By 9 a.m. this past Sunday morning, I’d had more Up Close and Personal moments with strangers than the last trip to the Cubbie Bear.  My car had been searched when I parked at the Aon Center (just up the street from the start).  I’d shared a pre-race blanket with friends Lisa and Joe.  I distributed makeshift toilet paper to a whole line of eager athletes waiting for a porta potty.  I’d seen the inside of more than one armpit as it swam by me in Lake Michigan.  And two very kind guys provided me with some theme music as I stripped out of a wetsuit in the broad light of day.

What was I doing?  Oh, just participating in the world’s largest triathlon, the Lifetime Fitness Chicago Triathlon, home to over 10,000 athletes this year.  As I racked my bike on race morning (where I would need to shoot the gap between a baby tree and two bike racks to get out later), I couldn’t help but think that this was going to be a true test of my training.  What I didn’t expect was to have such good memories on the back side.

The weather Sunday was HOTT.  I keep saying HOTT with two “T”s because I believe it accurately conveys the extra degrees involved.  By the time I hit the run, the temp was over 90, and the Heat Index was over 100.  But it’s what happened before that that really matters.

Let’s start on Friday at the Expo, shall we?  I ran into a friend there, Joyce, who has also been coming back from a foot injury – or trying.  We were talking about how hard it is to stay upbeat when you’re just trying to get better – and I laughed as I told her about the story from the weekend before, when I had flatted out on the course at Danskin, and found myself with only a tampon in my saddle bag – but no air – to inflate a new tire.  “The lesson I learned there”, I said “is that if you’re riding by someone on a course who’s standing next to their bike, the question to ask isn’t ‘Are you okay?’ as you go’s “What do you need?”  We laughed, talking about it, because we’d both zoomed by people before who were in trouble, but now we had a slightly better idea how to help.   Keep that nugget in mind – I’ll come back to it.

Then it was Sunday morning, and I was up and atem.  Vowing NOT to find myself in Air Tampon land again, I packed one of my two water bottles with extra tubes, and air canisters, before the race.  The other bottle, I filled with water.  Keep that nugget in mind – I’ll come back to it.  I had a moment of unadulterated superiority when I realized that bringing my headlamp was an act of genius as there wasn’t NEARLY enough light in Transition, and then promptly tripped over myself leaving the area.  So much for that.  As you can see from the pic below of the walk down Monroe Harbor – it was kind of dark out there!

Got in and out of Transition by 5:00, and headed down to the start, where I hung out with Lisa and Joe (who awesomely brought a blanket, otherwise it would have been Goose Poop Anonymous on my butt that morning.) 

And then I was just waiting for the swim.  The nice thing about training with a big group is that it was like Old Home Week at the swim start. I ran into a bunch of friends from Chicago Endurance Sports (thanks Liz, Jayme, Caronina, Coach Mike, Alice, Alexis, Trina…well, the list goes on!)  – and the SUNRISE!!!  Let’s just say that the sunrise almost makes the 3:30 wakeup call manageable.

By 6:15, there were thousands of participants, family and friends wandering.  Really, it’s a little overwhelming if you’ve never done a race before – they don’t call it the World’s Largest Triathlon for nothing.  When you have to plan for a 30 minute window for the Porta Potties, you know it’s big.

Lisa went off first, around 7:15, and I was up next, at 8:00.  Perhaps my most shining moment of the day was when someone emerged, confused, from the Porta Potty and reported that the TP was running out.  Surrounded by 200 of my closest competitors, I ran back to the snack shack across the lot and grabbed a stack of napkins, returning to pass them down my chosen line.   As the dude behind me said “that was an MVP moment”.  Yes, yes it was.  Sorry to all you suckers in the other line!!!! 

Holding onto my cap for dear life before the swim.

The rest of the day wasn’t as MVP, but it was occasionally funny – and fun.  After being ankle-grabbed and swam over on the swim, I emerged victorious to find fellow CESer Trina pulling me up out of the Swim Exit – complete with a smack on the ass.  Now THAT’s encouragement!  Then, as I was walrusing to the Transition (which is about 1/4 mile away in Chicago from the Swim exit) I decided to stop and strip.  Um, yeah.  See, it was already HOTT and I could hear my thighs making music in the way that is usually reserved for cordoroy pants in winter.  I figured if I didn’t strip, we might have some serious issues with conjoined legs, and who needs THAT on race day?  So, I stopped, dropped, and stripped.  Two guys from Team in Training were across the path watching (with averted eyes, I’m sure), and gladly told me that it was my day, and I should do as I pleased.  When I looked up, I told them politely that I expected a little something in return for this exercise, at which point, they serenaded me with some lovely Porn Music.  Oh, come on, you do too know what I’m talking about.  Or you’ve heard about it, at least…

And then there was the bike.  Really, I TRIED to plan, but I realized at about Mile 15 of Mile 26 that I was going to be out of water since I had only ONE bottle full of fluids (and the other averting the air/tube disaster).  So at the top of Lake Shore Drive (at the Foster turnaround), I pulled over, and asked a volunteer to hand me a discarded bottle.  What?  I was out of fluids, I was thirsty, and I was willing to contract Hepatitus B to have some damn water, people!  There were 15 bottles on the ground, most dropped by people who couldn’t stand having a warm bottle of anything on their bike anymore – I was not so picky.  After one discard (pink Accelerade, I think), we found some water, poured it into my bottle, and off I went.  “Is that vodka or water?” the volunteer asked.  “Warm water!” I smiled.  “Yumm!!!”  And the sick thing is, I meant it!!

Sufficiently hydrated, I hammered out (well, that could be an exaggeration) the remaining miles of the bike incident-free.  I saw lots of folks with very expensive bikes on the side of the road, and had my own mental game of whether to stop and help, or continue on.  I asked a few “What do you need?”  But most were so suprised to be asked that they couldn’t answer, and I was past them too fast to stop.   And secretly, I could hear my friend in my head saying “some days, you have to put yourself first, and today is that day.”  I had trained for too long to add a thirty minute stop to my day, and so I put my head down and kept going, but not without a serious amount of Catholic Guilt on my back.

My friend Joyce, though, she was awesomeness personified.  Riding in the Sprint competition, she was racing on Sunday as best she could – but when she saw someone stopped, she told me later, she remembered the question.  “What do you need?” she asked.  “AIR!” the person responded.  So Joyce, as cool as she is, pulled over, stopped, and helped another racer change their tire.  She saved someone’s race day – awesome, right????

By the time I got back in for the run, it was close to 11:00 and it was HOTT.  Still.  I know, broken record.  Somewhere, Joe was pilfering water off people’s bikes in Transition (they had completed the ride, really!), as he, too realized he was going to be light on fluids.   But I was heading out for the run and realizing that my calves were tight and I was nearing lightheadedness.  Rather than hear the ugly call of “MAN DOWN” as I plummeted to the ground, I slowed to a walk – I mean, SLOOOOWED to a walk – and headed out for the 5k. 

People were SOOO cool on the side of that path.  I mean, super encouraging, even though we all must have looked terrible.  Some nice lady said to me and the guy next to me “You’re doing so well, you look GREAT!!!”  and as he ran by, he looked at me and said “I don’t know what she’s smoking, I look terrible.”  I had to agree – but hey, we were out there, and that was something.

When I turned to come back into the finish, I had been on the path for 28 minutes.  Under Doctor’s orders, I was limited to the 5k run/walk, and that’s what I did – but I still felt a little guilty coming into the finish so quickly.  I found out later, I wasn’t the only one who cut the run, but still.   When I crossed that line and grabbed that medal, I’ll admit, I was pretty happy.   

Two days later, and I’m still a little giddy.   Turns out, I’m not the only one.  I came in yesterday to find that David Wallach of the ChicagoNow blog Pace of Chicago had worked with a local videographer to capture the Chicago Triathlon on Sunday.  Overnight, the dude (Mike) put together this amazing video.  If you really want to know what Sunday felt like, I think this is it.  I may not be a pro, but this was my race, too. 

And THAT’s  a pretty good Sunday.   Official finish time: 3:37:44.  Not bad at all for a Plus Runner.

8 thoughts

  1. YAY!! I LOVED reading about your race! My first Sprint Tri is in Lake Stevens, WA on Sept 11. I am so excited!! I am also tired and sore as the training is intensifying. I am not graceful on the bike at all and I will do my first lake swim on Thurs just over a week before I have to do it for real. Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration. I ended up ordering an Enell sports bra (size E for Enormous) and the Aerotech High Performance Tri shorts to do the race. I figure I will swim in the bra and shorts and then put my bike shirt on over the top in the transition area. Is there any reason I shouldn’t run in the bike shirt? I was just thinking the pockets could be handy…
    Anyway, I am so wobbly on my bike I will not be trying to hydrate while riding my bike. I will drink before and after the ride so I don’t crash on the ride.
    Any input or suggestions you have would be appreciated. And since this is a PLUS runner site I will add that I am 5’7″ and weigh 270lbs.

    1. JJBOG, thanks!!! Let me think about some good advice, but I’m really excited for you that you’re racing in September! (And jealous of the weather!) Way to GO girl!!!!

  2. Best. Article.Yet! So glad all your training paid off and there was so much FUN and no PAIN (of the chronic variety anyway)! I am so twisting your arm for trail races this winter! Congratulations!

    1. You’re too kind! I was actually thinking “wow, that was a kitchen sink of an article!”!!! But I’m soooo happy to be pain-free and I PROMISE to come and run with you this winter!!!!!

  3. Congratulations! I really enjoyed reading your post. I’m a ‘plus athlete’ as well and did my first tri last June. In fact – I’d read about the Danskin Tri Shorts on your site and bought them just before my tri – and they were perfect!!! 🙂 Thanks!!

  4. let me start out by saying that you rock! i love the reviews you do on equipment and apparel and hopefully i haven’t overlooked this, but do you have any advice on good brands of triathlon wetsuits for “big girls”? i’m 5’8 and about 200lbs and have yet to find a women’s wetsuit that fits the bill. i’m definitely not opposed to a men’s wetsuit, but i was just curious if you have any experience with this.

    1. Hi Lisa! Thanks for writing!

      I’ll have to find the link but yes, I highly recommend either Zoot or Xterra for big girls. You have to go with the men’s version, but it can be done. At 5’8, 200 you should be able to do a Men’s L in the Xterra (but check that sizing by taking their measurements on their site). Zoot offers a bit higher quality suit with less bulk, so if you have the cash to spend, check them out too. Good luck!

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