by Carly Johann, Professional Triathlete

Knoxville has become one of my favorite race venues over the past three years. It’s one of those cities that I would never have taken the opportunity to visit had it not been for the Rev 3 race that takes place every May. With a great course, excellent, centrally located hotels and food options, and FANTASTIC beer choices, Knoxville is basically the perfect weekend race get-away.

The Race

I’ve raced the “Championship” course, a hybrid distance that isn’t offered anymore, and the half distance race here. This year, the pro race is an Olympic distance, which will be even more exciting, as the action will stay closer to transition. The swim takes place in the mostly calm, mostly warm Tennessee River, which part upstream and part downstream. I remember the current being pretty negligible though, without a huge difference between up and downstream. It’s an easy to follow, straight forward course, with good options for spectators to watch from the shoreline park. The run up to transition is about .25 miles. One year, when I was having foot pain, I left some sneakers at Swim Out for the run, but last year I just ran barefoot.

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The bike has a mixture of good and not-good road surfaces, but is really fun, full of rollers and short, punchy climbs. When it was rainy one year, there were some crashes in downhill corners, so caution should be taken if the road is slick again. Otherwise, it’s a great place to practice keeping constant power up and over the climbs, and down the small grades as well.

My Strava file for the half distance bike course is here: https://www.strava.com/activities/306583673

The run course has changed for this year. In the past, the first and last couple miles were flat, with the middle section all tough rolling hills. Now it encompasses one loop of the flat section for the Olympic, and two loops of that section for the half distance. Times will be fast!

Now that we’ve gotten the race details out of the way, how will you spend the rest of your time in Knoxville? Here are my suggestions:

The Eats

The Tomato Head – A casual joint downtown, with lots of healthy options, including vegan desserts, which everyone knows are basically health food. Most importantly, the Tomato Head also has an excellent beer selection, with only regional brews on tap. This allows for sampling of beers that aren’t distributed widely, and discovering new favorites. The menu includes pizza, sandwiches, salads, and grain bowls, as well as the aforementioned desserts. Don’t worry, they aren’t all vegan! Rachael’s Guest Blog Post from The Tomato Head

Tupelo Honey Café – Also in Market Square, this busy café serves Southern styled comfort foods, but does offer many healthy options as well. It is a regional chain, with lots of North Carolina locations. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit. I loved the food and drinks, and will definitely return. The sides are particularly worth noting, as well as the shrimp and grits. It’s also very important that you eat the biscuits they serve with your meal. The beer list here is also great, offering selections from the region and popular nationally distributed craft beers.

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Downtown Grill & Brewery – This winner is just off Market Square, and brews their own beer on premises. I had their stout and brown ales, and enjoyed both. A great option post-race, DTG&B has a jazz brunch and all day Happy Hour on Sunday. Let live music accompany your celebrations and war stories. The food was also good, with lots of quality options. The brunch menu has a variety of egg dishes and some Southern-style mains.

Preservation Pub – Food-wise, this bar on Market Square offers pub fare. I may have tried a soft pretzel, to soak up some beer, but who can remember? The most important part of this bar is the Magic Beer Tree on the rooftop garden. Bypass the first two grimy floors and emerge on the roof, overlooking Market Square. A huge beer list, including many regional faves, will flow from the Magic Beer Tree as you people-watch and soak up some sun.

The Haps

The Casual Pint – This excellent bar + beer shop hosted a post-race happy hour for us last year. It is right around the corner from Tupelo Honey, right off Market Square. Half of the space is retail, dedicated to selling local and far-flung craft beers that you can’t find just anywhere. The other half is a comfy bar with an excellent revolving tap list. And, the owner is a triathlete, so will be excited to welcome you post-race and hear about your adventures!

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Visit Knoxville! Visitor’s Center – Located on a street just outside of Market Square, this visitor’s center of course has tons of information about the local activities and sites not to be missed. There are far more than I will write about. But my favorite part about this place is the free concert at noon on Saturdays. We lucked into finding this last year, and will make a point to return at the appointed time. The band was great, and it was a relaxing stop among all of the biscuit sampling.

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Knoxville Botanical Gardens – A short drive away from the Market Square area, the botanical gardens was a great place to recover from the race on Mondays. We explored the grounds, saw some cool plants and historical buildings, and walked through a bamboo forest. The downtown riverfront area is also glorious, but since the race is centered around that area, we chose to explore another part of the city. We will probably also try and hit the Knoxville Zoo this year. I hear they have tons of Red Pandas.

International Biscuit Festival – Unfortunately this year, my favorite festival falls one the weekend prior to Rev 3 Knoxville. If you find yourself in town early, it takes place in Market Square. There are lots of events to attend, and lots of biscuits to try. You can buy a 10 pack of tickets, to turn in at various booths to sample the wares. Some of the sampling lines get very long however, so be aware.  Bands will be playing on street corners, hipsters will be circling and a Mr. or Miss Biscuit will be crowned. The main entertainment of the weekend for me was this most spectacular of pageants. Complete with talent, poise, and costume portions, the crowning of Mr. or Miss Biscuit must not be missed.

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