Ironman 70.3 Steelhead Race Report

This year was a year of doing some completely new 70.3 races than I have in the past. I still need to do a race report for Texas 70.3 but since Steelhead is fresh on my mind, I’ll start here! This race takes place in Benton Harbor, MI and the swim is in Lake Michigan. I picked this one due to a great convergence of schedule and course. I love lake swims, the bike is gently rolling and the location made me hope that the weather on the run would be pleasant. Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad I guess.

It was weird to go to the race without Melanie or any teammates but fortunately my friends brought a cheering section!

Pre Race

I flew into Chicago since my friends Steve and Cheryl live there and spent Friday night and Saturday morning with them. After a nice breakfast though, I was off to Benton Harbor to finish registration and check my bike in. This was the first 70.3 I’ve done where I decided to do all of this on the day before the race. It was just getting too onerous to have an extra day dedicated to pre-race. My only regret is that I didn’t get in a light workout on Saturday. I also did a terrible job fueling & hydrating on Saturday. I ‘fixed’ the problem but just something I need to pay better attention to.

Saturday night I turned in early and ran into a bit of a snag. I couldn’t fall asleep. I’m suspicious that my lack of a morning workout combined with nerves kept me awake. I got about 2 hours of sleep total. Fortunately, I got plenty of sleep in the nights leading up to the weekend so it wasn’t a really big deal.

Race Morning

I felt pretty awful when I first woke up due to my lack of real sleep but I was still able to eat my breakfast, have some coffee and get to transition by 5am which was plenty of time. I like to take my time to get my transition area prepped, bike prepped and do a walk-through of transition so I can just understand exactly where I should be going to get to my bike. It’s definitely a routine that I also find really relaxing.

Once the bike was set up, I went ahead and was able to get in the water to warm up. The lake was perfect. 70F and pretty flat. You really couldn’t ask for better conditions.

The Swim

I decided to line myself up in the area of the rolling start that closely matched what I actually thought I could swim. Sometimes I go a little more aggressive just so I can get out of the water earlier and get on the bike but with a rolling start, it probably only made a difference of about 10 minutes and saved me from having people swim on top of me for 1.2 miles. So that was a good trade.

I thought I was moving through the water pretty well for the first leg of the swim which was a giant triangle. Except I wasn’t. As stupid as this might sound, my goggles were fogging up and I didn’t realize it. So I was way off on my sighting and got way off course.

Even with that, I just had a really really slow swim. 54:37 is just way slower than any swim I’ve ever done at this distance. I actually am not sure what happened since I never felt like I was going that slowly. I will admit that I did a terrible job of training for the swim in general this year so this is something I’m going to refocus on. I had no problem finishing. I was never struggling. But that time is embarrassing.


I’ve been working on my transitions and this race presented me with the first race I’ve done in a while where I had to strip my own wetsuit. I forgot how hard it was! Bring back the strippers! I need a little practice on that one since I got my foot stuck. Otherwise, I found my transition area was laid out perfectly for me. 4:54 isn’t impressive but actually not too bad given the size of the transition area.


Time for some fun! I was ready to get out there and if nothing else, crank out a great bike split. In the past year I upgraded from my Kestrel Talon to my Cervelo P2 and got some HED JET 6 wheels. I think it’s not a coincidence that the past 2 races have both been PRs on the bike leg.

As far as this course, my description of it would be “fine”. It wasn’t the most scenic race I’ve ever done. It was fairly bland to be honest. The course itself was gently rolling which did lend itself to a killer bike split. There was one guy that he and I played leap front for nearly the entirety of the race. I passed him going up, and he passed me going down. I have been playing with some new race strategy this year so that was intentional.

No idea who this person is but thanks!

I got my first surprise on the bike when Steve and Cheryl had set up along the course to cheer me on. They also recruited random other people who drove by and shouted at me which had me laughing since I had no idea who all these people were.

Overall my bike split time was 2:48:26 which I’m just going to round to 20 mph on the course (19.95…close enough). That just gets better and better so I’m very pleased there.


I think I did a decent job here of getting in and changing my shoes. For next season I’m going to get some quick lacing shoes for race day because I probably lose at least a minute getting my shoes on. I could also focus on cutting 10 – 12 minutes off my swim I guess. T2 was a 3:33.


Well, I knew coming out of T2 I was in trouble. I suck in the heat. I just fall apart. And it was hot. So much for a race up north! As soon as I started the run, in addition to the heat, I was cramping up. It was at that moment I realized that I forgot to pack my secret weapon for cramping – HOTSHOT. Cramping on mile 1 of the run was obviously a bad thing and I can’t remember the last time I ever was able to get back to the point where I wasn’t cramping.

I decided to just go a little easy at the start and walk nearly the whole first mile. Surprisingly…that did it. I never cramped again. Unfortunately the heat just really did me in. I never got in a rhythm after that. The course was somewhat hilly (though really not too bad) but completely out in the sun. I think what I need to find is a race that believes in trees.

The trees in the background are a lie…

I did get a few pick me ups when Steve and his whole crew found me a few times on the run. It’s always fun to have a cheering section and I wasn’t expecting to have 5 people and a dog out there. Definitely welcomed the cheering section!

My run time was 2:39:29 which brought my final race time to 6:30:59.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this race overall. It was really well run and the venue, while not my favorite, was still pretty good. I personally love swimming lakes rather than salt water for a variety of reasons. I regret that my preparation really didn’t feel quite where I needed it to be for the race, especially the swim.

He’s wondering why I’m so tired. He was the one chasing people around all day…

I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to the race anytime soon though. The run course was just brutal with no shade and it’s not the easiest to get to. The town itself was really not conducive to pre-race either. It was really hard to find something for dinner the night before.

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