Touring Chicago and Racing the World’s Largest Triathlon

Friday, August 23 –


After taking a break from triathlon for a couple of years while going to graduate school, I was hungry to get back into the sport. Previously I had competed in only short distance (spring) triathlons, but I wanted to step it up to Olympic distance. That’s why I chose to do it in style on a relatively flat course with beautiful city views: Chicago!

This was my first trip back to Chicago since my Dad took Jeff and me to the Windy City on an epic roadtrip during the mid-1990s. Mom and Dad wanted to see me race, so they offered to drive my Cannondale road bike up from Birmingham. I decided that I would fly up to Chicago to save vacation time.

Body marked and ready to race

Body marked and ready to race

On Friday afternoon after work in Atlanta, I took a MARTA train to the airport. I flew Delta to Midway airport where Mom and Dad picked me up that evening. Unfortunately, I had been sick with a nasty cold that week, so I knew it would be a tough race on Saturday. After Mom and Dad picked me up this evening, we went by the Chicago Hilton so I could pick up my registration packet, swim cap, bike numbers, bib number and timing chip for my ankle at the Expo. I also got body marked before we went to dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse.

Then we went back to the Marriott. I had to be in bed early because I needed to have my bike in the transition area by 5:45 a.m.!

Saturday, August 24 –

The transition area. Look at all those tri-bikes!

The transition area. Look at all those tri-bikes!

This morning I woke up about 4:45 a.m., put on my tri-suit and numbers and ate a little before taking my bike down the elevator. It was a first for me taking road bike in a hotel elevator! I then road my bike fom the corner of Michigan Avenue down East Grand Avenue to below Lake Shore Drive and to the bike transition area in a grassy area between Randolph and South Lake Shore Drive.

This year the Accenture Chicago Triathlon was the largest triathlon in the world, with more than 5,000 participants in the Olympic (International) distance. The swim was in Lake Michigan and I was a little worried because I didn’t have a wetsuit. The water temperature was expected to be 66 degrees, much colder than the 80 to 82 degree pools I am accustomed to swimming in.



A little after 6 a.m. the starting signal went off. This was a wave start, and I was in the next-to-last wave, number 46. I had to wait about 3 hours before my start! It was tough because I didn’t have any water or gels with me, not to mention my sickness. I just made the best of the situation.

When my wave finally arrived, we had to jump off a sea wall into Monroe Harbor, south of the Chicago Yacht Club and tread water for two minutes before our start. This was not an easy beach entrance. We would jump in approximately 925 yards south of the Chicago Yacht Club, with the swim finish approximately 100 yards to the south of the Club. We would swim south about 380 meters around the turnaround buoy, and then head north to the finish (totaling 1.5k).


When I jumped in, the water temperature in Lake Michigan took my breath away for about 15 seconds. I knew I would warm up eventually during the swim, but I knew I would be cold at first. Very few were not wearing wetsuits. The thing that surprised me the most was the pushing and jockeying for position before the start. Eventually, I just decided to get out of the way and get towards the back.

The crowd was very supportive, which really motivated me despite cramping a little bit on the way back. The cramping was probably more from the cold than the dehydration.

After exiting at an entrance to Monroe Harbor, we had to run about 500 yards barefoot to the bike transition area around Randolph Street and South Lake Shore Drive. After putting on my helmet, shoes and mounting my Cannondale road bike, I proceeded up the entry ramp into the middle two lanes of northbound Lake Shore Drive, heading north to Foster. At Foster, we crossed the median and returned in the middle two southbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive. After arriving at the 180-degree turn at Chicago Avenue we did a second lap before exiting at Randolph Street.


The views were amazing on scenic Lake Shore Drive. It was a relatively flat 40K bike leg, which made me fast because I was accustomed to hilly riding in Georgia and Alabama. The only really challenging part of the cycling was the famous Chicago wind. It was really cool looking at the John Hancock Building, Sears Tower and other famous buildings of the beautiful Chicago skyline. I also witnessed a few flats and crashes along the way.

When I arrived back at the transition area, it was time for the 10K run. After parking my bike, I changed into my running shoes and exited from Randolph Street, south along Lake Shore Drive. From the transition area, we ran south to the Museum campus. At this point, we ran along the outer path closest to the Shedd Aquarium. At Solidarity Drive, we went east around the Adler Planetarium, west to the Lakefront back path and then south. Then we ran to a point three-quarters of a mile south of McCormick Place to make a 180-degree turn. We return on a parallel course to Solidarity Drive and then headed for the finish on Columbus Drive just south of Balboa Drive in Grant Park.

Beautiful Grant Park off the run course

Beautiful Grant Park off the run course

The run was challenging because I still had a little congestion in my lungs and I started to cramp a little towards the end. However, I did my best and raced as hard as I could to the finish, only stopping to walk quickly a couple of times.

The finish felt great with the huge crowd and music. I collected my medal and they had free food after the race for finishers. It was great finishing my first 51K (32) mile race! They had misty sprayers to cool off runners, which was much needed. It was the warmest day of the year in Chicago with temperatures at 96 degrees and unusually high humidity for the Windy City. A lot of racers had problems with the heat.

Utterly gutted

Utterly gutted

Mom and Dad were excited to see me at the finish line. We walked past the Buckingham Fountain back and I went to collect my bike up. They helped me loading my bike into our SUV and we went back to the Marriott. I took a shower and got cleaned up before we went to a late lunch at Harry Caray’s on Kinzie Street in River North. Afterwards we visited the Shedd Aquarium. That evening we walked the Magnificent Mile up Michigan Avenue. We took an elevator to the top of the John Hancock Tower. The views were stunning and the interesting guide markers oriented us to Chicagoland. The historical information gave us a good perspective on Chicago’s history. We also enjoyed the historical information that explained important moments and events in Chicago history. After the tour, we decided to eat dinner at the Cheesecake Factory on the ground floor. What a perfect way to finish the day!


Harry Caray’s


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