This past Sunday I completed my fourth half-iron distance triathlon, the Rev3 Knoxville. It was by far my hardest half. I learned some valuable things.
- "Rolling hills" at the base of the Smokies are NOT the same thing as "rolling hills" in the cornfields of Indiana.
- The mind truly is more powerful than the body.
- Cross-training works.
- Sweepers are amazing human beings.
The day started ok, with a (relatively late) wake-up of 5am. Ate two packets of instant oatmeal with raisins and drank a Muscle Milk, then headed down to transition to set up. Transition was a few blocks from the hotel/finish line, but not very far. It looked like the weather gods might actually smile for the day. Thundershowers were predicted, but it wasn't looking ominous, and the temp was around 60. Not bad.
Got transition all set up, then wandered down to the swim start to watch the pros have at it. Those folks are superhuman and very impressive to see in action. The swim was in a controlled stretch of the Tennessee River, so all the recent rain and flooding didn't affect us...except for keeping the water a nippy 65 degrees. I drank half of a Shakeology drink (protein, carbs) while waiting for my wave. We jumped off a dock in groups, treaded water for a few minutes, then prepared to swim upstream for a bit before heading back downstream to the swim exit. I jumped in, woke up very quickly, then thought, "well, it's not as cold as Chicago was".
It wasn't until the horn blew and I actually had to start swimming that I realized something was wrong. Normally I adjust pretty quickly to the temp, and can at least pretend to be swimming by the time the race starts. Not today. I couldn't get my heart rate to slow down or my breathing to settle down, even after I stopped feeling cold. My body was just not gonna play today. The swim was a pathetic mix of sidestroke while panting and 50-100 yd bursts of actual swimming. It was truly awful. Didn't feel bad, just could not find any kind of rhythm, ever. I'm sure the people on the kayaks were totally disgusted, wondering why the heck people signed up for these races if they didn't know how to swim. After a miserable hour of floundering, I finally reached the exit. Thank goodness. Maybe the bike will be better.
Took my time in transition, used the porta-john, said hello to Paula, dried off my feet and got ready for the bike. Left T1 feeling pretty good, deceiving myself that it was going to get easier.
It was better for about 3 miles, then the suckage kicked in again. Knoxville sits wedged between the Cumberland and Smoky mountains. The bike course was quite hilly for those of us used to cornfields. My body decided it was still taking a nap, so when I tried to exert myself, the legs just had no response. Ever have those dreams where you're trying to run through water or mud? That's what it felt like. As I was walking (yes, dammit, walking) the bike up a hill around mile 8 or 9, I was seriously wondering how the heck I was going to do 56 miles feeling this way. Didn't feel bad, didn't feel hungry, definitely wasn't bonking, just didn't.have.any.gas.in.the.tank. It was weird. I met Stephanie The Sweeper after I finally got to the top of that hill and climbed back onto the bike.
For those that don't know, a sweeper is someone who "sweeps" the course, staying with the the last person to help them get through it. So Stephanie cheered me up yet another hill, and finally around mile 12 I was able to pass some people and stay ahead. Stephanie then helped out the poor schmucks I passed. She was excellent, by the way, and really helped keep the mood up. I had already committed myself to trying for the 56 miles when I passed up the Olympic distance turnoff (a 25-mile ride instead). At that point I just had to take the approach of trying to complete a heck of a long training ride, and see how far I could get. I still wasn't certain I would finish, but what the hell. It was time to bond with granny-gear and forget about speed.
The hills went on and on and on. Downhills were a breather, but didn't last very long before it was back to the smallest possible gear and swearing.
Around mile 26 or so, after what felt like an eternity, it stopped being a total suckfest and became a tolerable one. It helped to realize that the cross- and bike-training really had helped, despite my lousy day. I really don't think I could have completed that course last year. I had to walk, again, up the cruel joke at mile 49 and was damned if I was going to walk up any more hills. At mile 53 or so there was yet another bad hill. This time I managed to stay on the bike, saying out loud, "Pull! Pull! Pull!" with every up-stroke, and came very close to puking at the top. But I didn't walk. The final kick-in-the-pants was a strong headwind the last 3 miles or so -- I'm not certain because the bike computer died while I was walking up that first hill back around mile 9.
FINALLY, four hours and nine minutes later, me and a couple of other stragglers crossed back over the river and I could see transition. HOORAY! I never looked more forward to a 13.1 mile run in my life!
Took a little less time in transition, so my T2 was 4:14. Got the heck out of there and on my way. The screaming shins reduced me to a trudge for the first 2 miles, but finally settled down and I was able alternate walk/run. I met a Facebook friend at mile 9 or so, a fellow tri-club member from Indianapolis. We chatted some, we bitched about the bike, and he told me his knees were killing him so he was reduced to walking pretty much the entire thing. But he was doing it! The last couple of miles I slowly gained on some young man and was able to race him through the finish chute. Would have beaten him if the announcer hadn't said "She's gaining on you! Better turn it up!" He had no idea I was behind him. He used his long legs to beat me by about a second, and I turned in a decent (for me) half-marathon time of 2:35:56.
Finished feeling really, really good, with no aches or pains anywhere to speak of. The hips were tired about mile 10 and I know that was from all the hard effort on the bike, but it wasn't anything to be concerned about. We schlepped back to transition, retrieved all my stuff and the bike and headed back to the hotel. A shower and three Advil made everything ok, and we went in search of dinner. Found a nice little place a few blocks away, had a good local brew, and was dead to the world by 9:15.
Overall, not a bad way to spend a day!
Swim 1.2 mile: 1:00:24
Bike 56 miles: 4:09:09
Run 13.1 miles: 2:35:56