Monday, September 19, 2011

Race Review- Syracuse 70.3 Swim

This was my second A-race of the 2011 season. The first A didn't go so well and I needed a redemption race (mostly for personal self-esteem). Ironman Syracuse 70.3 seemed like a good fit into my schedule. It's at a good time of year. It's a good distance. I felt ready.

The last time I have done a half-Iron distance race was back in 2005. And by last time, it was also my first time. I did the Musselman, nearly collapsed in the 90º+ heat, walked a bunch, and said, "Yup, I'll do an Ironman." I signed up for IM Lake Placid and haven't done the half-distance since. This certainly isn't the most intelligent way to get IronDistance ready but I'm not claiming to be an intelligent guy.

When I do IMLP, I start planning almost a full year in advance. I need to develop a training plan. I need lodging. I start thinking about last year's plan and make changes in hopes for improvement. I signed up for Syracuse about 4 weeks ahead of schedule. I had no plan (I can't remember much from 2005 let alone my race experience). I made a room reservation on the Thursday before the gun. This A-race has a completely different feel.

One reason that there are very few triathlons in the Western NY area after Labor Day can be blamed on the temperate climate. As the sun makes its way towards sticking its hot pointy noise at the equator, it inadvertently steals heat from the north. There is some residual heat which doesn't normally make an appearance until afternoon. The morning, however, is a different story. The sunrise temperature was a blustery 44º F. A little colder and I'd have to drive home and cover my tomato plants. Instead, I was preparing to shed my clothes and go for a swim. Again, I'm not claiming to be an intelligent guy.

To prove my idiocy further, I have been having a string of pea-brained moments before my races. In the last race, I had forgotten to bring my cap, goggles, and timing chip. This time, I had left half of my race day nutrition in the car. This isn't so bad until you realize that the car was about a third of a mile away from my bike. Fortunately, I was slated to start in the 9th wave, roughly 45 minutes after transition had closed. I had time.

Having already made the trek once this morning, I got to walk back to pick up 3 packets of gel and one bottle of water. Weighted down with an additional 300 calories and 20 ounces of fluid, I got to repeat the rocky path for the third time this morning completing the mile walking warm-up in sub-arctic temperatures. A nice volunteer turned her back as I negotiated my way towards my bike to deposit my plunder and my race day was ready to start.

The Swim
The swim course was featured a 2 point turn. To complete the 1.2 mile voyage, we first had to travel about 600 yards to the first buoy. We were heading north and the sun was on the right, my breathing side. Stroke, breath, squint. Repeat. With a nice fog misting off the lake's surface, the light never reached its full blinding potential. I had 2 main challenges in this portion of the race. First, I was searching for feet to pace/ draft. After about a hundred yards, it was obvious that I had picked someone adequate but not outstanding. Since I am neither intelligent nor patient, I jumped feet and sped up in search for a more worthy draft. Second, even though we were five minutes behind the 8th wave, it didn't take me and the other lead swimmers too long to catch the lag swimmers. I can't normally swim straight in a pool with guiding lines. Now, I added slalom style swimming to avoid triathletes as I stroked past.

At the first buoy, we made a 90º right hand turn to head directly into the sun. The mist served to only help the sun hide the course markers. I struggled to find my way for the roughly 400 yards from one turn buoy to the next. Based on the body language of the other swimmers, I wasn't the only one. The lifeguards on duty were doing a fantastic job of keeping us safe but they were horrible tour guides. They mostly kept to themselves.

After arriving at the next and final turn buoy, I made another 90º turn. This proved to be a mistake. The turn should have been closer to 120º to angle back to the swim finish. I found this out about 100 yards later. With 900 yards (just over a half mile left), I slowly made my way back to the line. Now, the path was littered with swimmers from at least 3 waves in front of mine, as evidenced by their swim cap colors. One thing I did not see was anyone with my color. I was either leading my wave or stuck in no-man's-land.

It turned out to be the latter. I was around 28 minutes in the first lap at Lake Placid. Given that the race is shorter in distance and I am in better swimming shape than I was 8 weeks ago, I was anticipating at least a sub-30 minute swim. Alas, it wasn't in the cards. I hopped onto the shore and noticed 2 things. First, the temperature hadn't increased much in the past half hour. Cold settled on to my wet body like lint on velcro.

Second, I glanced up at the race clock. It was ticking steadily and showing 1:06 with some change. Having started 35 minutes later than the lead wave, I calculated my swim time at 31 minutes. I ran to the strippers who peeled off my wetsuit with significantly more efficiency I could muster solo. Mostly naked, I made the 0.18 mile run through the arctic tundra known as the parking lot from the beach to the transition area (which did not increase my warmth factor).  Officially, my time was 31:18, good enough for 6th in my age group.

Except for a little bit slower than expected time, I had no major issues with the swim. I would advise the race organizers to go counterclockwise in the swim, thus negating the sun factor for a majority of the race. The water was calm. Despite the wave swim, the amount of physical bumping and grinding was at a minimum. This was a pretty good venue for a triathlon swim.

Stay tuned for the next post: Syracuse 70.3- Bike Review.

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