Rating Scale (based on the amount of beer needed after race)
- 4 Brewskis: So excruciatingly painful and lame you’ll need a full year of recovery just to forget this race
- 3 Brewskis: The best thing said and remembered about race is; I finished
- 2 Brewskis: Challenging race in a masochistic I’d could do it again sort-of-way given enough time and Ibuprofen.
- 1 Brewski: Good solid race that exceeds your expectations
- No Brewski: A must-do annual event for both friends and family
From the official Chicago Triathlon Web site, “With over 7,500 participants and 100,000 spectators, the Accenture Chicago Triathlon is known as the world's largest triathlon. This year (2005) it will become official with an attempt to set a World Record for the World's Largest Triathlon.”
Large certainly best describes this race. As in large transition area (think solider field- sized). Huge distance from swim exit to transition (think the average daily jog for a beginner runner). Big holes and bumps on Lake Shore Drive on the bike course (you’ll come to understand why many racers are using full-suspension mountain bikes). Long wait before start (You could finish the entire race in the time spent waiting for your wave start). Huge lines for the few available porta-potties. This is could also official be the world’s largest quadathon testing not only swimming biking, and running but also intestinal fortitude and Olympic caliber bladder control.
The typical field consists of a highly explosive mixture of newbies, weekend warriors and hardcore pro wannabes. From the rapid to the rotund to the rowdy, this race has it all. Running in to the finish in 2004, I saw several guys who looked like they had a very up close and personal view LSD (Lake Shore Drive). On a positive note they seemed proud of their road rash as a exclusive souvenir of having finished the race.
Image putting about 250 race ready athletes into your neighborhood swimming pool and you’ve got the start of the Chicago Triathlon. The swim consists of two swim lanes that run along the Monroe Street Harbor sea wall and make up the Olympic Distance swim. This is an especially great race for all those who have perfected the art of swimming over/under/through other swimmers as huge splashing waves of racers enter the water every few minutes.. A very talented swimmer could potentially swim the entire race on the backs of others. I found open water for about 2 minutes before I hit the next wave of slower swimmers. I also had to find a good doctor after the race for a nasty ear infection I got from the lake water. You’ve been warned.
You know how some people like to bring a balloon to mark their bikes in transition. You might consider finding one of those novelty stores that sells life-sized balloons of Dumbo because anything smaller will just get lost in transition. Image the long term parking lot at O’Hare Airport on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving but with bikes instead of cars and you’ve got the image. Word to the wise: In 2004 it was a bit on the windy side ( and by bit I mean freaking hurricane conditions) as befits the windy city. I think some racers over did it with their balloons as I swear I saw what looked like several LiteSpeed bikes high above Lake Michigan on their well way to Canada.
The Olympic distance bike course consist of two loops up and down LSD if and when you have managed to negotiate your way through transition. This is the only race where you’ll need a separate water bottle just to make it in and out of transition. A GPS might also be helpful.
A full suspension mountain bike may indeed not be a bad choice for this race. It would certainly help you negotiate the maze of bumps, ruts, potholes, cracks and fissures that is the paved surface of Lake Shore Drive. The tight steering angles afforded by a mountain bike would also help you avoid the dozens of stationary and mobile obstacles along the two loops. Some of my favorite stationary obstacles included dozens of stray water bottles and nutrition bars, a full set of aero bars (eek), a broken bicycle seat (ouch) and what I can only assume and hope was a dead rat (yuck).
Some of my favorite mobile obstacles included a very big girl on a cruiser with way under inflated tires bopping up and down like Mary Poppins on a Sunday ride. From the “now I’ve seen it all file”; dozens of rolling orange cones whipped-up like tumbleweeds by the 40-mph winds, pro wannabes who, whipped up by their egos, zipped in and out of bike traffic yelling at all to get out of their way, and massive waves, whipped up by the winds, that crashed onto LSD like surf rolling onto a Hawaiian beach.
The run course follows the lake shore South from transition, around the Shed Aquarium, to McCormick Place and back North to the finish on Columbus Drive. Once again your first challenge if to find your stuff in transition. Last year the balloon parrot marking my spot had long since freed itself and departed leaving me wandering transition like a lost child at Costco. Having found my running stuff, and the run exit, I happily exited transition (only later did I realize what a terrible mistake this really was please see NTKS) and began the run.
As a slow Clydesdale, I hate the run. This is the part of the race some runners just love to really stick it to us big guys. They come bounding by us like some crazed kangaroo on uppers on your way to a 30 minute 10K. The Chicago Triathlon has lots of these run weasels. Last year I was prepared. Not only was it cool (a Godsend to us big runners) but I also had a bit of secret. And no I did not pump my butt up with steroids, or slurp human growth hormone like Jose Conseco at his annual physical. I had however lived and trained at 6000 feet above sea level giving me the legs of a running god…all be it a somewhat chunky and long in the tooth running god. No matter, I still ran the flat, twisty and cool course in a PB making me forget all the crazy stuff from the rest of the race.
The Race Expo
This is a true must go expo as it is the largest and most packed of any race as befits the size of the race. Actually you really must go to pick up your race packet and get body marked. With your numbers in place, you get to enter that exclusive world of triathlon racer a full day or two before the race and show off to all your neighbors, friends and family. You can think to yourself “That’s right Mr. Chubby neighbor. I may be cutting the grass today I’m doing it with the form and physique of a race ready triathlete.” Plus there’s lots of free swag to be had at the expo and you get the added benefit of savoring the pre race buzz, without having to break a sweat.
NTKS (Need To Know Secrets)
- You have two choices to get to transition from the swim exit. This is about a half a mile run (I’m not kidding here). You can run on the broken concrete path in your bare feet or you can run in the grass, but the grass hides broken glass. The smart move: Bring your running shoes and stash them at the swim exit. The time is takes to throw them on is well worth the beating your feet will endure from either the broken concrete or stashed glass.
- Transition bike placement: The smart move: rack you bike as close to the bike exit as possible. If you stashed your shoes by the swim exit you’ll wear them to your bike (remember transition is huge) and you’ll also avoid much running time in your bike shoes out to the bike exit. On the way back you’ll also avoid running very far in your biking shoes to your stuff.
- After the race, the line to get back into transition to get your stuff is longer than the toilet lines. Getting your stuff out of transition can take hours. The smart move, while everybody is in a huge line (at the South “run” end of the transition area) to get their walk around to the bike exit (North of end of the transition area) and avoid the long wait.
- Parking your car. If you get to the race late you’ll have a hard time parking your car. The smart move: get to the race early (transitions opens at 4:30 a.m.---no winning you are a triathlete after all) and you’ll have plenty of free street parking just around the corner from the race. As an added bonus you won’t have to wait in a huge line to get into transition, plus you can rack your bike right by the bike exit.
-It may take hours for your wave start. The smart move: get lucky with your race start time or bring a good book, Ipod and or friends and be ready to enjoy the wait.