U-S-A! U-S-A! My ITU Age Group Worlds Debut
Thursday, September 17th 2pm (EST): Get an email that all American Airline flights to and from Chicago have a ground stop as soon as Herb and I arrive at LGA. Hang out in Au Bon Pain for a while, then on the plane for another unexpected hour. Luckily, we had snacks, and once in chicago, Herb’s friend picked us up from the L station with food in tow from Smoque!
10pm (CST): Inhale pulled pork, brisket, cornbread, and chili. If there were any suspicions that I was carbo-loading, they were thrown out the window. Little did I know, this would be the start of my international culinary adventure! (USA food ✓)
Friday, September 18th
9:45 am: Take an Uber to the race site near Buckingham Fountain.
10:00 am: Find registration. Watch the line grow exponentially behind me. No small t-shirts left. Some things never change!
10-11:00 am: Get acquainted with the layout. Why is everything so spread out? I got a really weird vibe while walking around the course. The U23 races were going on, but only a handful of people were watching, and no one was doing their pre-race day routines. The only cyclists were on Divvy bikes along the lakefront, and the RaceDay Transport area was empty. It also looked like it was about to rain, which always adds to the eeriness.
I get directed to gear check, which wasn’t open for race warmups. Gear check during the course preview is something every major race should have. I wait for Herb’s Chicago-based friend to arrive, ask him to watch my bag, and went out for my run.
1:00 pm: Sushi! Apparently, I’m a risk taker. (Japanese food ✓)
2:00 pm: Watch The Professional ITU Grand Series race. See Gwen Jorgensen. In the flesh! And Sarah True, Kate Saferes, and friends. Scream at them like we're close teammates.
6:00 pm: Relax and eventually grab Italian dinner at Pazzo’s. (Italian food ✓)
7:30pm: Review the race course, which was pretty confusing since there were multiple levels through the tunnels of Chicago.
Spend over 20 minutes arranging my gear for this picture. Attach stickers to my helmet and bike. Triathlon organizers love stickers more than I loved my Lisa Frank ones in 3rd grade.
Saturday, September 19th (A.K.A. Race Day!)
7:15 am: My alarm sounds. This is a luxuriously late wakeup time for a triathlon, especially when you consider it’s in CST!
8:00 am: Head over to transition, sans towel (towels were prohibited in transition - I thought I would hate this, but it actually made no difference). Hang around and get nervous until it’s time to warm up.
9:23 am: Begin warmup – 15 minutes of jogging, some strides, and PT exercises.
The Swim! (1500m, 23:53)
10:23 am: Race start! We were corralled starting 20 minutes before the race, moving like cattle through different gates and eventually to a pontoon off of which we jumped to the starting buoys. Soon later, the horn sounded, and we swam north 375 meters to the turnaround, then headed just under 1000 meters to the swim exit.
10:30 am: I realize I am not drafting. Where did my drafting friends go? Swim like hell to catch up to the closest girl in front of me. Maintain the same distance no matter how hard I try. “You don’t need your arms any more after this!!” I thought to myself. At least the hope of trying to catch someone kept my effort high, which makes me thinks about Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, “I learned here that there can be no true despair without hope.” I consciously try to maintain a high turnover, swimming feistily like Catwoman.
10:35 am (apx): A little too much seaweed for my liking but the water is gorgeous at 61 degrees. My Reaction suit from blueseventy fits like a glove. Wait, is that a plastic bag I just palmed? I hope no officials saw, because I could unintentionally use this kind of debris like paddles.
10:46 am: A cruise ship goes by. How dare people have fun without me and create waves! I exit the swim one minute later.
10:47 am – 10:51 am: Run over 300 meters from Lake Michigan to the transition area on a cement sidewalk with a blue carpet that provides padding no thicker than my uniform. Drop goggles, run two steps back to retrieve them. “Keep it together!” I think. While trying to remove my wetsuit from my right leg, I forget about the timing chip on my right ankle. (I should have put it on my left ankle to avoid any conflict with the front chain ring.) I grunt and wiggle my way out of the suit. Grab my bike and get the hell out of there.
The Bike! (37k, 1:01:52, 22.3 MPH)
10:51 – 11:53 am: Ok, back to Batman references. Have you ever seen The Dark Knight? You know, the second-latest Batman movie that takes place in New York City but was mostly filmed in Chicago? Perhaps you remember the scenes where Batman drives through brown-colored tunnels and the chase scene with The Joker? That's where the bike course went.
With such dark lighting and my less than perfect vision, I had to wear my sunglasses low on my nose. I basically WAS Batman, nearly blind and wishing I could use echolocation. In Batman fashion, I swiftly navigated the two-loop, 75% underground course and its plentiful 90- and 180-degree turns.
11:30 am (apx): Take a PowerBar Banana & Blueberry puree. A British male competitor yells “Left!” as I was about to pass a woman I had yoyoed with on the course. Upon him passing, I hear “So sorry about that, thank you!” I’ve never heard such a politely aggressive competitor. Some stereotypes are true.
This was not a fast course, but it was indeed short, advertised in the results as 37k. I get more aggressive on the second loop and quickly realize that I'd have to get a little anaerobic on the straightaways given the forced recovery on the turns.
According to the data, my first loop was 31:26. My second? 30:26.
11:53 am: I rapidly come upon the dismount line…and pass it by about five feet before unclipping. The officially points for me to run back across the line with my bike, which was mortifying but at the same time relieving, since she wasn’t pointing me towards a penalty box. I run the bike into transition, grab my shoes and gel, and get the hell out of there. Transitions are like gyno appointments - they’re totally necessary, but you don’t want to hang out too long.
The Run! ("10K" (6.5-6.6 miles), 41:08, 7th overall)
12:05 pm: I jet out on the first 2.7 km loop, and I lock into what feels about 6:15 pace. The run course was 3.5 loops in a sideways T shape, running around Buckingham Fountain a total of four times and making a total of seven tight 180-degree turns.
I am kind of loving the multi-lap course. I see and hear Herb every time I approach the fountain both north- and southbound.
I use the multi-loop course to create a race plan:
12:05 pm: Lap 1 - I settle in and try not to get out too fast.
12:16 pm: Lap 2 - Try not to slow down. Start thinking about going with people who pass me, which is rare.
12:28 pm: Lap 3 - Start to pick it up.
12:39 pm: Lap 4 (Half Lap) - Stop being comfortable! One mile to go - start kicking!
You know The Bean in Chicago where you can see the whole skyline? Tifosi sunglasses have the same effect! Note the single bead of sweat on my cheek. I must’ve just started sweating on the last lap.
12:46 pm: Finish. I walk through the finishing area, which has a dozen 5 foot kiddie pools filled with cold water. I remove my shoes and stand in the pool, then ask a stranger the exact time of day. Stranger scrolls through 3 displays on his Garmin to tell me it is “10 to 1”. I do the math - 2:17? UGH! I hear from several people that the run course was 6.5-6.6 miles. This later makes sense, because I ran a 41:09 “10k”, which puts my actual pace at approximately 6:15 per mile.
Actual finish time: 2:13:52. 17th in Age Group (7th American), 95th woman
1:00 pm: Boogie it back to the hotel, which gave us a not-so-gracious extended hour of checkout. Herb and I shower, change, and finally look up the results. 2:13:52, with a four-minute T1 and a rumoured long run course. The bike course was short, but not enough to make up for the long run course and transitions. I become much happier about my performance and eat a celebratory punchkin (pumpkin munchkin!) Herb and I bought in advance.
I’m content with my race. I feel I had a similar athletic performance as Nationals, and being 7th American in my age group at worlds is on par with being 7th woman in my age group at Nationals. It was awesome to compete against international competition and converge under the universal language of triathlon.
However, I’m also a little pissed about the run course. I wanted to break 2:10, and while I understand constraints of transition distances (you can’t move Lake Michigan), there’s no reason the northern cone on the run loop couldn’t have been moved further south to be an accurate 10k. At the pace I ran on Saturday, that is an extra 2-2.5 minutes of running. Given I wanted a 2.5 minute PR, I’d have to go 4.5 minutes faster than I ever had before. Yes, the bike course was short and advertised as such, at 37k, but this was easily compromised with the long transitions.
I’m hungry for next year and can’t wait to devote some time to my other love, Cross Country, after 10-14 days of no exercise.
Oh, and I got to meet Gwen Jorgensen at a fun run the next day at Live Grit in Chicago. She is just as classy in real life as she is on camera. She is also just as fast. We both graduated D1 schools in 2009 where we ran Cross Country and Track. We’re BFFs now and planned our time off to synch up together.
ITU Worlds, see you next year in Cozumel, with my teammate, Ross!