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1998 USA Triathlon National LC Championships, Lubbock, TX

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Legendary Lubbock

Mike and Marti Greer threw a Texas-style barbecue to decide USAT's national champions and qualify the few for October's roast in Kona.

An information kiosk at the Lubbock, Texas airport welcomes visitors to the "legendary" town and urges them to check out the Cactus Theatre on Buddy Holly Avenue or the annual Chuck Wagon Gathering at the Ranching Heritage Center. There is no mention of the event Marti and Mike Greer would like to become legendary, the Buffalo Springs Lake Half Ironman Triathlon.

Troy Jacobson on the final bike leg.

Troy Jacobson wraps up the last miles of his bike.

An honest race
    Site of USA Triathlon’s 1998 Long Course Championships June 28, Buffalo Springs was also host to one of the most honest Hawaii Ironman qualifiers you could ever expect to find. The race is built around the kind of challenges many long-course devotees find appealing and others find grisly. Just the combination that builds legends. And, if the purpose of a Hawaii qualifier is to test someone’s capability for surviving cruel bikes and punishing runs, this year’s   race fit the bill well.
    Flying into Lubbock leaves athletes new to Buffalo Springs innocently unaware of what is to come. A landscape that at first glance appears two dimensional conceals a series of shallow canyons and hills that form the nucleus of what pro Troy Jacobson calls "one of the toughest Ironman qualifiers" around. Known as one of the best half Ironman athletes in the country, Jacobson ran down James Bonney to post the fast time of the day and win his third consecutive long-course championship in 4:08:20.
Texas, where hills are hills
    Race founder and promoter Mike Greer and his newly anointed race director wife Marti love the toughness of the race he created. In fact Greer’s pre-race admonitions to athletes included a friendly threat to modify the 56-mile bike course to accommodate yet another hill. "The hills here are really hills," said 75-79 winner Bill Schweizer, 7:02:56. "You had to work. You had that hot wind coming back; that made it more difficult." Schweizer started in the first wave with the pros. "The swim was the easiest part," he said. "It was a beautiful swim. The water was calm; the water was the right temperature for a wetsuit."
    Spring fed Buffalo Springs Lake is a refreshing oasis in the middle of Texas cotton country. Resting in the bottom of a small ravine, the water is chilly enough to warrant wetsuits and presented racers with an ironically cool start to one of the hottest events of the year. With West Texas in a drought and temperatures bursting well into the 100s, the Greers wisely opted to move this year’s wave starts up to sunrise. In the process they may have prevented the med tent from blowing up with the heat.
James Bonney held the lead through most of the run.

James Bonney held the lead through most of the run.

Amy McGrath beat the field.

Amy McGrath posted the fastest women's time of the day.


Masters Champion Carey Guerreo.

Carey Guerreo jumped from the Florida fires into the Texas frying pan to win the age group overall masters title.

Into the Texas heat
   The early start also gave athletes time to reflect upon the rising sun. By the time the first cyclists began climbing the 200 or so meters out of their shady little swim venue the sun was climbing well above the horizon.
   The first hill, far from extreme but annoyingly early, inspired some ragged shifting and sent a few riders weaving to maintain balance. The slow bike start also gave people time to contemplate the seven real hills that awaited in the canyons ten miles down the road.
   Even in this year’s stifling summer heat, the hilly bike was not the most difficult part of Buffalo Springs. "The bike wasn’t that bad," said Long Course Champion Jo Garuccio, 45-49, 5:17:46. "You’re moving enough to keep cool on the bike. But the run was hot."
   The 13.1-mile run also begins by climbing out of the lake basin, but this time there are two hills. Athletes who began the race day in 70-degree weather were confronted with a105-degree furnace by run time--15 degrees above Lubbock’s average. Unofficial reports from the run course had asphalt temperatures bouncing above the 110 mark by early afternoon. According to Marti Greer, only one person hauled off the course ended up in the hospital, an age grouper suffering from heat stroke. Greer expected the racer to recover.
   Although Jacobson’s pro win was also the fastest men’s time of the day, such was not the case for the women. Pro competitor Laurie Abrams’ victory over a small three-woman elite field in 4:52:27 was not quick enough for the fastest female time at Lubbock; that honor went to Amy McGrath. McGrath, racing as an age grouper, turned in a time of 4:50:14 to win the overall AG competition. The age group men challenged the elite field too. Chris Eschbach took the men’s AG overall in 4:13:11, a time that would have landed him in third place among the pros.

    Carey Guerrero, coming off a third-place finish at USAT’s National Championships in Clermont, Florida a week earlier, put her heat training to good use by capturing the Female Masters Overall title in 5:07:42, a time that would have placed her seventh women’s age grouper overall. Mac Martin finished as top Male Master in 4:34:51.
Kona bound
   Although Buffalo Springs served as USAT’s National Long Course Championships and one of two national events qualifying racers to attend the ITU World Long Course party scheduled for September in Sato, Japan, the race hype revolved around Kona slots.
   The post-race ritual of doling out those berths feels like a strange mating of the lottery and a bequeathal. While most of the top finishers jump at the chance to sweat it out on the big island, a few always elect to bestow their ticket to Kona upon the second wave of Ironman disciples. In either case, the resulting euphoria has an amnesic effect which momentarily blocks out the trials and tribulations of the recent past. But those memories will return in October when the mid-afternoon sun has baked Kona’s rock to rotisserie readiness, and they may carry with them a certain element of calm. Because the veterans of Lubbock will remember that they didn’t just qualify for Ironman, they qualified at Buffalo Springs.
Bill Schweizer liked the Buffalo Springs water.

Bill Schweizer plans his route through Buffalo Springs Lake.

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