PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN
Location: Lubbock, Texas
There are very few events on the circuit that can rival the history, the challenge, and the vibe of Buffalo Springs. While there have been a few softer years with regard to weather, it is never an easy task to get through this course – in extreme heat and wind, with rain and cool temps, or with a strange West-Texas combo thereof.
I’ve done the race six times now, and it will always hold a special place in my heart, partly because it was one of my first big wins back in 2001. And partly because the year after winning the race, I became intimately familiar with every inch of the race course by walking/ limping/ hobbling 11.5 miles of the half marathon (due to a bike crash). Going from first place to last place in one year’s time is humbling, as much so as is spending close to eight hours maneuvering my way through the Llano Estacado. The experiences I’ve had on this course have helped form me as the athlete I am today, and the challenge that Mike and Marti Greer give us athletes is what truly makes this event stand out in today’s “flat and fast” triathlon world. In short, this race is not for wimps.
Amanda and I both got very rocky starts to our race season this year. I fumbled my way through an injury at Galveston 70.3, finishing because I was too stubborn to drop out; and, at Ironman Texas, I wrestled my way through a sub-par swim, a flopper of a bike, and a fairly pedestrian marathon. With Amanda’s last good race being in September of last year, we were both very fired up to turn the ship around.
We arrived in Lubbock rested and ready to rock and roll. We linked up with our good friend Jess Meyers, who in addition to being a teammate of ours, is a really fun gal to hang out with. She’ll keep you laughing, she’ll keep you showing up on time, and she’ll train with you stride for stride.
One of the best things about traveling with Amanda and Jessica is that there is no chance of slipping onto Lovato Time. These two ladies are prompt, and by default, I am too! We got to transition early, and set up the triumvirate of Kestrel 4000′s in the pre-dawn darkness. Jess and I had done our practice swim the day before in our sleeveless TYR Hurricane’s and the water was screaming for this type of wetsuit. I am not one for warm water, and the borderline temperature rulings are always my worst nemesis. In an irrational lapse in judgement, I made the last-minute switch to my full Hurricane, fearing that I needed the extra neoprene to keep afloat. This proved to be a most unwise decision, as it only took about 400 meters for my body to overheat, and to render me fairly useless in the water. I had done it again – after leading the group through 200 meters, I was suddenly left for dead by the second turn buoy. Dang! I really hope my next swim race is in cold water, as I tend to really suffer in those warm water swims.
Quickly dispatching the poor swim from my memory, I jumped on my rig and headed out of T1. Facing the steep climb immediately out of transition, I quickly realized my riding legs were beneath me. I eased my way up the hill, and readied myself for the severe winds that were waiting for us out on the plains.
If I could design my ideal bike course, it would look startlingly similar to the BSLT course. With six nice climbs to keep things interesting, enough head winds/ cross winds to break up the packs, and a ton of long, flat sections to power across, the course has everything I love about bike racing. I settled into a too-quick rhythm and began chasing down the leaders. By approximately mile 15, I had positioned myself in third, where I would stay for the duration of the ride. I had hoped to catch Raynard, or even James Bowstead, knowing that a bit of company would put us well out of reach of anyone who laid chase. However, despite my better efforts, these two boys rode well and strong, and the gaps they had on my only changed in their favor.
I suffered a slight lull in my pedaling somewhere around miles 35-40. I rediscovered my mojo when Jossiah Middaugh came barreling past at the top of a climb. I don’t enjoy being passed – who does? – so I regrouped for a few minutes, and made the pass back for third. I felt a strong second wind over the course of the last 15 miles or so, and worked the crosswinds and headwinds to my favor.
Coming off the bike, I knew my work was cut out for me. I heard a time split of 2min 5sec to Tissink, with a minute or so to Bowstead. I forced myself to settle into a comfortable rhythm for the first 3 miles within the park. Experience had told me that racing too soon on this half marathon would spell disaster, especially with the steadily climbing temperatures. I chose to push the first big downhill coming into mile 4. Having already overtaken second place, I began to see the time gap to first closing fairly well. In four miles of running, the new splits I was getting indicated I had been taking 15-18 seconds per mile out of the leader. I tried to bide my time on the ensuing up hill, and saved energy for the Energy Lab II, which we faced at about 4.75 miles into the run.
For those that have not experienced it, this version of Kona’s famed segment entails about 1.8 miles out, and 1.8 miles back, on a long stretch of fairly desolate terrain. False flats (not sure if it’s up, down or both) are accompanied by the ripe smell of a nearby cattle feedlot, heat waves are bending the road in front of you, and the distinct West Texas smell of oil being refined or extracted or burned or something is ever present. If that has not presented enough of a challenge, the heat kicks up, the wind is steadily blowing you backwards, and the only shade is that which is created by your own visor. It’s lovely.
To make my road a bit more unpleasant, my left hamstring decided that I had taken enough time to warm up, and it went straight into a leg-locking cramp. Double dang! I stopped dead in my tracks – not on purpose – and immediately and hopefully grabbed my ankles. Why, oh why, was this happening now?! Oh yeah: heat, wind, hills, 25.4 mph, running, blah, blah, blah…
Or was it because I forgot my EFS Liquid Shot?!
Either way, it really matter more how I was going to make that nasty cramp go away. One stretch didn’t seem to help, two stretches didn’t seem to help, how about three? That did the trick, but the downside is, I was then being CAUGHT by Middaugh, and Tissink had gained every bit of his time back, if not more. (Not yet time for a triple dang.)
Getting the cramp to subside was victory number one; reaching my race pace again was victory number two. I shuffled for a while, minimizing knee lift, hoping I’d cut the cramping right out. It seemed to be working, and soon enough I reached that unreachable turnaround. Raynard looked strong as he ran past – but I really wanted to catch up – and I calculated he had close to three minutes on me by that point.
I guzzled as much water as I could guzzle, and I set off with the tailwind in pursuit of that leader’s position, amazed that I had made a recovery.
Seeing the oncoming runners is both motivating and terrifying. They looked strong and they looked to be in pain. Did I look strong and pained as well?
Cruising down the second hill, I found my rhythm to be back. I was going to do some damage. 3.5 miles was a lot of running, and just as I approached the base of climb number three, I got two nice motivational surges: Amanda was running great in fourth place, and Dave Scott was out on course offering ample encouragement that I could, indeed, catch the lead.
By the time I reached the middle of mile 9′s cruel hill, I realized my friendly neighborhood cramp was back. Insert triple dang here. (Might want to think about running more hills in training, that or actually carrying my EFS Flask with me next time!) No worries, I had done this before. Not quite the stunning downward dog we all dream of performing (don’t we?), but my crude ankle grab did the trick: hammy cramp is gone again. Dave had said I was only 80 seconds down; I could close that if I killed downhill #3!
Downhill #3 was not on board with my plan of killing it. I ran hard, and it fought back. Some tasty blood blisters might have formed as my tired legs slammed my tired toes into the ends of my flashy Bolt III’s. Good time for a lesson: mile 10 downhill section is not a good time to realize you may have worn a slightly smaller size shoe than you should have. Carry on.
With three miles to go, I found myself alternating between survival (don’t get caught), and attack (catch that guy). The encouragement of each passing runner added to my motivation to catch Raynard. The false split given from one of the racers who forgot that he had actually moved from the place he took the time split gave me momentary (false) hope. I took it with me and ran.
Crossing the line in second was not as sweet a victory as it would have been to take the win – ten years after my last win here. But it was a victory in itself. Having merely survived my last two races, being able to battle it out with a strong champion (and the rest of the quality field) was all I could have asked for. I was pleased to have overcome the challenges that were dished up for me; I was pleased to have notched another hard-fought BSLT finish to my belt; and, I was pleased to have raced for the first time this year.
To those of you who have weathered my lengthy race report, and to those of you who are looking for a supreme challenge of a half iron, I encourage you to sign up for BSLT in 2012. It’s hard, it’s hot, and it’s going to leave you tired. But remember, this ain’t a flat and fast world we live in!
And I’d like to give a huge shout-out to my incredible sponsors, who provide me with amazing support and the best equipment out there. Thanks to Trakkers/ Rev3, Kestrel, First Endurance, AVIA, ISM, Zipp, Jack and Adam’s, TYR, Recovery Pump, Oakley, CycleOps, and Headsweats.