Monday, July 23, 2012

The Chicago Triathlon saved my nearly killing me...a longoverdue post

Chicago can race fueled by anger...

So...I have talked about "my story" on this blog before but I have often cited the 2009 ChicagoTriathlon as the penultimate event that got me back into racing and how it was such a crap show that it’s hard to believe it even happened, much less that aftersuch a bad experience, I would still race. Well, in going through some old emails I found this recap I sent the race organizers about my infamous day. Strap in, this is gonna be a long post.
“Dear Sir/Ma’am,
I arrived at the Registration Area right after it opened at 3 p.m., Friday the 28th in order to pick up my packet. I have never been in a Triathlon this big so there were a ton of people and registration was a madhouse. It took the folks at registration about 15 minutes to find my packet because it was not in the"normal" (what I was told) sorted packet area. I've included a picture of the label on my packet which clearly said "Sprint" as the distance I was competing in and hand written large shirt size on it (that info will be important later, trust me). The packet contained the tracking chip, race number and pins to put the number on my shirt.

I went over to have the tracking chip verified. The chip came up with only my bib number (9110) but no personal/race information on it. The nice young lady took me over to the help desk to figure out what was wrong and noticed that I didn't have a strap for the tracking chip and promptly put one in my packet. She told me that my start time would be 9:08 am on race day, because my packet said I was Wave #44, and then she walked me to the Help Area.There I was told I have to talk to one of the registration folks "behind the curtain". There I spoke to a young guy who was sitting on a laptop and seemed bothered that we were there to ask why my information wasn't on the chip. As he looked at his screen, he told me that the lack of information on my chip, the high number and the late wave start was because I was a late entry. He said I was only entered in the race that morning but all my information was in the "main system" and "don't worry about it". Before I walked away I asked if the information that he was looking at on his screen was the same as on my packet (i.e. name, age, distance, wave start) and I was told "yeah, you're all good". 

I walked through the Expo in order to get my other items and then spent the next 4 hours or so checking out the Expo and buying Chicago Triathlon clothes and other goodies. On my way out I thought I'd try to see if my personal/race information had made it to my chip yet so I stopped to get it verified again. Again no information about bib number. So I went to see the same guy at the laptop from earlier (I think it was the same guy), and asked again if all the information in the "main system" was the same as on my packet and he told me "yeah, you're all good". Being exhausted from my earlier flight and walking around the Expo all day I figured I'd grab a bite and then check the chip again on Saturday.

Saturday I grabbed breakfast and headed into registration around 10 a.m. to see if my information had been updated to the chip. I went to the chip verification area and still no information on the chip. I walked over to the help desk area and spoke to a different guy than the day before. I relayed the events of the prior day with the chip and the shirt and handed him my packet. He noticed that I did not have the wrist band (required to get into and out of the transition area), promptly put one in my packet and looked me up in the main system. Once again I was told "yeah, you're in the main system, your chip just hasn't reflected the info yet". AGAIN I asked if the personal/race information that was on my packet is what was on the "main system" and again the answer was yes. I walked back into registration around 4:30 p.m. before it closed on Saturday to check ONE LAST TIME. Still no data on the tracking chip but was told yet again"you're good to go, all your data is in the main system, don't worry".

I went to bed around 10 p.m. Saturday night so I could be at transition to setup right when it opened at4:15 a.m. I got everything set up, laid out all my drinks and fuel for the Sprint event and went back to my hotel to grab a nap before I had to be at the swim start for my 9:08 a.m., Wave #44 start. I got to the swim start an hour prior, put on my wetsuit 20 minutes before the start and got in the wave with10 minutes to go. I noticed the wave in front of us was swimming the International Distance. I turned to the guy beside me and remarked "thank goodness we're not doing the International so we get the shorter swim". He and then everyone around me responded that wave #44 was Males 34-39 for the International Distance.  I quickly ran over to a race representative holding a clip board and told her that I was registered for the Sprint distance and because of my "late entry" there must be some confusion. "Am I just supposed to swim the Sprint distances with this wave?" I asked. She told me that all the Sprint Distances were closed and I was either doing the International Distance or I wasn't competing at all today. I spent 10 years inthe Army as an Airborne Ranger, I've got almost 100 Mass Tactical jumps from aircraft, I've had numerous surgeries and a broken back during my Army career but standing on that platform, realizing that I was either doing the twice the distance I'd be training for or going home, is the first time I've ever felt fear. I was at the event because of the kindness of Polar and my luck in winning their contest, my friends and family had been so supportive and were expecting me to race, I just bought all this Chicago Triathlon gear and I couldn't bear with having to tell everybody I didn't, in the end even try...and I desperately wanted one of those damned finishers' medals. I wasn't going to let anybody down so I took a deep breath, recited my mantra “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” and "pain is temporary...quitting lasts forever", hit the water and began the International Distance event. 

I hadn’t been in a pool for years and I had only focused on my time in the pool to not drowning and accomplishing the distance required for the Sprint, 750 meters. Imagine the feeling when I realized I now had to swim TWICE that distance. I don’t think a swim course has ever looked longer or more daunting.  I swam as far as I could; treading water as I took caught my breath and then swam again. I alternated this method until I finally got to the stairs out of the water. Although you can’t see it in the picture, I’ve never been so relieved to have that swim out of the way. It was time to compose myself on the run into transition and get ready for the ride. As I got into T1 and looked at my bike it dawned on me that I only had one bottle of fuel on the bike and no spare tube/air fills because I thought I wouldn’t need it for such a short ride in the Sprint. I have never been more careful, looking around for road debris or more cautious at every bump in the road to ensure I didn’t get a flat. The two laps of the course were fueled by fear and anger. Fear of getting a flat on the course and making a long day even longer and angry because I was even in the situation to start with.  You can certainly see the look of determination in my face in that picture of me on the bike. I wanted a decent time and I wanted it to be over so I could focus on the run. 

I was looking forward to the run because I knew there was water and fuel out on the course. I made sure to get water at every station and grabbed a gel when offered. Unfortunately due to the lack of fueling up to the run start and the excessive salt loss through sweat (who knew Chicago could get so hot?), the 10k run was sheer pain. My legs started to lock up about 2 miles out from the finish but there was NO way I was going to stop now after everything I’d gone through thus far. Gritting my teeth I made it to the finish in 3 hours, 9 minutes and 48 seconds. 

I will tell you that part of what distracted me during the triathlon is that I wrote and re-wrote this e-mail in my head probably 100 times. I would like to think that you squared me away and in the handoff to someone below you this got messed up. Or that inconjunction with the obvious lack of care and/or incompetence of the people working the registration area led to the mistake, even after I asked time and time again and did everything I could (minus inputting the data myself) to ensure I was registered correctly. Bottom-line is there was a mistake made. In my opinion, it was a huge one. What I hoped to be an enjoyable first triathlon that I was anxious over but had trained for, turned into a completely different event that wasn't enjoyable at all and I ensured I finished because of pride, spite and having no other option.

I will certainly think twice about ever registering for an event that your company is managing. So I guess the short answer to your question of “…did the issue at registration getcleared up?” is no, no it did not.” 

This race made me so angry and it fueled my desire to get stronger and faster. I came home with a renewed sense of purpose and started my current training/racing journey. But in some ways it was a blessing considering where I was at just a few months before getting to race the Chicago Triathlon, the training up to the event in order to get in shape and the fact that I kick started my training 1000% when I got home is what got and kept me off the couch and out of the potato chip bag…and kept me from continuing a downward spiral of weight gain and depression…and what I feared would’ve ended in an early heart attack or stroke.

So…the debacle saved my life in a way…

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Mill City Triathlon..a race revisited...

As I said before, I didn't do a single Triathlon last year. I was primarily focusing on running and Duathlon events. Partly because I enjoy them and partly because I hate swimming (okay, mostly because I hate swimming). This year I've made a concerted effort to fix that by spending more time in the pool and focusing on form instead focusing on "not drowning". The Marlborough Tri, even though it was a split transition (which I now hate by the way) was the first time I really felt comfortable in the water and I've been trying to build on that.

I know the course at Mill City pretty well (it’s the same area a number of 5ks and 10ks are held), its relatively flat and other than the swim I dig the event. This race was the one that got me back into Triathlon and it went less than well. The last time I did this Tri was 2 years ago where my anger in the water led to a dislocated rib that I had to deal with through the rest of the race (I popped it back in while in aero on the bike). Ugh, talk about being fueled by anger! So I knew I HAD to do this course again!

587 yard swim – 8:37
J was racing too so I had someone to cut up and splash around with in the water before the start of our waves. It was so nice to not have a sense of dread in the water. The men started last and I wanted to just focus on good form and breathing…and not being last out of the water. MUCH to my surprise, I not only passed guys in my wave but caught and started passing the waves ahead of me! Really? Is that even possible?! Me?! The course was out and back and I hit the buoy feeling comfortable and relaxed. Maybe this extra swimming this is paying off! I have to admit, I was actually smiling in the water. For the first time I left the water not gasping for air or gassed...actually feeling good. The run into T1 was about 200 meters, I got in and through easily in 2:14 and headed out on the bike.

13 mile bike – 36:54, 21.1mph
Like I said, the course is relatively flat. As soon as I got out of transition I got in aero and kept a turning over a high rpm ensuring I was staying around 21mph on the course. Barring the one guy ahead of me that swerved into the path of an SUV , the course was uneventful…just like I like it. I just kept finding people in front of me to pass and kept my eye on my speed. I felt good throughout the bike, making sure I fueled and hydrated (it was a warm day). Coming into transition however was a different story. I didn’t realize that coming into transition I was 19th overall…which meant there were no bikes in transition…which meant I couldn’t find my rack spot to save my life. Add in that when I did find my spot, I knocked over the rack setting in my bike. Ugh. To add insult to injury, while putting on my shoes, the guy who was set up next to me knocked the rack down when he went to set in his bike. Double ugh. Even with all that I still managed a 1:25 transition and headed out on the run.
4 mile run – 29:37, 7:24 pace
Even though I've been adding in runs after my training rides, my legs felt like mush coming off the bike and I didn't get into a good pace until a half to three quarters of a mile in. Luckily, I had people in front of me to focus on and before I knew it my pace was coming down and I was passing people. I started to feel good and get into a nice pace…at mile 3. I finished in 1:23:31, 16th overall, 3rd in my new age group and ended up shaving 9 minutes off my course time from my last the last race. A pretty good day that I’m happy to say ended with my being happy with the performance. I was excited to place. Yes, I enjoy setting PR's but I enjoy placing well against my peers even more. I was stoked with my swim, the bike was good and the run was ok. There’s always room for improvement and that run should’ve been faster but I was focused less on pace then trying to pick off people in front of me. I’m getting faster and I did pick up some bling. The next 3 weeks are filled with a 5 miler, 10k and then my Ultra…but after those I HAVE to get in another Tri.