Sometimes a course is more difficult than it looks on paper. Syracuse 70.3 was no exception.
Instead of a 3:45 wake up call that I had in Raleigh 3 weeks ago, my alarm was set at 4:45. The sun was already coming up over the horizon as the sky was starting to lighten up. My girlfriend and I were out the door and in the car by 5:15-ish. We had hoped to arrive at the park at 5:30, but with hundreds of cars lined up on the two lane road to get into the park, we were delayed significantly. I ended up having less time than I like to have on race morning to get everything set up in transition and get down to the beach to the swim start. However, with a few years of practice in setting up my area in transition, I managed to get everything done without feeling too rushed.
About 20 male pros lined up in the waist deep, 70-degree water waiting for the race to start. Anticipation was building. We all knew who would win the race – Joe Gambles. Second through 5th was up in the air, at least in my mind. I lined up next to some swimmers I knew were slightly faster than me, such as Ryan Bates from the US Pro Tri team, hoping to get on their feet and get bit of a free ride around the 1.2 mile course. I managed to hang on… for about 300-400 meters, but after than I just couldn’t stay on their feet. I swam alone until about 2/3 of the way through the swim when the next pack of swimmers caught up to me. I was tired from the hard effort to stay on the faster swimmers’ feet and just tucked in behind. I exited the water ahead of the pack after a late surge to beat them out of the water. However, I struggled getting my wetsuit unzipped so the wetsuit peelers could take it off for me. With a little bit of lost time, I exited T1 in about 14th place. However, the next 6-8 guys were all within a couple hundred meters down the road once I got on the bike. I knew I had to push it to try to catch them and not let them start pulling away.
Miles 2 or 3 through 12 were all uphill… or maybe up-mountain would be a better term to use. I was in my smallest gear most of that time spinning up the hills. I was amazed at how many pros were mashing their gears and standing up while climbing. I figured they would pay for it later. I managed to pass about 2 or 3 people during that section, and gain ground on the group that was a couple hundred meters in front during the start of the bike leg. If I could keep them in sight or slowly reel them in, I felt fairly confident I could catch them in the run leg. With the feeling of being rushed in the morning, my powermeter didn’t get calibrated before the ride, so the numbers were probably a bit off, so I had to go by feel instead of the raw numbers. I felt strong during the bike and caught a lone rider between miles 25 and 30, and then saw a group of two or three more up ahead about 1/2 to 3/4 of mile a little bit later. I eventually caught them around mile 45. One of them dropped back significantly, while a friend in the pro circuit, Ryan Rau, stayed close. We actually came into T2 together, and then I beat him out of T2 and entered the run in 8th place with 7th place less than a minute ahead of me.
The run was brutal… plain and simple. The first aid station came about 1/4-mile into the run and the second one was just after the second mile marker. The 3rd one was another 1.25-miles down the road. The water at the aid stations was either luke warm or hot, and only two aid stations had cold sponges (which, most of the time, weren’t cold at all). I found it very difficult to keep my core temperature down. But I did what I could. I put ice down my jersey, down my shorts, inside my cooling sleeves from Columbia (hoping to do a little plug on these later… best cooling sleeves I’ve ever tried), and holding ice in my hand. The hill a the turn around point (miles 3.5 and 9.5) was killer. According to mapmyrun.com, the hill ranged between 6 and 9 percent incline. It literally slowed several pros down to a walk. I backed it down, still running, to save my legs. By the first turn around point, I had ran my way into 6th place with 5th and 4th just a few meters in front of me. I caught 4th place before going back into the Jamesville Reservoir Park to head back out for round 2 of the run. I kept my eyes open for 3rd to see if I thought I could catch him. But I didn’t see him on on the loop within the park. I finally caught a glimpse of him after he was on his way back in from the second out-and-back. In my mind, he was too far ahead to catch, unless something crazy happened and he slowed to a walking pace. I decided to take the long, steep up hill easy. At the turn around point, 5th place had somehow sneaked up behind me and was only about 5 seconds behind. Time to kick in to high gear. I knew I had to make it look like I was feeling good (or at least better than him) so I took the down hill and got some free speed from it. With a mile left to go, I could tell I had enough ground between him and me that he wouldn’t catch me. I took it home, looking over my shoulder occasionally to keep 5th place in check.
I ended up finishing about 30 seconds ahead of 5th, and was the first American to cross the line. I missed my time goals, due to the course being much more difficult that I had predicted, and the lack of aid stations and ice on the course. I also missed my goal of getting 3rd, but I’m still very happy with a 4th place finish. I managed to fight my way back from a not so good swim, slowly picking off competitors on the bike and run. Two top 5 finishes in a row!
I can’t express enough how thankful I am about the support I’ve received this year from sponsors, family, and friends. It sure helps knowing that people have my back. God has really blessed me!