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Race Report: Maritime International Triathlon

Overall, I would say that I was pretty pleased with the organization and execution of the Maritime International Triathlon.  It’s one of the biggest tris I have done, and sold out at 400 people.  One of my Tri friends had recommended SetUp events to me as a company that put on good races, and I have to agree.  Additionally, the SetUp races are pretty reasonably priced, especially if you sign up early.  Transition was organized by bib number, the course setup made sense, and they let us in the water early to warm up.  They did a pre-race briefing the day before, with both a transition briefing and an actual course safety briefing, and then we drove the bike course.  Always drive the bike course before a race, it’s actually really important and it made me feel relaxed because I knew I could handle it.  The parking situation on race day was also easy to deal with and they definitely had enough volunteers making sure people got their chips and got to the right places, etc.  The bathrooms were further out of transition than I would have liked, but it wasn’t too bad.

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Swim: The swim actually had an in-water start, because we started by jumping off a pier.   This terrified me when I went in for my warmup swim.  What do you mean I won’t be able to walk in slowly?  However, it worked really well.  There is a lowerable part of the pier, so you stepped down and then were in about a foot of water and then you jumped in.  The edge of the pier was marked with several noodles, which were visible.  I held my nose and jumped in on both the warmup and the actual swim.  For the actual swim, we then made our way out to the edge of the pier and waited for the gun.  It was good because it gave us a chance to relax in the water and get up to the start line before the gun went off.  Set Up actually let us in the water to warm up from 7 a.m. onwards.  I got in around 7:45, because I didn’t want to freeze while waiting.

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The swim course wasn’t bad, just endless, and I got soooo thirsty. It was pretty well marked – orange sighting buoys were about every 125ish meters, pretty evenly spaced, and the water temperature was actually pretty perfect compared to my fears. I wore a full 3/2mm wetsuit, and plenty of folks were in sleeveless suits. I double-capped, partly to avoid my goggles getting kicked off and mostly for warmth. I was not at all cold, except the period between my warm up swim and starting the swim.  There were lifeguards in kayaks and on surfboards, but there weren’t as many of them as I expected and they were further out from the course than I expected. I kept telling myself I could rest if I passed a kayak and needed to rest, but I didn’t actually pass any because they were on the move.  I could have signaled for one, I know, but I didn’t need to rest badly enough for that and was buoyant enough in the brackish water in my wetsuit that I could really just float on my back and kick a bit if I needed a rest.  I had been warned to body glide my neck and other spots the wetsuit might hit, because of the salt water, but I forgot to use/bring chapstick so after the swim, my lips were really, really dry.

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Bike: The bike course was open to the road, which made me pretty nervous initially, but the intersections were really well managed and I didn’t have to unclip or stop once.  I slowed down and signaled at all turns because it’s good habit, but it wasn’t necessary. The course was marked pretty clearly with neon arrows at every turn and it was hard to imagine being able to go off course.  The volunteers with the flags were cute and enthusiastic (I would guess high school, but possibly college) girls who would cheer and wave their flags, and there was also a police officer at every intersection to stop traffic and they did a great job.  Cars mostly stayed out of the way and the pavement for the bike course was extremely nice for anyone whose been cycling in a city and avoiding potholes on the regular. There were a few spots with a bit of dirt or gravel, but nothing bad.  Passing was pretty easy and the shoulders on the busy roads are so wide you could ride on the shoulder and be passed on the shoulder.  The course was indeed flat and fast.  There were maybe two or three “decent” hills, by which I mean hills that required you to shift down.  The wind was pretty bad – we had a headwind the first half to the turnaround, so my speed was pretty low on the way out – 14-15mph but on the way back I was riding comfortably at 17-19mph.

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Run: The run course was not my favorite – we were running on the wide shoulder of Route 33, which is a pretty big road.  There was a turnaround at the end of the run course, and then you went back on 33, so we were running with the runners going the other way on our left, which made it feel narrow.  The upside was you got to see all the other runners, but when you’re at the back of the pack, you feel a bit disheartened.  It was two loops of a 3 mile course, which I wouldn’t have minded if it was more scenic. The other problem with the two loops is that the faster people were passing the slowing people when the fast folks were on their second loop and the slower folks were on their first loop.  However, it was nice for the spectators hanging out in transition.  The parts of the course that weren’t on 33 were gravel, so again, just not a great run course.  It felt like they picked a great swim and bike course, and had to sacrifice a bit on the run, which is understandable.  I would rather have a calm, flat, easy entry/exit swim and a low traffic bike course than a scenic run.

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Race Report: Nike Women’s Half DC

I had the pleasure of running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in DC yesterday.  

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I had some major reservations coming into this race because: 

1) My training was hampered by a wedding and also by my own laziness, so I was concerned I would have a difficult race.
2) The race seemed pretty disorganized – our acceptance emails went to our spam folders, the website is pretty useless, and we didn’t get an email about packet pickup until the last week; the expo was in Georgetown (nowhere near the race) which is 25 minutes walking from the nearest metro and is impossible to get through on a Saturday evening.  
3) The race was extremely expensive.  Instead of a finisher medal, you get a Tiffany necklace (presented to you by a fireman in a tuxedo), and you also get a pretty nice Nike shirt, and the entrance requires a lottery, and so I convinced myself that the outrageous entrance fee might be worth it just this once.  

We got to the start line on Sunday morning and were extremely pleased that despite the number of runners, there were more than enough bathrooms.  This is a hallmark of women’s races, I have noticed, and also something that makes me not mind a hefty entrance fee.  There was a line for the first set, but if you walked past them, you got to some very clean port-a-pots with no wait.  We checked our bags at the bag check, which was also well organized with no line, and then went to line up.  The corrals were tricky, because they limited the entrance points and it got really, really crowded.  There were waves, but they didn’t stagger the start, which worked really well.  They did require everyone to wear a wristband with their pace on it and told us that we could only go in the corrals we were paced for.  There were 15,000 runners but I didn’t see a single person with a “wrong” colored wristband in our corral, and we were with other “orange” runners the entire time.  

My only other DC race has been The Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, which is a similar course, slightly smaller crowd, and similar start line Wave Start – CB has had major issues in the past, particularly with crowds and bathrooms, and I would say the Nike Women’s Half did a better job of managing the crowds.   In Cherry Blossom, runners regularly run with other waves, and also start late because they are in the long line for the bathrooms (much better managed this year though).  

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The course for this race was absolutely beautiful – it started off with the capitol framed in the start line, and we went under the mall in a tunnel (running through the bore in a tunnel has always been a race goal of mine, it was pretty cool), up onto the freeway, and then down around the Washington monument, across the bridge to Arlington and back, and in the direction of Georgetown, then we turned around and came back past the Lincoln memorial and down to Haines Point.  That stretch was pretty long and pretty quiet – this race in general did not have the fantastic crowd that many “hometown” races have – the Mall and sights of DC are not residential areas, so it wasn’t like people just came out to watch the race – they had to make an effort, and the race was awfully early.  There were a few “cheer stations” set up, but the ones towards the end were pretty lackluster.  After Haines point, we started to turn back into the Mall and Capitol, which meant actually getting back on the freeway (which was the WORST – it was straight uphill and it was mile 10) .  We had to go back through the same tunnel, which was a little smelly after 10 miles of sweating, but pretty energizing because the band was still going, and the tunnel was mostly downhill.  We rounded out of the tunnel and started heading towards the finish line – fortunately, you couldn’t see it, so we weren’t upset that we were so close to the finish and still had to run around the capitol.  (We were also emotionally prepared for this, since we studied the course map.)  

Mile 12 was where my body shut down a bit and I lost my pacing.  My running buddy was having knee problems and needed to take longer strides, so I told her to go, and at that point people started passing me and I was struggling.  After we rounded the front of the capitol (we didn’t actually have to run around it, which was great), we started coming down Pennsylvania avenue and you could see the finish line…which I thought would be pretty inspiring and make me run faster, but I was pretty tired and couldn’t breathe enough to pick up the pace any.  The finish line looked so small for so long – you could watch it for about .7 miles, which is a pretty long time to be watching a finish line not get any bigger, especially because the crowd wasn’t really generally supportive, it was a lot of people silently holding signs and cheering only for their own friends or family members when they saw them.  

According to my husband, who was at home, the live runner tracking software actually stopped my marker at the 20k mark until I caught up with it because I was so off my projected pace.  However, I finished in 2:07 so I’m not unhappy with my time – the last mile cost me about 2 minutes, since my friend finished in 2:05.  Still pretty good considering my 11-minute-mile pace in training runs lately.  

The water stops were pretty frequent and well organized – with one huge exception, which is that they were not on a consistent side of the road, and they were not on both sides of the road.  They were serving Nuun instead of gatorade, which made me really excited, but once we were on the course I couldn’t find the Nuun when I wanted it, and then I wound up just wanting water the rest of the time.  Mile 4 had Cliff Shot Blocks, which was awesome – they were cut into 3-block sections of a package, so really easy to grab and get out without getting your fingers sticky, and a manageable amount.  I would have been so happy if they had Shot Blocks later in the race, but instead they served mini-luna-bars, which are okay – we split one, and it was just enough for the rest of the race, and I was happy to get “real food” on the race course but another Shot Blocks station would have been appreciated.  Or a random stranger holding trays of gummy bears, but see above, not a residential race.  

The post race was relatively well organized – we came across the finish line – although this was a big first timer race and the girls in front of me got over the finish line and stopped dead, which meant I actually had to pause right before the final timing mat and then walk around them, which was really annoying.  Anyway, past the annoying girls, across the red carpet (which was a fun touch), I found my running buddy and we made our way to the food line, which was sparse – banana, fruit cup, and bagel, plus a bottle of water, and then we got our finisher T-shirts which were seriously adorable, and our necklaces (I felt so bad for the guys in the tuxes, they must have been pretty warm, although they had not just run 13.1 miles so maybe they were a reasonable temperature.)  We passed out of the official finisher area and then walked around – we got some free samples from Bare Minerals and Paul Mitchell (I could complain about the sexism of a race that caters to women, or I could enjoy my hair product samples and admit that women-friendly stuff was part of why I ran the race).  We then found the Kaiser Permanente Stretching Lounge, which will forever be my Happy Place.  They had strawberry-banana smoothies, water in big infusion jars with lemon, mint, watermelon, and basil cucumber.  We also got stretching bands, stress balls, first aid kits, and washcloths.  The washcloths were the GREATEST THING EVER.  

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We made our way back to the bag check, which was where things were pretty disorganized.  The crowds getting both into and out of the corrals were a mess, and then we still had to fight down the sidewalk on Pennsylvania avenue to bag check, but bag check was again easy, and there was plenty of extra water and Nuun around the bag check, which was great since I was pretty dehydrated, and there were still plenty of fairly clean and available bathrooms.  

On the metro ride back, we debated whether we would run this race again, given the hassle of travel and the extreme cost.  I tend to think that the race was definitely worth it to do once, but I’m not sure that I’ll feel a strong pull towards doing it again.  I definitely am considering the Rock and Roll USA half though -it’s earlier in the year, so less hot, and more residential, so hopefully a better crowd.  I have also loved the GW Parkway Classic in the past, which is a great race and I would also happily do again.  

Have you ever run one of the Nike Women’s Races?  What makes a great half marathon for you?

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