From “Could” to “Can” — Back in the Saddle (sort of…)

Being injured sucks — plain and simple. I don’t think any athlete would disagree. It’s never easy to be held back by our own bodies, particularly when we are used to pushing so hard to expand our limits. It is never easy to “sit on the sidelines” and watch the season go by around you. It’s certainly not easy to feel like you are missing out on something you love so much. But, unfortunately, injuries happen. And when they do, all these things are part of the territory.

That being said, I think there are certainly multiple ways to approach injuries, and that in some ways we can even use them to our benefit. At the very least, we can focus on doing our best to make the most of what we can do while injured. This is what I’ve been really striving to do these past seven weeks. Some days are certainly easier than others when it comes to focusing on the now and working with the injury, but for the most part I have honestly been surprised at some of the valuable experiences, training and perspective I’ve gained throughout the process of recovering from this knee injury.

Taking in the views on the bike!

There’s no doubt that I’m missing out on some major aspects of my training as a result of being injured, and in many ways I do feel like I’m falling behind in that respect. But there’s nothing I can do at this point to change that, and I know trying to fight it — or stress about it — will only make things worse. Particularly on race weekends, I’ve found myself starting to feel down and out, focusing on what I “could have done” if I was there racing instead of healing. But other than maybe a little bit of “stoking the fire,” that is far from productive.

In looking at the original race schedule I set out at the beginning of the year, I’ve missed four races already, including one of my big A races for the season. My last triathlon “result” was my DNF at Wildflower in early May (ugh, seeing those three letters by my name still stings!). That is obviously not how I pictured my season would look near the end of June. But rather than dwell on what I’ve missed, and what I could be doing if I weren’t injured, I decided these last couple weeks to really turn my focus to what I can do, and making the most of that — not only in training, but in competition too. I am an athlete who typically does a lot of racing during the season, which works well for my body and mind, so it’s strange for me to be without it for anything more than a few weeks.

So I decided to look around for some local bike races that I could jump into not only for enjoyment, but the chance to push myself again and remember what it’s like in a competitive scenario. Though I’ve been able to continue doing some training through this injury through swimming, biking and strength, it’s certainly a far cry from my usual routine. There has been pretty much no structure, almost no intervals, and no real big volume days (simply because I just haven’t been able to put that much strain on my knee yet). More than anything, I’ve basically been “staying active.” Nonetheless, I was still excited to get back into a race scenario and just see what all I could do.

Race One: Quick, Intense and FUN!

BibThe first race I did was the Nevada City Dirt XC Classic race at the Osborne Hill Trails in Grass Valley on June 15th. This was a roughly 15-mile cross country course that really felt more like a BMX track in a lot of ways, with tons of swooping turns, tight corners, quickly changing terrain, and a lot of technical single track riding. The entire trail rolled through forest canopy, and though it was quite challenging, it was an absolute BLAST — some of the most fun riding I have done in a while, and definitely very different from what I’m used to at home, which is always fun!

I really never do any mountain bike racing outside of Xterra (since my schedule’s already so crammed between Xterra and road tri’s), so it felt like a whole new experience for me. I felt a little unsure of myself at the start — a combination of my inexperience with mountain bike racing that isn’t sandwiched between a swim and a run, the technicality of the course, and the fact that I hadn’t raced in so long and really hadn’t done anything “hard” at all since May 5th. Crashing in the warmup and taking some of the impact on my knee did little to help my confidence, but once we all got out there, I was my usual laser-focused self, and mentally it was like I hadn’t skipped a beat. That part felt amazing!

Physically it was a bit of a different story… I could definitely tell that I am not yet up to full power on the bike, and I’m pretty sure my heart rate was redlining at maximum basically the entire duration of the race. It hurt like hell, but at the same time it felt SO good to really push myself like that again. I embraced that feeling, and the challenge of the course (which may or may not have seen me run into a tree and get knocked off the trail…), and absolutely loved the entire experience. I finished as the second overall woman (Cat 1) behind the superbly talented Julie Young, but most importantly fought hard every peddle of the way. All in all, it was a good day among an incredibly welcoming, friendly crowd of bike racers, and I was so grateful to be a part of it.

MTB Race Two… Just Plain Loooong!

Evening pre-ride
Evening pre-ride on the course in the sunset

Completing that race got me super psyched up, and I decided I wanted to try another bike race the next week since I still couldn’t ‘tri,’ and was originally supposed to be racing at Ironman CDA during that time. When I learned that Big Blue Adventure was hosting a 4-hour MTB solo race right in my backyard, I was all over it like white on rice. Of course, I hadn’t exactly been training for this type of venture, but I figured “Why Not?” — this is the time for trying new things and learning from every experience. So I signed up, pre-rode the 12.5-mile course the evening prior, and found myself on a surprisingly packed starting line last Saturday morning that was no short on talent.

Quite a different course from Nevada City - Smooth and Straight!
Opposite of Nevada City: Smooth and Straight!

The way this format works is that you aim to complete as many laps as possible in the allotted time, as fast as possible. But while it’s designated as a 4-hour race, you ultimately have more time than that to complete your laps, in that you just have to have started your final lap by the 4th hour. The course was not very technical at all, and mainly on fast fire roads, but with a couple really steep climbs. Going in, I thought that if I had a really good day I could turn in lap times right around an hour, and if things went superbly I could potentially just make it on to a fifth lap before the four-hour cut-off. That would certainly be pushing it, I knew, but I figured I might as well try for it!

Try I did, but after just barely coming in under 1 hour on my first lap, I continued to add a couple minutes to each lap time as the race went on and fatigue started to set in. By the middle of lap three, I was really feeling the toll of the distance, and could definitely tell I hadn’t been riding the long hours I needed to stay as strong and efficient as I would have liked through the duration of this event. But I pushed on as fast as I could, and continued to adjust my goals as I went along so I could keep having something to strive for. When I got really tired and felt ready for it to be over, I reminded myself that in an ideal world I’d have been racing 10+ hours at Ironman that same weekend, so I’d better suck it up and push on! Once I knew there was no way I’d hit a fifth lap before the 4 hours were up, I focused on trying to keep my lap times as consistent as possible, and though they dropped off a bit throughout the race, I think I did that to the best of my abilities.

All said and done, I completed 4 laps — and just over 50 miles of MTB racing! — in 4 hours, 13 minutes. And that was PLENTY of racing for me! By the time I hit the finish, I was thoroughly exhausted, and quite content with not heading out for another 12.5 miles. In fact, I couldn’t even imagine it. But the seriously bad-ass studettes on the day, Julie and Genevieve, were absolutely amazing in making it to the fifth lap and completing it with style, Julie finishing first and Genevieve second. I was very impressed! I finished in third behind these wonderful ladies, and was not disappointed at all — just very, very tired!

The Low Down…

So needless to say, I’m not in prime racing shape at this moment given the limits on my training and my body, and am still lacking a lot of my usual power. But given where I’m at in the recovery process, I think that’s totally okay, and I’m really grateful to be able to have put in the efforts I did these past couple weeks, and remember what racing feels like again! I am still disappointed to have missed out on the triathlons that I have, but at the same time I feel blessed to have gotten the chance to change things up a bit and try new races that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity for. Racing solely on the bike, particularly in that range of distances, was a new experience for me, and I think I gained a lot and learned some valuable lessons I can apply once I am back to triathlon.

Healing is still my number 1 priority right now, and I’m still aiming toward getting my running back, but it’s nice to know there are other opportunities out there in the meantime. As is always the case, it’s all about working with what you’ve got! And I feel confident that if I can continue to do that, to approach my healing process wholeheartedly and embrace the adjustments I have to make along the way, I will ultimately come out of this a stronger and more well-rounded athlete than ever before — it just may take a little time to get there!

I’m drawing strength and inspiration from other athletes I know who’ve recently gone through periods of injury and come back to full strength and totally rocked, such as Shonny Vanlandingham and Linsey Corbin. And when I start to feel sorry for myself for being out for a couple months, I think of the amazing Jamie Whitmore, who’s had to make life-long adjustments, but still stayed so strong and positive. There are so many true champions in this sport, and I thank these ladies for showing me the way! This healing process continues to feel long, but I’m seeing a little progress each day, and that is what I’m holding on to. One day at a time, step by step, little by little… learning to adjust, and moving forward!

Happy Place!
Happy Place!


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