Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Double Wammy Pt 1: Nation's Triathlon Race Report

Wow. Back-to-back race weekends means that I am pretty darn tired, and also very far behind in my race reports!

This wasn't my original plan, by the way. I was planning on racing Nation's Triathlon on the 9th and then on the 15th going to Dewey Beach to watch my mother and her relay team race. Athletic support. Maybe I would have even volunteered! But then things changed. Due to unforseen circumstances and a generally rough summer for my mother's set, two of the three team members (including my mother herself) had to back out of the race, which left the team in need of a swimmer and a runner. Of course I am always happy for another race, so I headed down there and signed the release forms to be 2/3 of the "Tri Tri Again" relay team.

So now I have two race reports to write, and half the time to do it (don't ask me how that math works, I don't know). This means you lovely readers get a DOUBLE WAMMY (in two parts...)!


Nation's is a huge race. There were about 5000 registered participants before the start. The expo and race are a who's who of the DC Tri club, and the Mid-Atlantic triathlon community. It was fun and exciting to be a part of, and although I had a less than stellar experience with it's sister race, the now-defunct Washington DC Triathlon last summer, this race was relatively well run. There were a few minor things I would have liked done differently, but that was mostly due to the ridiculous number of participants in a crammed, urban setting.

My cousin Anne was supposed to race Nation's with me, but a few days before the race she crashed her bike and ended up with a concussion and a broken nose. She couldn't race, but her boyfriend was still in, and she was going to come watch, as were Erin and some of her hockey friends.

A transition sea
Nations is one of those races that makes you rack your bike the day before the race. It also just so happened that the night before the race there was an epic wind/rain/hail/possible tornado storm while everyone's bikes were on the rack. In the MASSIVE transition area, I covered my bike with a poncho and several trashbags and just hoped that it would end up ok.

It was weird going through my usual pre-race rituals in my own apartment. I am used to setting up my gear in a hotel room, finding a local italian place for dinner and sleeping on an uncomfortable hotel bed. Instead I made my own pasta with meat sauce, crashed as early as possible and essentially told Erin that she had better not wake me up or she risked a horrible fate. I should have been more comfortable with this situation, given that I was at home, but it stifled the excitement to some extent.

Apparently several bikes flew off the racks during the storm, and there was some damage, but when I arrived on race morning my baby was unscathed and still sheathed in plastic. Nation's Triathlon is affiliated with Team in Training (TnT, a charity group that raises money for research on blood diseases and also trains up triathletes and runners), and there were several first-time-triathletes with TnT surrounding me in transition. The girl girl next to me shyly asked a question or two and it was soon clear that she was in need of assistance in setting up her bike rack and transition area. We chatted (her name was Annette) and I helped guide her through effective transition technique. Soon all of her TnT friends were swarming around us, asking a million questions and calling me to their bikes to examine their transition area set up. Of particular difficulty for these ladies, and likely many first-timers, was the concept of directional bike racking. Rack your bike on YOUR side of the rack, so when you come up, you put on your shoes and helmet, and then pull the bike off the rack, towards you. You don't want to have to run around the bike rack to get your bike, or try to pull the bike under the rack, knocking over your neighbors' bikes and possibly the entire rack in the process.

This is the best photo Erin managed to get of me. I'm the one fist pumping.
Anyway! I did manage to get my own transition set up, and to get in a warm-up run. Before they closed transition I found Anne's boyfriend, David, and we headed out. Nation's, again due to the huge number of participants, does a time-trial swim start. The swim is broken up into waves, as is done traditionally, but you don't mass start with the wave. Instead the waves are systematically ushered down to the water (through a tunnel of corrals that makes you feel distinctly like cattle) and six athletes are sent onto a tiny dock at a time. Every eight seconds another 6 athletes jumps into the water. Your timing chip is punched in to start by a race official when you jump. I was in the 31st (I think? I can't remember now) wave. The first 6 athletes entered the water 1.5 hours before I did. The air temp was 62 degrees, but the water was 82, so we were not standing around in our wetsuits. Instead we were all wearing our skimpy little trisuits, tri tops and tri shorts. Barefoot on the pavement. Pre-sunrise. I realize that it shouldn't have seemed that cold at 62, but everyone around me was shivering and had goosebumps and I was no exception.

Somehow during all of this, friends picked out my profile in the sea of pink and turquoise caps, and I heard familiar voices calling my name. Christa (hockey player on Erin's team) and Jake (fiance of said hockey player and my score-keeping buddy) had come to see me off! I was so excited to have fans at the race! Later, Erin showed up with two other hockey players, Morgan and Andi. A cheering section!

The finishing sprint face we all know and love
Eventually my wave ended up in the corrals, and heading down the chute to our swim destiny. This next part may come as a surprise, but I like swimming in the Potomac. It makes Erin crazy, she seems to think I will emerge with a third arm or an eye in the back of my head, but the water is relatively clear (although murkier than last summer because of the recent storm) and it's not salty or full of strange algae (as are the ocean and most lakes, respectively). We swam up under a bridge, turned around and swam back under another arch of the bridge. The course was in the shape of the Washington Monument (pointed out to us several times by the announcers), with the in and out about a quarter of the way up one long side. So we swam upstream, turned around three buoys at the point of "monument", came back down a long side down stream, turned around two buoys at the base of the "monument" and swam back up stream for a bit before exiting. Strange course, but well marked with the actual distance traveled painted on each buoy. I put together a decent swim of 30:29. I wanted to go under 30, but really it was pretty on the money.

Run out of the water, up a bank, across a road, over some more grass...OK NOW I'm in T1. Another race without a wetsuit and without socks on the bike = another fast T1. 46 seconds. Boom! And that includes running a LONG way in my bike shoes to get out of the grand, muddy transition area. And by muddy, I mean swampy.

Thank you athletic supporters!
Off on the bike I go (I'm noticing a pattern in how these races work...teehee). I expected a flat course, but was actually surprised with the number of small climbs and false flats. They were generally, and interestingly, highway on ramps. The use of big roads meant that although it was still a crowded course (it would have been impossible to hand out any drafting penalties) it wasn't anywhere near as bad as the Washington DC Tri had been last year. I did have to stop twice on course though, once for a serious crash ahead of me, and again to let the ambulance turn onto the course to attend to those crash victims. I had two "boomerang buddies", as I like to call them, on the course. In case the name isn't self-explanatory, a "boomerang buddy" is the guy or gal on the bike who passes you, and then whom you pass a few minutes later. You then proceed to take turns passing one another for the rest of the bike leg, and if you're me, you usually end up chatting with that person and giving each other a friendly verbal jab with every pass. My boomerang is inevitably either 1. a guy who is a decent cyclist but a slow swimmer, or 2. a gal who is a strong cyclist, battled her way up to me from a later swim wave, is really giving me a run for my money on the bike, usually leaves me in the dust after a few boomerangs, and then usually comes back to me on the run because she's really a cycling specialist. Anyway, at this race I had one of each. We all were chatting and exchanging friendly trash talk. Eventually the other girl and I left the guy behind, and at the end of the bike she left me behind too. I was happy with my split, although I always wish I went faster. 1:16:50 for an average of just over 19 mph.

T2 was not as fast as T1, with those pesky socks to pull on. Next year I will learn to go without them.

My cousin Anne, complete with black eye and broken nose!
Onto the run, and quickly past my female boomerang, with a few encouraging words. I think her name was Bridgette, but now I am having trouble remembering...Also of note on the run course was the segway crash I witnessed as a tour group attempted to speed across the crosswalk between runners. Hilarious.

Ok, so I settled into a nice pace on the run. You may or may not remember my revelation concerning my nutrition and my general mood/performance during the run, but I suddenly realized (duh) how directly correlated these two things were after my last half. Specifically, I realized that keeping a steady flow of Gu or other carbs/sugar into my system, starting just before the run and at short intervals thereafter kept my mood high and my performance on track. So about 4.5 miles from the end of the bike I had a pack of Stinger Chews (in addition, of course, to my usual Infinit Drink mix). I had Gus at miles 1 and 4, both BEFORE my mood and performance began to crash. Voila! A chipper runner Jo! Amazing! From start to finish, I felt fine! I mean, I was still running hard and tired, but the peaks and valleys of my previous performances were gone. I ran 51:50 and was happy the entire time.

Putting it all together, I had an olympic distance PR with 2:41:22. I placed 17th in my age group of 239 athletes. When I figured that out, I was pretty darn pumped. I was 83rd out of 1126 women and 595th out of 3138 finishers. Not a podium, but hey, this was a huge race and a PR to boot. So I am happy.

PLUS I did end up on the podium the very next weekend... But that story will have to wait for Part 2...