What a privilege to be able to represent the USA at the ITU Triathlon World Championships this week. Chicago is a world class city and is proving to be an amazing host venue for this event. Shortly after making the team last season we decided to make the Chicago trip a family affair and the Kurek family (including our dog Dave) made the trip. We’re staying just to the east of Chicago at the Portage, IN Jellystone Park, which is a kid and dog friendly campground.
The trip to downtown Chicago each day takes about 45 minutes depending on traffic and allows us an economical solution for taking the entire family (including Dave) to an international event.
We arrived on Wednesday for packet pickup and a quick tour of the area. The biggest challenge of this event is it’s very spread out and going North or South requires you to cross over busy 8 lane city streets.These same streets remained open during all the events except for the elite mens and womens racing which is an amazing logistical feat and was noted by Jennifer and I. As a race director for more than 25 years it was impressive to see all the moving parts of this event.
This is such a family friendly city and shortly after picking up my packetat the massive outdoor expo we visited the “worlds largest” outdoor playground. This playground was awesome and gave our kids the opportunity to burn off some energy. As you can see from every photo the city skyline is fabulously featured in every direction you look. I took this opportunity to visit the massage tent at the expo and got a 30 minute massage which was much needed after all the travel.
The toughest part of race day for us was that I did not start until 12:50pm but I still was required to check in my gear before 9:30am. This meant for a pretty early wake up call for the family to be able to avoid Chicago rush hour traffic on the commute in. We still got caught up in some serious traffic with 7 miles to go to our parking lot and as we got to within 1.4 miles the traffic was at total gridlock. I finally got just too nervous and jumped out of the car and starting running to the transition area to check in my gear. I arrived with plenty of time to spare and finally got to relax. With more than 3 hours before my race start I decided to check out the swim exit and long run (nearly 400 yards) to the bike transition before reuniting with my family at Buckingham Fountain (next to the finish). I was quite surprised to see that there were NO swim buoys marking the course between the start and finish of the point-to-point 750 meter swim. Sure it’s a straight line but it would be nice to have a few buoys along the way to navigate on, especially for my wave that was going on at 12:50pm when the winds would be surely making Lake Michigan choppy.
With temps in the mid 80’s by Noon it was quite easy to warm up and I kept the warm up short to avoid over heating. When I came back from my warm up Maddy surprised me by “attempting” to wear my swim gear. That was a nice laugh before getting down to the business of racing. We were required to get to the designated swim corral 20 minutes before that start of our wave and with no shade it was brutal to stand there for 20 minutes sweating in my wetsuit. Thankfully my buddy and teammate Michael Boone and I found each other and got a chance to pray together. This gave us both a sense of calm and refocused us for the task at hand. By the time we were released to the swim start I was feeling totally overheated and the 63 degree water felt awesome. We were given just under two minutes to find a spot on the start line before the horn went off and this world championship was underway. The pace was immediately crazy fast and all I could see was flailing arms. After a couple waves to the face and unwanted gulps of Lake Michigan I finally found a good rhythm between two guys swimming my pace. With no buoys to site off of I really had no idea where I was or if the line I was swimming was good. Eventually the lone buoy marking the swim exit appeared and the pack narrowed down to a mosh pit of flailing arms and legs as we made the only turn on the course towards the swim exit. Swim time 12:34. The run to the bike transition was long (3:31) but gave me time to get my wetsuit peeled down to my waist and focus on the transition from swim to bike. I keep telling myself “5 strides after the second speaker after the light tower, 5 strides after the second speaker after the light tower…” it would be crucial to quickly find my bike in the mass of 2000 bikes. I had no problem finding my bike and quickly grabbed my helmet and put on my shoes for yet another long run out of transition.
The start of the bike was a bit chaotic as you were greeted by thousands of cheering spectators and earlier waves riding by as you mounted your bike. My heart rate was sky high as I jumped on my bike and began cranking the pedals. It’s nearly impossible to feel great at the beginning of the bike and this was the case for me as my legs were not ready for the pace I was pushing. However, I was moving through the field quite nicely and passing guys with “45” on their calves one after another on the first of three laps. At the end of lap #1 I was coming out of a turn and a big Swiss rider bumped into me and I thought we were both going down. Thankfully this gave me a nice shot of adrenaline and I rode away from him and onto lap #2. The course was flat but the wind was quite strong on the eastbound direction of the course and had several “speed-bumps” that were causing havoc on the course. I found that keeping my speed and bunny hopping the speed-bumps was the best technique for getting over them. However, on lap #3 I was forced into on coming bike traffic due to congestion on the course as a bunny hopped at 26mph. My legs felt better after each lap and I hit the dismount line in 28:10 for the 12.4 miles. I was third in my wave after the bike.
The bike to run transition was a long 2:36 but as I started the 1.5 lap 5k run my legs felt strong but I was VERY hot. I immediately passed another athlete in my wave for second position and now it was time to run down a hard running Canadian about 100 yards up the road I spotted as I ran around the fountain on lap #1. I knew this guy had to be in my wave. With just a half a lap to I was close enough to confirm he was indeed the leader of our wave. I was near the end of my limit as I approached the back of him and questioned if I should blow by him or slow down next to him and rest for a sprint to the finish. I decided to pick up the pace and make him try to match my pace as we neared the final run turn around. As I started my move we passed a contingent of Canadian fans that screamed encouragement to him…talk about bad timing! However, the surge worked and he was unable to match my pace and I had a good 10 yards on him at the run turn around. Now it was time to hold on for dear life and not blow up. I knew I was close to exploding as I was very hot and my quads were close to locking up. As we approached the grand finish at Buckingham Fountain I looked back and passing the fading Canadian was a hard charging Frenchmen. It’s never easy…with everything I had I sprinted the final 150 meters and held off the Frenchmen by just a couple steps at the line. As I laid in a crumpled heap on the finish carpet the announcer enthusiastically announced “a 1:01:30 for the mens 45-49…now that is a great time!” Little did I know the announcer was speaking of the defending ITU World Champion Frederic Tete from France…Frederic started in the 45-49 B wave and just nearly caught me from the wave behind me. After a quick ice bath in the finisher area I found my family and checked my phone for the official results. My time of 1:06:27 was good for 6th overall in the 45-49 age group with a final run time 19:38. The top 5 places came from the wave B that started after me. Initially I was pretty bummed to have crossed the line first in my wave but to finish 6th until I got a text from my buddy Curt Haywood that read “6th human-being aged 45-49 on the earth in the Sprint Triathlon World Championships, pretty darn awesome bro!”. No doubt…I gave it everything I had and collapsed at the finish with ZERO left in the tank. Would I made the podium if I started in the second wave? Maybe…but the two gentlemen in 4th and 5th place are perennial USA All-Americans, one of which was the 2014 USA National Champion.
In closing; As I looked over at my family behind the fencing of the athlete only area, shortly after finishing, I could only think how much God has blessed me immeasurably. Thanks so much to my amazing wife Jennifer and the most dedicated kids on the planet…Henry, Maddy and EZ. Now it’s time to enjoy a few days in Chicago and drink, eat and be merry! Below was my first “gluten rich” meal in about 6 weeks 😉