ITU Chicago Triathlon

The race was held in conjunction with the ITU World Triathlon Series. The International Triathlon Union (ITU) is the world governing body for the sport (like UCI), aligned with the Olympic movement. Pros race a draft legal format with short, spectator-friendly circuits for the bike and run. A lot of ITU races, including this one around Chicago's Grant Park, offer age groupers a chance to race separately at the same venue. (It would be like watching Paris Nice, then racing it with other Cat 1-5s – pretty cool.)

Our bike course was a little different as our race was non-drafting, but it did feature 4 laps around the Chicago Loop with a segment on iconic Lower Wacker Drive. The race drew a very competitive, multinational field.

This wasn't my "A race", but a key tune-up approaching USAT Nationals in August. My fitness is far from where it needs to be. I have a solid aerobic, zone-2 base, but have been struggling to find form at sub-threshold and functional threshold power intensities.

The swim course was point-to-point in chilly Lake Michigan's Monroe Harbor. I did not spot a single racer brave enough to take on the 66 degree water without a wetsuit. After my race, when I was picking up my dry clothes from the gear check, several Canadian women preparing for the afternoon's sprint-distance race were dropping off theirs. They were in a quandary as to whether to check their wetsuits or wear them. They asked me about the water. I replied that it was frigid, the coldest I had ever raced in. They didn't speak Fahrenheit, but one whipped out her phone and punched 66 degrees into a conversion app. "Oh, I am so not wearing my wetsuit. 19C is pretty warm for us." A few moments later, a teammate who had been in the water for a warm-up convinced them to keep the wetsuits. Anyway, I had a decent swim at 28 minutes – not a PR, but respectable and done with plenty of energy conservation for the rest of the race.

Coming out of the first transition and ready to mount my bike, I saw that my rear tire had no pressure! Fortunately, there was a neutral support tent in transition. I went back in to re-inflate the tire, losing 90 seconds in the process. I had let some pressure out just prior to the race as rain had fallen, but I accidentally loosened the valve extender, letting the rest of the air leak slowly while I swam.

The 4-loop bike course was moderately technical for a tri. Each lap included three U-turns, four 90-degree turns, and several sweepers in the Lower Wacker section. It wasn't hard as crits go, but it was more stop-and-start than a typical tri. (10% of my ride was at zero watts.) My bike split was just 10 seconds over an hour, which is respectable given the tire fiasco, but a couple things also worked in the racers' favor. First, Lower Wacker was FAST! Even respecting the 3 bike-length rule, packing a bunch of cyclists into a tunnel creates a nice draft. (I have no idea how fast, because the GPS dropped out on Lower Wacker.) Also, I think the course measured only about 38k. My power numbers were paltry and I didn't record my usual top-10 bike split.

If the bike offered clues of my lagging fitness, the run exposed it raw. I did the first 2-3 miles close to the pace that I wanted to hold, but fell apart in the second half and added about 2 minutes over my par run split. I briefly walked a couple sections, including the final U-turn about 500 meters from the finish at Buckingham Fountain. A man in my age group passed me about that point. I was determined to score a moral victory by not allowing him to take a place away. I marked him from about 10 meters back until we entered the finishing straight. At 2:21:11, I took 40th place in my age group by 2 seconds! It was a rough day of racing, but it felt good to show a flash of mental toughness at the end. I will really need to focus my training to shore up deficits in the next 6 weeks.