By Pete Williams
WASHINGTON – There’s something cool about having much of the downtown mall shut down early on a Sunday morning for a few thousand triathletes.
As someone who grew up in Northern Virginia and accustomed as a young professional years ago to taking long runs around the monuments and the U.S. Capitol building, I was skeptical about how DC Triathlon race directors could pull off the logistics of staging an event in a market with the nation’s worst traffic. Swimming in the Potomac did not sound pleasant and getting into the city the day before to put bikes in transition didn’t seem worth the effort.
But after watching Sunday’s event, which consisted of sprint and international distance races, I’m ready to sign up for 2012, even with the rapidly escalating fees now that the race has become part of the overrated 5150 series, which apparently refers to adding $51.50 to the entry fee to have a loose association with Ironman.
The World Triathlon Corporation, owners of the Ironman trademark only as it pertains to triathlon, can be mostly blamed for the escalation of triathlon entry fees. The WTC’s recently-announced Ironman event for 2012 in New York City ($1,000 and up) no doubt will trickle down to other events, including the DC Tri, which is $110 for the sprint and $165 for the international for 2012. That “alumni” rate factors in a $25 consideration to returning athletes, so expect a staggering $135/$190 entry fee for newcomers, not including registration fees.
Is it all worth it? Probably – especially when you compare it to Florida’s own St. Anthony’s Triathlon, now the second event of the 5150 series.
In DC, they mark swim course buoys with yard markers and directional indicators. That seems a little corny, something you might do for a kid’s triathlon, but it works. The bike course has a few twists and turns – and has the dreaded two loops for the international distance – but it’s an open, scenic route with less potential for carnage than St. Anthony’s. (And given that the DC Tri is no more expensive than St. Anthony’s, it’s definitely a better value.)
The course goes around the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and the Rock Creek Parkway.
Given DC’s legendary humidity, I thought athletes would be suffering. In fact, the opposite was true. Athletes enjoyed low 70s temperatures and nearly everyone finished by 9:45 a.m. – unlike the St. Anthony’s overheated, 4,000-athlete death march that continues well into the lunch hour.
As for swimming in the Potomac, it couldn’t be any calmer. St. Anthony’s, meanwhile, hasn’t pulled off a swim not marred by weather since 2008.
In an interesting twist, the DC Tri started the pros at 9 a.m. It’s hard to think of another race that lets the age groupers start first.
As for logistics, the DC Tri might have fewer headaches than St. Anthony’s. After all, you can take the Metro into the city – with your bike – and I saw a number of athletes headed home on the Metro with their carbon fiber. The finish line was near the U.S. Capitol building – making for great pictures and a terrific setting – and there were regular buses taking athletes back to transition. The medals were stunning — giant pennies.
Perhaps best of all, the post-race food was catered by Qdoba Mexican Grill, which was free for athletes and discounted to $5 for spectators. (Qdoba also gave out as many 2-for-1 coupons as you wanted.)
The elephant in the living room, of course, is getting into DC, a brutal test of endurance if you’re driving from out of state and coming in via I-95 or 270. We noticed a lot of carbon fiber inching along next to us as we approached DC early Friday afternoon – stuck 30 miles south of the Beltway.
That aside, I’m bullish on the DC Tri for 2012.