Sunday, June 8, 2014

Race Report: Xterra Knoxville (June 7, 2014)

Meads Quarry Lake.
I've come to discover that in the world of triathlon, much as in the world of cycling, there are two kinds of people.  Those who are at home on the road and the Crazies who prefer the dirtier side of things.  I am one of those Crazies.  Truthfully, I got into triathlon because of Xterra Knoxville.  When this race was announced last year, I knew I had to do it.  It was everything I love (and one thing I didn't love so much) all rolled up in one giant piece of intimidation: 1200m lap of the Meads Quarry Lake, 17 miles of mountain biking around the South Loop Trails in Knoxville's Urban Wilderness and 4 miles of trail running including a climb up the steepest trail in the system.  Yesterday, surrounded by friends, teammates and a whole slew of other crazy people just like me, I finished Xterra Knoxville.  Here's how it went down:

Pre Race:

With the race being held on Saturday morning, there wasn't much of a time to reflect and prepare.  All week leading up to the race I was fighting a head cold.  I got a couple short workouts in throughout the week, but for the most part I just took it easy and tried to get over my illness.  By the time Friday afternoon rolled around I was feeling mostly back to normal.  Early packet pickup was Friday evening so after work I rushed home and collected the wife and we headed to packet pickup.  I wasn't sure what to expect as this race was being put on by a new promoter but pickup went smoothly.  I was in and out in less than 5 minutes and we were off toward Calhoun's restaurant for my traditional pre-race meal of BBQ chicken and rice.  With belly full, it was back home to pack up for the race before bed.

Race Morning:

Bike setup in Transition.
My alarm went off at 4:15am Saturday morning.  Transition opened at 5:30 and I wanted to get there early to scope out a primo spot on the racks.  I consumed my customary yogurt and granola for breakfast, made my final checks of all my gear and loaded up the car for the long 15 minute drive to the race site.  After waking the wife and suiting up we headed to the race.  We arrived at the race site around 5:45.  I headed first over to check in to collect my timing chip and get my body marking done.  With that out of the way, I unloaded my bike and went to scope out a spot in transition.  I found a nice space at the end of a rack about 2 rows from the bike out.  Not bad.


1200 meters doesn't seem like a very long way in a pool.  Standing on the shore, staring out at the buoys (the last of which was completely out of view), however, it was daunting.  I'll be the first to admit that the swim is by far my least favorite part of this whole thing.  It's not so much the physical challenge of the swim, it's the mental struggle with being in open water and all the things that come along with it.  My plan for the swim was simple.  Wait for 10-15 seconds at the gun and let the leaders take off, avoid the scrum and stay in my race mid pack.  Water temp was nice, over 78 degrees.  This also meant that wetsuit was not allowed by USAT rules so I wouldn't have added buoyancy to help me.
I'm right there, see me.  The one swimming... 
I hopped in the water with about 15 minutes til gun sound and joined the other racers already out there swimming a quick out and back to get warmed up and get accustomed to the water.   We all regrouped at the shore and received final instructions then, we were off.  I held to my plan.I waited patiently for the speedier folks to go then casually started my swim.  After a few hundred meters I realized I never started my Garmin so I pulled up and hit the button then continued with my swim.  I passed quite a few people.  My breathing was good and my lines seemed good.  I was sighting well and staying just in the bubbles of the person in front of me.  In no time I was rounding the first buoy.  It was then that I looked over and caught a glimpse of my Rocky Top Multisport Club teammate who was right beside me.  I paced with him for a while before rounding the second buoy.  I was still feeling good and there was only one more turn before heading to shore.  I rounded the last buoy and made my way toward the shore.  Before long I was hauling myself out of the water and headed over to the mat to grab my shoes for the rocky run up to T1.  A quick change in T1 and I was off on the bike.


Going into this race, I knew the bike would be my best opportunity to make up time.  The course starts out down the greenway before ducking into the woods.  I knew I could pick up some serious time here and so I put the hammer down.  I passed a lot of folks through this section.  One guy asked if I knew these trails, I
Putting the hammer down out of T1
told him I did.  He asked if he could pace with me for a while, I told him he could.  I gel'd up and we turned into the woods.  Immediately after hitting the woods we were greeted by the first climb of the day.  I clicked down a couple gears to maintain my cadence and up I went.  I passed some more people.  After the climb the course made another turn into the tight single track where we would stay for several miles.  The guy was no longer pacing with me.

We came out of the woods again for a brief stint down the road before hitting the trail again.  This was the part of the course I was most concerned about.  This section of trail is very tight and twisty and there TONS of connectors and off shoot trails.  In short, it's the perfect opportunity to get lost.  A lot of people did.  There was some confusion about which way the course was supposed to go.  It was marked but not as well as it should have been.  At one point I came on an intersection and made the turn before seeing rides coming up the other way.  Was I wrong?  Were they?  There were more of them so I turned around and fell in behind them.  It wasn't long before we reached some wider trail again and, since I knew now where I was going now, I made my move and began to pull away when the trail tightened up again.

We exited the woods again at roughly the halfway point.  There were quite a few spectators here cheering us on (my wife and friends included).  This section follows the road for around .25 miles before hitting the trail again for the most physically challenging section of the course.  This section is where most of the climbing happens.  I took a gel and my first two Hammer Endurolyte capsules, switched out my bottles and headed
Exiting the woods around halfway.
back into the woods.  This whole section went well.  I climbed well and descended fast.  I was pacing with another racer in another age group (he would go on to win his age group).  We rode well together and were chatting a bit during the ride.  Coming to the last climb I let him go because I wanted to try and save my legs for the run.  I made my way down the other side of the climb and back toward transition.  It was here that I had my only get off of the day.  I tried to grab my last gel and failed.... my wheel turned and over I went.  I got up, dusted myself off, cursed a bit, squeezed the gel into my mouth and set off.  I pulled into T2 and another quick change (too quick I would later find out) and I hit the run.


I had decided not to carry any hydration on the run. I would just use the on course aid.  This was a HUGE mistake.  I found out all too late that the only aid station on the course was at transition.  I was less than a mile in to the 4.5 mile run and my legs began to cramp.  I thought I had hydrated well enough on the bike.  Apparently I didn't.  I wouldn't see that aid station again for 3 miles.  I was in trouble. I suffered through those miles, stopping every little bit to stretch.  I had a couple "good" sections where I wasn't in pain but then it would return.  I cursed.  A lot.  I got passed by a lot of people, all offered kind words of support.  Each time I would take off again and try to follow them for as long as I could.
On the run course.
The worst part of all of this was I knew the hardest climb of the day still awaited me.  I honestly didn't know if I was going to make it.  I could only hope that after taking on water and Gatorade at the aid station I could make it.  I finally made it back to aid and downed 2 cups of Gatorade and 2 cups of water and set off for the climb.  It was excruciating.  I had to hike the hill.  I could barely do that.  After an eternity I made it to the summit and started down.  This wasn't much better.  I finally came out of the woods and saw the finish.  I was running at this point and cramps be damned I picked up the pace and crossed the line.

Final Thoughts:

Looking back, this was a great experience for me.  I had a game plan and followed it.  I grew a great deal mentally in this race.  I came out the swim with a new level of confidence that I will carry with me into future races.  I came off the run knowing that I finished.  I had every opportunity to call it quits but I fought through and came across the finish line with my hands in the air and a smile on my face.  I will use what I learned in this race to make me stronger for my future races.  And, despite some snafu's, the organizers did a pretty good job and I know the event will only get better from here.

Splits: Swim - 24:07, Bike - 1:43:31, Run - 56:48

Total Time: 3:08:34