The Nation’s Triathlon

Two years ago they ran the Nation’s Triathlon in Washington D.C. for the first time. I didn’t compete which was a good thing, as they cancelled the swim in the Potomac River due to the water quality – or lack thereof. Last year the race went ahead, including the swim, but I was unfortunately travelling so the race director got to keep my entry fee. I’m sure that the swim issue was resolved in no small measure due to the interest of Washington’s Mayor Adrian Fenty who is a keen triathlete – and a good one. He came in 10th last year.  I’m glad that I decided to try for the race yet again which is why I found myself early Sunday morning with another 2,387 competitors ready to take the plunge …

That Nation’s Triathlon gives competitors a good introduction to Washington D.C. The swim starts near the Lincoln Memorial and heads up the river, under Memorial Bridge. From there it is back to Haine’s Point where there was a huge transition area and onto our bikes. After a circuit up and down Constitution Avenue, it was out to the west of town past Georgetown University along the C&O Canal and the Potomac. The ride then came back into town and went up Rock Creek Parkway to near the Zoo, before back to transition. The run then went out to the tip of Haine’s Point before going into the city, with a finish on Pennsylvania Avenue, with the Capital Building in the background.

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On Friday I went and collected my race packet, attending the mandatory race meeting. It was very crowded with Team in Training athletes and their support crew. TNT runs a great program which raises funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society–who were also beneficiaries of the Nation’s Triathlon. I would estimate that some one-third of the competitors were from TNT and they were really psyched up and enthusiastic about what for many would be their first triathlon.

On Saturday after church I dropped off my bike. My coach Margie Shapiro was helping with the swim practice so I went over and had a catch up with her. She was just back from surgery in Colorado to fix a long-term problem. She looked great and was her usual positive self. I’m sure that she’ll be doing well next year when she starts competing again as a professional. I took the opportunity to have a short swim in the Potomac. Living in D.C. there is a real psychological barrier to going swimming in the Potomac. It is dirty and it just really is not the place where one would choose to swim. It was a warm day so I found it refreshing, although the water was even dirtier when I was in it than from the shore! Still, I managed not to swallow any and to give myself a short workout. It was only the second time I had been swimming in a month due to the removal of an ingrown toenail which took a long time to heal.

Race morning I grabbed a taxi and was at the transition area by 06:00. There is always this excitement in the air the morning of a race with all the athletes and their supporters heading towards the transition area, carrying their gear and getting psyched up for the day. Unfortunately, the transition area closed at 06:45 which meant that I had 1:20 to wait until I started my swim: they send us off at some 5 minute intervals and the males 45-49 were one of the later waves. I really couldn’t complain, as I saw John Dean from the World Bank Credit Union who is also in my triathlon club. At 63 he was leaving some 30 minutes after me!

I chatted to the other athletes and even saw my triathlete friend Taneen who had come down to look for friends. It was good seeing her again and having a catch up. She is going to also be doing the Boston Marathon in 2009 and aiming for the same time as I am so hopefully next year we will catch up – we missed each other this year.

As at most races in the USA they opened with the National Anthem. This time, it was played on an electric violin by one of the competitors who was wearing his wet suit ready to race! That was a first. Then it as into the water for the age group elites and the race was on.

They were fast swimmers and the first out of the water took about 20 minutes. What was impressive was that someone from the next amateur wave exited before some of the elites (we all had different coloured caps so you knew you were in the correct wave). When I saw some people in the 30-35 (?) age group with the same coloured cap that I had I was tempted to join them so I could get going, as were some of my other age groupers, but I refrained. The supporters were great and they made a lot of ‘noise’ for the swimmers as they exited the water. It was fun to watch as I’m usually busy doing it. However, eventually my time came and I jumped in the river ready to go.

I put myself way off to the side of the others near the shore even though this was slightly longer. I’ve learned that the additional time it takes is offset by the reduced stress about being beat up too much in the swim. I soon got into my rhythm and just headed along, happily on my own for most of the time. Going upstream was easy as we sighted for the second arch in the Memorial Bridge and then headed to the buoy further upstream. One fellow I met actually missed the buoy and cut the course. Lucky fellow!

Coming back was more difficult as it was hard to see the downstream buoys for siting, and the sun was at a difficult angle. To further complicate things, there were a lot of slow swimmers from earlier waves. One woman was doing a lazy backstroke and I went right on top of her, which I apologized for. Of more of a worry were those doing the breast stroke as they tended to kick wide and hit anyone nearby: as I was several times. Anyway, I survived and eventually climbed the ladder, ending my least favorite part of triathlons.

As I ran to the transition there was a water tent which gave us a dusting, and then it was a quick change, out of transition, and onto my bike – the best part of the race.  I passed people immediately and that became the pattern for the morning. I had decided not to use my fast triathlon bike but rather my almost-as-fast road bike. I have a hard triathlon on the 14th which is in a mountainous area so the road bike is necessary for that. Since I had not spent much time on my triathlon bike I figured my body would not be ‘dialed in’ to the different position. In hindsight that was a mistake. I averaged 20.7 mph for the 25 mile course on my road bike, and with my triathlon bike it would likely have been closer to 21.5-22 mph.

There were so many competitors they were all over the road and it was hard at times to maintain the rule of staying 3 bike lengths behind the competitor in front and to pass without crossing the centreline. As we headed out of town along the C&O canal it became even worse as it was only a two-lane road in many places, and the cyclists were sometimes 3-4 abreast – in each direction! Still, I called out ‘passing’ and more often than not the people pulled over and gave me room to pass. I ended up being passed by only four people (unfortunately, three were from my age group!) and I really enjoyed the ride.

I had a quick transition to the run and then it was out onto familiar territory in the form of Haine’s Point. I’ve run this a couple of times with the Marine Corps Marathon and also use it for cycle training. They used to have this great statue ‘The Awakening’ which was someone coming out of the ground at the end of the point, but is was moved and I was sad to see it gone. Haine’s Point is flat, but it can also be windy, but today it wasn’t too bad. What was bad was the heat and humidity: it was in the 90’s and when one was out of the shade you could feel yourself cooking.

I set myself an initial pace of 5:00 minutes/km (8:00/mile) which I maintained for the first couple of miles, I then ramped it up to about 7:45 – until I overheated! I was again passed by four people – seemed to be the pattern of the day – with three of them again from my age group, and one a 22 year old. I didn’t mind him so much! I began a ‘duel’ with one of the age groupers, I passed him, he passed me, etc. We ran together for a while and as we passed guys less than half our age he commented how tough this must be on their ego – with a note of glee in his voice. OK – even in our late 40’s we are still very competitive.

When we turned onto Pennsylvania Ave I pulled ahead for a while, then he passed me again, and we then had a sprint for the finish line where he clipped my by 0:03, but we had both pulled each other along and so I was grateful to finish with a sub 8:00 time for the run. I ended up 30/179 in my age group. What’s interesting is that next year I’ll ‘age up’ and be in the 50-55 age group. With a time like this I’d place 5th. Hmmmm…. Looks like I’ve got to enter some more races next year.

I grabbed a hat full of ice to cool down and then walked a bit to stretch out the legs. It was very hot and I was appreciative to find a place in the shade. After cooling down (of a sort) I walked the two miles or so back to transition and grabbed my bike to head home. Part way there I had a huge blowout of my rear tyre! Glad that didn’t happen in the race. Then my spare tube also had a puncture. God is good that he let me race and have this problems afterwards. So I pushed my bike up to the Mariott Hotel and grabbed a taxi home. What a way to end a good race!

  • Swim: 33:03
  • Bike: 110:38
  • Run: 48:55
  • Time: 2:37:10
  • Placing: 307/2388    
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