Chicago it turns out is an absolutely fantastic city. The 3 days we had before the racing started was spent walking, going to the top of skyscrapers and walking some more. Seeing as much as we could but still only really scratching the surface and it is definitely on the list of places to go back to with more time to see more than just the Downtown area. By the Wednesday, the day before my race, I had realised that 20k or more of walking each day was possibly not the best race prep and so tried to do a bit less that day. This wasn’t easy though because there was a race briefing by the GB Team managers to attend, I had to rack my bike that
evening and then there was the “Parade of Nations” (opening ceremony). Bike racking was a bit of a shock. I had in my head a nice blue carpeted area with individual bike stands like Alistair and Jonny have so was a little disappointed to find that the age group transition was on a somewhat less than flat grassed area, and even more disappointed to find that my racking
position was in an area that could only be describes as a beach.
All that was forgotten when I got to the parade of nations later. This brought it home just how big triathlon is in the UK compared to many other countries. There were big teams from the USA, Canada and Mexico but the Brits were very close behind them and then another 40 countries were represented in varying numbers but most with much smaller numbers than Team
GB. It was a great atmosphere and really set us up for the next day – race day.
The Sprint distance age groupers started at 10am on the Thursday but my wave (the second wave of 40-44 men) didn’t start until 11.35, which meant that there was a lot of time to kill in the morning and I had to try very hard not to be at the start line in my wetsuit and ready to go more than 20 minutes before the start time. The temperature in Chicago had been climbing
all week and by the time I started to get my wetsuit on it was hitting the high 20s and the humidity was also quite high.
15 minutes of standing in the sun in my wetsuit and I was sure it had melted on to me and it was a relief to finally get in to the water which was a much more pleasant 16.8 degrees. The swim was a very straightforward straight line swim along the harbour
wall in Lake Michigan. None of that bashing and fighting around buoys would be needed and so when the horn sounded my aim was to try and find a pair of feet that appeared to be going slightly faster than me and hang on to them as long as I could. I did that for about 400m but then I started to fall off the back of the group that I was clinging on to. Someone else dropped off the group as well and I dropped in behind them but soon realised that they were dropping back faster than me and so I went past and they had to try and hang on to me. Coming out of the swim I looked at my watch and couldn’t believe how slow I was – but then remembered being told by someone who had done the aquathon the day before that it was more like an 820m swim rather than a 750m and couldn’t do the maths so got my head down and started the 400m run to transition – this was more like it, blue carpet all the way!
I got to my bike and briefly considered finding a beach towel and doing a bit of sunbathing but decided against it and instead collected the bike and trudged through the sand to the mount line. The bike was pretty uneventful it was a 3 lap course with very few turns but they had thrown in a couple of rough road sections that they had tried to fix but had only succeeded in creating a couple of sleeping policemen that you had to try and bunny-hop over on your TT bike. The three laps seemed to go by pretty quickly, there were a lot of people of the course because of the number of waves so at times it got very difficult to pick your way past people (or keep out of the way as people came past you). It was mainly a long straight road that was in the direction of the breeze so it fast one way and then you turned directly in to the wind, then at the bottom of the course we looped around to the far side of Soldier Field (Chicago Bears ground). I had set off hard but then had held back a little because I had started to realise how hot it was and was starting to worry about the run – a rookie error, it is a sprint, you don’t hold back on a sprint.
There was another long run to transition after the bike and then with plenty of sand in my shoes it was off for a little 5k jaunt. Coming out of transition I was right behind a small Mexican and my aim was to tuck in and hang on. That didn’t last long, maybe 500m! At 1k I looked at the Garmin and it told me the bad news, I was not running fast. I tried to increase the pace but at 2k I was slower and it was all downhill from there. I was more than 2 and a half minutes slower on the run than I would have hoped and expected. This was partly explained by the commentators as I was crossing the line who where explaining that the Event Alert System was now at red and everyone should consider slowing down or stopping. Clearly I was just following their advice.
Looking back on the race now I am sure I could have hydrated better, I could have gone harder on the bike, I could have done all sorts of things to improve my time and result but I finished 77th out of 102 finishers and I am sure if you asked them, everybody else could have gone faster as well!
It was a great experience racing on the same roads as the elite athletes the next day but unfortunately I could only stay long enough to see the ladies swim and transition to bike before having to head to the airport to get back for a family commitment. Would have loved to stay to see the men and Gomez’s victory and the closing ceremony/ I will take a lot of great memories from the week, and have to say lining up for a race wearing your countries vest is up there with the proudest moments of my life. I would encourage anyone that is even idly thinking about giving qualification a shot to try, you can’t lose anything and if you succeed, you get an opportunity that very few (if any?) other sports offer.