Ironman Syracuse 70.3 race report: Swan Lake – The Triathlon

Syracuse wasn’t exactly my first choice for my A race this year. Just before I realized that my injury was going to put a damper on this season I had already registered for Muskoka 70.3, which was one week before the race in Syracuse. After I knew I wouldn’t be able to run, I figured I’d still do the swim and bike.

When I thought I wouldn’t be able to do the bike I figured I’d just swim. But then when cycling became a possibility again, I planned on doing the race and maybe walking the run, depending on how I felt. Unfortunately a few weeks before the event I found out I had to go away for work.

Around this time I found out that Marlene, E, and L would be doing Syracuse, which is just a week after. Since I could just extend my training one week (which made up for the week I took off), the timing couldn’t have worked out any better.

You know how they say not to try anything new the day of a race? Usually they’re referring to new clothing, nutrition, shoes etc. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t be using something as stupid as a new, unfitted bike. Meet Dana 5.

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The week of the race I debated long and hard about bringing her down to Syracuse. I figured if I could get it relatively close in fit to my road bike, and if I could swap my short road bike crank over, then there shouldn’t be any problems, right?

I found the adapter for the crank, swapped it over, did some measurements, and everything seemed to be relatively close. The only thing was that the front of the seat was positioned a few centimetres ahead of the bottom bracket instead of a few centimeters behind it. If you don’t understand what that means, it’s basically that my position would be much further forward. Definitely not an exact match to my road bike. Since I had already swapped the crank over, I didn’t really feel like doing it again. Plus I had another couple days to tweak it.

For the play-by-play notes on the events leading up to the race, check out Marlene’s weekly training review.

For this event we were required to check in our bikes the day before. We got to the event location and E, L and I went out for a quick test of our bikes and bodies to double check that we were up for the task, while T and mini-Es waited. My bike was having some shifting issues, and my knee was not very happy at all. There was some pain under my patella, which I later found out is indicative of a seat that’s too high.

Back in the parking lot, I started making some adjustments. I couldn’t get my derailleur to get into the largest cog, which would make climbing the big hills pretty hard. I got it fairly close, but it was still unable to shift up. L suggested I get the mechanics to have a look at it in the transition area.

At the same time I made some adjustments to the seat positioning. I pushed it back closer toward where my road bike position would be. T was there to suggest that I lower my seat—there was too much extension in my knees. This is also where she basically told me that I was crazy for not taking enough nutrition on my rides. I’m glad I listened to her—between her and L that made the difference between me finishing and not.

The mechanic got my bike shifting better (not perfect, but close enough), and he also fixed my brake from rubbing. I hadn’t realized how bad it was until it was up on the stand.

I was actually more nervous about this race than I expected. I knew I could quit the run/walk anytime, but with the new bike I didn’t know if I would end up hurting myself worse. Those were a lot of changes to make the day before the race. Same with nutrition. I’ve never had a lot just before and during a race. The night before the race I had some really good Chicago style pizza (not really great Chicago style pizza from Chicago, but close enough), followed by some surprisingly good Greek and Middle-Eastern food for dinner. As a part of my fully-balanced nutrition plan, I didn’t skip the beer with lunch or the wine with dinner either.

The morning of the race (at the ungodly early hour of 4:00 am) we were greeted to this breakfast table in E’s room.

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I’ve tried to avoid eating as much as possible since my bad nutrition experience on the bike in Gravenhurst and the severe cramping the week later in Muskoka. Considering those were shorter distances (with much higher exertion levels), I figured there was no harm in listening to everyone else and actually giving eating another shot. It was a pretty good bagel too. From there I started yamming gels, blocks, sport drinks, and anything else I could get my hands on.

We arrived at the race site around dark o’clock,

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walked down toward transition,

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and got body marked.

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It was ridiculously chilly for a race morning. After setting up transition I walked to the swim entry barefoot through the wet. By the time we got to the start I was so cold that even my wetsuit wasn’t enough to warm me up. I actually had to wear a sweater on top. Did I mention it was cold? There was no way I was going to get in the water for a warm up, despite what E was saying about the water being warmer than the air—I didn’t want to have to get out of it!

The mist/fog coming off the water made for some great photo opportunities as athletes were warming up.

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Here I am trying to keep warm with the characteristic Garmin bump in the back of my head. Totally hydrodynamic!

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After watiting for the first handful of waves to head out (including L’s wave, which was five minutes before mine), our group entered the water to wait for the start.

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The swim started off really well. For the first 700m or so I was about mid-pack—maybe in the top third. There wasn’t too much contact, and I held my own reasonably well. There were a lot of feet to draft off of, and everyone seemed reasonably matched up.

Once we hit the first turn, we were swimming right into the sun. It was completely blinding—I was completely unable to navigate. I tried to keep the other swimmers beside me and just hoped that they would go straight.

By the halfway marker I was pushing a solid 1:52 pace, which I would have been pretty happy with. Right at that point I ended up crashing into another swimmer. I looked up at the kayak and asked if the buoy beside us was the turnaround buoy. When the kayaker said no, the swimmer I hit yelled out “George!” I had actually run into L. Before the race we joked that I’d look for her on the course and swim with her, but I didn’t think we’d actually see each other.

Since I knew I wasn’t going to be running anyway, I didn’t mind slowing down a bit to make sure she had a good second half of her swim. The next 500m were slightly awkward, but by the last 500 we had settled into a good rhythm. L was off to my right and back, right in the V of my slipstream. I kept an eye on her and tried to keep the distance equal by unilaterally breathing, and she looked up to spot regularly too.

I think the slower pace worked to my advantage. My heart rate was much lower, and the walk to T1 was fun. It was nice to see L so excited at finishing her longest swim, and our cheering section was great to have. Super awesome swim.

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Final swim time: 2000m – 44:27
2:18 /100m – 60/80 in age group

Swim

I opted for a wetsuit stripper—I’m not sure if it worked out all that well for me. My wetsuit got stuck on my wrists, and then again on my compression sleeves. Next time I should probably be a bit more generous with the vaseline.

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T1 was done at a very leisurely pace. Since I was on a new bike that I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to manage a flying mount, I stuck around so L could watch. If I was going to dummy myself I at least wanted an audience!

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My flying mount wasn’t that bad either. I didn’t know if I’d be able to get over the water bottles on the rear mount, but I did! Getting my feet in the shoes was a big fail, although I wasn’t too stressed out about it.

T1 time: 6:20

The ride couldn’t have worked out better. My gears were still a little improperly adjusted from the day before, but they held together well enough. It was unfortunate that there wasn’t a friction shifting switch on them, but I still managed to get them stuck in between clicks when I had to.

The hills weren’t as bad as I had expected. They were fairly steep, but I had no difficulty climbing them. Even by the highest point on the ride, 21k in, I was still averaging 21.7 km/h. Not bad considering the 400m of climbing. This was one of the more brutal climbs.

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The first aid station worked well, and I picked up a Powerade without incident. Unfortunately there was still the foil in the top, so when I went to squirt in into my mouth nothing came out. I twisted it with my mouth, thinking that it was just closed, then it squirted all over me.

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At the second aid station I screwed up pretty badly. I underestimated my speed coming in, and when I tried grabbing the drink I smacked it out of the poor girl’s hand. I felt so bad and tried to slow down for the next one, but the same thing happened. I could see the look in the volunteer’s eye when I came up, but it was too late. I think I might have screwed up the guy behind me somehow because when I turned around to apologize to everyone there was a cyclist who said “it’s okay, I’ll live.” Brutal. I finally slowed down enough to get a water, but I spent the next few kilometers kicking myself over it.

There was a valley where I got some serious speed going down. I had one arm in aero and the other on the front brake. I had to brake because of someone who was over on the left side of the lane. I was in the left, trying to find space to go around him, when someone else came up beside/behind me. He didn’t say anything, I had no idea he was there. I moved out of the way and braked, then someone came flying behind HIM. He really yelled at the rider who was blocking.

“[number] xxx, ON YOUR LEFT!!!!”

He moved pretty quickly, and I get why he did it. That’s a huge safety issue. I was traveling at 69 km/h at the time and that guy was going faster than me. He was probably in aero and had no access to his brakes. I would not want to try to get out of aero going at that speed!

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The last part of the race was downhill and fast. In one downhill section there was another rider who was in the middle of the lane. This time I yelled—polite yet firmly “on the LEFT!” and he moved out of the way for me to fly through.

I ended up getting passed by him again while I was making an unscheduled tree break. This was the second time I had tree’d on the ride, but the first time I actually stopped to get off the bike to do it. When you’ve got a speed demon like E chasing you down you’ve got to make some sacrifices.

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Overall it was the fastest bike which was longer 50k that I’ve done. My effort level was relatively low—my heart rate was only averaging 150. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Final bike time: 90 km – 3:03:22
29.49 km/h – 48/80 in age group

Bike

When I came into T2 I immediately spotted T in her bright pink top, where she, MJ, mini-Es were cheering loudly. T seemed surprised, I think because I was only expecting to average 27 km/h, and we were expecting E to pass me near the end of the ride.

This was another leisurely transition. For the first time I didn’t take my shoes off—I just clipped out. I still got off the bike moving, but I took my time to get it to the rack. I took in more nutrition, threw my shoes on, and started on my long walk.

T2 time: 3:31

This was a long, long walk. The support of everyone working and everyone cheering was awesome. It was hard to force myself to keep walking. When Marlene caught up to me during her leg of E and her relay (their wave started long after mine), I tried to keep up with her a bit to see how she was holding up. That didn’t last long. Even though it looked effortless to her, I couldn’t keep up.

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Thanks to the extra liquid nutrition (I didn’t hold back at all at the aid stations), I had to visit every port-a-potty along the way. They were spaced about a mile apart, which was absolutely perfect timing for me.

On my second lap I started to run a little bit here and there. Someone in my age group passed me, and I did what I could to try to keep up with him a bit. I was lagging behind him until I saw L, who was still on her first lap. I went back to walking, and we caught up on how our races were going. She had gotten a flat 15 km from the end of the bike section, which by that point had killed any chance of being able to finish before the time cutoff. On top of it her knee was giving her problems, so she decided to call it a race. She stayed behind at the last aid station to get a ride to the finish, then I ran the last 2 km to the end of the race.

I was super stoked to come back to the finishing chute where Marlene, T, MJ, E and mini-Es there cheering and taking photos!

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That carpet is pretty supple looking, eh? In the rulebook it states that “no form of locomotion other than running, walking or crawling is allowed.” I suppose if one were to crawl that carpet would be a much nicer surface to do it on. I’m not sure if they were planning on people tripping on it.

The result was by far my most graceful finishing photo ever. I call it Swan Lake – The Triathlon.

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“Run” time: 21.1 km – 3:24:20
9:41 min/km – 76/80 in age group

Run
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And that’s how I became a “lower-case i” ironman.

Here’s the elevation profile and heartrate/cadence data from the whole race (you can ignore the elevation changes in the swim of course).

Elevation

Check out Marlene’s full race report. Here are Marlene and E after their race. Thanks to both of you for letting me use your pictures from the event.

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AWESOME!


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