This year was my 3rd consecutive showing at the Ironman 70.3 Steelhead event in Benton Harbor, MI. The race was Sunday, August 13th. It was my “A” race although I certainly did NOT show up recovered & rested enough to perform at “A” level. It was my own fault. Not enough time between IM 70.3 OH and Steelhead. I “possibly” should have picked one race, or the other, rather than doing both. Regardless, Aby & I and a few others headed to Steelhead to have some “fun” in the sun.
We hit the expo on Saturday around noon to listen to the Athlete Briefing, pick up packets & do a quick warm up swim. I personally wasn’t planning to swim. I had pulled something in my shoulder earlier in the week (while sleeping, of all things). I didn’t want any additional strain on it until I had to hit the water for real. However, once we arrived at Jean Klock Park and finally caught a glimpse of Lake Michigan, we noticed that the water was rough. Really rough, white capping with big rolling waves that were 5+ feet, plus there was a small craft advisory. My crew opted out of the warm up swim for fear that it would create additional anxiety. Normally the water calms down over night, that’s what we were hoping for because we came for a 70.3 triathlon, not an abbreviated event. Crossing our fingers!
Race day arrived bright & early. Race site was buzzing with energy. Air was cool. Water was calm with gentle rolling waves.
This year, Steelhead had changed the swim start. They moved to a self seeded rolling start that would allow us to start with those of our own ability level vs the normal age group start. I was happy with this decision. I thought it should result in a smooth swim without us swimming up on slower swimmers who had started before us and it would prevent faster swimmers from doing the same to us. Good deal, right? Overall, I think it went well but the water was still rocking and rolling and some underestimated how long it might take them to do the swim. So I was still swimming up on quite a few but it was less chaotic than normal. I took 3 swim lessons before this event. I’ve swam in triathlon for 10 years now, without lessons, without a coach & without any real guidance. I’ve met my goals in that time span and am happy with what I’ve accomplished; however, I have not improved in the swim over that period of time, in fact, I’ve gotten slower. So …… swim lessons!
After the 3 swim lessons, I felt lost. I knew everything I was doing was wrong. Its impossible to correct everything at once, and I’ve basically been swimming in SLOW MOTION in order to focus on a few things. As a result, I didn’t know how the swim would go for me. I am happy to report that I felt in control. I really focused on keeping my head down & that allowed me to cut thru the waves vs ride the up & down roller coaster that Lake Michigan provided. I was pushing thru my stroke. I still don’t have the catch right but I did push thru my stroke & I think it was working (at least better than normal) because when I would get beside someone, I’d be past them quickly with one or two pushes thru my stroke. So it went well. I swam until I could dig sand, then stood up. I looked at my watch even though I wasn’t out of the water. 44:00 flat. Then it took me almost a minute to fight the waves and wade out of the last little bit of water. But I was still faster, in Lake MI, with the waves, than my last two 70.3s this year, which were both slightly over 45 minutes. Happy dance!!
It should have just kept getting better once I got out of the water but I hit transition and immediately recognized that it was busy. Really busy. I normally get out of the water with my age group. We are all in the same area of transition. You know how you did in the water based on how many bikes are on the rack vs gone. This time, since we did the self seeded start, transition was total chaos. People were everywhere, sitting, standing, in various states of dress or undress. I was dodging people & wetsuits just getting to my transition spot. Now, transition in Steelhead is along the beach. Long and narrow. So be prepared to run & definitely know your spot. Bikes as far as the eyes can see. Further actually.
This year, I felt like we had more space on the racks between bikes. But the rows seemed tighter. Or maybe it was just because there were more people in transition when I got there? It was tight. Regardless, got out of my wetsuit, got my bike & was running out of transition dodging people. One person even told me to slow down. What? Finally got out of transition and the bike mount line was on one half of a round-a-bout. Not a big one. It was about the width of half a road. One lane of traffic. And EVERYONE in front of me had stopped on that mount line to get on their bikes. What? I was trapped. And the people directly in front of me could not get clipped into their bikes. Total chaos. After waiting, and waiting, and waiting, I became impatient, picked up my bike, ran thru the round-a-bout, dodged spectators & put my bike down on the edge of the road away from the mount line. I titled my bike to get on & a spectator yelled to me, “hey, you dropped your chain!” What? Me? Is he talking to me? I didn’t drop my damn chain. I haven’t even been on my bike yet. This bike doesn’t drop its chain. What? I look down (opposite side of the bike) & my chain was hanging. What? A bazillion things went thru my mind. I moved to the other side of my bike. Moved myself & my bike further out of the way so as not to interfere with those who actually were able to clip in and start riding. And I was just standing there, staring at the chain. Probably with a stupid look on my face because a spectator came up to me & said, “let me help you with that”. Huh? And I stupidly stared at him while he put my chain back on the bike. Like I didn’t know how to put a chain back on my bike? Right. I’ve done it a thousand times. But apparently I had the “damsel in distress” or worse look on my face. He got me fixed up & I was on my way. Still wondering what had happened. But I’m on my bike, riding gently to get the gears settled back into the right spot. Immediately I hear/feel a catch somewhere on the bike. Something was catching/rubbing. Either every wheel turn or pedal stroke, I couldn’t quite figure it out. I looked down to make sure my brakes weren’t rubbing. Not that. No idea what was going on but decided to ride the bike til it broke or I couldn’t ride it any further. It was a long ass 56 miles. The bike was not smooth. I could feel the rub/catch continuously thru the ride. Then the course was pretty rough. I had been up & rode the course on Memorial Day and was surprised as to how much the roads could deteriorate over 10 weeks time. We did have a reroute due to road construction but that road wasn’t any smoother. The entire ride, short of the out & back on 63, was just rough. Add that with the catch in my bike & it made for a slow, not so fun ride. Plus my legs were definitely fatigued from OH. I usually pass A LOT of people in the last 20 miles. Not this time.
Finally back to transition. Onto the run. Let’s just finish this! But by this time it had heated up and we just ran. At whatever pace we could manage. I ran between aid stations except for a couple decent hills that I walked. But otherwise, I ran. Slowly. And just kept moving. I’d walk thru the water stations to get the water/ice that I needed. Then moved on. I like the Steelhead run course. Starts through a beach community. Past a golf course. Up a hill, to the main loop that we run twice. Past the fire station, down some nice community roads where there is always a family handing out beer shots. Always makes me giggle. Do people actually drink the beer shots? Aid stations every mile or so. Port-o-potties, first aid, pretzels, chips, cookies, candy, oranges, bananas, gels, coke, red bull, water, ice. Whirlpool campus. Some shade, paved & grassy/dirt trails. Big hill. Back to 63 for a short jaunt, then back to turn by the fire station to start loop 2. After the repeat of the loop, then we head down the hill & back toward the finish. That’s when the smile emerges & I know I’m about done. That I have once again conquered the 70.3 distance.
I think I’ve done 13 or 14 at this distance now. Its still not easy. There is so much that goes into Triathlon between the 3 disciplines. The longer the race, the more variables to add. The bike, which is the longest distance, has additional issues. Flats, mechanicals, other racers dropping things in front of you or veering into you. Triathlon is not for the faint of heart but I do believe that anyone can do it. If they have the desire. If you have been thinking about it, I seriously encourage you to give it a TRI. You can always email me with questions at email@example.com. I will respond. I’m happy to help with questions regarding gear/races/training. But I’m not a coach.
SWAG & finishers medal below.
My beautiful bike, which was indeed “broken” during Steelhead. A bolt in my stem had snapped. I’m lucky I didn’t crash. Although it has since been fixed, the front wheel now has too much “play” from side to side. Paint has also been chipped off the front fork/head tube area where someone must have slammed into my bike while trying to get thru transition. That’s probably how my chain dropped too. I just didn’t notice because I run my bike on the opposite side of the cassette & chain ring.
Cheers to the 2017 TRI season. Its in the DONE column. I had considered trying to get in one more 70.3 to try to maximize my training and make another go at my “A goal” but there just isn’t time. I’m riding the Dam to Dam Century Ride on September 10th. I just got my bike back this week but I definitely need a couple longer rides ASAP. And its marathon season once again. Marathon season where its you, your body & the elements. Less drama. Less chance of unknown mishaps. Never predictable but so much easier in so many ways. So I’ll be seeing you on the road. Soon.
If you want more info on IM 70.3 Steelhead, see my report from 2015 & 2016. I hope you are having a great season. Let me know which fall marathons you’ll be running & maybe I’ll see you.
** Happy Running & TRIing ** Amanda – TooTallFritz **