Captain J-B (CJB) supplied us with a list of things to bring. He and I argued about many of the items on the list, especially his request that we bring 2 bike helmets. Not to mention, CJB feels the need to be the first one in transition no matter what race he goes to. So this race starts at 11:00am, but he wants to leave at some crazy hour, but I think he knew his 2 teammates were going to argue if he gave us some obnoxious hour to meet. We agreed on 7am.
Now, I wasn't overly crazy about doing this race last time. I was miserably cold and I felt completely useless to my team. And the only reason I agreed last time was that the female of that co-ed team sustained an injury that prevented her from participating in the race. I didn't want my other 2 friends, who could find NO OTHER FEMALE to race with, to miss out on something they looked so forward to, so I reluctantly agreed to that one. And at the finish of that race, a fellow racer, and good friend, asked me what I thought of the end of that race. I said it was crazy and I would never do this again.
Yet here I was. I got suckered in to THIS race because of a friendly little rivalry of triathlete friends. There were 2 women and 1 man on each team, and it should have been a pretty equal race. While we were on our way to the race site, we got a phone call from one of the other team members stating they were already there. "WHAT???", I thought. That should've tipped me off on what was to come. We pulled into the parking lot and found one of the other team members quickly. After a friendly exchange, we then saw another familiar face, a guy who is not only a phenomenal triathlete, but a killer Adventure Racer! His navigation skills are second to none and I know he's been on sponsored adventure race teams before. Little did we know, he was now racing with our friends. Unfortunately, one of their team members was feeling under the weather and they called this guy last-minute to try and save their team.
Well, this changed everything. No longer were we racing the other team, we were just out there having fun now. There was no way we could beat that team unless something went seriously wrong. My focus then went off of them and on to beating as many other teams out there as we could. I also really wanted to have fun this time. It's a long day when you're not having fun!!
I must say that CJB spends countless hours thinking about cool little tricks that will help us in this race. If there's any way to make something lighter, easier, more comfortable or just plain cool, he's going to come up with it. Transition was in the middle of this big, grassy field which was already a little soft from all the rain we've recently had. We had one of the best tents out there...we had a waterproof tarp for the floor, and the waterproof tent had sides and a zipper front. It was, by far, the best tent out there...which caused problems for us later. It was definitely going to keep us and our things dry for the day ahead of us.
The start of the race was at Northerly Island which is the old Meigs Field. The first section required us to run to the Sears Tower and up 103 flights of stairs. I had a short-sleeved underarmor shirt on under the matching bike jersey with the Scallion bib (where you have your number). We were team 34...love that number. I was always a big Walter Payton fan and I took it as fate that this was going to be a good day! I went back and forth on whether to wear armwarmers or not for the start. We were going to be running, so I'd probably get warm quickly. At the last minute, I balled up the armwarmers and tucked them into a slot on my fuel belt, but I kept a pair of gloves on. I have a sometimes have a problem keeping my hands and feet warm.
All the teams were gathered at the start. We said good luck to the other team (not like they'd be needing it) and before I knew it, we were off and running across the field. There are a few things about adventure racing that make it different than other types of racing:
We ran for what seemed like forever (but was really only about 3.5 miles) to the Sears Tower. In the building we go and each team got one bottle of water to split. Ick. Cooties. My teammates were so good to me and know what a germ-a-phob I am, so I got to take the first drink. Then we were off to climb to the top. I gave one of my teammates one of my other gloves. It helps to pull yourself up the railing and the railing was already soaked from all the other competitors' sweat, so the glove helpted. For the first 20 flights, I wanted to go around these slow people. CJB kept telling me to slow down and pace myself. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, towards the 40th floor, I started losing steam. I was sweating profusely and breathing heavily. My legs felt fine, but my lungs felt like they were about to explode. After about 10 more flights, I had to ask to stop. I bent over, gasping for breath. I was leaving a little sweat puddle where it was just dripping endlessly off my face. I was commanded to take my shirts off, it would keep my cooler. That stairwell was very stuffy. I didn't think it would help, but I would try anything. I didn't want to have to tell my teammates I couldn't make it. I thought to myself, "WHY does this feel so hard!???! I am an Ironman, I can DO THIS!" Almost immediately after taking off the underarmor and bike jersey, I felt better. Let's GO!
Another 25 flights and my teammates knew I needed to stop again. We drank what was left in our fuel belts, rested a quick 30 seconds, about 7 teams passed us, and we pressed on. I could not believe how hard this was. CJB kept telling me this was the hardest thing we would do all day. He also said, "You're an f-ing Ironman, now get up those stairs!" He was right. This wasn't going to break me. We jumped back on the stairs and I felt pretty good. There were already teams on their way down, telling us "good job, you're almost there." I hate that. Twenty more floors, thought it seems like it, isn't really "almost there". It's like telling someone at mile 20 of a marathon "you're almost there!" UGH! I think we made one more quick stop just to catch our (or maybe just my) breath and we got faster the closer we got to the top. WOO HOO - there was air conditioning at the top! I immediately found a clear spot and sat down. I just needed to bring my heart rate back down before I could make that journey down the stairs. I felt so good, though, that I was done with that challenge. We were done with the most physically challenging part of the day.
We sat for maybe about a minute, saw the other team we knew, they looked so fresh and they were off within seconds. I jumped up and said let's go...down will be a piece of cake! Well, yes, we were moving much more quickly down than we were going up. But these stairs are a bit narrow and I'm very nervous going down because I have a hard time fitting my size 10 foot on these tiny little stairs. And the stairs were a bit slippery from all the sweat of the other racers. So, I held on the railing so if I slipped, I had a chance I'd catch myself. That, or I fall right into CJB, which would probably hurt him more than me.
We shared another bottle of water at the bottom of the stairs and we were on our way back toward the lake. Both us women put our shirts back on as it was a bit nipply wen we exited the Sears tower. Our shirts were absolutely soaked through with sweat, which normally disgusts me, but in a racing situation, it's something you just deal with. I immediately pitched my glove, which had all the nasty hand railing sweat on it, into the nearest trash can. We ran at a nice, steady pace toward our next checkpoint.
The next little fun thing we get to do is walk in the lake...I don't know how far, but if I could've swam it, I probably could've been faster. All 3 of us took off our shoes, but left the socks on, in order to try and keep the shoes dry. We had to read the letters on each of 4 buoys while walking through the water as a team, with arms locked or holding hands. For some reason, CJB wasn't really good at this. It was like his feet turned to lead and I kept trying to drag him through the water. We went shallower so he would have an easier time. The letters were T-E-A-M. We got to the end and put our shoes on...getting them wet in the process, go figure! Then it was on to coasteering, which is navigating your way across some large rocks. This was just a little tricky, because all of our shoes were slippery from being wet. Last time I did this, we went about a mile, and I thought it was my favorite part of that race. Unfortunately, this time, it lasted less than 10 minutes. We were just about a quarter of a mile from transition. We jumped in the tent, each ate a hamburger (thanks CJB!), I dumped my underarmor, added a camelback, put on a fresh pair of socks, changed the orthotics from one pair of shoe to the next and we were ready to go! Very quick transition!
Now we're off to Schiller Park woods, maybe some 20+ miles on bike, to our orienteering course. We got on our bikes and it felt like a break from all the running and the stairs! We were not on our bikes for 10 minutes before it started to rain. We immediately pulled over and took out the waterproof (or so we thought) jackets we had tucked in our camelbacks. In the time it took for us to pull over and put them on...IT STOPPED RAINING!!! WTF??? We left the jackets on and continued on up the lakefront path. We cut over at Irving Park and make the very long ride on out to First Avenue. It started to rain. It was more than a drizzle, but not quite a downpour. It took away our ability to draft on the bikes because of the water shooting up from the bike in front of you. We were yelled at by a few drivers and it felt like we were stopped at every other red light. The good thing was, none of us was cold.
We arrived to the orienteering course and the place to dump our bikes was like a big mud pit. Our shoes and socks were already soaked through, what's a little bit of mud going to hurt?? Now, I'm not good at directions. I'm not good with maps. But what I did have on this day was an endless amount of energy. We were to use the tool at each point to punch little holes in different shapes at each checkpoint. We were the only team that went the backwards route, from point 8 to point 1, and it helped to see where the other teams were coming from. We saw our friends around check point 5, which means they were still a bit ahead of us, but less than we would've expected. One point was in the middle of the woods, through a bunch of mud (I despise getting dirty), yet another was through a field of weeds and grass that were taller than I was! KK took a tumble in the forest, landing on her pinky finger, but she was a true sport about it, and just got up and kept going. We moved quickly and we jogged between checkpoints and I have to think we made up some time on those people that were able to do those stairs quicker than I was! DAMN those stairs, why did that feel so hard! I spent most of the day trying to "make up" the time we lost there because of me.
While KK and I were making a pit stop, CJB was getting the map for the next part. We were praying they cancelled the trail portion of this race on bike because we had road bikes. There would be no way we could complete that section. Because of the downpour of rain, thankfully, it was cancelled. We rejoiced, we had made the right choice in selecting our road bikes for this race! We went on to a series of checkpoints on the bike. And the rain came down harder.
We went to Malcom X College as one of the checkpoints and, at one time, we thought, gee, the rain could NOT get worse. We were wrong! Almost immediately after leaving the college, the wind picked up and we were being pelted in the face with rain drops. I don't ever remember being hit in the face with rain drops and feeling like it hurt before! For miles, we rode in the rain and I made most of that journey with one eye closed. I was fighting to keep my contacts in. Between the wind and the rain being blown into my face, I thought for sure I was going to lose one. It wasn't a very safe feeling, riding a bike in the pouring rain, with one eye closed. I just hoped my teammates would warn me if a car was coming.
At some points, we had to ride through at least 6 inches of water. Luckily, CJB's knowledge of the city kept us right on track and we never really "screwed up" in our directions. We headed back to the transition area where all I could think of was putting on some dry shirts. I was amazed at how the rain didn't really get me very cold. Despite the downpour, I was having a great time! We took the trail into transition and there was a large section that was under water. CJB rode right through, but KK screamed and planted her feet when her bike must've hit a massive pothole in the trail. Thank God she didn't go down because I was right behind her. I had seen where CJB rode through, and I took that route and escaped unharmed. KK thought for sure she had gotten a flat, she hit that hole hard. But I told her, it doesn't matter, we're almost to transition and we're done with the bikes! Again, trooper that she is, we heard nothing more of that big hole she hit.
We saw our friends were still in transition and I was shocked they weren't further ahead of us. Our day was going well. We walked into our tent and discovered people had been in there. They left huge puddles of water at the bottom of our tent. And, my mistake, my bag was on the floor of that tent. Everything in my bag was now soaked. I had no warm clothes to put on. I was ticked. Using someone else's transition area is like cheating. You don't touch another team's things...period. Our friends confirmed that they had seen at least 2 guys in our tent. I couldn't be more furious. It was one thing if mother nature had soaked my things on her own, but to have another competitor violate our space and cause my things to become waterlogged, well, I have NO TOLERANCE for cheaters.
I choked down another hamburger, put on different clothes (they were no longer dry OR clean), put my orthotics back into the other pair of shoes, squeezed out my socks (I didn't have a 3rd pair!) and threw my raincoat on. At least THAT raincoat would keep my dry. At some point during the last section, it was decided that I was no longer scootering, I would be running. Not my favorite thing to do, but you gotta do what's best for the team. The next section needed to have one of us on roller blades, one of us on a scooter, and the other team member was the runner. Unfortunately, all 3 of us had to wear helmets. It's kinda goofy to wear a helmet while you're running! I'm not a very fast runner, but I still felt like I had a bunch of energy...that, and CJB told us I only had to run another 3 miles. (you can ask me what CJB stands for later).
So we took off for what was to be the last section of the race. I couldn't believe the day was going so fast. I was truly enjoying myself. It helps to be with good friends...I don't think I would have survived the day had I done it alone. I yelled at those guys for being behind me. After all, they were on WHEELS, I had to run! Get up there and navigate, dammit! Within the first 15 minutes of this section. The rain stopped. The sun came out. GUESS I DON'T NEED THIS RAINCOAT! Ugh! Now I have to carry it the rest of the way! We went through various sections of the city, collecting different answers to questions, and I knew I had already run at least 5 miles. One was at Navy Pier, one was somewhere on Huron, then this other guy from another team yelled "EXCUSE ME" as he pushed by me on the sidewalk. WTF, go around, loser! And the team wasn't really following the rules as your whole team should be within 100 yards of each other. They clearly weren't following this, but whatever. He just ticked me off. As I kept going, he just STOPS in front of me, and now I have to run around him! DUDE, WTF? That did it for me, I'm not letting this team in front of me again. I yelled to my team, OK, where to next, and I just ran. I ran as hard as I could. I wanted to build up as big of a lead as I could on these guys. Yes, 3 guys, so they weren't even in our classification, but that guy had ticked me off! My teammates asked my why I was running so fast, but I think they knew.
At the very next checkpoint, they caught up to us. Shoot. Now they gave that guy the scooter and some skinny guy started running. Damn, I can't keep up with him. Tried as hard as I could, but that guy was stronger than me. Let it go, we're almost there and we've had a great race. I ask CJB, "How much further?" I was getting tired. He said "Not very far." OK, that doesn't help! HOW MUCH FURTHER???? "Six blocks, he yells, six blocks!" "OK," I thought, "I can keep this up for another six blocks." By now it was dark and we had turned on our headlamps. Now I was THANKFUL CJB made us bring 2 helmets because we had strapped headlights on the second helmet. These came in very useful.
We turned the corner and could see the finish line. CJB and KK flew ahead of me, but I was running as fast as I could. The events of the day had taken quite a toll on my quads and I was in pain just running to the finish. I tried SO HARD to catch those guys, and I could see they were only about 10 seconds in front of me, but that skinny dude can RUN! We crossed the finish line and were elated to be done!! We received our medals, certificate for a free Chipotle burrito (a highlight for me!) and got our picture taken.
As a special bonus, CJB had stashed some dry sweatshirts and stocking caps for us near the finish line. Of course, we had to ask a cop to loan us a tire iron to help us open the manhole cover where the stuff was stashed (I know the guy thinks we're nuts), but it was SO WORTH it. I was shivering within minutes of finishing and without being able to put on a dry shirt, I'm sure I would have been miserable. It was yet another highlight of the day.
We had a chance to catch up with the other team and share stories from the day. We all seemed to have a great time and I can't believe I'm going to say this, but yeah, I'd most definitely do this again! Next time, however, I gotta figure out how to climb 103 stairs without stopping AND how to prevent cheaters from busting in on our transition tent.
Thanks to my teammates, CJB and KK, you guys were awesome people to hang with for the day. Even though I hated you both at different points throughout the day, I would definitely race with both of you again. And thanks to the other team for helping us, more than once, from screwing up our race and giving us a team to look for throughout the day. I'm already thinking of improvements for next year....