After a winter of countless hours of training which lead to numerous training and racing personal bests I headed down to Tennessee with one thing on my mind, a win. Not an age group win but an outright win of the race. Since the pro athletes would be racing the olympic distance it left the half iron open to the age groupers for the taking. I headed down to TN I was in the best shape in my life which was confirmed by the 7.2% body fat reading that I got on my scale that i haven't seen since before I raced Ironman Lake Placid in 2008. The weather predictions a few days out were as bad as could be, a high of 58 with a 90% chance of rain. I was hoping that would change but unfortunately mother nature had other ideas.
Pre-race travel went smoothly. I was able to get the bike packed on Thursday afternoon before flying out and the bike arrived on time with our flight. Knoxville had to have been one of the cleanest and nicest airports I have ever been to. On the way out there was a huge, well maintained fountain that went the length of the walkway that immediately put my mind at ease. The hotel was just a short 20 minute drive from the airport and once we got there we called it a night.
Before I knew it race day was here. I was excited to put myself to the test and see what I would be able to do. The day started out much like Saturday it was cold and raining, not ideal conditions to race in especially with a technical bike course like Knoxville. After having my pre-race meal we walked down to the transition area from the hotel. I did my usual pre race routine and got everything ready for go time. Fortunately transition was in a covered garage so we were able to seek shelter before we made the walk down to the pier to the swim start.
Swim: 1.2 Miles (1.23 according to Garmin) 31:06 (30:38 actual swimming time 1:25/100y) 18/327 OA
I was excited to get my new HUUB Archimedes in open water for the first time. I had great success with it in the pool so I could only expect the same when it came to open water and I didn't have to deal with flip turns. The water temp was supposedly clocked at 58 degrees which really didn't seem as big of a deal to me as people were making it seem. As we jumped in the water to await the final countdown I had never been so anxious for the gun to go off, my feet were cold and I just wanted to get moving.
I placed myself right in the front line hoping to be able to grab on to a faster pair of feet and see if I could limit my energy expenditure. They finally sent us off and I was out in front seemingly by myself. When I looked up to sight I saw two guys swimming at a decent clip but I decided the energy it would take for my to bridge the gap wouldn't be worth it so I was pretty much relegated to swimming by myself. After swimming for about 5 minutes I was all warmed up and didn't think twice about how cold the water was. In fact I thought it was quite refreshing! As we headed out to the turn buoys the current was getting increasingly stronger. I didn't realize how strong the current was until I made the right turn to swim across and I almost missed the second right turn buoy because I was being pushed downstream.
As soon as I made the second right turn it was like I suddenly turned in to Michael Phelps, I was flying! The current that we were just swimming against was now at my back, my HUUB had me in the proper swimming position and I was moving fast. I could see there was a bunch of swimmers ahead of me but I had no idea how many. The current was still with us and I felt great but I was still behind. Since swimming isn't my strength I'm used to coming out of the water behind and relying on my bike/run combo to get me back in to the race. Next thing I know I'm at the swim exit with a new fresh water swim PR. I hit the dock at 30 min flat but to exit the water we had to climb up and I totally misjudged how high I had to pull myself up and I ended up right back in the water! I regrouped and pulled myself out getting ready for the .3 mile barefoot run to transition. All that being said I can't really be upset with a swim in the to 5%
T1: 4:31 (5:01 Garmin)
After I got up on the dock I started to run and passed at least 3 people who came out of the water ahead of me, I knew every second from here on out was going to count, and I needed to keep myself in contention by making up time where I could.
Bike 56 Miles(56.06 Garmin) 2:39:04 21.2 Mph 8/327 Overall
248 Average power, 280 Normalized, VI 1.13
I rode this course a little more conservatively than I normally would since when we drove the course on Friday there were several points to watch out for when dry. I promised Erica that I would be careful and not do anything stupid, I was here to win, but not at all costs. Once on the bike I immediately went to work. I passed a few guys within the first few miles and I never looked back. I had a killer instinct and I was ready to go. At this point I started to ask how many bikes ahead so I could get an idea of what I needed to do to move to the front. I kept getting the same answer which was 5, and early on I didn't seem to be gaining any more ground, but I didn't seem to be losing any either.
After the first big climb comes a twisty descent that was pretty sketchy with the rain, I got passed for the first time here, and as the guy passed we both commented on how nuts what we were doing was. I was being extra cautious and let him go once we hit the bottom of the hill I worked my way back and passed him on the flat. This is how much of my ride would go. I was actually being so conservative on the downs that I think I might have ridden some of the uphills faster. The first 15 miles of the course was more of the same I had a few athletes pass me on the descents but I was able to make up the ground once I knew I was in a relatively "safe" zone. At some points it was raining so hard you could not see more than 2 inches in front of you. The roads were all slick and hydroplaning was certainly a fear. Not to mention going fast when its raining that hard just plain hurts, it can feel like you are having pebbles thrown at you!
Once I hit mile 15 I got back in the zone and started riding more aggressively as there were less problem spots. In addition to dealing with the wet roads and flooding I had to deal with dodging a few random dogs. At least 3 of them left their yards to chase me and fortunately they only started to chase after I was already in front of them. At this point when I asked I was being told there were 5 or 6 bikes ahead of me. I could see one, and I never quite could get close enough to pass. No one passed me after that point and I couldn't see anyone anywhere behind me. I felt great on the bike and had no issues besides being way too careful coming down some of the hills.
Somewhere around mile 40 the course intersects with the Olympic course which is where I lost the athlete I was chasing. There were a ton of athletes still on the course and the congestion made it hard to find him. I started to weave my wave through the athletes still on the course looking for anyone with an H on their calf but I didn't see anyone. I used the bikes on the road for motivation to keep pushing, sometimes it's so much easier when you see people on the course, especially on days like this. It can be lonely racing up at the front especially when you don't see anyone for miles.
I made it up the final big climb and eased down the descent making sure I was safe then I took off riding aggressively again. I knew I was pretty much safe at this point and just wanted to be done. I passed one more half athlete along with countless Olympic racers at about mile 50 as we headed back on to the highway and back to transition. I I was in a good spot, and I was feeling good. I only had 13 miles left to run and I was excited to see what I had left in the tank. Somehow I managed to pace exactly how I wanted to with a normalized power of 280 watts, even though my average power was on 248.
T2: 1:53( 1:52 Garmin):
I came in to T2 soaked to the bone and starting to get a little chilly, the temperature never really rose from the start and I never got the chance to dry off. I was hoping the run was going to fix that! As I dropped my bike off and got ready to put my shoes on I decided to ditch the socks I had on as well and ran sock-less for the first time. I know... nothing new on race day, but you also don't train in torrential downpours either. Since so many of my SKORA teammates run sockless all the time without issues I wasn't really worried. For some reason I decided that I was going to run out the bike out exit, so I had to turn around and run the length of the garage, stupid mistake on my part that maybe cost me :20.
Run: 13.1 Miles (Garmin 13.18) 1:35:30 7:15/mi Pace 10/327 OA
Starting to run my legs actually felt really good and I thought I might be poised for a good run. I felt a little tightness in my hips from being aero for so long, but I figured they would loosen up like they normally do after a few minutes. I ran the first mile in 6:33 which put me right on my target pace. From my training I figured I would be able to run a 1:26 with some work, and my worst case scenario was a 1:30. For the first 2.7 miles I felt like an absolute rock star running past all the athletes that were doing the olympic race. Once I hit the turnaround I asked the guy how many were in front again confirming how many athletes were ahead of me. He told me 5 and that the next was less than a minute ahead. I knew from riding the course on Saturday the toughest part was to come as I hit mile 3 I caught the guy that was running ahead of me and I could tell he was cracking, he stopped to walk, but he heard me coming and started back up again until he eventually pulled off to the side as I passed by. The roads were in terrible condition as most were flooded from the almost 2 inches of rain that had fallen during the race. We were running through flooded roads, mud, and in some cases deeper than ankle water. My shoes were soaked from the get-go so it didn't really bother me and I was impressed with the lack of hot-spots that developed with them being so wet, and me running sock-less.
As I approached the hill on the course that many have named "the wall" I started to hear footsteps for the first time since heading on the half iron run course. As we started to to run up the hill he asked if it was the bad one, and I replied yes, as he ran swiftly by me. This was the first time I thought I might be in for a long day. I backed off on my pace a touch as my back started to show signs of locking up. The combination of the damp cold weather and the hills was starting to wear on me. I dropped my pace to a brisk walk for the middle of the 100 ft climb to see if I could save myself, and then quickly resumed running never losing sight of the athlete that just passed. As you come to the top of the hill you make your way out into a brutal neighborhood section that is nothing but rolling hills for the next 4 miles.
As I made my way into the neighborhood I could still see the athlete who passed and I was looking on the other side of the out and back to see how far we were down from the leader. I managed to hold a sub 7 pace(with the exception of the wall) until the turnaround. I was halfway through the run and I started to feel my back really tighten. As I approached the turn around the guy who I was chasing muttered something from the other side of the road, not really sure what he said, but I think it was meant to be encouraging. Whatever he said he decided it was time to turn on the afterburners and somehow I never saw him again.
After the turn I got to see that I didn't have a big lead on the next athlete, and they looked super strong pounding down the hill as I was struggling to run up on the other side. I did my best I feel like a rock star pose so he would think I was going to be tough to catch but I'm not sure how much he bought in to it. I knew I was in trouble when I got to mile 7 and my back started to take over from my mind. I looked back and I could see him gaining on me so I pushed through and stopped myself from walking. I managed to hold him off until somewhere between mile 8 and 9 when we were almost out of the hills, but he eventually caught up. When he passed I dropped back briefly and stopped to stretch my back, but I convinced myself I wasn't done. From his zoot kit I realized it was Brian, who I knew from a mutual friend was also looking to win the overall. Knowing I was most likely out of contention for the overall podium I put my head down and made my way back to run with him, for what turned about to be less than 30 seconds. My back was not happy and just not cooperating.
I dropped back again keeping Brian in sight trying to use him as a pacer but my back forced me to slow as mile 9 was my slowest of the day with an 8:08 and mile 10 a 7:42 as I was continuously fighting with my back up the mini rolling hills on the green way. Somewhere between mile 9 and 10 a guy with a 45 on his calf ran by me like I was standing still. I knew once I passed the turn around I new I had 2 flat to rolling miles and I was determined not to let anyone else pass me no matter how much pain I was in. Once back on the course with Olympic athletes and the half athletes going the other way it was easier to keep myself in the game mentally. I don't care how good of shape you are in everyone is suffering in those last 3 miles of a half.
I lost both Brian and the 45 year old around mile 10 and I was fighting an internal battle with myself to keep moving as fast as possible. I managed to squeeze out a 7:19 for mile 11, but with the gradual incline back to the transition area mile 12 suffered at a 7:45 pace. If you look at the link above you can literally see me fighting with myself to keep going several times over the course of that mile. I was still able to run by the few athletes left on the Olympic course which provided some motivation of its own.
Once I made it back to the transition area I knew there was really only one more hill to make it up before the finish. I rounded the turn and went under the tunnel that put us on the path back to worlds fair park. The path was congested with Olympic athletes headed back to transition to pick up their stuff. Fortunately they were very accommodating and most of them just stopped and made clear path for me to run by I hit the final turn and was finally running downhill. My back was screaming at me to stop but I knew I had less than 2 minutes to go and I just pushed through fighting back the urge to throw up in the process. I saw Erica waiting under the bridge and she ran with me until the finish chute. I ran down the chute as fast as I could muster and crossed the line in 7th place overall with a time of 4:52.
As soon as I crossed the line I was shaking uncontrollably for a few minutes as I had just given it everything I had. I wasn't sure whether or not my stomach was going to empty either. Initially I was disappointed but I know I could not have given any more on the day and for that I am proud. You can only give what your body will allow you to on race day, and today I had to deal with some back tightness. I thought I had at least won my age group when I crossed the line but the 45 year old guy that went flying by me had one hell of a run and ran himself into 3rd place overall and bumped the 30-34 athlete that was in 3rd down to 4th place and 1st place age group. After doing some research on the guys that finished ahead of me I am excited that I was even in the mix at the top! I'm motivated to continue on my journey and see what I can do at a similar race with (hopefully) better weather in Quassy next month!
I can't say thank you enough to Erica for being out there all day in the pouring rain supporting me, I'm sure it was not a lot of fun. I want to also say thank you to all my generous sponsors, Endurance Films, Forte Gelato, Pacific Swim Bike Run, Skora Running, and HUUB USA for your continued support.