DC Triathlon, Not a Spectator Sport

LaceyTriathlon-5329-EditWell before the butt crack of dawn yesterday thousands of people gathered along the banks of the Potomac to participate in the inaugural DC Triathlon.  My girlfriend was one of them, and I tagged along as a supporting cast member. Like any big race in DC it was nearly impossible to drive or park anywhere due to all the road closures, but this one came with the added challenge of starting before the metro was running.  Shuttle service was provided for the athletes, but us spectators had to fend for ourselves.

Fortunately we gave ourselves plenty of time to park nowhere near the course and make it to the starting point with time to spare.  Initially it felt a bit awkward walking through the middle of a huge crowd of swimsuit-clad folks; it was kinda like being at a water park except everybody was in decent shape.  All things considered, I’ve seen worse.

The next thing I noticed was that at least half of them were waiting in line for the porta-potties.  I for one am glad that they decided to use the restrooms then, rather than take care of business during the swimming portion in the Potomac.

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The first wave of folks made their way down the temporary pier and into the water.  The little horn blower dude did his thing and the inaugural DC Triathlon was underway.  There was an excitement in the air as if all the anticipation finally had an outlet.  I probably had goosebumps at the time because 1.) It’s always inspiring to see a huge mass of people achieving something and 2.) there was a certain sense of history that comes with this being the first of many DC Triathlons, and 3.) I get inspired easily.

I watched and cheered as my girlfriend eventually made it down the pier and jumped –and I mean, JUMPED– into the water.  Her excitement was contagious!  The horn made its lovely noise and she took off.  I wanted to go to the other side of the viewing area to get some better pictures, and it was at this point that I realized there was almost no thought given to the spectators.  The only way to get to the other viewing area was to walk all the way around the transition area where all the bikes were stored.  I finally got to the other side, snapped a few pictures and then walked all the way around to the swim exit.  Lacey came out of the water just a couple minutes after I got there.

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According to the map it looked like there was a good place near the Kennedy Center to watch the bikers come by, but when I got there I was the only one cheering.  Everywhere I looked the sidelines were empty (except for the start and finish.)  I stood in the tunnel where my voice would carry and there I cheered and whooped and even did a slow clap or two.  People need that encouragement and it was disappointing to see so few people along the way.

Next I was able to get in my car and drive relatively close to the finish line.  Why the event organizers put the finish line so far away from the transition area is beyond me.  Nevertheless, I made it there in time to see Lacey and a couple of her friends cross the finish line.

The finish festival was buzzing with the usual excitement and sense of accomplishment that you would expect.  Aside from the massage booth all the vendors seemed adequately prepared to handle high volumes of people.  In fact, it seemed like the athletes were very well taken care of throughout the entire race.  All of the details concerning them seemed well thought out and professionally handled, however, there was seemingly no concern for the spectators.  Namely:

  1. Transportation. Don’t schedule an event that closes down traffic before the metro is running.  This was just a stupid call.  I know it gets hot early during the summer, but why was the triathlon scheduled in June in the first place?
  2. Public restrooms were non-existent.  There were a host of porta-potties for the athletes, but the spectators just had to hold it apparently.
  3. Location. You can forget about the transportation issues if you don’t make everybody walk two miles to get from one viewing area to the next. Put the finish line next to the transition area and make life easier for everybody.
  4. Make it convenient (and fun even) for the spectators and I guarantee you will have a lot more people cheering on the sidelines.  The DC Tri wold do well to take a note from the Crystal City BID for their sideline activities during the Marine Corps Marathon.

In the end the DC Triathlon is not a spectators sport.  There is a lot of room for improvement, and I hope they do a much better job with it next year. Congratulations to Lacey and all the participants!  Thanks for inspiring us!

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