For the past several years, Shannon and I have made Challenge Knoxville (formerly Rev3 Knoxville) a staple in our yearly schedule. The appeal comes from not only this being an early season race, but primarily the close proximity to Lexington combined with the ability to drop our kids off at Grandma’s farm for 24 hours (enroute to Knoxville) while we get a weekend away plus a race – Its a hard one to turn down. In addition, the organizers who put this race on are top notch – which makes the race even that much more worth it. Interestingly enough, something that always seems to coincide with this race in Knoxville is the rather poor weather conditions. I cannot honestly remember a year when we’ve gone where the weather was great. This year was no different. We have had beautiful weekends every weekend this month – except the last one when we were in Knoxville for the race.
Shannon and I are sort of habit-forming. For five years now, every trip to Knoxville includes a carbo-loading dinner at this awesome pizzeria called Hard Knox Pizza. We weren’t in Knoxville for an hour before we made our way there. After consuming our weight in pizza, we checked in for the race, racked our bikes, and headed to the hotel. Here is the sad part about our “night-away-from-the-kids:” we seriously just picked up dinner and went to bed – out cold by 7pm. That’s how tired we were. No movie, no fancy dinner (we ate Noodles & Co), just sleep. That’s kind of embarrassing, but I guess that’s called having a job and kids.
Race morning arrived, and we were both up at 4:30. Our hotel was about 2 blocks from transition, so we walked over and finished setting-up our bikes. Normally this is a pretty uneventful thing for us. Within 5 minutes of arriving at transition, I did something I’ve never done before though. In the process of pumping up my tires, I managed to completely unscrew my valve stem to the rear wheel, meaning all of the air deflated out of my tire, and there was no way of putting air back in. I have special racing wheels by the way, which are made of carbon and have really long valve stems that are screwed into the inner tubes. I kind of panicked, took my wheel off the bike and tried to blindly rescrew on the valve stem. I muttered to Shannon that I wasn’t going to be racing today and showed her what I had done. This was followed by about 5 minutes of cursing and throwing a few things all the while trying to not make myself stand out too much. Then after trying repeatedly, I was able to get the valve stem back on, the tire pumped up, and I was ready to go like nothing every happened. Shannon just laughed when I told her it was fixed.
Once we were setup, Shannon and I walked down to the start line which is about 3/4 of a mile upstream from the transition area. As we were walking, it began to lightly sprinkle. Nothing big though. As the male under 39 wave of swimmers entered the water, I found my way to the front of the pack and settled in, waiting for the gun to go off. The swim started, I felt good for about 200 meters, and then just felt gassed.
I sort of struggled through the entire swim to the point where I kept telling myself I should have done the shorter Olympic distance race. Still, my time wasn’t that bad when I reached the swim finish. Just over 28 minutes. Not my best, but far from my worst. I was still pretty far up in the field so that was just fine. You never really notice rain when your swimming amongst other athletes, but as I exited the water, much to my surprise there was a torrential downpour. Definitely not ideal when your getting ready to bike 56 miles. I was able to pass a few people as we ran from the river to the bikes and then we were off.
I guess the first sign that my day was not going to go too well was the valve stem mishap. The second sign was definitely when I dropped my glasses about 200 meters into the bike. Normally, you might think to just keep going. Well, they fell right in front of an official, so I stopped, turned around, and picked them up. Once I got started going again, I heard this rubbing sound every time I pushed down with my left foot. I tried to figure out what it was, but it took about 5 miles before I was able to identify it. As I started climbing one of the larger hills, I looked down only to see my rear brake pad hitting the rim every time the wheel flexed. Despite my attempts, that damn thing rubbed the entire bike segment. I stopped 5 separate times trying to pull the pads apart, but I needed a 3mm allen wrench which of course I was not carrying. Not that the brake pad issue wasn’t weighing heavily on my self esteem, when we hit the 10 mile mark, another athlete laid his bike down right in front of me. I swerved & fish-tailed and somehow managed to not collide with him. It was at that exact moment that all I could think about is “I’ve got to work tomorrow, I’ve got implants scheduled, I’ve got to pick up my kids in a few hours.” Ten years ago I probably would have attacked the hills and turns and risked getting hurt – sorry, not anymore – I’ve got too much responsibility. That may be a cop-out, but I decided to just focus on pushing consistent power and maintaining my effort. The funny thing is, despite the brake pad issue and the weather, I pushed an average of 270 watts for the entire bike. That’s over 15 watts higher than I’ve ever pushed before in a half, yet my time was nearly 20 minutes slower than where I usually bike. Go figure. I managed to get through the bike un-injured and started the run with intentions of trying to get back into the race.
The run in Knoxville is nice and flat if you’re only running the 10k – the half marathon is the same course, until you pass the 10k turn-around, and then it turns into quite a beast of up and down hills. As I started the run, I hammered through the first mile pretty hard – 5:58. I was just focusing on keeping my heart rate in the 150s and taking in nutrition. I was able to get through the first several miles averaging about a 6 flat place. It was pretty neat as I hit the 4 mile mark and I was able to see the pro’s heading back in the opposite direction. I saw my friends Tony and Kevin who were both in the top ten – I cheered for them as I continued out. Once I reached the more technical section of the course, my pace per mile started to slow, but I was still hitting sub 6:30 pace. Once we made it to the turn-around, I had probably picked off about 20 people. That’s when the tanks started to run empty. My posture was beginning to slouch and I had a lot of excessive upper body movement when trying to climb hills. I only surrendered one position in the second half as my pace slowed to about a 6:45 mile average. Still, I held my own through the finish line completing the half marathon in 1:24, and I also managed to salvage my day by finishing 5th in the age group. The overall time was not stellar, but I’m still happy with it.
Challenge races are also special for how they embrace family and encourage participation. Other races will threaten a DQ if a family member runs across the finish line with you – not at a Challenge Race. Funny enough, I’ve been racing with Shannon for over 10 years now, and this was actually the first triathlon where we crossed the finish line together – she did the Olympic hence she had the time to race, shower, change, hang out, and wait for me to come through.
Now, I will be focusing on my own event, Survive the Night next month, and then I’ll have to hit the calendar and figure out what races are coming up next as I prepare for IM Louisville in October…
And of course, I need to thank Kiwami Triathlon USA for the awesome uniform, SWORD for keeping me hydrated during the bike, Base Electrolyte salt for keeping me from cramping on the run, and Blue bicycles for that fast speed machine under my legs.