- The course featured swim buoys placed 100m apart each marked with the distance swimmers have traveled. Photo: Dan Hicok
- The swim features several features aimed at making beginners feel more comfortable. Photo: Dan Hicok
- No chance of missing the "swim out" buoy. Photo: Dan Hicok
- Three thousand athletes competed on Sunday. Photo: Dan Hicok
Every Wednesday in “Rookie in Training,” beginner triathlete Jason Devaney will share training advice he learns as he jumps into the sport.
Have you ever been in the middle of the swim leg of a race and thought to yourself, ‘I have no idea where I am on this course right now. How far have I gone? 600 meters? 1,000 meters? No clue.’
Chances are you think about that all the time. I certainly do.
I did the Nation’s Triathlon last weekend in Washington, D.C. and although I abandoned my plan of taking it easy—who wants to do that, especially when it’s your last race of the season?—I managed to put together a decent race. By my standards, that is.
The best part of the race was the swim. Hands down.
The course features huge—and when I say huge, I mean huge—buoys every 100 meters. What’s more, each one is marked with the distance. So you can stop playing the distance game in your head.
For those of us who are slower swimmers, this is a great feature. Knowing you have 1,000 meters left, and then 900, 800, and so on, keeps you motivated. I swam from buoy to buoy, glancing at each one as I took a breath when I passed them.
“The only buoys like it in the world,” said Molly Quinn, the Triathlon Event Director and Vice President of Competitor Group. “We decided to make an investment in our athletes, along with our safety planning, in order to ensure for our athletes’ improved sighting and better understanding of where they are in the swim.”
Why haven’t other races thought of this? Who knows. But it was the best swim course I’ve ever seen at a triathlon because of it. Quinn said the one-of-a-kind buoys debuted in 2010. This year, she and her team developed similar buoys for the TriRock Series.
The buoys are strung together by four guide wires and thousands of pounds of tension. They won’t budge in winds up to 60 mph. And the swim course, as Quinn told me and what I noticed upon a second look at the event’s website, is in the shape of the Washington Monument. That’s fitting, since the most well-known obelisk in the country is the backdrop of the transition area.
Other measures in place on the swim course include a safety dock at 300 meters and a time trial start—the latter of which has athletes within each wave starting every 15 seconds, eight swimmers at a time. That means no more mass starts and washing machine-environment at the beginning. Being a newer swimmer, this made it comfortable for me.
“Tremendously,” was Quinn’s response when asked how beneficial the swim safety measurements are to newer triathletes. “Not very many people needed to DNF during the swim. It was less than 10 people. Even the time trial swim start … what a difference that makes.”
Quinn noted that roughly 20-25 percent of the 3,500 finishers were first-timers.
I wish I could say the buoys were helpful to my swim speed, but sadly they were not. Still, it was a great way to swim in the heart of our nation’s capital.
The 25-mile bike course was fast, flat, and took us past the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial, Independence Ave. and the Lincoln Memorial, and along the Potomac River—which offered great views of Virginia on the opposite side. And much of the course was on highways, which was great because I’ve always wanted to ride my bike on a highway. Now I’ve done it.
As for the run, it was also flat and led to some fast run times. The course was along the Potomac River and, like the bike course, provided some nice views.
But those swim buoys. Man, those were something else.
Jason Devaney is a freelance contributor to Triathlete.com, VeloNews.com and Competitor.com. A resident of Virginia, he spends way too much of his free time training. When he’s working, he’s typically dressed in either sweatpants or a cycling kit. Follow him on Twitter @jason_devaney1.
Looking for a triathlon to sign up for this year? Check out our partner, the TriRock Series. Their seven events feature a fun atmosphere for triathletes of all levels.