DC Triathlon – A Monumental Race!
DC Sprint Triathlon
800m Swim – 20K Bike – 7.5K Run
Swim: 9:20 (1:04/100yd) – 3rd overall
Bike: 33:30 (22.2mph) – 8th overall
Run: 26:47 (5:46/mile) – 2nd overall
Division: 1 of 7
Gender: 1 of 702
Overall: 1 of 1321
Fathers Day was a great day for the 2nd annual DC Triathlon! (or 3rd annual, if you count 2009’s Dextro ITU Triathlon!) This race has always been one of my favorite triathlons for several reasons. The 2009 Dextro ITU Triathlon was my first triathlon in about 5 years, and the first time I watched professional triathletes compete in person. The 2010 Inaugural DC Triathlon was my first race competing as an elite amateur. I placed at both of these races, so I was hoping my luck would continue. Plus, this race is a rare chance to compete in a big city urban triathlon at home in Washington, DC, where I have tons of friends and family. And both of my parents were here to watch. Hopefully I would have another great DC Triathlon today!
The Olympic race started at 6am, followed by the sprint at 7am. The earlier Olympic start meant the Sprint athletes had to be out of transition at 5:55am, over an hour before our race started. Large races always feel hectic in the morning, as you need to balance getting all of your gear to the transition area and set up correctly (including inflating tires, lubing chains, adjusting breaks and gears, filling water bottles) with making sure to keep forcing fluids, taking GU, and of course standing in the dreaded portajohn lines! Plus, after competing in this sport for a year or more, you start running into tons of people you know in the transition area, and you want to stop and talk to them! Race director Chuck Brodskey and his staff always do a great job getting athletes excited for this race by pumping music on the speakers in the pre-dawn hours before the race… when I was walking into transition, I heard Craig Morgan’s “International Harvester” and Ke$ha’s “Blow”… it helps replace the pre-race jitters with rock-concert-like pre-race excitement!
The water temperature was 75 degrees… wetsuit legal! For the first time in 3 years, I would be able to wear my sleeveless Orca wetsuit at the DC Tri! A wetsuit definitely makes you swim faster since it makes you more bouyant, although the benefit is greater for beginners and weaker swimmers than it is for stronger swimmers like me (but I was still glad this would be a wetsuit legal race!). The only bad part of wearing a wetsuit is trying to take if off in T1, but if you cut the ankles of the wetsuit at an angle, it is much easier to get off when it’s wet. For the first time ever, this race would be a time trial start. In a time trial start, a handful of people cross the timing mat together, jump into the water and immediately start swimming before another group follows them a few seconds later. This is very different than a wave start where 50-100 people start together in the water, and waves are spaced apart by several minutes. A wave start tends to be more crowded early on, but it also allows you to get acclimated to the water before you start the race. I have only done a time trial start once before, at the 2010 Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, so this was still a bit of a novelty for me.
There were only 8 elite men and 4 elite women in the race, so we would all start at the same time. I jumped into the water with the rest of the elites and we were off. I got off to a strong start, but there were two other swimmers right there with me. Like most open water swims, there was a lot of unintentional bumping early on. I spent the first 200m swimming right next to another swimmer, but he had the inside lane. A little before the first turn I slid in behind him to try to draft off of him by swimming in his wake, which helps a little with drafting and a little with sighting (assuming the swimmer in front knows where they’re going!). After we made the first 90-degree left turn to go around the bouy, he started to get away from me a bit. It was nice open water here, with very few people around. After we swam around the second turn, we suddenly hit heavy traffic… we were catching the Olympic distance age-group waves. I spent the rest of the swim navigating around (and sometimes inadvertently swimming over) other swimmers, trying to stay as close to the bouys as possible to swim as short a distance as possible. I made sure to breathe every other stroke, so as to keep oxygen flowing to my body (a lot of beginners make the mistake of not breathing enough in the swim!) Although I usually alternate sides I breathe on every minute or so, this time I found myself breathing to the right almost exclusively. I lost the other elite guy I was swimming with in the traffic… I did not feel like I was swimming very fast. After going around the last bouy, I picked up the pace slightly to the boat ramp. It is faster and easier to swim through waist-deep water than to try to run through it, so I made sure to swim up the ramp until I was in about 1.5 feet of water and could barely swim any farther. When it was no longer possible to swim, I stood up and started running up the dock. I didn’t know it at this time, but I just did a 9:20… a phenomenal swim time! This was particularly surprising afterwards, as my swim did not feel particularly strong.
It’s important to remember that T1 starts as soon as you get out of the water and cross the timing mat at water’s edge, and T1 counts as part of your overall time. I immediately took my goggles off so I could see, and took my cap off so I could hear others around me (plus it’s easier for family and friends to recognize you without a swim cap on!). The dock can get extremely slippery, so I tried to watch my footing as I ran up the dock. I also had to shout “coming through” as I passed several Olympic distance age-groupers running up the dock… when running past swimmers walking up the dock at the DC races, I often feel like a running back looking for a hole to break through. As I came off of the dock, I undid the Velcro and zipper on my wetsuit and pulled it down to my waist… now all I had to do was get my legs out of it in T1. In the process of running up the grassy area to Ohio Drive, I heard my parents cheering for me… cheering always encourages you to go faster! As I ran down the center aisle of transition, I spotted the other elite guy about 50 yards ahead of me. His bike was racked 3 spots away from mine at #2011, so I saw him transitioning when I got there. I immediately pulled my wetsuit down to my knees, then started stepping on it and pulling my ankles out with my hands. My wetsuit came off fairly quickly, but #2011 was sitting on the ground trying to get his legs out. I had set up my transition area so that my glasses were looped around a cable on my bike and my helmet was on my handlebars. All I had to do was put on my helmet, and I was ready to ride. I barely beat #2011 out of transition, but I was pleased with it since he got there well before I did.
The bike start was chaotic… but not as bad as last year. Last year, the bike started on the opposite side of Independence Avenue, so we had to cross the island in the middle. In my haste to start the ride in 2010, I didn’t pick up my bike quick enough to get it over one of DC’s familiar granite curbs, hitting the rear wheel on the curb… that resulted in a slow leak that led to a flat tire by mile 2… I did the whole ride on a flat tire! After that fiasco, I was determined to have a better ride this year! But the start was busy, as we were mounting at the same time as several Olympic race age-groupers, and several other Olympic racers were riding past us on the left as they began their 2nd lap on the bike. In mounting the bike, I nearly rode right into another rider who was struggling to mount her bike… a quick turn of the front wheel to the right prevented me from hitting her in my first few pedal strokes. Finally things settled down, and I was able to get up to about 15mph before putting my glasses on, then sliding my feet into my bike shoes that were clipped into the pedals. It was finally time to ride!
I tried to get up to a fast but controlled pace. I was holding 23-24mph on Independence Avenue. A rider from the Olympic wave (#608) passed me early on, but it looked like he was riding at a good pace, so I tried to stay with him. Although you can’t draft off of someone on the bike, Robbie Wade taught me that it is extremely helpful to find someone going your race pace and try to stay about 10-15 yards behind them. I held onto #608 for most of the first half of the bike, passing him as we went onto the Potomac River Freeway. I held him off until the hairpin turn over the curb on Key Bridge. The Zipp 404 wheels were helpful in accelerating after these 180 degree turns! Everything was going phenomenally well at this point… I was leading the race and riding strong! As I headed back down the Potomac River Freeway, my right calf started to tighten up. Within a minute or so, it was really tight… I was dangerously close to pulling it. I saw my chances for a great performance in this race (and maybe a win!) flash before my eyes. I should’ve stretched better before the race, and now I was at serious risk of paying dearly for it! I was in a great position… but my biggest threat now may be my own body. I was forced to slow down toward the end of the Potomac River Freeway (about 5.5 miles into the ride) try to massage the knot out of my calf… it felt like a rock! I dropped down to under 20mph and eight or ten Olympic racers passed me within a quarter mile. I took the turn off of Potomac Parkway slowly to give my calf more time to loosen up… although not as slow as I had to take the same turn last year with a flat tire that had me fishtailing! After about a mile, the pain went away, and the rest of the ride went well. I caught a lot of the people that surged past me over the course of the next mile. I was back to riding strong in Rock Creek Park. The bike is always my weakness, but I was having fun and the ride was going by quicker than it seemed! When we came back toward the Lincoln Memorial, I really tried to hammer Memorial Bridge, as I wanted to break 23mph in this race… which would’ve been a nice accomplishment given my calf muscle and all of the sharp turns. I flew around the inside of the traffic circle in Arlington… most of the Olympic riders were riding in the middle of 3 lanes of traffic, so I passed a ton of people on the inside. I would end up clocking a 22.2mph… not quite as fast as I thought I was going or initially wanted to go, but I went fast enough to stay in the hunt for the win while avoiding the disaster of a pulled muscle.
As we rode down Independence Avenue, about 200m shy of the dismount line, I undid the Velcro on my shoes and removed my feet from the clipped in shoes to prepare for the flying dismount. I dismounted a few steps short of the line and picked up my bike to run into transition. I didn’t see any other bikes on my rack, so I figured I was in pretty good position to win the race, given my strong running ability! I racked my bike, took off my helmet, put on my new Saucony racing shoes and number, and I was off! I struggled a bit with the shoes… the soles inside of my new shoes are sliding around, so I’ll need to glue them in better. I felt really strong early in the run… my legs were not feeling dead from the bike like they usually do! As I took off up Independence Avenue, I tried to hold a fast but relaxed pace for the first mile. I started picking off people from the Olympic race one by one. I love the DC Tri kits… I saw a ton of DC Triclub teammates in the Olympic race along the way… it was great to have so many teammates out on the course! As we ran up 15th Street passing the Washington Monument, it occurred to me that I was leading the race, and it would be great to see my parents afterwards on Fathers’ Day… particularly if I could hold on for the win! I took my first and only plain GU of the race on 14th Street, and I felt the usual added energy boost afterwards. Unfortunately I did not see any mile markers, so I wasn’t sure what my pace was… it did not feel as fast as the 5:46/mile average that I was running! The volunteers did a great job handing out water… they were out at least once every mile! It was miserable hot on this run last year, but this year was actually fairly pleasant. Nonetheless, I still stopped to get water at every water stop. This is my favorite triathlon because of the scenic run course… you can see the Capitol Building in the distance during most of the run. As I ran up Constitution Avenue, I tried to hold a fast but steady pace. The crowd really thinned down after 9th Street, as the Olympic runners did a 1.5 mile out-and-back down 9th Street that we did not run in the Sprint race. I saw my parents cheering for me toward the end of the straightaway on Constitution Avenue… I knew I was running strong. I kept trying to pick off runners in front of me. During the out-and-backs, I tried to look across the street to see if anyone in my division was ahead of me… I didn’t see any 2000s bibs! And coming out of the out-and-backs I still didn’t see any 2000s bibs behind me! I figured I was in great position to win the race! As we ran up Maryland Avenue toward the Capital, I tried to pick up the pace a bit more… I knew the end was near and I wanted to finish strong! Just a few more out-and-backs, and I would be crossing the finish line! The last uphill on 3rd Street was challenging, but I knew I was in great position. DC Triclub provided great moral support along the way… I saw Steve Carlson cheering along Constitution Avenue and Karen Willard cheering as I came into the last turn. I sprinted hard down Pennsylvania Avenue, and crossed the finish line first!!! I won the race!!! My parents were right there at the end to see me win the DC Triathlon sprint race! One of my big goals has always been to win a big downtown DC race, and I had accomplished it! We got a picture with the finish line banner and everything! It was such a great feeling to win the race, with my parents there just a few blocks from the Nations Capitol Building!
The awards ceremony afterwards was a lot of fun! When I went onstage to accept my award, the announcer told me I had a really strong swim and run (I guess I’ll spend most of my training time on the bike from now on!) DC Triathlon Club took 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the mens sprint race, as Michael Sheehy and Ray Maker both had strong performances for 2nd and 3rd. The rest of the elite team raced strong too… Stephanie Ewert placed 2nd overall in the Olympic distance race and AJ Morrison won her agegroup in the sprint race, and Peter Nguyen, Patrick Serfass, Janie Hayes, Courtney Fulton, and Ellen Wexler all had strong races. The return of the giant penny medals was popular among all of the finishers (although I kindof wish the trend had continued with a nickel this year after last year’s penny). It was also cool to see the pros finish their race as we waited for the awards ceremony. My former high school track coach and the current owner of Potomac River Running, Margie Shapiro, had a great race in the women’s pro division. It was an all-around great day of racing in the Nation’s Capital!
The Race According to Luke:
Swim Course – A
Bike Course – A
Run Course – A
Transition Area – B (it’s still pretty big, and those that rack bikes on the aisle have an advantage over those assigned to the far ends of the rack)
Volunteers – A
Webpage & Coordination – B+ (the move to a 7.5K run surprised a lot of people)
T-shirts – B+
Awards – A (great job by the 5i50 folks!)
OVERALL – A+