It seems that these days if you are a competitive triathlete, the racing season revolve around an Ironman 70.3 in the spring and Ironman in the fall, or some variation of this format. However the last few years, I found that my most rewarding triathlon experiences have come from some unexpected local races. This was the case yet again this year as I decided to race “The Battle at Buckhorn.” FS series has been putting on races for years and always setting very high standard, that place the focus on participant, whether elite or novice. They come up with unique race names, they find great venues usually within driving distance of the triangle, give out soft T-shirts done in taste so that you actually want to wear them later, they provide tasty food and often micro brewery beer, and finally hand out different and usable awards. For me, their races are set apart from the often crowded triathlon calendar.
After racing Ironman Chattanooga, and slugging through the 95° heat during the marathon, I found myself feeling that perhaps my season was not yet over. So I decided to jump in The Battle at Buckhorn Sprint Triathlon a week later. The good thing about doing crazy things such as racing again the week after an Ironman, is that the expectations are very low can you go into it with a sort of liberating feeling of “just go for it and see what happens”. In addition every race I did this year was a million degree, like Ironman 70.3 Raleigh, Triangle Tri, Lake Lure, White Lake Lake and Chattanooga so I was looking forward to racing in a day in the 70s.
With the cool temperatures also came lake fog that got worse as it got closer to the swim start time. The first women’s wave quickly disappeared into the fog, followed by the men’s under 40. With the small filed and my new found confidence in the swim from a few weeks of cramming before my Ironman, I started at the front. I knew I could not stay with Dave Williams but thought that maybe I could keep up with the second pack. It was a really bizarre experience to start the race without even seeing the buoy that we were supposed to be swimming to. From years of open water swimming, I knew I could swim straight and I knew I could navigate properly once I saw the buoys. So I basically just headed in the right general direction and took off. That actually work pretty well as I started to see if the faint outline of a buoy after a few minutes. In addition I caught sight of the straight arm and the blue short sleeves skinsuit of Brian Stover about 50 yards ahead. Keeping him inside, I rounded the first buoy and then the second, and headed back to shore. As long as I had him inside, I felt like I would have a pretty good swim.
At T1 I knew I was about maybe 40 seconds behind Stover, and maybe a minute and a half behind Dave. I got on the bike and like other sprints I hit full gas right away, trying to make up as much ground as possible and get to the front of the race as quickly as possible. I was making pretty good progress passing competitors from the previous waves until eventually fatigue started to set in on the legs. As I looked at my Garmin to see how far I still had to go, I saw that I was only 2.9 mile into a 17 mile course, to my complete disappointment. For the next 5 or 6 miles I went back-and-forth from trying to pace myself and talking myself into keeping the fast reckless space. Once I started seeing Stover in the distance, I started to feel better again. Sometimes seeing your target is all that you need to get that little burst of energy, to see that all that pain is not in vain. Even though I was pretty spent when I caught him, I decided not to hang around and let him catch on. On the next hill I put another big burst of effort and opened a little gap, which allowed me to slowly ride away. 3 or 4 more miles of hard writing and I was finally approaching T2. To my pleasant surprise, I was also within sight of Dave Williams. Unfortunately though, as I ran out I saw that my gap on Brian was not as big as I had hoped.
It was now time to run and see how much gas I still had left in the tank. I was not feeling springy by any means but the legs did not feel so bad. I quickly settled into a pretty good pace as I set my sights on catching Dave. The run this year was an unconventional double out and back. That was a little weird at first but it gave us all plenty of opportunities to see each other. Plus, it felt a little like ITU or Olympic type of racing, which was kind of cool. I inched my way up to Dave Williams and eventually passed him maybe half way. But by then, Stover was only a few yards behind me. I think I actually lead the race for maybe a quarter-mile but eventually Brian ran by looking pretty strong. By now there were only two competitors running in front of us: one was Bri Gall who was dominating the women’s race and another one was Whit Hughston, who started in the wave before us, so by the math we knew we were ahead of him.
That was the order in which we crossed the line. I finished second about 35 seconds behind Brian. The race went much better than I expected. Plus, like all FSSeries races, the atmosphere at the finish was awesome. DJ Alex was rocking while people were hanging out waiting for the awards. And speaking of the awards, I usually don’t get too excited about awards but this time I was really really bummed that I could not manage first place. The first place 4 inch rodeo buckle was one of the coolest trophies I’ve ever seen. In fact it is not even a true trophy; it is in fact a real belt buckle. So after swimming at Buckhorn Lake, and riding and running through the rolling countryside of Simms North Carolina, I can honestly say that I will put this race on my list of one of those must do yearly races. Hopefully I will be fast enough next year to get that buckle.