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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Why I Coach

**Note: This article was originally written for Moonshine Ink, where an abbreviated version of this one was published. But with such a limited word count, I wanted just a bit more space here on my blog to talk about why coaching is important to me. You can also check out the original (shorter) article here.**

Dave Seniors

NTHS Seniors and Coaches. Photo by David Antonucci

“Why I Coach”

As someone with several jobs who also recently stepped up to the professional ranks of triathlon, I’m often asked why I continue to coach the Nordic Team at North Tahoe High School. It’s no secret that coaching is not the most financially lucrative job out there, and it certainly takes considerable time and energy that I could otherwise be putting in to my own athletic pursuits.

But the rewards of coaching are unique and extensive, and there are so many reasons why I coach, and why I absolutely love it.

I coach because it’s the most fun I have ever had on snow. From “adventure skis” in the woods to sparkly spandex tights, to dance-offs at pasta feeds to singing at the top of our lungs in the car on race trips… my skiers are full of so much positive energy and enthusiasm for skiing and for life. Their spirit is infectious. It rubs off on me, and helps me see the fun in everything.

I coach because the NTHS Nordic team is truly something special. These 26 kids are each amazing in their own right, but there’s nothing quite like seeing the way they come together and operate as one team. The camaraderie, support and sportsmanship they share are evident through all that they do. Nothing quite compares to watching the spirit and drive of a brand new skier as they work to get through their first full ski race, and even more so the dedication and genuine love of a team as they ski behind that new skier to encourage her up the final hill. It is these special moments that make coaching unmatched. I’ve watched these kids learn how to work hard, to dream, to believe, to push, to win, to lose, and most of all, to be teammates. And I have watched them blossom into not just great athletes, but incredible people. 

Photo by Steve Twomey

Photo by Steve Twomey

I coach because these kids help remind me what skiing is really all about. Our team has a style that is all its own, and they own that style wholeheartedly. We are not always the fastest, and certainly not always the most “serious,” but these kids understand that skiing is about much more than the results. They understand — and they’ve taught me — that it’s okay to take snack breaks, to stop at a viewpoint on the way to Mammoth (even if you’re running late for the race) because it’s just too beautiful not to take a group selfie, and to sing (loud!) while waxing, no matter how many people are around to hear it. They know that what is truly important is not the order in which they cross the finish, but everything that went in to getting there, all the memories they created along the way, and how much fun they had making it happen. (And, let’s be honest… sometimes having the coolest spandex really is important!)

I coach because even on the tough days when it seems you’re working way too hard and wondering why, it just takes one athlete doing something that reminds you why it’s all worth it; and almost always that something has nothing to do with a first place finish. I coach because there are kids who just won’t give up for anything, no matter how hard things get.

I coach because there’s nothing quite like seeing someone else’s dream come true, and knowing you played a role in making it happen. At times I feel I’m almost more invested in my athletes’ successes than my own, having witnessed everything they went through on their journey to get there and stood by their side along the way. I get nervous for their races; I get excited for their results; I get emotional about their successes. To watch these athletes break down barriers, believe in themselves, discover their potential and push to reach it is amazing. And to know you played a role in that process is truly something to be proud of.

BoysAward1Dave Girls PodiumI coach because I know just how important of a job it really is. Because I know that I am helping to give these athletes a gift that will last a lifetime, and playing a role in their lives that is different from anyone else. As a former high school skier here in Tahoe myself, I know firsthand just how much the lessons they learn from this sport will help them get through all aspects of life. I know how long they will carry these memories with them. And I know how much the lifelong friendships they are developing on this team will come to mean to them in the future.

Mammoth1I coach because while I am a teacher in that role, these kids teach me too — and they push me to be better. They remind me why sport really matters, and just how much fun it can be. They remind me of the importance of being a leader and setting a good example. I can never give up because I expect them not to. I can never give less than 100 percent because I ask them to do the same. As coaches, our aim is to inspire the kids we work with to become the best version of themselves. But what I never expected was just how much this group of kids would actually inspire me to do the same.

So why do I coach? Because, so far, I haven’t found anything that quite matches up to all of that. Thank you, North Tahoe Nordic athletes, for the inspiration and for letting me be a part of your lives. I am so proud to be your coach.

2014 NTHS Nordic Team. Photo by David Antonucci

2014 NTHS Nordic Team. Photo by David Antonucci

Embracing the Off-Season

Since transitioning from Nordic ski racing to triathlon, I’ve found that my off-season has gotten increasingly shorter. These days my triathlon race schedule spans from the end of March to the end of October — a long season, in my opinion. Fortunately, when my season ended last October in Maui, I didn’t find myself at all plagued by the burnout that can often accompany a long, full season of racing. I was still loving every minute of competing and training, and I was honestly craving just a little bit more (which may have been in part due to the fact that my knee injury had me sitting out a decent chunk of the early season). I felt really blessed to finish on a high note, feeling good both mentally and physically, and was happy to be left wanting more. But, as always, I knew I had to embrace the off-season.

Even as someone who really loves racing, and — like anyone — loves being in top form, I am learning more and more the value and importance of taking time to let the body come back down and relax. This is surprisingly difficult for many athletes to do even after a hard year, I guess because it’s just so counter-intuitive to everything we’re accustomed to. As “type-A” as most of us triathletes are, allowing ourselves to fall out of shape can be a little stressful. It’s hard not to feel like you’re going backwards… but you have to learn to let it go, embrace the rest, trust in the process and have faith that your body will get back to where it should be in due time, once it’s allowed the time it needs to recharge and rebuild. Finding some solid outside distractions is always a big help!

Personally, I like to approach the off-season as my chance to ‘catch up’ on the many other aspects of my life that can end up compromised during race season when I am so hyper-focused on racing, training, recovery, staying healthy, and other elite-athlete-type things. So, while they’re unfortunately two of my busiest months of the year in terms of work, without the extra stress of racing and heavy training, November and December gave me a chance to catch up with friends and family over the holidays; watch movies, and even start a new book; do some more writing; cook, bake — and eat! — all kinds of delicious foods; host dinner parties; go out and enjoy more than one glass of wine without worrying about the repercussions; do only what I felt like in terms of physical activity — consequently taking a good hiatus from swimming and starting Nordic skiing again; enjoy long chats over cups of chai; and just soak in all the awesomeness of life. I can’t say I didn’t miss triathlon a little bit during this time, but with so many other things going on, there was plenty to focus on.

One thing I particularly loved about the holiday season this winter was all the inspiration I found among the friends I got the chance to catch up with. While many of their lives are very different from mine, I find myself so inspired by all of the amazing things they are doing, and still so connected with them in that, like me, they are pursuing their passions, and investing themselves just the same way I do in achieving their goals — whatever they may be. From a friend making a big move to take an opportunity in his field of physical therapy to work with some of the world’s very best athletes; to another who is thriving and shining in a major management position at one of the coolest new companies in existence; to friends who were courageous and driven enough to give up jobs, homes and comfort to go back to school in pursuit of a bigger dream and very admirable master’s degrees; to friends who left solid positions that they didn’t love to do seemingly “crazy” things like become a fitness/nutrition consultant or a fly fishing guide… these dear friends of mine are making bold and brave decisions to chase their dreams, pursuing their real passions, making a difference in the lives of others — and leaving me so very inspired, and thankful to surround myself with such an ambitious and authentic group of people who follow their heart and don’t settle. This is what I aspire to do with my triathlon dreams.

I am grateful that I’ve gotten to spend so much quality time with so many important people in my life during this off-season, and do some work on my well-being as a whole. It’s always good to keep things balanced, and the off-season can do wonders to help bring that equilibrium back.

As far as training (yes, there has still been training)… After a couple weeks of solid rest (minus the occasional social spin or fun run with friends) I was eager to get moving again by the end of November. But while training resumed, for the next few weeks I maintained very little structure, really just doing what I “felt like” and making room for some different activities that I don’t always have time for during season. If it was a nice day and I was feeling good, I ran/biked/skied longer than anticipated, taking advantage of not having to stick to a plan. If I woke up feeling especially strong, I went hard. If I felt tired or was pressed for time, I went slow or kept it short. And if I just didn’t feel like training, I skipped it. I trained with friends, chatting as much as possible, forgetting about my pace or heart rate, and just enjoying being outside, taking in the fresh air and doing what I love. Thanks to some early-ish snowfall, I got in some great Nordic ski sessions that were super enjoyable, and started to feel really good on the snow. I’d also begun coaching my high school Nordic team, which is about as fun as it gets, hanging with some of the most amazing kids in the world.

Before I knew it, it was mid-December, and time to kick things up and get some structure and specificity back in my training. Since then, I’ve focused on building up my base for the season ahead, keeping my goals fresh in mind and concentrating on the specific things I need to be doing now to work toward achieving them. One of the big things for me has been focusing on my weakness: swimming. After my six-week swim hiatus following Maui, I was so grateful to IMG_8358have my good friend Lindsay (who I grew up on the swim team with) back in town to get my swim program kick-started again. She swam several times a week with me during her winter break from her MPH program (one of those inspirational rockstar friends!), and we got in some of the most quality swim workouts I’ve had since I was swimming with my team back in high school. I felt more motivated in the pool than I have since beginning triathlon, and really started to make some big improvement.! It’s been much less fun since Lindsay went back to school, but thanks to all her help getting me into the swimming groove, I’ve been keeping up with it pretty well and am psyched about the progress I’ve made. I know I need to make big gains with my swimming in stepping up to the pro field this year, and I certainly hope this new commitment to quality time in the pool will help.

Another big focus of mine during this building phase, as it was last year, is strength training. This is the perfect time to put in some hard work at the gym, and I’ve been doing just that. IMG_7915Gym workouts have never been my favorite, but as I’ve invested myself more and more into gaining quality strength that will carry over to triathlon, I’ve come to really look forward to strength training several times a week. It’s really cool to see measurable progress, and feel yourself getting stronger. My hope is that this increase in strength will not only transfer to more stamina and better results, but also a healthier body that is less susceptible to injuries this season. Unfortunately, I’ve also been confronted this off-season with the realization of just how far off my knee still is from being back to 100 percent. While I was able to get away with a lot last season by just pushing through in order to race, now that I’m working on regaining leg strength again (which was too painful to do during season), it is clear that I still have a long way to go to be fully recovered and to get my left leg caught up with my right in terms of strength and power. But the good news is I’ve still got some time, and I’m making it a priority right now to focus on physical therapy and get my knee as close to full-strength as I can before season begins.

Other than that, I’ve been enjoying some longer base mileage on the bike, running and skiing. We’ve had a super crazy winter so far here in Truckee, and thanks to a major drought, I’ve gotten in some awesome mountain biking and even some road biking this past month, which I normally never get to do at this time of year. Selfishly, I’ve loved being on my bike so late into winter and getting to avoid the trainer. The riding has been SO fun, and I’ve even gotten a head start on the season with a mountain bike race in January, and one more coming up next weekend. But the lack of snow has turned into a pretty dire situation here in the Sierras, and it’s been really hard to coach the team and be without skiing (save for one 2.5-kilometer loop that I’ve repeated more times than I care to recall this year). Ironically, I feel like I’ve rediscovered my love for skiing this year in a way I haven’t felt for some time, so it’d sure be nice to get some more snow and do a bit more skiing before triathlon season arrives. That being said, I have gotten to do some racing on my skis this winter, with success that has surprised me, and it’s been very fun — but SO tough! I nearly manage to forget just how hard ski racing is every year until I take a stab it again. But I’m happy it is still a part of my life, and a great training tool in the off-season that provides a challenge unlike any other.

As triathlon season draws nearer, I only get more excited for all that lies ahead in my first year as a pro racer. I know it’s going to be tough, and I have a lot more work to do. But I am eager to do it! And while this off-season has provided some welcome “distractions” from the world of triathlon, it has only continued to feed my fire as I’ve waited for a new season to arrive and begun to prepare for it. Just a month and a half to go…

Reflecting, Dreaming and Planning

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re probably not big enough”…

Reflect1Reflecting

It’s hard to believe 2013 is already coming to a close. It’s also hard to believe what a wonderful year this has turned out to be for me.

Looking back to early May when I was forced to drop out of a race for the first time in my life after getting sick with heat stroke at Wildflower Long Course, and then three days later got injured in a mountain bike crash where I fell off a big rock onto my knee cap… things were looking pretty bleak.

I was initially told it would be just a few weeks before I was back to racing after the knee injury, but my body ended up on a much different timeline for healing. I ended up missing five of my originally scheduled triathlons as I waited two months to be able to run again, and then focused on staying patient as I worked my way back into form. Several weeks of hobbling, swelling, little mobility, lots of pain and few answers had me feeling frustrated and very uncertain. But thanks to some tremendous support from family, friends and experts, and a whole lot of patience, positivity and distraction, I got through it with my head held high, no major mental breakdowns, and a refreshed outlook on the rest of the season and my sport.

It was an unexpected beginning to 2013, for sure, but I can see now that in many ways it was actually an unexpected turn for the better. Ultimately, the entire focus of my season had to change. While my original plan was to focus on “going long,” with four Ironman (140.6-mile) distance races on my schedule, I was forced to miss three of them due to the injury. But instead, I was able to do some mountain bike racing through June and July (including my first ever 100 km trail race that ended up qualifying me for the Leadville Trail 100 next year), and focus significantly on improving my riding. I made tremendous progress with that, which I may not have made had I not been forced to focus so exclusively on my biking and swimming. I understand the important impact that progress has made on my season, and I am extremely grateful for it. (And my ever-faithful riding buddy, who got me out there every day!)

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 12.14.58 PMSo while initially I felt like I was missing out on so much, I ended up also gaining so much that I had not anticipated. This season challenged me in new and unexpected ways. In the face of them, I can’t say I liked those challenges much, but looking back I can say with certainty that they made me stronger, made me reach further and in new directions to accomplish my goals, and ultimately made me a better and more well-rounded athlete.

So in the end, I did not accomplish all of my goals for the season… (I did not qualify for Kona in 2013, having missed my qualifier due to injury; I did not set a new time PR in the Ironman distance; I just missed breaking 5 hours in the half-Iron distance; I came up short on my dream of winning the overall amateur Xterra World Championship title; and I was forced to break my lifelong streak of never dropping out of a race)…

However, I accomplished some significant goals that had not even been on my radar heading into this season, and I far surpassed other existing goals once I was able to get my racing going again… (I competed in my first Cat 1 mountain bike race; I learned to ride and race further and faster on my mountain bike than ever before; I turned in two new PR’s at the 70.3-distance and just missed qualifying for the 70.3 World Championship in my first full tri race back from injury; I earned a couple unexpected overall wins in races not on my original schedule, and used that momentum to propel me forward; I became the 25-29 Age Group World Champion in Xterra; and I experienced one of the most special days of my life by winning the overall amateur female race at Ironman Lake Tahoe, in front of friends, family and the most supportive community out there)…

2013 has been a season full of surprises, both good and bad. It has been a season of setbacks and surges; failures and successes; but most importantly progress and learning. While forced to push myself in new directions, I also reached new heights. I had to let go of a lot of the ideas I wanted so much to hold on to, but by doing that I made progress in other ways that I had not anticipated, even before my injury. I achieved some major personal breakthroughs, even as I watched other races and goals pass me by. Most importantly, I learned a lot, and grew tremendously.

Through my injury and recovery, as well as through my progression and successes, I learned some valuable lessons that I will carry with me. I learned to appreciate even more the importance of listening to our bodies, letting them be the dictator and honoring their messages. I learned to truly understand the meaning of making the most of the situation at hand and finding the benefit of each of our circumstances, whether it is as we intended or not. I learned that each of my experiences — from incredible highs to some lows I am happy to leave behind — had a specific place and purpose in my season, career, and myself as an athlete. I learned even more than I already knew about the value of perseverance, an open mind, adaptability, and constant self-belief. And I was reminded yet again that the journey of an athlete is constantly evolving, and we are indeed constantly improving as athletes and people, even in those times when our results don’t show it. I continue to trust in that.

Most important of all, I came to love triathlon even more this year, and feel even more certain about the path I am on in effort to purse my dreams in this great sport. I met some incredible new friends this year, and grew closer with old ones. I had so much fun. And I got incredible support from family, friends, competitors, sponsors and my community — and I am grateful beyond words.

© Skyler Mullings

Can’t get by without a little help! Photo © Skyler Mullings.

I was so fortunate to get to spend another year as a member of the LUNA Sponsored Athletes squad. It is this program, and all of the tremendous people at LUNA, who have truly planted the seeds for me to grow so much these last few years, and given me the foundation I needed to step up. Also a special thanks to August and Unleashed Coaching, for helping me create and continually assess and re-direct a plan for this season and beyond, and for really enabling me to believe in myself enough to “go for it” with this dream of mine. To Paco’s Truckee Bike and Ski, Alpenglow Sports, and Oakley… tremendous thanks for all of your support this year. And to the incredible healers at Synergy Healing Arts and Gateway Urgent Care, thank you for getting me back out there when I felt so unsure whether it would ever happen! And of course to each and every one of you reading this blog! I am so grateful to have you all on my team, and truly could not do it without you. Every single cheer and word of encouragement has lifted me up and pushed me forward in ways you could not imagine.

Dreaming, and Planning

Looking ahead to 2014, I’ve had some big decisions to make. First and foremost, I had to decide whether I was going to continue forward as an age grouper, working toward age group world titles at both the Ironman World Championships and Xterra World Championships next October, or if I wanted to step up to the pro ranks in 2014, challenging myself in new ways by racing against the best in the world all year long.

This was a really tough decision for me, as there are benefits to both staying amateur and going pro. I’ve thought long and hard about all of them. And in the end, I have decided to follow my gut — and my dreams — and accept my professional license, starting the 2014 season as a pro both on and off the road. Becoming a pro is a big, important step to the ultimate goals I’ve been working toward in triathlon for a few years now, and the dream I have really decided to invest myself in. I understand it’s a big jump, and will bring a great challenge for me next year. But I also know I am someone who rises up to the challenge around me, and just as I have seen this year, it is in the most difficult environments, facing the greatest tests, where I thrive.

I am a big dreamer, and also a big believer. And I do think it’s true that our dreams should scare us a little bit if they are dreams worth dreaming and pursuing. Why pour so much of yourself into something if you already know you can achieve it? A dream worthy of your energy should be something you have to reach, work, sweat, focus, and struggle for — relentlessly. It should be something that cannot be achieved without limitless passion and desire. I have those things, and I am eager to do the work; I am eager to step up and rise to the challenge. I do no want to wonder, “What if?!” I have a lot of work to do, but I’m excited to do it, and confident that I am ready to do it. After all, if I want to be among the best in the world, I’d better start racing with those ladies, right?! Right!

So, I’ve relinquished my Kona spot for next year, which I had to do since it was earned as an age grouper. But that’s okay… I’m in this for the long run, and I really do believe I will have many years left to go to Kona, hopefully as a pro now! But right now I want to do what will help me to make the greatest improvements and growth as an athlete, and I believe racing as a pro next year will help push me to make the gains I am looking for. I am nervous, of course, but also very excited. As my friend Lizzie said to me recently in one of my discussions with her about this: it’s time to stop doubting and just go for it! So here I am, embarking on the next step of my journey, and I am going to do all I can to make it a big one.

I am still in the planning process as far as exactly what my schedule will look like for next year, but I know that Kona will not be on the program for 2014, and Xterra World Championships will be the big finale for me next year. I plan to focus on the Xterra U.S. Pro Series, and the 70.3 distance on the road, with some other supplemental races in there as well, including Leadville 100 on the bike. There are still some details to be hashed out, but I know for sure that I’ll be aiming high, dreaming big, and giving it all I’ve got in my first of what I hope are many years to come as a pro triathlete — celebrating a life outdoors and a sport that I love.

Bring on the journey…

-KL

© Skyler Mullings

© Skyler Mullings

Xterra World Championships: An Incredible Week of Aloha

I already know at the start that I’m going to love writing this blog, because I would happily relive my week in Maui for the Xterra World Championships again and again. When I returned home last week, I was sad to leave the island… but my heart was SO full after an absolutely incredible time in a beautiful place, with some of the coolest people of all time, and conquering one very challenging race day.

Panorama1The Lead-In

Xterra Worlds was definitely the “big daddy” of my race season (after all, it is the World Championships!). It was also the final race on my 2013 calendar, and I was determined to carry my momentum from Ironman Lake Tahoe in September and end the season on a high note. Coming off such a strong performance at IMLT, I knew I was fit and primed to turn in another solid result, but after focusing primarily on the road and longer distance training heading into IMLT, I had to make a pretty quick turnaround to get back into off-road mode — not to mention making sure I also got properly recovered from the Ironman distance.

Fall1

Loving the fall riding at home!

Fortunately, the mountain biking around Tahoe was absolutely amazing this fall. Dampened trails, crisp air and stunningly bright leaves had me pretty much grinning ear-to-ear, like a kid in the world’s coolest playground, every single day. I really did enjoy a lot of the road bike training I did leading up to Ironman, but after spending a solid few days on my mountain bike again, I was immediately reminded that the singletrack really does have my heart. The many fun rides I had throughout October got me even more psyched up to be back on the dirt and competing for the Xterra amateur world title!

The week before my trip, my body was feeling a little sluggish, and I started to have some doubts about how I’d dealt with the challenge of balancing recovery and preparation. But I reminded myself to trust in my training program, and to feel confident in knowing I’d done all I could to be ready. And once we touched down in Maui, I did feel that way. It was all about focusing on the race itself, and not what I had or hadn’t done coming in — and soaking up the entire experience of being on the island and a part of Xterra’s main event.

Ride1

Getting ready for some pre-ride action with Liz and Rory

The days before the race were spent training on the course, getting accustomed to the heat and humidity, spending time with some seriously awesome Xterra buds, eating delicious food, checking out some incredible island sights (while staying as inactive and sun-free as possible!), and even doing a little dancing. Time flew by, and just like that race morning had arrived. I felt excited, but surprisingly calm. I was ready to do this thing!

Race-Day Perspective

One of three affirmations I carried with me that day

One of 3 affirmations I carried with me

As usual, I had some pretty big goals for myself, and had set my sights high for this race. At a World Championship, with competitors from across the globe, it’s always hard to really know how you might stack up against the field. But I knew what I was shooting for. I wanted a top-five overall amateur finish, and an age group win — and I wanted it bad! But, like at IMLT, I held on to the idea of the overall amateur win. Again, it’s hard to ever really know what your chances against your competitors are like on any given day, or how things will unfold on the course. All you can know is what you’ve done to get there, what you believe you’re capable of, and what you’re going to try to do to achieve it. And deep down, I did believe I was capable of the overall amateur win at this race — but, with some incredibly strong and talented competitors in the field, I knew I would have to have one hell of a day to do it. It would have to be a perfect race. I kept all this in mind as start time neared, but I knew I had a long day and a very tough battle ahead of me, so I tried to channel my energy into staying within myself, and focus on the process rather than the outcome.

While the win would prove to be out of reach for me that day, the battle to the finish line was every bit as challenging as I’d anticipated. While I was happy to see a much calmer morning at the beach than the epic surf brake from last year’s race, I was not so happy about the heat. Race day brought the hottest temps of my time in Maui, along with very high humidity. This made the day pretty tough for me, despite my sauna time and other attempts at ‘heat training’ — a pretty tough task in October in Truckee — before leaving home.

Swim – 26:07, 17th amateur female

Pre-race swim on the race course

Pre-race swim on the course

When the gun went off and us amateur ladies charged our way through the surf break, I focused on finding some fast feet in front of me and getting into a good rhythm. I felt really good in the water, and much more comfortable with the ocean than I did last year. Before long we started overtaking some of the amateur males who’d started 2 minutes ahead, and by the first turn buoy that ocean swim was getting seriously crowded! This was one of the many downsides of starting in the last wave… but I knew all of us amateur women were facing the same challenge. Heading back to the beach I tried to find my own space and distance myself from the chaos. This definitely put me on a longer line, but I think it was worth it to have some clear water. I got out of the surf break with no problems, and made the small beach run to head back in for ‘lap two.’ I knew I’d already lost a few minutes to the top swimmers, but I was having a really strong-for-me swim, and feeling solid. The second lap was much shorter, and put in a big kick to keep myself as close as possible to the leaders. I ended up coming out of the water in 17th place, about 4 minutes back. A solid chunk of time to make up, but it was about what I expected, and I was really happy with my time, which was a couple minutes faster than last year.

Swim Start

Bike – 2:06:36, 6th amateur female

All smiles on the pre-ride! The race was a little different...

All smiles on the pre-ride! The race was a little different…

I knew I had a big task ahead of me heading onto the bike, but I felt up to the challenge. I like to think anything is possible when it comes to this sport! This bike course is not very technical at all, but is really challenging in other ways. There’s a huge amount of climbing over the 20 miles, with some very steep pitches and some painfully long hills. The first 4 miles felt particularly relentless as we headed up (and up and up!) into the west Maui slopes. Having started behind all the men, and getting out of the water behind so many women, made the first few miles all the more difficult. Passing opportunities were not easy to come by and I had to make some hard charges to get by other racers and avoid getting bogged down. I rode with a sense of fury, determined to move up the field and start closing the gap to the lead.

I felt strong, and my legs felt responsive and light. By about mile 4, I’d already made up several spots, and got a split that I’d cut more than a minute off of my time back from the lead. I told myself I was still within striking distance, less than three minutes back, and pushed on. From there we got a bit of descending, and then the course moved toward the open jeep roads that make up the majority of the ride, and also bring some of the more sustained climbs and long descents, a lot of very loose dirt, and lots of exposure to the sun. This type of riding is definitely not my forte, as I very much prefer more technical singletrack, with quicker terrain changes. I knew from last year that I’d probably struggle a bit on all these open fire-road sections, but I was determined to maintain as much power and speed as possible. As it turns out, I may have been a little too focused on pushing hard…

I continued to steadily work my way up the women’s field the next few miles, getting up into the top five, and eventually into the top three among female amateurs. This was right where I wanted to be! I was feeling psyched up, strong, and determined to keep my foot on the gas. But on one of the downhill corners around mile 7, I didn’t see the little arrow sign in the giant cloud of dust from the racers in front of me, and I ended up going the wrong way. I stayed straight on the road instead of making the right turn that continued down, and I ended up riding up a long hill that lead to nowhere. I thought things looked a little funny as I got part way up and didn’t see anyone in front of me, but I could hear another racer behind me, so I figured I was all good and the trail was about to turn off somewhere. But as I neared the top of the hill all I could see was a big green gate blocking the way. I looked for a turn-off to the side, but it wasn’t there. WTF?! I was so confused, and I turned around to ask my wrong-way pal if he knew what the heck was going on. He immediately started bombing back down the hill, so — after a mild panic attack — I followed suit and hightailed it back to the the actual course.

I got back on track, but not without losing a solid couple minutes, not to mention a good chunk of oh-so-precious energy after climbing up an unnecessary hill. Ugh! I was SO bummed, frustrated, stressed, etc. I just went off-course at the freaking World Championship! Who does that?! Well… apparently me, the guy behind me, and a few other racers, as I would come to find out later. At any rate, it was a total bummer. But I knew I could either let it be a huge setback if I dwelt on it and started stressing about the minutes I’d lost, or I could just put it out of my head, move on, and focus on making up the time. I chose the latter, and as I fought my way back up the field, I tried not to get too bummed when I had to re-pass many of the competitors I’d already gone around much earlier. It was a good test of staying mentally tough and focusing on the present. Unfortunately I’d been passed by the eventual second-place amateur woman while I was off course, and lost even more time from the lead, but after some hard fighting on now-tiring legs — and several more tough miles of loose dirt, hard climbs, and brutal heat and humidity —  I was able to work my way back up to 4th place in the women’s amateur field. I was a woman on a mission!

Run – 51:15, 5th amateur female

Run1By the time I reached T2, I was definitely feeling worked. My legs were tired, my energy was running low, and I was H-O-T! I knew the win was well out of reach at that point (because my LUNA teammate, Hannah Rae, was absolutely CRUSHING it!), but I was really pleased to be in the top 5. Heading out on the run I felt a definite sense of urgency. I had no idea how far anyone was behind me, and I really wanted to hold onto that top-five spot — and hopefully move up! The first 3 miles of the run follow the same path as the bike course, so it’s pretty much all uphill, with a few really steep pitches. I was basically alone, with no women anywhere in sight, and only a few men who I passed on the way up. I was hot and tired, but mentally this section went by much quicker than I expected. Running uphill is NOT my jam, so I was expecting to struggle more than I did. At the top I got a split from August that I was 40 seconds down from the third place woman, who was also in my age group!

Okay Kara, time to DIG DEEP! My age group world title, and an overall amateur podium, were within reach! From there the run flattened out and then was almost all downhill, so I was able to get my legs kicking and start picking up time pretty quickly. (Downhill running IS my jam!). But just when I thought I was totally rockin’ it, another woman came speeding by me. I opened up my stride and pushed the tempo to stay with her. This definitely upped my pace, and I started to feel really good and even have a little fun as we made our way back down the slope! She got a little gap on me, but I could still see her up ahead. By about mile 4.5, I could also see the gal in my age group. I knew I was making up time on her, but she was moving strong, and I had to work really hard to close the gap. I caught her at the bottom of the final climb in the race (a brutal heartbreaker of a hill that I’m confident they threw in there just to devastate all of us just when we thought we were in the clear). I hate this hill! But I knew I had to suck it up and go; it was my opportunity. I told my screaming legs to shut it, made the pass and didn’t look back. I was in a serious world of hurt, but somehow I was making up time on the woman who’d passed me earlier. If I passed her back, I’d have my podium spot!

The top of the hill marked mile 5, and from there it was a long, gradual switch-back descent down to the beach. I loved this part, and I was confident I’d be able to get away there if I could make the pass. I closed the gap just over the top of the hill, and after the first switchback I found an opening to get around. I let my legs go and gave all I had to smash that downhill. I felt like I was flying, but she was hanging right on me, and near the bottom she made a move and sneaked around as we crossed the final road before turning back to the beach. But I decided then that I was not going to let her go; I was going to fight this thing out to the very end. And that’s exactly what I ended up having to do.

When we got onto the beach (the other unbelievably evil section of the race), I put in a hard charge and got away. On the final sand incline before the finish, I hit the wall big time and was in absolute suffer-ville. My legs had nothing. But the spectators screamed at me to GO! August told me I had a 5-second gap, and assured me I could put in a final kick. Once I hit the grass and got into the finish chute, I put in the best sprint I possibly could, draining every last ounce of my energy. I made it across the line in 3:28:24 completely tapped, but as the third overall amateur and the 25-29 age group world champion!… And then I promptly fell over and got wheeled to the med tent to cool off and get some energy back. Goooood times!

Recovering in the med tent post-race

Recovering in the med tent post-race

I was totally exhausted, but very happy. Between the hot conditions and the difficulty of the course, this was a seriously tough race (in some ways more difficult than IMLT), and an epic battle — and I gave it everything I had. That is the ultimate goal of every race. Of course I was shooting for that overall amateur win, but Hannah Rae put that out of reach for me or anyone else in the amateur field with an absolutely stunning performance when it mattered most. She delivered perfectly, turning in a commanding win, and I am so happy for her! I was definitely disappointed about the mistake I’d made on the bike, and I do think I could have been in strong contention for second place amateur had I avoided that, but you never know… Outside of that, I was very satisfied with my race. I left it all out there, and I fought hard to earn a finish I am proud of. Last year I was 14th overall amateur female in Maui, and second place in my age group. To take the age group title this year and finish third among all amateurs was a HUGE leap for me, and there really is no better feeling than progress! I am totally psyched!

Feeling Fulfilled

After the race we spent a couple extra days on the island, hiking to insane views, snorkeling with turtles and fish, soaking up the sunshine, and generally exploring all the sweetness that is Maui. It was magical! I left feeling SO fulfilled, happy and extremely grateful for such an incredible experience, and an amazing year. This trip was such a special way to end the season. I really didn’t want it to be over, but it was a wonderful ending, and leaves me so excited to come back for more next year.

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I have so many to thank for making this trip happen for me, and helping me turn in a successful race result. As always, I am so grateful to have so many wonderful people on my “team,” supporting me from near and far. It means the world to me!

A few special thanks are needed this time…

- First and foremost, to August for getting me ready to race even when I felt doubtful that I would be. And, of course, for believing in me.

- To all who donated to help make Maui a reality for me. I truly cannot thank you enough!

- To the LUNA squad, for continuing to inspire me, and for all the support… especially our mechanic Chris and pro team manager Waldek, who ensured we were all as ready to go fast as we could possibly be, and helped take away those outside concerns.

- To Orbea, Orca, Oakley, Paco’s Bike and Ski and Alpenglow Sports for helping to support me with the best gear, service and general coolness factor evah.

- And to all my Xterra buds for making this week so much fun (especially you, Lizzie and Rory… for the riding, swimming, dancing, laughing, med-tent-sharing, post-race-celebrationing and for helping me to turn a bed sheet into a Halloween costume!). Xterra peeps, you totally rule, and I can’t wait to see you again next spring! Until then… here’s to the off-season! :)

Thank You1

Ironman Lake Tahoe: One Incredibly Special Day

© Skyler Mullings

Photo © Skyler Mullings, AfterHours Productions

They say it takes a village.

Never have I understood that more than last Sunday, at the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe event.

Going in to IMLT, I had some pretty high goals. I was intent on winning my age group and qualifying for Ironman World Championships in Kona, and I was aiming for a top-three overall amateur finish. I believed that was attainable for me, given where my fitness was at and the preparation I’d done. I knew it was a big goal, but I am adamant that we can only expect ourselves to achieve greatness when we truly believe we can — and act on that belief and expectation.

That being said, the thought of taking the amateur win was certainly in the back of my mind, and while it stayed tucked away as a distant thought, it was present, and I didn’t try to squelch it. Instead, I let it be, even nurturing it now and again as the event approached. I kept my mind open to the possibility of winning — because, after all, anything really can happen (it’s not just an Ellie Goulding song) — so why not?! As the race got closer, and I felt more ready than ever, I kept that thought of victory close at hand, poised to bring itself to the forefront if the time was right.

And last Sunday, as I raced my heart out in front of the hometown crowd on terrain I call my own, that time came. I had the day I’d worked so hard to achieve; the day I’d prepared so well for; the day I’d been aiming toward and dreaming of for so long; and the day that, deep down, I knew I was ready for.

Everything came together, and after all the preparation, the execution was there too. I had one of the best races of my life, on a day when I wanted it perhaps more than ever.

And I had a village behind me.

Embracing, and Conquering, the Ironman Struggle

I wish I could say IMLT was a perfect race. I wish I could look back and see a day that came together beautifully and gracefully, defined only by elation. But it was not a perfect day. It was not without flaws, low points, or moments of weakness and uncertainty. In fact, at times I felt like it was down right ugly. And it hurt. A LOT!

It’s funny, because this was a big contrast to my last 140.6, at Vineman in July 2012, where I also had a great result, but felt fantastic throughout the day and enjoyed the whole experience. I remember feeling like I was smiling through almost the entire run that day. This was not the case last Sunday. But I still ran faster.

IMLTlapointWhile IMLT was not the perfect day, what it was was one of those rare days when I could get past the imperfections, trudge on through the low moments, and pull myself up when I least expected it. And it was one of those rare days where — though far from perfect — my best was enough. It was enough to meet my expectations, and achieve something great. Most importantly, last Sunday was one of those rare days when I knew, with absolute certainty, I could not have given more of myself. On that particular day, that was the very best I could do. I gave it all I had. And you cannot ask for more than that.

Looking back on this day and my season so far, I realize that where I’ve grown most as an athlete is not in my abilities to feel stellar and remain strong throughout a race, but to find strength when it seems most elusive. I think that’s a tremendously important lesson, and I’m extremely grateful for the progress I’ve made in that respect. In Ironman especially, there will almost always be low moments, and learning how to push through and transform them into something positive is what ultimately defines our day, and allows some of us to rise to the top. It’s that necessary tenacity and determination for each of us to keep fighting through our own battles that makes up the spirit of Ironman. I think all of us who raced last Sunday, on a very challenging course and in extremely tough conditions, understand that now more than ever.

If you want all the nitty-gritty details, read on my friends… (but be warned, you’re in for a long one!)

One Very Stunning Swim – 1:06:39

Sunday morning greeted us with temperatures hovering around freezing. We were all bundled in layers of puffy coats, parkas, mittens and ski hats. When I got to my bike to pump the tires, the bags I’d covered my seat and handle bars with overnight had frozen, and my wheels were lined with ice. I reminded myself we were all facing the same conditions, and the additional challenge of cold temps could actually be a big advantage for me.

After much scrambling around trying to get things organized, go time came quickly. I got my wetsuit on and made my way to the 1:00-1:10 section of the swim lineup. The sand was freezing, and crunched under my feet like ice. With about three minutes to go, as I was doing some warmup exercises, I felt something hit the ground next to me. I was pretty much devastated to discover it was my Garmin. The band was completely broken, with no chance of a fix. I wavered between crying, having a panic attack, and laughing it off. Luckily, I (mostly) chose the latter. Guess I wasn’t meant to have a watch today! Wanting to have it for the run, I decided to stash it in my wetsuit to bring along, but I couldn’t see it.

Shannon Swim Pic

Photo by Shannon Lankenau

The swim scene had to be one of the most beautiful of all time: freshly snow-capped peaks in the background, steam rising off a perfectly still lake, and the most incredible streams of light just starting to layer through. Absolutely stunning. There was such a sense of calm, even as we entered the water. With the new rolling start, the swim was much less chaotic than in the past, and with the exception of a few solid kicks to the face, I had a pretty clear path. I favor maintaining my personal space bubble over trying to draft in the masses, so I stayed off to the side a bit to find free water.

The course was great: well-marked and straight-forward. The water was clear, calm, and actually really warm! At 61 degrees it was pretty much double the air temperature, so it felt like a warm bath. Throughout the hour-and-change I swam, I got to watch every phase of the sun rise as I took my breaths. It was beautiful beyond words, and I felt so lucky to be a part of such a spectacular scene and special moment. All I could say to myself, again and again, was “This is SO cool!!!”

High Five

High five from mom! Photo by Shannon Lankenau

In general I felt smooth and strong. Of all parts of the race, I felt least prepared for the swim, but the distance went by much quicker than expected, and I was really pleased to see my time on the exit. It was right on par with the 1:05 I was shooting for. The day was off to a great start! Out of the water I got my first taste of the unbelievable community support I’d receive throughout the day, and I felt completely overjoyed. The entire swim exit and transition was lined with fans, and I heard my name from many directions. I was stoked to see some familiar faces, including my mom, who’d made her way to the front to give me a high-five. Awesome!!!

From there, it was on to the slowest transition ever (6:52)…

Like most competitors, I did a full change in the change tent. I’d packed a ton of clothing in my transition bag, but with the swim much more mild than I expected, I opted to go with less, and put on layers I could shed easily. I knew I’d warm up later and be hating life if I had too much on. I felt a little frantic in the change tent, but thanks to the help of some seriously fabulous volunteers, I got on what I needed and made my way toward the bike, stashing my band-less watch in my pocket on the way out.

The toughest bike leg in Ironman…? – 6:05:15

Downtown Bike

Photo by Ben Grasseschi

Not being able to see my watch on the bike was strange. I’m generally pretty religious about watching my miles per hour when racing, but in this case it was all by feel! At first I felt like I was flying blind, but then I actually started to really enjoy not being a slave to my watch and just ride as hard or as fast as I felt like! I started off quite fast, probably partly because I was freezing, partly because of the lack of speed/time reference, and partly because I knew I had some serious work to do after the swim. But I felt really good, and I got into a rhythm where I could tune out everything else around me, and just focus on keeping my pedals as smooth, strong and fast as possible. My face was frozen and my legs were nearly numb, but I put it out of my head.

When we reached downtown Truckee, one of the businesses I work with, Bespoke [the most fantastic gift shop you'll ever come across!] had put up a huge sign for me and fellow local racer Sarah Clement. It was the first thing I saw coming into town, and I felt overwhelmed with gratitude! There were already many spectators in town, and I got plenty of cheers to give me some extra pep in my pedal. Heading out of town my friend Greg [owner of the most delicious coffee shop you'll ever come across, Coffeebar!] had gotten the memo about my broken watch, and told me the time of day. This confirmed I was indeed riding fast, but I felt strong and in control, so I pushed on. I knew I was taking some risk, but I also knew that was what I needed to do if I wanted to attain my goals. I needed to go big. If I failed in the process, then so be it, but I’d rather go down swinging than cross the line feeling like I could have left more out there.

Soon after, a friend gave me a split that I was in second. I knew I’d passed a lot of women on the ride so far, but I honestly wasn’t paying much attention. I figured that meant second in my age group, so I set my sights on moving up. Then it was on to the climbs, and while I’d ridden these several times and felt pretty confident, I have to say they felt harder than I expected in the race. By the time we hit Brockway, I felt really tired. This was probably my toughest moment on the ride, and I started to worry that I was running out of steam. I tried to stay focused on my spin and told myself I’d recover once I got over the top. I sang my IMLT theme song in my head, reminding myself to be brave — one of three mantras written on my hands and arms that day.

Photo copyright Mark Nadell

Photo © Mark Nadell, MacBeth Graphics

Near the summit I saw August and my family, who told me I was actually the second amateur. WHAT?! I was both surprised and elated, and it definitely gave me the kick in the butt I needed. My mom told me to “Stay calm,” which was great advice. At the top I was greeted by the smiling faces of Far West Nordic Ski Association at the aid station, who were among the many selfless people to spend their day volunteering. I was so happy to see them, and they gave me plenty of cheers over the top.

With one lap down, I got another time split from a friend, and was right on pace for the six-hour bike split I was hoping for. My legs were coming back, and I was excited to take down lap two. From that point forward, my mindset changed, and I was “in it to win it.” I was still taking risks, but there was no turning back now. I wanted this, and I was going to do everything I could to get it. I pushed on, finding rhythm again, but I didn’t quite have the speed of my first lap.

All smiles from these incredible volunteers. Photo © Mark Nadell, MacBeth Graphics

All smiles from these incredible volunteers. Photo © Mark Nadell, MacBeth Graphics

Just after we went through downtown Truckee again, another woman came by me. She was assertive in her pass, leaving me behind. I had no idea where any other women were at that point, and was sort of waiting for more to come by, but no one did. The climbs only got harder the second time around, but ironically I felt better. My legs seemed to have just a little more to give. After another amazing greeting from the Far West crew at Brockway Summit #2, I knew I had less than an hour left on the bike, so I tried to bring it home strong. Before I knew it, I’d hit T2 at the Village at Squaw, as the third amateur woman, after a 6:05 bike split that I was very pleased with.

Photo © Skyler Mullings

Photo © Skyler Mullings, AfterHours Productions

Run: The Moment of Truth – 3:41:24

I could not believe the crowds gathered at Squaw, cheering me in. Amazing!! Thanks to more help from the incredible volunteers, I was into the tent and out much more swiftly than T1 (2:51). Onto the run, I was surprised how good my legs felt right away. Usually it takes me a few miles to get going, but this time they were ready to run! The first mile pretty much wrapped through the village and parking lot, and I felt like a super hero running through the crowds. I saw so many friendly faces, and many unfamiliar faces. But it seemed like every one of them was behind me, rooting me on. Once again I felt consumed by gratitude, and thought I might burst with pride for my amazing community!

Photo by Lefrak Photgraphy

Photo by Lefrak Photgraphy

By mile 3, I moved into second amateur. The gal I passed was running strong, and I sort of questioned myself as I ran by her so quickly. But I reminded myself that today was about going big — and fulfilling my dreams, and continued to push. Wrapping around Squaw Creek Resort was hilly and tougher than expected, but seeing family and friends gave me another big boost. I got a split there that I was five minutes down from first, but had already gained some time. I took that in, but really didn’t focus on it, more concerned with my own efforts at that point. I knew there was a long way to go. Once we got onto the river path at about mile 5, things got a bit lonely, and I started to hit some low points. It was a long, monotonous way out to the turnaround at mile 10.5, and I can’t say I enjoyed it much.

For the next several miles, I was in my own world, consumed by my own struggle, and sort of oblivious to what was happening around me. My mind went through a cycle of different thoughts, letting the negative creep in, and then working hard to push them out. I started to question why in the world I was putting myself through this, and told myself I’d never do another Ironman again! Psyche! Then I sang “Brave” over and over again in my head, and found a few other motivating songs to mix in. From that point on, it really became a mental battle. I felt like I was starting to fade. I had my watch in my hand but wasn’t too concerned about monitoring my pace. I channeled all my energy into staying mentally focused and upbeat. I went through a lot of ups and downs with how my body was feeling, and was trying different things at every aid station to try and trick my body into feeling better. It seemed like each time a hit a low point I thought there was no coming out of, I someow managed to bounce back for a bit, before hitting another slump and repeating the cycle. I seriously questioned whether I’d make it to the finish. But I kept trucking along, knowing if I slowed down too much or walked, that would be the end for me. I had to stay on autopilot and just keep moving. I couldn’t back down.

Getting a split from mom! Photo copyright Mark Nadell

Getting a split from mom! Photo copyright Mark Nadell

Heading back into Squaw I was pretty much miserable. I thought I might pass out, fall over, and never get up. But I told myself to just keep going, and focused on finding a light. Then I saw August again, and he told me my deficit was down to 2.5 minutes. WHAT?!?! I was shocked. I hadn’t even thought about the deficit, or the idea of winning, since my last split. I couldn’t believe it was still within reach. He told me, “Kara, you can win this!” But I felt like I couldn’t even think about that. I didn’t want to put that pressure on myself. I focused on keeping my pace, and getting through one mile at a time. I felt like that was all I could do. If I moved into the lead, then so be it, but I knew I was already giving everything I had, so there was no more to do but keep running.

Coming into the village the second time was even more incredible than the first. I saw more familiar faces, and got even more cheers. I could feel how genuinely everyone wanted me to succeed that day. It was a huge motivator, and I told myself not to give up just yet. This definitely helped me pick up the pace the next few miles, and by the time we hit Squaw Creek again I was just one minute down. I literally shrugged off the split. All I could think about was putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping. Then it was down to 30 seconds, and for the first time since she passed me on the bike, I could see the leader. I forced myself to change my mindset, and realized how much I actually wanted that win. Until that moment, I think part of me had been settling, telling myself that finishing second amateur would be awesome, and I was satisfied where I was. But I found my grit again, and decided I was not going to settle. Yes, second place was awesome, but first place, here in my hometown, was a dream come true!

Photo by Lefrak Photography

Photo by Lefrak Photography

I moved into the lead just after mile 20 and never once looked back, and from that point on it was pretty much a combination of misery, pain and total insecurity mixed with a whole lot of immeasurable, desperate desire. I was exhausted. I was empty. I felt weak. It was hard for me to keep fuel down at that point. I was running on sheer will and determination — and a whole lot of help from my village. I ran through every positive motto I could in my head, and thrived off of the cheers and support from my friends, family and other spectators. I thought about all the people I knew following online and sending energy from afar, and I took it all in. I was hurting so bad, but I wanted to cross that line — in the lead — even more. I told myself that I simply could not give in at that point; it was just not an option. Head down, one foot in front of the other, one mile at a time.

Even as I saw how excited my friends and family were, I literally could not muster a smile in return — a rarity for me. It was all I had just to keep moving forward. I never felt secure about my position, even when I reached mile 25. I knew anything could happen at any moment, especially with my body facing such complete exhaustion. August called to me to enjoy the moment, but I was literally too tired, and too unsure, to really do that. By then I could only focus on ticking away one minute at a time. Only when I reached the village again did I feel sure I’d make it to the finish line, and I did everything I could to kick it in, not knowing how my finishing time might be impacted by the rolling start.

I crossed the line to a full super-hero hometown reception, and in disbelief. I was elated, but so utterly exhausted I couldn’t really take it all in. I was grateful to be greeted by friends and family at the finish, but I was pretty quickly ushered into the medical tent, where I spent the next half-hour shivering and trying to find the energy to stand up on my own again. Once I got out of there, live timing splits confirmed that I had indeed taken the overall amateur win by just over two minutes, with a 3:41:24 run split and a total time of 11:03:01 — a little short of my goal of 10:50, but given the difficulty of the day as a whole, I was very pleased. Among the pros, I was 10th woman overall. Most importantly, I knew that, despite the imperfections, I’d left it all out there. On this day, I could do no better.

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A Heartfelt Thank You

I still can’t really believe what a special day Ironman Lake Tahoe turned out to be. It is one  I will never, ever forget, and will forever be grateful for. I am so very humbled by the overwhelming support I received, from near and far. I can only hope every one of the many people who played a part in getting me to that finish line know just how much they impacted my day, and how truly grateful I am. Thank you, to each and every one of you — my family and friends, my tremendous sponsors and supporters, the spectators and volunteers, my fellow competitors, my incredible course photographers, race organizers, and the entire Tahoe community — for being a part of my “village,” and pushing me to reach my potential.

Now I am faced with some decisions. While I qualified for Kona by winning my age group, I also qualified for my professional license by winning the overall amateur race. Ultimately, I have to choose one or the other… but I’ve got some time to decide, and I will certainly keep everyone posted on that process. Next up for me, it’s back to the dirt for the Xterra World Championship in Maui, where I’ll be racing for an age group world title. It will be hard to top the amazing day I experienced at Ironman Lake Tahoe, but I’m sure going to try my hardest! If you’re interested in helping to support my efforts to get to Maui, please visit my donation page. Every little bit helps. And as they say, it truly takes a village. Thank you!!

Celebrating post-race wit just a small part of my tremendous support team! Photo © Mark Nadell

Celebrating post-race with just a small part of my tremendous support team! Photo © Mark Nadell, MacBeth Graphics

**Click here to listen to my post-race interview with 101.5 FM, Truckee-Tahoe Radio**

**To view more IMLT photos by MacBeth Graphics, click here**

**To view more IMLT photos by Lefrak Photography, click here**