I was robbed. Yes, robbed. Someone stole my sleep. 4:45 a.m. came way too early. Packed up the gear and headed with my brother Craig in silent migration with over 10,000 people of all nationalities, body types and ages to the shores of Lake Michigan, for the start of the 2009 Chicago Triathlon. There is a reverence that early in the morning, almost church-like, that settles over the throngs of people. Transition area closes at 5:45 a.m. and the first swim waves enter the water at 6:00 a.m. and will continue every five minutes until the pros enter last at 11:00 a.m. Standing by the starting line as the Star-Spangled Banner played, the smoldering amber sun roiling through the Michigan rain clouds (thank goodness on the other side of the lake) I realized I might have had my sleep stolen... but I found an extraordinary peace among my early morning brethren.
With a race of this magnitude the logistics are extraordinary, but the race organization nailed a home run, down to the level of less than a 20-minute wait for the port-a-johns. That might seem long... but considering the alternative I'll take it! My wave entered the water at 8:20a.m. so I had plenty of time to nap. Can't say I have ever napped before a tri start, but I could get used to it. We all entered the surprisingly warmish lake (63 degrees, I hear) and treaded water until the gun. Watching previous waves, I had seen strokes that I am sure were invented that day: doggy paddles (both right side up and upside down!), side strokes, snow angels and, heaven forbid, snorkles!!! Another first! I felt like a ping pong ball in a washing machine as the chopping waves and careening swimmers and I made a mad dash for the swim exit almost a mile away at the Chicago Yacht Club. Exiting the swim, we had to run a half mile run down freshly laid carpet to the bike transition. Entering the transition is truly an exercise of human GPS ability. It's a challenge remembering where you racked your bike in the early morning darkness.
Stripping off my wetsuit with bike in hand (almost under butt), I enter Lake Shore Drive...for the first time not driving a car! As anyone who has driven Lake Shore Drive knows, dodging pot holes -- like a wack-a-mole game -- is an art unto itself! No different on the bike, but with more devastating consequences. The first "repaired' pothole shook my handle bar headset lose, causing my handle bars to turn to 10 o'clock... which would have been fine, but the wheel was at 12 o'clock. With Chicago's infamous wind blowing like snot, I must have looked like a drunken sailor trying to ride straight. As I got to the turnaround, a man in a bike repair apron stepped out of the crowd with an Allen wrench, and in 30 seconds tightened my headset and said "There you go." Needless to say, this show of concern and gallantry reminded me of all the things I miss about the Midwest. My ride was saved. My body ached with all the corrective maneuvers I had been doing trying to dodge what may have been Mayor Daly's latest DOT projects (although I hear the road is the best it has been in years).
A quick transition to the run pointed me south past Soldier Field where flocks of Canadian Geese meander through throngs of fans and volunteers. It was incredibly inspiring to see so many people supporting the race. It was equally as inspiring to see athletes like K-Swiss's world class triathlete Aaron Scheidies, blind for years, doing the course with a guide and whooping my butt! As I crossed the finish line to John Mellencamp's "Little Pink Houses," I was reminded that "ain't that America," a place where 10,000 new friends can come together on a Sunday and all share an extraordinary experience. Of course as I sit here with my new best friend, the Gomoji ice compression system, I am sure I will remember this experience for a loooong time!