Sunday, September 29, 2013

Branson 70.3 Race Report - 2013

Everything happens for a reason. That was the only thing I could tell myself during the Rev3 Branson 70.3 race last week. I had trained so hard for this event. I was strong and well prepared. I was equipped with a race plan to execute a great race...and most importantly, grab a PR run. I knew I could place in my division if I stayed smart and followed the plan. 

But things rarely ever go according to plan. 

Especially during 70.3 miles of racing. 


One reason why I LOVE this race is its location. It is gorgeous course with a fun atmosphere...and it is only 2 hours from home. I arrived early Saturday morning. I met Kevin at Moonshine Beach (the race start location) to get in a 15 min swim. 

Excited to be racing in Branson! Getting our pre-race day swim on! 

I haven’t been doing much open water swimming (eh. The last time I wore my wetsuit was Ironman Texas in May), but once I got in the water I felt comfortable and at ease. I noticed that my body was not tired or fatigued AT ALL. This was the first time going into a race when I didn’t feel...cruddy. 

Once we finished our 15 min swim, we headed to the condo to get on our bikes. The plan was to do 15 min of easy riding to just spin our legs and make sure our bikes were feeling good and ready. However, before we could even get on our bikes, I noticed a problem with my wheel. The tire was stuck into the frame and wasn’t moving. That was not cool. In the past, I would have broke down crying that my tire isn’t moving (ummmm, Ironman Texas was a little stressful! ha!). I knew better this time. I just took a deep breath, asked Kevin to help, and we figured out the problem together. The screws were to tight into the frame so all we had to do was loosen them up. Ahhhhh, Cujo was going to be ok. No big deal. We took off for the Branson hills for our easy 15 min spin. 

While riding my bike, I noticed that my shifters felt “off”. They felt like they were turning in. I didn’t further investigate it though. Instead, I told myself that they were ok and that it was just me. I had a bike mechanic check out my shifters and work on my entire bike the week before because I had noticed it feeling different after my bike crash. Everything had checked out fine with him. There was no reason for me to be worried. Right?? 

After our bike, Kevin and I hit up a little uneventful run. We were both feeling pretty good!

Around 12:30 we headed to the Branson Landing for the Athlete briefing on the race. Traffic in Branson is ridiculous on the weekends. It would have been nice if the athlete briefing was held inside the same hotel as years previously, instead of outside in a hot parking lot in a traffic congested area (yes, I can swim, bike, and run for 140.6 miles but I will whine about traffic and sitting in the sun...ha!). 

GPP Endurance teammates Kevin & Brent at the athlete briefing

After learning about the course (for the 3’rd year in a row) and getting checked in, we headed to get our bikes to T1. The weather was in the 80s and felt great, which is so different from my first year at Branson in 2011 when it was pouring rain and cold! 

T1 bike check in with my love, Cujo. 
T1 check in was a little different this year because the race had changed hands to Rev3. Ironman had put it on for all the years previously. To be honest, I was heartbroken when I heard that Ironman was not staying in Branson, but now I am SO happy that Rev3 decided to step in and take it. 

Instead of the bulky bike racks that squeeze everyone together, Rev3 uses boxes to give each racer separate space for their gear. It’s a nice change! 
Thumbs up to Rev3 for providing some good space for Cujo!

Through out the day I was sure to eat well and stay hydrated. My diet is very balanced, but the day before a race, I am careful to limit my fiber and fat intake. I am also a strong believer in making my own meals and not trying anything new close to race day. My nutrition on Saturday was pretty “boring”, but I have learned to be safe rather than sorry. I started the day off with eggs, sweet potato, and fruit. I snacked on a few pieces of fruit, nuts and a protein drink through out the day. Then ate a nice meal around 5:30 of more eggs, brown rice, sweet potato, and a small salad.  I had trained so hard for this race. I wasn’t going to make a nutrition mistake. 

I got to bed around 8, fully prepared and excited for my 3am wake up call (which is usually the time I get up for work anyway...snap!?!). 


I don’t know if I slept much. I woke up with a huge headache around 1am, but I didn’t want to take anything for it just in case it messed with me. I figured all that I needed was a little caffeine and some triathlon to feel better. ;) 

For breakfast (around 3:30am), I had a cup of coffee (from the Starbucks instant brew sticks), brown rice, an egg, half banana, and raisins. I hit about 425 calories for my meal. Plain and simple, but enough to get me ready to take on the day.  

Now Branson is different from a lot of triathlons because there are two transition areas. We get out of the water and go to T1, bike 56 miles to T2, and then run 13.1 to the finish. Therefore, we had to set up our bike and run gear in two separate locations. We voted to set up T2 on race morning since we had to take the shuttle from there anyway.  

We got to T2 at the Branson Landing around 4:30am. It was a little chilly in the air with temps in the 40s. I should have worn long pants to stay warm, but forgot to bring them with me. We put our shoes and nutrition (a bag of dates for me) in our boxes in transition, then took a potty break and waited for the shuttle. 

Oh, on that note - thumbs up to Rev3 for providing plenty of porta potties and buses! In the years past, we had to wait in line for both for quite some time. There wasn’t a line at all due to the amount of busses they had waiting for the racers this year. It was a relief not having to stand out in the cold! 

My little brother was visiting from FL and carrying all my gear (I always have the best Iron Sherpas!). On the bus ride to T1 he got me set up with some music so that I could drown out the country twang blaring through the speakers and relax/get pumped up/focus on the 70.3 miles that were ahead of me. 

We arrived to T1 around 5:15am. I got my helmet and 2 water bottles set up on my bike, Cujo. One water bottle was filled with Skratch. The other bottle just had water and would be thrown away at the first aid station. I don’t like carrying more than I have to. Sunglasses were in my helmet. Nutrition was ready to be packed in my pocket after the swim (I had dates and homemade energy bites made from dates, lemon zest, lemon juice, sea salt, and coconut oil). After I got my tires aired up, I hurried to the porta potties one last time. I was so excited. I WAS READY! 

Trying to stay warm with my wetsuit and cuddling near my family!

Let’s skip on ahead. Past the pre-race photos, anxious chatter, and nervous laughter. Right on into the swim start... 


Beautiful Table Rock Lake (thanks for the pics, Joe!)

My swim wave was last, starting around 7:20’ish. I had brought two pairs of goggles along with me to the beach “just in case”. Unfortunately, while posing for a pic, I failed to get them back from a friend...and didn’t realize it until the 10 second count down. 


So there I was, ready to dive into the water with everyone, but with no goggles. Awesome. Total Patty move right there.

Someone should really tell this chic she doesn’t have goggles on her head.
As soon as I realized that I was goggle-less, I screamed out. Within seconds an extra pair was thrown at me. I ran into the water with everyone right at the end of the 10 second count down. Phew!!! 

Once I got in the water, I felt comfortable. I love triathlon swim starts! I love the kicking and hitting and craziness at the beginning (and sometimes throughout the whole swim)! It reminds me of my hockey playing days. ;) 

More pics from Joe - so great!
I swam according to my race plan. I started out hard then found my race pace. My goggles were leaking some and the fog was making it hard to see, but I did ok with my sighting. I knew when I hit about half way because I had my watch alarm set to go off. Once I hit the turn buoy to come back towards the beach, I pushed a little harder. I wanted to get a 35 min swim and I knew I had to negative split it from my watch alarm. With about 200 meters left to go, I pushed more...and kicked a little harder to wake up my legs. 

Swim time: 36 min (little PR for me. I’ll take it)


Running out of the water into transition is all uphill. I tried to calm myself down while running up, up, up in a wetsuit. It would have been nice to have wetsuit strippers. Running in those suits makes me feel like a penguin. 

I grabbed some water running into T1. It took an awful lot of time for me to get out of the wetsuit, but I managed. I stuffed my pockets with nutrition and put on my sunglasses. They were so foggy from the morning and hard to see through, but I could probably ride this bike course blind. I have trained and raced on it more times than I count. 

T1 time: 3:08 (apparently I decided to take a nap too)


I was determined to be smart on the bike. I was’t going to hammer away. I wasn’t going to go hard AT ALL. The bike is my strength and I knew I could bust out a 3 hour time on those hills, along with the fastest females on the course. BUT that was not the plan. The plan was to race smart so that I would be able to have a great run. This was something that Coach Chip had drilled into my brain over and over.  

Coming out of T1, the hills start immediately. The only way to deal with it smart was spin easy. I focused on getting my heart rate down and preparing my body to take in nutrition for the long, hilly bike course ahead. I was still averaging over 17 mph by going easy so it wasn’t crazy slow, but just enough to give my body the time that it needed to prepare. I did see females passing me in my division but I let them go. You can’t try to win the bike on the first 7 miles of a challenging course. I knew I would pass them back later. 

One of the steady long climbs on the bike course - Rev3 pics
Once I got my heart rate down, and took in some nutrition, I was able to push a little more. I was still spinning my legs pretty easy for those first 7 miles, but at a steady climbing pace. My goal was to keep my heart rate in zone 3 and my power around 160 watts. That was pretty easy for me to do. Again, the goal was to have a smart bike so that I could have a great run. The above power goal was lower than what I was capable of on the bike, but I needed to save my legs for the run. I needed to race smart. I kept reminding myself of Coach Chip’s words, “You are not a rookie”. I knew he was right. I was so well prepared physically and mentally for this course.    

The Branson bike course was absolutely gorgeous. The first 7 miles coming out of town were short, rolling hills. Once we hit the main part of the course, the climbs are about 1.5-2 miles long, but not crazy steep. Rev3 had the highway shut down for the race so we had two full lanes of space coming down those hills, which was great when going so fast. I would hit about 40 mph on the downhill and it was glorious! The painful fatigue of pushing up a long hill displaced all feelings of stress...and was in turn, displaced by the exhilaration of gliding back down to my happy place.   

My happy place
The bike course has two main loops of hills that go on for miles. You can see other racers climbing and gliding over the hills. I can’t even explain how happy this course made me. I got butterflies in my stomach and a smile on my face just seeing the view once I arrived.

Pic of one of the climbs
I got to the aid station and changed out my water bottle. I didn’t need too much more, but I made myself take it. I was determined to stay hydrated and well fueled. My body was feeling good. I had NO stomach issues at all (which is a big deal for me since Ironman Texas was a puking fest).

I was doing really well enjoying the bike course and sticking to my race plan for the first 10 miles. 

But then a shift happened... literally. 

When I went to pull my right shifter up and switch to an easier gear, it broke off.  

My poor shifter! 

I can’t really explain the amount of emotions that came rushing at me during that first initial moment of realizing what happened. I wish I could say that I didn’t let it phase me, but that would be a total lie. The first thing I did was look up at the sky and say, “Really?!?! Can’t you just help me out a little bit here?!?”. I don’t know if it was my sad attempt at praying or just the frustration boiling over and colliding with my disappointment. 

So there I was. Mile 10’ish. My shifter was broken and stuck in the back small ring (the hardest gear) on what was once considered the most difficult 70.3 bike course in the world. Oh happy day.

I told myself it was ok. I could ride Branson in a fixed gear. I did it before two years ago on a training ride. I knew I could get through it, but I also knew that my goal of having a great run was shot. There was no way that I could hammer away at the hills and save my legs for the 13.1 mile run.    

After trying to bust out the climbs in my hard gear for a little bit, I saw a race support vehicle and waved my arms wildly. I pulled off to the side of the road near the high school. The car turned around and came over to me. I told the driver what happened and he jumped out of his car to try and fix my shifter. The only thing he could do was try to tape it back on my bars. He put the shifter back and used pliers to squeeze the bar around it and secure it some. This would allow me to shift if I used two hands and cradled my bars tightly while pulling the shifter up. Whatever. I’ll take it.  

Unfortunately, the rigged shifter only last about 5 minutes. It broke off again before I could get far from the high school. 

I was upset, but I had to let it go. There was nothing that I could do but push, push, push up those hills. I had to stand up and climb a lot of times, but I could do it. There were many moments when people would tell me to “save my legs”. I nodded my head in thanks, but tried not to waste any breath on a reply. A couple of times I was able to see my friend, Cord, on the course and his words of encouragement helped tremendously. It makes a huge difference when your friends are out there pushing alongside you! 

No choice but to keep on keepin’ on!
The rest of the bike was a blur of pain and fatigue. My watts were going crazy. My heart rate was pretty high. My arms were hurting from being on them so much when I had to stand up and lean forward to climb. I was very frustrated and upset, but I kept telling myself to plug away no matter what. I believed that I could still place top 5 if I kept on going. 

Coming into town, there is a very steep, short climb. My garmin showed 19% grade in the past. I knew it was going to be hard to get up that hill in my hard gear, but I was determined. I set my mind to finish strong...and so I did it. 

Rolling into T2 to get off my bike was actually a relief (normally I hate getting off my bike). I did a flying dismount and crossed the line into transition thankful to get it over with. 

Coming off the bike into transition
Bike time: 3:24 (almost 20 min slower than last year, but I got through it)


I racked my bike. Put on my running shoes. Stuffed my pocket with nutrition. Told myself to ignore my legs. And started to jog... 
T2 time: 1:48


The run is a 3 loop flat course around the Branson Landing. It is really spectator friendly. My brother and friends were SO supportive and encouraging along the way. It was awesome to see them all (even though they said I looked super pissed off and wouldn’t smile...ha!). 

My plan going into the run was to start with an 8:48 pace and negative split with an 8:28 pace. I wanted to get under 1:50. However, due to my mechanical problem on the bike, I knew that was going to be hard to hit. I wasn’t sure if I should still try to make pace going into the run or if I should just try to ease into it and go for pace later. I opted to try to make pace....which proved to be pretty difficult. 

My legs were trashed. My knee was hurting from the bike pounding. My feet were numb from standing on my legs so much and smashing away at those hills. I did NOT feel like running for 13.1 miles. I felt like crying in an ice bath. 

But I didn’t have a choice. 

I reminded myself of why I was out there. Yes, I love it. But the reason I race is to honor the memory of our brother, Pfc. Joshua Jetton. Josh was killed in Afghanistan while fighting the war on terrorism in June 2011. Branson was the first 70.3 race that I did and it just so happened to be on his birthday in 2011. This race to me is HIS race. It will always be his race, no matter what day it falls on. I knew that Josh would power through. He would push himself to the puking point on runs. I knew he would keep going. I knew he would be proud of me for pushing through too. So I kept going, thinking infantry minded, staying Army strong, for Josh. 


I kept pace for the first 5 miles. 8:20, 8:40’s...and then it dwindled down. I hit a wall around mile 6. I was beat. My legs were on fire. I started to walk the aid stations and run the best that I could in between. The second loop was the hardest for me. I was struggling a lot from the pain in my knee and feet, but I told myself to suck it up and keep on moving.

I saw a lot of my friends on the course and it helped a lot! Jess had a dumpster diving cardboard sign for me. Fellow athletes Brent, Cord, and Kevin shouted at me and gave high fives as we passed one another. 

Right before I hit the start of the third loop, I saw Coach Moe and David Newman. It was then that my tough girl image completely crumbled and I started to cry. Yes, I’m serious. I knew they understood exactly where I was coming from. My race goals were shot and I was fighting to keep pushing knowing that I was way behind in time. I honestly don’t remember what Coach Moe said to me, but it clearly helped. In about 10 seconds I went from tears in my eyes to laughing...and singing the line “smile...while your heart is breaking”. Oh, ya gotta love race day emotions!  

The third and last loop went much better. My spirits were lifted just a bit knowing I was almost done. Thank God! I tried to push in the last mile. It wasn’t fast by any means, but I got it done. I wanted to be depleted at the finish line (unfortunately that might have happened on the bike course). 

I took the turn for the finishers chute and ended my race....finally. 

Run time: 2:04 (and that’s juuuuuuust fine for now)

Total race time was a whopping 6:10, but what matters most is that I finished despite the difficulties. This race helped to get stronger mentally (and physically!). It was not the outcome that I wanted, but I knew that I would finish no matter what because of my training and the amazing coaches I have had in my life. I also knew I could handle pain pretty well. ;) 

Annnnnnnd done! 

So thankful for this group!!! 
Oh! And I almost forgot! I ended up placing 3’rd in my division! Despite all the craziness, I still reached my goal and placed. Just goes to show you that you never know what you can achieve as long as you do not give up. 

Finisher medal and 3rd place

Thank you so much to everyone for all the support, prayers, and love! I am truly blessed with an amazing group of friends and family that continue to encourage me to do my best in all things. Thank you to the stranger who threw goggles at me at the start. You are awesome! Thank you to Coach Chip for preparing me in such a short amount of time and for teaching me how to race smart and believe in myself. Thank you to Coach Moe and everyone at GPP for the extra help! Thank you Skin Strong for the sweet kit! It helped so much (along with my Slather) to keep me comfortable during those 70.3 miles. You all rock!!! 

....And thank you, God, for such a tough race to make me stronger; for teaching me that building my character is much better than a finish time...and teaching me to trust no matter what. 

6 more weeks until my next race - the Rev3 Florida Half!