Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: Chicago, workout

The weather was perfect this morning for the annual Shamrock Shuffle. Twenty-three thousand runners flooding the streets of Chicago for the kick-off of the race season! A really fun run through the City with lots of great sights along the way.



Categories: special events, workout

I woke up this morning early… after just a few hours of sleep…
and had to double-check that I did indeed complete the IRONMAN!!!
Hard for even me to believe.

We slept a couple short hours… but they were GREAT hours of sleep!!!
But when the alarm went off it was still dark. And we were still tired.
But they don’t sell IRONMAN Finisher’s clothing until the morning after.
And they say that it is first come, first served. And we wanted to be first. But we weren’t..
there were a dozen or so people ahead of us.

We got in, tried on a few things and snatched up a few IRONMAN Finisher’s items for myself.

My new IRONMAN Finisher’s jacket.

A new IRONMAN Finisher’s t-shirt…

After the Finisher’s Expo Tent, Chris and I were supposed to do breakfast with Pam & Jeff. Instead we both decided it was better for us to sleep. I crashed on my bed with my Crocs and jacket on. And Chris was quick to capture it on film…

And I caught her sleeping…

After a few hours of well-deserved sleep, Chris and I got our act together and packed up our stuff to head out. A long drive from Louisville to Chicago. Sort of dreading the drive… and not looking forward to getting out of the car after hours of stiffening up. We stopped for lunch and it wasn’t so bad. Stiff…. but everything loosened up as I walked.




Categories: bike, special events, workout

The morning started VERY early. Very dark. Very chilly.

We made it down to Doc’s Cantina where the queue for the Swim Start was already beginning to form. We got there about 4:45 in the morning. I wanted an early start for the swim to give me as much time as possible for the day ahead. So we sat in line. Nervously chatted. Met other athletes. Took a couple little naps.Ate. Hydrated… and tried not to freak out about  the day ahead. Oddly enough, I had a surprising calmness about me. Not too many jitters. At this point you’ve trained as much as you could. Years of biking & step classes… hoping that it all pays off. Sure, maybe I should have earned how to swim before this, but it’s only 2.4 miles, right?

After waiting nearly two and a half hours, suddenly the place came to life and it was race time before you knew it. Time to put on the wetsuit. Time to get this show on the road. The official time clock counting down to 7:30am! Okay, now it’s getting real.

A few minutes before, they marched us down to the docks. Lines of nervous athletes excited about the adventure each was about to begin.

After the National Anthem, some last minute instructions, and a bugle revelry… it was time to start. On with the swim cap. On with the goggles. Up with the adrenaline! The long line was divided into two… one for each pier. I was in the lane for the far pier. TUrns out I was the THIRD person to jump in off that pier!!! Guess my plan to start early worked out.

So you start swimming upstream past the docks, along the shore, between a long island. You can finally see the end of the island and you “think” that you get to turn around the island and head back. WRONG!!! There are still three more buoys to swim past before you turn around. Not an easy feat as people are swimming over you, kicking you, grabbing you and pushing you out of the way as they are trying to get to the end of the swim. Not for the squeamish if you haven’t been in that situation before. Plus, this easily felt like my biggest body of open water swim ever… when I swim in Lake Michigan, it’s usually along the shoreline. This time we were in the Ohio RIver – which is about as wide as the Great Mississippi River at this point.

So you keep swimming. Keep breathing. Keep looking for the finish.
Keep looking for Joe’s Crab Shack off in the distance. Knowing that we get to finally climb out of the river just before we get to Joe’s.

It felt SO AMAZING to finally finish my swim and get out of the water!!! And to see Pammy & Chris waiting for me on the sidelines cheering me on!!! I was so pleasantly surprised when they told me I was close to two hours!!!… I had about 20 minutes to spare! Whew!!!

I will say that my legs were done. And I had a weird little muscle “issue” going on in my left knee. Nothing shooting or jabbing. But more like muscles screaming at me… yep, “that muscle” that I never use because I don’t swim?!!! Still… felt GREAT to be out of the water!!!

So then it was back in to the Transition Area. Pick up your Bike Gear Bag and head to the changing tent. Picture a large white tent filled with sweaty men, smelling like river, changing closes in a very steamy & smelly tent. Switching from wetsuits to bike clothes. It was NOT a pretty sight. But you suck it up and do what you need to do. Dry off. Switch clothes. Put on your shoes & helmet. Pack your wetsuit & goggles back into you Bike Gear bag… and head out. A quick stop for sunscreen… and the porta-potties… and you’re headed to the Bike Out arch.

Looking for Chris and Pammy in the sea of spectators … ah ha, there they are!!!

Ready to set off on my bike… a mere 112 miles to go…
with the promise of some “rolling hills.”

The bike portion of the race was tougher than I expected. I wasn’t prepared to find out that I had no muscle or power left in my legs after the two-hour swim. I was depleted and not quite ready for the road ahead. But I kept pedaling. I kept eating more energy foods. Gels. Clif Bars. Bananas. Gatorade. Whatever it took. Plus that little twinge in my left knee was still there?  After the first few miles it started to feel better. But the hills were still tougher than I expected.

Ten miles or so into the race, my derailleur stopped working and I was stuck in the big chain ring. Good for speed… not so good for riding the hills. I was pedaling a LOT harder than I should have been. When I got to the first bike tech tent, I pulled in to have them look at my bike. He fiddled with it for awhile and finally got it to shift back & forth. He said I was good to go… and I did… after about 20 minutes of waiting. By then I was feeling better and getting some strength back in my legs. Pedal on!!!

Part way through the course we rolled through the town of LaGrange… a fun little town where there were a lot of  spectators cheering us on. They even had a shuttle system worked out for family, friends and support crew to get back & forth. It was great to see Chris on the sidelines cheering me on as I cruised through the town!!! And shooting photos for me along the way… she just barely caught me as cruised through.

This was also the first triathlon that I’ve ever done where the roads weren’t totally closed. The police did a great job of keeping us safe and blocking most of the traffic at intersections. However there were quite a few cars that made it through on the road that kept getting in the way. Especially tough to maneuver around cars on the hills as you’re trying to power up… and there’s a car in the way in your lane and traffic coming in the other direction. Not ideal conditions for a race.

The course had a large loop on it. So you had to ride the loop twice before heading back to Transition. Along the way you got to stop off for your Bike Special Needs bag… for a quick “lunch” break. And then it was back on the bike after a few minutes… and back through LaGrange again… howdy Chris!!!

After a hundred and twelve long & grueling miles, you finally head back into Lousiville. It was great to see the bridges on your right. The beacon town Downtown. All good signs that you’re getting closer to the Transition Area again. So great to see Chris waiting for me at the end of the bike route!!! Both of us thought my bike time would be quicker… neither of us realizing how tough the hills would be. Neither of us realizing how many cars would be on the road. How my bike would need technical help along the way. And how my legs would be so wiped out after the swim!!! Or how that little twinge on the side of my left knee, and now in my left achilles too, would be there. Still nothing too painful, just enough to make you more cautious and careful not to make it worse. All good though… I made it back… time to run!!!

So again it’s back tot he Transition Area. You hand your bike off to one of the many volunteers. You continue back to the rows & rows of nags. A volunteer gets your bag for you and hands it off as you pass through. Back into the hot, steamy & smelly changing tent. Switch from bike clothes, shows & helmet into running shorts, tank top, and running shoes. Eat some food. Drink some water. Was that just lunch? Throw your bike clothes into your Run Gear bag and head out… past the Sunscreen Station again… and the porta-potties… and off onto the Run Course.

Okay, sure I’ll admit tat it doesn’t feel good when you switch from bike to run. I might say it feels like your hips are turned out the wrong way. Little painful to get a running stride into place. And yet so fun to know that you’re two parts done, only one more leg to go!!!

And still smiling…

So you leave the Transition Area and head out into the downtown streets… slowly…

So great to see Pammy waiting for me on the sidelines… sitting in her chair…
broken foot and all… still cheering. Still encouraging me onwards!!!

So the Run Course takes you quickly through Downtown Louisville and off into the surrounding area. At times it was residential, then small neighborhoods. The route took us past the University, some cool Art Museum and even past Churchill Downs!!! The run is another big loop. So when I finally got to the halfway point, it was already dark. And to make matters worse… a LOT of runners were already crossing the Finish Line. But not me. Instead, the course takes you ONE BLOCK away from the actual Finish Line. You can see it. You can hear it. And then you turn right one block short of crossing. The Run Special Needs Bags are right there… as were Chris, Pam and Jeff. Great friends waiting for me. Cheering me on… broken foot and all.

So you head back out for another half marathon! Another full thirteen miles in darkness. It’s the same loop as last time, except now it’s dark, there are a LOT fewer runners out there and they’re handing out glow sticks!!! This second loop was so much tougher than the first. And let’s just say for the record, I’m not the greatest runner in the first place. But by this point my “jog” was getting down to more like a “shuffle.” A times I began to wonder if I would be able to walk faster than I was shuffling?! Knowing the whole time that all I need to do is cross the Finiah Line. And that it’s not worth killing myself, blowing out my achilles, or injuring myself in any way. Better to be slow & strong, than fast & injured. So I continued to “shuffle” and walked through the aid stations. I’m still not good at running, drinking & eating all at the same time.

The last six miles or so are pretty rough. Darkness. Fatigue. Fewer people out there keeping you going. Fewer runners. Fewer spectators. Plus after a day of Gatorade, bananas, goo, gel, Clif Bars and snacks… my stomach was done too. I was saturated with energy goop. Water only for me for the last few hours. And apparently I wasn’t the only one as you start to see a LOT of runners vomiting along the sides as the miles tick down. And to make matters worse, apparently I was an “over-achiever” in the hydration category. Because the last half was also needed quite a few stops to pee at the rest stations. Much better than the other alternatives, but still not so good for my race time?!

Eventually you get back into the Downtown area. We made a couple turns through the city streets. This time when we made the turn onto Fourth Street… we knew we finally got to go straight through and actually make it through the Finish Line!!! So exciting to finally see the end. To know that you are indeed going to make it. To hear the crowd cheering you on. To hear the announcer proclaim those six words you’ve worked so long & hard to hear…


So I made it through the Finish Line and felt surprisingly great. I know… adrenaline… endorphins… I get it. But I felt surprisingly good. I did my best IRONMAN “shuffle” across the Finish Line. After crossing amongst the camera flashes and cheering crowds, they whisk you through the finish zone. Your Volunteer Escort gives you your Finisher’s Medal. A quick stop at the Finisher’s step & repeat for your official Finisher’s Photo. They get you a bottle of water. Food if you need it. A mylar blanket for hypothermia if you need it… I didn’t. Your official Finisher’s hat & t-shirt. Eventually, when you’ve made it through the Finish Line “gauntele”… you’re released to find your Support Crew.

My favorite Sherpa Chris was there taking as many pictures as she could. Pammy and her husband were there too. I still can’t quite fathom that Pam came down to Louisville with her broken foot. But that’s what good friends do… and I love ‘em!!!

After the Finish Line gauntlet, we all walked back to our hotel. I’m sure it was “therapeutic” to keep walking. Of course we stopped a few times… for Pam, not me!!! But I didn’t care. I felt great. Still riding high after finishing my first IRONMAN!!!

Back at the hotel, I opened my swag. Love my new hat… and even more…

It wasn’t until I took my shoes & socks off that I found out why my left foot hurt a bit. It sure looked worse than it feels. But I felt great that this “little” red blister was the my only injury after a full IRONMAN!!!

Chris and I sat up and talked for a little while. She ran me a cold bath and filled it with ice. I tried my best to soak in the freezing water… standing in it was fine. But when I sat down all the way it sent shivers through my body. How do professional athletes do these ice baths all the time?!!! Not me. Also, as a fellow IRONMAN, Pammy knew that I would be starving at some point… maybe 3:00 in the morning… so she ordered me a pizza for when the hunger hit. And it did.

Eventually, Chris and I finally went to sleep.
We set the alarm for an early morning at the Finisher’s Expo Tent.
My feet & ankles were already sore… and I was fearing how they would feel in the morning.
But I needed to sleep… so a couple Advils and I was down for the count.

Happy to know that I am now an IRONMAN !!!












Categories: special events, workout

So the day is finally here.
It’s been a long summer of planning & training… sweating…. playing… pedaling…

2.4 mile swim.   112 mile bike.   26.2 mile run.
Back to back. All in one day. You’ve got 16 hours to cross the Finish Line.
So here’s the scoop… starting with the Swim Course.

Followed by the Bike Course…

Which was by no means flat. They called it “rolling hills”… they lied!!! It was HILLY!!!

Followed by a full Marathon…




Categories: bike, special events, vacation, workout

So we came back down to the waterfront Saturday morning for athlete check-in, mandatory athlete briefing and the IRONMAN Expo. It’s a little overwhelming to see those bridges looming out there off in the distance. Knowing that I was going to have to swim a LONG ways around an island and then under those two, yes count them two, bridges before getting out of the water.

We parked the car and then started off towards IRONMAN VILLAGE. There were already athletes in the water for the official open water swim practice. Sure, I probably should be practicing with them… but then again, why start now?!

So we finally made it to IRONMAN VILLAGE. Exciting!!!
There’s the official IRONMAN Expo Tent, assorted vendors and other things in the Village. We did a little shopping and hung around for the first official Athlete Briefing of the morning. They cover all of the basic rules & information for tomorrow’s triathlon. After the briefing, you’re good to go and get ready for the Big Race!!!

After getting my bags and checking in, we went back to the hotel to pack up my gear for each leg of the race. For most triathlons you generally keep all of your stuff at one place. You continue to return to that same Transition Area in between each leg of the race. But for the IRONMAN, because it’s so much longer, they split it up a bit… and they provide you with a Special Needs Bag for both the run and the bike. Those special needs bags will be out on the route at the half-way point. So it’s important to think about what you might need at each leg of the race ahead of time.

It was great to have Chris there as my longtime friend, eager supporter and Sherpa for the weekend. She was the perfect choice to keep me on task and help keep everything running smoothly. Trying to plan, organize and prepare for every step of the way. I don’t want any surprises along the way tomorrow.

Once we were packed up, and had my numbers attached to bike, helmet and everywhere else… it was time to go back to the Transition Area. I had to get my bike and all of my Gear Bags checked into Transition ahead of time. So my Sherpa Chris and I headed out of the hotel towards the Transition Area again.

When you get there, you suddenly see a LOT of bikes!!! There are nearly three thousand people signed up for the race. And the Transition Area was filling up fast. Right on the waterfront. In the “shadow” of the bridges. Thousands of bikes waiting for their big day tomorrow!

Once bikes are in place, then you take your Gear Bags to the other side of the Transition Area. It’s a big system of numbers & rows. Everything is planned & organized. Everything in its place. Every place with its thing. Thousands of bags all lined up in the field.

After setting up in Transition, we went to find my friend Pam who was working… and sitting down… in the Volunteer’s Information Tent. So glad that she made it down to cheer me on… even if she couldn’t do much walking…

Earlier the day before, as we were leaving Chicago,  I got this text from Pam…

Turns out Pam actually broke her foot. And yet she still pulled it together and came down to Louisville to cheer me on, as well as volunteer at the race. She’s a trooper. So much fun to have Pammy there to be part of my Support Crew, along with her husband Jeff. Too bad she’s going to miss her marathon next weekend through the Redwood Forest in California!!! Mwah, mwah, mwah…

After playing with Pam, Chris and I decided to walk up a mile or so to the location for the the Swim Start. It’s a cozy little marina of docks located between the shoreline and a small island. So the swim plan is that all athletes will jump off one of the closest two docks. Swim north, turn around the island, and then swim south back to Joe’s Crab Shack.

So then it was back to “reality”… dinner, hotel, early to bed.
Chris and I discussed our morning plan. It was going to be a VERY early morning start down at the Pier. The race officially starts at 7:30am. But my personal start time is whenever I cross the timing mat on my way into the water. But the sooner I start, the longer I have to make it across the Finish Line. So we’re starting VERY early tomorrow!!!








Categories: bike, special events, workout

Thankfully the huge rains passed before the race started.
Although there were a LOT of puddles & mud in the aftermath.
More fun tomorrow… and hopefully better weather?!

Categories: Chicago, workout

A perfectly warm & breezy afternoon for a sweaty run around the harbor.

Categories: Chicago, food, friends, special events, workout

A beautiful morning for a brisk 8K run through downtown Chicago. Chilly with a bit of a breeze, but with the right layers it was quite nice for me and 23,500 of my fellow runners. What a difference a day makes… can you even imagine if the run was during yesterday’s crazy blizzard conditions?!

The toughest part is deciding what clothes to wear… and how many layers you can take off and pack away into Gear Check. The morning is cold. The breeze is chilling. You know you’re going to warm up when you start running. But you also know you have at least a half hour to stand out there and wait. At this point, Tracy and I were pretty sure we had made the right decisions.

Here’s the view of the Starting Line as we wait for our turn to start. I was in the second wave, Corral G… which means we had plenty of time to wait.

My friend Kristin was doing her first “official” run… we’ve been “training” at Spin Class together. So it was fun to see her there in my same Corral. We ran the last half of the race together which was a lot of fun. She did a GREAT job today!!!

And THIS is what you get when you ask someone to take your picture at the Finish Line… apparently the nice lady had extremely large thumbs?!!!

Such a difference a day makes… clear skies and NO SNOW!!!

Some of the Shamrock Shuffle “swag” back at my lace…. some sweatier than others!!!

On my way home, I stopped off at Ann Sather’s for some I-deserve-these  “reward” cinnamon rolls!!! Always fun when you know you’ve already burned off those calories!!!

Categories: bike, special events, workout

Triathlon mornings start very early. Thousands of hopeful triathletes all bringing their bikes & gear into the Transition Area… which opens at 4:00am!!! It’s the place where you store all of your gear, and will return to repeatedly throughout the race to change for each leg. This morning was so misty & foggy, we all kinda looked like gorillas in the mist.

And for the record, the Chicago Triathlon is the LARGEST Triathlon in the US!!!
More than 9,000 athletes from across the country run, bike, and swim along Chicago’s lakefront. It’s the fifth oldest triathlon in the world. Athletes from 46 states and 18 different countries. Kind of exciting!!!

Here’s a view of the Transition Area from above… now that’s a LOT of bikes!!!…
courtesy of the Chicago Triathlon Facebook page.

And then, once you have all of your gear sorted & organized by race, it’s time to get ready for the swim – and head over to the Swim Start. Since I was doing this race by myself this year (my Tri-partner in crime Chris had to bow out with a bad stress fracture), I didn’t really have anyone good to take photos “during” the race. We’ll have to wait for the professional race photographers to send out their shots of the triathletes… to see how goofy I look in mid-stride!

Today was the second and third triathlons to complete my Chicago Triple Triathlon Challenge! Yesterday we did the SuperSprint… and today was International distance immediately followed by Sprint distance.

So I started with the Swim in Monroe Harbor. Basically straight across form Buckingham Fountain south to the Shedd Aquarium and then back north to the Chicago Yacht Club. Luckily for all of us, the water temperature was SO MUCH better today than yesterday. A full 8-degrees warmer! Which makes a HUGE difference. Yesterday’s water temperature was 56-degrees! Today, an almost “balmy-by-comparison” 64-degrees. Still cold. Who am I kidding? But not so cold that it hurt like yesterday!!!

Some more photos from the Chicago Triathlon Facebook page… of course, it was a lot darker when I started in Wave #1. My start time was 6:00am… about 20 minutes BEFORE sunrise!!!

Then it’s back to the Transition Area to change for the Bike portion. Then it’s up onto Lake Shore Drive headed all the way to Hollywood where LSD ends. Turn around and come back to the city. Then it’s a few more miles “under the city” as we ride Intermediate Wacker Drive and the “best-kept-secret” Busway to McCormick Place and back. Again at the Transition Area to switch to my running clothes. Then it’s off south to 31st Street Beach and back to the Grant Park Finish Line.

And by “finish” I mean of Triathlon #2Number Three still to come!!!
So it’s grab a medal, some Gatorade and head back to the Swim Start where they’ve moved our wetsuits & swim gear there for us already. Another change of clothes and it’s back in the water. This time it’s shorter… basically even with Buckingham Fountain north to the Yacht Club. Then “transition” back to bike gear for another roundtrip on Lake Shore Drive up to Hollywood and back. One last “transition” and it’s back in running gear for the last leg. This time the Finish Line does indeed mean FINISH!!! Triathlon #3 DONE. A celebration… and a HUGE sigh of relief!!! I made it… yeah me! Luckily, my friend Nancy was there to hang with and snap a few pictures. She has done the Sprint Relay swim portion… not quite exhausted, and willing to be my photographer!!!

Not only did I get my three medals… I also got a commemorative Triple Tri running vest. Only the “official” Triple Tri finishers got them… and that’s me! An official Triple Triathlete!!! 58.8 combined Triathlon miles for the three distance. Whoo-hoo!

After the race, Nancy and I hung out for awhile and then I finally got a great stretching session from the folks at Athletico. A little tight, a little sore… and very thankful for their “magic hands.”

So here we have it, the end of my day and the end of the Chicago Triple Triathlon Challenge.
Another adventure under my belt!!!

So what’s next???

Categories: bike, special events, workout

One down. Two to go tomorrow for the Chicago Triple Tri Challenge.
This morning’s SuperSprint was a rainy, muddy, puddley mess with flooded transition areas & squishy running paths. Oh yeah, it was raining and the lake is FREEZING cold. 56-FRIGGIN’ DEGREES COLD!!! So cold that it knocks the wind right out of you. Tough to catch your breath. Kinda feels like you have asthma… and struggling to find a swim stroke beyond flailing!

Otherwise a great day… hoping tomorrow has better weather! Today was the short one… tomorrow will be a lot longer & a lot further!!!

Kinda muddy along the run…

And flooded in the Transition Area…