Develop Mental Fortitude

I read this article with Chrissie Wellington, four-time Ironman Champion at CNN about training your mind.

Ironman champ: Train your brain, then your body –

The ideas ring true not just for triathlons, but for fitness, projects, and other things.

Here’s some quotes I grabbed from the article:

If we let our head drop, our heart drops with it. Keep your head up, and your body is capable of amazing feats. To plunder the words of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “Don’t ever forget that you play with your soul as well as your body.”

How do you train your brain to help you achieve your goals?

  1. Have a mantra and/or a special song to repeat.
  2. Keep a bank of positive mental images.
  3. Practice visualization beforehand.
  4. Break up the race into smaller, more manageable segments.
  5. Remember that training is about learning to hurt.
  6. Get people to support you.
  7. Mentally recall inspirational people.
  8. Consider racing for a cause that is bigger than yourself.

Personal Best Triathlon. Still Room for improvement.

Dateline: Sunday, Aug 28, 2011.

Scott completed the Chicago International Distance Triathlon.


I had a great time with my family downtown.  We walked a bit more than I’d like.  We got down to the Hilton Hotel (the Chicago Tri sponsored hotel) right before lunch.  We checked in, and then walked to Macy’s for lunch.  I’m a big fan of the Seven on State quick serve restaurants especially Rick Bayless’s Frontera Fresco.  MMM… Tacos.  Probably not the best idea for a pre-race meal, but so worth it.  Then, we walked back to the Chicago Multisport Expo to pick up my race packet, get marked, and attend the course talk.  I skipped about 1/2 of the course talk due to off-timing of the my lunch and the schedule.  Luckily, the course didn’t change from last year, and I was able to revisit my notes from last year which calmed the pre-race jitters.  Speaking of pre-race jitters. They started a week before the race.  I could sense the tenseness, and I’m sure my family could sense my distracted mind.  I was focused on the race.  I had difficulty even meditating to calm myself down. After attending, the expo. we walked to Millenium Park, had a great dinner at Harry Caray’s, and then visited Chicago Summer Dance.

Pre-Race Goals:

My main Triathlon Goal is to break 3 hours and be above the average.  That hasn’t changed.  However, I took note of my last year’s time and incorporated my training times, and came up with these goals:

Realistic Goal:

Swim: 35 min (my 2010 swim time)
Tran 1: 7 min (my 2010 time)
Bike: 85 min (17.5 mph my 2010 bike avg)
Tran 2: 5 min (my 2010 time)
Run:   56 min (9 min miles. pace run during 2011 training pace)

Total: 188 min

Stretch Goal:

Obviously, this is above 3 hours.  So, I created a stretch goal to finish under 3 hours:

Swim: 32 min ( quick swim)
T1:  5 min
Bike: 83 min (18 mph)
T2: 3 min
Run: 55 min (8:40 min miles)

178 min

How did I do?


In order to get a good spot for transition, I woke up at 3:40am to get out the door about 4:10am and make my way over to transition which opens at 4:15am.  Before transition set-up, I like to shower to wake-up.  I also want fresh ice for my water bottles, and I like to eat a pre-race breakfast of a banana and a cliff bar.  I always bring too much stuff with me, just in case, to transition.  My suggestion is only bring what you need.  I don’t need an extra set of running clothes.  Although, I don’t know if I will listen to this advice in the future.  I like to be prepared in the event of rain or just some odd occurrence.  It was a windy morning, and there was a rip-tide warning for the beach.  So, I was starting to get mentally prepared to be battered during the swim.

My wave for the race wasn’t until 9:06am.  So, instead of watching the sunrise and the first heats, I met my brother in the transition set-up and we walked back for a little pre-race Bagel.  Next year, if I have a late start again, I think peanut butter on a bagel will be an awesome breakfast choice.  I then went back to the room, and tried to sleep.  That didn’t happen, but I did walk through the race twice using visualization techniques to help prepare myself.  That was very helpful.

The 1.5 KM Swim:

It always takes me a while to get my wet-suit on.  So, I like to get to the swim-start about an hour before my race time.  This gives me some time to relax.  It gives me some time to put on my wet-suit which takes me about 20 to 30 minutes to do.  Then, I get some time for photos and then off to the chute.  Waiting in line is fun and exciting, but still stressful.  Both last year and this year, I experienced an unexpected swim-shock.  Its really difficult to see in Lake Michigan especially when its choppy and wavy.  I’d categorize myself as a strong swimmer.  Yet, when swimming with a big group of other guys all starting to swim, there’s no room.  I don’t position myself in the front.  I position myself in the middle.  Maybe I should change that next year.  By being in the middle, you have wait for the front of the line to start.  So, the first 100 yards or more, I swim freestyle with my head above water so I can see where I’m going.  Its similar swimming style when you try to swim freestyle without goggles.

Combine the crowded swim, with not being able to see, with a changed swimming style, and the adrenaline of a competitive race, and you get my heart rate racing super high and consequently my breathing was uncharacteristically hard.  In fact, my thoughts in the first 1/4 of the race, are Why the heck am I doing this to myself again?  What’s the benefit of doing this triathlon thing again?  So, I can scare myself and swim in a lake with a bunch of other people,  Why?

After I get to the buoy turn-around, I know that I’m 1/4 of the way done with the swim.  so, I usually settle down.  For some reason, I didn’t settle down as much.  It took me unbelievably long to get into a rhythm. I am normally a breath every 3rd stroke swimmer in the pool.  However, in the lake, I turn into a breath every other stroke.  In addition, I know my form was off.  I was not feeling the water.  It felt foreign. I know I was not stroking the way I can. I think more practice in the wet suit is required. As I’m going along, I’m thinking I have to get my stroke back, and I’d break into a little bit of a sprint, then I’d have to stop and do a little breast stroke to see where I’m going, then do the whole sequence over again.  One part, I’m glad I practice is cleaning my goggles while in the deep end of the pool.  My goggles were foggy about 1/3 of the way through with the swim.  Once, I cleared my goggles, I seemed to calm down and get my breathing under control.  Now, about half through the swim, you are back at the swim start.  That always energizes me, because I know I’m half-way done.   However, the next part of the swim is where the break wall opens up, and the waves were really pushing me around.  I was kicking much stronger than normal, and it seems every fourth breath, I’d get a wave in the face.  Happily, Lake Michigan, being a fresh water body, tastes much better than pool water.  For the next part of the race, I was playing bumper body / tag with a couple of other swimmers.  We were all at about the same pace, and one would go a little faster, and then I would pass him, and back and forth until finally, I concentrated on my form, and I pulled away from that pack.  However, I ran right smack into a slow group of swimmers which means I had to concentrate on sighting better to swim around all that group.  Once, I got to the final buoy, I was swimming towards the stairs, and I had a little difficulty getting out the lake.  Happily, the volunteers were great in helping us out of the water.

Part of the Chicago Triathlon Swim, is about a 450 yard jaunt back to transition.  I did my best to unzip my wetsuit while running.  I had to run around a few participants which was good.  I’m glad the cloth they had on the ground was in tact.  The cloth really helps running bare-feet on the concrete path.  One thing that was new this year, was I heard my wife call out to the kids.  “Oh, there he is.”  I quickly turned and tried my best to wave while running.  That put a smile on my face after the wavy choppy swim.

1.5 KM Swim Time:  37:23 minutes

I am a little disappointed in my swim-time.  I can swim faster than that.  I know I have a sub-30 minute swim in me.  I guess that gives me incentive to freak myself out again next year.

Transition 1:

I wanted to beat my transition time of last year (7 minutes).  I like to sit on the ground when I take of my wet-suit.  It just makes it easier for me.  So, as soon as I cross the timer, I find a spot in the grass, pull of my wetsuit.  Then, I ran to my bike.  put on my socks/shoes.  Throw on my shirt and shorts.  Grab my iphone and put it on my bike.  Set-up runkeeper on the iphone.  I totally forgot my glasses.  (Can I blame my bike time on lack of glasses?)  Luckily, I’m not blind.  I just have a little difficulty reading signs that are far-away which wasn’t a requirement while riding.  I also drink some water, and grabbed my bike nutrition.  I think I want to get a little bento box or something for my bike so I can reduce the time for that.  I also have to work on transition.  it still feels slow!  I did my best to run to bike out.  I was quicker than last year, but I feel I go get better.

Transition 1 Time:  06:12 minutes

The 40 KM Bike:

I forgot the first part of the bike course requires an ascent for the initial ramp onto Lake Shore Drive. I wasn’t mentally prepared for the initial burst of energy required to get up to speed.  Combine that with the Head-wind coming from the North, and that lack of initial burst set the pace for a mediocre bike ride.  Last year, I averaged 17.5 mph.  This year, I averaged:  16.8 mph.  Quite a bit slower.  The one saving grace, I feel is that I was rarely passed by anyone with non-road bicycle. In fact, I think only one non-road bike passed me.  The rider looked like he was 6’8″ tall.  I have a fitness bicycle, the Trek FX 7.3.  It has a similar riding position to a mountain bike or hybrid bike, but has tires and bicycle frame styling closer to a road bike.  So, on a windy day like Sunday, my riding position really is a detriment.  Knowing that, really set me back.  Mentally, due to wind, I  let myself relax in the first quarter of the race and did not push as much as I should have.  That was my second mistake.

Now, on the second quarter of the loop, the wind is a tail wind, and boy did that feel awesome!  I was riding at super speeds.  I was really hoping the tail wind would make up for my early bike ride mental lapses.  In fact, I was cruising and passing many of the road bikes which felt awesome.  Last year, I rarely passed anyone.  The other difference was last year, I was an early heat (7:38am swim-start).  So, I had fewer bicycles on the course.  This year, the bike course, felt really busy.  I think passing the slow riders artificially inflated my confidence in my speed.

Lessons Learned:  Weather is a challenge, but if I had stayed strong mentally, I think I could have averaged a faster time.  Be prepared for the initial ascent.  its an easy climb, but if I charge the climb up and really push the climb, that will set the pace for the entire ride.

I also need figure out how to get faster on the bike without the use of technology.  Can I get to an 18mph average with my current bike set-up?  What can I change?  seat-height?  Training style? Ride more intervals?  Do more hill-work?  One training style I changed this year compared to last year, is this year, I rode much more road trails compared to last year, I rode more forest preserve hiking/biking trails which are more gravel, hilly, and twisty.  Maybe, I should return to the forest preserve trails?

Technology wise,  Should I think about buying shoes & clips, aerobars, a new helmet, or maybe even a road bike?

40 KM Bike Time:  89:50 minutes (16.8 MPH)

Transition 2:

Last year, I changed my shirt from biking to running.  I was sweaty, and thought I’d feel more comfortable. In an effort to speed up my T2 time, I decided not to change as I planned.  I tried to run back to my transition spot on the rack, but I got caught behind some bike walkers.  I also took too much time switching my Runkeeper iphone app from bike mode to run mode.  I grabbed a drink of cold water from my insulated mug which was refreshing.  I grabbed my race belt.  Part of me wonders if I shouldn’t just wear the race belt for the bike portion to speed up T2.  T2 should be easy.   Rack bike, change shoes if needed, and go.  I know I can improve my T2 time.  Granted, I beat my last year’s time.

T2 time:  04:00 minutes

The 10 KM Run:

I’m proud of my run.  In fact, this year, I feel I can call myself a Triathlon finisher.  Last year, I didn’t have that finisher feeling.  Why?  Last year, it was so hot and I was unprepared, I walked about 4 miles of the run.  This year, I was determined not to walk.  I didn’t even want to stop to walk near the water stations for fear that my momentum would be lost.  So, slow jogged through the stations gulping at water.  The Chicago Triathlon run is deceiving.  You think Chicago, and you think flat-land which is totally true.  The run south is a little more elevated than you think.  So, there’s some hills and some elevation climb.  Not much, but enough that its noticeable.

Now happily, the wind was at our tail for about 2/3 of the run.  That was great.  In fact, it was a cool breeze.  So, when I got to the turn around just before the 4 mile mark and the wind was now blowing into my face, I felt refreshed.  It really helped me.  In fact, I yawped at the turn-around how great it was to be there.  The Run was not easy by any means.  Its a mental battle.  Yet, I was determined to run the entire thing.  I wanted that finisher feeling that I lacked the prior year.

In fact, I trained for the run much differently this year.  Last year, I did more biking & swimming with less running.  This year, I was balanced between the swim/bike/run.  My longest training run this summer was 10 miles.  During the doldrums of the running race, I mentally chatted with myself that I didn’t run a 10 miler just to walk the run portion.  I didn’t do all my training all summer long just to feel a little deflated at the finish line.  That’s why I’m proud I won that mental battle.  I ran the entire portion.

I have to say the last mile was difficult, but so worth it.  I pushed it. I have Sean to thank for pushing it. I remember him suggesting to leave it all on the course.  I knew I could run faster, and I tried to pick up the pace a ton that last 1.5 miles.  It doesn’t show in my times, but I’m sure that helped at least keep me consistent and not slow my time.  The last mile is a little more challenging than you think, because you go down hill under a tunnel, then you have to go back up hill to the finish line.  So, its not a forgiving flat run that you would expect.  You think you’re finished, but boom, you have this incline to face.

Near the end, Happily, I saw my wife and two kids cheering me on.  It was exciting.  I waved my 6yr old son to run with me.  I know its probably not a good idea.  I could get other racers hurt, but I held on to his hand, and he ran hard.  He started to lag behind just a bit, and I said, come on Cam, we’ve got to run faster, and he started to pull my hand a bit.  I was so proud to finish with him.  Seriously, I’m beaming now just writing about it.  Cam and I got an official picture taken.  It felt great having my wife and kids there along with my parents.  Of course, my sister-in-law and her kids were there for my brother who finished about 10 minutes before me.  Having a cheering section really does help.  In fact, in a happy surprise move, I saw my parents in the first mile of the run.  They took pictures.  I was tempted to stop and give them a hug, but I did not want to stop momentum.  I wanted to break the 9 min mile mark.  Overall, I’m happy with my performance, but I know I can go faster.

10 KM Time:  55:09 minutes (8:53/miles)

Total Time:  192:36 minutes


The best part of the triathlon is getting the cold towel on the head to cool off and drinking the ice cold water.  This year, I grabbed some watermelon at the post-race bar-b-cue, and that was some of the best watermelon I’ve had.

The worst part of the triathlon is the 1.5 mile or so walk back from the finish line back to the transition area.  I just finished the triathlon.  I swam hard, I biked hard, and I ran harder.  Then, you’ve got to go collect all your transition items and pack up and go home.  That’s the grueling part of the triathlon.

Mentally, I have mixed emotions.  I am ecstatic that I ran the entire run.  I really feel like a finisher.  I feel like I can call myself an age-grouper triathlete.  I am happy this year’s time 192:36 minutes beat my last year’s time 213:51 minutes.  In fact, I think a 19 minute improvement is great. However, I missed my realist goal mark by 4.5 minutes, and I missed my stretch goal by 12.5 minutes.  I know I can be faster.  I just have to figure out how to adjust my training to become faster while maintaining endurance coupled with the difficulty of scheduling workouts with busy family life.

The future:

My kids asked me before the race, will you win the race?  My first answer was No, I won’t win the race. However, I went on to explain to them, I’m not running against everyone else.  I’m running against myself.  A Triathlon is a mental test as much as a physical test.   To me, Triathlons and Endurance sports in general are similar to Golf. I’m competing with myself and the course.  Can I  run my best race and achieve a personal best time? After racing in 2010 & 2011, I know I can do better, and that is reason enough for me to sign-up for another Triathlon next year.

The nice thing about racing the same event year after year, is you get comfortable with the course set-up.  You also have an easy ability to compare performances between years.  However, the Chicago Triathlon is a bit of a logistics issue.  There are so many people, and its so busy.  I love it.  Yet, I might try a different race for a more intimate experience next year.  We’ll see.

Final Thoughts:

After training for an entire summer, and then completing the pinnacle event of my race year, I want to tell everyone.

Of course, I tweeted it, I facebooked it. and now I’m blogging it.

In fact, on Sunday, I almost wore my medal when I ran out to pickup some Chipotle for dinner  just so I could show-off.  I didn’t do that.

Finishing a triathlon without walking is an accomplishment I’m proud of.  In fact, I received all sorts of congrats from online friends.

Thank you to my family for coming out to the Race.  I really appreciate it.  Thank you to my friends who gave me congratulations. Thank you to all the Volunteers for a great Race.

Philosophical Ending:

Yet, there are plenty of other endurance activities we don’t cheer on.

For example, I have prepared and practiced my trombone for concerts.  I then performed in the concerts.  I tweet it, and facebook it, and I get much less congratulation responses.

Another example, you have a difficult project at work, you prepare months for the completion of the project.  You announce the finale to your friends, family, strangers, they don’t seem to celebrate those accomplishments as much as an endurance event.

Triathlons make me realize that Life itself is an endurance event.

We all have challenges.  We all have accomplishments.

Cheer each other on daily!

–Scott Stawarz

In the meantime, Swim, Bike, and Run!

Favorite Beginner to Intermediate Tri Training plans

I’m six weeks into my 2011 Triathlon Training plan.  Despite my early injury set-backs, my training is going great.  In fact, I’m lovin’ it!

I am a book reader.  I love books.  My wife and I were at the local bookstore a while back, and I told her, “I love to be among the books.”  I can just feel the knowledge pouring into me as if I’m getting a new training download via the Matrix.

When I was looking to start training for Triathlons, I went and perused, borrowed, and bought a bunch of different books.

There is one book that I keep going back to.

It’s the Complete Triathlete’s Training Manual:  A Unique Training Guide for Triathletes of All Abilities, by Oliver Roberts.

I love how it makes my training plan so simple.  Its makes it easy easier to fit my training sessions into my hectic lifestyle.

In my last post, I talked about my plan.  Since, I’m only shooting for the Olympic DistancesI try to exercise, 6 days a week. Run, Swim, Bike, Swim, Run, Bike, Rest.

Now, sometimes, I miss a day or something comes up, and what I’ve done is basically turn my next weekend workout day into a brick workout, or I will move my rest day around.  I try to avoid moving the Rest Day too much, because then you sometimes get stuck working out an extended period of time without a break.  We all should know, myself included, that Rest days are just as important as our training days.

Now, something else that super-charged my recent weight loss was a Dog Dare Challenge.  Basically, my brother dog-dared me into a weight loss challenge.  We basically were both lamenting on how difficult it has been to rein in our eating habits. So, we basically created a weigh-in day, we then challenged each other to a weight-off contest based on percentages.  Then, we held each other accountable.  It went great.  I really jump started my eating plan and helped me to lower my calories I ate.  It got me in tune with my portion sizes, and I have a better idea what I’m eating.  I still have difficulty with late-night eating binges when I’m working.  My solution to that is go to sleep, but sometimes work is calling.

Parting Tip:  While you are exercising, Count down how many laps, repetitions, or time you have in your activity rather than count up.  Looking ahead keeps us more motivated rather than looking behind.  When we look behind ourselves, we become complacent with how far we have come.

Party Tip:  If you are going to Drink Alcohol, remember Alcohol has calories so adjust your eating habits accordingly.

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Chicago 2010 Triathlon Bike Recap, Part 4 of 7

Post Triathlon Recap Part 3 of 7. I started writing up a recap of my event, and it kept growing and growing and growing. I decided to break it up. The purpose of the recap is give new people the thoughts and ideas they can use to help them prepare for their own future first endurance event!

Whoa, am I cruising. I think this is the fastest, I’ve ever ridden my bike. The swim was rougher than I thought, but this bike ride is fun. Yet, How come I’m not passing anybody? Whoa, there goes a cool bike and another and another.

The bike part of the Chicago Triathlon was super fun. Normally in my training, I’m average between 15mph and 16mph. Granted, I usually train over curvey somewhat hilly Forest Preserve Trails. I can’t go much faster with my bike or my tires will slip out, and I’ll fall and crack my helmet. Still, I did some road rides, and I only averaged 16mph. During the Chicago Triathlon, I averaged 17.5 mph. I was cruising. Yet, I was passed more than I passed.

It was a little demoralizing to know that I am going as fast as I have ever gone, and yet I’m getting passed more often than not. I really thought I’d be faster on the bike. Yet, I didn’t let that get me down. How often do you get to Ride on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago? Twice a year: once during the Chicago Triathlon, and once during bike the drive. (Am I missing another time?)

The lakefront in the northern part of the city is awe inspiring. Its super fun.

Some unexpected thoughts: Wow, those cars are loud. I knew to expect cars, but I was surprised at how loud it was. I guess that’s what I get for having 70% of my training in forests rather than roads.

Man, there were quite a few bicyclists with break downs, tire flats, etc. I guess it happens, and I’m glad it didn’t happen to me, as I have all the tools to change a flat, but I have never done it on a bicycle.

Whoa, Lake Shore Drive has lots of potholes and dangerous spots for bicyclists. There were quite a few times where if you had changed lanes, your tire would have gotten stuck. Of course, since the bike stops, the rider would have gotten through off the bike right into fast moving cars. It was much more dangerous than I expected, and I had to stay more alert.

The Lakeshore Drive in Chicago is hillier than expected. This wasn’t as big a surprise, because I had read that on a few different blogs. Also, because my training rides include quick changes in elevation regularly, the hills were not that bad. Seriously, Illinois is some flat lands.

Things I learned:

I need to look into training with some more bike gear: Cycling Shoes, Aero Bars, Clown Hats (oops that’s for my circus blog.) to get my speed up to the 20 to 22 mph range.

It may behoove a newbie to participate in the Bike the Drive event just to get some experience on the Lake Shore Drive.

Eating on the bike is not the easiest thing to do, but I recommend it. Its much easier to eat a snack on the bike than it is swimming and running.

I recommend staying hydrated during the bike. You probably won’t carry a water bottle running. On the bike, it’s a little easier. Just make sure your water bottle cages are tight as there were quite a few random water bottles that flew off due to the crazy pot-holes.

Practice your T2 transition before the event. What are you going to do when you get off the bike? How do you plan on transitioning to the run? What gear do you need? Will you need to change any clothes?

Also, I think I need to do more interval bike training to help speed up my event.

Finally, I think I have to remember, not to use up all my energy on the bike. I was going faster than I ever rode, and I still had a 6 mile run to do. Sometimes, its best to conserve the energy.

During the bike, twice I got that super Runner’s High. It doesn’t happen to much for me when I exercise. Its that supreme feeling of peace and happiness. It was about 1/3 of the way through the bike route. I just realized that, I was going to finish a triathlon. It was really happening. I had done the swim, I was cruising along on the bike, and I knew that even if I had to walk the 6 mile run, I was going to do it. At that moment, I broke in a big smile, and I had to choke back tears. It was a super feeling knowing that my hard work was paying off.

Then, I realized, wait a minute, Don’t count my chickens before they are hatched. I still have another 15 miles or so to go of biking, and the entire run.

I then started cruising even faster. I felt so good on the bike, and I was setting myself up for a great run. My T2 was super slower than the average, but I decided to switch shirts. I felt I’d be a little cooler in a different shirt, and the weather was just starting to get hot. After the swim and the bike, I was on pace for a sub 3 hour time which was my unofficial goal. My bike was 1:26:30 and the bike rank was 2795/3905.

As a side note: Today is the first day of the Chicago Triathlon 2011 registration. I still haven’t fully committed to doing it yet. So, I haven’t registered.

Tune in next time to see how my Run went.

Part 1:  Expo Day
Part 2:  Transition Set-up
Part 3:  The Swim
Part 4:  The Bike
Part 5:  The Run, if you must call it that.
Part 6:  Post Race.  Will I do a triathlon again?
Part 7:  Race Day Gear Thoughts

Chicago Triathlon Swim, Part 3 of 7 2010 Recap

Post Triathlon Recap Part 3 of 7. I started writing up a recap of my event, and it kept growing and growing and growing. I decided to break it up. The purpose of the recap is give new people the thoughts and ideas they can use to help them prepare for their own future first endurance event!

Scott Ready for the Swim

About an hour before my race time, I walked back to the swim start. I watched a heat or two, and just mentally went through the whole race. Mind you, the time is around

7:00am ish. I knew from my practice, that it would take me about 30 minutes to put on my wetsuit. Those things are a pain the neck to put on. They’re so tight and new ones especially haven’t been stretched out. Wetsuits are suprisingly very fragile and can easily rip. As I was putting on my wetsuit, I started to sweat like crazy. The weather wasn’t too warm yet, but it was warm enough to be in shorts and a shirt and be comfortable. My brother came out to see me, and he helped zip the wetsuit up. By the time I got my suit on, my heat for the race was already in the chute and close to being next. I had to cut through a couple of heats, to get to my group, the white caps. At this point, I’m a little nervous, but confident. I feel like I’m a good swimmer, and I put in more than adequate time swimming in the pool.

My brother was standing there with me on the other side of the fence, so I was able to chat with him. I asked him if my ears were supposed to be in or out of the swim cap. I had never wore a swim cap before, so I didn’t know. He said it didn’t matter, but for me it was more comfortable to have the ears in the cap. My wife and kids showed up just as I was the next heat to jump in the lake. That was super fun. My daughter, Miss M, calls me super Daddy when I wear my wetsuit. I felt proud to be demonstrating an active lifestyle to my young kids. That as you age, you can still have fun and be active. My parents did that with me by participating in sports leagues and hiking. I’m glad I learned that lessson, and I am passing that on to my kids.

Chicago Triathlon Swim Chute

Now, I have never did get a chance to swim in my wetsuit. I also did not get a chance to swim in Lake Michigan. I had no idea what to expect. I expected super cold water. When it was our turn to jump in the lake for our swim start, I was surprised at how warm the water felt. It was officially 72 degrees at the start, but with the wetsuit on, I was totally warm. Almost too warm.

Bang, My First Triathlon Starts

At the Chicago Triathlon, you tread water for a couple of minutes before the start of the race. Now, I think I am a strong swimmer. From my timed pool practice, I felt I’d be a little better than average in the lake. So, I tried to position myself near the middle back of the pack. There were a lot dudes in my heat. The gun goes off, and we start swimming. There is really no where to go at the beginning. The people in front of you are not going, because the people in front of them are not moving. Its a really slow start.

I felt totally unprepared. Swimming with a swim cap was totally foreign. I felt like I couldn’t hear. I totally recommend that you swim with a swim cap at least part of the time before your next race just so you can get used to it. As I was swimming in the beginning, I tried to swim with the cap covering my ears, then i stopped and then tried it with cap just above my ears. I felt more comfortable with it over my ears, but all of that was challenging to do while swimming.

Swimming in the Dark

Its not dark. In fact, the sun is up and it is pretty bright outside, but the lake water although it is clear, doesn’t have the white bottom of the pool. So, as your swimming its really quite dark. Visibility was really low for me. I could not see where I was going at all. I tried to pick my head up to sight, but It was so difficult.

So, the awkwardness of swimming in the wetsuit for the first time, the darkness of the water all have me spooked. In fact, I almost panicked. Seriously, my heart was beating so fast. I just could not get used to swimming and bumping into people. Everytime I tried to swim, I would bump someone. I didn’t mind people bumping too much, but it was when I would put my hands out and bump someone else. I felt terrible about it, because I felt it was my fault since I couldn’t see so well. Also, your just not used to swimming into people since you don’t do it in your everyday swims. I’m really glad I’m a good swimmer, because I just kept telling myself the swim is the shortest part time-wise. Spacing will open up soon.

I had to actually do some breast stroke just to call myself down a little bit. While I’m swimming, I’m thinking there is no way I am doing a triathlon again. I can’t imagine if the water is freezing or if dead fish happened to get in the course, etc. Yet, I kept saying to myself, just swim. Its not that bad. Just swim, get to the outside and swim. So, I did that. I just kept stopping to see where I was, and just kept swimming on the outside trying my best to swim around people. its hard to tell how far you go in the lake, because you don’t turn at the pool wall and there are obviously no laps. However, the way the chicago triathlon swim course is set-up, you swim south in the lake then turn around and swim back north past the starting area. So, when you hit that starting area again, you know you’ve gone about half-way. So, the whole part, I keep thinking. Swim to the buoy, turn. then, I keep thinking swim to the start.

Just swim.

One happy surprising thing about Lake water swims, is the water actually tastes pretty good. Its basically Chicago Drinking water without all the copper pipe taste. Its much better than chlorinated pool water. That was kind of refreshing.

So, I just swim and keep sighting towards the finish. I felt bad, because I mentioned I am a pretty good swimmer. Well, I would get in a groove and swim pretty fast, and then I would bump into someone. This would cause me to stop and see where I was in relation to other people. At this point, I could see where there was a swimming lane and just swim around people, and did that most of the time. Yet, there were a few times, where I would bump into someone, then see where the person is, I swim past them then bump into them again, the swim past. I was really spooked by the bumping into people. I don’t know why, because like I said I wasn’t afraid of drowning or anything (except when I almost panicked a little after the swim started). I guess its been a while since I let my competitiveness take over my polite-ness.

I finally near the finish line. I’m making a bee-line towards the steps, and there are steps in the lake. For the triathlon, they build these steps in the lake to get out to run to the

Scott Triathlon T1 Transition

transition area. At the swim exit, there are bunch of volunteers in the water helping you. That was actually really nice.

The Transition and the Swim Exit Mat, is actually a good 400 yards away from the lake. So, I started jogging, I took off my swim cap, and googles, I half unzip my wetsuit and start running.

Run a Triathlon Barefoot?

I was totally surprised how far the lake swim exit was to the transition area. 400 yards is a healthy jog especially when you are doing it barefoot with wet soggy sensitive feet. I felt like I was running on gravel and tearing up my feet. It was due to that, I wasn’t sprinting to the bike.

Finally, I enter transition, and I plop down on the hill and pull of my wetsuit. I knew from my experience, that I’d need to sit down to take off my wetsuit. I wasn’t going to have enough room by my bike. My T1 transition was long compared to the norm. I was about 7:00 minutes and the norm is about 4:30 minutes. Part of the issue was I forgot my heart rate strap, and had to go back and get it. I know to practice my transition for next time.

Overall, my swim time was decent. I was right at the pace I wanted. 35:33.

Tune in next time to see how my Bike went.

Part 1:  Expo Day
Part 2:  Transition Set-up
Part 3:  The Swim
Part 4:  The Bike
Part 5:  The Run, if you must call it that.
Part 6:  Post Race.  Will I do a triathlon again?
Part 7:  Race Day Gear Thoughts

Sunday Morning: Transition Set-up, Part 2 of 7 for 2010 Triathlon Recap

Post Triathlon Recap Part 2 of 7. I started writing up a recap of my event, and it kept growing and growing and growing. I decided to break it up. The purpose of the recap is give new people the thoughts and ideas they can use to help them prepare for their own future first endurance event!
Chicago Triathlon Swim Start

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP- Transition Time

Transition set-up is early. When you plan on doing a triathlon, no one really tells you that you have to be up at 3:30am even though your start time might not be until 7:52 or even later (9:36am). That’s right.

You have to wake-up and get your bike, your bike/run gear into the transition area and set-up before they lock the transition area off for the event by 5:45am.

Now thinking back on it, I should have expected this. How can you have people setting up a transition area, when racers are motoring through converting from swim mode to bike mode.

So awake I did.  In fact, it was difficult sleeping.  I could have set-up my transition at 2:00am if they let me.

While I was in transition, I’m looking for a spot. Experts say get to set-up early and try to get a spot near the end of your rail.

I couldn’t find my wave number. Finally, I found it. It was hidden under a tree. Yet, I had a sweet spot as I was near the end of the number.  Near me, around the tree, was open running alley that I could use to get near the fence line between the sprint racers and the international distance racers.

Now, that I’ve done one Triathlon.  One suggestion I do is actually practice your transition about a month before your event. What I mean by that is put out your items on the floor. Then, slowly and methodically go through the process of putting on your socks, shoes, etc.  This will help shorten your transition time and prevent you from forgetting anything.

Forget Anything?

One thing I did forget but remembered as I was a couple of steps from my transition area was my Heart Rate Monitor. Since I always trained with it, I felt like it would be a good idea for me to have during my bike and I stopped went back and grabbed it. Had I prepared and practice my transition more often, I’m sure that would have been avoided. Also, I think I will wear my heart rate monitor during the swim to avoid even having to worry about it during the transition. I was little worried it would be uncomfortable under my wet-suit. I don’t think that will be the case.

During the transition set-up, I walked to the bike-out area. I took mental pictures of me jogging out my bike. I also tried to mentally picture jogging my bike-in to converting from bike mode to run mode. I decided the path I was going to take. I’m glad I did that, because I had no decisions to make during the transition about how I was going to find my bike. I just followed the path. I didn’t do any crazy balloon or tape jobs like some people did. I just looked for my unique striped towel. That was a good idea. Bring a one of kind towel to put on the ground. It will re-assure you when you see it during transition that you’re in the right spot. Also, I walked to the swim-out, run-out transition spots. Again, I took mental pictures of the path I was going to take to find my bike. I went back a couple of times to my bike to make sure no one messed with my spot or squeezed it too much. All was fine.

Finally, I walked from the swim-out to the water exit area.  The idea again was to try to get the lay of the land and prepare myself for the actions I would need to take in just a couple of hours.  I walked the length of the swim. I checked out the water. It looked fine.

Despite the early set-up time, I have to say the whole transition set-up was really fun. I mean can you imagine there are 8,000+ triathletes all doing the same thing as you. Chicago and London duke it out for the title of the largest Triathlon in world. All these triathletes are out there pre-dawn focused on the task at hand. It really is very exciting, and the total energy was enormous. So, even though there are butterflies, I was having fun.

I went back to the swim start area. I wanted to watch the first swimmers off. Then, as I’m standing there waiting. The event announcer asked everyone to rise for the National Anthem.

Whoa, I am at a sporting event. That was a cool surprise to hear the national anthem pre-sunrise with bunches of other competitors and spectators.  I was pretty inspired.


The first waves got in the water even before the official sun-rise. There were a few clouds at the horizon that was keeping us shaded for a bit. After about 4 waves of swimmers (16 minutes), the sun decided to peak out from the clouds and the rays of sunlight was a beautiful yet powerful foreshadowing for the rest of the day. I decided to lighten my pre-swim gear bag and to do a pre-race restroom break. I walked about 10 minutes to my hotel room. I wasn’t worried about waking my family. Jen is a light sleeper, and I knew she would be up when I got up. I’m glad I went back, because I’m not sure that my bag would have fit in the swim-gear check bags they were handing out.

Tune in next time to see how my swim went.

Part 1:  Expo Day
Part 2:  Transition Set-up
Part 3:  The Swim
Part 4:  The Bike
Part 5:  The Run, if you must call it that.
Part 6:  Post Race.  Will I do a triathlon again?
Part 7:  Race Day Gear Thoughts

Saturday – Expo Day, Part 1 of 7 2010 Triathlon Recap:

Post Triathlon Recap Part 1 of 7.  I started writing up a recap of my event, and it kept growing and growing and growing.  I decided to break it up.  The purpose of the recap is give new people the thoughts and ideas they can use to help them prepare for their own future first endurance event!

Part 1) Saturday – Expo Day.

On Saturday, I drove downtown Chicago to the Triathlon Expo. If I told you I was not anxious or nervous for Sunday, I would have a pinnochio sized nose. I was short-tempered with everyone. Getting the car unloaded and into my hotel room was a pain in the neck with all the gear. We decided to park our car at a near-by lot to save a few $$ over the hotel lot. I don’t think I’ll do that again. Although, the theory behind that is, we’d have easy in and out privileges without the hassle of valet. Really, it was more a pain dragging bags across the city than the saving in dollars. So, I think I’ll valet next year.

Chicago Multisport Expo

Going to the Expo was cool. There were tons of vendors. Yet, I was so focused on getting my race packet, my body-marked, my free goodie bag, swim-cap, and attending a course-talk. I didn’t really let myself enjoy the Expo as much as I could have. I didn’t feel like mingling and hearing people’s spiels and product pitches. I had the dog-grip Triathlon focus. What did I need to do to finish comfortably, safe, and above average. That was the soul thing on my mind! I will say I’m glad I went a little early, because many of the vendors did sell out of the cool merchandise like race-chip holders and race-bands. There were tons of free samples and food. Next year, I’d love to get there a little earlier to hear an early version of the course-talk. Then that can give me some more time to relax and enjoy the expo. Once I heard the course-talk, I was much more at ease.  I had better expectations for the race.

Saturday evening was fun. My wife and my two kids walked around Chicago and met my brother and his family for dinner at Maggiano’s. It wasn’t quite the rest/recovery day I was expecting. I was so tired after chasing a 2 year old girl and 5 year old boy around downtown. Dinner was good as expected. I’d do that again. Getting pasta the night before was an excellent idea. I was little worried I ate too much, but I don’t think that was the case.

Okay. Skip this section if you get grossed out.

One thing that, and I talked to a few other triathletes, was unexpected was the nervousness in the gastro-intenstinal area. Let’s just say I needed to visit the restroom multiple times on Saturday, Saturday evening, and Sunday morning before the race. Just funny how race-day jitters come out fine in the end. (puns are terrible I know.)

Puerto Rican Jazz at the Chicago Summer Dance Festival

After dinner, as Jen and I were walking back, the Triathlon Hotel is right across from the Chicago Summer Dance area which happens every Saturday during the Summer in Chicago.  Jen and I had been in the past, Its so fun to hear live music under the stars in the city.  It was super fun watching Miss M and Mstr C dance and run around. However, I was so exhausted from walking all day with the stress of my first Triathlon looming, I just wanted to go to bed. I did allow myself some time to take in the atmosphere and even dance a bit with the kids.

Saturday Night, I barely slept. It didn’t help that my kids were wired from being in a hotel and to them it felt like Vacation. I was hoping the dancing would burn off their little energy, but it was the exact opposite effect.  They were ready to party! As I wrote before, I was all business mentally wise. I just wanted to get ready and go to sleep. I was going through my Triathlon checklist over and over again. I put my wristbands on. I put the stickers on my helmet and my bike. I was making some last minute tweaks to Set-up bags. The drawback of having my kids able to see me swim was the lack of sleep. However, I would want them there again.  The value in having family support was well worth it. Can we get separate room?

If you couple the lack of sleep with natural first-timer nerves, you’d think I was a wreck, but I felt laser-focused, but I was very, very testy and short-tempered. My wife and my kids were very nice to put up with my crankiness. I’m very thankful for their support!  Without them, it would not have been as meaningful.

In Part 2, of my 2010 Triathlon Recap:  I’ll write about transitions. You’ll have to wait until Part 7 to see all the thoughts that were keeping me awake.  (It’ll take me longer to get my gear photos ready.)

Part 1:  Expo Day
Part 2:  Transition Set-up
Part 3:  The Swim
Part 4:  The Bike
Part 5:  The Run, if you must call it that.
Part 6:  Post Race.  Will I do a triathlon again?
Part 7:  Race Day Gear Thoughts

[Updated to Add Links for next Part of the series]

Follow Scott Compete in the 2010 Chicago Triathlon

How to achieve your Personal Best in a Triathlon?

Step 1) Do it! Boom- you just achieved a personal best.

One of the coolest things about being a beginner for a triathlon, is that your first triathlon is a Personal Best Time! So all I have to do is finish on Sunday. No problem.

The not so cool part about being a beginner is the anxiousness, the jitters, and the doubts that I’m having.

Yes, I did do a ton of training. Yet, I didn’t officially follow a training plan. I made my own. Is that good enough? I won’t actually know until I prove it on Sunday.

A couple of things: If you are free on Saturday, The Chicago Multisport and Fitness Expo takes place downtown.

You can go to this website for details:

As I mentioned in my last post, if you are free on Sunday, it would be great to see you, but I know many of you are not able to make it, but still want to keep score at home.

Here’s how: Follow me on Twitter!

On Race day, I will tweet out a runkeeper link that you can use to follow along via GPS. Technology is so cool!

Also, you can try to follow along via the Official Chicago Triathlon Results for Scott

Here’s my bib number:
Start Time is 7:52am

Chicago 2010 Triathlon

Here is the official link for everyone’s Results for the 2010 Chicago Triathlon
Stay tuned for some more Triathlon 101 posts where I will detail my decisions I took good and bad to prepare myself for the Triathlon. I haven’t even started my first yet, and I am already thinking about where my second tri will be.

My year of action continues.