Last weekend we finished Ironman Syracuse 70.3 which was our toughest half Ironman triathlon yet. We chose this race since it was close, convenient and fit right into our training schedule for Ironman Copenhagen in August. Syracuse, New York is a 5 hour drive so no flying was necessary which is always a huge plus for me! I love doing the Ironman branded races since they bring such fierce age-group competition!
This 70.3 is well known to be a very challenging race course for the bike and run. As of 2016 the bike course changed where there are some new hills and climbs at the end of the race starting after 41 miles in addition to the long climbing done in the beginning. The run course was made easier by taking out a long hill but it’s still not an easy run especially with about 2 miles of running through grassy fields. What made the day extra challenging was the temps reaching about 90F during the run! The bike felt toasty towards the end, but the run was very hot and you could feel the temps rising as the run progressed. And it was just as hot as last year’s race!
While this ended up as my slowest 70.3 so far, I ended up 3rd in my age group. I had a strong race and all three disciplines went very smoothly for me on Sunday. My training has been going well without hiccups and I was ready for this race! While there were only abut 30 finishers in my division I’m still proud of my finish. The winner is an elite athlete from Ecuador and the second woman is a very experienced athlete with decades under her belt. This was my fifth 70.3 triathlon and I’m learning so much from each event.
I do have to say that Ironman Syracuse 70.3 is a fantastic event that I recommend. The organization is excellent and the race directors do a great job. The volunteers were amazing standing in the heat all day. The rolling start swim was my best and favorite so far. The bike course is beautiful in the New York countryside. And the run course is hard but fair. If you want a solid challenging course, this is the place!
Driving part of the bike course
We drove to Syracuse on Friday morning and headed right to the venue for athlete check-in to receive our race packet. It was pretty low key as there weren’t many athletes yet around 3pm that day. Check-in was fast and smooth. We then hit the Ironman store for a bit and managed not to spend our entire life savings in there! Next it was down to the beach to look at the swim course and snap a few photos. The Jamesville Reservoir is pretty and a nice clean body of water for swimming. Then we made it to our AirB&B which was about 12 minutes away by car. This ended up being a nice comfortable place stay. While it felt like we stepped back into the 1970s, the house was clean and had everything we needed.
Saturday went smoothly but much of the day I felt so nervous and stressed over the race. I worried about how I would do against the elite women in my field. I worried about Scott in the heat. Heck I even worried my run would be slow in the heat. All kinds of doubt and worry plagued me to the point where I had trouble eating my lunch. I almost felt close to tears trying to get food down.
We did a short 30 minute bike ride in the residential neighborhoods that morning. It didn’t make for a quality ride but enough to get some sprints and quick bursts to shake out the legs and make sure our bikes were working properly. We also did a practice swim on part of the swim course. The water felt so nice and refreshing on a warm day. I enjoyed that! Talking to another couple around our age on the beach was a welcome break from worrying about race day. We always meet great athletes! Next we checked our bikes into transition. I was very happy when Seth and his friend Patrick showed up in the evening. They stayed one night with us. They helped ease my nerves and take my mind off of my own worries. They also completed the race on Sunday.
Race morning went smoothly as well but my nerves were still acting up. We were up at 3am for oatmeal. Again it was nice to have the company of the boys who helped me relax. And then we were out the door at about 4:40am to drive to the venue. My one complaint was that parking was in the far end of the park and it was quite a long walk to the transition area, finish line and swim start. Our friend Angie who also raced that day said she walked about 6 miles total in addition to racing! That walk got old and tiresome especially after the race!
The swim was my best so far and even my fastest by just a few seconds. A 37:22 swim is not very competitive but this was a good time for me! It felt like a while since I swam below 40 minutes because Worlds had the river currents and Puerto Rico was slower without a wetsuit. I made sure I was in the water for the warm up swim at around 6:30am. The area was tiny and packed with athletes swimming in circles. This was not very effective so I ducked under the lines with a few other swimmers. I was able to do a few short laps counting 25 fast strokes quite a few times. After lining up in the corral, the start was a few minutes late due to race organizers checking something safety related. The rolling start worked so well even after it seemed like a while before I finally went off. Everyone went one at a time every few seconds which worked brilliantly. It felt like I had plenty of room even from the start. There were still swimmers around me but it was so much more civil and less chaotic. The water felt great and it was a beautiful sunny day. I wore my tinted goggles which helped and it never felt like the sun was blinding me.
The swim was very uneventful. I just focused on swimming strong and taking one buoy at a time. I didn’t feel stressed. There were no panic attacks in the beginning. No punches to the head. This was such a nice swim compared to Lake Placid where I hated every minute of that violent swim. Rounding the first buoy there were a lot more bodies but no real problems getting around it. And then the next turnaround buoy came rather quickly. The way back was uneventful for the most part. Sometimes I had a few people hitting my feet or lower legs.
At the end of the swim it felt a bit more crowded. I was catching some slower swimmers on the last quarter of the swim and caught up to many at the end. It seemed like mostly green caps (males). One other reason the swim went so well was that I seeded myself honestly. I chose the 37-40 minute group and placed myself closer to the front. This was perfect. I swam mostly to the outside making sure not to stray too far from the buoys. This a good way to stay out of trouble.
Overall I was very happy with this swim. I did see that I swam around 37 minutes and was very happy with my result. I was 10th out of the water and I’m usually in the upper 1/3 of my field. And then I have to catch many women on the bike and run which is normal for me. I ended up running a little past the wetsuit strippers and had to turn around. But then it was off to ride my bike!
The bike went well for me. It was warm and very hilly. I worked my way up to 4th place once I got off the bike. This was my slowest bike split so far with a time of 3:05:07. I had hoped to break 3 hours or at least around 3 hours. But I didn’t know exactly how hilly the last hills would be. In retrospect we should have driven miles 41 to 56 to see the whole bike course. We only drove the first 13 miles and the last 2 miles to see the steep hill at the end. With over 3,000 feet of climbing this course is a beast! It’s a beautiful race course but hill training is a must! And this is coming from someone who lives and trains in Vermont, a very hilly and mountainous state!
The first 11.5 miles are mostly uphill. It felt like I was climbing for a while. There is nothing too steep and many times the road flattens out for a break. I actually enjoyed this part of the course. The hills break up most packs and the course never felt crowded or stressful like past races. It was still cool in the morning but bright and sunny. I did ride the long climb conservatively as I knew the rest of the day would only get harder and hotter. After about 16 miles there are a lot of turns but there are no significant climbs until after 40 miles. This was the time I was able to ride faster and get into my areo bars. But there are never really enough flat straight-a-ways to get into a groove. This did keep things interesting with many turns and pavement changes.
After about 21 miles there is a very steep fast downhill that shoots back uphill quickly. This was a bit stressful but I got through it fine. From miles 24 to 28 there is a pretty lake that we biked around. This is the halfway point and I was still feeling decent. I was very good about staying on top of my nutrition and taking water at the aid stations. I would fill up my front bottle and dump some water on myself to help keep cool. I ate my chews like clockwork.
Miles 30 to 40 still went well and I felt like I was riding fast enough. While my neck still gets sore in the aero position, it wasn’t terrible but I did feel my neck quite a bit. I wonder if that will ever go away. The sun was getting brighter and I could feel the temps rising a bit. I didn’t feel like I could push harder and still make it on the hot run looming in the distance.
At around 41 miles the new hills started. It felt like there were several climbs with a few downhills in between. One hill was in the shade which was nice. This really shot my overall average speed. But everyone else had to do this as well! After 50 miles I saw an ambulance up ahead in the distance. To my surprise it was Seth! He was OK and didn’t get hurt when his tire flatted at a high speed. He crashed in the grass. I don’t know how he ended up uninjured. He got very lucky! I could see he was OK after asking a couple times. So I continued onwards. I only had a few miles left and then it was down the steep hill with a speed limit. There were timing strips to make sure no one rode over 25mph which would have resulted in disqualification. It’s a dangerous steep hill with a sharp turn so I’m glad the speed limit was put in place!
Once at the bottom it was only a couple more miles to transition. I was happy to be done but slightly disappointed being a few minutes slower than I had hoped. But I biked a smart race and had energy left for the run. I do hope that I can improve on the bike. The first and second place women biked well under 3 hours. I know I can get there eventually. It’s a matter of more time on the bike!
The run was a hot one! It was hard but I still managed a good strong time of 1:45:34. This was the second fastest run in my age group and it brought me to 3rd place. I was hoping I could run at least 8 minute miles but after such a hot hilly bike ride, this was all I had in me. My overall pace was 8:09 according to my Garmin. Good enough!
It was hot once back in transition and I did my best to get out onto the run as quickly as possible. Changing into fresh running socks probably costs me an extra minute but I like starting out with dry socks. I took my first GU running out of transition and was disappointed there wasn’t a water station right at the beginning of the run. But within a half mile I took some water, a couple sponges and some ice. We started running through the park and even through the parking area onto the field. I didn’t like the grassy field which was about a half mile long and it felt so hot and hard. And it was hilly! My first mile was slow due to this grassy section.
I was very happy to get onto the pavement with rolling terrain. While there was nothing worse than gentle rollers, the sun felt very hot. I knew it was approaching 90F but I was feeling OK in the heat. I wasn’t feeling great but I was in control. I had done some heat training in the sauna after swimming for a couple weeks leading up to the race. I believe this helped. With a cooler spring, this was the warmest day of the year for us. The next two miles were straight on the main road with small up and downhills. And there was a small section with a little shade which was a relief. There are two out-and-backs on side roads and both went fine. There were aid stations on both which were very welcomed as I continued to take plenty of water and ice. Sticking ice down my jog bra with the sponges helped a lot. And holding ice in my hands always helps. That saved me in Puerto Rico last year!
On the way back I felt a little better. Before the fields there is a small up hill that feels a bit harder. But it goes quickly. Running back through the fields wasn’t as bad with some down hills. And then it was back through the park. At about 6 ½ miles I came to the turnaround and was very happy to be halfway done. I was still running strong and steady. I was very good about taking my gels every 25ish minutes.
The second loop went very well and I was almost feeling a little better heading out. The grassy field was still not my favorite but it was over soon. Once I was back on the pavement I knew I had this. I just had to keep running at a smart pace in the heat. It was definitely getting hotter! The second loop had a lot more athletes but it never felt too crowded. The second loop was again rather uneventful. My pace was slightly slower but not much. I was still doing OK. I did see Angie running very fast when I was toward the end of the main road. She won her age group and I’m so happy for her! She loves the heat!
The side roads went fine and I was always happy to see the aid stations and obtain more ice and water. Once I was back on the main road I only had about 2 miles to go. I was quite happy! No problem! It wasn’t easy but I felt like I would have no issues getting to the finish. But I couldn’t really get myself to move much faster in 90F heat. That’s all my body could do in that temperature. I ran happily through the field for the last time. I did notice going downhill was really hurting my toes, hence the blood blisters. But I didn’t care too much as the finish was so close! After the field, I ran through the park on the paved walkway.
I was very happy to veer right after completing the second loop. I was on my way to the finish shoot. Another guy caught up to me and he asked about who wanted to go first. I joked about not wanting him to mess up my photo and we laughed. He went first and I got my nice finish photos. I was smiling and it felt so joyful to cross the finish line after such a tough race!
Scott had a tough day out there on the run. He had a good swim and bike. He was only two minutes slower than me on the bike which was a huge surprise since I’m better on the hills. And he has been dealing with plantar issue on his foot and hasn’t trained as much as myself. The heat crushed him on the run. I saw him a couple times on the run course and he looked OK but I could tell he was moving slower than normal. He is a huge champ for finishing and not giving up! Angie and I chatted after the race and we agreed he was the champion of the day for getting through a 90F day run. I did take him to the medical tent after he finished and a full IV bag brought him back to life! They are always so helpful!
Food and Beverage Report
The highlight of our post-race time in Syracuse was visiting a well know vegan restaurant called Strong Hearts Café. There are two locations and we visited the one on East Genesee Street on Sunday evening and Monday morning. It was about a 10-15 minute drive from our AirB&B.
This is a really funky hip café serving delicious vegan comfort food and many healthy options as well. On Sunday evening we had big filling sandwiches and milkshakes. We also took some of their potato salad and macaroni salad from the grab-and-go cooler which was excellent on our drive home. We also went back for breakfast on Monday morning. We were very disappointed when we were told the tofu scrambles would take 30 minutes so we ordered an “Egg Trick Muffin” which was really good! Tofu and vegan sausage tasted great that morning! And of course we had another milkshake!
Yes it’s vegan!
A nice couple who volunteered at our race told us to check out Mello Velo Bike Shop which was close by. We stopped in and wished we had more time to visit. They have a great café, espresso bar and many taps of local beer. I wish he could have stayed longer. Do check it out if you’re in Syracuse and you love bikes, coffee, beer or all of the above!
Overall Ironman Syracuse 70.3 was a great experience and I feel proud of my race. I did my best out there on a tough course and super hot day! I learned a lot and feel that I am still reaching my potential. It’s exciting to be racing so well in my late 40s. If you believe it, you can do it!
Next up is Ironman Copenhagen in August. We are very excited about our first race in Europe!