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…


  1. I cannot believe this happened. You certainly did your part to be sure things were taken care of but clearly they didn't do their part. I can't imagine doing twice what you'd trained for. That's so tough!

  2. Hello Dutch,
    Just a quick message to ask if you would be interested in a 'mutual' following on twitter. I am currently following you now and am awaiting for your follow-back if you indeed decide to do so... (#FYI I do RT's for all #Triathletes #Cyclists #UltraRunners & #Marathoners who follow me on Twitter and have something important they want mentioned...)

    All the very best for the rest of 2012 and beyond Dutch. Look forward to hearing from you...