My alarm was supposed to go off at 4:30am yesterday morning so I could be on the 5am first train to the Loop. The plan was to get in my 4 mile run along the river downtown, the lakefront, then double back to the site of the ITU Chicago race. But a round of our recently-frequent thunderstorms was pounding my window at 4:30 so I hit snooze and got up an hour later. By that time, the sun was poking out of the clouds. I got a humid, muggy run in from the Loop to Oak Street Beach then ran back down to Buckingham Fountain where the race was going on.
Aside from the inability to get enough training time in for these early-season races, I knew from the first announcement that I wouldn't race at ITU. Much like the Chicago Triathlon later in the summer...big city, crowded, expensive races do not appeal to me so much. (Neither do I want to do an unorganized, small, local race...happy medium is the way to go if you ask me.) They're a spectacle--which can be fun--but especially for triathlon we have so many weirdly unique needs.
It's one thing for a runner to roll out of bed and head to the start line of, say, a big city marathon. We need water and Gatorade, maybe a gear check. Triathletes need the right swim venue, the right bike course, a transition area, parking around the race because we have bike racks and tons of gear, etc.. Not to mention that big city races are more expensive. So, to me, when you add it all up you get less race for more money.
Don't get me wrong, I had a great time watching. And it seems like the early reviews from the record-setting 4,000 athletes are mixed headed towards positive. Everybody knew going in about all those u-turns and the lack of race-day parking.
Some of my complaints, specifically, would be that for such a well-known event there were not a lot of fringe benefits and at times the course setup and direction was a bit lacking.
--A portable toilet truck came to vacuum some of the event toilets at the Swim Start while the swim was happening.
--During the swim waves for the Olympic event, many members of the wave leaving the start line swam too far to the right and into oncoming swimmers from the previous wave still on the course. That, to me, is the fault of the race for a poor course layout/marking. I'm not mad at the starting swimmers for trying to find clean water and spreading out. But I definitely feel for those slow folks headed for the finish line on the other side, too. There were head-to-head collisions.
--Coming out of the water, those steps were a killer. But, even crazier, was that long, carpeted path under the bridge and over to transition. No worse than the long run at the Chicago Triathlon, I suppose. The event had plenty of help on the steps pulling swimmers out, but I saw a number of athletes stripping wetsuit and carrying it with them. A spot to do this out of the way and maybe a wetsuit-stripper or two would be classy.
--Leads me to a general issue though...what was with the lack of marking on-course? The railings had some USAT banners, but I was expecting some fancy banners, lots of professionally done signs, etc.
--This was especially evident on the end of the bike course...tiny signs telling how many laps for both Olympic and Sprint distance then tiny signs indicating which way to Transition. The dismount sign was equally...tiny. Thank God for two awesome workers who were yelling out to slow, right/left, and standing at the line. In just a few minutes of standing on the course I saw numerous confused riders weaving between cones in the wrong lane, not being aware of the need to slow down, etc..
I didn't think to myself once, "wow, I wish I were competing today." The opposite actually, I'm glad so many people enjoyed themselves...it looked fun and everybody seemed to be having a good time. But I'd have have been a little disappointed in the experience. I've heard a few things about the run course being crowded, the bike course being measured short, stuff like that.
I suppose no event can ever be perfect. But as some of these races ask more and more money from us, I wish a few of them would up their game for the price being asked. There are also some races out there that provide great value. I simply was prepared to be wowed by ITU being in town and it felt an awful lot like a redo of the Chicago Triathlon we'll be seeing 2 months from now.