Monica Sanchez Ironman 70.3 Syracuse Race Report

Ironman 70.3 Syracuse – June 24th, 2012

Syracuse, New York – 5:20.49 Division Rank 6

Ironman 70.3 World Championship Qualification (F40-44)

Race Totals:

Swim > 41:03 (Pace 2:07/100m) Division Rank 29

Bike > 2:48:58 (Pace 19.89 mi/h) Division Rank 10

Run > 1:44:27 (Pace 7:58/mi) Division Rank 6

As Syracuse followed 3 weeks of back-to-back races (Eagleman 70.3 two weeks prior and Whiteface Cycling Climbone week prior), I was very uncertain of how recovered my body was going into this race. I was very pleased with my finish time @ Eagleman, but I knew that Syracuse was a much more challenging course with regards to the climbs on both the bike and run. To add to my uncertainty, my training had been moderately derailed for the past 2 months by “real life” issues which also disrupted my usual training focus; my training schedule was very inconsistent and didn’t have the normal training volume that I like to maintain. For this race, I was leaving early Thursday morning for Syracuse and I was combining visiting family along with the race, so I knew I would have the opportunity to ride the course and explore the area prior to race day.

With all of my races, I try to have very realistic expectations of my races based on the things I can control. I try not to make goals related to place within my category/ division, or qualifications for certain other events, but I rather try to make my goals based on things like how I intend to fuel, pace, or execute my race strategy in each leg. I knew the Syracuse course was going to be a very challenging bike and run just looking at the course elevation profile, but when I arrived and actually had a chance to see the course first-hand, I felt the elevation profile did not do the course true justice. That is when I needed to start to work on my mind to avoid the panic from setting in – I use a lot of mental strategies, mantras, and positive thinking – I firmly believe what you visualize is what will happen, so I tried to remind myself how this race was really intended to be a training run for the US Ironman Championship Race in NJ/ NY in August. I accepted that no matter what happened it would be a great day of training with all of the climbing involved.

Two days prior to the race, I rode a comfortable ride to see the first part of the bike course with two fellow NJ triathletes: Pam Allen and Ken Cestari – who I was very grateful to have the opportunity to get to know better over the weekend and also to see along the race run course later. We tried to swim in the lake after the ride, but it was not permitted. Then we headed to the Expo where I started talking to another athlete who had done the race the year before. He became one of many who I spoke to over the weekend who were familiar with the course and really warned that the bike and run would be challenging, and to be very conservative particularly on the first half of the bike. Not everyone may agree with me, but I do listen to advice when it comes from people who I feel know what they are talking about and I spoke with this man long enough to realize he did. Sometimes I just need to process the information and see how I can implement it into my own race strategy. In this case, his advice was consistent with my planned race strategy, but it did lead me to decide to scale back even more than I had intended on the first part of the bike… now my plan was to be “really, really, really conservative” with my pace (I know – “really, really, really” isn’t exactly a Garmin –like method nor a mathematically based race strategy – I just wanted to keep it simple this time, and go be feel ).

The day before the race, I did my usual short run and open water swim. Based on the temperature of the water the day before the race, it was iffy if it would be wetsuit legal, but realistically for me – I need more than just a wetsuit to help me improve my swim time so I was not concerned one way or another. Race morning was cool and sunny. The forecast was calling for temps in the low to mid 80’s which was a nice break after racing Eagleman when it was in the mid to upper 90’s. My nutritional plan is still being fully developed, but I drew upon many of the suggestions I learned from attending Brian Shea’s lectures as well as what I have found seems to work for me personally. I had made my four “liquid fuel” bottles the day before the race, and had 2 Gu packets ready in my run pouch for the run. My liquid fuel bottle mixture is really a blend of what is available to me at the race site which contains the vitamins and electrolytes that seem to work for me. As it is not yet formalized, I am going to summarize that it is basically a mix of Gatorade/Gu/Salt tablet/ ½ of an Accelerade packet, and an electrolyte tablet (mmmm, yum) . Each bottle has approximately 375 calories and I try to consume all three of them on the bike, the fourth bottle I sip before the race begins and I may grab the remainder of it atT2 to take with me for the first part of the run depending on how I feel. I still haven’t found a way to make the mixture taste better, it is actually quite repulsive to me – but somehow during the race, my taste buds shut down and I drink it as if it were any other beverage. When I sip it outside of race conditions, such as race morning, though, it makes me gag each time. I should note, I have a stomach of steel.

After laying out my race clothes in a very particular way, in a very logical and organized way, and after going through my transition bag almost 5 times to make “sure” that everything I needed was in the bag, I headed out for dinner with a big group of NJ triathletes and my cousin who lives locally in Syracuse. What a great group of fun people to chat with the night before the race. We made reservations early (5:00 pm) so that we could all be in bed early for the day ahead. I ordered my usual pre-race meal – Pasta with olive oil and garlic and kept the salt shaker within reach to generously apply to my pasta and the garlic bread. Yes, I need serious breath mints after my staple pre-race meal… the same meal I have had since my first marathon in 1997. I tried to go to bed after dinner, but instead, stayed up until about 10 pm which is ok as I have come to recognize I will probably not get much sleep the night before the race regardless.

Race morning, I woke up early (3:30 am), as I do for all long races and had my breakfast. I like to eat at least my last solid meal 3 hours before the start of the race: I made a cup of caffinated coffee from the hotel percolater, ate ½ bagel with a small amount of Peanut Butter, ½ banana, and a packet of Gu Chomps. From that point on until race start, I only had my tasty mixture in the water bottles which I made the day before and tried not to make the “yuck” face each time I sipped.

Swim (1.2 Miles):

The swim was wetsuit legal and the water temperature was in the low 70’s. I knew I was well hydrated going into the race as I made several new friends in the long lines I stood in three times waiting to use porta potty. I went into the water prior to my wave to warm up a bit then positioned myself in the back of my corral, where I knew I belonged based on my current swim fitness. I also didn’t want to get beat up too much in the water – it was just too early in the morning for that kind of battle. We started the swim in thigh deep water which I was not that thrilled with because the lake bottom was quite soft and I felt like I was getting stuck or sucked into the bottom with each step – I just wanted to move in deeper so I didn’t have to touch the slimy lake bottom anymore. It was a relief when the gun went off, but then I quickly became aware that the women in my wave were in some kind of a mood to battle it out. It was the most vicious battle of kicking and punching other swimmers that I have ever experienced, even where I had positioned myself in the back of the wave. I just kept saying my mantras and positive self talk and tried not to take part in this very aggressive pack of “ladies”. My swim overall went basically as I had anticipated, albeit with a little trouble navigating on the return trip (the course was the shape of a parallelogram) and I couldn’t seem to find any large “swim exit” buoys or a flag like they have at other races for sighting at the last turn. I tried just to aim for the beach where you could see people standing, even though it was a relatively wide area.

I exited the swim in a slightly slower time than Eagleman, but it is hard to compare swim courses as I know there is great variability in different bodies of water, and there was no where the degree of puching/ kicking in my wave at Eagleman as there was at Syracuse. To really see a solid improvement in my swim time, I know I need to spend more time in the pool consistently over a long period of time. As I ran out of the water, a wetsuit stripped shouted to me to “lay down!” I was a bit disoriented from battling out the swim, so the wetsuit stripper / volunteer startled me. I followed her instructions. She shouted “lift up your legs”. Ummm, now I have never been to a race with wetsuit strippers before so this kind of instruction threw me off a bit; I didn’t even know how exactly they peeled off the suit. I looked to my left and saw another stripper pulling the suit off a man and realized what she wanted me to do. In under 10 seconds, this volunteer very expeditiously pulled off my Desoto wetsuit which took me almost 5 minutes to put on. The force with which she pulled off my suit, however, also yanked of my timing chip, which was not only tied with velcro, but had also been safety pinned for added security. I didn’t even realize it had fallen off until I got to my bike in T1 and was putting on my bike shoe. I immediately started running back to find it – and fortunately found it in the grass where my wetsuit was stripped, but the time spent looking for the timing chip cost me extra time in T1.

Swim Total: 41:03 (Pace 2:07/100m) Division Rank 29

T1 4:06

Bike (56 miles):

Bike nutrition: 3 bottles of the “tasty blend” I discussed earlier.

I started out on the bike course very conservatively knowing what lay ahead. My plan was to really hold back on the bike and try to have enough left to tackle the run that followed. When I first started triathlons, I used to race the bike leg as if it were a bike race… probably trying to prove something to myself about my ability to go faster on the bike. The first few climbs at Syracuse, I just spun away comfortably while people passed me left and right and I kept my focus on my own race and stuck to my plan. I don’t have trouble with people passing me in the first part of races. I let nearly the entire field of cyclists pass me at Whiteface Climb Challenge the weekend before, and I ended up catching a large number of them in the last 2-3 miles of the climb. “Run your own race at your own pace” is one of my mantras. I did not wear a heart rate monitor during this race as I have not relied heavily on it this training season (although in the past, I have). I relied on my rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and tried to keep the effort at all times at or below a 6-7 out of 10. On some of the very steep climbs, it was tough to keep the effort low, but I still made an effort to not exhaust my legs. After mile 20, I had to practice overcoming my fear of flying down descents. This has been one of my biggest challenges lately on the bike – letting the fear go, which is very tough to do when you work daily as a Physical Therapist with patients who have been in bad bike crashes and have to deal with the aftermath on a regular basis. But I know to excel in any sport, fear needs to be pushed aside and you have to be able to take calculated risks. Flying down the other side of what has become coined at the Syracuse 70.3 as the “Wall” at mile 20 of the bike leg, I relied on mantra after mantra just to remain calm as I flew down the hill at one point (albeit a brief moment) approaching 50 mph. Fortunately, I did not look at my Garmin until after the race was over or my mantras may have just gone out the window and been replaced by an all-out panic attack. I knew my bike leg was going well in the second half when people around me kept falling back and I was catching numerous people – both male and female. I expected this to happen, but I tried not to get excited about it as I was still trying to restrain myself and hold back for the challenging run ahead. This strategy worked as my legs felt ready to tackle the run coming off the bike. I had a smooth transition bike-to-run with the exception that I forgot to take my bike gloves off and carried them the duration of the run… overall a smooth transition.


Bike Total: 2:48 (Pace 19.89 mi/h) Division Rank 10

T2: 2:15



Run (13.1 Miles):

This run course was a beast, but I like challenges so I was looking forward to it. Coming out of transition, it always takes me a couple of miles to get my legs to feel “normal”. I did hold back on my pace at the beginning of the run, knowing what still lay ahead of me. The course was a double loop, so when I reached the first big climb – I tried to keep my mind on the present and push away the thought of “I have to do THIS climb again!”. People were already walking and it was only mile 3 or 4 of the run leg. My body wanted to walk up the hill, but I decided to ignore it and listen to my mind… there are times when I will listen to my body, but this wasn’t one of those times. I knew I was not running fast up the hill, but I knew my legs needed to keep the movement pattern of running even if my pace at that time could probably have been matched with a fast walk. I did not look at my Garmin during the climbs and kept the focus on maintaining an even and moderate to easy effort for the first half of the run. I started to realize I was having a good run when numerous people were walking and I kept running. In the second loop, I started feeling the energy of the finish. My plan was that I would pick up the pace a little bit at the half way mark of the run. It was at this point on the course that you had a sense of about how many athletes were ahead of you because of the double loop course, and I knew there weren’t that many women in my division, but I still tried to keep the focus on executing my race as I had planned, and pushing it beyond my comfort zone at the end. With 3 miles to go, I decided it was time to “put the nail in the coffin” and use whatever I had left in the gas tank. But as with all things, it is never over until it is over – and in the last ½ mile, a volunteer must have thought I was only on my first loop and she misdirected me to begin a THIRD loop of the run course rather than towards the finish line. *This detour probably accounts for why my Garmin paces reflect a very different pace for the last 3 miles than the official results. As frustrating as that was to have happen at the very end of a race when you are nearly completely spent with nothing left to give, my mind immediately flashed to the other challenges I have gone through recently in my life and was reminded that in life there will always be obstacles, people, or situations that may throw you off course, whether intentionally or unintentionally – but the only thing you can do is keep your focus on your own path and never, never, never give up on your own dreams for your personal future. So I kept running – now with my focus clearly on the finish line, running at this point as fast as my legs would go, trying to recover some of the time lost from the unexpected detour.

….I reached the finish line getting the final qualifying spot in my division for the 2012 Las Vegas 70.3 World Championship race. But the biggest achievement I took away from this race was that I executed my race to the best of my ability, and didn’t let anything take my focus away from my intended goal.


Run total: 1:44.27 (Pace 7:58/mi) Division Rank 6

<* Garmin run data: >

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has power and magic in it….Begin it now.”




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