A Patriotic Cluster: Nation's Duathlon 2011

Nation's Tri holds a special place not because it's in my backyard or because this year, it fell on the 10th anniversary of 9/11; Nation's was my first triathlon, and we all know that the first anything is memorable. In 2008, I came home to the USA with a big red backpack, no plans, and bedbug scars running up and down my legs. I was out of shape, had cholesterol levels that caused my doctor to question my diet while living in the Middle East, and was eager to start working out again and to meet people whose first language was English. I registered for the Nation's Tri with Team in Training, which became the catalyst for my passion for training. I've met some of my best friends through triathlon, and there's no better way to start the day than riding through North Arlington hills with Katie Palavecino or to end the day swimming at Haines Point until the lifeguard kicks me out. I never thought I'd embrace spandex so lovingly or spend as much time looking forward to my lunchtime runs as much as lunch itself. Triathlons have whipped me back into shape post-living-abroad, and they've created a happy haven.

Six days before Nation's, it rained steadily and heavily for four consecutive days. My two training rides before the race left me with mud lining my spandex and Penelope caked in splattered gunk from the roads.
The Thursday before race day, I got the devastating news: the swim in the Potomac had been canceled. I was irate; how could you cancel the swim that early in advance? The weather could clear; the Potomac could be rid of debris in four days time; the triathlon could go on!
I have to concede that the race directors made the right call on this one. The morning of Nation's, I was warming up by jogging along the Potomac River and saw 4-foot long tree logs floating downstream in the muddy, sewage-filled waters of the Potomac. I love swimming, but there was no way that I would have jumped into the bacteria-infested waters that had logs waiting to wipe me out!
At 6:50 am, the race director announced that transition would close in five minutes, but throngs of people were still sprinting to the transition entrance to drop off their gear. Suckers, you shouldn't sleep in! I always set 3 alarms on race morning.

All 5,000 participants clustered around our wave flags and huddled together as we tried not to lose our fellow wave members. What a mess! I was standing next to 50-54 year-old men who were in wave 29, but had somehow managed to fight their way into the corral for the elite wave!
Since the swim was canceled, the racers went off in packs of 20 about 15 seconds apart straight into T1. I started off with the Elite wave, blasted through mud that stank of sewage and 3-day-old-backwaters from the Potomac, and grabbed Penelope. Off we went!

Oh yeah, and that aero helmet is growing on me. I still look like a dork, but it makes me laugh whenever I put it on. Heehee, it makes me laugh just looking at that picture.

Bike course carried us straight through DC, out onto the Clara Barton Parkway, up to Bethesda, and back to DC. I won't harp on the blatant drafting by waves of Cadets or the riders who were constantly weaving throughout the course, but this picture, taken 300 meters from T2, aptly describes the Nation's bike course:

That's what happens when you create a triathlon and drive it to sell out at 5,000 registrants!

Off the bike, my legs felt loose and ready to hit the pavement. Goodbye, aero helmet. Hello, rockin' pink Zoots! Woohoo - I was ready to blast through this 10K!
Run felt fast the whole way through, and my pace felt good. There was a younger Elite female ahead of me who I tried to keep pace with so that I could poooosibly dig deep and put the hurt on her in the last 1/2 mile, but her 22-year-old legs were just too quick for my short legs. I conceded to the hare and let her go, but was able to tick off two female elites who had passed me on the bike. Yeah! Take that!

Finishing stretch was long - hearing the race director announcing names crossing the finishing line always creates a false belief that you're closer than you really are. Thankfully, Bart was waiting 200 meters from the finish line with Snapple! NOW I was ready to kick it in!

Crossed at 1:50:27, grabbed some water and Gatorade, and hung out with the Snapple crew to cheer on friends streaming through.

Finishing Duathlon time: 1:50:27
9th Elite Female, 17th overall
40 Km Bike: 1:06:21
10 Km Run: 41:40

Special shout-out to training buddies Sarah Brown, above left, who finished 10th Elite Female, and Jen Yip, above right, who finished top 10 in her Age Group!

Nation's was a great way to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11 by racing through the National Mall, but I left with a bittersweet feeling. The bike course was replete with rampant drafting, the course is too flat, and the swim in the Potomac is always a gamble. My original plan was for Nation's to be my last tri of the 2011 season; but it's too painful to end a season on a tri-turned-duathlon. What a bummer! So Bassman tri, here I come in October!

Congrats to the Snapple crew who all raced well on Sunday!

And for those of you who want a blast from the past, here's my 2009 Nation's Tri race report!

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