Triathlons are back and so is Ironman 70.3 races in the Midwest
Steelhead 70.3 is a classic race in the Midwest known for its unpredictable weather. The event has been around since 2004 in beautiful Benton Harbor/St. Joseph area in Michigan. Many Chicago athletes come to Michigan for this outstanding event as it is a short drive from the city.
Benton Harbor is an easy hour and half drive from Chicago which makes is a great venue for Chicago athletes. The town is beautifully situated on lake Michigan, lodging can be very limited and pricey, so I recommend booking your hotels early on if you want to stay by the race start. There are other cute little town around the area that are great options, but this is a favorite place for family summer vacations so it’s hard to find a place to stay if you don’t plan in advance. Most hotel require two-night minimum stay so plan ahead.
The race provided check in on Friday and Saturday this year. Due to thunderstorms around the area, the check in location was moved to the high school. The week before the race, the weather looked promising, almost perfect conditions but you never know with the weather in the Midwest. The perfect weather turned into potential thunderstorms to tornado warning rather quickly. We left Chicago Saturday morning, we were able to check in, do a short swim, bike, run rehearsal and I was feeling ready for race day. Another tip for anyone wanting to do this race is to plan ahead for dinning. There are limited options to begin with and due to COVID, food services were slower than ever.
The swim or lack there of
Lake Michigan can be calm or choppy depending on the winds, so the swim is always questionable, you can have perfect conditions or expect 2-4 feet waves with craft advisory, like we did this weekend. Due to hazardous conditions, the swim was canceled at 5am race morning. Most Triathlete I know like to know what to expect and be prepared so as you can imagine, the news of a canceled swim caused some athletes to be upset. I was grateful that the race director prioritized the safety of all our athletes and made the difficult decision to cancel the swim.
Time Trial Start
Of course, a canceled swim created a whole bunch of new challenges, how would the get 1,500 + athletes to start the bike in a timely and safely matter? Usually this is done in a time trial method by race number, however the race director made a last-minute decision to have athletes line up by their predicted finish time. This was a complicated process. Especially , if you have never done this course or are new to triathlon or don’t know how to account for weather conditions. It is simply hard to predict your time. I have done this course multiple times and my time today was much slower than the last time I came here. Most triathletes tend to be very hopeful and enthusiastic about their racing times (myself included) I should mention that there were 15-25 mph winds gust and rain on race morning. It made for some tough 26 milesof riding with head winds coming back to transitions. The 56-mile bike course will take triathletes through the scenic northern Berrien and eastern Van Buren counties. This area is part of the Michigan “fruit belt” and includes numerous farms as well as vineyards and orchards.
The bike time trial start made for brutal, irritating, and hectic start to the race. In triathlon, cyclists are not allowed to draft off another athlete. The USAT upholds that “no participant shall permit his drafting zone to intersect with or remain intersected with the drafting zone of a leading cyclist or that of a motor vehicle” Inevitably the time trial start caused significant congestion and it became a little bit of a draft fest. I witness one major accident, multiple pelotons (that is a major non no), and many frustrated athletes. I think drafting in triathlon has always been an issue and sometimes is inevitable. I just trust that we can all have good sportsmanship and respect the rules.
The run – oh my that run
The run at steelhead is known for being hilly and challenging, as athletes have to run up and down a hill two times in these two-loop course around the Whirlpool Campus. By the time sthletes started the run, the weather had cleared up and was sunny, hot and humid. There is little sade on the course. The volunteers were amazing and there was plenty of water, ice, snack, Gatorade, coke and Redbull almost every mile of the 13.1 mile run.
As I reflect on this race, it got me thinking about why I do this sport and why I love it so much. Yesterday was my personal worst, but I was grateful to finish and humbled that my mind and body continues to allow me to challenge myself at this level. Triathlon has taught me the value of patience, adaptability, and consistency. You must have patience and trust in your training and fitness, must be adaptable because regardless of fitness level anything can and will go wrong on race day (poor weather conditions, mechanical and flats, crashes, GI issues, etc.) and finally being consistent with your training, nutrition, and fitness gains. That is how ypou get better at it. You also need passion and drive to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and continue to set new goals. Triathlon will not only test your body but mind needs to be just as fit to manage the pressure and challenges on race day.
I had three main goals for this race, one was to race a triathlon again, two was to secure a slot for 70.3 World Championships in St George, UT, and three was to have fun. Mission accomplished.
Thank you to the wonderful volunteers and the ironman staff for putting a top-notch race under some serious unpredictable conditions. The communication was greatly appreciated and although you never want to make last minute changes to a race of this magnitude, they did what was best for the athletes. That is what this is all about. Have fun and stay safe.
Congratulations to all finishers, the well-fit athletes on stellar performances, my well fit elite team teammates (you guys inspire me), my dear friends, my coach Sharone, and my partner for putting up with my madness.
On to the next one.