We had driven up to Benton Harbor on Friday for mandatory early registration and to drop my bike off. The sun was hot but the weather would have been perfect and the water looked super inviting. The race site is at a huge public, gorgeous sandy beach. There was a free dinner for athletes but Tracy and Rowan ate most of my plate as my nerves worked overtime, not so much out of fear but anticipation.
Race morning started with a 4am wakeup . . always pleasant. We loaded the brood up and drove the 35 minutes to the race site in the dark. The very first thing I noticed after getting out of the car was the strong, cool wind. So much so, that I grabbed a sweatshirt I had thrown in the trunk "just in case". We parked about a mile away from the race site and while there were shuttles, we had a wagon to transport the kids, so we hoofed the bundled up kids over to the park.
My bike was already set up but I needed to get my other gear ready. About 30 minutes later, I made my way to stand in a long bathroom line before making the 1 mile trek down the beach for the swim start. As I crested the slightly inclined narrow path that leads to the beach, I saw the effect of the cooler winds on the water. Whitecaps and waves on Lake Michigan . . . frankly calm if this were an ocean but certainly worth noticing.
As I'm standing in line, I heard all sorts of comments like "This is going to suck." and "Oh Shit". While still in line I hear the words that I was afraid of . . . The race promoters canceled the swim. The triathlon will now be duathlon . . run,bike, run. I'm fairly bummed and disappointed. I want what I signed up for. However, as I watch the safety kayaks surf in to shore and the seadoo's fly in the air from wave to wave, I realize that the boats would have had trouble watching the swimmers, let alone keeping themselves in position and upright. So, would-be swimmers are heading back to transition and a duathlon we will have.
The 7am start was then changed to a 8am start and since I'm wave 15 out of 17, I probably won't start until after 9am. I've got some time to kill . . except over the PA system the announcer is telling everyone to be at the new run start by 8am as they arent' sure if they are going to keep the same wave start times. I find Tracy and the kids, who are sporting their new Team Schmitt shirts. We hang out a few more minutes, then I make my way 3/4 mile up the road to the new starting line.
And . . . I wait. and wait. And watch about 2,000 nervous racers turn this small stretch of secluded park road into the biggest pee festival. Pretty gross but what other option was there.
Anyway, the race directors finally starts wave 1. Only 14 more to go. So I wait some more while cheering on the runners as they come back through the crowd and make their way down to the transition area.
To the sounds of AC/DC's "For those about to rock", wave 15 is off. First up, a 2.1 mile run. Now, this is an interesting choice and one I'm not sure I get. We were supposed to swim 1.2 miles, bringing the total event distance 70.3 miles. so, now the total is 71.2 miles. In an Olympic distance duathlon, the distances would be a 5k run, 40k bike and 10k run. So, why such a short distance? I don't know but since the run is my weakest sport, I'm not complaining. 16:41 for 2.1 miles. Not fast but I already knew that.
1:35 later, I'm grabbing my bike stuff and heading out. I see Tracy and Rowan as I leave the bike area. Yeah!
56 miles. I wanted to complete this is under 3 hours, which means an average speed of just over 18 miles an hour. Not exactly flying but there are enough rolling hills that I had to push in the flat stages. Riders from group 16 and 17 caught and passed me about 5-10 miles into the bike. I was catching a few riders myself but I knew it was a long ride. About 15 miles in, I pass a scene where a bike is laying on the left side of the road, a front tire is on the right side of the road and a car is stopped about 50 yards up the road. Everyone looks OK but that still sucks. I press on. I see an occasional rider on the side of the road changing a flat tire or taking a pee break. Mile 20 has the first aid station. As someone who has volunteered at a running event, I give the bike aid station volunteers a lot of credit. It's one thing to hand a cup of gatorade to a runner, but another to shove your hand out as I come racing through at 15-20 MPH. We're biking on pretty country roads that are fairly empty if not choppy and bumby. A couple of intersections have 10-20 cars waiting to turn but on this day, the bikes have the right of way.
Mile 30, 1:30 into the bike and I'm feeling pretty good. I'm doing a pretty good job of eating and drinking. It wasn't until after the race that I entered the facts at bicycling.com but I used between 2,500 and 3,000 calories on the bike. Mile 40, still OK and I'm starting to catch a lot of riders. About mile 46, I see an ambulance and a cop car on the side of the road. Someone's in the ambulance but I can't tell what happened. I press on. I'm catching a lot of riders now. The last rollers seem longer and bigger, but they're probably the same as all of the other hills, I'm just tired. I've switched to water, as the sugary gels and gatorade are too sweet for me to consume. I see the Mile 50 sign and I know that I'm close to transition.
By my computer, I pull into the park after 56.05 miles in 2:36:22, I dismount and run to park my bike. I pop 2 Excedrin, change shoes and after 1:48, I'm off for 13.1 painful miles. I missed seeing Tracy and the kids. They're busy I'm sure.
As I leave transition, I see a homemade sign being held aloft with a picture of Will Ferrell as Anchorman with the lines, "It's so damn hot . . Milk was a bad idea." I want to stop running I'm laughing so hard.
Now, I ran a half marathon in April, so I'm a bit familiar with the distance but there is something very different about running after biking. It takes about 10 minutes before your legs feel like legs and not like tingling logs attached to you butt. My plan is to run 9 minutes and walk 1 minutes. About mile 1, I see the leader flying down the road. "Wow, he's only 2 hours ahead of me. He's doing pretty well" I think to myself. I see the female leader flying down the huge hill I'm shuffling up. "Go runner" I yell between gulps of oxygen. "Thanks" she calmly replies with a smile and turns the corner. I wish I could A) run that fast and B) smile that calmy after what I'm about to do. I'm impressed. (BTW, the female leader was 4th overall, that's awesome)
The promoters did an excellent job with their aid stations and I'm guessing have learned from the Chicago Marathon fiasco last year. (With record high temperatures, most of the aid stations ran out of fluid, eventually causing the race to be canceled four hours in, and before thousands had finished.) My 9/1 survival technique works for awhile. That is, until I start walking the aid stations as well. so basically, I'm running 4 or 5, walking 1 . . which is fine. I want to live through this run and survive to run another day. Mile 4, turns to mile 6 . .I'm actually feeling good cause I've slowed down to keep my heart rate down. Mile 10 . . . only a 5k to go. Mile 11 . . closer but my calves are aching pretty badly. Mile 12. "Oh c'mon already", I'm pleading inside. Mile 12.5 I get called out by my number by a cheering spectator "You've only got half a mile to go 2434, you can do it". I start running. Thanks spectator.
I turn the corner for the last 1/4 mile, which I know is through sand. Running in soft sand sucks. I take one more walk break and turn onto the sand, where I can hundreds of cheering spectators. "Oh crap, I can't walk anymore" I think. Press on . . . . I see the finish line but no Tracy or Holden or Rowan. I cross the threshold and stand still. "Nice job" I tell myself. 2:26:53 for the run, just over an 11 minute mile. One volunteer puts an ice cold towel around my neck . ."ooh, that feels great.", one puts a finishing medal on my neck and a third grabs my timing chip. I see something 10 yards in front of me that looks simply awesome. A shaded chair under a tent. Nice. I take just a minute to sit before I go looking for Tracy. When I do find them, I find another chair.
After about 30 minutes of downtime, we pack up and head out. My finish time is 5:23:17, which, had I done the swim, would have been around my goal of 6 hours. That's pretty cool.
I "placed" 1183 out of 1888.
The kids had a great time but were exhausted as we made our way back to the car.