09 May 2012

Race Report: Rev3 Knoxville Half-Iron Triathlon

My first race of the 2012 triathlon season happened this weekend - the half-iron (70.3) distance event put on by Rev3 in Knoxville, TN. I had a great experience and the race gave me (and my coach) a good benchmark for my current fitness and highlighted a few areas where I need to improve before Ironman Couer d'Alene. I always feel that triathlon race reports are sort of boring (let's see...I swam, then I biked, then I ran! all on a predetermined course! wow!) but it's always neat to hear other peoples' impressions of a race, so here you go!


I left work early on Friday and drove over to Knoxville. I had a few friends from St. Louis also racing/working, but no one's schedule was the same as mine so I did this road trip solo (which is cool with me, that way no other passengers get annoyed with my frequent bathroom breaks). I was enthralled with the beauty of central Tennessee...wow. Definitely want to come back here to play in the woods. I got to the race hotel about 9pm and went right upstairs to meet my roommates for the weekend, Katie and her husband Thom. We'd never met in real life before but since Katie's a GoSonja pony, we decided to split a hotel room to save some cash. It was a great choice; Katie and I compared notes on our (very similar) training thus far and benefited from the outstanding sherpa skills of Thom. Anyway, I dumped my bags in the room and we trotted down a few floors to say hi to Sonja and Michelle, who would be working as Transition Queens for Rev3 all weekend. After a few quick hugs, it was back upstairs for sleep.

All of our tri crap in the hotel room. 
I slept as long as possible and made my normal breakfast in the hotel room. Then the three of us went downstairs to the hotel breakfast, because what's not to like second breakfast? The seating area was jam-packed so we filled our plates and then hovered looking for open chairs. One guy had snagged a table all to himself, saw us with pleading looks in our eyes, and invited us to join him. He looked very fit, but only after we introduced ourselves and he said his name was "Richie" did I connect the dots...yeah. We ate breakfast with Richie Cunningham, an exceptionally speedy pro triathlete. He was awesome to chat with; we asked lots of questions about his experience at NOLA70.3, how to change race strategy in inclement weather, benefits of training in Boulder, etc. What a cool dude. Good luck this season, Richie!!
Pre-race (synchonized) with with Katie.
The rest of the day was filled with the usual pre-race stuff…packet pick-up, race wheel prepping, practice swimming, napping, snacking, etc. My big drama for the day happened on the way to bike drop-off. As we were descending on the hotel escalator, the escalator decided to grab my rear wheel and take a huge bite out of the tire. I momentarily freaked (remember, these are borrowed 808 firecrests…not cheap) and went into crisis management mode. Turns out the escalator only latched onto the tire, leaving the wheel itself unscathed. So we called super-sherpa Thom who brought my training wheels down to the lobby where I swapped tires. Much to my relief, the valve extender held air and soon it was game on as usual. Before we dropped our bikes off in transition, I did a few practice flying mounts and made the big-girl decision to leave shoes attached to the bike! From transition, we walked over to dinner at The Tomato Head for my favorite pre-race meal…pizza! It was delicious too. The dinner was highlighted by a nice older man admiring my bike helmet, even taking a picture of it. Later on in our meal he came back to our table to ask (us? me?) what (I? we?) were doing later than night. But the younger kid that was with him totally threw him under the bus when he whispered to Katie “Watch out for my Dad, he's going to roll out the flirting because he's looking for a new mom for me”. Talk about worst wingman ever.  For dessert, Katie and Thom introduced me to water-ice, which was an awesome way to fill up every possible nook and cranny in my belly with delicious calories. Back in the hotel, it was time for final race preparations and sleeping.
Ready we are. 
For athletes considering racing Knoxville, take note: be prepared for a lot of walking. The transition area, the swim start and exit (different locations), the finish line/expo/hotel are spread out. I felt like I was constantly walking from one place to another and it ate up a lot of time (and added to pre-race-time-on-feet, not ideal). We should have been more organized about it, but we just weren't, and as a result things took a lot longer than they should have. It wasn't stressful, it was just a lot of walking. So plan ahead, 2013 Rev3ers!!

The donning of the wetsuits.
On race morning, I slept through my alarm. That’s how relaxed I was about this race. When I finally got up, it was a rush to get breakfast consumed, cars packed, race kit on, tattoos applied, playlists loaded, transitions set up, etc. Katie and I were doing our best to stay outwardly calm but I am pretty sure we were both thinking “crapcrapcrapwearesolate”. We abandoned our warm-up jogs and instead hit the porta-potty lines (2 for 2 on successful poops!) and then began the process of squeezing ourselves into wetsuits. We got to watch a few earlier waves go off and then it was time to join the rest of the yellow-capped ladies on the dock.

SWIM (36:37)
Actually a photo from our Saturday swim, but I needed something for this section. I'm on the right. Is that a weird recovery arm???
My plans were to try and hang on Katie's feet for the whole swim (because she is f*@%ing legit, just ask her) but those evaporated about 5 seconds after the horn sounded. The whole pack just...swam away. Wow I am slow off the line! My lack of warm-up really hurt my breathing and I felt like I couldn't get a deep breath for the first 10 minutes. I'll be honest, it wasn't that fun, especially with thoughts of Audra's IMSG swim in my head, and I struggled to be speedy. We were swimming into the sun for the first 700 yards or so and it felt like ages. I stopped 3 or 4 times to stick my head up, get a better sight on the buoys, and control my breathing. Once we hit the turnaround I felt better and was able to swim more consistently, but still wasn't really racing...just swimming. I knew I wasn't doing that great and when the finish dock appeared in my vision I was relieved that the swim was over and excited to get on with the rest of the race.

T1 (4:53)
The swim exit was a dock at water level, but Rev3 had recruited several burly men to extract swimmers out of the water. I found an available dude, stuck my arm up, and was hoisted out of the water super fast. Thanks volunteers! I quickly jogged up the ramp to cross the timing mat. From there, the run into T1 was rather long (400m?) so I stopped in a shady spot to take off my wetsuit before entering the crowded craziness of transition. Once in the garage, I found my row and was jogging up to my bike when I saw Katie's kit! Did I swim fast or did she swim slow? Not one to chat, I gave her an encouraging ass-smack and kept running to my bike. I had to press some buttons on the Garmin that I forgot about when I was setting up my spot, so my T1 time is slower than I would have liked. Finally, it was time to wheel the bike out and get this show on the road!

Funny story...after the race we determined that Katie was actually NOT still in transition when I arrived. It was someone else dressed in her exact same Soas kit. So evidently I spanked a complete stranger in T1. Belated apologies to whoever that was!!

BIKE (2:58:36)
Me leaving T1, feet on shoes proving that I did the flying mount!
I executed the flying mount perfectly for a first-timer, took my time getting my shoes sorted, and then it was off to the races. There were lots of other athletes around on the early part of the course through town; it was never too crowded but I had to pay attention to everyone's lines. After about 30 minutes, things settled down and I was able to get into my race-pace effort...HARD. My goal for this race was to put my bike fitness to the test and see where we stood at this point in the season. My legs felt solid and I focused on extracting a 5hr effort out of them. I was tracking heart rate but really only used it to keep myself from going too slow. We had a couple nice hills in the first 12 miles and I found myself catching a ton of people on the descents. I am not the most fearless descender but I like to attack them (to the limits of my comfort level) and today it seemed that everyone else wanted to just coast! The roads were in great shape, the course was well-marked, and the scenery was beautiful.

I don't have much to say about the bike because it was mostly all the same - me riding hard and passing  people. I was having some issues with my tummy, it wasn't used to digesting at heart rates above 165. I wasn't willing to slow down so I just spaced out my calorie consumption more than I normally would (i.e. instead of eating 5-6 Honey Stinger chews at a time, I would eat 2-3). The CarboRocket Half-Evil in my frame bottle wasn't settling the best either, but I think that's because I added 2 tablets of nuun for electrolytes and fizz. The fizz is appealing in training but for half-iron racing I think I will have to switch to etabs or some other non-fizzy electrolyte source. But, the DIY bottle mount worked flawlessly!

I was only passed by one other girl, who was in a Rev3 kit on a Kestrel (Laura Wheatley, was that you?). I had a 5-second thought about trying to stay with her but after those 5 seconds I could tell she was way stronger than I was. My strategy for passing people or being passed is this:
  • Passing a guy... ignore him.
  • Being passed by a guy... ignore him.
  • Passing a girl... tell myself she is a hella fast runner and gogogo.
  • Being passed by a girl... first check to see if my effort is where I want it. If my effort's too slow, try to re-pass her. If my effort's just right and/or too fast, tell myself she is a weak runner (or in the AquaBike) and just let her go. Byebye chica. Hope I can run you down later!
I caught up to Katie about an hour into the bike and was really confused, how had she stayed in front of me for so long after I saw her in transition? (Answer: that was not her in transition) We exchanged some encouraging works and I continued on my quest to bike within an inch of my legs' usefulness. Another victory I'd like to share, I peed off the bike! Can I call myself a 'real' triathlete now? 

T2 (1:38)
Coming back in from the bike course.
The dismount went fine (again, left shoes on the bike) and I found my bike rack on the first try! I racked the front tire, put socks and run shoes on, and spent a few extra seconds to dig out my un-used gels from the bike's bento box. Grabbed my visor, race belt, run gels, and skedaddled out of there!

RUN (1:52:35)
I spent the first four miles getting settled and organized. Visor on, gels shoved in sports bra/shorts, sunglasses on, race belt on, etc. By this time, it was quite hot (for early May) on the course, I think low 80s with high humidity, and I knew I would have to be extra vigilant about nutrition and hydration to pull off a successful run. The first aid station came up pretty quick and I grabbed 2 water bags. I have never raced with water bags before (used  instead of cups), but that's what Rev3 provides at their races. I found they were easy to use and had the added bonus of extended portability. Some of the bags were cold, and I carried those ones for a while before drinking them to act as palm-coolers. By the end of the run course, though, the weird taste of the water was unappealing.

After a solid opening 4 miles of 8:30/mi pace, I did a systems check and decided that I was slacking. My tummy still wasn't 100% happy but everything else felt fine so I decided to see what would happen if I went faster. I found some more "speed" and brought the next 6 miles in at 8:20/mi pace. In these miles, I saw the lead women coming back at me and figured out I was in 9th or 10th. We had some hills to deal with and I just tried to stay calm on the ups and smooth on the downs. I made the turnaround and saw a few ladies up ahead and went after them. I also ran out of gels and had to resort to the on-course gels which tasted horrible, but I had experienced a few seconds of light-headedness during mile 8 so knew that I couldn't afford to turn down any calories. I passed either 2 or 3 women (can't remember) around miles 8 or 9 and was determined to make those passes stick.

I started to hurt during mile 10. The course was getting pretty empty and my hamstrings got tight like they usually do. I saw a few dudes up in the distance but they were juuuust far enough in front of me that I couldn't convince myself to run them down. Instead I went into low-point management mode - trying to maintain my position in the overall women's field without hurting myself more. I couldn't stand the thought of more on-course gel, but the last 2 aid stations had Gatorade which tasted good and kept me going. The turn for the finish line was a tough uphill on a winding pedestrian path...it hurt! Coming into the World's Fair Pavilion was really cool though, Rev3 had an awesome finish line party going and I crossed the line in 5:34:21.

Immediately after crossing the line, I needed to sit down. I made it through the chute, collecting my finishers medal/shirt and a couple bottles of Muscle Milk, but then crumpled to the ground next to Muscle Milk's huge tubs of ice. I also needed to use the bathroom really badly, so I only stayed there a few minutes before hobbling into the hotel to use their lobby's bathrooms. A janitor was cleaning the women's bathroom but I made it quite clear that this was an EMERGENCY and could he please let me use the toilet. He didn't really have a choice in the matter and I felt much better after leaving. I rested some more in the shade of a tree and then went over to the timing booth to find Kelly and see my results. She gave me a big hug and then another volunteer showed me I was 2nd Age Group and 6th overall! Sweet! I decided to try and find Thom. I eventually located him in the shade of the bridge and sat there for a while waiting for Katie. When she didn't show, I decided to head down to transition to give Sonja the race report. I happened to find Michelle first who graciously listened to the story of my day and then I repeated the account to Sonja. At the very end I mentioned I was 2nd AG, and she told me I had better go to the awards ceremony! I had completely forgotten about that. Turns out the ceremony had been happening as we were chatting so I missed it. (That makes me 2-for-2 on missed podiums, I was absent on the Branson 70.3 podium last year too!) I rode my bike up to the Pavilion and the nice people at Rev3 gave me my prizes anyway. Since 1st place in our 25-29 age group (the very talented Alyssa Godesky, 5:06:21!!) had also placed 3rd overall female, they awarded 1st place AG to me! I was impressed at the haul for the winners...a case of Muscle Milk, a case of PowerBar recovery bars, a certificate for free entry into a 2012 HalfRev event, a certificate for $25 of Rev3 merchandise, and a cool AG medal that acts like a frame for the finisher's medal! WOWWWWW!! Wayyy better than that plastic trophy thing at WTC events.
My haul from the weekend.
Only problem was, now I had all this stuff plus my bike to haul back down to transition where my backpack was. It was awkward and frustrating carrying all that stuff (#trigirlprobs) but luckily some other racers (from Ohio!) offered to help me out, thanks guys!! Back at transition, I learned that Katie had finished but was in medical, so I packed up my stuff and climbed the hill for the final time to check on her. By that time she had recovered from 2 (!) IVs and we were able to debrief the race and the weekend before cleaning up and heading home.

Overall, this was a fairly successful weekend for me. I felt the race was an honest reflection of my current physical/mental fitness. My weaknesses were exposed and I was pleased with the progress I've made on the bike and run. I'd like to thank the three people who I borrowed stuff (wetsuit, wheels, and helmet) from but I'm not revealing their identities so they don't get flooded with requests! Also thanks to Katie and Thom for being excellent race weekend buddies, to Sonja and Michelle for running a fun T1/T2, to Megan for rocking the aid stations, and the Rev3 volunteers for doing an awesome job on a hothothot day!
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  1. Great job on the race! I am curious, at what heart rate do you go anaerobic? Biking above 165 is pretty intense.

    1. Good question, Astrid! I haven't done any HR testing on the bike so I'm not sure where my aerobic/anaerobic line exists (and on a side note, if that manufactured number really means anything anyway). I let perceived exertion dictate my effort in the race and then used HR as sort of a secondary systems check. I do not train that high very much, but an extended taper made it easier to race like that.

    2. I did the HR testing while running, with my personal line at 182 at the time (pretty high for most people). The test also measured the calories burned at each heart rate, and the source of those calories, fat or sugar. After that testing, I did a half marathon and stayed below 180 the whole race. I had never felt better after a race. I think I had been pushing too hard before and not fueling enough to replace the carbs. I have heard that bike HR testing can give a different number. Why that is, I have no idea. Overall, I think the HR testing is worth it.

  2. Congrats on the race! Next time I need to plan better and have some time to meet some of you girls in person for sure. Have you picked a half to race with your prize entry??

    1. Yeah agreed! I was amazed that even though we racked RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER I didn't run into you all weekend (speedypants...). I'm thinking maybe picking the Wisconsin Dells race since it's closest to me. But who knows, I'm gonna wait til after CdA to decide.

  3. Congratulations! Great race, Emily!

  4. What an awesome race report! You did so great this weekend, but that's expected because your training is so solid :) . It was so wonderful to see your bright, smiling face at the finish line. Sorry I didn't get to see you more, but I'll see ya around town!

    1. you and your rev3 staff were so fun all weekend. thanks for working your tails off for us. kudos! and yes, let's hang out on bikes soon.

  5. Woot! Great race and race report!! I think it is hysterical that you butt slapped a stranger! haha!! It was so nice to meet you in person! Can't wait to see what CDA holds for you!!

    1. yeah it was a hard slap too! hope i helped her race and didn't freak her out!

  6. I feel like I had so many things to say when I read this a week ago and now that I'm actually at a computer they are all gone. So I will just say that you are awesome.

    Oh, and that's my funky recovery arm, not yours. Sorry about that.

    Oh, and if I get the chance I am gonna WHALE on your ass at CdA. Watch out.