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Aug 31 2004

Chicago Triathlon 2004

I and an estimated 7,500 other people participated in the Chicago Triathlon this past weekend. It's billed as the world's largest triathlon, although the London Triathlon might have been a little bigger this year. The sponsor of the triathlon this year was Accenture. Previous sponsors have been Mrs. T's and originally Bud Light.

My training this year consisted of...well...nothing. Due to a knee injury, work and Mini-Me, my training consisted almost entirely of getting a new bike frame. But, I wasn't about to let that stop me from my annual reminder that I am, in fact, getting older and slower each year. The night before the race event, I went to see a friend's band, Conundrum, play and feasted on well-known pre-race foods including spinach-artichoke dip, potato skins, quesadillas, wings, fried cheese, and onion rings followed by a cheeseburger and fries.


After the pre-race festivities, I went home and assembled my bike which I had had shipped to my parent's house. Shipping the bike is a thousand times easier than flying with it post 9/11. It's just a little more expensive since the airlines charge an additional fee to transport bikes but it's much more convenient not to have to repack it in the airport and wait for it to be specially processed by the baggage handlers.

Anyway, I finally got to bed around 1:30 a.m. which gave me a good two hours of sleep before I had to get up since my ride from the suburbs to downtown Chicago was to arrive at 4:00 a.m. All this is necessary because the transition area where you have to store everything you need for the bike and run portions closes at 6:00 a.m. and the first wave of swimmers goes out at 6:15 a.m. I was in wave 39 which didn't leave until 9:08 a.m. which left me with over three hours to kill before I would start the swim.


And what a swim it was with overcast skies, air temperatures which never climbed out of the 60s, water temperature of 64 degrees and 15 mph winds creating little choppy waves...oh joy, oh joy! Thank God, I finally bought a wetsuit before last year's race. Best triathlon related purchase ever. When I first competed in 1987 only a few people had wetsuits. Now only a few people don't have them. I'll never swim in Lake Michigan again without one! Next to air temperature, it's my understanding that the water temperature near the shore is primarily affected by direction of the wind. If it's blowing toward the shore, warm surface water is pulled in raising the temperature. But, if it's blowing out away from the shore, cold bottom water is pulled up lowering the temperature.

This year wasn't the coldest swim ever though. One year the authorities (non-race organizers) stepped in and cancelled the swim due to the water temperature. There was a lot of complaining and a compromise was reached between the race organizers and the authorities which allowed the professional racers to swim the regular distance while everyone else swam about a hundred yards so as to at least maintain the facade of a triathlon rather than a duathlon. The water was so cold, I remember hyperventilating the whole way and never being able to put my head down to actually swim a single stroke.


The swim is 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles) long and starts in groups or waves consisting of approximately 150 people which allows for plenty of body contact in the water as everyone sorts themselves out. Each wave has a different color swim cap and start anywhere from three to five minutes apart. As the result of there being such a broad spectrum of abilities, by the end of the swim the water is a rainbow of different color caps.

The absolute worst thing about the Chicago Triathlon in the past few years has been the layout of the swim transition. There is almost a quarter to half mile run from the end of the swim to the transition area. The distance is so long that the race organizers have created a little-publicized mini-transition area right at the swim exit where quite a few people take the time to stop and put on running shoes rather than transverse the slippery pebble covered route barefoot, although, this year they must have swept the route because the pebbles weren't too bad. Still, running on cement with water softened bare feet is not comfortable. The joke is that the race is really a quadathlon (swim-run-bike-run) because of this.


This year's 40 kilometer (24.8 mile) bike leg was a little windy and a little cool but not too bad in either respect. There was one bad accident that I know of which I came upon when a rider was being loaded into an ambulance and two other riders were being attended to who I think caught a second ambulance. When there is a dark spot on a road, an automobile driver knows (or should know) that there is likely a bump there. The dark spot having been caused by the increase in oil drops from underneath vehicles that fall due to the force of the bump. The more severe the bump, the larger and darker the oil stain on the road. When there are enough riders, cycling has a corollary, in which water bottles replace oil drops. A bad enough bump in the road will tend to dislodge poorly secured water bottles. With enough riders a really bad bump is easily marked. This accident took place at a spot (the only spot along the bike route) where there was a large number of water bottles scattered around. Right where the accident occurred, there was a two foot wide, near bottomless, 6-8 inch gap in the road seam. I imagine a rider attempted to avoid it at the last second and swerved into the other riders (just my guess).

Finally, the last leg of the triathlon was the 10 kilometer (6.2 miles) run jog slow jog. It was especially fun given my utter lack of training. The weather did clear up a little and the sun even peaked out briefly during the run. It culminated in my worst finish ever, but it was still a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

Thank you Harry for driving (I always fall asleep on the ride home) and helping with logistics. I couldn't do it without you. I promise to be there for you when you finally get around to doing the Sprint Triathlon.

Posted by Don |

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