There and back again (long)

The tale of a fat little hobbit who isn’t so fat anymore… :0)

Well… That’s it then.  I’m done with triathlons for the year.  I’ve cleaned and hung up my triathlon bike.  Cleaned and stored my wetsuit.  I’m done.  I did exactly 5 triathlons.  Three of them in one weekend (to be filed in the “What the 4u@k was I thinking?!” category).  It wasn’t my most productive, longest, most successful or most improved season.  But it was by far and away my best.

I’ve always said I like the training more than the races in triathlon.  But I always end up getting hurt or sick or both and end up having to take half the season off.  Or I overtrain from one injury and hurt something else.  And so it goes.

But not this year.  I started by focusing on fitness.  I lost 50 pounds (and still slowly dropping).  I got my body back in shape.  Oddly enough, all of those aches and pains gradually faded as I lost weight and got stronger.  Hmm.  Imagine that…

Then I really tried to balance my training.  I forced myself to “do that which I hated”, in my case it was swimming and, to a lesser degree, biking.  I have always loved running the most and I always tend to default to that for my workout.  Good for overall fitness.  Bad because I always overtrain for the run.  Ugly because the other two sports suffer the consequence of lack of training.  So this year I made it to the pool/lake at least 3 times a week and rode at least 3 days a week.  This didn’t necessarily bare fruit in large improvements in the other sports, but what it did do was show itself in overall endurance.  I didn’t die at the end of long workouts or events.  I had gas for the final sprint.  I didn’t feel like crap after an event.  I recovered faster.

OK… I get it.

I absolutely LOVED my experience at the Chicago Triathlon.  I did the “Triple Challenge” which was 3 races in two days.  It was also a part of the club national championships (Columbia Multisport Club WON!!!) which made the whole thing even more fun.  So here is a little race report:

When I signed up for the Triple in February, I did so not out of some sadistic need to destroy myself, but as a challenge to myself.  All along my goal was simply to get myself into good enough shape that I could reasonably compete all three races without being carted off course or ending up in the med tent.  To say that I successfully achieved that goal would be an understatement.  No, I didn’t grace the podium, but that wasn’t the goal.  I DID THREE FRICKIN’ TRIATHLONS IN TWO DAYS DAMMIT!  And, except for a little stroll on the sprint to get my heart rate down (it was getting hot), I nailed every part of the races.  I was in control, didn’t go out too fast, fueled properly… yup… nailed it.

This race was (these races were?) was amazing.  First, it was HUGE.  Triathlete numbers for all three races were at or near 9000.  This may not seem like a lot if you have done a big marathon (like Chicago at 40000+) but the logistics of just finding a spot in downtown Chicago big enough to hold 9000 bicycles was daunting.  Hell, we (Columbia Multisport) took almost 90 bicycles and needed a SEMI to get them there (which was a story in itself).  It was bike porn at its finest…  The bike course shut down one of the busiest thoroughfares in downtown (more or less) for half a day, and somehow… the world did not end.  We even got to ride on the bus routes under the main streets.  It was totally like a scene from a Batman movie.  I’ll never forget it.  The run went out along the seawall to the convention center.  Gorgeous.

The swim sucked.

OK.  Let me be fair.  The swim was actually very cool.  The water was just very choppy (the worst I’ve ever been in) and when you add 6000 of your best friends to the water it was a real washing machine.  I’m pretty sure the water level dropped with all of lake Michigan that I drank on the swim.  Between that, being fondled and groped by nearly everyone in my wave, and getting STUCK in the mats of sea grass (lake grass?) in the harbor… well it was an adventure (that I would repeat in a heartbeat).  And, by the time we got in the water for the last race (the sprint distance), the water had actually calmed a bit and it REALLY felt good.  It was getting hot.

So, briefly… each race.

The super sprint happened on Saturday and was a 375 m(mostly walk) swim, a 10k ride and a 2.5k run.  You basically hit the water, go redline for 40 minutes and you are done.  With 950 people in the race, on a tight 2 mile loop of a bike course, I thought for sure it would chaos and carnage.  I was wrong.  There was lots of room to ride, everyone was civil, and it was a blast.  The run was through a park.  I never felt crowded and had an awesome time.

The International (Sunday).  1.5 K swim/40K bike/10K run.  This was the coolest race ever.  I was in the same water as Hunter Kemper.  I’m sure it was his fault I was so slow.  He left a wake that kept bouncing off the sea wall.  Really screwed me up.  🙂

As I said before, this was some of the roughest water I have ever swam in.  Oddly enough, though, I was OK with it.  It was kind of weird to deal with a swell and the rebound off of the sea wall, but I only drank a little of lake Michigan and managed to get out of the water at the other end.  For me, that’s a win.

The transition was also one of the longest I have ever had.  Had to be close to 1/4 mile.  It was so long (and my feet are so wimpy) that I put a pair of shoes at the water out area and ran in my wetsuit and running shoes.  Good comedy.  Getting out was a mess.  Afternoon rains on Saturday turned the bike transition into a swamp.  And we had to run uphill, in the mud, several hundred yards, to the bike mount.  This is NOT a complaint.  It’s just what we had to do.  It just added to the adventure.

The bike. was. awesome.  The views of downtown, lake Michigan, the Batman underground course.  Again, even with thousands of people I never felt crowded.  The roads were decent.  I kinda didn’t want it to end.  It wasn’t my best time, but I was trying to savor the moment and save some energy since I had another race to do.

Bike run transition was a muddy, slick slide down the hill.  Kinda like an epic mud run.  I stayed upright but my bike gained a few pounds of mud.

The run, again, was beautiful.  Right along the lake.  Cool, a little foggy.  Gorgeous.  I ran a little faster than I wanted, considering I had another race, but I really didn’t care.  I ran relaxed and enjoyed the view.

Before I go on, the hardest part of this race (the Triple Challenge) was simply getting from the finish line of the International, back to the swim start of the sprint, in time to start!  You walk all the way through the finish area to a BUS STOP!  Then take the bus to the drop off and walk back to swim start.  But since we swam in wetsuits, we had to go all the way back to bike transition (and all the way past the main entrance because we still had our timing chips on so we had to go in the back way).  THEN go back to swim start after we got our wetsuits.  This made for nearly 3/4 mile of extra walking/running.  I got back to the swim start, crammed myself back into my wetsuit.  Got zipped up and jumped in the water.  I literally had NO TIME to spare.  As an athlete I would say this transition from event to event was definitely the hardest part of the whole thing.  But very fun.

The final race of the day was the sprint (Sunday).  750 m swim/20K ride/5K run.

The swim was easier because the chop had calmed down.  I did, however, cramp pretty bad at the swim out and had to be hauled out like a tuna.  Luckily the cramps went away pretty fast.

Again, with the long ass transition.  Oh… and it was starting to get hot outside…

The bike was a shorter version of the International, without all the fun Batman stuff.

The run.  Well.  It wasn’t pretty.  I was hot, out of gas and ready to be done.  I could feel my heart rate start to go up as I got hotter.  All I can say is whatever genius put the firehoses on spray under that overpass has my vote for the best person in the universe.  I’m just pretty sure it saved my life.  Especially since it was an out and back course so I got to go through (and stop and dance in it) twice.  Even though our flight was the last to go off so there weren’t many people left on course, when I made the turn around the last corner to the finish chute with the city in the background and the roar of the crowd and my teammates… What an amazing feeling.

So… You see.  Hunter may have slowed me down on the swim… and my lack of physical ability may have slowed me down everywhere else… but I achieved every goal I set for this race.  Across the line in 3 races, upright and breathing, not in the med tent, and amazingly happy.  I still smile when I think about it.

Everybody does this for different reasons.  Some to win.  Some to just achieve more and greater than they ever thought they could.  Some run towards a goal.  Some run away from something.

When I signed up for this race, I was running away from something and didn’t even realize it.  I had stopped drinking.  An incredibly hard thing to do.  I didn’t think it was going to be that hard until I did it.  But as I lost weight and got healthy I found that, for the first time, I was actually running TOWARDS something. Better health.  I toed the line for 3 races.  I was 50 pounds lighter than the day I signed up.

I signed up for the Triple because I felt like, at the point I hit the submit button, I couldn’t trust myself in Chicago with all that free time, free beer and friends who were there to have a good time.  So by signing up for the Triple, I would fill all my time and couldn’t get in to trouble.  I discovered I didn’t really need it…  But I’m really glad I did it.

Oh… and Hunter…  Next year…  Imma run you down…

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