The Chicago Triathlon

11:22 PM


As a total spoiler, I threw that picture up there as proof that yes, I did the triathlon! 
It was a total blast! Here's the story...

Kyle and I moved to Chicago 3 weeks after I gave birth to our 5th child, and the whole process of settling into a new city and life with 5 kids in that new city created a certain level of chaos. To bring order and sanity to the chaos, we both needed a goal - something to focus on over a period of months to motivate us to stay fit and active when it would be easy to fall off the fitness wagon.  

Rather than enter our 4th decade and throw it all to the winds, we opted to do precisely the opposite. To work hard to achieve something physically challenging, together, in our new city! 

This was not our first triathlon, nor our first Olympic distance tri, but it was our first Chicago triathlon. And this was a good reminder that no two triathlons can accurately be compared unless it's the same one year after year.   

I should also throw in here that I managed to convince two of my neighbors, Jill and Susan, (both triathlon newbies) to participate in this with us! They were both runners, but it was a leap to sign up for a triathlon, much less an Olympic distance one. The fact that they did; that they trained, competed, finished and had a blast is a testimony to their endurance, character and adventurous spirits! 

I mentioned in a previous post that this triathlon fell the weekend after my 40th birthday, and that my parents were coming in town that week to help take care of our kids so we could actually do the event! 

It is no exaggeration to say that without them, there is NO way we could have done the triathlon. I am SO thankful for their support and help! 

To kick off what was a super crazy weekend, we had to head downtown on Saturday to pick up our race packets, and drop our bikes off at transition.  In a smaller town, this would have been a piece of cake. Not here. It meant finding parking, walking and walking to the hotel, sitting through a half hour mandatory athlete meeting, walking through the Expo to pick up our packets and then, once finally free, to get our bikes from the parking decks and walk them a few miles away to the transition area. 

Our friend, Jill, saved the day with parking. She works downtown and gave us parking passes to her garage which was a few blocks away from the hotel/Expo. Her passes saved us over $50 in parking! 

Still, all our walking that day was over 3 miles.


There were over 9,000 participants in the triathlon. That's a lot of people. A lot of bikes. 
Triathletes were assigned a wave number based on age and gender, and that wave number directed the racking of bikes in the transition area.  Transition was a large, grassy hill overlooking Lake Michigan.  Once you were cleared to enter the area, you located the flag for your wave and squeezed your bike onto a rack in that section. It was a really tight fit! Particularly for my wave.

Transition area was open for bike racking Friday afternoon and most of Saturday. It would also be open early Sunday morning, but would be closed by 5:45am as the race kicked off at 6:00am. Most people brought their bikes early.  However, ONLY bikes could be dropped off - no other transition items could be left.  Which meant that all athletes would be required to be there well before 5:45am in order to get their whole transition set up ready. Eek.


There was security in the transition area. Good thing. There was a gazillion dollars of bikes racked on that hill.  Not my bike, in particular, but it's not uncommon for a tri bike to cost around $10,000.  Crazy, huh?

The layout of the event was very sprawling.  Not only was there a significant amount of walking required just to GET your bike to the transition area, but on race day, the swim exit was 1/2 mile away from the bikes. So you hike down the shore to enter for the swim, then upon exiting the water, jog/run half a mile to your bike. It was not going to make for the fastest transition time ever.

That's ok! Kyle and I were ready.  We got our bikes there and set up and prepared for Sunday.
We collaborated with our friends, Jill and Susan, and figured out that in order to get to the race on time Sunday morning, we would need to leave our house at 3:15am.  SERIOUSLY.

I've never gotten up so early.
It required going to bed equally early. Which was hard to do as jazzed up as we both felt! 

The other tricky thing was going to be Wilder. My concern was two-fold: 1) He sleeps with me, so my mom would need to slip into my bed once Kyle and I woke up and hopefully trick him into staying asleep! My experience with getting up early and his staying asleep has been hit and miss. I was just praying, that's all I could do. 2) I'm nursing him. So he would need to take bottles from my mom, which he NEVER does. And I would be going HOURS without nursing, so I would be in PAIN by the end of the day. I planned to bring my pump (and did...but forgot a key component, thus rendering my efforts wasted...) So yes, I was in pain.

That's my white Orbea and Kyle's black Specialized!
I knew Kyle was going to rock the bike - he commutes to work every day on his bike, so he has gotten very fast and strong on the bike. I've had to make do with a few long rides downtown by myself, but mostly using an indoor trainer at the gym. 


Race Day!

We managed to get out of bed at 3am, successfully sliding my mom into my warm spot in the bed with Wilder none the wiser.  We get downtown, driving through the pitch black morning, as the race crews slowly drive down Lakeshore Drive, blocking off lanes with cones - the lanes we would be riding our bikes down in a few hours!

We park in Jill's parking deck, hauling our backpacks with our gear and then trek our way to transition. It was a surreal experience. The city was dead, except for a growing stream of athletes walking or guiding their bikes down the road to the race.  There was a sense of camaraderie, half-asleepness and a sense that we were all a tad nuts. 


Once we finished up in transition, we all went our separate ways. Jill and Susan were in the same wave, as first time triathletes, and Kyle and I were in different waves. Kyle's wave was set to go in the water about half an hour before mine. (He's disgustingly photogenic in his cap, goggles and wetsuit). Each wave had different colored caps, too. Kyle was grey. I was purple.

There were rows and rows of porta-potties, and everyone walks around with their wetsuit waist-high, because nerves drive you to the potties with alarming frequency. 

It's a strange feeling, milling about barefoot with thousands of strangers, trying to remain calm and steady. The swim is usually everyone's least favorite leg, and there is no shortage of chatter about the temperature of the water, the degree of chop, etc. It's like labor stories - everyone wants to tell you the horror stories. I find it best to tune everyone out and just be alone and relaxed.

It was interesting to watch the men who'd already started the swim. Everyone handles it so differently. Some people swim steadily. Others you can tell are scared to death and keep flipping over on their backs to rest. Some swam from lifeboat to lifeboat, hanging on while mustering up courage to keep going. I saw one lifeguard go in after a swimmer! Some people resort to back-stroking because they can't put their face in the water. Others breast-stroke the whole way!

I'm not a super speedy swimmer, but I'm relatively strong, I have endurance and I've trained myself to love swimming. I train in a pool, but I did swim a few times in the Lake just to be prepared.  I'm so glad I did. My first experience was horrible. 

I picked a day when the waves were crazy high and it was so rough I couldn't put my face in the water. I treaded water for about 15 minutes trying to talk myself into it, but was almost totally panicked. I couldn't get my heart rate to level out. I backed out and didn't swim at all and thought, uh oh. This is not good.

Fortunately, I went out again the following weekend with my friend, Susan, and the conditions were completely different. The Lake was calm, lovely and I swam a mile easily and it was wonderful. The Lake is so clear that even in areas where the water was very deep, I could see straight to the bottom. Having that experience made me feel prepared for the swim on race day.   


I was a little nervous, because I knew it would be crazy with that many people in the water. Even though they sent us out in waves of about 100, the water gets busy. You have to pick your placement - up front and you have to be fast or get run over. At the back you can be more leisurely. I positioned myself at the back. I was also nervous because I'd only trained once in my wetsuit and it's pretty constrictive. I didn't like having it zipped all the way up my neck, which meant it rubbed my neck raw...but that was better than feeling like I was choking. I had more than one person try to help zip it up the rest of the way and I kept assuring them I liked it as it was.

Once my wave was told to enter the water, my mind calmed and everything slowed down.  We treaded water for about 5 minutes and then they sent us out. We swam down alongside the shore towards the museums, circled a buoy and then switched directions and swam north for a total of 0.9 miles.

The reality of the swim is that everyone freaks out for about the first few minutes. Then, you have to rein it in and just do the work you've prepared for. I am happy to say that I was able to put my face in the water right away and just swim.  I forced my heart rate to slow down, I made myself breathe normally and next thing I knew, I was just swimming. I was passing people and I felt great.  The only trouble was that I kept bumping into people and having to look up and navigate around bodies in order to keep moving. I feel like I could have whittled minutes off my swim if I hadn't had to do that!  

Towards the end, the waves picked up and we were being tossed about a little, but I played a mental game with myself and made it fun. And I wasn't scared or worried...I just swam and boom - it was done. Out of the water and on to the longest part - the bike!


I never saw Kyle once we kissed goodbye at the swim, but I knew he was gonna blow my time away on the bike. And I was right! He beat me by 15 minutes on the bike!!!! 


The bike course was fantastic! Approximately 26 miles.  Once out of the water, you run along a carpeted path a half mile to the transition area, strip off your wetsuit, cap and goggles and throw on your bike shoes, helmet and sunglasses. Then, run your bike up the hill and over to the road. Once you cross a certain line, they tell you to get on your bike and then it's a different form of physical and mental strategy.  This course was so much fun - we rode up Lakeshore drive to the beginning of Rogers Park (where we live) turned around and came all the way back down and then headed into some underground roads that were used in the filming of Batman. 


Everything about the bike was fun. I felt strong and confident, the day was beautiful, the temperature perfect. 


Once we hit the underground roads, it was exhilarating! The wind whipped through your ears, but otherwise it was silent. You felt FAST. It WAS pretty fast. I hit my highest speeds on those roads and it was pure joy. I had so much fun! (Kyle did too).


The smile on my face in the pictures wasn't just because I knew there was a photographer there - I truly was having a great time! I used the time on the bike to pray, too. Especially for Wilder! (Those prayers were answered: he slept until 10am! And was wonderful for my parents! Praise God!)


After the bike, we had a 6.2 mile run down through the museum campuses, along the lake edge and then around into the city a teeny bit.  The run was what worried me because my last triathlon, I got a stitch and couldn't get rid of it! I was determined NOT to do that again.


Kyle obviously finished before me, and finished strong! He did so well! I am really proud of him.

There were plenty of photographers at the finish, and best of all, they gave us the photographs free! Unheard of in athletic events!


Woo hoo!!! Please note it did not take him 9 hours and 53 minutes. That's just what time it was. Those times are confusing as you cross the line. Plus, everyone has staggered start times, so it's not even like you're "racing" the next guy running in. It's a very individualized type of race.


I was decently happy with my run. I always want to have pushed myself harder, and this was no different. This part of the race is the toughest for me, mentally.  I'm just worn out by now, even though running is my favorite thing! And in this race, I had to pee SO bad. I am not so committed to triathlon that I will just pee on myself.....so I did duck into a porta-potty even though it cost me some time. And it's hard to run without music, because when I train it's either with music or with a running buddy. I have neither on race day. I suppose a wiser person would train that way....

In any case, my goal was to stay running - no walking - and to beat my previous run time. I accomplished both. I think my pace was about a 9:30 min/mile which was slower than I wanted, but I can live with it. 

There I am, a finisher!
Total time: 3:15
So happy to have accomplished this goal!

Well done, Kyle!


There was a huge after party just beyond the finish line, but I really didn't get to enjoy much of it. I wish I had, but I needed to find Kyle in the crowd and then get home! 

We managed to meet back up and exchange our stories, then get packed up!

Man, post tri = not pretty. 
But I earned that medal!

So proud of us. Not a bad way to celebrate turning 40!

It was the perfect finale to a great birthday month!

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