To those of you wondering – Yes, I’m alive and yes, I finished =). The biggest triathlon in the world. Done. One more thing off the Impossible List.
Here’s the story.
The Night Before
Saturday evening I headed downtown for the Triathlon Expo. An hour of chaos and a bag full free energy bars, I met up with Mark Lawrence, Nina Yau & Brandon James for our own mini-Chicago blogger meet-up. We had a nice pre-race dinner at a small Peruvian restaurant complete with chicken and plantains [along with a full-fledged debate over whether or not I look like Tim Ferriss or not] before heading back to Mark’s place where we ended up hanging out for a bit, until I decided to crash around 10pm and Mark & his buddies decided to go out.
Early Morning Wake Up
I woke up at 3:15 and got my stuff ready. Mark gave me a call at 3:30 and still wasn’t back [the guy likes to have fun]. He came back to the house and dropped me off at the race at 4am and I headed to the transition area to set up my bike & get ready. After getting all-set up I spent the next 4 hours warming up, fighting off butterflies, and stretching. Sometime in between, I decided to shoot this video.
My wave finally started lining up for the swim portion around 8:30. We got put into the water at 8:46 and and 8:48 the chaos started. I’m was expecting the usual kicking and grabbing, but this was much more intense. Within the first minute, somebody had kicked my hand so hard, they broke my watch.
Awesome. Timing Device #1 Broken.
It still technically worked but it detached half of the watch from the wrist band so it was flopping around making it near impossible for to read it while swimming without stopping mid-swim and using my other hand to look at it.I took the time to do this as I passed the half-way marker and was happy to see that I was at about 18 minutes – right on pace with my expected swim time. I kept going strong but some of the faster swimmers from the wave behind me were beginning to catch up. I could feel them on my heels [literally] and started kicking a little bit more so I could get out of their way. They responded to my kicking with some grabbing and at one point, someone grabbed the band holding my timing chip and ripped it right off! I felt it go and immediately grasped at my ankle, but my timing chip was already at the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Awesome. Timing Device #2: Broken.
I got out of the water and fiddled with my watch to glance at the time. Somewhere around the 35 minute mark. Not too bad. I glanced down at my ankle to check my ankle for my timing chip. Yup, definitely somewhere at the bottom of Lake Michigan. I shook my head and tried to clear it as I started the 1/4 mile jog towards the transition area.
Somehow, out of the 8,000 bikes or so, I actually managed to find my bike fairly easily and managed to get on my bike relatively quickly [although i don’t actually know exactly what “quickly” means since both of my timing devices were out of commission]. As I started pedaling down Lake Shore Drive, I looked down at my speedometer as I got up to speed. After a quick double take, I realized that my speedometer said I was going approximately 0mph. Apparently someone had bumped my bike’s wheel during the transition, and messed up the device on the wheel that relays the speed information.to the timer.
Awesome. Timing Device #3 Broken.
I would have tried to figure out & fix the speedometer, but I was in a race and I was too focused on avoiding the potholes that apparently everyone was hitting [I passed at least 15 cyclists on the side of the road waiting for the sweep car after having their tires blow out]. The course was two loops on Lake Shore Drive so I tried to gauge my time on my watch every time we turned around. I did each one-way distance in approximately 2o minutes and finished the bike portion [to my best guess] in about 1 hour and 20 minutes because I remember pulling into the transition area at about the 2 hour mark. Grateful, I scraped through the course without blowing a tire, I hopped off my bike, dropped it off in the transition area and started jogging south towards the run-out section.
This was by far the most brutal part of the race. I remember thinking as I left the second transition, that I would be planning on finishing around the 3 hour mark. All I would have to do is run 6 miles at a 10 minutes pace. Easy, right?
I was wrong. So wrong.
I started running and I don’t know what happened, but I was gassed. On top of that, after the first 1/2 mile, we ended up running on the sidewalk along Lake Michigan down past the Shedd Aquarium, Soldier Field and McCormick Place. If you’re not familiar with Chicago, there’s no shade of any sort on this route. The temperature was pushing 90, without a cloud in sight, and it was getting close to 11 and I was running straight into the sun.
It was so hot.
I started plodding away at the course and it seemed to take forever. I don’t know at what point I realized my pace was so absolutely slow, but I remember somewhere around the two mile marker, I thought to myself
This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life
6 miles isn’t that far for me. I’ve done it plenty of times before, but at that moment it really seemed impossible. I kept looking over at Lake Michigan since we were running right next to it the whole time and just kept wishing I could go jump in and swim my way back to the finish line. The heat was really getting to me. At some point, I just went on autopilot. I stopped worrying about my pace and just focused on finishing.
As we made the turn a little past the halfway mark of the course, I tried to pick it up, but it was all I had to just keep running. Somehow I managed to convince myself not to walk any of the race except for the water stations where I tried the interesting maneuver to get the water in the cup into my mouth [a surprisingly challenging task with my current level of energy]. Somewhere near the 4th or 5th water station they ran out of water so I had to stop at the drinking fountains along the path to get hydrated. As we got to the last 2 miles, people started to populate the race-way and yell out “encouraging” statements. As much as I appreciated the attempt at encouragement, I swear they were lying. They kept shouting:
- “1 more mile!”
- “800 meters left!”
- “This is the last 400m!”
After the first few announcements of distances, it was fairly obvious none of them knew precisely how far was actually left. They were just poor [although well-intentioned] guesses. I started to block them out and just focus on going forward. I finally turned the last curve and saw the finish line. I tried to sprint the last part, but I really had nothing left. I crossed the finished line [sans timing devices] and all I could think was
Holy crap, I just did that
I spent probably 30 minutes alternating dumping water on my head, panting in front of one of the industrial fans they had set up and slopping cold towels over my head in a futile attempt to cool down. I was so hot. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so hot in my entire life.
I had passed a few ambulances on the run segment, but as I looked around the finish line and saw a number of people on stretchers with IVs in their arms, I thought to myself:
There are way too many ambulances here
I went back over to the fan, leaned up against the guard rail and put my head down as I let the fan cool me off. After a minute or so I had an older guy tap me on the shoulder
Are you okay?
Just checking…you looked pretty inert.
I’ll be all right…I think.
I finally cooled down enough to walk out of the finish line and stumble over to some shade and lie down in the shade.
I took the train back out to the suburbs, got home, took a shower and crawled in bed at 4pm. I woke up at 6am Monday [a 14 hour post-race nap!] and I spent the rest of the day Monday recovering from the race. I’m fairly sure I had at least a mild case of heat exhaustion. I woke up and was ridiculously hot and dizzy. I spent the next 6 hours alternating between drinking gatorade and water, taking cold showers and putting ice on my forehead. It was not a good day. Sometime around noon, I managed to start walking around without getting constant dizzy spells and by 6pm or so, I was doing okay and even manged to drive back to Indy last night.
For the first time in a while, I don’t have any races on the immediate horizon. I’m thinking that I want to do a 10k and a half-marathon before the end of the year, so I’m looking at a few different ones coming up in October and November. The tri season is coming to a close, but I think I still may be able to fit one more in somewhere before it’s done for good. [If you know of a good one, let me know]. The next few weeks, I’ll probably take it pretty easy on the workouts and give myself a chance to recover. Turns out, these impossible things end up consuming quite a bit of energy :).Apology #1: I’m sorry this update’s taken so long to post, I know a lot of you have been asking about the results and I appreciate the interest & support so much, you have no idea how much it means to me but I was in no shape for writing the last few days, so I got this up as soon as I could.
Update: First Set of Pictures are Here
Haidn Foster says
Awesome job, Joel. Congratulations. Way to stick to your dreams and keep knocking them off your list like this. (Also, I can’t believe ALL those timing devices broke!)
By the way, you do look a little like Timothy Ferriss. At least probably more than anyone else in that little Peruvian restaurant. 🙂
Best (and back from vaca.),
Joel Runyon says
Thanks Haidn 🙂
p.s. You’re back! I was wondering what happened to ya 🙂
Congratulations Joel! This is what I like about you. You had a few things during the race that could have shaken you but you persevered and moved forward and you did it. You set out to complete the Chicago Triathlon and you did it! So congratualations for knocking off another “impossible thing” on your list.
BTW…you do look like Tim Ferriss in that video. 😉
Joel Runyon says
haha, that’s what Mark said! O well, I might just have to start a career as a TF impersonator 🙂
Josh Crocker says
Dude…you’re my hero!
I loved the way you retold the story. I can imagine myself as to what it must’ve (sort of) felt like, having run a few races and having gone through some challenging things in the high heat with the military.
Amazing story Joel. The best part is, that it’s TRUE!
Great job man. Can’t wait to see the pics!
Joel Runyon says
Thanks Josh! I gotta say, I loved the video you found of me training…I can’t believe you found it…so embarassing 🙂
Pics coming soon.
Todd Caraway says
Woohoo! Congrats Joel! Knew you would do great. A great inspiration! Keep it up man. …and no apologies for the timing of this post…you deserved some time to relax and recoup.
Super proud of you man!
Joel Runyon says
Vivek Mayasandra says
Congratulations Joel! This is one hell of an accomplishment! I’ve had like 1/100th of the feelings you probably had during the Triathlon when I did my first 5k – the getting up early and so many people to maneuver around! I’m from Michigan and Chicago summer temps are nothing new to me – it’s truly amazing to not only complete it, but also did well! Nice work, buddy. Seriously inspirational – you’ve got me thinking of training for stuff like this.
Joel Runyon says
Thanks Vivek. It definitely wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. I think my next few race attempts will be someplace a little cooler…like the arctic 🙂
Timothy Morris says
Joel, I am so proud of you man. That is impressive. I knew you could do it. I love the photos. If you are looking for a marathon to run check out the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. I was a marine so I know of that one.
I look forward to chatting it up with you soon. I have an adventure for you if you are interested. I am heading to northern Canada in a few weeks for a canoeing trip in the wilderness.
Joel Runyon says
and it’s a HALF-Marathon 🙂 I’m still working my way up 🙂
Let’s talk about it when we chat here…
Yeeeeah! This is so great, man. Really happy for you.
Joel Runyon says
Thanks man =) Can’t wait to see what you’ll be unveiling here in the next few weeks!
Congratulations Joel. You must be thrilled at that accomplishment. A shame about your timers. I had no idea triathlon was so violent. I guess you’ll just have to do it again to find out, right 😀
Janet Eubank says
Congrats Joel!! What a inspiration. You kept going when everything seemed to be against you. I will be doing my 2nd Tri this Saturday. Its only a Super Sprint, but you have to start somewhere. My first one was 4 weeks ago and I came in 2nd place in my age division! My weakest event is the Swimming! But I’m working on it. Trevor should me your blog. Thanks for sharing. Janet
Joel Runyon says
Thanks Janet! I’m getting addicted to the tris!. The sprints are a great way to get started. They’re hard, but definitely a good introduction. Congrats on your placement! All we have to do next is get Trevor to start racing 🙂
Jessica Leonard says
I have found your site through the wondeful world of facebook.., while enjoying the wonderful Cincinnati Fireworks in the comfort of my home, I saw Pat’s post about you commenting about his book, so I thought to read up on your blog..
First~ Great blog, you gave me some good ideas :0
Second~ Chicago Tri– My first big triathlon 2 years ago, and reading your post made me smile thinking about that extra awesome day for me.. Even though I had my timing devices, the night before in prep of dropping off my bike I popped a tire, with only 1 extra spare tube, using this, I thought of nothing else during that bike portion, is I didn’t want to be one of “those” people cleaned up on LSD..I remember sitting and waiting in the wave time frame, and the crazy cluster of kicks and pulls during the swim.. and that run.. so boring and so hot right 🙂 I remember my dad calling my mom in that last finish shoot saying here she comes 🙂 and like you I finished..
Then looking at your list.. I saw Ironman.. that weekend after I raced in Chicago, I volunteered at the Ironman in Louisville in 2008, and then signed up the next day… knowing I have never completed a marathon, or rode my bike over 100 miles before… However, In 2009 I raced and finished raising $10,000 funds for Girls on the Run (a non-profit charity that promotes a healthy self image and life of self respect for girls 5th-8th grade) , and I signed up Monday to race again.. to try the impossible.. goal to raise $20,000! Impossible? nah.. bring it on 🙂
I love your theory..I love the idea, I have 2 mantras 🙂 I WILL, and IMPOSSIBLE is NOTHING.. (yeah Addidas, I know, but I can share it right?!)..
Best of luck to you in your journey.. I will be following, and hopefully one day I might even train/or see you next to me on the road during an Ironman 🙂
Keep it up 🙂
Joel Runyon says
Crazy Story Jessica! Talk about an inspiration. I’m not nearly there yet, but I’m working on it.
Very cool of you to run for the charity and raise so much money for such a good cause!
Good luck with the next Ironman. Impossible IS nothing, you can [and will] do it.
Keep me posted on your adventure!
Mark Lawrence says
I am honored that I had the chance to drop you off at the race. Congrats on the tri! Was awesome meeting you in person for the first time! Was like Couchsurfing meets Blogging meets Tim Ferriss look a like. Congrats again man!
Joel Runyon says
I’m honored for getting the chance to crash on your couch. I was dreading an early morning drive from the suburbs 🙂
If I’m back in Chicago before you leave, we gotta meet up again. (p.s you need to post the TF pics so we can show everyone & get a vote).