Although the official event wouldn't begin until 7:00am on Saturday, we were in race mode starting at noon on Friday: pack the van, meet my sister's family in Kalamazoo, travel to Benton Harbor to drop off bikes and pick up our race packets, drive back to Kalamazoo for dinner, go to bed at 9:15pm (with a 2 year old kicking us in our backs all night while she told us about a dream involving turtles), wake up at 3:30am, and arrive in Benton Harbor at 5:30 to get stuck in a massive traffic jam. Even though the commute from Kalamazoo added hours to my prep time, I think it still would have been a hairy beast if we would have stayed in Benton Harbor. I wasn't fully aware of how a triathlon of this size would impact each step of the process.

Despite losing some time to traffic, we still got to the race start without feeling rushed. I felt bad for the athletes in the earlier waves whom I frequently saw running along the beach to make their wave start. I took my time doing a warm-up swim, stretching, and peeing five or six times in my wetsuit. My one regret was not having had the chance to get rid of a third round of #2, but luckily that didn't crop up again until mile 10 of the run.

When my wave lined up for the start, I noticed that we would be heading out at a 45 degree angle. A lot of guys were positioning themselves to the far right corner of the starting box to get the shortest line. I didn't want to be a part of that mess, so I lined up in the middle of the front row. This actually gave me plenty of room, and swimming wide of the buoys the whole way gave me a clear path without sacrificing too much in extra distance. The lake was very calm with only mild rolling waves, although the water was fairly murky. About 200 meters to the end, I nearly collided with a slow swimmer in front of me. (These slow sea creatures would cross my path from time-to-time.) One moment I was in clear water; the next I was grabbing someone's thigh. Anyway, the guy that I had just intersected with seemed to be heading out to Wisconsin, so I had to abruptly stop to get around him. As soon as I did this, my right calf muscle cramped up. Instantly, I started worrying about how much it was going to suck trying to run out of the water like that. I decided to stop kicking, but that didn't release the cramp. It eventually went away with about 100 meters to go. When I got to shore, passing the enormous blown up gatorade bottle, I checked my time: 31:16. Four minutes slower than I had hoped for. That discouraged me a little, but I realized that I hadn't pushed the swim that hard. I had been breathing comfortably every three strokes.

During the run up to transition, I was swerving and dodging around people through the narrow shoot. My bike was positioned close to the run in/run out, which meant I had to do a lot of running in my bike shoes. This cemented it for me that one of these days I need to commit and figure out how to leave my shoes clipped onto my bike.

After a few corners, I was going up highway 63 and passing people constantly. Although I tried as hard as I could to follow the drafting rules, there were a few moments on the course where it was way too congested. A couple times there were so many people trying to pass that there would be 4 people along side each other. Occasionally, I had to ride on the yellow line to get around clumps of riders. I think a lot of these problems could have been mitigated had the slower groups been in the later waves. I'm sure the cumulative effect of all passing I was doing created some aerodynamic benefit, but I'm still impressed that I was able to push on the bike enough to average 21.6 mph (I would have been happy if I had averaged over 20). This put me in a great position to meet my race goals.

My nutrition strategy was working well. I was drinking 24oz of liquid between aid stations and picking up a bottle at each. Also, I was able to eat a gu about every 20 minutes, excluding the first half hour of the ride. My stomach started feeling a bit bloated around mile 35, but I was able to alleviate that by drinking more water. The experience gained from my long training days was paying off.

Aside from the mass of cyclists that I had to pass and all the junk they kept on dropping (bottles, aero drinks, CO2 pumps and cartridges, bottle cages, etc.), I thought that the bike course was very pleasant. I felt good for most of the ride and was wondering when the race was going to start hurting. I got my answer around mile 45 as my ass was starting to get sore and at mile 48 when my left achilles tendon started to bother me. I slowed down during the last few miles, thinking about how the achilles might affect my run. I was worried that it could be a race ender.

As I came into transition again I was doing great on time. 2:35:40 on the bike put me in at my highest expected pace. With a race time of 3:12:18 heading out of transition, I could "take it easy" on the run and still make my goal. This was comforting as I stopped to stretch my achilles before setting out. When I started to run, my achilles was still bothering me. I went out slow and tried to experiment with my stride to find a way to make it hurt less. Aside from my achilles pain, I felt good and still had plenty of energy.

By mile 2, I had figured out a stride that was making the run more comfortable. From there on, the pain slowly started to diminish, and by mile 5 it was a non-issue. I was able to pick up my pace a bit and was probably going at my workout pace of just under 8-minute miles.

When I stopped to pee around mile 4, I was glad to have some validation that my hydration was on track. I walked through every aid station to make sure I was able to drink all the liquid I picked up. I was using my saliva as a guide for what to consume. If it was thick and dry, I'd drink water until it felt viscus. If it was viscus, I would drink gatorade or eat a gu with water.

The run began getting difficult around mile 10. I was starting to feel like my energy levels were getting lower, though I wasn't bonking. I also was starting to feel, off and on, like I needed to poop. Fortunately, I was able to wait until the end of the race to take care of this.

I was keeping track of my pace the whole run, and I decided to make finishing in under 5 hours my goal. Each mile I would calculate my average pace and what I needed to do to make it. At mile 10, besides the lower energy and poop feeling, I was noticing that I needed to keep my pace up. I soldiered through, reminding myself that the last few miles were mostly downhill. At the 12 mile marker, I had 8 minutes left to travel 1.1 miles to finish in under 5 hours. I pulled it together and started to pick it up. By the time I saw sand I was sprinting. When I rounded the last corner I could see the finishing shoot. I looked down at my watch, and I had 30 seconds to get my ass across that line. I put everything I could into that last stretch and was amazed at how much energy I had left to pull it off. In the end I finished in 5:00:02. Almost exactly what I was hoping for. Although I had tried to second guess myself about all the things I could have done to have that 4 instead of a 5, I keep looking back to last year when I signed up for this race. Back then, I was hoping to finish in 5:30:00. A 5-hour half ironman didn't seem like something I was capable of. Well, it is something I can do, and I am damn proud of it.

I'm also proud of Allison, Doug, and Carol for coming out and doing a relay. They've been making some great progress themselves and it was exciting to see them come out as a team to meet their challenges together.

Post race, I've been having to deal with the soreness of doing a 70.3 event. The sunburn is a bit painful, but not too bad. I'll make it a point for these longer races to lather up again in transition. My muscles are a little sore, mostly my quads and especially my right calf that had cramped up during the swim. Nothing really is of any concern except for my left achilles tendon. On the car ride home, it began to get swollen and started hurting again. By the time we got home, I was having to modify my walk. I began icing it then, but by the time I woke up the next day, I couldn't walk without pain. I'm currently at all possible times and walking as little as possible. I have 2 olympic distance races scheduled in the next two weekends, but I'll trash those if I'm not healed by then. My major concern is if it will recover by Ironman Wisconsin. It seems to me that there was no tearing involved, since I was able to run on it for so long and never felt sharp or abrupt pain. The tendon feels okay, but there is a lot of fluid rubbing against it. I'm hoping that once the inflammation goes down the pain will subside.

Race Results are here. I finished 235th overall out of 1789 finishers and 34th in my age group out of 154.


Stephen, I am so proud of you. Thanks for the detailed update for those of us that can't be there to cheer you on! I am exhausted after reading that!

That was fun wasn't it? :-) I feel much better today after chatting with my swim coach. I was about three minutes off on my expected time as well and we figured I added an extra 500 meters onto my swim with my attempt to travel to Green Bay through the big lake. Darn that glare!

Congrats on your awesome time and all your efforts. Good healing vibes are coming your way!



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