Monday, August 15, 2011
Three weeks removed from Ironman Lake Placid was my first real race back, the Steelhead 70.3 in Benton Harbor Michigan. With 38 pro men on the list and a flat course I went in expecting a pretty similar race to what we had in Muncie, lots of packs on the bike and ultimately a runner's race. I was looking forward to this race because, although Lake Placid was just three weeks ago, I feel I've made real gains in my swim and bike fitness since then. Running, however, has been a struggle. I've found Ironman recovery to be as challenging and as much a test of patience as actual Ironman racing. I've felt terrible and cut more runs short in the past two weeks than I have this entire year. When I made my Ironman debut last year it was essentially the end of my season. Thus this is my first real experience racing an Ironman with several more months of racing planned. Anyway I went into Steelhead excited to test my swim and bike fitness but with pretty much no confidence in my run.
Race morning Lake Michigan was very angry and the swim was, rightfully so, cancelled. I was happy the event was made into a bike-run and not a run-bike-run since, with my run still not 100% from Lake Placid, the last thing I wanted to do was a long course du. I was excited for the race since, with a time trial start, I was pretty certain it would be a true test of where my bike fitness is right now. Unfortunately the dynamics of the race played out such that it wasn't a true test by any means.
Bike: 2:06:33 26.6mph 9th fastest
The pros started the time trial highest race numbers, down to lowest, in other words slower athletes starting first, fastest athletes starting last. In hindsight I think it would have been a much more fair race had they started us in reverse order, fastest to slowest. I started about two-thirds of the way through, and felt awesome right from the get go. Was riding smooth and strong into a pretty brisk headwind. First 10 miles were solo and then I made my first pass, but wasn't so much stronger that I was able to pull away. Not long after, we were caught from behind by some athletes, but they weren't so much stronger that they were able to pull away even with 10 meters of separation. Continue this trend for the next 30 miles, we continue to roll up slower riders and the draft becomes so strong that nobody falls off the back. 45 miles in I think we had a line of 13 athletes, all of us riding a far faster pace, with minimal effort than we'd ever be able to ride on our own. My experience is that almost all flat 70.3s end up with large packs, but this got to be pretty silly. Anyway nearly half the men's pro field dismounted within 20 seconds of each other, having put out minimal effort on the bike, and having not done a swim I knew the run was going to be insanely fast. Officially it's my fastest ride ever at 26.6mph but only the first 20 miles required any real effort.
Run: 1:14:37 7th fastest
The massive pack was moving out of T2. Just keeping up with everyone I split the first mile (net uphill) in 5:33. The pace stayed hot from there. I went through some periods feeling really good, and others feeling pretty bad. But throughout it all I never ran slower than 6min pace. Officially it's my fastest run split ever by 90 seconds but with no swim, and hardly any real riding I think it hardly counts as a pr. Normally I'd be pretty skeptical about the validity of the course with a split like I had, but it was the exact same course I ran 1:20 and 1:22 on the past two years so I know it's legit. Mainly I was just pleased that having had really inconsistent training runs in the past two weeks I was able to run well when it came time to race, felt pretty good the whole way, and never really fell apart at the end. The fact that the run splits were as fast as they were (12 people ran under 1:16) just goes to show how little effort was required on the bike.
Overall: 3:22:34 9th place
When I crossed the line and saw my run split I was positive I would be top-8 and likely top-5. But I kept seeing more and more cross with similar run splits. Then when the waiting was done for the results I ended up 9th, a mere 22 seconds off the last money spot. Tough to take but that's racing. In all nearly half the pro field finished within 4 minutes of the win which further shows the dynamics of this race. In future time trial starts they need to start the predicted fastest athletes first, slowest last, so that there will be far less passing, and less chance of packs forming than what there was. That and actually put officials out on the course. This is a race I'll put behind me really quick, there's really nothing I can take away from it other than a decent workout, knowing I rode really strong the first 15 miles, and I put together a good run despite feeling terrible most of the week leading in. The only good news is the race didn't take the toll on me it normally would and I should be able to get back to hard training quickly. I've got 4 weeks until my biggest race of the year, the Revolution 3 Cedar Point Iron distance in Sandusky Ohio September 11. I feel really good about where I'm at right now heading into this race, far better than I felt about myself heading into Lake Placid. I'm confident my swimming and cycling will be better than Placid, and my run should be back to 100% by then. Now I really want to crush these next two weeks of hard training to give myself the best possible chance of having my best race on September 11.