I’m thrilled to write about my first 70.3 race finish because I really didn’t think I could do it. When I signed up for the race in December 2016, the Syracuse Ironman 70.3 was a dream waiting to become a reality. Until early May I was worried that the race would have to remain a dream for another year, as my training had been hindered by an annoying injury that kept me out of most things Ironman for about two months. Hence no training blog post—my March injury hurt me and my confidence in the race.
My training had been excellent from January until March. I was riding on the coattails of a strong Boston qualifier marathon finish the previous October and I found that adding indoor bike training and swimming was not a problem. I supplemented my training with addicting hot vinyasa yoga which helped me remain strong and flexible. The most difficult aspect of training related to my complicated work schedule. I work nights shift (7p-7a) and every other weekend. Group training becomes difficult and sometimes impossible because of working these non traditional hours. It is also difficult to wake up early on my days off! But even so, I was able to stick to an online training plan pretty well.
That all ended the second week in March.
During the second week in March I was enjoying my usual hot yoga practice when I transitioned from a flipped downward dog into a low lunge as directed by the teacher. I felt a small pinch in my left high hamstring, but ignored it. It didn’t hurt too much. I finished the class without issues. The next day I was on a plane to Europe when I found I was having an awful time sitting without pain. I could barely sleep and my high hamstring-butt muscle was throbbing. I blamed it on sitting for too long. A few days later my leg still hurt on a morning jog and while climbing up the Eiffel Tower. A week later I had to stop yoga as I was unable to even do a simple forward fold. Meanwhile everything hurt my high hamstring except biking. Running, swimming, and especially yoga, were out of the picture. Actually I haven’t done any yoga since.
After over a month of strengthening and massage therapy, I finally started running and consistently biking again. I began by running one minute and walking one minute for fifteen minutes. I ultimately built up to running 10 miles without stopping just a week before the triathlon. As a runner first, this was difficult for me mentally. I had never been forced to slow down so much so soon before competition. I am thankful that I was able to tie everything together at the last moments before my race.
Leading up to race day…
I had been watching the weather intently for over a week. One week before the race the weather forecast stated that it would be 81 degrees and cloudy. The water temperature a week before the race was a brisk 62 degrees. Days before the race it looked like certain thunderstorms. The night of the race finally brought the truth: it would be 90 degrees and sunny. Water would be 70. My mindset switched from nervous due to cold water to nervous due to hot weather. Funny how that changes things.
I didn’t spend much time in packet pick-up, but I was in awe of everybody training (last minute?!) near the Syracuse reservoir. I was shocked to see so many people in tri jerseys the day before the race. Was there something I didn’t know!? Was I supposed to be out on my bike? My questions were eased when I sat down for the athlete informational session. Most people there were wearing t-shirts and shorts; casual, and extremely fit. Maybe the people in the tri jerseys weren’t racing? Anyways, I felt honored to be sitting with such a group of stellar athletes. I also noticed how few women there were–which increased my admiration for the brave females that compete in this male-dominated sport.
I left my bike at transition around 1 pm. It was then that the nerves took off. This was real. I placed my bike in spot 873 and was immediately worried that I’d get a flat tire in the 90 degree sunny heat of the afternoon. I was also worried that my old bike would be self-conscious amongst the cool surrounding aero bikes. I left my bike with a breath of confidence and went home to worry more.
That night I jumped into the icy water of Skaneateles lake (with a wetsuit on!) and couldn’t breathe. This furthered my anxiety for the swim–what If I can’t breathe in the morning?! I wasn’t able to train open water this spring–it had been cold and it’s not always easy to find a swimming partner. My goal became not to DNF or drown during the swim.
Soon later that night I put on my tri suit and realized that I had not worn it for a race more than 15 miles long. The chamois on this suit is lacking padding. I frantically texted my friend asking if she thought I should wear bike shorts over my tri suit. Neither she nor google could give me a great answer. I labored over this issue for over an hour before deciding to bring my bike shorts to transition just in case I was worried and make a split second decision during transition. Noob level: beginner. By the way, I didn’t end up wearing the bike shorts.
Race Day 6/19/2017
My mom woke me up at 4:05 in the morning. She had set her alarm for me in case my phone alarm decided not to work for the second day in a row (I would later find out that I “accidentally” turned off the sound to my alarms). I asked my amazing mom one last time if she was sure she wanted to go with me to the race that morning. She agreed. Best sherpa ever. We piled into the car and drove 45 minutes to the Jamesville Reservoir. I ate a bagel with cream cheese and drank coffee out of a plastic cup. It sat in the pit of my stomach coated in nervous energy.
Once I arrived to transition my fear came to life. Most people’s bike tires had lost some air overnight, but my back tire was completely flat. Here it all starts. Thankfully I’m great at changing flats and was able to switch out the tube in about five minutes, but unfortunately my nervous energy caused my breaks to somehow misalign. I searched for my bike tool, which was clearly somewhere in my car. Great. I wheeled my bike over the the mechanic tent where some very nice people helped me fix my break alignment. I apologized profusely due to my grimy, messy bike. The mechanic told me not to worry and told me that most triathletes pee on their bike, so mine isn’t that bad. Is this true?!?! Noob level: beginner…or smart?
My mom and I made our way over the the beach. I slipped into the water for a quick warm up swim and felt… okay. I didn’t feel cold and I could breathe. The water was about 72 degrees and the air was nearing 80. It would be a good swim for sure.
Swim: 1.2 miles, 44 minutes even
I met several inspiring women in our swim group (women 18-30). We wore pearly pink caps and about 75% of us were first timers to the 70.3 distance. We were all very nervous–each of us for a different part of the race. I repeated to my new friends a quote from one of the ladies in the bathroom line earlier. “Be a completer–not a competer!” My nerves eased as I spoke this sentence. But as a former college athlete, the fire was in my belly and of course I wanted to do well.
Our swim began with an awkward “on your mark, get set, go” and we were off. It really wasn’t bad. I’m not a great swimmer, but I definitely trained to the point where I felt comfortable. (The swimming portion of my training plan consisted of working towards being able to front crawl for an hour). My technique is poor and no matter how quickly I move my arms and legs I swim at a pretty consistent pace–about 2:15 per 100 yards. My outdoor pace was exactly the same as my indoor pace–which surprised me when considering the insane choppy water on the return. The choppy water was certainly unpleasant, but the worst part was this guy who kept swimming perpendicular into me about every 30 seconds before we hit. In 44 minutes I was out of the water and the un-scandalous wetsuit strippers helped me de-robe of my wetsuit. I ran to transition smiling, I think.
Transition 1: Swim to bike 6 minutes 27 seconds
Not much to say here, although next time I’m going to use something other than sunscreen spray. I definitely didn’t use enough and I got a sunburn. Its starting to peel a little as I write this.
Bike: 56 miles, hilly, hot and with a headwind. 3 hours, 35 minutes, 30 seconds.
This is where I feel like my soul was lost a little . This bike ride seemed never to end and it was so very hilly. The headwind was tough at times, and the temperature was starting to creep towards 90 degrees.
Ahh the hills!!! I even consider myself to be good at hills. I also consider myself to be relatively poor at downhill and flats. This ride consisted of mostly me passing people on uphills and then being passed by people on downhills and flats. Even so, the ride was beautiful. We rode around a small lake and through country roads by horses and cows. The volunteers at the aid stations were incredibly friendly and supportive. I couldn’t have done the race without them.
Fun fact: I had another noob level: beginner aspect of this ride. I brought my camelback. I wasn’t going to, but once I knew that the temperature would be 90 I decided I was more afraid of dehydration than looking like a noobie with a camelback. This proved to be smart as I saw far too many people off their bike rubbing out cramps in the last 20 miles of the ride. Yay for hydration! Maybe someday I’ll have a cool tri-bike with a water reservoir, but until then, I’m the one with the camelback 😉
Transition 2: Bike to run 4 minute 52 seconds of me sitting on the ground, tired, eating a cliff bar and drinking a hot nuun electrolyte drink. I do not recommend drinking nuun hot. Unfortunately I didn’t have a choice. It was 90 degrees and the sun was shining bright. I sprayed a little more sunscreen and walked for a bit to start my run.
Run: 13.1 miles: 2 hours 1 minute 42 seconds. Fortunately I’m not as much a noob for this part.
But woof. It was hot. I began the run portion with a two minute walk and combined thinking session. I figured I had two choices. One: I could go for it and push myself like I normally would in my familiar half marathon. I’ve done dozens of these. Or..Two: I could recognize that I have never ran a half marathon in 90 degrees after biking 56 miles and swimming 1.2 miles.
I chose option 2 and I am so much happier because of it. The run was simply too hot. I passed an unfortunate amount of medical emergencies this race and attributed them to the heat. I felt it would be much smarter to be safe versus pushing myself and potentially getting sick. The run was enjoyable and I stopped every mile to pour ice water on my head to stay cool. Almost everybody was walk-running at that point and pace. We all cheered each other on and shouted words of encouragement. I started realizing why people do these crazy races. We are all achieving something we once thought was impossible. And we also love the camaraderie. We love cheering on and being cheered on. We also love post race beer.
Just for fun… Here’s some things I overheard while running. People were clearly getting a little heat sick and fed up…
One lady running her first 6.5 mile loop to her friend who was starting her second loop: I hate this route we are no longer friends.
One man as I passed: I’m divorcing my wife as soon as I cross the finish line.
I wonder if he had his papers ready.
Thankfully I saw a couple holding hands while walking the run portion, at least some people are still fond of one another after this race!
Proof below: Btw I’m a nurse in case you were wondering.
I finished and felt a huge sense of accomplishment, not only for myself but also for all of the other finishers. What an outstanding group of human beings. We all raced for different reasons. Some of us need to compete. Others try to stay active. Some may be working to loose weight. Maybe the race is just for fun. Regardless, we did an Ironman 70.3!
I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my family and my boyfriend Spencer. My mom was fantastic. Not only did she wake up with me but she also cheered me on during on the terrible parts of the race. Between the bike and the run I felt awful, but hearing her say “you can do it!” made all the difference.
We got to enjoy the Finger Lakes region the next day and I was able to show off my finishers cap and race shirt! We still couldn’t get the dog to look at the camera…PS Spencer has two pairs of that same shirt…I swear.
So. Will I do another?
Yup. For sure. Not this year though.