Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Tale of Two Races

WTC v. Rev3 in a subjective race-off

WTC is the World Triathlon Corp.  They own all Ironman races, the Ironman name and all things Ironman.  They charge approximately $700 per full distance race and the races usually sell-out in less than 24 hours.  People choose to do Ironman-branded races because they believe them to be (a) better organized, (b) better supported and (c) bigger, showier, more exciting events than non-Ironman-branded races.  Ironman is not the easiest company to like.  They put on crowded events, disqualify racers if family members cross the finish line with them and take a hard-line with any races that use a name similar to theirs (iron-distance races, for example).  I raced Ironman Louisville last year and they ran out of water at several aid stations in the fourth hour of the bike ride on a day when temperatures reached 95 degrees.  I am not a fan.

Rev3 is Revolution 3, a challenger group that claims to deliver a family-friendly events and a racer-focused experience.  They charge approximately $425 for a full distance race and the races take a long time to sell out.  People do Rev3 races because they believe them to be (a) more fun for the spectators, (b) a lower-key atmosphere and (c) cheaper.  Rev3 is organized by pro triathletes, has great prize purses for the winners of its races, puts finisher photos up on the jumbotron at the finish, encourages family members to run through the finish line and makes personalized nameplates for each racer.  Before this year, I had never done a Rev3 race.  They looked nice, but were not much cheaper than Ironman-branded races, so I thought "meh?  what's the difference?"  However, this year GU sponsored Rev3, so I had the opportunity to race for free.  OK, my race entry was free.  Travel to Knoxville, the hotel and meals we had there were not free.

Rev3 Knoxville Half (race report here)

My only experience of Knoxville prior to the race was a UT/UGA game, that the Dawgs lost miserably.  It was hot, the stadium was steep and crowded, the food was uninspired and we were not impressed.  Driving in for the Rev3 race, though, we saw the other side of town. 

The Sunsphere and World's Fair park were beautiful green expanses along the river and we found a good brewpub for pre-race fueling.  Doug signed the kids up for the Kids Adventure Race (a family scavenger hunt) while I checked myself in.  Then, I joined them for the second half of the race until Dagny got tired and needed to ride on my shoulders. 

The kids practiced running down the finisher's chute in the grassy park where the expo was located.  I met Tyler, king of GU and spent the afternoon hobknobbing with him as we gave out samples of GU to the expo attendees.  Overall, Rev3 had a very welcoming, easy feel.

At the actual race, the swim was pretty cold and the current was challenging.  I just told myself that it was hard for everyone, so I did not stress.  The bike course was hilly!  I knew Knoxville was a mountainous place, but I was slightly under-prepared for all of the climbing on the bike.  This was my first try going easy on the bike, so I just rode along.  Coming off of the bike, I was a little loopy and lost my water bottle and then the jacket for the bottle before I finally started the run.  As you can see, I was a bit discombobulated.

The run was hilly, but not any harder than my neighborhood.  In fact, some of it was in a neat Knoxville neighborhood!  I had a blast and brought it home fast to find Doug, Phat and the Blackmons at the finish.  The kids didn't get to run it in with me because they were having too much fun in the bounce house.

I loved this race and would encourage anyone considering a Rev3 event to give it a try.  It was a lower-key atmosphere than Ironman races.  There was no rush to buy Rev3 branded goods, the expo was not crowded and the race course was not full of spectators.  However, I found this to be a refreshing change from the craziness of Ironman races.  All of the aid stations and other support were exactly where promised and plentifully stocked.  The finishline was exciting and it was very cool to be on the jumbotron.  : )

Ironman Wisconsin Full (race report here)

As anyone who has talked for me for longer than 3 seconds this year knows, we raced Ironman Wisconsin this year in Madison with Team Buttercup, Tom and Doug's awesome family.  If you have never visited Madison, it is just plain awesome.  Doug's family has been telling us this for years, I know, but sometimes we are just slow.  We had a blast checking out all of the cool stuff in and around Madison.  Doug's sister Michelle and brother-in-law John drove up and corralled the kids for us.  Here are my girls checking out the finish line.
Here they are with Owen at the Stube in New Glarus.  New Glarus Brewery is also a must-see.  We also tried Linberger cheese at Baumgartners in Monroe, and toured all of the good restaurants and the farmer's market in downtown Madison.
Here are Doug, Katie, Becky and me at the swim start.  I am on the left, then Becky in the long-sleeve, then Doug and Katie on the right.  We found Karen once we got in the water, so it was a perfect way to start.
Love this photo.  I look tough!  Grrrrr!
Here is John, who tirelessly cheered all day.
Uncle Ray and Aunt Rodonna waiting for the slower racers (me!).
I got to finish with Katie, which was AWESOME!
The gang, minus Doug, who was taking the photo.  Love these ladies.  The kids powered through and were up to watch the last finishers come through at midnight, which was really cool.  I cry every time. 
I loved this race, too.  However, after experiencing Wisconsin, Louisville and the Rev3 Knoxville, I would make the argument that the race-director/owner of an event does not matter as much as the venue.  After Louisville, I was really down on WTC, but Wisconsin was awesome in every way because the town was excited about the race and there were tons of neat things to do there.  Knoxville was great for the same reasons, plus the event venue was fabulous. 

However, the best thing about Madison was the monumentally huge bonus of Doug's family making the trip to support us.  We don't know if there could ever be another race as great as that.  : )

Saturday, November 12, 2011

You Can't Always Get What You Want

I wanted to feel strong for the Savannah Rock and Roll Marathon.  My pals at GU gave me an entry for the race, so I wanted to represent!  I wanted to have an easy day on Friday, a good night's sleep and break four hours on Saturday.

Well, a bunch of life happened.  I worked the expo all day on Friday, ate peanuts/bananas/tylenol for lunch with GI issues, and could not sleep because I got another of those sinus headaches.  You are not supposed to take anti-inflammatory medicine prior to a marathon, but I took a LOT.

Here are Nat and Desiree at the expo.  From my place in the GU booth, I got to see all of my peeps come through on Friday and meet a bunch of racers, which was really neat. There was a great energy in the building, even when the traffic had people waiting for two hours to get in.  It was a good expo.

On race morning, Doug dropped Nat, Michelle and I off for the shuttle at 5am, and we made it onto the first bus.  Then, the driver promptly asked if anyone knew the way to the start.  Whaaaa?  But we got there, and dropped our bags and it was fine.  Natalie found some peeps and Michelle and I huddled in the lee of a building to stay warm.  Doug found us, which was doubly-awesome for me.
Michelle and I ducked into the nearest corral for the start and met a couple of nice ladies and then we were off!  I started with my race outfit, a long-sleeved shirt and garbage bag on.  It was that cold and windy!  I started out at a good clip for the first few miles (8:45; 8:12; 8:30).  I joked around with the people around me when I tore my garbage bag off like the Hulk, "you wouldn't like me when I'm angry." 


Sheesh.  Tough crowd!

I ditched the shirt at the first water stop in mile 4 (8:47) and worried that perhaps I was not going to be able to keep up a sub 9 minute per mile pace for the whole race.  I had picked 8:50 as my goal pace after narrowly missing the 4 hour mark at the Publix GA Marathon in March, which was way hillier, but who knew what impact Ironman Wisconsin in September would have on my speed.
I stopped for the potty in mile 5 (10:55).  I'm not fast, but I did find some sanitizer.  I told myself that potty stops are now called the Bachman/Galloway method and tried to relax while I was in there as if it were a planned break.  And, just like our dearly departed Annie-dog, I felt much better after stopping.  I got to see Doug and Amy in the next few miles (8:11; 8:52) and used my emergency Advil to shush the persistent pain in my IT band (should have worn tights!).  We ran through throngs of screaming people downtown and everyone sped up (8:24; 8:38; 8:38), but slowed down again exiting through the neighborhoods, on the highway, and entering the park (8:47; 8:47; 8:46).  Since the band was not playing on the highway, I amused myself by pretending I was Godzilla as I stomped on all of the discarded cups.  GRRRRAAAAHHHH!!!!  Then a guy and I made ourselves into torpedos for better aero-advantage in the wind.

The park, though it was a paradise of extra potties, was a dark place for me.  My body started to hurt and I wondered (like I do in EVERY race) why the heck I was doing this.

While I wallow in the valley of darkness, here are some photos that Doug took of all of the gang. 
Please note that my support tank provides very convenient glove storage in the rear.

Here comes Jerry!

Karen is still smiling.  Honey badger is still asleep.

Katie smiling, as usual.
It turns out that I just missed seeing Doug in the park, because you can see that he caught Karen and Katie and their color-coordinated outfits.  For me, mile 14 was 9:08 and mile 15 was 9:14.  I was convinced for a good half mile that after the mile 15 marker that I had only 9 miles to go.  Whoops!  Guess who had low fuel, despite never deviating from the one GU every 4 miles plan?

Then, I met my new friend Cathy in mile 16 (8:56).  She was looking for a buddy too, so it was perfect  timing.  Cathy raced at Kiawah when Doug and I did in 2009, has registered for this year's Goofy and was also trying to PR by breaking 4 hours!  Yay - tons in common!  We talked nonstop for the next few miles (9:11; 8:57; 8:51) and it was awesome.  I started feeling bad again before mile 20, though, and thought mournfully to myself, "wow, she is too fast for me - I am going to have to let her go."  : (

Seconds after I finished this thought and made the accompanying sad face, Cathy turned to me and said "Steph, this is going to be tough and I will need you to help motivate me to finish." 

AHA!  A job!


It was like a light turning on and I felt instantly better.  Mile 20 was 9:02 and though it still hurt, we climbed out of that stupid valley of darkness.  My GI got a bit uppity in this stretch and I had to stop again in mile 21 (9:57), but remembering how Nat recovered herself and chased Doug down in the Atlanta marathon a few years ago, I used my Bachman/Galloway relaxation trick and told Cathy I would catch up. 

And I meant it.

Mile 22 was much better (8:31).  It was great to have Cathy's pink socks as a beacon and then Doug was there!  He ran with me on the windy highway as we chased Cathy.  It was great!  After Doug dropped off to find the next buddy (he ended up running 17 miles total), I ran a bit with a guy named Gary who was using this race as a training run (he was not even breathing hard!) and he ran with me and helped bridge me up to Cathy.  I was very glad in this stretch that I had been too cheap to ditch my Red Top Rumble gloves and tucked them in my shirt instead, because I wore them on and off for the rest of the race.

Here is Jerry!  First marathon!

Amy ran this stretch with Jerry and her sign!
The remaining miles were tough and they hurt a lot.  Cathy and I cursed at the pain and wished for very loud, make-your-ears-bleed music, but we brought it home with only a little slowdown (8:53; 8:58;  9:00; 9:20) and sprinted in the last 0.2 at 8:20 pace!  WHOO!

Nat and I changed clothes and headed to the finish line to cheer in the finishers. I alternated cheering and tearing up as the racers came through.  It never ceases to move me to see folks when they realize that they have finished and it dawns on them that people like us can do a marathon or an Ironman.

Here is Michelle with her awesome Team Buttercup cheering section.  You can't see John because he was running down the other side of the road taking the photo. 
Here are Nat and I after some freshening up and the application of dry clothes.

I broke 4 hours for a PR and final chip time of 3:55:37, met a new friend, saw Michelle's first marathon and had a great day. : )  Now, to see if I can sign up for next year . . .

Happy Running!