After spending three weeks in Cheboygan, Michigan with Tori’s family, we drove south to Benton Harbor en route to Virginia. I was hoping to improve on my 10th place finish six weeks earlier at Rev3 Williamsburg.
My training in Cheboygan was consistent: lots of open dirt roads to run on, a variety of nice biking routes, and my pick of lakes to swim in. There is not a pool in Cheboygan, so I swam in open water exclusively for three weeks.
Steelhead was an enticing choice for me for a number of reasons, the top two being that it was in Michigan, where Tori’s family could come and see me race, and that the swim was advertised as always going with the current. Now, I’m not one for backing away from challenges, but after my experience in Williamsburg, I was hoping to get into a situation where I would not find myself out of the race from the cannon blast.
The morning of the race was cool and breezy, and once dawn came and the lake was visible, it was evident that it was again going to be an epic swim.
When the race started, I got into the water and after having practiced maneuvering through shallow water in practice over the past several weeks, I found myself if a good position as we reached the first buoy. I was right in the thick of things, and it felt so good to be in the race. Then about 5-6 minutes into the swim, just as fate would have it, as I was turning my head to breathe, a wave smacked right into my face and flipped my goggles. With my heart rate soaring and floating in the lake with a large amount of chop, it took me a while to compose myself and get the goggles securely back on my face. Once I got going again, the pack was gone. I was able to keep them in sight for a majority of the swim, but as the swim progressed, they inched further and further away from me. So I had quite a bit of time during the swim to feel sorry for myself, about how I had botched another opportunity to swim well, about how this race was again going to be a true mental test. When you’re far behind, staying “in the race” when you literally have no one to race is incredibly difficult. I dealt with it in June, and here I was again, having to do the same thing again.
So I was a ways behind just about everyone in the field, finishing 21st out of 24 professionals.
Honestly, for the first ten miles of the bike, when I literally saw no one on the course, I kept thinking to myself how much I had let down my family, friends and sponsors. I had a lot of negative thoughts creeping into my head, and it was hard to get them out. Then it happened: a rider on the horizon. Ok, someone to chase after. Thankfully I became fixated on getting up to that rider. It took a couple minutes, but sure enough, I caught and passed him. Right ahead were a couple more. Ok, I can do this. I’m not going to let some bad luck dictate my entire race. After all, isn’t the official motto of Snapple Triathlon “Dream Crushers?” So I continued to slowly pass riders one by one, gaining a bit more confidence after each pass. By the end of the bike, I had moved steadily up the field into somewhere in the low teens, and I had biked 2:10:49 a new HIM bike split personal record by about two and a half minutes.
I felt all right, and was confident that I could run well.
It took me several miles before my legs opened up, but once they did, I was able to settle into a nice rhythm of clicking off 5:45 miles. About halfway through the run I caught my teammate Wes, gave him a couple words of encouragement, and then set off to see how many other guys I could catch. In the end, I finished in 7th, with a 1:17:18 run split which gave me a total time of 4:04:46.
Steelhead was a spectacular event. Very well-run, great course, and huge crowd support along the course. I would recommend the race to anyone from a beginner to a professional, and I hope to get back and race again myself.
Going into the season, I wanted to consistently put myself in position to finish in the top 10 in big pro fields. So far, I’m two for two. I’m going to keep working on that swim, and I’ll nail one eventually. Until then, I know that I’m honing my mental toughness by racing up into the field, using the best equipment on the triathlon market. Thanks to Rudy Project, Xterra Wetsuits, Louis Garneau, and Mizuno!