Race: USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships
Location: Omaha, NE
“What you will do here today, is nothing compared to what you did to get here.”
This quote resonates so deeply with me, and how I’m feeling about USA Triathlon National Championships and my 2016 season as a whole. The race was brutal, and tested both my physical and mental toughness to the max. This year, I’ve trained harder than I ever have before – and I’ve been pushed the farthest outside my comfort zone than ever before. I’ve also fought some of my most difficult battles this year with RA, a third major surgery, other chronic pain conditions, and unforeseen injuries. Needless to say, I’ve had some challenging breakdowns – but also some killer breakthroughs.
Qualifying for USA Triathlon National Championships despite all of these things, and for a 2nd year in a row, was nothing less than an incredible blessing and achievement. One that I definitely wasn’t sure I could attain this year. But I kept fighting, and kept chasing after my dreams no matter how far out of reach they seemed. And it wasn’t because “I’m strong” – NO, it was and always will be because of everyone who believes in me when I don’t believe in myself.
I didn’t hit my goal at Nationals, but I did PR my overall time by 1 minute. It didn’t play out how I imagined it would, or how I hoped it would. Instead it was reminiscent of exactly what it took for me to get there. A fight. Enduring pain. Overcoming adversities. Not giving up. Letting the undying belief that others have in me fill my heart and mind. And that’s what it’s really all about. I had already won before I crossed that finish line…and no race result can ever take that away from me.
Before and during my race at Nationals, I repeated the quote in my mind many times, “What you will do here today, is nothing compared to what you did to get here.” Reminding myself of all the battles I had won and achievements I attained to be standing where I was at that moment.
Back in Nov. 2015, I had my 3rd major surgery – a total wrist fusion on my right hand, which included a bone graft from my right hip. I hit rock bottom during recovery in regards to enduring pain – I literally said out loud many times that I wanted to be put out of my misery. And I meant it. Recovery lasted for months – with many set-backs with the healing process and it took much longer than expected. Besides being in a cast forever and not being able to use my right arm/hand, I also struggled with the bone graft from my hip. Surprisingly the bone graft was almost just as painful as my wrist – I had to use my walker and cane for months. For triathlon training – this was basically like starting from square one, once I was finally cleared for swim, bike, and run. This was my first battle for the 2016 season.
2nd battle was my RA and other chronic pain conditions. Due to the surgery, I was off of the medications that help slow down/control my disease for months before and after surgery. This resulted in my RA aggressively acting my body more than it had in years. Trying to get the disease back “under control” and more “manageable” while starting to train for the 2016 triathlon season was very difficult and felt impossible at times. It was also discouraging and draining mentally – which lead me to my 3rd battle, mental toughness. Training harder than I ever had in past seasons, on top of fighting aggressive RA, weakened my mental toughness. So much so, that I had some very real breakdowns that had me seriously questioning myself when it came to training and racing – “Maybe I can’t do this.”
Leading up to USA Triathlon Southwest Regional Championships, I faced my 3rd battle – knarly leg injuries. Both my legs had gotten caught in dog cables, which resulted in very bad open wound abrasions and trauma on both legs. They were so bad, that I could barely put pressure on them which meant that I obviously couldn’t train. I couldn’t even get in the pool until the open wounds had scabbed over. I spent a lot of time elevating my legs, cleaning the wounds, and icing. Days before Regionals I only had a couple of training days under my belt since the injuries, and I almost opted out of the race. Thanks to my coaches words, “can you gut it out?”, I raced anyway feeling that I had nothing to lose.
With each of my breakdowns, what kept me chasing my dreams (when all I really wanted to do was give up) was the hope that each would lead me to breakthroughs. Fully recovering from my surgery was my first and most significant accomplishment of the year. Being able to swim and cycle with my “new” wrist, and run (and cycle) after the hip bone graft was an incredible blessing. Training with a coach for the first time in 14 years and also for the first time since post RA diagnosis and 3 major surgeries was also an amazing blessing for me.
With each race of the 2016 triathlon season, came massive achievements. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that with every race leading up to Nationals that I would be standing on the podium every time. Never! I’m still in shock looking back a photos of me on the podium. With the podium finishes came new strengths and some personal records.
In previous seasons, running was my strongest leg – but this season, I excelled on the bike. In each race, the bike leg was clearly my strongest. I beat my Olympic distance bike PR by 10 minutes – yes, 10 mins! How did that happen? Who am I?! I also became a stronger swimmer this season and PR’d my Olympic distance swim by 1 minute. Which doesn’t seem like much, but for this girl who is not a strong swimmer (heck, 3 years ago I couldn’t even swim with my head in the water), any PR is a PR to be proud of. I didn’t PR my run split in any races this season – however my run training times have improved greatly from last years. In my book, that’s still a win.
Ultimately, my greatest achievement of the 2016 triathlon season was making a dream come true for the 2nd year in a row despite all the battles – qualifying for USA Triathlon National Championships. Overall, I broke my Olympic distance PR by 1 minute, at Nationals. I literally couldn’t ask for more, and couldn’t be prouder. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about what this season has meant to me, what it has instilled in me, how I’ve grown from it, and how it has made me stronger. What a paramount season it has been.
Training and nutrition leading up to race day
I had recently competed in a “warm-up” Olympic distance triathlon 3 weeks before Nationals, so my training and nutrition didn’t change much from what I was already doing. Training sessions had increased in frequency and duration, and my nutrition followed suit. Majority of training days were 2x a day sessions, and the level of difficulty also multiplied compared to previous months. To meet my body’s nutritional needs I consumed more healthy carbs (like mango and spinach), healthy fats (like avocado and nuts), protein (salmon and chicken), and whole grains. While tapering I also made an increased effort to up self-care (resting when I should rest), maintenance (stretching and icing), and recovery (massagers and inversion).
Leading up the Nationals, I increased my electrolyte intake and other fuels during training to match what I’d be doing on race day. I also increased hydration, (water and coconut water), the week before Nationals to prepare for the high heat index and humidity. On race-day, I planned out: 2 premium insurance caps and 2 mito caps with breakfast, 2 race cap supremes before the race and 1 after, 1 endurolytes Fizz + Heed water bottle before the race, 1 bottle on the bike, and 1 bottle during the run, 1 hammer gel before race, 2 on the bike, and 1 on the run, lastly I had my favorite chocolate recoverite after the race with 2 tissue rejuvenator caps.
The swim at Nationals…hhmmm where do I start? It did not go as planned – so much so, that it put me back a whole 4 mins off my “normal” Olympic swim time and definitely set a “catch up” tone for the rest of the race. I was feeling great until just over halfway in. The water temp was awesome (80 degrees, no wetsuits allowed). And then everything changed when I got swam over by a guy who was at least twice my size. Literally swam right over me without stopping. He scratched my back pretty bad (it left a scar) – and I took hands, elbows, knees, and feet to the body. Which hurt especially bad on my already angry RA body parts – like my elbow and shoulder. All while being stuck under him, trying to swim out from under him and not drown.
The lake was dark, so I couldn’t see anything and I was terrified of getting stuck under more swimmers. I choked in some water during the struggle and when I got to the surface I was treading water trying to cough up the water, catch my breath, and get moving again. Just when I thought I was going to be okay, I got punched in my head. The guys knuckles went from the back/side of my head, past my ear and hit my goggles. The goggles cut into my lid and the hit was hard enough to have me seeing stars. Ugh. It was such a nightmare. So yeah, I was way off my swim time, which made me really upset. In a video of me getting out of the water, as I run by you can see the blood on my back.
My goggles were taking on water during the swim, so lake water had been filling my eyes. Running into T1, I kept rubbing my eyes trying to dry them off so I could see clearer. No luck though. Eyes were stinging and I was feeling even more annoyed. I was angry about my swim and now my eyes were blurry and stinging. I took a deep breath, decided I needed to let all that shit go and use it to fuel my fire. The bike mount line was a mess and many people were falling or running into others. I swiped the side of a cone on my way out, but at least I didn’t fall or hit someone else.
Right out the gate I was going hard. I thought about all the battles I had fought to get where I was at that exact moment. I took all the pain, the struggles, both mental and physical – and I burned it all inside of me. I thought about my achievements, all the people in my life who believe in me – and I promised myself I wouldn’t give up. I trusted in my training and in my strength – and I reminded myself that I could do hard things. And above all else, I remembered that I had already won by being exactly where I was. I put my head down and kept pushing those pedals as fast as I could. I wasn’t worried about pacing myself or saving legs. I just gave it all I had in me.
In the first 4-5 miles I lost my water bottle while crossing over railroad tracks. I heard it when it hit the ground but there was no way I was stopping. It was hot out there with the humidity and high temps, so I knew I’d pay for losing my water on the bike. I stayed focused and didn’t let it shake me. For the rest of the ride I carefully rationed what I had in my bike’s hydration unit, so that it would last me until the end.
And just when I started to think the course felt pretty flat, I hit the first monster of a climb. Up, up, up, oh and up some more! I literally thought to myself at one point, “I’m going to roll backwards!” And I did consider getting off my bike and just running up. HA! There were 2 pretty significant climbs – I think the 3rd one felt worse than it was simply because I was already beat up from the first 2. And after you’ve conquered them, you can’t even celebrate because you have to do them all again on the way back. Quads, hamstrings, and hips were screaming!
Rolling up to bike dismount I felt pretty proud of myself – I definitely felt like I left it all out there. I was feeling mentally and physically strong. My legs and hips were screaming at me, but I still felt like I could gut out a decent run. Running out of T2 I remember smiling as I looked at my watch and saw my total time thus far. If I could hit my goal run pace, then I would hit my overall total time goal. I was so happy that despite my horrible experience in the swim, my goal wasn’t that far out of reach.
About a mile into the run all the pain that I was mentally blocking from the swim and bike surged through my body. Guess I couldn’t block it any longer. In particular the pain in my lower back, knees, shoulder, and elbow, plus what I was already enduring from the bike – hips, quads, hamstrings. I also was really feeling the heat and humidity from the day of racing. At every aid station, I drank water, poured another water on my head, and took ice to put in my racerback. I ran with a handheld bottle that had electrolyte drink in it to help keep me hydrated and well balanced. Tuned out not to be balanced enough though because my stomach was upset – I attribute that to not having enough water on the bike.
My pace stayed pretty consistent each mile during the run. Early on, it was evident that I wasn’t hitting my goal pace – but it wasn’t from lack of trying. Like the bike leg, I wasn’t concerned about holding anything back. I was pushing as hard as I could and giving it everything I had left. With the pain kicking me down plus the intense heat, I could feel my physical strength fading. I put all my faith in what mental strength I had left to get me across that finish line.
I repeated the quote in my head, “What you will do here today, is nothing compared to what you did to get here.” And like all my races before Nationals, I played my “Fight Song” until my feet were running on that red carpet down the finish line shoot. And as my metal hips carried me across the finish line I cried happy tears with a smile on my face.
“…starting right now I’ll be strong, I’ll play my fight song…and I don’t really care if nobody else believes…cause’ I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me…”
As always, none of this would have been possible without my amazing coach Stephanie Artis who pushes me outside of my comfort zone, and my incredible sponsors: Hammer Nutrition, Rudy Project, Love The Pain, Kinetic Cycles, Pearl Izumi, and Team Freeplay. And to my friends and loved ones – I cannot accurately express how much the incredible amounts of love, support, and encouragement means to me and how it has kept me going. I’m a lucky girl. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for your undying belief in me. Until next season…