Ludington Lighthouse Triathlon Recap

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When I did the Ludington triathlon last summer, it was my first time visiting the beautiful town along Lake Michigan. I enjoyed my time there and loved the race so much that I knew I wanted to return this year. I committed to this one back in February when there was a $20 discount, making it even easier for me to want to sign up so early. I made sure to scope out hotels super early as well. I signed up pretty late when I did the race last year and Ludington is a hot spot during the summer. My hotel options were very limited and I ended up paying too much for what should have been a cheap hotel 10 minutes from town. This time I opted for a non-chain hotel that was actually a reasonable price considering how it was nearly across the street from Lake Michigan. With everything booked nice and early, I had six months to wait for this race to roll around.

The race took place on Sunday, August 19th. Like last year, it happened to fall on a weekend when Matt and his dad took a quick trip to Minneapolis. I managed to have a good time on my solo trip last year, so although I would have preferred having Matt’s company, I knew I would still enjoy myself. While I ended up walking nine miles around Ludington State Park the day before the race last year, I decided it might be wise to rest my legs a little more this time. 

I got to town around 4:00 on Saturday and was thrilled that I could see the transition area set up just across the street. I picked up my packet then walked into the heart of the town, which was less than half a mile away.

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I bought some salt water taffy and other treats at Kilwin’s then headed toward the water. I found a nice park and marina and took in the gorgeous afternoon. I got pretty sentimental as I walked around the marina, which brought back memories of taking family boat trips when I was a kid. I thought about how I didn’t appreciate those trips as much as I should have. I also thought about how my dad probably would have enjoyed being there.

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I realized that it was getting late enough to grab dinner, so I drove to Mancino’s like I did last year and brought a sandwich back to the hotel. I watched some of the Tigers/Twins game that Matt and his dad were witnessing in person, then went out to watch the sunset. It was the exact kind of thing that would be featured in a Pure Michigan ad campaign: a nice walk out to the lighthouse with the waves crashing against the wall as the sun set, watching the SS Badger ferry go by. Aside from wishing that Matt was there, I couldn’t have asked for a better evening. 

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I was able to scope out the buoy setup for the next morning’s swim. I was extremely thankful that we would be swimming between a couple of breakwalls. While the waves were crashing on one side of the wall, the water was nice and calm on the side where we’d be swimming.

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As the sunset wrapped up, I headed back to the hotel to get all of my gear organized before eventually going to bed.

Staying in a hotel so close to the start was wonderful and allowed me to get a little more sleep, even if it was mostly restless sleep. I took my bike and other stuff over, then went back to the hotel to use a real bathroom. It sure beat waiting in the long line for a porta-potty!

It was a foggy morning with very little wind and temps in the mid-60s. I hoped the humidity wouldn’t bother me during the race. I was thankful for the gray morning when it came to the swim. Last year I struggled a bit to find the buoys on my way back to shore as I swam right into the sun. At least the sun wouldn’t blind me this time. 

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Between relays, a super sprint, a sprint, Olympic distance, aquabike, and a kaya-tri (kayaks in place of the swim), over 250 people participated in the race. I chose to do the Olympic distance, which had 55 people. I was able to spend a little time in the water during the pre-race meeting. The water was just above 70° and felt perfect. We gathered on the beach prior to the start of the race. The Olympic men started a couple minutes before my group of 18 women. We had a beach start, meaning that we ran into the water once the horn blew. The small group made for a nice start and I didn’t get tangled up with other people. Eventually I caught up to some of the men but I was able to make my way around them without any issues. Although there was no sun to battle, it was still a little tricky for me to see the buoys when I made the turn back toward the shore. I kept moving in what seemed like the right direction and hoped I didn’t veer off-course too much. Eventually I saw the buoys. I had a really nice swim and finished 1000m plus the jog up the beach in 20:07.

It was nice that the race had a couple of kiddie pools set up in the transition area where we could rinse the sand off of our feet. Despite that help, I had my typically slow first transition. Wearing a wetsuit for the swim adds extra time since I always struggle to get it off around my feet. I can step on the suit and try to yank my feet out while trying not to fall over, but that usually doesn’t do it. Eventually I usually have to sit or squat and roll the legs off over my feet. By the time I finished screwing around I racked up a T1 time of 3:25.

I haven’t trained especially hard on the bike this summer since I’ve concentrated more on training for a fall marathon. I rode 40 miles the weekend before this race and knew I would be fine covering nearly 25 miles, even if it wasn’t especially fast. I was looking forward to the scenic route most of all. Although the bike segment is my weakest, it was the scenery from last year’s ride that really made me want to do this race again. During the pre-race meeting they announced that the route had changed to avoid a road that had been chip-sealed. I was extremely thankful for that. There was a stretch of road that had been chip-sealed during my first tri of the season, and that part was jarring, slow, and totally miserable. I’m glad I didn’t have to go through that again. Volunteers and signs along the course made it clear where to go. 

The first part of the ride went through some wooded backroads where there are side streets with fun names like No Name Rd. The ride really became enjoyable when I hit the stretch that goes past a bunch of waterfront cottages. It’s a really pretty area along Hamlin Lake and I loved looking at the houses. A little distance-adding out-and-back stretch for the Olympic athletes kept things interesting. That road rolls and winds, providing a little challenge and variety. 

Then comes the best part of the race – the ride up to Ludington State Park past the sand dunes. There are dunes on both sides of the road and it’s a beautiful stretch. The sun showed up halfway through my ride, meaning I got to enjoy the gorgeous contrast of the blue sky against the dunes. I knew that last year I flew on my way up that road, but got hit with the wind on the way back. Even though the forecast showed very little wind, it must be different when you’re right by the water. Although not as bad as last year, I definitely did slow down once I hit the turnaround. Still – you can’t beat the view, so I loved it even when it became a little more difficult. There are some stretches going back toward town that must have slight inclines. I had to grind through at times, but there are few significant hills along the bike route. I finished the 40K bike in 1:23:13 with an average speed of 17.9 mph. I rarely get moving that fast so I was pretty happy.

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Although my first transition is always slow, I take care of pretty much everything then so that I fly through the second one. It looks like I may have had one of the fastest T2 times with 35 seconds. Maybe it balances out between the two?

There’s good distraction for the first part of the run where some athletes are on the way out while others are coming back in. The Olympic athletes branch off and run through part of a campground, along a paved path in the woods, a little stretch through a neighborhood, then back into the woods. When I glanced at my pace now and then, I was pretty happy. I had done a sprint tri a couple weeks earlier where my running pace was surprisingly slow compared to usual. This time my pace was more along the lines of what I hoped for and I felt strong. It surely helped that this race didn’t have hills like my last one. A lot of the course was in the shade, and if it was warm and humid, it must not have bothered me. My watch showed that my pace dropped off a little bit during a segment along a dirt path, but I felt like I started flying again once I hit the pavement. It’s a long, straight stretch back to the finish, and I pushed with all I had.

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When my name popped up for the race announcer, he made a comment about how I was “bolting” through the finish, haha.

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The run distance on my watch came up short, but I know it’s not always accurate, especially when running through the woods. My pace dropped off quite a bit for the fourth mile, so maybe my watch messed up there. I finished the run in 45:30, which comes out to a 7:20 average if it truly was a 10K. Marathon training must be paying off because that’s quite an improvement over some of the other times I’ve run this summer. 

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My overall time was 2:32:49. I finished in 2:34:04 last year, so I improved by a little over a minute. My first transition time was a bit slower this year, but almost everything else was better. My swim time improved by 43 seconds, my bike time was 35 seconds faster, and my run was 20 seconds faster. I was very happy with those results!

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After receiving my medal and taking a quick moment to recover, I headed straight for the food. I got some trail mix, fruit chews, watermelon, and a waffle. I had placed first in my age group (out of two, haha) so I stuck around to wait for the awards ceremony. I was more enthused about placing fourth overall out of 18 women. I cleared my stuff out of the transition area and took my bike to my car, then waited…and waited. By the time I received my award, an hour and a half had passed since I finished racing. I know that’s how awards ceremonies work because they need to leave enough time for everyone to finish, and it’s like that at most races that I do. Still, it gets to be a bit excessive. It’s even worse for people who raced a shorter distance and had to wait much longer. Every now and then I do a race that allows people to collect awards from a table rather than going through a ceremony, and I definitely prefer that approach.

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I still had nearly four hours of driving ahead of me and I was anxious to leave, but I HAD to make a post-race refueling stop at House of Flavors first.

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By the time I got home, my typical post-race headache was pretty bad, probably due to not eating or drinking enough during the drive. Aside from that, I felt great about the day and am glad I went to Ludington for a second time.

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– Janet

Follow me on Twitter @reidphotography and Instagram @janetboltz

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Shermanator Triathlon Recap

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On Saturday, August 4th I participated in the Shermanator sprint triathlon for my third time. The race takes place at the Sherman Lake YMCA Outdoor Center in Augusta, MI. It’s a beautiful setting and I had enjoyed it the previous two times I had done it. Since it is just minutes away from Matt’s parents’ house, it’s a good chance to combine racing with a family visit. Plus, I had done the AquaDash race there in the spring and received a discount code for this race. I couldn’t turn that down, so I committed to this race pretty early.

I had done two Olympic-distance triathlons at the very beginning of the season, then suddenly had a 2-month gap between triathlons this summer. My plans to do a bunch of races this summer suddenly changed when someone rear-ended my car in June. My bike rack was on the car, so not only was my car a mess, but I had to replace my bike rack. Between waiting for a loaner car to become available at the shop and then waiting for the work to be completed, there was a big chunk of time when I had no way to transport my bike. That meant I had to skip one race I had signed up for, as well as some others I’d been thinking about doing. Thankfully I was ready to go by the time this race rolled around.

The race started a little before 8am and I got there nice and early around 6:30. There’s a little bit of a trek from the parking area to the registration area, then from there to the actual race site. I prefer to have plenty of time to spare rather than feeling rushed. There was no power at the YMCA, so they had some generators to provide just enough light in the gym where we went through registration.

Although it was going to be a hot and humid day, it was a really nice morning in the mid-60s to start.

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I was able to find a good spot in the transition area on some pavement. I prefer that over the grass when it’s time to transition from the swim to the bike. I waste enough time in transition, so it helps if I can avoid getting extra grass on my wet feet when it’s time to put my socks and shoes on.

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After getting things set up, I went for a quick half-mile jog up the path where the bike route starts. I love the wooded setting.

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Eventually it was time for the pre-race meeting at the small beach area. A couple waves of men started first, with each wave spread out by four minutes. By the time my group of women started, some of the fastest men were already finishing. Watching the men was a good chance to make sure we knew how to do things correctly. For example, despite being told that the swim was a counterclockwise loop around the buoys, we watched several of the men swim to the wrong buoy as they headed clockwise. I think they finally realized it after reaching the first buoy, but of course they were way off track. As the men swam into the beach, they came in on the side of the dock where we were treading water and waiting to start. That made us realize that we were supposed to finish on the other side of the dock.

According to my watch, the water was around 77 degrees. It was perfect and I was fine without a wetsuit. For a 500-yard swim, I figured I’d waste too much time getting out of my wetsuit in transition so it wasn’t worth using it. I got bunched up with some other women to start, and got a little frustrated as I kept hitting feet with my hands and others hit my feet with their hands. I couldn’t get moving along how I’d hoped, but eventually things spread out and I got into a better rhythm. I had to remind myself to push since it was a short swim and I usually get a bit too relaxed. I have a much better feel for pacing myself in a pool than I do in the open water. I got a little caught up with people as I approached the end as well, but it was a pretty quick and smooth swim for the most part. I was breathing pretty heavily as I got out of the water, so I didn’t do much of a jog to the transition area. Between the swim and the trek up to transition, my time was 10:43.

I didn’t feel like I screwed around too much in transition, but I guess I’m always slow at putting on my socks and shoes, number belt, helmet, etc. Suddenly 1:46 had flown by.

The bike was up next. While already winded from the swim, it’s always a bit tough starting out uphill as we bike out of the YMCA property. I was pretty winded for the first mile or so. I struggled a little because I wanted to pass someone in front of me, but someone was lurking right behind me and I was sure they were going to come around, so I didn’t make a move because the path isn’t that wide. When we got out to the main road I was finally able to break free and start going my own pace.

The elevation changes aren’t too dramatic for the bike route, which is one reason I like this race. There are a couple of good climbs that left me out of breath, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I’ve pretty much only trained on flat routes this summer, so if I can handle the short hills, they must not be too bad. The riding surface is smooth, which is another bonus.

My main motivation during the 10-mile bike segment was to try to do better than last year. Believe it or not, my bike time was EXACTLY the same when I did the race in 2015 and 2017 – 34:28. How does that even happen?? I haven’t spent enough time training on the bike this year since I’ve been spending most of my time running. I wasn’t sure I could improve my time, but I kept pushing hard throughout the ride in hopes that maybe my bike time wouldn’t be the same for a third year. It wasn’t a significant improvement, but I did manage to finish about 21 seconds faster this time!

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My bike-to-run transition took about 30 seconds, and I took off uphill once again and was huffing and puffing to start. It was in the low 70s and sunny by the time I started the run. I didn’t think about the heat or humidity while I ran. I’m not sure if it was warm enough to affect me, but I was surprised that my running pace was quite a bit slower than I had expected. I ran a 7:54 pace for the first couple miles and I’m usually faster than that during a sprint-distance race. Maybe the weather did affect me without me realizing it, or maybe I had pushed just enough on the bike to tire my legs out a bit. I spent most of the run thinking about the rolling hills and how they were getting to me more than I had remembered in the past. Aside from the first hill at the start, none of the hills are that significant. I guess tired legs and a faster pace are enough to amplify even the smallest hills.

Aside from the hills, I was also distracted by the running surface. As you can see in the pictures below, the roads were pretty beat up. I always had to pay attention to my footing.

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I’m in the top right corner with the blue hat

Although I didn’t feel as strong as I had hoped during the run, it still went pretty well. When I hit the downhill stretch back toward the finish, I used the momentum and really flew. That explains how my pace dropped by quite a bit for the last mile!

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1:10:04 was my official finish time…according to my Garmin. It’s a good thing I didn’t mess up my watch during the race this time, because I found out later that they had issues with the timing system during the bike segment. Apparently the cords got unplugged and it really screwed things up. I realized something was wrong when I checked the results and mine looked really screwy. I didn’t have a finishing time and I didn’t show up on the results where I should have been. I waited in a line with other people who had realized there was an issue, and thanks to my watch I was able to provide my finishing time.

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One thing is for sure – I’m ridiculously consistent. My 2015 time was 1:10:13, and last year it was 1:10:02. Although I had a faster bike this time, my run was slower. A few seconds faster or slower throughout the different segments balanced me out so I was just two seconds slower than last year. Pretty funny!

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Since I was first in my age group, I stuck around for the awards and received an extra medal.

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Once again, I had a great experience at this race. I’m aware that hosting a race is a daunting process, and can only imagine all the logistical things a race director needs to think about. I wouldn’t think of dealing with a power outage and needing to use generators in order to get through registration. Dealing with the timing issues had to be a nightmare as well. Like I said, I’m thankful I didn’t fumble the buttons on my Garmin (like I’ve done at other races) so it all worked out.

After doing a couple of Olympic-distance races this season, it was fun to do a sprint. I enjoy the sprint distance, but when a longer distance is an option, I’m usually drawn to it. I know I’m up for the challenge and feel like it’s good to push myself with the longer races. Of course I can push myself during a sprint as well – it’s just a matter of going harder for a shorter period of time. It’s fun to change things up and do a variety of distances though, so I’m glad I got a sprint race in at the Shermanator.

I’m ready to get back to a longer distance this weekend, and will see how prepared I am to tackle the Olympic distance again in Ludington.

– Janet

Follow me on Instagram @janetboltz and Twitter @reidphotography