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I’m A Triathlete!

August 31, 2011 –

My body springs to life as I hear my alarm go off at 3:30 am on Sunday, August 28. My mind races with the day ahead of me. 90 days of training (See HERE for my nutrition and training plan) and countless hours of discussions with experienced triathletes culminates into today.

There are a few moments in my life when I can remember initially thinking how cool something would be to do and then finding myself doing it years later. In seventh grade, my sister brought me to a high school water polo game and I sat in awe of this amazing game that looked so cool yet so hard. 2 years later I am in the water swimming up and down the pool with this crazy looking cap on my head playing the sport. From walking down the aisle for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, to walking down the aisle marrying the love of my life. From holding my children in their first moments of life, to getting that big promotion at work. These are the milestones that the master chiseler uses to shape and define us.

I have wanted to do a triathlon for such a long time and today was the day that my dream was going to come true. (Click HERE for more on this) I had done a Sprint triathlon as part of my training earlier in the  season, but for me it was the Olympic distance that was the true definition of a triathlete. (Click HERE for the results of my Sprint distance.)

My love for P90X is a well known fact to most of the people in the office, including my team. So in January when the sign-up for the Chicago Triathlon was opening, two guys on my team laid down the challenge. They had both done the Chicago Tri and I mentioned how much I would like to do one. “Come on Mr. P90X. Let’s see what you got!” LOL! So I signed up and took on the challenge. This was going to be the year. As I told them that I signed up for Olympic distance, they both were somewhat surprised as they had done it last year, but only the Sprint distance. So they signed on the dotted line for Olympic as well.

I looked at my to-do list when I woke up to ensure I got to the transition area when it opened up at 4:15am. With over 8,000 triathletes, Chicago holds the largest triathlon in the nation. Given the first wave goes off at 6am, they need everyone out of the transition area by 5:45am. My wife and I were staying in a hotel about 1km or so from the race. I had my backpack all packed up with my gear so all I needed to do was fill up my water bottles and off I went. My wife wished me a groggy good luck in setting up and out the door I went. As I walked out of the hotel around 4:00, a crowd of people walked in. None of them were walking very straight. One girl says to me “What are YOOOU doing?”. Even though she was clearly inebriated, she was good-natured so I humored her. “I’m going to setup for the triathlon. “ She responded, “What is THAT?” LOL! I laughed and moved on. Time was a wasting.

As I rode my bike down Monroe St. towards the lake, it was a gorgeous Sunday morning. I love the look of the Chicago sky line in the dark. As I reached Lake Michigan at the Chicago Yacht Club, I turned left down towards the transition area. It was 4:10am and they were letting people in. I thought “Okay, I am Wave 42 #6441.” As I look at the signs above the racks I could have not been more thrilled with were I ended up. The path I was on into the transition area, which would end up being the “Swim In” and “Run Out”, lead right to Wave 42’s rack. Now the “Bike In” and “Bike Out” were on the opposite side of the transition area. I wanted to place my bike at the end of the rack closest to the Bike Exit. I verified my decision by seeing others do the same thing. As I set up my area, I placed my socks inside my bike shoes, my bike gloves next those, and my helmet on top of my bike gloves. My running shoes followed to the right with my headphones and Droid X2. I had (2) packs of 3 Clif Shot Blocks I placed into my running shoes so I could place them in small pockets of my tri shorts during T2. I placed two extra water bottles behind my gear to take a quick swig in between sports. Lastly, I placed my towel over my gear so I could grab it quickly after my swim.

In the course talk the day before it was encouraged to walk the transition area to get to know your routes in and out for each sport. I walked up to the bike in and out. No problem: over one more rack to the right, straight up to the top of the area, and to the right lead us to the on-ramp to Lake Shore Drive.

I looked again at the transition area, once again walking through what I was going to do after each sport, and then said goodbye to my setup. Next time we would see each other again was during T1 after the 1500m swim.

As I walked back to the hotel, everyone was lining up to get in. I got back to the hotel around 5:00. Being that my start time was not until 9:02, my wife had set a second alarm for us at 6am. I laid down in the bed and actually fell back to sleep for about 20 minutes before the wake-up call came again. It was time to suit up sans my wet suit.

I drank my Shakeology right away to help promote what triathletes call “dump management” before a race! LOL! While my wife and I were at breakfast, I had some gluten-free oatmeal along with some dry Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal and a banana.

Race Time

Okay, this was it! With wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles in hand, we headed down to the swim area. The official water temperature was a very pleasant 74 degrees. The day’s high was in the upper 70s and they had said it was the nicest weather in 14 years of the race. You needed to enter the “chute” 20 minutes before your start time. As I slipped on my wetsuit, my excitement began to build. This was it! I was not nervous because I was not married to the outcome.  And given I had no idea how long the transitions would take, I had set a goal of 3 hours sans T1 and T2. I was confident I could do the bike in under 90 and the run in under 60. My 1500m swims in the pool were averaging around ~34 minutes. But my #1 goal was to have fun, enjoy the ride, and be safe.

I was one of numerous waves that contained Males 35-39. However, Wave 42 lucked out because we got HOT PINK swimming caps. Woohoo! Every 4 minutes a new wave was up and we inched towards the stairs into Monroe Harbor. 9:00 hit and they ask us to start getting into the water. The water temperature was perfecrt, but there was a good size chop  due to 15mph winds. From all my years of water polo, treading water is like walking for me. The key is to get your upper body and lungs almost parallel with the water so your butt is as close to the water as possible. The air in your lungs then provides buoyancy for your entire upper body. Steph got a great picture of me (see below) as I waved to her right before take off.

4…3…2…1. The air horn goes off!!

1500m Swim

We were heading up the harbor and then making one turn to head all the way back down to the Chicago Yacht Club. As I started, it was tough to find a space to get into my cadence. I also found that this lovely chop in the water was requiring me to lift my head out more than usual as to not take in a massive gulp of Lake Michigan. Being a right-sided breather, I could see the crowd on my right side. For that first 2-300 meters, I struggled. I could not get in my cadence. As I came up for air, I felt like I couldn’t get the volume of air I was used to. I haven’t had any issues with my asthma in years and I wasn’t wheezing, but it felt like I just couldn’t get enough air. Maybe it was the adrenaline, but between seeing the crowd, not being able to get into a cadence, and constantly trying to find my open space, I was thinking this could be a very long swim ahead of me. As we came up to the end of the harbor to turn around, I actually side stroked to gather my wits, look in front of me, and try and find an open lane. As I swam, I started to feel better and get into a better cadence. There was only one problem. I had a real issue staying straight. Since I had turned around, I no longer had the wall to keep me straight. My right side was now looking into the harbor. I would go down for 30-40 strokes and take a peak up to make sure I was going straight.

Along the right side of the course they had row boats there to kick you back into play if required and to ensure safety for the swimmers. As I got my cadence back I was plowing ahead making for lost time and my hand hit something hard. I popped up thinking it was maybe one of the row boats. It was an actual boat docked in the harbor! I was way off course. I looked to my left and noticed I had slipped through a couple of the row boats and was about 10 meters off to the right. Yikes! Embarrassing! LOL! I put my head down and plowed to get back to the course. Once I overcompensated on the other side and found myself right next to the wall, but I avoided a massive collision. You can see in this short video my wife took how I am drifting to the right, nip someone’s foot, need to look up, and readjust. This happened alot!

I then found myself modifying my stroke to keep myself straighter. When I breathed on the right I would do a quick look to my left to see where I was versus the wall. The swim seemed to go on forever. As the waves kept coming, I felt like the front V of a boat chopping through them.The last 500m was my strongest as I was finally in my rhythm. As I headed for the steps to exit the water, they had people assisting us out. I had never done a transition from the swim. It was a 450 meter run along the harbor to the transition area. They actually had someone unzipping your wetsuit and pulling it down to your waist as you started the run, which was great.

Transition 1

I have to admit that after the swim, I was tired! Mentally it was very tiring and I used my legs more than I had wanted. But I kept a jog all the way to my bike. They actually count the 450 meters in your swim time as your T1 time does not start until you enter the transition area. As I got to my bike, I sat down, pulled off my wet suit, and toweled off my legs to put on my socks and bike shoes. I grabbed (3) shot blocks and tossed them down the hatch followed by some water. With my helmet and gloves on, I ran my bike through the transition area. About 15 meters outside the transition area, we could mount the bikes,.They had told us during the course talk to put your bike in a low gear because you would be going uphill at the start. Luckily, I had remembered to do that and off I went. However, I was struggling to get one of my shoes in the pegs. There is nothing like going uphill with one pegless shoe. Finally I jammed it in and it stuck. Later after the race, I had found out why. I must have stepped in some GU on my run up to the mount as the bottom  front of my shoe was covered which then attracted dirt and grass around the pegs.

40K Bike

As I started the bike, the 15 mph wind was right in our face. UGH! I could feel my legs burning and I didn’t want to be a hero and burn out early. The route consisted of two loops around Lake Shore Drive to make up the 40K course. Most of training was on a lot of hills, so it was a welcome change to have a relatively flat surface. I could see my average speed was higher than in my training. As we made the first turn back, the wind went from my worst enemy to my best friend. I was cruising along at 20-22 mph feeling great. There were a lot of cyclists who had had some bad luck with flats, bent rims, and other unlucky circumstances. Being that this was Lake Shore Drive, I was very conscious of potholes and other obstacles that would cause me to end my race earlier than expected. As I finished Loop 1, it was time for the wind to turn on me again. Knowing the course a little better, I felt my second loop was faster. My  quads and hamstrings were getting tighter than I liked, but I kept pushing through ensuring not to push to the point of cramping. I remember looking down at my computer seeing myself going 22mph at Mile 22.2. Almost done. I had masking taped a sleeve of 6 Shot Bloks to my handle bars which worked out great for me. A day earlier I had bought a second water cage as well which I was very thankful for. Around mile 23, the last drop of water came for my second water bottle. As I headed down the ramp, I heard Steph’s voice “GO MIKE!”. You have no idea what an energy booster that is to hear.

Transition 2

As I dismounted the bike, a lady next to me said “Great Ride” and I replied “2 down, 1 to go!” Everyone is so encouraging to each other, the place was electric with energy. I knew my T2 would be faster than my T1 given easier logistics. I did a quick shoe switch, grabbed my headphones and phone along with my Shot Blocks, and I was off. My consistent work on the Bike / Run transition paid off because the typical spaghetti legs didn’t come.

10K Run

As I came out of the transition area, I saw Steph again and said “One more to go!” and off I went on my 10K. As we ran between two ropes, people cheered on both sides. Soon we were going along the backside of the Shedd Aquarium and towards McCormick Place. The first mile actually went somewhat quick. However, I remember thinking I must have missed the second mile marker because it seemed to take forever. I saw the 5 mile marker for the way back, but no 2 mile. Then on the horizon I saw it. After that I got into my zone and felt like Forrest Gump. “I just kept running!”  A lot of people were walking, but I was not going to stop. At each water station, I grabbed a Gatorade and 2 waters. After a while,I started pouring some watermover my head which felt great. A few times during the race, my inner thighs were getting really tight. I just needed to prevent any cramping, so I kept pushing through and hoping it would subside. When I hit the turn I thought, “This is it!”. My watch read around 11:45am. 12:02 was the 3 hour mark. I wanted to keep my cadence and just keep going. With any new race distance, I was hesitant to kick anything up to early. My goal was to finish strong and not burn myself out before the finish line. The last 3 miles went extremely well. During the whole run I would shout out to the people heading the other way on what a great job they were doing. It was so much fun: people slapping hands as they passed each other and shooting words of encouragement. As I passed the 6 mile marker, I kicked it up to finish the race strong. As I went through the tunnel under Lake Shore Drive, I came up to see the finish line. I kicked in everything I had left and raised my hands. The announcer said “And here comes Mike Roberts. Great Job Mike!”

I slowed to a walk, got a finishers medal, and saw Steph to my right and she snapped my picture.

The Aftermath and Final Results

And it was done. I was a triathlete! A wave of accomplishment came over me. It felt so awesome. I scrambled up the crowd to meet up with my wife and share the moment with her. It meant everything that she was there to share this with me. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to relish in the moment as I had to get back for a flight to the west coast for work at 6pm.

On the way home, I told her about the mental games you play with yourself during an event like this one. The thing that kept running through my head was the following:

Everyone is running their own race at their own pace. You run your race at your pace.

Whenever you are passed, this competitive side comes out and wants to catch that person. But you forget all the people you are passing. You don’t know how many times they have done this or what their training regime consisted of. Maybe this sport is their strong spot and they will struggle somewhere else. The bottom line is “Who Cares?”. Wear you blinders and worry about you! This is your race.

So here is how I ended up.

With my T1 + T2 ending up at 7:40, I fell just under 5 minutes shy of my goal of a 3 hour race (sans transitions). It was my swim that caused that, but I don’t care. Are my ranking phenomenal? No. But I did it. I ran my race and I had a ton of fun.

They say when you run a triathlon, you catch the bug. So will I do another one? You betcha. And I can’t wait!

Thank Yous

My first and biggest thank you goes to my wife and kids. Honestly, the race is the easy and fun part. It is the training that takes up so much time. And for that I humbly thank Stephanie, Alex, John, and Samantha for allowing me to get away and train for this event.

I would like to thank Steve Langer and Gunjan Shah for putting down the challenge in January and to Steve for helping me train over the past 90 days.

I would also like to thank fellow Beachbody coaches Dr.Wayne Wyatt (my  coach), Dr. Jon Indovina, and Dr. Hung Tran for some much needed advice on a late breaking medical issue that almost put me out of the race.

I would like to thank my sister Cathy Splett and all of  Team Salute for letting me run the race for their phenomenal organization. I am still going to put a shameless plug in here that it is not too late to sponsor me and donate to this great cause. You can see the link HERE! And yes every dollar matters!

If you want to know how to combine P90X and Triathlon training or would like to become a member of Team Right Now, just click HERE. I coach others for FREE!

I have posted a lengthy photo journal of the day! Thank you to my wife for being such a great photographer.

August 27 – Getting Marked Up at the Expo!

August 27 – Monroe Harbor:  Where the swim action all happens!

August 27 – The Swim Entry Stairs are up and Ready!

August 27 – Buckingham Fountain with Willis Tower behind her. Just a gorgeous day!

August 27 – Swim Exit Stairs are still going up. I wear my P90X2 shirt with pride!

August 28 – By 4:20am, I am setup and I have the best spot on the rail!

The transition area for 8,000 triathletes is just massive!

The final moments before suiting up.

Getting Ready!

One last shot with my fan club! :)

Fully Suited Up and ready to enter the chute.

Wave 42 in our HOT PINK caps! Woohoo! There I am waving to Steph ready to head in.

Wave 42 in the water. I am in the back raising my hand to Steph. I did work my way up towards the middle of the pack before  we took off.

The chaos ensues. You can see others in yellow caps heading back on the other side.

Great shot Steph got…

Here I am just getting out of the swim and prepping for my 450m jog to the transition area.

Here I am at the end of the 40K bike.

Here I am at the start of the 10K Run

I love the look on my face. Relief combined with a feeling that can only be accompanied by crossing a finish line.

Steph grabbed this picture a minute or so after I finished. Nothing like a good banana after a race.

Wearing my TEAM SALUTE gear!

The look of relaxation!

Few more pics from professional photographers

22 Responses to “I’m A Triathlete!”

  1. Chad Helvey says:

    Awesome story Mike. Proud of you buddy!

  2. Deanna Bullock says:

    Just plain awesome Mike. What an inspirational story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    I once did body marking for an Ironman in Utah and then handed out water on the run later in the day. I was so sore in my quads from all the times I had squatted down to mark calves and then stood up to mark arms. I can’t imagine how the athletes felt. :)

  3. Indo says:

    Awesome Story, Mike!

    I don’t know if I could do one of these, so it’s even more Impressive to me! Especially love the last picture—Shavasana…

  4. Hung Tran says:

    Great blog entry Mike. Congrats on making your dream come true. Really shows you what P90X and Insanity Asylum and a whole lotta determination can do for you. I will need to revisit this article many more times in the future as I progress with my own personal training. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. James Garr says:

    Wow, great post. I’m not interested in doing a triathlon, but I’ve always been interested in how they work and what goes into training for one. Very impressive.

  6. Sarah G says:

    What an experience!!! Nothing I’ve done has nearly that quantity of people! Must have been an adrenaline rush all unto itself! There’s so many of them down here, but that one certainly looks fun, may have to visit the in-laws in late August next year;) You did awesome, great job, and great documenting!

  7. Deborah Roberts says:

    Mike..we are so proud of you. The story meant so much and all the great pictures that Steph got made me feel like I was right there. What an exciting event.

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