Xterra National Championships

Utah1

Gorgeous riding in Utah. LOVE this course!

I’m not sure exactly what to say about my race at Xterra Nationals in Utah. It wasn’t a good day. It wasn’t a terrible day either… It was just overwhelmingly lackluster, and fell far short of what I was hoping for, and what I know I am capable of.

I came into Nationals following a really solid, quality training block. I put in a lot of good, hard work between Lake Stevens and this race, and I could feel myself making changes and progress. I knew I was doing what I needed to get myself to a new level for the end of the season and specifically Xterra World Championships in Maui on Oct. 26th. That was the priority, and Nationals came 2nd — but still one of the most important races of the season for me. I definitely wanted to do well here, but I wanted to do well (and better) in Maui more. Of course in an ideal world I would’ve loved to do great in both of these races, but unfortunately that’s not the way it worked out for me this time.

While I knew I couldn’t expect to be 100 percent in Utah with Maui as my priority five weeks later, I did expect my race would show that I’m on the rise and well on my way to the peak I’m seeking in Maui. I put in the work I needed to, brought the work load down leading into the race so I felt rested and ready, and I really felt like I’d stepped up my game prior to Utah. I was super fired up, and honestly I thought I was poised for a breakthrough. But when race day arrived, I came up flat and my performance fell short.

Race Day

Things just felt off for me from the get-go. I had an okay start in the swim, but then I struggled to really find my rhythm. Nothing felt particularly wrong, and I felt like I was swimming fairly smooth and efficient, but I just couldn’t get things going; the speed just wasn’t there. I felt like I was pushing and pushing but my body wasn’t responding. I struggled to stay on toes and maintain momentum, and felt like I was a bit in no-man’s land out there. I exited the water in 13th place pro female, in a too-slow 28:36, well back from where I expected to be and with a lot of work cut out for me. Unfortunately, that set the tune for the rest of the day.

Photo by George Dickerson

Photo by George Dickerson

Onto the bike I just tried to give ‘er with everything I could. I was digging deep and not holding back. Just like the swim, I didn’t feel particularly bad, and was doing all the right things, but I just didn’t have that extra gear that I normally do on race day. As hard as I pushed, the acceleration wasn’t there. I managed to pass two pro females during the course of the ride, but I also got passed by two more, so it was a wash. I was definitely expecting a lot more out of myself on the ride, as I’ve been biking stronger than ever these past few months. I thought I’d be able to move up several spots, and certainly turn in a much better bike split than I did. But as it was, at 1:47:50, I actually biked slower than I did on this course the last time I raced it 2 years ago — YIKES! I know I’m a MUCH stronger, faster athlete now, with my biggest gains of all on the bike, as every other Xterra bike split this year has overwhelmingly shown. A clear indicator I was just not myself out there…

Photo by August Teague

Photo by August Teague

As I hit the run, I focused on doing everything I could to stay positive in my head. I was disappointed the day wasn’t shaping up at all how I had hoped, but reminded myself the race wasn’t over yet. I was still in points-scoring position for this race, which was crucial for me in aiming to maintain my spot in the top-10 overall for the Xterra USA Pro Series (this was the final race). I needed to fight as hard as I could to stay in the points. This run starts off with a brutal long, steep uphill. I do NOT dig this at all. I knew coming in that this would be a huge challenge for me, but I tried to convince myself otherwise. Running uphill, especially for a sustained effort, is definitely not my strength, but I’d been working very hard to improve that weakness, and I reminded myself of all the work I’d done and the progress I had made. I could see the next pro gal just up ahead, but she was charging, and I was frankly just trying to survive that hill. I focused on staying calm and in control, doing what I needed to get to the top without totally crushing myself.

For me, the run really started once I got to the top of that beast. Eventually I made it, and I focused on lengthening my stride and using my power now that I’d hit more gradual trail that was much more my style. I knew I could run well on this terrain, and I felt like the potential was there, just itching to get out, but while I continually willed myself to pick it up, again it just wasn’t happening. I knew I could run much faster, but my body didn’t get the message that day. Before long one of the women I’d passed on the bike was running right on my heels, and eventually she made the move by me and I could not respond. On the next uphill I got passed once more, and again had no response. This put me into 15th place — the final place to score points toward my series total. I knew I had to stay in the points, and I fought as hard as I could to make sure I got across that line without losing anymore spots.

Photo by George Dickerson

Photo by George Dickerson

It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t fast, but a tough 51:31 later, I made it to the finish in 15th place, snagging the final points of the day. I did what I needed to do, and as it turned out I was actually able to move up two spots in the overall standings to finish 7th pro female in the Xterra Pro Series in my rookie season. I was absolutely psyched about this! But I was definitely disappointed with how my day at Nationals turned out. I was hoping for so much more, and was confident I’d set myself up for a much better race, so it was frustrating and confusing to have such a lackluster day. Nothing went terribly wrong for me and I certainly didn’t struggle the way I had at Xterra Beaver Creek, but this race course is tough, and feeling even just a little bit off makes a huge difference out there. I definitely was not myself, and it showed. For lack of a better word, the day was just… “meh.” It’s always disappointing to not reach your potential, especially in one of the bigger races of the year, and I was initially pretty bummed out about my performance, particularly since I really didn’t understand why I’d come up so flat.

It’s easy when you have a result like this at a critical time to let it get to your head, to think you are digressing or to think you’re just not good enough. I tried really hard not to over-think it and accept that it was just not my day — hey, bad days happen to the best of us, even when we least expect them! But I also wanted to better understand where I’d gone wrong so I could avoid it next time. I chose to stay focused on the positives. I was very satisfied with my 7th place overall in the Xterra Pro Series, following my amazing teammates to complete a 4-5-6-7 sweep for LUNA. Suzie, Shonny and Danelle never cease to impress me and I am so fortunate to have them as competitors, teammates, friends and idols all at the same time! Placing in the top 8 in this series was the big “A” goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year, so it was incredibly validating to accomplish that. Of course, I wanted to end the series on a high note, but I’ve still got the most important race ahead of me in World Championships, and I’m super fired up for that! And while I didn’t have a stellar race out there, I did see some improvement in the weaknesses I’ve been working so hard to combat. I still was not great on the uphills of the run, and this course still felt hard for me, but I know I ran the hills better than last time I raced here, and every bit of progress is a step in the right direction!

Post-Race Trip

After the race we headed to Aspen, where August grew up, to spend a week with family and friends and enjoy some incredible fall scenery. For me, this was really a chance to try to get in a bit of relaxation. I’ve been carrying a really heavy work load through the race season (on top of training and racing), and things got especially stressful these past couple months with a lot deadlines and obligations. Mentally it’s been very tiring trying to get through everything and keep all aspects of my life in balance. So, while I still had to work from the road, it was awesome to get a change of scenery out in Colorado, enjoy a really low-key environment for the week and spend some quality time with people I love. The weather was perfect and the foliage was absolutely stunning! I tried to soak it all up as much as I could, but unfortunately within a day of arriving to CO I ended up sick and felt really crappy for a good portion of the trip. This was a total bummer, but also a bit of a relief too, as it certainly helped shed some light on why I’d felt the way I did out in Utah. Knowing I was right on the verge of getting sick when I raced at Nationals is much easier to accept and understand than simply having a bad day for no reason, or worst of all feeling like things are going downhill.

So, activity was fairly limited in Colorado but I still got plenty of fresh, fall mountain air and enjoyed every second. In the end I think the low-key week was exactly what I needed as I came back feeling significantly better, refreshed, not discouraged, and ready to set my sights ahead on Maui. I am excited for this final opportunity of the 2014 Xterra season, and so grateful for all the progress I’ve made and the goals I have achieved up to this point — and, of course, to the many people who have played a part in helping me get here. Next stop: World Championships! See you soon, Maui!  :)

 

Lake Stevens Report and An End of Summer Update

Needless to say, I am WAY behind on my blog these days. Life has been BUSY, especially as I’m making the big push toward the end of my 2014 tri season. But life has been good, and there is so much to look forward to!

After a whole lot of racing for most of the early season and a really tough block through July, August was a much calmer month for me in terms of competition. But it wasn’t without its own challenges. Following Vineman, I had a big tradeshow for work which caused me to make the tough call to pull out of the Leadville 100 MTB race. It was a very busy couple work weeks to start the last month of summer, but it was a good chance for me to really focus on that and prioritize other non-racing aspects of my life. I was tired from the heavy racing and training of July (and the prior months!) on top of all the stress and exhaustion of several too-long work days. So I took a few weeks with pretty minimal and stucture-less training, doing only what I felt like and what fit best in my schedule.

Lake Stevens 70.3

It was nice to have a bit of a break from serious training before gearing up again for my last big push of the season. However, with all my other obligations it wasn’t exactly ideal R&R, and I felt far from spectacular as the day approached for me to head to Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens. As the race got closer, I debated whether or not it even made sense for me to make the trip. I had some really rough workouts those last few days and I was pretty concerned, but I decided I still wanted to give it a go and get another 70.3 experience against a strong pro field. Lake Stevens is also a race I’ve been wanting to do for a few years now. I’d heard great things about the area and the race itself, and I knew the course was well-suited to me. Plus, I was super excited to be meeting up with all the fabulous Seattle LUNA Chix ladies.

The fabulous ladies of the Seattle LUNA Chix squad!

The fabulous ladies of the Seattle LUNA Chix squad!

So off I went, eager for what I knew would be a great trip, but honestly not expecting a whole lot from myself. Nonetheless, I knew I could get a lot out of this race experience, and I was determined to make the most of it. So I decided that would be my goal for this race: to get as much out of the day as I possibly could, and to do my best to enjoy every stroke, pedal and step. Lake Stevens definitely delivered, and I really enjoyed the race course and the whole experience.

Swim

The swim was fantastic. Warmer water temps and a colored buoy line for super easy sighting made for one of the most pleasant swim experiences I’ve ever had. The women’s pro field was small but fierce. The start was aggressive, and the pace was fast from the gun. I felt strong and smooth in the water, and focused on staying on toes. While three women surged ahead, almost all the rest of us exited the water within about 20 seconds of each other. I got out in 30:51, just behind several contenders, and was happy with that.

Heading onto the bike after a strong swim! Photo by Daniel Tomko

Heading onto the bike after a strong swim! Photo: Daniel Tomko

Bike

As I started the bike I got some amazing cheers from my Seattle LUNA Chix cheer squad, which got me smiling and super fired up! This is a hard bike course with a good amount of climbing and some really technical corners and transitions, all of which play to my strengths, and just make me really happy! I was excited to take on a more challenging course and see how I could do. Overall, I felt really good on the bike and stayed much more “in the mix” of the pro race than I normally do on an easier bike course. When other women came by, I stayed in contact much longer than usual, and I didn’t feel like I was struggling to keep pace. The challenge of the course itself started to hit me toward the end and I faded a bit, but I was still very pleased with my ride.

Photo by Daniel Tomko

Photo by Daniel Tomko

Times were slow across the board because of the climbing and technicality of the course, and my 2:50:23 was slower than my other bike times this year, but relative to the rest of the pro ladies I was significantly better than I’ve been all year, which is great! I certainly thrive on a hillier bike course and this was no exception, but it was nice to finally see how much closer I actually can be to the top pros on a course that suits my strengths. It does also show, though, how much I still need to work on my flat riding! :) My bike fit has been getting more and more dialed in thanks to the expertise of Dave Eastwood, and it felt amazing this time around. The only real issue I had on the bike was that it was extremely challenging to stay draft-legal once I got mixed in with pairs, groups and even packs of some age group men who seemed to have very little regard for the drafting rules, or understanding of how greatly this affects other riders. This was very frustrating for me as I had to make a tremendous effort to move myself around amongst them to stay legal, and it took a lot of extra mental and physical energy. Nonetheless, I had a solid ride and I tried to focus on that, rather than the negative. Ultimately, this was a breakthrough ride for me in so many ways, so I am psyched!

Run

Happy to see my cheer squad!

Happy to see my cheer squad!

As soon as I started the run my watch died, so I was running “blind.” This is not my normal protocol for road running at all, so it was strange not to know my pace but I just tried to let my body be my guide and not worry about it. I didn’t feel great starting off, and had a hard time finding a rhythm. But the course was awesome! Fast and powerful – exactly how I like to run! And beautiful! There was fantastic crowd support, and when I got to about mile 4 I saw my Seattle LUNA gals cheer squad again, and they made me feel amazing. I couldn’t help but smile to see them out there, and I stopped stressing about not knowing my pace and how I was feeling, and honed back in on my goal for the day and the perspective I wanted to keep.

I focused on racing with gratitude, and my whole experience changed. I reminded myself that I was out there simply because I wanted to be, and I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. This kept me in a positive place throughout the run, especially as things really started to hurt on lap two. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it on my blog yet, but I’ve had a nagging hip injury through the later half of this season that has become pretty significant, and it really flared up in the back half of the run. This made things tough, and I did not run my best at 1:35:54, but I got through it and even managed to move up a spot. I felt like I ran faster than that, but the clock doesn’t lie! I crossed the line in 5:00:24, and 7th place pro female. Certainly not my fastest time, but on this tough course I was definitely satisfied with that! Given how I felt coming in and the lack of structure and time during my lead-in, I far exceeded my expectations, and I was happy with both the performance and result.

With the Seattle gals post-race. Thanks for being there! Also thanks to Daniel Tomko for the great pics!

With the Seattle gals post-race. Thanks for being there! And thanks to Daniel Tomko for the great pics!

Overall, this was a great trip for me. The Seattle LUNA Chix really made my visit special. We had a super fun night out with dinner and wine, and having them there to cheer me on on race day was just awesome. This is a wonderful group of women and I’m so grateful they are a part of my LUNA family! I am especially grateful to Karoline Jones, who hosted me. She was AMAZING, and we had SO much fun. Basically, this was a perfect homestay match for me: she is totally low-key and relaxed; she loves good wine; she is absolutely hilarious and stayed up way too late with me chatting about anything and everything and laughing hysterically; she had more than enough nail polish to support my pre-race polish ritual; she makes BOMB homemade popcorn that she eats just about every night; the list goes on and on… and she’s a kick-ass triathlete! I felt like I was staying with a long-lost soul sister, and I was so appreciate of Karoline’s generosity and general awesomeness. Thank you Karoline! I also got to squeeze in quick visits with two of my best friends from growing up and from college, Natalie and Sam. Woop woop — BONUS!!

Tahoe Time!

After Lake Stevens I FINALLY had a good chunk of time at home for the first time since season started in early April. I’ve done a ton of traveling this year between racing and work, and essentially had very little time to actually enjoy summer in Tahoe. Prior to Lake Stevens, I was home less than two weeks of the previous five! Needless to say, I was craving a chance to just be in one place for a bit and soak up the amazingness of Tahoe in summertime! Minus a couple quick work trips, I got that chance, and have enjoyed the heck out of my last 5 weeks at home. I’ve gone to the lake (not just to swim!); gone to farmer’s markets, street festivals and concerts in the park; visited with friends I haven’t had near enough time for; played at the river with my dogs; relaxed over coffee dates and big breakfasts in the sunshine… all the things I just haven’t had the luxury to enjoy most of the summer. But the biggest benefit of being in one place for a bit without a race on the schedule is I got to put in a really solid training block to start my last big build-up heading into World Championships in October (and I got to do it on all my favorite trails and training spots!). Since Lake Stevens I’ve been putting in some serious work and it feels great to get tired from a lot of quality training during this focus block rather than traveling and/or racing. Unleashed Coaching put together an amazing plan for me that I feel great about. Everything is starting to come together, and I am totally psyched about what we’re doing and the direction we are headed!

So… What’s Next?

On that note… I’ve had a lot of questions about my next race and whether I am racing Ironman Lake Tahoe or not. The answer is no, I am not, and I’ve officially withdrawn my name from the pro start list. As many of you know, I did not originally plan to race IMLT coming into this season. I decided I was going to prioritize the Xterra America Pro Series, and made it my “A” goal to have a strong showing in the final series rankings. This series culminates with the Xterra National Championship, which takes place the same weekend as Ironman Lake Tahoe. I knew it would be immensely difficult for me to miss IMLT, but I committed myself to that plan early on and had earned a solid top-10 ranking after the last regional race heading into Nationals. However, after Lake Stevens and as September drew closer, I began to think more and more about Ironman Lake Tahoe and how very special that event is for me. I just couldn’t get it off my mind.

A dearly treasured memory! Photo by Lefrak Photography

A dearly treasured memory! Photo by Lefrak Photography

I always knew I’d feel conflicted as the race approached, but I had no idea the extent that would come to, and just how emotional I’d become about it. What also happened as summer drew to a close, though, was that Ironman announced some major changes to the structure of its pro races, including the announcement that IMLT would be removed from the pro race schedule after 2014. In other words, this will be the last year that IMLT will have a pro race! Talk about a heart-wrencher! All along I’d told myself I was okay with missing IMLT this year because I’d have other years to return, but after learning this would be my final chance to race it as a pro, I was honestly devastated. I absolutely LOVE everything about this race, and racing with the support of my hometown means more to me than I can even describe. IMLT was the race that launched me to the next phase of my athletic career, and it was my hometown “village” that pushed me along. Last year’s event was the single most special day of my entire life as an athlete. Thinking I would not have another chance to race as a pro in Tahoe was heartbreaking for me… So much so that I knew I had to at least consider whether racing IMLT made sense for me, and then heavily debated skipping Xterra Nationals and racing IMLT instead.

Once I allowed IMLT to come back on my radar, I was incredibly conflicted about what I should do and what I really wanted to do, with no clear answer. I got really emotional about it, and lost sleep over not knowing and trying to make my decision. My heart was heavily invested in both events, and the decision weighed on me greatly. Leading with my emotions, I felt almost certain I was going to pull out of the Xterra Championship and race Tahoe. I felt like I just couldn’t miss out on it. But the Xterra was important to me too – of course! I wished I could do both. It took me a long time to make a final decision and it was very difficult, but in the end I knew I should let reason be my guide and make the smart and practical call rather than the emotional one. I’d been prepping to finish my season off with Xterra Nationals and Worlds, and that was definitely what I was most ready for. I felt confident I could still turn in a good finish at IMLT based on the training I’ve done, even if it wasn’t the exceptional finish I would have liked. But I decided I needed to stick to my plan and finish out the goals I set for myself from the beginning. I love Xterra, I LOVE riding on the dirt, and I’m prepared and ready for Nationals, and setting myself up for a great lead-in to Worlds a month later by sticking to my plan. Deep down I also know my body is not ready to tackle another Ironman right now. I may make it through the day just fine, but my hip is really not in a good place and the damage the race would ultimately cause by potentially furthering the injury, or at a minimum delaying its healing, would be difficult to justify heading into Worlds.

So, Xterra U.S. Champs it is! I had a heavy heart indeed when I finally decided to let go of IMLT, and I know I’ll be sad not to be there come race day, but this is the right decision for me. It was not the easy one, but I am confident now after looking at it from every possible angle and laboring over it as I did that I’ve made the right call. And now that I actually know for sure where I’m racing this weekend, I am totally fired up! I feel great about being in Utah for the Xterra, I’m focused on my goal, and I am ready to rock. This is a fantastic course – one of my all-time favorites – and it is absolutely gorgeous here right now, with vibrant fall colors popping out all along the race route. Pre-riding today made me immensely happy, and I knew I was in the right place. My heart is at peace, I am excited, and I can’t wait to swim, ride and run off-road with everything I’ve got on Saturday!

On the dirt, among the colors, on a beautiful course... HAPPY! Let's do this!

On the dirt, among the colors, on a beautiful course… HAPPY! Let’s do this!

Vineman 140.6: an Epic Day!

Coming in to the full Vineman, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t been training specifically for Iron-distance at all, but I knew having several 70.3 experiences under my belt this year would certainly help. Vineman came as the third of a strategic three-weeks-in-a-row monster racing block for July. And while I’d had a great race two weeks before at Vineman 70.3 on almost the same course, I had a terrible race the next week at Xterra Beaver Creek. But I did some serious “recovery work” the week of the race, and by the time it arrived, I was actually feeling pretty fresh, and optimistic about the possibilities.

Vineman was my first ever full Iron-distance race four years ago, and I’ve done it every year since, with the exception of last year when I had to skip out due to my knee injury. This race truly has a special place in my heart, and the staff, crew and volunteers do a phenomenal job each year creating a top-notch racing experience. After missing out last year, I was really excited to be back. Coming in to 2014, I decided I was not going to focus on Iron-distance racing at all, but that I’d still do one or two races to help build more experience and add some volume to my training. It was a no-brainer for me that Vineman would be one of them, and I’m so glad I got to return this year!

Developing an Iron Mindset, and Honing In on The Goal

Despite knowing this race as well as I do, there’s something about Ironman that still always seems daunting – especially when they’ve been so few and far between for me. I hadn’t done an Iron-distance since IM Tahoe last September, which was my only one in 2013. Even though I seem to do well with the distance, given the time between I always find myself feeling intimidated by the task, and questioning whether I can really race 140.6 miles! This was no exception, but I reminded myself that I have a history of strong races here, and I came in with an open mind, ready to embrace all the experience had to offer.

In order to fly, we must not be afraid to leave the ground!

In order to fly, we can’t be afraid to leap!

That being said, I did have some specific goals. Primarily, I wanted to break 10:30. I felt this was very attainable for me on this course, and it would also qualify me for a share of a $4,000 time bonus. Given my many expenses this year and the fact that I’m now in a position where I need to start looking at triathlon from more of a “business perspective,” this was a big focus for me. I also like having a time goal because it’s relatively controllable, rather than a place goal that depends on the performance of others. Of course I also hoped to place well after getting 3rd here two years ago, but I knew there were some really strong women on the start list, including some very competitive pros and a few elite amateurs who have historically done amazing at this race (including the two women who went 1-2 ahead of me in 2012). So, I knew I was facing great competition, but I kept in mind that anything can happen in a long race like this, and reminded myself to focus on controlling what I could control and having the best race possible for me on that day. I hoped it would be enough to get me under the 10:30 mark!

But while a time goal is within our control to a certain extent, outside factors can come into play in a BIG way, and sometimes these can affect our race plans, and ultimately our performance, dramatically. When that happens, it’s so important to be able to modify your plan — and sometimes your goals too, as you go. This is where adaptability, perseverance and downright grit have to take over. Vineman 2014 was one of these days!

Race Day!

I’m definitely not a person who obsessively checks the weather before races, but I knew coming into this one it was gonna be hot. A wave of high temps had come through Northern California, and I was practically melting in the days leading into the race, even up in Tahoe. It’s not new news that I really struggle in the heat, but I told myself it was the same heat for everyone, tried to be as prepared as possible and hoped it wouldn’t be too bad. Coming in to the race I didn’t stress about it, and I still wasn’t expecting my race to be affected all that much. But I knew this would be an interesting day when the sun was already out by lap two of the swim. In the several times I’ve done this race, I’ve never experienced a day where the marine fog layer didn’t stick around through the morning. It usually lifts sometime near the end of the first bike loop or beginning of the second — so not until almost 3ish hours into the race. But this time, I could already see that sun shining bright through the quickly dissipating fog by the time I was mid-swim. Yikes!

Just Keep Swimming!

DREAM

But sunshine aside, I had a really strong swim. As usual I loved swimming in the Russian River, with perfect water temperature and great visibility. The race organizers started the pros and the top-seeded amateurs in the first wave, so we were around a lot of the younger, fast men. This turned out to be beneficial for me, because while I lost contact with the top two pro females, I was able to find a couple male swimmers who were really well-matched with me and stay on their feet through most of the swim. I came out of the water in 1:06, less than 3 minutes back of the top two females. I was really happy with that, but I knew they’d be working together throughout the bike, so I would have a tough task being on my own and out of contact.

 

The Ride I’ve Been Looking For!

Onto the bike, I really wasn’t sure what to expect from myself. I haven’t biked anywhere close to 112 miles this year, but I’d put a lot of work in on my biking in general, and I mainly just wanted to feel strong throughout the ride, stay consistent, and come in with enough energy for a solid run effort. A PR on the bike leg would be a nice bonus, of course! But I ended up being surprised with how good I felt out there. I knew I was losing time on the leaders, who were working together and absolutely crushing that bike course, but for myself I was having a great ride. I stayed calm, happy (most important!) and super consistent, not losing much time at all on my second lap. I got to see my family a few times throughout the bike course, and this always got me super fired up and full of gratitude. I was so glad they could be out there!

RideI was really pleased with how I was riding, but most importantly with how in control I felt both physically and mentally. With such a big task still ahead on the run, it’s so important to bike hard but stay within yourself. There will generally be a few low points, but for me I know that if I’m not feeling happy through the majority of the bike, I need to back off big time because it’s a long day ahead. But today I was able to find that happy medium between pushing the pace and staying relatively comfortable, and I made a conscious effort to enjoy myself out there. I also made sure to focus on fueling, hydrating and staying cool, as the heat was already starting to crank. I was surprised with how quickly the ride went by, and before I knew it I was on my way into T2 to get ready to run.

I ended up biking a 5:44:12 — a PR for this distance! I averaged 19.5 mph, which is less than 1 mph slower than my Vineman 70.3 effort. I guess Ironman really may be the distance for me, as I didn’t slow down much at all from my 70.3 ride over double the distance. (Or, I just still have lots of work to do on getting my speed up!). Regardless, I was very satisfied! Most importantly, I felt I had arrived at T2 with sufficient time to complete the race in sub-10:30. I had about 3:35 left to make it in time, and I was confident I could run a sub-3:30 marathon, especially after running a 1:29 half in the 70.3 just two weeks before.

The Run — Where things got HARD!

So I set out at what I felt was a pretty comfortable pace en route to that sub-3:30 run, but by the first turn-around at about 4.4 miles (this is a 3-times out-and-back course), the heat started to set in, and I knew my day was about to change drastically. The sun was out in full force and the run course was absolutely blazing, with zero shade on the hot asphalt. Temps were quickly climbing into the high 90s. I’d been able to block it out those first few miles, but when the heat hit me it came down like a ton of bricks, and it didn’t take long for me to start suffering, BIG TIME. I had to back the pace wayyy off and immediately switch my focus to doing everything I could to stay cool. I started walking through the aid stations to make sure I was getting down all my liquids, and grabbing as much aid as possible so I could keep drinking and pour as much water on myself as possible.

Vineman Run 1As I came through to start lap 2, I could see I was already off the pace to meet my time goal. It would have still been reachable on a normal day when I could run to my potential, but based on how much my body was already suffering in the heat, I was pretty certain the day would only get harder from there. I knew at that point I had to adjust my goals and expectations and just keep moving forward to get through this. With such tough conditions, it literally became all about survival. But I was still sitting solidly in third place, a ways back from the top two, but well ahead of the next woman. I knew I just had to grit this one out and keep fighting as best as I could. It was time to dig deep and summon all the inner strength I had.

And that’s exactly what I did for the next 18 miles. The temperature continued to rise, we all continued to suffer, and things got uglier and uglier on the course as the minutes ticked by. No one was exempt from the struggle, and everyone’s hurt was pretty apparent. People were dropping out of the race left and right; stopping to sit or lay on the side of the road; getting carted off the course by the medical team… you name it. In fact, the guy who was winning the men’s race ended up having to drop out at mile 24 (yes, mile 24!!) because his body totally shut down. Frankly, keeping one foot in front of the other, no matter the pace, was a huge success out there, and consistent running was a rarity among the majority who’d been reduced to walking. It. Was. BRUTAL. It was a different kind of suffering than I’ve ever experienced, and I was miserable. I thought I might pass out at any moment, and honestly a part of me kind of wished I would so I could just be done! I felt envious of everyone I saw who’d dropped out, which included some of the top returning women. I wanted to put an end to this suffer-fest SO badly. But as terrible and slow as I felt, I was hanging in there, and actually moving my way up the field, so I knew I had to just suck it up and keep on keepin’ on!

My strategy was to just keep running and only walk through the aid stations, where I repeatedly doused myself with as much water as possible and furiously shoved ice down my suit and sports bra. I was trying to keep the calories coming in, but it was hard to find a balance between staying quenched and actually getting in much-needed sugars. There was absolutely no method to the madness at that point, and I was desperately grabbing (or, more accurately, completely thrashing at) anything I could from the aid stations, alongside the many others crowded at each one on the 3-loop course. These volunteers were seriously ANGELS, and I’m so sorry for my desperate state that kept me from mustering a single smile or thank you — I cannot imagine how hard that job must have been! I stopped looking at my watch altogether because I didn’t even want to know my pace. I just wanted to Keep. Moving. Forward! I felt SO slow, but I (deliriously) continued to pass people as the run went on. One very sweet woman said to me, “You look like a gazelle!” to which I muttered, “Oh my gosh, I feel like a hippo!” ☺ It’s so important to remember that it’s all relative on race day: even when you’re feeling awful, you can still be achieving success, so you’ve just got to keep pushing! Indeed I felt more like a hippo, but I tried to find that inner gazelle, and I really drew a lot of strength and positivity from this and many other nice comments I got from people around the course — not to mention the amazing encouragement from my family. I told myself that while I didn’t feel strong, others were still seeing strength in me, so I must be doing okay… and I tried to embrace that. I searched my mind for every possible positive thought and mantra I could dig up, read every affirmation on my arm, and repeated them over and over. I needed all of it to get to that finish line.

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                                                   Almost there!!

It wasn’t until within 2 miles of the finish that I really felt sure I’d make it there, and it wasn’t until the last mile, when I could sense the relief of crossing that line, that I was finally able to smile and realize the joy of my accomplishment. I found an energy I didn’t know I had to kick it in that last mile, so happy to know I was about to be DONE! I crossed the line as the 3rd place female, and 11th overall, which would have put me 8th in the men’s field. The top two females, pros Whitney McCain and Sarah Jarvis, were absolutely incredible, finishing 4th and 5th overall(!!!), both easily eclipsing the 10:30 barrier and going on to break the course record! As tough as the day was, they made it seem easy, and I was beyond impressed. Thank you for the inspiration, ladies! While I fell short of my initial time goal, I finished off the day in 10:51:19, which is actually 3 minutes faster than what I did on this course two years ago, and a new PR! I ended up running a 3:54:40, and although that’s much slower than the 3:30 I was aiming for, given the severity of the conditions I’m actually really happy with it. The fastest run of the whole day was 3:28, so I guess 3:54 isn’t so bad!

In The Books!

DONE!All said and done, I’m super pleased with my performance and result at this year’s Vineman. It was a humbling day in many ways, but I rose up to the challenge as best as I could, and am so happy with the outcome! I’m not sure what it is about me and the tough races, but we always seem to find each other, and as painful as it may be, I seem to thrive on the hardest of days. Most importantly, I think these are the days that we ultimately benefit from the most, and I know I’m a better athlete because of all I had to put myself through for this one. That being said, heat is pretty much the most difficult element possible for me, and I hope I won’t have to face it to that extent again for a while! To put the day into perspective, I calculated the DNF rate for the full Vineman, and it was a whopping 26% — well above the roughly 20% DNF rate at Ironman Tahoe last year. Pretty nuts! Given that these are my last two Ironman experiences, it would seem that I’d never want to do another one, but there’s something about it that just keeps pulling me back in, and I know there will be more Iron-distance races in my future – hopefully on easier days! This was a huge highlight for me this season, and I’m so grateful to everyone who helped make it happen. To the Vineman crew, staff and volunteers, you are simply amazing! To my family, and of course August, for keeping me going out there and believing in me even when I was doubting myself, I can’t say how important that was for me! To everyone who gave me encouragement before the race or along the way, or sent positive energy to me in any form — you helped me get to that finish line, and I’m so grateful. Thank you for making this day possible, and a HUGE congrats to everyone who conquered this challenge! Vineman 140.6, I’ll be back for that sub-10:30!

(A Very Late) Xterra Mtn Champs Recap, and A Schedule Change

Pre-Race Inspiration

The day before the Xterra Mountain Championship in Beaver Creek, Colo., I read a really inspiring interview with (my personal favorite) Tour De France rider Andrew Talansky. After suffering two crashes in the early stages of the tour, he had to stop with 30 miles to go in a 117-mile stage because he was in so much pain. He was off the back, in a world of hurt, with basically zero incentive to continue. But he did — because that’s the kind of person that he is. He rode in all on his own, behind everyone else. But he finished the stage. He conquered his challenge, he held his head high, and he showed the world the strength of his heart. For me, this was particularly inspiring, because this is the kind of racer I strive to be too. Racing with heart, racing with courage, always giving your best (no matter what that best may be), and never giving up no matter how dire the circumstances, are at the core of my racing philosophy.

In the interview, Talansky said, “I knew I was in for a rough ride from the start, from kilometer zero… I was instantly uncomfortable.” He talked about the breakdown he was having when he pulled over, and how he grappled with himself over how he would possibly finish, and whether it even made sense. “This is stupid… Even if you do finish, what’s the point?” But then, he said: “Something kind of clicked for me. I realized obviously I’m not gonna get back into any kind of group… but sitting there I thought maybe I can finish, maybe that’s possible somehow. One of the most overriding feelings was that my team was going to finish that stage and find out that I had quit the race after everything they’d done for me. … I wanted to finish the stage so I could look them in the eyes and thank them for everything they’ve done. Some days my best isn’t gonna be good enough, and that day my best was finishing a half-hour down on the stage winner. Just so they know I’m the kind of person who isn’t going to give up when something goes wrong.”

I shared the link to this interview on my Twitter the night before the Xterra race, and I wrote, “This, ladies and gents, is what it’s all about. Our true measure is our worst day, not our best.” Because I wholeheartedly believe that. It’s on our worst days, when we’re faced with our greatest challenges and not incentivized by a win or a podium, when we show what we’re really made of.

The Calm Before the Struggle

I didn’t know this would become a precursor for my race the next day. As I mentioned in my last blog, the Beaver Creek race came in the middle of a super tough three-week stretch of racing for me, and after a big training block preparing specifically for Vineman 70.3. I knew coming in that it hadn’t been the priority, and that I probably would not feel good or have a stellar result here. But I had no idea I’d struggle nearly as much as I did.

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Colorado single track! Photo by August Teague

I had an incredible few days in Colorado leading up to the race, with a couple gorgeous rides on killer singletrack and near-perfect conditions. The wildflowers were blooming, the scenery was stunning, and I was pretty much in heaven. To make things even sweeter, we were staying with great friends from Denver who were spending the weekend in Vail, and I had some of my favorite people of all time (who I hadn’t seen in way too long) coming to visit and watch the race, from Denver, Colorado Springs, Basalt, etc. I felt so fortunate to be back in Colorado and surrounded by so many wonderful friends, who all came out to show their support for me on race day. Basically, I had the best cheer squad ever!

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Beaver Creek bike course

One Very Hard Swim

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Photo by Shannon Converse

But while my whole support team had shown up on race day, unfortunately I did not. Like Talansky, I too was uncomfortable from kilometer zero – okay, maybe kilometer 0.3 – and I knew pretty much immediately this was gonna be rough. Being from 6,200 feet, I didn’t think the elevation at Beaver Creek would impact me that much, but on race day I definitely noticed the difference. I was really determined to have a strong swim and prove to myself I could stay with some of the faster girls, so I took off hard and accelerated with the front of the pack. At the first buoy, I was in great position with the top swimmers, and really optimistic this would finally be the time I could hang in there with some of the girls who usually exit the water a couple minutes ahead of me. But that was as good as things would get for me all day, as I quickly realized my hard swim start at such high elevation was a BIG mistake! My body flooded with lactic acid, and I felt completely exhausted. I felt like I was struggling to breathe, and I felt overheated in my wetsuit. I began to feel panicky, which almost never happens to me in a swim, and I had to do some breaststroke to calm myself down. (Sorry to every swimmer behind me, especially Danelle, who I nearly kicked in the face with that awful breaststroke kick!). While my goal had been to stay in a pack and get a good draft, I ended up trying to find my own space as much as possible to try to prevent full-on panic mode. I had to just focus on staying calm and getting through it. My pace slowed way down and I watched myself slip further and further back in the pack. Not the start to the day I was hoping for!

Some of my AMAZING cheer squad!

Some of my AMAZING cheer squad! August, Ruby and Cruz. Photo by Shannon Converse

A Brutal Bike Ride

When I got out of the water, I was around 8th place, and I was already exhausted. I felt totally disoriented, and just plain awful. I was all over the place in transition, but I worked on convincing myself that it was a long race ahead and I could make up lots of time, and move up several places, on the bike. The ride here is an absolute monster, with 3600 feet of elevation gain over 15.5 miles. The climbs are unrelenting, and they only seem to hurt more the faster you go. Honestly I thought this would be a great course for me, because climbing is my strength, but given how terrible I felt, I found myself hating every hill. I kept hoping my legs would come around and start to feel less led-like, or I’d find some energy somewhere in my body to tap into — but it never happened. I just had nothing to give. Each time another gal passed me, I told myself to go with her, but my body just would not respond. My heart rate felt through the roof, but I was stuck in first-gear, with no mojo, no push, and all struggle! It was by far the worst I’d felt in any race yet this year, and things were looking bleak. I thought about dropping out at several points on the bike, but I kept holding out hope that things would turn around. But the day only got harder from there.

Exiting T1

Exiting T1. Photo by Shannon Converse.

With a few miles left of the ride, I passed another pro woman for the first time all day, moving myself into 11th place. I was feeling pretty good on the downhill and just relieved not be climbing anymore. But when we got onto the final descent, and the only real technical section of the course, my foot hit a root on the side of the trail just as I was going into a rock drop, and I went over the bars HARD. I landed straight on my head, and my bike came down right smack on top of me. Ouch! This was honestly a much harder crash than the one I’d had in Richmond, but fortunately my bike came away unscathed, and minus a few gnarly scrapes and a little blood, I did too. Thankfully no photo evidence this time, but I came into T2 completely covered in dirt from head to toe. Had I not been so far back, I’d have felt like a real badass…

Nearing the top of the first brutal climbs... HURTING!

Nearing the top of the first brutal climbs… HURTING! Photo by Liz Gruber.

Not Sure If You Could Call This a Run…?

Starting the run, I felt absolutely terrible, and already defeated. My body was continuing to deteriorate, and I was having major stomach issues and hadn’t been able to eat at all during the race, which certainly didn’t help my energy levels. I was running on empty. I hadn’t previewed the run course, and while I knew it would be hard, I couldn’t believe just how brutal it really was. It started with a 1.5-mile climb that I can only describe as evil. I was reduced to walking early on, and never found my stride again. I got passed by three girls on that first climb alone, and could do nothing to try to hang on. It was a complete sufferfest. When we hit the first downhill, I was so relieved, but so tired I couldn’t get my legs going, and eventually couldn’t even keep them under me, going down hard and splitting open my knee just to add a little more blood and dirt to the day!

When I reached the next long climb I saw my friends Suzy and Lizzie, and August and his dad all cheering me on, yelling just as loud and with the same huge smiles as if I’d been in the top 5, despite the fact that I was totally struggling near the back. I (desperately) asked August how much was left, and when he told me 5k (I was only halfway?!!) I nearly stopped right there. It made ZERO sense to finish at that point, as I was already in a worse position than I’d finished in Richmond and would therefore be throwing this race score out for my total pro series points. (Thank G I stuck it out in Richmond!). I had a big race the following week, and was just burying myself that much more by continuing when my body felt so broken down. But I thought about everyone who came out to see me do this race and how I needed to honor them, and I thought about Talansky coming in all on his own 30 minutes back, and I thought about the kind of racer I want to be, and the character I want to show on my worst day – and I kept going. I wish I could say I picked up the pace, but I didn’t. The next climb was only more brutal than the first, and I was hardly even moving. Never in my life has a 10k run felt so long or so difficult. All I wanted to do was cross that finish line, no matter how slowly, and when I finally did I was just grateful that the struggling was over. That was one crazy hard day, and the course totally kicked my ass!

SPENT!

SPENT! Photo by Liz Gruber.

All Said and Done (Thank Goodness!)

The women’s pro field was stacked here, and deeper than any other race this year, with more women pros than men for the first time! It was great to have so many women to race with, especially after feeling a bit in “no-man’s land” for my other regional championship races this year. I only wish I could have been a bit more competitive! I finished 15th, waaayyyy back from the winner. Aside from mechanical issues, this was my worst performance of the year by far. But honestly, I didn’t feel nearly as disappointed as I expected I would.

I knew coming in that this race would be a tough one for me, and while I didn’t think it‘d be quite the struggle it was, I was prepared for a less-than-stellar result. But clearly I wasn’t recovered enough from the 70.3 effort, and that just made the whole day hurt a heck of a lot more than it should. But while I didn’t have much to give to this effort, I know I gave my best. It wasn’t a good “best” by any means, but it was all I could offer here. My body didn’t show up, but my heart stayed in it, and I believe I found the character I would like to attain on my “worst day.” So while I’m not proud of my performance in Beaver Creek by any means, I’m proud of the choice I made to get to that finish line, no matter how big the struggle. It’s these kind of days that are, indeed, our true measure.

Despite the rough race, my trip to Colorado was still incredible, and seeing so many wonderful friends far outweighed the disappointing performance. I feel so fortunate and grateful to have had such an amazing support team out there, and you all made it a fun day despite the result! THANK YOU for being there! Below are just a few of my fabulous friends and supporters, both on and off the course. As always, thank you to the amazing volunteers and staff of Xterra, and to my incredible sponsors. And I truly think everyone who completed this beast of a course deserves a big congrats!

Moving Forward

I was sad to leave Colorado after the race, but I had to reset myself and immediately start looking ahead to the full Vineman just one week later. No time to dwell on one bad day! I got straight into super recovery mode, and a week later raced my first 140.6 of the year and experienced an entirely different kind of suffering – but a super satisfying result! I look forward to sharing my Vineman experience through a race report in a couple of days. Life is just totally nutty right now and I simply can’t keep up! But for now, I wanted to go ahead and share the news that I will not be racing the Leadville 100 this Saturday. This was a very tough decision for me to make, but with a whole week of trade shows for work right now, and travel the following week to Lake Stevens, it was just too much, and something had to give! I very much want to experience this race, but I want to do it in a way where I feel I can really give it the effort and focus it deserves, and when I’m not already overloaded. I look forward to qualifying again in the future, and giving a proper attempt at 100 miles on the MTB! So, next up is Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens on Aug. 17th! But for now, to get through this work week… :)

Thanks for reading, and keep chasing those dreams! – K

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Loving life in the Rockies! Photo by August Teague.

Vineman 70.3: Never, EVER Give Up!

After Boise, I was a little frustrated with what I felt like was yet another 70.3 opportunity where I hadn’t reached my potential. I knew I had more to give at the distance, but hadn’t yet been able to tap into it. I’d had okay races at St. George and Boise, but neither one was a day where I really felt like things had lined up and I’d been able to make good on all the training I had done. I wanted to have that day. I wanted to see what I could really do at a 70.3 when I honed in on it and actually gave myself a proper lead-in and taper. I wanted  to reach my potential.

The Lead-In: Getting Focused

So right after Boise, I made a decision to make Vineman 70.3 my big mid-season “A” race. While some races so far this season have certainly been more important than others, and approached differently, I hadn’t yet really set myself up for an “A race.” I hadn’t given myself the opportunity to focus on achieving success on one specific day. But I’ve done Vineman a few times before, so I know the course, I know it’s a good course for me, and I absolutely love it. It is close to home, and close to my heart. That was where I wanted to do well, and I decided that was more important to me than the other races that fell around it. Specifically, the Xterra West Championships in Beaver Creek was just one week later. I knew that creating a mid-season “peak” for Vineman 70.3 would put the Xterra race on the backburner and make me unlikely to perform well there, but I decided with confidence that Vineman was the priority. The Xterra Pro Series is ultimately the main focus of my season, but the most important Xterra races of the year are not until September and October, and I wanted to give myself a chance to feel fresh and ready at a 70.3 before turning my attention over to the dirt for the end of the season.

Given this new focus and direction, Coach Aug and I worked on a plan, and I got down to some serious road-tri-training business. I had 5 weeks from Boise to Vineman 70.3, and my biggest priority was improving my TT riding, which had been very lackluster thus far. So other than a few mountain biking sessions leading into Xterra Richmond and then a couple more leading into Xterra Tahoe City, I was as dedicated as can be to the TT bike. There were countless days with perfect MTB conditions, when friends were riding my favorite trails, but I resisted the temptation for dirt and hit the road, keeping my goals in mind. The work seemed to pay off, and I gradually began to feel stronger and more comfortable on the TT bike as the weeks ticked by. Of course, there was plenty of running and swimming in the mix as well, but I’d already put in so much hard work on these disciplines throughout the season, I just had to wait for the gains to start showing up. But I knew I did need to pay more dues on the road bike, so that was what I set out to do.

A couple weeks before Vineman, I got to race the Xterra Tahoe City right in my extended backyard. Racing locally is always a treat, and this was one of many incredible events in our area held by Big Blue Adventure, who always do an amazing job. I felt really strong, thrived off the local energy, and took the overall female win. This gave me a much-needed confidence boost after Richmond, and helped to remind me that I am in good form, and fit to keep chasing after all these big dreams!

Overall women's podium Xterra Tahoe City

Overall women’s podium Xterra Tahoe City

Pre-Race Perspective and Goals

This was an important reminder at the right time, because once again, I managed to pick one of the most elite races possible, and the pro women’s field for Vineman 70.3 was absolutely stacked with champions and “big names.” I felt a little out of my league for sure, but honestly I just put that out of my mind. I told myself to focus solely on my own race and my own goals, which in this case were not related to my result relative to the field. I hope eventually I’ll get to the point where podiums are my focus, but I’m just not there yet as a newbie pro, so right now it’s all about taking the steps I need to keep improving.

I Like Swimming in the Russian River!

Transition1I reminded myself of all of this when race morning arrived and as I once again lined up in the water with some of the best female triathletes in the world. Sure, I would have loved to feel “in the mix” of things, but what I really wanted was just to put together a swim-bike-run effort that didn’t leave me feeling dissatisfied. I really like this swim in the Russian River, and this year was no exception. I did my best to get onto fast feet and swim with a pack, but I had some navigational issues early on and couldn’t quite get on to the main pack where I wanted to be. I caught on to another smaller group for a while but the pace got just a little too hot and I dropped off, which was a bummer. I’m still working on getting better at drafting and hanging in there with other swimmers so I’m not doing so much work on my own. On the way back down the river I ended up swimming with a few different girls at different times, but never really found a group again. I got out of the water near the back of the field, but with several ladies just ahead of me, in 31:15. It wasn’t the breakout swim I was hoping for, but I felt like I did everything I could in the water and I thought I swam well. The day was off to a fine start!

Bike Leg: Stuck in the Mediocre Rut!

Gorgeous riding in wine country! Photo by August Teague.

Gorgeous riding in wine country! Photo by August Teague.

Onto the bike I had high expectations for myself to finally reach that next level I’ve been digging so hard for. But my body just didn’t have it. The ride started off well and I felt strong, but I couldn’t gain any ground on the couple women ahead of me, and eventually saw them start to slip away into the distance. I stayed focus on my own race and putting together my best possible bike leg. As other riders started to come around me, I did all I could to hang on at the draft-legal distance, and then to keep them in sight. Each time I did so for a bit, but then eventually fell off the back and was left to myself. After several passes, I knew there were no pro women left behind me. I reminded myself not to worry about anybody else and just focus on my own race.

But I just did not feel good! As the ride went on, my legs only seemed to feel worse, and I sensed I was getting further and further behind. I poured every ounce of energy I had in to trying to pick up my tempo and increase the power, but it just wasn’t working. It was like I was stuck in third gear and couldn’t get any more out of myself. I felt tired, powerless and completely discouraged. After all the work I’d put in to getting stronger on the bike, I wasn’t showing any progress. I was frustrated and disappointed with my body’s lack of response, and really concerned about how off I felt. My new focus became just getting through the bike and into transition. I just wanted to get that bike leg finished!

Nearing the top of Chalk Hill. Photo copyright Freeplay Magazine.

Nearing the top of Chalk Hill. Photo copyright Freeplay Magazine.

When I finally hit T2, I honestly did not know what to think or feel. I was super discouraged by how bad my body had felt on the bike and the fact that I had still not managed to cut my bike time down (2:45:24) — and actually biked a bit slower than I did here last year! I was also discouraged knowing I was way off the back of the field (I got a split that I was the last pro into T2 by over 6 minutes! Ouch!). I was off the pace, my body felt drained, and when I took my first few strides off the bike, my legs literally felt like led. Things were not looking good! I honestly thought really hard about calling it a day right there.

A Breakthrough Run, and Why I’m SO Glad I Didn’t Give Up!

That certainly would have been easier, but my heart just wouldn’t let me give up. I reminded myself there was a lot of race ahead and I still had every opportunity to have a good run, and could even still notch an overall time PR. I hadn’t had the ride I was hoping for, but it was in the same time range of my other rides this year, and coupled with a solid swim I was actually still on track for a personal best if I could get my legs to come around for a fast run. Based on how I felt heading out of transition this didn’t seem likely, but this is where I had to do a complete 180 in my head. I had to turn my thoughts around and throw out all the negatives of how the day was shaping up so far, or how far behind I was, and focus on the opportunities in front of me. I had to open my mind up to the positives and rise up to the meet the moment.

These wings helped me FLY!

These wings helped me FLY!

And honestly, as soon as I threw out that negativity and allowed myself to believe I could still achieve something great, everything turned around for me. I vowed to not look back, and just give everything I had now on the run. I knew I could still make a highlight for myself, and I was determined to do it. And as I made my way through the first mile, my legs started to open up and release the tension from the ride, and I began to find my stride. And then I found a stride like I’ve never quite had in any race before. I hit mile marker 1 in the low 6:40s, but didn’t think much of it because I knew there was a long way to go. But when I hit markers 2, 3 and 4 in similar territory and felt totally comfortable, I wasn’t sure exactly what to think! Part of me started to doubt whether I could keep up the pace and wondered if I should back off, but I felt very strong and didn’t feel like I was out of my element. So I decided to go for it and pushed on. Maybe today was going to be a big day for me after all! Maybe a run PR was, in fact, well within reach…

VinemanRun1I couldn’t believe how much my body had turned around since the ride, and as the splits just kept on coming I honestly was a little bit in awe of how strong I was able to run. At mile 1, I’d come in contact with one of the amateur males who was pretty much dead-on evenly matched with my pace. He hung on when I caught up and we ended up running stride-for-stride basically the entire remainder of the run. Normally I really don’t like running side-by-side with someone, as it makes me feel a little anxious, but in this case it was actually great. He was super respectful of my efforts and my space, and rather than feeling like I was dragging him along or vice versa, we ended up essentially becoming a team out there. We were just so well-matched that neither one of us could create any distance between one another, and frankly I didn’t want to. It turned out to be really beneficial to have someone else out there to share the experience with, and anytime I started to get a few steps off the pace, I was able to see myself dropping back right away and start picking back up – and vice versa. I felt really fortunate to have such great company!

That definitely kept me pushing hard, and kept my foot on the gas through a few tough miles to start the back half of the run. Other than those couple miles were my pace fell off just a bit, I was able to keep the tempo going and stay surprisingly strong. I’d been chipping away at my time gap to some of the other pros, and when we got to the out-and-back section I could see several of them not too far ahead. Then eventually, after the turnaround, I could see one within reach just in front of me. While this race was really not about who I beat or didn’t, focusing on catching up to the gal in front of me just provided that extra bit of motivation and tangible incentive to keep the pace high in those last few miles when things really started to hurt. When I hit mile 11, I was down to about a 15-20 second gap, and I’d brought my pace way back down. By mile 12, I was within 10 seconds, but I just could not seem to close that gap. I was giving it everything I had and I truly didn’t think I would be able to do it. I nearly gave up on the idea of making a pass, but as we neared mile 13 with the finish just around the corner, I told myself I had to go for it or I’d regret it, and I tapped into a gear I had no idea I had and just let loose every last ounce of energy I could muster. I made my pass literally in the last 2 minutes of the race, and didn’t look back because I was too afraid.

That extra push definitely helped me kick it in, and I was SO thrilled to see I had run a 1:29:31 – a lifetime best for me! My previous PR in a 70.3 run was 1:35, and I hadn’t even broken 1:30 yet in a straightup half-marathon, period. So this was a HUGE breakthrough for me, and I was psyched! Honestly, I felt like that run has been a long time coming, as I’ve been putting in the training for it and seeing the splits for a sub-1:30 in my interval sessions, but it just hadn’t transferred over to a race until that point. It felt SO good to finally see the gains transfer over! My total time for the day was 4:50:51, which was also a PR! Good stuff. I finished 18th out of 21 pros (including 2 DNFs), and 19th overall as there was one blazing fast amateur who beat all but 9 of the pro women.

 Post-Race Perspective and A Big Day Ahead!

Initially I felt a little conflicted with my emotions about this race. While I was totally psyched about the huge progress on the run, I was really bummed I hadn’t had a better bike, because I’d been working so hard for it. I felt mixed about the outcome of the race. But having had more time to sit on it, I feel really happy about this performance. I didn’t make the progress I was looking for on the bike. But I finally had the breakthrough on the run that I’ve been seeking – and knowing I could achieve – for a very long time now. And because of that, I was able to achieve a total time PR, which is always something to be proud of. It’s PROGRESS! Sometimes it’s hard to be patient when you expect a lot of yourself, but it takes time to make gains in this sport, and you can’t just expect to make a huge jump each time you toe the line (especially as often as I do!). I’ve brought my 70.3 time down in every race so far this year, and that is certainly a trend to be excited about! Do I still want more? Yep! But I know I will find it in due time. It’s tough to feel stuck in a plateau with my bike leg and be so far off the pace of the other pros, but I felt that way forever on the run… posting the same times over and over despite knowing I had more in me. And then – BOOM! – I finally got over the hump and took off a huge chunk of time. I think the same thing will happen eventually on the bike. I just need to be patient, trust in the process and all the work I’m doing, and know I will get there when I’m good and ready.

The good news is, triathlon is not just about a bike leg, or a run, or a swim – or a weakness or a strength. It’s swim-bike-run and it’s all about how well you can put the three together at the end of the day. And in this case, I am proud of the way I executed that combination. I struggled a bit in the middle, but I managed to do what I needed to do to come off the bike and have the best run of my life, so something must have gone right. But what I am by far most proud of on the day – and the most important lesson I learned – was that I was able to turn things around for myself mentally after the ride, and carry on with confidence and belief in the opportunity ahead. This was such a great reminder to never give up on yourself, because you never know what is going to happen! I came into the run SO far off the back, but when the day was done I felt like I was way more “in the mix” of things than I have been in any other pro road race this year, with several women within just a few minutes ahead of me. I am so glad I was able to stay in it mentally and keep pushing, and I will take that lesson with me for next time for sure!

So, not the perfect race yet, but a pretty darn good one. And while I was able to dig super deep for that PR, I put myself in quite a hole going into the Xterra Mountain Championship at Beaver Creek, and my body did not pull up in time for the race. I suffered big time there and had a very poor performance (race report to come…). But, after some MAJOR rest this past week, I’m now on the eve of my first shot at 140.6 since last fall! Tomorrow I’ll take on the full Vineman, and it is sure to be an epic day. I honestly have no idea what to expect, as is always the case with Iron-distance racing. But, I’m keeping an open mind for whatever lies ahead, and I’m ready to embrace all the challenge and adventure the day is sure to bring. Most importantly, I will remember not to give up on myself as long as there is still opportunity between me and the finish line. Because, after all, anything can happen!

Xterra East Championship: Rolling With the Punches

It seems like I’ve been writing a lot of disappointing race reports lately. I wish that wasn’t the case… but I guess that’s just part of the territory sometimes. I also wish, so very much, that things had gone differently for me at the Xterra East Championship/USAT Off-Road National Championships out in Richmond, Virginia. But they didn’t. They went how they went (which is terribly), and I guess that’s part of the territory too. As a pro athlete with a packed race schedule, there will be good days and bad; lucky days and unlucky; easy days and down right difficult. Unfortunately, Richmond was all of the latter for me, when I wanted oh so bad to have all of the former. But the thing about racing is we can’t always control when the bad/unlucky/down-right-difficult days decide to show up. All we can do is make the very best of the day we are given. And on this very bad, unlucky and terribly difficult day, that is exactly what I chose to do.

Lead-In

Just getting to this race was challenging for me due to my crazy workload right now and financial restraints (getting across the country is expensive!!), and I wasn’t even sure it would happen until about a week beforehand. Thanks to a mileage transfer from August and some help from LUNA team mechanic, Chris, with transportation, I was able to pull it off, though it’d be short and sweet. I traveled all day Friday and got in very late, and had just one day in Richmond before race start. After a mega-sleep-in Saturday being so tired from travel, I was fortunate to have Chris help me out with my bike, as it needed some major TLC. Thank goodness he was there! We got in a great pre-ride on the bike course later Saturday, which was crucial as the course is quite technical: lots of rocks, roots, stairs, steep pitches, tight turns, water crossings, etc. There was always something to be thinking about, and while it wasn’t the most physically exhausting course it was certainly mentally challenging because of all the focus required. That being said, I was totally psyched about this ride! I was thrilled to have a more technical course, which I think plays to my advantage given all of our technical riding here in Tahoe. Although, there were some tricky sections out there that were pretty different from what I am used to riding, so I was prepared for a wild, fun and tough race! The pics below, courtesy of Xterra, give a nice little sampling of the course (and spectators!).

With how fast the day went and not wanting to make myself too tired, I didn’t get to preview the swim or run courses. In hindsight, this was definitely not the appropriate race to plan a short trip for. Given the unique challenges throughout all aspects of this race (swim, bike and run), it’s an event that requires significantly more prep/preview time. But, I didn’t have that luxury this year, and — as is the theme of this race for me – it was what it was, so I just had to roll with it.

Survival Mode: The hardest Swim I’ve Ever Done

Swim site at the James River

Swim site at the James River

After a terrible night’s sleep, I woke up less than refreshed, but eager to race. I was excited about the course and atmosphere, my body was feeling good, and with a strong pro field but a few key players from the past two races missing from the roster, I felt really poised to turn in a strong result. I’ll go ahead and throw it out there that I was aiming for a top-five, and felt really confident it was attainable for me here. But unfortunately, that goal would start to feel out of sight very early, as I had the absolute worst swim of my triathlon career. While I’d examined the swim course map and walked down to the river on Saturday, the buoys weren’t set up. Once it was all set Sunday morning, I was completely confused by the course, which was a total maze of directions compared to every other simple square, rectangle or triangle triathlon swim course I’ve ever done. I was panicked before we even started about my uncertainty of where to go, but both Suzie and Emma (two of the nicest, most talented pros out there) were kind enough to try to explain it to me before things kicked off. I felt much less clueless, but was determined to do everything I could to stay with a group so I didn’t end up lost in the middle of the river. But as concerned as I felt then, I had NO idea just how brutal that swim would end up being.

Photo courtesy of Xterra

Pro swim start. Photo courtesy of Xterra.

I had a fantastic start, and was swimming super strong with a couple male pros, in great position, for the first part of the swim – a reflection of the work I’ve been putting in. I felt comfortable with the pace, and my stroke felt great. I was happy to be hanging on to fast feet and in with a group so I knew where to go! On the way out to the island mid-swim, I could feel the effects of the current, but they seemed minor. I just focused on hanging on to those two male pro feet like glue. But as we approached the island, they surged a bit and I didn’t respond. I exited just behind them but as we ran across they gained more distance on me, and I re-entered the water on my own. This is where the swim turned from great to seriously catastrophic.

As we swam back across the river, there were two buoys we needed to hit, one about halfway across, and the other almost all the way back to shore, that we had to turn around before heading back the other direction to hit one more buoy and then returning to shore to exit. (Confusing, right?!). On the approach to that first buoy, the current got incredibly strong. I did my best to “aim high,” knowing it would push me down as I swam across. It was my understanding, and that of many other pros, that we were supposed to swim to the left of all buoys, and in this case above the buoy relative to current. This would later end up being a controversy, and the whole situation was extremely disappointing. I’d learn later that apparently this first buoy was just a sighting buoy that could have been passed on either side, but it was the same color as all other buoys, and myself and many others felt it was explained differently. Not to mention, race-affiliated kayakers were directing us around the left of the buoy. This would all end up being a TOTAL game changer for the outcome of the race, as myself and several others lost huge chunks of time trying to get around the left side of this buoy. Disappointing and frustrating to say the least…!

Fellow pro Chris Ganter posted this hilarious swim depiction to Twitter, and I found it impressively accurate!

Fellow pro Chris Ganter posted this hilarious swim depiction to Twitter, and I found it impressively accurate…

At any rate, what happened was I ended up getting pushed too far down-river by the strong current, and found myself 10-15 meters below that first buoy. Believing I needed to go around the left of it, I started heading up-river to try to get back above the buoy. I realized quickly that I was going nowhere. I felt like I was in an infinity pool of death, absolutely sprinting with every ounce of energy I had into the current, and getting no closer. There were two other pros stuck there too. I pushed and pushed to try to make it up those few meters, and this was honestly the most I’ve ever struggled in a swim in my life. I literally thought I might get swept right on down the river, or have to pull out of the race then and there and get a kayak rescue. I just could not get out of there, despite my efforts. Somehow, after minutes stuck in the pool of death and so much wasted energy, I inched my way around the buoy and was back on track, but now wayyy off the pace in the back of the pack. I was disappointed, incredibly frustrated and utterly exhausted. To make matters worse, I got confused near the end of the course and started going the wrong way, losing more precious time, before getting re-directed by a kayaker to go back around that last buoy of the maze. I couldn’t believe how terribly the swim had gone, how much time I’d lost, and how far back I was. I usually exit the swim in 5th or 6th place, but this time I was third-from-last female pro out of the water. I felt defeated, and my top-five seemed so far out of reach.

Bad Luck on the Bike

I tried to stay positive and composed, knowing there was plenty of opportunity ahead. Once I got going and brought my heart down from the near-drowning, my body actually started to feel really good. I settled into a rhythm, and despite a few minor bobbles those first miles, I felt like I was riding technically well and making up time. As I reached one of the more challenging sections, where the first big group of crazed, inebriated fans gathered to spectate/scream/heckle, I knew I’d almost closed the gap to the next woman ahead, as I could hear their cheers just around the corner. This got me fired up, and I picked up the pace. When I approached the group, I started to ride through the creek bed and rock garden, which I’d done with no issue whatsoever in the pre-ride. But this time, whether I got too distracted by the ringing in my ears or just got off-line, I’m not sure… but I let my wheel get sucked into a gap in the rocks, and just like that I was going over the bars. For as fast as the fall probably was, it felt like a terrifying slow-mo highlight reel. I knew the landing was not going to be pretty. I did my best to control it, and was able to get my hands out to mostly catch myself before smacking my chin down on the rocks. This was full-on epic faceplant status. To all of our benefit, one of the spectators got a whole series of photos of my crash, which conveniently have been put into a GIF for our viewing pleasure. You’re welcome. At least while my result was far from impressive, my crash left a nice impression!

RICHMOND CRASH1The crowd was absolutely delighted, and the loud “Ohhhhh’s” were only overwhelmed by the fog horn that someone blew at me when I fell. Finally someone asked if I was okay, and fortunately, save for a pretty sore hand and some minor cuts and bruises on my face and knees, I was. I scrambled to get up, collect myself and ride on. I rode frantically, knowing I’d just lost even more precious time. My chain seemed to be grinding and gears were not shifting smoothly, but I thought I’d just gotten some grit in there. But a few miles up the road, when I shifted down to get up a steep wooden ramp section, I heard an awful noise and my wheel stopped. I thought my chain had just come off, but when I looked down, I was horrified to see my whole rear derailleur detached and now stuck in my spokes.

I knew Chris was up ahead at the top of the climb, giving feeds at the aid station, and while he wasn’t allowed to help me (no individual support allowed in triathlon), I was comforted knowing I could at least talk with him and get his input about the situation. I ran my bike up the hill as fast as I could, but I already knew I was most likely out of this race, and I was devastated. I pulled off the course at the aid station, and I almost broke into tears, so upset by what was happening. He looked at it and determined that the hanger had broken off the derailleur – most likely it was almost off from the impact of the crash, and then my downshift gave it the final push it needed. We chatted for a bit about what the options were. Fortunately, we had a spare hanger on hand there at the feed station, but I did not want to break the rules by having Chris help me fix the bike. By this point, several minutes had already gone by. As I began to try to accept that I’d be facing a DNF, I watched as two other pro females rode by from behind. I was out of the race. After much conversation between ourselves and the head volunteer at the station, he called down to the race directors and asked what we were allowed to do. They said the volunteer, as a “neutral assistant,” could help me.

So, since we had what we needed and I had someone to help me within the rules, I decided we might as well try to get it fixed. This was a slow process, and I wavered between starting to let myself get upset and just laughing it off, but ultimately stayed really calm, knowing I couldn’t change what had happened, so I just needed to figure out how to deal with the circumstances as best as I could from there. It helped that everyone at the aid station was there to crack a few jokes with me and keep things in perspective. I was also debating at that point whether it even made sense to finish if we got it all fixed. I knew I was now very out of contention for a decent result, and it ultimately probably didn’t make much sense to keep going. But I absolutely hate the idea of a DNF if there’s any possibility whatsoever of finishing the race, and at this point I was fortunate enough to have that possibility. I wanted to take advantage of that, and I wanted to fight on through this struggle and cross that finish line, regardless of result. Honestly, this was probably not the practical thing to do, and would have been against the opinion of my coach. As a pro, I’m supposed to be racing for results, so to most rational people it’s not worth the risk and wear and tear on the body to push hard just to finish a race where you know you’re well out of contention. But not finishing when I know I can is against everything I’ve stood for throughout my athletic career, and I just couldn’t do it. Had it been a 70.3, I would have had to make the smart decision to abandon ship so as to not push through so many hard miles unnecessarily, but with Xterra being so much shorter, I was determined to get ‘er done and get the full experience of the Richmond course. I’d come all the way here, and did not want to give up. In the battle against practicality, my fighting spirit prevailed.

After well over 20 minutes of delay, I was back on my bike. I continued to push hard, wanting to treat this like a race effort and see what I could do to make up any time possible. It was all intrinsic motivation, though, as I was completely on my own, wayyyy off the back. But by the time I hit lap two, I was mixed in with all the age groupers who’d started 45 minutes behind. This made it way more fun to share the course with others, but it was also super challenging to have to go around so many people, especially on the technical sections when almost all of them were getting off their bikes. But they did a great job of making room for this last-place pro to go by, which I really appreciated. When I got back to my crash site for round two, I decided to go ahead and walk, not wanting to risk crashing again. This dismayed the spectators, who then booed me as I ran by. Sorry to disappoint guys!

Another perspective of the "party crowd." Pro Josiah Middaugh handled it much better than me! Photo courtesy of Xterra.

Another perspective of the “party crowd.” Pro Josiah Middaugh handled it much better than me! Photo courtesy of Xterra.

Gutting It Out on the Run

KARA RICHMOND RUN

The “ladder” on the run. Photo courtesy of Swichio.

I was timid the rest of the bike, but I made it through in one piece and was happy to get to the run, where I knew I’d at least be on level playing field to compare my time. I ran with urgency, desperate to make up any minutes I could possibly muster, and gain any redemption I could for the horrible day I’d had. My legs felt surprisingly fresh, and I think this is where the 70.3 racing comes in handy — 6 miles feels SO short compared to the 13.1. Much of the run was flat and fast, and I was able to really hammer these sections. But true to its style, this Richmond course had some challenges in store too, with some steep stair sections, a ladder, a chest-deep river crossing, rock-hopping and more. I struggled a bit with these “technical parts,” as I hadn’t previewed them and I’m just generally terrible at running up and down stairs or climbing anything steep, but overall I felt really strong. I pushed all the way in, finding new motivations as I went along, and I actually ended up gaining one pro spot back less than a mile before the finish. I had the 6th fastest female run on the day, at 46:16. All things considered, I was pleased with that.

A nice sampling of the run elements. All photos courtesy of Xterra.

Post-Race: A Mixed Bag of Emotions

In the end, I finished 11th of 12 pro females, way off the pace. Certainly not a result I want to remember, but honestly a race day I won’t soon forget, and one I’m actually very proud of. I can’t even begin to describe my disappointment with how the day unfolded for me. I think it’s especially tough knowing how much I had to do just to make this trip happen, and given that I don’t get my trip costs covered at this point in my career, it was honestly devastating to know that any chance of a good result had slipped through my fingers due to circumstances beyond my control. I wish I hadn’t crashed, and I wish I hadn’t broken the derailleur hanger. (And I also wish I hadn’t given up several minutes nearly drowning in the James River infinity pool). But, these things are all a part of racing, and that’s the way it goes sometimes. Again, all you can do is make the best of the hand you are dealt, and I can say wholeheartedly that I did that. I am happy that I finished my race, and got to experience this course. I would have loved to leave with the top-5 result I believe I had the opportunity to achieve, but it just wasn’t meant to be this time.

After the race I kept replaying my crash and the events of the day in my head like a bad nightmare, wishing it hadn’t happened. But everyone crashes, bikes break, and those bad days happen. I’m just hoping I got mine out of the way for a bit now between this and the seat mishap in Alabama. The good news is my body felt strong, and I believe I did well with the things I could control, which is most important. And, similar to my experience in St. George, I was again reminded of the value of pushing on, and how much that can feel like a victory – even in great defeat. Sometimes this really is the toughest thing to do.

So, still waiting for it all to come together… I feel like I haven’t really had a true chance to see what I can do as an Xterra pro since Vegas, which was now a couple months ago, and I think I’ve made some good progress since then. I know the time will come, and I’m trying to stay patient and positive. But ironically, as rough as my race was, I left Richmond the next day feeling even more grateful about what I get to do everyday as a triathlete, and for all the people who continue to support me. This was a great trip, and I had so much fun with my teammates and the many wonderful people of Xterra. I was lucky to be there. Huge thanks to August and Chris for all the help in making it happen for me, to the Xterra staff and volunteers (especially the one who fixed my bike!) for organizing another great event, to my sponsors and supporters for everything you do, and to Luck Stone, who outfitted us pros with GPS trackers for a great spectator experience even from afar, and fed me and many other hungry pros with a gift card to one of the most delicious restaurants I’ve ever been to! Many kudos to my teammates, Suzie and Shonny, for 3rd and 4th in the pro field, and Hannah Rae for once again dominating the amateur race. Next time, I hope to be standing alongside you all!

Arm1

Motivation!

Boise 70.3: Still Progressing

Boise 70.3 has been on my bucket-list for a little while now, and when planning out my calendar this year, I was happy to find it fit in quite well. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been doing a lot of racing these past couple months (just about every weekend) — with intention, and this race was a perfect part of my equation. I knew I wouldn’t be uber-fresh for the event given all I did leading in, but this was also strategic for my overarching season goals. Boise was not an “A” race for me, so we didn’t set up a peak-and-taper scenario for it. But it was a “B” race, meaning it was still important (not merely a training race), and I wanted to do well there. So while my whole training plan was not structured around it, I did do some specific preparation for this particular event and, especially in the couple weeks leading in, targeted my training to be successful there.

Forced Flexibility

But despite the planning, my race experience would end up being a good lesson in flexibility, and adaptability, as nothing seemed to go as planned. The last weekend before the race, I’d planned to do a “double” of back-to-back local races on Saturday (a mountain bike race) and Sunday (an Olympic distance triathlon). Both of these were super low-key events where my main objective was to get in some quality intensity, and “shake things out” before Boise. But when I woke up on Saturday for the mountain bike race, I was experiencing major vertigo, and had a horrendous stomachache and headache. I could barely stand up without getting so dizzy I thought I’d fall over, so needless to say I had to skip the race. Instead, I spent the day in bed, alternating between sleep and feeling like I wanted to die. Pleasant! I’m not sure what this awfulness was, but as quickly and aggressively as it came on, it left almost just as quick. By dinnertime, I was able to eat a bit and by bedtime I felt almost totally normal. I decided not to rule out racing the tri the next day, opting to see how I felt when I woke up. Despite that being at 4:15 a.m., I seemed to feel fine enough, so I decided to go for it. In hindsight (and, okay, maybe I also knew it at the time), this probably wasn’t the wisest decision, as despite feeling fine I’m sure I wasn’t yet back to 100 percent and this probably set me back in the long run. Nonetheless, I really wanted to get in at least one of my hard efforts for the weekend as planned, and I told myself that I wouldn’t push it if I felt bad, or would even just opt for a long ride in the area if I didn’t feel good enough to start.

Tri-for-Real Olympic Distance

Ironically, I felt awesome during the race, and ended up turning in a big PR time of 2:15:21, which I was absolutely stoked about! I don’t get many opportunities to do Olympic distance races, especially when I’m not exhausted from a hard training week, so it was fun to be able to see how fast I could really go at this distance. I’m sure there’s still more potential there on a day when I haven’t felt like death prior to, but for now I’m pretty pleased with this effort. I had a great swim to take the lead from the gun, found new speed on the bike for a best-ever bike split at this distance, and felt strong throughout the run to take home the overall female win. It was another fun day with TBF Racing and an awesome group of triathletes! Total bonus was getting to watch the kids’ race before our start. ADORABLE!

TBF Kids' Race -- Future Stars!

TBF Kids’ Race — Future Stars!

(More) Unexpected Changes

Another thing that happened during my race prep was that I pulled a tick off of myself that was engorged and had potentially been there for multiple days. I was already slightly freaked out by this, but then when I got sick that made me even more freaked out. I talked with a doctor, and they ended up putting me on a course of antibiotics due to the possibility of Lyme disease. I was pretty concerned about going on antibiotics the week of my race, as I am the type of person who barely ever even takes an Advil, but I knew it was worth it in the long run, as Lyme disease could potentially end my athletic career. So I moved (hesitantly) forward with the antibiotics, just hoping they wouldn’t have too many adverse affects come race day.

With just a couple days left before my departure for Boise, I was buried in work, doing all I could to get everything done and still get in my last few quality training sessions. I’d planned to travel early on Wednesday and ride part of the course on arrival, take Thursday off (as I always take off 2 days before the race), pre-race Friday and race Saturday. This is what my body knows, is trained for, and responds well to. Unfortunately, I got too bogged down with work to leave as planned, and ended up traveling late Wednesday and making this my off day, which meant I had to ride on Thursday — another test of flexibility. This was less than ideal, as it’s different from my routine, and because I traveled on my “off day” (which isn’t exactly restful). But, sometimes you just have to go with the flow of the situation, accept things are different than planned, and do the best you can with the circumstances. You have to adapt. So that is what I tried to do.

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Enjoying the pre-ride! Photo by August Teague.

Race Day

Race morning was interesting, as this race has a noon start time. I totally dug being able to get some much-needed extra zzz’s! I woke up at 8:30 and had plenty of time to have a relaxed breakfast, get my gear into T2 in town, and then head up to Lucky Peak Reservoir to set up T1 and warm up before the swim. Many people said the late start time was challenging for them because they felt anxious throughout the morning and didn’t like the idle time. I am grateful that it worked out so well for me, because I’m generally a very relaxed racer, and actually pretty anti-type-A compared to many of my counterparts, so I found plenty of appreciation in the laid-back morning. The only downside to the later start was the wind had plenty of time to kick up for us out there, and boy did it do its job!

By far the biggest pre-race excitement for the crowds up at Lucky Peak was the presence of Apolo Ohno, who was racing his first-ever tri here in Boise, en route toward the Ironman World Championship in Kona. Poor guy was literally bombarded with people the entire morning, taking his photo, watching his every move, asking him questions – no idea how he could prepare for a race like that. Good thing I’m not a famous celebrity… I’d never survive! :) But for me, the pre-race highlight was linking up with the awesome ladies of Team LUNA Chix Boise Triathlon. There were 4 of them also doing the race, and it was so great to see all their smiling faces ready to roll on race day.

Honored to share the course with these fabulous ladies!

Honored to share the course with these fabulous ladies!

A Slow and Choppy Swim

Swim EitSoon enough it was time to make our way to the chilly water of Lucky Peak. I’ve been working so hard on my swim, and really felt like I could have a great one here. Unfortunately, it ended up being pretty mediocre. I didn’t get a great start, and then found myself on a pair of feet that was weaving all over the course, so I decided to forge ahead on my own to take a more direct line, and wasn’t able to make contact from there on with any of the women ahead of me. Part way through, the water got crazy choppy, probably from the wind, which made the whole swim feel really tough and loooong. I was so ready to get out of the water! When I finally made it back to the exit, I saw 33 minutes on my watch and felt completely disheartened. I was aiming for 29 minutes. As it turns out, the first pro out of the water swam over 29 minutes, and I was actually in 7th at the swim exit, so I guess it was just a rough day out there for everyone. Or perhaps the swim was in fact a little long…?

A(nother) Disappointing Bike

Onto the bike, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect out of myself. I hadn’t had a great bike in St. George a month prior, but I’d been working incredibly hard to try to improve, and was also continually working on adjusting my bike fit, with the help of bike-fitter-extraordinaire Dave Eastwood and the team at Paco’s Bike and Ski. Thanks to Dave’s diligent effort, I felt sooo much more comfortable on the bike going into Boise than I did at St. George, and that makes a huge difference. But while my bike fit was much better, I unfortunately was not. The course was very flat, and very windy, and actually felt much harder than I anticipated because it was just so relentless. Give me a climb and I can suffer with the best of them, but I’m generally not super strong on flats, as I just don’t seem to have the top-end speed needed for that. And with the seemingly endless flat stretches on this course, I couldn’t find my groove at all and just felt very out of my element. I like lots of transitions (like mountain biking), and lots of climbs to use my power, but unfortunately didn’t get much of either out there. Anytime we did get a little bump, I could see myself steadily reeling back in a gal or two up ahead, but then once the incline dropped off again, so did I. This was super frustrating for me.

But while I know I’m not the best at riding flats, I still expected more out of myself here, and I’m not sure why I’m struggling so much with TT riding right now. I feel like I’m mountain biking very well, but I’m just not there with the TT for whatever reason, and it’s frustrating. I simply did not feel strong, and I don’t know why. Perhaps I just don’t have enough miles in my legs yet. Or maybe I just felt generally crappy from the antibiotics. I’m sure that played at least some part in me not feeling quite like myself throughout the day. But at any rate, something is definitely missing for me right now with this discipline, and I haven’t put my finger on it. But I’m determined to find out, and doing all I can to get better. Hopefully my next 70.3 ride will feel much less like a struggle-fest. All said and done, my ride time was (a brutal) 2:45:40 – ouch! I got off the bike in 10th place among pro females, ready to do some serious work on the run.

A Satisfying Run

Fortunately, I felt much better as soon as I got two feet back on the ground. I was so ready to make that transition. Unlike the bike course, this run course suits me perfectly. While I love a hilly bike, I totally dig a flat run, where I can utilize my long stride and power, and am not so limited by being non-tiny as I am when trying to run uphill! It’s also a two-lap course, which I really enjoy, probably due to my many years of ski racing on multi-lap courses. The run goes all along the greenbelt next to the river, right in the heart of town. It is a beautiful, calm and shaded run – ideal if you ask me. To make things that much sweeter, spectators came out in droves to line the course and cheer us racers on. Thank you Boise!

Starting to HURT! Photo by August Teague.

Starting to HURT! Photo by August Teague.

I really wanted to prove to myself that I could turn in a good run time at this distance, and was aiming for a sub-1:33. The first few miles I felt strong and was able to get into a really good rhythm, although a little slower pace-wise than I was hoping for. The first person I passed on the course was Apolo, so I got some camera time as I ran by! ;) He looked strong! (But I would end up beating him by just 1 minute on the day — small victory!) By the first turn-around, I had passed the next female pro ahead of me, and was now into 9th. I continued to feel good and steady through the rest of the lap and the first couple miles of lap 2, but around mile 9, things took a turn for the worse. My stomach started really hurting, and again I’m not sure if it was from the antibiotics or something else. Throughout the race, I’d eaten way more than I normally ever do at this distance, but I continued to feel hungry and depleted, so I continued to eat. It seems like I wasn’t really absorbing the energy like usual, so this may have been part of the problem.

I started to feel worse and worse, and my pace slowed. These were some seriously dark miles, and I was honestly not sure if I’d be able to finish without walking. I tried to eat some more, and drank everything I could at the aid stations, just telling myself to keep truckin along, and praying my body would come back around. Thankfully it did, and by mile 11 or so, I started to feel better – or at least less in pain! I was still tired, but I gave every last ounce of energy I had until I crossed that line. I ended the day with a 1:35:28 half-marathon. Slower than I was hoping for, but I knew I’d left it all out there, and it seemed like times were slow across the board and I was not too far off the leaders. So I was not at all disappointed. I was completely worked after the finish, and could not get up for a while – the worst I’ve felt after a 70.3 in a long time, but obviously my body was just struggling and had to work that much harder today to push to the limit.

Almost done! Digging deep to find that inner strength. Photo by August Teague.

Almost done! Digging deep to find that inner strength. Photo by August Teague.

Post-Race Perspective and Some Much Needed THANK YOUs!

I totally stole this pic from Boise LUNA Chix member Shannon. This is her post-race, but I felt EXACTLY the same!

I totally stole this pic from Boise LUNA Chix member Shannon. This is her post-race, but I felt EXACTLY the same!

My total time on the day was 4:58:23. I was 9th female pro, but with some incredibly outstanding amateur performances on the day, I got pushed back a few more spots in the overall. The time and result was not at all what I was hoping for, and I’m honestly pretty disappointed with it. I felt like I’d set myself up to have a much better day, and I’m not entirely sure why things went wrong for me. I know a lot of the circumstances I ended up dealing with heading into the race were less than ideal, and I’m sure they played a part in my generally not feeling great — particularly the antibiotics. But while I was definitely left wanting more, I came away from this race with a lot of positives, too, and some great lessons. I was once again reminded of the importance of being flexible and able to make changes on the fly when things don’t go as planned. I was also reminded how important it is to stay calm and positive when things don’t seem to be going your way, because you never know what’s happening for anyone else out there either (like my seemingly slow swim and run times that were actually much closer to the leaders than I have been). I also learned, yet again, that even at the darkest points, if you just keep pushing through and stay tough in your mind, your body will get through it and there will be a light on the other side. I learned that I have a lot of work still left to do, especially on my bike, but that I’m still very excited to do it. And I learned how incredibly awesome Boise is, and how very lucky I am to have had such an amazing time there, with amazing people.

Finish-line celebrations with Aline and Shannon

Finish-line celebrations with Aline and Shannon

I absolutely loved this place, and while the course seems to have gotten the best of me this time, I will definitely be back, because the whole experience was fantastic. The best part of this trip for me was getting to share my race experience with the Boise LUNA Chix. They are truly some of the most wonderful people I have met, and I felt so welcomed and supported by them; like I was part of a family. After the race, we all enjoyed a celebratory dinner together at team leader Hilary’s house, and it was so fun to have people to hash out the details of the day with. They all raced so strong, and it was inspiring to see the focus, energy, effort and positivity they put into this day. On Sunday, I led a group clinic where we did a recovery run and drills, and talked about race prep and analysis. It was super fun for me, and hopefully everyone learned a little something! This is a special group of women with a special bond, and I’m so thankful to have been a part of it for the week. Thank you to all of the Chix for everything you did to make my time in Boise great. I want to especially say a HUGE thank you to Aline Butts and family, who welcomed me and August into their home during our stay. The feeling of being at a homestay is so much better than any hotel, and I know it made a tremendous difference for me on race day. Thank you also to August for once again traveling with me and supporting me. Makes every trip SO much better!

All in all, it was a tough race for me. But I know it’s all more experience in the bank, another chance to give it everything I had, and ultimately it’s all progress. The steps were smaller than I’d hoped in this case, but they were steps nonetheless. I feel like I’m still just waiting for it all to come together, and it’s tough to be patient. But I know I will get there, and I just have to keep making the most of each experience along the way and focusing on that progress. I’ll be back to Boise to try again and get another taste of this special place. In the meantime, I look forward to continuing to improve, and forging ahead.

Fiesta time with the Boise Chix!

Fiesta time with the Boise Chix!

Xterra Southeast Champs and a Whole Lot of Racing

Since I got back from St. George, it’s been a racing whirlwind. Counting St. George, I’ve raced 5 of the last 6 weekends, with another race set for this coming Sunday to make it 6 of 7. I really like racing (in case it wasn’t evident!), and my coach and I purposefully set up a big racing block for this point in the season when I am really primarily trying to make progress toward my goals for my “A” races later this year, and looking to gain speed, fitness and experience through these hard racing efforts.

The important thing when racing a lot, however, is to know — and to plan — that you can’t be great in every race, and not every race can be treated the same way. Ultimately, some of my races are “training races,” meaning I use them as an opportunity to get in a hard intensity workout and get more practice and experience with different race-day scenarios. In the case of a training race, the goals are very different — unrelated to performance in the field, and usually change each time as I’m focusing on trying or improving something new, or pushing my body in a different way to see how it reacts. Everyone is different when it comes to racing, but my personal preference is to race often, practicing pushing my body and mind, and learning as much as I can each time… but keeping the expectations in perspective — which is crucial. Provided that you can treat them as such, I think training races can be a tremendously valuable tool in helping to prepare for the “big races,” so your body knows exactly what to do and is accustomed to doing it. The key is integrating these races into your training plan so they are essentially treated like a tough workout.

I am very fortunate to live in a region where local racing opportunities are abundant, and always an incredibly positive experience thanks to the committed and professional race organizers, hard-working volunteers, and top-notch competitors throughout Northern California. We have an amazing racing scene here, with great competition, so I like to take advantage of it whenever I can. Not to mention, it is always so FUN to be able to race in a laid-back environment with great local support and energy.

Photo by August Teague

Photo by August Teague

Folsom International Triathlon

So, the weekend after St. George I decided I really needed more practice racing on the road, and was lucky to be able to jump in to the Folsom International Triathlon just a short drive away from my house. This is an awesome race put on by Total Body Fitness, and I was psyched to be able to compete in it again. The race starts with a calm, cool swim in Folsom Lake; then rides out on to some of my favorite terrain of all time, winding through the foothills on some fast flats broken up by a few steep, punchy power climbs; and finishing with a challenging but beautiful run on hard-packed trails. My main goal with this race was to really push the envelope from the get-go and try to hold my pace through each leg, to work on improving my speed (and, incidentally, my pain threshold!). I also really just needed some more hard work on the TT bike, as was evidenced by my lackluster riding in St. George. I had a solid day and felt like I was able to accomplish my goals and rack up some more valuable road-tri race experience. Fortunately, those things also equated to an overall female win on the day, with a time of 2:25:25 on what I thought was a pretty challenging course. I have to admit, after getting my butt kicked in St. George among such an incredible elite field, it really did feel nice to feel a bit more like a “big fish” again, rather than a tadpole! Of course, both experiences have unique benefits, and whether you’re racing from the front of the pack or the back, there’s always so much to be gained from giving it your all out there.

Xterra Southeast Championship, and a Southeast Tour

The next day I headed off to begin a grand adventure in the Southeast for the Xterra Southeast Championship. While my trip centered around the race, I was fortunate to be able to extend it into a mini vacay/Southeast tour of sorts. One of my best friends, Lindsay, is getting her Masters of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, and I was thrilled to take advantage of the opportunity to spend a few days there with her before the race. We made the most of our time together and my first-ever visit to this very special southern city between training and exploring all the touristy destinations, and I was so pleasantly surprised with how green and beautiful it was, and how many incredible trails and parks were within easy access (including some awesome mountain biking!). It was so great to have Lindsay to swim and run with again, and of course show me around her new home. After three very fun days in Georgia, we drove down to Pelham, Alabama together to get ready for some Xterra action. It was a gorgeous drive, although we stayed entertained and on our toes trying to count the number of Waffle Houses and BBQ joints we passed along the way (too many to keep track!).

Pre-riding the Xterra course, I was surprised to discover how awesome the trails in Oak Mountain State Park were! The tight twists and turns through the trees, many roots and a few rocky sections made for really fun riding, and it was great to have some more technical aspects in an Xterra, as I believe this helps me excel on the bike. That being said, it was definitely different riding than I’m used to, and I found it particularly challenging to keep my speed up through the twistier sections. I never would have imagined there would be such good mountain biking in Alabama! Happy to be proven wrong. :)

Super fun riding at Oak Mtn. State Park!

Super fun riding at Oak Mtn. State Park!

Alabama had a few other surprises for me come race day. To start, the swim was deemed wetsuit legal based on water temperature. That rarely happens at this race (so I’ve been told, as a first-timer), but then again it’s also normally super hot and humid at this race. Not the case this time around! We woke up to cool — yes, cool! — temps and light rain, which I have to say I was totally psyched about! Tahoe weather! It seemed like a great day to have a great day, and I really set my sights high in hopes of a great race.

Swim1I had a pretty good swim to start the race, though not quite what I was looking for. I know my swim has improved a lot these last few months thanks to some really hard work in the water, but it didn’t quite show this time around — next time! I was bummed to get separated from the fastest swimming ladies pretty early due to some “directional differences” (my terrible sighting job) as I was really hoping to stick with them for a bit, but I kicked and pulled as hard as I could despite swimming alone, and exited the water in 6th place, eager to pedal fast and see what I could do on the bike.

But within 5 minutes of starting the ride, I learned another surprise was in store, as my seat post slipped down (later I would find it slipped over an inch-and-a-half), and was twisting back and forth from left to right. This was 100 percent my own fault, as I put Petra (my ever-impressive Orbea Alma 29er) together myself after the travel, and neglected to put friction paste on the seat post to make sure it stayed put. Total rookie mistake, but hey, I won’t make that one again! Ironically, I had no issues with the seat when pre-riding the entire course, but race day was obviously a different story. I tried my best to push on and not let the seat bother me, but unfortunately the twisting was super distracting and I had to keep pushing it back to center with my legs. But the fact that the seat was now so low was what had the biggest impact on my riding, as I felt like it just took away all my power to be so out of position. I did a lot of stand-pedaling and tried to focus on a smooth pedal stroke, but it just did not feel good at all. Bummer!

Nothing I could do, though, but ride on and make the best I could of the situation. By the halfway point in the ride, I’d gotten passed by LUNA teammates Shonny and Danelle, and though I tried to ride with each of them after they passed, I just didn’t have the power to hang on. Somewhere mid-ride, the sky opened up and started absolutely dumping a fury of rain on us. It was nuts, and made it very difficult to see on the already dark, tree-lined course, but it definitely added some excitement to the race. Fortunately it didn’t last too long, and by the time I reached the last few miles of the bike course the skies were getting sunny and much friendlier. The last couple miles of the course are super twisty, and I really struggled to find a good rhythm and maintain speed. I knew I was seriously doggin’ it and really needed to go faster, but I just couldn’t seem to make it happen.

Bike and Run1 I was relieved to make it back to T2 after what seemed like the longest last couple miles of mountain biking ever, and excited for a fast, flat, two-loop run. I left T2 in 8th place, but a solid few minutes out from 7th. As was also the case in Xterra West Champs, I had a lot of room both behind and in front of me, which can be a tough spot to be in. But I was motivated to try and make up some of the time I’d lost on the bike, and mainly just to see how fast I could run on the relatively easy course, so I turned on the gas and tried to push as hard as I could through those two laps. Lindsay was there cheering me on, which was much appreciated, as I did not feel stellar. I think my legs were especially tired after trying to compensate for the lack of power on the bike due to the low seat. After a good (but not great) run, I crossed the line in 7th, as Shonny ended up having to drop out after the first run lap. I honestly felt pretty good about my run until I saw just how fast the gals ahead of me ran. They were absolutely blazing, and I was definitely off the pace. A good reminder that I still have lots of work to do.

Bike and Run2 I knew I gave it all I had, and was pleased to finish 7th among such a fast field of ladies, but I was a little disappointed because I felt like I’d made backwards progress from my performance in Vegas, even though my place was the same.  I tried not to read too much into it given the issues I had on the bike, but nonetheless I know I have my work cut out for me to keep my results progressing. I’m looking forward to giving it another go in Richmond this weekend!

The day after the race, Lindsay and I got to run the 21k trail run together, which was super fun, and a great post-race training day. She did amazing, coming in 3rd woman overall, less than a minute out of first. I was one proud friend! Then she drove me up to Chattanooga, Tennessee where I met my aunt and Grandma, who took me up to Nashville to stay with them for a few days. I hadn’t seen my grandma in over a year and a half, which is much too long, and it was SO special to be able to spend a couple days with her, even though it was brief. I flew back home out of Nashville, ready to back, but super grateful for an amazing trip and all the people who were a part of it. It was a true southern experience, with some awesome (albeit sweaty and sticky) memories, and I look forward to going back next year!

Running With Linds!

Running With Linds!

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 10.31.46 PMAfter so much traveling, it was great to have a few weeks at home again. I was able to get in some really quality training sessions, as well as give a slideshow presentation for the Biking for a Better World season kick-off, and an endurance training presentation at a health expo put on by the local hospital. I always enjoy these kinds of opportunities to connect with the community and share my knowledge and experience, and I want to extend a big thank you to everyone who attended!

After one weekend sans-racing, I got in another local Olympic distance race as a tune-up for the Boise 70.3, which I just returned from this past weekend. Two more solid race experiences, a lot of lessons learned, and another race report to write! Stay tuned… I promise it won’t be so late this time!

Thanks for reading, and happy start of summer! :)

Kara

U.S. Pro Championship 70.3 — Racing With the Best

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Taking it all in at swim training. Photo by August Teague.

As the U.S. Pro Championship, I knew coming into it that St. George 70.3 was going to be a serious challenge. It lived up to that expectation – and then some. The course in itself is very tough, with lots of climbing on both the bike and the run, and more significant for me, a hot run that is totally exposed. But then add in the fact that this race touted what will certainly be one of the most elite pro fields of any half-Iron event in the world this year, and it’s safe to say this was about the hardest race I could have picked to start my pro career on the road.

But to be honest, I was totally okay with that. After all, if you want to be the best (one day!), you have to race with the best. When I put this race on my schedule, I knew I’d be up against some of the very best in the biz, but the release of the pro start list was certainly a little overwhelming: numerous multi-time Ironman champions, Ironman 70.3 champions, national champions, North American champions, world champions… and the list goes on. I couldn’t help but feel a bit like a tadpole among a sea of very big fish! But I’d accepted the challenge, and I chose to fully embrace it. Tall orders really are my favorite, and I do tend to rise to a higher level when I’m more challenged by those around me.

And, frankly, I felt confident I’d be able to hold my own on race day if I had the kind of race I knew I was capable of, and have been training for. While I’m still far off the (crazy fast!) pace of the top female pros, it was a fairly large pro field, with some depth – albeit still quite top heavy – and I felt very capable to be in the mix of things mid-pack. Training had been going extremely well. I was dropping time, and reaching levels I’d never seen before across the board with my running. My swimming was also improving greatly, with my times in the pool inching steadily closer to my old full-time swim team days as a teenager. I knew it was still early in the year for me to be at my best form on the road bike, despite the mild Tahoe winter, but I still felt really strong on my new Orbea Ordu TT bike. All signs pointed to a great day ahead, and even with such steep competition, I didn’t rule out any possibilities for myself. I continued to believe in the possibility of something great. But mostly, I really just wanted to have a solid day that lived up to what I knew I was capable of, and see where things stacked up for me from there.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for me. While there were no major course meltdowns (minus feeling like I just might melt on the run) or malfunctions out there for me, I didn’t have a great day. I didn’t feel terrible — but I did not feel good. Nothing went particularly awful, but nothing went particularly well. Above all, I didn’t have a day indicative of my potential right now. It did not match up to what I’ve achieved in training, or in my other races/time trials so far this year. It was an exceptionally mediocre performance, and that’s certainly not what I’d hoped for in my pro debut on the road. But it was what I had in me that day, and I made the most of it. In the end we can only regret chances we didn’t take, and I am happy I took this one.

Swim

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Photo by August Teague.

As usual, there were highs and lows throughout the day, and I did my best to maximize the highs and push through the lows. I was very pleased with my swim to start the day. I felt uncharacteristically nervous the night before the race and leading up to the start, letting the intimidation factor of my first pro road start (in a stacked field) get the better of me. But once we all hit the water at Sand Hollow Reservoir on a picture perfect morning, the nerves evaporated and I settled in to race mode. I was surprised by how calm the pro women’s start was – far less aggressive and chaotic than most of the age group starts I’ve done. I felt smooth and strong in the water, and really focused on drafting and trying to stay with the women around me. I ended up moving around a bit from little pack to little pack as either I accelerated or others around me accelerated away, but I did get some good drafting practice in throughout the swim, and did quite a bit of leading, too. The swim went by quickly, which was a pleasant surprise as usually the first 1.2-mile swim of the year feels oh-so-much-longer than the 0.9-mile swims of Xterra. Sighting the buoys was easy, and for once I didn’t feel like I got off course much. All in all, a big success! Exited the water in 30:12 – would have loved to break 30 minutes, but a time I was happy with. That being said, I was already more than 6 minutes back from the leader at that point, so needless to say I still have serious work to do so I can get out of the water in a place where I’m a bit more in contention, rather than in 19th place.

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Gorgeous morning for a swim! Photo by August Teague.

Bike 

On the bike, things started to get progressively mediocre. I felt okay, but I just couldn’t really get things going. I knew I was probably least prepared for the bike leg, as it’s just tough to get in really solid road training by early May in the mountains, so I wasn’t expecting to feel super strong. But it was still difficult to know I was lagging out there. I tried my best to stay calm in my mind and just focus on riding as well as I could. I felt really good on the climbs, and was actually super eager for those sections, but I just didn’t have the power I needed for the flatter sections. I felt like I was stuck in third gear, and couldn’t tap into that upper register. I pushed the last big climb section hard to try to make up some of the time I knew I’d lost in the more gradual parts of the course, but with such strong ladies out there I really couldn’t make up any ground, and ended up losing pretty significant time to a lot of the women who got out of the water just ahead of me. I clocked 2:46:07 for the 56-mile course — a time that I would have actually been pretty pleased with last year, especially with more than 4,000 feet of climbing. But at this juncture, it definitely wasn’t what I was looking for.

Run

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Heading out on a very hot run. Photo by August Teague.

I headed on to the run in 24th place, really determined to make up some ground, and excited to see what I could do in this final discipline. Over the past month or so of training, I’ve finally conquered a plateau with my running that I’d been stuck on for what felt like forever. I was besting times in just about every distance in my training, and the week before St. George ran a best-ever 10k in a “training race” local Olympic-distance tri. I was really hoping to see that improvement come through over those 13.1 miles. But it didn’t, and this was probably the biggest disappointment for me because I had pretty high expectations that I felt were valid. Unfortunately, though, I hit my lowest points of the day on the run, and frankly was suffering. I did not feel good at all.

I’m sure there were several factors that led to a very painful run for me, but the heat was by far the most significant, and despite my best efforts, I really struggled with it. I knew that would be the toughest thing for me, as it’s always a challenge for my body, but particularly so early in the year. I did everything I could ahead of the race to be as prepared as possible for the heat but it still got the better of me, with temps hitting the 90s when I finished the race, and virtually zero shade on what was already a brutal run course. By the halfway point, I was seriously hurting, and felt completely dehydrated no matter how much I drank through each aid station. It was a suffer-fest, but I had no choice but to dig deep, tough it out and push on. I stayed as positive as possible in my mind, and for how terrible I felt I’m actually pretty happy with how I was able to keep pushing. I’d passed another pro early on in the run, but she found a strong second wind and passed back by me with about a mile-and-a-half to go, at a pace I just couldn’t respond to. So 1:37:38 later, I crossed the line to notch my first pro 70.3 finish in 24th place (of 25 seriously bad-ass pro women), with a total time of 4:59:06. I gave it everything I had. I just wish that had been more.

Keeping Perspective

It was a tough day, and certainly not the performance I was looking for. But it’s still a performance I am proud of. If there’s one thing I’ve realized by this point in my athletic career, it’s that, ultimately, the great days and the outstanding performances are actually not near as important as the really tough days, or the performances that leave us with much to be desired. These are the days that push us to grow; the days that truly define our characters as athletes; the days that require the most courage and strength; and the days that we should really be most proud of.

I wish I could have turned in a better result and been able to be more competitive with the rest of the pro field, but most of all I wish I had the day I know I’m capable of. I did not reach my potential, and for that I was very disappointed. But I gave it everything I had in the face of a challenge, and made the most of my race experience, and for that I am proud. The pro field is fast – crazy fast! Everyone is tough, there are no slackers, and everyone is going to give it 100 percent. An average day just doesn’t cut it out there.

But I know I have more good days ahead, and I’m excited to see what I can do when things line up for me in the 70.3 – hopefully in Boise in June! When I think back to last year at this same time, I had to drop out of my first 70.3 of the year (and the only race I have ever dropped out of) due to heat stroke, and then hurt my knee a few days later, so this year is definitely major progress over that. I’m grateful for the progress I have made! But I know I can do better. I am determined to do better. I am inspired and motivated for what lies ahead, and not discouraged by this lackluster result. And I am grateful for another race experience in the bank, the lessons I learned and the chances I took.

And So It Begins!

I regret letting so much time go by without a blog update, as I’ve got so much I want to share now. But as usual life has been crazy, and time was as scarce as ever these last couple months leading into my first pro season. But despite all the scrambling amidst an obligation overload, I made it to the start of tri season as excited as ever, and now have my first pro race in the books! It was a fantastic experience, and I can hardly wait for all the racing yet to come this year. But until then, here’s a little recap of the season’s kick-off and my Xterra pro debut.

The Lead-In: Patience, Perspective, Perseverance

MTBwithJulie1The “3 P’s” above were the theme of my lead-in to race season this year. As I mentioned in my earlier off-season blog post, I had the opportunity this winter to do some pre-season mountain bike and running races, which I was happy to take advantage of. I think it was super helpful for me to start shaking the rust off early and put my body through the motions of racing a few times before it really counted. Not to mention, it was a lot of fun to spend some more time on my bike! However, it’s so important during these pre-season “training races” to keep those 3 P’s in mind, remember what the real goal is, and not let yourself get too caught up in the results. It’s still SO early to make any judgements whatsoever about your fitness or race-readiness during this time, which is why you have to stay patient, maintain perspective, and push on! I had some really great racing experiences during the pre-season, and some pretty poor performances too. At times it was easy for me to keep my 3 P’s in mind, and other times it was much more challenging. In the end, it was all solid experience and training in the bank, and a great opportunity to test myself, see where my strengths and weaknesses were, and see how I was progressing as tri season continued to approach. This was by far the most pre-season mountain biking I’ve ever done, and I can see now that it is paying off!

DCIM100GOPROAs I also mentioned before, I tried to maximize my ski racing opportunities this winter, even though they were so few with our terrible snow year. I love cross country skiing so much… it is my foundation as an athlete and where I really discovered my passion for sport. That will never change, and I will always want to be involved in it in some way or another. This winter I tried to prioritize ski racing a bit more than I have the past few years, as I think it can be great training for tri season in its own right, and is just downright tough. It pushes my body and mind in a whole different way than triathlon, and I think it’s good to have that variety.

Photo by Mark Nadell

Photo by Mark Nadell

I had some really good races this year, and was pretty surprised by how strong I felt given how little I was actually able to ski. But racing was challenging for me in many ways too, as I expected a lot out of myself and found my heart really invested in each race — probably much more than was fair to me given my situation. Ultimately, I couldn’t help but have an “all-in” approach and “all-in” expectations, even though the task of trying to balance my desire to continue to be a skier with my now full-time identity as a triathlete really only allowed me to be “very-partially-in” when it came to skiing. Given my competitive nature with myself, I want to be able to not just do it all, but to give 100 percent of myself to all of it too, but I know that’s just not always possible. This is a hard truth for me to acknowledge, and I just can’t picture myself wanting to take a more “half-in” approach to skiing next year, but I also know I can’t keep pretending to be a full-time ski racer for a couple short months when I’m most definitely not. This caused me some unnecessary disappointment this year, and I don’t want to feel that way again. So, we’ll see what happens next winter. I know I will be involved in skiing, but I’m really not sure to what extent yet.

Kicking Things Off

Needless to say, after so much anticipation and a variety of preparation through the winter, I was incredibly psyched to get my 2014 triathlon season started.

Photo by Craig DeVita

Photo by Craig DeVita

I am very fortunate to be able to kick things off each spring with a fantastic local Xterra race hosted by TBF Racing the last weekend of March, Xterra Real. This was my third year starting the season with this race (which was also my very first Xterra race, in 2012), and it really is the perfect opportunity to get in a competitive swim-bike-run race experience in a low-key but very professional setting before heading off to more high-stakes races. This year’s race was made extra challenging thanks to cold temps and pouring rain throughout the event. Personally, I kind of enjoyed the extreme weather, and I felt strong across the board to lead the women’s race from start to finish. I was really pleased to feel good in this first triathlon effort and come away with the win, but more importantly I was happy to get a race under my belt and accomplish the specific performance goals I had set up for myself. Really, this race was all about preparation for the Xterra West Championships in Las Vegas two weeks later, where I would be making my professional debut! It was, indeed, excellent prep. I was able to get the kinks out, open things up and remember how to put the swim-bike-run together again.

XterraRealRun1The following weekend I attended the annual LUNA Chix Summit event, where all the LUNA Sponsored Athletes like myself, the LUNA Pro Team and the regional LUNA Chix Ambassadors come together for a weekend of training, clinics, presentations, friends and fun! This event really deserves a blog post of its own, but let’s just say it is one of the most inspirational events I ever get to be a part of, and such a great reminder of how fortunate I am to be part of a program like LUNA that is making such a big difference in the lives of women everywhere. The 80s-themed dance night was also a special highlight!

Xterra West Championships: My Pro Debut!

Coming in to Xterra Las Vegas, which is the first race in the Xterra U.S. Pro Series, I got asked again and again if I was nervous for my first race as a pro. Honestly, I really wasn’t. What I was was EXCITED! There were a few moments when nerves tried to kick in, but I just reminded myself that it was really no different from any other race, and what I needed to do was exactly the same as what I’ve done so many times before. Only the people around me would be different. But I was so thrilled to have my first opportunity to see how I could do racing side-by-side with this stellar group of ladies. I already know very well that for me, the bigger the challenge, the harder I will push myself to meet it, so honestly I was expecting a lot out of myself in terms of progress from the season before. However, I had no result expectations whatsoever, because I really had no clue how I’d do! So I stayed focused on my personal race plan and goals. But, that doesn’t mean I didn’t believe that something great was possible! I never, ever rule that out!!

I arrived in Vegas earlier than in the past, and got in a couple solid days of pre-riding on the course, which was helpful given the rough conditions, with lots of erosion and lots of very loose sections, in addition to the usual super steep climbs that make up the Xterra Las Vegas course. It’s not technical in the traditional sense that I’m used to, but it has its own unique combination of brutal elements that make for a very challenging day.

On race morning, I was still overwhelmed with excitement to be starting in my first pro race (and fortunately still not too nervous). I felt ready to go and eager to see what I could do! As I mentioned, I had some pretty specific personal goals in mind for my race, and was ready to push myself to the limit to achieve them. As we all lined up on the beach before the start, I thought about all the events, decisions, hard work, and most importantly all the people, that had led me to this very special moment in my athletic career, and I felt so grateful to be there, in a moment I’d dreamed of and dedicated so much of myself to since my very first triathlon.

Photo by Liz Gruber

Pro start. Photo by Liz Gruber.

XterraBeachRunOnce the gun went off, I charged hard out of the start to try and find some fast feet to draft for the swim. I was able to hang on to the front group of ladies for a few short minutes, but pretty soon found myself on my own in between the front group and the next group of gals behind me. This made it tough to sight the buoys with no one else around, and also difficult to keep the pace high, but I felt strong and was happy to see all the work I have been doing in the pool was starting to pay off. When I came in to the beach after the first lap, I was excited to hear I was the 5th woman. This, in addition to the cheers from spectators, made me feel awesome… that is, until I failed to pick up my feet enough on the beach run and tripped and fell in front of the crowd before making it back into the water for lap two. SOLID! Fortunately it made for a good laugh and probably helped me relax going in to lap two. I slowed a bit on the second lap and two other swimmers (LUNA pro Danelle Kabush and Katie Button) were able to get on my feet. We came out of the water pretty much right together, and I was very happy to head into the transition as the 5th woman!

Race1Heading on to the bike, I was determined to go as hard as I needed to to stay in the mix. I knew there were some very fast women out front after the swim, and still others behind who would be chasing hard, including LUNA’s Shonny Vanlandingham, who is always one of the fastest bikers in Xterra. I felt really fortunate to have come out of the water near Danelle, as we were able to ride together, trading places back and forth, for much of the bike course. I was hoping to try to hang on to Shonny for a bit when she came by, but unfortunately she blew right by me on a wide section of the course, so I never even made contact. Danelle and I came through the first lap together, in 6th and 7th place, and I was psyched to still be in such a strong position. I gave it everything I had to hang in there on the second lap, and continued to feel really good on the bike, but I lost a little ground and headed in to T2 about two minutes back from Danelle (in 6th), and a couple more minutes outside of the top five. This was my first race on my new Orbea Alma 29er, and I absolutely loved it!

Photo by August Teague

Photo by August Teague

Photo by August Teague

Photo by August Teague

With so many strong runners in front of me, I knew it would be a very tall order to make up any time on the field, so I refocused on the goals that I’d set out for myself, which included running up all the hills (in the past I have had to walk on some of the steeper parts). Despite pushing really hard on the bike, I felt like I was able to find a good rhythm on the run. I did make it up all the hills and was able to really open things up and push my pace on the flatter sections. It was a bit of a challenge to keep my foot on the gas throughout the 10 kilometers, as I was completely by myself, with no one in striking distance either in front of or behind me. But I did my best to push all the way to the line, and was absolutely thrilled to cross the finish in 7th place behind some of the fastest Xterra competitors in the world.

I was very happy with the effort I gave and the result I was able to achieve on the day, but even more importantly, I had SO much fun in my first pro race! It was an absolutely incredible experience, and one that I am so grateful for. Going in to the race, I didn’t know at all what to expect, but knew it was important just to get the first pro race experience under my belt. But as the race unfolded I began to really feel confident that I was where I belong, racing at a whole new level than I’d ever achieved before, and it felt so great to get that validation for making the step up to the pro ranks. My main goal was to feel like I’d progressed from last season, but I certainly did not expect to see as big of a jump as I did here. It’s an amazing feeling to see your hard work pay off and to be rewarded for taking on a new challenge. I’m so grateful for the way everything has come together, and incredibly excited to see how I can continue to progress and push myself from here.

There are so many people who have helped me get to this point, and who encouraged and supported me in taking this next step, and I could not be more thankful. Thanks so much to all of you for standing behind me and pushing me forward! Extra special thanks to my dear friend Liz, who cheered like crazy and smiled endlessly even though she couldn’t race (she’s just the best!), and to the LUNA Pro Team gals, who were so kind and supportive to me in this effort. I am so lucky to be a part of the LUNA family. And, of course, to August for giving me the confidence and tools to make this step, and supporting me along the way.

After the race, August and I went on to St. George to preview the 70.3 U.S. Pro Championship bike course there (where I’ll be racing on May 3rd), and then to Zion for a couple days where we got to do some amazing running, hiking, mountain biking and camping. It was a trip I will not forget!

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