While many of the triathletes for this year’s Ironman 70.3 at Buffalo Springs Lake were doing their final checklist, so was I. Media pass, check. Camera equipment, check. Red bull, check. Once all my needs were met, I hightailed it to the race in time to greet the sunrise over Buffalo Springs Lake.
After two days of early morning showers, the weather was perfect. I watched the athletes from behind my lens as they readied themselves at the starting beach. You can tell they were ready for one of the toughest triathlons in the country. Known for its winding hills, crazy headwinds and long stretches of calf burning asphalt, the Ironman 70.3 at Buffalo Springs is as tough physically as it is mentally. Once the clock struck 6:30 a.m. the race was on! Covered in their wetsuits, the athletes waited with their toes in the water and prepped for the daunting 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run. Luckily for me, I was there just to watch.
One by one, several waves of swim-capped athletes stormed the water for the first leg of the race. Within 30 minutes of the first splash on the beach, the swim was over and the biking had begun. Once I climbed the first hill with the rest of the highly caffeinated fans, we waited and watched as the riders ascended up the first of many hills with their sleek bikes and colorful attire.
The mix of energy from the fans and the athletes was special. I, for one, loved the cowbell that seemed to always surface from the canyon. I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t love a little cowbell in the morning? Mix that with a combination of pure athleticism, technology and style, and you have one cool race.
And when speed is the name of the game, my favorite spot was at the tail end of the bike portion. Coming down a steep hill, the athletes flew across my lens knowing good and well they were one step closer to completion. My muddy sneakers followed the wave of riders as they came down one hill and up another, only to be greeted with a 13.1-mile run. It was here where the fans were the most intense. The signs full of motivational mantras were in full force. “Trust your training” and “Suck it up Buttercup” were some of my favorites.
By the time I took my position at the finish line, it didn’t take long to witness a record-breaking performance. The runner from down under, Greg Bennett, crossed the finish line three minutes ahead of the pack, with a time of 03:48:58. With a smile from ear to ear, I was in awe of how easy the Australian made it look. As the rest of the pack joined him and my time at the Ironman 70.3 came to an end, I came to one final conclusion. Triathletes aren’t human.
I left with a sun-kissed tan and a new appreciation for the sport. Young or old, (I heard one man was 75) it takes guts to run a triathlon. While I may not have a cool bike or a sweet aerodynamic helmet, maybe one day I’ll give it a shot. Until then, I’m fine lacing up my soccer cleats each and every Sunday on the soccer pitch.
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