Tuesday, June 24, 2014

2014 Ironman 70.3 Syracuse

Race number two for the 2014 season is officially in the books. Ironman 70.3 Syracuse has come and gone, and I must say it was an awesome weekend spent with a lot of really great people. A few thoughts about my preparation and the race itself...

I spent the entire month of May and the first couple of weeks in June preparing for this race. This year's philosophy for me is to race less often to hopefully produce better results. I did more volume and training than I have ever done before, and I think it paid off. In the month of May alone I swam over 24 miles, biked 1,050 miles, and ran over 150 miles. In addition to that volume there were some really tough days mixed in where I pushed myself harder than I ever have before. There were some training sessions where I couldn't wait for the suffering to end, but then there were other days where I felt like I nailed it. Those days helped build my confidence going forward. It was nice to do a lot of the really difficult days with Mike so we could suffer together. Misery loves company. Derek joined us for our long, 130 mile ride to Buffalo and back as well, which is my longest ride to date.

Going into Syracuse I wasn't sure how I would fare. I struggled through my taper with my legs not feeling great. I felt sluggish most days and even had to bail out on one of my rides about nine days before the race because I couldn't hit my interval numbers and just didn't have the power to keep going. That had never happened to me before and really made me start to worry. Eventually things started to turn up, but I still never felt like I was fresh and springy. Until race day that is.

The day before the race I drove down to Syracuse, got registration and bike check in taken care of early, and got to the hotel around 2pm. It was nice to have all that done and to have the afternoon to relax and get some rest. At five I went out to eat with my family, Becky, her parents, Steve, Mike and Jamie. It was great to be able to hang out with everyone, relax, and not really think about the race for a while. After dinner we headed back to the hotel and I headed to bed.

On race morning I got to transition around 5:45am, which is a little later than I usually try to arrive, but since I was in wave 18 at 8:20am, I figured I had some time to spare. I got my bike and transition area ready before finding a nice spot to sit and hang out while I waited for my wave. I got to watch Steve go off at 7am and then Mike hit the water at 7:50am. Finally it was time for me to get my day under way.

I seeded myself toward the front of my wave and was hoping to hit around the 30 minute mark for the swim. When the gun went off I went out harder than normal, but made sure not to overextend myself. Eventually I settled into a pretty comfortable rhythm, but I was never able to find feet to draft off. I came out of the water in just a touch over 31 minutes, which wasn't quite my goal, but it is still a PR for a 70.3 distance swim. I wasn't ecstatic with it, but wasn't disappointed either. My swim work with Joel is slowly starting to show. I have to realize that massive improvements aren't going to happen over night. Slowly but surely it is coming along. One more thing to note is that I got a new wetsuit for this race, the ROKA Maverick Pro Sleeveless suit. It felt awesome. The suit I had been using was several years old and I have lost some weight since I bought it, so I sized down and liked the more snug fit of this suit. The neoprene was extremely flexible and buoyant as well. It is an awesome wetsuit that I am looking forward to racing in more.

The worst part of my day occurred when I got to the wetsuit peelers and I must have picked the worst two there. No disrespect to them as I'm thankful for all the volunteers who make these events possible, but I would have been significantly better off to just take the thing off myself. These two got it stuck on my ankles and could not seem to figure it out. It was a bit frustrating, but those things happen.

I got to my bike and headed out to the course. My flying mount was good and I got into my shoes without any real difficulties. Then I went to work. My legs felt amazing. All the sluggishness from the week before was gone and I was flying. I looked down at my power meter and was putting out major watts, so much so that I got a bit nervous and kept trying to reign myself in. The long climb on this course goes from about mile 4 to mile 13. After the first mile the gradient isn't too bad, but there really is no relief as you go up. As I hit the climb and started ascending my power was still really high, but my heart rate was staying in the 160-163 beats per minute range. I know I can maintain that for a long time, so I decided to just go with it and hope that my legs could continue to handle what I was trying to do. After the climb there is a nice descent and then some flat roads where you can really hammer. The back ten miles or so of the course are super fast, especially with the temperature and wind conditions we lucked out with on race day. I closed the last ten miles in about 21 minutes, with a bike split of 2:16:40, including a no pass zone for about a mile where I lost about two minutes from being stuck behind a couple of people. Doug and I had talked about shooting for 2:18-2:20 based on the power numbers he had given me. That's the thing about numbers and training... You can look at them and try to base things on them, but you can't live by them. He told me to monitor myself and how I felt throughout the day. I felt good, so I made the decision to push myself a bit harder than we discussed. It could have come back to bite me, but fortunately I read my body right. My normalized power for the day was 337 watts and I had the fastest bike split in my age group by about eight minutes. I guess all that biking paid off. But had I gone too hard? The run would answer that question for me. (You can check out my Garmin file from the bike portion here...)

I must admit that as I approached the dismount of the bike I had visions of Flower City in my head. I was nervous as I didn't want a repeat of that incident. For those who aren't aware, I face planted my dismount at Flower City and left some skin on the road. Worse, though, was I crashed Mike's bike. He had let my borrow his as mine hadn't returned from Puerto Rico yet. Fortunately, things went well on this day and I regained a bit of confidence.

I racked my bike and headed to the run. The slightly modified run from last year is a great improvement. Most of the trail was paved and it didn't cross the parking lot exit, making our departure later in the day much easier. What wasn't modified was the massive hill that you get to run up. Twice. I took it out to the hill at a comfortable pace and got up without too much struggling. As I hit the turnaround I still felt good and headed back to transition. At the half way point of the run I saw everyone hanging out near the finish line. It was great to have them there cheering and it lifted my spirits a bit for the final loop of the run. I still felt strong and knew at this point that if I could match my split from the first loop I would win my age group. I stayed on top of my nutrition much better than normal during the run. Typically I struggle to take in calories at this point because my stomach doesn't like it. However, I forced myself to eat via a new strategy I tried out. It's top secret and I don't know that I should disclose it to the world because I don't want to help out my competition. Just kidding... I ate Snickers bars as my fuel for the run. Anyway, the second time up that hill was definitely the worst part of the day. My legs screamed as I "ran" up it. I had decided after the first loop that once I hit the turnaround it was time to really push myself. I knew I could be close to a 70.3 PR finish if I ran a strong second loop and I was prepared to make the last 3.5 miles hurt. I closed my final mile in 6:25, which gave me a 1:27:36 run and a 4:19:00 overall finish. That was good enough to give me a new 70.3 PR on a rather difficult course and my second age group victory, winning the group by about six and a half minutes. I don't think I could have asked for much more from myself on this day. Plus I had a ton of fun racing with Mike and Steve. Congratulations to both of those guys on awesome races as well.

One other thing about this race that I was really pleased with was my ability to stay focused the entire day. I stayed on top of my nutrition, hydration, and electrolyte replacement maybe the best I ever have during a race. I never zoned out or let my thoughts drift elsewhere. I watched my number of calories in and spaced out my consumption very well to completely avoid any stomach issues or dehydration. This was an important factor to putting together a very complete race.

As always, there are a lot of people to thank for helping me have a successful race. My parents and Becky for their constant support, Becky's parents for coming out to the race to cheer me on, my friends who keep me motivated, train with me, and support me along the journey, Jamie and Derek for coming out to cheer us on as we raced, and Doug for all his work in coaching me and pushing my limits a little bit more all the time. Thanks to Towpath Bike Shop and TriSports.com for making sure my bike is running smoothly and providing me with the best gear you could ask for. Finally, a super special thanks to my sister, Jen, for coming out and cheering hard all day on zero sleep. She arrived in Syracuse from work at about 2:30am and never slept before I got up to start the day at 4am. You never would have known by looking at her and how loudly she cheered each time I saw her on the course. You are a rock star and a bit of a freak for being able to do that. You win "Fan of the Match" by a large margin.

Next up is 70.3 Timberman in New Hampshire on August 17. Now it's time to rest up a bit and then get back to work with some serious training over the summer. I'm looking forward to all of it.