This race was a late addition to my schedule this year as I won an entry at one of the club meetings (mental note, must attend more club meetings). I had never considered this race before due to its hefty price tag (I believe it was $185 this year) and the whole logistics of doing the race in DC. Anyone who knows me knows that I HATE driving in DC. Inevitably, despite my best efforts and preparations, I get lost. Be that as it may, I will never forgo a free race entry, so sign up I did. Once that was done, I just had to figure out how in the world I was going to get down there. I was honestly way more stressed about that than about doing the race itself. The plan eventually worked itself out - turns out my boss, who lives in DC about 3 miles from the transition area was going to be in town that weekend and offered to let me stay with him AND drive me to the transition area the next morning. SCORE!
About a month before the race, I realized that Nations is a qualifier for the 2012 Age Group Nationals. I had never really thought about qualifying for that before, but after hearing about it from the club members who raced it this year, I was excited to see if I could qualify. The top 33% of each age group qualify. Based on last year's numbers, that meant about the top 100 in my age group. I definitely felt I had a shot at that. Dave was even on board with making that race a family vacation if I qualified.
So, as everyone is painfully aware, the week before the race it rained. A lot. A few days before the race, they had to make the unfortunate decision to cancel the swim. I was totally bummed (but understood and agreed with the decision), since the swim is by far my strongest leg. I typically get a 5-10 minute head start over the majority of my age group. I was counting on that head start in ensuring I could qualify for Nationals. They made the race just a bike and run instead. Well, I've never done a bike completely fresh, so it could be interesting . . .
Had quite an adventure getting to bike racking (yes, I got lost even with the GPS, a paper map, and having studied Google maps before I left). But, I eventually made it there (with Dave directing me on the phone) and racked my bike. Found my way back to my boss's house and found a parking spot about 2 block away. Turned in early and slept as well as I ever do before a race. Up early the next morning, drank my instant breakfast, and got dropped off near transition about 5 minutes before transition opened.
With the swim canceled, the race became a T1, bike, T2, run. We would start in our swim waves with them sending in groups of about 15 every 15 seconds. We could wear whatever we wanted into T1. I decided to wear my helmet, Garmin, sunglasses, and running shoes. Given the condition of the transition area (think MUD), I decided to run into transition with my running shoes, and switch to my bike shoes (with duct tape over the cleets) when I grabbed my bike. After leaving transition, there was nothing to do but wait for the start. I was wave 29, so was going to have a fairly long wait. Hit the porta potties several times, munched on a zone bar, and drank some Cytomax. Found Tom Kisch (or rather he saw my MMTC jersey) and we talked for a while.
Eventually, it was time for my wave to enter the corrals. After that, things finally seemed to move quickly. And it was soon time to run into transition. I made my way to my bike, switched to my bike shoes, and ran to the exit. Without the swim to spread things out, the exit out of transition was really congested. I made my way to the street, ripped the duct tape off my cleets, mounted my bike, and was off. Official T1 time was 1:34.
Tom had told me the bike was fast, but I never realized how fast it really would be. I felt like I was flying! Had to stay to the left most of the way to pass the earlier groups. "Left" became my mantra. During the ride, I sipped at my Cytomax, munched on a Cliff bar, and took a couple Endurolytes. Faster than I would have imagined, we reached the turn around on Clara Barton Parkway and headed back in. I passed tons of people and was only passed by a handful of folks. I played leapfrog for a while with a woman in my age group wearing an FBI kit. I told her I worked for NASA, and we chatted a bit. Again, faster than I would have thought possible, I was nearing the end of the ride. I ended up with a 1:10:30 (21.1mph) on the bike for the 40K ride. PR by far for that distance, but then most of my races are hilly, so I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised.
Ran the bike in to the super muddy transition area. Racked it, switched shoes, grabbed my number and race belt (I prefer to carry my drink even on a 10K) and took off on the run. T2 time was 1:54.
It was getting hot by the time I got to the run, so I tried not to go out too fast, but I also didn't think too much about my pace. I just wanted to run how I felt and refused to look at my Garmin the entire run. I continued to pass a ton of people, including more in my age group. I'm not used to passing a lot of people on the run, so it felt great! I kept sipping at my Cytomax and took water at each water stop to dump over my head. I ate about half a pack of Sport Beans throughout the run. Eventually, a few people in my age group did pass me, but I was running as fast as I could, so just had to let them go. We had around a mile to go at that point. I tried to pick up the pace as I rounded the corner and could see the finish line. Then I was crossing the finish line and I finally looked at my watch and it read 7:42 average pace. I had never run at 10K that fast! Granted, the run was really flat, but I was still excited. Official time was 46:04 (supposedly that would be a 7:26 pace for 6.2 miles, but Garmin had the run at 5.98 miles).
I felt pretty confident I had put enough out there that I could qualify for Nationals. Just had to wait and see. Post race, I got my unofficial results, which had my finish time as 2:00:00 and 15th in my age group, and I thought "Wow! I did not expect to go that fast!" Then, "man, one second less and I would have been under 2 hours : ) ". And then, "darn I really wish there had been a swim". With my typical 5-10 minute head start on most of my age group, I could have finished even higher : ) . One of these days, maybe I'll even break into the podium. Regardless, I was very happy with my race. And I did qualify for Nationals!
I really enjoyed the race and was definitely glad I got to do it, especially this particular year. It was really well run and the volunteers were great. Even still, I doubt I would pay to do it again. I just can't afford to spend that much on an Olympic race, even one as well run as Nations. Plus, I guess I need to save for a trip to Vermont next year!