It’s no secret that Ironman 70.3 Steelhead is one of my favorites. In fact, I’ll sign up for 2017 as soon as the event opens for registration. Its “my” race. Its in a familiar place. I have friends in the area. And I love Saint Joseph MI. In fact, I raced this year, even though it was on my 17th wedding anniversary. Oooops. Sorry, honey. Or I should say, thanks, honey.
Steelhead is set in a picturesque, beach town on the shores of Lake Michigan. The venue is Jean Klock Park which has a Benton Harbor address, just one mile north of Saint Joseph, MI. The views are breathtaking and the park is public so you can go visit anytime. Take a swim in Lake MI. Ride the marked bike route. Go for a little run. Fun!!
I arrived at Jean Klock Park for packet pick up on Saturday morning around 11am. It had stormed on me the entire 2.5 hours that I spent driving to the location. The sun was out on the shores of Lake MI but “something” definitely hung in the air. It was hot. The wind was blowing. And the waves were rolling. Looks like a perfect day at the beach but not perfect enough for me to rack my bike. I have been having issues with my bike all season, the gearing & derailleur, no need to leave it out in the weather overnight in less than ideal conditions.
I quickly grabbed my packet, which isn’t as quick at an IM event as you might think. They are very organized but there is a process of checking identity, updating information & walking thru the various stations for bib/swim cap, shirt, & chip that takes a bit more time than a normal packet pick-up. Fortunately, I got thru just in time for one of the pre-race meetings.
Always fun. Nothing had really changed from last year course wise, just a few rule changes. But then they dropped the big bomb that the water temp was almost to the point of being too high for wetsuits. Since it was a very warm day, we should stay tuned for a last minute call on if the race would be wetsuit legal. Honestly, I didn’t think much of it. The swim is in Lake MI and I’m pretty sure it’s never NOT been wetsuit legal. The water stays pretty cool, even in the summer. Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.
Packet picked up. Race meeting attended. Walked thru the expo quickly. Bought some TriSlide ….. cuz that’s the way to make sure you can definitely wear your wetsuit, have extra lube so you can get into it!! Found my spot in transition for reference. Off to check into Hotel de Jude (not a real hotel in St Joseph – I always stay with a friend).
As the rest of the crew started filtering into Hotel de Jude, the air was light. Most of us were on a repeat trip to Steelhead and knew what to expect. We went about our business of cooking dinner, getting bikes ready for race day (cuz nobody from our group actually racked their bike), prepping nutrition & focusing on last minute rehab. I’m thankful for friends who have all the cool toys that I can’t afford and I took full advantage. Normatec Recovery Boots? Yes, please! Ed modeling his boots, I’m using Ryan’s. Thanks, Ryan. If they go missing, it wasn’t me. I swear. Super compression from the toes to the hip. I’m in love.
Car buffer to rub out sore muscles. I can afford that, $30 at Home Depot & I’ll be getting one soon! There are also high tech muscle “massagers” that are more official for a much bigger price tag. But this is essentially the same thing and much more affordable in my world. Weird sensation!
I was all in on the recovery front. As a little background, I had spent the week hitting up the chiro and the massage therapist trying to bring my legs back from the dead. The Chiro has figured out that due to some low back damage from my college years, then a fresh round of irritation this summer, my low back muscles are not firing properly. My glutes aren’t working. As a result my quads are overworked and apparently underpaid cuz they are revolting. They are dead all the time. It is a struggle to even climb the stairs at home. When I get on the bike, all that is magnified and basically I’ve got zero power on the bike, despite better training and better nutrition. So, it is what it is and I have exercises to help correct the issue but it’s a slow process. I was hoping to have a great race at Steelhead so invested some extra time & $$ into recovery. Did it work?!?!?
Race day is always early. The crew was up by 3am. Pre-race prep and we had to put Hotel de Jude back to its original state of perfectness. Off to the race site by 4:15am for a long day. We were rolling our bikes into the venue when we heard the announcement. Water temp was 77+degrees. NOT wetsuit legal, the cap for wetsuits at IM races is 76.1 degrees. The news did not hit the crowd well. In fact, I wasn’t real happy either and I know I can swim the distance without a wetsuit. It’s the waves. The up and down of the waves that slow us “recreational” swimmers. We don’t cut thru the waves but rather ride them up and down. The wetsuits help our buoyancy, confidence & swim split. But not at Steelhead 2016. No wetsuits.
Transition set up quickly. Then we wait. Donna, myself & Wendy waiting for transition to close at 6:45a and the race to begin at 7a.
IM races always start on time. The three of us (above) were in the 40-44 category and our wave started at 7:24 am. The other ladies warmed up with a quick swim, I just stood on the beach socializing, awaiting my wave start. Lots of nervous people on race morning. The normal nerves were intensified by the “no wetsuit” call. I spoke to several people who had never swam without a wetsuit. Some who were so nervous they couldn’t hardly even speak. I felt bad for them and still wonder on how they did. I’m hoping once they got into the water, they just got down to business. The 1.2 mile swim course is very user friendly. 5 yellow buoys out, red turn buoy, 3 more yellow buoys, then 3 orange buoys (once you hit the orange buoys you’re half way), then a red turn buoy, then 5 more orange buoys to the beach. The swim was not easy but I’ve had worse. I’m not a fast swimmer even with the wetsuit so I was happy to see my swim split of 55 minutes once I got out of the water. That’s a decent swim for me, especially without a wetsuit & considering the rolling waves. The waves were rolling so high that spotting was difficult. Normally I don’t have to lift my head real high to see the next buoy but I wasn’t timing my siting correctly and each time I lifted to site, I could only see the wall of the next wave coming at me. Oh well, I just tried to be patient and focus on the next buoy. Just keep swimming, right? Made it out of the water with a smile on my face. Saw Valerie who had VIP access right next to the swim exit & she captured my happy exit from the water. Yay! Thanks!
On to the bike and the real test as to if my attempt at recovery did any good. I knew within the first mile that it was going to be a long bike. I had 56 miles in front of me. And my quads felt horrible, very fatigued, just like every other day for the last 3 months. I’ll be honest, I was scared. I keep getting slower & slower with every race and I just didn’t want to have bad race at Steelhead when I love the race so much. Took me a minute to think but I basically had a realization. I remembered something that someone told me when I first started riding. They said, “when your legs get tired, pull UP on your pedals instead of pushing down”. So I refocused my efforts on pulling up vs pushing down and I had an instant turnaround in power output. I wasn’t able to harness as much power as last year, or the accompanying speed, but I did well with the new pedal stroke. This used different muscles and pulled power from my hamstrings vs my tired quads. Worked for me! 3:04 for the bike, 18.1 mph average. Best I’ve had all year and in case you were wondering, my gears did fail. I only had big gears. The shifter on the left side slid out in my hand within the first few miles. So I didn’t bother trying to use it, for fear of breaking down. I just used the big gears, pounded down the hills as quickly as I could, rode the wave of the up as long as possible, then I stood up from the saddle and rode the remainder of the hill when things got tough. I’m always willing to improvise to avoid catastrophe. Side note – Felt send new shifters for me, so I’m hoping the next couple weeks of training (and REV3 Cedar Point 70.3) will go more smoothly.
I want to toss out a huge thank you to the bike aid station volunteers. They always impress me so much. They are very attentive. We call out what they want, then they basically hold steady so we can grab water/gatorade/banana/gel, etc. Or they run with us for a second to help us connect with what we need. Nerves of steel! Thank you for being brave and so attentive.
Pro Tip: Do NOT pass someone 2 seconds before an aid station on the bike. This goes double if you plan to STOP at said aid station to get something from the very first volunteer, after cutting in front of me someone 2 seconds prior to stopping. The way the aid stations work, there is always spillage from water & gatorade bottles. The ground is wet. I had to lock up my brakes at the very first aid station in an attempt to not hit a person who passed me, then stopped immediately. I didn’t crash. I didn’t hit him. But I’m quite confident the scenario could have easily gone a different way. I’ve been riding for a long time. There are a lot of people out on the course who are less experienced. We got lucky. Our race could have easily been over at mile 15 of the bike course. Thankfully, luck was on our side.
Bike aid stations – 3 – every 15 miles on the one loop, 56 mile bike course. Great layout. Great volunteers. Potties, food, fluids. Smooth roads the majority of the race. Well marked course (that is marked year round).
Run course – 2 loops – a couple decent hills. Aid stations every mile. Varying terrain, we even get to run some of the trails behind the Whirlpool Center! So cool!!! By the time we got to the run, it was really heating up. I definitely struggled but just focused on getting from aid station to aid station. Then I made sure to hydrate, take ice & just stay calm. Good run considering the heat. 2:23 for the 13.1 miles.
Finish was 6:31. That’s 7 minutes slower than last year but to be honest, it felt like a huge win. I haven’t had a decent TRI all year. I’ve been fighting the good fight and focusing on getting thru the races to which I committed, but it’s been rough. Overall, the TRI Gods came thru for me and delivered a better race than I could have hoped for and I’m very grateful.
SWAG – Cuz that’s what everyone wants to know, is great. IM does some of the best swag in the business. They went kinda cheap last year with the backpacks and the same shirt for every event. However, I think we all let them know that we were unhappy in our post race surveys. This year, the swag improved considerably. Different shirts for each race and the backpacks had the name of the event vs just a generic IM 70.3 logo. Yay!
** Happy TRIing ** Amanda – TooTallFritz