Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nations Triathlon Race Report


The Expo and packet pickup was, to me (as an experienced triathlete and 18-year area resident), a big annoyance. I went over to it when the Expo opened on Saturday morning. Located two miles across the busy District of Columbia from the transition area, and no nearby parking to be found except the parking garage underneath the hotel for $15. There was a "mandatory" pre-race briefing every hour at which we were required to complete an additional CYA swim waiver and get our hand stamped on exit as proof of attendance. The briefing didn't contain any information, as far as I could tell, that wasn't on the website or part of normal triathlon rules. Plus there was at least one egregious falsehood told to briefing attendees that there would be "plenty" of parking close by the transition area. (The nearest public parking lot to the transition area is usually full and it's 3/4 of a mile away).

Later at packet pickup lots of people were getting in line that clearly hadn't attended the briefing and no one ever seemed to check for hand stamps, but after the briefing it went quickly and I was out of there.

I drove over to the transition area, managed to squeeze into one on-street parking site, got my bike all set up to put in the fully-assembled bike racking area, only to be told that transition was closed for another hour. So I had to hang around and waste another hour for no apparent reason. Finally got my bike racked and the entire check-in procedure had taken well over three hours. (It would have taken much longer if I hadn't lived in the area for so long and wasn't completely familiar with DC streets).

Race morning:

Up at 4AM and over to the East Potomac Park parking area by 5AM to make sure I got a parking spot, even though my swim wave wasn't scheduled to start until 8:36AM. Ate some breakfast in my car and went over to set up my transition area and was ready to go by about 6:15, with 2.5 hours now to kill.

There were about 35 portapotties for 3400 registered triathletes. There were quickly hundreds of people in an enormous line.

At 7AM we were supposed to be finished setting up transition and to have cleared the area, but there were still a couple dozen triathletes and family members in there any time that I looked.

All of the athletes were supposed to wait for their swim wave in a huge fenced-in pen with the very limited portapotties (now out of toilet paper but supplied with industrial wipes), but no available water or food, nor garbage receptacles. So Jeanne and I and Greg and my other few thousand triathlete friends complied and sat around in the corral doing nothing and unable to watch the start. Fortunately I had brought some supplies with me but I felt badly for those who hadn't.

Swim (41:47):

Finally it was time for our wave, the last, to enter the water. They had floating docks with ladders set up that worked well for entry. I jumped in the water, made sure my cap and goggles were set, and waited for the start. There was some confusion at the start, with no clear signal, but the women in the front line started swimming so I followed in afterwards.

The Potomac River water was better quality than I expected, very murky but not smelly. The water temperature was a very comfortable 77*F in my sleeveless wetsuit. On the outbound leg against the slow current I swam along fairly easily spotting off the bank to my right and heading for the second arch of Memorial Bridge. I swam comfortably under the bridge and spotted the yellow turn buoy still fairly far off, but made it out around two yellow turn buoys without incident.

My swim cap kept riding up and pulling my goggles off, however, and after tugging at them several times I had to finally stop by a kayak to fix the problem, which cost some time. Also the return leg headed directly into the rising sun and I couldn't see the yellow buoys at all. I spotted off some boats off to the right but I think that I swam the long way around doing that. On the last part of the swim I was hitting some seaweed which made me wish I had worn my long-sleeved wetsuit, but it didn't slow me down.

Finally I was able to turn for the swim exit, very well marked with tall banners, and I climbed up the ladders. A quick glance at my watch said 39:xx, several minutes slower than I had hoped but not a big surprise.

T1 (5:28):

The lane to the transition area was long and full of slippery mud by the time I went through, but I trotted as quickly as I was able. I tried to ignore the many people already heading out on the run leg. I also had one of the longest distances to the bike start, so I finished the transition in my typically slow time despite all efforts to be prompt and efficient.

Bike (1:25:27, 17.4 mph):

Mounted up and headed out on Independence Avenue, feeling nice and strong. This was MUCH more fun! I hit the first few miles pretty hard and was enjoying myself greatly. Swooping through the curves around the Washington Monument, onto Constitution Avenue heading towards the Capitol. Swing easily through a U-turn 6 lanes wide and I'm having a blast! Up standing on the pedals to pick up some speed again, and I'm passing everyone in sight. "Stay right! On your left!" was my continual refrain through the ride. A quick glance over my right shoulder to spot the White House, then swoop again through another U-turn and tear on out of there as fast as I could pedal. Hammering my bike down a wide-open Constitution Avenue in our nation's capital, with cheering spectators on both sides, was well worth the price of admission!

Back down towards the Potomac, climbing up the Whitehurst Freeway towards Georgetown in what seemed like the biggest effort on the bike course. Then we had a long ride out and back along Canal Road and the Clara Barton Parkway into Maryland with lovely views of the canal. Another sharp turnaround at the end (glad that I've been practicing those bike-handling skills) and back towards the District.

About this time I realized that I hadn't been passed yet by ANYONE on the bike course! That was a big first for me, and encouraged me to keep going hard until the finish. Actually being in the last wave of the day, it just meant that the faster cyclists were all faster swimmers than me too, but the thought was still enough to keep my motivation high and pedals turning hard.

Another little leg up into Rock Creek Park and under the Kennedy Center overhang and past the Lincoln Monument and back into transition. Hurrah! Not passed by a single person on the bike leg! That's certainly never happened to me before! I was very stoked!

T2 (3:19):

Another long, long trot on bike shoes back to my rack spot. Dropped my helmet and swapped my shoes as quickly as I could, but it was still my typically slow time.

Run (1:27:45, 14:09 min/mile):

As soon as I headed out on the run I knew it was going to be a very slow finish time. It was now about 11 AM and there was full sun and little shade on the concrete roads leading out towards Hains Point. The official temperature for the day eventually got up to 92*F, which with a dew point of 72*F yields a 100*F heat index. I'm not sure what the temperatures were exactly at the time of my run, but they were certainly sufficient to beat me to a pulp and force me to do a lot of walking after the first mile. I dumped ice down my front and back at every opportunity, and forced myself to run between every other lightpost, but just 100 yards of jogging would be enough to send my heart rate up to about 174. I kept up the alternating sequence and jogged as much as I was able, but it was a long slow countdown from one mile marker to the next (excellently marked with very tall banners, I might note).

Finally with the Capitol in the background I tried to look as peppy and happy as I could for my finish photos, but I was feeling the heat and as soon as I crossed the finish line (at 3:43:45) I sat down and rubbed ice on my overheated neck and arms.


There was abundant pizza and some other food items at the finish line area. I took one piece and slowly started my walk back to the transition area. There were shuttle buses heading back, but there were long lines that I didn't want to stand in. 1.7 miles of very slow hobbling brought me back to the transition area to pick up my gear. I suddenly remembered on the way (not to make excuses for my time) that I had a nasty head cold, which returned with a vengeance.

They were already breaking down the fences by the time I arrived and there didn't appear to be much perimeter security for the bikes, though the numbers of those of us who walked out the main gates were checked. Another 0.8 miles very slowly walking the bike, and I was back to my car and loading up to head for home.


I was glad to see that they posted results very promptly, and quite amazed to see that I had finished 48/84 (57%) in my category, Athenas of all ages. In my age group I would have finished 26/41 (63%). I was extremely surprised to see that I ended up placing higher than I usually to, with a solid back-of-the-midpack finish instead of way way back in the pack as I had expected!


A Wild Celtic Rose said...

Great report!

and an AWESOME bike leg!!!

But did you pee in your wetsuit?

Enquiring minds want to know (ooops, wrong paper)

Lesser is More said...

Nicely done! It was a tough day out there and I wish I could have made it out there to watch and cheer everyone on. The course looks much improved from previous years and I am glad to see the increased number of competitors is adding momentum toward making this an annual must do race.

jbmmommy said...

Nice race, thanks for the detailed report- I always enjoy reading yours. I hope to someday experience a bike leg without being passed, it must be a great feeling.

jeanne said...

great report, what a great race! funny i don't remember my bike leg that way AT ALL. the run was just brutal in that heat.

you did fantastic, and i hope you are well pleased!

Rainmaker said...

Nicely done! I felt sooo bad for everyone who had one of the later start waves - especially given the heat. :(

But it looks like you pushed through, and really cruised on the bike segment. I too really enjoyed the downtown portions.

As for the general pre-race logistics...yeah, it needs a lot of work. It took me about 3 hours as well to complete the whole tango across town - and like you, I'm very quick once in the car around DC.

ShirleyPerly said...

I had no idea that race was so large! Yes, tough to have to be in a later wave on a hot day. But GREAT job on the bike and hanging in there on the run! Always nice to finish better than you thought you would. CONGRATS!!