Quick summary: Buffalo Springs 70.3 (Lubbock, TX) is as unique as it is challenging. In its 25th year, the race has developed what seems like a cult following of regional racers but has seen its fair share of high-profile pros over the years as well. It also attracts top-level Challenged Athletes and serves as national championship and Kona qualification for them. The race boasts a wonderful course mixing almost every possible element (steep climbs, long flat sections, heavy winds, long & short hills on the run, dry heat, altitude, cool spring-fed lake water). I finished second overall with a strong swim (2nd out of the water), a solid ride where I came off the bike with the lead, and a good-gone-bad run where I held the lead through 11 miles of running … falling apart in time to get passed with 2 miles to go!
Longer explanation: When I raced here a few of years ago, I missed a turn on the bike, only to notice it several miles later… and went from first place to eighth in a matter of minutes. Although I managed to salvage a 3rd place that day, I was so angry at my attitude about the mistake that I contemplated retiring from the sport. [I might’ve even pulled off the course during the bike ride if not for the hand-cyclists appearing at height of my self pity – there they were, pedaling with their strong arms up a twisting, technical, steep hill as I descended on much bigger wheels with strong legs… for me to quit then would be an insult to those amazing athletes]. I’ve signed up but had to drop registration twice since then, so I’d been eager to return this year and redeem myself! The plan had been to race Philadelphia (Oly distance) 6/22 as a tune-up for this race.
It’s been a bit of a rough spring/early summer, though, as I’ve been dealing with some considerable knee pain in the past several weeks, which I made worse by racing with too much torque/too low cadence in Raleigh on 6/1. My coach and I have had to make various adjustments to training since (and before) that race to avoid further aggravation to what seems like some patellar tendinitis. I have been unable to do the strengthening exercises necessary to improve it because right now they’re causing further aggravation. Despite my desire to race Philly, a last chance to qualify for HyVee (5150 Championship and a staple of my season for the past several years), my gut said NO so I scratched. Not worth harming the knee a week before the race I wanted to do even more! But I was sluggish in training, sore everywhere, and generally feeling horrible from the day of Raleigh 70.3 all the way up to Thursday prior to Buffalo Springs… I even considered scratching yet again. It was not an essential race for me in terms of ranking points (I should have enough to get in to the 70.3 World Championships already) so maybe wasn’t worth the risk to my knee, but mentally I do think it was essential. I need the mental conditioning that racing (somewhat frequently) provides, especially against tough competition or on a very difficult course. And I knew I had a 5-day break following the race. So I decided to go for it.
Going into the race, my coach and I devised a bike plan designed to give me the best chance to win – attacking at the right places on the course and depending on where I was relative to the competition, for the appropriate duration, to play to my strengths (climbing, VO2 max) without overdoing it in such a way to force my weaknesses to shine through (muscular endurance and the tendency to cramp a lot on the run). Generally my swim and run plans don’t change much and involve being confident (which can be a challenge in the water) and racing to my ability. I hadn’t run much at all in several weeks, so confidence in my run speed was a bit lacking, but I knew my overall endurance was still there. On a course like this (sometimes a war of attrition, particularly with temperatures near 100 degrees), speed is far less important than strength and tenacity. It’s kind of like cross country running versus track: sometimes the scrappier athletes are more successful in cross country than the lithe, beautiful deerlike runners who seem to be floating around the track at speeds we cannot fathom! SO I did feel somewhat confident in my ability, and definitely confident in the plan.
It worked about as well as it could have. The swim was great. I was reluctant to wear a wetsuit in 75-degree water and chatted with my friend Joe before the start seeking his wise counsel on whether I should skip it. I love my wetsuit from a comfort and speed standpoint – in fact I have a brand new one thanks to blueseventy since I neglected to pack mine in the Raleigh swim bag during that race and lost it forever… But I did not want to overheat on the swim when we were facing such a warm day. (Lately my renowned heat tolerance has been less impressive than it once was). Joe reminded me of the losses I may face against my competition if I were the only one without a wetsuit and suggested just relaxing a little more (swimming easier). I told him I’d wear it but likely wouldn’t swim easier, just would deal with the warmth!! Thankfully though I was able to have a relaxing and comfortable swim – which translated to a good one for me. (My coach reminds me to swim “fast” instead of “hard” – it’s important not to fight the water). Speaking of fighting, with such a small field, we had no violence in the water. Within 100m I had clean space with one out in front and everyone else behind. I focused on technique, sighted frequently enough to swim a pretty straight line, and enjoyed it. For the first time (possibly ever), I didn’t look forward to the end of the swim! I exited only 1:20 down (usually the gap to the lead is a bit bigger) and had a fairly smooth transition 1, minus a little trouble getting my wetsuit off (not enough BodyGlide) and a mishap where the sunglass visor came out of my aero helmet because I hadn’t put it in fully. Luckily I had a backup pair of Rudy sunglasses for the run, so I put those on instead while making sure the visor was tucked safely with my stuff (and I have it back now… and know for next time to check & recheck that it’s snug!)
Onto the bike, my first priority was to catch the leader and then stay out front for as long as possible. I was slower than hoped in catching #1 but took the lead around 12 miles. My goals were to ride as aero as possible (a nice trick, when the sun was right, was to look at my shadow and adjust), hit my wattage targets, and follow my attack plan at the right times. Another goal was to keep a much higher cadence than in Raleigh to avoid killing my knee and legs for the run. So I had set my Garmin to beep if I got too low, and I adjusted as soon as possible each time it beeped (sometimes you can’t avoid a low cadence, like near the top of a climb or into a very strong headwind right after a sharp U-turn). Focusing on process goals always helps me keep the mental demons away. No time for noticing pain or feeling sorry for yourself when you are monitoring objective things. I was not hitting my wattage targets and only partially successful at attacking well and at the right places, but my effort was there, and I was surprised at each turnaround (I believe there were 3) when my gap was still decent ahead of the other girls. It was great to come into T2 in the lead by 30 or 40 seconds.
That excitement must have translated to some unexpected energy within the first 5k, as despite concerted effort to start conservatively, I opened up a pretty good lead by 3 miles. By 6.5, I had a 2 minute gap, and at that point my plan was to speed up for a negative split. (I thought I remembered that the second half of the race was a little easier than the first, the last time I’d raced it, with more downhill and maybe more tailwind). I felt like I was running slowly but methodically, taking my salt, gels, water, and keeping a consistent effort on all the flats (just not on the steep up- and downhill sections, as they are most painful for my knee). Apparently the second half of the course was NOT easier for me, as from miles 6.5 to 11, #2 closed the 2 minute gap and passed me hard with 2 miles to go. I had neither the energy nor the confidence in my knee to put up a fight with her at that point. Instead, I fought myself not to stop & walk. I was so thirsty and frustrated! But I reminded myself that I don’t quit races. It’s just not who I am. And what idiot would quit a race while in 2nd place?! Not only that, but I wanted to keep my 2nd place and not drop to 3rd (and she was charging hard too!) So I mustered a finishing kick after those last couple of agonizing miles, and crossed the line with relief and an expectation that when I heal up I will be able to hold that kind of a lead on the run.
Now I need to heal up!! I believe I have the root cause of my knee problem sorted out and partially solved: my bike fit had gotten tweaked accidently (by me) through various packings and unpackings and on-the-fly adjustments. My cleat position also had gotten out of whack. Those both have been fixed and I have some relief from the pain on the bike already. Additionally, I’ve gotten away from some of my basic core strength exercises for the glutes (usually knee problems can be traced either to foot strike or hip instability and imbalanced quadriceps strength– mine is that combination, I believe). I’ve even gone into a slightly more stable training shoe for good measure. After my 5 day break, I hope my knee will be ready for me to resume the glute strength work, and I will continue to rehab the knee with consistent icing, stretching, and foam rolling, Also we’ll continue to modify training to avoid aggravating it as it makes progress. (OK, so the race definitely aggravated it, but now I don’t have to race for at least 6 weeks if not longer!) If all goes well, I’ll race Timberman 70.3 in mid-August before the 70.3 World Championship in Mt. Tremblant (Canada) in early September.
They put me on the spot at the awards ceremony dinner and asked me to speak because the winner was not there. My main message to the group would be the same I give to my supporters here: we are all in this together. Pros or amateurs, we have similar goals – to do our best with what we’re given. We race the same courses and face a lot of the same challenges. So thank you all for sharing in mine! And of course thanks to my big sponsors, Potomac River Running, United Wellness, Old Town Massage Center, Bonzai, Rudy Project, blueseventy, and Therapeutix.