Thursday, July 3, 2008

Surviving Buffalo Springs 70.3

This past weekend Dana and I made the trek to Lubbock, TX for the Buffalo Springs 70.3. This would be my 4th year in a row of doing this race. I think that’s a record for me doing any race consecutively. It was my first ever half ironman four years ago and I remembered how painful it was. I thought how on earth can I do twice this distance? This would also be my first race with Dana since St. Croix 70.3 of last year so it made this trip a bit more fun.

Lubbock is a west Texas town in the desert. The geography consists of scrub brush and red rocky soil with very few trees. The major attraction in this town is a museum for the 50’s rock idol, Buddy Holly. The climate is usually arid and hot. It sits at 3000 ft altitude. It’s not a destination race by any means, unless of course you happen to be a Buddy Holly fanatic.
Buddy is dead now. I think I wore a pair of glasses like that in medical school. I think he died in a tragic plane crash. We missed the museum tour.

The Buffalo Springs Lake is spring fed and lies at the bottom of a canyon. There are several steep climbs into and out of the transition area which add to the race’s difficulty. Like Kona, the conditions, including the heat and the winds, usually take their toll on the athletes. I think this is what draws the “hard core” triathletes and having 28 Kona slots doesn’t hurt either. The level of competition is usually very high.

Dana and I arrived in Lubbock on Saturday, the day before the race. We drove down there in 7 hours. It was to be a quick in and out trip so I booked a room at the Quality Inn. How could I go wrong with a name like the Quality Inn? It had to be nice and $69.95 seemed like a bargain.

We went to the Holiday Inn where the race expo was located to get our packets. We met and talked with a few folks then headed to the race site for a quick prerace workout to check the equipment out. It was a great day, warm, sunny, and wind was at a minimum. If race day was like this, it would be perfect. Dinner was at a fine Italian establishment called Orlando’s. We saw some pro athletes there, so it had to be good. The pros are always on top of everything.

We returned to the Quality Inn, stuffed our backpacks, and got to bed early, 9:30ish. The problem with this is, most of the rest of the motel life is still very awake. The walls were paper-thin, but what do you expect for $69.95? To our left we heard the cars going by on the interstate. In front of us, a TV in the next room was blaring. And to our right, kids were screaming and running down the halls. Behind our headboard, the loudest racket was coming from the “sex couple”. That’s right, we heard the rhythmic banging and moaning. This woman was making a lot of noise. Dana and I laid there silent for a while and neither of us said a thing. Finally, I said dryly…“He must be pretty good” Then Dana replied, “Ugh, She’s such a faker! I wish she would just shut up. She’s so annoying. Nice place you picked, Rob!” I always get blamed in situations like this.

Hey, wait a second. Faking it? This poor guy thinks he’s God’s gift and she’s faking it! Images of the diner scene with Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally” flashed into my mind. I think Elaine on “Seinfeld” mentioned the same thing to Jerry in an episode once. Anyway, we turned on our air-conditioner unit and drowned out most of the noise and finally drifted off to sleep. Dana, a light sleeper, said they were back at it a 1:30am. They definitely weren’t racing on Sunday.

Dana nudged me at 3:50 am. The alarm at the Quality Inn didn’t go off, big surprise. Luckily, Dana set her watch alarm, also. Morning. Ug, I hate race mornings, especially ones where you have to get calories in you as soon as you wake up. I suppose four years in a row were starting to wear on me. Motivation plays such a huge part in this sport. This race meant very little to me. Dana was a bit more into it. It has been five weeks since Ironman Brazil and she was feeling fit.

As we were driving to the race site the wind was picking up and we saw lightning in the distance. I didn’t check the weather, but some folks in the transition area said a storm was moving in. This would certainly be a challenge.

Last year I wrote about the sandbar at the start of the swim. Well, my secret was out. Everyone must have read my race report in my blog! So, this year, the pro wave ran along the sand bar almost to the first buoy and so did every subsequent wave. It was hilarious.

I was in the 5th wave, the 45-49 men were leaving with the 25-29 men. I ran along the sandbar but in the process stepped on a rock with my left foot and I felt a sharp pain into the ball of first metatarsal head. My foot was killing me as I started the swim. I soon forgot the pain and searched for some young feet to draft off . I accelerated to a 25 year old guy and just latched on for the entire swim. I remember looking at my watch and seeing 23:50 when I got out. Nice swim, but after that my race went quickly downhill. I was able to maintain my wattage target for an hour but after that I just couldn’t keep it going. I remember that last year I felt I was able to really race this race. Well, this year I was back to just surviving again. My lack of training time on the bike was apparent.

This year at Buffalo Springs, the weather was horrible with rain and winds gusting to 45 mph, which further exploited my weakness. In my training this year, I have been able to get in the runs and the swims, but the bike training time has been a bit tough to squeeze in, and the results showed. You can fake your way through an Olympic distance race with low miles but you can’t do it with a half ironman.

There was a lot of carnage on the course. Folks took the down hills too fast and the slick wet roads caused quite a few crashes. I took those descents very easy. When all was said and done I turned in a personal worst time on this course of 2:46.

I had a decent run though, a 1:35, with a negative split. The usual oppressive hot conditions were replaced with a cool rain this year, so there were fewer implosions on the run by guys that biked too hard, and I only managed to run myself back to 9th in my age group with a 4:49. This was over 10 minutes slower than last year’s time. I think that ties my slowest overall time here, which was the first year I did it. Anyway, I have to be pleased with the result considering the amount of training I have done. Long hard rides are necessary to do well at this distance.

I felt like quitting early in the run but I toughed it out. My left foot was killing me and I couldn’t figure out why. Later, when we were driving home the pain got worse and my big toe swelled like I had gout, then it dawned on me. “Oh yeah, I hurt it on the swim start running along that sand bar“. On Monday I had it x-rayed. Luckily there are no fractures but I still have to put weight on the outside of my foot due to the deep bruise and pain . I guess that’s the price you pay for cheating on the swim. Dana thinks that they should rope off that section next year so the athletes can’t run along the sandbar. “It’s a swim, for goodness sakes, not a water run. “ she said. The swim is under-represented in a half iron distance race anyway.

Dana had a solid race. She thought the bike conditions were tougher this year. It took her ten minutes longer than the last time she raced here, two years ago. She wanted to break 30 on the swim and went 27. Her run was a PR for her on the Buffalo Springs course, but not enough to net a PR for the race because of the slower bike. She was 7th in her age group with a 5:16.

I learned a few things from this race. One, if you don’t put in the time you don’t get the time, and in future races I will add ear plugs to my race equipment checklist.


Rainmaker said...

Great write-up. And congrats on pushing through.

Izola said...

Have you heard of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor who wrote the current bestseller "My Stroke of Insight"? Taylor was a Harvard trained brain scientist who suffered a massive stroke. I don't think we'll ever hear a story like this - Taylor understands how the brain functions and she was able to observe her mind deteriorating. She writes about the euphoric nirvana and a sense of complete peace and well-being she discovered in her stroke and she talks about this in her incredible (don't miss it) talk on In the book, Taylor explains how to 'step to the right of their left brain' to uncover a deep internal peace. Meg Ryan was in the audience when Dr. Taylor gave her speech at TED... hey, maybe she'll do the movie and we'll all be able to "have what she's having" to reprise that line from When Harry Met Sally : ) Sign me up!