Race Report: 16th Annual Maytag Ironman Steelhead 70.3 2018

On August 12th, 2018, Pro Triathlete Eric Lagerstrom, coming off an injury, won the 16th annual Maytag IRONMAN 70.3 Steelhead. He was first out of the water for an early lead in the swim and was able to hold onto that lead as 2nd place, Andrew Starkykowicz chased him down on the bike. The two left T2 together with Lagerstrom pulling ahead in the run with a sub – 1:20 half marathon off the bike. His finish time 3:48:02. Sarah Haskins won the women’s division with a 4:16:19.

For those new to Steelhead 70.3, this race takes place in the picturesque, beach town on the shores of Lake Michigan. The venue is Jean Klock Park which has a Benton Harbor address, located just one mile north of Saint Joseph, Michigan.  The views are breathtaking and the park is public so it is accessible anytime.

Hot summer conditions are to be expected for this race, as are the big rollers that Lake Michigan tends to serve up this time of year. That said, this swim isn’t for the novice swimmer, particularly because some years it’s non-wetsuit legal and that can cause anxiety for those that lack confidence in the water. The bike is a fast course bringing its riders out to South Haven, and then back into the park. Then a 13.1 mile run through the Whirlpool campus.

Packet Pickup. 

IRONMAN events are typically organized and due to the size and scope of this particular 70.3, participants should expect a more intensive process of checking identity, updating information and picking up all of the extras: bib/swim cap, shirt, and chip that takes more time than a normal packet pick-up.

The Swim. 

Every year the big question is whether or not the swim will be canceled or whether or not wetsuits will be legal. The course is user-friendly with 5 yellow buoys out, a red turn buoy, 3 more yellow buoys, then 3 orange buoys (once you hit the orange buoys you’re halfway), then a red turn buoy, then 5 more orange buoys to the beach. When the waves are rolling high, spotting can be more difficult. Between the water and transition is an uphill run on the beach. Without the ability to get good footing, this run can prove to be a challenge, as is managing the sand you bring into transition. For those that love a challenge, this swim is for you!

The Bike. 

The bike serves up smooth roads for the majority of the race.  This year the conditions were great with very little wind, and for some, not too hot yet. The course has its rolls but very little in the way of tough hills. It is well-marked and fast that is marked year round. There are three bike aid stations, one every 15 miles on the one loop, 56-mile bike course.  Great layout.  Great volunteers.  Bathrooms, food, fluids.

“Great race! The conditions always keep it interesting and the venue provides family and friends with an opportunity to relax at the beach. The new bike course provides ample opportunity for a PR.” — Ralph Buckingham

The Run. 

The big hill at the start of the run really hurts the legs especially when it comes so soon after getting off the bike. Then there’s the fact that you get to do it twice which makes it that more physically and mentally challenging.  There are plenty of aid stations providing Redbull. It’s always fun to get some of the good stuff while out on the course. There are lots of athletes from all degrees of experience: Pros, elites, novice and relayers, it’s a fun blend. It’s typically quite hot and many times you’ll find yourself running in full sun so that can make staying hydrated critical. After toughing it out, nothing beats running down that finishing chute, crossing that finish line and hearing announcer Dave Kappas calling out your name!

The Race Director. The IRONMAN Staff. The Volunteers.  

Everyone that is involved with this event knows what they’re doing to the extent that we were surprised to learn that they don’t travel together to put on these huge races. Local Race Director, Mike Ryan, rallies his community for a ton of great volunteers, medical and police presence. While the IRONMAN brand still sends their team to make sure everything is set up and running the way it should be. The volunteers are intuitive and pay attention to the needs of the participants. Top notch!

The Vibe. 

IRONMAN always hands out the swag, so there’s that but more importantly, they also serve up Pizza Hut as their post-race food. IRONMAN Village is set up on the beach offering up grilled food, coffee, drinks and lots of pop up shops. Athletes finish on the beach, so there’s a great place for family and friends to hang out and play until athletes finish the race.

“This was my first Ironman experience and it blew me away with the organization to the volunteers! The location was great and exceeded my expectations!” — Alicia Phillips

Out of the 102 Ironman 70.3 series events that took place in 2017, the Maytag Ironman 70.3 Steelhead was selected 10th in Overall Satisfaction marking a major accomplishment for both the event and the host community of Benton Harbor-St Joseph. 2017 Athlete’s Choice Awards scored the Maytag Steelhead event as 10th best event on the entire global circuit.

Editor’s Note: Bring your speedsuit, just in case the water is warm and book your hotel well in advance or you may end up paying $300 for a Motel 6. 

Photos: Laura Caprara