Sunday, October 16, 2011
Racing Within and Without
(all photos courtesy of Eric Wynn)
Last weekend I had the pleasure of competing in the final event of the 2011 REV3 Triathlon Series in Anderson, South Carolina. This was a special weekend for many reasons, including that it was a reunion of sorts with my host family-and-friends from REV3 Knoxville earlier in the year. Thank you Toons, Todd, Doc, and Trish for embracing me as one of the gang, and congrats to everyone on their races!
While I'm in the "thank-you" mode, I'd like to also extend my thanks to Charlie Patten and the entire REV3 crew for yet another top-notch event and an overall fantastic series. I've done every single race that REV3 produced this year and can attest that they provide a level of organization, professionalism, and attention to detail that is unlike anything I've ever seen before in my eleven years in the sport. Everyone is taken care of at a REV3 event: the pros, the age-groupers, the spectators, the kids, and the staff. The staff itself is made up of friendly and approachable people who really seem to share a passion for triathlon. I have yet to meet an unhappy staff member or volunteer at a REV3 event, and I think that speaks volumes for the quality of the company. It's been a real pleasure getting to know the "behind the scenes" people this year and to witness the REV3 series really take off. I'm looking forward to what they have in store for 2012!
Back to the race itself. This was by far the largest professional field assembled for any REV3 event, and with a large field comes good depth. For the ladies there was an interesting mixture of ITU, middle-distance, and long-distance athletes on the start line. I knew that it would be tough to pull off another win in this field, but I felt that I had recovered well from the Full Rev at Cedar Point and that a top-three finish was definitely within reach. The relentless rolling hills on the bike and run certainly made it a "strength" course (which suits me) and the windy conditions on race day simply added to the toughness of the course.
The swim was unique in that the course went around a peninsula, so that we entered the water on one side and exited on the opposite side of the point. It was a non-wetsuit swim for the pros which is fine by me, although in retrospect with the speedy ITU girls in the mix I probably would have benefited more from a wetsuit legal swim. With my emphasis on long-distance racing these days I don't spend nearly the same amount of time in the pool as I used to and it becomes glaringly obvious when the short-course ladies come out to play! I exited the water about 2.5 minutes down from the lead group---not great, but nothing to panic about when there are 69.1 more miles of racing to go.
The hills began immediately out of T1. I overtook one of the other ladies on the first hill, then found myself trading back and forth with one of the pro men for a few miles. He eventually made a gap and I rode alone for a while until Magali Tissyre came up beside me. We traded back and forth a few times, and I must say it was really great riding with Magali for a couple of reasons: first, she is a very clean rider with a good understanding of the positioning rules. Secondly, at REV3 Knoxville earlier in the year she came zooming by (on a similar course) and I was not able to hang with her, so it was a good sign of my improved bike strength to be able to comfortably ride with her. I knew, though, that Magali is a dangerous runner and I did not want to get off the bike at the same time as her; I had to make a move at some point if I wanted to have any kind of cushion going into the run.
That move came when we rode up to Lauren Goss, one of the ITU super-swimmers in the field. I got slightly stuck behind the two of them going up a small hill and into a left-hand turn, and to stay legal I had to drop back a bit. It was a little weird how all the traffic converged at once; three cyclists, a USAT official motorcycle, and a media crew all going up this hill and through the turn at the same time. Once we made the turn I accelerated and flew right through the middle of the two other cyclists. I'm not sure if it surprised them or not, but it seemed to have been enough to make a bit of a gap.
Eventually I started catching glimpses of another rider up the road. I didn't know if it was a guy or a girl but that didn't matter: it was someone to try to catch! When I got to the little town of Pendleton I was surprised to find that the rider had suddenly gotten a LOT closer, and that the rider was Meredith Kessler. She is an uber-strong all-around triathlete who rode away from everybody at REV3 Portland in July so it was strange to be catching up to her so quickly. Then I realized why: she was riding standing up WITHOUT A SEAT!!! Talk about perseverance; by the end of the day she had ridden 20 miles standing up, then topped it off with the 2nd-fastest run split and 3rd place overall, only 1.5 minutes back of the win. That is one tough lady!
Once I passed Meredith I was sitting in 3rd place and that's where I stayed for the remainder of the ride. It's funny how I used to look forward to the end of the bike in a half-distance race because I would get so uncomfortable riding for that long, yet at the same time not be especially excited to run. Now I'm usually a little surprised that the end of the bike course comes so quickly but I'm eager to hop off and see how fast I can run. I left T2 about 2:45 behind the leader and with second place in my sights. Time to go fishing! I got a quick look at Magali and Meredith (!!!) coming into transition as I was starting the run, but tried to focus on what was up the road ahead of me.
This was by far the most exciting, competitive, duel-of-a-run that I've ever been a part of. The course was an awesome tangle of hills and turns, with one long challenging out-and-back section that allowed you a good look at where your competitors were. I could tell right away that I was gaining ground on second place; unfortunately just as I caught her she dropped out...I ran a few steps with the "2nd place" lead bike...and then was promptly overtaken by Meredith and Magali! I had been holding a good clip up to that point but they were obviously running faster---but not TOO much faster---so I decided to see if I could match their pace. It was FUN! We stuck in a little paceline for a bit, then Magali made a gap, followed by Meredith, and I just focused on not letting the "string" break. Eventually I saw some signs that Meredith might be cracking and I reeled her back in and made a move just before the far turnaround point at mile 7. I thought for sure that her legs had to be cooked by then, after her phenomenal stand-up effort riding the bike. I could see Magali up the road and it looked like she *might* be coming back to me a bit too. So I dug deep and ran hard...perhaps a bit too hard too soon because I started paying for it in the 10th and 11th miles. Meredith clawed her way back up and overtook me and at that point I couldn't respond. She established a gap that ended up being about 30 seconds by the end. Magali fought to the very end and passed long-time leader, Tenille Hoogland, within sight of the finish line. The final gap between 1st to 4th place was 2 minutes. It was an exciting finish, a great show to cap off the 2011 REV3 series, and I'm so thrilled to FINALLY have the fitness and speed to duke it out with the big girls.
At the end of the day, it was my third time this season (and ever!) cracking the 4:30 barrier in a half-iron race and my second time under the 1:30 mark for the run split. My run is what I'm most pleased with because I went into uncharted territory and actually ran 10 seconds faster than my open half-marathon PR. A little belief and a lot of hard work go a long way! I also wound up second place in the overall REV3 Pro Series which is a nice bonus as it wasn't even on my radar at the beginning of the year. I signed up for the REV3 races because I was ready for something new and I wanted to race in places that were easy for my family and friends to come to. REV3 delivered on both counts, and in so many more ways that I didn't even expect. Thanks again for a great year!