Monday, October 31, 2011

A Brake from the Routine: Rev3 SC Race Report

This race report is a bit of a retrospective, coming as it does three weeks after the event itself, so I won't be as detailed as I normally would be.  Instead, especially given that this was the first year that the race was run, I'll let pictures and video do a lot of the talking.  As always, I emphasize the mistakes I made and lessons I took away, in the hope that I'll save others from my misfortunes!


In the last few years, Rev3 has emerged as a strong competitor to the dominant -- some might say hegemonic or Orwellian -- World Triathlon Corporation, owner of the Ironman brand.  WTC runs very good races, but they are expensive as hell (approaching $1,000 for the New York City Ironman) and tend to be run with a bit of an authoritarian tinge.  For example, it's very hard for spectators a WTC race to get anywhere near the finish line due to barricades and crowd control measures, and there are fairly draconian rules that can disqualify Ironman athletes if a spouse or child joins them for the run across the finish line.   Rev3 is the Apple to WTC's 1990's Microsoft, emphasizing a friendly and accommodating user experience, and also showing off some whiz-bang twists like jumbotrons with live video feeds.

Even though it was only an awkward four weeks after Ironman Wales, I decided to race the inaugural Rev3 South Carolina Half-Ironman on October 9, 2011, with thirty or so other members of Team Z.  I thought it would be a relaxing weekend away from home, and a race that my parents could easily see, what with its being only two hours from Atlanta.  I hoped to put in a solid showing, although the main goal was just to get back on the training and racing wagon with an eye toward Cozumel in November.  I also wanted to see first-hand what all of the Rev3 hoopla was about.


Anderson, SC, is a fairly small town with a distinctly southern tinge -- lots of chain restaurants, and even more Clemson football fans.  Upon getting to town, I checked in at the Anderson Civic Center and perused the expo, where I had the delightful experience of trying on some Recovery Pump active compression boots, which I'll soon be reviewing separately.  The following morning, I drove the bike course, which seemed like the sort of rolling hills that are familiar to us east-coasters.

Parts looked flat and fast

No wind here, boss.
Horses for courses.
Be it Wales or South Carolina, wherever I go, the sheep follow.  If only
there were some joke one could make about the coincidence.
Somewhat unusually, turns on the course were marked with neon pink tape on the road that pointed the way to turn, so NB and I navigated the course by confirming the prompts on the cue sheet with the visual markers on the road.  This went smoothly until about halfway through, where we came to an odd juncture where the written directions said to turn right, but the pink arrows clearly pointed straight ahead.  We figured that maybe there had been a last-minute change to the course that wasn't reflected in the written directions, so we went straight, and kept going for miles until we realized that we were in Nowheresville, USA.  So, we backtracked about five miles to the turn where we'd chosen poorly, and came upon a rather remarkable scene: a portly guy, about 70 years old, had parked his car in the left lane of the road where we were supposed to go, and he himself was standing in the right lane, thereby preventing us from continuing. 

And on this farm he had a temper.  E-I-E-I-O.
And thus we met Angry Farmer Bob.  I don't know if his name was Bob, or if he was a farmer, but the "angry" part is clearly correct.  As we pulled up, AFB was in a heated discussion with a guy who worked for Rev3, and who apparently had noticed that the pink arrows had been surreptitiously pulled up and pointed in the wrong direction.  It quickly became clear that AFB was behind the misdirection, a fact that he made no effort to hide -- he was livid that cyclists were being pointed down his road.  Yes, "his" road, which he said that he owned.

Angry Farmer Bob's grasp of property rights was less than perfect.
AFB was going to be damned if he'd let a bunch of spandex-clad cyclists roll down his road.  Then, disaster struck when he noticed my Virginia license plate, a discovery that confirmed that I wasn't from them parts, and might even be a Yankee.  "You're not even from around here!  You don't know a damn thing!" he explained in the even, measured tones that Jeff Foxworthy explored at length.   At that moment, he realized the massive conspiracy that he faced in trying to defend his road from the new Union army, and he suddenly noted that the Rev3 official had... an accent.  A foreign accent.  So he asked, "Where the hell are you from, anyway?"  The Rev3 guy replied, "Sir, I was born in Ireland."  AFB retorted, "Well, maybe you ought to just get on back to Ireland, then."  The Rev3 guy explained calmly that he was an American citizen who'd been raised in Florida, and asked if the police should get involved.

At that point, we started filming the encounter, just on the chance that the guy decided to defend his property the old-fashioned way -- it begins with the Rev3 volunteer apologizing to us for the situation.  As you'll see, AFB notices us filming and decides to prove that he's no Luddite, whipping out his flip phone and trying to take pictures of us in turn.

After much questioning from the Rev3 guy, it turned out that AFB thought that the road was "his" because he paid taxes, and taxes paid for the roads.  On that logic, I'm only mildly surprised that he didn't call his army and air force to defend his land.  Although, actually, he may well have had a militia, so perhaps it's just as well.

Eventually, we snuck past AFB, who appeared to be waiting for the U.S. Border Patrol to show up and deport the Irishman.  It turned out later that this guy had rerouted several parts of the course and thrown race signs down into a ravine.  The next day, during the race, there was a police car parked at that intersection, no doubt waiting for him to do something stupid.  It was one of the only times that I've been glad not to be the first guy on the bike through a portion of a course.  It's amazing what race directors have to deal with, but I will say that the Rev3 guy acted respectfully and reasonably, but firmly, and represented the organization in a thoroughly professional manner.

The rest of the course preview was uneventful, and I looked forward to a fast day.  We racked our bikes and went for a practice swim in beautiful (but very low) Lake Hartwell, dropped our bikes off at T1, and then drove back to the Civic Center to arrange our shoes in T2, which was five miles down the road.

Takin' care of business
At the Civic Center, I found that my mom had been busily turning herself into a Superfan by making signs for me and NB:

From this moment, everyone else knew in their hearts that they were
racing for second place.
The Taaffe crew -- me with my parents.
After an early dinner, we headed back to the house to get a good night's sleep before Sunday's adventure.


I wasn't sure what to expect of myself for this half-Ironman.  Ironman Wales had been four weeks earlier, and it had taken me fully three weeks to feel recovered from that massive effort.  I'd put in a few solid days in the week before Rev3, but it was hardly an ideal buildup.  At the same time, I'd been stronger than ever heading into Wales, and I was sure that I hadn't lost all of that fitness.  I thought a personal-best time wasn't out of the question, but I just wasn't sure how I'd hold up.  Ultimately, it was a fitness test more than anything.

We parked at the Civic Center, which was also where T2 was located, and put our running gear in the designated corrals.

Debuting a new pair of bling blue Zoot TT shoes.

The low, wooden bike racks made for a much less chaotic-feeling transition area.

From there, everyone (including spectators) boarded the buses for the five-mile ride to the lake.

We had a couple of very cold hours to prepare ourselves in the darkness.

I first put my helmet on my bike in a ferocious-looking upright stance:

Cool.  But wrong, very wrong.
But then I came to my senses and realized it would be much easier to put on if it were upside-down.

Much better.  Note the ruby-red bike slippers!
In an effort to kill some time and stay warm, I scoped out the pros' bikes, and noticed Kate Major's ridiculously aggressive position and $6k wheelset:

Note the angle of the aerobars, pointed down at the front wheel.
Meanwhile, NB was practicing ninja moves.
Despite the cold air, I decided to go with a sleeveless wetsuit.

Yes, I'd had a lot of caffeine.
Pros kept trying to sneak into my pictures.  Of all people, they should
know that desperation is unatrractive.
Ready to rumble!
The Team Z crew.
Dad, perhaps suggesting that it might be more fun for everyone if we just went
to breakfast instead.  I don't appear convinced.

Triathlon is fun!  
And then it was time for business.

I know, I desperately needed a haircut.
It's easy to smile before you get the crap beaten out of you in the water.
After the National Anthem, the gun went off, and everyone charged into the water from the dry-land start.

The Swim

I'd been swimming well in practice, but for whatever reason, things went terribly for me from the get-go.  I think my first mistake was not getting at the very front of the wave of people running into the water, because once I got my head submerged, it was like an Ironman start, with people flailing everywhere, thrashing around, and generally trying to bludgeon their neighbors into submission.  I got kicked very hard in the cheek, which knocked my goggles crooked and hurt like hell, and then I looked up to find some yahoo literally swimming perpendicularly, right in front of me.  I had nowhere to go but straight into him, and then people started trying to climb over me from behind.  For the first time in years, I realized I was having trouble breathing -- I just couldn't seem to get enough air in.  I quickly ran through my mental checklist of things to try, and immediately stopped kicking and started pulling, in an effort to conserve oxygen.  It just wasn't enough, and embarrassing though it was, I swam out of the crowd and just treaded water for a minute or so until I could calm down.  From there, I swam strongly, and blew by people the rest of the swim, but my time still wasn't too wonderful.  When I got out, I wasn't too thrilled.

Swim time: 32:46
AG rank: 5
Overall rank: 30

The Bike

I expected to make up a lot of ground on the bike, but it wasn't happening.  Everything just felt unreasonably hard -- my legs burned and I just couldn't get into a rhythm.  The winds were very strong and gusty, and the course felt a lot hillier than I remembered it on the drive.  For those who have raced in Luray, VA, it was much along those lines.  It was much, much tougher than I thought it would be, with lots of extended false flats, and my lack of progress just didn't make any sense.  Normally, I spend the early part of the bike reeling in many of the faster swimmers, and I often have one of the fastest AG bike splits.  This time, though, people were passing me from the start.  First, guys in my age group started pulling away from me, so I buckled down.  Then, older guys in the AG who started 5 minutes back started passing me, which I found to be exasperating.  My wattage for the first hour seemed to be very good, a Normalized Power of about 270 watts, which is close to Olympic triathlon levels, but my average speed was only 17.3 mph, which is pathetic for me.  Finally, after about 1.5 hours, I began getting passed by amateur women who'd started 10 minutes behind me, and I knew that it just wasn't my day.  I didn't get it at all; it wasn't nutrition, and it wasn't wattage.  I just couldn't move the darn bike.  So, for the last 30 minutes, I just mentally decided to treat it as a training day and to try to put together a decent run at least.  I pulled into T2, saw my parents -- who'd been expecting me at least 20 minutes earlier -- shrugged, smiled, and said it just wasn't my day, but that I'd try to run well.

Bike time: 2:53:57
Cumulative AG rank: 12 (I lost seven spots, ugh)
Cumulative Overall rank: 53 (I lost 23 spots)

The Run

The run course looked like it was designed by a mad scientist.  Here's the oly run, which is the same except that it omits a long out-and-back in the middle:

In practice, it was like one of those Scooby Doo episodes where the gang is fleeing from a group of ghosts in a long hallway, and various permutations of ghosts and people keep running back and forth through random doors until everyone collides in a heap.  You'd see people running down a sidewalk across the road from you, but it was impossible to say whether they were 50 yards or 6 miles ahead, and you had no idea where you'd go next.  There was no risk of getting lost, but it was a little disconcerting to have no sense of progress since you just kept looping around the campus of the Civic Center.

After the disappointing bike ride, I didn't know what to expect from the run, but I came through the first three miles at a sub-7:00 pace and managed to keep it steady after that, walking most of the aid stations but otherwise moving at a reasonable clip, which was satisfying.  I ran people down from the start and basically kept it up throughout the course, which I'd characterize as rolling hills.  In a final cruel twist, there was about a 100-yard run toward the finish line, at the end of which they routed runners to the side and up a rather large hill before descending back to the finish.   I didn't realize that, and when I saw my mom with the camera, thought I was done:

Ultimately, despite my nightmarish swim and inexplicably slow bike ride, I managed to put together a 2-minute PR for the run, which was satisfying.

Run time: 1:39:01 (7:34/mi)
Cumulative AG rank: 9 (I regained 3 spots)
Cumulative Overall rank: 35 (I regained 18 spots)


I was happy with the run, indifferent toward the swim (I made a strategic error but otherwise swam well), and slightly mystified by how slow I was on the bike.  It just didn't make sense.  It didn't, that is, until I retrieved my bike from the rack, and noticed that it wasn't rolling smoothly.  It turns out that I'd mounted the front wheel just ever-so-slightly crookedly, such that the front brake pads were rubbing the rim the whole time.  I hadn't thought to check that since my front brakes are built into the fork, and therefore can't be knocked out of alignment.  It just hadn't occurred to me to ensure that the wheel itself wasn't out of alignment with the rest of the bike.  It was a total rookie mistake, but it's one I'm glad I made here, in a race that is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  It was also a relief, because it explained why I'd been so darn useless despite power numbers that were right where they should have been.

In all, I'd definitely do another Rev3 race, and plan to at Quassy in Connecticut next June, where I'll do the double (Oly and Half-IM on consecutive days).  The race was extremely well-run for a first-time event, the volunteers were plentiful and great, and the expo was festive.  I thought the course itself was only ok.  The bike course was immensely, and surprisingly, frustrating, but I don't think I got an accurate read on it due to my mechanical problem.  It certainly looked like the kind of course where one could move, but it didn't happen on race day.  The run course was fair, but the complex looping design was a little bit baffling because it was very difficult to tell where you're headed next, whether up the hill, around the lake, or down a 6-mile out-and-back where they had us run down the middle of the road.  I'd give the course a 6.5 or 7 out of 10.

It's now been three weeks since Rev3, and I'm halfway down the road to Cozumel and feeling good.  I'm glad I made the trip to South Carolina -- it was a great way to shock myself back into training, and delightful place to spend a weekend.

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