Going into my first race of the season I had high, but also unsure, expectations. I knew I had really good run fitness, and I knew I had been putting in good work in the pool and on the trainer. But the one thing I had not done since Ironman Wisconsin, September 2014, was ride my tri bike outside. I had 3 rides outdoors but all on my road bike because it is easier/safer to ride my road bike from my apartment in Chicago and I don’t really like driving to ride my bike since it takes more time. So that was the only unknown. Race week I came down with a cold but wasn’t really sure if it would do anything since it was a sore throat and cough and not in my lungs. Friday came along and it was time to make the 8.5 hour drive down to Knoxville! I had some good music and podcasts to keep me company since I was making this trip solo, with my dad coming down Saturday. I stopped a few times but it was a pretty easy drive south. Arrived at the race hotel Friday, unpacked then went to bed. Woke up Saturday and went on my shake out ride to make sure my bike was in good shape. Welp, it wasn’t! My tire was rubbing on the non drive side chain stay so took it to the mechanics then went for a swim in the river. I can’t say I wasn’t freaking out that my bike wouldn’t be rideable but tried to keep my mind on the prize.
Race day came and the cold was feeling a little better so I was hopeful the race would go according to plan. The weather was saying only 20% chance of rain and that was only for an hour or so…that was 100% wrong! Thankfully it didn’t start raining until the swim and I didn’t notice it until I got out of the swim but it was raining pretty good.
Swim: 28:09 (time out of water) 4th AG/14th Overall I felt pretty good during the swim. Got off to a good start and found my rhythm. One thing I need to do is find feet and swim with people. But not knowing what other swimmers are like I am always a bit unsure of who I should swim with but I need to figure that out so I can save some energy during the swim. I rolled out of the water with a PR swim and noticed it was raining. Got the wetsuit to my waist and started putting on my Louis Garneau Course M2 sleeved suit on, which is amazing!, then jogged a few hundred yards to transition.
Bike: 2:37:50 (21.29 MPH/222 NP) 4th AG/14th Overall First lesson learned during this race was ALWAYS bring clear glasses in case of rain. I ditched my sunglasses because they were too foggy and it was dark because of the clouds. The bike course is hilly and had some winding descents that would normally make me a bit nervous then add in the rain and I was going to take no chances today. It was time to ride within myself and ride smart so I could get to the run. It was a good thing I stayed safe because there was a lot of crashes out there. It got scary seeing ambulances picking up multiple people so that just kept me focus on being steady and riding within myself and staying rubber side down.
Other than ups and downs the ride was pretty uneventful. The course was nice and challenging but not crazy hard. It had about 3200 feet of elevation gain but not many long, step climbs, but a few longer steady hills. I rode with a few people for a bit but mainly just stayed on my own watts and kept my nutrition in check. The rain made things annoying at times because with the rain and the speed it made it hard to see. The end of the course is very tough and my speed dropped to about 16 MPH. It seemed like it was up, up, and more up! But I never really had to grind up a hill and spike my power too much which I was happy with. What I was not happy with was seeing how much time I am still giving up to others on the bike. If I can get myself 5-10 minutes faster it would put me at the very front of the race but I want to do that without giving up any run fitness since that is my strength.
Run: 1:26:15 (6:35 min/mile) 3rd AG/12th Overall I got into transition and everything was soaked. I didn’t really care that much since I have drainage holes in my shoes but in my rush to leave T2 I forgot my race belt, so had to go back and get it. Lost about 15 seconds probably (and one placing). I knew I wanted to stay steady at the early part of the run then really try to turn it on the last 4 miles. I have gotten really good at pacing myself without my Garmin in 70.3 race so I was going by feel and checking to make sure I was on target. The tough part with this course was it was pretty hilly. A few steep uphills and some steep downhills. I am not great and down hill running because I can never get my turnover to go fast enough.
5 miles into the run I started to feel like I needed to go to the bathroom. Should I stop now or wait? I decided to stop at the next aid station to get it done so I would be comfortable the rest of the way. Made a quick pit stop then it was back at it. This was by far the hardest run course I have done because it was really tough to get into a pace and stick to it but that’s what made it kind of “fun”. I started passing some women pros but couldn’t see many “H” stickers on people’s calves so I couldn’t make up many places. Ended up passing someone with a few miles to go. I tried to kick it in the last mile but I had one of the worst side stitches ever. I knew no one was close behind so I wasn’t worried about losing a place but I also wanted to keep my foot on the gas. I couldn’t see anyone up the road so mentally I figured I would stay in my place no matter what. Could I have ran those 8 seconds back? Maybe but I was really struggling the last mile so I am not sure how much more I could have pushed.
Finish: 4:36:09 3rd AG/12th Overall amateur
All in all I am happy with how my race season started. Now time to put in some serious bike work so I can stop giving away 5-10 minutes to everyone else in the race. I do like running people down but I feel confident I can still do that with a stronger bike. After 17 hours or travel having a day off Monday was just what I needed. I had a few donuts and mentally recharged but now it’s time to get back at it!