Nation's Triathlon 2016 Recap

I signed up for this race right after I moved to DC. I had heard of it previously but had never done it, so when I moved here, it seemed like a fun opportunity to do a race in my new city. I got my IMNC group on board and even managed to talk Ben and my brother-in-law into doing it (first tri for both of them)!

There is a sprint and an Olympic distance race, which both run concurrently, and we chose the Olympic. That distance was still pretty light for those of us in Ironman training, but after several long, hard weekends I was looking forward to having a distance a little more familiar to tackle. The others all made their travel plans, and all week we discussed weekend logistics. I was so looking forward to having a weekend with some of my favorite people doing an activity I love in a city I come to love a little more every day.

I was sitting at my desk the Friday morning before the race when I got a notification on my phone that I had an email from Nation's Tri. They'd been sending race information all week so at first I didn't think anything of it, but I happened to catch the subject line: Swim Portion Canceled. I'm honestly surprised I didn't audibly gasp - I was so surprised! It turned out that the water quality was not up to standards, and if I'd done my homework I wouldn't have been surprised at all - the swim has been canceled 3 times prior in the race's 11-year existence. 

Since I live and train in DC, I bike and run a lot of the same roads as the race course on a regular basis. The swim was the one part I was looking forward to since it's not something I get to do, ever, and I really wanted some more open water practice especially in a race setting. The rest of the group had similar feelings - we all do Olympic distance bike/run brick workouts on weekdays at this point, so it felt kind of pointless to do the race without the swim. My brother-in-law ended up deciding not to do it, but the rest of us reluctantly agreed that we had paid the (very expensive) race fee already and might as well proceed with the modified plan. 

Since the swim was canceled, we had to line up near where we would have come out of the swim, run a short distance into transition (I assume this is so the timing chips worked correctly), then get on the bike and proceed as normal. There were over 20 waves since there were over 3000 participants, and our group was spread out between wave 6 and wave 18 (I was the lucky one in the back). The race started at 7 and we made our way into our corrals, but didn't start right away. Thankfully I saw my coworker and was able to chat with her while we waited, because our waves (she was one wave in front of me) didn't start for almost an hour after the 7am start time. It was honestly chaos and no one knew what was going on - at one point we were told all the men were going first, then women; another time someone told us our waves had already left; we heard they were releasing the people doing the sprint even though it was 7:45 and the sprint didn't even start until 8:30. Honestly as we stood there and waited I couldn't have been more apathetic. I was also really thirsty and a little hungry from having waited so long without food or water!

On our walk to transition

The "swim" was a rolling start, meaning they corralled us into age groups and then continuously sent off 3 people at a time every 10 seconds or so. Like I said before, I was in one of the last waves to go, and it took almost an hour before I started. It took forever. I shouldn't even waste time talking about this 150m run, but basically all it was was just running to transition and then running to my bike. The only reason I am even talking about it in my recap was because that short minute of running actually felt kind of hard and I thought, "Oh crap, I might be in for a rough day!"

I ended up surprisingly really enjoying the bike course. DC's bike infrastructure is pretty good, but since the course was completely closed off to traffic the whole way, we got to bike on a lot of roads that aren't normally bike able, and it was so nice to have multiple lanes open for most of the race. The bike course was two 9ish mile loops that went from West Potomac Park up to Rock Creek Parkway and back, on Whitehurst Freeway toward Georgetown and back, back down to E Street (then repeat), and a final loop to the 14th Street Bridge and onto part of 395, then back to transition. 

As soon as I got on the bike my legs were just going and going. It was a little bit of a windy day but I couldn't tell which direction it was coming from, but I felt like we had a slight headwind heading out on the first loop. My speed on my watch was rising quickly, and after a couple miles I was averaging over 20mph, which is very fast for me! I think I've only ever gone that fast during a sprint tri (10 mile bike), so it surprised me. I was worried that meant I was getting more tailwind than I realized, so I was surprised to get to the first turnaround and find out that actually there had been a little headwind, and now I had a little tailwind.

There were lots of turns on this course, which freaks some people out because turning isn't easy on a bike, especially with so many other people around (it was super crowded!), but I did okay and managed to not fall at any of the turns! I ended up liking that there were so many, because it definitely kept things interesting. Even though I knew the roads and the general route, I still got turned around in my head because we turned and looped around so many times! Actually, on the first loop I started to get worried I had missed a turn somewhere and was accidentally with the people on their second loop, because I had convinced myself that the loop was shorter than it actually was! I didn't see anyone from my age group, and I kept looking around to see if I recognized anyone from my corral or a nearby one from earlier that morning, but I couldn't tell. Finally just after mile 9 I saw the split to go to the finish or to continue on to the second loop.

After I confirmed I was on the right course, I felt a lot better! Except that by that point the sprint race had started so those people were out on the course also, and it got even more crowded. I also remember some wind during this part, but the craziest thing happened: without realizing what was happening at first, all of a sudden I started hearing things in my head like, "You're doing great!" and "Don't let this wind get you down, just keep going!" This voice sounded totally foreign, since I've had nothing but negative thoughts lately. It's sad but it actually caught me off guard to hear positive thoughts.

The second loop when by even faster than the first, and before I knew it I was leaving the loop part of the course for the last 5-mile out and back to the finish. We ended up riding by transition, and there were tons of people out cheering! The rest of the bike course wasn't really conducive to crowd support, so that was a nice section to go through at about 80% of the way.

During the last section we went over the 14th Street Bridge and actually got onto I-395 for a bit before turning around. We had less room on this section and there was even a short no passing zone, so I definitely slowed down a bit because I got stuck behind people more than I had at the beginning of the bike. Before this section I was averaging over 20.5mph and really wanted to hold on to that, but it just wasn't possible. I knew I would still end up over 20mph though so I was still super happy with my bike split! For the most part I was able to maintain my speed without feeling like I was putting in too much effort, but there were times when I really pushed. I was hoping I hadn't destroyed my legs for the run but I honestly didn't care - the bike has always been my weakest discipline so overcoming that was more important to me than saving my legs for a fast run.

Official Time: 1:16:11 (25 miles @ 20.2mph)

When I got to the run I immediately felt...solid. My main goal was keeping my pace comfortable, so that's what I focused on. I was really hoping to run faster than I have in previous Olympics (I think my PR is around a 9:30 pace), and I'd been toying with the idea of going sub-9, so when I was a few minutes in and my pace was in the low 9s I really hoped I could hang on!

I didn't think I would enjoy the course that much, simply because I run here all the time and I thought maybe the novelty would have worn off. Oh, I was so wrong! Even though we ran in the same general area where I normally run, I did get to run on some new roads and take some new routes to familiar places, so that was enough of a change for me to be excited about it. We covered two miles running from East Potomac Park until we got to West Potomac Park, which is basically an oblong peninsula in the middle of the Potomac River. I've biked out there a lot and run through on a couple runs, and it's usually a pretty boring 3.5 miles, but I felt great today!

We hit the mile 2 marker shortly after entering the park, and I saw my friend Leah not too far up ahead. I finally caught up to her and we chatted for a few minutes before I continued on ahead. My average pace was around 8:55 so I knew a PR (for a multisport 10k - definitely not a standalone 10k!) was in the bag as long as I kept cruising.

And cruise I did. I think that's the best way to describe the rest of the race. We got to the point of the park a little over halfway into the run, and when we changed direction the wind became more of an issue and really picked up in the last couple miles. You'd never know it from looking at my splits, though. I ran perfect sub-9 negative splits - I seriously couldn't have paced better if I'd tried! As someone who often totally sucks on the run portion of a tri, it's always a nice surprise when I rock it (there is no in between for some reason). During those last couple miles I ran down a few girls in my age group, which I don't normally do because I really just don't care that much, but I guess I was feeling feisty today.

Once we got back out of the park, we did a short out and back in the opposite direction, away from the finish line, before heading to the finish. When I heard a volunteer say there was a half mile left but my watch said we still had nearly 3/4 of a mile to go, I was almost certain the course was going to be short (and it turns out it was - I finished with just under 6 miles on my watch). As I was running the final stretch I could see Ben and my dad on the sidelines, and it was so cool to see Ben there but with his own finisher's medal for once!

Official Time: 52:05 (6 miles @ 8:42 - per watch)

In the end, I was both simultaneously disappointed and impressed by the organization of this race. I absolutely think it should have been made clearer that the swim has the potential to get canceled, and does - a lot. While I understand that races can be altered or canceled for a wide variety of reasons, I should be able to register without having any reason to think that, barring some extreme, unforeseen circumstance, the race will go on as planned. The fact that the swim in this race has been canceled more often than not in the last few years, that by definition is not an unforeseen circumstance. I also did not care at all for the chaos and confusion of the rolling start (in lieu of the swim), nor did I care for having to wait an hour after the race started before I could finally start.

Once I got over feeling like not only had I, but 5 of my friends and family, whom I convinced to do this race with me, been duped, I actually enjoyed this race more than I was expecting to. I thought packet pickup was easy and efficient, and I liked that there was a specific spot on the rack in transition where my bike was supposed to go. That was the first time I had seen that - usually the rack has sections for 4-5 bikes, but the sections aren't broken up by individual numbers so the early birds inevitably take up more space and those who arrive later have to squeeze in. I thought this way made it a lot more fair so that everyone understood how much space they had been designated.

Ultimately, Nation's Triathlon Brick, ended up being a fun weekend of racing and gave me an excuse to back off the heavy Ironman training for a weekend!


  1. i'm glad it was overall a fun time. i agree though, i just assume things like this will be organised well and never cancelled, you know? i guess i'd heard of things being cancelled but i just find it super odd, and that they don't have any kind of backup or plan b or.. i don't know anything about water quality and the like but surely there is something they can do especially since it's happened many times before. it would just bum me out. but anyway. don't mean to drag it back down lol. glad your run went well! i am not good on a bike going straight, so i can see how the turns would scare people, especially in a large crowd.

  2. That is so cool you had people there along with you. The waiting around and the cancelling of the swim sounds super annoying though. Either way...congrats!!!!

  3. Aw man, I'm still so bummed for you that the swim ended up being cancelled, but you made the best of it. I agree with you on liking turns on race courses. Even when I'm just on training runs at home, I don't like to stay on the same road for too long and sometimes will just take an out and back up a side street before returning to course because just staring straight ahead at all the miles left to run can be mentally exhausting! And more intimidating than it should be, hah.

    Sounds frustrating that they had so many participants and two different event groups all on the course together.

    But how awesome that there was such great crowd support! That always changes things for me, as you know. And I'm happy to hear you were able to rally that positive self-talk from the back of your mind.

    Proud of you for doing so well in this race with so many curveballs lobbed at you along the way!