“So, this is a thing I’m doing…” I nervously chattered to my fellow Chicago Athlete Ambassador Kristan Huenink, squinting as the sun rose over the Pleasant Prairie RecPlex and the mist dissipated over Lake Andrea showing the large buoys and numerous perfectly spaced rest areas on the swim course. I struggled to remember how to don my wetsuit for the just wetsuit legal waters. For years I maintained a relatively busy racing calendar with numerous half marathons and marathons, and beginning in 2016 some triathlons as well. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my last in-person race (and open water swim) was in 2019. The Iron Girl Sprint Triathlon was the ideal event for my return to racing.
Iron Girl is an all women race, including a Duathlon, Triathlon age group waves, a Buddy Wave for those that wish to race together with their friends and family of all ages, and a relay. Numerous nurses and teachers competed, as well as a large age 60+ wave and at least 8 women over the age of 70, and many first-timers. The Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance is the charitable benefactor of the race and representatives kindly provided participants important information about ovarian cancer.
The positive energy of the participants and volunteers was extraordinary. The day before the race at the course talk and transition bike racking, experienced triathletes casually offered advice and answered questions from jittery first-timers. The morning of the race as I set up my transition gear I felt the strong sense of camaraderie, community, and excitement. Bike technicians from Endurance House of Delafield were available and reduced pre-race stress by filling my tires and double-checking I reattached my front wheel and brakes properly after transporting my bike. Volunteers wished us good luck and as I waited on the beach to start friendly competitors complemented others’ wetsuits and kits and offered words of encouragement to the many first-timers. The weather was perfect on race day. The rising sun made it a little tricky to see the swim course from the beach, but my mirrored goggles helped once we were off!
The swim is a friendly half mile straight point to point across Lake Andrea. The water was clear enough to see aquatic plants at the beginning and near the end of the swim. Swimmers of all paces started the race standing in the pleasant knee-deep water. Buoys lined the left side and kayaks and platforms were on the right for resting if necessary. A few steps out of the water and athletes entered T1 to dry off and jump on their bikes. Volunteers provided water within the transition area. The 11-mile bike is a fun fast and flat course with two turnarounds. Volunteers were on the course flagging and shouting encouragement at the turns and turnarounds. Participants cheered and encouraged each other on opposite sides of the road and while passing. There is a slight incline during the last two miles before heading back to the photographers and T2. The 3.1 mile run course is a fast and flat semicircle around Lake Andrea, with an out and back on a gravel path, and then continues around Lake Andrea to the finish line. Volunteers provided water and Gatorade before and after the gravel path section. The participant and crowd support on the run course was excellent, with shouts of joy and encouragement to all participants. The finishing chute had large crowds and an announcer naming the finishers and shouting “You are an Iron Girl!” I was so excited and inspired to see several mother-daughter participants finishing together, I called my 70-year-old mother who enjoys endurance sports and expressed interest in triathlon to consider this race with me in the future for her first tri.
The overall positivity and empowering energy makes this race a must. I engaged with and encouraged every person I passed or that passed me on both the bike and run, which was really special. Although I was nervous about my return to racing and open water swimming, the energy put me at ease. The race gear, including the pink participant shirt and black bag with flower detailing are cute and will definitely be used again. The top age group prizes are cute and unique bracelets with charms saying “live your dream,” which I was proud to see Kristan receive as the 2nd place finisher in her age group. At the finish line athletes received a medal, rose, and water. Athletes were able to refuel with a sandwich, chips, cookie, and drink from Corner Bakery, and at 11:00 am two beers per participant from Hop Haus Brewing.
I thoroughly enjoyed my return to racing experience and had so much fun! I highly recommend Iron Girl to any woman, especially first-time triathletes.
Written by: Whitney K. Siehl
Whitney is a dedicated Plaintiffs’ attorney seeking justice for consumers and survivors of sexual abuse and harassment, including survivors of Harvey Weinstein. She was an active participant in athletics and dance growing up, including four high school varsity sports. In college she was a member of the Northwestern women’s golf team and a member of the Miami University cross country and track teams. She has run the Chicago marathon since 2012 and has completed 11 marathons to date. After learning to swim in 2016, she has since completed a half Iron distance triathlon, numerous short course triathlons, and the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco. She has served as a volunteer half marathon and marathon pace group leader through CARA and Grit Endurance and as a member of the Team PAWS marathon fundraising team since 2015. She hopes to inspire other busy professionals to live healthier and balanced lives through endurance sports.