I like Nations Tri more every year. Even though it is getting bigger (4,391 finishers this year), it is getting better.
No more mandatory briefings, and packet pick-up was efficient and quick. More portapotties. The parking on Sunday at 5 a.m. was easy on Virginia Ave (north of Constitution and the Federal Reserve), the bigger swim dock and huge orange buoys every 100m were fantastic, and both the bike and run courses are lightning fast.
The rain slowed things down a bit on the bike course and it made transitions glacial in the mud, but it seemed to me that the race went like clockwork with almost Vigorito-like precision.
The competition is also getting tougher. My 2:20:20 finish time was faster than my winning AG time in 2008 and it was 30 seconds faster than my second place time in 2009. Sunday, it was only good enough for fourth.
What is really cool this year is the computer program on the Nations website where you can watch your race online and compare your progress during the race with your age group (or against whomever you select).
I also particularly appreciated the announcer’s warnings in transition, counting down to the predicted arrival of a line of thundershowers at about 6 a.m. I delayed setting up transition and was able to take refuge in some tents by the finish area until the worst of it was over. I also liked being in swim wave 20, as opposed to wave 32 last year. Far fewer people on the bike course in the way.
This race was an experiment for me, but a controlled one, thanks to Karen Smyers, who tailored my workouts carefully. My running volume had been at about 25% of normal, and I went two full weeks without running at all after IM Lake Placid trying to help my planteris tendon heal. Predictably, once I started running again, I reinjured it and had to take another week off.
Bottom line: although I continued to swim and bike since Placid, I only had 3 weeks before Nations to ramp up the run. A week ago, I finally ran six miles under 40 minutes; it was a lot of work with a HR 15-20 bpm above normal, but no pain or tightness in the calf. The run is my major weapon, and I wanted to see where I stood with the USAT Age Group National Championships only two weeks away.
Pre-race was actually relaxing. Todd and Amy McClellan stayed with us and we had a nice pasta dinner on the deck at our home (locking up the dog and feeding the kids separately). This was Todd’s first race since Kona 2009, and it was a déjà vu dinner since the four of us also had pasta at our condo in Kailua-Kona before the IM World Championships last October.
Down about 9 p.m. to sleep and up at 3 a.m. Sunday to eat; I like to eat at least four hours before the gun. Since this was Olympic distance, I cut back to only an English muffin, 20 oz of accelerade and a cup of coffee. We left the house at 4:50 a.m. and were parked on Virginia Ave. at about 5:10. About 15 minutes later, after walking past the Lincoln Memorial, we were at transition. Logistics are simple when you live close and park in the right spot.
After the rain abated, I set up a simple transition. All the decisions were made in advance. Bike shoes with socks turned partly down were placed inside a plastic Ironman bike transition bag on top of plastic garbage bag in the muck. I could reach inside and grab dry bike shoes. My helmet was on top. A second plastic transition bag held my run gear: shoes, dry socks (partly turned down and already in the shoes), number belt and my Garmin (already reset and ready).
I planned 20 oz of accelerade for the 40k bike; half of it already in the aerodrink bottle, half left in the downtube bottle cage. (I split it in case I go down on the wet road, spilling the aerodrink fluid; I’d still have 10 oz of fluid left in the bottle). I only need about 20 oz/hour under cool conditions like Sunday, so the fact there was no bike water stop didn’t trouble me; it actually would have created more danger on the narrow, wet roads with all the newbie triathletes.
Swim: 28:41 (34/174 AG, 1:45 per 100m)
The swim corrals were well organized too. I was in the first wave of the 50-54 AG and got in the water as early as possible for a short warm-up. The waves went every four minutes. The swim was pleasant – easy to sight, temperature comfortable to a bit warm with a wet suit, and the water didn’t seem as dark as in the past. I found some feet to follow for awhile.
What I did notice is that it was still very crowded (but not Ironman crowded). The previous wave seemed to be strung out and I was always just avoiding someone. This group didn’t seem as comfortable with physical contact as do Ironman swimmers; maybe it was the newbies. One guy got ticked when I touched his feet while drafting; another grabbed my arm and threw it even though I never touched him (guess he thought I was too close). They’d really appreciate the spacious Nations course if they did a mass start with 2400 of your newest best friends.
I still haven’t cracked the code on swimming technique. Drives me crazy watching people pull away. I was about a minute faster than the previous two years, but there were way too many blue caps ahead of me and even one red one (some dude in the second 50-54 wave climbed out just ahead of me). Later I’d learn I came out of the water 34th in the age group. (And later I’d learn I only caught 30 of them….)
T1: 3:52 (9/174)
The 50-54 men had a bad draw in transition. Row 32, almost as far from bike out as you can get. So, while my transition went fairly well, it was a long haul with your bike to get out….and to get back to the rack for T2. But we all had the same muddy area to share. No complaints, but my time was about a minute slower than last year. I’d lost in T1 the little time I had gained on the swim.
Bike: 1:05:21 (8/174, 22.8 mph)
The bike course was treacherous at times (3 180 degree turns), but it is fast nonetheless. I like it. The roads are pretty smooth. (There were more flats than usual this year, which I attribute to rain washing crap in the road).
The crowds weren’t as bad this year (thanks in part to being in wave 20), but a few groups were still riding abreast of each other. One hearing impaired guy was riding all the way to the left, with three people to his right. He was moving at a fairly slow speed too. I didn’t know he was hearing impaired at first and started calling “passing on your left.” He didn’t hear me, of course. When I got close I could see his “race number” wasn’t a number at all. It said “Deaf.” Close call, but no collision. Someone needs to communicate to him that he, of all people, should stay to the right.
Except when avoiding collisions with the hearing impaired, I tried to hammer the bike course. The legs felt tired for the first five miles, but they came out of it. The wet roads slowed us all down, but I pushed with the unrealistic goal of breaking an hour. Missed it again, by over a mile, but never got passed. And my split was about 30 seconds faster than 2009.
T2: 2:04 (9/174)
Same time as last year, which I view as a victory given the mud and transition position. A little slower perhaps because I opted for dry socks. The good news: it looked like there were only a couple of bikes in the 50-54 transition area. Apparently there were more than I thought. Took one accelgel with 40mg caffeine as I exited transition.
Run: 40:23 (2/174, 6:31 pace)
My run plan: push lactate threshold and see what I could handle. It’s only 6.2 miles but I’d lost a lot of my running fitness.
It sort of came down to this mentally: who could I catch? I knew that the dude in the red swim cap was still ahead of me and I hadn’t seen Jeff Oxman yet. Jeff and I have finished next to each other for the past two Nations Triathlons, and it has always come down to the run. I passed Greg Nelson in the first mile and another 50-54 year old guy I didn’t know at about mile four.
Running was not easy, but the calf felt fine. My pace seemed fairly steady around 6:30, and I was passing a lot of people, but didn’t see any more in my age group. I run this course all the time at lunch or commuting to work and feel comfortable with it, even when it’s painful. When I came up on the bridge past the Jefferson Memorial, I kicked hard and caught two guys in the last 200 yards. But one guy was the red swim cap dude, so since he was in the wave behind me, he had me by four minutes anyway…. Bummer. Never saw Jeff Oxman: he had a strong run, and I only gained back 30 seconds from the four minutes he gained on the swim.
My final run result was four seconds slower than my run split in 2009; I’ll take it since it’s a recovery race, but I’m well aware the AG winner ran 6:07s. There’s work to do before Tuscaloosa and Clearwater.
I only saw a handful of MMTC'ers all day. Saw Tom Kish lounging at the finish after he kicked butt, I saw Steve Meininger at the Awards Ceremony (he took third), and I chatted ever so briefly with one of us (unidentified) at mile 3.5 of the run course. Hard to find us in a crowd of 5,000, but the Go Mid Maryland shout outs were missed.