Rev3 Branson was a late entry into my race schedule. After having Rev3 Dells, 2 week break, Rev3 Main2, 2 week break, Rev3 Cedar Point – I knew I would be toasty. Instead of Branson, originally I planned to take a 3 week break and then rock out the JHAWK LateBird Sprint then take a 5 week break and finish the season with a late race Rev3 Florida, in November. However, several things conspired to change my plans
- Due to a family commitment, Rev3 Florida needed to come off the table
- I was not running, still (Waaaaaaaaah), so rocking out JHawk wasn’t meant to be this year
- Rev3 Branson was a first year race and there was a call out for anyone on the team who might be able to go, they would love to have more come.
- I have one 3rd place position and I didn’t expect to be able to place too well at Dells (super hilly), Maine (some pretty fast 2012 times), and Cedar Point (not hilly but OMG fast times!). So if I signed up for a first year race chances are better there would be a smaller field and maybe I could improve my Age Group Series rankings? It was a reach but I’ll take it!
Well, what the heck! I signed up! Wow… 4 HalfRev Aquabike (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike) in 8 weeks. Figure 5 hours for Dells and Branson and almost 4 for Maine and Cedar Point, that’s 18 hours of racing in 8 weeks. WOW. That, right there, is a big challenge. Can I race and then recover and keep healthy in 2 weeks to do it over again? Let’s find out! Oh yeah and then at Cedar Point I did a double down – FullRev not HalfRev.
So I was travelling solo this trip, the flight and such was a real adventure… we got about 20ft from landing and the pilot aborted because of weather. Apparently, he wanted to SEE the runway before he hit it! So we were redirected to Tulsa, Oklahoma then midflight redirected to somewhere Arkansas and then redirected AGAIN to Fayetteville Arkansas. We refueled and took off and I finally arrived, several hours late. Good thing it was an early flight. I really wanted to make it for the Team dinner and Glow Run 5k (to volunteer, not run, waaaaaaaaaa)
Branson is absolutely interesting. A mix of high end acts (the 12 Irish tenors) and run-down tourist traps (the three redneck tenors), depending on where you are. Someone there called it “hillbilly Vegas” and I can absolutely see that. A lot like the Dells but MUCH bigger, every time I went down a new side area I found a whole ton of hotels, time shares, and touristy things to do. Absolutely I think it would be fun to take the kids here someday there is certainly no lacking of things to do. Especially if you were a veteran. Holy cow there were tons of WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam vets – about every hotel had a “welcome XXX” for the vets. Very cool.
I got there in time for the team dinner, hang with my teammates, and then volunteer at the Rev3 Glow Run. Since my ankle was seriously bothering me after the travelling I decided it was smartest to minimize my walking and help at the finish line.
The next morning I got up and had probably the worst breakfast ever. I am pretty sure it is what was served in the submarine that the vets gathering in my hotel ate. They gobbled it up and loved it. Well, they know their audience! But for me dried eggs, warm ham, and dried coffee creamer were not my ideas of good eatin’ so I’d get some food at an IHOP later.
Went to the test swim. This is up at Table Rock Dam Reservoir the water was WARM. 77 at the time of the test swim which would mean not wet suit legal (for awards). I’m ok with that but do prefer my wetsuit. We helped tri-slide people and chatted with my teammates.
A couple pros (Eric Limkemann and Malaika Homo) did a clinic and we hung around for that too. I even won some Blueseventy Goggles for a trivia question! I hung around and chatted with the pros and talked about the race, some swim tips on warm-up, and Rev3 for a while until the worst wetsuit contest started and they had to go. The crowd was thinning so I did my test swim.
Since the water was so warm and I knew my wetsuit would be fine I decided to try my swim skin. I’ve only worn it once before and I was solo, so I couldn’t zip it up. I had someone help me into it and did the swim. The water was warm and clean and felt great. I didn’t know the trick to getting OUT of the swim skin so one of the pros showed me, it’s AWESOME! I was being too delicate with it. Basically you flip up the zipper and then just go HULK on it and it will tear right off! It’s DESIGNED to come off like that! SWEEET I can totally do that! HULK SMASH!
After the swim I decided to do a sample ride. I was chatting with a guy in the car next to me, Adam, and we decided to ride together for a couple miles. Adam was loving this race as he is kind of local but his area is seriously lacking triathletes…. He is the entire multisport team for his county! We went out and rode the first hill. Long ? yes. Steep? Kind of. But really, not horrible. Just a long slow grind. We got to the top and enjoyed the fast descent. If I have 9 of these… I can do this. Was feeling good.
Time to go so I loaded up, got that missing breakfast, drove the bike course (O-M-G Hilly it’s going to be a long day) and then went to the expo to do packet pickup and drop my bike and all that. Pretty uneventful stuff, so I headed back to the hotel for a nap. I had a feeling I was going to need all my energy for tomorrow.
Met up with local Chicago peep Tim and his dad for dinner at the College of the Ozarks Keeter Center, which is a nice restaurant run entirely by students. To pay tuition they have the students work 15hours/wk + one 40 hour week and in exchange no tuition! The food and service was excellent. Perfect pre-race food.
Back to the hotel room and time to pack my bags and get ready. I decided to bring an extra couple of gels for the bike “in case”. I had my cold weather gear as well, just in case, as the forecast was iffy on th temps. Decided to bring the wetsuit and swim skin not knowing which I would need.
4AM came around after a great night sleep and I packed up and headed out.
Setting up in transition was a (2) step process first you had to drive to the expo, park and drop off that stuff. Then you had to get on a Branson Duck (uh oh… the ducks are following me! Hopefully this will be better than the Dells Duck experience).
It was COLD out… had to be sub 45 because I needed my gloves and tights and I don’t need that stuff normally BEFORE a race! 20 minute ride to T1 and time to setup there.
The tough part about setup was trying to predict what clothing I would need. It was already warming up and I just wasn’t sure so I laid it all out and it would be a race-time decision I guess (I hate those, I like to not think just DO in transition. faster that way). We did hear the water temps had dropped so it WOULD be wetsuit legal. At least one decision is done!
I got setup, said Hi to Malaiki Homo who was setting up too and went down for the warm-up swim and did that and opted to stay in the water until the start. Way warmer there!
I got lined up and soon enough we were off! It was a beach start, so I had to run about 100yds before it was deep enough to swim. Since I wasn’t going to be able to effectively run, I stayed back a fair amount because I knew others would pass. I took the inner line, however, because I was planning to hammer the swim.
Once I got swimming I managed to settle into a strong but doable pace. Within 5 minutes the arms were complaining and tightening up, I opted to ignore them and just held the pace. It was hard to see with all the fog but I managed to sight just fine for the first line of buoys and I rounded the orange turn buoy at just over 11minutes. Perfect, that would be a 33 minute swim. The Second leg I held the same effort level and didn’t have any problems sighting arms were pissed, but I just continued to hold it. It was getting a little easier to see because the fog was burning off slowly.
Once I turned the second buoy I was at just over 22min. Perfect, still on track for a 33 swim. Arms hurt, shoulder hurt, but everything hurt at a level which I knew I could hold. However, now we were heading into the sun. This is where it all fell apart because I didn’t have that many people around me (that should have been a clue, I had a big clump for a long time) and I couldn’t see where we were going, I could not see my sighting landmarks just the sun. Several times I had to switch to breast stroke and I still couldn’t see. A few times I even stopped completely to look around and sometimes I could and sometimes I couldn’t. And then soon there was almost nobody around me at all. After a while I started hearing the paddle board girl calling to people. Apparently there were several of us off course and soon I saw why. Ahead of me was the turn buoy. WHAT? Oh Damm!t. I just swam back to the freakin turn buoy (effectively swimming a good chunk of the 1/3 mile BACK)? Man I’m REALLY off course. I make a sharp left turn and head back into the proper line and then continue on. I relaxed the pace a little too. At this point, my 33min swim is out the window and I need to conserve energy for the bike. If I made it most of the way back I figured I added at least 10minutes to my swim. Phooey!! I really need to work on sighting, this year I’ve logged some real bad swim times even though my swim fitness has been “ok” all due to poor sighting.
Swim is done, 43min standing up – ouch. Long run to T1 (ok well long walk!) and I need to make the decision on what to wear. The sun is out and already warming up. So I ditch my wetsuit etc into my swim to bike bag along with my tights and jacket but I opt to put on the gloves. Otherwise T1 was fast and easy and I’m on my way.
Mounted the bike and immediately started spinning my legs in an easy gear. There is a 1.5mile hill coming, very quickly, and I need to get the blood down to the legs ASAP! A tiny uphill, nice downhill and a sharp left and I begin the first of the 9 “big” climbs. This climb was maybe 7% range so it was a solid climb but not absurd (my how a season of climbing changes your perspective… 7% is considered horrible around Chicago). I just kept the legs spinning and stayed in the saddle. At this point, the mountain goats started showing up and passing me like I was barely moving. I was mentally prepared for that already so it didn’t bother me.
I got to what I thought was the top and…. Nope! There was more climbing! Oops, yeah I thought I saw the top I guess not! Keep on climbing… starting singing “climbing climbing climbing, I just keep on climbing climbing climbing climbing, RAWHIDE!” ok, it’s silly but… that’s what happens when you’re in my head on a bike ride with no music! This song would be repeated a million times in my head this day.
Finally to the top and we begin a nice descent…. It went by in a flash. As per plan, I kept my power up during the downhills. I can gain more overall speed on a course if I spin up the uphills without overly taxing my legs and then power down the downhills. Today the plan was to push that uphill power by about 10watts and allow the HR to peak about 5 higher than normal and see how that felt over time and adapt. A bit of an experiment but we were wondering if it would help me gain some time – as the uphills are absolutely the speed killer for me. I can climb and climb and climb forever but I’m SOOOO slow. Downhills and flats are where I gain on my competition. If I can gain some speed on the uphills it will do a lot for my ability to compete on a hilly course.
After the downhill I immediately began another climb. However, from memory it was too soon for another hill… hmmm…. But climb climb climb I went. Then I realized something… the map I was looking at only categorized hills of 500meters or more…. So I bet this course will have more than 9 hills. Greaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.
Soon enough we get to the interstate ramp and the first aid station – I only took water at this point I was good. In theory, I carried enough with me for the entire day – except fluids (I carried 3 and this water made 4 so in theory at this point I had everything I needed.)
For this race they shut down an expressway for us! I drove it ahead of time, the pavement was nice and clean, the descents were straight ahead, so this had the markers of some serious downhill speed. I looped around and got going almost immediately into a long descent and before I knew it I was doing over 40mph for almost a mile straight (1 mile in 1:41).
Then we hit the first climb on this road…. It wasn’t super steep by dang it just seemed to go on a long time! No biggy the legs were responding fine, although I ran out of gears too early and I went from “spinning” up the hill to “grinding” up the hill. Forget any thoughts of pushing a few more watts- I just had to control my heart rate and get up the hill any way I could. If the heart rate got out of control I’m dead meat later.
Up and over and now into the next long descent. I was flying around 45-47mph on this one but then…. About ½ way down suddenly I get a wobble in my back wheel! CRAP! CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP! Typically this means I’ve got a flat. I’m going too fast to look so I just begin a controlled slow down but it keeps getting WORSE!! Ok at this point I will admit I’m scared. If I cannot get this thing under control I’m going to splatter and it’s going to hurt BAD. I keep working the brakes, I’m shifting my weight up front, back, center, pulling in tight, working anything I can think of to counteract the wobble, without any success. I’m still doing 25-30mph (not idea really as I wasn’t about to look) and suddenly the FRONT wheel starts wobbling too and the combination of front and back wheel have me in a truly dangerous position. I’m doing everything I can to keep control of this bike and to keep RUBBER SIDE DOWN (which is the ultimate triathlon mantra – keep rubber side down at all times or else it’s BAD NEWS!). Yelled out SLOWING SLOWING SLOWING!!! A few times to make sure anyone behind me stays clear. I’m making progress slowing but this wobble is really bad. I am cursing like a sailor S-S-S-S-F-F-F-F-F!!!! is the abbreviated version. And, I am not afraid to admit it – I was terrify tied. This was, without doubt, the single scariest moment in racing or training in 9 years of racing. Finally I get to the bottom of the hill off to the side and I hear someone yell “ARE YOU OK” and all I could think to say was “I THINK SO!” because at this point I was just about stopped and clear of any other riders. I got off my bike and although it wasn’t shaking I STILL WAS! Holy sh!t my adrenaline was going and my legs were wobbly. I looked over the bike. Both tires were fine no flat. I rolled both wheels – no wobble or bend in them. I checked the quick releases to make sure everything was secure – it was. Everything was perfectly fine. What the heck? Mayb the disc wheel? I bet the wind caught it at the wrong angle and did something. Ok, need to be careful on descents – I won’t be getting aggressive like I thought and try to push 50mph like planned.
I hop back on a ride a few feet – ok. 50meters – ok. So I take off again. Somehow I’m still wobbling…. Oh wait, that’s my legs. The bike is fine! Even during the next climb I could feel my legs jittering. Crazy.
Ok, back to racing!
I begin the next climb which was also the final exit. But not for me. I needed to see this exit 2 more times (which meant I got to do the descent again 2 more times) before I get to take the exit. So off to the left I went and climby climb climb.
As expected a ton of people are passing me. It’s getting confusing though because many of them were Olympic distance or pros. I just ignored them all, this is not a PR course for me, so I am just out to finish the course competing against ME.
I have to tell you though this area was stunningly beautiful. Every 500meters or so there was something interesting to see. So yeah you’re going at 5-10mph climbing but at least there is plenty to look at! The next descent went by too fast although I kept it to 35mph or so as I was still pretty nervous and finally I’m into the last climb in this direction. We climb it and then have to exit the expressway and take a little frontage road around to the school. A steep downhill (which I went up to 40mph, riding the brakes a bit), another hill (but not long enough to be “rated”) and then ANOTHER hill before you hit the turn around at the school. The hill to the school isn’t long but it’s annoyingly steep so it took a while.
At this point I’ve decided I need to up my calories I am feeling a bit spacey which is when I know that I need more. The weather is not bad (60s) now but the exertion of these hills is taking it’s toll and my heart rate is staying too high, too long. So instead of 2 gels + 1 bottle every hour I up it to 3 gels + 1 bottle minimum and if I can get my hands on a bar somewhere I will eat one of those every hour. So from 300 to 500 calories an hour (which is the max I can take in on a cool day, less if it gets hot). I always bring some extra gels so I immediately suck down an extra and the scheduled one, finish my bottle, and I’m back out there! Also I decide to keep the gloves on, for now, but I bet they will go soon. All I took from the aid station was water but all they had was chocolate Gels – no thanks! I will get some at the next aid station.
So back out of the school and I get to take the downhill out of the school – yeah! But then a 90 degree turn another down, and then a steep up before you can get back on the expressway. Yeah, instead of 9 hills, it’s more like 27 after doing some mental math – and that’s not counting this mystery hill a couple people mentioned at the very end. 9 were 1-2 miles and 18+ were much shorter but still noticeable for a flatlander like me.
Once up to the expressway I got an immediate downhill. This one I pushed closer to 40mph and no wobble. I think I’m going to be babying all of these downhills today…. Well, at least my legs aren’t shaking anymore!
The trip back was interesting but lots of the same. 3 downhills, 2 major uphills (or was it 3? ) and the last uphill before the turn was…well… annoying. I kept seeing 10-12% grade off my garmin and it was long. I felt like I was just creeping along and it just kept going forever. No sh1t, I saw a vulture. I wondered who he was there for?
FINALLY the turn around and another aid station. I called out for gels – they were out! Crap! Oh well I am maybe short a couple but I’ll be ok – I’ll hit another aid station or maybe they will get some more, I have to come back this way one more time.
So that was the first loop – of 2.5. The way back to the school, not surprising, was starting to get tough. I knew this course was going to be a challenge before I started and I was absolutely feeling it. I was thankful, however, I did several some courses this year (Knoxville, Dells, and Quassy) because my body was up to the challenge. I felt confident I would finish but I wasn’t so sure how quickly. It was clear it wouldn’t be easy.
As I continued through 500cals/hour I also realized that I was going to be short more than I thought, I messed up on the math. I am about 500 calories short. That’s WAY too much. If the one aid station only had chocolate and the other remained out – I needed a Plan B. Not 20minutes later I noticed 2 gels on the ground. I stopped and grabbed them! Bam! 200 calories solved and I helped prevent littering! I would get a bottle of Gatorade at the next aid station, there is 100 more. I needed 200 calories more. And yes, I kept my eyes to the ground looking for more dropped gels.
At this point in the race the pros were gone, the Olympic distance people were gone, and the fast people were gone. So it got sparse out there. I did a back and forth game with several people during that 2nd loop. We talked a lot and joked and complained about the hills, like you’d expect, but we cheered each other on I love that camaraderie. A few people were walking some of the hills. Not a good sign when you’re not even 40 miles into a 56mile bike. Not too many mechanicals, but some. I assisted a lady who dropped her chain and locked it in between the gears and frame. She wasn’t strong enough to pull it out so I solved that pretty easy. Good sharp YANK and her chain was free. Probably lost less than 2 minutes, well worth it.
I was pleased that one by one I was dropping all my leapfrog friends. That second loop was brutal and usually they would pass me on the uphill and I’d get them on the downhill/flat – but slowly but surely I would get ahead of them never to see them again. Even though my legs were tired there was still plenty left in the bank at this point. Although, I have to say I asked myself several times – could I do this bike course twice in a row? The answer… no, probably not. So how does that leave me for preparation for Norseman someday (which later I determined is 9000 ft of climb @ 112 miles as opposed to 5500ft here @ 56 miles)? I have to honestly say it means I’m not ready. I think the legs are, but I think I need to lose a lot of weight. I’m pushing out 200+ watts for an extended amount of time, but yet my weight to power ratio is off – on the weight side.
So once I made it to the school I got some more water and tossed one of my bottles and took a Gatorade. I put my socks and gloves into my back pockets stretched my feet and got back to it. Still only chocolate Gels though so I took a pass. I realized somehow though I’m needing 400 calories, at least, not 200 like I thought. Crap. I must have eaten more than scheduled or lost something. I was not clear headed due to the sustained exertion so either possible.
On the way back was more of the same. Leapfrog games, some people walking (not many), lots of alone time, and eventually dropping all but one of my leapfrong friends. A lady doing IM AZ this year we talked a good long time but she could climb much better than I so she got way ahead of my on the final climb of this segment. That last climb of this segment started getting me worried. I was out of food. I had some drink but by estimation I still had an hour to go. If I could not get some calories I was going to suffer hard and slow down even more. I know what bonking feels like (running out of calories) and it’s not a pretty sight and something to avoid at all costs.
When I got to the aid station again they were still out of gels unfortunately so I just said FEED ME! Give me everything – so I got 2 bars, a couple of cookies, and another bottle of Gatorade. Within there was 350 calories- if I could get it all down. I needed 400 minimum and really probably a bit more. I prayed there was another aid station but if not I’d just have to deal with it.
I hit the final big descent and finally got to take the much coveted exit off the highway. As awesome as it was to ide on a highway it was really great to be getting off it! Except the long hill which ended with the exit… continued into even more climbing. And more. Holy cap. Thoughts of walking danced in my head and were not dismissed as quickly as I would like.
Finally up and over and I managed to pick up some speed. I tried eating the bars and choked down a few bites. I tried the cookie and about barfed. I spit it out and was close-to dry heaving off the side of my bike. Chocolate Chip. Darnit! I don’t like chocolate on a good day and 3.5hours into a hard ride I REALLY don’t want anything to do with it and my body absolutely rejected it. It took a while to purge that from my mouth and I had to wipe my eyes as they were watering pretty bad. Needless to say I tossed the rest of the cookie. I sucked down as much Gatorade as I could stomach and prayed it would absorb.
I don’t remember the exact details of the course at this point. I really was calorie deprived at this point. I do remember going into town, circling a school, and then hitting a super-steep descent – so steep we had to pass up the turn, do a U turn once we slowed, and then go back to the park entrance. Then ride on a park trail a while. For me, I was completely alone on this section.
Finally at the end of the trail I see the hospital. I had been warned by others of the hill. However, I saw the trail go one way and up a steep and short section and I breathed a sigh of relief when we turned away from it. Phew, not me! We then went up a nice gradual climb out the park entrance and around some stuff. However, soon after we ended up parallel to the hospital and I saw the climb. Oh crap. My heart sank. It was not long, at all, especially compared to what we’ve been through lately on these crazy 1-2 mile hills. But it was STEEP. I had very little momentum going into it. I was already super-tired, spacey, and calorie deprived and freakin tired.
I began the climb an immediately realized I was in trouble. I hadn’t enough momentum to get even 1/3 of the way up it before I was already in my granny gear pushing 250watts. Oh crap. 300watts. Double crap. 350watts. This is going to hurt. About 2/3 the way up I couldn’t even focus on power but later I saw I was pushing 600watts for the final 1/3. I was swerving, I was standing, I was pulling with all my might against the handlebars – which hurt like hell. My forearms felt like someone had just cut me. I was engaging all sorts of wrong muscles at this point to compensate. My heart rate was out of the roof. Later I saw I hit 179 beats – I should never see over 165 on my bike or else I know I’m burning both ends of the candle while applying a blow torch to the middle! VERY little time at that exertion.
Finally I crested that hill and was just panting and trying to not fall over. I had a smirk of victory on my face, however, that nobody could wipe off. After a really tough race course being able to conquer that hill was deeply satisfying. I didn’t walk and I didn’t even consider it.
I pedaled through the remaining area to the finish. I was so done. I’m sure if I had enough calories that little hill wouldn’t have been nearly so brutal, but it was absolutely brutal. Tired legs + low calories = bad. Very satisfying race as tough as it was and as worn out as I was from weeks of racing. I did it!
I walked my way through transition to drop my bike very slowly. My heart rate was not recovered yet and I was at a major calorie deficit. I dropped off my bike, got out of my shoes, and got my recovery drink and immediately found some water to mix it up. I started sucking it down as quickly as my stomach would allow. I also got my compression tights on. At this point my brain moved to RECOVERY. Stretched a little and just hung around my bike a while. Once I recovered a bit I finally wandered off to the Expo to chat with friends and hit the Normatec recovery boots.
The Pros were all hanging around the VIP tent. Chatted with some of them while I got water and some food (which I could not eat) and then I got into the Normatec boots while watching the awards. Malaika and Eric both landed a payday, yeah! I spoke to some pros later and found out that Malaika was the one who had called out to me during my scary experience on the descent and she was asking me about it. After talking with several of the pros this is a common deal. The wind probably made it worse but there are many factors. Not going so fast is the only solution. Accordingly, the pros knew there would be wicked fast descents (some were saying 55+) and so none had disc wheels today. Well, after 9 years of triathlon I learned something new!
Finally met up with some teammates and talked about our races and I waited for awards. I didn’t get anything but a local buddy Tim did, but he had to leave already, so I collected that to bring home to him.
After I while I suited up in the kilt, goggles, and aero helmet and headed to the finish line to get my medal and run the finish chute and hang around to cheer in the final finishers of the day.
Had a great evening hanging with some of my teammates as well. Bittersweet since this would be my last Rev3 race of the year and would possibly be the last time I see some of them ever. I didn’t want it to end, but like all good things it must.
So this was the slowest Aquabike I’ve ever done. Over 5 hours. Almost 90 minutes slower than my fastest this year. I don’t consider this a failure though. With 5500ft of climbing in 56 miles, it was also the second hardest bike I have ever done (first was Showdown to Sundown in 2011 – 6000ft). I was as ready as I think I could have been but my weight is for sure a limiter. The slow swim is simply on me, my execution. With my lack of swim focus, that’s all on me, and I’m at peace with that.
What I did learn is I can really push my body far more than I ever thought possible. I was not anywhere near rested for this race. Two weeks prior I did an unscheduled FullRev Aquabike (2.4mile swim, 112mile bike) at the end of an already heavy 9 weeks of racing. 23 hours in 9 weeks is far more volume than I have ever done and I did it both without injury and without major speed loss even on a hard course. That shows me that when I need to dig deep… I can dig deep. Far deeper than I really thought I could. I really expected that when I upgraded to the FullRev 2 weeks ago I would likely blow up the rest of the season. Did not happen, not even close. That is a pretty awesome feeling.
The consistency of training and racing over 9 years now has really prepared my body for many adventures both seen and unforeseen. When you look at your own training (and life) and racing… what do you see? Are you ready to jump at an opportunity should it present itself – or will you stay stuck in the same old same old?
When I began my journey 9 years ago a good friend asked me how I got started. I told her I just decided. Decided?!? Just like that? Yes. Just like that.
What will you decide?