 2013 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. His name is Chris Mcdonnell and he is incredibly inspirational. Get out your kleenex before you watch this 6 minute video.

When I found Alasdair just before he was going to put his wetsuit on (mine was already half way on), I stayed with him until he headed for the race start, so we could wish each other good luck! He was to start just after 7, and me at 7:56. I got to watch him struggle with his wetsuit, which somehow seemed to have melted and stuck to itself. He used water and carefully peeled the legs apart – success! He was not relishing the thought of swimming without the wetsuit, though the water temperature was around 68 degrees F.

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Here at 6:51 AM I was still wearing 2 long sleeved tops…

After leaving him I headed for one last pee stop, and was in the longest bathroom lineup I have ever been in. I heard one athlete tell another, who had never done a half ironman before, that he should go easy for the first 12 miles on the bike, and that after that it was easy. I said to him, “You do realize they changed the bike course this year??” His look of shock and horror was priceless. The American national anthem was sung while I was standing in the lineup, but we couldn’t actually hear it (we did hear the cheers at the end). We heard the loud bang signalling the start of the first swim wave!

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I was in the lineup on the right.

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One last pre-race photo. Ignore the growth coming from the top of my head.

I gave my “morning clothes bag” to a race volunteer at the baggage check, where later on I could pick up the things I’d like to have immediately after the race – this is key for faster people, who aren’t allowed into transition until the last athlete is out on the run course. It’s never been an issue for me.

SWIM (1.9 km or 1.2 miles)

I found Christina, who was waiting at the swim exit with the other “wetsuit peelers”, and asked her to zip my wetsuit up. We talked briefly, said goodbye and I walked over to the beach to do a short warm up swim. That’s when I heard the announcer say “2-3 minutes and the swim warm-up area is closing!” So I quickly went into the water (the Jamesville Reservoir) and did a tiny loop around the public swimming area (not the race swim course), stood up, and just like last year, was very very dizzy. Apparently swimming in a tight rectangle is not for me. I gave myself time and eventually the feeling was gone. I talked to a few athletes while waiting for the volunteer with the “women 40-44” sign to appear. And just like that, we were standing in the water waiting for the horn to sound! With a 15 second countdown, a woman beside me yelled, “7 hours until beer!”

My swim started pretty well, without the crazy congestion I sometimes encounter. It wasn’t as weedy as I anticipated either. After a couple hundred metres I stopped very briefly to adjust my right goggle lens, but it was smooth sailing after that. I was swimming straight, and trying very hard to finish strong with each stroke (my biggest weakness). I also tried to draft as much as possible, and was more successful on the back half of the course. We swam in an upside down U shape, and crossing the U was interesting with the very bright sun ahead of us. I found it pretty bright swimming the back half as well. I mentally prepared myself to see 50+ minutes when I stood up out of the water, given the 2 slow swims I had in races earlier this month. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see 45 something! Still not as fast as last year, but better than expected.

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Done the swim!

I started my run towards transition, heard “Kyra!” and ran right to Christina and another woman who were working together to peel wetsuits off athletes. By this point I had my wetsuit to my waist, they told me to lay down and point my toes, and then proceeded to pull it off me, which is faster than me trying to struggle out of it myself!! I then ran the very long way to the transition zone! I stopped to pee at the portapotty just inside the transition zone, ran to my bike, and ate a banana while I put on sunscreen, my sunglasses, bike shoes, and my helmet, and was off.

Swim: 45:41 (2:21 min/100m) – 62/78 women aged 40-44; 311/401 women; 1125/1699 all athletes

BIKE (90 km or 56.1 miles)

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Last year, this was the hardest race I had ever done. You can imagine how thrilled I was to hear that the bike course had been made hillier due – at least in part – to the poor condition of some roads from last year’s course.  However, I did hill training on the bike, and I was ready!

I ran with my bike up the first hill to the mount line, then got on and started pedalling. I noticed almost immediately that a race official must have put a “plug” in the end of my left handlebar, because I definitely didn’t. I noticed at home that the plug was gone, so I taped up the end like a race official did to my bike at last year’s race (I had no idea that you couldn’t race otherwise). Not sure why they didn’t like my tape job, or why they didn’t slice the tape and put the plug in – instead, it was just partway in. In any case, I wasn’t prevented from racing and the plug stayed in, so it was all good!

Just a short distance into the bike course there is a railroad crossing (the track was covered by a mat by the race organizers), and then the hills begin. It felt to me like it was hills, hills and more hills – like we were always climbing, with just a couple of really nice, long downhill sections (my favourite part of the course!). And in several cases, downhills were followed immediately by sharp turns, so you couldn’t take advantage of the free speed. For a while I was playing leapfrog with another woman, bib #1650, who at first thanked me for saying “on your left” when I passed her, then proceeded to do the same for me. At one point she said, “See you on the next downhill!” (because I would pass her there) and I replied, “That’s the easy part!” Apparently she gets “freaked out” by the big downhills.

I knew that I should be eating on the bike, but really didn’t feel like it. I did force down (bit by bit) a peanut butter banana chocolate bar that I made, and a bit of a chocolate peanut butter ball, but found the tastes too similar and not what I felt like eating! I did make myself have a gel too, because I didn’t want to suffer on the run due to lack of nutrition on the bike. On the other hand, I had no trouble staying hydrated. I’d finished my gatorade bottle by the half way mark, and started onto my water bottle. At the next aid station, I did a water bottle exchange for the very first time. Approaching the aid station there was a big wooden board with a target painted on it, which I threw my water bottle at (and hit!). I was congratulated by volunteers! Then as I slowed and coasted through the aid station, I yelled “water!” and a nice volunteer handed me a bottle of ice cold water! Success!

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The bike course was quite scenic. I did enjoy the views as I suffered up the hills. Here I am biking around the Deruyter Reservoir.

The police officers did a great job at intersections, controlling traffic and giving riders the right of way. I love the NY State black police hats!

At one point in the race I saw a man tip over on his bike – he had been going too slowly up a hill. Someone reached him before me and he was okay by the time I got there, standing up and checking out his bike. There were some great cheering fans at different points along the bike route. I loved the boys (maybe 12 years old?) who were playing guitar and drums, and the church choir facing the road and singing and waving for us!

At the 49 mile mark, I reached the Sky High hill, which was nasty so late in the race! It was steep, and sadly, that nice bottle of ice cold water? I was half way through it and I dropped it on the uphill. I decided not to stop because I might not get going again! Unfortunately, that meant I had no water for the last 10k of the bike. I was looking forward to getting off my bike, but not at all looking forward to running a half marathon in the heat!

And then, I was back at the dismount line and getting off my bike.

Bike: 3:40:34 (24.4 km/h) – 51/78 women aged 40-44; 234/401 women; 1014/1699 all athletes

RUN (21.1 km or 13.1 miles)Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.04.06 PM

If you love hills, then this is the run course for you! After changing into my running shoes, replacing my helmet with my hat, drinking several mouthfuls of water, tucking a gel into my tri top and putting on more sunscreen, I took off for the paved path, then grass that would lead up the first steep hill out of the park and up to the road. I had already decided that I would walk up the steep hills, but run the flats and downhills. It was a 2 loop course, so we got to do all the hills twice – yay!

It was very hot, but with 3 aid stations on the course, it meant that we passed by one 12 times, and each time, I poured water on my head, put ice in my tri top, drank water and gatorade, ate orange slices, and sometimes got a wet sponge. I never felt too hot, but I looked forward to walking through the aid stations and cooling off. The volunteers there were amazing. I also made use of the portapotties 2 times (but never on the bike course – amazing for me!).

I spotted Alasdair coming towards me when I was about 1 km or so into the run. He was finishing his first loop. I knew that I would see him one more time.

When I walked, I tried to walk quickly, while also eating the ice out of my tri top at the same time! There were a few sprinklers and hoses on the course as well, which were my favourite part of the run! I did a 360 at one hose and got a nice soaking from a volunteer. I mentioned to another athlete the “cruel and unusual punishment” of the hills.

There were lots of people walking, and I heard one man who was worried that he wouldn’t make the run cut-off (you had to have started your 2nd loop by a certain time). There were cut-offs for the swim and bike as well.

Finishing the first loop is rather evil, as you run so close to the finish line but have to run past and do a loop back, then run that whole hilly route again. I found out after the race that Christina had written Alasdair P and Kyra P on the pavement near the turnaround (along with other names), but sadly neither of us noticed them. Alasdair said that he “would have had to have been capable of reading at that time”! Ha!

There were lots of people near the turnaround/finish line cheering, and some along the run course where there were houses. I got a high five from one little guy.

I passed Alasdair again as he headed into the park and toward the finish line. He said he was worried I was going to beat him (remember, he started 40 minutes ahead of me, so we weren’t exactly sure how we were doing relative to one another). I was doubtful, but didn’t know that he was walking mostly of the run course because of knee pain.

In the last 3k, I got bad side stitches and couldn’t get rid of them. This meant that I had to walk some of the flats and downhills, and run for just a short stretch at a time. It was frustrating, but I had long ago given up on any time goals. All I wanted to do was finish the race.

When I re-entered the park and started heading down the steep hill, I spotted a runner laying on the ground, with 2 people by her side (one a volunteer with a walkie talkie, the other a spectator, I think). I grabbed the last of the ice in my tri top and put it on the back of her neck, asking the spectator to hold it there. I hadn’t been gone long when help (and lots of it) arrived. Hopefully she was okay – likely suffering heat exhaustion.

I tried to muster up a strong run finish but my side stitches were really painful. I figured I’d be grimacing in my race photos (and in some of them, I was)! Just before the last turn I was passed by a woman in my age group , but I had nothing left to chase her down.

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Looking over my shoulder as I approached the finish line to see if anyone else was going to pass me.

I heard Alasdair cheer for me just before the finish, and heard the announcer say “KIRA”as I got close. I was so glad to be done!

Run: 2:49:14 (8:02 min/km) – 54/78 women aged 40-44; 264/401 women; 1047/1699 all athletes

In the end, I finished in 7:26:51. Christina gave me my medal at the finish (so nice to get it from someone I knew!), and someone also gave me a hat while another person removed my timing chip. We were funnelled through to the post-race food, with a quick stop for an official race photo on the way. Alasdair (who beat my time by 5 minutes) found me and we went into the food tent for pizza, salad (with ham and salami on it – a bit weird), pretzels, oranges, and water. We managed to find seats on picnic tables – in the shade – under a tent where the awards would be given out. After eating I went to get my morning clothes bag, and decided to ask another athlete down by the water to take my picture, because I wanted a post-race shot before I went into the lake to cool off, and Alasdair was still back at the tent eating. So a nice French Canadian man agreed to take a few pictures, and when I asked him to make me look strong and fast, he told me to jump. I told him my legs might break but he insisted it hadn’t happened to him yet. So I jumped, and I’m so glad I did!

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I did it!

Alasdair and I got our stuff from the transition zone, went to say goodbye to Christina, and then headed home! She mentioned that with the harder bike course this year, apparently Ironman 70.3 Syracuse is the hardest half ironman in North America! I don’t doubt it.

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Hugging this pile of ice felt so good!

I was happy with my swim, and considering the difficulty of the bike course, I was satisfied with it as well. I’d like to be faster next year – last year, I rode the bike course in 3:18, a full 20 minutes faster. That goes to show how much more challenging this route is. And on the run, of course I’d liked to have been able to run more of it. With less heat, more hill training, and no side stitches, I’ll be able to do it! I’m looking forward to next year’s race already.

Stats

Swim: 45:41 (2:21 min/100m) – 62/78 women aged 40-44; 311/401 women; 1125/1699 all athletes

T1: 5:23

Bike: 3:40:34 (24.4 km/h) – 51/78 women aged 40-44; 234/401 women; 1014/1699 all athletes

T2: 5:59

Run: 2:49:14 (8:02 min/km) – 54/78 women aged 40-44; 264/401 women; 1047/1699 all athletes

Total time: 7:26:51

Women 40-44: 54/78

All women: 264/401

All athletes: 1049/1699

Once again, we were impressed with the phenomenal organization of this race. The 850 volunteers were amazing. We will be back!

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4 Responses to Race report: Ironman 70.3 Syracuse 2016

  1. razkristi says:

    Hmm, my first comment didn’t work….
    You should be so proud of yourself! I can’t imagine doing all that in the heat. And those hills! Congratulations 🙂

    Like

  2. kyrapaterson says:

    Thank you Kristi! 🙂 The heat only matters during the run. And then, well, you know what that’s like!

    Like

  3. judyapiel says:

    Congratulations its a tough course!

    Liked by 1 person

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