Conditions were tough at IM 70.3 Syracuse this year, with strong currents and chop on the swim, wind on the bike, and heat on the run, but Team Every Man Jack turned in a solid performance! Greg Grosicki finished 2nd overall, I snagged 5th overall and 1st in my age group, and Michael Hoffman was first out of the water and 5th in his age group. My goal was to do well enough to grab a spot to the IM 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, and I’m happy to say that I punched that ticket and will be heading to my home state in September to race against the best.
As usual I wouldn’t have even made it the race, let alone raced well, if not for quite a bit of help: from my wife’s unwavering support, to my parents coming to help with the kids the weekend of the race, to my teammate James Defilippi for lending me his wheels for the race. I’m extremely lucky to have such great family and teammates.
There’s something about me and bad luck with wheels at Ironman events. In my first Ironman I rented a pair of aero wheels for the race, but the rental company managed to not bring my wheels to the race. I was left with my out of true horrible trainer wheels. In my first Ironman 70.3, my back wheel came a bit out of alignment and was slightly rubbing on the brake most of the race. In my 2nd Ironman, I discovered a small cut in one of my tires just as I was leaving transition the day before the race. I had to hurriedly swap out to a backup tire the morning of the race.
This time, I thought, this time will be different. I had ordered my own set of nice wheels back in early March and had been given every assurance that they would arrive in time for the race. It came down to the week of the race, though, and I found out that things had been delayed again and my wheels would be arriving literally the day after I returned from the race. This was unbelievably frustrating to deal with, but fortunately, I have an awesome set of teammates. For the 2017 Columbia Triathlon I had borrowed Matt Bender’s wheels, and now for this race I was able to drive down to Arlington and grab James Defilippi’s wheels, a beautiful new set of ENVE 7.8s.
The original plan had also been for my dad and my son to make the trip up with me, and we would have a multi-generation Father’s Day there. Unfortunately some last minute obstacles prevented that from happening, so on Friday afternoon I started the long drive up to Syracuse by myself. If there was any sort of positive from that it was that I could listen to whatever music I wanted to the whole trip, which of course meant I partied like it was 2002 with all my old high school CDs (the last time I made or bought a CD).
After getting checked in to my Airbnb, I took a quick ride around the Syracuse University campus Saturday (pretty nice place) before heading down to get checked in and get my bike racked. I got a nice spot in transition on the outside. No worrying about turning down the wrong row!
Although I made the trip alone, I did have some of my teammates at the race, so I grabbed lunch with them before turning in and relaxing the rest of the day. They, along with their families, were an enormous help during the race (and is where most of the race pictures here came from).
It was a hot day, but fortunately the water was still cool enough for the swim to be wetsuit legal. Otherwise my tried and true triathlon strategy of not drowning on the swim, catching up on the bike, and then attacking on the run might have failed on step one. This is the race where, the previous year, I had gotten all but attacked during the swim: pulled backwards, elbowed in the face, and goggles knocked off.
Waiting for the age group wave start in our wetsuits was sweltering, though. Once in the water, the wind began to show up. Extremely rough chop not only slowed the pace down, but also made sighting much more difficult since the waves were tall enough to block sightlines to buoys. On the back half there was also a strong current, and I found myself swimming a zig-zag pattern as the current would pull me one way and the waves would prevent me from noticing until I was already a bit off course.
I came out of the water in 34:17, 12 seconds slower than the year before, but in much worse conditions (although minus the mauling). It wasn’t as fast as I had hoped for, but given the conditions I felt pretty good about my position.
I took off on the bike ready to catch up and get myself in the top 3 in the age group. I figured that should be enough to ensure a spot for the IM 70.3 World Championship, and once I clawed my way into that position, I wasn’t going to give it up on the run.
One reason I came back to Syracuse is because the course is perfect for me. Hills have always been my strength in running, and on the bike it’s just simple physics. I’m never going to put out as much raw power as someone in similar shape who has 40 pounds of muscle on me, but if that 40 pounds is dragging them back down a hill I’ll roll on by at a fraction of the effort. I believe I actually got myself in the position I needed on the initial long climb. Halfway in I passed my teammate Michael Hoffman (who was first out of the water and I hadn’t expected to see again until at least the run, if at all) and knew I was in good shape.
The wind was brutal during the bike, though, and after fighting it nearly the whole course it finally won going into a turn with less than 10 miles to go. I came into a turn with an extremely strong gust blowing from the outside, and halfway through the turn the gust just stopped completely. I lost my balance and went down on my left side (if you go down on a bike, you always want it to be the left side so you don’t risk messing up your drivetrain). From the feel of it, I knew I would hurt later, but as long as I kept moving I thought I would be fine. After putting the chain back on and giving my bike a quick look for any non-aesthetic damage, I got back on the saddle and took off to regain the lost time.
I finished up without further issue. Due to the wave start I wasn’t entirely sure of my position, but I felt pretty confident going into the run. Despite the wind and the wreck, at 2:39:49 I came in around half a minute faster than in 2016.
I took off on the run ready to go after anyone still in front of me. The problem, though, is that due to the wave start I had no idea who was in front of me. I thought I started the run third in my age group, but then a spectator said at some point I was 5th, and I had no idea what was going on. So I decided I would primarily have to run for time rather than position.
It was hot. At every single aid station I was dumping water on my head and ice down my jersey. Like the hills at Syracuse, though, I typically view bad conditions as favorable: they give me an opportunity to make up for physical weakness relative to other people with mental strength.
I greatly admire people who are able to do entire ultras and triathlons with a smile on their face, and I’m in no way trying to say that those people aren’t hurting and giving their full effort, but I usually look like absolute death. And I’ll admit, there are moments during races where no, no I’m not enjoying it at all and just want it to end. But I know the sense of accomplishment and new knowledge of my limits will be well worth it. If it’s not difficult enough then it’s not worth it to me.
I finished the run in 1:26:31, over 2 minutes faster than 2016 despite the heat. They did cut one of the hills out of the course, though, which could have very well made up the difference.
I came in at 4:45:42, going 2.5 minutes faster than 2016 and winning my age group by 12 minutes (apparently my worries about position during the run were unfounded). I was pretty happy with my time, and I had done what I came to do: locking up my ticket to go race the world championship in my home state.
I do always have a bit of an issue with how much Ironman focuses on age groups, though. I’m 32 years old. If I’m competing against others rather than just for time, then I should be competing against everyone. Due to the wave start, I didn’t have the opportunity to race against the four people who finished ahead of me. I would have relished the chance to go after a couple of them on the run.
I understand that if they allocate world championship slots by age group that it’s probably better to have age groups start together, but at the least the age groups should be far bigger (there’s no significant physical advantage in an event like that between a 25 year old and a 39 year old).
Even if we had started in the same wave, though, there’s no way I would have caught my teammate Greg Grosicki, who had an incredible race and grabbed 2nd overall. After an extremely strong swim Michael Hoffman stayed in the age group top 5 despite getting dehydrated by the heat on the bike and the run. It’s awesome to have teammates again, for the first time since high school, and to be fortunate enough to have such talented athletes and great people on that team.
After the race I had roughly a 9 hour trip to get home. If I had been able to leave immediately, I may have even made it home before my son went to bed. As it was, though, I waited through one of the most insufferably long, inefficient processes I’ve ever seen to actually accept my slot to the world championship. Despite finishing just after noon, it wasn’t until after 6 that I was able to leave. I officially spent longer sitting around waiting to accept my spot than I had spent racing to earn it. It blows my mind that that can’t be done online somehow.
But now, the most important question: what did I eat after the race? It’s no secret that, while I try to be extremely diligent about proper nutrition while training (about 90% of my weekday lunches are at Chopt), anything goes after a race.
With the heat, I would have done anything for a milkshake at the finish line. Unfortunately I had to wait 6 hours to get out of there, but as soon as I did I made a beeline to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. I had had my main meal planned since before the race, though. As soon as I saw the words “maple jam bacon burger” all together, it was decided. I stopped back by a Cracker Barrel and tore into one of those beauties, with a full compliment of sides and a S’mores dessert to top it off. Calories regained (and probably then some)!
I also had the great pleasure of watching my road rash blossom over the following week: from a nice pink scrape, to a darker red, to purple and yellow bruising with a nice thick brown covering, to finally the nice pinkish marbled look I have now. It’s just like a garden in spring time.
Most importantly, though, my bike only suffered some minor, “character-building,” aesthetic scuffs. Skin heals, bikes don’t. Any my skin healed in time for the most important stretch of my triathlon season, which starts at Ironman Lake Placid, ends at Kona, and now has a side trip to Chattanooga in the middle! It’s time to get back to some disciplined training, and regain some of the focus I lost after Barkley.