This is my second year in a row doing The Nation's Triathlon. Pre-race was a huge improvement this year because they didn't require attendance at a course briefing (which last year created an awful bottleneck in the lines). The transition area is mind-bogglingly huge, and because it is in downtown DC I was grateful that my parents helped me take my bike down to rack it, and drove me to the race.
On race morning it was pouring rain. I've done four races this season and three of them (Columbia, IronGirl, and Nation's) had pouring rain before or during the race. I prefer wet to hot, though, so even with the transition area a total mudpit and the slick roads, I wasn't too upset.
I haven't done very many triathlons so I might not be the best judge, but this start was super crowded. I know Ironman races have mass starts that are probably way worse, but I like to start right at the front towards the left (as close to the buoys as possible). That way, I avoid getting kicked in the face and if I can swim fast enough, don't get swam over, either. This time I couldn't get any closer to the front than three people deep. I was surrounded on all sides. It was a good thing we were all wearing wetsuits and didn't have to tread water or we all would have ended up bruised! I had a hard time starting and swam with my head completely up out of the water to keep from getting kicked for about 50m. Once I got underway I found the swim to be crowded, but overall very smooth. The buoys were awesome! Each 100m there was a huge buoy clearly marked with the distance. Loved that. My bike time was a couple of minutes faster than last year so I consider that a success.
The run from the swim exit to the transition area was... very very long. It was lined with people cheering you on, but I found it to be a total drag. I don't like running with a wetsuit on! Once I made it to my mudpit... er... bike rack my transition went fine. My recent purchase of tri-specific bike shoes has seriously improved my transition times. I still wear socks, though, and I took the time to wring out my soaking wet socks before I put them on.
I borrowed some amber glasses for the bike ride since it was overcast and rainy, but I wish I had just skipped the shades altogether as I could barely see the entire time on the bike and had to keep wiping off the water. The course is pretty flat and fast but since it was very wet and had quite a few pot holes I took it easy. There are so many athletes that the course is very crowded and sometimes it is hard to pass. Corners (of which there seemed to be many) are especially crowded, and were especially slow because of the weather. My biggest problem is that I am not confident enough on the bike to take in enough fluids. I brought 2 water bottles and barely made a dent in one of them. This is no problem for a sprint, and even okay for an olympic, but if I ever want to go for a longer distance, or if I ever think I could be competitive, I have got to figure out how to drink on the bike. My cycling is generally not as strong as it was last summer when I was training very heavily for a Tour de France trip, but even taking the course pretty easy my bike time was only 2 minutes slower than last year. I'll take it!
Not much to report here. I spent a few seconds trying to chug water to make up for my lack of drinking on the bike. The run out of transition was also very long, but I think this was actually considered as part of the run.
The run is always my worst leg of the three. This season I have been trying to improve on my running. It has helped, albeit not very much. I still can't get down to the pace where I would like to be, and think I should be able to realistically achieve. I also realized at this race that it won't matter how much I improve my running unless I improve my running AFTER riding my bike. I started the run and, just like in other races, immediately felt that there was no way I could finish the race. As I exited the transition area, though, they had a banner that said "FIND STRENGTH" and it was just the message I needed. I knew I could do the run, so I just kept plugging along. They had aid stations at each mile. I would convince myself that I could run just one mile, then walk through the aid station and drink a cup of water. My run time was about 30 seconds faster than last year. Again, I'll take it.
My general take this year on the race is that it's a great event, a fun/fast course, and well organized, but because it is so huge and so hard to get to and from I don't think I'll do it again next year. Who knows, though, I really do like this event.
I would definitely recommend it if you are looking for a fall race for next year.