Settle in, this is going to be really long! I’ll do my best to break it down but there’s a lot to this one.
Rob and I headed into town Friday night. We got a bit too late of a start to get to the expo on Friday, but I had to go the next day for check in and he would be there all day Sunday, so it’s not like we wouldn’t see it. I spent all day Friday slowly gathering my gear and letting it accumulate on the living room floor. By the time we left town to head in Cuse I had remember everything but my waffles, of course.
Saturday was actually a good amount of fun. It started out with me heading out to pick up one of my Tri-Fecta FB group gals who was in town for the race from Atlanta. We had a fun time shopping at the expo and checking in together. We also met up with two other group members. See, between my AC trip in April and now this, it’s totally doable to make internet friends and become for realsies friends.
It was nice to have other tri crazy people to hang out with. I also got to meet Anthony, who is a kick ass tri coach in the NYC area. He’s super awesome and you should check out his page. Seriously nice and very knowledgeable.
We got all checked in and through packet pick up, spent more money than I should have in the Ironman store, sat through the lengthy pre-race meeting where it made me feel like I was going to get slammed with a drafting penalty at some point during the race, and got our bikes all checked into transition. Afterwards I took Laura B out to drive the bike course. It was really good for me too, to see the course again before the race. Good mental prep to preview it again and remember some of the turns and where the big climbs and descents were.
After that it was all hanging out at home, eating lots of pasta, and going to bed when it was still light outside. Because a 3am wake up call comes super early. And I was out of bed by 3am, pulling on my tri kit and Garmin and grabbing my transition bag. At the pre race meeting they emphasized the importance of being early. And early we were. I rode in with my parents and we were parked at the Reservoir by about 4:15.
I helped my parents carry some stuff from the car over to the transition area and helped them scout out what we hoped would be a good location for them to see me coming and going from the race site. Then I went and got body marked and found my bike in transition. I was all the way in the far back corner on the very last rack. As far from the swim in/run out as possible but seriously right on top of the bike in/out.
Took my time getting all my gear set up. I tied my hot pink Iron Girl towel around the rack next to me bike for easy spotting during the race, and found someone to let me borrow a tire pump. It helped that whoever was number 154 never checked in, so I had some extra space, not that I used it. I try to keep good transition etiquette.
After I was all set up I hung out with my parents and waited for Rob to get there. Laura B came over and hung out with us a bit too, which was nice. My family seemed to enjoy meeting her and chatting with her. Then before we knew it it was time to pull on wetsuits and head over to the beach.
Honestly, I waited as long as I could to head to the beach because that’s when I knew it would hit me. Up until that point I was completely calm and collected. Felt like any other triathlon, nothing to freak over. I wish I had gone down a bit earlier to get in the water for a minute to calm my nerves, but by the time I got down on the beach the pro men were already in the water waiting for the cannon to go off with the pro ladies toeing the lake’s edge and my swim wave gathering under the start arch.
It was in that moment on the beach that it all became real to me. I got a little teary eyed, feeling overwhelmed about going into my first half iron race. Not going to lie, I choked up a bit standing on the beach looking out across that long line of buoys.
Once both pro waves went off in two minute intervals, they shuffled my 7:05 start wave into the water. The shallows gave out quickly and I was treading water, holding my Garmin up over the surface so as not to lose GPS signal right away. It felt like we were treading for forever, but it was really only about a minute. No cannon for us age groupers, the air horn sounded and off we went.
This was my longest open water swim to date so I was a bit apprehensive. I knew I could do it, just how well was the question. My adrenaline shot me through the first portion pretty quickly. There were seven yellow buoys on the way out and I just picked them off one by one as a way to break up what felt like a never ending sight line. I was doing alright carrying my free style stroke until some waves came along and I took in some water. I hacked it up and switched to breast stroke for a bit. This was about buoy five maybe and also the point in which my stroke started to fall apart. By buoy six the second AG wave had caught up to us slower ladies from the first wave and I started getting passed by white capped men.
I finally hit the turn around buoy around the 18 minute mark, so I wasn’t really moving too quickly. Along the back stretch heading to the second buoy it started to get clumped full of flailing bodies, but I managed to get through with only minimal contact. I felt like people did a good job spacing out for the most part, which was pretty helpful. At this point I had been flip flopping between free style and breast stroke some. I finally rounded the second turn buoy and immediately tried to count the orange buoys that brought us back to shore. Too many to count from that far out, so I went back to free style swimming and worked on picking them off again. After about two buoys I was starting to get tired. I was slowing down and at this point I was seeing purple caps as well. I was switching between free style and my default side stroke. My heart rate had been a bit higher than I would have liked the whole time in the water, but I kept calm and made forward progress without any stops, so I was happy to be honest. Although Coach Fish would definitely scold me for my flip flopping stroke the whole swim. Oops. I counted off nine buoys on the way back in and finally found myself scraping sand and able to stand.
I should have made sure to get a few good kicks in before exiting the water. My legs were a bit jello-y and I was bit disoriented coming out of the water. No idea where the timing mat was, but I lapped my watch as soon as I crossed under the swim exit arch- 47:24. Pretty much what I expect. My official swim time clocked at 48:22, so somehow I was a minute off. Whatever, still pretty much what I expected.
I yanked off my goggles and swim cap and right as I started to fumble with my wetsuit zipper a volunteer doing wetsuit stripping yelled for me to come over. The women quickly unzipped me, and her and another man grabbed the neckline of my suit, ripped it off over my arms and instructed me to lie down. I flopped onto my back and they grabbed my suit by the waist and whipped if off over my legs, stuffed it into my arms, and shooed me off. It’s a good thing they were there because I was struggling to get my fingers to work out the velcro over my zipper.
The run from the swim exit to transition was looong! I ran a few steps, walked a few steps, ran some more, ran through transition until I was in my row, then walked through the throngs of athletes to my bike. Throw wetsuit in heap under back tire, plop on ground and grab my extra hand towel, wipe off feet, pull on socks and bike shoes, spray on sunscreen, swig water and stick an extra pack of shot blocks in my top hip pocket, sunglasses, helmet, grab bike and off I went. Official T1 time was a solid and even 6:00 minutes. Stupid long run in. I wasn’t actually in transition for more than maybe 3 minutes.
All my family and friends had gathered by the bike out and were screaming for me. In my attempt to acknowledge them I almost dropped my bike. I really need two hands on my bike at all times.
The mount line was crowded! Does no one else take a running leap onto their bike!? I’ve been picked on for this before, but seriously, line of cyclist in a dead stand still fidgeting with your pedals, get out of the way! If you need to come to full stop to mount your bike don’t stop in the middle of the mount line. Because I hate you. And I will push out of my way. Move!
The bike course for Syracuse is hilly and technical, but not terrible. A lot of people who hadn’t previewed the course at all were squawking and nervous at bike check in and transition set up, but I actually don’t mind the bike course for Syracuse. It’ difficult yes, but rewarding and a fun ride overall. What makes it hard is that the first 12 miles are basically straight up hill. You hit the first big climb by mile two, so your legs aren’t warmed up yet.
Getting through those first 12 miles is slow going, that’s for dang sure. But after that it’s mostly rolling hills with only a couple more technical climbs. And the downhill stretch after those first 12 miles is the best. I clocked my fastest mile of the day on that stretch at 1 minute and 58 seconds. That’s a average speed of over 30 mph. I was hauling!
That big “V” dip just past the 20 mile mark too is a spot where a lot of people get hung up. It’s easy to hit over 50 mph on the downhill into it. I breaked though that particular downhill and hit my max speed for the day of 37 mph. And with enough momentum you can coast pretty far up the uphill part. Still a hard climb though.
There’s one part of the bike course that Craig taught me to use to pace myself through the first half. In our practice ride we hit the light landmark at the 50 minute mark. I hit it on race day at around the 53 minute mark, so I was slightly slower on the front half of the course. This made me a bit nervous, but I knew the back half was fast enough to make up for this.
Overall, I was happy with the bike course. I really like and enjoy this particular course, which helps. As for my nutritional plan on the bike, it went a bit awry. I lost the bite valve off my aero bottle straw around mile 18, and it makes drinking so much easier. But whatever, I can deal. For some reason though my stomach felt full of liquid and sloshy, so I wasn’t eating as much as I should have. I only ate two waffle bits the whole ride and ate a whole pack of shot blocks minus one I dropped. As for liquid, I tried to make sure I carried everything I thought I’d need. My plan was to suck my aero bottle dry then stop and refill with my cage bottle. I was apprehensive about grabbing water on the fly through the aid stations after the aid station crash that killed someone at Musselman last year. But when I got to the first of three aid stations I was in a lull of cyclist and was able to ride through it and grab a water bottle. I used that to refill my aero bottle and was very happy about it. I managed to grab bottles on the first try through all three aid stations and never had to use my back up bottle. This meant I never stopped on the bike course, which was awesome and saved me precious time.
The last 15 miles or so I was playing leap frog with an older gentleman with a big grey beard. Little did I know we’d end up being suffer buddies later on. He ended up in front of me for the mile long no pass zone on the tail end of the bike and I beat him back into transition. The no pass zone was a short stretch where the bike and run course overlapped. A lot of the fast riders complain about this, which I get, it’s annoying, but it’s not the end of the world.
I flew back into transition with an official bike time of 3:18:53, which is 8 minutes faster than my training ride on the course. In fact, I was back sooner than my family thought I would be and they totally missed me coming and going from T2.
T2 was quick-ish. Rerack bike, yank off sunglasses and helmet, replace with visor, pull off bike shoes and pull on my Zoots (love those quick laces!), grab another pack of shotblocks to stuff in my pocket, and off I went. Official T2 time was 2:18. A bit slower for me, but again, I was as far away from the run out as humanly possible, so I blame that.
The run. Oh the run. Let’s do some comparisons here. Ironman is notorious for having incorrect elevation information provided, be it their map profiles or the elevation gain. This was one of those times where they screwed up the map and I sincerely hate them for it.
Here’s the official run map profile and elevation chart from the Ironman Syracuse website. Not too bad, only 400 feet of gain and the only real hill being that one that you run twice being it’s a double loop run. Okay, manageable. The rest looks pretty flat with minimal climbing, which I’m used to running.
Then here’s my Garmin map of the actual run profile.
Yup, that’s a lot less flat than Ironman claimed. And the big climb suddenly looks a lot more terrifying. Oh, and Garmin clocked my elevation gain at almost 900 feet, more than double what Ironman claimed. Had I know the run was so different than what was advertised I would have had a different plan of attack going into it. My original plan was run the whole course except the hills, I planned to walk those and aim for a 2:30 finish time, which is an average of an 11:20/mile pace. Total doable for me, by a landslide had the run been as advertised. However, it was not. And I knew I was in for more suffering than I bargained for when just to get out of the park in the first mile you had to run up a nasty hill on grass and mulch. No, I did not sign up for a trail run, thanks though.
By mile 2 I knew my plan for my run would probably fall apart at some point. I did my best to just keep running, but honestly, I walked a lot more than I had hoped for. I walked most of the uphills and ran all the downhills and what minimal flats there were. Again, my bearded buddy and I were playing leap frog on the run course. We ended up running together a lot, made friends and chatted together while running. There were some stretches were I think I did better than I would have alone having had a friend to distract me from everything. We ran together off and on the whole run until I finally pulled ahead and lost him for good around mile 9.
The first loop of the run felt daunting just because I was so caught off guard by the terrain and dreading doing it a second time. My stomach was a bit off feeling, probably from not eating enough on the bike. I grabbed a water cup at the first aid station and realized quickly it wouldn’t be enough. After that I started grabbing as many cups as I could through every station. Water, Perform, another water, another water again, orange slice, one more water for good measure. This became my strategy. Normally in a long run I eat a shot block around mile four then every two miles after that. In triathlons prior I put unwrapped blocks in my pocket, but the mid day sun had made mine soft and slimey, so I left them wrapped and ultimately didn’t care enough to pull out a full unopened package from my pocket. So I ate an orange at every other aid station and took in both water and Perform at every aid station. I took Coke at the turn around to help keep my sodium up. I had popped a salt capsule in T2 but didn’t bring anymore with me on the run and I wish I had since my calves were starting to get cramped.
The second turn around to start the second loop was parallel, just about, to the finish line. This was awesome for spectators.
Seeing my family gave me a renewed sense of vigor going into loop two that I desperately needed. That second loop was tough. And there were still people coming in on bikes as I headed out onto the part of the course that overlaps the bike route. Made me eternally grateful for my early start time.
I kept doing a walk the hills and run the downhills and flats combo, but my average pace was still slowly slinking away from my goal. I had passed my 11:20/mile goal a few miles back at this point and had done a good job hoovering around 11:40/mile, but by the time I got to the base of the hill I had to climb a second time to reach the turn around point again I was creeping over 11:40 and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain that walking the monster hill. By the time I did hit the turn around my pace had crept over 12:00/miles and I was determined not to go any higher. I kicked my run into high gear as I hit the ten mile mark heading downhill. Being in double digits for mileage mentally made the run a lot easier to stomach. I grabbed water and an orange at the aid station, wrung three ice sponges over my head, and kept moving.
When I finally finished the last big climb back into the park, I started getting overwhelmed. The finish line was only a mile away, less than, and I was so close. I ran down through the grass, walked through the last aid station to grab one last drink, then kept running until I crested up through the parking lot back into the athletes village. I looked up to see the finish line and saw the race clock was still under 7 hours and knew I’d make my goal time.
I passed one last guy who was walking as I entered the finish chute. I was alone in the chute and the moment was mine. I veered to high five my family who were all hanging over the chute screaming for me, threw my hands up and crossed the finish line smiling big.
Official run finish time- 2:37:19. Only 7 minutes and 19 seconds over my goal time for the run at an average pace of exactly 12 minutes per mile. Not terrible.
Official finish time- 6:52:52. My overall time goal was sub-7 hours and I was ecstatic to have achieved that.
A volunteer came up to me and slung a medal over my neck, quick photo snap, someone else handed me a hat while another volunteer undid my timing chip, then I grabbed a water and shuffled out to find my family.
This race was a long time coming for me. I registered the day it opened last fall and I’ve had a long build up to it. Through injuries, the most brutal and never ending winter we’ve seen in a long time, and life conflicts. I didn’t train as hard as I would have liked, but even so, I came out of this feeling strong and still made my goal time.
The feelings I experienced when I crossed under that Ironman finish arch were the same feelings I remember when I crossed the finish line of my very first triathlon. Knowing that I am strong, I am capable, and I can do anything I put my mind to with enough motivation and hard work. It’s a truly incredible feeling that is so deep and overwhelming. It’s one of those things that is so hard to describe, but when you feel it you just know.
A huge thank you to everyone who has followed along with me through this. And I’ll probably have a second post for this, but no amount of thanks will ever let my husband, family, and friends understand how much it means to me when they come spend their entire day waiting to only catch glimpses of me coming and going from the race site. I don’t think I can ever put into words how humbling and grateful I feel having so much love and support with all my triathlon craziness.