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Branson 70.3 Race Report

Branson 70.3

Let’s just dispense with any intrigue: I did not get any cool pyrex (i.e., finish in the top 5 of my age group) and I did not get a spot for Vegas (i.e., qualify, by finishing high enough in my age group, for the Half-Ironman World Championship).  Those were my top two goals, in order of preference, entering the race.  Beyond those, I wanted to race as I can race and continue to push/test my fitness, especially on the run.  Given what actually happened, I think its fair to say the day was a near total failure.  At least, that’s what I want to call it.

Just like nearly every time when things go “wrong”, there is rarely one thing that causes the breakdown.  Almost always, a string of events, each innocuous by itself, compounds into something greater than the sum of its parts.  This is exactly what happened, except that the last one was BIG and clearly was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”.  While I failed to meet any of my goals, even I have to admit, there are some lessons and information to take from everything.  So, without further ado, let’s analyze the race and the pertinent events leading up to it.

In retrospect, some things that seemed totally innocuous likely played a part, albeit small, in the end of my race.

First, merely getting to Branson was a bit of a nightmare.  In order, (1) Frontier unilaterally changed my flight, having me leave the day before my originally scheduled departure, causing me to miss the new flight and forcing me to get a new one, (2) getting to the airport, United (operated by Continental) could not find my reservation, causing a twenty minute delay; they ultimately did find it and got me on my way, (3) getting through security took, no joke, nearly an hour even though it was five in the morning, (4) the check-in and security delays caused my to miss my flight out of Phoenix by TWO minutes, (5) I was rescheduled on a flight 2.5 hours later that, if I made it, would give me eight minutes to sprint through the Denver airport to catch my connection, (6) I made the flight, the only stand-by passenger to do so, (7) I sprinted FULL SPEED and got to the gate with six minutes to spare, (8) the gate agent could not find my reservation and wanted to send me to Guest Services in the main terminal (I refused to leave; she called another agent over who, after a fifteen minute search, found my reservation), and (9) I arrived in Branson, on my originally scheduled connection.  Just a little stress and energy loss associated with this ridiculousness I am thinking.

Second, I probably did not eat enough the two days before the race.  Being in a new place, I was a little leery of the local “fine dining”.  It’s tough and I certainly erred on the side of lean, with salads for dinner and light fare during the day.

Third, the weather was extremely rainy.  Starting Friday evening, it rained.  Other than very brief respites, the rain never ceased until race morning.  Humidity hovered at or just below 100% all the time.  Being from the desert, that was pretty foreign.  Not necessarily an issue, just different.

Fourth, I was using caffeine in a race for the first time.  My coach and a friend of mine who’s a pro both advised me how to test in training and incorporate it into my nutrition strategy.  All signs were positive each time I tested it during training and everything seemed smooth on race day.

Fifth, the bike course was legitimately tough.  Was I prepared for it?  Yes.  Did I drive it before the race and note any sketchy spots?  Yes.  I was actually excited about the bike.  The endless undulations and hills looked challenging but fun.  However, it was tough and probably caused me to burn more calories than I typically would.  You can see the elevation changes in the bike profile pic.

Bike elevation chart for Branson 70.3

Sixth, and lastly, was the massive thunderstorm that unleashed all its fury during the run.  While the day started beautifully: overcast, wet, and cool, by mile 4 of my run the rain had returned.  By mile 6, it was raining with biblical intensity and never ceased.  Everything was drenched and I ran the last 6+ miles in water up to my ankles (though it felt like my eyeballs…)

All of these factors, individually, would have been no issue.  But, with all of the events leading up to the race, I could not overcome the deluge and the effect it had upon me.

Pre-Race

The morning of the race, all signs seemed to point to a great day.  It was extremely wet (humidity was 100% race morning) and everything was soaked from the 36 straight hours of rain.  Miraculously though, the rain stopped before sunrise Sunday and the left a cool, overcast, and very pleasant morning.

I ate my packet of oatmeal, sipped on a gatorade/water mix, and generally stayed mellow getting ready.  Heading to transition was smooth and painless, leaving me with ample time to enjoy the morning and chat with other racers.  At race start, I headed to the water to watch the pros start.  My only regret was failing to pack clear goggles and my lightly shaded ones were unnecessary.  Not a big issue though.

Swim

Branson 70.3 SwimThe swim was fantastic.  My plan was to swim conservatively, saving my energy for later.  Given my abilities in the water, an easy swim for me will generally still yield a competitive time and Branson was no different.  I finished with a 30:19, good enough for 6th in my age group (out of 100) and 41st overall (out of 713).  Totally happy with that.

Transition 1

Having walked the water exit to my bike the day before, I felt prepared for T1.  There was a short run up the beach, followed by two flights to stairs to reach transition.  My goal was under two minutes and I smashed that with a 1:20, better than some of the pros!  Gotta love stealing time in transition!

Bike

Branson 70.3 - HillsLet’s start with a brief description of the course: hills, hills, and more hills.  Got it?  The bike was either ascending or descending nearly the entire time.  I drove the course and knew there were eight legitimate climbs, each followed by a rocketing descent. Yeah, I was pretty stoked to get on my bike and test myself.  But, given the seemingly never-ending rain leading up to the race and the omnipresent humidity of race morning, I was a little nervous about the course being slick.  After crashing in Boise, I planned on erring on the side of conservative to avoid a similar mishap.  I also intended to ignore other riders (or at least the ages on their calves).  I wanted to ride at my pace and stick to my race plan.Branson 70.3 - Hills

For the first twenty miles, since the roads were very damp, I rode fairly cautiously.  Mercifully though, between miles 20-25, the sun began to warm the air, burn off the clouds, and dry the roads.  By about mile 30, the road was generally dry and I pushed a little more on the downhills.  In general, I felt great and was very pleased with my pace and plan.  I felt like I was setting up myself for a great run.  During the last two hills, I could start to feel my quads a little bit, but that was to be expected, given the terrain and conditions.  The last 8 miles were largely downhill, so I used that to rest my legs a bit and mentally prepare for the run.  All in all, while I was not as fast as I had hoped, I was extremely pleased with my bike.

Branson 70.3 - Hills

Transition 2

As usual, I did a flying dismount, passing many, many riders.  I was in and out of T2 in 1:05, about as fast as most of the pros.  Can’t ever complain about that.

Run

Everything started great.  I felt like I had perfectly prepared myself for the chance to have the run and race of a lifetime.  The air had warmed a bit, the sun was finally shining, and I felt great.  I started with a pace around 7:15-7:20 and held that for about six miles.  Unfortunately, during that time, things conspired against me.

First, at mile 4, a light rain started.  No big deal, I thought.  It actually felt good; a little cooling effect.  To my dismay, before I reached mile 5, my little “cool shower” erupted into a full-fledged thunderstorm, complete with deafening thunder and brilliant lightening.  Many moments, I was stunned that the race was not cancelled.  The lightening was a little too close for comfort.  The storm significantly dropped the temperature, caused the bulk of the course to be covered in six to twelve inches of water, and was generally dreadful.  The standing water was bad enough, but on any sloped portion, one encountered a flowing river; not a good time for running at all.  I didn’t know it at the time, but this storm was the straw that broke my back…

Branson 70.3 - running in Branson LandingSecond, I bonked.  Seriously and painfully bonked.  After feeling great and running fast the first half of the run, I started feeling bad at mile 6 to 7.  I don’t just mean “tired” or “sore” or “hungry”.  I mean BAD.  I could tell that my legs were hurting more than normal.  Maintaining my pace became more and more difficult, to the point that it decayed from a 7:15ish average for the first 6.6 miles, to a 9+ for the next four and a 10+ for the last 1.5.  By mile 9, I was done.  I struggled for the last 4 miles simply to finish the race, using every ounce of energy I had.

But, I did finish.  You can see the actual crossing here: My finish at Branson 70.3.  For those that know me, you will see I am NOT happy and NOT feeling good.  But, no matter how bad I felt, no matter how deep I had to dig, I was determined to finish.  In spite of a total breakdown on the run, I still managed a 19th place (out of 100) in my age group with an overall time of 5:34.  I also had a 1:50 run.  Not great, but in retrospect, better than I would ever have guessed possible.Branson 70.3 - finish line

To me, Branson is a great example that you truly can accomplish anything, if you just keep progressing.  Somehow, from the depths of misery, I still found the desire and drive to run a 1:50 half-marathon, one tiny, painful step at a time.  Even with a complete bonk, that time enabled me to finish higher than I probably deserved.  No matter how bad I hurt, I kept moving towards my ultimate goal, the finish line.  To me, that’s the best lesson: even when things seem like they are at their worst, if you just keep moving, keep striving, ultimately two things will happen.  One, things will get better; they always do.  Two, you will survive and succeed.  Maybe not exactly as you want, but you will make progress and, with time, reach your goals.

So, always focus on your goals and, no matter how things go, always move towards them!

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