Last Sunday I raced the Steelhead 70.3 in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I was not planning to do this race because I had not been doing a whole lot of training. I have been putting in some solid bike miles but I really spent about a month wondering if I should call it a season or continue racing. I had not swam more than 10 times over the past month and had only run about 13 times. This was the least prepared I ever felt for a pro race but I really had the itch to test my fitness so I made the trip.
The race had 16 pros in it, mostly domestic guys with a few international pro sprinkled in. The weather was perfect with very little wind, cool temperatures and mostly cloud cover.
SWIM: I was very honest with myself and knew my swim time would not be very good. I had been swimming very little compared to what I was doing all year before Racine. I went from swimming 20,000 yards a week down to about 7,000 yards/week for the past 4 weeks after my week off training. I lined up all the way to the left on the beach start and happend to be about 3 feet from the cannon that fired to start us. My heart almost jumped out of my chest when the cannon exploded right next to me. I ran into the water, did a couple dolphin dives and began swimming. For the first few hundred yards I was able to hang in with the group but it wasn't long after that I found the gap was opening up and there was little I could do about it. I knew it would be a big mistake to try to redline the swim early because my swim fitness is so poor right now so I just focused on trying to get into a good rhythm. It seemed like forever before the boueys turned from yellow to red signifying the second half of the swim. In my first two pro races this year, which were both pretty disastrous I was caught by the female pros way before the swim was over. In Kansas without a wetsuit I got caught before the half way point. In Racine where I had a decent swim I got caught with about 700 yards to go. Once I got to the half way point I knew there were 8 red boueys remaining until the swim was over. I got to 2 of them and still hadn't gotten caught so I set a personal goal to make it as far as possible before getting caught by the females. They start 3 minutes after us. I made it to bouey 4 and still hadn't gotten caught. I began to think maybe I was having a better swim than I realized. 5...6...7...and then the catch. There was only 1 female who went by me. I knew more were coming so I pushed on knowing the swim was almost over. Just before I got out of the water I could see two more of them coming. I pushed hard and exited just before they caught me. I was 31:10 which was slow but not as bad as the time indicated. Only 1 female had made up the stagger on me and the gap from me to the leaders was less than it has been in any of my pro races this year. I went through transition quickly and passed the only female who was ahead of me just as I got on my bike. There was only 1 guys bike left on the rack besides mine so I was 15th of 16 out of the water. Thanks to Ali Engin for the great photo. Ali is always nice to see at the pro races. He's normally the only human being I see on the bike course for the first 20 miles or so.
BIKE: The bike is really the reason I wanted to do this race. I liked the course last year but found out it was changed slightly. I had thought the roads were super smooth last year but found out they were not this year either due to the course change or my bad memory. The roads were quite rough early on but I pushed hard not knowing how far up the road the other guys were or if they were packed together or spread out. I was hoping for spread out. It can be tough riding without seeing anyone on the course but I've gotten used to it due to my poor swimming. I had to believe with my renewed power on the bike that I would eventually catch someone. I road the first 15 miles without seeing anyone but at about mile 15 I got a glimpse of a guy about a minute ahead. It felt good to see someone out there to know I was making progress. I worked hard and it took me about 5 miles to catch him. When I made the pass I encouraged him to try to stay with me and we could work together. Our draft zone is 10 meters and even at 10 meters on a flat course it feels considerably easier. Thankfully for me he was able to hang in there and he passed me after I lead for a couple miles. We alternated in this manner every couple miles and it was a huge help. At about mile 30 we could see 2 guys ahead of us working together that we were pulling back. We caught them at about mile 35 and it was Nick Wanninger and Tony White who I knew. They both beat me last year at Racine. I asked Nick how far up the next guy was and he said there was a big pack riding together up front that he and Tony were in before they both were given 4 minute draft penalties. The four of us worked together but Tony fell off about 5 miles later and so it was just 3 of us. We passed one of the foreign pros at about mile 45 and we were gaining on 2 more guys we could see ahead. I was starting to get excited knowing I was going to get off the bike around 10th place. I knew some of the guys still ahead were mid-1:20's kind of runners and I thought I had a 1:20 in me so I felt like I could move up a decent amount on the run. My total bike time was 2 hrs. 15 minutes for about a 25.0 mph average speed.
RUN: Right off the bike in transition I knew I was in trouble. My lower back was super tight when I got off. It hadn't hurt during the ride at all but right when I got to my feet it was not good. Running the bike through transition was very uncomfortable and the transition area was about 300-400 meters long. I got out on the course and the 3 guys I got off the bike with left me quickly. I was struggling without any sort of rhythm. My back was bad and I knew I wasn't going to make it very far if I didn't get it to loosen up so I stopped about a mile in and stretched for a bit. I continued running but it wasn't any better. Before the 2 mile mark I stopped and stretched again. I was now just hoping to be able to finish the run. It was very painful and I felt like I was leaning back because my back was so tight. At the 2.5 mile mark it was still terrible so I knew I needed to stop and sit down and go through a bunch of back stretches. This helped considerably although the stopping wasn't helping my time in any way. When I got back up and started running the pain was subsiding and I was able to get into a bit of a rhythm. By about mile 6 I had my pace hovering around 6:10/mile. I wanted to hold this as long as possible. I stayed good until about mile 10 when I was getting pretty tired. My pace was up in the 6:40 range and I kept it there until the finish. My overall run time was 1 hr. 26 minutes which was about 6 minutes slower than I had hoped given my current fitness. I've run 1:17 on three different occasions so I felt 1:20 was possible with where my running is right now. I finished 13th of the 16 pros that started the race but I was only about 6 minutes from 6th place so it made me realize had I been able to put a solid run together it could have been a great race. That's much easier said that done. I was excited to hear that Daniel Bretscher had won the race. He's a class act. He's always so positive and is one pro I really admire. He told me, "I lived Uncommon today." He does that every day but it was great hearing that from him. He's put in a ton of work and is having his best year ever in the sport. He lead the race start to finish. Daniel has been sort of a mentor to me. Last year he sent me some needed support after rough races and gave me great advice heading into my first pro races. He's also moving to Iowa this winter so I'm hoping we can get together to train a little bit next year.
This past week I've been unsure of where to go from here. My original plan was to race a 70.3 in Branson on September 23rd and then race Ironman Arizona in November. My good buddy Adam Bohach is going to race the Full Ironman distance in Cedar Point on September 9th and I was really thinking this was something I was not ready for. After Steelhead I had a really bad taste for Ironman once again. Ironman puts on really well organized races but they cut so many corners to make every lst penny they can. Compare this...on the same day as Steelhead they had a 1/2 Ironman distance race in Cedar Rapids Iowa. The early registration price was 85.00 compared to Steelhead's 200.00. After Steelhead the food they had for athletes consisted of pretzels, bananas, cookies, and grapes. At Pigman in Cedar Rapids they had a full meal, tons of candy, drinks of all sorts. They have lots of raffle giveaways at Pigman. The awards are probably better than age group awards that Ironman gives, and they had massage and chiropractic services complimentary. At Steelhead they had massage they were charging athletes 1.00 per minute for. I couldn't believe that...well yes I could since it was Ironman. After this year I will be doing entirely non-Ironman branded events. I love seeing those races grow and wish more people wold do them until Ironman begins to up the quality of what the athlete gets for the price they pay. This weekend I wanted to test myself a bit to see if I was a fool for thinking about doing a full in 2 weeks at Cedar Point. I biked 106 miles on Saturday. This was my 3rd century ride in the past 4 weeks. On Sunday I wanted to run 17 miles figuring if I could do that I would at least know I was capable of running a marathon. My longest run over the past 10 weeks has only been 13 miles. I made it and actually felt quite good at the end so that was my deciding factor. I didn't realize it until my drive home but the 17 miles was my longest run since early last November when I was preparing for IM Arizona. I prayed about it this weekend and asked God to point me in the right direction regarding which race to do. I knew if He was going to lead me to Branson then He would make something hurt on this long run and nothing did so I'm going to race a full in Cedar Point on September 9th. I'm thrilled to be racing alongside my good friend Adam Bohach in his pro debut that weekend. Going out there with him was really the only reason I was considering that race. I still don't know if I should be doing a full with the little I've been running but I only get to live once so why not go for it and see what happens. It will be kind of like the excitement I had going into Steelhead feeling like I really shouldn't be racing but knowing the challenge of doing so was going to be fun. They give awards 10 deep in the pro race at Cedar Point and Branson only gives awards 5 deep so even with the extra two weeks to get in better shape for Branson my chances of winning an award are probably no better there. There will be around 15 guys racing in the pro field at Cedar Point. I'm excited to race a Rev3 event. I've heard countless good things about this series and they are putting up some great competition for Ironman. I may be the fattest pro on the start line in Cedar Point but I'll just use that as more motivation to compete with them. Thanks for reading! DREAM BIG!