Despite knowing how tough the Ironman 70.3 Syracuse course is, I keep going back for more. I think it’s an addiction.
Friday night after work Alasdair and I drove to Syracuse, and Saturday morning we headed to Jamesville Beach Park to pick up our race kits (race bib, bike and helmet stickers, timing chip, swim cap, t-shirt, small backpack), sign our lives away on 3 waivers, attend a mandatory pre-race briefing, and do a short practice swim (just under 400 m – we were allowed to swim to the second large buoy and back).
We put race stickers on our bikes and then left them in transition.
Our next stop was the Half Moon Bakery and Bistro in Jamesville, where we ate a lovely lunch, just like every other year we’ve done this race (see 2015, 2016, and 2017 race reports). The owner Debbe had set aside a cookie for me, knowing that we would be dropping by!
We had dinner with Alasdair’s McMaster University classmate Catherine from undergrad years ago (who he hadn’t seen since!), her husband Matt (who would also be racing), and their family. After an early bedtime, we were woken up at 12 AM, clearly an alarm setting mistake! And then Alasdair’s alarm went off at 1:30 AM. We finally got up for good at 3:30 AM. What a night. Breakfast for me was dry oatmeal with yogurt and a banana, so hard to stomach at that time of day. For the first time, we arrived at the race site in daylight, delayed a bit because Alasdair woke up with a wicked headache and tried to sleep again for a few more minutes just before we left.
Despite arriving around 5 AM (instead of our usual 4:30 AM), I had lots of time to set up my stuff in transition, use the portapotties many times, put on sunscreen and get wet before the race.
Swim (1.2 miles/1.9 km)
This year there was a rolling start, with 2 or 3 people setting off every few seconds, and the starting order determined by predicted swim time. I was estimating 50 minutes, so I stood behind the volunteer holding the 46-50 minute sign. Alasdair would be slightly faster than me, but we decided to start together.
We were more than a little perplexed by a spectator wearing a giant stuffed camel on her head.
After the American national anthem played, the first swimmers started at the sound of a cannon firing. We may have waited 30 minutes for our turn.
Theoretically this kind of swim start should result in fewer swimmers overtaking one another, and therefore potentially less contact. I did like this swim start, but I found many parts quite congested. I got whacked in the face a couple of times. My goal was to swim as straight as possible, and fingers crossed – to get through the entire swim without too much shoulder pain. My left shoulder had been bothering me for a couple of weeks before the race. I did have pain, but it was manageable (physio assessment is booked!).
The water was super calm, which I loved. I found the “back” section harder than the “out” section – I wasn’t swimming as straight, and the sun was super bright! I ran into some serious congestion in the last 100-200m. When I stopped swimming and stood up, I was pleasantly surprised to see 47+ minutes – likely somewhat to do with my new wetsuit! According to my watch, I swam an extra 100m or so.
Time: 47:15 (2:26/100 m)
I ran over to the wetsuit strippers, then ran the long way to transition, where I stood in a lineup behind 6 people waiting for one of 5 portapotties! While waiting I spotted Alasdair at his spot, so I knew I wasn’t too far behind him.
T2: 8:35 (definitely my longest ever, but the pee break was desperately needed, and sunscreen is a must!)
Bike (56.8 miles/91.4 km)
I ate a banana, put on my socks, shoes, sunblock, sunglasses, helmet, and ran for the bike exit. The first year I did this race, it was the hilliest bike ride I had ever done. Then the next year they made it harder. Make no mistake about it, this is a very hilly course!
This year I decided to carry 1 recyclable bottle of gatorade, which I would throw away at an aid station, and an empty bottle with gatorate powder, which I would add water to along the course. In the past, I have carried 2 full bottles, which just meant extra weight for no reason. With 3 aid stations on the bike, I ended up bypassing the first aid station, getting water at the 2nd, stopping to add it to my bottle, and chucking the disposable gatorade bottle at the 3rd aid station, where I also grabbed another bottle of water. On the food side, I didn’t do quite as well. I had 1 energy ball, and part of a very messy melted peanut butter chocolate ball. I just didn’t feel like anything, not even a gel. Did I mention that it felt like almost 40C with the humidity?! That might have had something to do with nothing appealing to me. Towards the end of the bike, I was a bit worried about how the run would go given my lack of food intake.
Last year, my knees complained for the final 20k of the ride. “No more hills!” they said. This year, I had no issues! I also took a salt pill near the end of the ride, but was afraid to take more given I’d never tried them before.
I loved the people playing loud music on their lawns, and the young girl playing trumpet. At one point, on yet another hill, a rider said to me, “We PAID for this!” My favourite parts of the ride are the few amazing downhills – at one point, I reached 63 km/h!
I was pretty happy with my 25.1 km/h average given all those hills.
Time: 3:38:35 (15.6 miles/hour /25.1 km/h)
Back at my spot in transition, I racked my bike, switched my helmet for my hat, put on more sunblock, changed shoes, and took off… for the portapotty, and then the run course! Just before leaving transition I had volunteers slather sunscreen on the one part of my back that I always miss.
Run (13.1 miles/21.1 km)
As I started the run my quads just above the knee were incredibly tight. I wondered how I would possibly run a half marathon. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for them to loosen up.
Running when it feels like 40C is not exactly fun. Add hills and then just imagine how much fun I was having. However, I wasn’t alone, and there were many friendly athletes to commiserate with.
This race course is a 2-loop course, with 7 aid stations on each loop. I took full advantage at every one, drinking gatorade and/or water, eating oranges (the only thing that actually appealed to me!), pouring ice down my top, putting ice in my hat, and a few times, getting ice cold sponges to put on my shoulders. I seemed to be doing fine despite my less than optimal food intake on the bike. Eventually, I ate cookies at an aid station and they hit the spot! I also made use of the aid station portapotties for far too many pee breaks.
And for much of the run, I chased and was pursued by my new running buddy Eric from New York City. We chatted a bit and encouraged one another, which passed the time and made the running easier.
It’s always so demoralizing getting close to the finish line at the end of loop 1, knowing that you still have a full loop to do, and even worse when spectators yell, “You’re almost there!” They can be forgiven – they are only trying to help.
My favourite parts of the run were the spots with water sources on the route – sprinklers, a man who soaks runners with his garden hose every year, and firefighters in their truck sprinkling water on us.
At one point on the run, there were 5 people or so sitting in lawn chairs at a turnaround. On my second loop, I said to them, “No offence, but I do not want to see you again!”
Unfortunately I lost the mental battle and walked far more than I would have liked to. It was hot, I was tired, and forcing myself to run became harder and harder.
Time: 2:57 (13:35/mile / 8:06 min/km)
In the end, I crossed the finish line in 7:38:46, about 9 minutes faster than last year. My swim was 6 minutes faster, my bike 15, and my run 11 minutes slower. I was so glad to be done! A dip in the lake was very refreshing.
We listened to the awards while we ate our post-race food (pizza, chips, pretzels – there was also salad and sandwiches), caught up with Eric and his friends, and then hit the road for the long drive home.
What a race!
In the past, I’ve always looked at triathletes who rode their bikes to and from races with equal parts respect and incredulity. This time, it was our turn! Alasdair and I wanted to get a long ride in as training for Ironman Syracuse 70.3, which was just 2 weeks after the Subaru Milton sprint triathlon, and I for one didn’t want to do it the day before the season-opener. So, we decided to do it the fun way.
We got up super early and rode 30k to the race site, carrying backpacks with our wetsuits, running shoes, and other small miscellaneous stuff like goggles, gels, socks and race belts (well, someone had to buy their 5th one at the race site because they forgot to pack one). It felt rather odd to be carrying a backpack, and it made the hills tougher, but it was okay.
We arrived in plenty of time to register and get all of our gear organized. I also forced myself to eat shortly after getting there, because even though I wasn’t hungry yet, I knew I wouldn’t want to eat too close to the race start, and I would be starving during the race without sufficient food intake!
Two of the runners Alasdair coaches in high school cross country and track were racing in their very first triathlons at Milton (in the try-a-tri), so we got to cheer them on before our own race began.
We would be starting in the same wave, which I like. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to draft off of Alasdair in the swim (but couldn’t have held on anyway).
I have not been swimming as much as I should be, but far more than Alasdair, who hadn’t done a swim workout since the Barrelman 1/2 ironman in September. My goal for this swim was simple, to swim as straight as possible, therefore as short a distance as possible. I was successful! Overall, I felt that my swim went well. It was also my first time testing out my new 2XU wetsuit (my first wetsuit – a Nineteen wetsuit – lasted 8 years and more than 50 triathlons!). The swim was quite congested in places, and I was swum over once, but bumps and whacks don’t bother me much anymore – more than anything they are just annoying. I had to swim wider around someone when they kept cutting me off (didn’t they know I was trying to swim in a straight line?!), but otherwise the swim was mostly unremarkable. When I turned for the 2nd last time, I was heading into the sun and could not for the life of me see the next buoy. It’s possible that my goggles were also fogged up. So, I just followed the mass of people ahead of me, and hoped they could see. When I stood up and walked out of the water, my watch said 17 something, so I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not a fast swimmer, and I half expected to see 20 on my watch!
My new wetsuit came off super easily, which was another nice surprise! I put on my socks, shoes, sunglasses and helmet, and off I went.
Time:18:04.6 (2:24/100m; 12/18 women 40-44)
Having already ridden 30k pre-race, I wasn’t sure what my legs would feel like. They were fine. I made it up the super steep 6th Line hill (albeit slowly), and felt like I did much better on the rolling hills of this bike course than last year. There was hardly any wind, which helped. The most fun part of this course is the ride down the 6th Line hill, but I was braking while other riders were still pedalling. I’m not sure what my speed was, but I have no interest in riding as fast as possible down that hill! From there, it was just a few more kilometres to the end.
Time: 1:03:17.2 (28.44 km/h; 5/18 women 40-44)
After switching my helmet for my hat, and my running shoes for my cycling shoes, I put my race bib on (new this year – it’s only needed on the run), and took off. This run course is hilly, but I was prepared. About 1k into the run I spotted Alasdair running towards me, and later I saw him again. I like this run course for that reason – the 2 out and back sections mean you get to see people multiple times. I felt pretty good on the run, but dealt with bilateral side stitches for a while. I ran all the hills, and only walked a couple of times while drinking cups of water. The weather was fantastic for running – it wasn’t too hot and was overcast. We lucked out for sure.
Time: 43:48.1 (6:15 min/km; 6th/18 women 40-44)
In the end, I crossed the finish line in 2:08:40, a surprising 6th out of 18 women aged 40-44. I’ve never finished that well before (except in a try-a-tri). A great start to the triathlon season! (And Alasdair’s “no practice” swim technique got him a swim PB!)
After watching the awards presentation, we rode 35k home, for a grand total of 95k on the bike that day. Clearly I should ride to races more often!