Wow, what a whirlwind last few weeks. I just returned from a trip to Colorado for the Boulder Peak Triathlon, which was preceded by some time in Utah coaching a Nordic camp. The trip was a fantastic adventure, and it was absolutely wonderful to spend some time back out in Colorado (which is where I went to college)! But the race, unfortunately, did not go as planned.
My last few starts have brought their fair share of challenges. Mid-June I jumped into the Rancho Seco International Tri on one of hottest days of the year so far (in case you don’t already know, extreme heat is my ULTIMATE nemesis, so naturally I thought I’d try to take it on again!), and after my best bike performance of my career (yes — I finally feel like I can BIKE!!), I went into mega-heat exhaustion mode about halfway through the run. Luckily, I was able to make my way to the finish line in extreme exhaustion and total discomfort, and promptly received medical attention. Eventually my body revived itself, but the scene was not pretty, or fun. Needless to say, still working on finding better ways to deal with the heat!! Just one week later I took on Xterra Tahoe City, and faced the opposite challenge of bitterly cold temps, rain, and absolutely frigid, choppy waters in Tahoe. This time, I had an absolutely brutal bike leg, but thankfully redeemed myself quite a bit on the run. Well, the good news is I know I can bike, and I know I can run, but just need to be able to do them both well on the same day again! 🙂 Took fifth and fourth OA female in these races, respectively, in what I would say were two pretty sub-par performances. I know I can certainly do better!
But heading into Boulder Peak, my confidence was not derailed. I know I am in the best shape of my life, and my body felt totally primed and ready. All I needed was a good day where everything came together. I came into the race with perfect preparation. I’d put in some incredibly hard training leading in, and then finally gave myself a chance to taper for this race, after ‘training through’ so many others. This was one of the biggest races on my schedule for the year, so I’d really prioritized it in terms of training. Needless to say, I was aiming for a truly stellar performance. And despite the setbacks of the prior weeks, I felt very sure I could achieve it.
Leading into Sunday’s event, I re-read my latest column for the Sierra Sun a few times, reminding myself that while this event was bigger, and the stakes higher than most others, what I needed to do was no different than what I’d already done at any other race this year. The approach did not need to change. So I did an easy pre-ride on the course Saturday, met up with some friends for lunch and a brief bit of downtown cruising, and then went back to my homestay to relax. Come race morning, I was feeling surprisingly relaxed, confident, and just super psyched to have a great day! I was fortunate enough to be able to start in the elite amateur wave, which was the very first of the day, making it easy to avoid the crowds and bottlenecks. The weather was absolutely perfect after several days of rain: low-mid 60s, and overcast skies. Yes!!
I felt super strong and smooth on the swim, and while I still had some navigation issues, they were pretty minor compared to some of my previous swims this year. I was very pleased to see I got out of the water in about 24-and-a-half minutes, my best swim time of the year so far. The day was off to a great start! After a somewhat slow T1, I headed onto the bike course, determined to carry the momentum from my swim through the rest of the race. I was pedaling fast, feeling strong and efficient. My body really seemed to be “on,” and I truly felt like I was on my way to the incredible day I’d been waiting for.
But sure enough, just as I was brimming with confidence, I felt a horrid bump under my back tire that I knew was the indication of a flat. I looked down to see that, yep, my rim was rolling along sans-air. I was horrified. This could not have happened at a worse time. But it had, and there I was, on the side of the road, just 4 miles into the bike, with a flat. So, I did the only thing I could and began working to fix it. (Keep in mind I am EXTREMELY slow at this stuff!). I tried my best to remain calm as I watched rider after rider fly by me, dropping me further and further off the pace. Initially I tried to fix the issue with a “Pit Stop” glue shot. This had worked for me in the past, and is much faster than changing the tube, so I thought it was totally worth a shot, and worth using some of my C02 canister to re-fill the tube after putting in the glue. But no such luck this time, as I could hear the air leaking out as soon as the process was finished. Dang! I elected to go ahead and change the tube, rather than having to pull back over after the tire deflated.
Perhaps this was a mistake, as I had to let out all the precious air I’d just put in in order to get the old tube off. I (slowly!) got the back wheel off the bike, removed the old tube and replaced it with a new one. Somehow I was still surprisingly calm, even as the minutes were ticking by. I knew I was totally out of the race by this point, so I just figured I’d keep doing what I needed to do to remedy the situation so I could finish. Unfortunately, when I refilled the tube, I only had what was left in the same CO2 canister I’d already used, which was very little air. I could see the tire was still extremely low even after I’d exhausted the CO2. Ugh. I seriously considered whether it made more sense for me to just turn around, since I’d already lost so much time. But the stubborn me kicked in, and I decided I was determined to do everything I could to finish, even if all the odds were against me. So I hopped on the bike and pressed on, just praying the back tire would hold up and not go flat again, leaving me stranded.
Then stubborn me really kicked in, and I decided that since I’d come all this way and was going to finish if there was any chance of it at all, that I might as well just give it absolutely everything I could to try to get myself at least somewhat back into the race. I’d already lost 8 minutes on the side of the road, and was now losing countless time, not to mention precious energy, due to my low tire pressure, so I figured I really had nothing more to lose… I might as well go for it. So I rode absolutely as hard as I could, just trying desperately to gain back as much time as possible. Of course, it was too little too late, and I’d already totally lost sight of my goals, but hey, I wanted to finish with my head held high. I started to catch back up to and re-pass some riders, and I was actually feeling quite good, all things considered. I made it through the bike leg, WELL off my expected pace, and was so relieved to move onto the run, where all I had to think about was putting one foot in front of the other.
Fueled by both frustration at what had happened, and sheer determination to at least prove to myself what I could have done today, I gave absolutely everything I had on that run. Turns out, it was one of the fastest runs of my career (fourth-fastest, to be exact), at 44:11. I didn’t feel totally stellar, but I felt good enough, and my determination to push through helped me make up for the rest. I crossed the line at 2:38:31. Seventh place in my age group, and maybe top-35 overall amateur. Quite a ways from my goal of sub-2:25, and top-five OA. But even just subtracting the 8 minutes for the time I was on the roadside, I’d have been much closer, not to mention the time lost to the low tire pressure. I measured the pressure when I got back to my car, and it turns out I’d ridden the last 20 miles on 40 PSI (compared to the usual 110!). Ouch!!
To say I wasn’t bitterly disappointed with how the day turned out would be a total lie, as this was the one day when I truly needed everything to go right. But, somehow, I was surprisingly okay with it all. In fact, in a strange way I almost felt glad I’d had the experience I did. It was valuable in its own way. I’ve been pretty lucky in my racing to have very few experiences with flat tires or mechanical issues, and the last time I had a rear flat, I had to get assistance to fix it. So, in all honesty, I was really proud of myself for having dealt with it “so well” (yes, I know it was incredibly slow and there were some complications, but I did the best I could, and I got it taken care of!). I’d been tested, in a big race, with no one to help me. And even though it wasn’t pretty, I guess you could say I passed. At the very least, I proved to myself that I could get through this situation. So in that sense, it was a positive thing.
I guess you could say that the fact that I was able to look at this whole experience from a different perspective — from a bigger picture — and see the value in it illustrates the fact that I’m becoming a more mature athlete as I go along. I’m pretty sure last year I would have ended the day in tears. But I didn’t shed even one this time. I was somehow able to keep it in perspective, and acknowledge that there is value in every experience, and the only way you can truly fail in a race is to not learn from it. Mistakes and disappointments are all just a part of the process of being an athlete. And in that role, they are incredibly important. Read more about my thoughts on this here. As one of the amazing bike mechanics at Paco’s Truckee Bike and Ski said to me when I brought my bike in after the race to make sure it was in fact ay-okay, “That’s just a part of racing. And it’s not easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it.” Amen to that one. (Yet, ironically, that’s why we love it, right?!)
It’s always frustrating not accomplishing your goals, and it can be even more frustrating feeling like you fell short because of circumstances beyond your control. But, on this day, I know there was nothing more I could have done, and that I did the absolute best I could with everything that I could control. And in the end, that’s all we can ever do. I truly feel confident that the Boulder Peak would have been a phenomenal day for me had the circumstances been different — but they weren’t. So I just have to remain confident in knowing what I could have done, and also having still turned in a strong swim and run. I know I was ready for this race, and I believe I showed that despite the circumstances. That is what I will chose to hold on to.
Yes, I’m still waiting for the race when everything really comes together. But I feel like now I truly know where I can be when that does happen. While it’s frustrating feeling like your potential has gone unreached, it’s also exciting too. I can’t wait to see what I can do when I have good day! I know the possibilities are still out there, waiting ahead, and that’s why I’ve got to keep striving for them. It’s so easy to feel defeated after a poor performance on a big day. But I refuse to feel that way. I know I will get there when the time is right, and I will use this latest experience as fuel for the fire in my next go-round (which just happens to be tomorrow!). So as I go into Vineman 70.3 tomorrow, I will take the same approach, knowing that all I can do is do my best thing the things I can control, give everything I have, and not fret about the rest. I will take what I’ve learned and gained from Boulder Peak with me as I move forward. Here’s to the possibility of a much better day tomorrow. Perhaps I will finally have my perfect day! 🙂
Also, want to say a HUGE thank you to all those who hosted, supported, cheered me on, or were otherwise a part of my Colorado adventure. THANKS Emily, Annie, Amie (and fam!), Joe and Jonathan for a great trip!
P.S. One BIG bonus of this race for me was that the pros raced in the last wave, so I got to watch them come in off their bikes and run, which was AWESOME! Some pics below: