I have always believed that racing triathlons as a professional, even if you can manage to win the race, has always held a 'bigger' meaning. It is not just about winning, or posting certain times, but to go out and push yourself to the limit for so long, there has to be a larger drive coming from somewhere. This weekend racing in Branson, Missouri, taking the win in front of a spectacular crowd and most of all my family was definitely all the more special with my Aunt Sandy along the sidelines, cheering her heart out, as she is my reason for fundraising for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for my Ironman Hawaii race.
The Race: I knew when Branson 70.3 was put on the list of events, I wanted to come. It is a 10 hour drive from Austin and I was able to stop in Oklahoma to see my aunt and uncle en route. My mom flew down to Austin, and she made the drive with me, which was great as well. So we arrived to Branson on Friday and I realized all of the hype about the 'hills' was for real! In addition to the hills, Branson has lots of old people and a 'strip' much like that of a mini-Vegas. That said, it does not feel overwhelmingly big because the 'strip' is only a few miles long and despite the busy-ness of the main drag, the town still maintains a bit of a cozy, quaint feel to it (probably all the cute old folks around). Friday and Saturday were the usual pre-race happenings, along with the arrival of my Aunt Sandy, Uncle Del, cousin Brian and his fiance Leigh and their baby Ava. Such a treat to have so much family here to support.
Swim: I was feeling quite unsure of what to expect from my body, being about three weeks out from Hawaii, but as we all know how you 'feel' going into a race rarely equates to how you perform. We kicked off Sunday morning in beautiful and crystal clean Table Rock Lake right at 7:00 AM, in the warm 76-degree water and a wetsuit, and my body felt quite mediocre. I was able to stick on the feet of strong swimmers Nina Kraft and Pip Taylor, and while I thought I could make a pass a few times and take a pull, I did not quite have the gear to do so; so every time I drifted back, I told myself to focus and stay in the draft, as my mind started to drift as well. I tend to enjoy solo swims, but I have realized this is not so efficient when racing! The swim felt endless, but was a nice out and back well-marked course and I was glad to get out and take off my Zoot sleeveless suit as it was much too warm to use one at all. The run up to transition was like a slap in the face, up a very steep hill with steps! Quite cruel actually! But forced you to find your running legs.
Bike: We exited the park and immediately were hit with hill after hill, on a gorgeous and foggy winding road. I was able to exit transition in 2nd place, and Pip and I exchanged the lead for the first 15 miles or so at which point we finally hit the 'main highway' were we would proceed to do our two loops. I was able to pull ahead here and through non-stop work, maintain the bike lead. Picture a long tree-lined highway ahead of you that is either a long uphill or a long downhill; this is what the course entailed, for the entire two loops. Despite the fast descents, the miles seemed to creep by! I recall seeing the Mile 20 mark and looking at my watch, throwing out a few choice words, shocked it was taking so long! I could see the gap between myself and the other women, but I know there were strong girls behind me so I stayed on the gas the entire time, even on the descents. We finally exited the roller coasters and took the final 8 miles back into downtown Branson, which was predominantly downhill, a good place to fuel up and spin out the legs a bit for the run.
Run: I literally said to myself upon coming into transition "SWEET, held the lead, now legs what are you going to give me? Are you still there? Please have something left after that punishing ride..." I hopped off and ran to my shoes, which felt quite snappy, a good sign I hoped. The crowd was incredible and it was so great to hear the cheers from my family! But, I stayed focused and started to push the run right off the bat. We had a 3-loop course, which took us through the Branson Landing (an outdoor mall) along Lake Taneycomo and then into neighborhoods. I knew I needed to run hard from the start to put a gap on 2nd place, as she had gained on me on the bike. I pushed the first loop and was feeling strong, yet the heat was kicking up. I knew I had increased the lead, but tried to keep pushing on Loop 2 as I like to run fast even if I do have a lead. By the time I approached the 9 mile mark, I started to hurt a bit. I had been watching my splits, seeing 6:00, 6:10's, 6:20... I told myself I could probably safely drop to 7-min pace and still win, so I dialed it back a bit as to prevent a full on blow up. When I started to hurt, I tried to look relaxed and strong because when you start to grimace, I think it only gets significantly worse. I finally saw the 12 mile mark, and knew I had it from there on in and started to think about the finish.
The Finish & More: I was hoping that my Aunt Sandy would be there along the finish chute as I approached, and she was. I spotted the finish area, fountains and all, which is always the most welcome view of the entire day, and started to celebrate a bit. When I saw my family, I ran over to her and gave her a big hug before crossing. She was so happy, as was I, and it was a bit of an emotional moment. My Aunt got MS when she was 30 years old, and while it has limited her in ways physically, she has an incredible attitude and she never makes an excuse. She is one of the most caring, genuine women you'll ever meet, yet she is also honest and tells it like it is. I figure when I am out there hurting in a race, or in a training session, who am I to complain about it. I am inflicting this pain upon myself; some people in life have pain they do not choose for themselves. She never complains. I know she appreciates all she has in her very blessed life, and this inspires me to appreciate the ability to go out and push by body to its limits. The win was incredible, especially coming after winning Steelhead 70.3; almost even more special to see that I could win another one, but having my family there to support meant the world to me, and I just try to keep it all in perspective; appreciate every single minute of it because we never know what tomorrow may bring.
I need to send out a HUGE thanks to my sponsors, who have been instrumental in my success' this year: Zoot Sports, Quintana Roo, PowerBar, Katalyst Multisport, Xcis Software, Jack & Adams, Hill Country Running, Advanced Rehabilitation, Go with the Flo Acupuncture and 3 Cosas Massage. And a thanks to my family for having supported me on this crazy journey for the past 10 years, and my husband Derick, who on our 2 year anniversary weekend was across the country in Bend, Oregon doing Xterra Trail Nationals, picking up 6th overall and an age group win!
**I am in the final push to Kona, and I am racing for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and raising money through the Janus Charity Challenge. I am just shy of my goal of $5000, so if you are interested you can donate here. ** Thank you for your generosity, not from me but from every person who is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis every hour of every day.
Onto Kona! Thanks so much for reading ~