Sep 08

This Is Triathlete Country

Yes, I know this post is LONG overdue. As time went on and it got delayed even further, I figured I would save if up as a scheduled post for race week when I am busy with other stuff. I also debated on whether or not to share our hidden vacation spot with everyone, but now that both Mario Batali outed it in Bon Appetit magazine and Good Morning America voted it Most Beautiful Place in America, I decided to share.

So, without further adieu…

Jennie and I spent a much needed week in northern lower Michigan specifically the Glen Arbor/Leland area. For non-Michiganders, hold your right hand in front of you palm side up. We are basically were your pinky and ring finger meet. Now let’s see how you can describe the geography of your state using only your hand (Good luck Texas).

Any ways, we left for vacation on Saturday. I really wanted to bring my road bike on vacation with me rather than the Black Rock, but it needed some work done on the rear wheel. I brought it in on Wednesday and got it back on Thursday. I tried riding it, but something was still off – the rear wheel was out of true. I brought just the wheel in and they trued it up. Thinking that solved it, I didn’t ride until Friday and found the wheel out of true again! Crap. I went back to the bike shop and after a half hour of messing with it, the technician gave up – the wheel was shot. No matter what he did, it wouldn’t hold true. So, now I had to find a new wheelset for my roadie (something I had been planning on doing any ways, but thought I had more time). My favorite LBS didn’t have anything in stock that would work. So, I ended up having to drive to two other bike shops – one to get the front wheel and the other for the rear. I ended up with a set of Mavic Aksiums per a recommendation from BDD and the fact that it was the most reasonably priced, in stock wheelset I could find. I was able to buy them and get them swapped out just in time for vacation. Talk about unneeded stress before vacation though.

After getting in a short brick workout on Saturday morning (since when did a 3 hour workout become “short”?), we packed up and headed north. We got there after dinner time so we were on our own (we stayed with my in-laws and they had already eaten). We ventured out and decided to keep it quick and easy and got a pizza from Riverfront Pizza. With all the traveling and adjusting on Saturday, it almost felt like vacation didn’t even start until Sunday.

Rather than give a day by day recap (which my lovely wife is already doing), I thought I would structure this a bit different. Enjoy.

The Swim

Swimming was the one thing that I was both dreading and looking forward to going into this trip. I knew that all of my swims would have to be open water swims as there wouldn’t be a pool. And while I was looking forward to the chance to train in Lake Michigan, I didn’t know how well they would fit into my schedule.

Thankfully, everything worked out perfect and I had 3 great swims. The first swim was in Leland. For being my first practice OWS in Lake Michigan, the lake sure wasn’t welcoming. There were 2-3 feet rollers the entire time. I was getting tossed around like a rag doll. I’d swim up the crest and then get thrown off to go crashing into the valley.

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Can you find me out there amongst the waves?

The scariest part of the swim wasn’t for me, but for everyone watching me on shore. I was completely zoned out during the swim and nearly got run over by this enormous yacht.

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The boat was leaving the marina and thus moving at a very slow speed. I had no idea it was in front of me. I eventually popped up to catch my bearings and it was probably only about 30 yards away. A little too close for comfort. Apparently Jennie and everyone else on shore were watching me swim directly towards the boat but there was nothing they could do.

Thankfully the other two swims were far less eventful.

The second swim was in Empire. I still can not get over how crystal clear this water was. Just take a look at this beautiful water. Even Bailey enjoyed it!

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I could have swam for hours in the water. It was so clear that I could see nearly endlessly in every direction. The sandy bottom looked so close, I thought I was going to start hitting it with my hands. But when I went to stand up, I found the water was probably about 10-12 feet deep! Best open water experience I have had bar none.

On the third swim, it was back to Leland. This time it was less choppy, but after my experience at Empire it just wasn’t as fun.

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For each swim, I just based it on time. I wore my stopwatch and would swim about 25 minutes along the beach, turn around and come back. It is so hard to judge distance along the lake. Each time I would pick out a landmark and decide to swim it and turn around. One time, I picked a specific house thinking it was about .75 mile away. I ended up passing the house in 10 minutes – not quite the .75 mile I thought. Another time I figured I would swim to where the beach curved to a point. I swam for 25 minutes and I probably only got halfway there.

T1 – Hiking

Now, how do you transition from the swimming to the biking? How about a little hiking. On the recommendation of a friend, we (me, Jennie, and my brother-in-law Brad) hiked Pyramid Point on Monday. While it was a relatively short hike at less than 2 miles, it came with its fair share of climbing – it is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore after all.

Hiking 8-1-2011, Elevation - Time

The trail starts in a shaded wooded area before reaching the top where the path opens up on a sandy dune with an incredible view.

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Can’t beat the view! Off to the left you can see South Manitou Island.

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Holy crap! Even Bailey is looking at the camera this time.

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Brad practicing his planking – apparently it is all the rage these days. Kids…

After enjoying the view, we continued on the trail. Along the way, we came across a fork in the path. To the right, the trail continued. To the left, awaited a dune climb that went straight up. If you look at the elevation map, this path was just after 20:00 mark where the elevation shoots directly vertical. Brad and I couldn’t pass up the chance to climb it.

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I gave Brad a head start and then showed that young punk who the boss
was by passing him up and beating him to the top.

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Bailey was not happy at all to be left out of this climb. He waited at the bottom
with Jennie and whined the entire time.

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In retaliation for being left behind, Bailey rolled around in the sand getting sand all over his face.
Despite the fact that it had to be uncomfortable, he couldn’t have looked more proud of himself.

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A post hike picture in front of the shit house. Yep. We’re weird like that.

The Bike

If you ever want to do some serious biking, this is the place to do it. I did my first ride on Sunday and I immediately knew I was going to have a problem. All I wanted to do was ride. I would be driving and see a hill I wanted to climb on the bike and try to remember where it was. Or I’d look at a map and think how cool it would be to ride around this lake or to the opposite side of the peninsula and back. The roads are endless, the climbs grueling, and the scenery to die for. I ended up with 4 rides while on vacation and each was better than the previous.

As I mentioned, I was riding my roadie for all of these rides. It was nice to have Green Lightning back in business. I find myself much more relaxed and carefree on the roadie. My pace is generally a bit slower than on the Black Rock and it leads to an entirely different experience.

Cycling 7-31-2011, Elevation - Time Cycling 8-1-2011, Elevation - Time Cycling 8-2-2011, Elevation - Time Cycling 8-4-2011, Elevation - Time
Just to give you an idea of the elevation in the area, here are the 4 routes. (Click to enlarge – TWSS)

My first bike ride I did as part of a swim/bike brick. After swimming in Leland, I headed into the port-a-john to change into my bike shorts. It took some maneuvering, but I got changed and stepped out only to realize that my shorts were on backwards. Fail. I corrected it with try two. I then did a 25 mile ride from the beach back to where we were staying. This was my first introduction into the local hills. This ride wasn’t particularly grueling, just lots of rollers coupled with a steady headwind the entire way.

photo 1
Stopped to get a picture at the 45th Parallel just outside of Leland.

Monday was my day to venture around. It was my longest scheduled ride for the week so I hit up MapMyRide to find a good route. I found one I liked and loaded it into my Garmin. The ride was perfect. It was smooth roads, challenging climbs, and very little traffic. I took my time and just enjoyed the ride stopping to take pictures (albeit crappy iPhone pictures) along the way.

photo 1
The sign outside of a small ice cream shop: “Ice Cream is a Food Group”. 100% Agree.

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I stopped to take a picture of some hay bales in a field to send to Jennie because
she is fascinated by them.

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MMMMmmmmmm… Hops…. Beer….. I’d never seen hops growing up north as it is mainly wine country, but I passed this hop farm near Empire

For my ride on Tuesday, I joined up with a group ride out of Pedaling Beans Coffeehouse. Long story, but we know the owners because we bought their house when they moved back up north from Grand Rapids. Awesome people and crazy active people. Their son Brad actually rides professionally for United Healthcare and was voted most aggressive rider of Stage 1 of the US Pro Cycling Challenge. Any ways, it rained all day, so the “group ride” turned out to only be me and two other guys willing to chance the rain holding off. We got lucky and short of a little drizzle had an awesome ride.

On my final ride, I ventured around Big Glen Lake. As I approached the far side of the lake, the road started going up. And up. And up. And up some more. My legs were burning by the time I got to the top. But it was worth it. Right at the top was a scenic overlook called Inspiration Point.

The view overlooked Big Glen Lake and you could see all the way to Lake Michigan. (The middle of the picture looks funny because I took the picture with the iPhone PhotoSynth app that takes a bunch of pictures and stitches them together)

T2 – Canoeing

So, what do you do when you have to you have swam, hiked, and biked? You canoe! For all the times we have been up north, we have never canoed. We actually own kayaks, but the furthest we have taken them is about 30 minutes away and I wasn’t comfortable driving 3 hours with them on the roof AND bikes on the back. Luckily, there are a slew of places to rent kayaks from. We chose Crystal River Outfitters which was walking distance from where we were staying.

Jennie’s brother Brad joined us on the trip, so Jennie and I (and Bailey) got a canoe to share and he flew solo in a kayak.

We loaded up in a van to get dropped upstream. The canoe trip was a 7 mile winding route downstream. It was a pretty mild ride. The only thing you had to worry about was a few fallen trees and shallow spots – the deepest the water got was about waist deep.

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Bailey was a bit camera shy tired and sleeping in the bottom of the canoe for what was
supposed to be a family picture.

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Bailey was very intrigued by water and sort of confused as to why we kept telling him, “No!”
when he would try and jump in.

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Eventually he gave up and fell asleep.

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The most exciting part of the canoe trip was “Shooting the Tube.” On the trip, there were 2 mandatory portage sights and a 3rd optional one. It was optional because if you didn’t want to portage you could shoot the tube and ride through a corrugated pipe that went under the road. Here’s what it was like. You’ll have to excuse the shaky footage; Jennie had to drop the camera and help steer a couple times.

The Run

Out of the three disciplines, running was the most difficult to do. I’m not really sure why. My only guess is that because the biking and swimming were so great, something had to lose out. One of the “problems” with the area is that short of doing an out and back course, there isn’t a lot of options for a short (4-6 miles) run. There aren’t a lot of side streets or ways to make small loops, so you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. Also, if you do run long, you are on your own for nutrition as there are few places to stop unless you want knock on someone’s door.

I started off Sunday morning with my weekly long run. Thankfully, this week was a cut back and there was only 1h10m on the schedule. I have been struggling a lot on the run lately. It mainly comes down to the fact that I haven’t run on fresh legs in a good 3 months. Every run is done on tired legs. Which I know is good training as I will be running on tired legs on race day, but it is kicking my butt mentally.

The rest of my runs for the week were shorter at about 30 to 45 minutes long. I did my best to keep them interesting by being creative, but like I said, it was hard to find a good, short route.


Nutrition on this vacation mainly a liquid one. If we weren’t enjoying a cold beverage at Boone’s,

fr_472 fr_473

we were buying a case of wine at Black Star Farms.

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We don’t have a problem. Really, we don’t. haha

We actually didn’t eat out a whole lot on this trip because we stayed at a house with a full kitchen and cooked meals there. Just a couple stops at the Mercantile in Leland and we were in business for some cooking. I figured that as it was still training season, it was better to try and continue to eat as healthy as possible. Nevertheless, there are an endless number of places to eat out. We did eat out a few times including the Village Inn in Suttons Bay and River Front Pizza in Glen Arbor.

Post Race

So, there is obviously lots to do Up North when it comes to swimming, biking, running, canoeing and hiking. Well, what do you do when you need a break?

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You sit on the beach with a good book Kindle. Never was able to rid myself of my wretched triathlete tan lines though.

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Or, you listen to a free concert in the park.

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Or, you take in a beautiful sunset.

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Or, when push comes to shove, you just take a nap.

So, there you have it. If you want to get away from it all and still have a chance to do some awesome training, head no further than your favorite mitten shaped state. Maybe I should plan a blogger meetup in Leland and we can take over the town with triathletes??? Who’s in?

Thanks for reading!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ironmanbythirty.com/2011/09/08/this-is-triathlete-country


  1. Derek

    Incredible photos
    looks like an fantastic place to S/B/R

  2. BDD

    Any races up their?

    I been there, long, long time ago

    I am game for a training camp weekend

    How you like your Askuims? I think they are one tough training wheelset, they can take a beating.
    BDD recently posted..Cyclist’s Personal Ads

    1. Ironman By Thirty (Kevin)

      LOVING the Askiums! I’ve even ran into 3 other people with the same wheels since I bought them and they have just echoed what you have said about them. One guy had ridden them for 4 years with no maintenance.

      They just introduced the HITS race up in TC. Kind of early in the season though. Grand Rapids just got a full Iron distance race too!!! http://www.michiganiron.com. Too bad it is the week after IMMT or I would be all over it. Maybe 2013.

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