Sarah's Rev3 Knoxville Race Recap

Two years ago, the farthest I’d traveled for a triathlon was Columbia for IronGirl. The thought of dedicating a long weekend to a race--and dealing with all of the logistics of arranging for childcare (or leaving Mark home alone with the kids), booking a hotel, packing all of the gear, flying or driving--was overwhelming. I was a hobbyist triathlete, and anything more than a couple of hours in the car on race morning would have been an inconvenience.

 

Then, last summer, I became enchanted by the sport and soon found myself flying to Milwaukee to race USAT nationals, then later committing to compete in Cozumel for ITU Worlds this September. And, upon being selected for Team Rev3 in December, I expanded my travel plans to Knoxville, Williamsburg, Maine, on top of Omaha for this year’s national champs. All of a sudden, my summer became a lot more interesting.

 

First up? Knoxville. A hop-skip-and-jump….err, eight hours in the car...from DC. When my teammate Ed offered me a ride a few months ago, I said yes without hesitation (a zillion thanks, ED!) Road trip! Ed had a packed car with me, Jen, and Eric, who had flown in from Boston. After a quick delay to jump Ed’s car at 5am, we rolled out of Arlington en route to Rocky Top. Between Snapchatting, sharing hilarious stories (or, in my case, just listening to them...I need to get out more!), and snacking on Life cereal (good call, Jen!) the hours flew by. Before I knew it, the World’s Fair Park Sunsphere was within view, and we had arrived.

 

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{SQUAD.}

 

Cue the nervous butterflies. Reality suddenly snapped me in the face: I was here to compete, not to just hang out with these new friends and eat good food. A trip to the race expo to pick up my packet and glimpsing the finisher shoot further piqued my nerves.  All I heard over and over was how hilly and technical the bike course was. Eeek. Who was I to even attempt this? With all of the rain and cold weather, I’ve ridden outside about five times, including the two sprints I did in the weeks prior. If I could stay upright on my bike, it would be a miracle.

 

I buried my doubts by cheering finishers on at the Glow Run on Friday night, and by Saturday morning, I woke up with more excitement than ever to race. The practice swim in the 68-degree Tennessee river gave me complete confidence that I had some decent speed in me (and that I could actually get my wetsuit off, a huge barrier at the Kinetic Sprint), and a quick and stress-free ride and run before we racked our bikes kept my mind in a positive place.

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 {Jen and I perfecting our finishing pose at the Glow Run on Friday Night}

After some encouraging texts from my family, a long chat with my sister Laurel (who had raced and done well at Rev3 Knoxville several times), and gleaning some awesome “been there, done that” insight from my teammates, including my hotel roomie Carmel (who ROCKED the race at 20-weeks pregnant! My hero!), I was psyched. Except for the sore throat that had set in on Saturday, every inch of me was buzzing to get out and race.

5:45 Sunday morning the alarm chimed and we were up and ‘em with race tats applied. I was completely calm until those final seconds before I exited transition, when I snapped a pic of me looking scared to death with a text, “Ready or Not! Barf!” to Mark. (I didn’t barf, btw.)

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{RACKED AND READY}

The Swim

The plan? Go out hard and try to hang with the leaders. With the aquabikers in our wave,  I knew I’d have some quick swimmers, including my Rev3 teammate Tim G, to hang on to if I was feeling good. The reality? I went out hard, then redlined, got a bit disoriented/blinded by the beaming sun, and took a few minutes to find a good groove. By that time, the leaders from my wave were several body lengths ahead. About halfway through, another pink capper swam by me and I was determined to stay on her feet.  I wound up losing her when we swam into some of the folks from the wave prior, but I kept her in my sight and I don’t think I ended up losing too much time to her in the end. I picked up the pace as I glimpsed the final buoy and sprinted (at least it felt like a sprint!) to the dock. Overall, it was one of my fastest swims in the Olympic distance (22:27), and third (non-pro) female overall for the day.

 

From the dock, we ran up a ramp, through the boathouse, and across the highway to transition. I used this time to make up for any seconds lost in the swim and passed the pink-capper (who I later figured out was fellow 35-39’er Brooke Flesner) on my jog in. My wetsuit FLEW off thanks to the copious amounts of TriSlide I applied before the race, and I had no issues elsewhere. I hopped on my bike, gave myself a quick pep talk, and was on my way.

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 {En route to the fastest transition of the Oly ladies!}

The Bike

The bike...always a nailbiter for me. I was mentally prepared for hills from the start, so didn’t let it phase me when we were greeted with a nice climb within the first mile of the race. As usual, I was riding scared, knowing that there were undoubtedly some fast cyclists behind me. Sure enough, within the first 7 miles, Brooke passed me. Again, I tried to hang on to her like I did in the swim, but a few downhills later and she was out of sight. No worries. This was my race, and it was far from over. Without any metrics on my heart rate, cadence or power (maybe it’s time I invested in a bike computer?!),  I made it my goal to match the pace of whomever I could spot in front of me, and to pass as many people as I could on each climb. I didn’t feel stellar, but even when we hit the biggest climb and I felt as though I was riding backwards, I just focused on staying strong, hydrating, and fueling.

 

Leading into the course’s turnaround, I spotted the first woman absolutely flying by in the other direction--at least six minutes ahead of me at that point.  My heart sank a bit as clearly an overall win was out of my reach (although I tried to convince myself she was a pro who happened to be way behind the leaders, since they started a half-hour before us). Then again, I had zero expectations to win, so I put it out of my head and concentrated on staying ahead of the many women behind me. I still had plenty of road left to cover!

 

With my head down and my breathing controlled, I continued on the course, finding myself alone for the last six miles or so. This was probably a blessing in disguise, as some riders more clustered in front of me wound up following each other off course due to confusing markers on the road. As I rode into transition, I had no clue of my position, but figured I had some ground to make up to get into second. Another quick transition later (seriously the opposite of my performances in my first two sprints!), and I was off and running. Split: 1:15:09 (3rd OA)

 

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{Despite the hills, the bike course was gorgeous!}

The Run

My legs felt decent in the first mile or so, but I could sense my body fatiguing in the heat almost right away. Seeing the men’s leaders and the pro women returning from the out-and-back absolutely PANTING on the uphill stretch in the 5th mile didn’t help my confidence, either. I couldn’t shake the dread of knowing that hills (even if they weren’t really that huge) awaited me...I’ve been spoiled with flat and downhill courses lately! With Laurel’s advice rolling around in my brain, I took water and gatorade at every stop, and tried to stay as calm as possible. I’ve had super bad luck in the warm weather and didn’t want a repeat of last year’s New York City (heat exhaustion) or Jamestown (awful quad cramping), so I slowed my pace a bit. As I dipped down into the shaded path that covered miles 2-4.5-ish, I took a gel and got a much-needed energy burst that buoyed me for a few more miles. I was in the chase to catch the ladies in front of me and things were looking up!

 

Around then, I spotted eventual winner Alicia Doehla tearing it up, headed in the opposite direction en route to a 35:39 10K split. She was about three miles ahead of me, and there was no way I was going to catch her.  I did the math and figured Brooke would be heading my way in a few more minutes. But when I reached the turnaround, there were no more women ahead of me. I was in second place! But where was Brooke? Did I miss her? I pushed the pace for a few more minutes until I saw her heading my way, a good five minutes behind me. The next woman was significantly farther back behind her. Knowing that I had second placed locked up, I lost some mental steam. I wound up easing up on the pace again and told myself to finish strong, and enjoy the rest of the run.

 

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{An attempt to smile in the final uphill.  Fake it til you make it!}

Did I enjoy it? Meh. The last stretch--mostly uphill--was rather brutal and I quickly realized what I need to work on before my next race (running in the heat and uphill, namely!). Without wearing a watch, I don’t know how far off pace I fell, but it they weren’t my most impressive final miles. I smiled and gave high fives to my teammates Zach and Josh, cheered on some other teammates, and tried to be engaged in the finishing stretch, though my legs had zero zip. But hey, I got it done! And finished SECOND overall, way beyond any pre-race expectations!

Run Split: 42:58 (3rd OA)

 

As it turns out, Brooke was one of the many riders who went off course and lost a few minutes getting back on track, which is how I ended up passing her and coming off the bike in second place. When she told me this, I was really bummed out, because I like a fair-and-square race, and I’d much prefer to run someone down (or at least attempt to) than to float around in no man’s land. She was a champ about it, so I give her tons of credit for being upbeat despite dealing with something so aggravating and just plain unlucky.

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2016 Rev3 Knoxville Olympic Overall Podium

All in all, I’m thrilled with the season opener! Are there many areas I can improve upon? For sure. Do I need to work harder than ever from here? Absolutely. But my goal for the weekend was to make the trip (and the time away from the family) worthwhile--and it totally was! Not just from a performance perspective, either: I feel so lucky to have been welcomed by the amazing Rev3 family with open arms. Witnessing all of the passion and dedication each team member, staff member, and volunteer pours into these events was so special. Getting to participate in my first “final finisher”--a crazy, emotional dance party to welcome the last-place competitor in the half race into the finish line--was like nothing other that I’ve experienced in triathlon. Hours after I crossed the finish line, after my little race was long forgotten, here was the true winner of the day: A woman with Type 1 diabetes who had to inject herself with insulin throughout her 8-hour race, who has struggled with her disease but culls together the strength and courage on a daily basis to train for triathlons. She’s far more deserving of a spot on the podium than I am.

Thanks to everyone on Team Rev3 for the good times and all of the many, many laughs. Until next time...in Williamsburg! 

 -Sarah 

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Some of my fabulous new teammates at our pre-race dinner at Mellow Mushroom.