PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Last weekend Amanda and I ventured out to Branson, Missouri for the inaugural running of the 70.3. We had been apart for 12 days, as I was in the thick of my Kona training camp down in Austin. I think it’s safe to say that I was more excited for my reunion with Amanda than I was for the race. And I had really been looking forward to racing!
We arrived on Thursday which gave us plenty of time to check out the swim and bike courses before race day. We were both quite impressed by the challenging terrain in the Branson area. It did not take long to realize that the outcome of the race would be determined on that bike course!
After two fun days (and nights) cruising the strip, and taking note of Cooter’s shop and the General Lee (oh yes, Dukes of Hazzard fans, it’s true), race day arrived.
We were informed that we’d be wearing wetsuits on the day, something that brought me a bit of joy and pain. With the water as warm as it was, I knew I would be suffering through the toasty 1.2 miles; however, I awkwardly found myself without a legal swimskin for non-wetsuit swims, so I would have been forced to race truly old-school in nothing but my briefs (go Splish!).
As predicted, I blew sky high after overheating approximately 500 meters into the swim. Something uniquely painful and debilitating seems to happen to me once I overheat in the water: arms go numb and start to flop about uselessly. (At least that is how it feels.) Exiting the water (finally!), I admit that I was forced to walk up the stairs and toward my transition spot (where had all my short-course speed from the Austin Tri gone?!). The time slowly making my way to my rack, allowed me to overcome my pathetic overheating incident. I was regrouping and ready to ride.
Out on the bike course, we athletes were faced with about 1/8 of a mile down hill (if that) before biting right into the meaty part of the bike course. The first seven miles seemed to be mostly uphill, followed by about eight more of up and down and up and down. What a gorgeous and challenging ride!
Soon after boarding my smoking hot Kestrel 4000 – but prior to emerging from the thick fog – I found myself bunched up with TJ Tollakson. I figured he and I could motivate one another to catch back up to the leading group. There were some strong cyclists in the field (Tom and Ben, among others), and we did not want to be left behind. My plan did not exactly come to fruition, as my legs decided they had a) not gotten enough rest before the race, b) not gotten enough warm up yet, or c) not gotten enough fuel pumped in yet. In any case – and due to any combo of the above reasons – my new plan seemed to be watching TJ (and the others) ride away and leave me for dead.
Around mile 18 – and still with hopes that at least one member of Team Lovato was crushing those hills – I looked ahead to see an athlete on the side of the road; sadly, she was clad in Trakkers green. Yes, Amanda was sidelined with her second flat tire. I weaved to the far left side of the road (we were generously given the entire road for our race) to see if she was OK. She waved me on and told me she’d cheer for me. (Had I been hoping she’d have been inviting me to a roadside picnic?)
Never a good feeling to be left behind, and certainly never a good feeling to be caught up (by a high-flying Kelly Williamson, no less), I did my best to salvage the day. And I did what came naturally: I ate and I drank. Over the course of the next ten or twenty miles, I downed nearly all of my EFS Liquid Shot and scarfed both of my milky way bars. I sucked down 300 calories of EFS, and two bottles of water. I even went through my emergency stash. I kept thinking (hoping) that the calories would work some magic on my quads, and I’d be able to turn things around. Eventually, with about two miles to go on the bike ride, I started to feel OK. Maybe I needed to ride another one of those brutally hilly bike laps? (Although while still tackling said bike laps, all I wanted to do was stop on the side of the road for a small picnic.)
Based on my past experience (this was not my first time to feel sluggish and slow on the bike), I figured I could turn a mediocre start into a solid finish. Riding a bit slower – and fueling up to the max – generally equates to a strong run split. A final ingredient was the burning desire I had upon reaching transition to CATCH BACK UP!
I transitioned quickly to my run shoes – donning a bright yellow pair of Saucony Fasttwich – and I did so Richie-style (no socks). I learned a trick or two in last year’s assault on the 70.3 distance. I am now one of the quicker T2-ers. (In fact, besides me only Brian “Flash” Fleischmann went sockless, I noticed during T2 set-up the night before.) Nonetheless, I was happy to be doing something quick on the day!
Out on the run course I felt great immediately. My only thought was that I had definitely better make my way into that top six, and then see what I could do from there. Within the first four miles, I had overtaken TJ, and was pressing onward. I had taken stock of how far ahead the others were, and who was in or out of reach. While Tom and Ben seemed to have a mile and a half on me (ouch!), the others seemed catchable. (Strange aside: how funny would it have been if there was a Jerry racing with Tom and Ben?)
By the start of lap 3, I had moved into fourth position on the road. I knew that Flash was plugging away in that final podium spot, so I did my best to outlast him. He had been drilling it near the front of the race all day long, and I could only hope that my unintentionally conservative tactics had left me a bit more in the tank. Fourth was good, but third would be better.
Evidently it had started to get a bit warmer, and the humidity was rising. Folks looked to be suffering out there, but thankfully, I had just spent two weeks in the muggiest of muggy Austin Septembers, and the weather felt quite pleasant to me. I took in an entire flask of EFS Liquid Shot, and several cups of H2O to wash it down. I knew I’d be staying cramp free, so I kept the heat on.
Somewhere near the mile 11 mark, I started to lose faith that I’d be able to reel in Brian. My pace was no longer in the 5:30′s or :40′s, so I figured my charge was coming to an end. With about 400 meters to go, Amanda informed me that Flash was out of range. But moments later, a fellow athlete who was a lap or two behind me encouraged me to “try and catch him anyway!” What a great reminder that even when it’s not possible, don’t stop trying to make it happen. Thanks very much, Mr. Age Grouper Guy!
Shortly after crossing the finish line in 4th, we were all informed that Brian had inadvertently missed a section of the run course. He was DQ’d, for unintentionally shortening his half marathon. It’s never easy to see this sort of bad luck hit a good fellow. Brian raced hard, and in the heat of the moment, lost a tiny bit of concentration; and sadly, he missed out on his podium finish because of it. But I guarantee that my teammate will come back stronger next time.
With the race in the books, it was time to focus on a bit of recovery. A few of us took advantage of the 50-degree fountain pond to soak our legs (something I truly believe was instrumental in leaving me without a single bit of soreness – even after notching the fastest run split of the day). Later that afternoon, Amanda and I took our good friend Ben the Harpoon out for a nice Mexican feast, complete with recovery-speeding margaritas. And until next year, we closed the Branson chapter of our story.