The Chicago triathlon in late August was my "A" race in 2009. My first sprint distance triathlon. The only triathlon I was signed up for in 2009. What I had "trained" for all year. All my triathlon eggs in this one basket. I will end the suspense now but getting it out there that this race was a DNF for me. A big, fat, DNF. In retrospect I could call this race "The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Race". I was not prepared for this race mentally and was out of it before I even got my wetsuit on that frigid morning.
The Day Before
We drove into Chicago the day before the triathlon and had lucked out with an awesome rate at a Hilton hotel that was walking distance to the host hotel, the transition area, and the swim start. Once we settled into our hotel we took a walk down to the swim start to have a look at the preparations. The swim is a point to point, 750m swim in the Monroe Street Harbour. We walked from the swim exit to the start and all I kept repeating is "I can't swim this far. Oh my God, I can't swim this far". I was a fairly new swimmer. I had taken a learn to swim class in March and had not spent a huge amount of time in the pool after that. I had been out doing open water swims but spent alot of time with my feet down (the lakes where we swim have alot of water that is only about shoulder deep). I was not confident in my swimming abilities but had been convinced that I could do the distance on my back if I needed to. I was starting to panic but felt like there was no turning back.
We met up with Sydney and Andy at the expo where we picked up our race kits. The Chicaco triathlon is the largest triathlon in the world (their claim, not mine) and the expo certainly reflected this. Miles of triathlon porn everywhere. I have to say that this is by far the best expo I have ever been to. This topped even the expo at the Half Ironman World Championships in Clearwater. After picking up our packets and race shirts (one of the ugliest and worst fitting I own by the way) we did some shopping. Sydney bought a wetsuit and some triathlon shoes. I picked up a cool t-shirt from Athlete3 but otherwise was a little too overwhelmed.
After shopping we went for dinner at an Italian restaurant that was packed with people with black marker numbers on their arms eating pasta. We had a lovely dinner and parted ways for the night after making plans to meet up at the swim start in the morning.
My alarm was went off at 4:30 in the morning. I had packed a peanut butter and banada sandwich that I had planned to eat while walking to the transition area with my bike. Paul and I headed over in the dark and were quickly swallowed up but the swarms of people making their way to transition. The swim waves started at 6 a.m. and I was scheduled to go around 6:15. I racked my bike and set up transition as best as I could in the dark and met up with Paul to make my way to the swim start. The nice thing about the swim course is that since it is along the harbour wall it was very spectator friendly. The not so nice thing is that being in the harbour, between the boats and wall meant that the boat fumes were really strong. I was feeling sick from fear and anxiety as I got my wetsuit on (borrowed from a friend) and was worried because Sydney was running later than expected. She finally got there right before we needed to start lining up and the next thing I new we were lining up in our age group waves.
Each wave had to jump into the water and had about two minutes before the gun went off. When it was my turn to get into the water I positioned myself at the back and to the right of the pack. The water was 61 degrees and took my breath away when I jumped in. As soon as I hit that cold water my hands and feet went numb and my heartrate skyrocketed. The gun went off and I tried to put my face in the water only to get a swift kick to the side of the head. Between that and the cold water I started to freak out. I couldn't catch my breath and my heartrate was out of control. I tried to flip onto my back and backstroke but my calf started to cramp. This had never happened to me before and I didn't know what to do. The scariest part was the feeling of my heartrate being so out of control. I had never felt that before and honestly thought that something was seriously wrong with me. I was freaking out on my front, I couldn't doggie paddle, and was I was freaking out on my back. To add to the anxiety I heard the gun go off for the next wave and could see a wave of swimmers coming straight for me. At that point I looked over and spotted the police boat. I waved my arms and they came right over. As soon as I set foot in that boat I started to cry. Why had I given up? My whole race over in two minutes. I was so disappointed in myself. The carted me over to the wall and I got off where all of the athletes were still lined up waiting their turn. These two really nice ladies put their arms around me and were trying to comfort me. They encouraged me to turn in my chip but finish the bike and run legs, assuring me that it would make me feel better to not have it be a total waste.
I started walking towards the transition area looking for Paul and looking to find a volunteer where I could drop of my chip. I found Paul along the wall scanning the swimmers looking for me. When he saw me I started crying again (I'm such a baby). I told him what had happened and what the ladies had suggested. He encouraged me to do it so I made the decision to go ahead and finish the rest of the race. I found a tent with volunteers and explained what happened and turned in my chip. I ran into transition and hopped on my bike to do the bike course.
The bike course runs along Lake Shore Drive. Lake Shore is still open to traffic but reduced by one lane for the bikers. We were instructed both during the pre race meeting and in the race information to ride on left side and pass on the right. Of course there is to be no drafting and no riding alongside one another. I have to say that this bike course was extremely frustrating with people who did not know what the heck they were supposed to be doing. I passed alot of city cruisers and mountain bikes with people either riding on the right side or in some cases riding next to their friends and chatting. I don't have an official time and had not bothered to turn on my Garming but I felt like I had a pretty good ride for me.
The run beginning of the run is just the biggest mess. You come out of transition and run through the park area on a path. The problem is that this path is not marked off and runs straight through the area where spectators are milling around. You had to dodge people walking across the path and not paying attention to the fact that the racers were coming at them. After my race was done I saw a pro run into a guy with a dog on a leash that had wondered across the path right in front of him. Once you got out of the park area it was a nice course. I was feeling good running wise but this just caused me to beat myself up even more mentally. Why had I given up? I had waited for this race all year!
I came across the finish line and the volunteers put a medal around my neck despite my trying to tell them that I didn't deserve it. I found Paul and Sydney and started crying (AGAIN!). Sydney had had a great race though and I was so proud of how she did.
We had to walk a couple of kilometers back to the transition area to get our bikes. When we got there we learned that because there were still waves of athletes going off and through transition we would have to wait to get our bikes. We sat around for more than an hour before being able to get back in again. I was happy that I had left my warm pants and jacket with Paul before the swim.
I beat myself up about this race for a long time. I did learn alot from it though. I know now that when my heartrate skyrockets like that in the swim it's anxiety and adrenaline. I've learned how to talk myself down from that freaking out and just remembering what it felt like to step onto that boat helps with that. I'm now torn about what to do about this race though. Part of me feels like I need to go there again and kick it's ass. Another part of me doesn't want to go back because there was so much about this race that I thought sucked (apart from my performance I mean) and had I not DNF'd I wouldn't even think about going back again. What would you do?