Friday, August 30, 2013

Early mornings, hot sun and running with the pros. Also, pride.

The simpler title for this post would be "The Chicago Triathlon" ... but where's the fun in that?

This whole endeavor started out with Linda's decision to do her first international-distance tri. I, being brilliant, suggested that Pam, Jim and I form a relay team. That way we could experience the distance, but not have to do it. And much to my surprise, they agreed.

So when the alarm went off at 3 a.m. (I must be lonely) yesterday, I had no one to blame but myself. I piled into the car with Linda and her sisters, Lorna and Terri, and we met Jim and Pam to caravan into the city.

Before sunrise.

Arriving at Millennium Park in the wee hours is kinda surreal. I helped Linda set up her transition area by flashlight while Pam helped Jim get his set up. The early morning breeze felt wonderful, giving no clue as to the heat that was to come, and I can honestly say I rather enjoyed the experience. Soon, we were as ready as we could be, which was a good thing because the transition area closed at 5:45. In the morning.

We took the time to survey the course - where the competitors got out of the water, jogged to the bike, got onto the bike course, finished it and then started the run. All told, the swim wave for the International distance was a mile (a full mile, in Lake Michigan; God love 'em); the bike was 25 miles; and the run, a 10K. Linda was doing all three, while Pam, Jim and I split our duties. We wandered down to the water to the swim finish line, and waited.

It was incredible to see the swimmers come by. Almost a mile into their day, they looked strong and capable. As the sun came up across the harbor, it was time to enjoy the view and bolster Linda and Pam's courage as they awaited their turn in the water.
Monroe Harbor, in all its sunrise glory
They put on their wetsuits and off they went, leaving me, Lorna, Terri and Alexis to watch the clock and the water for them to come in. Jim headed to the transition area, where he would meet Pam prior to heading out for the ride.

As we sat there along the water's edge, it was impossible not to be moved by the incoming athletes. The wave leaders, with their incredible ability and perfect form, seemed to glide past us. But the ones who struggled to finish were the most inspiring. They dedicated themselves to the task, and there was no way they would get a DNF (did not finish). Lots of reasons to cheer here; real effort was happening in the water.

It took awhile, but soon we saw purple caps heading our way; this was Linda's wave. I knew she'd be middle or back of the pack, but I kept an eye out for her the entire time. How I thought I'd recognize her, I do not know, but before too long she appeared, out near the lifeguard boats, pulling strong toward the swim finish. There is little in this life more satisfying than watching a good friend achieve a goal. She was all smiles coming out of the water. We cheered and hollered and followed her a bit as she ran toward transition, and then it was time to get back to the water and watch for Pam. She came in right on schedule, swimming along the wall like a champ. My friends were so strong that day!

I followed Pam to the transition area, and she transferred the chip to Jim ... off he went! We wouldn't see him for 25 miles. Pam was pooped but exhilarated. She changed out of her wetsuit and was now able to relax; she had done it! I am so proud of her for getting out there and trying, doing something amazing while much of the world was still asleep.

As we waited for Jim to return, we relaxed in the shade. It was starting to really heat up outside, we also kept our eyes open for Linda to return from her bike portion. When she arrived back at transition, she was all smiles but also upset. She had bike malfunction issues, and was not happy by the time she finished the ride. Her legs were sore, but on she went. Shortly after that, it was my turn. Yes, at shortly past noon, in full sun, with the temperature reading 91 degrees, I was running 6.2 miles.

It took a long time, but the tri staff did a great job keeping us safe and hydrated. My favorite part (other than seeing the EMTs at about the 2.5 mile mark) was the fire truck with a huge industrial fan, raining cold water down on the runners at miles three and four. It was enough to give me a new lease on life!

Shortly before my run leg took off, the pro wave began. Yes, at 11:30 a.m., the "real" athletes started their swim. I wasn't too depressed when they started to pass me on the run; I mean A) these people do this for a living and B) even if they didn't, they are certainly in a helluva lot better shape than I am! I did the smart thing; I let the ease of their stride and their obvious athletic prowess propel me forward. Concentrating on them rather than the heat or the fact that I felt stupid for doing this in the first place really helped!

Being on the course with the pros was an incredible experience, because they offered encouragement and inspiration, just like the amateurs. I didn't expect that at all, but I shouldn't be surprised; I know athletes to be some of the most supportive people in the world. It was in the last mile when two pros ran past me, together. One of them said, "You got this. Finish strong!" and I replied, "Thanks! You guys look great; I'm just gonna follow you!" and he gave me a thumbs-up and kept running. Awesome.

When I finally approached the finish - hell, I'd only been out for six miles, and Linda had done the entire race herself! - I was pooped. POOPED, I tell ya. But I ran in strong and confident; hot as it was, sore and tired as I was, I felt great! Here's me with less than a half mile to go:
Photo not yet purchased. I like that the watermark covers up my cottage cheese thighs.
Even though I didn't complete the full tri on my own, this was a special experience. Being part of a team is different. It allows you to put your focus on your friends and move through the event without the panic of wondering how you'll do in the next discipline. It's actually a very relaxed way to complete a tri!

As I approached the finish line, my posse was there waiting - Terri, Linda and Lorna Clegg, and Lorna's daughter Schlex. 

The posse, just after Linda finished - Schlex, Terri, Linda and Lorna
When I crossed the finish line, I got my water and more water and have I mentioned water? And my medal. Can't forget the medal; do you think I do these things for fun? No. I like medals.

Because laying in the grass is EXACTLY what you should do after finishing a six-mile run.
And just like that, it was over. I'm so proud of Linda, and I'm equally proud of Jim, Pam and myself. Out of 98 relay teams, we came in 35th! Plus, we had a good time ... which is always the goal.

As we were packing up Linda's bike back in the transition area, we met a guy named Frank, who had won his age group. We struck up an easy conversation, which happens a lot at events like this because hey, we have something in common, right? Anyway, he teaches spin at the Midtown Athletic club in Palatine, and he invited Linda and I to stop by and take a class - nice guy! We congratulated him (and objectified him a bit; the man was clearly created by a technician very close to God) and he chuckled. He said thank you, offering us this bit of advice: "Always accept a compliment, and always accept a gift. They are always given in hopes you will take them." 

Okay, Frank. I'm trying.


Amy said...

"the bike was 25 miles; and the run, a 5K"

I think you mean a 10K, girl!

Maggie said...

Oh, snap - YOU'RE RIGHT! Editing now ...