I knew nothing about swimrun racing before I actually RACED the 2016 Chicago Swim Run. I had seen some photos from the Otillo races overseas but wasn’t quite sure what the rules were or what the whole sport was about. A good friend of mine (who also was responsible for me getting into triathlon), Todd Smith, had gone to do the Rockman race in 2015. He and his partner had used the lakefront path in Chicago to train for the event and done the inaugural Chicago Swim Run last summer; just the two of them. This year I was lucky enough to be invited to participate along with 8 others.
Todd trains a group of athletes at DePaul University’s Ray Meyer Fitness and Recreation Center. This was the group I trained with over a decade ago. The crazy thing is there are still some of the same people in the group. This “Tri Clan” has a wide variety of athletic abilities but they all share a passion for one thing: experiencing life through movement.
Swimrun races are done with a partner. I had asked several people to join me and no one was really interested. I eventually posted something on Facebook about the event and a BASE athlete, Tony Huckeby, reached out wanting more information. He and his wife Missy are awesome athletes and super fun people. I asked him if he and Missy wanted to race and he said she wasn’t up for it this year but maybe next year – so the next question was – okay well, do you want to be MY partner? Tony was all over it. He’s a better runner than I and I’m a slightly better swimmer so I thought we would balance each other out.
Tony had way more knowledge of swimrun racing than I. I had no clue what equipment to bring, what to eat, how to eat, how to pack things, I was just super confused all around but figured how hard could this be – it was 14 miles of running and 3 miles of swimming broken up along the lakefront of Chicago.
The night before the race all of the racers met up at the Local Option, a bar I used to frequent in college. It was so great to see Todd and meet all the new faces in Tri Clan. We raised a glass to our adventure and went over the race course, rules, and tips. It turns out entrances to the swims were marked with tape, there were like 2 rules, and the tip we got was don’t get lost.
The next morning, we met at the north end of the Lakefront Bike Path. At 7:15 “ish” Peggy, a long time Tri Clan member, started us off. There was no ‘start line’. It was just a group of us not 100% sure of what the rest of the day would bring and who didn’t necessarily care.
The next thing I knew we were all jogging together down the path. I really wasn’t quite sure where the swim entrances and exits were so I was hoping Tony and I could keep Andy and Todd in sight. There was a group of six of us when we got to the first swim. It was already a warm morning and it felt SO good to get into the cool water of Lake Michigan. Tony and I jumped in from the beach – shoes on – and swam. My prepared partner had given me a buoy that attached around my thigh to use to lift our legs up while swimming. It helps reduce the drag from your shoes. It felt so funny to swim with my shoes and socks on. Gladly, I was blister free all day.
To explain the rest of day you have to imagine yourself as a 10 year old kid running around a pool deck in the summer screaming CANNONBALL then getting out running around the pool deck again only to repeat this behavior all day. It was fabulous. It was refreshing. It was FUN.
My favorite set of swims throughout the day was the Fullerton “pier jumps”. We ran down a pier, cannonballed in, and swam to the beach. We got to do that three times. I was smiling my face off each time I got to jump in the water. Ron Burgundy would have been proud.
The race continued to be this mix of physical exhaustion and excitement when we spotted our next swim. Tony and I stopped a few times to clean our shoes out from sand and rocks but for the most part we just kept trucking along. There was one long stretch of running where we just debated jumping in the lake because it was so damn hot. We also concluded that we would both probably be way faster triathletes if they allowed cannonballs into ice water throughout the race.
The whole day seemed like one big adventure. We weren’t concerned with our time. That’s a total lie. We were. And we’re both competitive. We knew we were kind of close to Todd and Andy (and they are freaking beasts) so it was fun to stay after them and at the same time there was no trophy at the end. There were no timing chips. It was competition for the sake of competition.
When Tony and I finished our last swim and ran toward the stop light that served as our ‘finish line’ it was so strange how proud and happy I felt with zero pomp and circumstance. Todd and Andy clapped us in. It was one of my favorite ‘finishes’ in my racing career. Todd asked me how it went and my response was “my soul needed that”. The event was a reminder why I got into racing in the first place. It was about the experience not the glory of a victory or a PR. Of course it is fun to say we are the co-ed champs of the 2016 Chicago Swim Run…but that’s just icing on the cake.
I am forever grateful for my crazy friend who invited me to do this race. Of course, Tony and I will be back next year…and we will beat Andy and Todd.