Race Report: Rev3 Knoxville Half

Taryn and I headed down to Knoxville on Friday for our first half of the season. I hadn’t done this race before but heard great things about it from Alyssa and others and was super excited for the race.

Taryn and I stayed at the Four Points Sheraton directly across the street from the race expo, which was an awesome choice. I would definitely recommend staying at the Sheraton if you decide to do this race (and you should!).

Most of Friday was taken up with the drive, so we didn’t pick up packets until Saturday. After we got those, we hit the practice swim, which is always really critical for me, with swimming being my weakest of the three disciplines. Luckily, the practice swim went great. Everyone was super friendly, the swim was very low key, the water temp (68 point something) was perfect – I couldn’t have asked for a better start to race weekend. We also did a short ride and run, checked our bikes in at transition, attended the athlete briefing, and then went to bed early. The day before a race always goes by faster than I want it to!

With everything going so smoothly on Saturday, I woke up feeling positive and excited on race morning. I got up at 4:00 and we left the hotel around 5:15, which is when transition opened. No race number tattoo or directional snafus this time. We were able to walk to transition and get there by 5:30, which was great, and we had until 6:30 to get set up.

We thought an hour in transition would give us more than enough time to get ready, even if something went wrong. Sure enough, I had to visit the mechanics, as I couldn’t get a reading on the pressure in my rear tire (this is a recurring problem, as I need a valve extender on my rear tube and it’s constantly causing me problems). In any case, they were super friendly and helped me out quickly and efficiently. Huge thanks to those gentlemen for helping me out!

I also spoke to the race officials in transition (I had a random question about where I could put my bag because it was too large to fit neatly by my bike) and they were super friendly. The head official was from Atlanta and we chatted a bit. I loved the low-key, friendly atmosphere at this race from start-to-finish. It really makes such a difference in terms of keeping the athletes calm. The Race Director told us in the athlete briefing on Saturday that our racing experience was their top priority and it really showed throughout the weekend.

As I was finishing getting set up in transition, I happened to look down at my ankle. No chip. I stayed calm, and walked over to Taryn to tell her what was happening. She immediately stopped what she was doing and went to talk to a volunteer about getting me a new chip, as I retraced my steps trying to figure out where mine could have gone. Ultimately, I found it (it had slipped off when I took my pants off), but it was definitely a scare.

We finished getting organized in transition and started the walk toward the race start right around 6:30, with our wave scheduled to start at 7:00 a.m. It’s about a half mile walk from transition to the swim start, but it wasn’t bad at all. And, as a bonus, we were treated with a gorgeous sunrise. 

Soon enough the race was starting and the two waves in front of us had gone off. It was our turn and we walked down to the dock. It’s an in water start, and they give you about five minutes to warm-up in the water before the start. We jumped into the water and I felt good warming up. I was ready to go!

Swim: 45:25 (10/14 AG, 29/47 women)

Oh, the swim. My day did not get off to the start I had hoped for.

In terms of the race itself (as opposed to my personal performance) I actually really liked this swim. Our wave was quite tiny and we were able to spread out a lot at the start. It was a simple out and back course (with the back section slightly longer than out, since the swim start and finish were at two different points along the river) and the water temperature of 67 degrees was really perfect for a long-sleeved wetsuit. The sun made sighting for the first half quite difficult, but, generally, I liked this swim more than most. It should have been a great swim day for me.

It was not.

The problem came when my cap started creeping upward around the turnaround. If you know me at all, you know I am a rule follower. Always have been, always will be. The minute my cap started to slip, I was panicked about getting a penalty. At the athlete briefing the day before the race, they had emphasized littering as something they would be looking for during the race. Surely coming out of the water sans cap would be a penalty, right? I wasn’t sure. But I thought it was a possibility. I knew I couldn’t swim holding my cap in my hand. Especially since I wasn’t even half way through the swim. I had to figure something out and I had to do it fast.

I tried stopping several times to pull it down. This wasn’t working because my head was wet and the cap would just slide right back up. The only result was that I was messing up my goggles. It was one of those situations where time (and quite literally other racers) seem to be passing you by at warp speed, but you can only seem to work in slow motion. After several attempts, I knew this approach wasn’t going to work. I finally swam over to a kayak and asked the kayaker if I could hold on and try to fix my cap. I took my goggles off completely, took the cap off completely, and started from scratch. I finally got my cap back on my head, got my goggles back on, and started swimming again, but it felt like an eternity had passed while all of this was going on.

I did finally finish and get out of the water (volunteers pull you up on to the dock and then there is a bit of a run to get back into transition), but I was definitely shaken up.

Looking at photos afterward, it was very obvious my cap wasn’t on properly before the race even started.

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Photo from the Rev3 Facebook page.

Lesson learned to make sure I really pull my cap down completely before future races.

Bike: 3:15:33 (7/14 AG, 12/47 women)

I’ve done a lot of riding this month, including the Tour de Skyline, which entailed riding over 200 miles in 2 days with a ton of climbing. I thought I was set up for a super strong bike.

However, with the less than ideal swim behind me, I spent the entire start of the bike just trying to calm down and stop being mad at myself about my damn cap!

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Photo from the Rev3 Facebook page.

The course starts in the city and then heads out to the country. In the more rural sections, there were some spectacular views. It actually reminded me quite a bit of riding in Loudoun County. Hilly, but very scenic and green.

I would classify the bike course at Knoxville as a challenging course. Before the race, I had read in a race report that this is “not a PR course” and I think that’s definitely true. There is a lot of climbing and for some reason, I felt like I couldn’t really take advantage of the downhills as much as I normally would, which usually helps make up for the climbing on a hilly course.

There was a course marking snafu (not Rev3’s fault), but that didn’t impact my race. I thought the course was very well-marked with color-coded arrows and signs throughout. There were also a few special “caution” signs along the course and those were helpful. I really only found one turn to be especially tricky.

There were two turnarounds on the bike course and I was able to see Taryn twice along the course, which was nice.

My overall bike speed was slow – in the low 17s – which is slower than where I wanted to be. Even though I stayed on top of my nutrition throughout the ride, I definitely felt like I wasn’t able to go as fast as I had expected.

I finally got back to transition at 3:15, which was honestly pretty disappointing. I dismounted, ran back in to transition, and got ready for the run as quickly as I could.

Run: 2:18:19 (9/14 AG, 22/47 women) 

So, my PR for a 70.3 run is a 2:02, which I ran at Challenge Atlantic City last year. After my solid run at Monticelloman (a 54:14 on a challenging run course) earlier this month, I thought I would be in the same 2:00 ballpark here, but obviously, I thought wrong.

I didn’t start out strong and die in the heat or get injured or anything like that. I was just running slow from the get-go. I tried taking in extra calories along the run course, thinking that may give me a boost, but instead, all it gave me was GI distress.

At each of the aid stations (spaced about one mile apart along the run course), I took a gel or Coke or Gatorade. I tried ice in my bra. I tried ice in my hat. I really wanted to “fix” whatever my problem was, but nothing was working. I’m honestly not sure what I could have done differently to remedy the situation. I was just slow. 

The only thing that really hurt on the run was my feet. I am using a different brand of elastic laces this season and they are not as adjustable as the ones I used last year. My feet must have been swollen because my shoes were painfully tight (I wore the same shoes in Monticelloman without any issue). Although this wasn’t ideal, I don’t really think it impacted my race. It was an annoyance, but, again, I don’t think there was any clear cause to my bad run – it was just one of those off days.

Toward the very end of the run, two of the Rev 3 Team athletes ran up from behind me and were trying to encourage me along (thanks, guys!), but I really didn’t have anything extra to give. They ran past me and I just kept trying to put one foot in front of the other until I crossed the finish.

This ended up being my slowest 70.3 run EVER (yes, even slower than Syracuse, which is a much tougher run course) at 2:18:19. It was definitely NOT the run I had expected to have at this race.

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My final finish time was 6:25:52 (it hurts just to type that), which landed me in 8th place in my age group (18 out of 47 women).

In happier news, Taryn was waiting at the finish for me. She had a fantastic race and WON her age group! This was her second podium this month!

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We ended the day on our balcony, over-looking the expo, sipping sparkling wine to celebrate Taryn’s awesome day. It was the perfect way to end the day.

Despite my performance, Rev3 Knoxville was a great race. The volunteers, Rev3 staff, and Rev3 Team athletes were all fabulous. I loved the course. Rev3 puts on a fantastic, well-organized race. I loved this race and definitely plan to go back someday.

While my race was disappointing, I am trying to convince myself that I will come back stronger and smarter from this experience. Everyone has bad races – even the pros – and the only thing I can do about it now is to have a positive attitude and move forward.

As always, I want to thank my awesome husband for his support; Alyssa, who even called me after the race from somewhere on her journey home from Lanzarote to give me a post-race pep talk; Bobo’s Oat Bars; and all of Ignite’s fabulous sponsors.

Next up for me is the Tupper Lake Tinman half on June 25.

Rev3 Poconos Race Report

Last Sunday, September 14, I raced Rev3 Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. Since this is going to be the longest blog post of all time, I will cut right to the chase for the skimmers. The race was good. I PRd by about 37:00 minutes, although this was a much easier course than Syracuse. My splits, as compared with Syracuse, are below:

Swim: 46:52 (Syracuse: 46:56)

Bike: 3:05:01 (3:33:49)

Run: 2:09:55 (2:18:18)

Total time: 6:10.44 (6:47:06)

Now, on to the details. This was my second 70.3 of this summer and also my second 70.3 ever. I completed Ironman Syracuse 70.3 in June and had a solid race there, but I worked hard over the summer, particularly on my cycling, and had slightly higher expectations for Poconos.

Leading up the race, I think both my coach and I thought I could have a good race. But, that being said, I have had a lot of bad races (see, e.g., my last three marathons), and that is always looming. You never know when something – or many things – can go wrong, despite your best training, planning, and preparation.

On the Thursday before the race, I headed up to New York to visit my family, since they live only about 90 minutes from the race venue. I’ve done several New York races over the years, incorporating them into family visits, and it has always worked out well. Thursday, of course, was September 11 and I was able to attend a small gathering at the local firehouse with my brother, who is an FDNY fireman. If anything puts racing goals in perspective, it’s this.

On Friday, I went to lunch with my brother and parents and spent time with my niece and nephew. It was a great couple of days. On Saturday, I did a short a.m. shake out run at my parents’ house (I joined my dad and his walking buddies at the high school track. They walk 2 miles on the track every day!) and then headed to the Poconos to meet up with my TeamHPB teammate, Leslie.

Leslie is a very experienced racer and it was awesome meeting up with her the day before the race. She had an exact plan of what we would do when and spending the day with her – and busy completing various tasks – helped me stay more calm than I would have on my own. Plus, she is very funny and we had a great time chatting. It was actually freezing cold and raining and basically miserable, so the company really helped. We picked up our packets, we swam, we rode, and we checked our bikes. We checked into our hotel rooms and had dinner with some of Leslie’s friends. After dinner, I laid out all of my stuff and was in bed by 8:30 p.m.

My alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning and I will spare you all of the details, but suffice it to say I had a rough morning, including, but not limited to, getting very lost driving to the race site. I was so lost I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to race at all. I did eventually get to T2 and met Leslie there. We set up our run stuff and then boarded buses to get to T1.

It was cold and windy at T1. I think the temperature was in the high 40s. For once, I was actually looking forward to getting into the water, because the water, at around 70 degrees, was actually warmer than the air.

Swim: If you have read any of my previous race blogs, you know how my swim went, so I will spare you the details. It was a slight variation on the classic “Stephanie freaks out swim start,” as I actually started swimming okay and then stopped to freak out, as opposed to being frozen from the gun. I finally did get moving and actually felt pretty good in the water once I did. So, I will take that as a positive improvement.

I had a very slow transition – around 6 minutes. My hands and feet were numb when I got out of the water and there were no wetsuit strippers at this race. Getting the wetsuit off was a struggle, and then I wanted to take some extra time to try to get as dry as possible before getting on my bike because of the cold.

Bike: I actually don’t have a ton to say about the bike. I will say that the roads were not closed to traffic for a large portion of the bike course and this made passing very dangerous. At the beginning of the bike, where things are always more congested (here, the Olympic distance race and half shared the course for the first 12 miles), this was a bit frustrating. Between the cars and not wanting to draft (I am paranoid about ever getting a drafting penalty – it’s the goody two shoes in me shining through), I felt a bit paralyzed at times. Once things opened up, I enjoyed the course. It was mostly flat, although there were some challenging hills at the end, and very scenic.

I had moments of feeling great and only a few small slumps where I felt tired. During one of those, someone rode by me wearing an FDNY kit and then gave me a mental boost.

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I had one mechanical problem right at the end of the ride. With only a few miles to go, I dropped my chain and it got stuck between the big and small rings. I spent more time than I would have liked fixing it and it happened while I was riding a hilly section of the course, which meant losing all of my momentum. It was a stupid mistake on my part, but live and learn.

With all of the longer rides I have done since Syracuse, I actually felt fairly comfortable for almost the entire bike leg. Only at the very end of the ride did my back start to bother me. I was happy to get off the bike at 56 miles, but I still felt relatively good, considering. My goal pace was around 16 mph, so I was quite happy that I was right around 18 mph for the ride.

I felt like I was moving quite slowly in transition, but physically, I felt good. I was excited to get out on the run.

Run: I started the run a little on the slow side, but I know from training that I can speed up a lot during the course of a run as my legs loosen up, so I wasn’t particularly concerned. The first part of the run was on pavement, with several rolling hills. I saw Leslie and, of course, she was already coming back about to finish her race! I cheered for her as she went by.

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I turned off the pavement somewhere around mile 4 and onto a gravel trail. I was concerned about this, since I don’t have a lot of experience running on trails and while I understand this is a better surface for my knees, the gravel actually hurt my feet. The good news was that this section was shaded and mostly flat. It was a little tough seeing everyone already coming back, but I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other.

As I neared the turnaround, the trail was getting more lonely. I struggled a bit, especially after the turnaround. I thought of anything I could to keep myself moving.

I also made sure I was keeping on top of my nutrition. I did not wear a hydration belt for the run, as aid stations were planned for every 1-2 miles. I must say that they felt farther apart than that, but maybe not. I made sure to get water at each stop, to drink it carefully to make sure I really got a good amount into my system (as opposed to spilling it), and to time my gels accordingly.

Soon enough I was back on the pavement and headed up a large hill, thanking goodness for the dreaded hill repeats workout Alyssa gives me from time-to-time. From that workout, I knew I would do fine getting to the top of the hill. Then, the rollers re-appeared and my legs were really starting to ache. My quads and hamstrings were not happy. I had realized on the trail that I was hovering right around 10:00 min/mile pace (I didn’t have my pace displayed on my Garmin because I’ve done better just focusing on time on long runs). After I realized this, my goal was just to stay as close as I could to 10:00 min/mile pace, which is also right around my old stand alone half marathon PR of 2:11. As I would go up the hill, I would go over 10:00 – 10:01, 10:02 – as I would go down the hill, I would go back under – 10:00, 9:59. I tried to think about having quick feet.

I ended up finishing the run in what would have been a stand alone half marathon PR time for me as recently as the beginning of March. Despite that, I actually wasn’t totally sure how I felt about the race when I crossed the finish line, since it was unquestionably an easier course than Syracuse. But, I immediately got positive feedback from Leslie about my bike split and I had a zillion texts from my husband waiting on my cell phone saying how proud he was and how he couldn’t believe my times. Something about that positive feedback made me think my day was actually pretty good, even with the easier course.

So, all in all, a good day at Rev3 Poconos. I was able to show myself that I have improved as an athlete over the course of the season and that all of my hard work is paying off. I am very happy to end my tri season on a positive note. Now, I’m turning my focus to the Richmond Marathon, which will take place on November 15.

Of course, I need to thank Alyssa, MooMotion, and my husband for all of their support not only for this race, but also for this entire tri season. It’s been a great year, but next year will be even better!