Challenge Knoxville

Finish line

Sometimes it’s fun to race in new locations and get to race on new courses, eat at new places, and meet new people. Other times it’s great to race the same course, eat at the same places, and see old friends again. My trip to Knoxville this past weekend was much more the later. It was the 6th straight year that I had been there to race, four times as an olympic distance, once as an odd distance, and this year was a 70.3. I was excited for the new challenge of upping the distance, but was happy to be doing it in a place I know well, and on a course that I know suits my strengths. It also doesn’t hurt when even the weather gods are playing into your grand plans as well.

Going into the race I felt like my coach Neal Henderson, @Apexcoaching, and I had come up with a great race strategy. We were going to swim smart and near the front, ride well but controlled, and then put my new run fitness to use and stay out in front. To go with that, Robert Kunz, the man at First Endurance and I had come up with a great nutrition plan that would keep me fueled and hydrated for the longer distance. Honestly going in, it was the nutrition that I was concerned about much more than my fitness, having had a couple pretty impressive blow ups at the 70.3 distance in the past. You can check out my exact nutrition plan at the link above, but it worked flawlessly and will be my baseline heading into my next long course adventure.

wet ride

The last part of my plan, which I had no control over was the weather. Every year I have races here in the past it has been rainy, or cold, or both. When I won the Rev3 race in 2013 it was cold and soaking from start to finish, and I joked with the organizers before the race that those were my favorite conditions. Then, low and behold, race morning we woke to an unexpected drizzle, and cooler temps, that turned into a downpour by the time we exited the swim.

Sometimes things just go your way, and this whole race was one of those days. I had a good start but was more than happy to sit on some decent swimmers feet for the swim. I had a solid transition, and then once on the bike I did what I always do and tried to create as much space as possible. The pouring rain certainly favors the leader, as you always know what is coming up ahead, and you have a lead vehicle that points you in the right direction. By the time I got to the first of the two 180’s I had a solid 2+ min lead on the net two guys, and then another few minutes to the big chase group. At that point I got a little excited and had to actually reign myself in, because you see the lead and that little shot of adrenaline gets you going. At that point I tried to settle into a good rhythm, and just kept saying to myself, “Execute!” I knew I had a good plan, and I was fit, but if I wavered from my nutrition plan or went to hard on the bike, I was going to suffer later on. As I came back into T2, I was feeling strong and ready to go after the part of the race that has always been my undoing…the longer run.

Knoxville run

As I took off out of transtition, I immediately took in some EFS gel for the calories and to keep things rolling. I had joked with Robert the weekend before during a trial run that I had gotten hungry, and his response was, “Great!” Being hungry meant that I had been absorbing calories well, and that my stomach was in good working order to take in more on the run. So feeling a bit hungry, I smiled to myself and set out at a conservative pace. I knew I had a large lead, turned out to be about 6 mins to start the run, so I wanted to make sure I was conservative at the start because there are about 6 steep climbs in the middle section of the run that had to be respected.

When I got to the 180 at roughly the half way point I still had over 5 mins on second place and knew that it was my race to lose. I was stoked on getting to that point but made a concerted effort to stay focused on the job at hand. Sometimes crazy things happen in the last few miles of a race and I wanted to make sure I got to the line in good form before I started celebrating. I got a good boost of energy from the cheering AG’ers that were heading out on the run, and when I hit the final hill I tried to soak in some of the cheers and high fives. Then I got to run down the finish chute with the balloon carrying children, as is often the case with Challenge races. Holding up the big red banner and seeing my smiling wife topped off a great day at the office. The weather had cooperated, at least with my wishes, and I had executed the plan I set out.

wife and I

In racing, as in life, there are few things more satisfying that executing a well thought out plan!

Next up is Escape from Alcatraz, which I haven’t done in about 5 years, but am really excited to be heading back to.

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