Until this past weekend, I hadn’t raced an Olympic distance triathlon in a long time. Like almost four years. As a result, I was really looking forward to racing the Rev3 Knoxville Olympic race. For added bonus, the race was an opportunity for me to meet some of my Team Trakkers mates.
I traveled up to Knoxville on Friday. It was a long drive (8 hours), and one that would come back as a thorn in my side on Sunday afternoon as I had to leave almost immediately after the race to get back to Jacksonville for an early-morning trip to Dallas. Nevertheless, the ride was uneventful, and I got to see some beautiful scenery as I drove through the North Carolina mountains on my way into Tennessee.
Now for those of you who don’t know, Knoxville is nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains not too far from the eastern edge of Tennessee. It sits at approximately 1000 feet above sea level – which for the vast majority of the folks in the US isn’t a big deal. But, when you live and do 100% of your training in a town that is zero feet above sea level, that’s quite an elevation change. And one other thing. Jacksonville is flat. As flat as your bathtub. The only hills in this town are bridges, and they are typically very short too. Knoxville is, as I said, in the mountains. Now, it could be worse – it’s not as if Knoxville is on the side of a mountain or anything, but by comparison to what I’m used to, Knoxville’s terrain is akin to Nepal.
I arrived in Knoxville literally just in time to meet some Trakkers folks at the expo. Since there weren’t a lot of folks at registration Friday night, I went through and picked up my packet, a cool Rev3 race t-shirt, and had my picture taken. See, Rev3 takes a picture of each athlete and as they enter the finishing chute they pull up the picture and put it on a big jumbotron. Cool touch. I think that the picture also goes on the web feed, but I’m not sure about that.
After I registered and took the requisite team bonding pictures, we all headed out in search of a good place to eat. We attempted to find a local brew pub – but with more than 20 of us in our group, there was no way we’d eat before midnight. We ended up going to a pretty cool area of downtown Knoxville called Market Square – this is an area with lots of restaurants and shopping situated around a huge outdoor square. This place was certainly happening – possibly because Saturday was the University of Tennessee’s graduation. After much deliberation and searching, we landed at a place called Soccer Taco and had a pretty nice Mexican dinner.
Saturday started early, with a practice swim at 8am. The team all met at the expo and made the almost half mile walk down to the University of Tennessee’s boat house for the swim. The practice area was pretty crowded – with age groupers and professionals alike. I chatted with Amanda Lovato, Matty Reed, and a few others.
I spent a good part of the day volunteering for Rev3. I worked at the bike check-in in transition. This was the first time I had ever volunteered for a race, and I had quite a good time. It’s really amazing how many questions volunteers get asked: “Will I be able to get into transition in the morning?”, “where will we bike in and run out?”, “how do I find my rack?”, “what time does everything start tomorrow?” Some questions made sense…others just made you scratch your head. It was extremely cool to see all the high tech rigs folks were going to race on as well. I saw more disk wheels and high dollar carbon frames than I can remember. I had heard that there was a potential for hail on Saturday night. Some of the other volunteers and I were talking about how much money would be sitting in transition that night. We figured close to $2.5 million (1000 bikes at an average price of $2500 each) but in reality, the real figure was likely double that.
One fun thing for me during the time I was at transition was that I was able to needle the UT fans a little. See, I’m a big Florida Gator fan…and if you follow college football at all, you know that the Gators have owned the Vols recently. It was fun rubbing that in.
Later in the afternoon, I set out to drive the bike course. I had heard that the course would be fairly hilly, so I wanted to see for myself. And, oh my gosh, was it ever hilly. And technical. The first couple of miles were essentially flat (some small hills but nothing too much). There were a few hazards in early part of the course – but we were well warned about them. At one point, there’s a railroad track crossing right at the bottom of a pretty big downhill – and immediately after you cross the track you take a fairly hard left turn. The risk is that you come bombing down the hill and hit the tracks wrong and take a spill. That wouldn’t have been good. There are two significant climbs on the Oly course – one about 7 miles and the other about mile 15. Both are pretty long – the second one is close to a mile long. For a guy who isn’t used to doing a lot of climbing, they were damn huge hills. The second hill even had a couple of switchbacks! What the hell was I getting myself into? Overall, I’d describe the bike course as generally rolling, with those two serious climbs. Very little real flats on the course. Memories of my disastrous bike ride at IM Louisville came flooding back.
Sunday – Race Day
|Check out the “Game Face” look…|
Sunday started relatively early, but not as early as some races. Transition opened at 6a, but my wave wasn’t going off until 7:54 – so I wasn’t really concerned about getting there right when it opened.
I breakfasted on a banana, a bagel with peanut butter and a bottle of EFS Drink with Pre-Race added in for a little extra caffeine.
Rev3 has a couple of really cool touches that other races I’ve done don’t have. Instead of having an army of folks with Sharpies to do body marking, they gave out temporary tattoos. They looked really cool, and I felt like a professional! Additionally, the transition area is much different from most races. The pros had their own cordoned off area (complete with a banner with their picture on it) right in the middle of the transition area. The other cool thing is that instead of having racks where you hang your bike, Rev3 has these cool wood racks where you just drop your rear wheel into a slot and it stays there. That – and they mark your slot with a personalized name tag!
My transition set up was easy, and I had time to kill – so I walked around and shared my can of Tri-Slide with folks.
I wandered out of transition right at 7 and walked over to the river and stopped at the swim exit so I could catch the pros finishing their swim. I saw the first group come in (at about 18 minutes) and was totally awed. Those dudes are FAST!
I made my way down to Calhoun’s restaurant to the starting area, and hung out with Meredith & Dave Gordon for a while.
This race starts with a deep water start. This is the first time I’ve done that. At 7:50, they told us to get in and tread water for a couple of minutes. Boy was that water COLD! They told us at the practice swim that the water was 67 degrees. I later heard that it was actually about 62 degrees. Either way, it was cold enough that it literally took my breath away. Putting my face in the water was absolutely brutal for the first several minutes…but good thing we all have a build-in wetsuit heater!
The swim goes upstream for a couple of hundred yards and then turns and comes back downstream to the exit. Looking at last year’s results, lots of folks have really quick swims – so I was hoping to get some benefit from the river flow this year. Unfortunately, Sunday morning was really windy – and of course the wind was blowing up-river. That wind did a great job of creating just enough chop to take away any benefit from the current.
All that said, I was pretty pleased with my swim. I found clean water for the whole up-stream part of the swim, and then had a couple of guys I hung with on the way down. I didn’t take any real contact at all (I heard of some folks who got pretty beat up). I mentioned the cold water – by mid-swim I was actually pretty warm. I did the swim in my new TYR Hurricane Cat 5 suit – and had a much different wetsuit experience than I did last month in the Marineland race. No chest tightness, great range of motion for my arms, great buoyancy. Felt really good.
Got to the end of the swim and had to hoist myself up onto a dock. I glanced at my watch and thought I had gone about 30 minutes or so, and was fairly pleased with that all things considered. My official swim time was :33:13 (putting me in 40th place in my AG out of 61, and 252 out of 514 overall).
T1 went fairly smoothly. I didn’t have any problems getting out of the wetsuit at all. I did take a moment to dry off and put on arm warmers – as the air temp was mid-60’s and it was cloudy. I figured I’d be cold if I didn’t. T1 time was 4:49. Fairly slow, but all things considered I was OK with that.
I came out of transition and generally took it easy for the first couple of miles. My heart race was quite high coming out of transition, so I wanted to get into a good rhythm quickly. The first couple of miles were fairly windy – which came into play.
The first part of the course is inside the city limits, and was fairly fun. There were some sections that resembled an interstate, others were just normal city roads. There was a section where the road was sort of torn up due to construction – talk about pot hole city!
|Trying to catch my breath after a big climb…|
I really liked the descents on this course. Actually, I was a little nervous on some of the downhill sections as there wasn’t much of a shoulder on the side of the road. Additionally, I haven’t really practiced going downhill at top speed in my aero bars this season. As such, I took most of the bigger downhills on my drops. I just didn’t want to chance taking a fall.
I’m not going to lie. Climbing was pretty challenging for me. I’d drop down fairly quickly to keep my cadence high, but I ride an 11-21 cassette – so I bottomed out easily. While I don’t think I needed a 23 tooth cassette on this course, even my most granny gear was pretty rough for me on the two longer climbs. For many of the other climbs, I was able to stay in the big chainring up front. And believe it or not, on one of the downhills, I came really close to feeling like I was spinning out of my top end. That said, I coasted down a fair number of hills as I was merely fighting to get my lungs back.
Overall, I felt really pretty good about my bike split. I took the first 9.5 miles at a 17.1 mph pace, took the next 3.5 at a 19.2 pace, and the final 11.8 miles at 18.4 mph. I averaged 17.97 mph all in, and wasn’t disappointed at all, especially given all the climbing. I know that on a flatter course I could go quite a bit faster, but on a hilly track, 18 mph isn’t so bad for me.
|My speed as per Garmin. It seemed like I was either going like 10mph or close to 30 the whole day…|
As I came into transition, I pulled of something that I’d never done before – a rolling dismount! For a long time, I’ve taken my feet out of my shoes coming into transition, but I’ve always come to a complete stop before getting off my bike. Sunday, I was comfortable pulling my leg over the top tube and running up to the dismount line. I was totally stoked about that. Now I just need to perfect that running mount!
T2 was mostly uneventful. I did have some…um…chafing issues that I needed to care for – but a quick spray of Tri Slide handled that nicely. Put on the running shoes, dropped my helmet, took a hit of First Endurance Liquid Shot, and ran out putting my race number on as I went. 1:55 spent in T2.
I came off the bike in 43rd spot for my AG and 252 overall – so I mostly held my post-swim position during the bike. I came out of T2 42nd and 250nd, so I was able to make up a couple of spots with my transition.
Right after transition, I hit an aid station. I took advantage of grabbing a water & half a banana. I had the same heart rate issue coming out of T2 that I did after T1, so I had to take a quick stop after maybe a quarter mile. I walked for 30 seconds to get my heart rate down out of the 170’s.
The first two miles of the run are pancake flat along the river. I ran by Trakkers mom Carole and got some great cheers/motivation. Additionally, I saw a number of my teammates along the course (naturally, they were all heading back in when I saw them).
After two and a half miles or so, we transitioned from the road to a greenway – which is essentially a paved sidewalk heading into the UT campus. This little out & back section was shaded, not too crowded, but did include a few hills.
I realized about the 5k mark that I was on a pace to potentially break 3 hours overall. As I said in the beginning, I haven’t done an Oly distance race in several years, and my prior PR was glacially slow. I knew even before I started my run that I’d set a new PR, but I secretly hoped to go faster than three hours.
Overall, I felt pretty good for the entire run. I took the first 2.8 miles at 9:22/mi and the last 3.41 miles at 9:12/mi – resulting in an overall 10k time of :57:39.
My all-in time was 3:00:26 – so while I didn’t go under 3 hours, I was right there. This time was a huge 16 minute PR for me. I was really pleased with that – especially knowing that the bike course was hilly. Comparing my splits with my prior PR, I improved both my swim and run times. My bike time – while technically almost the same as my prior race – was an improvement, as my prior Oly was on a flat course, and this one wasn’t. So, all in all, I was really pleased with my time.
I’ve got another Oly race scheduled in August – and I’m going to really push for a time in the 2:45-2:47 range. I think that is absolutely attainable, just by improving my bike split slightly and keeping everything else the same.
Overall, I really liked this race. I was certainly challenged with the terrain, but was pleased with my output and time. Rev3 did a fantastic job in terms of setting a top notch race experience. In fact, they did such a nice job that I’m planning a full post on what I liked about my experience (look for that next week). It was great meeting my Trakkers teammates, having the opportunity to interact with some of the biggest pros in our sport, and of course having a PR.