The other day, I was talking to some guy about sports. He had spent some time living in San Diego before heading east to Illinois.
I will say that again – he moved from San Diego to Illinois. Let me sit here for a minute while I hit my head against a wall for him.
We were talking about triathlon – imagine that – and how he had made the switch from triathlons to longer distance running when he moved to Illinois. Because, in his words, he didn’t like the idea of driving somewhere to ride his bike.
I’ll agree with that one. But I’m not about to take up long distance running any time soon. There is nothing even remotely pleasurable about the idea of running more than 50 miles in one day. Nothing.
Plus, he said, “there are no fast triathletes in this area.”
Wait, what? I’m sorry, say that again?
“There are no fast triathletes in this area.” He didn’t say it again, but I did, in my mind, to make sure I heard it right.
Now, I wasn’t about to get up on my soap box and say anything but for the sake of this blog, I will proudly scale my soap box so you can see and hear me, loud and clear.
Let me tell you one thing, if Illinois has one thing, and one thing only as far as triathlon goes, then it has fast triathletes.
I will now dismount my soapbox.
In my mind, I was creating a laundry list of all of the who’s who in triathlon from Illinois. Kona qualifiers, Kona world record holders, world champions, national champions from………drumroll, er, I mean roll the sound of construction trucks and backhoes please…….the land of Lincoln…….the land of 10,000 stoplights………the land of barricades and orange cones…………the land known as Illinois.
You see, you do not spend 7 months out of the year riding in your basement sweating salty bullets without getting fast. You do not jump into a cold pool in the dead of winter (which though indoors still feels damn cold) at 5:30 in the morning without getting fast. You do not spend 10 minutes dressing up in 10 lbs of clothing for a 30 minute run in – 30 degree windchill without getting fast. You do not drive over 40 minutes each way to find a road you can ride along without imminent death by traffic jam during the 3 months of the year when you can finally ride outside without getting fast. You do not find yourself running into a 38 mph wind when it’s 89 degrees as your eyes fill with bugs and your heart rate rockets up to zone 3 during warm up without getting fast. You....get the point?
We may not have mountains, or ocean swims, 1 hour and 15 minute climbs available at a steady 7 percent grade, weekly group rides, or bike lanes but what we do have are all of these other factors that make training such a mental and physical sufferfest that if you suffer through it, and recover, well, you emerge kind of…..fast.
I’m not saying that the rest of you in mostly tri-friendly cities are not suffering, too. But come on here, throw me a bone. Suburban Chicago Illinois? Are you kidding? Nothing, absolutely nothing about northeastern Illinois shouts triathlon lives and is loved here.
We are surrounded by suburban gridlock, it is completely flat, 40 miles west, south, or north is nothing but corn. 40 miles east is…yikes…Indiana. And all the people, well, where do I begin? If you are not an overweight, smoking, fast food eating, big gas guzzler driving, baseball fan then you have no business around here.
When people ask me where I ride, I have to explain that first I load up the car, then I drive the car about 40 minutes on a good day, then I ride on my bike about 20 minutes until I get to the middle of nowhere where the only life around you is a llama farm and a toothless man named Cooter driving a pick-up truck where stopping at stop signs is obviously “optional” and seeing signs that say “alpaca shearing at 3 pm Thursday” are common place. When was the last time you were dying to see a shaved llama on your ride? I’d take an ocean view any day.
Open water swims? Again, is this a joke? Does the deep well in the pool count? Let’s see, I can drive 30 miles, or 2 hours, downtown to a lake that still – in late May – has not yet warmed up above 58 degrees. Or I can drive 45 miles, this time only 1 ½ hours, north to a private lake that I can illegally climb a fence to swim in but might possibly contract e coli because its so filled with ducks and geese.
Hills? I have yet to find them.
So, instead, I ride into the wind. Speaking of wind. SPEAKING OF WIND. Funny that some of you feel the need to pay good money to test your bike in a wind tunnel to see how aerodynamic and fast you are. My suggestion – take your bike to road surrounded by corn fields, point it in the direction of the wind, and ride. If you are fast, you will hit 12 mph. If you are slow, you will go the other way. The other day I hit 11.2 going into the wind. All out. Easiest gear. That’s what 40 mph gusts of wind will do to you.
So I guess being a triathlete in Illinois may not be the most glorious thing, or the most easy. But I think that’s what makes us pretty darn good. It’s not hard to get up in the morning when it’s sunny and 70 degrees and go for a ride. No, that’s called a no brainer. As in, you have no brain if you choose not to ride. But when it’s 29 degrees and you have a 3 ½ hour ride and you think to yourself I can sit in my basement while my eyeballs bleed from boredom or I can go for an outdoor ride – well, you ride outside. And when your fingers are ready to fall off after about 10 minutes, you suffer through it. And you think to yourself no matter how hot, hilly, hard, windy, or horrible a race gets in the summer season it could never, ever, ever get as bad as THIS.
But it’s not all bad in Illinois. There are good things…….waiting……..waiting……..stretching my brain to find the good things……
Yeah, still not coming to me.
Anyways, I couldn’t help but want to shake this guy silly and say RETURN FROM WHENCE YOU CAME. TURN AROUND. DO NOT STAY.
But still, he sat there. And started to tell me why he was enjoying Illinois. And how there were some really fast runners here.
But not such fast triathletes.
I just smiled.