Aug 03

Race Report: Steelhead Half Ironman

We are finally back home and unpacked from a long weekend.  Now I have a chance to think back and do a full race report for Steelhead.  Sit back and enjoy!

Pre Race Day

On Friday, I headed down to Benton Harbor for the race expo and packet pick up because there was no race morning pickup.  As I entered the expo, they had a sign with the swim wave starts.  I was disappointed to see that I was in wave 18; the very last wave.  It meant that I wouldn’t be starting until nearly 2 hours after everyone else.  Jennie and I had plans on the other side of the state for the afternoon and this would push those back even further.

There I am – dead last.

After checking the swim waves, I picked up my packet and then checked out some of the booths.  I ended up buying some Ironman 70.3 garb from one of the booths.  I got a bike jersey, a 70.3 pint glass for my collection, a water bottle, and some stickers.  The line was forever long; close to 30 minutes just to checkout.

IMG_0075The race director giving a turn by turn
description of the bike course.

Next stop was a race talk where they went over the course and all the rules.  Nothing I really haven’t heard before, but I would rather not be surprised come race day.  I decided that after the talk, I would drive to the start and scope out parking and what it would actually be like on race morning.  It was a beautiful day and I could only hope for more of the same come race day.  After that, I finally headed home to get some dinner and head to bed early.

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The transition areas seemed very well organized.  More importantly, the water looked very calm with hardly any chop.

This is where my bike would be on race day.

Race Morning

Our morning started at 3:30 when the alarm went off – way too early for my liking.  However, we had decided that it wasn’t worth finding a place to stay Friday night in Benton Harbor when it was only an hour and a half away.  I had packed almost everything the night before, so it was just a matter of eating breakfast (left over mac ‘n cheese) and getting dressed.  We were out the door by the 4:30 planned time, however, we had to turn around 10 minutes out because I left my water bottles in the fridge.  Normally, I put a sticky note on the back door to remind me, but for some reason I didn’t do that this race.  Despite having to turn back, we still made it to Benton Harbor shortly after 6:00 am.  We got a pretty good parking spot; better than some of the people that got there earlier than us.  Because we were about a mile away from the transition area, I hopped on my bike and rode there.

Racked and ready to go

Setting up the transition area went very well.  On my way into the transition, I spotted D, who I met a few days ago at the pool.  I also met a couple of the other people who were racked nearby me.  The racks were organized by age group/swim wave, so we were all able to lament about the late start.  One of the guys next to me was in the middle of a move from Philadelphia to San Diego, and this was one of his stops along the way.  And I thought a cross country move would be hard enough on its own.  After making sure everything was ready to go, I headed out of the transition area before they closed.

Pre Swim

Because we had about two hours to kill before my swim wave actually started, Jennie and I headed back to the car where I grabbed a PB&J, a banana, and some Gatorade.  Then we headed over to the swim start to wait.  I caught a few Z’s before I had to line up.

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Headed to beach to catch some Z’s before the swim start.

My beautiful and wonderful support crew and photographer.


The swim went AWESOME.  I still can’t get over how well I did and how good I felt doing it.  After my bad experience with Lake Michigan at the Grand Haven Tri, I was much better prepared for what to expect.  At the start, I hung back just a bit and took my time heading out to the first buoy.  The course was similar to the Grand Haven Tri where we swam out to a buoy, turned, and then swam parallel to the shore for a mile before turning back in.  Once I turned, I settled in and started plugging away at it.  It was less choppy than Grand Haven, so I was able to do a bit of breathing on both sides, but it was easier to just breathe on the shore side.  My only complaint about the swim course is that the buoys seemed awfully far apart and as you passed one buoy, it was difficult to see where the next one was in the distance.  As I swam, I settled into a 10 or so strokes and then sight the next buoy.  I managed to stay pretty tight to the buoy line for the most part and only had to swim back out once to make it around the buoy.  The yellow turn buoy appeared much sooner than I expected.

As I headed up to the shore, D was cheering on the swimmers and I gave him a high 5.  Shore to shore, my time was around 38 minutes; officially it was 39:25 including the run to the transition area.  Either way, that is about a 1:50 / 100 yards average; way better than my 2:10 / 100 yards at Grand Haven.


The first transition went very smoothly.  One of the things I like about not having an “official” triathlon wetsuit is that it is easy to get off.  I think it is a bit looser than some of the tri-specific wet suits, so I never have to struggle with it.  I took some extra time in the transition to wipe the sand off my feet before slipping on my shoes.  I figured the extra time was worth the comfort of avoiding chaffing on the bike.

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Headed out on the bike.  See how sunny it still is??
That’ll change soon.


As I headed out on the bike, I was all alone.  I didn’t see any other bikes for nearly a mile.  Very weird after just doing a tri where it was shoulder to shoulder for the first few miles.  I weaved around some side streets before heading out on the open road.  I finally started to catch up to some more cyclists and got passed by some as well – at least I knew I was in the right place.  About 7 miles into the bike, there was a cyclist off to the side with a frustrated look on his face.  I stopped to see if he had everything he needed to get going again on his bike.  It was already his 3rd flat of the day ,and he had gone through his 2 spares.  I gave him my one and only spare knowing that bike karma is priceless.  It paid off, I didn’t need it in the end.

The first half of the bike was awesome.  I was feeling great and pushing a 19 mph hour pace over the first half of the course.  I was passing more people than passed me, which is always a good feeling.  There were a few hills that I felt like I flew up.

At about the 35 mile mark, the bike ride turned miserable.  The wind was about 15 mph or so out of the SSW ,and we were headed west.  At about 40 miles, we turned south and it got even worse.  For the final 15 or so miles, we were headed directly into the wind.  I felt like I was pushing even harder than the first half of the course, but was only averaging around 15 mph.  By this point, the pain was starting to settle in and my arms and back started to ache.  Pushing hard into the wind didn’t help the cause.  By the time I got back to the transition area, my pace had dropped to 17.8 mph with the second half of the course taking almost 25 minutes longer than the first half.

Had I known how the aid stations on the bike worked, I would have planned a bit different for my bike hydration.   I had loaded up my bike with 3 water bottles and no open holders.  The aid stations were handing out full sport bottles of Gatorade and water.  Had I known that, I would have left one holder open so that I could swap out a fresh bottle at each aid station.  With the way it was, I had to hold on to the bottle while I drank it, which wasn’t very convenient.  Overall though, I had plenty of fluid throughout the course and never felt like I was going to run out.  There was one aid station where the volunteer forgot to take off the seal from the Gatorade bottle, so I had to stop to remove it.  Might have lost a few seconds, but it was worth it because I was able to refill one of my own water bottles rather than just taking a few sips and tossing it aside.


After I got off the bike, my legs were beat.  I walked though the transition rather than jogged to give them a break.  It would have been difficult to run anyways because there was so much gear strewn about.  Nearly everyone else had already been through the transition area, so there were wetsuits, bike, shoes, etc. all over the path – another of the downsides to being the last wave.

Headed out on the run.  Still feeling pretty good.


Never have I had such a crappy run.  Running is usually my strong leg, but not this time.  I didn’t think the run would be all that bad.  Just a half marathon, I told myself.  I’ve done full marathons before and half of that is easy.  What I forgot to take into account is that it isn’t just a half marathon, it is the second half of a marathon.  I headed out with a slow and steady jog.  My back was killing me and every step seemed to irritate it even more.  At the first mile, I turned and started up a gigantic hill.  No way I thought, so I walked up it rather than waste my energy a mile into the run.  I continued to run between aid stations while walking the aid stations and the hills.  There were 3 total hills I walked (the first one and the same one twice – once on each loop).  About half way through the run, it started to rain.  Up until this point, it had been fairly good weather.  It started off sunny and warm at the start, but gradually cooled down and clouded up, which was actually nice because it kept me from overheating on the bike.  I could have done without the rain though.  It was just sort of demoralizing.  Kind of like, “Hey, you’ve been at this for 5 hours now, how about a little rain to make it even harder.”

I never really felt like I found a groove on the run.  My legs felt fine, I really didn’t have the brick feeling I normally get with running after a bike ride.  It was just my back that was so sore.  After doing two 5 mile loops, I headed back to the finish line.  It was finally starting to sink in at mile 11 that I was almost done.

Amidst the rain and wind, I pushed as hard as I could for the last mile and down the straight away towards the finish.  Finished.  Finally.

Completely beat at the finish.

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Finally enough energy to smile.  And yes, the medal is real.


Overall I ended up 6:08:28.  I am very happy with the time, however, I would always like to do better.  On the bike, I was thinking that I could get under six hours, but that mindset changed when I turned back into the wind.  It’s too bad my run was so slow or I could have picked up the time there.  Oh well.  My goal was 6:15 and I beat that, so no more complaining.

Post Race

After finishing, Jennie and I headed to the pavilion to figure out what to do next.  It was a steady rain by this point, so everyone was trying to crowd in.  I was not at all hungry at this point, which was strange because all I had was liquids on the course.  We decided to just pack it up and head out rather than stick around in the cold rain.  I loaded up my gear and then biked ahead back to the car so that I could pick up Jennie halfway as she walked in the rain.  Though thoroughly soaked, we still headed across the state for Jennie’s grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration.  I was actually in pretty good shape other than my back.  My legs were a little crampy, but they never got to the point where they completely tightened up on me.  On the way, I finally got my appetite back and we settled on some greasy McDonalds, which really hit the spot.  I also chugged a bottle of chocolate milk (the best recovery drink ever) I had brought with me.

It is finally over, I am a half Ironman.  I can now put the 70.3 sticker in the back window of my car.  I couldn’t be happier.  Time to relax.  At least until next weekend

More pictures in the Gallery.

Official Results

Total Time: 6:08:28
Overall Place: 1004/1660
Gender Place: 795/1181
Age Group Place: 102/144
Swim Rank: 985
Swim Time: 39:25 (1:50/100 yds)
T1 Time: 3:12
Bike Rank: 1117
Bike Time: 3:08:37
Bike Pace: 17.8 mph
T2 Time: 3:20
Run Rank: 944
Run Time: 2:13:56
Run Pace: 10:13 min/mile

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ironmanbythirty.com/2009/08/03/race-report-steelhead-half-ironman


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  1. Krista

    Great race report and congrats on your first HIM! I hear you on being in the last wave – it stinks. I hate being in the last wave = too much waiting and then I feel behind for the entire race! Enjoy your recovery week.

  2. carol

    Great race, way to hang tough on the wind. Wind is harder than climbing, imo! Great race photos too. Looks like a lovely race venue – except for the weather 🙁

  3. Samantha

    This is a great race report – thank you for sharing it!!

  4. Bernadette

    Thanks for the report. I’m doing my first half ironman at Steelhead in July 2010. Love reading about others’ experiences.

  5. Bruce Babcock


    Pretty cool. You’ll enjoy IM party.


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