Sunday, August 2, 2009

Steelhead 70.3 - (at last, a real) race report

Well, I finished. Which was my number one goal coming into the 2009 Steelhead 70.3 Half-IM, considering that I haven't actually completed a race of any type/distance since 2007. So, mission accomplished. And I PR'ed the distance, to boot. So, double-nice. I only have accurate run splits from my watch, but I'll post others as soon as they're available online.

We got into Benton Harbor on Friday afternoon, picked up our race packets at the Expo (which had more stuff for sale than I've ever seen at any race, ever, even Ironman. Mouse pads, glasses, coasters, everything you could possibly think of. I held my ground and just bought a new race belt). Then we checked into our hotel and napped a bit before dropping our bikes off at T1.

Neither Cath nor myself had ever been the western side of Michigan before, so seeing the lake from the opposite shore was great - rolling dunes, tall grasses, beautiful homes. It was altogether wonderful. The set up process all went smoothly and we then proceeded to try and figure out where to eat. Considering that none of us (in addition to Cath and I, we were traveling with Drew and his buddy/business partner, Ross - the three boys are pictured above, awaiting the swim start) were from there, this was a bit of a challenge. The only non-chain looking place had a 45-minute wait, and it was already almost 7:00 p.m. local time, so we split. And ended up at, of all places, Dairy Queen. Yes, the DQ. Cath was determined to get a Blizzard for dessert so, to save time, we decided to "dine" there as well. Which ended up being fine. A double cheeseburger is a double cheeseburger, and I really just wanted to get some food in as early as possible so that race morning would start out, uh-hum, smoothly, if you catch my drift, so we ate and headed back to the hotel to begin a (typically) sleepless night before game day.

We got up at 4:00 a.m., checked out, and headed over to the shuttle area, which would take us to T1 (there was no parking allowed on-site). Got there in plenty of time to get situated, and, after making the long walk to the swim start (you essentially walk the length of the swim so as to exit at T1). The morning was lovely - a soft breeze, clear skies, comfortable temps. We waited/peed in the shallow water before seeing Cath's wave leave just past 7:30. Up next, Drew, Ross and I were up at 8:00 a.m. sharp. The race begins with a beach start, and follows the current. The water was a bit roll-ey, but super warm, and the current made for a fast swim. The staggered waves also made for a wonderfully congestion-free first leg (sadly, I know from experience that IM WI will not be the same. Sigh.). Exited the water and then made the long, painful run through the soft sand and into the transition area.

Transition was fine, no real problems, but I should have peed again before hitting the bike course. I ended up carrying a full bladder for the entire bike leg. Oops.

Big props to the race organizers - this is the first race in recent memory that did NOT include some ginormous hill immediately out of T1. So, thanks for that. And, actually, although it is relatively rolling course, the bike leg was probably the smoothest and most pleasant biking experiences that I've ever had in triathlon. Seriously, most of the roads were smooth like butta. The only bad part was the winds, which picked up dramatically as the day moved along, making the last 20 miles a true test of will. I thought I was putting together a pretty great (for me) bike split up to that point, but those last 20 miles put an end to all that. Even so, except for my sore nether regions (standard tri shorts and a bike saddle just don't mix), I felt good going into T2, and, after polishing off a big cup of water, I hit the run course.

Here, the organizers were less generous, as they throw a pretty substantial hill at you before you've even hit the first mile marker. But, again, I was feeling pretty good, hitting the first mile mark in 7:43. The course then makes it's way through a little neighborhood before entering the Whirlpool corporate campus. The campus includes a nice shaded path through a wooded section, but always seems to be creeping ever so slightly up in elevation (which, strangely enough, you never seem to ever get back..hmmm...). Anyway, I continued feeling good through the first three miles, going 7:52, and 7:38, respectively, and then went through a bit of a rough patch (8:21) before taking in half of a banana and some Gatorade. I would continue to take either water or Gatorade at every aid station, which seemed to keep me pretty well hydrated/fueled.

The sun was now completely covered by clouds and the cooler weather was incredibly refreshing. Just outside of the Whirlpool campus, they turn you immediately up another steep hill and then wrap you around for a repeat of miles two through seven (splits: 8:10, 8:14, 8:01, 8:24, and 8:30). Although the running had been going well for me, I got to mile 10 and was looking to be done. Made it to the top of the final hill and started for home, wondering if I could keep this pace to the finish line. Hit the mile ten mark in 7:50, then went 8:29 for mile 11, and got to mile 12 in 7:50 (down that first killer hill).

There's always that fantastic feeling in any race when you can just start to hear the race announcer calling out people's names and you know your day is almost over and you can finally.stop.moving. The finish shoot is pretty long at Steelhead - they have you run the entire perimeter of the very long transition area - but I felt good and took it hard all the way to the line (8:10, including the last .1). Yikes, that last push really hurt something fierce, but there's nothing like emptying the tank going across the line. I actually had to take a knee a few steps across the finish to get my wind back, and then I just wanted to take a nap. In an ice bath. For a long time.

Total time (by my watch): 5:17:27. Thankfully, everyone in our little group finished, including Ross, who had never done a triathlon of any distance before! Quite an accomplishment.

I ended up PR-ing the distance by over 10 minutes, and, more importantly, felt really good for most of the race. Even though the IM course is much different than this one, I'm hoping that this as a good barometer of where I am, fitness-wise, and I actually think my nutrition plan worked out pretty well. I was never low on energy and I had no stomach issues all day.

My legs are really sore today, and we're taking the day off, but I hope to spin my legs on the Keiser bike tomorrow for a bit and swim on Tuesday. Just a few short weeks until the Big Dance!

Have a great week, and thanks for reading.


  1. You were so awesome out there!

  2. Congrats, that is a great time! I am dying to do that race, it's my hometown area. I spent every day of every summer on that beach so it would be amazing to go home and race there. You're looking quite ready for IMWI!

  3. Who is that hottie in the middle of the pic??

  4. Congrats on a great race John! And nice work on the PR!