I feel vindicated. I Have finally broken through what has been thus far a huge personal barrier…I have finally won a long course event. I have chalked up numerous wins at the sprint distance and two at the Olympic, I’ve only done 4, but I have never even come close at the half-iron, though I did pull off a 3rd at the iron distance in a small race.
Long course triathlon has been the proverbial monkey on my back and it has frustrated me tremendously. I have suspected that the major problem with my long course racing has been poor nutrition. Today at the Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon I have confirmed that to be the case. Specifically, my calorie intake has been WAY too low. Today I rectified that situation somewhat. I took in about 1000 calories for breakfast, a couple hundred more about ½ hour before the race, about 300 during T1, about 1500 on the bike and probably another 500 on the run, which was not enough but I couldn’t take any more. This kept the motor running better than it ever has during a long course event.
The Clydesdales, Athenas, Relays, Aquabike and I think 18 and under age group took off together in the last wave. The Pros took off at 6:30 and we took off at 7:05. I hit the water nice and easy and just focused on good form and a smooth, even arm turnover. The lead pack of my wave took off and I was left behind somewhere mid pack but after a couple hundred yards I noticed I was bridging up to people who were now straggling from the front. By the time I hit mid swim I was in the rear of the wave ahead and about ¾ of the way through I was deep into the middle of the wave ahead and at the rear of the group that was two waves ahead. I had a phenomenal swim. I felt relaxed, I felt smooth, I felt fast and I felt like I could have kept on going. I completed the swim in PR time of 34:20.
When I hit T1 I took a little extra time to down some calories so I had an uncharacteristically slow T1 at 3:19 but I think it was worth the extra minute. As I was heading out of T1 I saw Greyhound heading out just ahead of me and I gave him a holler. I hopped on my bike and headed for the climb out of transition.
One of the decisions I made prior to going into this race was to sacrifice a little speed on the bike to try and have more left for the run so when I did hit the hills I spent most of my time in the small chainring, stayed in my saddle and just spun up. I still was able to pass people going uphill but I went at an easier pace than usual. The second thing did was to mostly coast downhill. This resulted in a lower top speed but it also gave my legs a bit of a rest. All in all my bike felt good. The BSLT course is challenging but fun. The “Back half” of the course has some long, winding climbs that are a bit technical on the way down and the roads have a lot ob bumps in them, the kinds that are sudden and jarring, the kinds that, after 30 miles, make it feel like someone is hitting you in the crotch with a baseball bat. The only problem I had on the bike was when I threw my chain right at the base of a climb called the staircase. You don’t really have any momentum built up here so I didn’t loose much besides the time it took me to hop off the bike and thrown the chain back on but it was annoying to lose my rhythm. I got the bike done in 2:5657, nothing special but it was a decent bike split on this course.
When I hit T2 I was beginning to have some stomach trouble. I didn’t feel bad like my stomach had shot down but I was probably a bit full. I felt like I had a metal strap cinched across my stomach and I didn’t want to risk making myself nauseous so I skipped the T2 nutrition I had laid out and headed out on the run in 2:25. On the way out the GEEKGRL was cheering for me and I gave her a big kiss and was gone.
The run begins with three miles of small rollers along the canyon bottom and there are patches of shade. I was running easy and doing between 9:30 and 10:00 minute miles. Aside from my stomach I was feeling pretty good but I was beginning to get worried because the miles were starting to tick by and I wasn’t getting any nutrition. I was keeping cool by pouring water on myself at the aid stations but after doing that a couple times I noticed that my shoes were soaked and felt like bricks. There is no way I needed the extra weight so I stopped that for a while and just used my sponge to dip in the water and wipe off my face. I also rinsed my mouth and tried to take small sips of the nutrition I was carrying but when it did I started to feel sick.
I finally cleared the floor of the canyon and got to the first big climb, which takes you out onto the plains. Here is where I implemented my second bit of strategy for the race, I walked the uphill though I tried to walk it quickly. I’m not sure how much this helped me in comparison to how much time I lost but I suspect that it really paid off during the final three miles. Walking the uphills slowed me to about 16:30 to 17:00 miles but I didn’t seem to be losing much ground to anyone so I didn’t feel too bad about the tactic. It also gave my stomach some time to relax, which it needed badly as I was still taking in very little nutrition. After getting out of the canyon there is a bit of flat and then a big descent and another long climb back up onto an area called “the energy lab.” Now, there really is an energy plant on this road but as I have said this stretch gets its name because it is flat and exposed and on hot days you can see the air shimmering as the heat rises from the pavement.
Mercifully we had almost perfect conditions, at least so far as the Lubbock area is concerned. It was partly overcast and the temps probably never reached 90 degrees. Still, the energy lab is a hot and demoralizing place to be…it is an almost perfectly flat, perfectly straight, exposed stretch of country road that goes on forever…well, ok it makes up about 4 total miles of the course but the racers are just stretched out before you like a death march of humanity. It just looks ugly. I was really starting to heat up out there and it had been a long while since I had any real nutrition or water and my stomach was still feeling bad. I knew I had to try and get something so I decided to start eating ice cubes. This seemed to work wonders because it was fluid that I could take but it wasn’t upsetting my stomach, at least initially. Still, I had been reduced to about 12:00 miles and a few walk breaks through the energy lab. Once I was finally out of the lab it was the big descent th the aid station at the bottom. This aid station saved my butt. When I go there they had just set out little 8 oz cans of Coke! I snatched one up and drank it down. Initially it made me feel full and sloshy but there was a big hill to climb right away and I knew I would walk it so I was counting on that break giving my stomach time to settle.
As the small group of people I was walking with neared the top of the hill one of the guys said, “OK, walk break is over” and he took off and we all started running again. It’s funny how people start functioning as units out on a long course, supporting each other and working off each other’s strength. By the time I started running again I was feeling much better my running was back down to 10+ minute miles. There was the last big descent into the canyon and then the 3 miles to the finish. Almost immediately upon reaching the canyon floor I saw a friend and Albuquerque area Tri coach, Mark Mico, walking so I pulled up along side and he said he was sick and bloated and his stomach had shut down. This guy had just qualified for worlds in France just three weeks prior at the evil Deuceman but he was done for today. It just doesn’t matter how talented you are, things can still go wrong. I went ahead and walked and talked with him for a little because I am very aware of how miserable it is to be that sick during a race and how lonely it is having everyone springing past as you trudge to the finish. I also know what a welcome distraction a conversation is during those low points. I probably only lost two or three minutes here but felt better for having stopped.
I resumed my run to the finish and was able to sustain 9:45 to 10:15 minute miles but the last four tenths of a mile seemed to take forever. I crossed the finish line with a run of 2:31:20 and a total time of 6:08:22. This is not a PR at the half iron distance for me but it is close and I think a respectable time for such a tough race. I did PR on both the swim and the run, which I feel great about. I immediately went from the finish line to the lake and waded into the cool water for a soak…the world’s best thing about racing at Buffalo Springs. I had two post-race beers, two oranges and a bottle of Gatorade.
I still need to work on my nutrition and probably hill running but I felt like today was a huge breakthrough. I am pretty content. I think I may be able to do well at the 101 by the time it rolls around and that is something that I am excited about.