Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Game on!

Steelhead 70.3
Benton Harbor, MI
Aug. 4, 2007

I was all set to train right through this race. It is a tactic that has served me well before. The Evergreen International was my only other "A" race this season besides the big dance. Steelhead was just a B or C on my schedule. Coach Mike had other plans for me. Instead of the big lead-up week I had intended he wanted me to taper (again!!!). I've only been making small gains in my IM racing the last few seasons, so I have been following coach's advice and doing things differently this year. I've been doing a lot more short course racing. I've been doing workouts with more structure to them. More intervals. More rest. And in this case a taper week when I would have done a big training week on my own.

So how did all this play out? Very well. 6 minute PR well. 13th out of nearly 2000. Before, during and after I just considered this race another in a series of stepping stones towards Ironman Wisconsin. It ended up being one heck of a step.

Although it seems much further away, Southern Michigan is only about a 3 hour drive from Central Illinois. I headed up with my brother and his fiancee on Friday afternoon. We racked the bikes and met up with some of the Tri-Shark club members for dinner. Even though we got started at some ungodly early hour, parking was still horrendous and didn't leave us with quite as much prep time as I would have liked. On the flip side, the morning was gorgeous with temps in the 60s and very light winds.

Lake Michigan was as calm and warm as I've ever seen it. When I did this race 4 years ago the waves were absolutely wicked. Back then it wasn't a point-to-point swim with the current either, it was out and back. For those that did the 2003 race (before the sellout to the 70.3 series) every part of the old course has changed. I started in wave 11 which assured that I would be doing a lot of passing all day. I started the swim a bit wide and fell into my long course rhythm pretty quickly. It was actually too warm for my long sleeve 2XU wetsuit- I would have been better off in the sleeveless. I took almost no time to start catching the earlier waves. This meant lots of dodging and weaving around. Annoying, but I don't think it slowed me down that much. I felt like I was getting a decent boost from the current, but still came out of the water about where I usually do (29-30 minutes). A long run through the sand did a great job of blowing the nice relaxed heartrate I had mostly maintained during the swim!
(30:22, 68th)

I remembered the Steelhead course as consistently rolling with a few longer hills, but no real climbs. This new bike course did have quite a few rollers, but no where near as many as the old course. I put on a big rear cassette and ended up never having to leave the big chainring in front. On the bike things were really clicking. I did a 100 mile training ride the weekend before at over 20mph, so I wanted to really lay it on the line for this race. Felt really good from the gitgo. It was a bit scary having to do so much passing of the earlier waves. I had a couple close calls due to riders not staying right or swerving while trying to get a drink. My brother reported seeing a peloton of drafters, but it was actually pretty clean around me. I hit the halfway point thinking there would be no way I’d keep it up for the second half. I was averaging around 23mph and 220 watts. I knew I was working incredibly hard and had to stay on top of the calories. I used 3 bottles of my custom Infinit formula (270 calories per bottle) and two gels. Seemed pretty good calorie intake considering I only ended up in the saddle for 2:23!! I actually managed to pick it up slightly in the second half! Great ride for me- the biking is finally starting to come around. 49th best bike split.

After Steelhead, a new smackdown Sweet-family style has firmly established itself. At the Evergreen Olympic tri I averaged 1 watt more than my brother Andy. Well, he retaliated by throwing down 1 watt more than me at Steelhead! Sept. 9, 2007 the saga continues………

Whenever I have a really good ride, I don’t know what to expect out of my legs. I finish up the ride wondering if I overdid it and fried my legs. Leaving T2 I still couldn’t get a good sense of how the run was going to go. My stomach is always a bit queasy coming off the bike. Taking only water the first couple run aid stations usually goes a long way in remedying this. I set a solid, but manageable pace early on. There are a couple good-sized hills on the run course to keep you honest. The weather was cooperating by not warming up past the low 80s. I picked up a few age group spots in the first miles. Around mile 5 a guy from my wave flew around me and I decided it was time to take some risks and lay it on the line. I went with him and bumped up to a pace faster than anything I've held onto during a 1/2 IM before. This definitely resulted in some serious suffering, but I held pretty close to this pace for the rest of the race. The run course incorporates two loops which was great because I got to see so many of the Tri-Shark Club members. We brought at least 15 people up to this race! It really helped seeing someone you knew every couple of minutes. I gave it everything I had left the last couple of miles to try to close in on my pacesetter. I didn't manage to catch him, but it sure helped my time. I ran about 1:25. This is only 4 minutes off my open half marathon PR set in cool weather on flatter roads! In other words, I was moving along at a pretty good clip. I think my run split was the 12th best of the day.

Overall time: 4:23:40
13th overall
3rd in my AG

My age group placing easily got me a slot for the 70.3 World Championships. I'd love to do this race, but my lovely wife will be having our first baby within a week or so of the race. Needless to say I wasn't granted a hall pass for this one!

I would have been content training through the race and just turning in a decent time. A big PR is a nice confidence boost going into Wisconsin though! Only a couple weeks of hard training left.

Game on.