by Derek Minihane
In May of this year, my two brothers decided to do a triathlon together
and thought it would be a good occasion to get the family together. They
picked the Chicago Triathlon which was held on August 24th - Chicago in
August? Michelle quickly jumped on board, as did Neil's wife, Bridget,
and a couple friends. Since I was not a runner, I held out but threw my
hat in eventually. My decision to compete around the end of May left me
essentially three months to buy a bike, train on it, and learn to run.
The Chicago Triathlon is billed as the largest tri in the US with over 6700 participants. It was the first triathlon for Bridget, Keith and I while Neil and Michele had at least done a few before. Neil (Colorado Springs), Keith (Chicago), Michele (MVM - Lane 6, 6AM) and I (MVM - Lane 2, 6AM) all did the International distance and Bridget did the Sprint distance.
The family gathered in Chicago on August 22nd and camped out at Keith's apartment. Our parents even flew in for the "family reunion" weekend. Since Michele and I did not fly our bikes in and were borrowing mountain bikes from a friend, we decided on Saturday to buy road tires to eliminate the knobby stutter of mountain bike tires and, therefore, make the 26 miles ride a bit more bearable. We then took a test ride on our "new" bikes down along the shore and by the beaches before gathering for the family pasta dinner. The chanting, especially from Neil, was strong from the start, but it reached a crescendo on Saturday night. Neil had actually flown his bike in because he was afraid of losing to his baby sister. With 6700 participants, there was approximately 45 waves of 150 people each starting every 4 minutes -- the first International wave went off at about 7:30 and the last wave was not until 9:30. Our parents recorded all the starting times and we provided estimates for each leg so they could figure out where to stand and see the most us. It was funny watching estimates get revised - going from best guess to figuring out what time was needed to beat the other sibling/friends in a certain event.
I was in the first wave with my brother Keith behind me, then Neil a few more waves back and Michele starting about an hour behind me. The start was true mayhem (well organized mayhem). The swim was in a tight course right along the sea wall inside a harbor with too small of a starting box. Each wave barely fit in when everyone was treading water. Once the swim started it was like a boxing match for the first 200 yards and people were crawling all over each other for most of the course. Lesson #1: use the bathroom before the swim - I had to make a detour after the swim and find the John.
After the swim there, was a 1/4 mile or more run to the huge transition area, where your time was measured. Since all the racks were marked it was not that hard to find your bike and get motoring. The ride up and down Lake Shore Drive was beautiful with the beaches, boats, and skyline, though it felt like the wind was in your face the entire time. My younger brother Keith was the first one I saw on the course when he passed me on the bike screaming something. Lesson #2: make sure you have plenty of liquid - after I passed the water station at the turn around (the course was twice around), I dropped my only water bottle and was without liquids for about 13 miles before the next station.
The run wound down the shore, past yachts and museums before finishing among the skyscrapers. My race essentially ended at the start of the run. Within 1/2 mile my quad cramped up so hard that I could probably have broken a wine bottle across it. I ended up power walking the 10K. Lesson #3: dehydration has real immediate effects. Neil passed me shortly after the cramp and I ran into Michele (who was smiling the entire time) later on in the race. One interesting aspect of the run was the guy next to me who tried to walk-run the 10K. He would pull away from me and then I would catch him and this repeated over and over again from start to finish. Lesson #4: if you are sucking wind or cramping you may be better off power walking than trying to run for a short while.
It was an excellent introduction to triathlons and the busy course provided plenty of encouragement and camaraderie. Neil won the family challenge (2:40), but Michele (2:46) was given the prize because of her mountain bike handicap. Keith (2:56) did well on his first tri and I (3:48) need to do a bit more training especially on the run (or bike to run transition, otherwise known as a brick). I am hooked on triathlons and love the multi-dimensional aspect of the sport.
On October 12, Michele (International) and I (Sprint) did the Windman triathlon at the San Luis Reservoir - it was fun. The Windman Tri was a tiny bit smaller (50 participants), much less organized (that is being nice too) and much more hilly (to say the least) than Chicago. I encourage you all to get out there and, to borrow a worn phrase, Just Do It!