Pickles and Athletes

Steelhead race report

I signed up for this race as a motivator to continue to do some training after Ironman Texas.  I also signed up because it also guaranteed me a slot in Ironman Arizona 2013, this means I won’t need to head down to Arizona to volunteer in order to secure a registration in the race since most IM’s sell out within minutes of on-line registration opening and volunteers get first dibs. If you’ve been reading my blog you know that I’ve been swimming and biking here and there but not much running due to injuries.  I really wasn’t expecting much for this race except to enjoy it. 

My mini goals included –  PR’ing the swim, riding hard and having smooth, quick and simple transitions. Oh, and of course to monitor and nail my blood sugars!

I arrived in Benton Harbor checked in and got my chip etc. then headed to the coach house about 2 miles down the road where I was staying.  It was the same place as last year, on a very quiet street overlooking beautiful Lake Michigan next to the beach.  No TV no noise except the waves… it was glorious. I headed to the grocery store because I forgot bananas for my usual morning breakfast.  I ended up buying dinner there instead of going out.  It was one of those cases of going to the grocery store hungry and everything looked great.  Earlier in the day I had pot belly’s which included a big salty pickle.  At IM Texas the sports medicine doctor suggested I load up on salt the day before the race and pickles was one of the things he mentioned.  So this is what I did.  I mean, these pickles are massive! For dinner I ate another fairly salty meal… nachos and salsa for my appetizer, veggie sushi and a Panini.  It was all delicious and I washed it down with a couple of cold Bud Light Limes… yum! 

I started reading Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek’s biography, if you’ve read the book you’ll know that it starts off with him describing how he was lying face down in the dirt vomiting after getting through ½ of the 135 mile Badwater ultramarathon. While his support team are trying to convince him to get up and carry on.  It describes his thoughts as he was processing in his mind what he was going through.  The pain, the feeling that he was actually being cooked from the 120 + degree temperatures in Death Valley (I guess they don’t call it that for nothing!) and him questioning his abilities as an ultramarathoner. It is described as one of the hardest races in the world. For this guy a marathon is a walk in the park but funny that when faced with near defeat that this super human runner can doubt his abilities, I think this is something we all face from time to time whether it’s running your first mile, marathon or doing an ironman. We are faced with doubt, I know I go through lows of wondering why the hell I thought doing {insert activity here} seemed like a good idea and the words “I am not an athlete” and “I do not belong here” come to mind.  This is where that “mental strength” comes to play.  You can train yourself to be mentally strong to a certain extent but often we are faced with challenges during a race (especially longer races) which can be totally unexpected and nothing you have done previously could prepare yourself for this.  It takes every ounce of energy to carry on and will your body to carry on in the face of pain and discomfort.


My alarm went off at 4:30 I planned on leaving for the race around 5:00.  I was riding my bike the 2 miles to the race start.  I had everything packed the night before.  I ate my almond butter and banana on whole wheat low carb bread drank some G2 Gatorade and bolused at about 80% for my 7:15 wave start. This one can be tricky because there is a 1 mile walk to the swim start from transition which can lower your blood sugars if you’ve over bolused.  I reduced my basil at about 6 am to 40%.  I racked my bike set out my things and chatted with some of the team to end aids athletes who were doing their first half ironman distance races.  I was so proud of all of them for being there and later when I saw them on the run course gave them big kudos!

I looked at my dexcom and saw that the arrows were pointing down so I ate a gel and tucked a gel in my wetsuit sleeve.  My plan was to have the dexcom and pump in the aquapac as I’d been practicing with.    As I stood on the beach and watched the sunrise listening to the national anthem I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to be able to race and be there at that moment.  The sand was soft and the water was a decent 67 degrees, slightly warmer than the air temperature so it felt great on the bare feet. I also reminisced about my very first half ironman which was this very race back in 2007.  Wow 5 years had passed, how is that possible?  It was only my 2nd triathlon and I remember getting in the water and panicking, I was flooded with a range of emotions, mainly concern about why the hell I was even there to begin with (see above -I am not an athlete)!  I had trained on my own, a few 1 mile swims a few 30 mile bike rides and well I was always a runner.  I am such a different triathlete now, a better swimmer for one.


I entered the water feeling calm. I started swimming and kept well to the left of the buoys I counted them as I went, there would be 16 altogether 8 yellow and 8 orange.  The water was also calm.  I felt like I was really rocking the swim; however I knew that I was also swerving a bit due to being so far out of the crowd.  I reminisced again about the first time, feeling like the swim would never end seeing the gigantic inflated Gatorade bottle in the distance where the swim out was.  This time I didn’t feel that I just counted down the buoys and felt good and strong.  My arms did get a little tired during the second half I thought that I really was motoring!

Leaving the water, I experienced the typical wobbley sea legs and tried to get them to start running up to transition.  It was tough because the run to the bike was deep heavy sand and was particularly long.  As much as I tried running I was getting a little breathless.  I checked my watch out of the water and it read 45 minutes.  Although that is a great time for me I was slightly disappointed because I truly felt like I was flying in the water and expected to see something closer to 40.

Official swim time: 47:40 2:28/100 meters (includes run up deep sand to T1).  Goal met! PR’d the swim by 6 minutes 20 seconds! Wa hooo! 


I get into transition with plans of being lickety split! Take off the wetsuit check out my diabetes devices to see if they survived the swim.  The Medtronic pump was working fine however much to my chagrin the dexcom was not working.  I was so bummed because I was really looking forward to tracking my blood sugars for this race.  I kept pressing the button in hopes that it would magically turn on but no luck.  Well, I guess I was flying this one blind.  I knew that even if I brought my tester on the bike that I probably wouldn’t test.  In fact, I was so annoyed that I forgot to test in T1.  I ate another gel, got on the bike and left.  Lisa who started in a wave 10 minutes after me flew by me with her superfast swimming abilities.  She must have had a great transition because I didn’t see her for quite some time!

Transition time 7:50 – not the best but pretty good for me.

The Bike

My nutrition for the bike included two packets of cliff blocks and a gu.  I also had heed in my water bottle and water in my aero bottle.  I also had a container of endurolytes.   The air temperature was pretty cool still.  There was cloud cover as well.  I remember feeling my feet were a bit cold and numb at certain times.  I went out pretty fast. I was chastising myself for not testing my sugar in T1.  I truly had no idea what it was and I felt worried that it was going low.  I ate another gel about half an hour into the ride then grabbed another from an aid station about an hour after that. I gave myself a couple of mini boluses after each gel and left my basil as is (approx. .8 units/hour). I drank the heed every so often and drank probably 3-4 aerobottles of water at about 32 oz per piece.  I probably had about 8 endurolytes.  I didn’t really take them consistently.  During the second half of the bike I ate a packet of cliff blocks.  I felt great on the bike for the first 30 miles or so then I think my blood sugar started rising or I had gone out too fast, I felt slower and struggled.  This is where I start questioning and doubting myself and why I do these races, wishing I was somewhere having brunch and a bloody mary instead of pushing hard on the bike.  Well clearly I didn’t rest and clearly I finished I just dug myself out of the dark mental hole I had dug for myself and clipped along nicely but new something was up as I was starting to urinate often.  I am happy to report that nothing fell off my bike this time!  Small victories!  Heading in I saw Tina and Roger, they’ve supported me at each steelhead half ironman I’ve completed J. 

Official Bike time: 2:54:53 19.21 mph.  I PR’d the bike by 2 whole seconds, not including last years steelhead race where the swim was canceled.


I rack my bike, the first thing I do before taking my helmet off and my shoes was test.  Yep, I knew it.  I was 284.  Nailing blood sugars goal – FAIL! Ugh…. Dexcom why did you not work!!!!  I quickly gave myself a mini bolus of .3 units.  I grabbed another sleeve of blocks and headed out. 

T2 time: 5:50 – again not my fastest but not my worst. 

The Run

I started off pretty cautiously I didn’t want the plantar fasciitis to start flaring up right away.  Plus there is a huge hill at the start.  I also didn’t eat anything for the first 5 miles because I didn’t want my blood sugar to go up even further.  The temperature was getting warmer  and I had some endurolytes.  I made the mistake of taking about 4 endurolytes in my mouth then filling my mouth with ice then water.  Well I couldn’t swallow the endurolytes because my mouth was full of ice so I had to spit the whole mess out !I finally started drinking Gatorade at some of the stations and had a few blocks.  At about mile 9 I was so hungry that I ate some banana and half of a chocolate chip cookie.  I also had a few sips of coke. On the second half of the course as my sugar leveled off and I felt great, like running should.  Neither the foot nor the hamstrings were really terrible.  Although the part of the course that  was on a trail winding through a park really affected my cadence and stride, the turns and bends and down hills made me cautious since these things typically set off the heal pain.  I tried to slow myself down during this portion.  Outside of that, I felt great (see photo of happy runner).  happy runner!I had a good cadence and actually got faster as I went running miles 12 and 13 in less than 8 min miles.  I ran the last mile really strong however about ½ mile from the finish my shoelace untied!  I had to decide if I was going to stop and tie it up or run with hopes that I didn’t trip.  Knowing that if I stopped then I probably would have a hard time starting up again, so I ran and sprinted to the finish without tripping!

Official Runtime 1:52:13 8:35 mph

My overall time – 5 hours 48 minutes and 48 seconds a PR by nearly 8 minutes.   

Afterwards I had some cold beers hung out with the Trimonsters and got to cheer on the awesome Team to End Aids group as they finished their first half ironman. It was so inspiring to see them finish! What a great day!


About Gillian

I am a type 1 diabetic diagnosed at the age of 30. I run marathons, participate in bike races , ironman triathlons and everything in between.
This entry was posted in Motivation, Race nutrition, Race Reports, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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