Last week, I arrived home to LA, unpacked my bags, trained a few days, repacked my bags, and headed right back to the airport for another trip back east–this time to Knoxville, TN.
On Sunday, I raced the first event of the highly competitive Rev3 Series in Knoxville–another big start list of almost 30 men, including a Lifetime Series Champion, a two-time Olympian, and winners of national 5150 events. While the field was strong, the biggest competition of the day turned out to be the weather. All weekend, we were faced with heavy, drenching rains that flooded parts of the streets, soaked the grass, and filled the Tennessee River with frigid, murky water. On race morning, we were faced with 49 degree air temperatures, driving rain, and 58 degree water temperatures. Even before the event, the pros agreed it was some of the worst conditions we’d ever faced.
After a long run warmup in a nearby parking garage (which was actually awesome…), I jumped into the freezing water to begin a very cold and very wet day of racing.
The gun sounded the start of the race, and we immediately began charging upriver for the first third of the swim. As the field was spread out over a big distance at the start, it was difficult to find a good group of feet to chase. I had a rough start, accidentally drank in a bunch of water, and had a hard time finding a rhythm. I struggled to find the right swimmer to follow as many poor swimmers had overextended themselves in the first 200 meters and were now flying backwards in the oncoming current. After “sidestepping” a few guys, I finally found a group I knew I could swim with. However, when we turned downriver for the final 1000 meters, I had an incredibly hard time staying with the pack. For some reason, I was completely redlined trying to stay with guys I knew I could normally swim with no problem. Finally, we got to the dock, flopped out onto the wood and made our way through the rain on to our bikes.
Being a veteran of some races with poor conditions (though nothing like this), I knew that staying somewhat warm on the bike would be key. I made the decision to lose a tiny bit of time in transition by putting on socks and armwarmers (also putting toewarmers on my bike shoes the night before). Out into the cold, pouring rain, I was glad I did. I knew I had lost some time to the front group in the swim, so I put my head down and tried to grind out the straightaways as hard as I could, knowing that the turns had to be taken pretty slow due to the cold, slick roads. I wasn’t picking up as many guys as I had hoped through the first five miles, but suddenly we got off the flat highways and into the steep, twisty hills of Knoxville. I was able to handle the corners quite well, but more importantly, I was rolling over the hills quickly. Over the next couple of hilly miles, the athletes from the front started coming back quickly. A few tried to stay with me and even fight back, but I ended up riding through almost the whole field, and dropping anyone who tried to sit in on the steep climbs! At one point, 2x Olympian and 4x XTerra World Champion Conrad Stoltz went by, and I stayed with him as long as I could, but his mountain bike background allowed him to fly through the rain-soaked technical descents way faster than I was able to control. Coming into T2, I had dragged myself into 4th place, dropped all but one or two other cyclists in my group, and avoided *numerous* close calls with slippery turns, cars on the course, poor visibility, and possible hypothermia!
Out on the run, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had taken in way more calories than usual, anticipating that I would use up more energy dealing with the cold, and I wasn’t sure how my body would react. At the start of the run, my feet were completely numb and felt like I was running on two dead stumps or hooves or something. I just kept picking one stump up and putting the other in front of it. My legs were tight, but no specific muscle tightness, which was a miracle. As I passed the first mile on the run, I started to warm up and actually feel a good rhythm. I had no idea where the guys were in front of me, only that I probably had a lot of work to do. At the same time, there were a couple very, very fast runners I knew right behind me–one of which had beaten me on the run last year at Knoxville–not something I easily forget. The miles started to tick by, and the work I had put in was paying off. Around mile two, I saw Stoltz, who was sitting in third and passed him quickly. Not far up ahead, I saw the second place athlete–Eric Limkemann–who was actually running pretty strong. It took a little more work, but I was able to finally “break the cord” and get away from him to move into second. Meanwhile, I soon got a look at Kaleb VanOrt–former DI All-American runner at Notre Dame–who was running right behind me! Knowing he had outrun me a few times last year, I began to really hammer the pace, hoping he had exerted too much energy in dealing with the bitter cold.
Only in the final few hundred meters did I allow myself to look back and see that I had not only kept my gap on VanOrt, but extended it over the final couple miles. I came through the line in second place for one of my highest finishes on the national stage! When all was said and done, I had moved myself up from a relatively poor swim–getting out of the water in 16th place–having the third fastest bike of the day, and finishing with the day’s fastest run split. My result also puts me in 2nd for the overall standings in this year’s Rev3 Series.
I’m very proud to have backed up last week’s finish in a fast, quick field with good conditions with a podium finish in a mostly fresh field with horrible conditions. Both races were completely different: St. Anthony’s had big waves, warm water, with a flat and fast bike and run. Rev3 Knoxville had a strong current, frigid water, driving rain, with a highly technical and hilly bike and run. Having raced against such different fields in different conditions on back-to-back weekends gives me a ton of confidence that my training is right on track. At the same time, we haven’t even started putting the “finishing touches” on my training, and I still have a lot of room to improve.
Thanks so much to my sponsors, family, friends, and supporters for standing with me through these tough weeks of traveling and racing. Without everyone’s support, I wouldn’t have the confidence to take big risks like racing two massive races on back to back weekends. I certainly wouldn’t be able to have such successful races without my incredible team!
Also, a big thanks to the volunteers and Rev3 support staff who were basically soaked to the bone from the minute they left their cars, to the minute they got home. As hard as it was racing in the cold and wet, I can’t imagine having to stand around in it to help a bunch of smelly (and probably complaining) athletes. Hats off to everyone involved!
Thanks so much for your continued support!