Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Steelhead 70.3 RR

Where do I even begin with this one? A lot of highs and lows came with this race. The weekend started out well and everything was running smoothly, including some incredibly good weather in Michigan that is apparently rare for this race. Instead of a lake with 4-6ft swells, we had this calm, serene body of water:
Lake Michigan the day before the race. Perfection.

There were even thunderstorms in the forecast for race day but come Sunday it was so nice -- low/mid 70s, some clouds early on then sun and very mild winds (again, sounds like a rarity at Steelhead).

Going into this race I knew I had a couple hurdles. First, racing more fatigued. I didn't really taper for this race compared with every other 70.3 I've done. That was on purpose given the short turnaround post-Vineman, and it left some question marks but it was part of the plan. I was up for it. Secondly, "adapting" to the time change in less than 48hrs. We traveled Friday afternoon so there's no doubt my body still was thinking it was 1am when I woke up Sunday at 4am ET. I tried to ignore all that, though, and trick the body into thinking it was fresh and ready. Race morning I seemed to be ok, but some things were off. **TMI alert!** For example, this was the first time in my history of racing that I was not able to go #2 before a race! I just had to deal with it.

course recon -- I see cones!
Pre-race was fun. I really enjoy traveling to different parts of the country that I probably wouldn't visit otherwise. We flew into Chicago and made the boring drive to Benton Harbor, MI, which is a very small and low-key town. A one-Starbucks-in-town kinda place. Parts of it are cute, parts are run down and ghetto. The nearby towns, like St. Joseph, are cute but quaint. That said, a good venue for racing because lots of open, country roads with little traffic, lots of GREEN everywhere, and big parking lots thanks to it being the mecca of Whirpool--I've never seen so many (or any) of their offices.

Riding the run -- highly recommend.
                                                                          One thing we did Saturday, which I loved, was ride the run course and drive the bike course. I've never done both those in their entirety and it was fun and helpful! As for pre-race eats, we found decent places but that was very tricky in this part of Michigan. Slim pickings. Whole Foods? Yea right. Thus, the food aspect is deserving of a blog in itself, to come :)

Onto the race... I'm going to do this RR differently and start with the finish. I feel the finish is the most important part, and gives the rest of the story more merit. (Plus if you skip the rest, you at least get the happy ending here.)

Crossed the finish line in 5:14 and change. Every muscle was screaming, and I feared if I stopped I'd be stuck. I kept walking for a good 10 minutes to shake it off. I felt like puking, crying and falling over all at the same time. I hurt pretty bad. "What...just...happened... why did that hurt so bad?!"

I had a while to wait for John because he started 30min after me. I asked a guy to check results on his iPad so I could see where John was and guess how much longer until I saw him. I also had him check my results...

Surprise. Turns out I was 2nd AG. What?! That meant Vegas potential. I went to investigate. Turns out I qualified for Vegas 2013, as there were two slots in my AG! Um, really?!?!?!?!?! I mean, Vegas is what I've had my eye on--it's something I've wanted to EARN, and doing so at this race was a big triumph. It was a testament to not giving up even on a bad day. I'm still a little in shock that my journey at Steelhead 70.3 ended on such a high note because it was a tough, tough day for me.
Vegas baby! Was advised, "cover your code so no one steals it" haha.

From the beginning...
Race Day

I got abnormally nervous beforehand starting Saturday night while trying to sleep. This is very rare for me these days. Maybe it's because I'd dished out so much money to make it to Steelhead and, therefore, felt the pressure to "do well" whatever that means. As a coach and someone who's studied sports psych, I tried to do all the tricks to mellow out. Not until we made the the 1.2 mile trek down the beach to start the point-to-point swim, did I start to feel focused, ready and excited to go. Powered down most of a banana close to go time, and got in the zone.

I had dreams of a 35 or faster swim in my head. The swim was a run-in start and run-out exit (including run up the beach in deep sand), which certainly slowed up some of our times. But forget that even, I swam like crap and felt like crap. About 1/4 into it I got this intense nauseated feeling like I was going to hurl. I could feel that banana in my throat. I was trying to ignore it and not totally vomit. Meanwhile, I was not able to hold on to any feet for a draft and was basically in no man's land zigzagging around. On the positive side, my kick felt stronger and there were no leg cramping issues yet again. Truthfully, I had no idea if I was going fast, slow or in between. So when I stood up and saw close to 41:xx on my watch I almost burst into tears right there! I was baffled and disappointed. Stupidly, I slowly walked out of the water and up the beach instead of hustling, adding more time to my swim split. I was thinking: "What the #$*& is wrong with me? Sick? Fatigued? Both?"

My swim time had me close to wanting to just check out and go through the motions, but I still had that urge to compete and go for it. I didn't travel all that way to blow a race because I felt sick and tired, and had another bad swim. I wasn't dying, I could continue on. I just had to play my cards right.

The bike was pretty mellow, uneventful and a rather easy course. Except for maybe 2-3 climbs, the uphills weren't even what I would call hills compared to what we have in Calif. I never even got out of the big ring the whole race. I think there was still close to 1,000ft elevation gain, though. The ride goes through the Fruit Belt area and a couple times the road conditions get a little crappier, but not terrible--Vineman roads are worse I think. The majority of the time the roads are smooth and fast. Winds were mild at best so that helped keep things speedy. Also unlike Vineman, I felt like I had a lot of space to ride my pace vs. getting stuck in traffic. That was nice. Passed a handful of girls in my AG, but didn't see much 25-29 action.

I was trying to shake the terrible feeling I had in me, but it was a battle. For nutrition I relied on Skratch Labs drink mix, which--thank goodness--settled well and didn't exacerbate my unhappy stomach situation. I couldn't handle much else other than some of a bar. Caloric fail. I should have easily ridden 5-8 minutes faster, but given how I felt I made a conscious choice on the bike to save something for the run. That's always a tricky game to play and one of the things that makes triathlon so tough. Looking back, I think I made the right call.

My bike split was a 2:41:xx or something. Better than Vineman, at least. For all the time I lost on the swim, I gained some back on the bike and was heading into T2 in about the same time I had at Vineman. Still feelings of uncertainty crept in. Self-talk: "Yes you feel like sh*t but just control what you can, DNF is not an option even if you puke more. It's just 13 miles. Manage your energy."

Side note: I liked their transition area, it was very fair--one long stretch that we all had to go through the same way, for both T1 and T2. Easy. I'll be honest, in this race I used transitions for some rest/relief rather than to cut time. Just another sign that my A game wasn't quite there.

Like the swim, pre-race I had dreams of fast run times, i.e. for me a 1:40 or faster. Hm. Let's put it this way: When I started running at Vineman I felt strong and ready (it hurt but wasn't death marching). But when I started running at Steelhead, I felt weak and tired (more like shuffle/death march from the get go). But out of the gates I got some motivation when I saw a pro male on his last mile puking and still running fast as hell. "If he can...." I was all over the map with pace in the beginning, and quite frankly the whole race. Mile splits from 7:41-8:31. Part of that was the course: Heck, it was tougher than expected even having biked it! I don't think their 200ft elevation gain is not accurate (my garmin said 550ft, hm?). There were a few mean short, steep hills and lots of slow gradual climbs, and it didn't feel like the downhills matched the climbs. Haha.

I won't lie, there were times when I was holding back tears because I was hitting the wall so badly and sick of feeling so sick. One of the only things I had going for me was that 13 miles doesn't seem so long. "Just take it one at a time." I did some math around the halfway point and realized a 5:15 or faster was still possible so I made that my new goal. So long, sub-5:00. I just put my head down and hurt till I finished. I won't go into all the gory details because that run was not my finest for many reasons, but I finished. Run split 1:46.

Final Word
So there it is. Highs and lows for sure. Overall, there's so much to be proud of here, and there's also so much work to be done. There's a good chance my "bad" day was a result of fatigue going into the race, pre-race anxiety gone bad, and....? To still finish, podium and qualify for Vegas makes it a lot sweeter, but I still know I have a ton of work to do. I probably won't do any more 70.3s this year, but I will still race some shorter stuff, run races, etc. And I'll continue to build that swim fitness--it's only just beginning.

Next up... dining tips for Steelhead 70.3, post-race day trip in Chicago and more!


  1. Congrats! I was just thinking about you this morning.. Vegas and Tahoe are around the same time, maybe 2 weeks apart? You considering doubling up?

  2. ER, I think I was reading your AFC RR the same time you were just reading my blog! Figures haha. Yes, I am going to have a crazy Sept 2013 -- I will be doing both Vegas and Tahoe. Vegas will be a bigger priority for me in terms of competing, Tahoe will be more about another IM experience.

  3. Nice report! I did a relay at Steelhead, did the swim and run. I also found the run to be challenging, but I liked the course. I grew up two towns over and happened to be home for a visit so I found a relay partner and did it for fun. The food options in that immediate area are sad, but further south there are really great places, closer to the Chicago tourism! Congrats on Vegas, that's incredible.

  4. Hey Tawnee, 1st of all, congrats on vegas! I think this story is so inspiration as I can totally relate. Just as I mentioned to you at VM, it took 10 half IM's to breakdown my swim time, and wanting it SO bad I prob put in the same volume as my running.

    Nxt time you have to come all the way east for timberman! How spur moment was it for SH? I rmr when we spoke u werent sure what u were doing. Good luck in vegas! I have poconos 70.3 and my goal is 515 of better :)

  5. 25 nighleYour blog and reports are well done and fun. Keep up the good work.

    As for your visit to southwestern Michigan, I'd suggest that the area and the state of Michigan are better known for being surrounded by the biggest collection of fresh water on the entire planet than for being in the "fruit belt." Ha!