Aug 01

Race Report: Ironman Steelhead 70.3

Sit back and enjoy.  It’s a long one.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Pre Race

The main task on Friday’s agenda was packet pickup.  There was no race day packet pickup (probably because of the size of the event), so I had to do my packet pickup a day early.  Unfortunately, this meant driving to and from Benton Harbor – about an hour and forty five minute drive.  The expo opened at noon and I got there at about 12:30 hoping to beat the rush.  Even getting there early, the line was wrapped around the room and down the hall.  It was about a 30 minute wait before I even got to the first registration table.  I say “first registration table” because there were 7, yes 7, steps to completing your packet pickup.  I don’t remember it being so complicated last year.

Step 1: Show USAT card (or pay for a 1 day pass) and get your bib number.

Step 2: Retrieve paper work based on number. There was even a wavier (you may die doing this event and we aren’t responsible sort of thing) and a sheet for medical notes (allergies/medications/emergency contact).

Step 3: Move to another table to read and sign the documentation (with one of the 5 pens available).

Step 4: Turn in paperwork at another table and get directed to a line to get your packet.

Step 5: Pick up packet (numbers, chip, swim cap – the essentials).  This step confused the most people because there were two tables based on numbers (below or above 1200) and it wasn’t clear where you were supposed to be.  At this step, the volunteer also wrote your number on the swim cap.  They didn’t do this last year and my volunteer wrote my number backwards the first time.  Even so, with my dark green cap, you could barely read the number.

Step 6: Pick up goody bag.  This year, we got a very nice K-Swiss drawstring backpack along with the usual food samples.

Step 7: Take your chip to the timing station to make sure it is the right one.  You basically just scan your chip and make sure your name pops up on the laptop.

Does anyone else find it ironic that packet pickup required more disciplines than the actual event (swim, bike, run)?  Even if you throw in T1 and T2, the race was more streamlined than packet pickup.

After packet pickup, I hit the obligatory Ironman store.  I got a new Steelhead 70.3 bike jersey, a Steelhead running hat, a Steelhead pint glass to add to my collection, and a sticker.  I was surprised at how much straight “Ironman” stuff they had available at a 70.3 event.  With the amount of respect and awe I have for the full Ironman event, I can’t imagine sporting anything that says Ironman unless it is accompanied by a 70.3 at this point.  It may be a brand, but it is so much more than that (at least to me). 

It wasn’t until after the expo that I actually realized I didn’t get a shirt – I didn’t miss a step, there actually wasn’t any available.  I was disappointed at first, but then we got a finisher’s shirt at the end of the race instead.  I actually like this option better because the shirt actually says “Finisher” on it.

After the expo, I headed home.  I got home around 3:00 and went out for a last minute bike ride to keep the legs loose.  I did an easy 30 minute ride in an easy gear.

After that, I did something drastic.  I’m still not sure why I did it.  It was more a mental thing than anything.  Perhaps it was seeing all the elite and top age groupers at the expo.  Maybe I was inspired by Steve In a Speedo.  Regardless of what it was, I went for the full body shave (legs, arms, chest).  Unlike Steve, I did not capture the moment on video.  You can thank me later.  I can, however, say that the look on Jennie’s face when she came home from work and saw me finishing up my legs in shower was quite priceless. 

After the shaving was complete, it was time for dinner.  Jennie made breaded chicken bites (basically healthy, homemade chicken nuggets), pierogis, and corn.  I think this is my new favorite pre-race dinner.  Easy to digest, tasty, and full of protein and nutrients.

Race Day

Race day started out very early.  3:45 AM to be exact.  I figured that we would have to leave around 4:30AM in order to get to Benton Harbor with enough time to setup my transition area.  We were about 10 miles away from the race site when it started to rain.  Parking was about a mile away from the transition area, but they had a shuttle for spectators.  So, Jennie hopped on the shuttle while I biked to the transition area.  I was able to fit all my gear in (or tied to) my backpack, which made it easy to get everything there.  I had my gear setup in no time – it gets easier every time.  I covered my shoes with a towel and my backpack hoping to keep them as dry as possible. 

After the transition area was set, Jennie and I hopped back on the shuttle to the car.  The transition area closed at 6:45AM and I was in the 18th and last swim wave of the day, so I didn’t actually start until 8:49AM.  I tried to take a little nap in the car, but I kept worrying.  First, I was worried that they would change the race to a duathlon.  There wasn’t any lightning or thunder, but you never know how they will decide things.  Second, the swim has two different starting points depending on the flow of the current (you swim with the current) and I forgot to check which way that would be.  Thankfully, another athlete was getting into his car and he knew for sure that they were starting at the same location as last year.

After resting for almost an hour, Jennie and I finally headed over to the swim start.  As we got to the beach, the rain was letting up and the sun was peeking through the clouds.

The Swim

When we got to the swim start, they were only on wave 13 and I was wave 18, so I still had some time to wait.  I headed out to the water and practiced my starts, made sure my goggles weren’t leaking and adjusted to the water.  The water was the perfect temperature for a swim – probably around 74*F.

Finally, it was time for my start.  As if on cue, Love and Memories by O.A.R. started playing over the speakers as we entered the holding area.  This song would be in my head for most of the bike ride.  However, as much as I love O.A.R., I’m not sure a song with the line “Drowning deep inside your water” is appropriate for a swim start.  That was followed by Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones (make sure to follow the link if you have forgotten what a classic 80’s music video looks like) as the horn went off.

IMG_6871 IMG_6891

I started off near the front of the wave.  After watching the previous waves, I noticed that everyone at the halfway point or further back was restrained to walking to almost the first buoy before they started to swim.  I wanted to be more aggressive than that, so I took off with a charge doing dolphin diving starts.  At the second buoy (the first turn buoy), I took a light kick to the face.  It wasn’t enough to knock my goggles off, but it did let a tiny bit of water in.  Not enough to stop and fix, but enough to be annoying.

How cool is the rainbow framing the swim start??

After that first incident at the turn buoy, the swim was relatively contact free.  I did have one swimmer who actually swam perpendicular to me cutting me off.  I was worried I was headed off in the wrong direction, but when I checked my line, I was right on target.  Apparently the other swimmer was just taking off to the Wisconsin side of the lake.

The course was orange buoys, then red buoys, then green buoys, then one last orange buoy for the final turn.  I passed 3 orange buoys and then 3 red buoys.  So using my deductive reasoning, I figured there would be 3 green buoys.  After the 2nd green buoy, I really picked up the pace only to see a 4th green buoy in the distance.  Then a 5th and a 6th.  Well, so much for making sense.

About halfway through the swim, the neckline of my wetsuit started rubbing despite applying body glide to my neck.  I tried to adjust the neck during the swim, but gave up fixing it.  Today, I have a good sized chafing mark on the back of my neck that is a little tender.  Oh well, that is the price to pay for a fast swim I guess.

Thankfully, I had a group of swimmers that I was able to draft off of for the second half of the course.  I’m not very good at drafting and really never drafted off of one person consistently, but there was about 5 or 6 swimmers in front of me that I would bounce back and forth between. 

Finally, I hit the final orange buoy and turned into shore.  As I hit the shore, I looked at my watch and was shocked to see 32:XX minutes.  Holy cow!  The swim included a run across the beach to the first timing mat which added about a minute to my timing, giving me an official time of 33:47 (1:35/100yds).

Trying to run through the sand with my mom, Nancy, and brother in the background cheering me on.

Running through the sand was very tough after the swim.  It was like my legs didn’t want to move.  Here I am demonstrating the proper hunched over method of stumbling to the transition area.  As you can see, the swimmer behind me was copying my strategy.

Rank: 514/1786 Overall, 57/167 AG


Both of my transition times were much longer than previous races.  This is mainly because of the size of the transition area.  It was nearly .1 miles long with racks stretching end to end.


When I got to the transition area, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my backpack and towel had kept my gear completely dry.  Yay!  I was able to slip out of my wetsuit without actually sitting down to save time.  However, I did take time to put on socks for the bike ride.  I probably would have skipped them if they were wet, but I was going to need them on the run anyways.

Total time: 3:28.

Rank: 60/167 AG

The Bike

I was sort of worried about the bike.  Not because I didn’t feel ready, but because while I was loading my bike on Friday, I noticed that the crack on my saddle was more than superficial. I had just assumed that the material covering the saddle was torn (it has been torn for at least a year).  However, upon closer inspection, there was a solid crack on the bottom of the saddle extending from both sides.  Yikes!  I had a moment of panic that it would break halfway through the ride.  Thankfully it held out.  I guess now is the time to start looking for a new saddle.  Recommendations??

photo 3
Doesn’t look that bad does it?  Well, if you could only see the bottom of it. 
Couldn’t get a good photo of it though, unfortunately.

On to the actual bike.  I still can’t get over how well it went.  I was able to stay aero for about 95% of the ride.  All but the aid stations, turns, and two of the hill climbs.  That is a huge improvement for me.

The first couple miles is a false flat, which is sort of defeating until you realize that you are going uphill.  After the first couple of miles, I really settled into a good pace.  I was seeing 21 mph, 22 mph, and even 24 mph when I would check my bike computer.  However, at that time, I really couldn’t tell which way (if at all) the wind was blowing.  Last year, the wind was out of the south, resulting in a head wind for the final 17 miles.


As the course moved on, I continued to pass people while maintaining a steady pace.  I passed the first aid station without taking anything.  I still had half of my aero bottle (with fruit punch Gatorade) plus a water bottle each of water and Gatorade.  However, at the second aid station, my aero bottle was empty so I decided to refill it.  Now, let me tell you.  My aid station technique was flawless.  I don’t mean to brag (oh wait, of course I do), but people will be telling their grandchildren about it someday.  Keep in mind that I have absolutely no practice taking a water bottle on the bike let alone filling an aero bottle on the go.  So, I winged it.  As I approached, I shouted, “Gatorade and Goo”.  A volunteer ran alongside me to hand me the lemon-lime Gatorade while I snatched a Goo (actually a Powerbar gel that was remarkably good – raspberry cream, I think) from the next volunteer.  I quickly popped the top off the Gatorade, filled my aero drink on the go (easier said than done), shot the gel, and still got my trash tossed by the end of the end of the aid station.  All without dropping below 15 mph.  As I pulled away from the aid station, I was shocked that it had worked so well and that I didn’t end up in a bloody heap halfway through.  On a semi-related note:  A small amount of fruit punch Gatorade mixed with lemon-lime Gatorade (probably a 1:10 ratio) is the new taste sensation.

On a funny note, as I entered the aid station, there was a sign that said “Shout what you want” and then a list of what they had.  The list contained “Gatorade, Water, Gel, Bananas, Worms, Minnows”.  Wait, what?!?? Worms? Minnows?  Then I saw the Mylar fish balloon.  Get it yet?  Steelhead are also known as rainbow trout, the trout being Michigan’s state fish.  I had a good chuckle after I realized their sense of humor.

Shortly after I went through the aid station, I hit the halfway point.  I was still feeling great at this point, but kept telling myself I should ease up a bit and save my legs.  But every time I started to ease up, I would see a rider in front of me and think.  Ok, I’ll pass them and then ease up.  That went on for the next 28 miles. 

At about mile 30, there was a rider stranded on the side of the road (lots of flats, just like last year).  I asked he needed a tube.  He did, so I tossed him my spare and wished him good luck as I went by.  I gave up my only spare last year, too.  Risky, I know, but good bike karma is priceless.

By mile 35, I had figured out that the wind was again out of the south and I would have a head wind for the final stretch.  Undeterred, I pushed on.  The wind wasn’t as bad as last year.  Plus, with the last 17 miles being a net downhill, the two pretty much countered each other. 


The last mile or so is on a narrow bike path with no passing allowed passing discouraged, which gave me a chance spin my legs easily for a bit.  I did pass a couple of people who were trying to slip out of their shoes before the dismount.  That is one thing I don’t think I’ll ever try.  Not only am I afraid of doing a face plant, but I fail to see the time savings.  Every time I see someone slipping out of their shoes, their speed drops considerably.  I’d rather keep my speed up until the very end and not worry about falling.

Total time: 2:42:03 (20.7mph) (1:21:XX/1:20:XX negative splits!)

Rank: 592/1786 Overall, 61/167 AG


The second transition was quicker than the first one as usual (less to do).  However, someone on my rack had laid out both their towel and wetsuit (assuming it was the same person) on the bike rack to dry taking up about half the rack.  Not a huge deal, but pretty inconsiderate for the riders coming in.

Total time: 2:58

Rank 53/167 AG

The Run

As the run was starting, it was really starting to warm up.  The rain was long gone and we were left with a blue sky and the sun beating down.  I sort of wished for some more clouds and even a bit of rain at that point.

Where did the clouds and rain go?  I’m sorry I was cursing you this morning.  Please come back!

As I left on the run, the guy to my right pointed to the “Mount Here” sign that was leftover from the bike start and said, “Mount here? I don’t have anything to mount.”  I looked over and replied, “Didn’t they tell you?  This is where I jump on your back and you carry me the rest of the way.”  We had a good laugh over that.


Overall, the run sucked.  Let me first add a disclaimer.  Overall, I am extremely happy with how the race went.  I had a great time and I really have nothing to complain about.  However, that said, out of the three events, the run posed the most problems and is the area I feel could use some improvement.

In my opinion, this is a pretty tough half marathon course to begin with.  Add in the rising temperature and having already done 57.2 miles and it becomes a suckfest really quickly.

As soon as I started to run, my lower back started to hurt.  This happened to me during last year’s race, but has never happened to me at any other race or bike ride.


I started off by walking up the first hill.  It starts less than a mile into the course and my legs still hadn’t returned to normal after the bike ride.  I figured that running up the giant hill wasn’t going to help speed up the process.

After the first hill, I started a run to each aid station, walk the aid station taking water or Gatorade, and then run again plan.  The course is 1.5 miles out, followed by two 4.5 mile loops and then 1.5 miles back.

The first lap wasn’t too bad.  There were a lot of people on the course with some on their 2nd lap and others on their first like me.  The extra people made it easier to stay motivated and keep running.  I ended up walking the 2nd hill, too.  As I started walking, another guy continued to run past me.  Once he reached the top, I started counting.  He only gained about 10 seconds on me by running versus walking.  Not worth killing my legs for 10 seconds.

By the second lap, my legs had had enough.  There were fewer people on the course as many of the runners had finished both laps.  My aid station walks grew longer and longer as I took two waters and a cup of ice at each.  As I climbed the second hill (walking again), I looked over at the woman next to me and asked, “Would you think less of me if I started crawling?”  She laughed and said no and asked to join me.

When I reached the top of the second hill, there was only about 2 miles to go.  I had a renewed spirit and charged ahead (“charged” being a relative term).  I managed to run almost all of the last two miles with only a quick stop at one of the aid stations.


When I hit mile 13, I was stoked.  The last .1 is lined with cheering fans shouting your name (first names were included on the bib – very cool).  I gave it all I had and motored across the finish line.  I glanced down to see 5:29:XX on my watch! YAY!


Run time: 2:07:05 (9:43 min/mile) (:58:XX/1:08:XX splits)

Rank: 972/1786 Overall 102/167 AG


Overall, I am super happy with this race.  Other than bonking on the run, I met all of my goals.  And I now have an official Half Ironman PR of 5:29:21!

My main supporter, photographer, pack mule, and loving wife.

My mom, brother, and Nancy (brother’s g/f) all came out to cheer me on.  Thanks guys!

Official Results

Total Time: 5:29:21
Overall Place: 649/1786
Gender Place: 593/1292
Age Group Place: 72/167
Swim Rank: 514
Swim Time: 33:47
T1 Time: 3:28
Bike Rank: 592
Bike Time: 2:42:03
Bike Pace: 20.7mph
T2 Time: 2:58
Run Rank: 972
Run Time: 2:07:05
Run Pace: 9:43 min/mile

Famous Runners

First off, Regina at Chiu on This tipped me off to the fact that Aaron Scheidies was racing Steelhead.  Aaron is a legally blind triathlete who is simply amazing.  He took 4th in my age group (25-29) with a time of 4:22:21!  He is currently the only disabled athlete to have broken 2 hours in the Olympic distance.  I really wish I would have seen him in action, and I actually might have without realizing it.  He was in my swim wave so I should have seen him.  Jennie said that his guides had shirts with eye charts on the front of them which I vaguely remember seeing on the run, but never put two and two together.

After the run, I had lunch with some of the pros.  By “had lunch with”, I mean they were sitting at the table next to me.  I was able to snag a picture of Matty White who took 3rd overall with a time of 3:55:22.

photo 2

Funny Runners

Jennie caught pictures of these two runners. The guy on the left is rocking a pair of plastic glasses with flip up lenses.  Pair that with the tummy shirt and purple shorts and you have one kick ass race suit.  Next up is the groom of the day.  He had an actual tri top – it was just designed as a tuxedo.  This almost tops Steve In A Speedo’s leisure suit bike jersey.

IMG_6972 IMG_6971

What’s Next?

This was definitely my A race of the season.  However, it isn’t the last race of the season.  The current plan is two more sprints and another half Ironman distance race.  I’m planning on the Millennium Triathlon next weekend.  This is a short sprint race (500m swim, 14 mile bike, 3 mile run).  It was rained out last year, so I am hoping that the weather cooperates this year.  After that is a potential half Iron distance (not an Ironman-branded race) up in Petoskey.  My in-laws are vacationing there in early August, so I am going to check out the course and decide whether or not to sign up.  Probably about an 80% chance of registering at this point.  Finally, I hope to close out the season with the Reeds Lake Triathlon.  Another sprint tri and the one I have closed out the season with the past two years.

Thanks for reading!  One of these days, I’ll figure out how to write a shorter race report!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ironmanbythirty.com/2010/08/01/race-report-ironman-steelhead-70-3


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  1. Aimee (I Tri To Be Me)

    Woohoo! Congrats on an awesome race and earning a PR! Yay!

  2. Joy

    Awesome report and incredible race!

    Congratulations 😀

    PS – that swimmer going perpendicular to the course? I’d do that.

  3. Matty O

    HEY! You were 2 bikes down from me!!! I was the guy that asked what the swim time was and said I got kicked in the water and my watch shut off.

    GREAT RACE! My race report is going to be identical to yours haha, bonked on the run as well… hard core.

    Great writeup and great race time! I will be following you on your next journeys, keep up the good work, wish we could have had a beer after the race!

  4. Krista

    Sounds like a great race with a nice PR! You learned from your run and that is important too. I was laughing about the songs playing when you were starting. When I did the 3 mile swim the song as we were getting ready to start was “Another One Bites the Dust.” Highly motivational…

  5. Savanna

    Congratulations! My brother-in-law was in this race as well. As amazing as a half Ironman sounds, I don’t know if I could ever even do any kind of tri-athalon- I hate swimming! It was amazing reading your recap though, awesome job!

  6. Samantha (SKDickey)

    Awesome report – congratualations on your race!!! I LOL’d at “suckage” #1, 2, & 3

  7. lindsay

    the point of race reports is to be long and windy so you get all the details down. i assume you are like me, and others, who like to look back on races from time to time.

    besides, it gives me something entertaining to do at work! 😉

    congrats again on your race, even if the run was less-than-desired. you still rocked it overall!

  8. regina

    Congratulations on the PR!!! What a great race report, so funny!! I’m also doing a non branded HIM in October. TOTALLY flat course. Should be a nice change. I hope.

    I’m with you on not wearing anything IM unless I’ve earned it. I’ve seen Steve’s shaving video, and his waxing video…gruesome!!

    I am VERY familiar with classic 80’s rock. I’ve lived it! O.A.R., I have no idea who that is, ha!

    Nice going!

  9. Jon

    How did I miss this report?!?!?!

    Awesome race photos taken of you! Were they all taken by your family? Me thinks I need to rent them out for a weekend….;)

    You kicked total butt out there on the bike! I love how you circled the “Suckage” hills! haha!

    Oh, and that photo of you and the other guy on the beach coming out of the water makes you look like zombies looking for braaaiins!

    Nice job overall!

  10. Maria

    I totally understand not wanting to wear any Ironman stuff without completing the full distance. My sister got a cookie cutter and I make her cut the cookies in half before I can eat them.
    What a great race and great sherpas!
    Have fun recovering!!

  11. Stephen McKenna

    Nice race report! I was reading your write-up of the martian marathon because I’m thinking of doing that next year and then I saw this post about Steelhead. As I was reading through it I was wondering if we crossed paths at some point and then serendipitously I saw myself in one of your pictures. I’m the guy in the black tri-suit in the post race picture of you and your wife. Thanks for the photo 🙂

  12. Matt Smith

    Way to go on the Steelhead, Kevin! Matty O sent me over here since I’m doing that race this year. Thanks for the great race report. I’m your newest follower…thanks for letting me watch your progress. Congrats on the new puppy. Oh yeah, and my wife’s name is Jennifer too and she’s one of those running/smiling girls too!

    Have a great day, and good luck on your training.


  13. Elizabeth

    That you so much for posting all of this great information!! I am actually signed up for my first half ironman this year and it’s going to be the Steelhead 70.3!! It’s nice to know kind of what to expect.

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