Chicago is home to the world’s largest triathlon, with over 8,700 competitors. Starting on the final day of the Beijing Olympics, Chicago uses this event to showcase its wonderful city while vying for the Chicago 2016 Olympics. Organizing an event like this takes dedication and hard work from first-rate people. Thank You to those involved in allowing close to 9,000 athletes to showcase their fitness in an all out urban assault on the Windy City.
I had so much fun at the race last year that talking my wife into competing this year was a cinch. I also grew up across the lake in St. Joseph so it was a good chance for me to show Hortense one of the crown jewels of the mid-west. We had an outstanding time staying in Old Town Chicago with our host. Biking along the lakeshore, walking the sidewalks, swimming in Lake Michigan, and eating out were some of our highlights. We thoroughly enjoyed eating at Le Bouchon so much that Hortense had to order a second round of mousse de chocolat (I helped). The meal and the ambiance were quite pleasurable.
Of course we also enjoyed some leisure time leading up to the race with some scintillating Olympic viewing enjoying the Mountain biking, some outstanding water polo, along with the men’s marathon (it is beyond belief how these guys run so fast in such extreme heat and humidity).
Race morning came early for Hortense while I didn’t start until 11 am. So, while I woke up, Hortense was plunging through the lake with hundreds of her competitors. My thoughts were with her while I prepared for my race with a quick breakfast. Biking over to the start from Old Town Chicago along the Lakeshore was a pleasant warm up. The turquoise water of the vast lake was inviting me to come cool off as the sun beamed down, taking over the large blue sky.
It took me only a few moments to prepare for my race at T1 so I snuck into the age-group area, found a shade tree, and enjoyed the spectacle of athletes running in and out of T1/T2. While my main goal was to catch a glimpse of Hortense finishing her bike leg, I waited long enough that I realized she had already come and gone.
With an hour to go the official water temperature was 71 degrees for the pros, meaning it would be a wetsuit swim. I was shocked and skeptical of that reading as the water was warm the day before and the air temperature outside was at least mid to upper 80’s. Wanting plenty of time to swim and hopefully cool off in the water, I grabbed my F2R wetsuit and started walking the ¾ of a mile to the swim start. Beads of sweat lined my forehead and it was uncomfortably hot walking in my swimsuit while draping a wetsuit over me. With still a half mile to walk I found a shade tree to put on my wetsuit and then gladly plunged into the refreshing water. It was easier and more fun to swim the distance than to walk, plus it was a good warm up.
The pro men lined up 2 or 3 deep getting ready for a 400 meter sprint to the turnaround. I lined up in front and took off well but was hindered by frantic swimmers. I caught an arm and chipped a tooth, guys to my left and right were running into me, then someone from behind grabbed my shoulder, and pulled me back while pushing me under and swimming over me. Ah well, I expected some of this so I relaxed and stayed focused. After the turnaround the pace quickened and I had space to move. Getting into a good rhythm while near the front; I started to get angry. Angry, because I was burning up, with no place for the heat to go; except out my ears. I was feeling weak as sweat was building up in my suit and I started thinking about pulling out of the race. Luckily, I think many of my competitors were feeling similar as the pace suddenly slowed considerably. The pace slowed enough to be almost easy but I did not dare attack being concerned about overheating again. So I sat in and relaxed to the finish, staying with the lead group.
Being fearful of overheating while running a ½ mile in my wetsuit to T1, I focused my attention on getting that sucker down around my waist as quickly as possible. Then, I almost sprinted to pass as many people as possible. I knew if I got in front of Matt Reed I would be in good shape so I surged to get in front of him, then he passed me, I surged again to pass, then he beat me out of T1. After about 2 miles of pedaling and finally getting my shoes on I was in about 5th position with Reed and Potts just up the road. We were heading north into a gusty headwind so I optimized my aero position and started reeling in both Matt and Andy. At the turnaround I had just passed both of them when we started heading south with the wind. Matt passed me again, this time for good, as he sailed with the wind.
I was satisfied and feeling good to be biking at the front of such a big race with a stacked field of pros. With only Stuart Hayes and Matt Reed in front of me I biked solo for the next 17 miles or so pulling away from a group just off my pace. I was feeling effortless and powerful but I think I relaxed too much assuming I was going fast enough. With about 2 miles to go Yoder, Bennett, and Starykowicz bridged up to me. This was all the motivation I needed, as I quickly passed them apart from Starykowicz. Yoder fell off the pace while Greg, Andy and I came into T2 together in 3rd, 4th, and 5th.
Greg was off in a flash chasing down Reed and Hayes. Andy and I stayed close for the first couple miles both struggling to find our running form. I noticed the heat right away and was fearful. Yes, I am literally scared of heat when it is accompanied with humidity and I am running hard. To ease this fear and also deal with the uncomfortable heat, I had to ease up. The conditions were such that pushing myself too hard, which I love to do, would cause serious problems for me. So I marched along, determined to finish. Upon finishing I was almost instantly relieved with a magnificent towel that had been soaked in ice water. If only I could have ran with several of these along the way. Potts had a watch on that showed the temperature to be 93 degrees at the finish…too much for me to thermal regulate.
Muggy running weather aside, I had a brilliant day with an epiphany…that I can swim and bike with the worlds greatest athletes and I have a coach that has and will teach me to run as well as anyone can. The fast run will come and that is very exciting.