Tuesday, September 1, 2009

2009 Breakwater Half Ironman Triathlon


This has definitely been a busy sport year. For someone who professed nine months ago that this would be a "down" year, a lot has gotten done. So far 2009 saw me finish two marathons, three half Ironman triathlons and a sprint triathlon. Now I'm gearing up to do a marathon in North Carolina as well as a return to Disney World in January 2010 for the Disney marathon weekend.

Not only have I finished a number of events, I've also had my share of ups and downs in the form of injury and also burnout. 2009 has been long, tumultuous and exciting all wrapped up in a recession-laden coat. Considering all that could have gone wrong but hasn't I've been a very blessed person.

But this post isn't about recapping my life and times this year. I've got a bigger fish to fry: the Breakwater Triathlon in Petoskey, MI.

As you'll see, this race was a mix of good and bad. This event challenged me in ways I've never been challenged. It also offered some easy stretches when needed.

It started out early on Friday morning. I packed up the car the night before so nothing would get left behind by a half awake driver. The alarm clock went off at 4:30 and a half hour later I was on the road to Michigan. The drive there as well as back was relaxing and uneventful. In my time I've grown to appreciate these long drives. They offer great scenery and time for reflection on life, the universe and everything.

When I finally rolled into Petoskey it was around dinner time. My friends in Charlevoix, just 15 minutes south of Petoskey, offered me room and board for the night so I stayed down there and enjoyed some good food and great company.

Saturday was a big day. After a good night sleep my friend and I drove down to Traverse City to run a few errands. First and foremost was to visit my high school neighbor who relocated to the area with his wife and kids. It's always good to see them. And he never forgets to remind me about our friendly (so far non-existent) competition in the mountain bike world. For the record, Mike, you'd own me in that. No contest. But I'll play fair and get a mountain bike and train for an off road event.

The other major event for Saturday involved purchasing and installing Snow Leopard. In case you've been stuck on a remote island for the past few months, Snow Leopard is the new operating system for the Macintosh computer. It's absolutely wonderful by the way. You can read an exhaustive and detailed review at Ars Technica.

The rest of Saturday involved my driving back to Petoskey, checking into a hotel, picking up my race packet, laying everything out for Race Day and attempting to get a good nights rest for the event. I say "attempting" because between the overload of coffee drank and the new computer OS to play with I got a max of 3 hours of actual sleep despite my best efforts.

Race Day

Four o'clock couldn't have come any earlier. Not only was I sleep deprived from roughly 3 hours of sleep and a very long drive two days before hand but it's three o'clock according to my body clock because of the time zone change from Central to Eastern. Needless to say, I wasn't entirely there. But, the show must go on and so must I.


IMG_1131.JPGThis was interesting. In most transitions you pick your spot but this one we had assigned spots. The negative side of this is you're very unlikely to get a coveted end spot. End spots give you the most space. The plus side is you can sleep in because there's no point in waking up at the crack of dawn to beat everyone there. Transition opened at 4:30 (yes, FOUR frigging THIRTY) with a race start of 6:45 (yes, SIX frigging FOURTY-FIVE).

When I got there it was too dark to see anything but I had the good fortune of packing my head lamp. That turned out to be a godsend because it not only helped me get my spot set up but I could also help a lot of the people around me too. Speaking of the people around me, #113 (I was #114) didn't show up so as fate would have it I had all the room anyone could ask for anyway for transition.

IMG_1137.jpgThe only actual downside with transition was at the far end by "BIKE IN/OUT". It had been raining for days prior to race day so there was an unavoidable swamp over there. Good thing I leave my cleats locked on my bike or else that would have been a very bad thing. I can't speak for everyone else though.

Another interesting point to note about transition was the hike we had to make. As soon as we left the actual transition area we couldn't mount our bikes until we climbed four sets of stairs and crossed under a highway. This was very unique and not necessarily a bad thing. Just something different.


Due to inclement weather the swim course was changed. Originally we were scheduled to swim a very interesting "R" shaped course. Instead it was changed to two loops around the middle dock in the link above. That also changed the distance from 1.2 miles to 0.91. I was not happy with this but what can you do? Fortunately the water temp was around 65°F so it was a very comfortable swim. Ironically the water temp was warmer than the air temp so it was nice staying in the water.

My swim went okay except for the head-on collision I caused because I was having a bad steering day. On the way back from the second loop, when we were at the end of the dock, I sighted incorrectly and swam right into some of the women. Oops. On an even more fun note I also swam right into one of the large buoys too. Yes, it was a bad swim day for me. Here's a link to my swim.


It's not clear to me there are words in the English language that can fully capture the experience of this bike. It was, by far, the hardest bike I've ever done, training or otherwise. Earlier this year I participated with the Team in Training at a half Ironman event in Sunriver, OR. There, we not only had elevation to deal with but we also climbed a mountain.

That was easier than the bike portion of the Breakwater triathlon.

So we're clear, this isn't a complaint about the bike. This is a statement of fact. It was HARD! Other than wishing I had packed my booties because at times my toes were cold it was a pretty smooth bike. My only main problem with it was the two hairpin turns we needed to make to lengthen the course to 56 miles. They will hopefully be able to figure out something next year to avoid this but hopefully they leave the course pretty much unchanged. Personally, I think the extreme challenge of the bike course will be what draws in the crowd. You definitely need to do this to understand. Check out my map of the ride including elevation, HR, cadence, etc. Seeing is believing.


This was the best part of the event. The run was along the Lake Michigan shoreline on a dedicated pedestrian path. The path itself is mostly tree lined and very well kept. It gives the feeling of being out in the wilderness despite being right along a highway. The run itself was mostly flat and very forgiving. Despite being an out-and-back run it was definitely scenery you didn't mind seeing twice.

My only regret with the run was not bringing my camera. The scenery was simply stunning. We ran through a tunnel which was fun but the best part was the first 2 miles and the last 2 miles. This section of the path is along a cliff so you can see the Lake Michigan shoreline below you but also the town across the bay as well as a semi-arial view of the break wall (e.g. finish line). Simply magnificent. Check out my run. It was slow because I've not been running much and my heart rate was getting high. Despite this it was a lot of fun.

The results are broken down by age group and by overall. Not my best performance but still a good time.

An Event Worth Doing

Practically perfect weather headlined an excellent event. Despite the unwelcome change in the swim course (uncontrollable) and the swamp in the transition area (uncontrollable) the event planners did a stellar job. As I mentioned, one of the most notable aspects of this event is the challenging bike course. Hopefully the race director will leave this unchanged because it will be a significant draw for people in the years to come. Everyone is looking for a challenge and this is something completely unique to this race. And if the bike course isn't enough to draw in a crowd then the run will certainly do the trick.

All in all I'm happy with the event and glad I was fortunate enough to be able to do it. This is definitely one to check out in the years to come.


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