Thursday, June 9, 2011

REV3 Knoxville Report

Triathlon season is in full swing and I've been a busy little bee the past month! I traveled first to Tennessee for the REV3 Knoxville Olympic distance race in mid-May, then made an excursion to the east coast this past weekend for REV3 Quassy in Middlebury, CT. One of the reasons I have chosen to race the REV3 series this year is because 3 of the 6 events are close to places where I have family...and it's turning out that I now have friends in all these places, so I'll just have to come back and do the series again next year!

Before I go any further I want to send out a huge THANK YOU to REV3 for the great races they are putting on. It's wonderful to go to events and feel like you really know the people behind the scenes...because you do! The same people are on location at each race doing what needs to be done and doing an extraordinary job of taking care of the athletes and making sure that everyone has a great experience. The races are well organized and professionally done, with great media coverage and all the little touches (like personalized bib numbers and bike rack labels, and your picture on the jumbo-tron when you finish) that make a race like this special. The courses are challenging and fair, not to mention beautiful! Keep up the awesome work, REV3!

REV3 Knoxville:
I went into this race knowing that I had some consistent hard work under my belt, but not really having a good point of reference for how my fitness would stack up amongst a tough field of competitors. My weekend started off on a less-than-smooth note when my flight out of Salt Lake was delayed 3 hours and it was questionable whether or not I would make my connection in Denver. Frustrating! We FINALLY got off the ground in a little puddle-jumper plane (one where I was looking out UNDER the wing instead of above it) and made it to Denver with 10 minutes to spare until my connecting flight took off. Whew! I watched them load my bike on too so that was a huge relief. Otherwise the trip to Tennessee went as planned. I flew into Nashville then rented a car to drive over to Knoxville, where I stayed with my wonderful host family, Kellie and Bradley Toon and their boys Kaleb and Evan. The Toons also had visitors from North and South Carolina in for the weekend who were all racing as well (Carin, Trish, and Todd) so it was quite a house full of triathletes and bikes! Huge props go out to Krista Baker for setting me up with such a great host family!

The day before the race we all headed over for packet pick-up and meetings and to check out the course. Knoxville is a really cool little city with a lot of character; the swim was in the river going right under some bridges, the bike course headed out into the rolling countryside, and the run meandered along the river, onto a bike path through the University of Tennessee campus, then back and finished up right in the middle of the Worlds Fair Park. I knew as soon as I started driving the bike course that it was going to suit me---I LOVE rolling hills! And the canopy of trees always makes me feel like I'm in Star Wars "Return of the Jedi", zipping through the forest on a flying motorcycle. We don't have close trees like that out west so it's always a real treat to race in a place with a deciduous forest! The rest of pre-race day was pretty routine: organize the gear, relax, get a good dinner (thanks for the wonderful grilled chicken Bradley!), and trying to get as much sleep as you can expect when there are butterflies dancing around in your stomach.

Race morning came EARLY. Nashville is only one hour ahead of Salt Lake, but Knoxville is two hours ahead, and that makes a BIG difference! I insisted on leaving the house half an hour earlier than everyone else, but I might as well have left with them because I got a little turned around in the old part of Knoxville and spent that extra 30 minutes trying to get myself oriented to where our secret little parking lot was. So I arrived a little flustered and later than I planned. Not much time for a good warm-up! But it turned out alright and I had enough time to set up my gear, visit the port-a-potty, slip into my wetsuit and jog down to the swim start. The swim itself went pretty well; I've been working on a higher turnover and more efficient arms and I felt really comfortable in my new BlueSeventy Helix with its super-flexible arms. I came out of the water in 5th, behind the usual suspects but ahead of some strong swimmers as well. A mile into the bike things started to go a little bit wrong: I followed a straight line of cones that appeared to mark the course through an intersection, only to discover that I was off course! This was a first for me in a race. Luckily I didn't go far before realizing my mistake, but probably lost a good 20-30 seconds getting myself turned around and back on course. It was only later that I found out I was not the only one... apparently at least four of us went of course early in the bike. Could it have been marked a little more clearly? Yes, but ultimately we as competitors are responsible for knowing the course and that's that.

That was error #1. Error #2 became evident right after I strayed off course. My front-mount water bottle was loose! This was a problem because it is an oddly shaped aerobottle that does not fit into a normal water bottle cage. It was an even bigger problem because it was the only source of fluid I had with me and I wasn't sure if there would be an aid station on the Olympic distance course. But I had to make a snap decision and risk I "took care of the problem" and crossed my fingers. Luckily there did turn out to be an aid station at Mile 15, and the weather was cool enough that going without fluid would not have turned out to be a disaster anyway.

Error #3 reared its ugly head once I hit the hills out of town. I had spent a fair amount of time on my race bike on the trainer over the winter, but had only just stared riding it outdoors two weeks before the race. The bike behaved alright on the trainer but it was NOT behaving properly on these hills in Tennessee! The chain kept shifting from the big ring to the small ring at inopportune when I was stood up to climb a hill. So while I loved the bike course, I did not love myself for having failed to get the bike tuned before racing season. Dumb mistake! One that I vow to never repeat. My bike got some major TLC as soon as I got back to Utah, believe me!

Bad thing #4 occurred at the bike turnaround on a narrow country road. It was a tight 180 degree turn, and I had two girls right on my tail...and a media or race official motorcycle alongside us. Whoever was driving the motorcycle was not paying attention because as I rounded the turn, they swerved to the left lane---the very one I was turning into! YIKES! Luckily they realized their mistake before crashing head-on into me, but it was pretty scary and got my heart rate up for sure!

Despite all these mishaps on the bike, I still rode a respectable time and felt strong. It was a good reinforcement lesson that even though things do not always go smoothly, you have to keep a cool head; it would be easy to let these things get in your head and ruin your race. I was able to react quickly and learn from the mistakes that I had control over, so I won't make those same errors again. I got off the bike just behind another girl in 6th place, then decided to go for broke on the run. I was able to establish a gap right away and just kept my feet moving as quickly as I could. At the turnaround point I was able to see who was behind was a whole bunch of really quick runners! I felt great and kept pushing, determined to hold off the chasers. And I did! I think this is a first for me in higher profile professional race; usually I get swallowed up by the faster runners. I was absolutely THRILLED to cross the finish line in 5th place female and 2nd American in a stacked field. It felt almost like I had won the whole thing!

After finishing I went back out on the course with Bradley and the boys to see Kellie, Todd, Carin, and Trish start the run. It was so great to cheer them on and be able to see them all cross the finish line...Kellie and her boys all together, of course! All in all it was a great day, and we celebrated by going out to a delicious dinner involving steak and potatoes. Thanks again to the Toons and their house-full for making me feel like part of the family...can't wait to see you all in South Carolina this October!

In retrospect, this race was an big step for me. I learned that I need to be a little more professional about inspecting my gear before a race and making sure everything is in working order. I was tested on how well I react to hitting various snags while on the race course. Most importantly, I learned that I really do belong in the thick of things; there is still much work to do and I'm certainly not resting on my laurels, but it's heartening to know that I have finally given myself permission to race with the big girls---and that I am doing the right things in training to back it up.

Thanks as always go out to Powerbar, BlueSeventy, Maxxis, Rudy Project, and Wasatch Running Center for their support; to Albert for carrying a large part of the domestic load so that I can train; to my family, friends, clients, and fans for their understanding, encouragement, and cheers; and to my training partner Rich for helping to draw out the best in me. I couldn't do it without all of you!

Coming soon...REV3 Quassy Report and pictures!!!

1 comment:

Laura said...

Hey Malaika! I saw from Michael Lovato's twitter feed (I know I'm a goober for following him, but he's so entertaining!) that you came in 5th. Congratulations on an awesome race!!