It’s amazing what a good sleep and a little bit of perspective can do.
Heading into my 3rd Ironman 70.3 Syracuse (see 2015 and 2016 race reports), and 6th half ironman overall, I knew very well what I was getting myself into. I had been obsessively checking the weather forecast (for weeks!), and given the predicted high of 40+ degrees Celsius with the humidity, I tried even harder than usual to hydrate in the days leading up to the race.
Alasdair and I headed for Syracuse after work on Friday night, and after a quick stop at Salomon Arc’teryx in Niagara to pick up the Speedcross 3 trail running shoes that I won at the Don’t Get Lost Jungle Run the week before, we sailed across the border and were on our way. I think it helped that Alasdair told the border guard that we were heading to Syracuse “for a race” rather than “for 7 hours of pure torture”.
On Saturday morning we headed to the race site at Jamesville Beach Park for the mandatory bike check-in and pre-race meeting. I did a 5 minute ride just to make sure my bike was fine, then we registered (signed multiple waivers, got race bib, timing chip, bike and helmet stickers, a t-shirt, “morning clothes bag”, and a small backpack with a few product samples in it). We attended a pre-race briefing, which was both informative and funny. We walked back to the car to get my bike, and checked it into transition, having removed anything from it that could easily be stolen (i.e. pump and bags). We headed for the water, and at 1 PM took advantage of the lifeguard supervised swim organized by the park (rather than by Ironman). We only swam for 5-10 minutes, but it was enough for me to just be comfortable in the water. And to remember the weeds!
On race day our alarm went off at 3:30 AM. Surprisingly, I slept well the night before and after a quick breakfast of oats, yogurt and a banana, we were on our way to the race. We arrived at around 4:30 AM, with about 25 cars or so there before us. We were there so early that transition opened just as we reached it.
I quickly set up my stuff, setting out my bike shoes, socks, sunglasses, helmet, race bib, running shoes, hat, gel, sunblock and a banana. I added my bike pump and bags back to my bike, putting a peanut butter chocolate ball, energy square and a few gels into my crossbar bag, and a bottle of gatorade and another of water in the cages. In between multiple bathroom breaks, I borrowed another athlete’s bike pump to inflate my tires, slathered myself with sunscreen, and counted racks so I could find my spot easily. I grabbed my wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles, and headed with Alasdair to the waterfront. He would be swimming only, given that his thumb wasn’t ready for a return to triathlon just yet – in particular, the hilly bike!
I checked my “morning clothes bag” into the bag check, and was ready to go!
This year, I decided to get wet pre-race but not to swim, since the previous 2 years I felt dizzy after the warm-up in the tiny rectangular area. I was standing in the water for the singing of the American National Anthem.
I lined up with the other athletes in the 6th swim wave, women 40-44 and 55+, chatted with Alasdair a little longer, and then edged closer and closer to the big inflatable arch and the start of the race.
The cannon malfunctioned for the first wave, but worked for the second. I think it was just a horn after that. Soon enough, we were knee deep in water waiting for the horn to sound. My wave was the first wave of women. Music was playing as we waited, and one woman was dancing up a storm! And just like that, the race was on! I started my watch, and dove in. There was quite a lot of congestion at the start, and it took a while for me to get space and find a rhythm. I seemed to be swimming fairly straight. I was a little surprised by the waves pushing me from behind, and once I made the right-hand turn at the red buoy, I did not like them hitting me from the side! They made it harder to breathe. Turning at the next red buoy and heading back just meant that the waves were almost hitting us head on! Not only was breathing harder, but sighting too! Given that I’ve been swimming slower this year, I expected to see at least 50 minutes when I reached the shore. I was right. I walked a bit and then ran to the wetsuit strippers, who expertly peeled that thing off me once I had it around my waist and was sitting down. I ran into transition, made a quick portapotty stop, and was on my way to my bike. I put on my helmet, sunglasses, shoes, socks, sunblock, ate a banana, and off I went (T1 = 7:08). My transition was slow, but I took my time putting on sunblock.
- 2k swim: 53:18 (2:45/100m)
- Women 40-44: 66/90
- All women: 303/437
- All athletes: 1057/1476
In case you had any doubt, this bike course is incredibly hilly. The first hill is an 11% grade, and shortly after that, the route climbs for 6 miles (9.6 km). It’s ridiculous, really! I forced myself to eat regularly, but my chocolate peanut butter “ball” was liquidy, and I pretty much squished it into my mouth. I also forced down a homemade energy square that was so dry I had to wash it down with water. I enjoyed my gatorade, and planned to discard the bottle at the first of three bike aid stations and pick up a water bottle. Riding along the endless rolling hills, I began to wonder why I ever signed up for this race. I convinced myself that not a single part of the race was fun, except for the very few huge downhill sections on the bike. And that I would never do this race again. That I would be Alasdair’s #1 fan next year, and cheer from the sidelines! Why was I torturing myself like this? I commiserated with other athletes at times as I passed them or they passed me. At one point, a pick-up truck passed me and startled me as he screamed at me, “Get off the F-ing road!” Was he ever angry!
The ride is actually quite scenic – how could it not be as we had to climb to the top of endless hills? At least we were rewarded with some pretty views. And whitecaps on Deruyter Reservoir – oh, the wind! Just in case hills weren’t challenging enough on their own. I have to say that there were quite a few very enthusiastic spectators along the bike course who were very encouraging. I felt at times like I couldn’t possibly ride any slower up hills without tipping over. When I reached the first aid station I wasn’t done my gatorade, so I tossed the bottle at the second aid station, and grabbed a water bottle from a volunteer. It was ice cold and so refreshing! Later I tried a new gel, “espresso”, but it was so awful I only had the first mouthful. After that I had a sickly sweet strawberry gel and that was it.
In the last third of the ride my knees started to complain. Enough hills, they said. I came to a complete stop at the third aid station, as I wanted to transfer water from the disposable bottle from the second stop to my own water bottle and make room for an orange gatorade. I absolutely hate orange flavoured anything (unless it’s an orange, or orange juice!) so I wasn’t sure I would be able to force it down – hence the need to make sure I still had water!
In the last 15 km, my stomach started to complain – it was stitches rather than digestive issues. I did force down a bit of the gatorade, but not too much (see the awful stuff in the picture below!). The last few km’s of the bike seemed to last forever. Finally, I reached the dismount line and was so relieved!
Back at my spot in transition, I racked my bike, took off my helmet and shoes, put on my running shoes and more sunblock, stopped for a pee break, and headed out (T2 = 6:22).
- 90k bike: 3:53:50 (22.99 km/h)
- Women 40-44: 55/90
- All women: 244/437
- All athletes: 937/1476
Unfortunately, I still had stomach issues so I wasn’t able to run. It was so disheartening to start out walking, and to hear finishers being announced as they passed me running the other way. I walked the majority of the first mile, and then my stomach was fine and I could run. I had decided that if I couldn’t run soon, I would quit. There was no way I was going to walk 21.1 km!
This year, the run course was changed to remove 300 feet of elevation gain. Make no mistake – it’s still a hilly course.
Once I started running, I tried to run all of the flats and downhills, and walk the hills when need be. I took full advantage of every single aid station, 7 on each of the 2 loops! It felt like 41 degrees Celsius with the humidity! I poured ice in my shirt and under my hat, drank water and/or gatorade, poured water on my head, took water soaked sponges and ate orange slices. I also ran through sprinklers on the course! At times I chatted with some of the other runners. And the volunteers (on every part of the swim, bike and run) were amazing! So enthusiastic, encouraging, positive! I loved it when spectators or volunteers called me by name. Or lied to me and told me that I looked strong! (Some volunteers were out there all day Saturday and Sunday, including my friend Christina. She even wrote my name in chalk on the run route! THANK YOU Christina!)
Running that first loop I didn’t know how I would possibly run it a second time. But on the second lap, I ended up running beside another athlete for a while, and we eventually started to chat. It helped to pass the time and I’m sure that I ran more than I would have had I been on my own. Thank you Eric from Florida (now Connecticut!).
In the last couple of km’s my calf muscles started to tighten up. If I had had to run much longer they would have given me trouble, I think.
As we made the final turn into the park, I commented on the speed of another runner – he said it only happened on the downhills. And then he said that his kid should be waiting around the corner with a beer for him. When we reached the corner and the beer was nowhere to be seen, he said, “My kid is so grounded!”
Since Alasdair did not bike or run, he was able to take lots of pictures of me on the run course. I had my own superfan!
Slightly sunburnt and a whole lot exhausted, I reached the finish line and was so glad to be done! I received my race medal and finisher’s hat, and went to find Alasdair.
We grabbed some post-race food (pizza, salad, banana, water), then found some shade to eat. And then I spotted John Kelly, winner of this year’s Barkley Marathons (and the only finisher)! If you haven’t heard of the race, check it out. It is crazy. We enjoyed chatting with John for a while, and he was nice enough to allow me to get a picture with him!
- 21.1k run: 2:46:29 (7:53 min/km)
- Women 40-44: 55/90
- All women: 254/437
- All athletes: 899/1476
In speaking with other athletes after the race, the consensus seemed to be the following: swim = choppy, bike = windy, run = hot! One guy said he had done this race 6 times and this year was the hardest. Looking at my overall race stats (see below), I’m pretty shocked with how well I did! Clearly I wasn’t the only one having a rough day! It turns out my swim and bike were slower this year (by 8 and 13 minutes respectively), but my run was faster by 3 minutes. I’ll take it.
Overall Race Stats:
- Time: 7:47:07
- Women 40-44: 55/90
- All women: 254/437
- All athletes: 899/1476
So, 2 days post race, would I do it again? Of course I would.
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