I´ve had my eyes on Michigan (MI) for a few years now as a state I´d like to get to know and decided I´d most likely do so with a triathlon. Well, it finally happened! Last week I went to compete in the Ironman 70.3 Michigan in Frankfort…up North, not quite the UP (Upper Penninsula) though. Now originally I had my eyes set on a different 70.3 triathlon from Ironman (IM) in Michigan, Steelhead, but it was earlier in the summer when I wasn´t ready and it was sold out.
This was my first race in over 2 years, my last was back in 2019 for a full Ironman. Traveling around the world kept me from races for the remainder of that year and then obviously the pandemic. I never gave up training during the whole 2 years but it was massively reduced. For this race I trained 3 hard focused months each week I generally did each sport 3 times and then some. I was completely over the training for triathlon a few weeks prior and was ready to just go finish. I have now done 4 Ironman 70.3 triathlon races but this was actually my first one in the USA. All previous races were in South America or Oceania….even though I am from the US…so this was a special race in that sense. I would have enjoyed doing my first US race at the local 70.3 IM out in Maple Valley (prior was Lake Stevens) but I´ll save it for the future (now that I know it exists).
The IM 70.3 MI was an inaugural event that seemed to have many changes. Originally set for Traverse City an hour North but later moved due to permitting issues from requiring closure of some roads that went through 3 counties for the bike segment which made them move it to Frankfort, a town of 1000 inhabitants. The swim I swear was originally set for Lake Michigan then later changed to a much smaller lake or harbor and I assume the run had little issues given it was mainly on trails.
This was a very expensive race location. I wish I had investigated a bit before committing but also glad I signed up. Frankfort is in the Northern part of Michigan, some 5 hours from Detroit, some 6 from Chicago. There are closer airports, such as Traverse City (Cherry Capital Airport…love the name) but in all reality you need to rent a car for this race no matter what. In addition, hotel options in general are also far away (for most) and pricey because Frankfort is a small resort town and doesn´t have the hospitality for over 3000 athletes and guests. Hotel options in the area were around $300 and up per night but luckily we found a place 40 minutes away (Airbnb) in Glen Arbor area for just over $100 a night. If you are considering this beautiful location get your lodging set up first before it is gone, farther away or over your budget.
The city though small was beautiful, is right on Lake Michigan, had plenty of shops and restaurants, a lighthouse and lovely tree lined streets. The area on race day gave stellar support along the entire route and did their best to accommodate and ensure everyone had a great race experience.
Was 1.2 miles (1900m) in Lake Betsie right in Frankfort itself. There were no practice swims in the lake prior to race day mainly because it is a fishing port and the entry points are either rocky or a boat launch. The day before the race it was really blustery and everyone was real happy to see it calm come race morning. The Lake Betsie for me was similar to Green Lake here in Seattle…it was kind of like a pond, murky, brown water (still clear with light) and had plenty of lake weed. Probably more lake weed floating around than usual due to the prior day´s weather churning it all up.
Not having any practice here sucked because you had no clue what was in store. It took me about 200m to actually calm down and swim fine. I started out faster than I needed to and the murky water and lake weed was kind of freaking me out, so I had to stop a few times, tread water and calm myself down. After those two bouts I was fine and passed many people, going really steady and amazingly on course. Usually I veer off on accident, wasting time, but there were buoys every 100m which I´m sure helped as did training in lakes all summer. I did stop a few more times quickly only to find a path through all the people ahead and those going sideways but otherwise swim was good.
For practice swims before the race you had the option of going to the end of town and taking a dip in Lake Michigan (bit cold but pretty) or Crystal Lake just North of town. Besides these two, options were infinite as the area has so many other lakes that are simply amazing. Most lakes were crystal clear, blue hued, sandy. I swam in Big Glen Lake near Glen Arbor since I was staying over there. It was pretty shallow but it was a delight once you got deep enough.
After seeing all the potential amazing options for swimming near Frankfort, MI I am not sure why they picked Lake Betsie except logistically. Bummer on the race swim segment since I swam through so much lake weed. Would have loved one of the blue, crystal clear options nearby but onward to the bike segment after 41 minutes of swimming. Yes, I am a slower swimmer than most but generally make it up later and this was a minute faster than previous races (imagine if I didn´t stop!)
A rolling route for 56 miles of sheer bliss. There were maybe 4-5 hills on the route and the rest was pretty flat, smooth and fast. It was lovely! It made it possible to make this by far my fastest bike segment for this distance in triathlon. I raced with my very first road bike (aluminium frame) that I got back in 2007 and it did great. It was with me on my first triathlon way back then too so this was only it´s second official triathlon ever! My average speed was 20mph which is awesome! I finished well under 3 hours for the first time ever…mind you no wind helps…and passed so many people. Yes, even passed many fancy triathlon (tri) bikes! I will just assume that those on tri bikes I passed didn´t quite know how to use them because seriously if you have the ideal bike why are you holding back.
My legs did feel the burn most of the ride but I kept pushing anyway. I usually hold back here because I was always told to save the legs for the run. I didn´t care this time and just pushed to pass as many people as I could. It was effective, fun and a great course for doing just that!
Very happy with the bike course and time. The kicker was just before entering transition I was passed by 6 cyclists, including 1 female I traded spots with the last 10 miles or so, all of whom I passed on the dismount due to some pro tricks I learned a long time ago that enable me to run on the dismount into T2. See information on tips farther below.
In triathlon given the changes in sport you have an area where you leave your belongings. The bike goes in the day before then early in the morning on race day you add the helmet, shoes, sunscreen, energy bars and everything else you will need. You enter this area 2 times during the race, once after swimming and a second time after biking.
Times here are supposed to be quick but can also take forever if you get comfy. The first transition from swim to bike is generally longer than the bike to swim. Bike placement in the zone is important since it allows you to transition faster. Mostly you want to be near the exit/return for the bike.
I was not close to there, in fact much closer to swim exit, run start. For me this was ok….but I would have preferred something more in the middle but you manage with what you have.
Transitions should be practiced during training at least a few times. I did but it was nothing really focused so I knew they would be mediocre.
On the first transition I had to take my wetsuit off myself. Due to Covid the wetsuit strippers (volunteers who rip it off you – quickest and easiest way) were removed. I knew I´d lose time there but still tried to go fast. I made it under 5 minutes which was my goal but ideal would be closer to 2 minutes ha. Sunscreen application is probably the second hardest part (better to do it on the bike or not at all?). I also put socks on here which many avoid until the run (if they actually decide to wear them). Then from where I had my bike to the exit was an eternity away lol.
On the second transition I was much quicker but still slower than usual. I blame it on location of my stuff and sunscreen…ha ha because I got off the bike very quick and shoes were on fast. In reality I don´t care but if I am to analyze and find room for improvement there are a few minutes I can save just on transition alone.
Two laps just under 7 miles around the same lake we swam in to make a half marathon finish (13.1 miles/21 km). Most of the route was on a paved trail bordering the lake with 2 sections on road/parking lots. The views from the other side of the lake were wonderful.
I was fast running out from transition, averaging 7:15 minute miles. Plan was to just stay at a comfy pace and this was for awhile. The whole first lap went great but on the second half of the last lap my left hamstring started to act up and I sought out cold water and ice to relieve it until the finish line. It worked fine but slowed me down quite a bit. I still speed up for the last mile and a half though so it was bearable.
I enjoyed all the cheers I heard from the trail lined with spectators. I especially loved hearing ´great pace´, ´looking strong´ or ´she will be strong on the run!´ as I transitioned.
After the finish I found my mom who joined me on this trip. She made this cute sign but she somehow missed me on all passes through town and only saw me at the very start ready to jump in the water and the very end racing through the finish line. I stretched, received ice from someone exiting the medical tent who saw me toss water on my legs ha ha and then we headed to Lake Michigan where I jump in to complete the IM Michigan 70.3 in the truest form possible. Water felt warm to me, although it was most likely just above 50F/10C degrees, although after awhile my leg cramped ha ha (aka it really was cold….body was just confused). This really helped the unhappy hamstring and the beaten up IM legs for sure. I´m surprised more didn´t do this afterward.
My finish time was just over 5 hours making it my fastest out of all 4 IM races I´ve done. Although the run was just average for me (I oddly trained less for it) I improved enough on other areas to lower my time 15 minutes from my last race. Current 70.3 best time is now 5:14:53. This was enough to put me in 5th place in my age group (yeah for a podium!) and top 10% of females overall :D!!!
Looking back at race statistics I have improved each time I´ve raced which is great news. I keep improving on the swim which makes me happy considering how I started out back in the day with anxiety in the water and teaching myself to swim. Overall the bike and run has improved but lacks consistency. I didn´t have a coach this training period and just relied on past experience to make my training plan, which I have also done before. I think if I sign up again I will put a time goal with it (most likely to close in on or pass the 5 hour mark). This race had just a simple goal of finishing and some B level goals leading up to race day. I started from near zero (what I consider) so this race was more about me looking for motivation to get into triathlon again otherwise I may have placed more ambitious goals for this event.
All these tips should be practiced prior to race day!
- Rubber band shoes to bike
Do this in the morning of race. Attach rubber band to shoe and place somewhere on bike (should be loose not tied to bike). Pedals will be at the same level for this. Open straps of shoes a lot. This saves time of having to put shoes on before or after exiting the first transition (T1). Helmet on then run out of transition zone with bike. Mount bike and pedal on top of shoes. Once away from exit a bit and no one around, slowly get one foot in at a time then strap the shoes. Keep pedaling the whole time (obviously slower but in movement). The rubber band will break on it´s own, do not worry.
* On the return about a mile out from transition 2, unstrap shoes and place feet on top of shoe one at a time (you will have to let shoe do a flip to get foot on top), pedal on top of shoe, dismount just before line and run.
- Petroleum jelly – Vaseline – Suit Juice on neck, wrists, calves, ankles for wetsuit
Before putting on wetsuit it is advisable to put Vaseline on various parts of your body. You should have swam in the suit before and know where it rubs on you and this is where you definitely need to place Vaseline, for instance the neck or near underarms. You should also place some on the areas that are difficult when removing the wetsuit, especially for races. I generally place it on wrists, knees and ankles but also do calves sometimes to help the wetsuit glide off faster. Another good spot is by zippers especially if you have a half zip tri suit. Females may want to place it around the bra line as it tends to chafe there eventually.
*Reminder you should also be placing some anti-chafe cream or at least Vaseline on your pelvis to help with saddle sores!
- Elastic shoe laces
Get some of these and rethread them on your race day shoes. They make it so you do not have to tie your shoes and can easily slip in your feet and run. Make sure you leave the ties loose and pull the tongue of the shoe back for quickest transition. Pull on elastic to tighten then run. Don´t forget to grab your race number (if you didn´t on T1).
Since this was my first trip to the state of Michigan I made sure to check it out. I rented a car and did a full loop of the main part of the state….the mitten state as they call it (because it looks like a mitten). I didn´t do everything but I got a great idea of some not to be missed stops. And whatever you do, go to Michigan!
For bigger cities I recommend stops in Grand Rapids (excellent vibe and cool neighborhoods), Detroit (amazing architecture, history and art), and Traverse City (lakeside, small, very cool, close to many beautiful sights).
Personally I enjoyed checking out some of the lighthouses along the Great Lake´s shores, there are so many beautiful and unique ones (like in Grand Haven or Manistee). Even better is when the weather is harsh, at least windy. If doing so on Lake Michigan try to catch a sunset also, well worthy.
Do not miss Sleeping Bear Dunes in the North. (hike if you have time)
Kayak one of the lazy rivers or the beautiful lakes.
Search the northern shore beaches for the Petoskey rocks.
Snorkel, scuba or paddle board in Thunder Bay (Lake Huron side) and see the sunken ships.
Run, bike, scooter, walk the Detroit waterfront or Belle Isle and see London, Canada. Go to DIA (Detroit Institute of Art) and The Henry Ford Museum. You could also learn about Motown (music) at or Underground Railroad (slavery) as well. Eat a Detroit style pizza and grab a craft beer.
If you have time go to Mackinac Island and Upper Peninsula. I can only imagine it being well worth it given what I saw already up in Northern Michigan. I did not have enough time for it sadly.
Photos from Training