Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My first HALF-IRONMAN!!!

You know, races are funny things.  Sometimes they’re a test of physical strength, sometimes mental strength – and sometimes a combination of both (as well as usually a bit of luck).

The other challenge with races is that the more experienced at a given sport you get, the more focused you become on a specific goal – and when it appears that goal is out of reach during the event, one starts to question the rest of the attempt at that goal.

See, for me, the day was a relatively simple numbers game.  In order to reach my goal (under 6hrs), I needed a fairly simple and quite achievable day that consisted of these rough block times:

1) Swim: 42min
2) Bike: 3hrs
3) Run: 1hr 50min
4) Transitions: 5 minutes total

From one standpoint all of this should have been fairly achievable for me – as I’ve done all of this before in training.  I got a sub-42 swim in open water, sub-3:00 bikes on far more difficult days on the same course, and sub 1:45 runs in worse weather after longer rides. This was in essence going to be the perfect race course for me (although I realize no race is EVER perfect). I just needed to pull it together.

But, just like virtually every airplane crash – it’s never one singular major event, but rather a cascading chain of small things going wrong that leads to ultimate failure. Thus, my race.

You know what’s the best part about the Branson 70.3?  It’s close to where I live and I was able to pre-ride the course 3x in training.  Yup, I had ridden this piece of hilly heaven before. It is supposedly the hardest half-ironman bike course in the world. I didn’t think it was really that tough in training, but now, I fully respect every curve of those dangerously deceiving hills.

I’ll begin with Saturday, the day before the race. I was greeted in Branson with chilly weather and thunderstorms. It was miserable weather, especially since I had been fighting a chest cold all week. The lower temps seemed to slap my lungs a bit more. Once at packet pick up, however, my excitement blocked out any worries I had over being sick. I was way too pumped to care about my runny nose and burning throat. Heh.

After picking up my chip and numbers, I heading back out in the cold to bring my bike to T1. It was still raining (of course!), so I covered my seat and aero bars with bags to keep everything dry overnight. Then at T2, I put my shoes in double plastic bags. Lovely preparation, right? 

Once I had everything ready for the big day, it was time to pick up my little bro from the Branson airport. Thomas had flown in from Florida to cheer me on. Yay for awesome brothers!

After eating a light meal with my tri-family from Arkansas, it was time to call it a night. I relaxed a little, inhaled cough drops, and begged  prayed to God that I’d be 100% better asap. I was worried that the nervousness and little cold would make it even harder for me to sleep, but the nyquil I’ve been depending on the last week proved to be 70.3 worthy.

4:15AM came fast enough on race day. I couldn’t believe I was actually doing a half-ironman. Ahhhhhhh! I had almost everything ready the night before, but I was still running around in the morning like a headless chicken. My bro helped sooooo much in keeping me calm before the storm. He went with me to the shuttle, carrying all my stuff and taking lots of pics.

Still waking up, waiting for the shuttle 
Too excited to care about the cold!
The Branson course is point to point, which means the swim is one place (in the hills) and the run is another place (downtown along the river), and you have a bike course connecting the two. We had to take a shuttle to the starting point. The shuttle ride took us about 15-20 minutes. We were all crammed into a Duck bus like a bunch of sardines (yes, it was a bus oddly looking like a duck for tourist purposes). 

The weather was still cold and rainy. My sore throat and the congestion were bothering me, but like I said before--I was way too excited to care. I honestly didn’t think I was feeling that bad. Ummmm, don’t worry, I get a reality check at some point. heh. Since I had set up my bike the night before, upon arrival in the morning I simply got into transition and got everything else all set on the bike.

Then I waited for the race to begin.

And sucked on some more cough drops, waited in line to use the porta potty, gave up waiting in line because I realized I didn’t really have to go, sucked on some more cough drops, posed for pics, danced around, noticed that I was one of the few without a wetsuit in the cold, and laughed at myself for a million different reason.

Getting my swim cap and goggles ready for the millionth time

Still messing with my swim cap and goggles

Waiting for the horn to blow...

Starting the race!!!! 

Now would be an ideal time to mention the water temperature: COLD.

I don’t really know the exact temp, but I do know that I was one of the few NOT wearing a wetsuit. I had decided to go without when a few weeks before I had tried mine out in open water...and absolutely hated it. So, my stubborn ass decided to be a freezing ass. Well, let me tell you: the open water swim is a whole different world when it’s cold. It wasn’t quite Polar Bear cold, but it was really darn cold.

Once the horn sounded however…it wasn’t too miserable for me. I know what the feeling of panic is like in the open water because I have felt it so many times before. Oddly enough, during the one time when I should have been more panicked (during a half-ironman and not a training day), I was at ease. Okay, that’s a little lie. The first 90-120 seconds were hard due to my inability to breath in the chilly water.  I’m reasonably certain that the entire wave passed me during this time.  Sure, I was swimming forward…but probably not very fast.

That said, after those first two minutes I got into a bit of a groove and it really wasn’t that bad. From a pacing standpoint I wouldn’t say I was pushing as hard I would have been if I was healthy. I didn’t want to get my lungs going too much because I wanted to avoid any coughing spells in the water. I went about 20 minutes before having to stop for 5 seconds or so to cough, but other than that, I was golden.

As we neared the beach and exit I was feeling pretty good.  I knew I was going to be around my slow estimated swim time because my watch goes off every 15min for reminders of nutrition when on the bike. I ran up from the water to T1 and my legs were stinging from the cold. I was numb. I zipped through transition as fast as I could, dodging the unusually high number of people sitting in the middle of the transition aisle. Race Tip: If you sit in the middle of the aisle stretched out across it, don’t be surprised when people get upset with you.

My official swim time was 45:15, three minutes behind schedule, which may not sound like a lot – but when you are a slow beginning swimmer, every second makes it looks slooooooower. My T1 was 2:12, which wasn’t too bad considering I spent about 30 seconds staring at my bike shoes trying to remember how to put them on.


In triathlons, there are all these little things that make it fun. One of which is flying mounts and dismounts. I used to be terrified to run and jump on my bike to save time, but thanks to some good coaching, I now think it is tons of fun. I’ve practiced my mounts and dismounts numerous times. NUMEROUS. It sounds easy--you run with your bike shoes on, grab your handle bars, and jump on the seat. But with numb legs, I wasn’t sure I could even jump. I was sooooooo cold. I resisted the urge to actually stop my bike and get on it, but I am pretty sure my “flying mount” was more like a "hobble then stop real quick and jump on”.

Grabbing my bike in T1

Realizing the flying mount was not going to happen

Annnnnnnnd I made it on. heh.
Often times you’re highest heart rates on the bike course will be within the first 1-2 minutes of the bike, so my coach had told me to try and get things under control quickly. But that’s what’s great about the Branson bike course (sarcasm). There is one little descent to assist you in lowering your HR, and then you pretty much go right into the hills. As much as I tried to get my HR to calm down, I’m pretty sure I just decided to ignore it. Bad mistake.

About 10 minutes into the bike, my chest cold decided to play me a little song. Cough. Cough. Sniff. Sniff. Blow. I had it down to a rhythm. It was then that I realized breathing in this race might be a little bit harder than I thought. This is also the time when my body reminded me that I had been in bed all week, unable to move my legs much due to my crash a week before. My hip (where I had been bruised pretty bad) started throbbing and my quads were unbelievably tight. I couldn’t believe how weak I was feeling. It was so different from the training days when I dominated the Branson bike course.

The roads were wet and slick, which made me somewhat nervous with the long downhills, especially before turning. The course that I thought I knew before became a whole different beast with the change of weather and sickness. There were moments when snot was just plastered all across my face. Times when I wished I had tapped cough drops to my bike. And seconds when I doubted my ability to race. But there were also a million smiles across my face as I thought about how insane and fun this all was--and that I was actually doing it!

To sum up the bike, I finished 30 minutes slower than planned from my training days at 3:29.

BUT, I was unbelievably happy.

Seriously thrilled.

I didn’t care that my bike time was slow. I didn’t care that my body wasn’t up to par. I didn’t care about the coughing or the snot or my swollen hip. I was having fun. Yes, I was in pain, but I was having fun.

That said, I was ready to roll on the run and give it my best – looking forward to something that my body was more familiar with.


And then…I got off my bike.

And I couldn’t walk. heh.

My hip hurt and I was getting a crazy side stitch.

So the first…while…was a hobble to try and get up to a run.  I found that as I tried to go faster and take in more oxygen, the coughing spells would make the pain in my side worse. Seriously, y’all, it was the side stitch from hell. And it lasted the whole race (and 24 hours after as well).

Around the 4 mile marker I decided I would walk an aide station, get some fluids/nutrition and then make a go at it again.

That hurt.  In fact, it hurt a lot.

I was better off running. Which was fine, except I couldn’t quite get up to speed.  I needed to be around 8min miles, which sounds easy, but I couldn’t even keep an 11min pace. I couldn’t believe how much my body was rebelling. I was definitely in the hole. You get to the point where you’re just questioning why you’ve just spent so many months training when you can’t hit the times you should easily be able to. And while I certainly recognize you can’t have the perfect race, this was the one race I felt like I was fully ready to do. And then to have it all end up like this, with sickness and injuries rocking my body, pretty much was a bummer.

Oh, did I mention it was pouring?? I was trudging through massive puddles of water like crazy. After I finally got to the point of letting go of my planned race time, I had a blast jumping in the mud. Seriously. I went from coughing, to smiling, to “why God am I hurting so much?”, to coughing, to laughing, to waving at everyone, get the point. It was an emotional and physical roller coaster. But I guess that made my first half-ironman experience all the more fun.

oh, plus note: my bike to run was a lovely 1:34 transition
Accepting the pain and goofing off

I ended up finishing with my slowest half-marathon time ever, though I did make it a goal to try and run/hobble as much as possible with a smile. :-)  And the last two miles were respectable, mostly because I was so desperate to make it end I just ran more or less as hard as I could, darn the pain.


It goes without saying that my race fell short of my goals. At this point all I can do is learn from the race, and try to apply those lessons learned to next time. Of course, it is hard to do that when I was racing sick and hurt. I asked my coach, mentor, and friends what I could have done to make it better..and everyone told me “not get sick”. Hmmmmm, okay.

I finished at around 6 hours and 30 minutes. Despite the slow time, it was an epic experience that I will never forget. It meant the world to me to have my brother there, supporting and taking pics. After all, I was racing in honor of his best friend and our fallen brother. Josh’s memory and courage were on my mind during the whole race, even with all the other crazy things that tried to distract me.

Teammate and I showing our tattoos for Josh, racing in his honor. 

Even though I didn’t reach my time goals, I finished it.

Yup. I did it.

And I can’t wait to do it again...healthy.

Oh, one more thing!!! I almost forgot! I got a flat tire right at the end of the bike, but I was so out of it...that I just went right into T2. Yup. First flat tire ever...during my race. I was actually pretty excited about that one since I had been waiting forever for it. Weird, I know. :-)

Posing with my first flat tire ever! Snap. 


  1. Wow sounds like quite a day. It sucks you got sick (and hurt) so close to the race. But on the upside your times can only get a lot better, well done girl xxx

  2. Congrats on your race, the rain was no joke huh? How about that extreme downhill? I hit 53 mph going down it, that is scary fast! Again Congrats on your finish!

    Daily Trainings

  3. Wow... you did amazing and I love love love your positive attitude! :) How can you not have fun in the rain?!?! Congrats!

  4. Congrats!!! I love your attitude, I am not sure I would have been that positive in that weather

  5. Congrats on Branson! Tough course, tough weather, tough luck (with being sick), and you did really well! I heard the run was in ankle deep water for parts of it.

    Great RR too!

  6. Thank you soooooooo much for your comments! It was definitely a tough/fun race! Worth every second though!

    Mike-the run was definitely ankle deep in some parts. By that point, I felt good to have icy water soaking my shoes! haha

  7. Great race report. You are a machine; conquering that race in the POURING rain and feeling under the weather (no pun intended lol). Very well done! :)

  8. Hey, nice job (and report)! I'm a verteran of the 2011 Branson flood race as well :) Like you, it was my first 70.3 after just learning to swim earlier in the year. That bike course is brutal, and I felt uneasy on some of the downhills too, especially when they were still wet.

    Glad you were still able to race and have fun, despite your setbacks!

  9. So glad you posted this! I'm recovering from the flu and am about to do my first 70.3 I'm pretty nervous about getting through it because of the coughing, but your story has inspired me. My goal is now to finish with a smile and hopefully, it will all be worth it in the end!