Where's Buffalo Springs Lake you might ask. Well it is in Lubbock, Texas. Being as I live in Houston, I decided to drive there. Which at the end of the day, I am glad that I drove over flying. But it was a long, long drive. 8+ hours of pretty much all flat land. And then about an hour out, you start to notice a couple hills and a slight change in elevation. Nothing major at all. Misleading as Buffalo Springs Lake has some well hidden hills.
The race started at 6:30am. And in all of the materials, the race crew warns you to come early. Transition opened at 5am and parking at 4:30am. My internal time clock, as normal, got me up at 3:40am. I had everything laid out but it still takes me a few to assemble myself. Went down to microwave my lovely breakfast of quinoa flakes, almond butter and raisins. I ate this while getting ready along with slowly sipping a coffee and downing a beet shot. Double French braiding my hair, layered on the sunscreen, put on my clothes, two trips to the car and we were off. Luckily the hotel, which I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott, was only 15 minutes away, considering the only traffic we found was just a mile from the parking. Which we joined the line that backed up a little bit but nothing too crazy and were parked by 5:08am. Now parking in a tall grassy field that is not exactly level in a Prius is a whole another story...
My friend Susan, who happily made the trip with me, helped me carry my stuff to transition. Susan signed up to volunteer all day - seriously the volunteer coordinator loved her. She helped with getting people out of the water and wetsuit stripping, directing people on the bike and then catching people with finisher metals at the end. Good stuff.
Arriving into the transition area, the temperatures were about 77 degrees. I slowly laid out my run and bike gear and set aside my wetsuit, goggles and cap. I already had my warm up socks and shoes on and then ran away from the craziness to do a 10 minute warm up with a few race pace pick ups. Felt good and noticed a couple hills but nothing undoable. Got back around 6am and then took off the shoes and socks and went down to the lake and slowly put on my wetsuit. The water was very accessible as the swim start is you running into the lake, so after I got the suit on, I did a quick warm up swim. Fairly dark out at this point but still could sight the first bouy. I stood in the water after I was done with the swim warm up and then waited until they kicked us out.
Male pros went off at 6:30am. This race is not a big race by any means. There were only 24 people in my age group. So my wave was anyone from 18 to 44. We got to wear a lovely powder blue cap. I seeded myself right in the middle a couple rows back. I am not a dominate swimmer so no need to be in front. Unless I want to get swam over. Nope. The course is pretty simple - you go out only a little, make a right and swim a little, make a left, swim a little, and then a left back past where you started and then a left to shore. Pretty smooth lake and an ideal swimming lake for a race. I felt good in the swim. Especially when I noticed that I was passing the slightly older women who started 3 minutes before me and then the 50+ males who started 6 minutes before us. In all fairness, a couple red caps did catch me. I don't get this, though. I was swimming along, minding my own business and then this guy from the wave after me swiims up to me and deilberately places his hands on his shoulders and pulls me down. What the hell?? Normally I would say triathletes are pretty friendly and welcomeing but at that point not so much. My reaction? He got an elbow to the face. Then he grunted and swam away. I said "jerk" and then it was back to swimming. I swam a 36:10 which was shockingly slightly above average. A new PR for the half ironman swim. How could I further improve, which is needed for sure, would be swim closer to the bouys and fix my left arm crossing over. It is a work in progress and let me tell ya, it throws you off course if you are constantly veering right.
Was pulled out of the water and ran up to the largest guy who just happened to be decent looking and had him strip me of my wetsuit. And ran up the few feet to my transition spot. Threw down the wetsuit, cap and goggles, snapped on helmet and sunglasses, grabbed the shoes and ran to the line, an awesome volunteer held my bike while I put on my shoes and then off I went. Not my best transition but was done in 2:35.
Now the bike course. At this point we are up to 80 degrees which grew to about 90 by the end. The bike course is only shaded in one spot so I had on my Castelli T1 3/4 length sleeve top. And I did not burn at all. Nice to not have a tri top burn/tan lines. Anyways, you exit transition, go like 40 feet and then you go up a 8.9% hill to get out of transition so be ready. Coast down that hill, which is a 8.9% grade for the way back, cross a bridge and then up a 6.7% grade. And this is where I have to tell you, this course is beautiful, fun and challenging. If I was not racing, you totally must take in the view. And speaking of which, if anyone is considering doing this race, be sure the at the very least drive the course. There are some hills that I am glad I knew about ahead of time. Anyways, after this you make a few turns and have some straightaways. Which is normally my strong point. Well it makes it ever so much more challenging when the winds are more than 25 miles per hour. Which they were on race day. But over and over the bike course, I was powering past guys that were struggling going up the hills and staying small in the wind. Lucky me.
So when you look that the bike course, there are 3 u turns. I hate u turns. I especially hate u turns on a two lane road with no shoulders. On the 3rd one, I unclipped as it was ever so tight and the previous u turn scared me. When they designed this bike course, I swear they thought, lets go down the roads with the challenging hills and then come back. Each road before the u turn has a pretty decent sized hill. The first has a slow 4.5% and 4.9% hill, the next has a 6.1%. The next road has the "spiral staircase" with a 6.0% hill and then you go back. Which you would think the winds at one point would be a tail wind. Talk about an unlucky day. The winds hit me in every direction with tailwinds only for like 1 to 2 minutes. And these hills were narrow with traffic always coming up as you are trying to go down, so while there was coasting, you definitely should slow down, unless you want to hit another biker. The aid stations are not exactly every 10 miles like most ironman branded races so I grabbed water where ever it was offered. And there was a big gap from the last aid station to the end so make sure you fill up beforehand. I ran out of water. I drank about 5 bottles of water and some chocolate peanut butter Gu water and had some salt on the bike. Now considering my personal best bike was in April in 2:24, you would think I would only slow down a little. HA! My bike was second fastest in my age group at 2:49:57. Killer.
So remember that hill just out of transition? Well you go down that to get back and make a fairly sharp left turn, Rode the brakes in and ran off the bike, I had already slid out of the shoes before the hill, re racked my bike, put on my socks and shoes and off on the run. This transition wasn't idea eaither (the darn pavement with no mats was hot and hard on my bare feet) at 1:56.
I exited transition with another girl in my age group (she swam almost 7 minutes faster than me!) and she took off. At the pace I wanted to go. And this is when I realized I was in for a tough run. Considering it was hot...and my legs felt like lead, no springs. I know, I know. They call it a brick. Well I can tell you within the first mile how the run will be. And this was going to be bad. I was thirsty and my legs were tight. Ran through the first aid station with water in hand and she didn't. So I gained some ground, which that was the only time that happened. She caught back up to me as we ran up to a hell of a hill. Up she went, I slowly followed and then noticed a heart rate of 180. Decided to walk a stretch, then run the HR back up and then walk. Made it and then she was gone. She definitely had fresher legs and I couldn't keep up. The run was a battle and I did something I am not proud of. I walked every aid station. It was difficult to grab water x 2, ice and then sometimes a coke or perform. Anything. I was burning up. And because it was so windy, my hat flew off not once or twice but three times. And I like the hat and didn't want to through away my money, so I ran after it 3 times. All while out on the run, I kept my eyes peeled to see if other girls would run past me, but I didn't get passed by anyone in my age group. And after that hellacious hill was when the shoe issues started. I wore my Newton elites which I have worn on some hot days in Houston and for over an hour and they have definitely not given me any problems. Well it wasn't my day to have a good run. The liners, not even half way through the run, started to shift, to the outsides of the shoes and this was causing an ugly feeling in my arches and toes. I could feel the blisters coming on. By mile 7, I could not take it any more and at the aid station, pulled off my shoes and fixed the liners. Which my hands were damn swollen and losing feeling. Uck. More difficult than it needed to be. Anyways, I put my shoes back on and off I went. Mentally just telling myself to just make it to the aid station, take in the fluids and get back to running. And then I got a piercing stop you in your tracks leg cramp. And then it was gone. This happened three times on the run. First time ever that this happened to me. All while making sure I don't get passed by a girl. It is so frustrating now for me to look back at my training, seeing me hitting long sets at 7:10 - 7:30 pace to have my average pace now being around 9. And struggling. I ran past the whole like 10 people cheering and then finish. Hallelujah. The hot struggle is over. Ran in 1:59::56, 4th best in my age group. The girl at the beginning of the run with me ran a 1:51:40 and the girl that won the age group did a 1:44:27 which is still slower than I anticipated I would do, even with the heat. But oh well. I finished in 5:30:30. Which Susan tells me is 3rd in my AG. And this ended up being 19th female overall. So really at the end of the day, I can't complain. Except for the foot spasms I had post race that knocked me off me feet. Seriously, Susan said she could see my foot freaking out. So weird.
This race, even though it is Ironman branded, has the feel of a smaller race. The volunteers at this race were the friendliest of any that I have ever encountered and the race directors were so personable. After the event, they do an awards banquet that evening. The host hotel was the Holiday Inn and the food was as expected. Only complaint is the room was super hot (no compression pants or you will overheat) and they kept running out of water. They started the awards around 7pm going handcycles first and then oldest to youngest. I waited patiently for my age group, the 30 - 34 females. I watched time after time people saying that they didn't want to go to the 70.3 world championships. Now I did Galveston 70.3 and got 3rd in my AG, there were only 2 slots, and the other 2 girls took them. So the only reason why I did this race to get a slot. Well they had the number of slots per age group posted and there was only 1. So I was already thinking I didn't get a slot. But of course I was hanging out to get the trophy. Which OMG these trophies rock - it is a nice sized buffalo. Totally brag worthy. Anyways, they call us out and we go on stage. They ask the first placed girl if she wants the slot. She says no. They ask the second place slot if she wants the slot and she says yes. And is super happy. And my heart drops. But I smile as it was great that she got it . And I could see the annoucer guy looking at his paperwork. And then he asks, "Claudia Smith, would you like to go to Canada?" and my reply? "Hell yeah!!!" So I got a world championship slot to go race in Mont Tremblant Quebec Canada!! Awesome! For like 5 hours, I had convinced myself I had no hope of getting a slot. But I did!!!!!! So, while it was not a PR kind of day, mission accomplished! See ya in Canada!
Oh and driving a car for 8+ hours the day after a half ironman makes for a very stiff back!