Recently Jason and a number of my triathlon teammates raced Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3. I had been training for the race but decided at the last minute not to do it because I had traveled to San Francisco, Napa Valley and San Jose the week before and had too much booze and horrible food sloshing around my system to feel prepared to tackle a half Ironman. Nonetheless, I watched the race anyway to cheer on my friends and the BFG. A word of advice to any triathletes out there reading this: if you’re thinking of racing Ironman Lake Stevens, don’t.
First of all, Lake Stevens sucks. If Washington state had a hillbilly cousin, Lake Stevens would be that hillbilly cousin’s poo-crusted butthole. It’s such a crappy town that the only thing the official Ironman race catalogs can advertise about the area is that it has a Buzz Inn Steakhouse, which looks about as classy as the bar where Jodie Foster got raped in The Accused.
The town literally consists of this skeezy restaurant, a Subway, a crappy foodmart, a burger shack, and, inexplicably, a town museum (maybe they wanted to commemorate the day they scored a Subway franchise). To answer your next question, no, there are no hotels in Lake Stevens, so if you’re thinking of flying in to do this race then lucky you, you get to stay in Everett or a neighboring city. (And no, Seattle is not “twenty minutes away,” as I heard one race official tell someone over the phone; it’s more like 50 minutes.)
Secondly, the “lake” part of Lake Stevens is filthy. It smells terrible and is full of garbage. When Jason swam in it the day before the race, he said the bottom of the lake was littered with beer cans and junk. Teresa said she spotted an old rusted chair while swimming. Jason and his dad once saw a half-submerged mattress in the lake after they finished a bike ride, and I had the pleasure of experiencing an obese kid with a rat tail throwing firecrackers into the lake as I was standing in it for a post-workout ice bath.
This lake is the town’s urinal — they don’t give a crap about it and they certainly don’t take care of it, so excuse me for not wanting to pay a couple hundred dollars to do a race that involves swimming in it for 1.2 miles.
Thirdly, the bike course is horrible. It’s two loops and is a challenge for sure, with a few tough hills, a lot of false flats, and many twists and turns. However, what I hate most about the course is that the town’s inhabitants are so mean and inconsiderate to cyclists that it makes for a stressful, miserable ride. Every time I’ve ridden the course I’ve had some redneck in a Ford F-150 angrily honk at me as he passes me at 50 mph. And surprise surprise, Ironman didn’t close off the course during the actual race so my friends said they kept getting passed by jerks in cars who would angrily swerve and honk at all of the cyclists who were racing. Jesus Christ, this race is one day out of the year — you’d think that these a-holes could show some courtesy and put up with a few hours of inconvenience, but no, they’ve gotta get to Walmart or a monster truck rally or a Larry the Cable Guy viewing party or wherever the hell they’re rushing to.
The cherry on top of this turd sundae was the expo hall for the race. Race organizers had the expo hall in Everett, because, as I’ve already mentioned, there is nothing in Lake Stevens. Fun fact: Everett has an events center. Logically, you would think that the packet pickup, race briefing and expo hall would be at the events center or somewhere similarly sized…and you’d be wrong. Apparently the organizers decided that they wanted the expo hall to match the ghettoness of the actual race itself, so they held it in a Holiday Inn that was simultaneously hosting a Cash for Gold trade show. The lobby was a mess of athletes running into old, obese people who stank of ashtrays and were trying to turn in their gold brooches for fifty bucks.
Organizationally, the expo hall was a disaster. There were nearly 900 people signed up for the race, and the organizers were forcing each athlete to attend a mandatory meeting before they were allowed to pick up their race packet. There were four meeting times, one of which was reserved for the elite triathletes. The meeting room held about one hundred people. You do the math: clearly, not everyone is going to be able to squeeze into the room for the meeting. Did they think about this obvious logistical nightmare?
No, of course not; instead, they had some pissy volunteer with a beer gut and a 70′ porn ‘stache angrily turning away athletes at the door when they tried to squeeze in and attend the meeting, sighing as if it was a huge personal burden. “Jesus Christ,” he’d whine, “There’s no more room. You have to come back in an hour” before shutting the door in their faces. Fuck that guy — the whole point of a volunteer is to make the athletes as comfortable and as prepared as possible. When you’ve got volunteers being rude to the racers, they’re creating a hostile and unwelcoming environment. Racing that distance is stressful enough as it is — you don’t need a poor man’s Burt Reynolds with a power trip barking at you and telling you what to do.
Speaking of the “mandatory meeting,” that is the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard. I’ve done three half Ironman races and I’ve never been forced to go to an athlete meeting before picking up my packet. There is nothing unique about the Lake Stevens race to where athletes have to be subjected to hearing someone drone on for forty minutes about the course and the token safety information. Oh really, the swim starts here and ends here, and the bike is a two-loop course, and the run is ALSO a two loop course? Wow, I haven’t heard that information since I read it on the goddamn website! Thanks so much for rehashing this for me! Seriously, offer the meeting to people who are nervous and haven’t done a race of this caliber before, but let the veterans and pros skip it — that’s what waivers are for, people.
I honestly have never seen a race this ghetto, unprofessional, cheap or poorly organized — not a half distance, an Olympic, a sprint, or any running races. There’s no way this race is worth a $225 sign up fee. My advice to anyone who’s not raced Lake Stevens before and is considering it — skip it. And to the Ironman race organizers, my advice to you is to either lower the registration fee by $100 or move the race altogether. Lake Stevens is a shithole that doesn’t respect athletes or take care of the course. Washington has better locations for a half Ironman. If the organizers want to maintain the prestige and value of the Ironman brand, I suggest they do something to improve the image of the Lake Stevens race.