Race recap: Border Wars

Bridge over Mississippi River in Alton Illinois

A lot of the race took us along and over the Mississippi for the run and bike.

Border Wars, held in Alton Illinois, along the border between Illinois and Missouri, pits races from the East against racers from the West in a 70.3 mile triathlon. For me this race was an opportunity to put some of my good fitness gains to use at the end of the season.

The race was great overall, and I would highly recommend it. Even considering that it was in its first year, it was still well-organized, held on a great venue, and boasted some of the finest SWAG around. It had some growing pains like any first year race, but will certainly improve on these things next year.

Rather than walk you through the entire race, I will instead share one story from the experience.

Border Wars features two transition areas, with T2 being at the finish. So on race morning you have to drive to T2, set up the area for running, and then take prearranged street cars to T1. To ensure that more than 300 racers don’t try to sleep in and take the street cars all at once, organizers told racers when they were supposed to be on their car at predetermined times. I was one of the lucky few who had to be ON THE CAR at 6 a.m. Meaning I had to get up at a bit after 5 a.m. for an 8 a.m. race start…I’m not a morning person!

So I did it. I got up. Staged T2. Rode the street car to the T1 area…a pitch black transition area. They hadn’t arranged for lights (little details that will be fixed next year). Also it was around 44 degrees. So I fumbled in the dark, setting up T1. At this point I am pretty good at setting up my areas, so even in the cold and darkness it only took a few minutes.

After that I just sat around and waited…and waited…and waited. I hung out with fellow Blo-No area athlete Matt Cuttell and we exchanged tips and race strategies. I also made small talk with some other athletes around. Finally it was time to get in the water.

I was looking forward to this since at the previous day’s pre-race meeting we were told water temperature was right around 70 though it would feel MUCH warmer since we would be standing in the cold. “It is wet suit legal though,” they said. “You’ll adjust to the warmth.”

Swim at Border Wars

Where we were actually swimming.

The gun fired and I along with other racers went charging into the water.


The shock of the cold came without any warning. I tried calming myself. I tried dunking my head a few times to get used to the temperature. Each time my body fought against me, barely being able to stand the temps. The other athletes were dealing with the same thing. We were all mentally prepared for water that felt too warm, not like ice.

Arctic ocean

Where it felt like we were swimming

For the first hundred yards or so everyone swam with their heads out of the water–extremely unusual for a triathlon. I kept urging myself forward and berating myself to get my head in the water. My body kept fighting me, gasping against the chilly water and air. For a split second I even considered bowing out of the race.

You LOSER! Get your face down in that water and start swimming. You will not embarrass yourself with quitting, you wimp!

Considering quitting roused the voice in my head that has nothing but contempt for giving up. (For the record, I cleaned up the language in the quote above.) Nonetheless I began swimming, looking forward to getting out of the water, dreading jumping onto my bike while soaking wet, and dreaming of a 13.1 mile run along the Mississippi in 58 degree temps.

I found out after the swim that the water temp was around 56 degrees. How it was confused for 70, I’ll never know, but 14 degrees makes a BIG difference!

So how did it all turn out?


Out of 344 finishers, I placed 67th, with a final time of 5:26:57. A new P.R.!

Here’s the breakdown:

Swim: 37:59

T1: 7:15

Bike: 2:50:04

T2: 3:31:58

Run: 1:48:05

That put me as #16 in my age group out of 39. Overall it was a great race for me. T1 was slow because I made the decision to towel off and put on a soft shell jacket for the ride (a great decision). The bike and run went well too. Next time I need to push it harder on the bike and run through. I think part of me is afraid of blowing up on the course, so I don’t work hard enough. I am confident that I will shave several minutes off my 70.3 time next year.

So should you do Border Wars? Absolutely! As I said the venue is great and it is a good time of the year for a season ender. Plus the post race barbecue is delicious! I would already be signed up for this one if IRONMAN Louisville wasn’t the weekend after it. Don’t let my adventure through darkness, cold, and frigid waters scare you away. We need people to represent the EAST! Fight on easterners, fight on.


This entry was posted in Cycling, Running, Swimming, Triathlon and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Race recap: Border Wars

  1. Pingback: Best laid plans | 3 Sport Athlete

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