Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Not 1, Not 2, But 3...The Chicago Triathlon Triple Challenge

For multi-sport zealots who are looking for the ultimate Transamerica Chicago Triathlon experience and are ready to go the distance, we offer the Triple Challenge. Officially launched in 2007, the Triple Challenge offers a limited number of triathletes the opportunity to register and compete in three events in a single weekend — for a total of 59 miles that includes 1.63 miles in the water, 46.3 miles on the bike and 10.85 miles on the run.
Participants race three separate event distances during the weekend, starting with the Chicago Triathlon SuperSprint on Saturday.
On Sunday, Triple participants start in one of the first International distance waves (approx. 6:15 a.m.). It is recommended that athletes are able to finish this distance within 3 hours, 15 minutes to ensure adequate time to prepare for the Sprint.
Am I crazy!? What have I just signed up for? The day that registration opened for the Chicago Triathlon I jumped wayyyy in the deep end and registered for the Triple Challenge. It was madness. I knew it was ambitious and I wasn't sure if I could do it  -- but it couldn't hurt to try, right?
As the race approached I realized I was in way over my head. My last Olympic distance race took me 5 hours to finish. It would be basically impossible to get down to a 3:15 finish...but maybe, just maybe, I could get close enough to squeeze by and make it right before the swim start of the Sprint. I found a coach who was willing to work with me and despite the odds, he said "yeah, let's do this, I believe in you". That's all I needed, a push.
 
I took my training more seriously than with any previous race. I skipped social events and even withdrew from other races to put all my focus on this challenge. I finally bought a road bike less than a month before the race. Two weeks before race day I taught myself to ride in clipless pedals and attempted to ride aero. These were all new and strange things to me. But I was determined to do everything possible to own the Triple Challenge.
 
Taper week was excruciating. I kept doubting myself. I didn't feel ready. When I got to the expo on Friday the reality of what I was about to do hit me. This was insanity. Could I really do 3 races in one weekend? Did I really want to? I saw so many of my friends that day and each one of their smiling faces built my confidence back up. Piece by piece. Erica had come with me to the expo so that we could head to the Black Triathletes Association BBQ right afterwards. Spending time with so many of my tri family members and meeting new ones gave me hope. I can do this. This is my race. I'm ready.
BTA pre-race BBQ fun
Saturday morning I awoke energized and excited. This would be the shortest of the 3 races. Today was all about having fun and shaking out the muscles. As I racked my bike along with the rest of the Triple Challenge participants I realized no one questioned me, no one made me feel as though I was less than or didn't belong there. I guess they figured if I had the guts to give it a try I deserved to be there just as much as anyone else. I got my wetsuit on and headed to the beach for the swim start.
 
 

pre-race with the crew
That water was FREEZING. I mean, it wasn't as bad as that training swim I tried to do with Sam when it felt like we were swimming through an ice bath, but it was still pretty freaking cold. Stay calm. Focus on your breathing. You knew the water would be cold. OK I got this, its just a short swim and then I can handle the bike and run. I was relieved when I finally got out of the water. I ran back to transition and grabbed She HULK for her Chicago race debut. I saw Sam and Ahnel during the bike course, heard cheers from other friends (thanks Kelly & Nick!) and kept pushing through the 3 loops of the same course. It was still wet and considering I was still adjusting to a road bike I decided to sort of take it easy. No reason to risk injury on the first day. After the final loop I racked my bike, and went directly out for my run. I was feeling great and spirits were high. I didn't even care that we were running through puddles pretty much the entire course. I hit the turnaround and to my surprise saw a few yellow bibs still on their way out. What!? Is this real life!? I'm not the LAST triple challenge participant? I couldn't believe it. I started in the last wave of the triples and yet I wasn't the last out on the course. My heart was beaming.
 
Waiting at the finish line for the rest of my crew to arrive was so much fun. It reminded me why I love tri so much. As the final triple reached the finish line she gave up her timing chip and told the volunteer she wouldn't be back for day 2 of the challenge. I was so confused. I was convinced that everyone who signed up for the challenge was far above and beyond my own athletic ability so to see someone quit after the first day, especially the shortest race, was a definite wake up call. This challenge is not for the faint of heart. It takes more than just muscle and training. It takes a mental fortitude that I wasn't sure I had.
 
 
Per usual we all feasted together then I went home to relax and get prepared for day 2. Once I was packed up and ready to go I headed over to Claire & Denise's house to spend the night. It felt like any other race we've done together but I knew it wasn't. This would be different. Physically this would be the most difficult challenge I've taken on and I was starting to feel a little bummed that I wouldn't have my parents, grandma or brother there to cheer me on.
Day 1, Super Sprint is done!
transition set, its time to do this!
Sunday morning we got to transition just as it opened and were able to take our time getting racked. Denise and I were able to rack our bikes right next to each other and her friend Jeff was a few spots down from us. I felt calm. I felt ready. We took a picture together and after posting it my big brother Juan realized I was still in transition so he came over to wish me luck. I also saw Iliana who was with me the morning of my very first tri and Mauricio who gave me helpful tips when I had no idea what triathlon was all about. Yeah, I can do this. My family is here, in spirit at least and I definitely have all of my triathlon family here with me in person. Once we had everything set we started the walk down to the swim start.
 
 
 
what transition for 9000 athletes looks like
Nerves were growing. The closer we got to the swim start I saw more and more familiar faces. Each smile calmed my nerves just a bit more. Snapping Turtle, E-Boogie, The Hotness Monster...one after another I saw folks that I've gone to battle with in one way or another at previous races. Yes. Its time. I was able to catch Erica for one final hug and send off before entering the swim chute. As I was waiting for the official race start I overheard another triple participant telling his spectator friend that he would only be doing the Olympic and then stopping, he would not complete the challenge. I wondered how many others would be dropping out. I can't think about that, I need to focus on my race. This is it. This is what I've been training for. Its time to go out there and make coach proud.
Snapping Turtle!
I hopped in the water and it was definitely a shock to the system. That water was cold. But it was manageable. Focus. We can do this. You've already done this swim before, just make it down to the buoy turn around and then smooth sailing til the swim exit. There wasn't as much seaweed as the year before but I quickly learned this was not the blessing I thought it was. Clearer water meant I could see everything. And yes, I mean EVERYTHING in that lake water. Relics of the past, bikes, skateboards, plants that I thought would completely engulf my entire body. I got a little freaked out and panicky. I didn't need to know all the things that lay beneath the surface. The waves behind me caught up to me, then passed, and then even more colorful caps approached. I knew I was seriously lagging behind. A hit to the face dislodged my goggles and I was silently thankful for the water that seeped in and clouded my vision to the national geographic special below me. Just keep swimming. I heard cheers from the wall and realized that was my name. Oh heyyyy friends, thanks for the push! I got the last buoy and a deep cramp hit my calf. That's fine. I don't need that leg, I'll let my arms do the work. The volunteer pulled me out of the water and I dashed off down the long road to transition. (this is not a lie, the run from the swim exit to transition is about 1/4 mile)
 
 
Got to my bike and thanked the heavens I was not the last triple to reach transition. I was slow, but there were still a few folks slower than me out there. I might still be in good shape. I strapped on my bike shoes that were a gift from a fellow Athena athlete (thanks Tanya!) and started rolling She HULK towards the hill up to bike out. I saw Eddie who was volunteering and gave me a high five, then Milissa who always has a smile on her face and encouraging words to share. I reached the bike mount area and struggled a bit to get clipped in. (Remember, this is only my second ride with the clipless pedals, lets hope for the best!)
 
 
pre-race with big brother Juan
The ride started out rather uneventful. I took inventory of my nutrition and reminded myself of what intervals I needed to be taking in food and hydration. Let's do this. Time to conquer the dreaded bike course. I started to hit the rolling hills and am immediately reminded of why I hate this part so much. Even with Denise's gear shifting lessons I'm still struggling. Some people may tell you that this course is flat and fast, that is a lie. Perhaps in comparison to big giant hills it feels like it, but to me those inclines felt like Mt Everest. There were a few times I got all the way into my granny gear and was still only halfway up the hill. Shit. What do I do now? I have nothing left to shift down to. Ugh. This is a disaster. Just as I'm beating myself up over not being a stronger cyclist my big brother Juan swoops in to save the day. He rides up alongside me and asks how I'm feeling and how I'm doing on nutrition. I tell him I'm fine even though I'm battling my inner demons. He asks me what cadence I'm trying to keep and the only reply I can muster is "I'm just trying to survive". He chuckled and said come on let's push until the turn around when we'll have a tailwind. I looked up and when I saw we were already at Bryn Mawr I exhaled a bit knowing that Hollywood would be the next exit and that meant we were almost at the turnaround.
 
 
Once we made that U-turn and I headed right into a gust of wind I got angry. Wasn't I supposed to have a tailwind now? Where is my tailwind damnit? I felt like I was in one of those stories your parents tell you "...we had to walk uphill both ways and against the wind with no shoes....". Yup. That's what I felt like. It seemed that I was biking into the wind both ways. Maybe it was my imagination, maybe it some freak force of nature. All I know is that I was frustrated. When I finally got to Lower Wacker I was beside myself with excitement. FINALLY. This is where I can pick up some speed. I cruised through the tunnels and as I hit mile 20 I made the mistake of checking my Garmin. I instantly knew that unless I developed the speed of a Kenyan out on the run it would be impossible for me to make the cutoff. I wasn't going to be able to do the Sprint race after I finished the Oly. Fuck. What do I do now? What else to do, but cry. For the last 5 miles of that bike course all I could do was cry uncontrollably. I couldn't believe it. I had come this far and yet I wasn't gonna make it. A piece of my spirit died right then and there. Most of that last portion is a blur of raw emotion and disappointment. Once I hit the bike dismount I wanted to throw my bike and call it a day. I didn't want to go on any further. I wanted it all to be over.
 
just.keep.moving.
But it wasn't. I couldn't just quit. I'm too stubborn for that. I laced up my running shoes and faced the run. Luckily the path stays open to the public during the race and a friend was out there to push me along. Every time I broke down in tears Amber was there to pick up the pieces and nudge me further until I hit another breakdown. I was a mess. My mind played tricks on me. The only thing that made me smile was seeing friends along the course. Each cheer and high five renewed my spirit just a little bit more. I saw Dale, Lauralyn, Iliana, Mauricio, Juan, Ovetta and countless others. I started to feel stronger. Yeah, maybe I can do this. I checked my watch again, keep pushing...maybe they'll still let you in the water even if you're a little late. No matter what I knew this Oly would be a PR. That's gotta count for something right? I dashed through the finish line and collapsed on another friend who was working the medical tent. (sorry Amber S. for throwing my sweaty, smelly body on you) I knew I had to keep going. Keep fighting. This day isn't over yet.
 
 
I scrambled to get through the finishers area which is a bit of a logistical nightmare. I really wish there was some kind of separate chute for triples to exit through to expedite the trip back to the swim start or transition. I finally got past the picnic and parties and congratulations from friends who were already there basking in their victories. Each time someone stopped me for a hug all I could do was cry and say "I'm not done yet, I still have another race to finish". I saw Frank and couldn't even form words to explain what I was feeling. When I made it to the trolley I was in full on ugly cry face mode. I was inconsolable. I gave this race my everything, and yet, that still wasn't enough. My heart couldn't handle the defeat. It felt like failure. I needed to regroup and figure out what my plan was. I knew the swim was out, going to the water meant risking getting my timing chip pulled and I wasn't ready to give up yet. I made it to transition and still saw people heading out on the bike so I stopped one of the race directors and asked if I could still continue. He looked down at his watch and then said "go grab your bike and get out there girl, you've still got time!".
 
 
I'm glad they didn't get the sweepers in this shot!
That was all I needed. I was still in this thing. I knew that missing the swim meant I would be a DNF but it didn't matter. I needed to know that I could do it. Keep going. Keep moving. Not give up. Sorry Lake Michigan, I'll have to owe you a half mile swim, I'm sure you understand. I clipped in and off I went. There was nary a soul on that ride. I watched the other side of the bike course diligently to see if I could find any friendly faces. I saw Klodian who nodded when he saw me, Claire who yelled out "Si Se Puede!", and Denise...this was the person I needed to see most. I wanted her to know I hadn't given up and that I was gonna finish this damn thing even it meant nothing in terms of official results. This was personal. This was about proving that I had an unconquerable soul and wild spirit that refused to be tamed. I had an unwavering desire to prove I could do this. As soon as she realized I had made it on the bike all she could do was scream as we passed each other. That was the last highlight of my ride. The rest felt desolate and lonely without familiar faces to give me a boost. Every once in awhile I would hear a cheer coming from the other side when someone would see my yellow bib and call out "yeah, you go triple". I tried my best to take that energy and roll with it. After the turnaround I saw I wasn't the last person on the bike. I went into survival mode. The course sweepers were out and I thought to myself "I don't need to be the fastest on the bike, I just need to outrun the slowest so I don't get pulled". It was irrational, but it was the only thing that kept me going. When I finally saw mile marker 15 I exploded with joy. Thank you baby Jesus for getting me through that ride. I smiled for the cameras and said a small prayer as I saw the sweepers making their final round behind me.
 
 
Ok. Just a 5k left now. You can walk that. This is NO PROBLEM. You got this. Just keep those legs moving. Here I am lacing up for a run and everyone around me is gathering their things to go home. It was soul crushing. Every pain in my body was telling me to give up. It had had enough. It was ready for this to be over. But my heart wasn't ready. My heart quietly whispered "we're almost there, don't give up now, we can get through this". So I did. I kept going. A woman who saw me asked if I was still racing and all I could do was nod as I limped out of transition. Cheers from strangers grew as they realized I was still in this thing. I refused to give up. It was a struggle beyond any other. I battled through each and every one of those footsteps. I couldn't will my body to move any faster, but I could will it to keep moving forward. And so I did. I kept moving. Forward. Progress. Each aid station felt like a mile marker of victory. A volunteer came out and hugged me, for I must have looked ragged by that point and she poured a cup of ice down my jersey to help me cool down. Thank you kind stranger. I appreciate you seeing what I needed and offering it without even knowing me.
 
 
I saw Sam and Chan as they were heading back in towards the finish line. I wanted so badly to be with them. I wanted to be done. This was the single most difficult 5k of my life. I felt defeated. Broken. Humbled. Exhausted. Hungry. Sad. Sore. Angry. I explored every part of the feelings spectrum during those 3.1 miles. When I finally reached the turn around I even yelled out loud "thank you Baby JESUS!!!". I'm sure I looked crazy. I could hear the guys talking to each other as I shuffled away. "Hey, so do you wanna do a triathlon now". I knew what he meant. After seeing my disheveled face it made it seem like a triathlon was a death sentence. It sort of felt like it. I can't think about that, I just need to keep moving. As I made my way back I saw runners still heading towards the turnaround. Goodness gracious, could this be true? I'm not the last person out there? Color me surprised.
 
 
As soon as I got to Museum Campus I knew I was almost there. For real this time. One final incline of death and I would be facing the finishers chute. For the second time that day. Spectators yelled out to me "you're almost there!"...I knew it was a bit rude but each time I yelled back "I know, I've already been here once today". I felt like I needed to tell them what I had been through. Qualify my experience. Make sure they knew that this wasn't my first rodeo of the day. Amber was at the bottom of that hill and seeing her gave me exactly the push I needed. I told her I would walk up the incline then drop the hammer until the finish line. It felt like a lie but I was trying to convince myself I could do it. When I saw that finish line I dug deep and found the last shred of strength I had hidden deep within the recesses of my soul. And you better believe I kicked that shit until I crossed that damn finish line.
 
 
I could hear the announcer ...."not 1, not 2, but 3 and you can tell she worked for this one". I sure did. I gave that course everything I had, and while it wasn't enough this time, it was more than I realized I was capable of. There used to be a time when I didn't dare to dream bigger than what I could easily reach, I was afraid to push beyond what I thought was possible. I used to think "I can't do that", but a funny thing happened out there, I realized I can do it. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow...but I will keep telling this story until I'm able to rewrite the ending.
My face as I sprinted through the finishers chute. Yes. I was fully airborne and damn proud of it. I don't even mind the struggle face.
The Triple Challenge is OVER!!!
So for now, its back to the lab and focus on my next challenge. This didn't break me. I lived to tell my story and fight another day. Next year, I'll take on the 70.3 Half Ironman with the same grit and tenacity, fiercely fighting for that Iron title. I'm not done yet, I can only go up from here. 
Sam, Claire, me, Denise. My tri family.
Rest, Recover, and Race Recaps

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey. This was do inspiring and I am waiting for big things to come from you.

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  2. I have two words for you...You Rock! #patientlywaitingtoseeyourfuture

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  3. You're so inspirational I almost can't stand it!

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  4. Way to be relentless and keep moving forward. Keep on trucking, girl! I will see you out there!

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  5. You're so awesome! Even though I've done longer, I'm intimidated by the idea of finishing and going out for more. Keep on going!!! Let's ride sometime this fall together!

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