Race Report: Washington DC Triathlon

I will begin at the beginning. And I will warn you that you might want to go ahead and go the bathroom now, because we’re going to be a while.

In the days leading up to the race, I was pretty excited. I was happy with my training and ready to get the tri over with and get serious about the Marine Corps Marathon, which is now just 19 short weeks away. On Saturday, Katie and I met up to check our bikes in and get in some swim practice. Checking the bikes went well–and here’s a warning for anyone who has to store her or his bike outside. Yes, I heard someone’s tire explode, so heat fluctuations are not an old wives’ tale. The owner of that bike was devastated to discover at 5:05 that her tire wouldn’t inflate. I’m assuming the people at the bike maintenance tent helped her out though, but you might not be so lucky.

Anyway, Saturday, bike racked, into the river we went. And, of course, I proceeded to freak out. There were tiny circular buoys in the water, and my plan was to swim out to the first one. Katie was nervous, but I saw her pause at the first set of buoys, look back and me and head on. I was relieved to get to the buoy and immediately set back for the dock. I was swimming without my wetsuit, and it was a really different feeling to be in the open water without it. I wasn’t as buoyant as I usually was, so I was dragging my legs behind me. That’s not a problem for me in the pool, but I was having a hard time sticking my face deep into the green Potomac (no, I couldn’t see my hands) and getting enough breath.

So I started to swim back to the dock, vowing to wear my wetsuit the next day because of the mental safety net it provided. I also entertained thoughts of just not doing it–I added up money I’d spent on the race in my head as I swam. $100 entry fee, but $150 for a wetsuit I couldn’t use anyway. But then I got to the price of my bike, and I may have cursed aloud. I couldn’t justify buying Carmela and never doing a tri. I also thought a lot about the many many words of encouragement my friends had offered me in person and on Facebook, and I realized I couldn’t NOT do the tri. (The 5 months of training didn’t cross my mind at the time–I would have been working out anyway, let’s be honest.) I decided to just wear the wetsuit and swim in the last wave.

As I came back to the dock I began breast stroking, and I came up and took in a HUGE mouthful of water. I started choking and sputtering, and I couldn’t swim or breathe right, and I was right next to the dock thinking why isn’t anyone helping me? I can’t believe I’m going to drown this close to the dock. Instead I just grabbed it and pulled myself around it. Yes, I’m melodramatic, but this is what was going through my head!

After swimming I stood on the dock and waited for Katie to come back. I told her how terrified I was, and that I was going to wear a wetsuit, and she was like, whatever you need to do. She was feeling good after her little swim. She probably did about 400 to my 200. We stood there for a long time, and then I said I wanted to jump in again and just swim a small circle from the entry side of the dock into the other, so Katie did that with me. That was a lot better, and as we walked back to the grass to dry off, I started to talk myself into the tri and maybe even going without a wetsuit. Katie pointed out that, if I wore a wetsuit, the people overtaking me would be the elite Olympic racers. Ok, I said, no wetsuit.

I then went to dinner with my DC Tri NTP class, then headed home to pack up and go to bed.

I set up everything the night before–so not like me–and put it by the door, so I could just wake up and go on Sunday morning.

I then set my alarm and headed off to bed at 10pm. Somehow, miraculously, I slept really really well for the night before a race. I woke up a few times, but I always managed to go right back to sleep. I woke up for good at 3:20, because the light on my light alarm clock was on, but I stayed in bed until almost 3:45. Wes and I got up and ate some peanut butter English muffins–except we were kind of out of peanut butter, which was a bummer. Then we hopped in the van and drove downtown.

We were running late, so I didn’t get into transition until 4:55, which meant I had 20 minutes to get everything organized, which is difficult in the dark. But somehow I got it all together, got out, and even managed to find my friends. Then they delayed the race half an hour. I thought that might give me time to use the port-a-potties, but no, the lines were huge and showed no signs of abating. Oh well, I thought, I’m just going to have to pee in the water. Sorry, fellow triathletes. Someone had told me to pee in my wetsuit right before I took it off, but since I wasn’t wearing a wetsuit, I thought I could just start in the back of the swim wave and pee there.

As 6am rolled around, I went and got into my holding pen–I mean corral–and waited for our wave. At this point I was weak-kneed and weak-stomached with nerves. My heart was pounding, and I was shaking, but I kept telling myself I’d worked to hard for this to quit, that all I had to do was get to the first buoy and find my rhythm. I tried to remind myself how much I’d come to enjoy swimming in the pool, and how good it felt when I was doing it right.

I jumped in with 165 other women in the 25-29 age group (yes, we were the largest wave) and promptly grabbed onto the dock. I somehow ended up right next to a woman I knew from a writer’s group. I’m not sure if she recognized me, but I was happy to see her as I held on and struggled not to be pulled under the dock by the current. Then the horn sounded, and everyone started moving. I was in the back, but there were so many people in front of me, and they were taking forever to move. I finally got to swimming, and I was breathing every stroke over my right shoulder. I almost corrected myself, but I realized that that was just how I had to swim for a minute. If I felt better, great, but no pushing myself to do something that made me uncomfortable. So I just kept swimming like that and around the people already breast stroking, and soon enough I found my rhythm and some space, and I could start swimming like a normal person, and, hey! there was the first buoy.

Here's a view of the swim course.

The turns were really congested, but as I made the second turn back toward home, I knew I had the current and only 400 meters to go. I flipped onto my back for a minute, because I kept thinking I should rest, but as soon as I got there, I felt fine and realized I wasn’t moving very quickly like that, obviously, so I flipped back over and took off swimming again. I was swimming really close to the buoys–I may be slow, but I can swim straight!–and there must have been enough newbies around me that I was wide open. Someone pushed me down at one point, but I think I hit her, so she went around. After that the buoys came up fast, and this time I thought about my friends and how well I was doing. I’m killing this! I just kept thinking over and over. I was so excited. (I should mention that enormous buoys that were SO easy to see had replaced the tiny ones from the day before, which did a LOT for me, I think.)

Check out how big that buoy is. This is right by the swim finish.

I came out of the water and looked down at my watch to see 20 minutes on the clock. I think I yelled, “yes!” out loud. 20 minutes is not exactly a good swim time, but keep in mind I was expecting to be dead at that point or to swim closer to 25 minutes. I may have even jumped up and down, and I took off running down the dock and past a lot of people–most of whom still had swim caps matching mine, so I hadn’t been totally blown away.

I'm last in line in the DC Tri gear, willing these women to move faster. I felt phenomenal at that moment!

But as I ran, I started to get a really intense headache. I got to the bike racks and saw that lots of my age-groupers were gone, but I couldn’t hurry up because my head hurt so badly. I gathered all my stuff and took a GU, but that made me nauseated too, so I just tried to hold it together and took off on the bike.

After a few miles, I started to feel better, but I still wasn’t about to touch my other GU, and I didn’t drink too much on the bike either. I also had another, bigger problem. My bento box was not attached to my bike properly. I realized it right away, and I could see Wes, so I almost ripped it off and threw it to him, but there are all kinds of crazy rules in triathlon about littering and outside assistance, and I wasn’t sure if that would count or not, so I just kept it on the bike. It was attached to my seat post and tilting to the right, so every. single. time. I did a pedal stroke, the back of my right leg brushed it. I have a nasty chafing rash there today. I’m pretty sure that the nausea and bento box cost me about 2 minutes on the bike, but I eventually did settle in and started flying. Of course I forgot to put my computer on my bike, but I know I hit some speeds in the high 20s. The bike course was amazing, really flat and fast and wide open.

I finished about 4 minutes ahead of my 45-minute goal, and I got back to transition to find my friend Amanda waving people in. I gave her the thumbs up, ran in, put on my kicks and a visor and took off. To answer Dash’s question, I’m loving running in a visor because it’s one of those Halo ones with the sweat band in it to keep my salty sweat out of my already-sensitive contacts.

I settled into my pace on the run, thinking I could maybe pick it up later. I didn’t feel like I was moving very fast, but I didn’t feel that I could go any faster either. The heat wasn’t really bothering me, and I wasn’t nauseated anymore. I think having my still-wet tri suit on helped. Oh, but I DID have to pee. Turns out I was so nervous I completely forgot to pee in the water, so I was just screwed on the run. Wes followed me around on his bike and took some pics.

And I did, at one point, start singing the Warrior song to pump myself up. But that really just made me laugh.

Now, here’s where things got stupid. While sprint triathlons have no specific set distance, unlike an Ironman or a half-Ironman, they still usually have a 5k-ish run. Mine was a 6.7k run, but I thought, ok, that’s cool, because we finished by the Capitol, away from transition, so they have to run us out there. So I’m running, and it’s getting hotter, and remember that I hadn’t been able to eat, and while I’m really good at running through water stops and drinking, I never get enough water that way. Plus I was just taking sips and dumping the rest of it on my head and neck. So I started to cramp a little, but hey, it’s only 4 miles.

Well, we go ahead and do a little circle by the Capitol and then we pass mile 3. And look! We’re only like .1 or .2 miles from the finish. But do we stop there? No! We turn and run UP Capitol Hill, which is a total bitch. I lived in that neighborhood for 3 years, and let me tell you, that hill NEVER got any easier. But we run up it, and I get to the top, and I start cruising down the hill, because we must be close, right? Wrong. I run down the hill and into another dead end. We turn around and run back up the street before making two more turns to get to the finish. WTF? Why couldn’t we have stopped running at ANY POINT BEFORE THEN? We had already run 3+ miles before we started running in circles!

As we came around the last corner, I said, “Where’s the finish line?” and the girl next to me laughed. And then I passed her, and I’m pretty sure she was in my age group. I’m kind of a jerk like that. I could finally see the finish line.

I crossed it, but somehow Wes and my tri mentor missed me finish, but I found another friend afterward. I actually ran into about 5 people out there, which was delightful–I love being a part of the endurance sport community in DC!

So my verdict? There was a little too much nausea for me to love it. I definitely don’t have the tri bug…yet. I’m willing to do another one, and my friend pointed out to me that I used to hate 10ks. Which is true. I even still kind of hate 10ks, but I love longer races. So maybe I just need to work on the swim and get out there for the Half Ironman that is calling my name.

My final time: 21:10 swim, 3:49 T1, 41:24 bike, 2:03 T2, 36:38 run for a total of 1:45:02. My goal was 1:50, 1:45 if it all clicked, but it certainly didn’t all click and I still did 1:45 so I’m a little disappointed. It’s just never good enough, is it? My run was a little slow, which was surprising and humbling. It was definitely the least enjoyable part, but I guess it’s not that surprising given the fact that it was 80+ degrees out there, even at 7:30 in the morning.

I do, however, love tri training, and am looking forward to incorporating it into my MCM training to be a lean, mean, 3:37-running machine.

So thank you guys all for supporting me and for reading this far. I can’t believe you actually did it. I was just writing this down for my grandkids.

If you’re up for it, check out this neat video. I’m bib 1067 if it doesn’t work for some reason, you should be able to type that in. You can see me go from 140th in my AG to finish 44th. That was in the top 26% or so, but still a far cry from where I usually finish as a runner. See, I have reason to be disappointed!


12 responses to this post.

  1. It actually wasn’t that long once I read it and I laughed out loud that you sang the Warrior song. Somebody put on FB that they peed in the Potomac, maybe it would help make it less green if everyone did? Congratulations you did awesome, but I’m glad your back to marathon training, we miss you!


  2. Posted by Jessica on June 21, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Congratulations Liz! I enjoyed reading this – so many logistics to figure out and different strategies you could take with the race. I think I am motivated to try one of these one day. See you at the track soon.


  3. Posted by itsnotlucky on June 21, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    CONGRATSSSSS also, How funny! I was singing “Got My Mind Set On You” for most of the bike course. Possibly out loud. Those 80s jams are motivating. Also, I convinced myself that the song could be about triathlons. THINK ABOUT IT:

    It’s gonna take moneyyyyy….


  4. congratulations! I enjoyed reading your report of the triathlon and look forward to reading about your upcoming training!


  5. Way to go! Those times are awesome. So glad you did not back out because clearly you were in shape for it. I’m also going to be training for the MCM – we are SO blog twins ๐Ÿ™‚


  6. Tons of congrats!!! And you look nice and smiley in the pics – very important. ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. Posted by amy on June 22, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    this is a great recap! congrats!


  8. Huge congrats!


  9. Posted by lizard151 on June 23, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Thanks so much, everyone! Thanks for reading–I was really excited to share ๐Ÿ™‚


  10. What the crap girl? Goal: 1:50, actual 1:45, and yet you are a little disappointed? Hello you did great! Think of how much speedier you would have been without the various issues! The bike/leg chafe problem def sounded irritating.

    LOL about writing it out for the grandkids! Congrats on the tri and bring on a speedy marathon!!


  11. […] triathlon. I actually think the triathlon was a brilliant move on my part. (Good job, self. I’m really […]


  12. […] did the tri. I ran 24.5 miles the week afterward. It was time to start training for MCM, but this time I swore […]


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