While I’m sure my friend was joking when he told me that extreme weather races should be my thing… I did race a triathlon on Sunday in almost flood-like conditions at the Rev3 triathlon in Knoxville, TN.
When I had looked at the weather the weekend before I was happy to see partly cloudy skies and a high of around 65 degrees F, then the next day I looked I saw 100% chance of rain and a high of 57 degrees, not exactly ideal for a fast and safe bike ride!
Confession: I’m a fair weather bike rider– If it is raining and/or below 55 degrees outside, I stay on the indoor trainer. Which is a perfectly fine thing to do unless you one day face a race with those conditions, having no experience really riding in said conditions… Oh well, I learned my lesson and because of this race I now have experience riding on hills in relatively cold rain.
Below is my pretty long Rev3 Knoxville race recap!
On Saturday I got to Knoxville after my two hour drive and it was a constant drizzle of rain. I had actually gone to the YMCA for a quick 15 minute pool swim that morning before my drive to make sure my back/shoulder blade spasm would allow me to swim. (I had to go to the chiropractor Thursday afternoon to work on it.) well I swam okay, not super strong, but well enough to know I could get through the one mile I’d need to on race day. I checked into the race, grabbed my wetsuit and headed to the Lady Vols Boathouse for a practice swim in the cold rainy river.
I only own a sleeveless wetsuit but figured that if it really was super cold then I could rent a long sleeved one from the race organizers. My feet were pretty chilled walking barefoot on the wet wooden dock and I was expecting the worst while hearing shrieks and laughter of those who had just jumped in or freshly emerged from the 58ish degree water. Well I jumped in and didn’t think it was too bad! I attribute this to my cold water and hot/cold contrast showers. The downstream current wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (and made swimming the downstream direction pretty fast and fun,) and the rain didn’t matter when I was already in the water… After about 15 minutes I hopped out and dried off for a quick run of the last mile of the run course, flat and fast, plus, running in the rain is almost always fun!
My dad flew in from Dallas for the race so I picked him up from the Knoxville airport and we checked into the hotel. I showered and actually was totally dry for the first time all day, then my dad and I went back to the transition site to drop off my bike and attend an athlete meeting at the expo. Best thing ever about transition- it was in a covered parking lot! My bike got covered parking! At the meeting they discussed contingency plans for weather getting worse (lightning, flooding, tsunami, etc.) worst case scenario it would turn into a 10k run!
We relaxed the rest of the afternoon, made a trip to trader joes, caught the Kentucky derby on TV, and grabbed dinner in market square in downtown Knoxville at Tomato Head and I got a way too large portobello mushroom, walnut and black bean burrito! I set up my gear for race morning, watched some basketball and went to bed.
Race morning it was still raining! From the moment I stepped out of the hotel till the drive back to Asheville, I was soaked.
I walked to transition to set up my gear and put on my wetsuit. I got a blister on the top of my feet from my flip flops on my walk to the start before the race even started! (But thankfully that was the only injury of the race!) From the dock I watched the pros like Miranda Carfrae, Lauren Goss and Matt Leto kick off the Olympic distance race. Soon enough it was time for all the women to jump in, swim to the start line and then off we swam!
I am not a fast swimmer, even less so with the back/shoulder spasm earlier in the week, but because of where I jumped into the water I was for some reason in the front of the pack… Not where I wanted to be! I struggled for the 400-500 yards upstream trying to get out of the way of faster swimmers. It wasn’t until the turn around to downstream that I found some space and a strong rhythm. Even though the upstream portion was 30% of the course, it took me equal time going upstream as the 70% of the course I swam downstream.
There was quite a distance to run on numb feet to transition in the parking garage but I found some soft muddy grass to run on instead of the sidewalk/pavement. Getting ready for the bike, it was the least frantic transition area I’ve been in. The consensus was that this was not a race to rush through, but instead a race to finish safely- especially on the bike! I took the time to put on arm sleeves, gloves, shoes and socks, and then headed back out into the consistently falling rain.
I would love to bike this course in better weather. The up hills weren’t bad and the down hills would have been tons of fun if I wasn’t approaching them all so cautiously and wondering if there was flooded water at the base! The race directors did an awesome job of marking the course, keeping portions of the course closed to traffic, and having police and volunteers throughout. I thanked all the police and volunteers that I passed, eliciting one police woman to respond “you’re welcome but you’re crazy!” The rain felt like ice or hail sometimes, making me thankful for the arm sleeves. The worst moments were actually when dirty rain water got into my eye and blurred my vision. Imagine biking through cold rain while only seeing out of one eye- that was me at two different points in time during the bike! I kept a safe speed the whole time, thankful to arrive safely back at transition to begin the 10k run.
I switched out my bike gloves for running gloves, and my bike helmet for a running hat to keep some water out of my face, happy to have something dry on my body. My feet were pretty numb and it took a half mile to get some true feeling back into them. The Knoxville/ the University of Tennessee has a great system of running paths that go along the river or creeks that run into the river which were what made up the run course. Because they run along the river though, there were parts of it that were flooded… seriously. Four parts of the course had my running through more than ankle deep water, which on an out and back course meant eight “creek crossings” as I dubbed them. I was smiling through the whole course as always, and got called out for it by one guy who jokingly said I must not be going hard enough! Team in Training had volunteers for one of the water stations that was under a bridge that had turned into a partial waterfall and they were pretty awesome and very enthusiastic. I really picked up the pace during the final mile and sprinted to the soggy/muddy finish line!
It turns out I clocked my fastest per mile time to date off the bike, averaging a solid 8:44 per mile over those 6.2 miles, not what I had expected on this day. I also finished this race almost two whole minutes faster than the Rev3 Anderson, SC race I did in the fall which had the same distances. Considering the conditions, I was pretty happy with that! No age group podium this time around (the top three in my age group had times comparable to the pro women’s field!) But since my goal was to finish without a bike crash, I’ll take my father’s relieved expression over any award!
What are the worst conditions you’ve faced in a running race or triathlon? Anyone else love running in the rain?