Part 2 of the Ironman Syracuse 70.3 race report! Sorry for anyone who’s been hanging on to the thrilling conclusion for the past 2.5 months. Training makes you busy….or a slacker. You can read part 1 here! And part two is after the jump.
This is the Syracuse 70.3 bike elevation map:
As I pushed off from the mount line, I thought to myself, Just get through the first 12 miles.
Climb, climb, level, climb. I spun along in easy gears, wondering when the worst would come. I ate a Honey Stinger waffle while pushing up a hill one-handed. At mile 12.5 I looked around and thought, Was that really it?
WAY better than I expected.
Actually, for me the worst hill of the course was around mile 20. You see that portion of the course that looks like a V? I was approaching that when the town sheriffs/traffic controllers warned me that there was an accident ahead and I needed to be careful and steer clear. I was so busy focusing on braking down the hill and giving a wide berth to the ambulance and EMTS that I looked up and….oh no! A steep uphill! I shifted down and down and down, but was still in the big chain ring in the front from the previous flat stretch. I thought I could make it, but I ended up mashing so hard. Note to self: practice shifting down in front and immediately shifting up in the rear I thought as I gasped for breath cresting the hill. Frequent smooth gearing will be crucial for Wisconsin.
My blood sugar also left something to be desired in the first half. At mile 15 or so (the first rest stop) it was 318. Nooo! I corrected 2-3 units and added a couple more for my upcoming fuel. I skipped the 2nd rest stop, but at the 3rd (mile 40) it was at a much improved 160.
And the rest of the ride….wow! I honestly didn’t expect it to be fun. But it WAS. I sang Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and U2’s “Volcano” to myself. I admired views of the lake. I pedaled through fields and reminisced about cycling in upstate New York in college. I goggled at the motocross race happening across the road during one stretch. I even mooed at some cows climbing out from a bath in a pond as I whizzed by. I couldn’t believe it….the bike was actually NOT all terrible?! Counting down to the end, I took to the Seeger Sessions and made up my own version of “Erie Canal”: “I got a mule and her name is Sal, sixteen miles on the Erie Canal…fifteen miles on the Erie canal…fourteen miles on the Erie Canal…” Shortly after I had to focus entirely on the steep downhills because I was clocking my fastest speeds ever. (34 mph, a trifle to most serious cyclists but a hair-raising moment for me.)
In the last couple miles of the bike, there is a no-passing zone as you share the road with runners and must ride within a narrow area. I felt so happy that I just kept grinning and grinning at all the runners coming at me. Nevermind that I was in the back of the pack. Nevermind that my toes were going numb and my back desperately needed a stretch. I had made the bike with mood, fuel, and cutoff times far better than I could imagine. I floated past the dismount line.
Total bike time: 4:08:53
Another long transition. The Beatles “I Saw Her Standing There” was playing as I changed shoes, checked my BG (still hovering around 160, not bad), reapplied sunscreen, and arranged a new set of fuel and diabetes gear in my SPIbelt. One pit stop at the Porta-potty and I was out again. The sun was hot but I was ready to keep conquering.
Total time: 16:06
Well, I was ready until I actually started running. Creak! Ow! Gasp! I was so stiff from the bike. The day’s full heat and humidity pressed against me, now that I was without the built-in breeze of bike riding. The first mile is through a park– which means mud and uneven grass, not road. The whole run had BETTER not be like this, I thought with a groan.
Once I got onto the long stretch of Apulia Road, I pulled over and stretched my back, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Marginally better. I did run/walk until I loosened up some more. Getting there. I guzzled water and Gatorade at the aid stations to replace electrolytes. Okay, that was working. And I finally got to an aid station with sponges and put a heavenly icy sponge under my hat to cool off. By mile 3, I felt back to normal and raring to go. I was even running up sections of the enormous hill there instead of just walking the whole thing (like many around me).
Too bad, then, that I turned around at the top and heard a volunteer manager cry out, “Thunder and lightning! Storms coming! Everybody off the course! TURN AROUND!”
My good mood, once again, went poof in an instant.
Since the Syracuse run course is a double out and back, there wasn’t anything I could do now that I was on the “back” of my first out and back. I kept running, confused. No one else was saying anything except that one guy. I even asked volunteers at the next aid station if they heard that the race was being shut down, and they uniformly shrugged and said they hadn’t heard anything.
The rain started shortly afterwards, but only a light sprinkle. I kept looking at the sky for signs of lightning– nothing. I kept my hopes up. Maybe I could still finish this race. Then I returned to Apulia Road and….
Nothing. There were no more runners starting their second out-and-back, only runners like me returning.
The race had certainly been called, just like in 2013. After my solid swim and awesome bike, after regaining my mojo and getting stronger and stronger on the run…..I wasn’t going to be able to finish.
My first thought was something along the lines of, WELL EFF THAT!
I know I can do this. I know I’ve earned the ability to be a half Ironman finisher for the first time. What if after all this effort, this means that I get listed as DNF? What if….I don’t get my MEDAL?!
And if I get it, have I really earned it for only finishing half the run?
I was steadily gaining traction. Perhaps fueled by displeasure, or trying to get out of the rain that was now falling quite forcefully, I was now passing people right and left. Then again, perhaps all of them were slowing because they had run 12 miles instead of 5 and were going to finish the damn race. Unlike me.
If I don’t get a medal….if I don’t get recognized as an official finisher…..well dammit, I’m going to at least prove to myself that I can do the whole 70.3. I’ll run the last half in Syracuse proper. I’ll run it on the treadmill. I don’t care. I’m going the full half Ironman distance today because I CAN.
Soon I was returning to the park. The rain had turned everything to mud, and I slowed to squelch through the worst puddles. Athletes everywhere were thanking volunteers profusely for packing up everything in the downpour wearing nothing but flimsy ponchos. Everyone, regardless of first or second loop, was directed towards the finishers chute. I ran through grimly, even as a few people cheered. I wasn’t done and it didn’t feel right to celebrate. I couldn’t even put on the medal when a volunteer handed it to me, along with a finisher’s hat. I had 6.5 more miles until I earned it.
My shoes squished with every step as I headed back to transition to collect my bike. There was a huge crowd outside the entrance. “What’s going on?” I asked a volunteer.
“No one is allowed in transition until we get the all clear,” he said sternly. “Lightning risk.”
Ah….the rows upon rows of metal bike racks in an open field. Of course.
“Do you know how long until that will be?”
“Until we get the all clear,” he said. He pursed his lips in dissatisfaction; I couldn’t tell if he was angry at the swarming athletes or at the weather. “Who knows.”
At that moment, the heavens really opened and a colossal downpour began. Waiting helplessly to get my bike and go home– with any kind of umbrella or change of clothes a half mile away in the rental car– I laughed. Because otherwise I would have cursed very loudly.
The crowd gathered at the transition entrance, various people commenting on the lightning that occasionally struck in the distance. I saw trucks pulling up to the finish line, and athletes jumping out the back and running into the chute to be officially counted. They must have been pulled off the course and transported by trucks to the finish line. After what felt like eternity but was probably only about twenty minutes, the director gave the all clear. Everyone, with a cheer, entered transition to reclaim their bikes and belongings.
Well, if that hadn’t been enough….we all then had to actually get out of the damn park. Fright upon fright unfolded as everyone was piling up to leave through the one-lane exit….and getting stuck in the mud. Mud EVERYWHERE. People were making valiant efforts to push minivans and SUVs out from the lanes, only backing up traffic even more. Now it was REALLY “Welcome to the Jungle.”
The people to my right had given up entirely and were sitting on the car hood drinking Gatorade. “We’re not even going to bother until it clears up,” they said. I passed the time by alternately chatting with them and texting some family and friends to assure them that, no, my DNF on the Ironman tracking site did not mean that I was in the med tent or lying in a ditch.
With greater composure now that it had stopped raining and I had a KIND bar in my stomach, I at long last maneuvered my car out of the mud, onto the highway, and back to the hotel.
The (Unofficial) Finish:
Two hours after crossing the finish line, it was time to go at it again. I changed into dry socks and allowed myself a single glance of longing at the shower before descending to the hotel gym. Okay, time to become a half Ironman finisher for real. I can do this.
So there I was, still rain-soaked and probably very stinky, the only one in a basement gym on a late Sunday afternoon, plugging away at an 11:00/mile pace. I listened to music to pass the time. It was uplifting to have my phone with me and periodically take a peek to see encouragement from friends as I continued on my (some argued, completely unecessary) homemade race. At one point my blood sugar dipped to 73 and I walked it out with some figs. Without the urgency of competition, I was probably slower than I would have been on the course. Then again, I’m sure I fudged some of the inclines on the treadmill.
But 90 minutes later, I was done. Seven additional miles in the bag (I rounded up, just…because). I hit the “STOP” button on the treadmill and felt enormously satisfied. Determination had paid off. I had really, truly, earned the Syracuse 70.3 medal!
The Victory Party:
Of course my friends and teammates, having either completed their relay legs without issue or not been bullheaded enough to complete their last couple miles post-race, were all out at Empire Brewing Company celebrating while I was on the treadmill. Fortunately, a couple of them were staying at the Skyler Hotel with me, or at least willing to come out and continue the party. After debating the merits of going out vs. staying in, we elected to stay in. We had pizza and champagne while intermittently watching The Wolverine on a bootleg movie channel, mocking The Wolverine and its bootleg subtitles, and telling each other about our respective race experiences. I wore my Blunt Lancet shirt in honor of Jeff…..the one who kinda sorta got me there in the first place.
While I would have preferred to have better weather, I was happy with how it went! It was fun to have such a solid swim and bike, and then to be a crazy person and Iron-MacGyver the run. I hope I can do another 70.3 in the future….and that I can actually finish the thing all in one go the next time!