Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Syracuse 70.3 Race Report

I had heard great things about the Syracuse 70.3 after its inaugural event in 2011 and quickly added it onto my race schedule for the 2012 season. After the bitter-sweet finish at Ironman Lake Placid I went into this race hell bent on earning a spot to the 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas for the 2012 season. After all this was to be my last time racing a WTC event in the M18-24 category and I was determined to make it count.

Lead up:
One of the best parts of racing Syracuse was that it was only an hours drive from Rochester. Easy travel time for a great race venue. Checked and rechecked my gear Friday night, got a good nights rest at my apartment and was up and out Saturday morning. Lucky for me my good friend Karl is attending Medical School at Upstate and lives only 5 miles from the race and he graciously allowed me to crash at his place for the weekend. Got to Syracuse and went straight to registration. Signed in, went to the athletes meeting and soon found myself on my way to the race venue to check my bike into transition.

Having never raced this late in the season I had spent all week trying to figure out what I was going to wear come race day. Having raced Mooseman 70.3 in rather cold conditions with little extra protection I did not want to make that mistake again. Earlier in the week I had picked up some neoprene toe covers, a pair of gloves, a wind vest, and a skull cap to wear under my helmet. With air temperatures predicted in the low 40s race morning I was debating getting some knee warmers as well but at the last minute decided to race without them. Suffice it to say the weather was definitely on my mind in the days leading up to the race.

After checking my bike into transition I made my way to Karl's house whereupon we proceeded to go to Wegmans to pick up some food and hang out for the remainder of the evening. I was in bed by 8:00PM and was able to get a good nights sleep before being rudely awakened by my alarm at 4:00AM.

Race Morning:
I was up and out of the house by 4:30AM. The air temperature at that hour ... 41 ... perfect. The drive to the start was quick and when I arrived I spent a solid 20+ minutes just sitting in my car trying to convince myself that I actually wanted to go jump in a lake.

Transition set up went smoothly. Had ALL of my cold weather gear, just in case. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it warmed up as we neared the race start. There was not a cloud in the sky so once the sun came up things improved exponentially.

Looked over my gear a final time and made my way down to the swim start. I was to be the fourth wave going off so I got situated and tested the water; 62 degrees, very nice. With the pros on their way we cued up and before I knew it I was on the starting line.

Swim: 00:28:09
The swim is by far my strongest leg, and while this time was no different in that regards it was the first time in a long time that the swim came with some unnecessary complications. Read, someone had placed a magnet too close to my mental compass because I was having a hell of a time navigating (see below). The first leg went very well, uneventful in-fact. Settled into a comfortable pace and was well off the front of the rest of my wave. Made the first righthand turn at BAM! Good morning sun! I was instantaneously blinded and had absolutely no idea where the next buoy was. I took a guess, put my head down, and went with it. Thankfully I guessed correctly. Every once in a while I would catch a glimpse of women from the previous wave swimming parallel to me. At least I was heading in the right direction despite being blinded by the rising sun. Prior to the start I had counted the buoys across the top section of the course, there were 3 in total: the two end buoys where we turned and a single central buoy (despite what the picture below shows). This is where my troubles began. I thought I had counted 3 buoys, in fact I know I counted 3 buoys, so I turned. Well apparently I had miscalculated because I was soon joined by a kayaker who politely pointed out that I was way off course. Great. Did my best to re-sight (again into the sun) and after a brief aquatic adventure I managed to find the last buoy and get back on course. Wish I could say that was the last of the navigating disasters. The angle that I approached the last buoy, combined with a rough 90 degree turn, and the blinding sun quickly put me off course again. This time no kayaker though. Which I guess is my only real complaint about the swim course. It seemed that the volunteer kayakers were a bit spread out and drifting from the true sight lines. Anyways, I eventually found my way back onto the proper line and finished the course strong. With all of the nautical nonsense I knew I had lost time, probably swam 1.5 miles rather than 1.2 but it was still good enough to come out of the water second in the age group right on the heals of the leader. Took advantage of the wetsuit strippers and set my focus on gaining ground out on the bike.

T1: 00:04:07
Took my time in transition. Was not as cold as I thought I would be so decided not to use my wind vest out on the bike. Dried off as best I could, through on my arm warmers and long sleeve shirt as well as my gloves and hat and was on my way.

Bike: 02:45:41
Having been roughly the fourth or fifth age grouper out of transition I was relatively alone out on the road. Two guys passed me in the first five miles, and that was it. I did not see another competitor until the second loop of the run. It was a very strange feeling riding 56 miles by yourself. Cool to be racing well off the front though. Usually I find myself getting caught by riders all along the course but not today. Made my way through the first 7 or so miles with no problem. Was holding a good cadence and temperature wise I was perfect.

I love gummy candy. Gummy bears, jelly beans, you name it. Therefore it makes perfect sense that I love Gu Chomps. Today for some strange reason the gummies decided to rebel. As I pass through mile 8 I opened my bento box to remove a Gu Chomp and as I pulled it out it decided to stick to a subsequently bring with it my entire container of salt tabs. It happened in slow motion. I watched the container come out, fall to the pavement, proceed to travel right under my rear tire, and explode as I rode over it. I was in disbelief. I had just lost ALL of my salt. I immediately went into backup mode trying to reconfigure my nutrition. My only option was to use energy gels and Perform. The problem was that using salt tabs is easy, take one or two ever 10 miles and you are good to go. Using gels I had to wait until I started to feel fatigue in my legs before using another. I have seen first hand what happens when to take too many gels.

Rolled through the half way point, still alone, and feeling good and managing the lack of salt well. Continued through miles 30, 35, and 40 without any problems as well. Approaching mile 45 my legs really starting feeling the lack of salt, the gels were helping to manage but I could feel myself slipping into the red zone. Thankfully the last 10 or so miles back to transition were downhill. My legs got to recover and I was able to maintain speed back into T2. Everything considered, including the salt incident and how challenging the course was I was very happy with my bike split. It was a full 20 minutes faster than my Mooseman spit from the start of the season. My only concern now was how the lack of salt was going to impact my run.

T2: 00:01:20
Thankfully I had extra salt tabs waiting for me in T2. An uneventful and relatively quick transition I was quickly out on the run course.

Run: 01:39:14 (04:58:31)
Surprisingly my legs felt great as I exited T2. Again, it was very strange to be running alone. I quickly settled into a fast pace and made my way through the first few miles. As I made my way onto the first loop I encountered the first mountain. This thing was a beast, but I checked myself and methodically made my way over the top. At this point the first place pro woman (and eventual winner) caught me and we ran together through the next few miles (and over the second mountain). She broke away on the backside of the loop and I was again alone. Feeling good I passed through the halfway point maintaining sub 7 minute mile pace. At this point I started on my second loop and was for the first time since the start of the race back amongst my fellow competitors. Made my way over the two mountain passes again and through mile 9 before my legs really started to feel the effects of the day. Kept my focus and pushed through mile 11 as I broke from the pack and made my way down the final finishing stretch. 12th age grouper to cross the line with a final time of 04:58:31.

Took 3rd place in the M18-24 age group. Story of the season, missed qualifying for Worlds in Vegas by a single spot. In all I was pleased with the days effort. Dont get me wrong it was ubber difficult and probably one of the hardest half-marathon courses I have ever run. However, I think it fit the course and the region well. Syracuse is hilly, the bike course is hilly, therefore in my opinion the run course should be hilly. I think it was a difficult course and as such is posed a unique set of challenges to racers of all skill levels and helped to keep things interesting in the race for Vegas slots. Was it fun, not particularly, would I do it again, definitely.

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