Category Archives: Triathlon

Lessons from the Chicago Triathlon

I’ve had a few days to absorb the whole Chicago Triathlon experience.  Right after (and before) the race, I was saying I’d never do this race again. With a few days to reflect, I had some highs:

  • Awesome bike ride
  • Strong swim
  • Helping out a friend
  • Finishing strong – and faster than my expected finish!

And some lows:

  • Anxiety in finding a spot for my bike in transition
  • Nervous comparisons to other triathletes in my wave
  • Maniacal checking of the weather report
  • Rough run

My performance in numbers:


What I’ve learned:

  • If I ever do the Chicago Triathlon again, plan to be AT transition right when it opens. Yes, be there at 4:15 AM. 
  • I should place myself into a better spot on the swim. I’m still not sure exactly how strong I can be, but I should start closer up to the front next time.
  • TRAIN FOR TRANSITION!!!  I could easily cut off 7 minutes from my Olympic time if I was smarter about my transition time.  It’s something I should practice, just like I do my workouts. 
  • Continue to work on the bike skills – specifically hands off the handlebars. 
  • I’m excited to work on improving overall on my triathlon!

Chicago Triathlon Race Report

Did you like the little preview I gave you yesterday? Sunday’s Chicago Triathlon was my first Olympic distance, and as ‘not too worried’ that I told myself I was leading up to it, it turned out that I was a bundle of nerves in between the “my friends left me” and the actual race start. 

Yesterday I wrote about the pre-race activities, including how I set up my transition.  I didn’t include exactly how bitchy some of the triathletes were, but I try to be positive. 

The Swim:

When it came time for me to start my triathlon, I got into my wetsuit and got in line with my wave for the Swim Start.  Green caps all the way!

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My nerves started to get the better of me again (once I’d left my friends at the CES tent), and I started doubting my swimming abilities… against the looks of the other people in green caps around me.  We kept moving along like lemmings being herded off the cliff, except we had to jump into the water.

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We tread water for 2 minutes or so before our wave was started, and I was off!  I actually realized (and this has happened for both of the other two tri’s I did this summer) that I need to place myself a bit more aggressively at the swim start, as I was trying to swim around people for the first bit of the swim. 


By the time we got around the first set of buoys and were heading north, I think I’d passed the slower of the green caps and began hitting the purple caps of the wave ahead of mine.  This kept going as we moved north, and eventually I began passing some yellow caps (2 waves before mine).  Now don’t get me wrong – I was also getting passed by white caps of swimmers behind me – the competitive 30-34 yo Males. These guys are fierce – one even swam over me.  Instinct pulled in and I covered my head to avoid the kick, and then (not that I’m proud) but I pulled on his leg to share my dissatisfaction.   He then kicked his way ahead. 

I was able to draft off of a white cap for a while until we turned into the finish.  After getting pulled out of the water, I then ran the 1/4 mile to get to transition (see the yellow path on the map).  Thankfully this was a carpeted path – and wet from the many waves before me – so it wasn’t hard to run barefoot on.  I saw many people leave shoes out here, but I don’t think that would have saved me much time.

Mike was there to cheer for me at the entrance to transition (“Swim In”), and then I had to find my bike! It’s now about 8:30 and fully sunny out, so very different than the 5:30 AM darkness when I’d last been there. I found my bike, made myself eat my Honey stinger waffle, put my sunglasses, gloves & helmet on, grabbed my bike & headed out for the bike ride.

The Bike Ride:

The bike is historically my weakest leg in triathlon, and my only goal for today was to not freak out, crash, or otherwise have major issues.  I made sure to keep my bike in the small chain ring (front) until after we’d cross the bridge, as recommended at the course talk.  I was clipped in, got my bearings, and then realized that while I’d set my Garmin to collect cadence information, that I’d forgotten to include that on my ‘multisport’ view. Oops.  I tried to constantly remember to keep my cadence up (in the 70-90 rpm) and shift gears when necessary to keep it around there. 

There were visual indicators on the course of the distance that we’d gone, and also of key areas to be aware of (rough patches in road).  I was cruising along, and was actually pretty amazed to be going as fast as I was.  I completed my first 18 miles in 60 minutes exactly! 


The other area that I was concerned about on the bike was the several U-turns that we had to accomplish – four in total. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been slowing down when passing the Chicago Avenue intersection on LSD to get a better look at that intersection and opening. 

Luckily I completed all 4 U-turns without a problem!  I credit these successful turns to the following:  Slowing down majorly, and clipping out. I’m actually pretty proud as these were somewhat narrower than I’d visualized.

I also spent a good bit of time riding along, and also passing people!  (WTF? What is happening to me?!) The Chicago Triathlon bike course is a bit unique in how you ride & pass people.  Normally, you ride on the right and pass on the left side of the slower riders.  But because this bike course takes place on the 2 inner lanes of Lake Shore Drive (so that you can do these U-Turns), you ride on the left and pass on the right.  I thought I’d forget about this counter-intuitive part, but it wasn’t too hard to do.  I passed a lot of people, but only had to actually move into the right lane next to traffic once.

I slowed down a little toward the end, especially after passing what looked like a bad wipe out by a fit-looking triathlete being checked out by medical personnel.  I hope he’s ok – it didn’t look too good.

I headed off of Lake Shore Drive and into transition to start onto the run. 

The Run:

After swapping out my shoes, grabbing my visor/race belt combo, and then my Garmin, I headed out for the run.  My stomach didn’t feel to hot to start running, and I actually had that ‘legs like bricks’ feel. That’s actually funny as I hadn’t really had that feeling at all when training on my shorter distances, or even on the last brick workout I did with a longer distance bike ride (but potentially less intense). 

The side stitch didn’t seem to go away even as I willed it, and intensified whenever I tried to run faster.  So I was sticking around an 11:20 min/mile average.  After I passed the first mile, I forced myself to take an Accel Gel for sustenance, and kept trucking along.  I did a combination of run-walk, but still was feeling pretty crappy. 


After I hit the turnaround and decided I should push myself as hard as I could, I watched and saw that I could barely hit a 10:30 pace. It’s so funny, as this is usually my easy pace, to be running and watching this be as hard as I could go.  I didn’t really feel my legs being too dead at this point, but I did feel like I was at my cardio max.  

I ran into my friend Joanne, who wasn’t having the best time when I saw her.  I decided to stick with her for a few minutes to make sure she was OK, and this break actually seemed to help me.  My own heart rate lowered a bit, and I walked with her for a bit until I knew she’d be OK to finish the race.  When I started running again (with a little less than 2 miles to go), I was happy to see that I was finally able to push myself at a pace that I am a bit more proud of.  My last mile was in a 9-ish pace, and I had a final kick into the finish!

I think I feel like a real triathlete now… Chicago Triathlon Pre-Race

I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon yesterday, and in addition to completing the ‘standard’ distance, I think I accomplished a few other things that make me a real triathlete now:

  • Got swum over by another athlete
  • Completed the bike ride without a freak out (and actually pretty fast for me!)
  • Helped someone out yesterday
  • Had a nutrition failure but handled not having porta-potties on the run course
  • Biked in the rain (after the race)

So backing up, the morning started bright and early with a 3:20 AM wakeup call, and leaving for the race at 4:15 AM.  The Chicago Triathlon’s transition area closes at 5:45 AM, even though my wave on the swim wouldn’t start until just after 8 AM.  Two good friends, Anna & Lilian, were volunteering & carpooled with me and helped keep me calm until we had to separate for me to go into transition.

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That’s me being goofy, with my Speedfill drink setup on my bike.  I rode my bike to transition, and then had to deal with finding a spot to set up. This was a bit stressful, as there were 7000+ people trying to set up here and no one wanted to share their space. I actually had people tell me “No” when I asked to take the empty space next to them.  Luckily this guy came out from no where and helped find me a spot (and hold it until I could navigate my bike around to put into the space).  I then set up my bike & transition gear.

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In my transition space, I placed a bandana next to my bike (so I can find my spot when I return after the bike ride), filled the Speedfill with Gatorade, and put my Garmin on the bike.  In my helmet went my snack (Honey Stinger waffle), bike gloves, and sunglasses. 

I also set my ground transition space up:  socks, bike shoes, Gatorade in a bottle, clif shots (just in case), and my run kit:  running shoes, visor holding my race belt & bib. 

Then I went through to figure out how to find my transition spot when I come in from the swim (“Swim In”) and also where I’d need to go when I take my bike out for the ride (“Bike Out”).  It was still pretty dark out, so this was important to figure out.  My main helper was that someone about 12 bikes down on my row had taped a big fake pussy willow branch standing up from the bike rack.  While I had my general surroundings based on the Wave number, this was a much more specific landmark. 

As I was heading out from transition (and trying to figure out how I’d while away the next 2 hours), I ran into Joanne & Amy – friends from CES!  It was so good to see familiar faces, as I was still feeling incredibly nervous.  We all headed over to the Chicago Endurance Sports tent to chill before the race really started for us.  We weren’t too far from Swim Start, so we had a good view of what waves were lining up. 

Other pre-race photos:

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We chilled at the Chicago Endurance Sports tent before the race. 

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My friend Amy who was so excited for the race!  She also saw Rahm run by while Joanne, Tim & I went to the bathrooms.

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I look a bit constipated here, but it’s just that I don’t have my sunglasses on. This is just before I dropped my bag off at Swim gear check.  The guy over my left shoulder (on the right side of the photo) was actually the guy who helped me out in transition. Thank you mystery man! 

OK – will actually right about the race and share tomorrow! 

Grand Haven Sprint Triathlon Race Report

Yesterday marked triathlon #3 for me in Grand Haven, Michigan. The Grand Haven Triathlon & Duathlon was named to be the Regional Duathlon Championships, so Mike & I headed out so he could compete! I signed up for the sprint distance triathlon, and was hoping for some opportunities to refine my racing skills. 

Prior to the race, I’d set the following goals:

  • Sub-15 Swim
  • Bike: 17.9 MPH ( my pace w/o the “rest stop”)
  • Faster transitions- get both transitions to the length of today’s T1
  • Maintain my near PR run!

We’ll see how these went through the course of the event! 

Pre Race:

  • Grand Haven is about 3.5 hours from Chicago, so Mike & I had a nice little road trip up the coast of Lake Michigan. We were happy to be leaving the heat of Chicago behind! 
  • We had really enjoyed hearing the course talk at the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon, so we planned to make it in time for the as yet unscheduled, but advertised course talks.  
  • We got to the YMCA that was hosting this event, and we were a little surprised at some of the disorganization we saw when checking in and asking questions.  I was handed my packet, then realized after I got out that they hadn’t given me my timing chip, so I went back a 2nd time. 
  • We racked our bikes on Saturday.  Tip:  if you do this, put a plastic grocery bag over your bike seat to prevent dew from accumulating!
  • We ate dinner at the one Italian restaurant we could find in Grand Haven, although w weren’t completely happy with the service. Actually, my tummy didn’t really like the dinner at all and although I was consciously feeling not very worried, my stomach decided it needed to be nervous.  This lasted from middle of the night through to race start. 

The Swim:

  • I’m happy I brought my wetsuit with me. Even though the air was warm, and the hotel said the water was 75 degrees, Lake Michigan was COLD! I put my wetsuit on at the beach, tried to do a bit of a warmup swim, but my arms were so cold I just got out of the water.   
  • The swim was a pretty easy half mile, although this was the first tri where I felt like I was “in the thick” of many swimmers. Got my goggles pushed a few times, was accidentally swimming into people slower than me, etc. I did feel like I did a good job with sighting though!
  • In the swim time, the race has you swim, run up the beach, and then run about .75 mile to transition — all of this before you hit the transition timing pad! I had been aware of this, so I brought a 2nd set of running shoes to put on at the boardwalk to run up to transition in.  Sockless running success!  
  • Coming out of the swim and into T1, I was happy that I found my bike very easily. This was a much smaller race than before, and I knew that this was something I wanted to focus on.

The Bike:

  • I was more confident about this bike ride than my last one, but I still wanted to work on feeling confident and handling my bike well.  I clipped in (that wasn’t a question), but I was a bit worried about a 180-degree turn we had.  Mike & I drove that part of the bike course the night before and they had taped a very wide turn, so I felt OK about that.  
  • But we didn’t drive the beginning of the bike course, which would have shown me that there were some major hills right at the beginning!  Just after I shifted up to the large chain gear (did I say this right), I turned and then saw a huge hill! I climbed my little heart out, then saw another one! WTF!  I shifted down a bit and kept pumping my legs and chanting “Keep going!”
  • Overall I felt pretty strong and calm as most of the ride was then a straightaway, although on lightly travelled road.  I tried to keep a high cadence up, but unfortunately my Garmin didn’t capture the cadence this race, so I don’t know if I’m improving or not.   
  • The Not-So-Pretty: 
    • I had a 180-degree turn, and the course actually was narrower than the tape indicated. You had about 1 lane total to make the 180-turn.  I kind of stopped, and then had issues when one of the course marshalls tried to get me going again.  At least I’m smart enough to clip out before craziness like this.
    • On the crazy uphill on the way back, I planned better and shifted to the smaller chain gear in front. I got into my groove of pedalling up the hill – and got blocked by 3 riders occupying the entire lane! I yelled at them to move but they didn’t, and I didn’t know what to do as I would either hit them if I kept up my pace, or otherwise stop.  So I veered off onto the grass and stopped. I actually didn’t crash – I was able to clip out with one foot and lean to that side to stop. And proceed to hyperventilate. Some guy came up to me and started “talking me back into the race.” While I appreciate his intentions, I just wanted him to go away.  But he had me walk the bike up to the top of the hill, then coast down and glide up the last bit of hill.  I passed those blocking cyclists within the first half mile of the run.  I lost about 3 minutes due to this fiasco.
  • I did not take any hydration during the ride, but I didn’t feel I needed it. This was definitely one of the more technically challenging rides I’ve done. Michigan likes its hills.   
  • T2 was fast – helmet, shoes, squirt of gatorade & go!  I actually realized I still had my bike gloves on half a mile into the run. 

The RunSurprised smile

  • Once I was out on the run I was just kind of enjoying things.  The run course was along a boardwalk, so we saw other people walking, sitting & cheering. I didn’t push too hard on the run, although I was passing some people. I mostly got passed by Olympic distance runners.  The turnaround came up quickly, and it was heading back!  
  • I hadn’t really seen anyone in my age group on the whole race, so I wasn’t sure what my placing was.  I knew this was a small enough race that I could potentially place. I actually saw the first person in my age division on the final 1/10 mile stretch up hill at the end of the run! I was already powering into the finish, and finished only a half second behind her. But actually I ran about 6 minutes faster than her.  She was just more awesome at the swim & bike.  

Overall Thoughts & Tips for Next Time:

  • This was not a very well organized race. The course was pretty, but there was a lot of confusion at the race check-in/expo, no Saturday course talks, and the schedule of race starts actually changed that morning! I also was given the wrong timing chip, so it took about 2 hours before my time was posted, and only because I followed up and remembered that girl who finished just before me.  The awards ceremony was also delayed, and we actually saw quite a few people leave when it was delayed.
  • Post race food was OK – BBQ & granola bars.  I was looking for some gatorade, or a bagel too.
  • Same as before:  I need more practice on the bike – longer distance rides and getting comfortable with turns, drinking, etc.
  • Practice transitions.  Make those times tighter!

Times (and age group rankings):

  • Swim: 22:48 (3/10)   — wasn’t reasonable to put a time goal toward this swim given the run as well! 
  • T1: 2:58.5 (9/10)
  • Bike: 48:20 (8/10) – not so much. This was a hilly course. and w/o my “break” I averaged 16.7 mph. “Breaks” also slow me down.
  • T2: 1:27 (7/10)  – got my transitions just under that 4:28 goal from PP.
  • Run: 28:48 (6/10) – I could have pushed a bit more throughout the run. 
  • Total: 1:44:23 (6/10)

What’s  Next?

My next triathlon is the Chicago Triathlon – Olympic Distance! That’s a new distance for me, double that of a sprint.  So I’m looking at approximately 3.5 hour completion time.  My goals for the training period leading up:

  • Practice those bike handling skills.  Practice regularly on the road bike.
  • Use Venus de Miles as an opportunity to extend your distance and also practice nutrition/hydration on the bike.
  • Do at least 1-2 practice transitions! Also practice changing your roadbike tire.
  • Try to do a brick workout once a week
  • Keep up my marathon training.  This will get me my run distance in.
  • Keep up the swim practice.  See what a reasonable mile time could be. 

Pleasant Prairie Sprint Triathlon

Today I completed my second triathlon at the Pleasant Prairie Sprint Triathlon in Wisconsin. Mike was doing the “du” with the Dare2Tri club, and I had signed up for the sprint as part of the Chicago Tri Club

Pre Race:

  • I was very nervous for my 2nd triathlon. I’ve been very skittish about my cycling recently, and was worried about that.  I also realized (this week) that I hadn’t really done much overall in training:  two swims (one in open water), and a single brick workout of swim-run.  None of the standard bike-to-run brick workouts.   
  • Weather was great! We had cool, clear weather and luckily the thundershowers forecasted did not show up! 
  • Mike and I went up to Pleasant Prairie on Saturday, and got to hear the course overview, talk through the swim while actually seeing the buoys, and drove the bike course.
  • We also got to meet up with CTC’ers for dinner, which was great to meet more people and have some friendly faces on race day. Melissa, Renee, Cristina & Matt were all great to talk with! 

The Swim:

  • I chose not to wear my wetsuit given the 77 degree water temperature. I’m glad I was wearing only my tri kit as that was more than enough for me! 
  • It felt longer than my first tri swim– mostly because it was deeper so I had to do more real swimming.
  • I still felt pretty strong on the swim. I definitely didn’t panic and was passing quite a few people. 
  • Coming out of the swim and into T1, I couldn’t find my spot!  Where is my bike?!!! I definitely lost some time on that transition, and need to work more on these in general. 

The Bike:

  • I was really worried about riding on my new (six-months-old) bike.  I was even debating whether to clip in or not.  I decided to clip-in, and am happy about it!
  • I felt very good about my shifting decisions, although I did have some trouble initially getting from the small gear in front to the bigger one.  More familiarity & time on my bike would help me execute these shifts more confidently & quickly. 
  • Overall I felt pretty strong, and I tried to keep a high cadence up as much as I could. I executed quite a few solid turns
  • The Not-So-Good:  I’m still not as comfortable as I’d like.  As I said in my South Shore recap: 
    • I have a fear of falling, which while under control in normal circumstances, increases exponentially if any of the following occur:
    1. Attempting a turn – there were two 180-degree turns on the course.  I had to stop at each point to redirect my bike.
    2. Taking my hands off the handle bars (adjust sunglasses, take a drink)
  • That is still definitely true.  I avoided taking a drink (although I’ve done it successfully in practice a few times) while riding, and am so happy about my new sunglasses. 
  • I also had a little bit of a spill around mile 9.5. My calf cramped up as I was about to take a turn, and I couldn’t keep pedaling to keep the turn going, and then had trouble clipping out to stop for a moment.  Just a few scrapes, and I got a free calf massage & hug from a safety official!
  • T2 was also a bit slower than I’d expected.  What am I doing in these transitions?

The RunSurprised smile

  • Once I was out on the run I just wanted to finish happy!  I tried to keep it easy for the first mile, to get my legs back, although they didn’t feel to bad.  I kept zipping along, and mostly passing 40+ aged men.  Caught up to Christina who I’d met the day before at the CTC dinner. 
  • I didn’t think or push way too hard on this run, and probably could have gone harder sooner. 

Overall Thoughts & Tips for Next Time:

  • This was a very well organized race!  Lots of very clear direction & support on all three legs of the event, quite a few spectators both on course & at the race base, and lots of liquid & food post-race for everyone! 
  • More practice on the bike – longer distance rides and getting comfortable with turns, drinking, etc.
  • Practice transitions.  Make those times tighter!
  • Swim more!  Get my swim time down to what it could be. 

Times (and age group rankings):

  • Swim: 16:53 (4/17)
  • T1: 4:28 (15/17)
  • Bike: 44:28 (11/17)
  • T2: 2:47 (13/17)
  • Run: 27:52 (5/17)
  • Total: 1:36:27 (9/17)

What’s  Next? 

I have the Grand Haven Sprint Triathlon coming up in two weeks!   A few goals I have for that that I’d like to work toward: 

  • Sub-15 Swim
  • Bike:  17.9 MPH ( my pace w/o the “rest stop”)
  • Faster transitions- get both transitions to the length of today’s T1
  • Maintain my near PR run!