A year ago, I had set out to complete a triathlon after seeing a lady from my gym completed two triathlons already. I was at her first just to cheer her on. It was quite exciting seeing people swimming, biking, running and crossing the finish line. Seeing her cross the finish line was a motivation for me. And from that moment, I thought to myself, I am going to do this! I remember taking a picture with her, I was so proud that she was able to accomplish the feat. After that I sought out on how to swim, I enrolled for swim classes at the YMCA and at the park district. I figured that once I got the swimming down, which would be my biggest challenge because I didn’t know how to swim. Running and biking would be easy. But as fate would have it, in the process of learning how to swim and preparing for the race, I became pregnant. So, I used the swimming and working out to ensure my weight wouldn’t get out of control during pregnancy. Fast forward to post pregnancy, I signed up for the sprint Chicago Triathlon race in January of this year while on maternity leave. Even after signing up for the race, I was still kind of skeptical, at some point, I asked myself what am I getting myself into? I figured this would be a great way to get me in shape after having my son.
The sprint triathlon race entailed swimming a half mile, biking 15 miles and running 3.1 miles. This is an elaborate version of ‘super sprint’ which has relatively shorter distance. It was recommended for me to complete a sprint, since it was my first time. I signed up but, in my mind, I was saddled with the training requirements and who to train with. A friend from the gym suggested an African-American women triathlon team called Team Dream, it consists of group of African-American ladies interested in triathlons. The coach had trained her for a previous triathlon event. I got in contact with him and he invited me to join the team. The team met every Saturday from 2-4 teaching us total immersion swimming drills to move efficiently in swimming, strength training on Mondays, biking training was on Wednesdays, open water swim was on Sundays at the Ohio Beach River to acclimate us to Lake Michigan where the main event would be held. Also, it was important for the training schedules to be convenient for us. The team had a whole program that trained me on all aspects of the triathlon and coaches that monitored, gave us feedback on what things we needed to improve. The training really prepared me for the triathlon for example, before the race, before I couldn’t even bike at all. During the training, I started biking from my house to Shedd Aquarium and back. I was taught to keep a certain cadence while biking. Eventually, I was comfortable biking on the bike path along the streets since biking on the sidewalk was illegal in Chicago.
The big day finally came. I had trained for seven long months. I was advised by my trainer to get two days of sleep before the race, but I couldn’t sleep. The past two days had been full of anticipation mixed with anxiety. A day before the event, I went to the expo to pick up my race packet – bib, ankle chip, stickers, and race number tattoo – at the Hilton Hotel. I had to attend a mandatory race meeting to discuss the requirements, the schedule, rules and regulations and general information about the race. After the meeting, we all had to get a stamp on our hands indicating that we attended the meeting and would be allowed to pick up the race packet and t-shirt. There were several merchants selling all sort of athletic merchandises at the expo. I purchased bodyguard ointment to prevent chaffing. I also bought some triathlon stickers to put on my car. I took a tour with ‘Live Grit’ a first timer program that walked a group of us to the transition areas. This was to help me understand the transitioning process between swimming, biking and running. That was quite helpful.
I got to the venue of the at 4 am because I had to drop and rack my bike off that’s when transition opened. Though the sprint athletes had till 6:30 am, they would have to enter at a different location. It was advised not to wait to the last minute. I set my things up based on the tips I was told the previous day: towel on the ground, to wipe feet off; socks in gym shoes; race belt with race number; gel pack in running belt with water bottles in the transition area.
My event would start at 9:05 am. So, my husband and I used the free time to walk around the lake. The water was calm and still, the weather for that day was relatively warm and perfect. I was like thank God! I was a bit concerned about the weather. We had water clinics to practice swimming in open water days before the event. I had attended one and rented a wet-suit. The water clinic basically preps you for the swimming and getting practice swimming with a group of people. There was one more clinic scheduled before the race, but due to the weather ban on the beaches the swim clinic was canceled for that week. In my mind, I thought, if the water is canceled that might be a good thing, but then I wanted to swim because that’s what I trained for. I would have been disappointed if the race turned to a dual triathlon which consists of just running and biking. I was part of the women’s ‘first timers’ program. I was just taking in everything, the thousands of people, the family and friends supporting people and watching the waves of people swimming. It had so much energy, it was electrifying that I was part of this amazing thing. It just made me think like the moment is finally here, all the training and sacrifices is for this day. Until my wave time, I just sat along the edge of lake Michigan and watched the first batch of swimmers and looking at how they were swimming and thinking, I will be in there shortly. I saw all types of techniques: back stroke, side stroke, dog paddling, you name it people were just trying to navigate through “God’s Water” as my coach would call it. Some people did have to come to the wall to take a break and then continue. Finally, it was time for my wave. I put on wet-suit half way because we still had time before getting in the water. My friends and family had arrived to support me.
As the day goes by, the weather started getting hot, I was sweating with the wet suit on. Our wave was called at 11.08 am, we walked down to the steps put my right foot in the water, it felt great. Literally it was seconds before the horn blew and I was off swimming. I was swimming fast, I tried to slow myself down. That resulted in tiring myself out fast. Swimming around other a lot of people, I lost a bit of bearing. I was swimming far into the lake. I was swimming towards the life guard boats. We were told that we can swim to the boats to hold on and take a break if we get tired, but I wasn’t trying to do that. I was trying to sight and swim something I was not good at yet. I realized I was getting off-track So, I swam to get back on track the circle with all the other swimmers. I heard my friends call my name and cheering me up. I tried to look at them and that drifted me sideways since I was turning my head to see them. My coach warned me against that. The plan was to swim so many strokes then go on my back. I would breathe every two and four strokes. I would breathe on my right side even though I can breathe on my left side. It was very comforting to hear them. Then I swam to the wall and I took a break, then all sudden I became emotional. My friends and coach were encouraging me. They were telling me to take a break and slow down. My team mate told me just remember the drills like we were in swim practice and in open water at the beach. All the words of encouragement were coming from left right and center. Then my friend mentioned that I should do it for my son. that struck a chord in me and my self-talk immediately kicked in. I was like, I need to finish this to make it back to my son and I am not a quitter! I asked them how far I was to the finish line, a quarter mile someone said. although it looked further away, and I was tired. I got a boost of energy in me and got back to swimming. Then I saw the orange buoy which signifies the finish line and I made it straight to the end. The volunteers were pulling people out, I was helped to get out of the water and was happy to be on the ground. I just got out thanking God, I made it! I was a little discombobulated and stumbling. I had to get my bearings. One of the athletes asked if I was I okay. I told him I was fine. My husband had followed me through the swimming paths and was standing by the finish line when I got out of the water. He told me to calm down and advised me to walk and take my time while transitioning to the next phase of the triathlon – biking. You are not here to win the race, he said.
Although the vanilla gel I bought the previous day tasted nasty, I was famished, I rushed through it like a hungry wolf. I was exhausted and famished. It tasted like soy sauce. Then I put my helmet on. We were told at the briefing that the helmet should be worn first, otherwise you’ll be disqualified. Then I unlocked my bike and walked with it to the biking start line. Another rule is to avoid riding the bike before you get to the biking start line. I waited at the start line and got on my bike but as I started pedaling, my bike wasn’t moving, it was like the wheels had gotten stuck. I got off and checked it out, thankfully a spectator looked at my biked and my brake line was disconnected. He fixed it and I thanked him and then I was off, but I didn’t expect that ramp/hill. I got off the bike and walked it up the ramp. I was biking on lake shore drive which felt weird because there are usually cars up here.
As I biked, I sang gospel songs and talked to myself like you can do this and every time I saw the mile marker, I was like thank God I am getting close to the turn around. While biking other riders were trying to pass and would say on the right. In my mind, I was like pass me by, I am not trying to race or win. I am going my pace. People would ride pass me and say keep going. While I was just getting started, I don’t know if it was my mind, but my bike was feeling different compared to when I would bike from my house to lake shore drive. I saw an official/bike person that would help you along the trail. I asked him would he check out my back. He told me to pull to the side out of the traffic. He did and checked out my bike chain. He said it seemed fine and he would trail behind me, then he biked on. It was those hills that were challenging and me pushing my legs to keep going. I was worried while riding I would get lost or go the wrong way. But like the coach from the Live Grit first timers program said that would be hard to do unless you intentionally get lost since it had signs and markers that indicate the miles and the directions to turn around. I turned around at Hollywood avenue and biked back. As I was biking bike, I kept looking behind me to make sure that I wasn’t the only one biking on the path. Then I thought to myself I know I was doing fine. I saw the cars on the other side passing by since they had closed off the other side of LakeShore Drive for the race.
I made it back to the transition area and got off to walk my bike and racked it. Then, I put my race belt with my water and started to run. I had to run along the course, I saw my coach and she said push my shoulders back and slow down. One of the volunteers said I looked determined, I thought to myself of course to finish. People were cheering me on, you got this! Keep going! It was so hot outside, every time, I saw a water station I stopped to drink and pour it over my head. I had to walk some of the course because it was hot, and I was tired. I ran around the Shedd Aquarium circle, then went under the tunnel. Then we had got close to the sign that said turn around. They had big fans that was spraying water as we passed by that was refreshing and cooled me down. There were several medics out there assisting people because it was so hot. I remember a lady behind me telling the medics, she had to sit down because she didn’t want to have a seizure. I thank God in my head I wasn’t having any medical issues and was okay.
I was getting close and then I saw the Finish line. I got emotional again, Thanking God!, I am almost there. I ran to the finish line. I was so excited and continued to Thank God! I made it. I can’t describe the feeling or even put it in words when I crossed that finished line. It was like I was at a championship game and had won a championship. I was just like I did it! I walked to the volunteer tent, so they could take off my ankle chip. I saw my friends on the side congratulating me and hugging me. Then I took my pic with my medal. It was great! They had chips, ice cream bar and banana for us. They had a nice buffet line with food to replenish our bodies. I had set my mind on a doughnut/chicken sandwich, I didn’t even have the energy for that I was tired from the heat. I just wanted to go home to soak and take a shower. It had been a long day. I know I am going to do it again next year but, it will be the International/Olympic distance which is swimming .93 miles, biking 24.8 miles and running 6.2 miles that equals a total of 31.93 miles. I want to challenge myself. I would have all year to perfect my swimming skills.