Flashback Fridays 10: Ironman Steelhead 70.3

August 19, 2012


Just the name can send a chill down the spine of a triathlete.


It is the ultimate single day, multi-sport endurance event.


I wanted at least one medal and finishers t-shirt with that word on it…even if it had the “70.3” indicating that it was “just” a half distance Ironman. It is still twice as long as the Olympic distance triathlon that I completed earlier in the year.

The plan after that race was to build towards on Ironman 70.3 in 2013. I would do a Tristar 111 to finish 2012. A 111 is a race that is in between an Olympic and a 70.3. It was a stepping stone event.

It was also a canceled event. That sent me scrambling. Not many events exist between an Olympic and a Half. So, I started looking for another Olympic. Then I started looking for a 70.3

Many of the regional events have already taken place. There was one left…Steelhead in Benton Harbor Michigan. Registration was still open.

Why not?

A few clicks later, and I was all registered. I could combine it with a trip home…I drove right by that town whenever I did so.

Finding a hotel was a tricker matter. Everything was booked up solid. Ended up staying about an hour away from the race site. Not perfect, but it would have to do.

Packing was an experience. A week of staying with the family, but I had to make sure that I didn’t forget the wetsuit, bike, helmet, tri-kit, running shoes, etc. a little nerve wracking going over and over the list.

For these events, you must check in the day before. The weather was beautiful. So was the beach, but Lake Michigan was rough. There was a riptide warning…absolutely no swimming allowed that day. But race day was supposed to be calm. That was good…since the swim at this event had been canceled twice in the last 4 years.

There were M-dot banners as far as the eye could see. Registration was in a pavilion on the beach. It could not be more smooth. Sign a couple of waivers, get your bibs and sticker, get your swim cap and timing chip. Get your shirt.

You then get immediately ejected into the Ironman store…where I spent a lot of money.

I then went to listen to a course preview. Every detail was covered. Turn by turn instructions, notations about tight turns, rumble strips, buoy colors and what they represent, etc etc.

I then put the stickers on my bike and checked it into transition. Finally, I drove the bike course. It was nice. More hills then I expected (with a good one right at the start). And I realized that 56 miles was is a long long distance!

Back to the hotel. Eat. Bed early. Didn’t get much sleep.


Alarm went off at 1:30. Normal morning routine. Had to make sure I had all my gear in the right bag. Parking was off site and there was a shuttle. If I forgot anything, it would be a pain to go back and get it.

Loaded everything in the car, drove to Benton Harbor, parked and got on the shuttle. I was one of the first in transition. Set up my station, got my wetsuit on, triple checked the bike. I was ready.

Sun wasn’t up yet.

Water was 67 degrees…wetsuit legal. There are two possible swim starts depending on the current. I found out where we were supposed to go and started the 1.2 mile walk up the beach.

The water was perfectly still. I walked with a triathlon veteran. This was his 10th time doing this race. He had also completed several full Ironman triathlons. He calmed my jitters. “Just trust in your training and enjoy the day”. I would do just that.

Made it to the start line just as the sun was coming up over the horizon. No clouds. No wind. No waves. Perfect temperature. Great day to race.

There is always a lot of nervous energy and enthusiasm at these events. Lot of music, lot of chatter. National anthem and last minute instructions. Cannon fired and the pros were off. I just watched as wave after wave hit the water. Then it was my turn.

Plan for the wave start was simple. Stay towards the back and don’t get trampled. Horn went off and we all ran off the beach and into the water.

It had started.

Water was beautiful…calm and clear. The buoys were easy to see and in a straight line. Swim about 200 yards out and swim parallel to the beach until the last turn into transition. I found my rhythm and just stuck with it. Fast swimmers from the next wave passed me, but I passed a few from the wave ahead of me, so I was quite happy so far.

Buoy color changed, indicating that I had passed the halfway point. I just kept going and going. Finally saw the turn buoy and headed onto the beach. As we emerged from the water, we crossed a timing mat, and a row of race photographers.

Swim split: 43:43

No wetsuit strippers at this event, so I started working my way out of it as we ran towards T1. Wetsuit off, toweled off, cap off, socks, shoes, sunglasses, helmet, bib, gloves, sunscreen on. Ran towards the exit and the mount line. Crossed the timing mat and hopped on the bike.

T1 split: 12:16

Had a quick loop on the bike before getting on the main road an the biggest hill of the morning.

I should note, I didn’t have a road or a tri bike for this event. I had a hybrid. Using that was fine for the smaller local events. But I was the only one to have a hybrid at this race. And I did get a few comments…

“Rocking the mountain bike!”

“Keeping it old-school! Keeping it real!”

Yeah, if I were to continue doing this, I would need to get used to a road bike and the skinny tires.

But today, I was old school…and getting passed by everybody.

More photographers heading towards the hill. That hill was tough, but it was right at the start. I pushed my way up that hill. Then the course became never ending rollers. There were 4 aid stations on the course, and I stopped for a breather at all 4. My legs were tired, but the course and the weather stayed perfect. I kept an eye on the watch. I was fully aware of the bike cutoff, and was never in jeopardy of missing it. More rollers. Eventually got back to the monster hill…but going down it this time…and into T2.

Bike split: 3:37:14

Rack the bike. Helmet off. Hat and sunscreen on. Head towards the exit.

T2 split: 9:23

The run was a 2 loop affair through a neighborhood and through the Maytag corporate campus. It wasn’t a pretty run. There was plenty of food and support. Talked to a few interesting and inspiring runners on lap 1. Lap 2 was lonely. I though at times that I was the last one out there. Temperature was climbing and I was getting tired. More food and Gatorade. I could hear the finish area. I was almost there. Another hill (they look bigger towards the end of a race). I just walked this one. I could see the finishers chute. I picked up the pace for the final stretch. Lots of photographers here. A short little sprint as they called my name crossing the line.

Run split: 2:40:32

Finish Time: 7:23:08

I had done it. I was a (half) Ironman. Got the medal and almost cried. It us still one of my absolute favorites medals, and I decided I wanted another. But I wanted one without the “70.3”…


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