The Flight Path to Chicago, USA

Tri Report from Jon Ford-Dunn

I was going to title this report ““the “Road” to Chicago”” but just knew that it would be pointed out that journey wasn’t physically possible.

Being an admirer of Hana’s travelogue type race reports I will continue in a similar vein, but without resorting to the toilet type of humour usually involved. I shall raise the level of innuendo to the more intellectual lavatorial standard.

It was announced in 2013 that the ITU World Age Group Triathlon Championships were going to be held in Chicago in 2015. This piqued my interest for two reasons, firstly I would be moving up into the super geriatric age group (60-64) and secondly the course was flat. A flat course is my ideal, as having a BMI verging on borderline obese, means any movement upwards is difficult.

So last Saturday saw us; “the ever suffering” Brenda (thanks Anne) and I on our way up to Nottingham for me to take part in the strangely titled Little Beaver Triathlon, a qualification round for entry into the GB team. Mindful of previous instances of getting stuck in traffic we had started off early. This had meant the dog going to his holiday hotel the previous evening. He loves it, I’m just hoping that the gouges made by his claws in their pristine floor when he realised where he was will not cost me too much and will be compensated for by them not needing to be trimmed for sometime.

For interest to younger readers, we are using a paper based (road atlas) rather than digital navigation system, which although known to cause intense argument, doesn’t, unless you try really hard cause you to drive into lakes, rivers or over cliffs. No arguments this time, as the route is nearly all motorways. I’m a bit apprehensive as we don’t spot Humphrey the Camel near Bridgewater, he’s my good luck charm, a bit like Hana’s hankie. Does anyone one know what’s happened to him and his little mate that used to look at us all going past on the M5?

We arrive at race headquarters Belvoir Castle, in time to see the final stages of an half ironman being completed. The organisers Just Racing are putting on three races this weekend, The Beaver (Middle Distance/half ironman) on Saturday, The Speedy Beaver (sprint distance) and the Little Beaver (Olympic distance and ITU qualifier) on Sunday. I’m in the Olympic event; 1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run.

We drive around the bike course, which is vaguely of rectangular shape, two long sides joined by two short. Both long sides are of pretty flat/ gently rolling character, the downside is that they are separated by about 350ft of elevation, so the short sides incorporate a hill to compensate for this, one up, one down. This course is tackled twice and is 27.2 miles long in total.

I then get over to registration to sign in and get marked up. I am also given the event tee, which as the name suggests has an image of a beaver on it (quite a furry one too).

We are staying at the Milton Mowbray Premier Inn (about 12 miles away), I’ve managed to get a good deal, and it’s a new, quite small hotel. In fact when I viewed it on Streetview it was just under construction. It has it’s own small eaterie called “The Kitchen” incorporated, rather than being adjacent to a Beefeater or Brewers Fayre as usual. Although the menu looks interesting they don’t do steak, and so off to Wetherspoons we trot for a sirloin and glass of red wine at £10 a head. Not bad, but why does everything come with garlic? I have a theory that the reported reduction of sexual activity in this country ties in very neatly with the adoption of garlic breath. OK so it hasn’t slowed down the French, but who wants to drop to their standards? The hotel room has air con. I immediately set this to minimum, but on being confronted with the threat of violence am forced to turn it off. Get off to sleep quite quickly, but am woken several hours later by some kind of nocturnal activity in the room above. As I try to get back to sleep I become aware of a presence in the room. Directly above the bed is a smoke alarm, and in the dark room the effect of it’s led that is flashing every 2 seconds to tell me it’s working, is about as subtle as trying to get to sleep whilst laying alongside Gwithian Lighthouse. It takes me ages to get back to sleep, whilst thinking up various tortures for which EU bureaucrat dreamt up that type of malignant safety feature.

We’re up at the crack of dawn as transition opens at 06:30 and we need to eat the breakfasts we’ve bought with us (Alpen, the original, and milk for me). It is a glorious sunny day, but very cold (about 12 C) with a strong gusty 20 mph westerly blowing. I don’t do cold, I’m only happy racing between the temperatures of 15-20C so I view the temperature as Arctic and opt for my winter racing kit.

Setting up in transition goes well, the area is well laid out and numbered, and I don’t appear to have forgotten anything.

“Ever suffering” goes off to do a Hana on the toilets (I’m saving mine for the wetsuit, no, not that toilet). They are the standard plastic turdi set up in two lines, one line in pink plastic, one in blue. Between these two lines is sandwiched what is titled a “Gents Urinal” which is essentially an open ended plastic box fitted with a trough, a sort of gocompare sort of facility. Looks like something else released into the EU by the French. There are long queues for the toilets and no one’s discriminating about which colour to use, a real LGBT triumph! There are no showers.

I’m down to start in wave 5, this consists of all males over the age of 40, there are over 120 of us. This is the worst group to be in, as it includes the really violent element of masculinity, those determined to show they’re not past it. I’m not looking forward to the swim.The swim for our event consists of 2 laps of a shallow ornamental lake which has the colour and consistency of slurry.

We are given a briefing at the lakeside, which includes an instruction I haven’t heard before, that in the event of getting in difficulty in the swim don’t bother with turning on your back and raising an arm (the usual request), but just to stand up, it’s not even waist deep!

The start line is quite narrow, and I want to be at the front, there are no prizes for cowardice, so I elbow my way there, and take a quick look behind, there is at least six rows of mean looking swimmers waiting to drown me. The klaxon goes and within seconds the water is churned into something resembling oxtail soup. Visibility is non existent, and as I feared it’s a real kickfest and my right goggle has been kicked/punched from my eye and filled with the brown gloop (when I have a shower later, each ear was filled with a plug of silt). Within about 200m the fighting has virtually subsided and I am able to concentrate on trying to get a good tow. Not very easy due to the visibility, but you can actually feel when you’ve picked up a bit of a draft. The lake is so shallow in places my fingers are touching the bottom.

I have a good swim, with my Garmin giving a distance of 1564m in just under 25 mins.

It is then a very long run, up a grass field to transition, of over 500m.

Transition goes smoothly, then it’s out on the bike. The bike course is not as fast as I expected, not helped by the roads having been recently resurfaced with a very coarse aggregate which transmits an energy sapping teeth vibrating element and also having to ride into a head wind on potentially the fastest part of the course.

The hill is a bit like that leading to the rugby club, so, hard, but not too hard. I’ve only managed about 7 miles when the cold and my lack of racing (race fit is totally different than just being fit) are starting to cause problems. I am starting to cramp in calves and thighs of both legs. Each time I feel a cramp coming on I have to release the pressure a little, this isn’t a total disaster as it means I am not putting in that high a level of effort. It gets worse, but as I start the second lap and start passing TITS (totty in tri suits) my mind is taken off of it.Come into transition, see I am second, get my cycle shoes off, then disaster, as I bend down to pull on my left running shoe the calf goes into total spasm, so leave that and try the right shoe, same thing happens. I go into total Drama Queen mode, rolling on the ground in both agony and frustration. Three officials gather round probably thinking the old bugger’s having a fit, but I will get disqualified if they help and I haven’t come on a 700 mile round trip for that! I know that if I can just get the shoes on I’ll be OK. I slacken off the laces as much as possible, stand up and shuffle my feet into them. I can’t reach down to tighten the laces, but can now run– just. It’s like running in flip flops, but if I curl my toes up it’s not too bad.


The run is two laps of out and back on grass, gravel and estate roads and is “famous” for what is called USN hill. Down here it certainly wouldn’t warrant the title hill, it is more an energy sapping slope that rises just 150 feet in a mile. I trundle off and amazingly start overtaking people. Because there are so many athletes of the various groups now mingled together,it’s very hard to work out where you are, but at the turn on the first lap I do see a rival about 150m behind, he catches me with about 2km to go and I’m unable to stay with him, my feet are killing me (my right big toe nail is now a fetching shade of black and we shall be parting company over the next few weeks). The finish line doesn’t come a minute too soon. There is the offer of a professional photo opportunity here, where I can get photographed holding a plaque proclaiming “ Too Much Beaver!” I decline!

So how did I do? The first four age group finishers get to be in the GB team, and I was third, so I’ve qualified and the pressure’s off, I did as best I could on the day but I’m disappointed as well because I know on a good day I can do a lot better.

Quite a hard event, and I can’t say I really enjoyed it. I don’t like races that take over two and a half hours: smacks too much of masochism.


The fast geriatrics

Male Fastest 2:14:39

Female Fastest 2:27:32

60-64 Age Group Qualifiers

  • Rob Caune 2:39:51
  • Sean McDermott 2:44:30
  • Jon Ford-Dunn 2:45:39
  • Phil Crouch 2:51:15