Off With A Bang!

Whew… time has been flying lately. The last few weeks, especially, have been a whirlwind.

After wrapping up my coaching duties for the winter season, culminating in some incredible, inspiring performances by many of my athletes at Junior Nationals, I have quickly shifted gears over to triathlon. I returned from JNs the second week of March, with a fresh dose of inspiration, and got right to focusing on what lay ahead, rapidly approaching: my first triathlon of the year, which would also be my first Xterra.

The weeks leading up to the race were stuffed full of work; trying to create more work for myself; and of course lots of training. But in that time, as I found myself ‘getting into the groove,’ feeling fired up and invested in my endeavors, things slowly started to fall into place. A few great opportunities presented themselves, and suddenly, I felt like I was truly on my way.

The first piece of news I am incredibly excited to officially share is that I will be partnering with LUNA this year! Myself and two other amazing teammates, Rory Bosio (ultra runner) and Anne Cottrell (trail runner), are members of a new team supported by LUNA, and I’m super psyched to be a part of it.  LUNA is doing some truly remarkable work in terms of supporting and encouraging women in sports, and both their LUNA Chix ambassador program and LUNA Pro Team are essentially a movement of female athletes on the rise. I hope that the three of us can contribute valuably to help fuel that movement as part of our new team! I am proud to be a part of this fantastic program and its mission, and thrilled to have LUNA as one of my new sponsors for this year. (Did I mention that they make some seriously DELICIOUS nutrition products?!)

Additionally, I was afforded the opportunity to reconnect with Sugoi, an amazing bike/run/tri apparel company based out of Vancouver, for their spring catalog shoot. (I’ve worked with them on shoots in the past, but it’s been a few years now, so I was excited to be able to do so again, as I love the company and crew!).

So, the week before I was set to race at Xterra Real in Granite Bay, I loaded my car up and headed south to Cambria, Calif. to meet up with the folks from Sugoi. As it turned out, I was also reunited with an old friend from high school, Amie, which was a huge unexpected blessing! It was super fun to reconnect with her, and hear about all of the cool things she’s been doing outside, as an athlete, and in promoting women in sports. I look forward to catching up more with her in the near future!

I spent three nights and two very full days there, exploring the region for the first time, running, biking and snapping photos in all sorts of incredibly beautiful locations. The weather was gorgeous, and though the work was tiring, I had an absolute blast. The crew was full of really great people, and I felt super blessed to be afforded the opportunity to work with and get to know each of them. It was a great reminder of how fortunate I am to be involved in athletics and the outdoor industry, because of the opportunities it provides to meet and connect with so many incredible people. By the way, the Sugoi spring 2013 lineup looks sweet – I can’t wait until I can get my hands on a few things!

 

After the shoot, I left before the sun rose to head up the coast to Emeryville, where I met up with my LUNA teammates for the annual Team LUNA Chix Summit. What an incredible event! This event brings together all levels of the women of LUNA, including the Pro Team, LUNA Chix ambassadors from across the country, and my new team of sponsored athletes, to share in a celebration of women in sports. It was so great to see so many women from all different areas and walks of life come together over their love for athletics. Also, this was my first chance to meet all of the Pro Team women, which was great. They are not only incredible in terms of performance, but also wonderful people to be around. I also got to spend some time getting to better know Anne and Rory, learning more about LUNA and Clif Bar, and even got a tour around the Clif headquarters. What an amazing company! They truly are a step above the rest.

My new LUNA teammates: Anne, Rory, me

After a quick night at the Summit and a major dose of inspiration, I was off again, to Granite Bay. I got there in plenty of time to pre-ride the mountain bike course, which was SUPER fun! It was an eight-mile single-track loop winding through the trees around Folsom Lake, with lots of variation in terrain and some technical climbs and downhills. I loved it! It was raining and muddy during my pre-ride, so I was prepared for a chilly, potentially messy race day!

As it turned out, race morning brought sunshine and an absolutely gorgeous day. The water, however, was a bone-chilling 48 degrees! Brrrr! I was a little nervous about that, not to mention the challenge of my first Xterra, but I was mostly excited. Once in the race, the water was not as bad as I’d built it up to be, and luckily the swim was short (800 meters). I focused on swimming smooth and efficient. I got out of the water as the fourth female, a little disoriented from the cold as I headed to transition. But my body felt good, and I was enjoying the thrill and adrenaline of being back in the race scene! I headed out onto the bike with lots of excited energy, eager to see what I could do on this course, and hungry for a strong debut performance.

I felt strong, and was riding smooth, even through the huge mud fields and puddles that had developed from the rains. Before I knew it, I had worked my way up to the lead (among women). Once I took over first place, I didn’t look back, accelerating into lap two with a fury. I was excited to be in the lead on the mountain bike, and more importantly, I was having a blast, so it almost seemed easy to continue picking up the pace, even though my legs were tiring. I kept my foot on the gas, not knowing where any of the other women might be and telling myself they could catch back up any moment. Before I knew it, I was in to T2, and headed out for the run.

I felt great on the run, still propelled by the positive energy of knowing I was having an awesome race, and I focused on pushing as hard as I could over the top of each hill, and really working my speeds on the flat. I did not let myself slow down, even as my body started to feel pain of the race accumulating. There were a few steep climbs and descents, but generally the course ran smooth, requiring a lot of speed on the faster sections. I held my lead across the line, completing the race in 1:57:59. My body felt the harsh burn of being back into racing, but honestly, it felt great! I was also reminded of the thrill of racing triathlon, and the reward that comes with pushing your body to the limit in each of the three disciplines. All said and done, I had a BLAST in my first Xterra, was pleasantly surprised by my strong result, and was definitely eager for more!

So, two weeks later, I found myself headed for Las Vegas for the Xterra West Championship race, and attempting to earn a slot at the Xterra World Chamionships in my age group. I knew this was a huge goal, and I had little Xterra experience, so my plan was just to go out there and race my hardest, have fun, and see what happens! I was definitely pushing for a spot at Worlds, but told myself I could not be too disappointed if I didn’t earn it, as I hadn’t been training specifically for this goal. Instead, I focused on having the best race possible and gaining more valuable experience in the Xterra discipline.

Race day brought mild temps that I was stoked about, being fresh off a Tahoe winter. The

Exiting the Swim

water was in the high-50s – quite cold, but nothing compared to Folsom Lake! I entered the swim with a clear, intense focus, knowing how much I wanted a great performance, and how much that depended on my willingness and abilities to race hard, smart and strong. Again, I focused on staying smooth and efficient, moving fast across the water but not using too much energy. After some time, the water felt really nice, and I found I was quite enjoying myself once the pack separated a bit and I had more space to focus on my strokes. I came into T1 second in my age group, with a good – though not spectacular – swim time.

I moved into first in my AG in the transition, and headed onto the bike course with a plan to ride a strong first lap and build into lap two, where I wanted to really pick up the pace. The terrain was pretty merciless, however, so it was tough to keep my heart rate from going through the roof from the get-go. Though not very technical, the course at Lake Las Vegas includes some really challenging, steep climbs that are frankly an all-out effort (at least for me!) just to make it up. I saw several people hike-a-biking, and was determined not to do so, so I cranked down hard on my legs to make it up and over each one. At the beginning, I was in a pretty big pack of men, so it was sometimes a challenge to navigate around them, especially as riders started falling off their bikes near the tops of some of the steep hills. Luckily, I managed to make it by and over the top, still on my pedals.

Not long into lap one, one of the riders from my age group passed me, so I set my sights on holding on as long as possible. I passed her back, but then we switched positions again. She was riding great, and eventually I started to lose time on her, but focused on keeping her in sight, and within striking distance. The course was very open, with no trees to speak of, so it was easy to see what was going on in front of you, especially on the long climbs. While the terrain itself was not very technical, I did find the conditions somewhat challenging in that they were not what I was used to, with mostly loose, dry dirt, small gravel and some sand. I was out of my comfort zone of the hard-packed dirt and mud, and big rocks of Tahoe.

Nonetheless, I felt I was riding strong, and doing all I could to keep my age group competitor in sight. But alas, another competitor in my AG came flying by near the middle of the lap, riding strong and pushing hard. I had no chance of staying with her. So again, I focused on keeping her in sight and continuing to ride well. It was not long before she took over the lead in our AG and was out of sight, but second place was still in view.

On the second lap, the initials series of hills felt even harder, but I knew I could not hold back. My legs were hurting and tired, and I was starting to lose time on the top-two competitors in my AG. I was in third among women age 25-29, and only two would get a spot at World Champs. I did NOT want to be the first one out; to come so close but just miss. I got a split from my coach that I was about 2:15 out of second about halfway through lap two, and I knew that it was still doable for me to move into that spot. I hung on for dear life, pushing through the pain in my legs, trying to tap into new energy. I knew I had a good chance to make up time on the run, as I usually do, so I focused on preparing myself for that effort. Gritting out the last few miles of the bike, I managed to make up about 15 seconds, and was just two minutes down heading into T2: a sizeable gap, but certainly attainable. I knew what I needed to do, I knew that I could do it even though it would be tough, and I knew that I was not going to back down. I took off on the run with a vengeance, and could tell immediately that, yes, I did have a good run left in these legs!

I ran hard and fast, surprised by the speed I was able to produce. I focused only on gaining as much time as possible with each mile, not allowing thoughts of pain to enter my head, or thinking of how much I had left to go. I was running down my goal, and was going to fight to the end to catch it. By mile 2.5 or so, I saw my coach again and got a split: I was down to a 1-minute deficit, and could finally see second place in my AG up ahead. I told myself that I could still do this; that I wanted to do this; that I was going to do this. At the same time, the course got into its steep, hilly section, which required some hiking. I tried to run as far up each hill as I could and then power hike over the tops as quickly as possible, though this is certainly not my strength. I worked the flats with everything I had, channeling my speed, which I knew was my advantage. I continued to close in gradually, knowing that when I made my move, it would need to be decisive. Eventually, just after mile 4, on the last of the steep hills, I was there, on the heels of second place in my AG, and a World Champs slot.

I surged ahead and didn’t look back, knowing I would have to leave everything on this course in order to accomplish this goal. I told myself it wasn’t over – anything could still happen – and ran with every ounce of energy I could muster. I pushed my way to the finish and maintained my place – second in my AG, and with a spot at World Championships! I had done it, and was so thrilled, mostly because I’d had to push so hard for it. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in racing and sports, it’s that the more we are challenged and pushed, the deeper we have to dig, until we find that we’ve surpassed the limits we have previously known, reaching a new level of capability. I am pleased to have found this point once again. All said and done, I finished the race in 2:58:31 (accomplishing my goal of breaking three hours!), second in my AG, 11th overall amateur and 24th woman overall, with the Pro field.

Mission Accomplished!

Looking ahead, I have a LOT of work left to do this season, and a lot of improvements to make, especially if I am in fact going to head to World Champs. But, I am super excited to do it. I am pleased to have started the season with a bang, and look forward to seeing what else I can accomplish. These initial results, the opportunities I’ve been afforded recently, and the great connections I’ve made are really validating to me for all of the work I’ve been putting in and the lifestyle I’ve chosen to pursue. I can only hope they are a sign of more good things to come… we shall see!

Checking out Death Valley on the way home!
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