On Sunday, July 19, 2015, I participated in the Racine 70.3. This was the 11th race I have completed at this distance and the second time I have done Racine. Like many other “Ironman 70.3”- brand races, it was run with a lot of professionalism. The following is my race report. Like all race reports I do, I am not interested in promoting my athletic abilities (or lack thereof), but, rather, to provide information that will be helpful for you, as a future participant, as you plan your race.
Packet pickup was at the Racine Civic Center, which is just about a mile south of the transition and finish line areas for the race. Packets were available on Friday afternoon and early evening and also on Saturday, at the odd time range of 9 AM to 4 PM. There is a mandatory drop-off of bikes at the transition area from noon to 5 PM on Saturday. This means that those people who may have to work on Saturday morning are left with a potentially awkward 3 hour gap between mandatory check-in/packet pick up and mandatory bike drop-off. However, I spoke with an athlete Sunday morning who was in just that situation. She informed me that she asked for help from the race director. He took her bike from her on Saturday at 9 AM, brought it to the transition area, then texted her a photograph of her bike safely on the rack. Great service!
I had some commitments on Saturday morning, so my wife, Jessica, and I arrived at the Civic Center at about 2 PM. There is 2 dollar pay parking directly across the street. Then there was a long line. It took about 40 minutes to get everything I think people after me waited even longer. But there were over 2000 participants in the race and the Civic Center is not a huge building. Race volunteers seemed to be on the ball. I just don’t see how the line could have gone much faster in that structure.
The drive to the transition area took about 5 minutes, including parking. I just walked my bike down a steep hill, racked it up, fidgeted with it to let it know I care, then left for home. As I was dropping off the bike, there were tornado sirens. Uh oh. But it was still sunny. By the time we had driven about 20 minutes, there was a torrential downpour and high winds. I was certain that my bike, and 2000 others, would be blown off the racks and damaged (but this, fortunately, was not the case).
Transition opened on Sunday at 5 AM and closed at 6:30. The race start was at 7 AM (my wave was at about 7:25) and it is about a mile walk from transition. I like to get to races early, so I awoke at 3 AM and drove up from my house in Illinois, to park near transition at about 5:10. This is relevant because almost all of the parking for the race is on local side streets. Later arrival times quickly translate into much longer walks before and after the race. I was able to park about a block and a half away from transition.
When I got to transition, my bike was sitting on the rack exactly how I had left it. I proceeded to get my area set up. Then I gave my tires a squeeze. The rear tire was very soft. Oh no! I borrowed a pump and inflated it. This was at about 5:55 AM. I then had to make a decision about replacing the inner tube or just hoping that temperature fluctuations and, perhaps, an unnoticed error with screwing down the valve the previous day was the reason for the soft tire. I decided that the inner tube was probably okay. For the next 30 minutes, I was the idiot who kept squeezing his rear tire. I never completely stopped worrying about this until nearly finishing the bike leg, but the tire remained inflated.
The transition area was a large rectangle with clearly-marked ranges of numbers at both ends of each row of racks. It was an easy transition area to navigate. A clever guy near me laid a strip of orange tape on the ground leading, perpendicularly, up to his area. I wish I had thought of that.
Here is a photo of the pros setting up:
I walked unhurriedly to the race start and milled around with everybody else. The water temperature was 60.6 degrees Fahrenheit (cold, not frigid), but the air temperature was about 78. So I stepped out into the water, in my wetsuit, trying to find the right depth to balance the ambient air temperature and the water temperature. For me, this depth was just over my waist.
This race is really groovy in that there is a decent pro purse ($50,000, I think). Consequently, a lot of the world’s best male and female pros show up to race. I love watching pro starts and this race was no exception. The pro men started at 7 AM and the pro women (along with a, trailing, challenged athlete) started next.
The last time I did this race, the start was a run-in from the beach. But, because of large-ish pebbles, the race organizers changed the start to waist-deep water. This was true for both the pros and the amateurs.
The race course was exceedingly simple: swim eastward for a couple hundred meters, hook a right to swim southward along the Lake Michigan shoreline, then turn right again to swim another 150-200 meters westward to the finish gate. Two years ago, the waves were so difficult that I had to alter my stroke and some people reported vomiting during the swim. There were waves, again, this year, but not very challenging at all.
I followed my usual routine of swimming harder-than-race-pace until the first turn, then settling in. Usually I look for a good draft but today I couldn’t find any that I liked. As it turns out, I couldn’t find a draft, perhaps, because I was having an exceptional swim (for me). Two years ago, I had a brilliant swim (for me) at 38 minutes and change. On this day, I finished in 33 minutes and three seconds. Crazy fast, for me.
There is a long run-in from the beach to the corner of the transition area, then an additional run all the way from the south end of transition to the north end. However, there were also wetsuit strippers, which makes up for almost anything. I gave mine a big “thank you” and headed to my bike. The tire was still inflated, so I was able to relax a little as I got the bike gear and headed out.
The bike course starts with a steep hill right out of transition. This is no problem with correct gearing. But there was someone next to me who walked his bike uphill. The rest of the bike course consisted of some easy rolling hills but, mostly, a flat course as we headed out of Racine and into rural Wisconsin.
In spite of the topographical apparent easiness of this course, I found it challenging two years ago and, again, in this race. This is because there are extended sections of road that are just uncomfortable. For example, a lot of the pavement in Racine, itself, was fairly chewed-up. I understand that race organizers put “a ton” of fill in many of the gaps, and the orange warning markings were truly superb, but it was still rough. Then there are areas of single-file in which I typically sit up to stay safe. Unfortunately, other people choose to pass in these areas, leading me to be even more self-protective. I had a bad crash last year, and I have five kids, so maybe I am more nervous on the bike than most people.
There were two or three course marshalls cruising around the course. I am sure that it is really challenging to be a course marshall, but drafting was really rampant. There was one funny wheel sucker in particular. This was a tall guy in a fancy “I’m a cyclist” kit on a road bike. He was drafting off of a much smaller woman who was on a tri bike. He was truly inches from her rear wheel for as long as I could see him. Clearly not a Sufferlandrian…
The volunteers at the three aid stations were fantastic. This, by the way, was uniformly true for every volunteer with whom I interacted from start to finish at this race. The hand-offs of fluids and other goodies were smooth and easy and I shouted “thank you” over and over.
Anyway, aside from having a decent ride, my goal was to set myself up well for the run by carefully taking in fluids, electrolytes, and calories and NOT cramping. I achieved all of these goals, but was not quite as fast as I had hoped.
The bike ride ended going down the same steep hill with which it began. After dismounting, I ran in with my bike, changed gear, took a deep breath, and ran out. This was a very sunny day and there was a line of volunteers by the exit with sunscreen for race participants.
The run consists of a double out-and-back running along the shoreline north of the transition area and finish line. On the run out, there are two significant hills (these are essentially access paths for beachgoers to get to and from the beach). A photographer (apparently every year) camps out near the top of the steeper hill and gently mocks panting competitors. Troll! But the rest of the course is pretty flat. Much of the course has pretty vistas over Lake Michigan. The inbound course does not go up and down the beach access paths, but, instead, goes through the Racine Zoo. I looked and did not see any animals, but I think the race course only touched upon the periphery of the Zoo.
There were aid stations every mile and a half. Each and every station was well-supplied and well “manned” with volunteers. Choices included water, sports drink, cola, pretzels, sponges, ice, and energy gels. There may have been other stuff that I have forgotten.
I am not a very good runner and when conditions are difficult, such as they were at this race, this is accentuated. The temperature was in the low 80s and it was very humid. This doesn’t sound so bad, except that Chicagoland has been very cool this summer. So the weather felt much hotter. Also, there is almost no shade on the run course. Whine whine whine…
I drank a lot, put cold sponges down my front and back, dumped ice down my front and back, and ran with an ice cube in each hand. I also consumed several gels and salt tablets. But mostly, I just kept going. I really did try to run faster and I simply could not. There were a lot of other athletes out there, including Team USA members and pros, who appeared to be struggling, as well. But there were other people who just flew, including a really big guy who had tiny feet that just barely touched the ground as he cruised. Humbling.
Naturally, I mentally prepared myself that the finish line was just beyond the turn-around point. The loudspeakers at this point were loud and clear. But, sadly and painfully, the actual finish was about a tenth of a mile farther along. Not much? Well, it felt like a lot.
I finally heaved myself over the finish line and my cute pregnant wife was waiting for me. This finish line area was relatively uncrowded for a big race. I got a hat, a medal, and a bottled water. The food tent, which was very well staffed by volunteers, was just a short walk away. I got some food, sat down next to Jessica for a few minutes to recover, then got my gear and headed home.
My finish time was considerably slower than I had hoped (about 5:47), but I had given all I had that day.
This is a really nice, very well run “Ironman 70.3” – brand race. I am sure I will do it again.