PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN
Location: Lubbock, TX
It’s been about ten days since I raced the 24th edition of the Buffalo Springs 70.3 down in Lubbock, Texas. It’s taken me a bit longer than normal to put together the race recap, and it’s not because I had trouble summarizing my race (I did), or even because I was disappointed with the outcome (I was). My delay was caused by my trouble sifting through the memories of a week that ultimately ended with the passing of our beloved dog, Blue.
Sadly, everyone’s favorite Whippet – and Amanda’s and my trusty companion (of 15 years) – got very sick while we were in Lubbock. After three days in the hospital, he finally succumbed to the pneumonia that plagued him, and he passed away (Wednesday evening). A tribute blog is already in the works for Blue Dog, but it’s going to take several days any many tears before it comes to fruition.
We really miss Blue, and the timing of his passing has made it really tough for me to reflect on our trip to Lubbock. It has been extremely difficult to untangle the memories of Blue from those of my race week, the race itself, and certainly the post-race activities.
Last Sunday I raced Buffalo Springs for the 8th time. Over the years, Lubbock has become a special place for me, and the race directors Mike and Marti Greer have become true friends. Their support of me from the late nineties until today has been unparalleled. They are a rarity in today’s world of Ironman and triathlon race production, in that they have owned and operated their own race for a quarter century, and to this day they have the same pride in their event as they did on day 1. Similarly, I have loved and supported this race – the course, the athletes who race it, and the challenges it brings – since my first race there in 1999. If you’ve never raced Buffalo Springs, you are short-changing yourself.
While this year’s running was not my best day, it was not my worst either – far from it, as a matter of fact. While racing BSLT in 2002, I crashed my bike about halfway through the ride, and banged myself up pretty good. I got through the rest of the ride with minimal damage done, but by the time I got to the run, I was in trouble. I was faced with making the decision to drop out and get medical attention, or to carry on with the race, battling the elements and the course with my fellow competitors.
I chose the latter.
That day it took me close to 8 hours to finish the race. I walked 11.5 miles, and along the way I met a lot of athletes I was not used to seeing on course. I received encouragement from many of the athletes who had cheered for me in the past. I met some new people, and I gained a new perspective. My body was hurting, but the satisfaction of finishing that race was equal to that which I felt the year before when I won the race.
To this day people tell me how much it meant to them that I finished the race. I tell them that I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Every single time I head to Lubbock, I go there knowing that sometimes I will be the winner, sometimes I will be sixth place, but other times I will suffer through half a day of movement, just trying to complete the challenge I had undertaken. And in 2002, I got to the finish line and celebrated the spirit of triathlon and the spirit of Buffalo Springs. Triathlon racing is hard, and sometimes it gets the better of us. And, in my opinion, that is exactly the point
Last Sunday’s race was not a special day as far as my performance went. I swam moderately well, but lost time to the lead group. I began the bike a couple minutes back, but with a couple minutes’ gap to the guys behind me. I tackled the bike hard, knowing I had my work cut out for me. Out of sight, out of mind, and I did not want to ride the whole 56 miles in no-man’s land.
By the time I got to the third climb on the bike ride (about mile 12), I knew I did not have great legs that day. I was struggling to keep things going, but I kept trying to turn things around. I lost more and more time as the day went on, and I failed at my goal of avoiding no-man’s land. I was flying solo, and I was not feeling too good about myself. Soon I began to feel sorry for myself, and at one moment I asked myself what was the point. I was so far out of contention that I did not stand a chance of placing in the money. I had gone there to defend my title, and to compete for a top finish. And I was barely keeping pace with a good training ride. I felt very let down.
Then I turned a corner – very near to the spot that I hit the ground so many years ago – and I remembered that there is no giving up in Lubbock, at least not for me. I realized I was not having my best day, but I was still upright, and I still had the ability to push myself as hard as I could. I could still honor the race; I could still honor the competition, the Greers, my wife and mother who were cheering for me, the others on course, and the sport. So I kept on suffering through.
Over the course of the final 10 miles of riding, I began to feel more positive. My legs were not as leaden as they had been, and I started to believe again. Last year I entered T2 nearly 7 minutes down, and I ran my way to the front. I began to believe that could happen again. So I set my mind to the task at hand.
Inside of 3 miles, it became evident that we were having unbelievably good weather. I don’t think the temperatures even hit 80 degrees by the time most of us pros had tackled the run course. I typically thrive on the hot and extreme conditions that Lubbock throws at us, and I love the way it rips apart athletes who have gone too hard too early. But with the cooler temps, most everyone was holding onto their paces, and I did not see the typical blow-ups on the Energy Lab II. It was clearly a record setting day, but my bike ride had kept me right out of record contention, to be sure. After the halfway point, it became clear that I was not making up enough ground on the leaders. They all looked good, and I felt that my deficit was too great.
I finished up the run bouncing between the struggle of racing and being buoyed by the amazing support and cheers of the Buffalo Spring age group contingent. One thing has remained constant over the years, my fellow athletes on course will encourage me the same, whether I’m in first place, last place, or anywhere in between. And that’s just one more thing that makes Lubbock a special event.
I crossed the line to a welcome embrace from Marti Greer. She lets everyone know they are appreciated, and personally sees to it that each finisher is well tended to – from medical attention to cold coke to watermelon or a dip in the lake – she facilitates it all.
I acknowledge that not all races go according the plan, and that nothing is guaranteed in this sport. Again, that’s part of what makes the good days special, and what keeps us coming back for more. I’m proud that I did what I could, and I earned that finisher medal just like everyone else.
Looking ahead, I don’t know what plans I have for the 2014 triathlon season, but I do know one thing: I’ll be heading to the Llano Estacado of Western Texas to be there in support of the 25th running of one of the best races on the planet. I hope y’all will be joining me!