Challenge Knoxville Half - 56 mile bike

After mounting the bike, I quickly realized that all of us athletes were in for a very wet and rainy bike ride. 

Not familiar with any mile of this bike course, my main goal was to ride as strong as possible. And to define strong, I wanted to feel really good throughout the entire bike. I anticipated low moments which are normal in long distance racing but I wanted a strong sustainable effort. 

As we made our way on a main road and then over an overpass to the other side of the river, I began to become more aware of my "why" as to why I was racing.

For many athletes, training and racing is all about the results on race day. For me, I love the journey. I try to take mental notes of where my fitness is when I start a training journey and then where my fitness is on race day. For Challenge Knoxville, I felt confident and strong on the bike and if someone were to ask me on the bike "why are you racing?" I would proudly respond (with a smile) "because there was a time when I couldn't ride like this!"

I had no power, time or speed goals for the bike. Instead, I did know how I wanted it to feel as I was chasing my nearest competition. After a year of riding in Greenville, I can confidently say that I have greatly improved my strength and skills on the bike ( almost every ride in Greenville, we average around 16.5-17 mph  due to our  hilly terrain and with every 1 hour of riding we do around 1000 feet of climbing). 
I knew that with the rain and the few climbs along with small rolling hills on the course, the "fastest" athlete would be the one who raced smart.

 In years past, I felt like I had the fitness to ride fast but I lacked the necessary skills to ride smart on my race courses. Just a year ago in St. Croix, I remember being very apprehensive on the bike, taking no risks and feeling waves of low energy. One year later and wow, things have really changed for me and my cycling fitness/skills. I made sure to remind myself of how far I have come in 9 years of endurance triathlon racing but more so, the progress I have made in the past year. 
I didn't need any specific watts, speed or finishing time to demonstrate how good I felt on the bike and for me, at Challenge Knoxville, I felt as if I was racing stronger than ever before. 

The night before the race, I changed one of my Garmin 500 interval screens to show the following:
Normalized lap power
Current lap time        3sec power
Cadence                   Lap speed

I didn't care about my overall time, I wasn't wearing a HR monitor so I didn't need HR taking up space on my screen and I didn't care about my overall average power. 

I actually could have rode the entire 56 mile ride without my Garmin but I used my Garmin to "check-in" every 20 minutes. Every 20 minutes (give or take 30-60 seconds) I would hit the lap button so I only "checked-in" in 20 min segments. Karel lapped every 30 minutes.
We do this in every race for it helps to analyze the file after the race but also it gives a better representation of our efforts at specific parts in the race. It's like intervals on race day. It keeps us honest and accountable with our efforts rather than viewing average speed or average power for 56 miles. 

As we made our way to the first climb, I was excited to get out of my saddle for my normal climbing style and stretch my legs as I stood up and pedaled my way over the first climb. Despite the rain and wet roads, I felt very confident descending and taking turns. Again - why was I racing? Because once I was a scared cyclist who lacked good, safe cycling skills to race to my potential and now I was thankful that I never gave up on my quest to be a better cyclist (I owe a lot of that to Karel who, year after year, strengthens my love for cycling. And to electronic shifting......And to my new home - I love riding in Greenville!). 

There were several crashes on the course and it was hard to see so many athletes on the side of the road. I heard a lot of dropped chains as I was riding and saw a few flat tires. I did have one oh-no moment when I was making a right turn and the road pitched-up a bit so as I was turning, I got out of my saddle to power-up the hill and my back wheel kinda slid behind me. Luckily, I didn't go down but it reminded me that everyone out on the course would be experiencing their own struggles, forcing many athletes to ride out of their comfort zones due to the weather and road conditions.

I found the course very manageable - there were long stretches of road to settle into a rhythm (in the aero bars) and there were no packs of riders drafting off one another. I love racing smaller races because there is no worries about large packs passing an athlete. The vibe was all around positive and Challenge did an exceptional job marking the course. For the half there were pink arrows all over the course and triangles to note rough patches of road. The road conditions (minus the rain) were great as the roads were very smooth (a lot of our country roads in Greenville are bumpy!) and the views were beautiful. Lots of farm land with mountain views. I made sure to say hi to all the animals who were out - especially the cute little calf that was watching us ride by in his pasture. 

I found myself playing car and mouse with a few guys for much of the ride (one of which was the husband of previous pre-built athlete of mine, Kara - her hubby Brian was riding really strong). 

I was passed by two very strong female riders somewhere around 18-25 miles. 

I tried to keep the two girls in my view for most of the ride, for as much as I could without chasing too hard (I needed to make sure I had some running legs off the bike). 

As I made the left hand turn, heading toward the first turn around, I spotted Karel, doing his thing, riding super strong. I yelled "GO Karel!" and he gave me a semi-wave back (fingers lifted off his aero bars). It made me happy to see him and like usual, it was an instant endorphin boost. 
Karel ended up riding the first 30 min incredibly strong before settling into his rhythm but still managed a very consistent and fast ride. When we talked about the race after the ride, we both said we felt so strong and this was an awesome course and we can't wait to race it again next year. 

As I was nearing the turn around, I looked on the other side of the road to see if I could count what place I was in. It was hard to know 100% but I spotted Amy (who was first AG athlete) and then I spotted the two girls that I was trying to stay close to ahead of me.

4th place overall amateur female athlete was a tough situation, mentally, to be in. I found myself wondering if I would be passed by any more girls or if I would even be able to catch these girls on the run to achieve my top 3 overall amateur goal.

But then I stopped thinking and starting acting. I reminded myself "why" I race - to see if what may look impossible is actually possible. 

I couldn't believe how good my legs felt throughout the entire ride and even though my power was lower than I imagined it to be based on my riding in Greenville, it didn't really bother me because the feeling that I was experiencing was reassuring that my fitness was in a good place. I actually felt the best that I have ever felt in a half IM swim and bike and as the miles ticked by, I began to find myself enjoying this race more and more! 
I have put 100% trust into my training plan this season and I really believed that I could run strong off the bike.

However, believing and achieving are easier said than done.

For most of the ride, I stayed focused on what I needed to do on the bike to set myself up for a good run. I made sure to be deligent with my liquid calories and I sipped my primary bottle (on my down tube of my frame) every 10 min (2-3 sips) starting from 20 min on the bike. I would rotate the bottles so that I always had my primary bottle in the down tube. I did not stop at any aid stations for water. If it was a bit more hot and sunny, I would have used water for sipping/cooling. 
I managed to get down a wafer, despite not enjoying solid food when I ride - but it has worked well in training (our riding is so taxing that I have to consume a lot more nutrition than I use to consume in FL each hour) so I wanted to try it on race day. 
I consumed around ~1100 calories on the bike and 3 x 24 ounce bottles of fluid.

As I was nearing the second turn around, I felt like I was gaining some ground on the three girls ahead of me but still wasn't able to pass any of them. 

Gloria has taught me well to not jump ahead in my thoughts so I didn't think about the run but instead, just focused on the last 10 miles or so of the bike. 

We had one more long climb to go and I found myself passing several athletes (including one of the girls ahead of me) near the top of the climb. However, I was then passed by several athletes in that group that I was staying close to (legally drafting) as I needed to pee (really badly) and just didn't want to hold it in on the run (especially while wearing a fuel belt). 

I had to slow down a lot to relieve my bladder and I ended up losing at least a minute from the other group. It was a solo ride back to the transition area with no other athletes around me and the girls ahead of me were long gone (with Amy way far ahead - I didn't want to assume anything but I didn't put pressure on myself to catch her). 

I turned on my Garmin 910 with around 1 mile to go so it would be all set (satellite found) for the run. 

As I was nearing the transition area, I saw the two girls ahead of me already leaving transition area and I was not even dismounting my bike. 
Game on!

I turned off my computer as I was dismounting my bike and jogged my bike into the transition area (I was the 2nd rack). I smiled at my mom (and Campy) who were sitting on the sidewalk between the transition area and run course. Although this course was not spectator friendly (aside from the swim and run finish), I was really happy to see some familiar faces. 

After racking my bike, I removed my cycling shoes and put on my very wet Brooks Pure Flow 4 run shoes. I put on my Nathan 2-flask Hydration belt and then as I was about to start running, I grabbed my dad's corvette had, dumped out the puddle of water inside it and put it on my head (oh - I put my Oakley RPM sunglasses on around mile 30 of the bike and kept them on for therun - although I didn't need them in the rain/cloudy weather on the bike, there was a lot of debris on the road and I didn't want anything to get into my eyes). 
I put my race belt on as I was running out of transition and started my Garmin. 

I immediately spotted my friend Ed as he was finishing the Olympic and he gave me the biggest smile and we gave each other a high-five. Another "why" as to why I love racing - seeing other athletes on the course who all love doing amazing things with their bodies!

I smiled at my mom (and Campy - who either wanted to run with me or chase the other athletes) and started my 13.1 mile run. 

13.1 miles to finally understand "why" I still love racing triathlons. 

Karel (in the background) running his way out of transition. 

Yay - legs feel good! Thank you body!
(Thanks mom for the great pics!)

Stay tuned for my 13.1 mile run race recap.

Bike stats: 

2:46 (20.18 mph average)
1st fastest AG bike time
4th fastest female amateur bike time
2:29 (22.52 mph average)
3rd fastest AG bike time
11th fastest male amateur bike time