2002 Buffalo Spring Lake Triathlon
By Michael Lovato
ISSUE #17, August/September 2002 – I drove to Lubbock last week and I got a change of perspective.
In addition to my eye-opening race experience, the drive itself provided me with a change of perspective. For the last three years I have made an annual trek across West Texas, en route to one of my favorite races worldwide: Buffalo Spring Lake Triathlon. This year, however, I was not making the trip from Austin as I had in years past; but rather I was headed to Texas from my new home in Boulder, Colorado. Right from the get-go, things were different. Suddenly I was one of those that traveled great distances to challenge himself on one of the toughest races in the country, rather than someone that did Lubbock because it was in his backyard. It was no longer my backyard. Strange. I began to see what many before me had seen: that driving from Colorado to Texas is a long haul. But I knew that a nice reward awaited me in the (charming?) West Texas town: a great race run by folks that truly love the sport, a reunion with some of my old racing buddies, and a chance to defend my title on one of the toughest half iron man courses around.
I was pleased to see that the drive still gave me plenty of familiar scenery (wide open spaces; cattle and cattle and cattle; cute, small towns; and at least one Dairy Queen per square centimeter on the map). I was equally pleased to see that the drive also allowed for plenty of senseless but fun gibber-jabber about the race, race strategy, past races, race goals, race conditions, race so-on, and race so-forth.
I arrived at the lake on Friday, intending to test out the water and to feel first-hand how high that air temperature was going to be this time around. I was not surprised to feel that the water was going to be about as warm as the water inside the water bottle inside the car with the windows rolled up that is parked in the middle of a big, black parking lot on a hot day in the desert. Maybe it wasn’t going to be quite that bad, but it was going to feel that way if we were allowed to (forced to) wear wetsuits on race day. Based on my prior experience, the head official always manages to find the one spot in the lake where the mercury stays below that magic 78-degree mark (even if he has to swim to the bottom of the lake with the thermometer, and bury it in the murky depths). As for the air temperature, I was very surprised to feel that I was not being crushed to the pavement, gasping for air (cool, sweet air) while trying to understand why the oppressive, painful, nasty heat was so mean to me. I was surprised and, I must admit, a bit disappointed. (I like hot races, and I had specifically requested that the race directors arrange for some particularly Lubbock-like conditions, since we didn’t really have them last year.) Regardless, I was happy to be back in Buddy Holly’s old stomping grounds, and was anxious to get the race underway.
Race day began with me jumping on my bike, and riding the four or five miles over to the lake. It was still quite dark and cool, so the ride was a soothing and peaceful one. My route took me over the last couple miles of the bike course that later that morning promised to provide an atmosphere that would be in sharp contrast to my early morning jaunt. I arrived at transition a bit behind schedule, but with plenty of time to prepare myself without rushing. I was a bit concerned to see that James Bonney had not only arrived before me, but had already set up most of his equipment. (A customary race morning for James often involves a high-speed arrival in his Ford, a quick but thorough set-up, little to no warm up, and a jump in the water.) Am I late, or is he early?
Again with this new perspective thing, I started the race swimming right on Bonney’s feet. I’m not usually within 50 meters of him after the first 25 meters. Ok, maybe it is not that bad, but James can really cook through that water, and for me to be that close is a new thing. After a couple hundred meters I noticed that James seemed to be leading me astray. Asking myself where he was going, I left the comfort of his wake to take what was to be the first left turn of the swim. Unfortunately for me, and my non-pre-race-meeting-attending self, there was a change in the swim course. It seems James was on target, I had just made a grave error, and I was back to something familiar: James dropping me. I pressed on, this time finding Chris Legh’s feet, and again settling in to a comfortable draft. Again I was plugging along when I noticed that Chris seemed to be missing turn number two. Ha! I was to take advantage of my familiarity of the course, and I was going to do some dropping of my own… or was I? Is it possible to make the same mistake twice? I regret to admit that it is and that I did and that I was now alone and that Chris was on course, and I had prematurely hung a left. Ah well, I got back on track, and managed to exit the water with minimal damage done.
After leaving the water, and jumping on my bike, I found that I was about three minutes down from James, and about a minute from Legh. This seemed like a totally manageable deficit for me, and I pedaled off, eager to make up some ground. In and out of the first out-and-back, I guessed that James and Chris still had about the same amount of time on me. Out and in of the second out-and-back, I determined that it was time to catch up. I didn’t think I was gaining, and I needed to put down the hammer if I was to make up ground on a charging Bonney and an impressive Legh. Just as I was turning on the juice, I came upon the first of two semi-technical descents. I had just told myself I was not going to touch my brakes on the winding downhill, when I looked ahead to see Chris picking himself up off the ground. Better touch the brakes, I re-calculated. Just as I was asking myself what it might have been that caused him to go down, I hit the floor and slid! One moment I was up, and the next I was down. Although never in a race, I have had some pretty bad bike crashes in the past. Some have broken the bike, some have broken me, and some have been lucky near misses. This was neither. I felt like I was sitting on my bike, perfectly balanced (although not pedaling). I was sitting on the bike on a carpet or a tablecloth. Then, much to my surprise, someone decided to perform a magic trick, and he yanked the rug out from under me. One moment I was up, and the next I was down. Fast. I jumped up, shook myself a bit, and began to collect my fallen goods. After all, if Chris is down too, I’m about to be in second, right? As I was rolling down the hill, trying to assess the damage, I asked him if he was ok. His reply was that he had a flat tire. I encouraged him to change it, and that we were still in it, but I was unaware of wait awaited us both.
I quickly realized that the blow to my hip did some serious damage to the muscles surrounding that joint. Each push of the pedal was a challenging new form of pain, very different from the type that comes with riding fast up a hill. Speaking of which, I was soon faced with riding up a hill-spiral staircase, in fact-and the pain became worse. Had I ever ridden that slowly? Of course I had. I shook it off as best I could, and I pressed on. The time gap James then had on me looked bad, but once I got to that run, the tides would turn…
Or so I hoped. I arrived at T2 very ready to dismount, and I nearly did so quite prematurely. Once in the proper spot, I jumped off, and began the trot to my rack. Was I limping already? It mattered not. It would loosen, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, it would not, and I was forced to limp my way out of transition, and through the crowds. My competitive nature told me that it would loosen up after a mile or so, and that I would still have plenty of time to make a run for the lead. After all, I’ve had races in the past where a great run was preceded by a terrible bike ride. I hoped this would be similar. My competitive nature kept me going. After a pathetic and pained mile and a half, my competitive nature got into a fight with my sensible side. My sensible side said that running thirteen miles limping was bound to cause problems. My competitive nature ignored that lame thought. A few steps later, my competitive nature gave up and jumped in the lake, and my sensible side gloated. I began to walk.
I soon learned that Legh was forced to abandon the race due to a second, and non-changeable flat tire. It seemed that his first trip to Lubbock was not a lucky one.
Once I started to walk, I began to realize that a brand new experience was ahead of me. I began to realize that there was going to be one more new perspective added to this journey. I began to realize that I was going to see something I had never seen before, from a place I had never been before.
When the first three or four people passed me I wanted to go with them. I think my competitive nature was climbing out of the lake, eager to challenge my sensible self to an out-and-out duel. Sensible me smashed competitive me back down into the water-I valued my health enough to not wreck myself any more than I already had. I watched them go. Very fortunate for me and for my inner struggle, the next couple people to pass me were Tim Hola and Brandon Marsh. I know Tim from Boulder and Brandon is a friend from Austin. I had no urge to run with them, away from them, or behind them. I only had the urge to cheer for them. Tim ran by, and I gave him some encouraging words. By the time Brandon arrived I was pretty excited. I yelled at him, hoping that I could encourage him to catch Tim, knowing that they were likely battling for overall amateur honors. I was in a new position. I was cheerleader!
For the next four hours, I mimicked my initial cheering maneuvers while being passed by literally hundreds of people. Having been in the sport for a few years now, and having been involved so centrally in the Texas multi-sport scene, I found that I knew many of the people overtaking me; most by first name. However, I took equal pleasure in hollering at the folks I didn’t know. Most of them looked at me with wonder and confusion. Their looks seemed to ask: Do I know you? I yelled and I cheered and I encouraged and I talked. Some people stopped running for a while to walk with me. One guy even offered me salt tabs, thinking I was cramping up, and that I might need some help. Others introduced themselves as they zipped by. One fellow even barked out: “hey, I’ve seen you riding down Pine Street on your yellow chopper!” Yes, that was me; the same guy who cruises up and down the streets of Boulder was giving a go at being the last finisher in race that one year ago, he was the first.
Later I was met with “how’d ya do?” and “what was your time?” I usually responded by saying that I’d tell them when I got to the finish, or that I was doing all right. It occurred to me that they must think I had finished the race, and then gone out for another run, or that I had been driven out to the farthest point on the course to relive the glory of the Energy Lab II. The truth was I was right in the middle of living out a different glorious moment. I was in the middle of finishing a race that has been good to me in the past. I was in the middle of the longest Half Ironman of my life. And although I would have been happy to have finished in a little over four hours, I was very pleased to be taking my sweet time, meeting people, high-fiving people, and seeing friends that I have never seen within a race…pass me.
I was changing my perspective.
Numerous times I have watched the final hours of an Ironman finish, cherishing the moment that I shared with someone finishing his or her first race, or struggling through an off day. I have often wondered at how much effort and strength it must take to stay out there for up to seventeen hours. I have also talked to people that finished Lubbock in around eight hours’ time. I have chatted with my fellow competitors about the difficulty in achieving completion of a long day; be it four to nine hours or eight to seventeen. And we have all agreed that if comparing the two feats-and eight-hour Ironman or an eight-hour Half-it would be tough to say which is harder. I have usually held that the longer one is out on the course, the harder it might be. And now, after having my perspective altered, I feel that I can speak with more authority. I feel that I can join the likes of Jurgen Zack (Ironman 1998), Chris Legh (Ironman 2001), and Jon Hill (Ironman Canada 1997) in their club of “Run Split Longer than Bike Split”. I feel that I can join them in patting the backs of the all-day finishers. I feel that with my new perspective, I can join them and say, “well done, way to stick it out!”