My Team:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

First Pro Race! Rev3 Knoxville

Like a beginner, again!

This was a day of firsts, my first race as a Pro, my first race of the year, and my first open water swim of the season. How fun! What’s that saying? Don’t do anything new on race day? :)
Going into this race, my only solid goal was to not come in last place. There are moments when I have my doubts about whether or not racing ‘pro’ is a wise decision, so I was worried that if I raced poorly, those negative thoughts would take over and ruin the experience of this whole year. Aside from that goal, I truly wanted to have fun and learn as much as possible. I am happy to report I was successful at all three!!

Race Lead-Up:

The days leading up to the race were probably my favorite part of the whole weekend. Ryan and I had a wonderful drive from Michigan, enjoying the gorgeous scenery in both Kentucky and TN, rocking out to new music on Spotify. We made it in an easy 8 hours and headed straight to the race site. I was pumped to check out the Rev3 setup since this was my first time at one of their events. The race site was at Worlds Fair Park right in downtown Knoxville, at this gorgeous park. The expo was perfect, everyone was friendly, and I could already see how if someone brought their family, they would be very easily entertained with the bouncy house and other kid-friendly activities nearby. It also seemed like everyone had a dog, and it made me miss Cody-bear like crazy. I was so excited to get in line at the Pro booth, so I had Ryan take a picture:

As soon as I got my packet, we turned around and on the big screen -- there was my face!!!

After dinner, we headed out to drive the bike course. The elevation profile hadn’t looked terribly intimidating, but everyone warned of a tough course. None of the hills were particularly gnarly, but there was also almost zero flat riding for the whole 25 miles. My weakness as a cyclist is maintaining my watts while going downhill or with a tailwind -- give me wind or hills and I’ll crank the power, but make it easy and I get lazy and enjoy the ride :) At the top of the most technical descent, I pulled my bike out of the Element for a quick practice ride. It was a blast, and I figured out the best way to take the turns, something I rarely have the chance to practice in Michigan.  

Finally, we headed to our homestay. One of the race coordinators put us up at his mother's place while she was away -- so we had a whole condo to ourselves -- how awesome! Well, not totally to ourselves. Our host for the weekend was Pearl, a gorgeous kitty that ‘required’ almost as much attention as Cody!

Pet me...prrrrr

Saturday morning came super early for Ryan. He wanted to take advantage of our proximity to real mountains to get in some hill training for the Leadville 100 trail run in August. So while he headed off to the Smoky Mountains, I cuddled up with Pearl and listened to the thunderstorm roll in, hoping Ryan was OK atop the mountains! (Check out his version, here).
I met up with another pro athlete, Megan, who was kind enough to invite me to ride with her. Whoa, hills. Yeah, tomorrow will be interesting! Ryan got home just in time to head back to the race site for my first ever Pro meeting! It was so SO cool to be in the VIP tent with all of these incredible athletes, many of whom I’ve been following from afar since I started this sport. Right before the meeting began, Greg Bennett sat at my table, and was immediately chatting away with his buddies. I made some lame joke, and couldn’t believe when he actually laughed. I am such a LOSER, but it made my day. (You can roll your eyes, it’s OK).

The last stop of the day was a swim in the Tennessee river. The water temperature had dropped to 66 degrees, so the race officials confirmed it would be wetsuit legal. Nearly everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and Greg Bennett made the same observation that I’ve stated -- some fat-ass at the USAT was the one who chose the 68F cut-off temp. TOO COLD! But 66 in a wetsuit is perfect! I donned my De Soto two-piece and hopped into the murky water.

Something is missing from that bridge...

The rest of the day was just easy- for once in a very long time, I wasn’t nervous or worried. I was just happy and excited-- the way racing used to make me feel. The field was so stacked with short-course experts that I knew I had no chance of placing- and that was OK, in fact, it was terrific, because there were absolutely no expectations other than to race my best.

Race Day!
Alarm went off at 4:30 and I easily got out of bed -- this is almost my usual wake up time. I let Ryan sleep a bit more, and by the time he got up I had already finished my breakfast. Now this is notable because I typically have such bad pre-race nerves that I can’t eat and usually puke up anything I manage to get down (not conducive to racing my best!). First major success of the day!

One great thing about having raced so many times is that it took me about 5 minutes to set up my transition area. I decided to put my shoes on the bike and use rubberbands to hold them, but stupidly never really practiced my T1 since last season (or, um, maybe ever...). What’s that about race day and new things again? I keep forgetting....

Rev3 really made me feel like a Pro!
Once at the race start, I did the wetsuit dance while chatting with some other female pros. A few minutes before the male pros began, I jumped in the water and did some hard warm ups to get my body ready for the intense pace of the swim start. I felt totally ready, and was in a good place before the gun went off. This was the calmest I’ve been before a race, ever.

The male pros took off, and we followed 3 minutes afterward. I seeded myself in the middle of the bunch, and just off the front line. As we began the swim, I had zero contact with any other girls and just swam my brains out. For about 100 feet I was with some other girls...and then they were gone. Of course! Right after I lost contact, I started to have my first ever open water panic attack. Despite having warmed up a bit and feeling used to the water, my wetsuit all of a sudden felt like a vice around my chest and neck. I wasn’t having any trouble taking in air, but it didn’t feel like I was actually getting oxygen. The distance I had to swim was suddenly insurmountable, and the urge to just flip on my back or get to a kayak was practically unbearable. It took all of my mental energy and focus to get my sympathetic nervous system back under my volitional control. Throughout this little episode, I never stopped swimming, but it took another 10 minutes or so to get to the point where I could really push myself again. That was a pretty cruddy way to start my race, but I focused on the positive, which was my ability to get it together again.

The swim exit was directly from the water onto a dock, with no stairs, ladders or handles, and  everyone just stood around watching me try to pull myself up, flopping around like a fish out of sea. I hope they at least laughed :) The run to transition was nearly a quarter mile, and I heard Ryan cheer me on. I had no idea if I was last out of the water, but it sure felt like it! Once I got to my bike, I saw a few other bikes, and breathed a sigh of relief that no, I was not dead last, or at least not yet.

I went through T1 like I’ve never done a transition before in my life. I didn’t realize that I only know how to mount my bike from one side, and when I was on the wrong side, I practically froze up and didn’t know what to do. Once on my bike, I couldn’t get my feet into my shoes- my feet were still wet and my shoes are about a half size too small. Disaster! If someone has a video of it, it should be titled what NOT to do in a race. Gr.

So, here I am, starting the bike, and I’m in a pretty bad place, mentally. I’ve just had a crappy swim, complete with my first panic attack, a totally embarrassing T1, and my head is just filled with thoughts of WHATAMIDOINGHERE?! Unfortunately, things got worse before they got better...

Within the first mile of the bike, we had to go over a set of railroad tracks that were in the middle of a downhill section. I rode my hoods in case I needed to brake, but ended up hitting the tracks hard. My water bottle flew out of my aerobar cage, and I was unable to catch it. For a split second I thought about ditching it, but since it was my only bottle and I didn’t want to litter, I screeched to a halt, turned around, and retrieved it from the pavement. Turns out, the stupid POS bottle landed on the top and broke the nipple-part off, causing it to slowly leak GU Brew over the next 20 minutes. I drank as much as I could before it splashed out, covering my bike, hands and legs, but was still a bit nervous that I’d be without fluids for the first half of the ride.

Going up the first hill, I heard an awful screeching sound from my back wheel. NO! not another problem! I’ve had a few stupid mishaps with my bike in the past, but this time I was careful to have both Ryan and I go over every detail to make sure no part of my race wheels could rub anything! Unfortunately, when I hit the railroad tracks, it unseated my wheel just enough to rub my brakes. I made the quick decision to just release the brakes, and hope that they might still yield some stopping power on the descents I knew were coming up. Wow. This was a really, REALLY crappy start to my pro career, HA!

I tried so hard to overcome the mental anguish of the start of this race, but my legs were being stupid and would not put out the power I knew I had. I was 12 watts under my target, and spiraling down into a very bad place. And then, it happened. I saw my first competitor up the road. Moody Alaina instantly turned into competitive Alaina, and my thoughts were back under my control. I passed her up the one big hill that I had practiced on, and amazingly enough, I was NOT caught on the downhill!! And the tide finally turned...

From there, everything improved. I was able to push myself a bit harder and even caught a second girl heading into T2. My T2 wasn’t as ugly as T1, but I still have room for improvement. As we left the parking garage, I was right behind another girl, and Ryan informed me that my new friend Megan was just up the road. The first mile clocked by at 6:07, and I was astounded at the pace- it actually didn’t feel too bad! I resisted looking at my pace too often, and instead focused on racing, and staying with this one girl, who was running a solid time. By mile 2, we had passed another girl and we were still holding low 6’s. The guys were headed back to the finish, and Greg Bennett was just ahead of Cameron Dye. What a close race!
Heading out on the run!
Right after the turn around, we caught another girl, but this time my running partner was starting to pull away from me. I checked my pace, and I was still waaay faster than my target pace (6:30-6:40), so I just ran what I could manage. My energy got a little low, so I took a Vanilla GU and immediately perked up. Up the road, my mark was catching and passing Megan. By the time I looked up again, Megan had passed her back, and I found myself closing the gap. 

At the 30 minute mark, I passed the girl I had been following this whole time, and worked super hard at catching Megan. We were nearly running together for that last mile, but every time I tried to take a step ahead of her, she could still put on the jets and keep me at bay. The last ½ mile was all uphill, and I just didn’t have enough strength (mental and physical) to get ahead of Megan, so we crossed the finish line within seconds of each other. I had an absolute blast running that 10k. It was so tough, but I felt like my training finally paid off, and I ran much faster than I thought I could. I was also surprised by how many girls I passed, and that no one passed me!!

After the race, Ryan and I hung around, chatting with all the other props. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves a lot, and it was fun to be able to congratulate everyone on how well they did. I was SO happy to come in the top 20. This race was seriously stacked with some amazingly fast women, and a lot of ITU girls as well. I have almost no experience at this distance, and it hurt just as much as I expected. Despite my rookie mistakes, I still raced pretty well, but I also know it wasn’t up to my full potential, especially with such a short run! The whole experience got me fired up for the rest of the season. I was also happy to meet most of the girls that are racing Rev3 this year, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the familiar faces throughout the summer.

Total Time: 2:14:40, good for 19/25. Swim: 22:25, Bike: 1:08:50, Run: 39:05 (from Garmin)

Last but not least, I want to give a HUGE thank you to Coach Jorge for getting me to this point- not only to race hard, but for all of the years leading up to this point. And thank you to my amazing husband Ryan, for doing everything for me at this race-- this life would be impossible with out you.

This race is a must do! The course is gorgeous and FUN. Not a PR-type course, but not terribly hard, either (I don’t know about the half though). Rev3 does a tremendous job all around, and they made me, as a rookie pro, feel really special. Now on to Rev3 Quassy in June!!


  1. Great job, Alaina! Way to stick it out. Now it will only get better :)

  2. Great report!! I totally identified with your OWS panic, except the part about being at the front of the pack :D. This is the beginning of a great season!!

  3. Critical lover of your site, a considerable variety of your blog posts have genuinely assisted me out. Hunting in the direction of updates!
    hotels near knoxville
    cheap hotels in knoxville