Today I took part in the 2013 edition (8th Annual) Nations Triathlon (http://nationstri.com), in Washington D.C.. This is a very popular and large olympic distance triathlon. The race itself is a olympic distance triathlon, Its a 1500m swim, 25 mile bike and 10k run. This was my first time at this event, and also my first time doing a large urban triathlon. Overall I had a great experience , a bit crowded for me but lots of fun..
I saw and spoke with some of folks involved with this year’s (2014) edition of the race, and they did modify the bike course a bit, check their site Nations Tri : Course Maps for details, apparently they reduced the two loops and only have you go on that darn bridge section 1x… (read below my bike report to see what Im referring to)
Race Report: Pre-Race
This year, decided stay in a hotel (Foggy Bottom neighborhood) about a mile walking distance from the race in downtown DC, this was an excellent idea, since it made race morning a breeze to get to the start of the course by foot within about 15 minutes.. .
Race Features and highlights
Arriving at around 6:00a, the race area was buzzing with activity from competitors, family and friends. Nations Tri is perhaps one of the top three largest triathlon events in the US , only Chicago and Wildflower are bigger. This year’s field was a little less than 4500 strong. The race pretty much goes through one of the most historic and iconic areas of the country, downtown Washington DC , past many well known monuments.
This years race featured the traditional swim in the Potomac under the Arlington Bridge, followed by a new 2-loop bike course and finishing up with a 10k, around East Potomac park, the running course is very popular and is heavily featured in other popular Washington’s foot races such as the annual 10 mile Cherry Blossom run.
This year water temp was 79.6 so this was a non-wetsuit swim. Because of the large field, we went off in a time-time start fashion by waves, 34 waves in all!!! I was was in wave 22 . I have never waited so long to start a triathlon , 1.5 hours after the first wave went off. Literally the first wave was starting the run before I got into the water.. but that’s what a ~4500 competitor triathlon field feels like.
Outside of the long wait, one of the reasons I choose this particular triathlon was because of its well marked swim course. As it was promoted several times, this triathlon has the best marked swim course. Yes its true, the swim course is awesome. This is because of the following three reasons.
- very large (8′ tall) rectangular buoys mark every 100m of the out and back swim course , strangely enough the course is in the shape of the Washington monument. Easily the best marked swim.course
- there are 14 of these humongous buoys, spaced 100m apart. This is the first swim course that actually seemed to be measured properly. sighting doesn’t get any easier.
- Each buoy has it’s distance marked on it in large lettering, you swim alongside the river bank under the Arlington bridge and back, so judging distance is a piece of cake..
Once our wave made it to the bottom 8 at a time sit on the pontoon edge, the whistle blows and into the Potomac I go.
With only 8 at a time, there was very little contact at the swim start. Without the wetsuit I could feel my legs dragging a bit, but I pressed on. I felt comfortable but the long wait left my shoulders a little tight for the first 300m as I usually prefer a swim warm up (no warm up swim allowed). Overall the swim was fairly uneventful. The beautiful weather helped , even the sun glare wasn’t too bad. Under the Arlington bridge at 600m we begin turning back around. At around 900m a rescue jet ski passed right in front of me with some swimmer hanging on for dear life.. At 1200m a bit of contact as the slower swimmers from the earlier waves bunched up near the buoys. Someone doing breast stroke kicked me in the head the the 1300m buoy.. Then it was a few more left hand turns and up the pontoon launch .
I was disappointed with my time around 3m behind what I had hoped for. I was shooting for a 27 but came I at 30… I can do 26 in the pool.. Need to see how I can improve . For the record the fastest elite did it in 19 minutes..
Transition was large but well signed and organized I found my rack among the masses of try bikes pretty quickly. I elected not to pre-clip my shoes because as I suspected the mount line was likely to be a mass of mounting debauchery… And I was right. it took me longer to hobble there in my clips.. but when I got to the mount area I just clipped I and went, I didn’t want a repeat of my last race where I spent the first mile fiddling with my shoes..
The bike was a two loop course, supposedly to be more spectator friendly. We started right on Connecticut Ave which runs parallel to the Washington Mall , a good size crowd lined and cheered. It became clear quickly this was going to be one busy bike course. With in some cases 4 riders riding abreast it became clear any possibility of drafting enforcement was laughable (regardless of how much the stressed it the race briefing).
Then it got worse as we headed onto the 14th avenue bridge where there was a no pass zone for about a quarter mile so we went from a full lane to a half lane. And it became obvious with all the traffic on the course there there was little opportunity to really gun it. After a skittish no passing zone some makeshift carpet covering cover over a particularly bad joint section of the bridge. This was followed by the wide gaps in some expansion joints and spray painted potholes. Add to this a 180° turn,jittery newbies and at about mile 3 in to my ride, I saw some poor lady crash and get carried out on a stretcher. All this convinced me to spend most of the first five miles out of the aero bars, like a nervous squirrel, hoping to avoid a crash. This part of the course was poorly planned. Poor road surfaces and too many riders on the course made things unsettling.
Things did improve after mile five when we came back through the transition section, the roads were wider and the road surface improved. We rode along a section of the swim course, and yep, the later waves were still out there, did I mention this was a big triathlon? Then we went from two to four lanes as we roads around various overpasses and through some tunnel underpasses. That part was a real treat , four wide lanes and everyone was like a kid “wheeeing” in the tunnel to hear the echo…pretty cool.. I seem to have the most memorable and enjoyable parts of the triathlon during bike sections like this…
Then it was up another overpass ramp followed by a few more 180° turns before we came to the end of lap one. Lap two was pretty much the same. I was caught behind some slower traffic in the no passing zone and my heart rate dropped to like 110bpm. But more frustrating was folks didn’t obey the no passing zone and were passing.. This is where race officials should have been, disappointed in USAT lack of enforcement here.
I kept with with a shirtless guy who marked “Go Dan!” on his back… we went back and fourth through most of the bike course. Nearing the end, I was actually surprised my average was over 20mph considering how much time I spent coasting or out of the aero bars. I probably could have gone 22/23mph had I been able to gun it the whole way..
Overall a two loop course for this many participants is challenging … But at the very least all the roads should be wide and relatively good shape. Hopefully next year’s course will nix that first 5 mile section..
I again took a lot longer in transition. Then I started the run. I should have been fresh from the less than demanding bike ride, but couldn’t seem to push the pace the first few miles. Around mile two I paced off some youngster doing about 7:20/miles but could only hang for a mile.
I was actually surprised how many walkers there were , I never passed so many people on the run, trust me that’s not saying much for me….I was especially surprised to see “R” on some of these walkers…
I staggered along grabbing fluids at most aid stations as now the mid-day heat and sun were bearing down. The run course is mostly flat and as you pass mile 5 you can hear the race announcer.. Then just as you think you’ll see the finish you are sent off in another half mile out and back segment. At this point the tinge of cramping in my quads could be felt , but just a mild form nothing close to my last 70.3 at Eagleman.
Then I crossed the little footbridge and you can see the finish off in the distance.. I managed a bit of a surge the last 400m , but not enough salvage my abysmal run. Ran at least 10 min off my fresh-legs 10k time.
I finished at least 10 minutes off my goal of 2:40, I think that time is very doable for me.
It was a rare treat to have my sister, niece,nephew and my dad come to see me at the finish. That was pretty cool. Just grabbed some food and chilled a bit .. sadly no finisher medal for me, apparently they ran out and will now send them to folks.
The race put on by DC Events along with competitor group featured three MC’s,music plus good signage and announcements in transition area..
Race amenities were pretty good, post race food included assortment of fruits , sandwiches and drinks.. Plus tents and tables with umbrellas to sit with other competitors and commiserate. Kudos to DC events for putting on a world class race with great athlete amenities.
Just change the bike course back to one loop and this race will be golden. (See my update at top of the post) , they partially fixed the bike route..