My first race report as a member of the DC Tri Club!
This season has not gone as planned. I signed up for Chesapeake Man with my brother-in-law and a friend in California. Both have since dropped out, leaving me lacking for motivation for most of the summer. Fortunately, group rides with DC tri club peeps and getting to know a couple of the handful of DC’ers doing Chesapeake has prevented me from going completely solo... and completely insane. Regardless, motivation for CM has waned in the last couple months. 70.3 Steelhead, on the other hand, is one I have been looking forward to. My wife’s parents were so motivated by our accomplishment at Ironman Wisconsin last year that they put their minds to a 70.3 race. Steelhead was the closest to home for them, so they committed to it. I signed up to do it with them as my “warm-up” to CM. Also, I really enjoyed 70.3 Racine last year, so the 70.3 distance is fun for me.
My Racine splits last year that I was shooting to improve on were a 46 min swim, 2:32 on the bike, and 1:46 on the run. Overall I was around 5:07... so I really wanted to break 5 hrs at Steelhead this year.
Steelhead, as it turned out, was a risky race to pick. The swim was cancelled last year, and has been on several occasions. A week before the race, the Lake Michigan current shifted, and the water temp dropped from 75 to 53 degrees in less than 24 hrs, with waves peaking 9 feet. Fortunately, the current changed again and brought 70+ degree water back just a day later, but the fact is - it’s Lake Michigan. That easily could have happened again. When we arrived in Benton Harbor on Friday the wind was up and the lake was choppy. If the race were on Fri, the swim probably would have been cancelled again. This would have been devastating to my mother-in-law, who set her sights on completing 70.3. She wouldn’t have felt the sense of accomplishment if not given the chance to conquer the swim.
As luck and some heavy praying would have it, though, by race morning, the conditions were perfect. 67 degree water, no wind, and NO waves. It was a rare perfect morning for that part of the lake. My in-laws went through our pre-race ritual for the first (and probably only) time... pancakes at 4 am, into transition by 5:30... walking down the beach ready to go by 6:30. Their wave went at 7 am, and mine went at 8, so I had some time to kill after I cheered them into the water. A third wait in a port-a-potty line; a quick warm-up swim; and I was off.
For the most part, I found a descent rhythm early, once I got used to the neck of the wetsuit that was sitting too high and choking off my airway. About halfway, though, I started to pass some swimmers in my heat and the heat in front of me... only their crooked lines knocked me off course and I found myself well inside the buoy line. I overcorrected and ended up out near the kayaks. Instead of trying to get right back to the buoy line, I just sighted the big red buoy at the end and made as straight a line as I could. I thought for sure that because of the zig-zagging at the halfway mark that I was going to be well over 40 minutes. Imagine my surprise when I hit the transition mat in just under 39. Swim split: 38:48
It’s always nice to get on the bike. This year, though, I’ve felt behind. I have yet to do a 50+ mile ride at an average speed of over 20 mph. But as I said, the conditions were beautiful. Cool weather, the sun behind the clouds, a nice breeze, and a mostly flat course. If not for the 2 port-a-potty emergency stops, I would have broken 2:30. Fortunately, I only needed to slow at one other aid station to get water or food. I passed my in-laws at right about the 30 mile mark. They were in good spirits, which was great to see. Bike split: 2:31:58... 22.1 mph.
My previous PR for a half-marathon distance, in ANY race, was 1:39:49. Coming out of T2 at about 3:20, I knew I was going to need to come close to that PR to break my 5-hour goal. The temps were still mild, but the sun broke through and heated up the course around the 7-8 mile mark. The only real tough climb on the course was in the first mile, so when I hit mile 1 at 8:11, I was encouraged. My first mile is usually my slowest, and I was confident I could cut my splits down. Sure enough, the miles ticked by and I felt great, picking up the pace as I went. After 9 miles I was averaging about a 7:44 pace. A quick calculation told me I had an outside shot at that PR... less than 30 minutes to do the last 4.1 miles. So I stepped on it, leaving just enough to hammer the last 1.1. It worked. My splits for the next 4 miles went 7:10, 7:14, 7:02, and 6:37. Garmin clocked the course at 13.2 miles, and my last 0.2 was at a 6:01 pace. That extra 0.1 almost killed me, as I hit the chute with my watch ticking closer to that PR time. I crossed the line in a dead sprint with a run split of 1:39:33, a half-marathon PR by 16 seconds.
Thanks to that run PR, my overall time: 4:59:22. 19th out of 169 in my age division.
The highlight of the day, though? After chugging some chocolate milk I sat with my wife and some of her family and, about an hour and a half later, got to cheer my in-laws down the chute. She crossed the finish line with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen her wear... and practically in tears. It was, technically, a warm-up race for me... but for so many people it’s the culmination of months of training and a once-in-a-lifetime moment of accomplishment. Watching them cross the finish line keeps me from taking this sport and these events for granted, and makes me thankful for continued health and motivation to do them. I went to Steelhead looking forward to that race, and I left Steelhead with renewed motivation for the next 6 weeks to close out this season.
Congrats on a great race, Nick!! It sounds like y'all had a great time in the mitten. Keep your eyes on the prize.