Rocky Balaboa famously stated in Rocky VI (one of the best films Hollywood has produced since "Shazzam") that
"its not about how hard you can hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."Wise words from a guy who not only devours raw (most likely non-organic, pasteurized eggs), but also has gotten his brain kicked out of him by the likes of Apollo Creed, Mr. T, and Drago since 1981. Regardless, those were the words that replayed over and over again while racing Syracuse 70.3 this past weekend.
I went to Syracuse with one goal in mind: re-qualify for Vegas. Ever since Galveston where I skipped roll down because I thought the Vegas slot would never roll down to me in fifth, I have been kicking myself and craving a Vegas slot. I was originally supposed to race Rev3 Williamsburg, but the Vegas slot was too tempting to pass on. A week before the race, therefore, I pulled an audible and registered for Syracuse. It would my last shot at qualifying before I move to Phoenix; it was all or nothing.
I am going to skip over the logistics and details about my travels up, but if you are thinking about doing this race next year, here are a few tips you may want to consider:
- drive the course before since the its good to know where the hills, turns, mile markers, and aid stations are. The scenery here is gorgeous too so you may want to drive it twice: once to get the logistics then once to take in the scenic and idyllic landscapes.
- Get into the water the day before since you can. Not many races allow you to do this but since its a state park, the beach has open water swim times. The water is cooler than you would expect
- Drive the run course since you want to see the hills.
- Pack your own food. Syracuse is a college town and shuts down once the students leave. Restaurants are closed for the season so there are not many options within walking distance of some of the inner Syracuse hotels
Let's skip ahead to race morning where it all begins: The Swim
I will be honest and say that the swim is like any other swim: swim out, take a turn, swim some more, take another turn, and then swim back. Temperatures were at 70 degrees (21.1 C for you foreign readers), so ideal for wearing a long sleeve wetsuit with little to no chance of hypothermia. No thermal neoprene cap needed--although I did stash one in my bag just in case. My blueseventy helix was perfect, but I saw plenty of people in sleeveless. In the words of my man, Justin Timberlake, "as long as I have my [wet]suit and tie/Imma leave it [in the water] all night...let me show you a few things."
Even more typical of races, my wave got screwed and was seeded last with an 8:15am start, an hour and fifteen minutes after the pros. I am not a huge fan of late starts. I would much rather get out right after the pros as early as possible since there is less time waiting around and getting nervous, don't have to swim over, bike around, and run by, everyone. HOWEVER, this is out of my control, so I just have to deal with it until I get old or go pro whichever come first or occurs at all.
I went out strong and held a decent clip but I felt that I was holding back. 34 minutes is not my fastest swim but in retrospect saving my energy a bit for the bike ride was wise. With such a challenging bike and run course, you definitely do not want to go anaerobic. Moreover, wear tinted, smoked, or tinted goggles because the sun can be glaring.
The only difficulty of the swim at Syracuse was that there was ton of weeds at the bottom of the shallows so that when I emerged from the proverbial deep, I felt like swamp thing.
T1 was a very long run from the water's edge over carpet, into the bike corral, then another long run to the bike mount line. Thankfully they had strippers at the swim exit (get your mind out of the gutter if you thought I meant the other type of stripper--those came later). A huge volunteer who looked like he would have been an excellent lineman pulled off my wetsuit with ease, and without much time lost I was on my way. To minimize my transition time, I skipped the socks, slammed my feet straight into my shoes and took off. I have not yet mastered the flying mount yet but it would be wise to do so so that you do not have to run as long in your bike shoes.
On to the bike: the bike course is difficult but definitely manageable. A lot of people talk it up like its the Pyrenees, but it's not. The first 15 miles are a gradual incline and then it turns into rollers with an overall negative trend downwards. YOU HAVE TO PACE YOURSELF! DO NOT GO OUT TOO HARD! A lot of people went out much too quickly and were suffering in the later stages of the race.
My plan was to stick to 230watts and hold it there regardless of what gear I was in, what my speed was, or how many people past me. Like all races, this strategy takes discipline and the need to check your ego at T1. To parafrase those frozen waffle: "Leggo my Ego" Sticking with the plan though pays off.
I accidentally hit the lap button on my garmin which divided the bike up into two parts (the first is on the right):
For the first half of the race my normalized power wattage was perfect at roughly 229watts with little variability (VI= 1.03, which is good but not great). The second half it was slightly lower at 207 with greater variability (1.08), which I think was due to the turns. Regardless, a weakness to work on for the future especially in the lead up to my next race.
Nutritionally, my typical plan of three Amrita bars and then two gels worked great. Thats about 1000 calories total for the 2.5 hours. It would have worked better if I drank more.
What killed me on the bike was not the hills, but my lack of hydration. I underestimated how hot it would be and only brought two water bottles (my speedfil up front then my favorite Amrita bar bottle full of Nuun in the rear). This got me through the first aid station but not enough after that. I was relying on the aid stations to provide water, which they did, but the amount I took was not enough. I had to squirt the water into my speedfil but was only able to squeeze about half the bottle before the end of the station. I could not put the bottle in my rear cage because it would just bounce out. This left me in a water deficit and by the time I hit the run I was severely dehydrated.
T2 was nothing special so no need to elaborate.
The run was the toughest run I have ever done. The heat index was 106 degrees with little shade. I started out with a good 6:15 pace for the first two miles after which my race deteriorated. I would say it went down hill but on the contrary the course went up hill. My stomach cramped up, and my energy was in the tank. I could not take in solid calories because that would aggravate my stomach even more. After slowing down the pace at mile 3, my energy levels still had not bee restored so I shelved my pride and did something that I have never done in a race before: I walked the aid stations.
At this point in the race, I did not care about Vegas, I did not care about the podium, I did not care about time, all I wanted to do was finish and if I had to walk the aid stations simply to get to the finish line so be it. I therefore would run from aid station to aid station at about a 7:15 clip then walk, drink two cups of water, poured another cup on top of me, shoved ice and sponges down my jersey, then drank some coke (not diet but real coke). I felt like a Boston Market rotisserie chicken that had been left in the oven for several days or a 7-11 "hotdog," rolling over again and again and not going anywhere but slowly drying up into a cracked tube of junk.
The hills were brutal and the heat just compounded it. While I did not walk the hills, my Ironman shuffle was almost walking pace. I can usually handle hills but not today.
I finished but barely. I think almost everyone on that course had thoughts of quitting and I was no different. In this race, it was not necessarily the fastest who did well; it was those who kept going despite the conditions.
Overall, I finished first in the age group and 36th overall with a time of 4:46: 32, which was good enough to get the Vegas slot. Needless to say I have a lot of work to do before Championships:
- My swim efficiency
- Power Variability and power levels in general
- Run fueling
- Do not drive 7 hours back home after the race. It will kill your recovery.
While it was not my fastest race, this race taught me racing tactics that an easy race could never do. Its not the easy races that make us stronger and wiser, its the hardest ones but thats just my two watts.
Now a few shout outs:
- Adam Furlong who put me up for the weekend
- Amrita bars for fueling me on the bike
- The race organizers who put on an excellent race despite the adverse weather conditions
- An awesome crew of volunteers
- Bonzai for giving me the weekend off