Race Recap: Chicago Triathlon

Swimming in Lake Michigan. Cycling on Lake Shore Drive. Running through the museum campus and into the iconic skyline. The Chicago Triathlon was breathtaking. Figuratively and literally.

Before the Race

This was my first time traveling out of state for a triathlon, so we added a few extra days to the trip and made a trication out of it. We packed-up the car on Friday morning and made the seven hour trek to Chicago.

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We stayed at the host hotel, which made packet pick-up a breeze by just taking the elevator down to the Multisport & Fitness Expo on Saturday morning. It’s no coincidence that one has to walk through the maze of more than 100 vendor booths before getting to back of the room where packets are obtained. I didn’t mind though; seeing the latest and greatest gear, nutrition and services just added to the excitement that built upon entering the exhibit floor.

I also decided to take advantage of the early bike racking on Saturday. Normally I just rack my bike on race morning, but given the almost 7,000 bikes that would end up in transition along with the athletes that would transport them there, I decided it might be good to just skip the race morning chaos and rack mine a day early. It turned out to be a good call. Unlike every other triathlon I’ve done, this event did not have assigned numbers on the rack. Each wave had their own row, but the individual spaces on that row were first come first serve. I lucked-out and got a spot on the front end of the rack, which would make it very easy to find. Considering transition was a couple hundred yards long, and my wave was at the far end of it, anything I could do to make my life easier would be good!

I enjoyed dinner with family and friends that night at Pequod’s Pizza – a Chicago staple. Surrounded by such great people, some of whom I hadn’t seen in more than six months, the natural tendency would be to let loose, have a few drinks and enjoy some heavy deep-dish pizza. But I stuck with my night-before-a-race routine and had one beer and a plate of pasta. It was really hard to pass up that pizza, but I knew trying something new the night before would be a risky move. After dinner, we all went to a local bar to take in the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight. I tipped back a few waters to stay hydrated and enjoyed the company of family and friends. However, I turned in early, missing the main event, so I could get to bed. It wasn’t easy leaving the fun, but Sunday was going to be a big day.

Race Day

My swim wave wasn’t until 9:15am, but I woke up at 4:00am to eat breakfast. I ate the same race-day breakfast I’ve eaten all season – an english muffin with peanut putter and a cup of yogurt. I like the early meal so my body has time to process the fuel and relax before the race kicks off. Normally I’d go back to bed after eating, and I certainly could’ve given the late transition window available to Sprint racers, but I was already awake, was anxious to see the water conditions and was too excited to not be a part of the pre-race action. I grabbed my stuff and joined the steady stream of athletes making the 30 minute walk to transition. Since I set-up my gear early, I was able walk back to the hotel and relax some more before walking the two blocks back down to the swim start.

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Pre-race smiles with my two biggest cheerleaders: my other half, Jamie (left) and my mom (right).

My wave was loaded into the start chute about 20 minutes prior to our scheduled start time. Here, I got the chance to watch a few waves before me take off on the wavy swim, and also chat with fellow triathletes. One thing I love about this sport is how nice and welcoming everyone is. Everyone is always excited to just talk about the sport, their past experiences, their goals for the day and offer any advice they can. It’s a wonderful community.

Finally at the sea wall edge, it was our turn to step down the bleacher stairs into Monroe Harbor and start treading the Lake Michigan water. This was the calmest I’ve ever felt before a swim, which surprised me given how not calm this new body of water was for me. I had never swam in chop and waves like this. But I knew I could do it. All of the three-quarter-mile practice swims at Lake Nokomis over the last month paid-off in providing new confidence that I was more than capable of handling this half-mile swim.

The horn sounded and we were swimming, all 150 of us from Wave 39. Congested is an understatement. It was hard to find any personal space for the first quarter-mile of the swim. I got kicked a lot and kicked a lot of others. I ran into others and was ran into by others. It’s just the nature of the beast. Outside of the pauses to stop and re-sight after running into someone of having my ankles grabbed, I only took one real pause on my own, which was to catch my breath after swallowing a poorly times lake wave. Once I found some space and found a groove, the swim was beautiful. The water was a fairly clear blue-green. To my surprise, the waves brought peace rather than stress, allowing me to feel one with the lake. I cruised to a new personal record on the swim, clocking-in at 00:14:18.

Swim Exit

Catching my breath and running at the same time. Ironic?

T1 was an animal like none other I’d experienced before. I was super thankful for the volunteers that helped guide each swimmer up the stairs and out of the water. Then I was off on a 450-yard run along the red carpet to transition. For those keeping score at home, that’s a quarter-mile! Then, once I reached the transition entrance, I had another couple hundred yards to run to reach my rack on the other end. By the numbers, 00:05:44 looks like a long time, but given I ran almost a half-mile and changed gear, I was pretty happy with that time!

The bike course was amazing. The sprint course was a 15-mile round trip out and back along Lake Shore Drive. On one side you had the beautiful views of Lake Michigan and on the other you had the downtown skyline. I tried to take it in as much as I could, but to be honest, I spent a good chunk of time with my head down and pedaling against the wind. I had only rode my bike two or three times since the Minneapolis Triathlon in early July. It was quickly evident that my bike training had slipped a little. My quads weren’t happy with me, but I powered through and gave it everything I had. Averaging just under 19mph, I was still happy with my ride.

Bike

I had pushed my legs so hard on the bike that I was a little nervous heading into T2, worried that my legs would wobble too much to stand after dismounting. My adrenaline must have given me the boost I needed though. I jumped off the bike, ran to rack my bike, swapped helmet for hat and bolted to the run exit.

Blog COver

The quote in my head: “All it takes is all you got.” – Marc Davis

The run had been my strongest leg all year and that was top of mind heading out onto the course. I knew this was where I could really push it. It was time to give it everything I had left in the tank. The path was lined with spectators. Even though I knew none of them, I fed off of their cheers. I did my best not to think about the distance. I kept focus on the person in front of me, trying to pass them and then refocusing on the next person. After the turnaround, I ran around Shedd Aquarium where the view broke open into the iconic Chicago skyline. I could hear the cheering from the finish chute. I rounded the corner onto Columbus Drive and kicked it up a gear, setting a new run PR of 00:22:10 (07:10/mile) and crossing the finish line with a total time of 01:32:15. Wow, what a race!

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My 2017 Chicago Triathlon Results

Split

Split Pace

Age Rank

Overall Rank

Swim (0.47 miles)

00:14:18

01:54 min/100m

17/160

262/2275

T1

00:05:44

25/160

300/2272

Bike (15.0 miles)

00:48:25

18.59 mi/hr

55/161

540/2284

T2

00:01:39

2/159

19/2272

Run (3.1 miles)

00:22:11

07:10 min/mile

15/160

132/2274

Total

01:32:15

17/161

181/2283

After the Race

Getting a medal placed over your head is pretty great, but even more exciting are the congratulatory high-fives from family and friends. I was even greeted by two friends that made a sign to cheer me on, which was really cool. It’s pretty special to having the support of people that care about me enough to watch my races. There’s really only a few short moments of time where the athlete that a spectator is there to see can actually be seen during the race. Theres a lot more chunks of down time just waiting for that person to come back into view. Knowing that people care about me enough to invest that time is humbling. I hope my family and friends know how much those cheers mean to me!

Dave and Alex

Love the sign!

After the race, Jamie and I spent the afternoon down at Navy Pier. We found a restaurant with outdoor seating and lakeside views, kicked-up our feet and celebrated with a cold drink. The afternoon after a race is always a treat – you can eat and drink just about whatever you want and not even feel remotely guilty about it considering the work that was put in earlier that morning. This is the time to sit back, relax and enjoy life. It’s pretty great.

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Navy Pier

And now that the race was complete, you know I had to celebrate even more that evening. After holding back the night before, it was finally my time for deep dish pizza – Lou Malnati’s style!

Pizza

Of course we got the buttery crust!

Reflection

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I’m a lucky guy!

First, I have give a shout-out to Jamie. She somehow calmly handles my anxious tendencies leading up to a race. She’s my cheerleader and the first voice I hear heading into transition. She’s the first to raise a high-five at the finish line. As I juggle race-day emotions from doubt, anxiety and exhaustion to excitement, determination and celebration, her support never wavers. She even proudly called herself a TriWife during Chicago Triathlon weekend. She’s my other half, and I’m so thankful for her.

The Chicago Triathlon will be an experience I’ll always remember. The views were spectacular. Swimming in Lake Michigan pushed me out of my comfort zone and to new heights, giving me even more confidence in the open water. This was a big race, four times the amount of participants that I’ve competed against previously. Finishing 17/161 in my age group and 181/2283 overall shows me I’m capable of hanging in there with some great great triathletes. And I know I still have untapped potential in the tank. It’s bittersweet knowing my 2017 triathlon season is complete, but given the amount of support I have around me, and the drive inside me to keep getting better, I know I have a lot to be thankful for already and a lot to look forward to in 2018. Cheers!

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Perception Shift

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Six weeks have already passed since completing the Minneapolis Triathlon. It’s been my longest gap between races this season, which has provided me a lot of time to train and reflect.

I’ve noticed a shift in how I view my status in the sport, and how I view my own ability. For those that already know me well this will not come as a surprise: I’m pretty hard on myself. I set high standards. And even when I achieve them, I often don’t give myself enough credit.

Take this blog for example. When I launched it last December, I set the description as “An aspiring triathlete’s thoughts and perspective.” Looking back, I can see how I sold myself short, giving myself minimal credit. I had completed four triathlons by the that point – one in 2014 and three in 2016. Yet I used the word “aspiring” like I hadn’t yet earned the title of triathlete. Maybe it was because even though I’d competed in races, I hadn’t done well enough yet (I’m not even sure what my “well enough” standard was). Or maybe I didn’t feel like I had competed in long enough distances.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, I received the following comment from a fellow triathlete on my Minneapolis Triathlon Recap post: “Hate to break it to you, but you aren’t a “aspiring” triathlete anymore. You are a veteran working hard and making gains. You can smell the podium even at large scale events (which tells me that you will pick up a lot of AG podium hardware in the not so distant future) and you are looking at longer distances as well. Nicely done! Congrats on a great race!

Wow! At the time he wrote this, I had just completed the seventh sprint triathlon of my young career. I took second place in my age group at the Rochesterfest Triathlon a few weeks prior. I wasn’t far from age group contention at Minneapolis, a race that draws some strong competition. He was right – I was no longer an “aspiring” triathlete. I wasn’t trying to be one. I was one! It felt really good to hear it from someone who has completed long distance events, including Ironman Wisconsin. Confidence boosted.

I’ve also found myself answering questions and giving advice to not only friends, but also to athletes competing in their first ever triathlon. I remember my first event. I had no idea how to rack my bike, where to set-up my gear or what to bring down to the swim start. I had no idea about keeping my bike in a low gear for an easy start out of transition. I had no idea about a lot of things. That first race can be scary. It’s been a joy to share what I’ve learned and hopefully make someone else’s first race a little less overwhelming. Yeah, I guess that’s another sign I’ve become a veteran triathlete. Confidence boosted.

Most recently of all, I’ve pushed my limits in open water swimming and have noticed a change there too. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t speak too confidently about my swimming abilities. I often reference my fear and panic that sets-in just thinking about the swim. It certainly does not exude confidence. Last year, I doubted if I could do the half-mile swim at Minneapolis, but I did it and it felt amazing to prove the doubt in my brain wrong. Just a few weeks ago, I doubted I could make the almost three-quarter mile round trip across Lake Nokomis and back. But I did that too. I’m realizing I’m capable of more than I often tend to think I am. It’s been pretty sweet to see that perception shift. Confidence boosted.

Lake Nokomis

Lake Nokomis

These confidence boosts couldn’t come at a better time. The Chicago Triathlon is just a few days away. There’s a lot of unknowns in this one for me. I’ve never competed at this event so I’ll be seeing the course for the first time on race day. Swimming in Lake Michigan sounds like an animal of it’s own, but knowing it takes place behind a walled harbor calms my nerves a little. I don’t know where the elevation changes are on the bike course, so no knowledge on where to save my energy and where to push hard. The run course is not a complete loop so I’ll need to pay extra attention to my watch to keep tabs on pace and distance rather than looking across a lake to see where I am in comparison to the start.

While the unknown can be scary, it’s also exciting. The lakeside and iconic skyline views are sure to be beautiful. Reports are stating 7,000 athletes and 50,000 spectators are expected for Sunday’s events so the buzz and energy level is sure to be high. I’m really thankful for the opportunity to compete and take it all in this weekend. It’s going to be an epic adventure. I’m confident of that!

Winning the Mental Battle 

Open Swim

Sometimes challenges and tasks just seem too big. We tell ourselves we can’t do it. Sure, someone else certainly has the strength or courage to do it, but we do not. We build it up in our head to the point where it seems impossible. Those phrases are familiar in my mind. They’re dangerous and have the ability to doom a dream, idea or challenge before it ever begins.

“Our greatest battles are that with our own minds.” – Jameson Frank

Swimming continued to mess with my head over the last month or so. I can’t totally explain why, but it’s been a mental battle — a battle which begins before I even get in the water. Let’s take yesterday for example. I had a plan to attend Open Swim down at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, MN. The course runs about 1200 yards (or 0.70 miles) round trip across the lake and back. The furthest open water swim I’ve ever completed has been just under a half-mile. I started thinking it would be too long of a swim for me. I started running through all the what-ifs in my mind. The doubt kept increasing.

Once on the beach, I gazed out at the marked and life-guarded course as I began the long process that is putting on a wetsuit. For some reason, it looked doable. It wasn’t quite as scary as seeing the tetrahedrons out on the water the morning before a race. But I had already built it up in my head as being too difficult. I began making a plan b. Maybe I’d just swim halfway out and then come back. Yeah that would be safe. That was my plan.

I waded into the lake, dunked my body to adjust to water temperature, took a few breathes and started swimming. My body became weightless and enveloped by the water. I was surrounded by other swimmers, yet I still felt alone, in a peaceful way. I settled into a groove and was at the middle of the lake in what seemed like no time. This was where I had told myself I’d turn around. But I wasn’t tired. And I wanted more of this weightless, relaxing exercise. I kept swimming.

I progressed to the opposite shore and turned around for the return trip to the beach. I was completely relaxed yet actively engaged in swimming against a light wind current on the lake. How was I doing this? I’ve been much more tired while swimming shorter distances. I blocked these thoughts out of my mind the best I could, focusing on each stroke. The moment was very present. All that mattered was moving through the water with efficiency. I could analyze it all afterwards.

I stepped back on shore and looked back to see where I had been. Wow. I did it. I swam all the way across the lake and back. My confidence was sky-high. Earlier in the day I doubted my ability. Now I had completed what I thought I could not.

This didn’t cure my swimming fear, but it’s one more piece of evidence that I can use against my own brain in the future. I’m already looking forward to next week’s Open Swim night. This boost was just what I needed with only a few weeks to go until the Chicago Triathlon. A new race is sure to produce jitter and doubt. But now know I can handle a swim longer than what I’ll encounter on race day. It’s me against my brain.

It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we set fear aside, tune-out our own negative thoughts, push our limits and just believe in ourselves. Cheers to the next challenge!

My 2017 Triathlon Season Preview

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At this time last year, the idea of doing a triathlon wasn’t much more than a fleeting thought. Almost three more months would pass before registering for my first race of 2016. Things are different this year. My 2017 triathlon schedule is set and I’m pretty excited about it.

I’m kicking-off the season at Trinona, the race where it all began for me. In 2010, my wife and I volunteered on Trinona’s green team, helping sort recyclables and compost. This was my first exposure to the sport and it had me dreaming of tackling the race some day. In 2014, I completed my first triathlon at Trinona. The sense of accomplishment after crossing the finish line was like nothing I’d experienced before, proving to myself that I was capable of something I’d doubted I could do. In 2016, I raced Trinona again, sparking a love for the sport and completions of two more races that summer. This year, I’m looking forward to having two close friends participating in this race too. I’m sure lots of camaraderie and friendly jeering will enjoyed before, during and after the event.

Next up for 2017 is the LifeTime Tri Minneapolis. This one will be special because I’m not just racing racing for myself. I joined Team Save the Children for two reasons: to raise awareness about worldwide hunger and poverty and its affect on children – and to do so while honoring the memory of Olivia Ann Christiano. I get goosebumps just thinking about this race. I pledged to raising at least $500. Thanks to the contributions from family, friends and some very generous people who I’ve never met, I’ve already exceeded that goal. But I’m not stopping there. Between now and race day, I want to keep adding to that fundraising total. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of children throughout the world. If you’d like to contribute, please visit my personal fundraising page here.

In August, I’ll be tackling my most adventurous event yet – the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon. Adventurous is open to interpretation, but traveling out of state for a race, and the thought of swimming in Lake Michigan, both say “adventure” to me. This will also be the largest event I’ve competed in. For a comparison, last year’s Minneapolis Tri Sprint race had 641 participants; Chicago’s had 2,237. Biking and running along the lake shore and through downtown Chicago will provide some spectacular views. Plus, celebrating with a slice of deep dish pizza sounds like the perfect prize.

Setting the race schedule felt like an accomplishment in itself. But now the real work of training becomes the focus. I’m just happy that this year, I’ve planned ahead and allowed plenty of time to prepare for the season – a season with a lot to look forward to.