They say that all good things must end someday, and the 2014 edition of REV3 Knoxville certainly marks the end of an era in professional triathlon racing. A few weeks ago REV3 announced that they would no longer be hosting professional fields at their races, making the 2013-14 Series Championship race in Knoxville the final REV3 pro race. I understand the decision, and I know that Charlie Patten and his crew at REV3 must have hated making it, but that doesn't make it any easier for anybody to swallow. It's a huge loss of potential income for professional triathletes, particularly the second-and-third tier pros trying hard to make something of a living in the sport...but for me personally the loss extends beyond the monetary aspect. When I first hopped on the REV3 bandwagon in 2011 they offered an alternative vision that reignited my competitive fire at a point when I was foundering in the sport, and REV3 essentially helped to rebuild my confidence and resurrect my career through the racing and media opportunities they provided. It sounds cheesy but over the past few seasons the staff has become something of an extended "triathlon family" to me. They have worked very hard to provide a race experience where the age-groupers feel like pros and the pros feel like rock stars; it's a wonderful feeling to go to a well-organized, professionally run event where most of the staff know you by name and they always greet you with a smile and a hug. I will really miss that. I sincerely hope that through their current restructuring efforts REV3 is able to build an even stronger brand that continues to be a major player in the sport of triathlon, and that someday they are able to bring back an even bigger and better pro series which offers the same sort of opportunities they provided to athletes like me over the years.
Now onto the race experience! It's been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for me this off-season and I entered the event with somewhat shaky confidence in my fitness. I love Knoxville though, and the rolling hills and technical descents on the bike course really suit me so I was looking forward to getting out and testing my legs. I was also looking forward to reuniting with my Knoxville homestay family: Bradley and Kellie Toon, their boys Kaleb and Evan, and the Toon's friend Trish from North Carolina. Usually Kellie and Trish would be racing too but this year they've both had other things going on so they planned to spend the entire weekend being my super sherpas instead. I couldn't ask for a better support crew!
Race morning dawned overcast and cool, but not cold and rainy as some had predicted. The water temperature had dropped a surprising three degrees overnight to sixty-eight, which made it just barely wetsuit legal for the pros. Luckily I came prepared with both my blueseventy swimskin and Helix wetsuit just in case. I opted for the sleeveless wetsuit because I tend to run hot in the water, a decision that Trish and the Toons were thankful for because it made me easy for them to spot during the swim leg.
The pro men started at 6:50am with the ladies following three minutes later. I knew there were some STRONG swimmers in the field and my goal was to catch their feet at the start and hang on for dear life. This strategy worked for about the first 2-300 meters before I got left in their wake. From there on out it was a lonely swim with nobody else around. I exited the water about 2.5 minutes down from super-swimmer Haley Chura and about a minute back of the pack of main contenders. This is an improvement compared to my abysmal swims from last year but there's obviously still work to do!
T1 was a little rusty with a slight hair-snag problem when putting on my brand-spanking new black Rudy Project Wingspan helmet, but once I hit the mount line things went smoothly. I LOVE this bike ride and felt surprisingly strong despite a relative lack of bike training so far this year. I spotted Bec Wassner up the road early in the ride and set my sights on catching her. About the time I rode up to her Mandy McLane zoomed past me, so I had a new target to stick with. At some point we passed Haley Chura and also saw Jen Spieldenner on the side of the road wrestling with a flat. Bec and I spent some time trading back and forth on the hills---due to our relative sizes gravity was on her side going uphill then became my friend coming down. At the out-and-back section I was pleasantly surprised to see that we were only 45 seconds back of the leaders, and that motivated me to ride harder. I also had in mind making a move to try to get away from Bec and Mandy on the last major climb because I knew there was a technical descent coming down the backside and I wanted a clear road in front of me for that part. I was pleased to successfully execute the move and to not only create a gap over the last 10 miles of the course, but to also catch the next rider up the road, Anna Cleaver, as we rolled up to the dismount line. I learned after the fact that I had actually posted the fastest bike split of the day for the ladies---a bit of a puzzle considering my lack of bike training but I'll take it!
T2 also proved to be a little rusty (note to self: practice transitions) as I struggled with getting one of my shoes on, but once I finally completed that maneuver I was off and running ahead of Anna in 4th place. My mantra during the run was to "keep your hips open, keep the tempo up". I felt pretty strong (not to mention super comfortable in my awesome Coeur Sports race kit!) and was holding a good pace, but Anna and Mandy were running a wee bit faster and both overtook me by mile 2. I worked to keep them in my sights and maintain my pace. Bec came by about mile 3 then disappeared as we began to hit the hills. I did okay keeping things together on the climbs, but I had to change my normal stride slightly because I was wearing a new pair of shoes and had embarrassingly failed to tighten the elastic laces enough and it felt like they might slip off my heels if I pushed off too hard going up the inclines. DOH! What do they say about never trying anything new on race day...?!
Coming up to the turnaround I was able to get a good look at where the other ladies were---if I worked hard and someone struggled in the second half I MIGHT be able to move back up a place or two. What really surprised me was how far back the rest of the field was; the bike ride must have really tested the legs of some of the girls and barring a complete blow-up on my part it didn't look like anyone had a real chance of catching up. Woohoo! It was a nice spot to be, but I tried to avoid becoming complacent and focused on keeping my pace up and getting the best out of myself. My watch told me I slowed down some in the last mile and a half, but I was able to still maintain a decent pace through the finish line. It was really great to be greeted with high-fives from my super-sherpas in the finishing chute and to hear the familiar voice of announcer Sean English calling me in across the line. I landed in 7th place on the day---still plenty of work to do but a solid showing that indicates things are moving in the right direction. The best part is that I had FUN! That's something that I lost a little last year so it was nice to be back racing in a happier place. I also managed to sneak into the top 5 in the overall series which meant it was a double payday. Bonus!
I have so many things to be thankful for, and people to thank who have helped me along the way. Thanks first to Charlie, Eric, Ashley, Alex, and all the other current and past staff at REV3 who not only provided the opportunity to race in top-notch events across the country, but have also been so friendly to me over the years and each contributed to the joy that I find within the sport. Thanks to the Toons and Trish for their hospitality and support this past weekend, and on other weekends in other years at this race and in South Carolina. Thanks to my friends, family, clients and co-workers for the cheers and belief from near and afar. Thanks to Albert for supporting me in my career for the past 9 years, and for holding down the fort on numerous occasions while I'm away racing. Thanks finally to my sponsors and supporters for helping me get to the starting line and performing my best on the day: Red Rock Brewing Company, Powerbar, Coeur Sports, Rudy Project, BlueSeventy, Maxxis, Powertap, The Bike Shoppe, Fezzari Bicycles, and ISM Saddles.
I'll leave you with a couple of bonus shots from the weekend....this is what it's all about!