Well, I can now say that I have two of the 70.3 triathlon races under my belt. First was the Vineman 70.3 race in California last July, my second was BSLT 70.3 yesterday in Lubbock! I have to say that BSLT was definitely a harder race than Vineman, and I feel such a great sense of achievement for having finished the race yesterday and thank goodness it only reached a high of 90 degrees and 10mph winds. It could have been a lot hotter, so I'm very happy that the temperature stayed relatively cool.
We arrived in Lubbock Friday evening and stayed with Nedra's parents, who were wonderful hosts. Our friends Chris and Ralph, also doing the 70.3 race, stayed with us as well so it was one big happy family of triathletes :) Saturday we had a nice sleep in then assembled our bikes and went for a short bike ride and run. Then we headed over to the race expo to check-in and pick up our race packets and timing chips. After that we headed out to the race site and drove the run and bike course... and got a few surprises. I got a little nervous seeing some of the hills on the run and the bike but was happy to see that most of the bike was flat... which was actually not so great for reasons I will go into later! After driving the course we met up with Nedra's parents, granny and some of her friends, for a pasta dinner. Then home to pack our gear for the next day, set the alarm for 4am the next morning, and jump into bed for an early night.
I had a little bit of trouble getting to sleep, then I woke up at 2am and then 3:15am. Well, after the 3:15am wake-up I just lied in bed thinking about the race to come. We got up at 4am, sun-screened up, had some coffee and breakfast then made our way to the race site and saw some spectacular lightning on the way there. It was pretty cool to see lightning over flat land, but of course we were both a little bit worried about how that might impact the race! When we got inside the park (where the race was being held) we got in line for parking and then heard a thud from the roof of my car, then saw someone running up from the car behind us, who then told me that my bike was about to fall off the roof of my car... eek! So we jumped out and fixed it. Phew, that was lucky. I nearly didn't have a bike to do the race on! We parked the car then made our way down to the transition area. I went off to setup my gear (bike, shoes, etc.) and then the wind started... it was howling! I was chatting to a few of the girls around me, and we were all wondering what might happen to the race, but then we heard that the storm was moving through pretty quickly and that the race was scheduled to start on time. At least the storm brought the temperature down a little bit.
Before I knew it I was putting my wetsuit on and heading down to the swim start. I did a few warm-up strokes, chatted to a few other friends that were doing the race, got a good luck kiss from Gordon, and then our wave (women 39 and under) was called. The first wave was the professionals - they started at 6:30am. We started in wave 7, so that put us at a start time of 7am. The swim start was staged on the beach, and when your wave got called up you started in a couple of feet of water and then ran into the lake for your swim. I hadn't done that type of start before so that was fun. The swim was a little busy and I got a kick to the face early on which sent my goggles slighty askew so I took a few seconds to fix them. I did find it tough to carve out my own spot in the swim, it seemed like there were people everywhere. It was a little rough'n'tumble. But I was able to get into a good stroke and I focused on the swim technique I learned from the swim clinic I've been taking for the past 6 weeks (my coaches Maurice and Chrissie were also doing the BSLT race). I was a little worried going into the swim that I hadn't swum enough distance for the race. I'd been focusing on a lot of drill work but not a lot of long continuous swimming so I was a little worried about having the endurance to swim 1.2 miles. You can image my surprise when I finished feeling strong and with a time of 32:03 (1:40 per 100m)!!! That's over 3 minutes faster than my Vineman time from last year. I was pretty stoked about that.
I ran up from the swim finish to my bike, got my bike gear on, grabbed my bike and headed out onto the bike course. I was feeling slightly nervous about the bike, but for the wrong reasons. For some reason I was really concerned about the first switchback on the bike course. This switchback (a winding uphill) came at about mile 20 and from driving the course the day before it looked pretty tough. Anyway, let's go back to the start of the bike. The first climb out of transition wasn't too bad, and the next hill was pretty easy too. 2 out of 8 hills done! Then we made our way out of the park and onto the rest of the bike course. My main focus for the bike was to keep the pace easy and save my legs for the run. I got passed a lot and was a little disappointed about that, but it didn't change my strategy, I still kept the pace easy and spun my legs a lot. While I got passed on the flats, I was easily passing people on the hills. Oh, and that switchback I was worried about? Piece of cake. Unfortunately there just weren't enough hills (I can't believe I'm saying that!). The first hour of the bike I felt great and averaged about 17.5mph. Going into the second hour of the bike I started feeling tired. I was getting sick of pedalling. The problem with a flat bike course is that you get no chance to give your legs a break, you have to pedal constantly and that is pretty wearing if you haven't been training on that type of course. Training in Austin you get a lot of hills and not so much flat. We'd done some flatter rides but not enough, and you could tell. I'm normally a strong biker but I didn't feel that way during the race. Because my wave started so late and I got passed so much on the bike I started to feel like I was right near the back of the pack, not a feeling I'm used to. I also started getting a bit of a sore stomach and had to stop for a bathroom break along the course. By mile 50 I was sick of the bike ride and just wanted to be done. I had a bit of an emotional meltdown and I could not even comprehend how I was going to run a half marathon after this. I definitely did not feel like I did at the end of the Vineman bike course last year. I had such a great ride at Vineman last year, and at BSLT this year it was a lot tougher. But I kept going and arrived back in transition with a bike time of 3:28:48 which gave me an average of 16mph. I was aiming for 16-17mph, so I met my goal but I just felt slow compared to everyone else (and I was). I saw Gordon as I rode back into transition and that cheered me up immensely and also being back in the crowd was great too. It got lonely out there on the bike.
I racked my bike, put my running shoes on and headed out to the run course, again I saw Gordon on the way out and Nedra and Trey cheered me on as well. I still had no idea how I was going to run a half marathon. I just wanted to be done. I did not have this feeling last year at Vineman. The only reason I didn't quit was because I couldn't face the idea of telling all my friends and family that I quit the race when I had no real reason for quitting! But after the first mile my legs started to feel better and I started passing people. I was feeling pretty good. I had a good run pace going on and I felt strong. There was an aid station every mile with water, gatorade, ice and food so I would grab water and gatorade every mile, put some ice down the front and back of my top and in my hat, and walk for about 30s. I gave myself permission to have a short break at the water stop (i.e. each mile). I had also decided to walk the 3 steep hills on the course to conserve some energy. That tactic paid off. Apart from the hills and the water stop I ran continuously up to the turnaround point. Before the turnaround point you had to run an out and back section along a straight, bitumen road by the power plant. Hot and seemingly endless! At this point I saw Chris, then Ralph, so that cheered me up, as did the fact that I kept passing people on the run course. That felt so good and made up for getting passed on the bike. I started having some stomach issues again so another stop at the port-a-loo at the turnaround point (there was a short line so unfortunately that added about 4 minutes to my run time!). Then I started the second half of the run course. By this time I felt happier and knew that I was going to finish the race. I kept running and then walking through the aid stations. When I got back inside the park, with about 3 miles to go, again I struggled. This was similar to Vineman last year when I got tired on the last 3 miles. I would run at a decent pace and then for some crazy reason just decide I was tired and start walking. I just couldn't run at a slow pace, it was either a decent pace or a walk, I couldn't find a middle ground, and I also couldn't convince myself to just run the last 3 miles continuously. Argh! Then with one mile left I decided that I had to just run it in, being so close to the finish line. Then at about .5mi to go I saw Gordon with his camera. I was pretty focused at this time, head down just trying to stay focused and finish, so I didn't have any big grins for the camera. But it really lifted my spirits to see him there and especially when he told me it's only 800m to go! I managed to run it in, and even better, I had a kick at the end and finished strong with the crowd cheering me on. It was so unbelievably fantastic to cross that finish line and be able to stop!!! My run time was 2:11:19 so an average pace of 10 min/mi. I did roughly 2:04:00 at Vineman last year so I wasn't far off that pace on a tougher run course.
My total finish time was 6:16:40. I was aiming for under 6:30 so I was really happy with my time and just so pleased with myself for coming through a tough patch during the bike and being able to turn that around and finish. The big takeaway from this race was that my bike training was all wrong for this type of course. To really do well at Buffalo Springs I should have been doing long training rides on flat courses. I had been doing some flatter rides, but not enough. I felt strong on the hills, but weak on the flats. Last year for Vineman training we did a lot of course simulation and a lot of hills in preparation (Vineman was a lot of rolling hills). I didn't have the right kind of bike preparation for Buffalo. It was definitely the hardest half ironman that I've done so far, but a fantastic race. It was well-organised and supported and the crowd was fantastic. I would definitely do this race again. In fact, Nedra's parents have already invited us to stay with them again next year!
Congratulations to Gordon as well. He did the sprint race on the same day, and had a great race (11th in his age group!) !!! He was wonderful and took some great photos (www.pbase.com/gordonmcgregor/bslt06)
of us (me, Ralph, Chris) after he'd finished the race.
Now it's rest and recovery for a few days, then a trip out to Carmel, California this weekend for some more R&R. Then back into training next week!