Triathlon Across the USA: State #30–Illinois: Racing Rural USA
Litchfield, Illinois, September 11, 2016 – Some of my earliest memories are of going to town on Saturday afternoon for shopping and to take in a movie. The small southern Minnesota farming community of Trimont near which I lived while growing up was vibrant, having everything that I needed. Today, the town is struggling to survive with a population that is a fraction of that during my early childhood.
Meanwhile, forty miles south of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois is the rural community of Litchfield (population at the 2010 census was 6,939). Litchfield, the host city for the Litchfield Triathlou Triathlon, is a vibrant community working hard to remain strong both by creating a sense of community for area residents and by welcoming visitors to the area.
Plans for participating in this triathlon were made earlier in the year as part of the annual effort aimed at completing a triathlon in each of the USA states by age 70.
Since business required me to be in Chicago during the days before and the week after the Litchfield triathlon, I used the Running in the USA website to find triathlons in the area around Chicago during this period.
We eventually selected the Litchfield triathlon and completed the registration for it on February 19th based primarily on two factors:
- Distance from Chicago and
- Race description on the organizer’s website – “a race experience you’ll never forget!” and “Swimming in Lake Lou Yaeger is the best OWS you will have in the midwest.” (Note: OWS is short for Open Water Swim.)
7th Annual Litchfield Triathlou Triathlon
So what is it about the name? Triathlou?
It turns out that this unique name is a simple play on words based on the location of the triathlon, Lake Lou Yaeger. The race organizers, Racemaker Productions (link to: http://racemaker.org/), did not stop there. They also created a finisher medal involving both the lake’s name and one of the most important pre-race facilities – Lou (or Loo). Get it?
Race Day – September 11, 2016
The weather on race morning was perfect with the temperature in the high 60’s/low 70’s°F, modest humidity, sunshine, and no noticeable wind.
Transition Area Setup
Typical of race day, Joy and I rose before the crack of dawn in order to arrive at the race site in time for opening of the transition area. In this case, transition opened at 6am, well before sunrise.
One reason that I like to arrive early is to get a good position within the transition area, that is, one typically near the end of the rack. This generally makes finding my bike during transition easier and reduces, even if by only seconds, transition times.
I also check back periodically before the start of the race to correct for any changes to the area that can occur when others arrive and setup their transition areas.
I was glad that I made the final check today. Shortly before closing of transition before the beginning of the race, I walked past my transition area.
Where was my bike? After a moment of panic, I found that someone – a latecomer – had racked their bike in the original position of mine and moved my bike two positions down the rack.
While I had arrived at the opening of transition to have my bike on the end of the rack, it was not a real problem for the bike to be in the relocated position. However, had I not checked my transition area, I would have arrived during the swim-to-bike transition to find my bicycle ‘missing’, wasting time to find it.
My pre-race rituals may seem a bit obsessive to, well, many people. However, I have learned that arriving early and making the last minute check of the transition area reduces stress during the race.
Distances for the individual legs of the sprint triathlon were:
- Swim: 400 m (0.25 mile)
- Bike: 20 km (13 mile)
- Run: 5 km (3.1 mile)
While the race was ‘wetsuit legal’ with a water temperature of 78°F, I decided to make the short swim without the wetsuit because the water was quite comfortable and I had not yet tried fitting my wetsuit (which fits very tight) over my new Garmin triathlon watch (which is somewhat bulky). (Remember the advice: “Don’t try anything new for the first time during a race.”)
With the number of swimmers starting in each wave – 65 in this case – there was a significant amount of chaos and bumping into other swimmers. I did learn one lesson during this race, one that I had never before experienced – being kicked in the chest by someone doing the breaststroke.
From now on, I will know that when I come upon someone doing the breaststroke, I will keep a wide distance. The wide and hard kick associated with this stroke carries a punch.
After a gradual climb out of the park, the bike course followed a flat, paved road between soybean fields, corn fields, and the occasional grove of trees near farm homes. A few sharp curves kept the ride interesting.
Race organizers had done a fantastic job keeping the bike course safe by removing sand and gravel, especially on corners.
The run course was described as having “plenty of flats, and a couple hills throughout”. The first part of the race was down a long flight of concrete steps (a first for me) to reach the road making up the rest of the run course.
I am not sure if the person who wrote “plenty of flats” in the description had actually run the course. I would have written “mostly hills”, at least that’s how it felt to me.
After finishing the race, I spoke with a young lady who, I learned during the awards ceremony, was the overall winner. I was comforted to know that she shared my feelings about the run course being hilly.
After the race
While enjoying snacks and drinks after the race, I had opportunity to talk with fellow racers, race organizer’s staff, and race sponsors (thanks for the post-race stretch and for helping me diagnose a problem with my bike cadence sensor).
For fellow senior triathlete, Paul Guthrie, the Litchfield triathlon was his first. Despite having one artificial knee and two artificial hips – which had limited his ability to train for the run portion of the triathlon – and an older hybrid bike with an un-curable problem in shifting between certain gears, Guthrie finished second in his age group.
While we talked about bikes, another senior triathlete informed us that he had completed a half-ironman triathlon (56 mile or 90 km bike ride) using his mountain bike. The message: it is not mandatory to spend a lot of money to participate in triathlon.
I also learned that Mr. Guthrie has a goal analogous to my ‘triathlon in 50 states’ goal, that of turkey hunting in all 50 states. He is ahead of me in that he has already held a world record for bow hunting turkey in Guatemala.
We (seniors) have such interesting stories.
- First triathlon in which the race ‘t-shirt’ was actually a ‘hoodie’ (hooded sweatshirt)
- First in which part of the run course was on stairs (concrete steps)
- First in which race medal was a pair of sun glasses
As much as triathlon has provided the motivation for consistent physical activity and learning about fitness and nutrition (see Reason #1 of “15 Reasons for Those 50 and Older to Do Triathlons”), triathlon has also provided opportunity to visit and experience parts of the USA that we most likely would never get to.
The Litchfield Triathlou Triathlon provided opportunity to visit the warm and welcoming community of Litchfield and, once again, meet incredibly interesting people.