WARNING: This post is little longer that usual.
This past weekend I was in Washington DC to spectate the Dextro Energy ITU World Championship Series which is a new series of ITU draft legal races. Original plan was to drive to DC and watch the pro triathletes on the ITU circuit battle it out. But few weeks before the race itself I realized that I could actually do the sprint age group race and still make the pro race. Another thing that was interesting was the fact that parts of the course was shared between the age group and pro races - in particular the swim portion (the ITU pontoon), parts of bike and finish line on the run. Where else can you finish your race sprinting on the blue carpet and cross the same finish line that later in the day will be used by pro triathletes some of which competed in Olympic games and actually won (yes Jan Frodeno was in attendance).
Without boring you with the details of the 3 hours drive to DC here are few interesting things about the race. It was organized in downtown DC, the registration was in Grand Hyatt and transition area by the Potomac river on Ohio Dr. That presented a slight logistical challenge for me as out of towner, but organizers had bus service from the hotel to transition. So after attending the mandatory 30 minutes race briefing to learn about the intricacies of the course, that besides swim in muddy Potomac featured ride on major highway in opposite direction than regular traffic (the road was closed to traffic during the race), I was off to the bus with my bike. We needed to leave the bikes in the transition over night which greatly simplified logistics on race morning. After checking in my bike I walked back to the hotel which may not have been the best idea as it was pretty hot and the walk was good two miles or maybe even longer. When I got to the hotel I was hungry, but did not have any interest to wonder about town to find food. Luckily the hotel had restaurant where I got good dinner and then I walked across the street to CVS to buy something for breakfast. The race start was at 6am for olympic distance and 6:30 for sprint. Which is pretty early for any race. I had until about 3:30 to get some sleep and then it was time to get to race.
Funny part about the race starting at this early hour is that when I was leaving the hotel also some hookers were just walking out. I met few more on the way to the Grand Hyatt where the bus departed for the transition. Talk about unusual sights on race morning. Bus took us around the town about 3/4 miles from transition and we walked the rest. Setup was very quick - it was a sprint so I had one bottle with 150 kcal mix of Heed on the bike, one bottle for drinking prior to race, goggles, ear plugs, wetsuit, helmet, sunglasses, shoes, visor, race belt and gel. Sounds like a lot, but my transition space was very neat and felt empty compared to longer races.
After setup I went for short warmup run as we were not allowed to swim prior to the start (bummer). After warmup it was time to leave transition and go to the race start ceremony where major of DC (who raced in the olympic distance race and was in the first wave) spoke few words. And soon the first olympic race wave was off. After a while I started to make my way to the swim corral to secure solid place for the swim. I lined up in the front towards the right side of the river where the current was supposed to be slower. First part of the swim was against the current, then turn for about 30 meters swim and turn back with the current, then swim behind the pontoon take another two turns and go back to the pontoon. Pretty straightforward swim of 750 meters with only 4 buoys all turn buoys for my wave. I started in 8th wave of the day. The plan for the day was to step on the gas at the start and keep going until the finish line. Very easy plan to follow - Craig remarked that this is the only way to find out if and where I blow up. After all this was B-priority race. So I did. Soon after starting we caught up with the slow swimmers from previous wave and I had to swim around them. The first turn was there fast, second even faster. On the swim back with the current I noticed that the current was pulling me away from my direction towards the middle of the river and instead of actually being helped by the current I needed to fight it even on the way back. Somewhere at that point I had to take a breather (started too fast). Turned on my back and kicked for about 30 seconds. Then turned back and kept going. At that point the swim was very difficult - lots of people on the course as we had both the sprint and oly (the very slow swimmers) in the way. I had to swim around many people. Got into few position battles - and while I did not get kicked I had to show few folks that I was serious about keeping my line (not sure really if they fought over the line or just were trying to survive). I was out of water slower than I expected, but I knew that I needed to focus on getting fast through T1.
After about 150m run from the swim exit to transition I stripped out of my wetsuit, put on my helmet, grabbed bike and off I went. I had shoes and glasses on the bike and I put them on after I got rolling. When getting on my bike I forgot I had installed a new flat wing and tore my race suit a little - I do not seem to have much luck with these things :-). Anyways right from start I put the hammer down and just kept going between two gears - hard and harder. The course was almost flat with few short and fairly easy climbs. The bike can be summed up as me being in aero position the whole way while yelling "On your right" the whole 20 km of the bike. I was not passed by even a single rider and must have passed what seemed like 200 people. I'm always amazed at these events why some folks invest so much money in their aero bike and then sit up and hold the bullhorns the whole way. I even saw few newbies sporting new helmets with visor and being in aero position. Well we all started somehow, but it made me chuckle in the middle of getting back to the transition. Even without knowing the course I got out of my shoes in time and made a smooth dismount (I recall someone yelling at me to get off before the line which I did and told them not to worry - I know that is a penalty :-). The T2 was as smooth as T1 - just took off the helmet, put on my shoes (no socks for the 5 k run), grabbed my visor, race belt and off I went. I knew that after the hard bike my run will be somewhat painful and it was. I decided to go as fast as my legs and body will allow. In the first few miles about 3 or maybe 4 people passed me which did not please me, but they were running much to fast for me to try to stick with them. After a mile I slowed down to take a cup of water from the aid station and then kept plugging. As I went to mile 2 I was able to start building the pace and I kept increasing the pace through out the rest of the run. It all went pretty fast - I mean it was 5k after all. at mile 2 I heard steps behind me and someone passed me - darn my AG. I pushed little harder to stay with him, but after about 400 meters I just could not match his pace and I let him go. Which seems slowed him down a little as he did not hear my steps. I kept in the same distance to him through the rest of the run, but in the last mile could not bridge the gap. I finished measly 12 seconds behind him. It was a great race. Funny part was that when I finished there were just few people that finished and the staff was just getting our bags out of the car, the food was just being delivered. So I took time to get my bag, changed to fresh clothes, stretched a little and walked to my hotel. I took shower, packed my stuff, checked out and went back to the race finish line with my camera. When I got back the results were posted - I looked at the order of finish and found my name on line 25 (wow I thought 25th overall is not bad and to my surprise I was 3rd in my age group). Sweet. So I not only waited to spectate the pro event, but also waited for the awards ceremony to collect my award. It was just amazing feeling to finish so well in such a big race. I was hoping for good finish, but this really blew me away. Only few days later when the final results were announced I realized that I finished 13th overall since the order of finish did not account for wave start. Even sweeter. So if this event is back in DC next year I'm pretty sure I'll make the trip down again. Great race with PR course - flat as a pancake with slightly difficult swim where you need to fight current (but not all that bad).
After the race I made a stop at the Suunto exposition and rewarded my great performance with a new watch (guess which one) and I also got a pair of compression socks from Skins for the 3 hours car ride back home. I knew that without them I would suffer the next few days. They actually work very well and I used them even today after my track workout.
If you want to check out the race venue on video you can watch the ITU race recap/highlights on the ITU site. It clearly shows the swim portion (only we started in water and did just one loop) and the finish line which was just a great experience. Especially for folks that were finishing during the ITU pro race.
And for the numbers people here are my splits from the sprint race:
T1: 1:28 (8th best)
Bike: 30:43 (5th best)
T2: 0:44(3rd best)
And how that compares with my plan? Well I had about 3 minutes slower swim than I expected, T1 fasted than expected by about 1:30, bike faster by 3 minutes than expected, T2 about minute faster that expected, run slower by 1:20 than expected. Still beat my projected time by about a minute. So next time - swim harder, ease little bit on the bike and push harder on the run. So I can get my 12 seconds for that 2nd spot in my AG :-). I am still ecstatic about the result.