Nation’s Triathlon was crowded this year – it grew from about 2,400 finishers in 2008 to almost 4,000. Despite the congestion, the waiting, and the administrative burdens, I’ll do it again. Many friends do the race and I always meet MMTC’ers there (like Deb Taylor in the swim pen and Greg Schuler at mile 5), making it a pretty social race.
The venue is spectacular. The best parts for me are the bike course along the Potomac and the run through East Potomac Park and around the Jefferson Memorial. The course director appears to be taking lessons from Bob Vigorito – despite the crowds and a long wait for some of us in the swim pen, the race went pretty smoothly.
I planned to use this race as a “tune up” for Kona after a seven-week training period that included two weeks of recovery post Lake Placid Ironman, four weeks building volume, and then a cut-back week. (I was actually having a hard time getting motivated for my last long run – PIDS, I think, also known as Post Ironman Depression Syndrome. Thanks, Loretta – one of your race reports rekindled my enthusiasm for triathlon the day before I was due to run 26 training miles). Nations Tri was scheduled to be the start of a two-week peak period leading into my taper for Kona.
Predictably, after cutting back on the training last week for some recovery, by Wednesday, I had a cold and was on the verge of a sore throat. On Thursday, I tried to “blow it out” with a hard four-mile run building to 5:30 pace and then maximizing sleep in the three nights before the race. It was no miracle cure, but it kept the cold from totally taking root, although I was more tired than usual leading into the race.
I also noticed that my (morning) resting heartrate, usually in the high 30s or low 40s when I’m peaking for a race, was continuing to rise even while I cut back on the training. That was strange. It topped out at 49 on race morning – usually an indicator of being either overtrained (and needing a rest) or getting sick (like with a cold).
My goals for Nations were pretty simple: 1) don’t get injured before Kona. For the past 2 years, I’ve either strained an Achilles tendon or my piriformis in the month after the June or July Ironman; 2) don’t crash the bike; and 3) come in under 2:20:00. No injuries, no crashes and I almost made #3, finishing in 2:20:49. Two out of three will do fine.
Although I was hoping for high heat and humidity (like last year) to help my training for Hawaii in October, the weather on race day was absolutely spectacular: almost clear skies, light winds, low humidity, and temps in the high 60s at the start to high 70s at the finish. Perfect, unless you are training for Kona.
Swim: 29:50 (pace 1:50/100 m)
The wait for the swim was a little crazy: I was in wave 31 of 32 waves – starting 1.5 hours after the official race start. But it was OK. The port-a-potty lines were much shorter by 8 a.m. I met Deb Taylor, and Linda Giampalmo and I killed time laughing at people laughing at my wet suit. (The crotch ripped out years ago and I’ve been patching it with wet suit cement for several years. It looks a little odd. Linda thinks I should get a new one, but it’s fun to watch people covertly attempt to figure out what the problem is). By the time there was almost no one else left to look at my wet suit, my wave entered the water.
The waves went off every three minutes and it was crowded. The water temp was delightful, but the water was a little choppy from boat wakes I think. Sighting on the bridge and buoys upstream was easy, but it was impossible to draft in the murky water and people seemed to be everywhere in every color cap you can imagine. Every time I picked my head up to sight, I was almost on top of someone. I had almost as much contact as in an Ironman swim. It wasn’t combative contact but it wasn’t cooperative either. People were just bobbing in the way. I seemed to spend most of time swimming around people. This must be the price you pay for being in Wave 31. The turn downstream was into the sun – more crowded and more difficult to sight, but pleasant with the current.
It was easy to exit the water since they’d enlarged the ramp and had a new dock. I finished in 29:50, 3 seconds faster than last year.
T1 went smoothly – it was a large transition area so the run was long, but the suit came off like it was greased (thank you, PAM) and all I needed was a helmet, sunglasses and shoes. Transitions have become so much faster since I internalized Chip’s advice: keep it simple.
Bike: 1:05:56 (22.6 avg mph)
The roads were in super condition – clean and smooth – with two minor exceptions. There are a few potholes near the Lincoln and there are some pretty good bumps on the ramps leading up to and down from the Whitehurst.
Like the swim, the roads were crowded. Most people kept to the right, but many times three riders were riding abreast making it hard to get by on a single lane. I saw the aftermath of several crashes and watched several near misses ahead of me. People moved when asked, but it seemed I was always saying “I’m on your left.” Several times I had to use my brakes to ensure I made Goals #1 and #2: no injuries, no crashes. Despite the close calls, Canal Road and Clara Barton Parkway are absolutely spectacular to ride when you aren’t competing with cars. I’d do Nations Tri just for the opportunity to race on those roads.
I pushed the bike leg fairly hard, but I felt tired which I think may have been the aftermath of the cold. My time was about 90 seconds slower than last year.
After the race I met a cyclist who DNF’ed, and he told me his horror story. Like I once did, he tied up his spare tubes with rubber bands and strapped them into a water bottle carrier on the back of his bike. The bands broke or came undone and, as he was cruising at 20 mph, the spare tubes fell down and got caught in his cassette bringing him to a smoking halt but not before his rear tire blew out. Damaged the tire, causing the tube to blow. (He might have been on ultralights). Morals of the story: secure those tubes and ultralights are simply not worth it. (It took 8 flats to convince me to dump the ultralights).
Just a shoe change and I strapped on the Garmin as I ran. One of my transition neighbors started to run towards the Bike Out (where the Run Out was last year…). We do things like this every now and then in my age group. I led him out.
Run: 40:19 (6:31 min/mile avg)
While the bike leg seemed hard, the run didn’t. It was one of those days when it feels good to run, even after 25 miles on the bike. The weather was perfect and I took the first mile a little fast at 6:07. Remembering Goal #1, no injuries, I cut back my pace closer to my goal pace of 6:30 and finished with a 6:31 average.
There isn’t much drama in age group racing because we generally race in an informational vacuum. This is even more the case when our age group is broken into two waves like it was Sunday – you don’t know who your competition is and you don’t usually even know where they are until you pass them. Or worse, until they pass you.
Sunday was a little different for me. The winner blew us all away and beat me soundly by nine minutes with a 24 minute swim and a 38 minute run on 6:11 pace, but we had a little duel for second. As I approached mile 4.5, I came up on a runner with a “53” screaming at me from his calf. I made a pretty authoritative pass, or so I thought. By the time we got to the turnaround before mile 5, I only had about ten seconds on him. As we passed each other near the turnaround, I did my best to look as relaxed as you can running at 6:30 pace near the end of a triathlon since I didn’t want to let him think he could catch me. I pushed, but apparently so did he. I finished 9 seconds ahead of him and later learned it was Jeff Oxman of Rockville. Jeff and I have been finishing next to each other in almost every race we both enter in the past two years. He took 4th at Columbia to my fifth, but I finished just ahead of him at Eagleman this year and at Nation’s Tri last year. He’s a strong swimmer and we’re fairly even on the bike: it all comes down to the run.
Post-race was good, except for the wait to get into transition and for the award ceremony. I did get a chance to meet Steve Meininger as he accepted his second place age group award. The announcer let everyone know we were racing for Mid Maryland Tri Club when we were presented with age group awards.
I’d recommend this race but you have to have some tolerance for the frustrations that go with Washington, DC. The mandatory race briefing is probably required by the District. Parking is a pain unless you park on Virginia Ave., NW, by the State Department and walk across the mall. The crowds on the course are real and the wait can be excruciatingly slow if you have a late swim (unless someone is laughing at your patched wetsuit, which makes time go faster).