Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Life Time Chicago Tri Race Report | Add this race to your Bucket List!

Getting ready to enter the water in Wave #46 with
Female and Male 25-29 age groupers at the 2011
Life Time Chicago Tri!

The 2011 version of the Life Time Chicago Triathlon is in the record books.  I had the opportunity to race it this year, the first time since 1994, and wanted to share my experiences and thoughts in this race report.

About 8500 people competed in the event, including an Olympic distance race (1 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6.2 mile run), a sprint distance (.5 mile swim, 15 mile bike, 5K run) and even a kids tri.  Taking place in downtown Chicago along Lakeshore Drive, the venue is amazing as you race with Lake Michigan on one side and the cityscape on the other.  Athletes from around the world come to experience the world class event as well as the world class city.

The Olympic Distance is part of the Life Time Triathlon Series, the Race to the Toyota Cup, and is stop number five in the 7-series race. It attracts the very best professional and amateur athletes in the sport as they compete for money and prestige.  The largest in the series with 8500+ athletes, it’s also one of the largest triathlons in the world. (www.chicagotriathlon.com)

One of the many highlights of the weekend is the expo, which takes place on Friday and Saturday at the Chicago Hilton.  One of the largest consumer tri-expos anywhere, it’s a great opportunity to get great deals on tri-related gear and to speak with manufacturers reps and other industry insiders. 

I decided to race Chicago as a tune up for Kona.  Due to some personal issues and nagging, minor injuries, I hadn’t been able to race as often as I would have liked this summer, so this was my last chance to get rid of some “race rust”  before toeing the line in Kona in early October.  I was excited to race again and test the legs in competition.

About a week before the race, I got an email from Life Time Fitness’ PR department ace, KJ, that they wanted me to do a live interview for the local Chicago ABC affiliate at 8:50 am on race morning at the swim start.  This meant that I’d have to be bumped from the elite division start at 7:20 am to wave 46, combining 25-29 yr old men and women, at 9:20 am.  I knew the course would be very crowded at that time and race conditions would change, but duty called and I had to put my own personal race goals to the side in support of my employer.  After all, Life Time Fitness has 9 health clubs in the Chicago market and owns the race series… I was more than happy to contribute in any way I could and do my part.

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All bikes needed to be racked before the Sprint race started at 6 am, and that meant you had to have your bike set up and vacate the transition area by 5:45 am.  8500+ bikes in one transition area is an amazing sight to see!  After racking my Kestrel 4000, I went back to my hotel room to relax a bit before my interview was to take place at 8:50 am.

The weather conditions on race morning proved to be challenging. While the temperatures were great (mid-70’s) with clear sunny skies, the waters were very rough due to high winds, which also affected the bike leg.  After my 3 minutes of fame on ABC Chicago, I quickly slipped into my TYR wetsuit and stood in the corral with my wave, wave 46/ Men and Women AGE 25-29.  One of the women looked at me, probably wondering to herself, “What’s this old dude doing here?”, and said to me, “Don’t be rough with us girls.”.  I smiled and then responded politely, asking her not to be rough with me.

Lake Michigan was like a washing machine as waves went off like clockwork every 4 minutes.  At the gun for my wave, I went out pretty hard to try and establish position quickly. The swim takes you along the sea wall, so your spectators can walk by you as you make your way along the course. I could see Jen and Stacy Keifer of Keifer Swim Wear, female overall winner of the sprint race, cheering me on. 

Being in wave 46 was a bit of a challenge for me, as I anticipated it would be.  Even in the swim , by far my weakest leg, I had to swim over, under and through (two head on collisions) seemingly dozens of slower swimmers from the waves in front of me.  It was brutal and I’m sure that, along with the current and choppy waters, did nothing to speed up my swim time.  In any case, it is what it is and I exited the water to run the 450 yd. sprint to T1 where I quickly found my bike among the masses.

The 40K bike takes you on the inner lanes of Lake Shore Drive and is quite interesting.   Most of the road is newly paved, making for comfortable and fast riding, with only a few exceptions and rough areas with potholes.  Contrary to other USAT sanctioned events, here you ride to your left and pass on the right.  Many people on the course followed this rule loosely, and I found myself yelling “on your right”  literally hundreds of times, usually thanking people as they moved over and I rode by.  On a couple dangerous occasions, the rider must have thought I said “move right” and started to nudge me into Lake Shore Drive Traffic … scary.   And once, as I rode past an athlete and courteously cautioned her, "on your right", she yelled after me, “F-you, A-hole”!  I rode away from her as fast as I could!

Stiff cross winds, head winds and weaving in and out of other riders made for a challenging bike ride and I was happy to enter T2 unscathed in about 1 hour. I was also happy to have not witnessed any crashes by my fellow competitors.  I found my rack in the far reaches of the huge transition area and headed out on the 10K run.

It was starting to heat up a bit, but it was still comfortable, especially compared to Tucson weather.  I often wondered what it would have been like to start early in the day with the elite wave. In any case,  I felt strong on the run, but again found myself weaving in and out of other competitors through some of the narrow paths of the run course, encouraging some of the athletes who looked like they were having some difficulty.   I had my heart rate monitor on and was pleased with my effort as I was tagging a steady 5:50 / mile pace with a HR of 165-170.  I also took a moment or two to enjoy the incredible crowds and views of the water and the city… amazing!

Once I crossed the finish line, I was happy with my effort and quickly found Jen waiting for me.  We had a bite in the VIP area, said hello to the JANUS and other Life Time Fitness folks and enjoyed watching and cheering for other athletes finishing on a gorgeous yet challengin Chicago day.  My motor ran well that day, and despite not racing with the elite wave early in the morning, I was pleasantly surprised by finishing 6th Elite (time adjusted), posting the fastest amateur bike split and 4th fastest run of the day.  Yipppeee, Mission accomplished…. Race Rust is gone!

I want to congratulate the many first timers out there for taking the plunge into the choppy Lake Michigan and finishing the race.  And hats off to the top pros in the race to the Toyota Cup who showed us how fast people can really go.  Well done!

The Life Time Chicago Triathlon is a race that every triathlete needs to put on their bucket list.  Racing in a major U.S. City is a great experience and really makes you appreciate the logistical challenges encountered by the race organizers.  For the experienced triathlete, it’s a great race to challenge yourself against top level competition and for newbies, it’s an awesome opportunity to enjoy a big city triathlon experience.  Put it on your calendar for 2012 and I'll see you there. (Register and get more info at www.chicagotriathlon.com)

Train Smart, 
Coach Troy

Coach Troy is the Head Triathlon Coach for Life Time Fitness. To learn more about Life Time, visit www.lifetimefitness.com.