Last weekend I traveled to Tennessee for round #2 in the REV3 Triathlon Series. This was my second visit to Knoxville in as many years, and I enjoyed it as much as the first time around. Knoxville doesn't necessarily jump out in your mind as being a hotbed for triathlon, but once you get there and scope out the course you realize what a perfect venue it is. As per usual, REV3 puts on a classy event with a challenging course; a river swim under multiple bridges, continuous rolling hills and technical curves on the bike, and some rollers along the Greenway path on the run. Early in the week it looked like we were in for some exciting thunderstorms, but once race day actually rolled around we were greeted with perfect racing conditions. The field was stacked and I was anxious to go out and test myself against some real speedsters, as well as testing out my new Blueseventy Helix wetsuit and Fezzari T5 bicycle in competition! I was lucky to stay with the same wonderful host family as last year, the Toons, and their friends Trish and Todd from the Carolinas. The Toons have two very funny "hot-dog" dogs and this year they also had the surprise addition of a new cat and her four kittens. The only one missing from the crew was "Doc" Carin VanderKlok who has joined the Army Reserves and was at boot camp. We missed you Doc! It was a great thing for my nerves to stay with people who are like family to me now, and to be familiar with the course from last year; I went into the race relaxed and looking forward to tackling the Tennessee countryside.
There were a couple of unique changes to the course this year, one being that the transition area was in a parking garage (because a building was being built where the old transition was held). This reminded me a bit of the old Monster Triathlon in Boston where the transition area was inside the World Trade Center and you swam around 3 sides of the building then ran through it to dive in again for the second lap. I was a bit worried that the parking garage surface would be very slippery coming out of the swim but it ended up being just fine. The swim leg of the race went extremely well for me, thanks to some extra time in the pool this year and my speedy new Helix! Contrary to my usual custom, I chose a spot front and center along the starting line and I fully expected a good thrashing for the first several hundred meters. To my surprise I found completely clear water on my right; apparently all the speedier swimmers congregated together on the left side of the start line, and the washing machine action seemed to be entirely on my left. I got a little tangled up for a few strokes and could only use my right arm because it felt like someone was pinning my left arm behind my back (yes, it can get nasty out there) but suddenly my left arm came back to life and I was able to find a nice steady rhythm. Once we rounded the turn I had a better view of where I was; there were one or two swimmers out in front, a lone swimmer about 10 meters to my right, then a pack maybe 15 meters to my left. For whatever reason it seemed that people were either swinging way wide or way narrow, which gave me a nice clear path of uncontested water. And a bonus: there wasn't anyone right behind me, nailing my feet with every stroke! That's pretty rare in a field of that caliber but I wasn't about to complain. I stuck to my line and kept my turnover up, and managed to hit the dock in 3rd place with a pack of quick swimmers hot on my heels.
The run out to T1 was longer than last year due to the logistical changes and it was a little weird (but at the same time cool) going into a parking garage. The Helix slid off like butter, I buckled up my Rudy Project Wingspan helmet, grabbed my new Fezzari speed machine and headed out onto the bike course. A funny thing about my new bike: the drop in height between the seat and the handlebars is considerably larger than on my old bike, so at first I was scared to do a flying mount because I was sure there was no way I could jump high enough to land on the saddle. However, once I lined the two bikes up side-by-side and realized that the saddles are actually the exact same height then I was fine and back to doing flying mounts again like they were going out of style. Once on the bike I quickly slipped my feet into my Pearl Izumi Tri-Fly Carbon shoes (they are LOUD!) and settled down to work. I love this bike course, and one day would love to have it all to myself to really let loose and fly up and down those hills and around the turns. I don't think I'll get that wish though until I can swim as fast as Sara McLarty and get out onto the course solo and way out in front; it certainly wasn't granted on Sunday as I soon realized that I had the company of four other girls, and the dynamic would not allow for an all-out hammer-of-a-ride. I knew there were some fast runners in the group, and even more not far behind, so I would have liked to have made a break and build a bit of a cushion going into the run. I did end up hitting T2 in 2nd place (leading that pack) and with the second fastest bike split of the day, but I wasn't able to build any kind of a gap. So it was going to be a real foot race!
I've been running really well in open road races lately and expected some of that strength to translate to this race. However, it became painfully clear over the course of the run that I need to make a couple of changes in my training to really be competitive over such a relatively "short" distance. I started the run in 2nd place, was quickly passed by two speedsters (who ended up 1-2 on the day) and then eventually was passed by two more ladies before we even hit the Greenway. Once on the path I managed to maintain contact with 5th place and even began reeling her back in; just as I was about to catch her around mile 4 two other girls came zooming by, and then another soon after. So I was in 8th place with 9th breathing down my neck, and then my hamstring started talking to me. Not good. I'm not known for having the most flexible hamstrings ever, but they've never given me problems while running. I had been pretty sure I could throw down a good kick if it came down to a sprint finish, but with my hammy screaming at me the tables turned and I went into damage control mode. No sense in pulling anything this early in the season. The girl behind me must have sensed my weakness and she put in a final push to overtake me with about 600 meters to go. So I ended up in 9th place, which is not where I wanted to be but was still an honest effort in a very strong field. Now it's back to the drawing board and 4 weeks of solid work until REV3 Quassy!
Congrats to Kelly on a great win and for making Indiana proud, and to all the competitors out there. It was a real barn-burner of a race and thrilling to be a part of it! Well done to my teammates Jessica Meyers and Richie Cunningham for both cracking into the top-10, and to the entire REV3 Racing Team for representing on the day. Congrats also go to Kellie and Trish for their performances, and a standing ovation to Todd who suffered a concussion the day before and could not race, but was out there cheering and directing bike traffic nonetheless. Thanks go to: REV3 for their supreme organization, friendly staff and support; Pearl Izumi for the awesome shoes and kit; Powerbar for giving me the power to push; Blueseventy for the wicked fast wetsuit; Fezzari for the equally wickedly fast bike; Matt at The Bike Shoppe for fitting me on that wickedly fast bike and keeping it running right; Recovery Pump for being my main squeeze; and to Rudy Project for keeping my noggin and eyeballs protected. I am so fortunate to be able to "play" for a living, and it would not be possible without your support!