Monday, August 25, 2014

was it a mud run or a triathlon?

Well, race weekend has come and gone and I am happy to say I survived!  And I can definitely say it wasn’t easy.  I do, however, feel extremely accomplished and also not as sore as I’d thought I’d be.  Actually, if I just keep moving I am not sore at all…it’s when I stop moving for any period of time and then start moving again when it hurts.  For instance at work today when I would be sitting then have to get up for any reason at all. 

But enough about my soreness, I’m sure you want to hear about the race.  So let’s get to it from the beginning. 

The organizers changed the bike course this year, so it was mandatory to sit through a 30 minute course talk before you could get your packet.  In my typical fashion, I like to go to things right when they open, so Mark and I went to the expo after work Friday for a 5:30pm course talk and then got our packets right after.  I didn’t mind going to the course talk and actually found it helpful to hear how everything was to go down beforehand.  Although I must say I was surprised by the pictures they showed of the swim start – so many people in the water at once! 

After picking up our packets we walked around the expo for a bit.  I got some swag, Mark rolled his eyes at me, and overall it was a good time. 

Saturday our families arrived, and that evening we went to rack our bikes.  For the first time, the organizers were allowing day ahead racking, which is great.  It was so nice to not worry about how we were going to get our bikes down to the transition area from the apartment at 4am race morning.  It also allowed us to sleep in a little later and take a cab down to the race in the morning as well (yay for no red line at 4am!).  It was also nice because it gave us an excuse to take our guests downtown and show them where they’d need to go to spectate.  A pop up torrential thunderstorm delayed our bike-racking plans for a little while, but we managed to get them racked ok.  I took a picture of where mine was (relatively) so I wouldn’t forget come race morning.  

Turns out that picture was pretty much useless on race morning, however, as it was completely dark in transition since we had to be there before the sun was up.  After waking up at 3:30am, choking down a banana and toast for breakfast (along with a Cliff bar for the road), we headed to the race at about 4:30.  Unless you are catching an early bird flight there is no reason to ever be setting an alarm for 3:30am…but alas, there we were.

Due to the downpour the day before, transition was a muddy mess.  And as luck would have it, I had put my bike right where a muddy puddle formed.  Good thing I had thought to bring a trash bag with me that I could lay on the ground to keep my things dry (although I didn’t anticipate the people running behind my spot tossing mud all up on it, so in the end it looked like I had participated in a mud run rather than a triathlon anyway).

The Swim:

After setting up our transition area, Mark and I made our way down to the swim start and sat around with some other CAC Tri Club members until it was time to head to our respective starts.  My wave started at 7:22am.  There were so many waves and they just started one right after another with no time to mess around in between.  I happened to see the fams right before it was time to get in the water, so at least I knew my cheer squad had arrived.  At 7:20 I was in the water and by 7:22 the start horn had gone off.  I don’t even think I heard it, I just saw everyone else in my group take off.  I’d literally had just enough time to let some water (a warm, 74 degrees) into my wetsuit and check my goggles weren’t leaking before it was time to go.  I liked it this way, though.  Less time to tread and think about panicking before you had to start (which I am happy to say didn’t happen this time, yeah!).

Me in the start corral waiting to head into the water.

The swim was challenging to say the least.  I’d swam over a mile straight in the pool before (granted with a few short breaks), but hadn’t in the water – and nothing could have prepared me for this.  Over by the start the water was nice and calm.  We swam about 375 meters south then turned back north for the remaining million meters.  By the time you got about 2/3 done (so on the other side of the harbor at this point), the waves were incredible and progress was rough.  At least the wind was at your back, so that made it a little easier.  I also had issues swimming straight at this point and zig-zagged all over the place – up against the walls at some points and others being yelled at by the lifeguards because I was going too far out.

It was around here where I was getting pretty spent and had to revert to breast stroke intermittently (in a surprising turn of events I was unable to swim on my back because it was making me dizzy (remember, the ITU sprint I panicked and could only swim on my back)).  Every time I would poke my head out of the water I swear the end buoy wasn’t getting any closer, so I made myself channel Dory and finally (after what seemed like forever) I had made it (after getting kicked in the face twice, too).  After finishing that swim I could have quit and been happy – it was so hard – but I still had two events to go and I’m much too stubborn for that.

Live action shot

Even more live action shot

The Bike:

After exiting the water and finding my land legs again, I slight jogged the quarter-mile jaunt back to transition, found my mud puddle, got my bike things together and took off.  The first leg was a northerly ride up Lake Shore Drive and I was going great, but that didn’t last long.  I would easily say the bike portion was the hardest.  Going north on Lake Shore I was averaging about 20MPH.  Once I hit the turnaround and started heading South, I was lucky if I could go 12MPH.  The direct headwind we were riding into was rough.  I felt like I was on a stationary bike and would never make it.  At one point I was going up a hill (by the way – Lake Shore is incredibly hilly, who knew?) and thought to myself, “I am going to just fall over I am going so slow right now, should I unhook my clips so I don’t completely eat it when I fall?”

Luckily I survived the wind and the second leg was in Lower Wacker – which is underground and protected from the wind.  It was refreshing to actually be able to pedal relatively easy again and catch my breath. 

Then came the third leg, the busway.  There were a few hills on this part, but nothing too extreme.  What made the busway tricky was the constant in and out of the natural light – and sometimes it was hard to see, especially with sunglasses on.  And then there was the crash.  Right before the turnaround you had to climb a pretty steep hill, and obviously go back down it after turning around.  Well it was a natural to artificial light change and it was tricky to see.  The guy in front of me was going a little fast and he ate it – hard.  He slid his bike and ended up skidding across the pavement, on his skin, on his stomach.  And this was on mile at least 22 of about 25, so so close to the finish of the bike leg!  Luckily I was on the outside and was able to avoid hitting him as he went down, but it looked seriously painful and definitely gave me quite a shakeup.  As I was pedaling away, volunteers were coming out of nowhere to assist and prevent any further collision.   

Finally I finished the bike leg and made it back to transition.  The cheer squad was even waiting at the end!

Sights on transition, happy that leg was over!

The Run:

Finally it was time for the run.  At this point I was seriously energy depleted.  I’d eaten some chews before hopping on the bike, but didn’t eat my entire strip and didn’t grab them to finish on the bike.  So before the run I downed the rest of that pack and a whole other pack.  And then at mile one I downed a Clif shot.  And a cup of Gatorade.  Bad bad bad idea.  My stomach hurt so bad about a mile and a half in.  Luckily once I digested some of the stuff I’d just crammed in I felt better – but it was bad for a bit there.

I’d been waiting for the run the entire race, and I anticipated I’d be pretty slow.  I just concentrated on keeping my feet moving at a run pace, because I knew if I walked at all I’d never start back up again.  I managed just under an 11 minute mile pace, which I am happy with.  The course was a loop south on the Lake Shore path.  I’m happy I did that 10k two weeks ago – the course was the same so I knew what to anticipate in terms of hills and such ahead of time.

Finally I reached the finish line and it was such a great sight to see (I knew I was running 11 minute miles and I kept looking at my watch telling myself only this many more minutes...pretty much the whole time).  Somehow the cheer squad missed the finish, but at least I ran into Coach Trent and some others afterwards.  I collected my medal, my gear, tried to choke down a banana (I’m not good at eating after vigorous exercise I’ve learned), and found the fam.  It was finally over.  

1.5k swim/40k bike/10k run - 3:36:50 Total Time (43:42 swim, 1:35:59 bike, 1:08:39 run)

 Celebration selfie

 Earned that medal!...I'm not even confident that's the front

One-half of the Cheer Squad


It’s hard to believe that when I started training for this race in February I couldn’t swim to save my life other than doggy paddle, I hadn’t ridden a bike since before high school, and the furthest I’ve ever ran was shy of three miles.  I still wouldn’t call myself an athlete, but I’d say I’ve found a start.

I was really excited to finally be able to write my recap post for the triathlon, until I actually tried to write it.  Unlike the thirty or so other blog posts I’ve written since February, this one was a challenge.  I think it’s because I originally started ‘the accident athlete’ as a way to discuss my successes and failures in training for said triathlon and now it’s done.  I’m sad that the journey is over, but also extremely satisfied that I was actually able to pull it off.  Not only was I able to do something I’d never even considered thinking about doing (let alone actually doing), but I actually did it! 

Even though it’s over, I don’t want to give up the blog.  As I’d mentioned a couple of posts ago, I am looking forward to turning this blog into something more (and maybe gaining a few more followers in the process!).  Since I am getting married soon, it likely won’t be until after that, but I promise it will be worth the wait.  I do have a half marathon to run in two weeks, so I’ll give you a recap on how that goes afterwards, but otherwise it will be quiet on ‘the accident athlete’ until after the wedding.  For those who have followed my journey, thanks for reading and all the encouragement along the way!!  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

the home stretch

The more this week goes on, the more excited I get for the triathlon to get here.  I really was indifferent not too long ago and just wanted to get it over with (because of the whole 6 months of training thing) but now that it is almost here I am feeling excitement again.

As per usual, I am still concerned about the swim – but what I lacked last time was confidence in myself and I think I have that this time…even though it is still intimidating as crap (the intimidating kind of crap that is).  At least I know I can swim a mile, which certainly helps things.  But I am definitely still keeping my fingers crossed for warm water and calm seas (my latest check showed water temp at 75 degrees, so things continue to look up on that front).  There is just something about cooler water that makes me unable to swim normally in it (probably the fact that it quite literally takes my breath away). 

I also should note I am also concerned about the bike and run (so, so long!) – but those aren’t nearly as scary as the open water swim so I will suck it up and not complain about them :).  Actually, scary isn’t even a good word for them.  They’re really just lengthy and all in succession so that makes them daunting.

But enough about my thoughts on the race, let’s talk about the actual race!

The Athlete’s Guide finally came out on Monday.  It seemed like it took forever for this thing to be released.  Of course the most important part is the wave start times and wow there is a lot of them.  With about 9,000 people total competing it is definitely going to be a bit crowded (at least this also includes some with events on Saturday).  I either start at 7:18 or 7:22am with up to 150 other individuals (although the average wave size is 80…let’s hope it’s closer to that!).  There were so many people signed up with the age group it had to be split into multiple waves.  Mark’s is even more split up – he has four potential waves he could be in (closer to 8am start time).  It’s going to be like bumper fish out there, especially once people who are faster swimmers catch up to slower individuals in waves ahead of them (probably even jumping multiple waves ahead). 

As I learned last time for the ITU, large-scale triathlons have a way of taking up your entire weekend.  It’s a combination of things you have to do for them and also accessibility.  Everything here is in and around Grant Park, which is just so big it’s miles and miles to get from A to B. 

Friday after work we’re heading to get our packets.  Since they changed the race course this year from prior years, the course talk was made mandatory, and they are restricting your ability to get your packet until you listen to it and are able to prove it.  They’re also requiring you to sign up for a session ahead of time, so I signed us up for 5:30.  I get off early on Friday (my second-to-last summer hours for the summer :( ) so I think I’ll head early and check out the Expo (which is massive), and probably be checking it out again after packet pickup with Mark (two times the goodies?).

Since we’re picking our packets up on Friday, technically Saturday we wouldn’t need to do anything triathlon-related (other than get all of our transition stuff together and eat properly), but they are offering Saturday bike-racking which we will be taking advantage of.  It certainly beats hauling that thing down there on the train at 4:30am on Sunday. 

And then comes Sunday.  Triathlons seem to be an event completed on minimal sleep (make that any race event, actually), because they all start so gosh darn early in the morning.  The transition area opens at 4am in the morning and then closes at 5:45.  Since our bikes will already be there, I’m assuming we will probably get there at about 4:45 or 5 to set up (so, about a 3am wakeup call I’d guess).  We’ll just need to check that nothing happened to our bikes overnight (tires decided to deflate, etc.) and lay out our gear, which shouldn’t take too long.  Then drop off our things at gear check and watch the swim waves start until it’s our time to go. 

And once it’s go time, it’s go time.  For fun, here’s the course map.  This thing goes all over Chicago – well, it goes far north and far south at least (and a little west in the Loop).  We will definitely get to see the city on the bike ride and run, that is for sure.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

the final countdown

Well it is finally race week and it has certainly taken long enough to get here (sixish months since decision made to be exact…which is a ridiculous amount of time if you think about it).  The past week since my marathon of posts has been one filled with swimming, some runs, and more swimming.

In our true fashion – Mark and I planned to go to the lake on Tuesday of last week (I think it was Tuesday, who can remember that far back at this point), but both of us forgot our swim suits in order to actually go.  Mark figured this out when he went to change (which happened to be before I did) and I realized once we got back home and it was still hanging to dry on the shower rod.  What are the odds – but at least he felt bad for a bit before realizing it was my mistake as well :)  So needless to say we ran that night instead.  I went about four to five miles at an incredibly slow pace.  Must have still been recovering from the 10k the weekend before.

We finally made it to the lake on Thursday evening, and I am happy to report the water temperature had remained above 70 (in fact, at the time, the water was warmer than the air).  Now, just six more days to hover at that mark, and I do hope it stays!  Especially with the week of rain we have coming up (more on that later).  Overall the swim went well – or as well as it could have given the massive waves.  It seemed that for every two strokes you made, you went back one, so progress was slow and tiring.

But on a positive note, my new goggles worked (even with the waves all up in my face) and I finally felt comfortable in the lake.  I still haven’t swam a mile in the lake, which was my ultimate goal going up to the race, but at least now I have the confidence to do it (even if it is going to be an ugly mile). 

Friday we took the day off and then Saturday I went to the pool to swim and Mark opted for a run.  Usually we try to go to the lake on Saturday mornings, but it is tiresome to get down to the designated swim spot, especially when you are hauling all kinds of stuff on your back.  So instead of killing our backs, we opted for something more convenient. 

As I mentioned before, I may not have been able to swim a mile in the lake before the race, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t determined to do it in the pool.  With extremely minimal breaks (I’m talking three minutes or so of rest total) I pounded out 1620 meters in the pool, and could have gone for more.  I actually think I did do more and my watch must not have captured it, because 88 lengths is a mile and that distance totals 89 – but I finished on the same end I started with so something doesn’t add up.  Either way – it doesn’t make a difference.  I was happy I finally got my mile of swimming in somewhere ahead of the race and also very proud of my accomplishment.  Let’s not forget I didn’t know how to swim (read: only could doggy paddle) when the training for this whole thing started…and now I can swim a mile without hardly stopping!  Luckily I had some good coaches to teach me the ropes.

As far as this week goes, I will be keeping my workouts to a minimum with shorter, more intense intervals for the taper to race day.  I will also be watching the weather report anxiously.  Here’s a current view –

Not very promising, is it?  Although it seems that the weather changes every time I look, and of course every station is different.  I’ll just be crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

race recap chicago 10k edition

As I mentioned in my previous post I ran the Chicago 10k over the weekend.  It was my first 10k (previously have only done 5ks in terms of running racing distance) and I thought this would be a good race to do two weeks before the Chicago Tri just to see what running a 10k is like.  Granted I completed this one without swimming 1500 meters and biking 40k before, but those are just minor details :)  I didn’t really have a goal in terms of this race, mostly just wanted to feel out the distance, but finishing in under an hour would have been an added perk.

Packet pick-up for this one was nice – it was just a Feet Fleet Sports in Old Town.  I love the races in Chicago that packet pick-up is either at RAM or Feet Fleet.  They’re so much more convenient than the ones where you have to go to McCormick.  It’s not easy to get there by public transport, if you drive you have to pay to park, and then once you are there you never know where to go and always have to walk a mile just to get to the lines because it is never by where they make you park.  Never a good experience!  But I digress. 

On race morning I got up around 6am so I could throw on some clothes and eat a banana.  I also ate a chocolate chip cookie dough flavored LUNA protein bar.  I am not one to not finish my food, but I really had to choke this one down.  Usually I go for the chocolate peanut butter but thought I’d switch it up for this race morning.  Big mistake.  No offense to those of you who like that flavor, but it was gross. 

Mark wasn’t participating in the race, but opted to go with me anyway even though I told him he didn’t have to.  It was in the south part of Grant Park which is always a pain to get to, so it was nice to have some company on the long ride down.  As usual, I got there too early, so I did a pre event tour of the vendors and then had a seat to listen to the band before taking my place in the corral.  The race started at 8am, and the band played before it started.  I have to assume this is the earliest gig that band ever had.

I feel like this was a smaller race than some I’ve participated in in Chicago in the past, which was a welcome surprise.  Less corral crowding.  In fact, you just lined up honor system by your per mile pace – no A, B, C, D, you can’t run with people, etc. with this race!  I started with the 8:30 a mile group.  No, I do not run that fast, but I like to get a good fast start and also it was in the first of three waves so I didn’t have to wait around.

The race course itself was pretty good.  It was all south of Grant Park on the Lake Shore path except for about the first three-quarters of a mile, and I didn’t think it was so crowded once the initial start thinned out.  The path was a bit hilly, but luckily given all the running I’ve done lately the hills didn’t bother me this time like they have in the past (for example, thinking I might hurl coming up the itty bitty slope at the end of the Hot Chocolate Run last November).  I did feel bad for all the bicyclists that were out on Sunday morning, though, that kind of got taken over on the path.  But such is the nature of the Lake Front – you never know what obstacles you are going to encounter when you set out. 

Overall, running the race wasn’t too bad.  It was hard going the first couple of miles as per usual, but once I got in a rhythm it was easy to do.  I feel like I passed a good amount of people which is always good for the ego.  My favorite part of the race, though, was a guy cheering around mile three with a sign that said something like ‘doubters suck’ (it wasn’t that but that is pretty close, I just can’t remember it), wearing a belly shirt, and banging a cowbell to the tunes on his boom box (not sure if he was put there by the race or just a guy hanging out).  It was a nice pick me up along the way – and since it was a down and back course you got to experience him twice. 

My final time was 55:47 which was under the one hour mark I’d set for myself, and about a 45 second per mile faster pace than what I usually run when I’m just running to run.  So not a bad finish at all.  It will be interesting to see how my 10k to finish up the triathlon in (less than) two weeks compares.  I am guessing it will take a little longer. 

I was not too keen on the swag for this race – but I guess the shirt is cool enough.  I feel like with races these days we get spoiled with goodies, so a plain cotton tee just isn’t what it used to be anymore.

I did, however, enjoy the finishers medal, and that makes two for my collection. 

Although I must say – the effort for this was much lower than the ITU but resulted in a bigger medal, so the ITU needs to step it up.  But then again the ITU medal has a spinner in the middle, so maybe it wins for technical merit.  Either way, I enjoyed earning them both.

a weekend of epic proportions

After running my eight miles on Thursday, I wanted to keep the momentum going into the weekend.  Especially with the triathlon coming up in two weeks I felt one of the last weekends before the event was a great time to test some physical limits. 

Mark and I got up bright and early (6am) on Saturday to head out for a swim in the lake.  We hopped on our bikes and got to the lake, only to be unable to get in due to huge waves and choppy water.  As much as I wanted to get in, Mark was right in deciding not to.  We would have been miserable, as well as not really accomplished what we wanted to do.  So we opted for a 10 mile bike ride instead, and then a short fun to follow.  I was going to head to the pool and get in a swim later in the day (since we skipped our usual class to head to the lake instead), but that never happened.  Market Days on Halstead was this past weekend so the street was closed by our place and getting around was harder than usual (never thought I’d move away from the train and turn into a bus-loving traveler and feel stranded when my access was cut off).  Plus, I had 400 circles to cut out for the wedding, so that kept me pretty busy.

400+ circles for a backdrop – I sure hope this turns out!

Sunday morning we got up bright and early again (6am – which I feel like this time I should say is earlier than we usually get up during the week, unless we are doing a workout), this time for my 10k.  I opted to run the Chicago 10k this weekend because I thought it would be a good gauge of where I am at for the run ahead of the triathlon.  I’m pleased with my performance and for more information check out my race recap post. 

After the 10k, we went back to the apartment to refuel and then headed to the pool.  Mark swam about 900M and I swam about 720M.  The swim was pretty easy – it’s nice to know I am good at distance in the pool, and I am slowly building confidence that it will eventually translate to the open water.  After the swim I was spent, so after some grocery shopping we spent the rest of the day watching The Wire.  Luckily we only have three more episodes to go before we’re done with the series.  That show has been horribly addicting and has consumed far too much of my life over the past month.  Eat, work, train, Wire, sleep has been my schedule for far too long now.

The plan is to go to the lake tomorrow after work to swim and complete what we couldn’t on Saturday.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

ain't no thing

Well it has certainly been awhile since my last post, as Mark keeps reminding me.  It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about the blog, it’s just that I have been thinking about different things for the blog in lieu of writing posts.  Over the past several months I have truly enjoyed blogging for the few of you that read it, and once the triathlon (actually half marathon and really after the wedding) is over I’m looking forward to taking the blog in a different direction (and hopefully gaining a few more followers in the process!) – but more to come on that later.

In terms of training, it continues (to go on and on and on and on…I swear this triathlon is never going to get here!).  I haven’t done as much in the lake as I’ve wanted and am always full of excuses – waves are too high, just not feeling it once I get in, my goggles suck – things like that.  On mornings when Mark and I decide to go to the lake after work I just feel a sense of anxiousness all day wanting to get what is coming after work over with.  As a result I’d much rather swim in the morning, but with the designated swim spot being decently far away and not all that easy to get to it is just not possible (unless we’d want to be in the water at 5am so we’d still have enough time to get back home in time to get ready and make it to work on time, so no thank you there).

Last Thursday was one of those days where we had planned to go swim after work.  At about 4pm I get a text from Mark that he was going to have to stay at work longer so I was on my own.  Given there is always someone else swimming I thought I’d go anyway because I really wanted to do the 750M loop so I would be more confident in the water to get the mile down (which I plan to swim either this week or next Tuesday at the final open water swim clinic of the season).   I’d also just received some new goggles in the mail and wanted to test those out in the water.  My eyes are too close together or something, because I have serious goggle issues.  One eye seals perfect and the other one is a flood every time.  It’s incredibly annoying.  This is my third pair of goggles, so hopefully these work.  Third time is a charm, right?

Unfortunately, I did not get to try out my new goggles last Thursday.  I went to change into my swimsuit after work before heading to the lake and what-do-you-know (?), I forgot it at home.  All that anxiety for nothing!  As frustrated as I was, I decided I wasn’t going to waste the day and opted for a run once I got home instead.  Mark was going to run too, but knowing I wanted to go farther than he would I went out on my own.  I don’t know when I decided I was going to just go for it, but somewhere along the way I thought I might do eight miles – and I did!  It was incredible feeling to know that I could run that far without even stopping once (well maybe at a stoplight, but that doesn’t really count). 

The strangest thing was that it wasn’t even that challenging to me.  The first couple miles were rough, but once I found a rhythm it was pretty easy to keep going – although I was happy to be finished!  It especially got easier once I crossed that four mile mark and could turn around and head for home. 

I must say, though, that my legs (and arms, even!) were a bit sore on Friday; but a good kind of sore at least.