Some people call it their Bucket List. I just think of these things as goals I want to accomplish, before I get too old. I'm a goal-driven person: pay off the Illinois mortgage before age 40; lose 40 pounds after I turned 40; run a marathon before I turn 50; pay off the Tennessee mortgage before I retire. And now, do a triathlon at age 52.

It was strange that the week I decided to try a Triathlon I was sitting on my porch in TN. At the same time my best friend John Huschen was in IL thinking about the same thing. So when we got back together after Thanksgiving, we decided to do the Chicago Triathlon on August 28, 2011.

Now, if I only knew how to swim......

Well, I could kinda swim, but the furthest I'd ever swum was from the water skis to the boat ladder. I was really not a strong swimmer. We went on vacation that winter in Punta Cana and I thought I'd start my swim training by swimming in the Atlantic. Oooops. Didn't go so well. I swam 25 yards the first day, maybe 30 the second. After about 4 attempts I was up to 50 yards non-stop before I puttered out. How far is the Triathlon swim? 900 yards or about HALF A MILE.

With John's help and a great online swimming plan, I was able to gradually increase my swims to where I could swim 2 miles non-stop.... in a pool. Open water is very different. But I was ready to do a "practice tri" and see how things went:

First Triathlon - Evergreen Lake in Hudson IL

500 yard swim, 25 mile bike, 3.1 mile run in 2 hours 30 minutes

Evergreen was a nightmare for me. Even though the swim was relatively short (500 yds) I panicked in the open water and had to hang on to the rescue buoys a couple times. I came out of the water exhausted, and really, really struggled on the bike. John was nice and waited for me at the transition, but on the bike he motored away. The biking portion was also 25 miles, not the 12-13 I was expecting. It was hot and I started to cramp a little. Fortunately I had my magic go-juice (Diet Mt Dew), and was able to finish. The run was pretty tough too, as the temps were up in the high 80's. But we finished. It was a start.

Second Triathlon - Lakeland Classic in Canton, IL

John was off on his boundary waters canoe adventure, but I decided I needed to try another triathlon before Chicago, to get that "open water" monkey off my back. The Lakeland Tri was much better for me. The swim was great, I didn't panic. I actually came out of the water running and ready to go. I think I didn't need to use the rescue boats because, at Canton, the rescue boats were basically two guys in john-boats fishing. You had to swim well clear of them, lest you get tangled in their fishing lines. The bike was short (12 miles) and I felt I rode much faster than the 16mph I did at Evergreen. But I forgot to take my go-juice Diet Dews, which hurt me on the run. I started to cramp on the 5k run, but toughed it out and finished. Unfortunately, of the 500 participants, my timing chip was the only one that malfunctioned. They gave me a time, but I think it was wrong because they had me riding at 13.7mph, and I passed several riders I know, who were clocked at 15 and 16 mph.

Third and FINAL Triathlon - Chicago August 28, 2011

Well, we made it to Chicago.. along with 9000 other participants. It was crazy along the lakefront. EVERYBODY had to check their bikes & gear into the Transition Area by 5:45am. That's 9000 people with bikes & bags, groping around an area the size of a football field, in the dark, half asleep (and hung over, if like me...). The weather was perfect, the lake temp was up in the 70's. I was a little nervous as I waited in Wave 9 (John was in Wave 11, Meghan was Wave 8). I was probably the only guy in my group NOT wearing a wet suit. I heard an experienced guy say that Lake Michigan had been 58 degrees a few years ago for this race. Yikes! Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel did the tri, and since he's my age I thought he'd be in my heat, but I didn't see him. We entered the water at 6:37am. I was the last guy in from Wave 9 cuz I hate to tread water, and the horn sounded the second I hit the 74-degree water.

The first 300 yards was tough. Very tough. I tried to make my way to the outer edge, as far from the sea wall as possible, but that water was very choppy. About every third stroke I'd get swamped by a wave and lose concentration. I worked my way back to the sea wall and hung on a bolt for while to orient myself. While I was hanging there I saw another guy panic. He was clinging to the safety rope held down by a life guard and he was screaming "GET ME OUT OF HERE!" I did NOT want to be THAT guy. I settled in about 20 yards away from the wall and started out, using a distant 60-story apartment building to site on. That didn't work well either. I finally decided that since the wall was on my left side, and I'm a left-side breather, that I would do like I do in the pool: stroke mindlessly, watch the wall, forget about the end point. I figured somebody would tap me on the shoulder if I swam past the finish.

So the last 600 yards went pretty well. I spotted Brenda up on the seawall near the end and gave her a shout. I felt good coming out of the water, even though I had swum so slowly that John (who started 8 minutes AFTER me) had actually beat me out of the water by a few seconds. I caught up with him on the 500 yard run to Transition, and we started our bike portion together.

I remembered my "sports drink" (20 oz Diet Dew) this time, but even with that extra energy, John broke away from me after 3-4 miles. The ride was on the inner two lanes of Lake Shore Drive, and with the sun just coming out over the lake, it was very beautiful. It was also WINDY as hell. John and I both left the water before Meghan, but she somehow passed us both on the bike. I made the bike route without a flat (my nightmare) and had a smooth transition. John took a potty break. Wimp.

The 5k run was pleasant, but hard. I've only run 12 miles total in 2011, and 9 of those were in the three triathlons I did. But I was cooking along at 10-minute miles, which is the same pace I ran in the 2006 Milwaukee Marathon when I was REALLY in shape. So, I knew that John ran 12-13 minute miles, and sure enough, I passed him at the halfway marker. He had an 8 minute lead coming out of the water, and a 10 minute lead after the bike. So I had some ground to make up. Was it wrong to wish that he would cramp up and crumble to the ground on the run? Anyway, I made up six of the ten minutes I needed, and finished in 2 hours, 9 minutes. John was in a 2 hrs 5 min, Meghan 2 hrs 6 min.

It was fun. It was a challenge. And even though I re-upped my swimming membership at the health club, I don't think I'll be doing another. There are still too many items in my "bucket."