Not that long ago I was in the worst physical shape in my entire life and yesterday I raced a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run. I'm still shocked that I did that, especially my longest training run (10 miles) the Sunday before the race left me hobbling for two days. My scar and back were so tight that I actually decided to pull out of the race and just focus on the Super Sprint race since it only involved 1.5 miles of running at a time, as opposed to a half marathon. But as the week went on, I started to feel better and better and in the Super Sprint, I felt very comfortable running. This gave me the confidence to go for it and see if what I could do in Branson.
I'm glad I made the decision to go because Rev3 Branson is such a unique race. The bike course is a spectacular and very hilly ride through the Ozarks, with about 75% of it on a completely closed four lane highway.
The morning after the Vegas race, I took off at 6:40 am for Missouri. We didn't get home from the race until close to midnight, then I had to pack my bike and, of course, ended up talking to Laurel until all hours. I got about 2 hours of sleep which made the travel day on Friday and complete blur. But as soon as we started driving away from the airport Branson I was jolted back to reality. I got a sense of what the bike course was going to be like. Everywhere I looked there were hills, not mountains, but just bike, steep hill after hill. I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into and a small part of me was actually relieved that my bike was stuck in transit between the Vegas strip and the Branson Strip. In order to distract myself from the dueling thoughts that either I'd have to tackle these hills on minimal training or I'd have to be a spectator without a bike to ride, I did some Branson sightseeing. I stumbled upon a festival and got to see a demo of one of the "shows" Branson is famous for. My bike did eventually make it to the Ozarks on Saturday afternoon, leaving just enough time to get it together and dropped off in the transition area.
Race day started with a duck boat ride to the transition area. I'd never done the duck boat thing, so now I can officially check that off the list, even though we just did the dry land portion. It was cold out (around 47 degrees) and those boats are not enclosed. When I got to the transition, I realized that my helmet had broken in transit. A piece of the adjustment ratchet was gone, making my helmet way too big, totally unsafe and not rideable for a 56 mile ride. I tried to tape it together, but that didn't work. So I had to go on a scavenger hunt to find a helmet to use, with about 30 minutes until race time. Luckily, one of the on-site bike mechanics from Big Shark brought his helmet with him and generously let me use it. It wasn't a Rudy Project helmet, but it fit. I found a helmet, but had NO time to warm up.
This lack of warm up showed when the gun went off. I just couldn't get going in the swim. Eventually, I found Emily Cocks' feet and followed her around the course. Neither one of us could see anything without he strong glare of the sun and ended up going astray. We were about 2 minutes down from the leaders when we got out of the water. I wasn't too panicked because I knew the first 7 miles of the race were a net uphill, so I figured I would catch up. I opted to put on socks, a hat and gloves for the bike ride. Who knows if I really needed the gloves, but my fingers were never cold on the ride.
Once I started riding, I pushed the pace until I caught up to Tenille H. and a pro guy (Greg K.). I felt good riding my Cervelo S5 road bike, especially on the climbs, but I probably would have benefited from using my TT set up (P3) when it came to the downhills. Since I was doing the draft-legal/long distance double, I only had one bike with me. When we got to the hilly highway section, Rachel McBride caught me on one of the huge downhills. I rode with her and the pro guy for the next several miles. We caught up to Radka and passed Jen S. who was unfortunately on the side of the road fixing her bike's chain. Once we got into a little group, I was able to back off the pace and just ride the pace of everyone else. Basically it went like this: I'd go up the hills first, then everyone would go zooming ahead on the downhills, getting so far ahead that they seemed like little specks in the distance. Then I would cruise up and catch them on the climbs. I still was able to ride evenly and didn't have to exert any extra energy to catch up. At about the 40 mile mark, my back/scar started to tighten up so I made a conscious effort to ease up. I knew that if my back tightened up, that was the one thing that would stop me from finishing. So, I rode the last part of the bike ride easy and lost the 5 girls ahead of me. It's not the way I wanted to finish the ride, but I had to keep in mind my overall goal: to get to that finish line.
When I came into T2, I was about 2 minutes down from the leaders and 1 down from the next closest racer. I started running and felt absolutely awful. In the first mile, I started to think, am I going to finish this thing? Then I told myself, yes you are, you are a fighter, you can do this. So I kept plodding along and was very thankful that the 3 loop course was completely flat. Somewhere near the end of the first loop, I regrouped, had a puff of my inhaler and a sip of my EFS gel flask and almost instantly I felt a hundred times better. Maybe it just takes that long to find your legs? Whatever it was, I went from survival mode to race mode. I picked up the pace and started feeling strong again. People all along the race course were cheering - not just fans but other racers. Missouri hospitality at it's finest! This continued for the next 8 miles or so. I sailed by the ten mile mark like it was normal for me to run that long. My inexperience with half ironman nutrition caught up with me at mile 11 when both of my quads cramped. I kept pushing it, even though I wasn't making up any time on 4th place. At that point, I knew there wasn't much standing between me and the finish line.
At close to five hours, I crossed the line in fifth place, just about 45 seconds behind Jessica Meyers, another mom (of twins!). I felt like jumping up and down to celebrate, but my legs were way too sore for anything but stumbling to my hotel room.
Big congratulations to everyone who tackled the Branson hills and to Radka, Jen and Rachel for taking the podium. A big thank you to all of my sponsors and support crew, especially Carolyn M. from Fusion Sports Performance for getting me fixed up and ready to race not just the half ironman, but the TWO sprint races two days before. These longer races are really hard, but I'm up for more. Maybe they get less torturous is you actually train for them??!!
Video highlights from the race: