Friday, June 28, 2013

Ironman Syracuse 70.3...the worst race I've ever had

This is gonna be a long blog post... it was a LONG day so the post is gonna reflect it (you ADHD readers have been warned).

Day 1-2: The recon and the prep.

Sometimes a course looks difficult on paper...and then you realize its even worse when you race it. Ironman Syracuse 70.3 was just that. I picked it as my first (yes it was my first official Ironman 70.3 race. I've "proofed" courses for other folks but never done one myself) because of its proximity to home base and because it had a double loop run course similar to Timberman 70.3. I knew there'd be hills...I realized later that there'd be a 10 mile hill climb just to get out on the bike course...but I didn't realize the hills would be that bad. Add in that the run course was hilly as well, the turn around point for the run being at the top of a hill and it was a killer course. I'm getting a little ahead of myself but you'll realize the importance of this as we get through the events of the day.

I figured that in order to make the race less stressful, it would be smart to get to Syracuse on Friday, get registered, get some food and sleep. Saturday would be spent getting in a short swim on the lake course, recon the bike course, then get to the hotel early to get my feet up and get to bed early. Sunday would be race day of course...then I'd have Sunday afternoon and Monday (driving back home) to bask in the glory of the race I just conquered. If only it had worked out that way. It seems I picked up a head cold during the week and was living on a steady diet of Dayquil and allergy meds to deal with the symptoms but I'll be damned if it was gonna keep me from racing!

I did get there on Friday and get registered (sweet swag for the race including the nice 70.3 cinch bag in the photo) and double checked all the times for race day. Then it was off to recon the bike course. This thing was no joke, a 2 mile flat leading out of transition followed by 10 miles of a steady hill climb. After driving it, it looked a lot less scary then on paper. It seemed to be a climb, false flat (catch your breath) then another climb. Totally doable I thought. Maintain a good pace, drink water/fuel in the flats, take the climbs smartly and save energy for the rest of the course. That sounded good at time but I had NO idea of what was going to come on race day. Saturday was spent double checking times and such, getting in a swim (which didn't happen because the lifeguards closed the swim area 3 hours before the posted time!) and looking over the routes in and out of transition. I realized that is was a 150-200 yard, uphill run from the swim exit to my spot in transition...and then another 75 yard run from transition to the bike mount point. Ya, that wasn't gonna make for a fun day. Well, nothing I can do about it, just walk through it and make sure I know how to get into transition, site my spot, and get out of transition for the bike and the run. My rack spot was almost perfect dead center, easy to spot and more importantly easy to get to. Ya, there may be long runs in and out of transition but that's the best rack spot I've ever had. Ok, leave my bike in transition, get some dinner and back to the hotel. Parking lots open at 4:30 am so alarms set for 3:00 am (I had at least 4 different devices set and a wake up call. God forbid I oversleep for the first 70.3!) and get to bed.

Day 2: Race day

Amazingly I was asleep before 10 pm and I actually slept. A quick breakfast of oatmeal with fruit and peanut butter, a banana...double check everything was packed for the day..and off we go. I was not only the fifth car in line to get into transition but I got a great spot in the parking area to use as the "base" for the day. Yes, I know it was early but watching the goat rope that was people trying to get in, park, get to transition and start the day...it was totally worth it to just be there and set already (of note, it was already 72 degrees when we parked at 4:30!). A quick walk down to transition for set up and I'd have the next couple hours to chill, hydrate and get in a few more calories. The rack spaces were pretty snug and I tried to lay out a nice and orderly transition area. I practiced getting to the bike (even easier on race day because there was a huge white trash can at the end of my row) from the swim. Nothing left to do now but head back to the truck, get more fluids in me, some more calories and wait for my swim wave to start. About an hour prior, I grabbed all my stuff and headed down to the water.

I look legit right?!
Luckily there was an open place to swim while the race was going so I hopped in and tried to settle down my nerves. The water was about 70 degrees (cool when you got in it but perfect temp for a log wetsuit swim) but filled with some weird lake grass/seaweed like crap. I mean there were parts were you felt like you were swimming through a forest. Not ideal but once again, nothing I could do. My wave is called, I queue up and head to the water and I got nervous. Like chest tightening, hard to breathe nervous.Yes, I can swim...but I'm not a "swimmer". I've spent the last 3 years working on changing my swimming from "controlled drowning" to legit "swimmer like" mechanics swimming. I've swam this distance in the pool, I've done 1 mile swim races but this is a whole other beast. All I could do was take deep breaths and try to get in the back middle of the pack. That's where I thought I was until a looked around to see at least another 50 guys behind me! Some days I really hate my age group. Its so big at most Ironman events it has to be split into two waves. Ok, no big deal...take a deep breath and swim your race. We moved into the water and then the gun went off...and it was a washing machine fist fight! I just got settled in when a guy swam over my back and punched me in the back of the head as he moved forward. All I could think in my head was "dude, I'm here to finish...if you want to win this thing you should've seeded yourself in the front!". No need to get angry, its a long swim. I focused on body position, rolling my hips, breathing and a nice long stroke. I hit the first buoy at 19:29mins. Not record setting pace but not too bad for this guy. I just needed to focus on sighting buoys and maintaining good form. I kept trying to jump on people's feet but couldn't hang on for long. As I got closer to shore I had to swim through that grass/seaweed crap. It was so thick that it was actually piling up on my shoulders as I swam. All I could think was "if I come out of the water and my race picture has me looking like the creature from the black lagoon...I'm gonna be pissed!". Then it dawned on me...if that was my only concern, its been a pretty good day thus far. I got out of the water in 46:03 which is a 2:10-100...right on where I wanted to be! Yes, I could've swam it faster but I knew I still had a bike and run on the day. No need to shoot my energy cache in the water.

I got out of the water and started on the run into transition. Let me tell you, that run smoked my bags more than the swim! By the time I entered transition I was seeing stars. But, I knew I needed to give J a thumbs up so she'd know I got through the swim ok and then get to my bike. When I got to my bike I was so gassed I had to do something I never do... sit down in order to get my wetsuit off. Not ideal but it was gonna be a long day so a forgivable evil. Quickly into my cycling gear and out of transition. I wanted my T1 time to be better but considering the run in and out of transition it wasn't too bad.

Swim: 46:03, 2:10 per 100yd pace - T1: 4:32


I knew what I had ahead of me so it was imperative to settle in, get a good cadence and start getting water/fuel in me in that first couple miles before the climb. I hit the base of the first hill and people were already coming to a standstill. I shifted down into my smallest gear, sat up and worked my way up the hill. I hit the top, took on water and repeated this for the next 10 miles. When I hit the top of mile12 I knew (well I thought) the worst was behind me so settle in and bomb the downhills all the way home. To my surprise, the hill climbing was nowhere near over for the day. I felt like there was a climb to a crazy steep downhill ( I hit 38-51 mph on those downhills) to the base of another climb. I got so focused on trying to maintain momentum through the hills that I wasn't focusing on hydrating/fueling/taking on salt. It wasn't until I happened to glance down and see my top tube covered in salt/sweat and felt the heat that I knew I was behind the power curve of hydrating/fueling. I kept glancing down at my Polar RCX5G5 to see what my pace was. I thought I was maintaining around 21mph which was good for the course I just needed to keep working (looking back over the data it seems that my speed slowed so much when climbing that it negated any benefits from the flats or downhills). By mile 33, I started cramping in my legs, back and arms. I hit the downhill on the way to mile 35 and pegged 51 mph (which would normally feel great but I didn't have the control of the bike I wanted because of the cramps) just in time to make a slow turn into the bottom of another huge hill. A hill so big that I saw people walking their bikes up it and I saw one poor individual do the "Benny Hill" (peddle until they couldn't peddle any longer and then fall over. Hilarious but terrible to watch). I downshifted and slowly climbed the hill. When I hit the top I saw stars and turned my head to my right just in time to throw up...right on a woman passing me on my right. Well, that's what she gets. You pass on the left...know the rules lady! Now I knew I was in the tank. Time to switch to damage control, take fluids if I could, take salt, make it through the bike and get through the run. It seemed that throughout the course all we got were side winds or headwinds. I mean really?! Shouldn't at some point that turn into a tailwind?! To add insult to injury I kept getting passed...ME...on the bike?! The cramps had set in by now and all I wanted to do was get off the bike. I knew I was in bad shape but I hoped getting out to run would help. Crossing a road for the turn home my whole body actually locked up. A spasm so hard the I couldn't pedal, bend, move or even take a deep breath (just like when I made the turn onto the finish for the Boston Marathon (trust me, that little tid bit of info was not lost on me). All I could do was settle down, coast and slowly start bending my legs and get back to pedaling. I finally got to transition and when I got off my back I couldn't even stand to get to the racks. I hunched over and leaned on my bike for support.

Bike: 3:21:55, 16.6mph average - T2: 3:33

Its a little soul crushing to realize your tank has been empty for an hour or so, its 95 plus degrees out and you still have a half marathon to run.It took all I could do to sit down and put my running shoes on. I tried to bend over but my back and hamstrings cramped up so I just sat down. I'm not gonna lie, I was in pain. Every muscle in my back and pelvis hurt and my ribs were killing me from dry heaving on the bike. I only had enough energy to respond with "I'm hurting" when I ran out of transition and J asked how I was doing. The run was brutal, plain and simple. The first aid station came about 1/4 of a mile into the run. I don't know if I've ever been so happy to hear the words "coke". I drank water quick, then a coke, then grabbed some ice...just in time for the water and coke to come back up. Ok, new plan...grab ice at the aid stations and slowly chew/suck on it. That should be less impact on the stomach and hopefully it'll stay down. As we ran to the 2nd mile marker paramedics were out on the road asking people how they were feeling. I asked them why they were doing that and they responded with its over 100 degrees on the asphalt...I did not need to know that! Moving forward took all I had. "Running" went out the window and instead I throttled back to the "Airborne Shuffle" (my paratrooper homies know what I'm taking about). I just focused on moving forward and getting to the next aid station. The turn around point (miles 3.5 and 9.5) were on the top of the hill and it was heinous. It ranged from 6 to 9 percent grade up that hill. The only benefit to be had was gravity and momentum made you run faster to the bottom on the way back. I pushed through and as I got back to the start I glanced down to see I was at 1:20:15 for my first loop. I knew I was moving slow but I didn't realize I was that slow! That just 15 minutes under my half marathon time and I have another 6 plus miles to go!!! I knew that J and our friend Allie were waiting for me at the split so I tried to pick up the pace and put on a good face as I went by so they didn't worry. I did neither very well. J asked if I needed anything and all I could muster was "I'm empty and just have to keep moving". When I got past them on the hill going back out to the course my body just locked up and stopped me in my tracks. Deep breathe, slowly bend your knees, start walking, pick up the pace, keep going. At this point all I wanted was to make it to the turn around. Getting up the hill to the turn, looking up, it looked like the Bataan Death March. EVERYONE was walking and no one was walking a straight line. It was the craziest thing I've ever seen at a race. The heat and course seemed to have crushed everybody. I just kept sucking on ice chips, grabbing and sipping coke from the aide stations, pouring water over my head and down my back (I realized I'd stopped sweating a while ago and was overheating when I tried to pick up the pace) and focused on getting to the turn. By this point I was starving. I couldn't even get down a bite of banana but my stomach was killing me it was so empty. It was on the way back down the hill that dark clouds moved in and the temperature dropped about 10 degrees. I started to get cold when the bottom fell out of it. I mean it rained so hard that you couldn't see 15 feet in front of you.

All I could think of was J's first 70.3 at Timberman...how a storm moved in and they cancelled the race. I stood at the finish and was afraid she wouldn't make it and she got in just before they shut down the finish. This can't happen to me. Ya, its been a crap day and I've fallen apart but the thought of not being able to finish NEVER entered my brain. Hell, I had planned on finishing just to reward myself with an IV in the med tent because I knew I was suffering from heat exhaustion if not borderline heat stroke. But at least the temp went down so I forced myself to pick up the pace. Just as I hit the bottom of the hill a paramedic came out on the course and grabbed me saying the race had been cancelled and to get in her vehicle. She was yelling at other people to get in the aide station's box truck to be taken to the finish. I was crestfallen. All my training and effort to get here, all the suffering of the day...all for nothing. I would get no medal, no finisher's time..it had all been a waste. As I sat down in the vehicle in the pouring rain, and they closed the doors, I saw people still running. I pointed that out and the other paramedic said "well...we can't make you get off the course". Oh no? then open these doors and let me the f' out! I may not get a finisher's time or a medal but I guaran-damn-tee you I'm gonna finish this f'ing race!!! I got out of the vehicle and sprinted the last couple miles to the finish (I'm sure it wasn't sprinting but I was moving faster than before). Along the way paramedics in their vehicles were telling people the race had been cancelled and to get off the course. As it should come as no surprise, almost everybody had the same response I did..."f you I'm finishing!". I do love me some triathletes! I just kept running. And yes, now I was running! The temp cooled down, I was soaked to the bone, I wanted to see the finish line...and tell Ironman to go screw. As I made my way uphill toward the finish (god I hate hills) I actually surprised J and Allie. They didn't expect to see me for another 20 minutes or so and here I come barreling to the finish...yelling "f' Ironman I'm gonna finish this race". I crossed the finish line, got my medal, my finisher's cap, reached down to take off my timing chip and promptly fell head long into the dirt.After getting up I got to J at the finish, I was dry heaving and could only get out "I finished" and "med tent".

Run: 3:01:01, 13:49 pace

I spent the next 90 minutes in the med tent. It wasn't an enjoyable experience but I didn't care. ALL I wanted to know was if I got an official finisher's time. I didn't care that I was dehydrated, my heart rate was off the charts or "how long had my skin been hot and or cold and clammy in spite of the rain?"...or "why would you even do this race while you were sick and taking cold/allergy medicine?"...I just wanted to know I "officially" finished. I did...I did indeed...7:17:04. An hour and 17 minutes over my goal time. Yes, I know my first 70.3's goal should have been just to finish but I thought at least 6 hours on the nose was easily doable. Arguably the last 4 hours of racing were just on gut and determination. Ya, so what's new? I've proven time and time again that anger fuels me though anything and as I always say "there's only two ways to finish a race...crossing the finish or on a stretcher". Those two almost intersected at Syracuse 70.3 for me...but...I finished. There are LOTS of things to take away from this race, good and bad (amazingly the only thing I was really worried about, the swim, went very well!) that I'll review and will make it into another blog post. I've tried to remember what I can. To be honest, most of the race was spent with my brain on auto pilot just focusing on getting to the finish. Now its time to recover, capture the lessons learned and get ready for Timberman 70.3 in August. I have a score to settle...

8 comments:

  1. Congrats Dutch! I was following your results online and texting with J during the race!! You're so tough to push through all of that!! Proud of you and your first 70.3!!

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  2. Thank you so much! Certainly not the way wanted my first (or any race for that matter)to go but there was no doubt I'd do whatever necessary to finish! Learn from my mistakes and rock YOUR 70.3!!!

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  3. Wow, Dutch. That's pretty much every triathlete's nightmare. Everything against you from wind to heat to hills to sickness. Although it was the worst race ever for you (and I hope this is always true and there's never another), you proved some things out there to yourself. You're fucking rugged, strong and courageous. You're an incredible athlete. Remind me to call you when Armageddon comes because you are one badass mofo.

    Well done.

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    1. Jen, thank you SO much! I'll be by the phone when you call ;)

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  4. Hello,

    I came across your blog after perusing the Cervelo Facebook page. Syracuse 70.3 was my first, but definitely not last, HIM. I don't write a blog, but had sent an email out to friends and family, detailing the days' events. I was amused by the similarities in our accounts, and I wish I had thought of Bataan Death March! What a perfect description! I am enjoying your blog, best of luck with all future races!

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    1. Thanks so much! Nice to know that I wasn't the only one that had that kind of day either! I thought that Bataan Death March was spot on for that day.

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  5. Awesome post! I'm thinking of doing this in June. Definitely need to up the training :)

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  6. Tri Bike Transfer transports bikes to ironman 70.3 events around Australia taking away the hassle of taking bikes on planes.

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