After Vineman, I was (mostly) around Tahoe for the month of August. After quite a bit of traveling this summer and the majority of weekends away, it has really been nice to spend some quality time at home playing in the sun, catching up with friends, and of course catching up on work! It’s also been a month of focusing on training, putting in some big hours and hard workouts, getting ready for some bigger races this fall. A building month. And an extremely busy one at that! Nonetheless, it’s been fun! Thanks to all who have shared some quality time at home with me these past few weeks. I’m so glad I got some extended time to enjoy all of the wonders that make up a Tahoe summer: epic rides and trail runs, refreshing lake/river dips, incredible evening sunset swims… the list goes on. I am so grateful to live in such an incredible place, and be surrounded by so many amazing, special people. Truckee/Tahoe are truly a part of who I am, and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to call this place my home.
But while I had no major events on the calendar last month, I was still able to do a couple of great nearby races: the Folsom Olympic Triathlon on Aug. 19th, and Xterra Lake Tahoe on Aug. 25th. Though I was “training through” both of these races and didn’t exactly know what to expect of myself, both went surprisingly well! With two top-five OA performances among some really tough competition, and one new road PR, it was a challenging but satisfying couple weekends of racing!
Folsom Olympic Triathlon
I was super excited to get to race another Olympic distance race, as July was primarily focused on going long, and my last Oly experience at Boulder Peak didn’t exactly go as planned. Racing Olympic is always such a fun experience for me. It’s all about going “full throttle,” pushing to — and often beyond — the limit, and just going FAST! I love it! Plus, this is the distance I’ve been primarily focusing on training for this year, working on speed and threshold training. Basically, much of my training has been about trying to make it hurt as much as possible and learning how to push through it! Fun stuff!! 🙂 Anyway, I love this distance, I love the unique challenges it brings (so different from a 70.3 or 140.6, with their own respective challenges and rewards), and, in that twisted sense that only an athlete can understand, I love that feeling of going totally outside my comfort zone — but knowing that, unlike in longer distance racing, it will all be over soon if you can just hang on!
I was definitely reminded of this feeling in full at the Folsom Oly! Coming in to the race, I didn’t know the course or any of the other women racing (but knew there would definitely be some FAST ladies out there!), so my approach to the race was just looking at it as another chance to really lay it all out there, and ultimately just to see how much I could really push after a solid hard training block. I also seriously wanted a new Oly-distance PR, and more particularly a sub-2:20 time — so there could be no holding back; It was all about fighting for every second!
So one semi-frantic transition set-up later (after a bit of a debacle with the driving directions following a 4:15 a.m. departure from home), it was wetsuit on and into the pristine water of Lake Natomas. The 7 a.m. start made for an absolutely gorgeous morning setting and (thankfully!!) cooler temperatures, but it also meant that the sun was literally a giant, BLINDING fireball in the sky! As we lined up at the start, I could not see the first buoy at all (and we all know I have some issues with navigation even when I can see the buoys), but I knew the general direction I needed to head, so I just reminded myself that everyone was in the same boat and I could only tackle it as best as I could. I put my head down and off I went!
I quickly got confirmation that, yep, it was extremely hard to see where I was going. So I decided to just keep on “flying blind”, and employed the semi-genius/not-always-reliable strategy of letting others do my sighting for me. I tried to stay as close to other swimmers as possible and just focus on my strokes and my speed. I watched the other swimmers as I took my breaths, and anytime any one pulled up to really get a good sight at the buoy, I told myself “Bingo! She knows where she’s going now!”, and took aim to follow. Probably not the most reliable strategy, but since I still could see virtually nothing on my own, I decided to just swim hard and take my chances. Luckily, it panned out pretty well (thanks ladies for guiding me along!), and I made it to the first buoy without any major course deviation! Stoked! From there it was a little easier, as we were no longer headed directly into the fireball. I kept plugging away, trying to keep some of the other fast female swimmers in sight and within striking distance.
I got out of the water in 25:11. Once again, a good start, but nothing great. Still working on the issue of lackluster swimming this season, I guess. I was not out of contention for a PR or sub-2:20, but I hadn’t done myself any big favors, either. I also quickly realized I hadn’t done myself any favors with my hasty transition spot selection either. I failed to look around carefully at the transition setup, and as a result I ended up doing a considerable amount of extra running getting in and out of my spot. Rookie mistake, but hey, you live and you learn! It was onto the bike and back on the gas.
I had no idea where the bike course went, which was actually kind of fun, but I figured out pretty quickly that it was more challenging than I was expecting. Lots of good rollers and some pretty steep hills near the middle made for some tough pedaling. Fortunately, though, it was mostly up on the way out, and mostly down on the way back, so I just tried to maintain as much speed as I could on my way out and then hammer the back half and enjoy the ride! I could never really tell exactly where I was against the field, especially with an elite wave out there as well, but I knew was up there. There were also two separate turn-around sections on the course where I could see some ladies hot on my tail and looking super strong, so this really kept me moving! I pedaled hard and fast all the way in, thinking of the seconds ticking by and knowing I had some serious work to do after my slow transition and just-okay swim. Clocked in at 1:08:42 on the bike, a great time for me!
I went through T2 as quickly as I knew how, trying to hang on to every second I could muster. I knew it had to be all or nothing on the run, and I was really hoping for something special here. Knowing I am in a really good place right now with my running, I was confident I could go fast, but not sure exactly how fast, as I hadn’t had a chance to test my speed for quite a while! I was gunning for a new run PR, and really eager to do something extraordinary on this last leg. I took off charging hard and was surprised at the speed I had in my legs given my lack of fast training coming in. I felt good, so I decided to roll with it as long as I could. I ran hard and held nothing back. I turned my legs over as quick as I could, and when they started to get tired, I just kept pushing. I was turning in sub-7’s and I was determined to keep it going as long as possible, but it was NOT easy, and my body was screaming at me to let up.
Just after the turnaround one of the hard-chasing ladies passed me, and holy moly was she flying! I was inspired by her speed and apparent ease, and though I knew I couldn’t go with her, I tried to pick it up, match her stride and just keep her in sight as long as possible, like a moving target pushing me forward. I held strong for about another mile and a half, and then the hurt REALLY started to set in, and I dropped the ball a bit, turning in a 7:08 at mile 5. Bummer! I fought back with everything I had to get to the line and brought the pace back down, but just not quite enough.
I ended up finishing at 2:20:12, just shy of my sub-2:20 goal! A bummer to have such a near-miss, especially with the needless extra time in transition, but I was still super stoked on the PR (previous was a 2:21:50), and I knew I’d given everything I had. In the end, that’s all you can ask for! Run leg was a 43:32, so no spectacular new PR, but good for my second-best all-time run split, so not too shabby! Still working to get this leg down in the 40-minute-range though! I finished the day as 5th place OA among some super fast company, and took home the 25-29 AG win. All in all, it was a good day! I pushed hard, left it all out there, had fun (the most important), and came home with a PR in the back pocket. Good stuff!
Xterra Lake Tahoe
After Folsom is was time to get back into mountain bike mode, with Xterra Lake Tahoe just six days later, and some much bigger Xterra races shortly down the road. This was totally fine by me, as I’d spent so much time on the road through July and early August, I was eager to get back out onto the trails for some fun! The riding has totally delivered, and I’ve been able to do some old favorites, completely new trails, solo rides and rides with friends, fast ride and easy rides… It’s been a blast!
Xterra LT brought a seriously nice day: gorgeous blue skies and sunshine, but not too hot! Thank you, weather Gods. As you might have guessed, we started with a swim in the big blue of Tahoe, and man, was it awesome!! Even though I live just 20 minutes away from the lake and do visit it semi-frequently, I’m still amazed every time I jump in! The water is so fresh and clear! Its always nice doing a swim where you can actually see the bottom — let alone anything in front of you! This was a 2*750m lap race, so we did one lap, exited for a short beach run, and then hopped back in for another. I knew I’d probably need as much help as I could get heading into this bike leg, so I tried to really leave it all out there on the swim. I felt like I’d done that, but my time and standing didn’t really show it. I exited the water in the high-26-minute range (one of my slower swims this year), and in fourth place among females (though at the time I was totally unsure where I stood against the field).
After a loooong run back up to transition, I was headed off on what I knew would be the toughest leg of the day. The bike course at Xterra LT is no joke, with some seriously tough, steep and LONG climbing sections, and some pretty technical descents spread out on a 22-mile loop. I had ridden most of the course before, including a good portion the day prior to the race, but there was also a section I had never been on. I got passed by one female pretty quickly, and she was absolutely ripping! (I would come to find out this was Shayna Powless, an 18-year-old who seriously rocks! So does her 15-year-old brother, Nielson, who won the entire event!). I tried not to get too discouraged and just focus on me. The course leads quickly into a hard three-mile climb up “Tunnel Creek,” which is mostly loose sand, and a range of fairly steep, not-as-steep, and holy-moly-this-is-steep pitches. I was definitely expecting it to be tough, and it was — though not quite the doozy I was imagining after literally crawling up it at a snail’s pace the day before. I was pleasantly surprised to learn it didn’t feel near as long on race day. Nonetheless, I was happy to see the top!
From there it is on to the famous Flume Trail, an exposed trail that runs alongside a ridge and provides insanely epic views of Lake Tahoe. Normally I’m a huge sucker for the scenery, riding slowly to peep all the views, and stopping to ham it up for tourist-style photos. But, this was race day, so I tried to keep the pace up! Not to mention, the trail gets pretty narrow in a few places, and you wouldn’t want to get caught looking the wrong direction… it’s a long fall down to the lake! 🙂 I still was not as fast I’d have liked to have been, probably a combination of me being a bit nervous about the exposure at a higher speed than I’m used to and the fact that I’m just not that great (yet!) at maintaining high speed on the flats off-road. I definitely lost a little time, and got caught by two women at the end of this section.
I stuck on like glue, and the three of us were battling it out as we made our way up the next seriously steep climb out from Marlette Lake up onto the Tahoe Rim Trail. We were all fighting hard, and you could definitely sense the intensity and desire from each of us. It was a tough scene, but pretty fun too! Personally, I was giving everything I could to try to hang with these ladies, as I knew at that point we were among the top six or so, and I felt really confident I could gain time on the run even with tired legs, but would need to make sure I stayed in the hunt off the bike. Soon another competitor, my friend and an incredible rider, Julie Young, passed by us. I decided to try to go with her, as I knew she could still gain a ton of ground in these last 8-or-so miles — easily too much for me to reel in on the run — if I didn’t respond. I couldn’t quite stay on her super speedy wheel, but I pushed myself to maintain visual contact. I was able to drop one of the other gals this way, but one was still hanging on.
Then we hit the downhill section. Wow, was I unprepared for that! The trail was incredibly technical, with some seriously gnarly sections (big drops, some super sharp rocks and some really tough turns), which I was not fully expecting, as it was the one section I’d never ridden before. I was basically holding on for dear life, and almost took about five serious diggers. I fully lost contact with Julie and the other rider, who had passed me back pretty quickly on the descent, but I just focused on getting through it, and then doing all I could in the last few miles heading into the run to not loose anymore ground.
I headed onto the run in seventh place, but I wasn’t really sure at the time where I was, as there were a few women who got out ahead during the swim, and I never saw them again. I actually thought I was doing better than I was in terms of standings, which may have been a good thing, because in my head I thought I was digging for a podium finish, so perhaps this made me fight even a little bit harder. But who knows — in the moment, I’d like to think we all just give it everything we’ve got no matter where we are. Anywho, my legs felt decently strong, but I didn’t feel like they had much speed in them. I just tried to focus on running a smart, consistent race, and not trying to catch anyone too quickly and blow up! The two-lap course was really cool and wild-feeling, winding around tons of trees and crossing several small streams. It was relatively flat, with just some small ups-and-downs, but the many corners and constant transitioning made the pace a little slower. My body was definitely starting to feel tired from the tough bike and overall effort of the day as I entered the third mile, but right about the same time I saw another woman up ahead. I put my head down, and told myself to focus.
I made the pass and tried to put in as much of a burst as I could muster to get away, and soon found myself ready to make another pass, as we headed into lap two. I told myself to be smart, and took my time with making a move. I wanted to make sure it would be decisive. After I went around it was all about just hanging on as best I could for the final couple of miles. I thought I might have moved myself into a podium position, but really wasn’t sure. At that point, it was all about getting to the finish. I was keeping up the pace alright, but I was definitely tired, and ready to be done! It had been a long, hard day! Fortunately, I made my way across the line before getting totally fatigued, and was able to finish strong.
In the end, I ended up placing fifth overall. I didn’t know until afterward that there were two women just a couple minutes in front of me, but I’d like to think that didn’t matter because I was giving all I could anyway. It’s always easy to question yourself afterward, even though during the race you feel like you can’t find another single second. At any rate, I was really pleased with this performance, and had a fantastic experience at Xterra Lake Tahoe. It was a tough day for sure, but it was also super fun! Sometimes the most challenging courses are also the most epic, and in this case that was definitely true. Big thanks to Big Blue Adventures for putting on an awesome event! Next up: Xterra Nationals in Utah!