30th Annual Tower Triathlon, Niles, Illinois


The Leaning Tower YMCA in Niles, Illinois held its 30th Annual Tower Triathlon on May 17, 2015. It was a small, well-run, sprint triathlon that I would do again.

Before the Race:

After having nightmares all night about being late to the start of an Ironman triathlon, I awoke at 4 AM.  I ate some oatmeal and a banana along with a lot of water.  I avoided coffee because of my episode of tachyarrhythmia two weeks ago in a half-marathon. Soon thereafter, I headed out the door.

There was a traffic incident with a developing emergency response on the highway close to my exit, but I was able to take an alternate route and arrived at the race site around 5:45 AM.  I parked right across the street from the transition area, unpacked my bike and gear, and walked to the registration table.  It was easy and quick to get my race materials and body marking.

The racks were not marked in any way.  This normally would bother me a lot, but the small number of participants in the race assured that there was plenty of space without crowding or inconvenience.  As is my preference, I racked my bike close to the bike out/bike in gate, next to a point where two racks came together.  This gave a little extra room to tuck away my transition bag after I was set up.

Here is a view of the transition area with the Leaning Tower in the background.  Yes, it is real.

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I have a NEW Garmin Vector power meter (love it) and took five minutes to calibrate it along with finding the GPS satellites.  I put my bike in the correct gear, arranged my helmet, shoes, race bib, etc. until everything was set.

There were only three lonely port-a-potties by the transition area.  This is terrifying to me! However, it turns out that athletes had access to an indoor bathroom (in a locker room), as well, so there was never a potty line.  Nice!  I’m one of those people who really cannot use bathroom facilities too much before an event.

I got familiar with the small transition area, then walked over to the swimming pools.  This race is unique in that it is set up as an indoor swim followed by outdoor cycling and running.  The ambient air in the pool area inside the Y was very warm and the pool that was to be used by the men (the 25 yard pool) felt like warm bathwater to me.  Uh oh!

It was then about 6:30 AM (transition was to close at 6:45 AM), so I returned outside to run a short warm-up.  Since I was concerned about overheating before and during the swim, I decided to cut my warm-up run a little short: 11 minutes as opposed to 15 minutes.  But I got a good sense for the pancake-flat run course. This gave me something to visualize as I did the swim and bike.

The Swim:

I was very impressed with the organization of the swim, which started only a minute late at 7:01.  The men, as previously mentioned, had the 25 yard pool, whereas the women had the 25 meter pool. The way this worked was that the first participants crossed a timing mat, which was on the deck of the pool, before entering the pool.  Two people shared each lane.  As each participant finished his or her allotted laps (18 for men, 16 for women), a volunteer would put a marker board into the water with one hand while raising the other arm in the air.  This would identify the lane that the next participant would occupy once the swimmer saw the marker and got out of the lane.  This was a very smooth system.

When it was my turn, I tried to start with a challenging pace for 25-50 yards, until settling to a moderate-hard pace.  I was worried about overheating in the water and being “cooked” for the rest of the race.  I finished in 7:48:05, which put me 33rd out of 178 participants and 3rd out of 14 in my age group.  Not bad for me, but not quite up to my capabilities.  But an all-out effort did not seem to be the best strategy here.


After getting out of the water, there is a relatively long run around two sides of the building, over pavement, grass, and some dirt, to get to the transition area.  Wetsuits were not allowed and I would not have worn one anyway, so the focus was just to throw on bike gear and go.  I decided before the race to not attempt a flying mount (poor coordination and a turn coming right out of transition) so I ran about 30 feet in my bike shoes, mounted, and rode away. My transition time was a humble 2:10:00.

The Bike:

There were some changes, because of construction, to the bike course.  Apparently it is normally 5 loops, but was now 6 loops.  The bike course was under 10 miles in distance and included 6 turns.  It was completely flat and ran through a light industrial area that included such factories as Affy Tapple.  There was an approximately 15 mile an hour wind, as well.

My plan was to go hard.  I was expecting to rest a little with each turn and that is exactly what happened.  I averaged 229 watts (95% of threshold) and 22.9 mph (29:17:45 total time), for 11th out of 178 overall and 3rd out of 14 in my age group.  This is not bad and, because the bike course was really more like hard intervals with short rests than a continuous effort, and because I have been training effectively, my legs were not wasted for the run.


I was so sweaty that the bike slipped out of my hand before it was safely racked.  Fortunately, nothing was broken and my neighbors’ items were undisturbed.  I quickly pulled on my shoes, replaced my helmet with my hat, grabbed my number belt, and ran out. 1:12:40 total time.

The Run:

The run is usually my weakest leg and, relative to others’ performances, this remained true for me in this race.  However, I felt good.  I kept my pace in check for the first 3-5 minutes, then tried to maintain a hard pace for the middle part of this 5K course.  There was a water station at about the 45%/55% point (this was an out and back course) and the water was cold!  I was sweating like nuts at this point and the cold water was awesome.

Over the last ¾ mile, I tried to push the pace progressively faster.  This was really hard and really fun.  I finished in 22:46:95 for a 7:21 minutes/mile pace (33rd overall, 7th in my age group).  My GPS recorded that the course was actually 3.01 miles and that my pace was therefore 7:35.  In either case, this was a good performance for me.

The Finish:

At the finish line, the volunteers gave out nice, solid medals.  Total time: 1:03:14:85, 17th out of 178 overall, 5th out of 14 in my age group.  Not my best performance, but a solid start to the triathlon season.

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Maybe I am getting old and grumpy about food, but my single solitary gripe about this race was the post-race nutrition.  There was bottled water and sports drink, along with bananas cut in half.  That’s it.  I had hoped for bagels (yes, I love bagels) and other choices for recovery.


This is a nice, small, well-run, early season Chicago-area race.  I would certainly do it again.  Also, I should add that race results were available online later on the day of the race.  Nicely done, Tower YMCA!

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2 thoughts on “30th Annual Tower Triathlon, Niles, Illinois

  1. Karl Ottolini

    Out of the blue I randomly discovered then read your blog post about Leaning Tower Tri and loved it ! Great overview of the venue and the race you ran. Turns out you and I finished within 20 seconds of one another. Congrats on running a strong and disciplined race !

    I can tell you are passionate about this sport so that makes two of us. I was bitten by the tri bug only five years ago, at age 54, and never looked back. In the last seven years I’ve lost 40 pounds and do this for the healthy lifestyle it brings, more than anything else. For me, the enjoyment lies more in working out and the prep for race day, than the event itself (although the best part of race day is getting to interact with like minded athletes from all walks of life, before and afterwards.)

    Thanks again for writing this and it is great to connect with you and others who take great satisfaction in exceeding their aerobic endurance and related goals.


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