Monday, June 29, 2015

Syracuse 70.3 Race Report

Syracuse was an interesting race for me on many levels.  As is often the case, when I committed to this race I had a specific plan in mind but in the months leading up to the race, the way things played out was nothing like what I had planned.  Due to minor surgery and some unrelated health issues, I didn't start my out-season program in January, I started it in March.  The result was that my out-season ended with the Syracuse 70.3 on Sunday instead of a simple 10K or half marathon.

This change did not sneak up on me, I knew what was happening and I made some changes to my plan in preparation for the race.  I adding in longer weekend rides (about 4), some longer runs (about 2) and a race rehearsal brick (56 mile bike followed by a 10K run) as well.  My out-season training plan does not include any swimming, so I added in some swim sessions, just to make sure I wouldn't drown.

I arrived in Syracuse feeling ready but with some questions lingering about my endurance.  Syracuse was never intended to be an A race for me, so I was in the right place in my head and I was comfortable treating the day as more of a fitness test than a race.  My A race this season is IRONMAN Arizona in November, so regardless of what I learned on Sunday I have plenty of time to react and adjust.

Syracuse is only my third HIM and from a course layout perspective, it's probably the most challenging.  My most recent HIM was a very windy day on a very flat course at Cedar Point in 2013.

All tuned up and ready to race!
Part of the "deal" on entering Syracuse was that it coincided with a family reunion weekend for my wife's family in up-state NY.  As a result, we loaded up the car and hit the road for Lowville, NY immediately after work on Thursday.  That's about a 7 hour drive with the requisite stops for gas, food, bathroom, etc. so we pulled into the hotel parking lot at about 1:00 AM Friday morning.  Friday and Saturday morning were dedicated to NY family and friends, which was great fun.

Welcome to the village!
I left for Syracuse around noon on Saturday knowing that would give me plenty of time for race check-in, transition setup, dinner and a good night of sleep.

No line for all world athletes. Sweet

My corner of transition
Race morning was pretty uneventful.  My swim wave started at 7:36 but transition closed at 6:55 and I had heard horror stories about traffic, so I got up at 4:15, got breakfast and got on the road by about 4:30.  I didn't hit any traffic and I was parked by 5:00 or maybe 5:15, so I set the alarm on my phone and went back to sleep in the car until ~6:15.

I woke up in a driving rain, so I hung in the car for as long as I could before I headed out to pump tires, add bottles and arrange my transition space.  I think I went into transition at 6:45 and I was back out and in line for a porta john by 6:55.

At least the rain stopped for the race!
I warmed up a little and then got back out of the water to join my group in line for the start.  I'm not a big fan of the wave start, but I understand that the lake is really too small to support a mass start with that many people.  I had no trouble finding a clear lane but the smaller group makes it harder to find feet and also other people to sight off.  There was not too much contact during the swim, except that I did get kicked in the thumb.  This actually hurt for about a week, but it's better now.

Both of the turn buoys were clear and overall the swim was pretty uneventful.  I was least prepared for the swim, having only been in the pool 6 or 7 times prior to the race, so I was pretty happy to come away with a 41:56 which is a PR for me.  What can I say, I'm a slow swimmer.

Look at that focus
Transition was slow.  I had to stop for a wetsuit stripper, who had trouble getting the wetsuit off of my feet.  Then I had some trouble with my bike jersey and finally, there was quite a bit of distance to cover from the swim out to the bike mount.  My goal time was 4:00 and my actual time was 6:08.

I was really excited about the Syracuse bike.  I've been doing a lot of climbing as part of the out-season plan and the "rolling hills" that everyone talks about at Syracuse sound like home to me.

The Syracuse course starts with a mile or two of fast flat followed by ~10 miles of serious climbing.  My heart rate coming out of T1 was high - really high actually - so I soft pedaled those first few miles to try and bring it down.  Once the hills started, I tried to keep a lid on my power output, but that was hard given the steep and long hills.  By mile 15 the biggest hills were behind me and I was able to settle back to my planed power output.

Thanks to a friend's prerace ride and forum post, I took the time to drive the course on Saturday and that was a smart move.  I shifted early in several sections and skipped the whole "wrong gear" and "dropped chain" drama that many others endured.  I think I counted at least 5 or 6 people who started into steep climbs in the wrong gear and either dropped a chain or simply had to stop to recover.

Actually looking where I'm going - winning
Overall I worked a little harder than I wanted to but not so much so that I did any damage.  My goal time was anything under 3 hours and my actual time was 2:55:33. What's interesting about this time is that I was at 1:34 at the halfway mark of the ride, so my second half was something like 1:21, which is really fast for me.  The second half of the ride was net downhill and my times prove that.

The look of pain
As usual, your day always comes down to the run and even more so in my case as 1) I came in with questions about my endurance and 2) I rode harder than I planned.  Not to worry though, it all worked out in the end.

My heart rate did continue to settle over the duration of the bike, so I was curious to see what would happen as I started running. Coming out of T2 I set out at my planned pace, but I kept a close watch on my heart rate.

If you've not seen the Syracuse run course, it's really something.  As in, I'd like to meet (and punch in the face) the person who set it up.  It's filled with grass and mud and absurd hills, and then you get to do it all again!  I reminded me of a High School cross country course.

What this meant was that it was hard to pace and it was hard to judge my overall effort.  Some miles were fast and others slow so I just tried to stay cool and smart.  I held back a little on the first "out" leg, since the out is mostly up hill and then I bumped things up on the "back".  I notched up again on the second "out" and then I notched up much more aggressive on the second "back".  This plan worked for me as I managed to speed up quite a bit on that second "back" leg and I negative split both of the measured splits on the second lap.

It was pretty hot and humid out, so I used my transition ziploc bag for ice during the run.  This gave me access to cold water and ice between aid stations and that was really helpful.  

Looking strong!
My goal time was anything under 2 hours and I ran a 1:57:24

Overall my goal time was anything under 6:00 and I went 5:44:05.

My best ever HIM is 5:35:27 (Cedar Point) so no PR today but given where I am in my season and the challenges I've overcome from a training perspective, I'm really happy with this result.  I'm also especially happy with my run execution.  The hills were soul sucking, many people walked them, so the fact that I was able to power-shuffel through them withoug blowing up really made me happy.

Hopefully you had a great day for your last race!


Technical and nutrition details
I consumed 5 gels and ~8 scoops of Skratch Labs SDM (~128oz) for a total of 1140 calories and 3130 mg of sodium.

There are too few aid stations on the ride.  I anticipated this and adjusted accordingly.  If I would have raced only with on-course nutrition, I would have come up WAY short on hydration.

Bike Power:
Bike NP - 192
Bike IF - 0.87
Bike TSS - 220

Over the entire run I consumed 2 gels, 2 salt tabs, lots of gatorade and just a bit of coke.

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