Xterra Las Vegas (and the Ups and Downs of Racing)

My race season is now in full swing, and with the most extensive travel taking place these first few months, I’m already behind on race reports… shocker! At any rate, it feels really great to be fully engrossed in the race scene again, despite the relative chaos and complete lack of free time. ;) I recently completed an 11-day road trip to Southern Nevada and Utah, where I competed in the first two races of my 2015 pro season: Xterra West Championships in Las Vegas and the Ironman 70.3 US Pro Championship in St. George, UT. I’m already back on the road again, now in the southeast, having just raced Xterra Alabama and preparing for the upcoming Raleigh 70.3 race. But I still want to take a little time to reflect on those first two races, even if I’m already on to the next… (more so for me than for anybody else, as writing about them really helps me process things in my mind and get the most out of my learning experience from each race).

While the Xterra Vegas and St. George 70.3 races took place back-to-back weekends, in close proximity and in very similar environments, my experiences couldn’t have been more different. Looking at them both in retrospect now, it’s a perfect illustration of the ups and downs of racing, because while one of these races went really well, just a week later the next one was terrible! But that’s the way it goes, in racing and in life… I guess you just have to “keep on keeping on,” be thankful for the ups, and even for the downs… because they make the ups that much sweeter, and they teach us so much about how to get there. Ultimately, I think the lows of racing are actually more important than the highs — they are what really define our character and strength as athletes, and what make us progress the most. That’s why, despite getting a pro-career-best result in Las Vegas, I honestly think my very sub-par performance in St. George was a more important day. Because as immensely disappointed as I was with that result and that day, I know how much I will get out of having gotten through it and not given up, and I know how much more disappointed I would have been if I had given up.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not still fired up about how things went down in Las Vegas!

Xterra Las Vegas: Moving On Up!

Going into Xterra Vegas, I had some clear goals, but I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. I didn’t feel I had a great sense of where I was at since my injury had thrown things off so much in my lead-in to the season, and the couple pre-season races I did get to do were very “so-so” with just coming back. But I knew having those under my belt would be a huge boost in getting me ready for this pro season opener, and I felt like I was finally starting to come in to form. Despite all the scrambling and unanticipated challenges, the pieces were coming together! So I decided there was really no reason why I couldn’t have a great race here.

I’m really glad I made that decision and didn’t let myself be held back by any doubts or concerns about where my body was at or the challenges I’d faced this winter, because it ended up being a great day! Coming in, I had set my sights on a top-5 finish. I try to set pre-race goals that are not just result oriented, but rather things that are in my personal control, regardless of others. But make no mistake, I was still shooting for that podium! I’ve never made it into the top-5 at an Xterra pro race before (last year my best finish was 7th, which I achieved twice), but I was confident it was attainable for me here, despite my pre-season challenges. I knew I’d have to have a great day and fight crazy hard, but I definitely felt it was within reach, and this was as good an opportunity as any! I felt surprisingly good leading into the race, and all my pre-race preparations had gone  well. The course was in great shape, and the weather was exceptionally cool for Las Vegas. I was thrilled about the overcast skies and mild temps on race morning (given my total lack of heat exposure so far this year), and was generally feeling super positive about how things were shaping up for the race ahead.

Heading out on a lonely 2nd lap! Photo by August Teague.

Heading out on a lonely 2nd lap! Photo by August Teague.

As soon as we hit the water and the gun went off, I was feeling strong. I’d had an absolutely horrendous swim at the local Xterra I did back in March, and had some issues with my thumb getting bashed around in the mass start, but I’ve been putting in some very focused swim work, so I was confident things could go a lot better here. I had a great start and found myself swimming alongside some of the top female pros, and hanging in pretty comfortably. I was both surprised and stoked to see who I was in the company of, but tried to stay calm, remind myself this was where I should be, and just focus on doing everything I could to stay there. I hung on through the first buoy, but as we rounded the turn back to the beach to start lap two, the swimmers around me got super aggressive and I started to get bumped around and way off line. I sort of just let this happen, allowing them to essentially bump me out of the way, and I ultimately got dropped. For a bit I could still see the bubbles ahead of me and I tried to just hang on to them as long as I could, but eventually they got more and more faint and then I was alone. I was disappointed I had let myself get bumped off, because I really had felt pretty comfortable with the pace. I vowed to not let that happen again, and to try to stay on longer next time, and I swam on.

I got out of the water in about 8th place, and by the time I reached T1 another competitor was right on my heels. She ended up crushing the transition to exit ahead of me, but once I got on the bike I set my sights on her and caught back up. Sometimes I get stressed being in tight head-to-head battles with others, but I reminded myself to work with her on the bike, to use that to my advantage and hopefully bring us both closer to some of the next competitors up ahead. Unfortunately that didn’t work out as smoothly I hoped, as we had pretty opposite strengths and seemed to have a hard time making them come together. I moved by her fairly quickly, but then she charged up the first long, steep uphill to move back in front of me just before the top. Consequently, I got stuck behind on the downhill and had to hold back a lot of speed. This is always a bummer, as it’s easy time lost. Onto the next gruelingly steep uphill, she was super strong again and I got gapped, but I made it right back on the descent, and then was once again trapped behind.

This carried on for much of the first lap, with me gaining time on the downhills, flatter or technical sections, but then not really being able to get away because I would either not have room to get around or I’d get caught back up on the next climb. This was a little frustrating as I felt I was loosing a ton of time and opportunity on the descents, and I’m sure it was frustrating for her as well. All part of the challenge of racing though… just gotta make it work! I tried to go around in the loose, rocky lines on some of the downhills and it worked sometimes, but I couldn’t make a clear breakaway. Finally near the end of the first lap I put in a hard surge as we went over the top of the last climb before the most technical descent, really not wanting a clear path ahead. I just made it out in front and charged the descent hard. This was followed by one of the more technical sections, which I was able to ride nice and clean, and that ended up being enough for me to get a good breakaway.

Charging hard on the Orbea Alma! Photo by August Teague.

Charging hard on the Orbea Alma! Photo courtesy of Xterra.

By that point we’d already passed another gal, and shortly after I made one more pass to move myself into 6th place. I charged as hard as I could trying to track down that top 5, and never looked back! This ride is deceivingly challenging. It’s not particularly technical, but there are some sketchy spots with really loose, dry dirt, and there is some very steep terrain. The climbs are pretty relentless! It’s funny, I always sort of manage to forget just how hard triathlon racing really is when I haven’t done it for a bit, and then I am brutally reminded at the beginning of the year! This stuff is TOUGH!!

I cut a bit of time into 5th place over the rest of the bike course, but still hit the run in 6th. I was so determined to move up, but I saw on my way out of T2 that I had some speedy women in hot pursuit! I would need to give absolutely everything I had on this run. I was confident in my running abilities, but hadn’t had much practice thus far with running off the bike at race pace, and given how hard I’d already pushed I had no idea how well I’d be able to run. Fortunately my legs came around quickly, and I ended up feeling really strong… just not quite strong enough! The run covers two of the same massive climbs as the bike course, and on the first one another competitor came flying by me. I was slightly deflated but knew I was still running strong with a chance to catch more women ahead, so I carried on and tried to keep her in sight. I was having a great day, and I wanted to keep it that way. She was gaining more time, but I could now see the next competitor up ahead, so I set my sights and worked to make my way up to her. I knew there were still other fast runners behind, but I just stayed focused on what was in front of me and tried not to think about anything else — including how much this was hurting! Once I got onto her heels I dug deep and made the pass, moving myself back into 6th place again. I pushed as hard as I could to make it stick, and then just tried to make it to the finish line as soon as possible before anybody else could snatch it away from me! I crossed the line in 6th, only about a minute-and-a-half off the podium, but pretty elated with a career-best pro performance and what was overall one of the strongest days I’d had in a long time.

Thrilled to cross this finish line! Photo by August Teague.

Thrilled to cross this finish line! Photo by August Teague.

I felt really solid from start to finish, and most importantly I knew I’d had the best race I possibly could that day. I had given it everything, and there really wasn’t much I would have changed about my race (okay, other than trying to hang on longer in the swim and get around earlier in the bike…). It was a bit bittersweet to come so close to the podium and just miss out, but I was definitely satisfied with my performance and would rank it as one of my best. I ended up having several gals within just another minute or so behind me, so it was certainly a very tight race — and a great battle — all the way down to the line. It was really nice to be on the right end of it this time, as so many other times I have just fallen to the wrong side of those tight battles and missed out on several places by the smallest time margin. It’s great to see the depth of the women’s Xterra pro field expanding so much, and the field just continue to get stronger. Last year I finished 7th in this race, but I was all alone. Once I got dropped from 6th halfway through the bike, I had no challengers from behind and nobody in striking distance out front, so this year’s result was much more hard-fought than that had been. I know that with this field of strong, talented women — and fierce competitors — there will be a lot more battling throughout the rest of this season! I think many of us are very evenly matched, and it could be anybody’s day at any point, so it will all come down to who has more to give within the race. Should be exciting and challenging, and ultimately make each of us better!

All in all, I am very happy with how things shaped up in Vegas, particularly given everything that went on for me during the off-season. To reach a new career best when it is least expected after a challenging few months is awesome. That being said, however, I think I definitely still have a lot more in me. I do feel that I’m still on my way back and continuing to get stronger, and I think there’s more potential there for sure (including that elusive podium finish — I know I can get there!). I’m certainly not in top form yet, and wouldn’t want to be at this point, with the season lasting all the way through early November and the most important races still months away. This was a solid day, and a great sign of steady progress toward what is to come, but it was by no means perfect. There’s room for improvement, and untapped potential — and that’s a great thing! Now to figure out how to tap into it… :)

I think the biggest takeaway of this race for me is to always keep an open mind about the possibilities and to never stop believing in yourself and your potential no matter what the circumstances are. This is a recurring theme for me, and really at the core of how I define myself as a racer, but this was yet another good reminder of how important it really is. I think it’s totally fine and appropriate to adjust expectations based on personal circumstances or those around you, but you have to not lose sight of what you want and what you believe you are capable of. This is a conscious choice that we all have to make every time we line up at the starting line, and sometimes it isn’t so easy. But as much as I can possibly help it, I choose to keep believing! The quest for the podium continues…

So great to race and share the trip with my LUNA teammate Suzie, who finished third! Photo by August Teague.

So great to race and share the trip with my LUNA teammate Suzie, who finished third! Photo by August Teague.

I’d hoped to get some words about my experience in St. George in here as well, but that will have to come next, followed by an update on my southeast racing adventure! So much writing to be done when there’s so much racing going on… it’s tough to keep up! :) Thanks for reading! – K

A long over-due update on injury, overcoming adversity and getting ready to RACE!

Wow, I can’t believe how long it has been since my last blog post… shameful! Looking back at what I wrote in January, and particularly how I started that post, I can say that not much has changed — but I am trying to make good on my promise to myself to maintain the approach I resolved to adapt at that time. Once again, I’ve been meaning to post an update for some time now, but it has continually gotten put on the backburner behind all the other tasks piling up on the plate. But, true to my resolution, I’ve had to accept that I can only do the best I can to get through one thing at a time, and be content with my best effort. Now that my race season has arrived, though, I’m very much looking forward to having triathlon and racing become more front and center in my life once again.

Lots has happened since I last posted, but unfortunately it hasn’t been anything I’ve been too excited to write about, mainly because I didn’t want to hyper-focus on the negatives, and also because I wanted to be out doing other stuff that kept me distracted and seeking out some FUN! The most defining event of my off-season was that just a few days after my last blog update, in mid-January, I crashed on a training ride with a friend and hyper-extended my thumb. It was a completely silly crash (as is always the case), and while my thumb hurt after extending it around my handlebars, I didn’t think it was a big deal. In true endurance athlete style, I was mainly focused on: 1. The fact that I was pissed I hadn’t made it through the line I’d made so many times before, and 2. The fact that we still had 2 hours of scheduled riding ahead of us, it was a beautiful day with great company, and I wanted to be out there. So I kept on riding. Things didn’t quite feel right and I couldn’t push the lever to shift gears, but I thought my thumb was just a little tweaked. After the ride it was sore and swollen, but I really didn’t think it was anything that serious because it didn’t seem to hurt that bad. (A perfect example of how an athletes’ high pain tolerance can ultimately be our worst enemy in addition to our best friend.)

ThumbThe next day I had to leave for a big four-day work trade show out in Utah, and then as soon as I got home I had to head out on the road for about a week-and-a-half down in the Bay Area, also for work. So all said and done, by the time I finally got in to get my thumb checked when it continued to be sore and never regain strength or functionality, it was over two weeks after the injury had occurred. It didn’t take long at all for the experts to determine that I’d completely torn my Ulner Collateral Ligament (UCL), and would need to get it repaired. We got a surgery scheduled as soon as possible since it had been so much time since the injury, and within a few days I was headed into my first ever surgery.

Recovering at my parents' house

Recovering at my parents’ house. Two thumbs UP!

The procedure itself went really well, but the next few days were ROUGH! Having never had surgery before, I had a really hard time dealing with the effects of the meds, and ended up feeling really sick. After a few days of being pretty much miserable and totally dysfunctional, I slowly started coming back to life. I owe a tremendous amount of thanks to the many people who helped me get through those first few days and beyond into the recovery process. It’s funny… as bummed out as I was to be injured, I can’t tell you how fortunate this event made me feel because of all the incredible support I received. I was amazed at how people stepped in to help me get through the small daily tasks that became a challenge (prepping food, cleaning, writing, showering/maintaining any sense of personal hygiene, driving, etc.), to offer some major mental pick-me-ups, to keep me entertained, and to share insight and advice. From my parents taking care of me those first few days to my friend Lizzy acting as my over-the-phone nurse, to numerous friends stopping by to check in and keep me well-fed, to care packages in the mail to cheer me up, to my friends Heather and PJ getting me out on my first hike post-surgery and helping me wash my hair for the first time in over a week… the list goes on and on, and I could not be more grateful! Being injured sucks, but having amazing people in your corner to help you get through it is AWESOME! This was a great reminder of how lucky I am to have such wonderful, caring people in my life.

Handmade chocolates make for a GREAT care package! Thanks Sabra!

Handmade chocolates make for a GREAT care package! Thanks Sabra!

Once I was through the worst of it, my next focus became getting back to activity, and eventually to structured training. Ultimately I was told it would be 6-8 weeks to full recovery, but I had some stepping stones to look forward to along the way in terms of training. It was a slow progression, but every little milestone felt awesome and seemed to open up a whole new door to more freedom!

My first activity post-surgery was a little over a week out, and was a hike/jam session/dance party in the woods with friends. It was awesome, and the perfect way to return to the great outdoors and put a BIG smile on my face. It was low impact, not strenuous, and low risk (other than a few jumps on top of boulders for a photo op… woops!). My next step was to try out a couple of easy run days. Initially the impact of running made my thumb pretty sore with all the jostling around, but after a few days that got better, and most of all it felt SO good to be back out there!

So I ran, and ran, and ran some more. After a couple weeks of just running, I was able to add in stationary riding. This was also awesome, but after a while it got reallllly mentally draining. I am NOT a fan of stationary/indoor any-type-of-exercise, and not even New Girl and Mindy Project could ultimately make it better for me. But as crazy as it made me, I knew I had to suck it up and just keep on pedaling, so I didn’t get even further behind on my training. I longed to be riding outside and back in my normal routine, but I tried to stay focused on what I COULD do rather than what I couldn’t, and be grateful that I was at least able to do some training, even if not everything I wanted to. Plus, as much as I hate riding in place, I knew there was some hidden benefit there in that I could get in really specific, quality workouts in a short amount of time that would ultimately help my riding (and that normally I avoid at all costs).

I wasn’t able to swim until about 5 weeks post-op. This was a huge bummer given that one of my biggest goals for the winter was to really put in a good swimming block, but eventually the time came and I was back in the water. I felt slow as can be and WAY behind where I was when I got injured, which was tough… but what can you do?! Nothing but jump in the pool and start swimming again! Around this same time I also got cleared for all outdoor riding, which was FANTASTIC news, and basically just in time to save my sanity from all the riding in place. Man did that first time hitting the dirt again feel incredible! Things were definitely looking up, and I finally felt like I was really on my way back, by about 7 weeks out.

First time back on the dirt! SO much happiness!!

First time back on the dirt! SO much happiness!!

Unfortunately, “on my way back” was certainly not where I’d hoped to be at nearing the beginning of April, as I’d expected to be really coming into good form with some serious fitness gains under my belt by that point… but, it is what it is. Setbacks are always a bummer, especially when they have a prolonged impact, but all we can do is work to overcome them, do the best we can with the opportunities we do have, and move forward. I have reminded myself of that so many times over these past couple months, and while it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve made it through the hard part, and am now just about back to full capacity and firing on all cylinders. This was definitely not the lead-in to the season that I had planned on, but I know sometimes things work out in ways that we least expect, and with my most important racing still several months ahead, I am extremely optimistic about what is to come, and open-minded about the way things can come together for me this season when it matters most.

That being said, I have put in some really good work these past few weeks and optimized the training opportunities I’ve had to the fullest extent possible, and I feel ready to go and SUPER fired up for the start of my season this weekend! On Saturday I’ll kick off my 2015 Xterra US Pro Series tour with Xterra Las Vegas, and the following week will start my road season at the U.S. Pro Championship Ironman 70.3 race in St. George. These will be my first “official” races of the pro season, but I have taken advantage of some smaller local racing opportunities back home as my health has progressed, including some running races, a local Xterra and a couple of mountain bike races. These have all been great training for me, and really important opportunities to get the feeling and experience of racing back under my belt, and I know having done them will be super helpful to me as the 2015 tri season gets underway. It was challenging to jump into some of these races knowing I was behind in my preparation and not yet where I wanted to be in terms of performance, but I knew they were important tools for me in my recovery and my progression toward my official race season. It has been a good lesson in really keeping things in perspective, staying focused on the ultimate, long-term goals and seeing how the smaller things along the way are all important pieces of the puzzle. In many ways, the “B” and “C” races are just as important as the “A” races because they play such a big role in getting to the “A” events at the top of your game, even though the results are very much secondary. The process and the experience all adds up! I’m thankful to have gotten in some of these opportunities before this weekend, even if they looked different than I had initially hoped they would.

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This whole winter has been a tremendous learning experience for me, and in many ways a surprisingly positive one. No matter how close you come to it or how many obstacles get in the way, there really is no such thing as perfect preparation. But what is possible is to react positively (or poorly!) to those obstacles, make adjustments, and to do the best preparation you can in the face of the challenges. I know for certain that I have done that, and I am confident about all that lies ahead and what I am capable of as I head into this race season.

I wrote in January, in the face of different kinds of obstacles, that I was making a choice to “figure out how to make the most of my scenario, and focus on how fortunate I am to have the opportunities I do have…” despite the challenges. “I choose to plan less, and react better,” I wrote. “I choose to always maintain an eye toward the future and work toward that vision, but with an increased awareness and appreciation for where I am at and what I’ve already achieved.” I had no idea just how pertinent those sentiments would come to be, but I’m sure glad I had already readied myself to embrace new challenges in 2015. Because while I certainly hadn’t planned for the type of off-season I had, what I was prepared to do was to react and to adjust, and for that I am grateful.

I also wrote in that January blog, when reflecting on the CIM race that so exceeded my expectations, that while my preparation was “far from perfect.” “I chose to believe I could do it anyways.” And that’s what I’m doing once again as I head in to these first two races. I’m choosing to believe in myself, to be confident in what I know I can achieve, and to maintain the same dream-big kind of goals that have gotten me to where I am today. I am “All in.” And just as I did the best I could with the scenario at hand this off-season, I will give everything I have to do the best I can this weekend and next, and throughout this 2015 season. I am excited, I believe, and I am ready! Let’s GO!!

Falling Behind, Moving Forward, and Rolling With the Punches

I had slated to write this blog post several weeks ago (last year, in fact!). It’s been on my to-do list since mid-December, getting shuffled around from the top to the middle and back down to the bottom as (numerous) other tasks (rapidly) come and (slowly) go. But as others eventually get checked off this never-ending list that only grows more just when it seems like it might be starting to shrink, “Write Blog Post!!!” remains — bolded, in red, double underlined… absolutely pleading for attention — and still outstanding, as a ‘non-essential’ task that takes no precedence over the ‘must-do’s’ of my “real work.” Here it is, already 16(!!?!?!) days into 2015, and I have yet to even have my 2014 season wrap-up written, let alone really have a true moment to not only write out but even really think much about my goals and focus for the new year. I’m already behind, in so many ways — my blog post being only a representation of everything else. So much is already not going as I had planned.  And you know what…?! That is totally okay.

Because it is what it is. My circumstances are what they are, and I’m doing the best I can with them. And this year, I am going to let myself be okay with that. I’m not going to try to change what I can’t control. I’m going to try hard as hell to make the most of what I can control, of course, but I’m going to relinquish the rest. I’m going to let go of the idea of even attempting to have everything go ‘according to plan’ — because inevitably it never does — and instead focus on how I can maximize and work with each imperfect scenario I face. I’m going to keep having the utmost faith in my abilities to conquer each challenge and continue moving forward, perhaps on a different trajectory than planned and maybe not always as steady — but still forward.

Road

Moving one step at a time on a long road ahead…

A New Approach

Can't be anything but proud when you've put it all out there!

Can’t be anything but proud when you’ve put it all out there! Photo by Liz Gruber

This year, I am going to keep dreaming huge, tremendous, crazy dreams, and keep pushing myself to go further and faster and bigger. But I am going to be satisfied with knowing I did my best. That doesn’t mean I’m going to settle. On the contrary, I’m going to keep striving, and digging with everything I’ve got. But as someone who is perpetually wanting and expecting more and more from myself, this year I’m going to take more time to appreciate the efforts I’ve put in and to acknowledge that I gave all I had in the moments when it mattered most. It’s so easy to get hyper-focused on what we want to achieve down the road, that we forgot about how far we’ve already come and what we have already attained. This year I will continue wanting more, and keep aiming toward the big picture, but I’m going to be proud of what I’ve already achieved and give it the acknowledgement it deserves. As someone who tends to be their own biggest critic, I’m going to be a little easier on myself. I’m going to give myself more pats on the back, and maybe even a few air fives (woop!!). I’ll keep working just as hard — if not harder — but I’ll give myself more credit for the work I am doing.

Celebrating my STRENGTH. Photo by August Teague

Celebrating my STRENGTH. Photo by August Teague

I have so many lofty goals for myself, for this year and beyond… I want to be a better triathlete. I want to see myself reach a new level and become a top contender in the pro field. I want to get stronger, more mobile, and stay healthy and injury-free. I want to be able to focus more exclusively on my goals as an athlete. I want to train much more, and have far fewer outside obligations. I want to write more. I want to make more time for the ‘non-essential’ tasks, and more time for myself. And the list goes on and on…

And yet, here I am, 16 days into 2015, and I have yet to write anything but a few measly lines in my journal so far in the new year. I am already way, waaaay behind on my training goals for this season’s preparation period. I missed almost the entire month of December and beginning of January after getting a flu unlike any I’ve ever had that I just couldn’t seem to shake. I’ve just finally gotten things going again, but I’m still feeling the tail-end and approaching my return to training cautiously — a far cry from the big volume block I was hoping to already be well into for this month. Despite my desires to focus more exclusively on training, I feel further away from being able to accomplish that than I have in a long, long time, as I face the single busiest month of work I have had so far in my time as a sales rep, and an ever-accumulating list of obligations. As far as the “time for myself”… well, let’s just say I can forget about that one for now! To say I am overwhelmed is a huge understatement. Needless to say, I am not feeling very much like a professional athlete these days.

Not much training to be had these days, but still plenty to celebrate. Life is good! Photo by Emily Teague

Not much training to be had, but still plenty to celebrate. Life is good! Photo by Emily Teague

With my current reality in such stark contrast to where I’d planned to be — and even more so to where I want to be — at this point, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s difficult not to get stressed out and feel like I’m falling further and further behind, especially as I hear about all the great training so many are putting in. But this is life. It gets in the way sometimes. Everyone has their own unique challenges. And I am making the choice this year to be okay with letting life take its course, and trusting in myself and my body’s capabilities to adapt and simply do the best that I can. Getting sick for so long was a bummer, but I can’t change it. All I can do is let my body do its thing and recover in due time. Being so overloaded with work is a bummer, but I can’t change that either. All I can do is try to tackle it all as best I can and keep moving forward.

I would like to able to just be an athlete and not have several other jobs demanding so much of my time, but I’m just not there yet. And I can choose now to get all worked up about it and feel super sorry for myself — and I’ll be honest, I do start to feel that way sometimes — or I can choose to suck it up, figure out how to make the most of my scenario, and focus on how fortunate I am to have the opportunities I do have to pursue my passion for sport. I choose the latter. I choose to stop always looking quite so far ahead to where I want to be, and remember to also embrace the moment I am in. I choose to quit focusing so heavily on the “ideal,” and also look at the now. I choose to plan less, and react better. I choose to always maintain an eye toward the future and work toward that vision, but with an increased awareness and appreciation for where I am at and what I’ve already achieved.

Looking Back

First pro race: Xterra Las Vegas

First pro race: Xterra Las Vegas. Photo courtesy of Xterra.

As I take a good hard look back at 2014 and reflect on the season I had — my first as a pro! — I am keeping all of this in mind. I still have a long way to go to get to where I want to be as a pro, and I remain focused on the journey ahead, but I am proud of what I achieved in my first year. This was a huge step up for me, but only the first of many still to come. It was challenging in so many ways, and a little bit scary, to take such a big leap… but I did it! And while I didn’t have any crazy breakout performances or any major pro podiums, I made steady, quiet progress and even exceeded my own performance expectations much of the time. I had some great races, with highlights such as two 7th place finishes on the Xterra America pro tour and a 7th overall in the series, a 3rd place pro finish at Vineman 140.6 and a top-20 pro finish at Xterra World Championships. I also had some great-for-me races, such as Vineman 70.3 or Challenge Ranch Cordova, where I felt I had an awesome day but was outshined by many other top-notch pros on the results sheet. And I also had some not-so-great races where I really struggled, such as Xterra Beaver Creek. There were highs and lows, but when you put it all together, I had a full, successful season where I accomplished my primary goals, and that is freaking awesome!

The main priorities for me in 2014 were to rack up as much experience racing in the pro field as I could, across multiple disciplines and distances, and to make progress in my racing and in my personal abilities as an athlete. I achieved both of these. I raced 2-3 times a month through most of the season, and never lost my love of racing, or my determination. I got sick once, but otherwise I stayed really healthy throughout the year. I made tremendous personal progress, improving significantly in many aspects of my racing, which is the most important thing and the biggest measure of success in my mind.

Final push of my first pro season: Xterra World Championship

Final push of my first pro season: Xterra World Championship. Photo by August Teague.

And while I’m sure I would have seen similar personal improvement with another year of racing in the amateur field, I am confident it would not have been as significant, or come as quickly. Making the jump into the pro field was like jumping into the deep end of a pool and being forced to swim or sink. There isn’t that option of bobbling between the surface and the bottom — you just have to go all in and go for it. I’m so grateful I chose to do that, and I was rewarded in all the ways I was looking for. The rewards were different than they’ve been in the past, and so too were the priorities. Podiums and results/performance took a relative backseat compared to progress, experience and development. I made a shift from the top of the totem pole to the bottom. And that was totally fine for me — but I had to shift my perspective. I had to make a commitment to focus on the bigger picture and the process of developing into the athlete I want to be. I had to differentiate between what I want now and what I want most, and immerse myself in the beginning of a long-term journey. I wrote an article for Freeplay Magazine (page 40) that talks much more about what it was like to make the leap to pro racing this year, and how my perspective and priorities have shifted, so please take a look if you want more insight on that! All in all, I’m so glad I made the decision to go pro last year and embrace the challenge that would help me grow the most as an athlete. I am happy with what I accomplished in my 2014 tri season, and even more excited for what is yet to come in 2015!

Capping Things Off and Finding the Magic

After tri season, I finished off last year with my first stand-alone marathon (not in an Ironman) since 2011, racing the California International Marathon in December. While I had some really good triathlon races in 2014, I never quite had that “perfect” day where everything just seems to come together effortlessly. But at CIM, I found the day that eluded me during tri season, and it was pure magic. It was one of those very rare performances where I felt so good I couldn’t really believe what I was achieving, even as it was happening. I wish I could relive every second of those 26.2 miles again and again because it was so very special. It was by far the best running performance I’ve ever had (and the mot enjoyable!), but the main reason that day is so significant, and what I will carry with me from it, is that it was such a perfect example of what is possible when you truly believe in yourself, trust in your capabilities wholeheartedly, and aren’t afraid to take a chance on yourself and go after something BIG.

Coming into CIM, my preparation was far from perfect, and I frankly didn’t have many workouts, if any at all, that really indicated I was capable of achieving a PR at the event. But I chose to believe I could do it anyways, and I chose to believe in a big way. It’s amazing how the body just knows what it’s supposed to do when race day comes, and I trusted in my body’s ability to do what it is capable of, even if the workouts hadn’t indicated it. I’m so glad I didn’t let any doubts take over and inhibit that! When I got to the start line, I decided this was going to be a day when I would take chances and just really go for it. My previous PR was a 3:14, and while initially my goal was just to try to match that, I decided to just run with the 3:05 pace group and see what happened. I knew it was a risky move, but I figured I had nothing to lose, and I wanted to go for it. I really didn’t have much practical reason to believe I could run there, but I did. And while I had a few tough moments where I doubted myself, I hung on, and when I crossed that line 3:04:39 later, it was the most amazing reminder of what we can do when we take a chance and truly believe.

The power of believing!

The power of believing! Photo by Margie LaPoint.

Forging Ahead, but Staying Present

With the 2015 race season looming ahead, I will take these lessons with me, and so many others I learned last year, as I seek out another magic day (or several…?!!), prioritize my personal progress, and chase after my goals with every ounce of energy I can muster. My schedule isn’t set yet, as I’m still working with my coach and support team to determine my primary race direction for the year, but stay tuned for that soon! You can definitely count on a lot of swimming, biking and running, with both some road and some dirt mixed in — and a WHOLE lot of HEART! And as I tackle and embrace the challenges set before me in 2015, I will continue to believe in the prospect of what I will be capable of down the road, but more importantly, what I can already achieve right now — despite all of life’s imperfections.

RUN

Xterra World Championship

The Lead-In

All year long I’ve had one race in my sights and on the back of my mind. Xterra World Championships was my biggest day of this season, and the one race I really set myself up to “peak” for, given that this year was all about experience for me. Needless to say, I wanted to be at my best for this event. Leading into the race, my approach was simple and really laid-back, which suits me well. I put in a solid block of training, with a lot of really hard work and specificity in the weeks ahead of US Nationals, so while I was definitely focused on sharpening up before Worlds, I wasn’t trying to cram in a ton of training or really gain additional fitness. Basically, I had some super important key workouts that I was very focused on (including one more solid 70.3 effort a few weeks out from Worlds), and aside from that my biggest priority was rest and relaxation. If I felt like I was still tired from one of my key workouts, hadn’t slept great, was too bogged down or stressed out with work, or simply didn’t feel mentally up to completing a session, I modified it or skipped it altogether. I had already put in the work throughout the season, so the goal now was simply to get to Maui as fresh, sharp, happy, and rarin’ to go as possible!

I absolutely have to thank August (Unleashed Coaching) for not only setting up a training plan that totally suits my needs and addresses my goals in a completely unique and refreshing way, but for also keeping me patient, confident and positive even when I have doubts about how I’m feeling or how things are going. He reminds me to trust in the process and have faith that things will come together when they’re supposed to, and once again that’s exactly what happened. I got to Maui feeling fit, excited and truly rested for the first time all year. I was excited about the possibilities and ready to leave it all out there.

Maui Race Prep

Nice HOT interval training run on the King Trail near Kihei

Nice hot interval training run on the King Trail near Kihei. Photo by August Teague

I arrived earlier than I have in the past so I’d have more time to get prepped for the race and hopefully get heat acclimated. Thanks to the incredible generosity of TBF Racing and the Maui Tourism Board, I’d won a gift certificate for three free nights at the Mana Kai Maui hotel in Kihei at one of my early season Xterra races with TBF, so we stayed over there the first few days of the trip. It was really fun to see a different side of the island since I’ve only ever stayed in Kapalua where the race takes place, and it offered some great (and hot!) training opportunities! Once we moved over to Kapalua, the first few days were rainy and I had quite the adventure when I (like many others) got caught in a major downpour on my first attempt to pre-ride the course, and ended up literally stuck out there because the clay-like soil had gotten so saturated and sticky we could no longer pedal our bikes or even roll the wheels, as they were too caked in thick mud. It took nearly 45 minutes to travel about 3/4 of a mile to get off the course, and as frustrating as it was at the time, in hindsight the whole situation was pretty epic and hilarious.

Swim course practice with my teammate, Suzie

Swim course practice with my teammate, Suzie. Photo by August Teague

I wasted some energy stressing about the rain and course conditions the next few days, because the course was so completely unrideable when I’d previewed it that day, but fortunately the weather cleared up and the soil began to dry out before race day. (It would end up being absolutely perfect riding conditions!). The other thing that had me a little nervous was that there was some pretty big swell in the bay where our swim takes place, which made for (what I thought were) fairly challenging conditions getting in and out of the water where the waves hit the beach. I practiced a bit in the days before the race, sometimes totally nailing the body surf exit and dolphin dive entrance, and other times completely failing and getting absolutely pummeled by the waves (much to the delight of onlookers, who enjoyed laughing at all of our mishaps). The failures made me worried for race day, but I reminded myself I had already experienced pretty much worst-case scenario with some of those epic water tumbles, so everything would be ay-okay in the end, and tried to put it out of my mind. As usual, the days before the race passed all too quickly, between training sessions/race prep, time with so many awesome Xterra friends, and some moderately-mellow island adventures — and BAM, just like that it was time to go!

The pre-race clif jumping was rad!

The pre-race clif jumping was rad! Photo by August Teague

Expectations and Goals

Coming in to this race, I really didn’t know exactly what to expect in terms of my result since it was my first time racing World Championships as a pro. Last year I’d put a lot of pressure on myself to become an age group World Champion, and while it felt absolutely amazing to achieve that goal, I was honestly relieved not to have that kind of a performance-based objective this year, especially since I know I would’ve been putting even more pressure on myself to try to take the overall amateur title. Coming in as a rookie pro here was frankly refreshing. I had no big expectations of how I should perform against my competitors, and no real pressure, other than to give everything I had so I could be satisfied with my own performance. I wanted to make good on the new level of fitness I had achieved this year and the “peak” form I’d finally allowed myself to come into. I set personal goals rather than performance-based goals, but of course I still wanted to push myself against my competitors. Leading into the race I had this idea that I really wanted to shoot for a top-15 finish. I knew it would take a special performance and a truly stellar day, but honestly I felt I had it in me. However, once the start list was finalized and I realized this was probably the deepest and most competitive women’s pro field ever assembled for this event, I knew that even with a spectacular race a top-15 would be quite the reach — not impossible, but certainly not likely. So, I decided top-20 would be a good mark to aim for, but stayed focused on my personal goals and put result aspirations on the backburner.

While I was naive to just how tough the pro competition would be, what I knew very well having raced here the past two years was just how incredibly challenging this race is. Maui is a special course indeed, but it is a BEAST, plain and simple. Between the relentlessly long (and oh-so-steep!) climbs of both the bike and run courses and the overwhelming heat and humidity — not to mention the rough swim conditions — it makes for a damn tough day that truly does the term “Xterra Warriors” justice. I do tend to like a good challenging course and tough conditions, because while I may not be the most talented athlete out there, I can suffer with the best of them… but this course puts me through the ringer every time and has me questioning my sanity (even as an Ironman athlete who’s had some very rough days!). More than anything, when race morning came I found myself nervous for the pain I was about to endure. I knew how hard it was going to be no matter how great I felt, and how hard every one of us would have to push to try to out-push the others. All these women are so strong, fast and downright gritty. We were all in shape and ready to go. It was gonna come down to who could be stronger in those pivotal moments when it hurt most, and it was gonna be a battle. I was ready to fight!

Locked and loaded and ready to rumble!

Locked and loaded and ready to rumble!

Race Day! — Swim

Running up to T1 -- happy to be out of the water! Photo by Mark Nadell

Run to T1 — happy to be out of the water! Photo by Mark Nadell

The waves were up again on race morning, and I got my best pummeling yet in my warm-up — awesome! Good to get it out of the way I guess…?! Once the gun went off, all of us pros “charged” into the water, and I have to say from my vantage point it didn’t look speedy or graceful for any of us, so at least I wasn’t the only one. I got in a good little group of fellow pink caps and we took on the giant washing machine together. The water was massively choppy and stayed that way all the way out to the buoy, which made both sighting and breathing (without swallowing gallons of salt water) very difficult, and just generally seemed to take a ton more energy. Once some of the masses of speedier (and aggressive!) age group men started catching us things got even harder. Honestly, it felt more like a war zone than a swim, and I was literally just trying to stay afloat and keep moving forward! It was exhausting. I made it out of the first exit (this was a two-loop swim) relatively unscathed and even managed some body surfing on the waves, and headed back in for lap two. Things got more crowded, more choppy, and more tiring. I wanted out of there! I pulled and kicked (and fought for space) as hard as I could, and when I made it back to exit 2, the biggest wave of the whole swim was there to greet me, and I had to turn into it and totally duck for cover before making a desperate dash to get out before the next one hit. I was so relieved to be out of the water after such a tough swim! Below is an awesome video showing what the conditions were like for us…

Bike

I was somewhere around 20th woman out of the water, and I could see plenty of ladies just ahead of me as I entered transition. I was excited to ride and feeling really positive about the possibilities. The bike course starts off hard from the get-go as it heads straight up into the west Maui hills on narrow singletrack. I felt really solid and was making up ground on several of the women in sight up ahead. I tried to focus on being smooth and efficient, but the course was incredibly hectic as we got swarmed by frantic age group men trying to make very aggressive passes and not always being friendly about it. It was actually really stressful and difficult to navigate. I told myself to stay calm and remember to race within myself. Aside from the chaos, I felt strong and my body was cooperative and responsive, no doubt enjoying this new feeling of freshness! The pain started to set in as we continued up, up and up, and my mind tried to battle me at different points throughout the course but I was (eventually) able to find a positive place each time and keep pushing through. I moved up several spots during the ride and got to spend a good portion of the course riding with a couple of the ladies I’d caught up with (at different times), which really pushed me and kept my foot on the gas. I only got passed by two women on the ride, the 5th place finisher on the day and my teammate Shonny V., who was crushing it as usual. Toward the end I got increasingly hot, tired and uncomfortable and started riding a little sloppy, which caused me to crash into a tree on a windy section near the end as one of the age group men passed me. Oops! Fortunately I was okay, but bummed to have lost precious seconds! It woke me up a bit and I pushed harder as I made my way through the remainder of the ride and into T2.

Photo by August Teague

Photo by August Teague

Run

Photo by August Teague

Photo by August Teague

I hit T2 in 17th place, with no women in sight either in front or behind me, but I knew there were several fast runners behind me well within striking distance, and was hopeful I could possibly catch a woman or two in front. I was fired up about my ride and knowing I was having a super solid day so far, but I had a big task still ahead. 10 km is not a particularly long run, but this one is TOUGH. The first 3 miles are pretty much all uphill, with some very steep pitches that are major leg-burners (slash total soul-crushers). I’ve struggled quite a bit on the first half of this run in the past, and I honestly had a lot of doubts about it coming into the race. I’m really not a strong uphill runner, and I can’t help but be aware of the fact that I outweigh many of my competitors in the pro field significantly, which tends to add to my consideration that I can’t be good at running uphill. Knowing I struggle with it, I tend to preemptively count myself out on these portions and just try to make up time on the flats and downhills, and feel automatically disadvantaged on a hillier run course — which is, of course, the total wrong attitude to have! (More on all of this in a future blog post…). Gaining confidence in my uphill running capabilities is something I’ve been working on mentally, as well as putting in a huge amount of physical work in improving this weakness the past few months.

Home stretch!

Home stretch!

So on this day, as I headed onto the run and approached those brutal hills, I prioritized getting myself in the right mindset. I focused on all the hard work I’d done and the progress I’d made, and I flooded myself in positivity. In transition Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass” was playing, and it was literally the perfect, most empowering song to have in my head as I powered my way up those hills against runners far tinier than myself. My mind stayed strong, and so did my body. I felt better than I ever have on this section of the run (even though it still hurt like hell!), and I was honestly ecstatic about it. I got passed early by one gal who was absolutely hauling and ended up running her way into 14th place, and I also made a pass near the top. I was really pleased no one else had caught me on the way up. Once I hit the top of the course and headed back down, I tried to let my legs go and stride it out — my strength in this discipline. Ironically though, I didn’t feel as good here and couldn’t quite find my usual power. At about mile 4.5 I got passed by 2 strong gals who were running together at a pace just a little too hot for me to hang with. I was bummed to lose more spots, but told myself to buckle down and push on — I was almost there, at my last finish line of the season! I fantasized about how awesome crossing that line was gonna be, and reminded myself there was absolutely nothing left to hold back for. I was now in 20th place and wanted desperately to hang onto it. I pushed up the (horrendous) last hill and down onto the beach for the (completely evil) sand run to the finish. I made it there just inside that top 20, about 40 seconds down from 18th and 19th place, and only about 2.5 minutes outside of the top 15. My time of 3:18:33 was almost 10 minutes faster than last year — progress!

Done and dusted!

I was completely thrilled with my race. I felt good, took chances, didn’t hold back, left it all out there and stayed strong and positive. I knew I had delivered the absolute best performance I possibly could on this day, and that was all I could ask for. For that I felt extremely satisfied. I was totally exhausted, but it was all worth it to cross that last finish line with an effort I could be so proud of.

Finish line celebration!

Finish line celebration!

My LUNA teammates raced their hearts out as always, and turned in amazing results. They continue to inspire me with not only strong racing but even stronger character. It was such a treat to celebrate the end of a long, hard season with them, and I was more than okay with indulging in a few post-race margaritas to kick-off the off-season. (Certainly not the best recovery and I paid the price later by getting sick for a week and a half, but I guess I can’t complain about the timing.) We had a day-and-a-half after the race to take in the beauty of the island, and while it went by way too fast we certainly made the most of it. Maui is such a special place and I feel so blessed to be able to be there these past three years doing something I love so much, with such a phenomenal group of people.

Xterra is a truly incredible sport, and I’m already excited for more of it next year. Despite such a long and taxing season, I am honestly sad that it’s over, which I suppose is a really great sign. After so many races and a whole lot of hard work, the stoke is still high! I love what I am doing! I think it’s good to end the season hungry for more, and I feel very fortunate to end it on a high note. I’ll have a wrap-up out in these next few weeks with more thoughts on my season as a whole and my experiences this first year as a pro, but for now l can say that I have absolutely no regrets about taking that step this year, and I’m incredibly grateful for all that I learned and the invaluable experience I gained. I look forward to carrying those lessons with me, continuing to build on that foundation, and becoming a stronger and stronger contender in the pro field.

Tremendous thanks to August for preparing me so thoroughly to meet this moment and achieve the best of myself; to my inspiring teammates who constantly crush it in so many ways, on and off the race course; to my fantastic sponsors: LUNA, Orbea, Orca, Oiselle and Oakley; to Chris, our team mechanic, who does SO much more than just ensure our equipment is in tip-top shape so we can be stress-free, and whose presence and support is absolutely invaluable; to everyone who sent cheers and encouragement from near and far; to the Xterra staff and volunteers for all their hard work; and to all the ladies racing out there for continually raising the bar and making me strive for more. MAHALO, Maui!

Xterra National Championships

Utah1

Gorgeous riding in Utah. LOVE this course!

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

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

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

Race Day

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

Photo by George Dickerson

Photo by George Dickerson

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

Photo by August Teague

Photo by August Teague

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

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

Photo by George Dickerson

Photo by George Dickerson

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

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

Post-Race Trip

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

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

 

Lake Stevens Report and An End of Summer Update

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

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

Lake Stevens 70.3

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

The fabulous ladies of the Seattle LUNA Chix squad!

The fabulous ladies of the Seattle LUNA Chix squad!

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

Swim

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

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

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

Bike

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

Photo by Daniel Tomko

Photo by Daniel Tomko

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

Run

Happy to see my cheer squad!

Happy to see my cheer squad!

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

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

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

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

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

Tahoe Time!

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

So… What’s Next?

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

A dearly treasured memory! Photo by Lefrak Photography

A dearly treasured memory! Photo by Lefrak Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Vineman 140.6: an Epic Day!

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

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

Developing an Iron Mindset, and Honing In on The Goal

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

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

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

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

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

Race Day!

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

Just Keep Swimming!

DREAM

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

 

The Ride I’ve Been Looking For!

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

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

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

The Run — Where things got HARD!

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

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

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

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

Vineman Run 2

                                                   Almost there!!

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

In The Books!

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

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

Pre-Race Inspiration

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

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

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

The Calm Before the Struggle

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

Colorado4

Colorado single track! Photo by August Teague

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

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Beaver Creek bike course

One Very Hard Swim

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Photo by Shannon Converse

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

Some of my AMAZING cheer squad!

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

A Brutal Bike Ride

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

Exiting T1

Exiting T1. Photo by Shannon Converse.

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

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

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

Not Sure If You Could Call This a Run…?

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

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

SPENT!

SPENT! Photo by Liz Gruber.

All Said and Done (Thank Goodness!)

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

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

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

Moving Forward

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

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

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Loving life in the Rockies! Photo by August Teague.

Vineman 70.3: Never, EVER Give Up!

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

The Lead-In: Getting Focused

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

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

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

Overall women's podium Xterra Tahoe City

Overall women’s podium Xterra Tahoe City

Pre-Race Perspective and Goals

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

I Like Swimming in the Russian River!

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

Bike Leg: Stuck in the Mediocre Rut!

Gorgeous riding in wine country! Photo by August Teague.

Gorgeous riding in wine country! Photo by August Teague.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These wings helped me FLY!

These wings helped me FLY!

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

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

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

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

 Post-Race Perspective and A Big Day Ahead!

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

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

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

Xterra East Championship: Rolling With the Punches

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

Lead-In

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

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

Survival Mode: The hardest Swim I’ve Ever Done

Swim site at the James River

Swim site at the James River

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

Photo courtesy of Xterra

Pro swim start. Photo courtesy of Xterra.

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Luck on the Bike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gutting It Out on the Run

KARA RICHMOND RUN

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

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

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

Post-Race: A Mixed Bag of Emotions

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

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

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

Arm1

Motivation!