Rev3 Knoxville 70.3 race report
Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,
We had such a great time at Rev3 Knoxville last year we decided to go back again this year. I trained hard, through the ebbs and flows of a training cycle. I was ready. And you kids were excited to play in the hotel pool, play on the inflatables Rev3 provides, and see Nana and Papaw.
We left Friday as soon as you got home from school, Izzy. Being creatures of habit we planned the same trip as last year: we drove to Crossville and stopped for dinner at Cracker Barrel – where I loaded up on pancakes. Kate, as usual, you ate all of my bacon! We also picked out 8 old fashioned candy sticks for $1 for the road.
We arrived at Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Roy’s cabin outside of Knoxville a little later than we would have liked, but everyone was so excited that we ended up staying up until 11:30 just visiting. Eventually you three little birds all crashed in the same bed.
In the morning Aunt Carolyn made a big breakfast, including biscuits from scratch:
I checked the weather radar frequently. The weather forecast called for cool temperatures and rain all weekend. One the hardest parts about life is getting your mind wrapped around something that’s going to be different than the way you had imagined it. Seldom do things go exactly as you pictured. We make so many plans. Imagine how things are going to work out. But sometimes we have to embrace something else and make the most of it.
And so it is with racing. For 5 months I trained, visualizing last year’s race when it was sunny and 85. I was ready for that. But like life in general, sometimes triathlon and mother nature throw you curve balls.
Saturday morning we drove to the race hotel. We couldn’t check in yet, so I changed into my triathlon stuff and some warm clothing in the hotel bathroom and went to packet-pickup and to the practice swim in the pouring rain. You kids and Mommy took the hotel shuttle to lunch while I got my stuff ready for race day.
After checking my bike in at transition I walked over to the river.
I stood and watched other athletes jumping into the Tennessee river. Each time they popped up to the surface and screamed. Not a good sign. Rev3 published earlier in the week that the water temperature was 58 degrees. That’s cold! But I needed to get a feel for it, so I pulled my wetsuit on and walked down onto the dock.
I jumped in feet first, sank deep, felt my breath escape me in the cold, and then relented to the buoyancy of the wetsuit and surfaced to the rain and grey sky again. It was as advertised….freezing. I swam for a few minutes trying to get warm. My feet were numb. I was glad I had gotten in though. It let me know what to expect the next morning on race day.
I stripped my wetsuit and walked back to the finish area at World’s Fair park to attend the athlete meeting. The rain let up just long enough for Rev3 to conduct the meeting. Nana and Papaw arrived just as the meeting ended.
We all cleaned up and went to dinner at my traditional prerace meal spot, The Mellow Mushroom. We met my friend Bruce Coleman there. The women’s pro winner Lauren Goss ate at the table behind us, so like last year when we ate beside Richie Cunningham, I felt good about my prerace meal selection. If it’s good enough for the best in the world it’s good enough for me.
Just before bed mommy helped me apply my race numbers while you kids watched cartoons. Your small sleepy eyes watched me put numbers on my arms. Quiet finally settled over our evening. And over our family. You spend months preparing for an event like this. There are so many sacrifices along the way for the entire family. Peaks and Valleys. Belief and doubt. Time spent and lost. But the night before, it just ends up with my three children fighting off sleep, watching me apply a random number to my body. You didn’t recognize the fear in my eyes. Just the spectacle of a grown man getting ready to play. As I’ve told you in the past, I want to believe that is part of what keeps me coming back to triathlon. Right now, it’s how I’m living a story in front of you. Hoping you’ll learn something by seeing me doing something. Committing. Following through. Adapting when necessary.
I didn’t sleep at all. Or at least, very little. Knoxville in May doesn’t agree with my spring allergies, so I saw 11:45pm, 2:15am, 3:45am, 4:15am, and finally 5:00am – all while sneezing, rubbing my eyes, and wiping my nose. As with the weather, this wasn’t working out as I had visualized for so many months of training, but you keep moving forward. I turned off my alarm before it ever went off and went about my morning tasks. Fix the oatmeal, fix the coffee, stuff my wetsuit back in my tri bag, put on my tri suit. Pray for the best.
I left the hotel room, after kissing each of you on the cheek, at 5:30am. When I stepped out of the hotel it was raining. I shivered against the cold and set forth into my new reality. It wasn’t going to be sunny and 85. As I walked to the covered transition area I whispered to myself in the dark”chop wood, carry water. Work for it. Focus on the task. The Lord stoops low to help me.” I realize I’m mixing religions and metaphors, but it’s what went through my head all day.
As usual the transition area was buzzing with energy. Loud music and smiling faces. Rev3’s people do a great job with energy during their weekends. Any grogginess I had vanished as I put the final touches on my transition area.
Two drink bottles: Gu Brew in my down tube, water in my torpedo mount, two Gu Roctane gels/two Gu Peanut Butter gels and a Clif Bar in my Xlab aero bag. I put two more gels in the pockets of my tri top. I applied SkinStrong Slather, Slik, and Dust to keep my skin from chaffing, put my wetsuit on – gave my transition set up one final long stare, recited it’s items aloud, and started the walk down to the swim start.
All of the 70.3 athletes gathered near the dock. The star spangled banner began to play on the PA system. Unfortunately, the cold rain had it’s effects on the PA as well and the anthem cut in and out. At first we stood in silence, not sure what to do, but then someone started singing. All of us stood shoulder to shoulder in the rain and sang our country’s anthem before our long day. As I sometimes do, I cried during the song. I have powerful memories of the anthem before moments in my life. But this day it was just a beautiful moment being among other people. You could feel the human spirit come to life.
My wave was the first in the water – all men 40 and under. We walked single file onto the dock. I made the decision to jump in as soon as I got onto the dock. I wanted to “get used to” the water before the start. I swam to the end of the dock where we’d start. I got on the front row. We treaded water there for a few moments, while the race director gave us a countdown. When he reached 10 seconds to go, there was a simultaneous yell from our wave. Like warriors charging into battle! We wished each other luck. Told each other to have a great day. And then we were off.
The grey sky and steady rain made sighting difficult in the dark water. Having done the race last year though, I had some idea where I was going. We swam 1/3 of the 2100 yards up river, against the current. I breathed to my left, keeping the shore and the docks in site. I swallowed water a few times. Something about the cold made finding my breathing rhythm more difficult. It didn’t take long to find clean water though and settle into a steady pace.
I was glad to reach the turnaround buoy. I picked up my pace at that point and followed two guys the remainder of the way, occasionally pausing long enough to clear my goggles.
Despite the cold and the dark sky it was an uneventful swim. I swam 32 minutes 3 seconds. Good for 8th of 57 in my age group. That was a good start. Izzy, you and Nana and Papaw where there among the crowd as I ran up the ramp from the dock. It’s so good to see familiar faces after staring into dark water for 30 minutes.
When I arrived at my transition spot I put on my Rudy Project helmet, bike shoes, and race number. I had planned to also put on a jacket, but when I slipped my arms into it the sleeves popped off – turning it into a vest. I didn’t want to lose time fumbling to reattach the sleeves, so I went with just the vest for the cold ride.
Once out onto the road I got into my aero bars and looked for a steady rhythm before we got into the hills. I passed a number of riders on the flat portion before crossing the river and heading out into the country. From last year, I knew that’s where Knoxville’s infamous hills would come into play. The climbing is relentless at times. Steep, long gradients up heavily wooded country roads. On a sunnier day the additional shade is welcome, but this year it added to the heaviness of the day. Pouring rain. Grey sky. Dark roads up steep grades. Water ran across the road.
Chop wood. Chop wood.
It occurred to me how dangerous the sport can be. I sped downhill at different stages of the 56 mile course going 35-40 miles per hour, squinting my eyes against the rain, plowing through puddles, wondering if it was worth the risk – knowing it wasn’t, but living in the moment and going for it.
Eventually I was so wet, so cold, that I could not warm myself back up. My skin had goose bumps for the entire ride. I eventually lost the use of my hands from the cold. I could no longer squeeze my drink bottles hard enough to drink, so I ended up only drinking half of each drink bottle during the 56 miles. Not nearly enough. I did manage to eat my gels: one at 1 hour, one at 1:45, one at 2:30, and the a final one as I came off the bike.
The chill bumps never disappeared during the ride.
I didn’t think about much during the ride. I had to focus on the road and on staying safe. Carry water.
Bike time: 2 hours 59 minutes. Cumulative time: 3:37. I was in 11th of 57 in my age group.
I stripped off the soaking wet vest in transition, put on my Altra 3-sum running shoes, and grabbed my visor to keep the still pouring rain out of my eyes. I started down the road for the 13.1 mile run feeling better than I had expected. The first few miles of the run course are flat, so like last year, I probably started too fast. My first 3 miles were sub-8 minute pace. Once you enter the greenway portion of the run the short hills begin. I slowed intentionally in order to conserve energy for the big hills ahead in the residential area. Through the park we passed through ankle deep water many times where a creek was beginning to flood. At one point the water was knee deep. I guess I’d known all day, but wading through that water, I began to realize I was doing something special. This year’s race was my 5th half iron distance event, but I’d never experienced adverse weather conditions like this year. Everyone on that course, from the racers to the volunteers, where showing determination and grit. Regardless of how it ended at that point, I was proud to have been there.
I reached the turnaround point at 6.5 miles in about 50 minutes. I was way ahead of pace. But I knew the real challenge was ahead. There are several big hills in succession as you leave the residential portion of the run course. Just like last year, I walked for the first time at about 8 miles. I drank Coke and water at the aid stations, ate another GU, and willed myself to start running again. I prayed silently for strength. I realized that I still had a chance for a sub-5:30 race, which would have been a PR for me. But it wasn’t meant to be. I was so cold, so tired, and honestly – so happy to be ahead of last year’s pace. I waded through the deep water once more and started the home stretch for the finish.
I spotted Papaw waiting on the side of the road as I approached the World’s Fair Park. He smiled and waved and motioned in the distance. As I passed under a bridge near the finish the crowd grew larger. The noise was deafening …loud music, screaming people, the announcer encouraging finishers. Before I knew it my entire family was beside me willing me to the finish.
Izzy, you stepped out from the crowd and ran with me to the finish line. I even had to ask you to slow down a little! Of course, you beat me to the line. Tears filled my eyes again. I squeezed your hand, rubbed your wet hair, and staggered to a nearby tent.
Run time: 1 hour 58 minutes (a new 70.3 run PR for me). Total time: 5:37. 6 minutes faster than last year! I was 13th out of 57 in my age group.
The rest of you joined us and we hugged each other in the rain.
I’m completely exhausted. I still haven’t had a chance to determine what the race meant to me this year. I think the mental effort took as much of a toll as the physical effort this time. The shift in expectations. My ultimate acceptance of the new reality and my ability to get through it.
Rev3 as organization was great, as usual. Despite the weather they did an awesome job of making it an experience for the entire family. Love those people! Despite the this years weather, I love Rev3 Knoxville. It’s challenging, beautiful, and a perfect race venue for the entire family.
When I think about this trip I think about the small moments more than anything else: the small voices from the back of the van as we drove to Knoxville, the whispered versions of Taylor Swift songs as I peeked at you in the rear view mirror, the games of hide and seek in the hotel lobby while serious triathletes even had to smile at you three, the hugs and the kisses both before and after the race.
I think in time I’ll discover what this year meant from a racing perspective, but for now, it I’m happy to have made another family memory.
I love you,