1. At last! I can report on spectating a half Ironman!
After last month’s snafu in Racine, all my friends who had planned to do Racine signed up for Ironman 70.3 Steelhead, which took place this past weekend in Benton Harbor, Michigan – about two hours from Chicago. Consequently, I headed back to the mitten this weekend as well to cheer on my people.
I don’t have a car, so before IM 70.3 Racine, I joined Zipcar to get myself up to Wisconsin. I considered going through a “real” car rental service for Steelhead, and while that may have saved me a few dollars, I find Zipcar to be so much simpler and more straightforward than a car rental service. You don’t have to worry about the rental storefront’s hours, you don’t have to pay for gas, you don’t have to pay extra for insurance, there are, I would estimate, hundreds of locations around Chicago where you can pick up a car: the whole process, top to bottom, seemed infinitely simpler going through Zipcar than anyone else, and even if it cost a little more, I was certainly willing to pay for that convenience, especially since I needed to return my car on Sunday, and, as I quickly learned, good luck finding a non-airport rental car storefront in Chicago that’s open past like 3 p.m. on a Sunday.
So, after furiously getting my life in order after my long run on Saturday, I picked up my Zipcar and drove to South Bend, Indiana, where I had booked a hotel room for the night. South Bend isn’t exactly on the way to Benton Harbor, but it’s only about 40 minutes or so from the race site, and as all the hotels in St. Joe and Benton Harbor appeared booked for the night (or at least all the hotels where I have points were booked), I was fine staying in South Bend. I got there just fine, spent the night in bed watching the Olympics, and crashed pretty early, as I wanted to be to Benton Harbor around 6:30 a.m. the next morning. (That didn’t happen, but, you know, at least I had good intentions 😛 )
I got to the race’s offsite parking location a little bit after 7 on Sunday morning, by which point nearly all of the lots in the Whirlpool corporate area–which is where they provide offsite parking–were packed. I somehow managed to find a spot fairly quickly, but if I were ever to go to Steelhead again, I’d definitely try to get there much earlier. The race provides shuttles to the race site from the parking area, but it’s definitely walkable, so I got to Jean Klock Park by the power of my own two feet.
There she is! The other side of Lake Michigan! My native side 🙂
IM 70.3 Steelhead features a swim in Lake Michigan, obviously, which is basically three sides of a rectangle. Participants come up out of the water and into transition, entering on the south end and leaving out of the north end, before going on a big, long bike ride around southwest Michigan, then enter back into transition basically where they came in from the swim and exit out the same way the exited for the bike. The run is lollipop-style, with a stick (a broken, L-shaped stick, but a stick nonetheless) that takes runners up to just before mile 2, where they then run a loop twice before returning down the stick, entering into transition from the north end (the same direction where they exited for the bike and run), and finish near where they entered transition after the swim.
I thought I had a decent game plan for spectating the race, but quickly discovered I was quite wrong. If I spectate again, these are the things I will keep in mind:
1) Arrive earlier than 7 a.m. This also is probably a given, since the race starts at 7.
2) Spectate the transition out of swim from the NORTH side of the swim exit, not the south side, like I did. When you spectate on the south side, you have to cross through the participant’s path up the beach, which isn’t impossible, because it’s not like this is the Chicago Marathon or something with a steady stream of people for hours on end, but putting yourself in an easy spectating spot to begin with would simplify things immensely. This would also give you the opportunity to go directly to transition and watch your athlete start the bike, though you’d probably have to run to make it.
Pictured: the wrong side to spectate the swim exit from.
3) Walk around the transition/finish line area to Grand Boulevard, which serves as the exit to start the bike, the exit to start the run, and the entrance to finish the race. The first mile or so of the bike and run follow the exact same route, so you could post up in one spot and see your athlete three times (but you probably wouldn’t see them finish). I walked along the run course to about mile 1.25ish (the corner of N. Shore Dr. and Pollard, right by what appeared to be a former elementary school, under the glorious shade of some tall trees) and thought this was an excellent spectating location. It was right before the first aid station, so I had something to cheer other than, “Looking good, runners!” (That something being, “Aid station right up ahead. Stay strong!”), it wasn’t on the hill they have to run during the first mile, and it was relatively dead, which I think is a nice place for spectators to go, since those quiet miles can be the most soul-crushing, at least in my endurance sports experience. Additionally, being there gives you MORE than enough time to beat your triathlete(s) back to the finish line, so you can watch them come in there as well.
I’ve volunteered at races before, but I’ve never spectated to watch specific people, and it’s no joke! I really had no idea where anyone I was looking for would be, and since the tracking app wasn’t updating quite in sync with real time, more often than not I found myself panicking that my friends had died. I’m happy to report that none of them did, however, and I now have three more friends who’ve completed half Ironmans. As for me, this race really did nothing but confirm my suspicions that, at this moment in time, I have NO desire whatsoever to do a triathlon, even a short one. I’ll stick to my marathons instead, thanks.
2. Speaking of which: there’s a new course for Chicago this year! Well, kind of. More like a detoured course. Historically, the race takes runners past the Sears/Willis Tower down Adams St., but this year the bridge that crosses the Chicago River at Adams is very much not constructed at the moment, and isn’t supposed to be done until next February. As the Chicago Marathon is, indeed, a marathon, and not a run/swim/run duathlon, that necessitated a course reroute. And we have one! This year, instead of running to Adams, we’ll turn on Monroe, take that to Jefferson, and then get on Adams for the long, trying slog out to the United Center. That also means that the half marathon mark is in a different location this year, which I’m irrationally excited about. Please don’t mind me and my Chicago Marathon nerdiness.
3. So. As we all (hopefully) know by this point, I’m a pretty big fan of penguins. While I do love penguins with all my heart, puffins are a very close runner-up for my favorite kind of aquatic bird. Actually, they may be tied, because both varieties of birds are equally cute in my opinion. Anyway, one of my coworkers was out of the office for the past two weeks on a trip to Iceland, Scotland and England. When I arrived on Monday, this is what I found on my desk:
Straight from Iceland, where puffins roam free! Apparently they’re really fast and hard to photograph, so this magnet will have to do. But you better believe it’s displayed proudly in my cube. It makes me so happy 😀
Have you ever spectated an Ironman event? Or a big endurance event in general? It’s a lot more complicated than I expected! And Ironman doesn’t exactly make it easy on you, with bare bones spectating suggestions.