Sometimes I think back and regret all the years I waited to do Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs, what would eventually transition to Ironman 70.3 Lubbock.
But I am grateful for having stepped out of my comfort zone in 2018 to do the last edition of Buffalo Springs, and the spark it provided to strive to become a better triathlete.
Stepping out of my comfort zone was the theme for this year’s race. After falling short of performance expectations at Chattanooga just a month ago, and the miserable empty feeling on the drive home, I made a promise to myself to never feel that way again and that it was good Lubbock would come so soon – time to put that promise to practice.
While the lead up to this race wasn’t the smoothest – personal and professional stresses at every turn – I still looked forward to getting back on course.
Race morning was smooth and seamless. In fact, the entire race weekend seemed effortless.
We caught a ride to T1/swim start on race morning. The wicked storm from the night before was just a memory, but the showers lingered until just minutes before the race start. A threatening forecast for storms lingered over the day, but fortunately the race went off as scheduled and the day remained dry. And cool. And relatively windless.
Learning a lesson from Chattanooga we made sure to get to the swim start early and pay attention to the pace times. Cait and I positioned ourselves in the 30-33 minute group and quickly made our way through the corral. My last words to Cait were “I’ll be waiting for you in Utah”. My signal to her to chase down her slot.
As soon as I hit the water I knew the swim would be interesting. Absolutely zero visibility. But definitely wetsuit legal thanks to the rains. I didn’t have much difficulty sighting buoys, even though they seemed strangely positioned along the swim course – and red turn buoys where there were no turns created confusion.
I just kept swimming at what felt to be a strong steady pace. Counting buoys as I passed and eager to tick off the 19th and final one before the finish.
Over the last 400 meters the nasty swim only got worse. Runoff from the rains lingered just beneath the surface and I encountered a bit of everything. Some debris obvious – grass, limbs. Some not so much – large chunks of who knows what. I swear there was a tire somewhere along the way.
Finally, the finish was in sight and I added some extra effort. Ready to be done and head out on the bike. As I came out of the water I noticed a slow time – 37:20. A bit unexpected based on my effort and it being wetsuit legal. I wore my sleeveless. The time was barely better than the 1.4 mile swim in Chattanooga. Still scratching my head on that result in my strongest discipline.
Getting through T1 was a breeze. I wasted no time and made my way out on the bike. A short uphill awaited just outside of transition. From there, it was pretty much pancake flat for the remainder – aside from a few punchy climbs in the last 5 miles.
Generally, the bike course was pretty good. Some chip seal to start and finish but mainly smooth roads for the remainder. The first couple of hours the roads remained wet from the rain and there were some puddles to be aware of. There was even a very high water crossing we had to make our way through going out and coming back. However the wet conditions didn’t seem to impact my effort. I did take the turns cautiously.
This race I pushed on the bike. Once settled in out of the swim I started to build my effort. I would keep an eye on my splits but mainly rode by feel. I kept it right on that borderline uncomfortable side. I benefitted from some tailwind when I could. And unlike years past, there were no brutal headwinds to contend with. There was one stretch after the turnaround with some headwind but it was short and manageable.
Just past the turn I saw Caitlin on the bike for the first time. I figured it would be any mile after that when she would come flying past me. Typically she will catch me around 45. But it took her almost 10 more miles to come up from behind. For awhile I was worried she hadn’t caught me so I just had to tell myself that I was having a great ride. I did a lot of positive affirmation on this ride as I was happy with just about every five mile split I posted.
Coming back to T2 seemed to take forever in the last few miles – the twists and turns and ups and downs. I kept Cait in my sights, saw her make the turn to transition and I followed closely behind.
When I lapped my watch to see the 2:48 bike split I was elated. I earned that ride and now it was time to finish the day by putting together a solid run.
Cait was wrapping up in T2 and I told her to just throw her stuff and get out there. She told me she was having some GI issues so I told her to take the first two miles easy and just take water to start.
My transition was quick and I was off for the final 13.1 miles. It took a little bit to rein in the adrenaline. Once I did, I made a point to settle into a good rhythm and heart rate – running about 3-5 beats higher than Chattanooga.
Even though it was a cool day for Lubbock, it was still warm out there and I made a point to take ice and dump it in my top at least once every lap.
Natasha was along the course at several points providing placing and position updates. I was in the top 10 early and hoped to hold on. But every time I tried to take it to the next gear I couldn’t sustain the push. I was fine running steady and that’s all I had on the day. But I never relented and never gave in the many times it got hard and hurt. Because it did hurt! After pedaling constantly for 56 miles on the bike and pounding the pavement on the run, my legs were not happy.
I gritted and gutted this one out. I truly believe I gave everything I had in every discipline. And what is normally a hand waving celebration down the red carpet was relegated to a little flex at the finish and collapsing into Caitlin’s arms. I was grateful to be finished and proud of the effort and overall time.
Still some lessons to learn and a lot more improvement to make. It will continue to be a process.
For nutrition, I feel like it was off a bit because of the cooler weather. I had a 3-hour concentrated bottle of Infinit. I diluted it at each aid station but maybe only drank about 2 hours’ worth. I could feel my stomach on the verge of boating and I didn’t want to overdo it. I feel like my water consumption was good on the bike.
On the run I took water every aid station. I took half a gel at mile 4 and again at mile 8 and I believe I only took Gatorade once – around mile 6. And then I consumed some cola at mile 9. This didn’t seem to sit well with me and I stuck strictly to water to finish out the race.
Overall, I’m grateful for the opportunity to do this race. It was a great bounce back from Chattanooga. My body aches and is trashed from race day – in a good way. It’s also rewarding to know I would have claimed a slot to worlds here if I hadn’t received it in Chattanooga.
The race weekend was off to a good start when we arrived to Lubbock with both bikes intact and still on the bike rack. In 2020 we drove to Lubbock to ride the course (even though the race was cancelled) but somewhere on highway 84, about an hour out of town, my bike had flown off the rack. Now, it’s a new year and new bike rack.
We arrived Friday afternoon and headed straight to packet pick up. Smooth and easy. After that we drove the flat and fast bike course to check out road conditions to see what we needed to be aware of on race day. Other then the first few and last few miles, the road conditions were pretty good.
Saturday morning we did an easy spin and easy run before dropping off T2 bags and our bike at T1. The bike and the engine was feeling good and would be ready to go for the next morning.
In the early afternoon we were able to get into a local municipal pool as it was opening and get in some good laps before the crowds arrived. (No swimming was allowed at the race site)
That evening we kept it low key. Had our usual homemade pizza. Prepped our breakfast and bike nutrition for the next morning. And applied tri tats. Doing all that we can the night before always helps the next morning be less stressful.
Sunday morning the alarm went off at 3:45 and I was up. Brushed teeth, wash face. Roll, stretch. And that’s all we had to do.
We were fortunate enough to be able to catch a ride from our AirBnB to T1 so we didn’t have to to go to T2 and ride the shuttle.
We arrived at transition just as it was opening at 5 a.m. and it was a welcoming site to see Marti Greer’s smiling face, welcoming us all to race day and to deliver the wonderful news that the water temp was 73 degrees, wetsuit legal.
Setting up our transition went quick. Just had to air up tires and layout our bike gear, as our run gear was in a separate location at T2.
Headed to port-o-potties. For me, no luck.
We then started our walk to the swim start. About half way there it started to rain. Rain was in the forecast so this wasn’t a surprise. In fact, A LOT of rain was in the forecast and I think a lot of people were thinking it, but wasn’t saying it, that if it did rain during race morning as much as it had been forecasted that there was a chance the race would have been called off. Fortunately the storm that hit overnight was the bulk of it and by the time we all started to line up in swim corrals the rain had stopped.
This race Tif and I started near the front of the pack. We learned our lesson at 70.5 Chattanooga to not be one of the last into the water because that sets the tone for the rest of race. I actually really like the self seed option as opposed to starting in age groups. This allows Tif and I to start together.
The swim was dark, slow and dirty. With the weather being overcast there was no sunlight getting through. It really felt like swimming in the dark when my face was in the water. Zero visibility. There was also a lot of chop in the water due to all the swimmers around, this made it difficult to see the buoys. I know I was not able to swim a straight line because of that. And toward the end of the swim there was a runoff that emptied into the lake and with the storms the night before this part of the lake was full of debris. With each stroke I was getting a handful of something different each time. I’d really rather not know exactly what all was in the water.
I made it out of the water and I knew I wasn’t breaking any records, but I was a bit disappointed to see just how slow my swim was. 46 minutes. But just as I was having that thought my coach was on the railing telling me not to worry about my swim, that I was 12th in my age group at that point and to go get them on the bike.
T1 took just a tad longer as you had to get all your belongings into your bag for the volunteers to gather and bring to T2 for pickup after the race.
I mounted my bike just outside the mount line and just like every other race, it began with an uphill climb. Nothing too serious though, and certainly nothing compared to the hill outside of T1 on the old Buffalo Springs course. (if you know, you know)
Onto the bike I was feeling good, and fast. It’s a cool feeling to be at the point in your ability where you are doing more passing than getting passed.
But something wasn’t completely right. I was sticking to the same plan that I had nailed in Chattanooga but I was having a little bit of GI issue. There were several times where I had to spit up. I could tell it was stomach fluids as the color was yellowish and my bike nutrition is not yellow. I’m thinking maybe it was the lake water as I know I took in just a little bit. But that’s part of triathlon, it is a dirty sport.
I didn’t let this stop me, other than the two points during the bike that I slowed to be able to pee, I felt like I was flying. I averaged 21 mph and when Tif and I crossed paths at around mile 25 I know my speed and watts escalated. She knows how to lite the fire under me.
It wasn’t until about mile 54 when I caught her back in my sights. That is always one of the best parts of any race when I get sight of her on the bike. I knew she was rocking the bike as well and that thrilled me. I passed her at about mile 55 but she was right on me and came into T2 just after me.
I had the 9th fasted bike split in my age group which I was very happy with.
T2 we were racked side by side. As I was putting my shoes on she told me to go get it! I grabbed my hat and bib to put on as I ran out of T2.
Just outside of T2 was an NVDM Coaching coach and a fellow athlete cheering us on. It was unexpected to see them there but it really gave me a push to start the 13.1 miles.
Shortly into the run you go down the tunnel into the Texas Tech football stadium which is neat to be able to run the inside perimeter but then had to run up a ramp to exit. That ramp was the first challenge on the run but no problem.
I knew to ease into the miles and try to get the heart rate down just a bit.
Around mile three was when I first saw coach Natasha. She was riding back and forth on the backside of the course. She let me know that I was in 11th but that 8th place was only three minutes up. Every stride counts.
Every stride counts. This then became the mantra in my mind that I said throughout the entire 13.1 miles.
About half way through the run I told myself this is F- ing hard. Why the hell do we do this. It hurts.
Don’t worry, I shut that thought down real quick. And even though each mile did get tougher, I kept positive thoughts and reminded myself to keep form. And every stride counts. Anything can happen.
My stomach did get a little better, but I know I didn’t take in near enough calories. Typically I would take a half gel at every aid station, as well as some water, but the thought of gels was about as appealing as ingesting more lake water. So at every aid station I took water, some Gatorade and ice. There was one aid station toward the end that I did take cola.
Mile 10 is when I started to fade. Coach Mike and Natasha were both giving me tips along the way and I hope my face didn’t give the impression that I wasn’t grateful, because I was. I left all I had out on the course and I know part of that was because I had them in my corner, helping me through the miles.
The red carpet leading up to the finish is always a beautiful sight. I knew as I was running down it that I had given my all for 70.3 miles. That finish may be one of my most rewarding finish lines. I did all that I could. I left it all out there.
I hung around the finish line area to see Tiffany come through. That is also one of the best parts of any triathlons. I love getting to be the one she sees cheering her on through the line.
And now it was just a waiting game to see if my performance was good enough for a Worlds slot.
It was. Both halves of Team Saunders are going to the 2021 70.3 World Championship in St. George, Utah!