A Perfect Day to Race

“Have you ever raced Steelman“? The question was posed to me by Dan Gleason as we jogged along the Chester Valley Trail. Dan had joined our little Friday morning running group. “Sure! Many times.” I replied. “Are you doing it this year?”, Dan asked. “Well, hopefully. If the weather is good.” Dan then explained that long-time race director Dale Winterhoff had retired and handed the reins over to a new race director. “Oh? Who’s that?”, I asked. “Me!”, Dan replied. “Well, me and my friend Dave Michener”. Dan went on to explain how he and Dave were hoping to reinvigorate Steelman. We agreed that local races like Steelman are quickly fading away and he and Dave hoped to add new energy to the race. He explained the changes they were making and hoped I’d sign up. After our run, while sipping coffee I did just that showing Dan my entry confirmation on my phone. “Awesome!”

Two months later I found myself tooling up Lois Lane (insert your own snarky superman crack here) in Gilbertsville toward the house of my friend Jen Bush. We have a bit of a carpooling tradition for Steelman. It was o’dark thirty and when I parked in front of her house to load her bike I expected to hear the normal cacophony put forth by her trio of barking dogs but there was silence. Jen was waiting with her bike in the driveway and said “I think I managed to get out without waking anyone.” It is always good to catch up with Jen. I don’t see her that often which is preposterous considering we live no more than a half-hour from each other. We chatted the whole way to Lake Nockamixon, the home of Steelman. We were directed to a parking spot and headed for packet pick-up.

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Still the best selfie I ever took. Jen and I at a race earlier this season.

Changes made by Dan and Dave were noticeable immediately. Transition was in the same spot but the finish line was moved to a more central location. Additionally, the old swim course had been replaced with an out-and back rectangle and we would do a time trial start. I loved the old swim course so for me, the jury was out on this especially since we would be heading straight East into the rising sun. But let’s wait and see.

sunrise_at_steelman
A beautiful start to the day. You can see the swim buoys in the distance.

Jen and I got through the pre-race rituals: packets, bike and helmet stickers, body marking, and transition setup. By happy coincidence I was racked very near Christine Eadeh. She is a long-time Facebook friend whom I’d never actually met in person but we had been involved in lengthy on-line discussions about triathlon over the years. It was great to meet in person and it was like seeing an old friend. She and I were both doing the olympic distance while Jen was doing the Sprint.

Transition
The hustle and bustle of transition setup.

This summer in Pennsylvania has been hot. While it hasn’t bothered me even a little (I was a chameleon in a former life) nobody expected the lake to be cool enough to allow for wetsuits. But the chilly morning air and hard rains had done their job and we were pleasantly surprised to learn the lake temperature was 77 degrees and was wetsuit legal! Forget the fact that I hadn’t swam in my wetsuit since early May and had not raced in it in a couple years, I was happy for the added speed and buoyancy offered by my wetsuit.

As part of the changes for the time trial swim start, we were now able to warm-up prior to the start using the boat ramp. I skidded down the slick ramp and splashed into the water, and felt the thin layer of water form between my skin and the neoprene wetsuit. I began stroking for deeper water . . and then remembered my wedding ring. Shit! I turned and did my best to crawl up the slick boat ramp. It reminded my of the squirrels in my backyard trying to climb the waxed shepherd’s hook my bird feeder hangs on. I’d make it a few inches up and then slide twice that back down. squirrel_poleFinally, I knelt down and crawled up the ramp wedging my fingers in the traction grooves of the ramp. Warning boaters! Don’t get those back tires too far in the water if you don’t have four wheel drive!

I scurried back to the transition area, ignored that admonishment from a volunteer that it was closed, and stashed my wedding ring in my bag. My wife puts up with a lot of racing shenanigans but I’m assuming if I lose my wedding ring somewhere in the bottom of a deep, dark lake the result at home would not be positive.

I still wanted to warm up so hurried back to the ramp, plunged into the now empty lake, swam 50 yards or so, turned and repeated the squirrel crawl up the ramp. My quick swim had made sure my goggles were well seated and that I had invoked the mammalian diving reflex. I headed off to find the proper self-seeding line prior to the start. What’s that you ask? What the hell is the mammalian diving reflex? If you are a creationist, move along to the next paragraph. Otherwise the mammalian diving reflex takes us back to a time when all things lived in the ocean and, believe it or not, give us some chance of not drowning every time we are dunked in the water. made-that-up

I made my way to the end of the 25-30 minute self-seeding line. I heard a familiar voice and turned around to find Christine had picked the same line. She and I would pair up to start together in the 2×2 swim start.

After a moment of silence for a local athlete who had died at a recent event and the National Anthem, the lines of olympic swimmers were led toward the lake. The sun had climbed higher but we’d still be facing significant glare for the swim. The line of buoys for the olympic distance course stretched to the middle of the lake. The local sailing club volunteers their boats to help with navigation positioning them in proximity to the course to make it easy for swimmers to stay on track and make the turns. This would prove infinitely useful.As Christine and I neared the end of the dock there was no wind and conditions were nearly perfect for a great wetsuit swim. Christine had just done the Escape from Alcatraz where athletes leap ten feet off of a ferry into San Francisco Bay before making their way through big currents, waves, pinnipeds (and the things that eat pinnipeds) back to the city of San Francisco. While we wouldn’t have seals, sharks, currents, or big waves to deal with Christine reminded me to hold on to my goggles while jumping. Good tip.

We jumped and started swimming. Happily there were no goggle mishaps. The sighting was as difficult as I suspected with the glare from the rising sun right on the water. The buoys were hard to see but I could see the splashes of the pack in front of me and the sailboats were to my left. All was well . . . except my Garmin still had a watch face on it.

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Not the screen I expected to see when I glanced at my Garmin mid-swim.

I never set it to triathlon and hit start. Not that it was an emergency but I kind of wanted time and paces and useful stuff your Garmin provides throughout the race so I set about trying to get it going. Stroke, stroke click a button. Stroke, stroke, click.

I  wear glasses. While I can survive in the wild without distance vision correction, reading is another matter. Without my glasses all the words on my Garmin menus look mostly like a smudge on the lens when I’m on land, with no goggles. Swimming in a lake, with goggles, and my watch in the water I picked something on the menu with a vague approximation of “Triathlon” and after a few more stroke/click sequences hit start. As far as I could tell I may have just started a round of golf or downhill ski run. Both seemed just as likely as having picked triathlon from the fuzzy menu items.

I got back to swimming and focusing on sailboats and buoys. The swim was awesome! I glided along in my wetsuit like a turtle. (Turtles are slow on land but are fast swimmers.) For most of the swim course, there were few collisions with other athletes. This is the beauty of a time trial start. In fact, I didn’t hit congestion until after the second turn. About half way back to land, I caught up to one or more of the sprint waves. At that point, it got a little crowded but nothing crazy. I was focused on the boat ramp and getting to the bike. One thing holds true for Steelman: I’m always sorry when the swim is over. In hindsight, despite the sun glare I like the new swim course.

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The 2019 swim course.

Once back at land, a group of volunteers and a piece of astro turf really helped with the greasy ramp. I began jogging toward transition and heard a voice: “Pete!”. I turned to see good friend and multi-time Ironman finisher Tina Devlin along spectating along the fence.

Tina_IMLP
My Iron-friend Tina.

I waved an acknowledgement and trotted on toward T1.

 

Interval Time of Day Split Split Pace Age Rank Gender Rank Overall Rank
Swim 7:34:34AM 00:27:49 01:52 min/100m 5/24 19/176 31/290

I know I have been focusing on the fun in racing this year, but for the second time in a row transition was not fun. The wetsuit legal thing caught me by surprise. I should have practiced ripping it off once or twice. I should have put Body Glide all over my legs. After a couple minutes of wrestling, I was ready to go to the food tent for a knife and start cutting. After a small eternity I finally managed to wheedle it off over the timing chip and my giant feet. I threw the suit under my bike in frustration, put on bike shoes, glasses, and helmet, bid Christine a good ride and headed out. A glance at my watch showed that, miraculously, I had picked triathlon so I clicked “Lap” to move it to bike mode. I left transition, mounted up and headed for the difficult climb out of the parking area.

Interval Time of Day Split Split Pace Age Rank Gender Rank Overall Rank
T1 7:38:15AM 00:03:42 18/24 128/176 193/290

One of the things I love about smaller events with shorter courses is the variety of people and bikes you see. I’m not a bike snob. I don’t care what kind of bike you have and it certainly isn’t necessary to have a bike that requires a second mortgage. The game is swim, bike, and run. Not swim, spend, and run. In the grand scheme of things you can do this on whatever bike you have. That said, at least make sure it fits. Climbing out of the parking lot, I passed a gentleman that, so help me, looked like he borrowed his kids bike.

Excited young male riding a small bicycle
Any bike will do for triathlon but maybe find the right size.

His knees were never less than 90 degrees on a pedal stroke. Just when I couldn’t figure out how he was going to make it up the hill, he got off and started walking. I couldn’t imagine riding the 12 miles required for the sprint like that. I couldn’t imagine riding 12 yards like that.

The bike course at Steelman features one or two loops on a closed road depending on whether you are doing the sprint or olympic distance. An additional change they made was to move the second turn-around so that athletes didn’t have to jam on the brakes at the bottom of a big hill to turn. Instead, we went partially up the next hill before turning. This was a great change.

Let is show for the record that I suck on the bike. It certainly felt like I was going fast out there but I got passed by everyone and his brother. And his grandmother. I may have even been passed by the dude on the kids bike. Clearly I have under emphasized the bike in training. That will need to change for next year. Still, conditions for the bike were ideal. The air temps and humidity were low and the road had been freshly paved. Even at my pace the miles flew quickly by and before I knew it I was descending back into the park toward T2.

sloth_biker
If sloths could ride a bike, they’d have passed me.
Interval Time of Day Split Split Pace Age Rank Gender Rank Overall Rank
Bike 8:56:22AM 01:18:08 18.37 mi/hr 12/24 96/176 115/290

I knew T2 wasn’t going to be fast. I need to work harder on the bike next year but I also need to figure out a way to speed up T2. In the past for the run I always used Zoot shoes that were designed to be used barefoot but that was before I had orthotics. I cannot run without the orthotics or rather I cannot run without orthotics assuming I like to be free of pain and able to walk at all. I quickly learned that orthotics and bare feet don’t mix leading to major heel blisters as the orthotics reposition my foot in the shoe. But putting socks on in T2 takes forever providing plenty of opportunity for the people that forgot their bike pedals, or had mechanical trouble on the ride to pass me in T2. I’m going to experiment with duct tape. (‘Cause that’s what guys do.)

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If it doesn’t move and should use WD-40. If it moves and shouldn’t . . . or gets blisters . . use duct tape.

Anyway, I’ve gotta figure out a way to skip the slow procedure of putting on socks for the run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interval Time of Day Split Split Pace Age Rank Gender Rank Overall Rank
T2 8:58:13AM 00:01:51 14/24 106/176 155/290

The run course at Steelman is fun. Like the bike, it is an out and back with one loop for the sprinters and two for the olympic distance. The course runs on a partially shaded, paved trail that, at a glance, seems narrow but really provides plenty of real estate if runners are courteous and patient. You get to see everyone at least once on the run regardless of what distance they are doing. I saw and acknowledged many old friends and former teammates along the course including Jen and Christine. Jen looked great and was nearly finished with her sprint event as I headed out for my first loop. I didn’t see Christine for a while. Like everyone else, she passed me on the bike but had called out that I would probably catch her on the run. I had my doubts, but did pass her shortly before the finish.

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Steelman run course albeit from a previous year.

Every time I’ve done Steelman I have always chosen the the olympic distance. Nearly every time, I look longingly toward the finish as I make the turn for lap number 2 of the 10K run. That wasn’t the case this year. Like the bike, the low temperature and humidity made the run fly by. I could have kept running all morning. The last time I did Steelman temps were nearly 80 degrees as we setup transition in the dark and reached a boiling point in time for the run. It was misery. Not so this year.

The new run finish was much better than the old. At the end of the second loop, we ran out on to the marina loop then back through the parking lot to the finish. They had a timing mat a few yards before the finish allowing the announcer to call us out by name as we crossed. It seemed very professional and very well done. Kudos to Dan and Dave for the positive changes!

Before I was a triathlete I was a runner. I’ve always prided myself on my run splits. It is where I catch a lot of those people that pass me on the bike. But my age group is getting fast on the run! I can still hold my own but it is clear that if I want to have an eye toward the podium that I need to not only work harder on the bike but add in some speed work to be able to gain some advantage on the run again.

Interval Time of Day Split Split Pace Age Rank Gender Rank Overall Rank
Run 9:45:03AM 00:46:51 06:49 min/mi 5/24 52/176 68/290

I crossed the line, surrendered my timing chip and received a spiffy looking finishers medal. The medal was another change by Dan and Dave. Finishers used to receive a cold, wet towel. With the gorgeous weather, the medal seemed nice but in the back of my mind I remembered how awesome that wet towel was at the end of a steamy run.

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We may miss these towels on less ideal days.

I was thirsty. I looked around and spotted the line for the food tent. After a moment of recovery I headed that way assuming that is where beverages were. There were a lot of sprint finishers in line already and it took a good ten minutes to get through. Jen found me and we chatted while I waited. Typically I am not hungry after a race. The fact that I was testifies to how good the weather was. The spread of food was impressive. One thing I had emphasized to Dan when we ran that Friday morning was to be sure to keep the fruit! Steelman happens in prime Pennsylvania fruit season and Dale always had piles and piles of cold watermelon and other choice summer fruits at the finish. Dan had listened and there was no shortage. I loaded my plate with watermelon, grapes, and oranges and gleefully wolfed it all down in the shade. After eating, I found coolers full of water and Gatorade alongside the food tent. My one piece of feedback to Dan and Dave is to have water at the finish. Medal. Water. Perhaps not in that order.

I knew with my slow bike and transitions that I was not going to be on the podium but went to check results regardless.

Race:
OLYMPIC
Division:
M50-54
Showing 1 to 15 of 24 entries
Rank
Name
Bib
Time
Hometown
Gender
1 Martin Brans 32 02:08:53 Allentown, PA M
2 Michael Vannata 301 02:24:07 Bethlehem, PA M
3 Don Mack 178 02:26:46 Royersford, PA M
4 Simon Moore 211 02:34:14 Allentown, PA M
5 David Dauphinais 63 02:36:34 Phoenixville, PA M
6 Peter Githens 104 02:38:18 Reading, PA M

This is not bad for me for a competitive even. I think Martin Brans will win our age group forever. That dude is one awesome athlete. Only 12 minutes separated me from 3rd place and 14 minutes to 2nd place. Heck I gave up 3-4 minutes in transition alone. The rest will require some work on the bike. Overall it was a perfect day to race.

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