Liz and I headed to downtown Chicago on Sunday, thinking that it would be good way to get our long run and open water swim in. In retrospect, I kept on thinking about that one line Lloyd Bridges kept on saying in the move "Airplane". Looks like I picked the wrong weekend.
Getting downtown was moderately OK. We hit a little traffic at the "Hillside Strangler" which has been the scourge of I-290. I believe that this part of the highway where I-88, I-53, and I-290 merges is ranked in one of the top ten traffic headaches in the United States. Chicago spent enormous amounts of money to reconstruct the area about 5 years ago, but you still can't change the fact you have 8 lanes going down to 3. The rest of the way downtown was more traffic once we got within 2 miles of our destination, which can be really of bummer, because you are JUST SO CLOSE!!
We parked the car in my sister's condo and then proceeded by bicycle to the Ohio Street beach. As we crossed Michigan avenue, Liz was ahead of me and as she went through, the light turned yellow. I knew that crossing a 6 lane intersection would take more than 4 seconds (DOT mandated length of yellow), so I picked it up not to get caught too far out when the light turned red. Unfortunately, some kid who was waiting for the precise moment of that red light to step out into the intersection, did so. I had been going pretty fast to get through the intersection, and now a kid was about to blindly step in front of me. His father instinctively grabbed him and pulled him back, but I'm pretty sure that I was now "another dangerous cyclists" in their eyes. Great. Looks like I picked the wrong weekend to ride downtown.
Once at the beach, Liz and I racked the bikes, and ended up having a conversation with a stranger about swimming in what looked like a pretty choppy lake, and triathlons in general. The bike rack at Ohio Street Beach is usually a hub for triathletes as it's a good open water swim location, is next to the running path, and has solid bike racks that's in an area that's pretty safe theft-wise. Liz and I got our running gear all set up and talked about our plans. Either head North on the path which can be more scenic, but crowded, to North Avenue Beach; or take the less crowded, but boring, South route to McCormick Place. We chose the South route because of wind direction (we would be coming back into a nice, cool, headwind), and as a bonus, we could follow the Accenture Chicago Triathlon race course.
We set off on our run and I ducked off early into an outhouse, causing a separation between Liz and I. Running was going good until I got to the Shedd Aquarium where construction barricades were blocking the path I knew. I jumped down to the break wall and ran around the Shedd there. When I got towards the Planetarium, more construction barricades greeted me there. After some cross country short cuts, I was back on what I assumed was the path I knew from Accenture.
All of a sudden, I found myself alone running through green fields with the sun on my face. Where was I? I definitely didn't remember this at all and I was confused. All I kept thinking about was the Russell Crowe line from Gladiator that my friends keep quoting when they're dropped and riding alone in the corn fields of Ragbrai. "If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you're already dead!" Turns out I had made some bad shortcuts and ended up in what was Meigs Field, which was at one time a small lake-front airport for the rich and famous, not Elysium as I had feared.
After I got myself backtracked enough to figure out where I should have zigged instead of zagged, I got back to the course. Unfortunately, once I got there, I was greeted by more construction barricades, and in addition to that, I now had a huge crowd of at least a thousand women; all wearing pink, walking and chatting down the path on a charity walk-a-thon, replete with banners, balloons, and bubbles. After all that, I got to my guess-timated turnaround that compensated for my earlier Meigs Field foray, and turned into that "cool-breeze" I had anticipated earlier. Except now it was significantly stronger.
The Lake Front path is multi-user, so now all the cyclists that were simply zipping by me on the way out, were no longer able to do that into a stiff headwind. I actually ended up being able to out run them, which is actually a not fun on the path. The path is tight as it is, and if you have to overtake a cyclist, there's a lot of maneuvering and effort required. As a rule, people on bikes don't like being passed by someone who's running because it's just simply a reminder to them that they really should be going faster. So, you just don't overtake a cyclist, you have to make an "attack" on them, lest you end up playing some cat and mouse game with them for the next 5 minutes. I finished up my last 35 minutes this way, got back to beach, and pretty much concluded that this was not the lake front run I was looking for. Looks like I picked the wrong weekend to run downtown.
Liz came in a minute or two later, we got kitted up for our swim, and looked at the daunting chop on the lake the increasing winds had created. Lake Michigan really does not get "waves". It more or less gets varying degrees of "chop" or "big chop". The ocean gets these big waves that curl in and crash onto the shore with a beautifully rhythm of "slam-rip-hiss". Michigan's "waves" are like something you would get if you tried running with a bucket full of water. The water sloshes back and forth on the sides, having no "wave-like" motion to it. Just sloshing, slapping, and spilling.
Were not the only ones getting in. There had been other people who had been standing there on the beach in their wetsuits, getting psyched up to go, since we got back from our run. You could tell they were apprehensive about entering the "washing machine" the lake had become. I had experience in this before, so I knew what to expect. Liz really didn't like the idea, but since other people were going in, she followed. We got about 100 yards in and I was literally finding myself suspended in the air at times as the chop would toss me up and I would come crashing down a foot or two. It really wasn't swimming. It was just churning the arms when you could grab water. I had learned a while ago that it's better to just slow down the stroke when swimming in chop and take your pulls when you can. It was definitely slow going and at times I was taking in water faster than the Titanic. Liz didn't like the idea of swimming far out to the buoys, so we just swam back and forth, staying close to the shore.
We saw swimmer after swimmer go in and then go right back out. I think that motivated Liz to stay in there longer, knowing that she was out-braving other grown adults. But this really wasn't swimming. It was just survival of the chop. Once you do this, any other rough swim you encounter in a race is nothing. Challenging as this was, it was not something I really wanted to do after a 90 minute run. Looks like I picked the wrong weekend to swim downtown.
Got packed up, rode back to the car, and discussed our options. Eat here, eat there, go back this way, go back that way, etc. I couldn't make a decision in any case and simply headed straight into a traffic jam of everyone fleeing Chicago. Great. I usually take the train downtown to avoid these headaches, but we had driven today because Sunday's train schedule is really spaced out. Looks like I picked the wrong weekend to drive downtown, too.
PS. Congrats to Eric and Liz Ott who came in 1st and 1st on their 1st wedding anniversary at the Naperville Triathlon yesterday.