Saturday, August 28, 2010

Whirlpool Ironman 70.3 Steelhead – 5:44:34

This race, and the training leading up to it, is what my entire season has been about.  I’ve worked hard, and I’ve learned so much about triathlon, training, nutrition, and myself along the way.  That knowledge was expensive.  It came at the cost of lots of money, a little bit of blood and pain, and some serious psychological fatigue.  Honestly, it took a lot out of me.  I can happily report that, now, a few weeks later, I can look back and see everything it added as well.  Yeah, living like this is hard sometimes, but hard isn’t always bad. At this point I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Anyway, enough of that, here is what happened…
We were up at about 3:30 to get to transition.  It was a very early morning. 
For breakfast I had a peanut butter and honey sandwich on some delicious bread from Great Harvest bread in Bloomington.  Yum!
Race morning was COLD.  I was freezing, it was pouring rain, things were looking pretty bad.  Lana did her best to keep me warm in the two hours I had to wait between the close of transition and my wave start.
About an hour before my wave start I was getting hungry so I had a cliff bar and a bottle of Gatorade.  I sipped another bottle on the 1.2 mile walk down the beach to swim start. 
Age Group Place: 105
Overall: 956


My goal on the swim was 45 minutes.  I was planning on going out easy, cruising, and setting myself up for a good day.  I expected a slow swim because the end involved a ¼ mileish run up a sandy beach to T1. 
The rain had stopped by the time the race started.  The course was awesome and the water was even better.  I could see the bottom, even when the water was 10+ feet deep, the entire time.  It was really a beautiful place to swim.  

There was a bit of contact, but I kept a careful easy outside line and tried to play it safe.   I drafted a bit.  In the end, the swim was over fast and I was on my way to the bike.
I saw Lana and my parents on the way to T1, which was very nice.  I also passed a few fellow Tri-Sharks and their families/fans.  It was cool to see so many friendly faces. 

Distance: 1.2 Miles
Time: 38:08:00
100m: 1:59
Swim Div Place/Overall Place:  123/1110


Iron Distance transitions were a lot different.  There was a lot of chatting and screwing around in T1 by many of the participants.  I mostly just smiled and did my thing however.   Sun block, socks, shoes, helmet, go! 

Time: 5:37

For the most part my nutrition was pretty straight forward.  I alternated between 3 Cliff Shot Blocks and 8 oz of Gatoraid every 15 minutes.  This worked out to about 300 cals/hour.
I did have one minor emergency.  I was planning on eating cliff shot blocks that I had in plastic bags in a bento.  Well, the rain had gotten into them, creating shot block soup.  It made things very sticky, and screwed my nutrition plans a bit, but I just drank a bit more Gatorade instead.
And wow, aid stations on the bike.  That was awesome!  I loved pitching bottles and grabbing fresh nutrition from the volunteers.  It felt like I was really doing something important and big.  Super cool!  
Things went really well for me on the bike.  My goal was 3 hours @ 180W.  I ended up riding 179W and did the course in 2:45:53.  I was about 1 Mph faster than I predicted, which I’m guessing is due to a combination of my race wheel, aero helmet, and good winds.  

Distance: 56 Miles
Time: 2:45:53
Mph: 20.3
Bike Div Place/Overall Place:  98/762

I saw my parents and Lana again on the last mile of the bike, which should have really counted as part of T2.  We were corralled so tightly we could only ride about 14 Mph around the boardwalk.  Still, it was nice.  It felt like a victory lap!  

I put on fresh socks and sun block in T2, and in general caught my breath and took my time.  Things were going well, and I didn’t want to screw that up…and there was a big potential for that with me running a half after that great of a bike split. 
Time: 5:27

Running off the bike is weird.  You get used to the bike speed and want to run that fast, but you have to remind yourself not to over and over.  Especially in the first few miles before things start to suck.  The first mile for me was spent seeing my pace on the garmin hit 7:00/mi and then saying to myself “no, you run 9s dummy…slow down” over and over. 
By the second mile I had found my legs, rounded a corner, and saw a huge hill.  Having just read “Born to Run” I remembered a quote from one of the ultra runners that was something like “if you can’t see the top, walk.”  That sounded like really solid advice, so I did.  At the top I started up my run again, quickly walking each aid station to get more fluid into me.
It’s hard to do nutrition with Gatoraid on the run, since it’s hard to know how much you’re drinking in those little, often highly diluted glasses.  I did my best and supplemented with gu every 3 miles to try and shoot for about 200 calories per hour. 
About 3 miles in I saw a hill on the 2 lap course that was even bigger than the last.  This time I knew that because of the laps I’d have to run it twice.  Cruel and unusual punishment I think…

Four miles I went through an aid station, smiling and feeling good.  I took on Gatoraid and some water.   They were also offering ice, and I saw a guy in front of me put some down his shirt.  That sounded REALLY nice, so I thought I’d do the same.  At first, that ice did feel GREAT.  Unfortunately, unlike that guy in front of me, I was wearing a one piece tri suit…and as the ice worked its way down to my crotch, I discovered a new motivation to run fast and prayed that the ice would quickly melt.  (Note to self: if you didn’t practice it, don’t do it…no matter how mundane it seems)

For the most part I was running the best half I’ve ever ran.  I felt strong and good the entire time.  My pace was sticking around 9/mile, but walking the hills and aid stations was driving the average up into the near 10s.  Around mile 5 though, I figured out that as long as I kept it under 10 I was pretty much guaranteed a sub 6 hour finish time.  I REALLY wanted sub 6, so I decided to keep things pretty cool, not push it, and hit that goal. 

I walked the monster hill on both laps, and started back towards the finish. 

It wasn’t until the very last mile that some of the stress of the race started affecting me.  I definitely found myself becoming a bit emotional.  My hydration and nutrition were pretty much spot on, but I did have some stomach issues.  I’m guessing that might have been related to 6 hours of liquid foods.  I think next time I’ll practice some race breakfasts with less fiber. 

I was able to pick up the pace for the last mile and finish very strong.  It was really cool to see my parents and Lana on my way to the finish and hear the announcer say “Congratulations Mike Bernico, nice to see you!” as I crossed the finish line. 

Distance: 13.1 Miles
Time: 2:09:29
Pace: 9:54/mi
Run Div Place/Overall Place:  105/1051

So that’s it.  That’s what my first half felt like.  I hit all my goals, and executed my plan pretty much without a hitch. 

What would I have changed?  Well, I’d have probably built my milage up faster in training, backed down earlier, and worked on more speed.  I would have focused more on running form and less on the numbers.  That’s just all in the details, things to tweak for next time.  For the most part I ran a great race. 

Post race I had some cheese pizza from pizza hut (they were a race sponsor) and spent some time with Lana, Mom, and Dad.  We went out to eat later on and got some sleep.  The next morning we all met for a great breakfast that included blueberry pancakes with fresh Michigan blueberries (the best EVER) and then Lana and I went to pick some blueberries (which was a blast) before we headed back home. 

70.3 done, I see you 140.6…


  1. NICE WORK!!! Way to make it happen!!!!

  2. Wow!!! Congratulations Mike. What an excellent write up and story. I remember the guy from before so reading your stories and watching your goals get accomplished is just awesome!!!! Keep up the good work and lifestyle. You're an inspiration for the rest of us.

  3. Hi Mike, Thanks for writing this race report. I'm thinking of doing Steelhead in 2011. Are you going to do it again?

    I listened to your weight loss story via the Podcast on

    I lost close to 100 pounds about 3 years ago, so I can relate to your story.

    Nice work!

  4. Hi Gerry,

    It's really cool that you heard me on Ben's show. It was awesome to be interviewed by him. I think Steelhead was a great race. I'm considering doing either Steelhead or Pigman as a lead up to IMOO in 2011, so I might be there!

  5. Cool, let me know if you decide to do Steelhead again. Maybe we can connect IRL. Good luck with the rest of your training!