Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ironman Steelhead 69.1 Race Report and Results

As you can tell from the title this race did not go off as expected. Jen and I made the drive to Benton Harbor, Michigan for the Steelhead 1/2 Ironman on Saturday morning after Jen finished winning her 2nd road race in as many days. I thought there was no way we were going to make the 2:00 pm pro meeting because I realized Saturday morning that the time in Michigan is one hour ahead of our time back home. We did make great time however, and we arrived at Jean Klock Park for the meeting with about 10 minutes to spare. At the pro meeting we were quickly told there was a strong possibility that the swim would be cancelled. A big storm was blowing in and they said that 25 mph winds were expected from the north which would bring huge waves and make the swim conditions unsafe. To add to the waves the riptides were really bad and they didn't want anyone to drown. They said we should plan on a swim but the backup plan was to have a bike and run only with the bike portion starting in time trial fashion. They would send the pros out every 30 seconds. We voted whether we wanted the highest or lowest numbers to be the first ones out. My number was 18 of the 38 guys on the pro start list so I didn't really care either way but I voted for the low numbers to go out first. Typically Ironman gives the top contenders the low numbers and then after the first 5 or 6 guys the numbers are assigned by who signed up first. After a tie vote the first time they voted again and decided if the swim was cancelled we would start with the high numbers going out first.

I'm not going to lie...I was pretty excited about the chance of not having to swim. I thought that would give me a better chance of placing high overall since swimming is my weak length. If it would have been good conditions I would have liked to swim because this course is fast and I knew it was realistic that I had a chance to break 4 hours for the first time in my life for a 1/2 Ironman. Since the weather was not going to be good I was hoping they would decide on no swim so I could try to place higher. After the meeting Jen and I hit up our hotel which was about the least classy hotel I've ever been in but it was only 10 minutes from the race start and it was about 1/2 the cost of the other options available. It only took about 2 minutes of being in the room before we didn't notice the aweful smell of the room. I prepared my bike with the GU nutrition plan and got about as good a night of sleep as I've had before a big race this year. I woke up at 4:00 a.m. to get breakfast and Jen and I left the hotel just before 5:00 to drive to the lake. When we left the hotel it seemed really nice out. The wind was not bad and I was thinking we were definitely going to swim. When we got out of the car at the park I knew things would be changing however as the winds at the lake were crazy. The waves were reported 6-7 feet high and the riptides were bad. The coast guard had suspended all small watercrafts from entering the lake which meant it was a guarantee no one would be swimming. As I made the walk into transition they were already announcing the swim would be cancelled and we would begin the time trial start at 7:15.

BIKE:I began the race when they got down to bib # 18 after starting with the high numbers. There were about 12 guys already out on the road. It was pretty exciting starting the race in a time trial format. I knew I would have to keep my composure and not go out too hard. Although it is a time trial it is still a 56 mile ride ahead of me with a 13.1 mile run to follow. I chose to go with the Zipp Sub-9 disc on the rear and the Zipp 808 front wheel. I thought with the strong winds the 808 would be a better wheel than the 1080. I could have gone with the 1080 because the winds were not nearly as bad out on the roads when we got away from the lake. When they said "go" I took off and tried to settle into a nice rythm. I could see rider #19 ahead of me after we turned out of the park and I slowly began to pull him back. I decided when I got close I would sit back 10 meters and take in my first round of nutrition. This happened at about mile 8. I was feeling good knowing I had made up 30 seconds on him in the first 8 miles but I also didn't know how strong of a rider he was. When I passed him I encouraged him to go with me hoping we could work together a bit but within a few miles he was off the back. I could not see the next guy up the road who had started 1 minute ahead of me. At about mile 13 I spotted him and knew I was gaining ground. As I got closer I could see another guy not far in front of the guy ahead of me and we were both gaining on him. I passed them both at around mile 18. They were both strong enough to stay with me which was good because they would be able to help me out by sharing the lead. I looked back and couldn't see anyone so I was feeling great about how things were going. Over the next 17 miles we traded the lead in a legal format. When we were passed we dropped back 10 meters out of the zone. Between the 3 of us I was doing about 50% of the work and the other guys were splitting the other 50%. It was nice to have the help. We stayed this way until about mile 35 and that is when things got really sketchy. At mile 35 it felt like a train went by us. There were about 10 guys riding together with gaps of around 5 meters between some of them. Even the guy I had passed at mile 8 was in the group. Some of them apologized as they made the pass. They knew the way they were riding was not legal but they also knew that if they tried to stay legal they would get left behind. There were no officials at all near us and so this is the way the race had played out. I'm not sure why the few race officials chose to stay with the first guys out on the bike the entire way when the race was a time trial start. I understand spending most of the time with the leaders but in a time trial start format the first ones out on the bike are probably not the guys leading the race. I tucked into the group and went for the "free ride" as one of them called it when he went by me. I can say over the next 21 miles of the race I did not stay back 10 meters at all times. I don't want to make it sound like I was the only one riding legally in the group because there were times I got closer than 10 meters and instead of passing as the rule states I would drop back out of the zone. I did go to the front on 3 occasions to help with my share of the workload. I was trapped in a bad situation as many of the guys in this group were. If I would have tried to stay in a legal position the entire time I would have been left behind on my own. I was really hoping a race official would ride up and break the group apart. I didn't think all of them could hang on if they were forced into staying at a legal distance. What had happened? It was easy to figure out. The guy with bib #6, Australian Chris Legh was a great rider. When he passed number 7, probably early in the race...number 7 was able to jump on and stay with him. As they passed more and more riders the train began to grow. Once it gets big it is easy to sit in. There were times I was going 30 miles per hour in the group at an effort of 22-23 mph solo. Chris Legh was not happy with guys who were not taking their turn on the front and he let them know it with some unkind words. At about mile 50 the train swept up John Kenny who was wearing bib # 30. I felt terrible for him. He was super pissed when he saw this peloton roll by him and he let us know it. John Kenny is one of the best triathlete swimmers in the entire world. First off, he didn't get to swim with the cancellation. He leads every race he does out of the water. Now here he is at mile 50 and he has been busting his nuts by himself most of the way when a group containing guys who started 6 or 7 minutes behind him come rolling by together in a very illegal riding fashion. He jumped on the train as well but his free ride was much shorter than anyone elses. This is how the ride played out. About 13 of us rolled into transition within 20 seconds of each other. I knew the run would be fun having lots of guys around. My bike split was 2:09 which was about 26 mph. Before I got swept up by the train I was averaging about 25.4 mph so I can't really say this was a PR bike leg without puting an * by it due to the illegal riding that was taking place over those last 20 miles.

RUN: I left transition and the pace was fast. All the guys around me were flying. Some of the guys I outran in Racine by minutes were rolling really fast which I expected because they were able to save so much energy riding on the train. I had spent 35 miles working like crazy and had been one of the last people to get swept up by the train. I knew this would be a fast run but I was hoping the guys would slow down within a few miles. I went through the 3 mile mark in 16:50 and began to wonder if I was going to be able to hold this pace or if I would blow up by starting so fast. 2 of the guys I started with began to creep away after the 3 mile mark. Another guy who I had passed in the first mile passed me back and I was able to stay with him for only about a mile. At the aid stations I was taking water, coke, and gatorade. My hamstrings were a little shaky which they have been since my long run a few weeks ago. I began to slip off my pace at about mile 4 as I went through 4 in 22:50. I tried to hold things together and it never got terribly ugly but I was losing the guys ahead of me. I did cross a spot where I saw "Live Uncommon" written across the road and another spot that said, "Dream Big". Jen had taken the time to write me these messages while she was out on her 13 mile run that morning and it was greatly appreciated. It gave me some added motivation to not pack things in when I was hurting. At about mile 8 Michael Lovato passed me. He started with bib #3 and is one of the top triathletes in the US. He was running about 10 sec./mile faster than I was. At mile 11 Olympian Matty Reed and Chris McDonald rolled by me and I could not stay with them either. They were both running about 15 sec/mile faster than me. I knew my pace was still slipping but it was still respectable as I was still holding around 6:00/mile and my average pace was at about 5:50 overall. I finished the 1/2 marathon with a new PR of 1:17:16. I had run a 1:17 flat in Texas 2 years ago but that course was about a 1/4 mile short so this was a faster run. My GPS had the course at 13.31 miles but I think I probably did a bad job of running the tangents and that is why it measured off. The run times were fast for everyone so I don't think it was long. The conditions were perfect for running with temps. in the high 60's and the sun hidden behind the clouds. Overall I was really happy with the outcome. I was 14th place in a time of 3 hrs. 28 minutes. There were 28 pro finishers and I finished ahead of a bunch of guys I had never beaten before. Although I thought having the swim cancelled would help me I don't think it helped as much as I thought. I did benefit but due to the nature of the riding taking place and being that I started well ahead of where the train got started I was 1-3 minutes behind most of the guys in that group when I got off the bike which is about how much time I would typically give up to those guys on the swim. Complete results with splits can be found by clicking here. Now I turn my attention to Ironman Wisconsin which is 4 weeks away. I'll try to get recovered this week and then begin 2 solid weeks of prep before a week long taper for Madison. I know the high intensity interval training I've done over the past 4 weeks has made me a stronger rider and now that school is starting back up tomorrow I'll have to continue getting the high intesity rides in favor of the long mileage due to the fact that I don't have as much time to train. Special thanks to Laurel Darren for the pre-race massage and for Dr. Kaminski for getting the kinks worked out with some ART work before I took off for the trip. Thanks for reading. DREAM BIG!!


LittleRachet said...

The one thing I like about triathlon is that it is an individual sport, and if you race it legally, you can't bring in all of these disclaimers like "well, I missed the front pack" or "the other guys didn't have to work as hard". I'm really disappointed to read this, and to hear that you let yourself get sucked in. The race already would have an asterisk because of no swim - why add an additional asterisk to it for knowingly drafting???

Joshua said...

haters are the worst. awesome job jeff. some crazy conditions made it a less than normal race but you did what you've trained to do and raced it well. there's always tough decisions to be made and the day i'm a pro IM is the day i'll start thinking about judging the validity of a pro IM's decisions.

Daniel Bretscher said...

Nice pic! Paparazzi follows us triathletes everywhere!