Chicago Triathlon Recap

Hilary Topper at the chicago triathlon

My weekend in Chicago was a blur of activity. My colleague, Lisa Gordon, and I flew in from Denver and New York respectively, meeting at the airport. Given the gear, I had to manage, my bike, and the presentations I was scheduled to give at the expo, her assistance was invaluable.

Hilary Topper and Lisa Gordon

The Expo

Hilary pointing to her name at the expo

The Chicago Triathlon expo proved to be quite impressive. Although not huge, it offered all the essentials for a triathlon and more. The gift store was stocked with an extensive range of apparel, from cycling jerseys to triathlon kits, catering to both athletes and casual shoppers.

books at expo

A few booths stood out – Blue Seventy, T-Mobile, and a store selling nutrition and hydration supplements. The Lifetime Fitness booth showcased medals for their upcoming events. They were awesome including the Half Marathon and 5K event they run every year in Chicago.

HT and a purchaser of the book

Speaking Opportunity

Hilary Topper spoke at Chicago Triathlon expo

I was given the opportunity to deliver three motivational talks at the expo. I discussed my book, “From Couch Potato to Endurance Athlete,” and provided participants with mental tips to excel in the triathlon. The response was positive.

three packed rooms

The Event

Racking my bike the day before race day was nerve-wracking, largely due to exhaustion from speaking engagements and book sales. The physical exertion from two days of walking and standing had me logging almost 8 miles a day.

Dropping off the bike at the chicago triathlon

On the morning of the event, I woke up at 3:45 a.m. Despite prior exhaustion, I readied myself and headed out. I said goodbye to Lisa as she left for the airport and I took an Uber to the event to conserve energy.

Setting up Transition

While setting up, an announcement came over the loudspeaker that the swim had been canceled due to safety concerns. This was a major disappointment as I had been looking forward to swimming in Lake Michigan. I left my swim gear in my backpack and placed my bike shoes and helmet on the transition mat.

the chop

Instead of the swim, we were informed that we would be running from the swim start to transition.

The Swim/I Mean Run


As we prepared to start, I found myself chatting with various participants. One of them mentioned an open-water event in Chicago, which piqued my interest.

Feeling depleted, I consumed a Gu energy gel for a boost. While searching for a trash can, I stumbled upon the VIP area where I enjoyed a cup of coffee and made use of the private bathrooms. (I had previously purchased the VIP package.)

After returning to the starting line, I met Mark from Denver. We chatted until his wave was called.

hilary met mark

It was now 8 am and my wave had yet to be called.

Wave 17

I was grouped with the 50-plus wave. We were finally summoned to the starting line, and dispatched in trios with five-second intervals between each group. The athletic prowess of the women around me was awe-inspiring, and I couldn’t help but smile.

wave 17

As we waited, the announcer began sharing stories about the participants in our wave – one brave soul was battling cancer, another was the oldest woman participating in the race, and so on.

Finally, it was my turn. As I started running, I heard the announcer call out my name and mention my book, “From Couch Potato to Triathlete.” (He got the title wrong. I raised my arm and waived. But I was too far away from him and he didn’t see my acknowledging wave. I let it slide and focused on my run.)

It was a .75-mile run.


At the transition area, I quickly grabbed my helmet, bike, and cycling shoes, and started the uphill journey to the mounting line.

The Bike Course

I had been warned that the bike course was hilly, which surprised me – I had been under the impression that it was flat. As soon as we mounted our bikes, we were greeted with an incline. It wasn’t a mountainous terrain, but it definitely had its share of rolling hills. Most of these “hills” were overpasses or bridges, with varying degrees of steepness. I pushed hard up those inclines and sped down the declines.

The city views were breathtaking. Chicago’s unique skyline and the shimmering water made for a stunning backdrop. However, the wind was a formidable adversary.

We then descended into a tunnel at high speed. My eyes struggled to adjust to the sudden change in light, leaving me momentarily blind.

The roads were not perfect – there were bumps and broken patches, which were marked by the Lifetime crew. I coasted over these rough areas and pedaled hard elsewhere.

The bike course was 24.8 miles long (an Olympic triathlon is 24.9. That was why this was called an International distance. It was short .1 of a mile.)  I maintained an average pace of 15.8 mph.

The Run

Go gramps

After dismounting, we ran our bikes back to transition where I swapped my riding gear for sneakers and a visor. The run took place along the promenade, with the turquoise blue water making me feel like I was in the Caribbean.

In my haste to leave the transition area, I forgot my Gymboss timer. I never run without it. Disoriented, I contemplated returning to search for it, but ultimately decided against it. I ran for 1 minute and walked for 30 seconds, keeping a close eye on the clock for timing.

The International runners had to cover 3.5 miles before turning back, while the Sprint participants had a shorter turnaround at 2 miles. Post-turnaround, the course seemed to fly by. I pushed myself, even as I felt my knee buckling. My mantra was simple: “Just get through this.”

There were plenty of hydration stops along the way, offering water, Gatorade, and energy gels. At every stop, I would douse my head with water to keep cool.

music at finish line

As I neared the finish line, I could hear the roar of the crowd. (Spectators lined the course, cheering on every participant.) Crossing the finish line with my signature pose, I was overcome with emotion.

VIP Tent

Hilary with medal

The VIP area by the finish line was well-stocked with food – chicken, black bean burgers, rice orzo, and cookies. There was also a bartender serving beer and wine. After the race, I enjoyed chatting with other participants over a meal.

Once I was done, I caught the next shuttle bus back to the transition area to collect my gear and walked back to my hotel, about 1.5 miles away.


Final Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed the event. While the cancellation of the swim was disappointing, I respected the organizers’ decision to prioritize safety.

The event was well-organized by the Lifetime staff. The volunteers were wonderful and the crowd and entertainment were fantastic. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Hilary in chicago