With my winter and spring back issues I had made the decision to transfer out of Ironman Mont Tremblant. I didn't feel confident that I could get the training in. I decided that I'd pick a half that was fairly close to home and Syracuse 70.3 fit the bill. The good news was that Sara would be joining me as well! It would mark the first time in 6 years that we raced together - way overdue. Prior to race weekend we got in our last swim, bike and run.
We were as fit as we could be swimming 1-2 times per week, 2 bikes and 2 runs - that's all you need for a hilly half right?! Sara looking excited about racing together.
We made our way a few hours down the I-90 with Logan and Gran and Gramps in the redneck vessel (my Durango). The Saturday check-in saw heat and humidity but the area was nice. Looking at the elevation profiles of the course bike and run showed that it would be challenging.
The race swag tent was outstanding!!! We got some incredible deals. We got there early and there were sale racks with 50-70% off. Got some winter gear and some t-shirts. Example: regular price for winter long sleeve = $129; got it for $28. Boom!! Sara enjoyed the shop.
Beach front. The lake looked nice but it was quite murky. Visibility was pretty much arms length. Sara's wave was 4 waves ahead of me - a 16 minute head start.
Hard to tell from this pic but the woman pictured had really high platform shoes on. It was highly entertaining watching her try to walk across the grass.
The whole race site from the beach, to the transition, to the athletes village and then parking area was enormous. It was really spread out.
From the race site we decided to check out the bike course. As per the race profile the first 12 miles was a climbfest. It just continued on and on. It wasn't overly steep but it made up for it in duration of climbing. After the 12 miles there is a long awesome downhill, some rollers and then a really steep downhill/uphill combo where speeds of 80k + could be achieved. After that some more rolling terrain then another cool twisty downhill section before heading back to transition.
The run course is insane!! I had heard in years past that the run went immediately to the road at the start. Leaving transition this year the first mile was literally Xterra-style. It was on an awkward slope with sections of grass, rocks, and wood chips. It was quite hilly and you had to be careful not to twist an ankle. The above pic is the start of "The Wall" as the locals called it. Hard to see in the pic but there is a runner just past the 2nd telephone pole. The grade here gradually increase from 5-9% as you climbed.
At the top of the first hill the turn got up over 10%, "leveled" out to 6% and then had a small 50m descent before kicking back up again.
Looking down towards the turn of the initial big climb. This pic gives you a better view of the climb.
Heading back to the cross-country section there is one more long climb. On race day there would be 2 directions of runners plus the returning cyclists all contained from the yellow line to the edge of the road - you had to be careful not to run into anyone.
Pre-Race: There is only one road leading to the park and race site. It took a LONG time to get to the parking area. We parked the truck at 6:35am and the transition was closing at 6:55am. Given the distance to transition we had to get moving. We got our stuff and headed out. We got into transition at 6:50 so we had 5 minutes to set up, grab our swim stuff and start heading to the beach! We quickly did what we needed and headed to the swim. Sara's wave was at 7:20 so we got down there, got her wetsuit on and she got into the corral with her wave with a couple of minutes to spare - that's an optimal warmup right?! I was at 7:36 so I took care of our morning clothes bags, quick whiz, and wetsuit on. I managed to get a "good luck" to Sara from the beach before her wave started.
Side note: Some clown in my wave attempted to do the swim with neoprene booties and an underwater iPod setup under his swim cap. I thought the race official was pretty lenient with this guy as it is an offence that should bring disqualification. To boot the clown was trying to convince the official to let him listen to his music for the swim - what an asshat!
Transition from swim to bike was a fair distance and slightly uphill. My heart rate was maxed out by the time I reached my bike. The rain didn't help at this point. Once onto the bike I settled in with the coming climbs ahead. Sara and I thought the bike course was one of the best we've ever done. It was definitely challenging but scenic and fun. If you've done Muskoka you would be fine here. The road surface is not so great in parts but there were indicators alerting you to potholes and rough road. The first 12 miles of climbing seemed to take forever but the downhill reward at the top was a blast. The really steep descent/ascent combo was a little scary - I had to control my speed to prevent a speed wobble but got through with no trouble. You could tell this was a challenging course because there was zero drafting out there.
The run was, without a doubt, the most challenging I've ever done. The first mile of Xterra like terrain was tough and, with the rain, was a mudbath. It also ran parallel to a hill so the slope was tricky before turning to crest the hill. There was only one 300m of flat on the course - otherwise you were climbing or descending. The fact that you had to do this twice was daunting! On the run the sun came out and it got pretty hot. Where the run got over 9% I would slowly run to the point where I felt my heart rate spike and walk the rest. I figured this was the best way to manage my energy and not have to extend the recovery period. I think it worked well. Sara did the same.
I saw Sara several times on the run. She was having a good day - I was not closing in on her. She gave me some good-natured trash talk and people were laughing with us. In fact, it took me the second loop descent of "The Wall" to close to within 50 feet of her. I really booked it downhill and my quads started to cramp up as a result. She gapped me on the next hill and slowed up a little to allow me to close. We decided to stay together for the last 2 miles - we figured how often would we have this opportunity. We got up over the final hill and through the Xterra section and the finish line was in sight. We decided to cross the line holding hands which got a lot of cheers from the crowd for being so sickeningly cute (I'm sure a few threw up in their mouths as well). We are going to order some pics - they are classic!
Overall we had a good day. We were definitely undertrained, definitely not near race weight, and not optimally rested but it was a blast to be racing together and doing a 70.3 again. I would recommend Syracuse if you like a hilly, challenging and fair course - it definitely fits the bill.
Thanks for reading - hope training is going well.