Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs - 4:05:36 (4th)
I am making quite the habit of finishing 4th. I have now finished 4th in the three races this year. While this is definitely not a bad place to be, I certainly wanted and expected more from Buffalo Springs 70.3. Going into the race, I was hungry for a spot in the top three; more specifically, hungry for the top spot of those three. The competition for Buffalo Springs was not nearly as stacked as my other races. I mean no disregard to my fellow competitors, but the size and depth of this field was objectively not as strong as other races I have had this season. Because of this, I felt there was an opportunity that hadn’t presented itself yet.
The weeks leading up to the race were not quite as productive as I was hoping for and left me a bit more unprepared than I would have liked. I wound up getting a very bad cold three weeks out from the race and missed 4 days of training. Following this, I was off to Philly for a week for a friend’s wedding (congrats Michael and Chelsey Rose) and a work conference ... and I thought all my crazy travel was over. All this meant I didn’t touch a real bike for a workout for almost two weeks. I was able to shuffle in some decent runs and okay swims, but I definitely felt that my training was deficient. A week before the race, I had a very frantic call with my coach Jesse Kropelnicki and he talked me off the ledge as I was stressing out over the situation.
Stress is a tricky thing to manage for athletes. Anyone who says they love racing is only ever referring to the “race”, as in the time the gun goes off to the time they cross the finish line. The days leading up to a race are the most gut-wrenching awful days ever. Traveling to races is always sure to bring issues. This time around, Brianna and I landed in Lubbock at 1AM only to find that our car rental, despite calling to confirm three separate times, had moved our reservation to a day earlier and thus cancelled it, leaving us without a car. Fortunately, we figured that out.
My second stressful dilemma was an equipment issue. My front tire was not inflating properly and there was an issue with a valve extender. Removing the valve requires taking the tire off of the tire, which for a tubular means re-gluing the tire onto the wheel, a messy three day process. I clearly didn’t have the time to do this and needed to find a backup ASAP. Not knowing anyone is Lubbock, Texas, I called the closest person I did know, Lauren Barnett who is from Dallas and was also doing the race. Lauren is not only fast (she got 2nd overall), but is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. She was able to connect me with her sponsor, Tri Shop, and they brought me a race wheel to use. The tri community is really a remarkable thing. No questions asked, no demands, no hesitation, Tri Shop immediately had a wheel on its way to me and was glad they could alleviate an issue for me before a race. A huge thank you to both Lauren and Tri Shop in Dallas, there will be a case of beer coming your way ... wine for Lauren cause she's classy!
Despite my presumption that this race wasn’t as strong as others I’ve had this year, I failed to recognize that those who did show up were all pretty strong swimmers. In larger fields, I usually get the benefit of more guppies (slow swimmers like myself), so I get to work with others and not feel alone in a giant lake. In a small field with more swimmers, I found myself isolated 300m in. I swam alone at a pretty even keel, repeating to myself “well, good job, you screwed any chance of winning in the first five minutes”. I haven’t felt this dejected with my swim all year. About halfway through, two women even caught me. Unknown to me, they started a minute back, which actually isn’t too bad to be caught by them, but I had thought they started much further behind. I got through the swim and was told I had a minute and a half to the group I had pegged … surprisingly not that bad! Turns out that I actually had a “respectable” swim for a solo effort. Not a good swim by any means, but it was not nearly as bad I my mind played it out to be.
Onto the bike, I made some quick work in the first 10 miles. I wanted to see if I could close down any of the 90 second deficit I had left myself with. I passed a few of the weaker bikers from this group and found some added motivation that the scraps left behind were a sign that the beast lay ahead. The first of three U-turns on the course gave me my first lay of the land. Three guys, including Mark Bowstead and buddy Justin Metzler, were grouped up about three or so minutes ahead and still 90 seconds up were Jordan Rapp and a few others. I had benchmarked myself against Jordan for the ride. Jordan was the most experienced athlete in the field and is one of the most deliberate and well-paced cyclists in the sport; benchmarking off of him allowed me to focus less on what was going on up front and more on what I needed to do to stay in contact. By the next turnaround, my 90 second gap remained. In the closing 15-20 miles, I started to feel some fatigue setting in, a clear sign that my durability wasn’t quite there after some mediocre training leading up to the race. My legs didn’t feel like they were pushing hard enough. With a little less fluid in my system that I would have liked, I decided not to push it. As a result, I let up about 30 seconds in those closing miles.
Coming off the bike, Rapp and Metzler were just over 2 minutes up the road. Mark Bowstead put down a powerful surge late in the bike and gave himself a very comfortable (aka winning) margin that there was no chance I’d be able to run down absent a blow-up on his behalf. The first mile of the run felt awful for me. My legs were there, but my system felt a bit stressed. I got it together and by the second and third mile I was running my usual 5:30-5:40 pace with comfort. As I got to mile 3, I saw Rapp and Metzler up the road. I had made very quick work eroding a 2 minute deficit. As we hit the first hill at mile 3, I passed Jordan. Soon after, the first sign of bad news hit. My Sartorius muscle in my inner thigh fired and immediately cramped. I stopped for one second to massage it and kept on running, hoping it would dissipate. Fortunately, it did alleviate and I was able to keep my pace up. As we came back down the dreaded hill, I passed Metzler and we exchanged fist bumps and encouraging words.
Now sitting in 3rd, there was one more person I could reasonably pass and he was sitting 90 seconds ahead. Over the next two miles, I kept my pace up over the rolling hills and reduced the margin to 2nd to less than a minute and had increased my gap over 4th by 90 seconds. However, I also started to feel some tightness in my soleus (the muscle between your Achilles and calf). I’ve had lingering issues with my soleus in the past and was not happy to see an issue popping up. Just after mile 6, tightness became a full on seizing strain as I tried to shift gears and accelerate over a roller. As it seized, I came to an immediate stop, bent over clutching my lower leg. Fortunately it was a desolate area and not many were there to witness the display of screaming profanities. I stretched it out, tried to walk, stretched, massage it, everything I could.
After a little while, I saw Metzler coming back and thought this would be a great opportunity to use my friend as motivation to get through the pain and continue running. As he passed, I tried to go with and made it two steps before the seizing pain fired again and forced me to stop. A race official had now come up to me and asked if I needed help. Two years ago, I would have pulled the plug right there. In a situation where this race didn’t matter, I would have pulled the plug. But, I needed points to qualify for the world championships and that was motivation enough to take a very risk decision and run it out.
After Metzler, Jordan Rapp started to come by and I again tried to run with him, only to get a similar result. I realized that this might be a long walk to the finish and I started my march down the road. My march eventually turned into an awkward jog and then into a quasi-run. Jordan was now a minute up the road, but in my sights. I slowly but surely closed some of the distance to him and, as if deja-vu, passed Jordan again on the dreaded hill – this time going almost a crawling pace to ensure no more cramps would mar my race. As I passed Jordan, he gave me some encouraging words and offered me some salt to help with my obvious pain. I’ve had the opportunity to train with Jordan on a handful of occasions and have always looked up to him as a racer. His encouragement and offer really show how much of a class act racer he is.
As I reached the bottom of the hill, I was told that Metzler was hurting and that if I got a second wind maybe I could catch him. Unfortunately, upon hearing this, I picked up the pace to see if I could close the gap, only to have more seizing pain and forcing myself to again stop, stretch and jog back up to speed. After this, I realized I was in complete survival mode. For the first time ever in a triathlon, I was worried about who might be coming from behind me on the run. I had resigned the fact that I would do no better than yet another 4th place finish. Fortunately, no one came by and I slowly crossed the line content that I hadn’t let my injury defeat me. Going into the race, I wanted and expected to do better, but I exceeded what I thought I could do when the shit hit the fan at mile 6.
Next for me with be a series of massages, physical therapy, and low-key training days as I hope to get things back in gear. My next race is a favorite of every season, Ironman 70.3 Vineman, just an hour away in wine country. With enough points to hopefully secure a roll-down slot to worlds, some of the pressure is off for this race, but I would much prefer to secure my spot with one last infusion of points with a solid result.