Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rev 3 Knoxville Race Report

In my short triathlon career, I have made a point to attend the practice swims.  Since swimming is by far the weakest of the three disciplines for me, in the past, it has helped me to relax a bit if I could get a better sense of what lay ahead.  With that in mind, I went to the practice swim the day before Rev 3 Knoxville in hopes of settling any anxiety.  Unfortunately, I left the water even more nervous than I was when I started.  It wasn't that there was anything unique about the swim; it was a pretty straightforward swim in a nearly current-less river.  Rather, I just felt listless.  I had felt that way pretty much all week.

So, rather than relax me, I was actually even more nervous after my swim on Saturday.  That made for a not-so-fun Saturday afternoon.  I took comfort in the fact that the last time I was in Knoxville, it was for a race, and I ran well.  I tried to ignore the fact that that race was in 1995.

Kacie, Sparkles, and I left Atlanta on Friday evening, and we spent the night at Kacie's parents' house along the way.  We arrived on Saturday morning, and we scoped out the area.  We went to the practice swim, Kacie got her new Rev 3 team kit, and we checked everything in.  Here was the scene:

The finish line was in the shadow of the gold ball--the Sunsphere--from the 1982 World's Fair that Knoxville hosted.  I attended that World's Fair as a seven-year-old, and the highlight was taking the elevator to the top of the Sunsphere.

We met up with several of Kacie's teammates who we have gotten to know over the last 18 months.  Among them was Kelly Covert, who was working the race.  She tried to give me a boost by having me say, "I am a swimmer." Given that I am decidedly NOT a swimmer, that didn't quite work.  Kelly and I ultimately settled on "I can swim."  Good enough.

Or was it?  I had hopes of finishing in the top three overall in the race.  Based on the results of the past two years, I thought it was a possibility, unless there was a huge spike in the competition.  If there was, I would be content with about 36:00 in the water, under 2:30:00 on the hilly bike course, and around 1:20:00 on the run.  I wanted to have good transitions, too.  Scoping out the course, we found that there was about a quarter-mile run from the edge of the water to the transition area.  I knew that this would slow down my transition time, but generally, any course that has extra running is a good course for me.

We had a great dinner with a couple of my teammates and with Kacie's relay team on Saturday night.  I then put on my race tattoos.  This was a mistake, because they were very sticky, and I clung to the sheets all night long.  But it did give me the opportunity to show off the guns:

None of us slept all that well on Saturday night.  Even though Knoxville turned out to be a pretty cool little city, it has more sirens than any place I've ever been, including New York City.

On Sunday morning, we got our stuff together and headed to transition.  My wife Kacie would be doing the relay with our friends Sparkles and Jill.  They were called the Tri-anosaurus Rex.  Just before I went to the starting line, I took this picture of the fearsome relay team.

(Sparkles doesn't look that into it.  It's probably because she won't be running for another three hours.)

At about the same time that I was taking the picture, the announcer/DJ that was hyping everyone up for the race said something like, "We've got a lot of great age-groupers here today.  Keep your eye on number 723, George Darden, out of Atlanta representing the All3Sports team."  That was pretty cool--having a wife that is on the Rev 3 Team and who knows the staff members has perks!--although it did nothing for my nerves.

I walked to the race start with Jill, since she would be doing the swim leg of their relay.  I was very fortunate to have her with me, given that I was growing increasingly nervous.  As we were getting our wetsuits on, the Rev 3 camera-folks came up and interviewed us.  Our sound bites made the recap video, and you can see us right around :40.  It's pretty clear to me how nervous I am, both judging by the look on my face and by what I said: "I'm eager to hit the water."  In other words, I'm ready to stop thinking about this race and start doing this race.  

If you don't want to watch the whole video, here's a still of Jill and me, looking AWESOME:  

(Caption contest!)

Jill gave me some good advice that would actually become my mantra on the bike: "This course rewards patience."  Jill then passed me off to another of Kacie's teammates, Mike.  Mike was super-friendly, and hanging out with him was relaxing, as well.  He gave me some good advice about goggles, and I followed it.  

The water felt COLD as we jumped in, but I actually wanted it to be.  I feel like the colder the water, the closer it is to mimicking Coeur d'Alene.  We hung out for a few minutes, and we started.

The opening of the swim was very physical, but it thinned out soon enough.  The men started in two waves, with the over-40 men starting five minutes back.  I figured that a few of them would probably catch me before I exited the water, and I was right.  I ultimately swam about 38:00, and even though it was fine, it was a bit short of what I probably could have done.  I believe that the fatigue and listlessness affected me.  

I ran the long stretch across the pavement, and I transitioned pretty well.  I hopped on my bike and was off!

This triathlon felt different from every other triathlon I've ever done.  In my previous six races, I had A LOT of people in front of me coming out of the swim--at least half of the people in the race.  Because I'm becoming a better swimmer and because most people in the race (men over 40, all relays, and all women) started behind me, I only had about 1/10 of the race still in front of me when I got out of the water.  This meant that I spent much less time passing people in the first part of the bike.  This made for a more honest race, I'm sure, but also a much lonelier one.

The course was tough, but fair.  There were almost constant rolling hills, and a few honest (but short) climbs and descents.  I was rolling along well, my power was good, my HR was lower than expected, but I was kinda feeling terrible.  I didn't start feeling all that great on the bike until the last ten miles or so.  Nonetheless, my numbers were good, and I got off the bike in about 2:27:00.  My computer showed the course to be 1.5 miles long, but it didn't much matter as long as everyone was biking the same course.

The only person to pass me on the bike was a guy in blue on a P2C.  Initially, I caught and passed him, then he caught and passed me.  I rode near him for the next several miles, and ultimately, I got away from him over and down the last big hill.  He had a "42" on his calf, which meant that he started five minutes behind me.  I figured I would put enough space between myself and him on the run.       

I transitioned fast and started the run feeling pretty good.  I caught a competitor in the first half mile, but I kept telling myself to relax.  I eagerly awaited the first mile marker . . . but it never came.  Nor did the second, or the third.  I tried not to worry about it and to run based on feel.  "Just relax and pass people."  Around what I figured to be four miles, I started to pass another runner.  Just as I came up on him, I heard him grunt loudly, as if someone had just punched him.  I looked up and realized that the cause was a giant hill that came out of nowhere.  It was a long, steep hill that nearly stopped me.  It crested at an aid station, and then kept going into a neighborhood.  I slowed way down on that hill, but I had no idea how much.  From that point until the turnaround at about 6.5 miles, there was near-constant up and down.  It was a tough run course.

At five miles, I saw a "5" painted in green on the ground, and I checked my split: 28:55.  That was a little bit quick, but it was within the range of what I thought I could do.  A mile later I saw another one, and I checked again: 34:50.  These marks were about where the mile markers had been on the map, so  I presumed that they were for us.  At about that same time, I saw a single runner coming in the other direction after the turnaround.  Bolstered with confidence from my fast splits, I knew I could catch him.  As it turned out, he was the only person in front of me when I hit the turnaround.

However, I looked up at the turnaround to see that the 42-year-old guy had actually closed on me on the run.  I was kinda shocked.  That doesn't happen to me very much.  Clearly, he was a solid runner, and I spent the next few miles waiting for him to catch me.  I passed by a green "10" on the road in 58:40.  At about the same time, I passed the lead runner and moved into the first athlete on the course.

(At that same time, I also dropped a bag of water that a volunteer was trying to hand me.  I was frustrated, so I cussed.  The volunteer apologized, probably thinking that I was angry with him.  In fact, I was annoyed with myself.  This is the one thing I would change about the race if I could.  I felt bad that that kid thought I cussed at him.)

I knew that even if I slowed down, I would run the last 5K in about 19:00.  I began to calculate my time in my head.  My run split would be around 1:17:00, and my overall time would be about 4:29:00.  Sweet!  The only thing that remained was to try and distance the 42-year-old enough that I could make up for the five-minute head-start I got on him.  I tried to run away from him.

For some reason, the finish didn't come in 19:00.  It took 23:00 after I passed the green "10" on the road.  I didn't slow down; if anything, I sped up.  So either the mile markers were off, or the course was at least .5 miles long.  Although I'd like to think that the mile markers were correct and I was running under 6:00 pace on a tough course, they were probably off, and I was running more like 6:15 pace.  Regardless, I finished the run around 1:21:00, and my final time was around 4:33:00.  They announced my name as I came across the finish line first, but I knew that it wasn't quite settled.  I waited to see if I had put enough space on the 42-year-old.  Two-and-a-half minutes later, I found that I hadn't.  He crossed the finish line in a total time of 4:30.  I biked and ran a little faster than he, but he swam much faster than I.

I thus collected second place overall.  Here I am on the stage gathering up some Muscle Milk, Powerbars, and a free entry to another Rev 3 race:

And here is my cool medal:

The finisher's medal actually fits INSIDE the second place overall medal.  Nifty move, Rev 3!   

On the way home, we stopped off for treats.  I watch what I eat very closely during training--in fact, my wife told me before this race that she's never seen me so lean--so I always allow myself a few treats after a big race.  This time, it was ice cream:

(What would you do for a Klondike bar? How about finish second in a 70.3??)

Overall, I'm happy with this race.  Could I have gone two-and-a-half minutes faster?  Perhaps.  My swim could have been better, and I could have pushed more in the early portions of the bike.  I also stopped twice early in the bike because a strange sound made me think that my brake was rubbing.  (It wasn't.  Rather, the sound was coming from my number swishing against my belly.)  Am I sorry to have lost to the winner?  I'm not.  We spoke at the finish line, and he was a cool guy.  In addition, he is a more well-rounded triathlete than me.  He was a solid swimmer, cyclist, and runner, and a balanced athlete should win a three-sport race.  I'm still a two-trick pony.  However, am I continuing to improve?  Yes.  And most importantly, am I on track for a good performance at Ironman Coeur d'Alene?  Yes.  Yes, I am.  Undoubtedly.   

In addition, I'm glad that I was able to perform even though I was so nervous in the 18 hours before the event.  I don't get nervous for physical swims or technical descents.  I get nervous that I will do something stupid or underperform.  Tragically, ironically, that can produce a bad performance.  This time, it did not.         

Rev 3 Knoxville was the third of three big weekends for me, all of which featured important competitions, and all three of which went very well.  I'm resting for a couple of days, and then I'm going to ramp up my training one last time in preparation for CdA.  There are less than fifty days to go, and only about six weeks of training still to do.  I'm excited.        


  1. Great race report! Huge congrats to you! It is so exciting to see someone I know racing as well as you are, my swimmer friend!! :)

  2. George, you never cease to amaze me! When are we getting together for dinner so we can congratulate you in person???

  3. It was great hanging with you before the swim!! We do lot AWESOME in that video clip! haha I am so excited that you had such a great race! I was jumping up and down like a mad thing when we spotted you screaming into the finish area! so much fun!! Great report thanks for sharing!

  4. Damn George! Way to crush it out there. Very impressive. Caption: Jill: "Oh George, you flatter me. I know I look awesome in green polka dots!" George: "HAHA! No Jill, I said your jokes are so lame, they make me choke a lot."

  5. Caption contest: Jill: "I don't know what he's whining about, I thought it was really easy."

  6. You are a machine!! I'm honored to know you and your pretty amazing wife too!!

    Jill "bow down to awesomeness"
    George (as bowing) "we're not worthy we're not worthy"

  7. Jill: "He doesn't like to pee in his wetsuit. Just give him a second."

    (He really does look like he's peeing ;))