5k by Age Group5k Overall5k No Wetsuits5k w/ Wetsuits
2.5k by Age Group2.5k Overall2.5k No Wetsuits2.5k w/ Wetsuits

choppy, windy, rainy and cold... what's not to like?

One of the best things about open water is you never get the same race twice… even if it’s the same course… today’s Big Shoulders swim was totally different from last year! We had wind, rain, chop, and 62ish degree water. I had no idea Lake Michigan could get this stirred up and gnarly inside the breakwater off of Ohio Street Beach. Needless to say I totally dug this version of Big Shoulders :) Not to say I wouldn’t have appreciated a little sunshine on my back, but I think overall this was a great experience.

everyone getting signed in and numbered

I started my day with a walk from the hotel to the beach. As I neared the lake front I could feel the wind really kicking. I started to smile to myself because I knew the water was going to be a mess which would make the race exponentially more interesting. This year I made sure to be there right on time to speed up the standing in line portion of the morning. With 800 people registered it can take some time to get everyone checked in and marked up. While I was getting numbered, and they were really thorough in their marking this year… both arms and both legs… I ran into my friend Ben who is the guy who has been doing all the great video editing for USMS. He’s the one who put together my open water video a few months back that was on the USMS homepage for a couple weeks. We caught up a little bit and did a little pre-race interview so hopefully you guys will see my smiling bearded face in a new video sometime soon :)

Getting numbered up... photo from the USMS Facebook Page

After hanging out and talking with folks on the beach for a bit I decided to go get wet. No one else had really gotten in that I had seen so I figured I might as well be “that guy” and break the ice. I swam out a couple of buoys and messed around with my new camera to make sure it works underwater and figure out how everything works. The water felt great, it was a touch colder than yesterday but good for me. A lot of the other kids swimming today didn’t really share my opinion however. I think the wetsuit rental tent was doing some pretty brisk business today!

experimental aquatic self portraiture

Once I got out of the water pretty much everybody I passed asked me about the water temperature. The stock response was something along the lines of it’s plenty tropical just like Hawaii… I don’t think anyone believed me :) Around 10 minutes later they pulled us together for a race briefing and then sent the first wave off into the water. This year started with an “Elite” wave that was supposed to be the 50 fastest swimmers in the race. There were definitely some legit people in the mix this morning… this has got to be one of the most competitive masters events in the country (don’t read that as fast people only btw, if you’re not super fast don’t worry you’ll still have fun too). I hopped in the water for the start to get some video and take a couple pictures…

the elite wave getting in the water

Once I was done shooting video I had to hurry back to the beach and run across the start mat for my timing chip. I was the last dude in my heat to get in the water! The downside to this was I started way in the back of the pack. Once the horn went off for us to go I had nowhere to go! Major traffic jam-age was in effect that first couple hundred meters. Even though it was tight I didn’t get hit too bad by anybody. Someone did scratch me up really good with their timing chip though. He swam like diagonally across me and scratched me on my back and arm with the edges of it. I think that’s my weirdest mini injury of the year. As we got closer to that first turn it started to separate out decently but it was still pretty dense. This is a good thing though because sighting to that buoy was nearly impossible, I let the pack lead me and just hoped that they were right. I fell into a pretty good rhythm but it didn’t feel too fast, probably because you had to adjust fire so much for the water conditions. The chop was really impressive and unpredictable so you really had to go with the flow when picking when and how to breathe in order to not inhale lake water.

The rest of the triangle course is pretty easy to navigate since you can use the Chicago skyline as your guide. I never really saw buoys 2 and 3 until I was right on top of them. Once I got going with lap 2 I had plenty of room to do my own thing but I could always see somebody to make sure that I was on course. Once I came around the 1st turn buoy for the 2nd time I decided to take a quick photo break. I figured I was in no danger of winning anything, a minute wouldn’t kill me, and if I had a camera in my swimsuit I might as well get a little use out of it! I moved myself far enough away that I wouldn’t impede anyone’s progress and started to take pics/video. I think some of the lifeguard types in one of the rowboats started yelling something at me but I have no idea what they were saying. In case it was “are you ok” I flashed a thumbs up… but I don’t think that’s what they meant because they kept yelling something. After a minute I was back on my way, but in the meantime here’s the only video of the race from way out in the water!

The rest of the race was pretty mellow, but I did fall in pace with a random breaststroke kicker for a while that I put a lot of effort into avoiding. This is a pet peeve of mine… if you need a break or to pop your head up, please don’t frog kick until you KNOW there isn’t someone’s head/chest/stomach/etc within striking distance! I saw a lot of this today because of all the chop. What I try to do when in that situation is breaststroke hands with a light dolphin kick. You get to see and no one get kicked, it’s a win win. Anyways… once I hit the last turn I tried to pick it up a little bit. I took a line a little closer to the wall this time, I’m not sure that was the best call however. The water seem rougher the closer you got to it.

I ended up finishing around 9:44 which would put my time around 1:41 which is waaaay slower than last year. Luckily everybody was way slower. They announced that the winning times this year were something like 12 minutes behind the year previous! A lot of people I talked to added 15-20 minutes to their previous times.

I hung out on the beach for a while afterwards talking to people in the drizzle. Apparently it had rained pretty hard while we were in the water and the jacket I used to cover up my stuff was soaked! Luckily I didn’t have anything water sensitive in there! Even with my jacket as cover my shirt got wet but my race tshirt didn’t so I wore that on my way home… only to get that soaked on the way there!

I love the view here! such a cool venue!

Eventually I went back to the hotel to wash the lake off me and then venture back into town. I went back to Michigan Avenue to do a little shopping and then hopped a cab to the Shedd Aquarium. It’s pretty good, worth the trip. From there I put some mileage on my flip flops… I walked up the lake front to the Navy Pier and then back to the hotel. I finished up my evening with dinner in town with my buddy Evan and his wife. Now my big internal debate is what to do tomorrow morning before I split town… sneak in one last swim or sleep in? I really want to do both, we’ll see which one wins out :)

19 Responses to “2010 Big Shoulders 5k Wrap Up”

  1. David McClellan says:

    Great blog. It’s 10 PM Chicago time, and I haven’t really seen anything about the race yet. Great run-through, and love the pics and video, which I’ll show to folks to give an idea of the race conditions.

    Thanks for swimming Big Shoulders!

  2. IronMike says:

    Awesome! Wish I cudda been there.
    Great pix and videos. That’s the new camera, right? Seems to take good pictures. Would love to hear where in your suit you put it!

  3. Lorraine says:

    Love your blog and great photos. I was a novice this year: what a baptism!

  4. Ashly C says:

    What a great post! Thanks so much for taking a camera out on the course; it was my first Big Shoulders and it’s AWESOME to have pictures of what we actually swam through.

    Thanks again!

    Ashly C

  5. Ruth Giles-Ott says:

    Thank you for posting the race results! And what pictures and video! I didn’t realize the lake conditions were that bad while I was swimming, I just realized that this was a swim I’d be happy to finish, regardless of time. We should all be proud for taking this challenge on. Thanks again for sharing–I love the Masters Swimming community, people always help each other out.

  6. Beth Barnes says:

    This is great, Rob, thanks a million. I have a friend, well two, including you that swam yesterday so I was up early too (in CA), in solidarity and anxiously receiving updates via phone. This is a great site and I can’t think you enough for the in-depth reporting. You should do this for a living!!!

  7. Molly says:

    Thanks for posting so thoroughly on this. Was great to get a flavor for the race w/all the conditions and challenges.

  8. Patrick Brundage says:


    Thanks for the ‘scoop’ on the results posting, the great videos and great race narrative. The weather in Chi-town Saturday makes the little fog here in La Jolla on Sunday pre-Rough Water look like child’s play. Your race reporting last year and this year makes me more determined to get up to Big Shoulders some year. Who knows — maybe a weekend double: Big Shoulders 5K Saturday, Gatorman (~5K) Sunday?

  9. [...] Update: there are better photos with a link to a pdf file with results here. [...]

  10. Thanks for a great recap! I was supposed to be there. This was going to be my first Big Shoulders and only my second open water swim race. Unfortunately I came down with an infection and missed out. I would have loved to swim in those conditions! Thanks for a great blog – I just recently found it and have really enjoyed reading about your workouts. Good luck in the future!

  11. Rob D says:

    Thanks for all great comments guys, I appreciate it! It makes the next 10 hours in airports and on airplanes a lot more enjoyable :)

  12. Bob says:

    Great post and thanks for posting the results. The video from the first turn was amazing. I swim at Ohio Street Beach at least once a week all summer and this is the choppiest but not coolest water I have seen this year. In spite of the chops and temp it was a fun swim for me I hope others enjoyed their swim in Chicago as much. Remember when you’re out at that far point most people have to take a boat to get that view of the city.

  13. Greg Taylor says:

    Great write-up — thanks for taking the time to do this so that those of us far away (CA) could appreciate it. I had many friends participate this year and I don’t envy those water conditions. Congrats to everyone who competed!

  14. Jody Baty says:

    Rob – My husband’s photos from shore showed a deceptively calm albeit gray lake. How nice to be able to show what it was like from a swimmer’s viepoint! AND what a difference a day makes – Sunday was spectacular.

  15. Suzie says:

    This was great! Thanks!

  16. Jim says:

    Hey Rob,

    Thanks for getting the results up for everyone. The in-water pictures and video were fantastic. They really captured what it was like out there.

  17. Scott Reeves says:

    This is great stuff, Rob — especially the video clips. It helps me show friends and family just how it all looked to us in the water. It was definitely a challenging course, but I loved every minute of it! (And, I’m VERY happy I didn’t succumb to the wetsuit madness. The water was just fine!) Thanks also for posting the results. Hope to see you at Big Shoulders 2011.

  18. [...] RESULTS here. Official write-up here. Rob Aquatics write-up here. [...]

  19. R.L. Morrison says:

    From one who was safely (although soaked) on the sidelines, your pictures and video add tremendously to the experience of watching Big Shoulders. Thanks Rob. RLM