I'm really struggling to put a definition on this bike course. Karel says that a lot of hearts were broken on this course by athletes experiencing trashed legs on the run.
It's hard for me to properly describe this course because I am a 5 foot triathlete, from flat Florida, who loves to climb. Karel is a former (and very recent) Category 1 cyclist who spent much of his teenage years, climbing mountains in Europe.
Karel said this course was no joke and much harder than he imagined it would be from the course profile.
I decided I would let Google dictionary help me with a realistic definition...
(pictures from this
race report in 2010)
The Branson 70.3 bike course is TOUGH - Physically hardy, rugged, severe, harsh, aggressive, demanding, troubling
One must be TOUGH - Able to withstand great strain without tearing or breaking; strong and
The Branson 70.3 bike course is DIFFICULT: hard to do or accomplish, demanding considerable effort or skill, arduous, hard to endure, hard to comprehend, hard to manage.
The Branson 70.3 bike course is CHALLENGING: Demanding, calling for full use of one's abilities or resources in a difficult but
I'm still stuck on a definition but let's go with that the Branson 70.3 bike course is a challenging, difficult course that requires one to be tough.
After the 1.2 mile swim, the bike included a 6 mile section of rolling hills. Now that I think about this, I'm guessing less than 15 miles of this entirely non-flat course included the fun type of rollers where you can gain some speed on the downhill to help with the next uphill. Parts of the Branson course reminded me of San Antonio/Dade City (north of Tampa) or Clermont, Florida (well-known Sugarloaf mountain) with rollers that you could get some speed on the downhill to help with the next uphill. I love those!
But in Branson....there was very little of the course that you felt any "help" with the descends.
Many people have asked me how I train for hills. Karel is not a fan of bridge repeaters for he feels it is not a good simulation of climbs because the bridge is just not long enough to adapt. However, it is good for brief muscle memory adaptations so for many athletes living in flat areas, it can be beneficial to help with power production.
With our longest ride at 3:30 hours (majority of rides around 2:45-3 hours) and no idea as to how many miles I did within each bike session, the intervals we did were very specific and I became an efficient rider thanks to steady intervals (mostly Z3) focusing on power and cadence. I really enjoyed my entire 3- month training block (specific to Branson) but I felt as if I became a much stronger rider due to a few things....
1) riding with Karel (on his wheel, thus going much faster than I would do alone since most of my average mph for bike rides are around 17-18 mph due to warm-up/down and recovery between intervals)
2) doing more specific, longer intervals (primarily 12 - 30 min w/ 2-4 min EZ recovery focusing on power, not speed)
3) focusing more on my nutrition around my bike workouts. In the past 3 months, I have not done a single workout on an empty stomach and aside from swims (where I use water most of the time), I have had Hammer Heed and/or Hammer gels for every single workout (bike and run). I have also been in-tune w/ my recovery needs post workout (typically a smoothie w/ whey protein, veggies, fruit, milk/yogurt) and I have perfected my pre training nutrition which generally (for endurance workouts) include at least 4-6 ounces of skim milk (for the leucine) w/ my favorite carbs. I also learned that non-cooked oats or cold cereal (shredded wheat) works great compared to my old favorites of toast/bagel w/ PB or oatmeal. I do not measure my food but when it came to pre training nutrition for each discipline (bike/run), I wanted to make sure I perfected my nutrition. I did not measure to "count" or fear calories but to make sure I had enough. I found myself perfecting my nutrition before every workout (aside from swim which is typically 1/2 banana or WASA cracker w/ smear of PB) so that by race day, I would not feel the need to blame anything on nutrition. If it works in training, it should work on race day. Never overlook the importance of nutrition before, during and after workouts...it's not about calories but rather allowing the body to be consistent with training. I eat to perform...my body takes care of itself as I get stronger with every training session.
4) and lastly, what I feel is really helping me succeed in hilly courses such as Kona, IMKY, Rock n' Rollman in Macon, GA and IMWI since I live in pancake flat Jacksonville, is strength training. Not the kind w/ machines but rather, body assisted to mimic muscles I would use in climbing (and will use). I love step-ups on a block, anything for the core (for balance) and lunges and knee raises/leg lifts on the BOSU. I strength train year round but each block of training has a specific strength training routine. I kept up with hip strength until 2 weeks out and stopped my more aggressive strength about 4 weeks out from race day. I also love core exercises which I do daily. I keep things balanced so when it comes to strength, some days it is 10 min and max, 25-30 min on my swim days. I never do strength around a bike or run workout.
So with all that said, on to the race......
The bike course was beautiful. The scenery was amazing and I found myself loving it all. Karel spoke with Pro triathlete Nina Kraft at the airport and she mentioned she was really cold on the bike and it took her a while to warm-up. I was nervous about this for myself as I am not comfortable riding in cold weather (especially post swim) but I focused on my controllables and opted no arm warmers and gloves but instead, put on dry calf sleeves, socks and a jersey in transition. I was a little cold on the bike but the first few climbs warmed me up.
I'm not sure if this is exactly part of our course but a good idea as to the looooong climbs that made for a challenging, tough and difficult bike course. I felt a little cool on the first descend on the highroad (after the aid station that came after the turn around of the loop course) but it didn't bother me. If anything, it was a constant reminder to stay hydrated for the 90+ degrees in Florida make it easy to sip away. Karel use an aero bottle and 2 other bottles on his bike and I used 2 rear cages (which I can easily reach - this is a common mistake for athletes. If you have something on your bike, make sure it is practical and useful) and my front frame cage, with three bottles filled with my Hammer Heed Strawberry mix (240 calories). I didn't grab anything from the aid stations although they were well - stocked w/ wonderful volunteers. I also had a gel flask filled with 3 Huckleberry gels (a good amount of BCAA's to keep my head focused and muscles energized) that I sipped on at each turn around point). I tried to sip my drink at appropriate places on the course, where the HR was controlled. I avoided sipping during or immediately before a climb or right after a climb so I took advantage of parts of the course where my power and HR was low to ensure proper digestion and absorption of calories. I had no troubles with nutrition on this course and felt alert strong and well-fueled.
I saw Karel as I was about to start my way-back of the first loop and that lifted me up. However, the section off the highroad to the turn around (at the high school) reminded me a lot of IMWI with some rough roads and steep, punchy climbs. As I mentioned before, there was little on this course that felt like you had some "help" along the way, except on the way back to start the 2nd loop (and to finish the 2nd loop) which seemed to have a little tailwind. The way out was rough as the wind seemed to get stronger and as the race went on, the climbs seemed to get longer.
Karel didn't end up passing me until somewhere around mile 40 (a few miles before the turn around on the 2nd loop...yep, they made us do 2.5 loops with the turn off at the top of a super long climb). I was so excited to hear someone say my name and as he slowed down just enough to quickly talk to me, he said "Guess what...I swam 35 minutes!!!" and then he was off.
I smiled and yelled great job babe!!! But he was conservatively "crushing" the hills. I figured I would see him again until the run so I allowed that little conversation to give me the motivation and inspiration I needed to ride steady to the finish.
Although I felt really good, without any stiff legs or aches, I did have a few low moments where it felt really hard. Specifically, on the out section of each loop, with the wind, I was struggling at 5 or 7 mph at times. It was exhausting but I kept with positive mantra's (advice from my friend Dr. G (Gloria)
and stayed within my limits for my power. I had studied past race results so I expected a time of 3:10-3:20 to be realistic and I made sure to not overdo it on the climbs as I would gain very little to power up a climb only exceeding power that my body was not trained to do.
I kept reminding myself that no race is easy and it shouldn't be easy. The whole focus of racing is to finish knowing that you overcame obstacles and the odds. I also told myself that I didn't want it to be easy. I didn't train for an easy race but rather one that I could perform well, with the body that I had trained well. With these thoughts I was finding myself at the turn off and I nearly yelled out loud "YIPPEE" as I veered to the far right, just to make sure the volunteers knew I had tackled the highroads, it's time to run.
The last 6 or so miles were rollers. I was expecting more downhills but aside from the steepest downhill I have ever experienced (Karel maxed at 49mph), the course was a lot of fun for the rest of the course. I loved the rollers, the technical turns to keep things interesting, the bike path (no passing zone) that reminded me of trails near my parents and the last steep, short hill to give the legs something more to remember on the run.
With 3 other races (Relay, sprint, Olympic) going on, I wasn't exactly sure of my place in my age group but I counted about 6 or 7 age group girls ahead of me after the bike. Not going for a time goal, I was super excited to enter T2 (different location than T1) with a bike time of 3:07 (17.89 mph).
My splits were:
|0 mi||20 mi ||1:07:38||1:41:07||17.74 mi/h|
|38 mi||18 mi ||1:01:38||2:42:45||17.52 mi/h|
|56 mi||18 mi ||58:31||3:41:16||18.46 mi/h|
|Total||56 mi||3:07:47||3:41:16||17.89 mi/h|
Karel rode really smart, not riding as fast or hard as he could have. He said it was hard to hold back because he knew he could ride harder but we have learned from past race performances of athletes, that it always comes down to the run. To "bank" time on the bike, only to suffer, walk/jog or hurt on the run, is not worth the extra 2-5 minutes for a "faster" bike. This was a calculated risk that both Karel and I took on this course, to help us run strong off the bike. Also, with power zone tests specific to the longer distances, we were able to train with practical zones that allowed us to improve both on the bike and running strong off the bike.
Here's Karel's splits:
|20 mi||20 mi ||58:48||1:36:36||20.41 mi/h|
|38 mi||18 mi ||54:55||2:31:31||19.67 mi/h|
|56 mi||18 mi ||51:42||3:23:13||20.89 mi/h|
|Total||56 mi||2:45:25||3:23:13||20.31 mi/h|
When Karel finished the bike, he was unsure of his place. In looking at the results, he was 6th off the bike. With the questions as to how his legs would perform for his first time running a half marathon after a 56 mile bike ride, Karel said this was the hardest thing he has ever done....embrace the unknown and push through.
Off the bike, I noticed very few bikes in transition for females. I was keeping an eye on the age group females and decided I was 2nd or 3rd in my age group (or wave of 18-34) and 6th or 7th off the bike.
I racked my bike and quickly put on my Pink hammer visor and Brooks Launch running shoes. I didn't use my back-up race belt w/ number but exchanged my mostly finished gel flask for a new gel flask, filled with 3 huckleberry Hammer gels and water (same as on the bike) that I would use as my primary fuel source (w/ water at aid stations) for the 13.1 mile run (around 300 calories).
When I started the run, I hit the lap on my Garmin 910XT multisport function and to my surprise, my legs felt good. More than good, strong.
With the crowds awaiting me on this 3-loop run course, I had made up my mind within the first 1/2 mile of the last leg of this challenging, tough and difficult race.....
I will not give up until my body gives up......let's do this body!
Stay tuned for the 13.1 mile run RR.....