After I swung and missed on my first half Ironman attempt in Quassy three weeks ago, I knew I had to make some adjustments. Without belaboring that story any further, here are the changes that I made (either consciously or by circumstance) for this weekend’s second attempt in Syracuse:
1) Getting a real wetsuit – I had been using a borrowed wetsuit in previous tri’s, but it was intended for surfers, which meant it wasn’t really as sleek as I’d like it to be. Having the proper equipment made a huge difference.
2) Tinted goggles – Definitely helped with sighting during the open water swim. Plus, they look sweet.
3) A fully functioning digestive system – The need to be able to eat and process food cannot be overstated during an endurance event.
4) Being well rested – I was able to get 7-8 hours of sleep on Friday and Saturday leading up to the race.
So I was well-rested, properly nourished and the experience of my failed attempt had put me in a position where I could learn from my mistakes. Of course, there are always new and exciting ways that I can screw things up, so let’s not start patting myself on the back just yet.
Similar to Quassy, I was joined by my partner in crime, Mike, who was looking to finish his fourth half Ironman (HIM). This time though, we were joined by fellow Mont-Tremblant participant, Bill, who was also looking for his first HIM finish.
On to race day. In a word, it was hot. High was 90°F and the sun beat down on us like we were a bunch of red-headed orphans for much of the race (and really that’s doubly cruel since red-heads sunburn easily). Record high in Syracuse on June 24 was 92°, so it’s safe to say that it was unseasonably warm. I’ve always said that I am a different runner in the heat. I know most runners would say the same thing, but the difference is significant for me. I ran my best marathon in December while wearing shorts and a t-shirt (true story). Anything more than 72° and I get cranky.
Not much that I can do about the weather though, so let’s get on with it.
For as lousy as the bike and run appeared to be, the water temperature was a perfect 70°. And since the sun wasn’t bad during any leg of the swim, I was able to sight well and was able to stay the course from start to finish. About the only complaint that I had during the swim was the excessive amount of weeds in the water near the shoreline. Nothing like getting slapped in the face with kelp while trying to spot the last few buoys. I kept expecting to see the Swamp Thing emerge out of the water.
One of the unsung highlights of the Ironman event – Strippers! No not those kind of strippers. Sapphire and Trinity had the day off. No, these were volunteers who literally tear the wetsuit off of you after you exit the water. All you have to do is unzip, peel the suit down to your waist, lay down on your back and they will rip it off of you like you’re an oversized banana. It’s tremendous and yet a little too efficient for comfort.
Before I recap the bike, let me rewind a quick second. On Saturday before the race, Mike, Bill, Jen (Bill’s wife and a good friend of mine) and I drove the bike course. I cannot emphasize how helpful this is, because it allows you to see hills, road quality, shaded vs. exposed areas, rest stops, and all of that allows you to formulate a game plan. Syracuse had one long, slow climb between Miles 2 and 12 that looked formidable. Everything else was either flat or rolling hills. This was far from a killer course because if you were going to have hills, it’s far better to have them at the beginning.
While I had lots going against me at the time, my doom at Quassy came when I wasn’t consuming enough. Not wanting to repeat my mistake, my plan was to eat every 15-20 minutes, drink plenty and to exchange two bottles (one water and one Powerade) every rest stop. From the moment that I exited the water until I finished the bike, I consumed the following: one peanut butter and banana sandwich, one protein bar, three packages of sport chews, one banana, one half of an orange, well over a gallon of Powerade and about a gallon of water. Without a trace of exaggeration, I probably put on weight during my bike. I was well fueled.
My only problem on the bike, and the one negative takeaway from all of Sunday, was that my left knee started bothering me. So much so that I was climbing many hills exclusively with my right leg. I made it a point to get off of my bike and stretch at the rest areas (screw the clock, I’m just worried about finishing), which certainly helped, but I will definitely need to keep tabs on that in weeks to come.
Still, the bike is easily the longest segment of the triathlon and the overwhelming sentiment among my fellow riders between Miles 50 and 56 was “Get me the f*** off of this bike!” My legs, back, shoulders, arms and ass all concurred.
Getting off of the bike felt like heaven, and surprisingly, my legs felt like they were ready for a run. Quick stop in the porta-potty (hey, those 2 gallons of fluid have to go somewhere) before I take off for the run course.
By now, it’s practically midday and the sun is punishing. Most of the high caliber athletes have already finished which means it’s just us schlubs remaining and man, you’re more likely to see happier faces on death row. The run course was hilly. I’m told it wasn’t as bad as Quassy, but I assure you, it was legit. It was also a double out-and-back, which means you go out to some point, turn around, come back to the start and then do it all over again. This sucks on many levels.
1) Struggling up a hill while tired is mentally and physically taxing. Doing that knowing that it all has to be done a second time is downright brutal.
2) When you’re on Lap #1 and you hear people talking about how nice it is to be on Lap #2.
3) As you finish Lap #1, you actually come within 30 yards of the finish line only to have to go back out another 6+ miles.
Some of the nicer things about the run:
1) Here’s your best chance at seeing friends. I spotted Mike all three times we crossed paths and Bill once.
2) The locals who actually embrace the race are usually very supportive. There were at least four different houses that had sprinklers / garden hoses set up. I think I told a 70 year old woman that I loved her. Repeatedly.
3) The volunteers at these events are amazing and the tables were well stocked. Beyond the obvious Powerade and water, they had sport chews, salty snacks (really important to ingest salt since that helps retain fluid), and sponges soaked in ice water.
4) Chatting with fellow competitors. Sometimes a complete stranger can help you through a bad spell or a rough hill just by distracting you from the task at hand. I had a lovely conversation about the 80’s cartoon Inspector Gadget during Lap #1.
Still, it was hot and I was miserable. Thanks to all of the food and drink I had been consuming, I wasn’t out of gas (I’ve experienced that before – that’s a wholly different and horrible feeling), but I was just wilting in the heat. I was running from one shaded area to the next and then walking once I was out of the sun. I was averaging 12-13 minutes a mile.
Then, on my return trip from Lap #2, something wonderful happened. A clap of thunder in the distance. I look up and the horizon has gone from blue to gray. Within minutes, a breeze kicks up and the temperature drops at least 10 degrees. And just like that, I was rejuvenated. I went from walk-running to a full-blown gallop inside of 30 seconds. According to my watch, I averaged 7:20 min / mile … for the last 1.5 miles … of a half Ironman.
I. Am. A. Different. Runner. In. The. Heat.
No long after the temperature dropped, the rains came and so did some serious lightning. Uhhh, now I’m running for an entirely new purpose. With a storm like this, they might sweep the course of athletes and cancel the race. Well, they’re going to have to catch me first, because there’s no way I’m not crossing that finish line.
Fortunately, the race continued. Dripping wet from head to toe, but smiling like a butcher’s dog, I crossed the finish line. Crowd support was light, and they never announced my name over the PA system, presumably because the MC didn’t want to get electrocuted, but hey, I finished my first 70.3. What do I care?
So my lesson learned this time was that my nutrition regimen worked. I had plenty of gas in the tank, even at the very end. I also know now that I am very very far away from the full Ironman distance and that Sunday’s race is no reason to get cocky. In fact, it revealed that I need to be more serious than ever. Nose back to the grindstone tomorrow. There’s work to be done.