This weekend was quite an experience. We tackled races 12, 13 and 14. If 12 is a dozen and 13 is a baker’s dozen then 14 sure felt like the devil’s dozen. This third race of the weekend was humbling and disappointing. On my facebook page after this third race I described three areas where I failed on Sunday: pacing, nutrition and cramping. All three of these things led to one heck of a day.
So, as everyone knows Chicago is an amazing city. For all its beauty and culture there are parts of Chicago that pose real challenges to racers. The rough roads and strong winds of Chicago are unavoidable. The race organizers (to their credit) did all they could do to prepare us for the roads and the risks that we would face out on the bike course. To me, the cumulative effect of the three races started to show on the third bike.
Let me give you a bit of background about the structure of the weekend. On Saturday we raced a very short race called a Super-Sprint. This race had a total distance of 8 miles. The bike was on a closed course but it still was on rough roads. Again, the race directors did what they could to ensure our safety. I planned on Saturday being a race to loosen the legs for Sunday. I came across the finish line and felt pretty good about sticking to that plan.
Sunday morning came very early. The alarm went off at 4 am for us to start our trek down to the race. This race is huge. It is the largest race in the country. There was a total of 8,000 racers getting their transitions set up at the same time as me. I got everything set up and began the walk down to the swim start which was almost a mile away. We were the first wave to go off in the morning at the stroke of 6. I was running to the start line and jumped in the water as the gun went off….that was fine but it wasn’t the start I would like. The swim for the first 200 yards was chaos. There was no room to find your own space and just swim. After the first 200 the water cleared up a bit and everyone was able to get into some sort of a rhythm.
The swim exit was 1/4 of a mile from the bike start. A run from the swim exit to the bike didn’t allow much time to relax. We were off on the bike. This was a 14 mile bike and there was no real traffic from the other racers. Since we were the first group we really had the road to ourselves. This trip introduced me to the road and the wind. It is not usual that you feel so much wind on both directions of an out and back course, but this is Chicago. The wind and roughness of the road required constant vigilance. Soon enough we were off the bike and out on the run. This run felt really good. I really focused on staying smooth and not pushing the pace, knowing that I had a race that was twice as long as this one coming right behind the finish.
I came across the line..got my medal, a water and then started the mile long walk back to the transition to get set up for the next race. As soon as I finished my set up I started the mile long walk back down to swim start for the next race.
Soon enough we were in the water for the .9 mile swim to start our Olympic distance race. I could tell, from early on in the swim, that this was going to be a very different race. We were the 20th wave to go off in the Olympic race which meant that the course was packed with other racers. It took nearly half a mile for the swim to clear up a bit to allow free swimming.
Out of the water. Off onto the bike and I knew this bike was going to be very difficult. For the entire 26 miles on the bike I was surrounded by other racers. This race introduces hundreds (if not thousands) of new racers to the sport. I love seeing new racers test their endurance. However, on a course that is so rough and so windy it was exhausting watching the other racers to ensure that I didn’t end up on the pavement. I started to suffer on the bike a bit. The wind is a mental challenger more than anything else.
As I approached transition I looked down at my race kit and saw something very troubling. My kit had gone from black (normal color) to almost white. This was a sign that I was about to really suffer on the run. I had not done my job on the bike to replace this sodium. I knew this. The weather had changed between our first race of the morning and the second. It had gone from 70 degrees to 90+ degrees.
The first thing I did on the run was grab a glass of water heading out of transition. Water is a bad choice when you are facing depletion of sodium and/or electrolytes. Water further dilutes the remaining sodium and/or electrolytes that you have in your body. At the next few aid stations I did the same thing. I had sabotaged my run. At mile 2 it started. Cramping in the quads brought the run to a shuffle to a walk. 1:13 was my run time for the 10k. I haven’t really focused on any of my times during this season because it really does not matter. I am out there for Team Chad and not for myself. However, this 1:13 showed me that I have to be careful because if I don’t pay better attention to my pacing, nutrition and the effects of cramping then it could jeopardize the whole season.
I learned a lot from this weekend of racing. I suffered more during the third race than I have in any other race before. During the whole journey out there I couldn’t forget why I was there and what others have gone through in their fight against cancer. I kept the feet moving and got to the finish. This weekend we added some good distance to the overall total. Races 12, 13 and 14 added a total of 57.3 miles. This brings our total to 283.7 miles.
Go Team Chad!