My First Triathlon Experience

By: Brock Jones

I've wanted to be able to say this for a while now: I'm a triathlete.  On Sunday I finally completed my first triathlon.  It was the Olympic distance Transamerica Chicago Triathlon.  Consisting of a 1500m swim, 24 mile bike ride, and a 10 km run, I ran it along with 3 members of my gym.  So a huge shout out to Alex Terry, Jennifer Mauer, and Adam Bundy!! Great job guys!!  A lot of people have asked me how the race went, so I figured I would write a post about it and go over the individual stages of the race.

Hundreds of human-sized fish all blindly fighting and racing toward the same set of steps.

The swim was, without a doubt, the most chaotic half hour of my life.  This picture gives you a good visual of what it looks like from a spectator’s point of view, but it does no justice to the unpredictable conditions in the water.  Ill give you a brief description to the best of my ability.  Each wave hops in the water and treads for about 60-90 seconds to let the previous wave get out in front (each wave took off four minutes apart).  On the horn, you take off along the wall for 300 meters, then you turn around and swim the opposite direction for 1200 meters.  Simple enough, right???  Wrong….. Imagine swimming in a school of fish, only those fish are people, all of whom are kicking and stroking in the most barbaric “survival by any means necessary” mode that you could imagine.  On, and you can only see about three feet in front of and below you.  And, to top if all off, you’ve got waves not only coming in from the lake, but bouncing off the harbor wall, too.  Yesterday’s water was MUCH choppier than the above picture, so it wasn’t as smooth a swim as this looks.

That being said, it was totally awesome.  Completely different and unlike anything I have ever done before in my life.  Being a relatively decent swimmer, I was able to catch some people from the previous couple of waves.  I must have kicked/punched at least 20-30 people in my half hour in the water.  I didn’t do it intentionally – you really can’t see them until its almost too late – but it was kind of funny to me each time it happened.  It’s basically a bunch of bumper cars in the water trying to get to the same spot 1500m down the harbor.

So, 1500 meters after the start, and after a little delusion upon getting out of the water, it was off to the transition to get ready for the bike.

Transition can be a triathletes worst nightmare if they don't remember exactly where their bike and equipment are.

Good luck finding your bike in there, right?? They’ve actually got color-coordinated wave number signs on the end of each row, so it’s not as impossible as it seems.  I was pretty lucky in that my bike rack was literally about 25 yards from the entrance to the transition.  It didn’t take my any time at all to find my bike and get my things ready.

The bike course was pretty cool, and, more importantly, flat.  It started by traveling north on Lakeshore Drive along the beach for an “out and back” 15 mile loop.  Going out was pretty easy, but once we hit the turnaround point and headed back south, I learned why it’s called the Windy City!!  We turned right into the wind, making that 7.5 miles back pretty interesting.  It was still a good ride in that it offered some really cool views of both the beach and the city.

Just one of the many amazing views of the city along the bike course.

Once we hit the second major turn was when the fun really started.  This is where we started going through the “underground” tunnels that were closed off to traffic (I say “underground” because we took downramps to get the them.  They were below some of the main streets, but not completely underground).  Let me tell you, when you don’t have any wind or traffic to worry about, you can absolutely fly.  As flat as you can imagine for the final 8-9 miles, you could let it rip here, and I sure did.  In reality I probably wasn’t going much faster than the previous part of the bike, but I like to tell myself (and you) that I was burning it up here.  It sure was fun riding through those tunnels without any traffic though.

This is also when I took in a little bit of nutrition.  It was starting to heat up, so I downed two full water bottles and also got some energy gels in my system.  I don’t like to have a lot in my stomach during a race of any kind, but in this type of competition – especially in the heat – staying hydrated and full of energy is the most important aspect.

After 24 fun miles on the bike, it was back to the transition to get ready for the run.

Both of these signs were completely accurate and fitting for this event.

 So, starting the run… I forgot to mention that during the swim and the bike, the conditions were relatively mild: overcast and a slight breeze.  Quite honestly, the perfect conditions for a race.  But man, let me tell ya, all the changed when it came time to run.  With a few miles left on my bike, the clouds parted like the Red Sea and the sun came out with a vengeance.  Mother nature decided we’d been thawing out long enough so it was time to stick us in the oven and bake us for a while.

I felt pretty good getting going on the run.  You actually have to be careful not to take off too fast.  Your legs are used to pedaling pretty quickly for a long time on the bike.  You have to focus on not letting them move quicker on the run that they need to, or else you can suffer pretty bad during the later part of the run.  I made sure to take it out of the transition and a moderate pace.

The run was a simple out and back trip.  It was relatively flat just like the bike, which was great given the hotter-than-hell-with-no-shade conditions.  Again, I’m usually not one to stop and grab water on a run, but this was an exception.  I didn’t drink a whole lot, but at every aid station I grabbed 2-3 cups and poured them on top of my head and down my shirt to keep cool.  It was my saving grace to be honest.  It allowed me to stay at a pretty steady pace without deviating too much.  My focus during the run was “get to the next water station”.  Every person has their own motivation or strategy to get through, and mine was simply staying as cool as I possibly could.

I never once thought about quitting or even walking, but I will admit I was eager to see the finish line.  When I hit the 5 mile marker I found what energy I had left and got to the end as quick as I could.  When I made the last turn and saw the fans crowded along the street, it was THE sight for sore eyes.  I’ve never been so happy to get a cold towel and chug some water in my life.

I’m looking good, right??? That’s actually Hunter Kemper, one of the top US triathletes and the winner of the 2013 Chicago Triathlon.

That being said, this event was absolutely awesome.  I’ve never done anything like it before.  From the complete chaos of the swim, to the tunnel ride on the bike, to that last turn on the run knowing I was about to finish, I enjoyed it all.  I tell people it’s one of those things that sometimes you hate while you’re doing it, but absolutely love when you’re finished.  For a few minutes on the run, I hated life.  But, once I saw that finish line and realized “Damn, I’m a triathlete now”, it made all the training and torture that day worth it.

Don’t worry, I’m not done yet.  I’ve got another race coming in the end of September.  This one is a half Ironman.  I’ll be pushed to levels that I’ve never pushed myself before, and I can’t wait.  So it’s one rest day today, then back to the grind!!!

Hope you enjoyed my virtual trip through downtown Chicago!! Now get out there and “tri” one for yourself!

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