Thursday, June 28, 2012

Buffalo Springs 70.3 RR

Last weekend, I traveled to Lubbock, Texas to race the Buffalo Springs 70.3.

I've heard a lot about this race in the short time that I've been paying attention to all things triathlon.  Quite simply, it had the reputation of a suffer-fest.  As if racing in Texas in the middle of June isn't enough (the high on the day I raced was 100 degrees), Buffalo Springs throws in all the other things that make a race truly memorable -- some nasty hills, unpredictable and difficult winds, and of course, incredibly stiff competition.

My main race this year is Ironman Wisconsin, a difficult course with hills, unpredictable (sometimes hot) weather, and equally unpredictable winds.  Months ago, my coach suggested Buffalo Springs as a race that could prepare me for the worst Wisconsin could offer up.  I loved the idea.  My thinking: bring it on, Lubbock.  Hit me with the heat, the wind, the hills...and if I can suffer through and survive that, nothing can happen at Wisconsin that will scare me.

And, Lubbock threw all of that at me, and I suffered through, and I survived.  Did I conquer? No.  If we're keeping score, I think I can safely say that the score is BSLT 1, Amanda 0.  But, I suffered and survived, and that was the goal.  So now, bring it on, Madison! Nothing you send me can top Lubbock!
One thing is for sure- lessons were learned. 
Lesson #1- Be Honest.

Two weeks before the race, I came down with one of those knock-you-on-your-ass illnesses that had me moaning in bed with a 102 degree temperature, forcing down Pedialyte, and generally wanting to die.  After a course of antibiotics, I got back into my workouts and got them done, but they didn’t feel good, and I remained generally fatigued and without my normal lung capacity all the way up to the race.  In hindsight, I should have been honest with myself (and my coach), admitted that I needed more rest, and taken it.  Instead, I powered through, and tried in vain to convince myself that I was fine, dammit!  Completely fine!  No problem!  This illness didn’t set me back even a little bit!  Lies.
Lesson #2- Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

Instead of dealing with how I felt physically, I got myself nice and worked up about ridiculous things.  I spent days trying to figure out what to wear during the race.  I worried about altitude (Lubbock’s at 3200 feet, which is by all accounts No Big Deal, but of course I worried about it).  I worried about forest fires (there aren’t any in Texas).  I worried about blisters.  I changed my mind multiple times on whether to use a full wetsuit or a sleeveless wetsuit.  I became obsessed with the possibility of getting a flat tire, and took my bike to the mechanic over and over, just to get reassurance that my tires were OK.  The morning of the race, I switched between dark and clear goggles about 6 times, making the final switch less than 60 seconds before the race. I was just a big fat worrywart.

In hindsight, I went about this all wrong.  Instead of admitting that I just didn't feel  great, taking some extra rest, and working on how to adjust my race plan to account for that, I made myself crazy dealing with the minutiae.  I think I may have made some others crazy listening to me deal with the minutiae (**cough, Mom**) (**cough, Liz**) (**cough, Anne**) (**cough, Andrea**) and for that, I apologize.  Lesson learned, and it won’t happen again.

Put simply, I wasn’t in a great state of mind going in, and just had that nagging feeling that things werent going to end well.  Self-fulfilling prophecy, much?

Got to O’Hare at o-dark-thirty in the AM on Friday, and checked my bike/”exercise equipment” for a mere $30.00 on American Airlines.  Everyone out there that travels with a bike, do yourself a favor and buy this bag:
Aerus Biospeed Bike Travel Case
It doesn’t look like a bike box, it has no outward indication that it’s a bike, it’s light, and it’s not bulky.  I went to the self-check kiosks, pre-paid for two normal, non-bike pieces of luggage ($30 / piece), non-chalantly told the ticket agent that my big black bag contained “exercise equipment” (not technically a lie), and went on my way.    Major win! 

We arrived in Lubbock in the mid afternoon, and after I speedily re-assembled my bike (the improvement I have made on this front is nothing short of amazing), we went over to the Expo.  At which point, I was forced to step on a scale.  I know this happens in Ironmans, and I know there are good reasons for it, but I didn’t expect it here.  And I certainly wasn’t ready for the number I saw, right after spending the day flying, eating carbs, and drinking lots and lot of water.  I tried to hide my eyes, but they wrote the number right on our bibs.  Couldn’t avoid it.  To say I had a little freak out would be generous.  After giving up wine for three weeks and eating as clean as I could, this is my weight???   So, of course, I did some more worrying.

One word for Saturday:  grumpy.  That about sums it up.  I did laugh at one point during the day though.  That would be during the course talk, when the Race Director declared that Topic Number 2 on his agenda was “Varmints of Interest.”  For the next several minutes, we were all treated to a run-down of West Texas wildlife and the various odors associated therewith.   John Deere Tractors were discussed at this time, which was somewhat puzzling, but whatever.  Maybe Texans just cast a wide umbrella when it comes to Varmints of Interest.

Race Day:

Up at 3:30 AM, out the door by 4:20 AM, drive to the park, and wheel my bike down a long, steep dark hill.  I set up my transition with no problem, turned on my Garmins so they’d lock onto satellites (spoiler alert….big mistake), and walked over to the swim start to warm up.   After several goggle switcheroos, I headed to the start line.  I felt fairly calm, and I thought I was acting calm, but the last words my mom said to me were, “Just stay calm out there.”  She’s pretty smart and perceptive, and has been around me at sporting events for, what, 25 years now?   So maybe I was projecting more nervousness than I thought.


All the age group women started in one huge wave, with pink caps, of course.  It was a beach start, and I lined up on the front line and at the gun, sprinted into the water and took a good, hard 50 strokes or so.  I was towards the front of the pack and I tried to grab some feet to get a nice draft, but as per usual, I completely failed in that regard and lost track of who was around me or where I was compared to the other women.  
I chose sleeveless.  I'm the one on the left with the really pale arms.
The ladies’ wave started at 6:39 A.M., just barely after sunrise, and the first time I lifted my head to sight, I knew I was in for a long swim.   I simply could not see the buoys.   Something about the light and the sun and the size of the buoys combined to make me feel almost completely blind for the whole swim.  So I just followed others, hoping they were on course.  We started to run into the guys from the wave in front of us pretty early on, so I took a few good hits to the side of the head (and doled a few out, too).   But overall, my swim was just blah.  I didn’t feel strong in the water, but I didn’t feel horrible.   I just felt a little lackadaisical, and not really like I was racing.  I was just swimming (or not swimming, since I had to stop several times and tread water for a moment, in search of those damn buoys).  The swim felt long, it always does, but I came out of the water with my first sub-30 minute half-ironman split, so I’ll take it. 

I ran to my spot, put on my helmet and sunglasses, sprayed on some sunscreen, and started to put on my bike shoes.  Except…. I hadn’t finished taking off my wetsuit.  Whoops.   Caught it just in time, but that could have been embarrassing!

The first 3 miles at Buffalo Springs have the two steepest climbs of the course.  My plan was to take those hills easy and just spin up them, and then worry about settling into my goal pace once things flattened out.  I did that, but apparently I was the only one with the “take the hills easy” plan, as people (mostly guys but some women) were streaming by me, out of their saddles, powering up the hills.  It was a blow to the ego, but I let them all go, trying to remind myself that I had a plan that I knew would work for me.     

Once we got out of the park and onto a flat stretch, I started to settle into my goal watts and chill out.   I felt quite uncomfortable for that first half hour, my shoulders were hurting being in the aero position, and my legs didn’t really want to go, but I knew those feelings would pass.   They did, to some extent, but I never felt great out there.   It was work.   There are those days where things feel effortless.  I’ve had those days.  I had a day like that earlier this year, at the San Juan 70.3, where for the vast majority of the day, I was just in awe of how great I felt and constantly holding back to avoid getting carried away too early in the race.  Today wasn’t that day.   Everything felt hard.  I had to work to get to my goal watts, and then work even more to stay there.   

The day before the race, Liz told me to just keep asking myself: “what’s important now? What do you have to do in this moment?”   And I asked myself those questions about a zillion times during the bike ride.  The answer was always the same:  ride my ride, stay within a range of XXX – XXX watts, drink, eat, take salt.  I didn’t feel good, but I carefully followed my race plan to the T, kept my emotions under control, spun up the big hills, tried to relax (but not too much) when dealing with headwinds and crosswinds, of which there were a lot.  I focused on the process.   

It got tough out there, especially the last 15 miles where the wind seemed relentless.  The hills were no joke, but while they were big, there weren’t a ton of them, and I actually enjoyed that they broke the course up.  Overall, I’m pretty proud of myself for the way I rode.  I never felt good, but my overall power fell right within the range I was shooting for, my speed was decent, and most of all, even though I felt like I was troubleshooting from the get-go, I hung in there mentally and approached the ride more like an analytical problem than an emotional one.        

If only I could have kept that up.

I dismounted smoothly, racked my bike, put on my shoes, slathered on more sunscreen, grabbed my Garmin and my nutrition and high-tailed it out of transition.   So far, so good, until I looked down at my Garmin and saw the “Battery Low” warning.  Crap. I’ve got an old school Garmin, and I know that the “Battery Low” warning means you’ve got, oh, like a minute left of time before the watch shuts off.  Great.  I absolutely should not have turned that watch on at 5:45AM in the morning, and let the battery drain for the next several hours.   I stuck the Garmin in my pocket, and prepared for a data-less run.


As usual, my legs felt pretty lousy for the first half mile.  But that always happens, so I didn’t worry.   What I did worry about was my pace.  I have a problem of starting my runs too fast, taking off at what feels like 9 minute miles and then looking down at my watch and seeing a pace that’s much too fast.   I usually take the Garmin to prevent that.   No Garmin this time.   There was one lady around me and I hung on her heels for a while, and kind of wanted to ask what pace we were going.  But I didn’t.  Maybe I started out too fast.  Maybe I started too slow.  No idea. 

When we hit the two-mile mark and my legs still hadn’t come around, I knew I was in for a long, long day.  But I tried to dismiss that thought and remind myself of other races where I’ve felt like crap at mile 2 and turned it around.   There was still hope. 

The first three miles are generally flat, a little rolling, through a campground.  The temperature was rapidly climbing, so whenever we hit an aid station, the first thought in my mind was “ice.”  I grabbed ice, tons of ice, dumped it down my top, held it in my hands.  I’d tried these techniques in San Juan, and they worked, so I was really, really careful about getting lots and lots of ice.  Unfortunately, in focusing on the ice, there was one big thing I forgot:  WATER.  The first three aid stations, I was so zoned in on the ice, I simply forgot to drink.   I may have gotten a Dixie cup’s worth at one aid station.  Big, major, mega oops.

After the stint in the park, the run starts to get hilly (and big, scary hills, too) and completely exposed.  The hills hurt, but I got up them, still trying to not dwell on the negative thoughts, still trying to troubleshoot, just like I had on the bike.   We then hit a long, straight, out-and-back.  I’d been warned that this part of the race, despite being flat, is the toughest.  It’s here where people start to melt down.  You see the heat rising from the road, and then it’s just a long, long road ahead, broken up only by aid stations.  It wears you down.  I was mentally prepared.

But, mental preparation or not, it was on the ‘back’ of the out-and-back that I started to melt.  At first it was just physical.  I was hot, really hot, and I just wasn’t moving well.  I think I got in a real hole by not drinking water early on, and I was dehydrated.  I still had absolutely no idea what kind of pace I was running, but I knew I was getting passed.  A lot.  I kept trying to troubleshoot, to rely on the plan, but mentally, I was worn down.  It’d been a long, long day of trying to figure out how to stay on track despite not feeling good.  The negative thoughts kept sneaking in and taking over.  I tried to ignore them, figuring “this will pass.”  It didn’t.
Trying to hang in there

The last big hill going into the park, maybe in the 9th mile, I saw a girl ahead of me start to walk.   My mental toughness was gone, and all I could think was, “good idea.”  So, I walked, too.   SO. NOT. OKAY.

Once I’d given in and walked on that hill, I was done.  I’d been physically melting, but now I mentally melted down.  The rest of the race was a massive struggle.   I just tried to keep moving forward to get to the next aid station.  I walked the aid stations.   I may or may not have walked a little between the aid stations.  I yelled at myself, out loud (may have drawn some looks at that one).  “C’mon, suck it up, you’re better than this.”   And then, at mile 12, I moved to the side of the road, stopped, and started crying.  The aid station volunteers were alarmed, thinking something was physically wrong.  I said, between sobs, “I just don’t want to go anymore.”  Not my style, and so, so embarrassing.

Eventually, I got moving again, but very shortly thereafter, in the last mile of the run, a girl in my age group passed me and claimed a Kona slot.   

Let’s be clear.  I did not come to Lubbock in search of a Kona slot.  Put simply, I have never thought I am at that level yet.  Kona this year doesn’t even fit into my race schedule, and I’m supposed to be in Argentina in October.   I came to Buffalo Springs in search of a race that would best prepare me for Wisconsin.  And during the race, I didn’t think I was in the running for a Kona slot … when the girl passed me, I didn’t recognize the significance (or even know that she was in my age group).  But to come that close (she ended up beating me by 30 seconds), and to have lost it not because of anything physically wrong, but because I mentally broke down… that really, really stings. 

So there’s been a lot of soul searching in the past few days.  I’ve surprised myself with how disappointed this race left me.  Not because it was a bad time (despite the melt-down, I’m still fairly happy with my overall time), or a bad place (I got a bottle of wine as an award!).  And compared with last year, or the year before, I’ve come a long, long way.  But I’m disappointed because when the going got tough, I didn’t hang in there mentally.  You can train perfectly and do all the work in the world, but if the head’s not in it, none of that matters.  So…I’ve still got a lot of work to do.    

I have great friends and they’ve been enormously helpful in helping me put this meltdown in perspective, learn from it, and move forward.  One sent me a quote from some professional triathlete (Andy Potts, maybe?), who said “the most important race is the next one.”  That’s speaking to me right now… and as I’m peaking my head out from the funk I’ve been in, I’m starting to regain confidence, recognize the lessons I learned, and prepare for the next one.  And I can guarantee one thing, I will NEVER allow myself to give up mentally like I did in those last few miles.      

And, like I said at the beginning, bring it on, Madison.  You’re never gonna have nothin’ on Lubbock. 

Of course, I absolutely cannot forget about the highlight of my trip:  Visiting Prairie Dog Town.   Look at this little guy:
Enough to make you forget about a bad last three miles!


  1. How incredibly frustrating! We've all been there though (not with a Kona slot on the line but still). It sounds like you've grieved appropriately and are getting focused on the next big race!!!

  2. Way to fight through it and finish with an awesome time! Sounds like it was a tough day out there. My only trip to Lubbock sucked and it probably had something to do with those hills and wind. Ummmm, question- I noticed you have three digits listed for your goal watts... sooooo, are you telling me that you averaged (not maxed out at) more than 47 watts!?!?! My favorite part of your entry was definitely the picture before the start... it was so easy to pick you out of the crowd :) Can't wait to cheer you on in Madison!

  3. You know, Amanda, this is the only way to really know what you are made of and how you will RISE above your disappointment in this race and attack the next one and meet all your goals at IMWI. BSLT is a VERY hard 1/2 IM coming from Chicago and, honestly, you had a very good race. Sure, you had a mental lapse on the run...but it happened, you learned and now time to move on and back to work so it doesn't happen again. It won't. :)

    Congrats on your race and enjoy what's next! Onward and upward I always say!!