On Saturday, the Fitness Formula Club (FFC) held the sixth indoor triathlon of the 18th Annual FFC Indoor Triathlon Series at its Oak Park location.
The series, which began in January with a duathlon at the FFC South Loop and concludes in April at FFC Lincoln Park with three triathlon options (USATri60, Sprint and Olympic distance races), includes ten races of various formats at eight different FFC locations throughout Chicagoland. New for 2017 is the USATri60 format, which involves a 10-minute swim, 30-minute bike and 20-minute run with 10 minutes to transition between swim and bike and five minutes between bike and run. Rank is determined by the total accumulation of distance over the three disciplines in 60 minutes. Seven of the nine races in the series feature this format, along with USATri60 swag, including a t-shirt, TYR goggles, USAT drawstring bag and swim cap. When you complete your second race in the series, rather than a cotton USATri60 shirt you receive a gender-specific FFC Indoor Triathlon Series technical t-shirt – a nice upgrade.
After my first indoor triathlon earlier in the month at the FFC Indoor Tri at the Gold Coast location, I decided to apply some of the knowledge I acquired through that experience to see how I might fare against the competition in my second indoor triathlon. The biggest lesson I learned from my first indoor triathlon experience was strategy; in my first indoor triathlon I approached the race the same way that I would any other triathlon – do my best in each leg of the race while reserving enough energy for the subsequent disciplines. I discovered, however, that with the USATri60 format if you’re primary objective is competition and you’re in it to win it, a better strategy is to swim as you would in a regular triathlon to accumulate as much distance as possible while maintaining a solid energy reservoir, then leave it all out there on the bike and just get through the run. I am pleased to report that this strategy does work, but, oh the suffering that it requires!
My day started with a quick 15-minute drive from the city to Oak Park. As strange as this might sound, I had never been to Oak Park prior to the FFC Indoor Triathlon and was really surprised with how easy it was to get to the FFC from Chicago, noting the very close proximity of the gym to a stop on the CTA blue line. The FFC in Oak Park had a very similar set-up to the Gold Coast with the locker room on the third floor (ie transition area) and the treadmills and spin bikes on the second floor. Unlike the Gold Coast location, the pool was located right off of the locker room which made the first transition pretty seamless.
After checking in, setting up my transition area in my locker with a little less obsessiveness than the first time (lesson two: A lot can actually be accomplished in 10 minutes), I checked in at the pool. With a couple of no-shows, my wave was pretty small and afforded me a lane to myself for the swim portion of the race – no worries of bumping into other athletes while swimming almost-all-out for 10 minutes.
I had some time before my wave began so I took a couple of laps for a warm-up and once again marveled at how much faster I swam in my speed suit compared to the regular swimsuit that I trained in. The water in the pool was really warm – it almost felt like bath water – so I didn’t spend too much time on a warm-up to avoid overheating before the race began.
After chatting with a couple of other women in my wave, we readied ourselves and the race began. I swam steadily for 10 minutes, but fell half a length short of the distance I set in my first indoor triathlon, (bummer), and headed off to transition and got ready for the bike leg.
Upon arrival at the bike location I employed lesson three: Take the time to make sure you have a comfortable set-up on the bike. I failed to do this in my first indoor tri and spent thirty minutes riding on a saddle set at an awkward angle that made me feel like I was going to fall off the back of the bike. That was really uncomfortable, distracting and not great for generating power; I was aware of the current standings of athletes in the previous waves going into the bike leg, so I knew that I had tied the leading female on the swim and would need to accumulate another 12.2 miles between the bike and the run in order to take the lead.
During my first indoor triathlon my strategy on the bike was ride around my FTP (functional threshold power, which is the number of watts you could-in theory-maintain for an hour if racing all-out, based on a percentage of the watts generated during an all-out 20-minute test) so that I’d still have something left in my legs for the run. This time the strategy was go as hard as possible and accumulate as much mileage as I could on the bike in 30 minutes, so that very little mileage was needed on the run to take the lead in the women’s race. Employing this strategy was a LOT more painful than just hovering around FTP for 30 minutes.
As with my first indoor triathlon, I was armed with my iPod to help pass the time, but I was so focused on what my body during this triathlon that I barely aware of the music. Ten minutes in my legs were burning, breathing was labored and I’d created a kiddie pool of sweat beneath my bike. 20 minutes, 25 minutes, almost there, finally 30 minutes were up and I had accumulated 10.4 miles on the bike. Awesome. As long as I could hold at least a 10-minute pace on the run I could take the lead in the women’s race.
My legs were absolute Jell-O and shaking as I changed from cycling shoes to my running shoes and approached the treadmill. The five minutes between bike and run seemed to pass at an accelerated rate as I willed my legs to stop shaking and my heart rate to settle down. My irrational fear of falling off the back of the treadmill slowly crept in. In the blink of an eye it was time to press start on the treadmill, set the speed at 6.0, (10-minute per mile pace), and begin the 20-minute run. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my legs weren’t as traumatized by the bike portion as I had originally thought, and settled into my regular routine of increasing the speed 1/10 of a mph every 1/20 of a mile for half a mile and then going back down the same way for half a mile to keep my mind entertained throughout the run.
I was actually feeling pretty good after the first mile so I decided with five minutes to go I would bump the speed up to 7.0 and increase every minute for the first three minutes then every half minute for the final two minutes to eek out just a little more mileage. Those last couple minutes were hard and left me panting next to the treadmill for a minute or two. I was extremely excited to discover that I’d created a sizable margin over former leader of the women’s race, as well as improved upon my last indoor tri by .06 miles (12.95 at the Gold Coast race to 13.01 at the Oak Park race), and after receiving my medal and chatting with a couple of other women headed to the locker room for a quick shower before heading home and awaiting final results.
As with my experience at the third race in The 18th Annual FFC Indoor Triathlon Series, it was clear to see that these indoor triathlons are perfect for athletes of all levels, from the first-timer looking to complete a triathlon to the extremely competitive. It can be as intense or as laid-back as you like. This weekend I definitely chose intense, (and had to forgo subsequent workouts on my agenda as I was SPENT!) There are still four events remaining in The 18th Annual FFC Indoor Triathlon Series, the next on March 4th at the West Loop FFC. I highly recommend anyone even remotely interested in triathlon to check one out and give tri a try!
Top Finisher Results:
- Jacek Kafel, 15.15 miles
- Wes Bel, 14.41 miles
- Kevin Conner, 14.34 miles
- Kristan Huenink, 13.01 miles
- Masumi Yoneyama, 12.52 miles
- Agnieszka Kus, 12.51 miles