Sunday, June 16, 2013

What to Expect When You're Syracusing- The Bike

My intent is to pass along knowledge based on experience for any and all those who are planning on doing IM Syracuse 70.3 (even if you have no intention of ever doing this race, maybe you'll find it interesting). If, at any point along the way, please feel free to raise your hand and ask questions. (I suppose you could also leave a comment.)

Links to other posts in this series
The Swim
The Bike (viewing)
The Run

A Short Blurb About Transition
If any of you have seen coverage of any of the Ironman races on TV or read about them on the internets, you might have this vision of a changing tent or large numbers of volunteers waiting on you hand and feet. And you'd be right on all accounts. However, this is not an Ironman despite the IM title. Syracuse is a half-Ironman, HIM, half- distance, or whatever else you want to call it. Therefore, you get nothing. Transition is a large, open field fenced off with temporary orange fences. There is no changing tent like the one in the pic. No volunteers will assist you. You are on your own.

You have to find your bike, put on your helmet, buckle your chin strap, put a race number on your body (body marking is not sufficient at this stage), and whatever else you might need. You have to run (or walk) your bike through the field towards the mount line. Once you pass that line, you are free to start your bike ride.

Tip 1: If you've practiced this before, clip your shoes on to the pedals and run through the grass barefoot. This style of running is more efficient and keeps mud/ dirt out of your bike cleats.

Tip 2: If you have not practiced tip one, run with your bike shoes in your hands to just past the mount line. Move all the way over to the side so as to not interfere with anyone, drop your shoes, and slide in your feet. Then mount and ride. Trust me, this will save time and grime.

The Early Stages of the Ride
Assuming that you have mounted the bike successfully and have started pedaling, the initial stages of the ride are quite nice. Head onto the road (there's only 1) and turn right. You'll be met with a nicely paved surface and a slight downhill. Don't get too comfy.  Be warned, there are 2 forms of evil lurking in your near future. These take the shape of railroad tracks. The first set is just before the 1st mile mark and the second is right around mile 2.

Do not underestimate the danger here. There is a 99.99999% chance that there will be no train traffic. In year's past, they even took the time to cover the tracks with astroturf-type carpeting or the like. I would still advise slowing down and not being in any aero position over the tracks. People have bit it badly on these tracks due to their lack of diligence. The tracks are, in all reality, quite simple to navigate. Just don't ruin your ride before it gets started.

As far as man-made obstacles on the course, that's the whole gamut. However, once you pass the second railroad crossing, a new challenge presents itself. You start to go up. Then you make a right hand turn and continue to go up. And after you've gone up, you go up some more. This pattern continues up until about mile 7. Then, you get some teaser false flats which continue until mile 8.5. Then, guess what happens? That's right, you go up. You have to survive the climb until right around mile 11.5. That's the end of the climb.

Tip 3: The magic word of the climb is spin. Try to get into a nice rhythm and don't grind too much. You will burn some of your energy matches just don't try and flame them all. You'll need some for the run. I understand that there will be lots of people passing you on the hill. Let them go and beat them later.

Tip 4: Just after the climb, there will be an aid station. Some people opt to bring minimal hydration so that they can save weight during the climb. They then pick up fluid and nutrition at the first aid staion. That's totally acceptable and up to you.

Aid Stations
There are 3 aid stations on the bike ride: mile 14, 23, and 41. Volunteers at these stations are more than happy to give you everything they have. Without a doubt, they will have water. They will also have sports drink, gels, chomps and bars (depends on this year's race sponsor, check the Athlete's Guide for specific product and flavors). They'll also have some fruit.

You'll know the aid stations when you see them. There will be a large line of people yelling and screaming. I'm serious that the volunteers literally want to give you stuff. They'll be jumping and dancing just to get your attention and in hopes that you'll get your hands on their goodies.

Before you get to the station, you'll want to do a little bit of prep. First and foremost, if you plan on taking advantage of their services, slow down. Don't hit the area at full speed. (If you're not in need, pay careful attention to those around you. It's a busy place. Move over to the left some. But not fully left as you need to leave room for others passing. Unless you are the fastest guy/ gal in the nearest 800 meters. Then, have at it.) If you have any trash, dump it before getting to the station. There will be a sign labeled "bottle drop" and a trash can. You do not actually have to get your trash in the receptacles. You may simply toss it to the side in the general vicinity and feel good about it. Just don't hit anybody (volunteer or athlete) with your crap or leave it in a place where someone behind you could hit it with their bike.

As far as product, first up will be water, then sports drink (both fluids will fit nicely into your bike's bottle cage), then a bunch of other stuff, and finally water. Know what you want ahead of time. Here's what you should do. Suppose you want a product and a nice volunteer is shouting out at the top of their lungs that they have the desired stuff. Shout back the same product and point at someone. Make eye contact. Get their name and phone number. Some volunteers will try and run along side to help you out. Amazing when it happens. Don't count on it. Most will extend their hand and loosen their grip. You reach out your hand and grab on tight (to the product, not the volunteer). Sometimes you miss. Immediately start the process over again. You may want to slow down a little more to increase your chances of success.

Aid stations end with yet another bottle drop and trash area. You should hold on to anything that doesn't make it off of your possession from here on out to the next aid station or back to transition. If you need to use the bathroom and don't know how to pee on the bike, there will also be porta potties available at aid stations. The potties will not run along with you, you must dismount your bike before going in. 

The Rest of the Bike Course
The rest of the course is a nice country ride. Don't expect to see large numbers of people out on this single loop course. There will be the occasional hotbed of spectators that will be yelling and cheering. Most of the time, it will be you and a couple of hundred of your new closest friends on the race.

Most of miles 12-56 are rolling with a net downhill. The entire profile is below.

I am obligated to point out the nice little dip in the profile right around mile 20. This is a hot little bugger. For roughly a half of a mile, you'll have the opportunity to test your mettle at break neck speeds. I got up to 50 mph of that section, which meant that it was over in less than a minute. This section of road is smooth and straight so it's a good time to go fast. Further, the other side of the dip is the photo negative of the hill you went down. It's a short, sharp, uphill climb that will test both your gearing and your quads.

The rest of the way, you should expect a rolling terrain through picturesque upstate NY. The last ten miles or so are down and fast. This should give you and your legs ample time to absorb any water or nutrition as you get ready for the run.

There may or may not be a no passing zone on the last stretch of road. You'll know it as 'the last stretch as you'll see a lane of traffic completely closed off just for you and your athlete buddies. There will also be cones separating you from your soon-to-be running buddies. You should know this information ahead of time, either from the optional Mandatory Athlete meeting or from asking someone in transition. Either way, this is a good time to do some last minute hydration, nutrition, stretching, kegel exercises, etc. There is a half marathon in your very near future, which I'll tell you about in the very near future (convenient, huh?).

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