Cleveland Steelman 2019
Race Report by Thomas Brown
I’ll be dealing with the lead-up and preparation for the race in a separate ‘Road to Steelman’ article. This will focus on the race day itself.
The Cleveland Steelman was my main goal for 2019 and it meant a lot to me. It would be the culmination of my efforts over the last year, rehabilitating my knee and getting back into the sport of triathlon. It was also a chance to put the middle distance to bed. My first middle was Rubicon in 2015 where I spent most of the run on my back stretching out various cramps and needed carrying over the finish line by a club mate. I actually spent longer on the run than the bike in this race. My next two attempts were DNFs which included my first attempt at Steelman in 2016. The day started with me inventing a new mantra. Partly inspired by The Inbetweeners and partly inspired by Bill Crawshaw. “Finish or ambulance”.
This was a Saturday race and a 10am start. Very civilized for a triathlon! Myself and Simon set off around 7 to register about 8. After registering, while performing my final preparations, disaster stuck! While pumping up my tyres I snapped the valve. The tyre went flat and the valve end was stuck firmly in the pump. At this point I started to panic. Fortunately Simon remained calm and pointed out there was a bike shop on site. They removed the valve end and sold me a new tube. I replaced the flat tube and let Simon deal with inflating the tyres! Despite this set back, we were racked around 20 minutes before the race briefing. This is why you arrive early!
The swim was a 1900m course over 2 laps. It was a mass start containing around 170 people. Although swimming is my strength, I’ve some to learn I have a few weaknesses. I do not like having people both sides of me, I like to have a way out if I need it. Also I cannot just sprint out of the traffic then carry on with my race pace. If I smash the start I need to recover which is no good in a race. So I had placed myself at the buoy on the ‘inside’ side of the field. But as more people got into the water, the more people appeared either side / in front of my. This made for a stressful swim out to the first buoy. The field thinned out after this point and I was able to get into my rhythm. The other feature of this swim was an incredibly dense patch of weeds which got tangled around my left ankle. This made me very concerned I’d lost my race chip to the weed patch.
So I got out the water and looked down, very relieved to confirm what I was feeling was a weed wrapped around my ankle and not my chip dangling off! I got to my bike, wetsuit off, helmet on, jersey on (to carry tools and gel wrappers). My bike shoes were attached to my bike, but I’ve never jumped on my TT bike and heard bad things about Dolan seat posts. I decided just to step on it this time. When I got going, I realized I hadn’t practiced doing my shoes up on this bike either. I was having to reach further than I was used to which made for a wobbly first minute of the bike!
So once I had got stable on my bike, I took a look down at my watch. I’d trained all summer pushing 200W on the bike and this was going to be my race pace. However the power field was blank, for some reason it had not connected. In complete contrast to my first setback of the day, I remained very calm about this. I was fairly confident I knew what 200W felt like and just paced the bike off feel. So the nutrition plan on the bike was to have a gel and swig of electrolyte every 20 minutes. This is what I had practiced in training and it served me well. The one thing I will say about this is that I was losing ground to people sitting up and fiddling with wrappers and bottles. I’d like to experiment with mixing it all together in 1 bottle. I know a lot of people do that successfully. I do not display speed on my Garmin on the bike to make sure I do not get carried away. But at certain milestones it becomes obvious how fast you are going. So after an hour I had travelled just under 33km. For me that is a pretty fast pace and this gave me the confidence I needed after being constantly passed by much much faster cyclists. I think that in triathlon, there are more people who are extremely good at cycling than people who are extremely good at either of the other two disciplines.
Again, coming into T2 I chose to step off the bike rather than jump due to lack of practice. I’d placed a bottle of actual water (not carb / electrolyte mix) in transition and I was so pleased to drink this after all the gels and electrolyte mix! After putting my shoes and socks on I took a couple of big gulps of water and threw the rest over my head.
Off out on the run, and the plan was to run about 5:30/km. But holding myself back running off the bike is something I have not mastered yet. The first km was around 5 minutes but it felt super easy… I registered a couple of 5:20 kms before finding my target 5:30 pace. The sun was out and my concerns about running in the heat were starting to play on my mind. There was a feed station at 5km manned by a man with a hosepipe. What a godsend he was! I got fully hosed down, took a gel, swig of electrolyte and my favorite, cold, pure, actual water! The hosing down gave me so much energy. The next section of the run was off road through fields and forests. It was a slower tougher section but crucially for me it was in the shade. My pace dropped off slightly but was soon back on track when I was back on solid ground. There was another feed station at the end of the first 10.5km loop. Sadly there was no hosepipe, but another opportunity to take a gel, electrolyte and water. At this point I knew I was slowing down but I still felt good and in control. With 10km ahead of me I wasn’t ready to engage in a mental battle to hold pace. At the 15km aid station I got another hosing down. It felt amazing but unfortunately didn’t give me the same boost of energy it did the first time. That mental battle had arrived but the battle was not to hold pace, it was to avoid walking. With only 5km to go, I was ready to take on the mental battle. It is a very good job I didn’t push on earlier!
When I reached the finish, my watch had a few pleasant surprises for me. My overall time was about where I expected to be and my run, despite the absolute slog through the last 5km, was under 2 hours. Finishing felt great! Steelman was my main 2019 goal. This makes 2019 the first season I’ve ‘finished’ since 2015! Over the last 3 years, getting injured at the start of summer every year, there have been times where I’ve thought this sport just wasn’t for me. 2019 has proved that through wrong.
So that was it. Cleveland Steelman? Completed it mate!
Swim – 28:17
T1 – 1:18
Bike – 2:49:30
T2 – 1:46
Run – 1:59:18
Position 41st / 173 starters (155 finishers)