At the beginning of this season I wasn’t planning on racing any half iron distance races but after the Lifetime series was cancelled I had to re-evaluate what I was doing. With no Olympic distance races on the schedule after July, I could either do more draft legal racing or try some 70.3’s. I didn’t want to plan on racing a bunch of 70.3’s without knowing if I would enjoy it so I set my sites on racing Challenge Knoxville in May. Since I’ve been dealing with some body annoyances here and there I wanted to see how my body felt after St. Anthony before I bought my ticket to Knoxville. After a few days of recovery I knew I would be in fine shape to race so I pulled the trigger and bought my flight and hotel for Knoxville.
Before Knoxville I had only run a half marathon 3 times: Securian Half 2007 (1:47:54), Securian Half 2013 (1:41:14) and a 100 minute training run on a treadmill this winter, I hit 13.1 at 1:37:18, which was my “half PR.” To give you some more perspective, up until this winter my longest training run was 7 miles. Even though I hadn’t really been training for the half distance, Coach Phil assured me my fitness would be good enough to get me through it.
Going into the race I wasn’t too nervous, I knew I could finish the race, I just didn’t how how fast. The last and only time I did a long course race (Leadman Bend 125 in 2013) was the first time I had some major IT Band/knee issues pop up so I was just hoping to get through the race without that happening.
Race morning was easy; my hotel was just a few blocks from transition so I was able to take my time getting ready. Walking to transition it was warm and humid but the clouds were out. Unfortunately and unexpectedly, with under an hour to go, it started to rain. Luckily I had some plastic bags to put my run shoes in to keep them dry for later. After double checking my transition space to validate that I was ready to go, I headed across the street to the river where we’d be swimming. We had about a half mile walk to get to the race start. The water was close to 75 degrees so I was very pleased we wouldn’t be wearing wetsuits. The swim course heads upstream for about half mile, then back down stream; there wasn’t a huge current but it would still be a factor.
Just after 6:50 the men took off for their race and the women lined up. 23 women were starting the race so it was a decent pack to navigate. I lined up near super swimmer Jennifer Spieldenner. We talked before the race and knew we would probably be similar speeds. The gun went off and a few of us swam away in the lead. As the three of us merged we were hitting arms, legs and more, I literally stopped for a second to just let Jennifer take the lead so we could all swim in a line. The woman next to me did not drop back but stayed right on Jennifer’s feet and remained very aggressive not allowing me to be on Jennifer’s feet, not a bad idea. At one point I thought we were losing some ground but I held on. Slowly I was able to slip in behind Jennifer. We were approaching the first turn buoy and I knew that would be an opportunity to drop the athlete just hanging on. Sure enough after rounding two buoys we had made a break. After those turns it was almost a straight shot back downstream to the boat house. Jennifer and I ended up passing quite a few men along the way. We exited in just over 24 minutes; according to my Garmin, the swim was maybe 200 meters long.
We had a long run to transition: up a runway, through the boathouse, across the highway and up to the back side of transition. I got to my spot, dropped my cap and goggles, quickly got my helmet on and ran out of T1 in the lead. The end of transition was downhill and with all the water weight on my bike I almost couldn’t keep up with my bike rolling down the hill. At this point in the race it had really started to rain. It was warm enough so I wasn’t too worried about being cold but the course was hilly with some technical and fast down hills. Right after getting into my shoes Jennifer came zipping by me along with several men. I tried to keep her in my sights but right away there were some hills and turns where I just rode my brakes like crazy. The main thought in my head was safety first, I want to go home in one piece. I couldn’t see Jennifer anymore but there was a guy giving updates and he told me I was only 22 seconds back. I could barely be in aero since I was nervous with the down hills and turns so I was just gripping the bar ends hoping my hands wouldn’t slip off the end.
Still in second place, I came to a small hill and suddenly my wattage spiked severely, I tried to shift to an easier gear but nothing was happening. I then tried to shift into the small ring and nothing. My brain immediately went to thinking the electronic shifting was dead, maybe the rain had done something? No, it should be able to handle that, I knew I had charged it recently so it couldn’t be that. I felt like I was pushing so hard and going nowhere so something else must be wrong. I looked at my tires, maybe I flatted? Finally I stopped and got off my bike to check. Both tires felt solid, definitely not a flat. OK well I must just be crazy. The next girl flew by me while I was stopped checking my bike; that was disappointing. I climbed back on the bike clipped a foot in and realized I was going uphill in the big ring, this was going to be challenging to get started. After a couple tries I was finally able to get going again and clipped in.
At this point I was all by myself just chugging along, the rain had slowed but the roads were still wet and slick. I tried to concentrate on maintaining my power output and taking in nutrition when I needed to. A couple girls flew by me, one was riding directly on the other’s wheel; they were gone very quickly from my site. Around the half way mark there was a good out and back section where you could see where everyone was at in the race. At the turnaround three girls came speeding by. At this point I set the goal to stick with them (legally). It was nice to have the motivation of some competition around me. The four of us went back and forth quite a bit but it kept it interesting.
With less than 15 miles to go we ran into the age group athletes racing shorter distances so the course was crowded at times. We caught up to a few cars that were stuck in the mess of the race and we actually had to pass cars. The last few miles back to transition the four of us had split up and I think I came into transition in 8th.
Hopping off my bike my feet felt horrible hitting the ground. It was like stepping on needles trying to run through the parking lot to my spot, luckily I didn’t have too far to go. I parked my bike, got my shoes on, grabbed my Gu’s, race belt and trotted out of transition. I felt, surprisingly, pretty good. I planned to stay relaxed the first few miles, not kill myself and hopefully have a strong back half. In my head I ticked away the miles, I was running a good pace and felt great while mentally I was preparing for the pain to kick in. After mile 3 the hills began and for the next 7 miles we would be running some pretty challenging ups and downs. I tried to keep a consistent pace and worked on getting to the half way mark. Heading into the turnaround I could see where all my competitors were. I had a decent gap to the next girl behind me but with a 10K to go that could easily change.
Around mile 10 I trudged up the last huge ascent knowing there was just one long gradual ascent remaining to the finish. With 3 miles to go I reminded myself that’s only about 20 minutes of running which should be no problem. In the last miles I was passed by another pro woman and I probably should have used her to push myself hard the last couple miles but I just held on steady. The last mile was tough but I knew the finish was close, I kept checking behind me to see if anyone else was coming. Approaching the finish line Patrick and my Dad were there to give me a motivational shout. I crossed the line in 8th and I couldn’t have been happier with my first half effort.
I’m pleased with my swim, I think I had a solid effort and I stuck with one of the best swimmers out there. My bike was tough, I definitely was a lot slower than I should have been (my wattage tells me this too), I let the conditions affect my mentality. Also, I shouldn’t have stopped on the bike; I lost some good time there. I did validate though the shifter on my aero bar for the big/small ring indeed wasn’t working. VERY lucky that the shifter on the cockpit bar end was working because I needed that small gear!
I’m still pretty confused about the drafting rules. There were times I was sure penalties would be called but the ref on a nearby motorcycle never made a call on it. I’m sure I’ll learn with time but at this point I’ll remain very conservative. I’m ecstatic with my run, like I mentioned earlier this was only my 4th half, ever, including training and it was a PR of 1:35:17, and on a hilly course. Only one woman ran sub 1:30 so I only lost a few minutes to the majority of the field on the run, I’ll take it! Plenty to learn about racing this distance but I really enjoyed it and I’m sure you’ll see me at some more 70.3 in the future.
Huge thanks to my Dad and Patrick for supporting me at this race. Another thanks to Ruth Brennan-Morrey, Minnesota’s greatest long course pro, for all the advice and tips she gave me heading into race day, it helped a ton! (If you don’t know Ruth, you should get to know her here.) Thanks to the folks at Gear West for always making sure I’m ready to go, I really couldn’t do this without their support.