Yep, you read that right: duathlon. Because of a small craft advisory and rip current warning on Lake Michigan, the swim portion of Ironman Steelhead had to be cancelled making it a 69.1 bike-run duathlon. It was a horrible weekend for races around here. The Millennium Triathlon on Saturday was cancelled because of thunder storms for the 2nd time out of 3 years. The inaugural Fred Meijer White Pine Trail 200 Mile Relay was cancelled at 3:30am because of the same storms. And I heard of a few other events affected by weather. In all honesty, after looking at the forecast Saturday night, I was 95% sure there wasn’t going to be a swim – the warnings lasted all day Sunday and into Monday.
Like the last two years, we decided to save money and not stay in Benton Harbor for the race and instead make the long drive on race morning. It is about an hour and a half away so it isn’t horrible. We were up at 3:30am and out the door just after 4:00am. We made great time and got to the Whirlpool lot just after 5:30am. As soon as I was unloading, I heard someone say “No swim”. It was just another triathlete though and I decided to carry my wetsuit with me just in case. I like to wait for confirmation from a race official rather than trust the rumor mill. I loaded up my gear, checked my tire pressure, hopped on my bike and headed to transition. Jennie and Bailey (yes, this was Bailey’s first experience spectating a triathlon) made their way behind me.
So, how did Bailey enjoy his first triathlon? Well, let’s just say that it blew his ears back.
Sure enough, when I got to transition, they were already announcing the cancellation of the swim. Oh well, I don’t think anyone wanted to swim in the waves we were greeted with – probably 5 footers at that time. This was just a training day for me anyways. I was more bummed for Matt and Sean and everyone else doing their first half Ironman.
I immediately found Matt and his wife Jenn at transition. We were bib numbers 1804 and 1811 so we were racked 7 bikes apart. This guy has one of the happiest, most positive attitudes I have ever seen. I’d be shocked to see anything but a smile on this guy’s face. I got my transition area setup, but it felt like I kept forgetting something. Everything turned out fine, but my routine seemed off with the skipped discipline.
Then, the waiting game began. They announced that the race would be bike-run only and that there would be a time trial start starting with the pros at 7:15.
At that point, I need to move around. There was a solid hour before the pros would start and a good hour and a half before they got to my bib number. I headed over and found Bryan Payne (The Captain) at his bike and met him for the first time. Great guy (even for a Canadian – haha). We chatted for a bit about our race strategies and what not. He is just coming off a great race in Lake Placid and getting ready for the ITU Long Course World Championship this November which is freaking awesome.
One of the cool aspects of the time trial start was getting to watch the pros start. They started the pros at 7:15 and spaced them out each 30 seconds.
There was one pretty major snafu with the cancelled swim and time trial start – a definite lack of porta-potties. With the swim, there is the added benefit of having extra porta-potties at the swim start and having the athletes spread out at both transition and the swim start. However, in this case, all 2500 athletes (plus fans and spectators) were limited to the transition area porta-potties. Add to that the fact that all of the porta-potties were outside of transition and the transition area was technically “closed” starting at 7:15 meaning athletes were not supposed to go in and out. Yeah. Right. 2500 athletes penned up in transition for nearly 2 hours with no bathrooms. Apparently they don’t know triathletes.
It was easy enough to hop the fence to get in and out of transition to the use the facilities but a lot of triathletes didn’t want to wait and opted to use the dunes. And judging by the fact that I saw plenty of athletes carrying their own TP, I’m guessing you had to watch where you stepped.
After waiting around for nearly 3 hours since arriving at 5:30, at 8:30 it was finally time to get this show on the road. Once it was our rack’s turn to line up, things moved pretty quickly. As we approached the start, we formed two lines side by side. I clipped in my left foot and coasted forward to the line. I had been talking to a lot of the guys racked around me and we all wished each other good luck. I gave one more “Good Luck” to Matt before it was my turn to take off. In the excitement of the start, I forgot to start both my stopwatch and Garmin for about a quarter mile.
As for the time trial start. Wow! What a rush! With a swim start there are usually a few other people starting at the same time on the bike, but this way, there were dozens of people around. I admit, I got caught up in the excitement and went out really fast passing people left and right (well, technically only left because you have to pass on the left).
The first 10-15 miles was really congested. I spent most of the time yelling “On your left” and moving around other riders. Everyone seemed to be doing their best not to draft but there was honestly too many people on the road. I did some quick math. Assuming the average bike is 72” long (6’) and the draft distance was 4 bike lengths (an additional 24’). Thus, each bike would need 30’ of space. Multiply that over 2500 racers and there would have to have been a single file line of athletes stretching over 14 miles. I admit to getting stuck behind a rider when I didn’t anticipate having to slow down. It was frustrating because not only was it technically illegal, but it also seemed to more of a disadvantage than anything. If I got stuck behind someone it was mainly because there was already a steady stream of riders to my left already passing and I had to slow down and wait for them to pass before I could accelerate, move left, and complete the pass. It is much harder to have to slow down and then speed up than to keep a constant speed. Oh well, it is what it is, and for the most part everyone seemed to be playing by the rules as much as possible. There were a few pace lines of 10-15 riders that were frustrating but I tried not to get discouraged because in the end, I’m only racing myself and when I cross the finish line, I want to know I raced a clean race.
As things started to clear up, I settled in with a group of riders from my age group. One was Josh, Matt’s training partner. Along with him and a few other riders we played leap frog throughout the next few miles. It was great motivation and a lot of fun because I could tell they were all experienced rides. Even though we weren’t riding in a pace group, we all knew the important of communication and were constantly pointed out road hazards (potholes, bottles, sticks, etc.). Completely unspoken, it is a beautiful language to see cyclists communicating and makes you feel a heck of a lot safer out there.
I really was pushing a hard pace through the first half of the race based on my speed. However, my cadence was right where I wanted it. I was consistently averaging a 100+ RPM on the cadence which is right where I wanted to be. So, I figured, if I could keep up that speed with a steady RPM to just go with it.
I skipped the first bike aid station, but decided to refuel at the second one at the 25 mile mark. This leads me to my next complaint about the race. Because I was using this as a dress rehearsal, I wanted to practice my nutrition for IMWI. And what a better place to practice it. Powerbar Perform, after all, is the official drink of the WTC. So, I only carried two bottles of Perform with me on the bike. I figured that I would grab my third bottle on the course. When I got to the 2nd aid station, I was ready to grab a new bottle. I slowed down, reached out and was handed this:
WTF?!?! This isn’t Perform! Ok, it is Gatorade Pro 02 “PERFORM”, but not Powerbar Perform. I was pissed. I can’t drink Gatorade during a race. At least not full strength Gatorade. It is way too sweet and it does not sit well. I did the best to spread out the two bottles of Perform I had carried for the entire ride. I usually need about a bottle per hour so the 2 bottles got me most of the way. I eventually decided to give the Gatorade a try to keep from dehydrating. It kept me hydrated, but I spent the rest of the bike ride burping like crazy.
I did go back and look at the Ironman Steelhead official website and it did in fact list Gatorade as the bike course nutrition rather than Powerbar Perform. So, it was simply my incorrect assumption that Perform would be one the course based on the fact that it is supposed the official WTC drink, the fact that Powerbar is a sponsor, and that they were giving out samples of Perform at the expo. In the end, it was my mistake, but why promote the crap out of a drink and then not use it???
So, all of you IMLP-ers (and other IM finishers for that matter), now I need your help. How is Perform distributed on the course? Is it a sports bottle like the G2 bottle pictured above? Or do they look like the bottles on the press release here? Or something else? Help! I’m just trying to figure out what to expect as I have experienced everything from cups of fluid at a bike aid station (not effective at all) to riders dropping off bottles and having them be refilled and given to other riders down the line.
Other than the G2 Perform vs Powerbar Perform debacle, my nutrition went great. I tried something a little new. I wore my plain old stopwatch on my wrist and had the timer set at 15 minutes. So, every 15 minutes, it would beep and I would be reminded to take my nutrition. This was a major help because it is really easy for me to get caught up in the race and forget to eat.
The final 15 miles of the course is a long straightaway down the Blue Star Highway. Thankfully this year the wind was out of the north meaning there was a bit of a tail wind. The last two years it has been a head wind. I eased up a bit on this stretch to save my legs for the run. Despite that, I had one of my fastest 5 mile splits of the day due to the fact that there are some good down hills.
I rolled into the bike finish in 2:27:01 for a 22.85mph average. Fastest. Bike split. Ever. The final mile or so of the course is on a narrow bike path. While passing is allowed, it is nearly impossible to do so. I was feeling good so I figured what better time than now to try getting out of my shoes before the dismount. Mind you, this was the first time attempting this maneuver ever. Thankfully, it couldn’t have gone better. If anything, I got out of my shoes a little too quickly. I gracefully hopped off my bike at the dismount line and was off to transition in no time. This doesn’t really help me for IMWI at all because age groupers are not allowed to have their shoes on their bikes, but it was fun to try nonetheless.
So what do I call it? T1? T2? Technically it was the first transition of the day, but it is my normal T2 transition. We’ll go with 1.5. Regardless, it went very smoothly. The only hiccup I had was the fact that I had put all of my run gear in a plastic bag in case it rained. The wind made it hard to dig everything out and then I had to stow the bag somewhere. I was still in and out in 2:42 making it my fastest bike to run transition for this race. I wrapped up and was leaving transition along with Jake, another guy in my age group.
Jake and I started the run together. We both had a great bike and had similar goals for the run – an 8 minute pace. We stuck together for the first 2 miles or so, but I was feeling great so I pulled ahead.
I honestly don’t know what to say about this run other than I felt absolutely awesome the entire time.
I carried my handheld bottle of Perform with me on the run. I took a swig every mile along with taking water at each aid station. I drank half the water and poured the other half on my head. I walked while I drank the water to make sure it went down but started running again as soon as the water was in me.
This course is a lollipop shape with a double loop. It is about 1.5 miles to the loop and then a 5 mile loop that you do twice. Each loop circles through the Whirlpool campus. It is a fairly nice course although it can get a bit congested on some of the trails. The hardest part of the course is the hill as you exit the Whirlpool campus. It is brutal. As I started climbing, I heard a spectator cheering. He said, “If you look down and the hill goes away!” Yes, I know it sounds corny, but let me tell you, it works. I figured, what the hell, I’ll try anything once. So, I put my head down and charged up. In no time I crested the hill.
As I neared the end of the first loop, I started to look for Jennie and Bailey. For the first time, they were going to try and make it out on the run course. I wasn’t sure how well it would work as they would have to walk along the course to get there because there aren’t any side streets.
After a quick hug and kiss for the wife and an ear scratch for Bailey, I was off on loop two. I was feeling pumped. I completely turned into
MattyO a chatty Cathy and was talking to anyone and everyone who would listen. Other racers, spectators, volunteers, whoever. I was having such a blast! I did my best to get people cheering as there were lots of people with their thumbs up their butts.
In no time, I was at mile 10. Still feeling good, I was hesitant to get too confident as I still had to climb the big hill one last time. I was also running low on Perform. Right after mile 10, I filled my bottle with half water and half Gatorade just in case hoping that I wouldn’t need it. I hit the bottom of the hill, put my head down, and again was at the top in no time. Victory! Only 2 miles to go. Now, I was getting really excited. All but one or two of my splits had been under an 8:00 min/mile pace. At mile 11, I decided to take some Coke from the aid station. I didn’t necessarily need it but I wanted to see how it settled. It settled fine so I know that I can take it at IMWI if necessary.
The last 2 miles flew by. I was moving. I had my two fastest mile splits of the day (7:40 and 7:12). I cheered on everyone I passed at that point. It was all downhill and we were almost done. Everyone seemed to be in high spirits. In no time, I was on the final stretch and crossing the finish line. I saw both Jennie and my brother and his girlfriend along the finisher’s chute.
I crossed the line in 1:42:39 for a 7:50 min/mile pace. My goal was 1:40 – 1:45. Nailed it! I couldn’t be happier with the finish. My overall finish time was 4:12:22.
After I was done, I talked with Jennifer and my brother before heading back into transition. I chatted with Bryan some more. He also had a great race despite cramping up on the run. After chatting with him, I headed back out on the run course to look for Matt. As I ran out, I met up with another guy. He was part the bike leg of a relay team and was stretching out his legs. He actually crashed on the bike and was all bandaged up but it pretty good spirits.
In no time, I spotted Matt. He had about a mile and a half to go and had a huge smile on his face. He said he was hurting a bit, but you’d never be able to tell from his smile. I ran with him back to the park and cheered for him as he took off. He had a strong finish and an awesome half Ironman debut. Congrats Matt! It was awesome following your training and seeing you accomplish your goal. Go read his race report here.
After cheering Matt in, I packed up my transition area and decided to head back to the car. I took one look at the line for pizza and decided that I really don’t like Pizza Hut pizza any ways and we headed off. We stopped at McDonald’s for my usual post race food of a Angus Burger and chocolate milk shake.
Overall it was a great race and a great primer for IMWI. Before the race, I wasn’t disappointed at all for the cancelled swim. However, after seeing my results on the bike and run, I was on target for a huge PR and wonder what I could have done with the swim. Oh well. Next time.
|Age Group Place:||28/132|
|Swim Rank:||No Swim|
|Run Pace:||7:50 min/mile|
I wanted to do one last section about my gear so that I can refer back to it before Wisconsin. As you can see I opted to go with calf sleeves for this race. I had brought them with for recovery on the car ride home, but because it was so chilly in transition, I put them on for the race. They were nice to have, but it would be hard to put them on after the swim. I’ll have to decided whether or not to race in them next month. Anyone ever swim with the calf sleeves on under their wetsuit?
This was also my first race (and ride period) wearing my aero helmet. It is a Giro Advantage 2 and was a birthday present from Jennie. I was a bit worried having never practiced with it, but decided to take my chances. I am super impressed. I totally noticed a difference. Speed benefits aside, one thing I really liked about it was that it blocked the sound of the wind. I hate how loud the wind is when you are going into a headwind. Because this helmet covers your ears, it blocks that annoying sound. It made the bike ride 100x quieter. Such a pleasant feeling. It definitely was a bit warmer than a regular helmet because of the limited number of vents. It was a pretty cool day so the heat wasn’t an issue. That said, if the temperatures approach 80*, I don’t know if I’ll wear the aero helmet at IMWI.
Finally, my new race kit. I went with the two piece option from the TYR Competitor collection. There was recently a $100 for $50 deal on Schwaggle that I grabbed up that saved me 50%. I previously raced in a pair of Zoot Tri Shorts that I really disliked – they felt too short and had no pockets. The TYR shorts are awesome. They are a good length (9” inseem) and have a zipper pocket in the back. Along with that, each leg has a small pocket along your quad big enough to stuff a Gu or something else small. The tri top is great as well. It only has a single pocket on the back with makes it harder to separate out nutrition, but it is big enough to hold everything.
I’m really happy with how it all worked out and know that it will work great for Wisconsin.
Thanks for reading!
WI or Bust!