Lifetime Transamerica Chicago Triathlon
September 2, 2017
Travel: Amtrak -Travel to and from the race was smooth. Amtrak gives bike passengers priority boarding on longer distances. I was able to lock up my bike in a special bike compartment under the train, and find my seat before any other passengers boarded. Chicago Union station was less than 2 miles from the race expo and registration.
Packet Pick up: Saturday Morning packet pick up was seamless. Bikes were welcome in the host hotel. Bike valet volunteers on checked bikes, allowing athletes to attend the mandatory briefing and the expo without worrying on where to put their bikes. Race participants must attend pre-race info sessions prior to picking up registration packets. Info sessions were held every 30 minutes, after which, hand stamps were provided. Hand stamps acted as a ticket to packet pickup. Packet pickup was smooth, well organized and unremarkable.
Bike Check-in: Unlike some other triathlons, participants were allowed to drop off bikes the day before (by 5pm) or bring bikes to checkin the day of the event. While the flexibility was appreciated, this, along with the fact that bikes weren’t required to be racked in numerical order, created race-morning chaos (more on that later). Bike check-in was about a mile walk from the expo and was straight forward. Check-in was for bikes only, other gear needed to be brought on race day. Unlike other Lifetime triathlons, Tri bags were allowed (though space was extremely limited) on race day.
Race day: I arrived at the transition at 4:45am which gave me ample time to setup my transition area and beat the crowd well before transition closed at 5:30. As mentioned above, this race did not require bikes to be numerically checked in (eg. rows would say 1500 – 1600 and participants within that number range could rack their bike wherever they saw fit in that general area. At about 5:00am, people who had not checked their bikes in the night before began arriving and moving bikes and complaining that there was nowhere to setup their transition.
**At the mandatory briefing one race vet stated that he usually tied a bandana around the rail underneath his bike. This serves the duel purpose of marking one’s territory in the morning and making the transition area a little more visible during the race. I also keep a small flashlight in my tri bag. This came in handy as it was pitch black when I arrived at transition and the area was not very well lit.
Race course and conditions
Swim – Water conditions were choppy but temperate. The water was 72 degrees and the weather was overcast and mid seventies. The swim course for the Olympic distance was in the shape of the letter “J” -swimmers swam north, made a u-turn around a buoy, and swam south along the sea wall to the swim exit. Sprinters swam in straight line along the sea wall to the exit. The water was rough, but the water but clear and of seemingly good quality. The swim was awesome for spectators as they could see the entire length of the swim. Swim start was in waves separated in 4 minute intervals. Each wave of athletes entered together and treaded water for approximately 2 minutes prior to the start of their race. I preferred this type of start because it allowed me to get acclimated to the water prior to taking off. It would not be an understatement to say that 98% of the swimmers wore wetsuits. In the 2-hour period between the start of the event and the start of my heat, I only saw two other people without a wetsuit (for context, one person wore stars and stripes themed Speedos and the other old school swim trunks that went down past the knees). The distance from the swim exit to bike transition was from 1/4 up to 1/2 a mile depending on where a competitor’s bike was racked.
Bike – Road conditions were smooth and the course was generally fast and flat. There may have been one or two significant hills on the 25 mile Olympic course. By far my favorite part of the race was the underground portion of the bike. This portion of the race was wide, smooth, dark and hot, but invited riders to go all out. I was saddened but not surprised to hear of the riders being hit by cars, much of the course was on the highway with only cones separating 2 bike lanes.
Run – The run was flat, narrow, and spectator friendly. Runners ran along Lake Michigan and turned around at either the 1.5 or 3 mile mark. Water and gatorade were available at just about every mile.
The finish line was about a mile from transition and trolley’s were provided to get competitors and spectators alike back to the race start.
Overall the race was a great experience. The folks at Lifetime know what they are doing. There are great race perks (free pictures and an app for cyber supporters to track their triathletes, food after the race, and a race sponsored car with the name of every competitor on it). The medals while formulaic (both Chicago and New York’s medals feature a monument on the left and the host city’s skyline encircled in the center) are good looking and substantial in size and heft. If I had to nitpick, I’d say the race shirt’s design seems like an uninspired afterthought. Availability permitting, I’d love to return to do this race in the future.