An unbelievable day in Benton Harbor

An unbelievable day in Benton Harbor

by Jim L.

I think my story of the Steelhead Ironman 70.3 has to begin this past winter, because this offseason laid the foundation for having such a special race this past Sunday.   From intense ET CompuTrainer workouts every Monday, to the runs through snow and rain that we all do to start setting the stage for a successful season, it all builds for these moments.   I start to get choked up even as I write this when I think about how it has all been worth it.

My first big race of the season this year was the Kansas 70.3.  That was a tough day, with no wetsuits allowed, 20-30 mph winds, and 95 degree heat.  It was definitely a humbling experience and seemed like a dogfight the entire time, but it’s a race I really appreciate having been through, because I think it helped me appreciate Sunday’s race even more.

I have to say that Benton Harbor is a beautiful setting for a 70.3.  Transition is practically on the beach!  The forecast heading into the day was fantastic.  It was going to be calm and reasonably cool for the majority of the race, and man did that turn out to be true.  One thing I will say about 70.3s, though, is book your hotel way in advance.  I booked ours just two months ago and got stuck at a Red Roof Inn.  I didn’t think much about it at the time, but when we got there, it was so gross!  We spent 30 minutes calling around trying to find another option, but it ended up being a Super 8 that was also really gross!  Oh well, all we needed was a bed and that they had!

Race morning turned out to be as pristine as the forecasters had said, calm and a cool 54 degrees at race start.   Believe it or not, I wasn’t very nervous at all.  I had done the training and knew I was ready.   The swim went as well as I could have expected.  With not much chop in Lake Michigan and not too many bumps and kicks from my fellow swimmers, I was able to come out of the water in just over 38 minutes, one leg down and in good shape!

The bike is really where I started to think this was going to be a special day.  The calm conditions helped me turn out a great split.  I was able to ride conservatively, save energy, focus on hydration and fueling, and really just try to relax and enjoy the experience.  It sure beat battling 30 mph gusts in Kansas!   I was literally pinching myself the whole ride about how good the conditions were and how well it was going.  For those of you that did Evergreen, that is what the ride felt like.  Once I hit the 35 mile mark I started to increase the output a little bit and tried to finish strong, but most importantly I wanted to make sure to feel fresh enough to put out a solid run.   As I cruised down the last hill and into transition, I was so excited to get running.  I was back in 2:27, 22.8 mph average, about 15 minutes faster than what I had done in Kansas!

After a quick transition, I was off on the run.  I was so excited.  I saw my wife Jordan, who was a superstar spectator all day long, and remember saying, “This one is going to be special!”  It was an emotional moment.  I was also so excited that I ran my first mile WAY too fast.  I won’t say what I ran that mile in, because Joe will kill me and I should know better! J   Regardless, I was able to settle into a more realistic pace quickly and had a great run.  The run course was far more hilly than I expected, so that definitely proved to be a challenge, but slowly and surely the miles ticked by.   At mile 9, I passed someone from my age group that was running at a good clip, so I forced the pace up a little bit just to trick him into thinking he wouldn’t be able to stay with me.  As soon as I got out of sight I slowed back down before I fell apart! J   A couple miles later I was coming down the finishing shoot.  What a feeling.  I had gone into the day hoping to finish in less than 5 hours, and my watch said 4:46, 29 minutes faster than my previous best at the distance!  I can’t even begin to describe how special it felt to pour so much into something and get to enjoy that feeling of accomplishment.  I can only imagine how all of the amazing athletes on our team feel after doing an Ironman!

Not only that, but the best part was getting to share the joy with my wife.  Jordan didn’t have anyone to hang out with for the entire day, but she was there every step of the way, keeping me company until I started – over an hour after the pros by the way – and watching me wherever she could until the finish.  Then hanging out with me while I mindlessly ate 15 pieces of pizza after the race like a ravenous zombie!  She was even willing to wait an extra hour afterward to see if by fluke chance the roll-down for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas fell to 10th place.  It made it down to 8th, just 2 spots short!  Anyway, her support was unbelievable and it would not have been nearly the same without her there!

Finally, thanks to Coach Joe and the whole Experience Triathlon team.  I feel like we all share in each other’s experiences through this awesome sport and we all help push each other along to new great heights.  So thanks to everyone for a great year and I’m looking forward to sharing many more happy moments with all of you!

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