The World at Large

Moving to the US

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Chicago Triathlon

The Chicago Triathlon has been and gone. I meant to write about it straight away, but to start with I was too tired, and then I was too lazy. Better late than never.

Like Noosa, the checkin was before race day, though we couldn't put our bikes into transition until the morning of the race. Checkin was done at a "sports exhibition", which was a way of getting all the competitors to consider buying stuff from the sponsors. This exhibition was at the Hyatt on Friday evening and all day Saturday, with the race on Sunday morning.

I opted to check in and get my race kit on Friday night. This would keep me out of the house at the very time that I usually take some of the parenting pressure off Anne. So Anne asked if I could take Luc with me. It was dinner time, so she packed some sandwiches for him, and sent us off. I was initially skeptical, but I'm glad he came.

Luc gets excited with simple things. He enjoyed the bus trip down, and was really excited about the prospect of a "taxi ride" home. He is getting vary articulate, and makes interesting observations, so the company was quite pleasant. It's also fun having so many people smile at you because of your son!

After getting off the bus we stopped for him to eat his sandwiches outside DePaul University in the Loop. This turned out to be an interesting place to watch a wide assortment of people walking by. Always an interesting thing to do with a curious child. Then off we went to the Hyatt to pick up my race kit.

The Hyatt lobby was packed with people, from various conferences, and the triathlon. We worked out where to go, and picked up the first of my things. Then I had to get numbered. This involves using permanent marker to write your race number on both upper arms, and both thighs (I don't understand this one anymore, since everyone wears pants down to the knee), and the age category on your right calf. I then held up the line by getting the guy to number Luc as well. We chose the number "2" since that's his age. Luc had already endeared himself to everyone he'd stopped to talk to, so no one seemed to mind the short delay this caused. He then spent the rest of the night showing people his numbers.

The rest of the race kit was at the other end of the exhibition. This was carefully arranged to make you walk past a dozen exhibition stalls, down a long corridor, and then past another dozen stalls. It might not have been such an issue, except Luc was fascinated and wanted to stop and look at things. I needed to get some things too (energy gels for the race, sunglasses that don't look so dorky) so with Luc's participation this ploy ended up working on us. Still, it was fun, and Luc got to meet a lot of people. He even spun a "McDonalds" wheel, and won a cup of coffee! However, the nice lady instead congratulated him on winning a cookie and gave him a voucher for that. (whew!)

The Race

2 weeks before the race I was supposed to be training at my maximum level. Instead, I had a flu, and was lying in bed. Sore throat, gastro upset, aching all over, you know the drill. It lasted about 4 days. This totally killed my preparation. Just as I was getting near the end, Anne and I had a 5 mile run that I'd entered us in months before. I was worried about running it when I wasn't fully recovered, and with the tri coming up, but I couldn't abandon Anne to it on her own. But we took it easy, and it ended up being a lot of fun. We even had a local TV camera following us around after the race, since Anne wanted to cross the line holding hands, :-)

My week before the race was supposed to be spent backing off, and taking it easy. Instead I was trying to build myself back into a rhythm. By the end of the week I knew I was a long way off my best, but I was confident I could finish.

The day of the race was interesting. I had to cycle down in the dark (4am), and on the way I passed some interesting sights. These were people who were using helium balloons to mark the location of their bike in the field of 8000 bikes. Since this is a common strategy, people are obviously concerned that they may get confused with other people's balloons, so they choose the most outrageous helium balloons you can think of. I saw balloons shaped like fish, monkeys, Blue (from Blue's Clues), stars, and lots of other things. These things look really strange when being pulled along behind bicycles in the dark.

After setting up (I chose a good spot which was NOT going to need a balloon to mark it), I had nothing left to do, so I walked into town, and caught a bus home. I napped for a while (Anne was very nice keeping the boys out) and then caught a taxi down to the race again.

The swim was tough, given the number of people packed into a narrow area. I also had to negotiate my way around a huge person doing breast stroke at the final buoy (I've adopted the American pronunciation of "Boo-ey" to avoid confusion with these). The race had taken me longer than I'd expected but this one incident took an extra minute or more from me!

Then there was a long run to transition, and an even longer run wheeling my bike to the exit. This was when I realised that my total time was going to be longer than I'd expected, since there were so many extra things to do on this course than in the standard Olympic distance race. At least everyone else had the same handicap.

The ride went really well for me, but it was a strange experience. We used the inner two lanes of Lakeshore Drive going in both directions, with the outer lanes still open to traffic. The course took me close to my house 4 times. I'm normally racing a long way from home, so this was a pleasant novelty. I also had to struggle trying to weave my way in and out of other cyclists who were not keeping to the side when not overtaking. I'm not used to this behaviour, so it was more challenging for me. All the while we had traffic whizzing past us. Every so often I'd hit a bump or someone would do something silly, and it occurred to me how easy it would be to have a terrible accident. That's a new thought for me in a race, as I haven't had to share a road with cars before. Dropped water bottles on the course only added to the hazards.

When racing in a short triathlon, you will often see beginners having a go. You can spot these people by the bikes they use. Most are using mountain bikes, but occasionally you see the kind of bike you may have had as a kid, with big handlebars curved like a bull's horns, and sometimes even a basket on the front. I don't have a problem with this, as you need to start somewhere, and bikes are expensive. But until this day I'd never seen one in an Olympic distance event! These people were pushing these heavy, low-geared bikes along for 40km, right after the 1.5km swim, and followed by a 10km run! That takes a special kind of masochism.

The run was probably the most interesting part. People were carrying their own water or Gatorade, even though these were supplied on the course. One guy was even on his cell phone! During the race! But the most memorable part was when I'd made it about 4 miles in (we had mile markers, with 10km = 6.2miles). At this point my legs were really hurting, and I just wanted to slow down. That was when I passed Rudy. This guy is an Olympic athlete, but it sure is inspiring to see someone doing the course with prosthetic legs. Suddenly my own legs didn't hurt so much. I spoke with a few people after the race, and they all agreed that they started running faster when they saw Rudy out there. In case you're wondering, Rudy does all three parts of the race, using his prostheses for the bike and run.

Once we got to the end, we were all given "finishers medals". It's no prize, but it's nice to have something to look at as a reminder. My total time was nearly 10 minutes longer due to extra distance on the ride (just over 41km), the mess in swimming, and all the distance in and around transition. I think I cost myself another 10 minutes just from my interrupted preparation. So it wasn't great overall. Fortunately, it seems that people here aren't as fanatical about triathlons as Australians, as I came better than halfway in my age division! :-)

I can tell you that I had no desire to ride home again afterwards, but I didn't have much of a choice. So I procrastinated as long as I could. This let me watch the professional triathletes going past. I normally miss this at the major events, as they are finishing up about the time I'm starting, but in Chicago they send the pros out last. It was great watching these guys going past, when I'd seen them all on TV racing at Alcatraz just a few weeks before.

One last bonus was getting to pick up one of those abandoned helium balloons for Luc. It was very popular, and lasted over a week.


We can't afford a piano at the moment, and it's frustrating for me that I can't play any music. So I decided that I should finally learn a cheaper (and more portable) instrument. I've wanted to learn the guitar since I was in high school, so I finally started looking into it.

Unfortunately, Anne thought that one obsession at a time was enough for me, and asked me to wait until after my race was over. I did this, but was wondering when I'd be allowed get it.

When I got home from the race, and cleaned up, I spoke with Anne on the phone and she told me they were at a nearby park. Once I got there Luc was all excited and told me, "Tar Daddy! Tar!" I didn't get it.

So Anne said, "Luc, it's not 'tar', it's 'gui-tar'."

So Luc said, "Guitar Daddy! Guitar!" And showed me what my gorgeous wife had already bought me.

Now I just have to learn how to play it. :-)


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