Triathlon Across the USA: State #30–Illinois

Triathlon Across the USA: State #30–Illinois

Litchfield, Illinois; September 11, 2016 – Litchfield Triathlou Triathlon, Lake Lou Yaeger Beach

Some of my earliest memories involve being in 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. It had nearly everything we needed. Today, however, the town is struggling to survive. Its population 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 still-vibrant community. Residents have worked hard to keep their town strong by creating a feeling of community for area residents and by welcoming visitors to the area.

Planning the Illinois Triathlon

I made plans to compete in this triathlon earlier in the year. This process had become part of a yearly effort once deciding to complete 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. This would eventually lead to me completing triathlons in Illinois and Indiana.

We eventually chose the Litchfield triathlon and completed the registration for it on February 19th based primarily on two factors:

  1. Distance from Chicago and
  2. 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

Triathlou is a unique name. So, what was this about?

First, it came as a play on words based on the triathlon’s location, Lake Lou Yaeger. 

However, the race organizers, Racemaker Productions, didn’t stop there. They also designed a finisher medal with the lake’s name and one of the most important pre-race facilities, the ‘loo’ also known as a porta-potty.

Triathlou-finisher-medal
The Litchfield Triathlou Triathlon finisher medal represents an important triathlon fixture whose nickname also relates to the race’s name.

Perfect Weather for a Triathlon

The weather on the morning of the Illinois triathlon was, as Mary Poppins says, ‘practically perfect’. The temperature was in the high 60s/low 70s Fahrenheit with modest humidity. There was plenty of sunshine and no noticeable wind.

Setting Up The Transition Area

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. For this race, transition opened at 6 a.m., well before sunrise.

One reason I like to arrive early is to get a good position within the transition area. This is one at or near the end of a rack. This makes it easier to find my bike during transition. It also reduces the transition times, even if by only seconds.

Before the race, I also periodically check my transition area. Sometimes, other racers have changed my setup as they have organized their space.

Today, I was especially glad to have made one last check.

Shortly before closing of transition before the beginning of the race, I walked past my transition area.

As I walked past my transition area I thought ‘Where is my bike?’. After a moment of panic, I realized that someone, a latecomer, had racked their bike in the original position of mine and moved my bike two positions down the rack.

While my early arrival allowed me to position my bike on the end of the rack, it was not a real problem for the bike to be in its new position. However, had I not checked my transition area, I would have arrived during the swim-to-bike transition to find my bicycle ‘missing’, then wasting time to find it.

My pre-race rituals may seem obsessive to many people. However, I have learned that arriving early and making the last minute check of the transition area reduces stress during the race.

Sprint Triathlon Distances

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)

Swim

While the race was ‘wetsuit legal’ with a water temperature of 78°F, I made the short swim without the wetsuit. First, the water was quite comfortable. The second reason was that I had not yet tried fitting my tight-fitting wetsuit over my new, somewhat bulky Garmin triathlon watch. Always remember the advice: ‘Don’t try anything new for the first time on race day’.

For this race, there were 65 swimmers in each wave. With this number, there was more than a little chaos, including bumping into other swimmers. 

I learned another lesson today – the wide and hard kick associated with the breaststroke carries a punch. This lesson came while passing a breaststroker and being kicked in the chest. No injury, but they definitely made an impression.

In the future, I will keep a wide distance from someone doing the breaststroke. 

open-water-swim-start-triathlon
Open water swim start at the Litchfield Triathlou Triathlon at Lake Lou Yaeger near Litchfield, Illinois.

Bike

After a gradual climb out of the park, the bike course followed flat, paved roads between soybean fields, cornfields, 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 sweeping sand and gravel from the roads, especially at corners.

rural-triathlon-bike-course
The Triathlou Triathlon bike course was flat, passing between corn and soybean fields and the occasional stand of trees.

Run

Organizers for my Illinois triathlon described the run course 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 that made 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. It comforted me to know that she shared my feelings about the run course being hilly.

After the Illinois Triathlon

While enjoying snacks and drinks after the race, I talked 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.

I also spoke with fellow senior triathlete Paul Guthrie, for whom 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 incurable problem shifting between certain gears, Guthrie finished second in his age group.

While we talked about bikes, another senior triathlete informed us he had completed the 56-mile (90 km) bike leg of a Half Ironman (Ironman 70.3) triathlon using his mountain bike. It is not mandatory to spend a lot of money to take part in a triathlon.

I also learned that Mr. Guthrie has his sights set on something similar to my ‘triathlon in 50 states’ goal. His is to hunt turkeys in each of the 50 states. I am pretty sure he will finish his quest since he already holds a world record for bow hunting turkey in Guatemala.

With a lifetime of experiences, most seniors have interesting stories from which we can all learn.

Race Firsts

  • First triathlon in which the race ‘t-shirt’ was actually a hooded sweatshirt, also known as a ‘hoodie’.
  • Having part of the run course on concrete steps was a first.
  • First triathlon in which the age group award was a pair of sunglasses.

Takeaways From the Illinois Triathlon

As much as triathlon has motivated me to stay active physically and to learn about fitness and nutrition (Reason #1 of 15 Reasons for Those 50 and Older to Do Triathlons), triathlon has also given us the chance to experience parts of the USA that we would never have gotten to otherwise.

It was also encouraging to see the vibrant and welcoming farming community of Litchfield and, once again, meet incredibly interesting people.

Where is Your Favorite Place for a Triathlon?

Do you prefer racing in the country or in the city? Share your reasons and experiences in the Comments.