In our 4th year of offering half-iron distance tri training, better known as Tri 301, we chose Ironman 70.3 Raleigh as our target race. What we did not know was that despite our biggest 301 training group yet and the great spectator base that traveled with us, this event was going to test the core of our athletes.
Despite numerous challenges, the starting group finished strong and unified. At a race where many find themselves unable to make it through all three legs, it was impressive to see the strength and athleticism the Fleet Feet Knoxville triathletes displayed.
The Fleet Feet tent was strategically locally allowing ample viewing of the athletes on the out/back portion of the race. Manned by our own Ken Moore who made the trip still recovering from a neck injury, he showed all of us the true signs of a champion. I would be remiss not to thank those who trained with us but could not be there for various reasons. Through the strength of many, each found his or her own inner fortitude to push through the discomforts of a blazing hot run to cross the finish line. First time champions included Melinda, Andy, Laurel, Kasey, Susan, Cristina, Debbie, John, Justin, Misty, Bill, and Beth, while returning champions included Nick, Shahin, Radu, Renee, Kyli, David, and Roy.
What a day! The heat start for the swim offered a more comfortable start to the 1.2 mile swim. Except for occasional hand-to-hand combat, the swim venue proved to be fairly uneventful at the start. The 2nd leg added a little more challenge with what appeared to be lake current and rougher waters than normal for a lake swim. But after the Turn 2 buoy, the finish was a delightful sight. The T1 transition was a quaint little beach front nestled on the west side of Jordan lake. The water was too warm for wetsuit, although some opted for the safety of the neoprene and a place in the back of the starting groups.
East Tennessee is home to some beautiful yet demanding hills. When we heard the course was somewhat hilly, it concerned us. But once we were off, we realized their version of hills is more like a rolling ride, proven by the fast bike splits among our group. Some breakout rides and overall a solid showing of our bike training. Mount-Everett, does not seem that impressive any more.
When it came to the run course, to call it tough would be an understatement. Very tough! It was hot, hot, and hot. Unless you had plenty of hot weather running during your training, the course was going to test your endurance and your nutrition. Too many things can go wrong, but nothing that could not be handled. The best tip for the day was to wear a hat so you could stuff it full of ice!
As athletes, we need the support of our families to continue in this active lifestyle. It is a given! So when I saw the many family members present to cheer for their athletes, I was deeply touched. For me, the one constant in my near 30 years of triathlon training has been my wife. My most memorable finishing moments are my races where I carried my daughter in my arms across the finish line. So here is a big shout-out to all of the family members who came along to cheer, support, encourage, worry, and even assist their athletes. May we return the favor when you decide to take on your own challenge, triathlon-related or not (but hopefully triathlon-related).
Crossing that finish line is always emotional for me. Racing has been my way of finding myself when challenges are stacked. Yesterday I also found true friendship from a totally unknown athlete (Male athete #1550) who was kind enough to give me his tire lever when I was stranded on the side of the road with a flat. Many before him did not bother to ask, or even stop. But he stopped, and because of his help I was able to finish. His friendly gesture inspired me, and I see it as a call to help others in need, even if it means I need to make some sacrifices. After all, Paying it Forward is a challenge, but it is a challenge I accept whole-heartedly.