Race morning started a bit earlier than I had planned due to the storm that hit Chicago the previous evening. As a result pre-race racking was postponed until race morning. It was only just light at 7am as I left the Fairmont Hotel (our home for the week) at the top end of Grant Park but surprisingly warm considering the predictions, although my choice of trisuit and team jacket caused some amusement to a pair of Australian competitors who I chatted to at the traffic lights who thought it was rather cold in their woolly hats and thick tights!
Transition was around a 10 minute ride from the hotel and was a good opportunity to test out my last minute pedal and tyre changes – I found a large piece of glass in my tyre and my pedals seized up on the crossing from the UK! How not to be relaxed the night before a race…anyway, short test ride was fine and after the most minor of checks on transition entry (just my brakes – nothing else at all) I eventually found my racking spot. Transition was rather large, rather wet, rather muddy and very sandy – that’ll be nice later!
I had quite a nice spot in transition not too far from the end of a row and set my stuff up. A few of my GB team mates were racked near me and we did a quick scout of swim entry, bike and run exits while doing the usual faffing around with kit. Once I felt happy with it all I took an easy walk back up to the hotel for breakfast. With my race not until 11am I didn’t want to hang around the race area and thought I’d be better off chilling back at the hotel for a bit.
I headed to swim start about an hour before my wave to see if I could work out the best starting spot. The swim reccy didn’t enable us to swim the first half of our route so it was a case of winging it and hoping for the best. Following the storm the lake was quite choppy, even within the sheltered Monroe Harbour. From what I could see from previous waves the worst place to start was on the right – not only was it the tightest spot, there was also the danger of someone from a previous wave swimming head on into you. The route followed the harbour wall north for about 350m, round a buoy (or a booey as the swim Marshall called it!) then went south back past the swim start pontoon and all the way to the end of the harbour to the exit.
We were called onto the pontoon and precariously made our way to the end to jump in. The pontoon was so unstable it was difficult to walk along it. I understand not long after my wave it actually broke resulting in later waves having a shortened swim and also diverting the elite men to have to use the age group exit and transition in an underpass!
I opted for a start on the left and we were off. I’ve been a bit hit and miss with my swimming in races this year. Training has gone well but in races I’ve either had a stormer or as in the ETU Champs a panic attack. As a result my last few races I’ve started nice and steady and then build throughout. This seems to suit me and psychologically works as I pass people towards the end of the swim. The downside of this means little draft opportunities. I was going well, came back past the pontoon and was pulling away from the group I was with. Only trouble was the water was so choppy I couldn’t see any swim exit buoys at all. I could see the Field Museum which I knew was near swim exit so used that as a guide and used the harbour wall to stay straight. Eventually I saw the final turn buoy and had to double back a bit as I was too far over but came out of the water ahead of the group I’d passed earlier and started the 500m run to transition.
I wiped my sandy feet on my wetsuit – top tip from the sprinters – bike shoes on and I was on my way. I’m still not brave enough to do the shoes on my bike thing yet but this does have it’s advantages as I was moving very quickly passing quite a few girls still grappling getting their feet in. I capitalised on this and rode hard knowing the course was flat.
The Chicago bike route was rather unique in that no competitor had been able to ride it before the race. We’d all seen the route map, been warned about the change of light conditions and also the dodgy narrow tunnel on the secret road. So, it was with some trepidation that threw myself into the bike leg and despite the lack of course knowledge I loved it. Much of the course followed Lower Wacker Drive. To the film buffs out there you’ll know this better as the tunnel in the Dark Knight where the Joker and Batman chase each other. It was fab to ride in – part was open on one side, then it turned dark – and was rather quick. I was grinning like a Cheshire cat – not many of us in this world have had the opportunity to cycle down here and I was loving it. Judging by some of the other whoops and yells I could hear so were others!
Following the tunnel, we surfaced briefly before entering the ‘secret road’, a private busway that runs alongside the train tracks. This was just like a normal road but in a cutting and partly underground. It was rather narrow in places so made it difficult to pass and it was clear there was a lot of drafting going on. I pushed on although I was conscious I had been passed by a fair few girls. I was passing people but more were passing me. After Edmonton where I had about the third slowest bike split in my AG I had resolved to work on my bike over the last year so that didn’t happen again. I got my head down and pushed on. We arrived back near transition, did a 180 turn and went back out for another lap. Two GB girls had caught me up and overtaken me and I worked like hell to catch them back up. After a fair bit of cat and mouse I hit transition ahead of them both – just! My bike time was solid midpack and I know there is still so much more to come.
It was a long run from dismount to the racking and was not a comfortable experience in bike shoes – another thing to work on next year – I was so pleased to get my trainers on and start running. The run was 3 and 3/4 laps. Not the most inspiring of routes but we got to run around the Buckingham Fountain four times plus it was great for supporters. I got to see them twice on every lap which was great for morale. After a fantastic start to the season I had trouble with my calf from late June resulting in a painful 10km at the ETU champs in Geneva, thought it was fixed until a week before Vitruvian in late August when it went again, resulting in a great swim/bike at Vitruvian but a DNF on the run. I had done very little run training as a result so was quite nervous about this final leg. As it was probably my last race of the season I was just going to go for it and if it went it went, I’d blinking well crawl to the end if I had to! Mercifully after a steady first km all felt good and I felt good. I’d got a good pace going and was passing people. I passed a few GB girls so knew I was going well. The heat was rising so maintaining pace was difficult but I dug deep and left nothing behind and made it to the finish in one piece! I finished in 37th place and fourth GB in my age group – a massive improvement on last year where I had very few girls behind me in the race and was last GB home! I was super proud – one of my best races of the season, my swim wasn’t my fastest, nor my bike or run but overall as a race it all came together. After a summer of injury it finally came good at the right time.
My improvement this year is no small part a result of my coaching from Adam Gibson at GreenlightPT. It makes such a difference to have someone else doing the thinking about what training needs to be done and how much and when and keeping it interesting. It means I can just get on and train. Working full time with a young family means one less thing to worry about. Another benefit is the voice of reason when you’re heading for disaster. Under normal circumstances I’d have hobbled round Vitruvian as I was in an age group podium place at the time but going into the race I was under strict instructions to stop if there was any pain otherwise I’d most likely jeopardise Chicago. Deep down I knew this but sometimes you need someone else to tell you it. Coaches know their stuff and you have to trust them!
I have also had brilliant support at home from friends, work colleagues, teammates at GreenlightPT and Redway Runners but most of all my family. I was lucky enough that my husband, son and sister were able to make the trip to Chicago with me and it does make a difference to have them there – especially my husband when my bike doesn’t do what I expect it to do (hence a dash to the LBS to buy new pedals!). It’s been a brilliant season, probably my best to date and I know there’s still more in the tank for next year. Just one last little local triathlon at the weekend and that’s me done for the year.