||70.3 Buffalo Springs Triathlon
||Half - Ironman
Two words: Heat and wind!! West Texas has so much to offer, but she seems to offer up a disproportionate share of dry, scorching heat and drives her point home with making you feel like you're riding/running with a blow dryer running on your face.
Lubbock was especially beautiful this race because they had a lot of rain the past few weeks. The normally dry, parched mesquite trees were green and fragrant. The tumble weeds were just green, ordinary weeds growing by the side of the road. I rarely remember my native Lubbock being so pretty; or perhaps it was just the nostalgia that overcame me. In any case, it is a great venue for a race and the locals are so damn friendly.
I shipped my bike via UPS for $51 shipping and $62 in insurance. It arrived at my mom's house on Wednesday as planned and was waiting to be assembled by my unskilled hands. But before re-assembling my bike on Friday after arriving on American Airlines at 2pm, I had a family member drive me out to Buffalo Springs Lake for a quick swim and to drive the bike / run course.
I suited up in my speed suit thinking that there was something extremely ironic in suiting up in a tight $200 swim suit, $50 goggles, and a yellow swim cap in the same lake that I learned to water ski and drink beer and shoot the s*#t. Something with all this athleticism and high-tech gear seemed to contradict my "red neck" upbringing and swimming in the lake in the 70's/80's in cutoffs and a mesh tank top. As I swam a bit, I thought back over wonderful childhood memories and was thankful for the time to swim in this lake as an adult. The water was extremely warm and I was sure that they would ban wetsuits for the race. As it turned out, they allowed them, but only after pouring a bucket of ice in the water before measuring the temperature, I'm sure!
I got out of the water feeling the hot 98F air drying my skin like a blow furnace, a precursor to the heat that was to await us all during the race. I laced up my K-Swiss and ran the first two miles of the run leg. It was hot, there was no air, but the view on the lake was a nice distraction. I found myself running zig-zag in an effort to find any shade in this tree barren land. After 2 miles I called it quits, deciding to save my "legs" for the race. I noticed that as hot as it was, I wasn't really sweating all that much. I made a mental note to still drink lots of fluids during the race even though I may not be sweating all that much. I knew from childhood that the West Texas heat can drain you of all energy and that the best remedy is to drink iced tea non-stop. My granddaddy knew what he was talking about as he was a rancher and cotton farmer who worked exclusively in that heat.
The bike route was a combination of flat, long stretches though the cotton fields and oil wells, with three "big" climbs in and out of the LLano Canyons. The paths were well marked; I could tell the IM team had been working hard on the preparation. However, the roads up/down the canyons were very narrow and I knew that those coming down would have to be careful not to take too much of the corner and hit the oncoming cyclists. Another mental note.
The night before the race sleep was more elusive than a cure for cancer. I had a cookout that evening for family and friends and figured I'd be "give out" as we say in Texas (read: very tired) and would have no trouble sleeping. Wrong!! I lay in bed checking my iPhone for the time about every 30 minutes. Ten pm turning into 11 pm which turned into midnight. I knew the alarm at 4:30am was going to be painful. I was wrong, though, because I woke up without an alarm at 3:45am and never got back to sleep, robbing me of the opportunity to be awoken from my sleep by my well-chosen iPhone tune. Oh well....
I got up, put together my nutritional needs (Carbo Pro Nuun), and rechecked my transition bag. My dad loaded my stuff in the back of his pickup and we listened to Patsy Cline on the radio in the dark Texas pre-dawn darkness. As we got into the park grounds of Buffalo Springs Lake, all we could see was a the red brake lights of the cars in front of us, giving the impression that we were following a big red snake around the lake. We parked in the prairie grounds up on the crest above the lake. I noticed that everyone came in a pickup, confirming my suspicion that this was going to be a race of hardened Texans who were prepared for the elements and the thorny mesquite saplings we just parked on. My Mercedes in Beverly Hills now seemed a distant memory of luxury devoid of functionality in this harsh Texas environment. As I pulled my bike out of my dad's truck, a Gu fell out of my bento box and I reached down in the grass to pick it up, drawing blood from the "love bite" the mesquite sapling gave me. I thought of leaving it, but realized that I needed all the energy, mental or otherwise, for this race. Gu was going to be my friend and I would violate that friendship by abandoning it in the West Texas field.
It was pitch black as we walked down the hill to the bike racks; this same hill was to be the first hill on the bike out of T1. I was surprised by the number of people and very big sheriffs guarding our stuff. While I'm from Texas originally, I'm always surprised by the genetic pool of very large men who make up our football teams and police departments. Why didn't I get any of that "big boy" gene? They are not only big ex-line backers, but big ex-line backers with real, loaded guns! I said a cordial "Howdy!" like I did during my childhood and sprinkled all conversations with "Yes, sir" and "Yes, ma'am", proud to be back in a place where respect is still taught. (Charissa, you know what I mean!)
I sat up my bike in my spot for bib #575. I had a lot of space and enjoyed the nice conversation with everyone around me. There were some marines from San Diego and lots of guys from Houston. They screamed over the PA system that wetsuits were legal, and you could feel a sigh of relief from everyone. I suited up and made my way to the water, a little lagoon with a small red clay beach. As I entered the water, I saw a little copperhead baby snake frantically trying to avoid us all. I laughed as people ran up to it, all non-locals who thought that just because a snake is little its venom is somehow less poisonous! I waded into the water, hoping that the baby snake's mama was far, far way. I've seen adult copperheads and, believe me, they're big and dangerous. I laughed inside because I’m always afraid of sharks in my ocean swims and thought there was nothing in a lake to be worried about. Wrong!
The pros started soon after I finished my warmup swim and I sat waving at my parents and my childhood friend, Melanie, who were all standing on a crest above the "beach". I was so happy that they were all there. What a great way to do my first Half IM and spend my 44th birthday! My wave started at 6:55am rather uneventfully. I hung as close to the reeds along the shoreline as possible before exiting the lagoon and entering the main lake. It was a right turn around the first bouey and then all left turns around the next three. I got a bit anxious after the first turn as we entered the turn all bunched up and I was being hit all the time. I finally let the fast guys go (as if I were hanging with them!!) and found a nice rhythm on the outside. I rounded the second bouey and noticed that the next wave had already caught up with me. While I’m used to being “chicked” by Cheryl Sweeney in every race, I was a bit more hopeful in this one knowing that she wouldn’t’ be there! Normally, I would be pretty hard on myself for swimming so slow, but when I think that only two years ago I couldn't swim one length of a pool, I knew that I should be proud of my progress. I bi-lateral breathed the entire 47:52 minute swim and enjoyed the "view" during each breath. The clear blue sky and the occasional cloud let me know that I had good rotation for my breath. Other than one guy that zig-zagged constantly in front of me between bouey 2 and 3, the swim was good, but tiring. For some reason my right shoulder was hurting from the beginning.
As I exited the water, I sat on my butt and had a guy strip my wetsuit off. I picked it up and ran into T1, over-running my rack. Luckily, my dad was standing at the barrier to yell, "Hey, Robert, it's over there!". I loved his gentle reminder that 1) not only do you locate your bike from the perspective of the swim entrance, but 2) from the swim EXIT as well!! Dad should have been a triathlete! My transition time was 2min 22 seconds.
The first two hours of the bike were beautiful and relatively uneventful. I made it up and down the two first hills, but got clobbered by the wind during the last hour. As I glanced at the young cotton seedlings to my left and right, I could see that West Texas was going to be blowing me this "kiss” for some time. The last six miles were not fun and my lower back was hurting. I should have done more long rides, but I was confined to my trainer for the last month of training. I was relieved to get past the last climb into transition and lace up my K-Swiss. My bike time was 3:20 which was under my goal as it was only 16.8 mph. I was targeting 20 mph. Reality check! My T2 time was 3 min 12 seconds.
As I started the run I looked down at my Garmin and my heart rate was already at 150 bpm. Not a good sign as my target heart rate was 160 bpm. I ran for a bit and saw my heart rate increase dramatically in response to the 97F heat. I knew it was much hotter on the asphalt, but I didn’t need a thermometer to tell me that it was too hot! I got to the first water station and decided to walk. I drank a lot, ate ice, but felt nauseous. Clearly this was going to be a battle and I knew that my only strategy was to do a walk/run. I hooked up with a guy from Houston and we alternated in setting our goals….”Let’s run to the next water station…let’s run to that concrete thing up ahead. The only good thing about that was that we talked, met other people and motivated each other. We hit the half-way turn around and I began to feel the sunburn on my shoulders. I began to wonder just how to keep sunscreen on during a tri. Still a mystery to me. As we entered the park grounds and descended down to the lake, I felt the stifling heat all around me. I poured ice water all over me, but could not cool down. I zig zagged to find what little shade the trees provided and knew I was close. As I reached the finish, I heard them say “Robert Dennis from Beverly Hills”. I knew how pretentious that sounded to the “red necks” and I felt embarrassed that I had not filled in my athlete’s info to say “Robert Dennis from Lubbock, Texas….one of our own”. I’ll definitely be doing that next year. My total time was a disappointing 7 hours 1 minute. As I crossed the finish line, I got a text message from my best buddy, Larry, telling me how proud he was of me. That was soon followed by a call from Cheryl Sweeney telling me how slow I was on the swim! I love you, Cheryl!! While I don’t even have the bragging rights of saying I was sub-seven, I still was happy. I introduced my whole family in Texas to triathlon and had the time of my life. It was good to be “home”.