Until this past weekend, I had never watched a triathlon. Raced in more than a few, but never spectated. I know.
So when given the opportunity to watch my friends race just miles outside of D.C., how could I say no? I headed down to Indian Head, Md. first thing on Saturday morning, super excited to see Katie and Lauren take on the half distance for the second time this season. The day started off a little rocky — I got lost in Anacostia because the I-295 S ramp was closed and there are lots of parkways and highways weaving around down there and GoogleMaps was zero help — but I made it to the park in plenty of time to see everyone set up transition, wiggle into wetsuits and head down to the water.
It was definitely on the chilly side, and I was bundled up in running capris and several layers on top, including my Ironman finisher’s jacket. I never thought I would be the asshole that shows up to a race wearing gear from another (longer) race, but hey, once you’ve done IM you’ve earned that right. And on that day, you too will understand.
So I hung out on the dock and watched the men jump in the water and take off, followed by the women, followed by relays and athenas/clydesdales.
The water was pretty perfect (at least it looked that way) — clear and smooth and not freezing cold. And because of the size of the event, it was actually easy to spot specific swimmers even though everyone was wearing the same cap and wetsuit. Once all the waves went off onto the two-loop course, we were allowed down on the dock.
The first guy came in pretty far ahead of the next two or three swimmers but unfortunately missed the last buoy and cut the course. I’ll admit that it wasn’t that easy to figure out, but I’m guessing he got a time penalty for his mistake. At that point, we all ran over to the exit ramp to watch swimmers come out.
Phil was out in 5th position (I think), around the time race staff started grabbing people by the arms to help them stand on the slippery ramp. It definitely would have helped to put rubber mats down, as more than a few people tried to stand, only to fall flat on their faces.
I somehow missed Steph — who was on a relay team — because I wasn’t expecting her to be so speedy, but then I did the short run up to transition to see the everyone head out on the bike. Lauren, pre-kickass flying mount:
Once everyone was off for 56 miles, I went for a longish run. Because what better way to kill 2.5-3 hours when there’s nothing to spectate? The bike course was a single loop outside the state park, so there was no good way to get out there and see anything. But I got 11.5 miles in, including a little preview of parts of the run course, and was back at T2 in plenty of time to see everyone ride back in.
The bike course comes in the main road of the park and then takes a right up a slight hill into T2. I was sitting with a large group of spectators (a LOT of Team Z folks) right at that turn so we could see who was coming from a distance. It was a bit of a clusterfuck — the road wasn’t closed and there were cyclists coming in one way and runners going out the other and cars trying to drive down at the same time. More than a few bikes had to swerve around drivers pulling in and out and backing up. As it turns out, it wasn’t really the race director’s fault, more that the park had issued permits to more than one event on the same day. It’s understandable that they can’t close public highways, but races absolutely need to have key points like that sectioned off. Lessons for next time, I suppose.
I knew about when to expect both Katie and Lauren and was definitely stressing waiting for them. You’ll have to go over and read their reports here and here to learn how the day went down, but hooray, they appeared and I got to cheer them into T2.
The spot I was standing was also right at the start of the run course, so I could turn around and see everyone come out of T2 and head out for their first lap of the half marathon. It was getting hot and sunny, and I know it was a challenging course…
One thing I’ve noticed, even while racing, is that everyone seems to have their own way of dealing with spectators and crowds. I tend to be very smiley when I see someone I know but pretty oblivious at all other times. Some people are totally in the zone, and others are all about getting people to cheer louder. Katie was very focused from start to finish, and Lauren was all smiles while staying serious about how she was executing her day. Some people stopped to chat with the crowd at that corner. Or kiss their significant others and hug their children. There was one guy ambling down the road, still wearing his goggles around his neck and carrying a plastic bag full of sliced watermelon. I don’t know.
Anyway — I relocated to the start of the finish chute, which is right where athletes come out of the woods to either start their second loop or head home. That way we’d be sure to see everyone no matter where they were relative to each other. Phil came flying in just a few places behind the winner:
So this point was a bit of a disaster as well. The run course goes through campgrounds and then comes over a narrow bridge right before the finish chute. At various points there were non-athletes walking or biking over that bridge, blocking the way for people trying to run across. I don’t think it ruined anyone’s day, but from a spectator’s perspective — and as someone who races — it was frustrating to watch.
But then Katie appeared out of the woods, followed a few minutes later by Lauren, and they raced those last few meters up to the finish. There’s nothing sweeter than that.
So — I really enjoyed spectating. It was cool to see the race go on from the outside because you get a different view of what’s required to make everything happen. It’s a lot of work, I know. It’s fun to just enjoy the vibe without having to swim/bike/run. And I always appreciate having support from people I know when I race — I mean, who wants to finish the race, not see a single familiar face and then get in the car and go home — and I was thrilled to be there for my friends through all the ups and downs of the day. I thought it’d be a little hard to watch and not be out there doing it myself — and it was, at first — but then I just got excited about seeing others’ hard work pay off.