Donner Lake Triathlon: One SWEET Hometown Victory

As I wrote in my last post, my original race schedule for the season had me racing at Vineman 140.6 (Iron-distance) on July 27th. This would have been my 4th year doing that race, which was my first Iron-distance race back in 2010. There’s a special place in my heart for Vineman, without a doubt. It was also important because initially my main focus for 2013 was on going “long,” focusing on 140.6 racing, with four Ironman races on my schedule. But when I hurt my knee in May — and more specifically when it continued to be hurt in June and then July — everything changed. Three of the Ironmans I had scheduled were dropped from my schedule, and now just one remains: IM Tahoe on Sep. 22. It’s crazy how much things can change during the course of a season, or even just a few months, and that’s why it’s so important to be flexible as an athlete and learn how to “roll with the punches,” so to speak.

I’m pretty confident I would have made it through Vineman that weekend, as my knee was very much on the mend at that point (having completed the 70.3 race two weeks prior), but I knew attempting that would not be the best decision I could make as an athlete looking for long-term success, or even short-term… (it would not have been pretty, I’m sure). But fortunately, the Donner Lake Triathlon was taking place right here in my hometown of Truckee on the same weekend! I’d missed this race in 2012 for Vineman, after racing it the two years prior, so I was actually pretty psyched to get another chance to participate in this hometown gem!

The DLT is a pretty big deal here in our small town. It’s one of the premier annual athletic events in Tahoe, and it has a big spectator turnout and even bigger following. I remember watching it several years as a kid, in awe of the amazing athletes out there, before jumping into a relay with buddies a few years, and then eventually tackling the race on my own in 2010 and 2011 after I got my start in triathlon. It’s called an Olympic-distance race, however the run is a little long, at just under 7 miles instead of the usual 6.2, and the course is TOUGH, going up the infamous Donner Summit climb right out of T2. No PRs on this course! But it’s truly a one-of-a-kind race in so many ways. The challenge is unique in itself, not to mention the stunning scenery. And then of course there is the hometown appeal, which pretty much can’t be beat.

AWESOME venue for a race!
AWESOME venue for a race!

DLT attracts some seriously good athletes every year, so it’s pretty competitive even though it’s a relatively small race. I’ve had some really strong races here in the past, placing 3rd and 4th overall female in my two individual starts, but the win has always seemed pretty elusive. Last year there were a couple of STELLAR gals who took the top two female spots, one of them being top pro racer Liz Lyles, of Reno, and the other local legend and incredibly talented athlete Shannon Rahlves. I had been told these ladies were not racing this year, but of course you never know until the gun goes off. Nonetheless, I set my sights on the win. Honestly this is a pretty low-pressure race, with no qualifying spots of any kind on the line or anything like that, so I was excited to just give it my all and enjoy racing in my backyard. But come race morning, the competitor in me was seriously fired up and ready to go, and I knew I wanted to win, regardless of who was out there. I told myself I was going for it — no holding back, and no playing it safe; all or nothing.

It was a typically gorgeous Truckee day, and the lake was as glassy and stunning as ever — and not too cold! The only bummer about the swim was that the turning buoys were white and quite small, and positioned RIGHT in the wake of the bright morning sun, so I literally could not see the first turn even from the shore. I was pretty much swimming blind and never really had a good sight of the buoy, but I tried to just stay with the pack and keep a good straight line, and ironically I think it was some of the most direct swimming I’ve done all year. I felt strong and smooth in the water, and tried to focus on keeping an efficient stroke until the second turn, when I tried to turn up the gas a bit. I was out of the water in just under 24 minutes, which is pretty good for me these days, so I was really pleased about that! However, I had some ground to make up with several girls out ahead of me.


Onto the bike I focused on my plan of charging hard and taking some risks. So I went for it! I have missed all my other Olympic-distance races this year, and it was so fun to be back in this shorter distance where time flies by and you can go full-throttle from the get-go. I pushed it big time up Donner Summit, and I felt AWESOME! As I neared the top of the climb, I literally couldn’t believe how much fun I was having out there. I felt super strong, and mentally I was in a great space where I was just absolutely loving being out there! I had moved into 1st female by the top of the climb, and I told myself I had to keep on pushing hard because things can change so quickly in these shorter races. At the turn-around I could see that a couple gals were not far behind, and I really wanted a cushion going into the run — not to mention I wanted to beat my former race times — so I gave it everything I had heading back up the backside of the summit before the fast descent back to the lake. I continued to feel strong throughout the bike, and I felt like it flew by! I came it at around 1:20 with the transition time, about 4 minutes faster than my previous bike time on this course. I’ll take it!

Feeling good and having fun early in the run!
Feeling good and having fun early in the run!

As usual, my T2 (like my T1) was way slower than necessary, despite my best efforts to try to make it snappy. But I headed out onto the run as the lead woman, and got a TON of cheers from the hometown crowd, which was AMAZING, and so very appreciated! I had people I didn’t even know cheering for me by name, and it pretty much made me feel like a rockstar. I was thriving off of the good Truckee vibes, and loving it! I was still feeling really good as I started my run along the lake, and I still really wanted that W. I knew I had a little cushion, but I really didn’t know how big it was at all, so I told myself there was no time for slacking, put my head down, and kept charging like I was about to be outrun. As it turns out, I was right. I had never looked back all along the length of the lake, and I didn’t think there was anybody within sight of me because I was having a really strong run. But as the course turned around the lake through the State Park, and then we started down the backside for home — right where the big hill on the course begins, of course — is when things were about to get really TOUGH.

Because Laura Haley, a 19-year-old studette from Reno who competes for the University of Arizona “Tri Cats” team was charging hard, and she was closing in on me. Turns out she wanted that W too… Funny thing about racing, huh?! I honestly would not have even known she was there if the spectators out on the course hadn’t started to let me know that “there’s somebody RIGHT behind you,” she was so light on her feet (and obviously quick too). Dammit… REALLY?! My heart started to sink for a minute as everyone (including my slightly frantic family fan club who was so excited I was doing this local race so they could watch) let me know that she was getting closer and closer. Ugh. I did not know if I had it in me to hold her off. I felt like I was already going so hard, and running so well, that I just didn’t know if I had anymore to give. I was hurting, and I just wanted that last mile-and-a-half to be over, now, so I didn’t have to fight this battle. I didn’t want to do it. But there I was, in that moment, forced to fight.

I am constantly amazed at what our bodies can do in these types of situations. And once again mine was somehow able to dig itself into depths I literally didn’t even know it had to fight for that win. After a few brief moments of self doubt and utter panic about the thought that I was going to get passed in the last moments of this race, and just miss out on that long sought-after win in my hometown event, after everything I’d left out there… I told myself to snap out of it, stay focused, and PUSH. It was like my mind literally flipped a switch and made a decision that I was not going to give in, and I was not going to let myself lose this race in this last mile. And my body responded. Just when I felt like I was going as hard as I possibly could, I found a way to go harder. Because I had to. I found another gear from some mysterious place (that I wish I could tap into more often!). It hurt like hell, but there I was, running like I hadn’t run in months and didn’t think I could. I guess it truly is all about what you tell yourself in these situations, which is why it’s so important to be in control of the dialogue!

With the finish getting closer and closer, I found myself still out in front, and the thoughts switched to “You are not going to lose this race in the last half-mile;” and then 400 meters… I shut out all the thoughts about how I was feeling, or how hard I thought I was already going, and just told myself to go harder. All I thought about was how much I wanted this win in front of the people and town that has supported me so much. And I told myself I was going to get it. And somehow, I pulled back away. And I kept on going, through that eagerly-awaited finish line. I’m not sure any victory I’ve had so far has felt too much sweeter. And this being my first one of the tri season, at such a special venue, after such a tough last few months, and after such a hard fight, I felt like I’d just won the flippin’ Olympics. (Don’t steal my thunder here… I know that’s a massive stretch of a comparison, but I was STOKED!).

All said and done, I won the race by just over 20 seconds. But within the last mile, that gap was within just a few footsteps. My run split was 48 minutes, a new PR on this course for me, but not as fast as Laura’s! I am incredibly impressed with Laura’s mad running skills, and pretty much instantly gained an insane amount of respect for her after what we went through out there on the course together. She has some GREAT racing ahead of her, that’s for sure. Although it was certainly not what I wanted at the time, I am really grateful to have had such a tough battle at the end of this race. It is in these epic moments of racing, where we are pushed to a point beyond where we want to stretch, that we find that next level we didn’t know we had, and that we grow as athletes. There is NO way I would have finished that hard if I didn’t have Laura right there in my shadow, pushing me past my perceived limits. THANK YOU, Laura, for helping me grow. Thank you for the challenge, and thank you for an amazing race that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

DLT09Donner Lake Triathlon 2013 is in the books, and I finally nabbed the victory here. My total time on the day was 2:35:37, almost 8 minutes faster than when I last raced here in 2011. It feel so good to make progress like that despite the injury, and to have felt as strong as I did out there. It was one special day for me to win here in Truckee, and I just can’t say enough about the hometown cheers and encouragement. Thanks to all of you who helped out! Here’s hoping the good vibes will continue at IM Tahoe next month! 🙂

**Big THANKS to Skyler Mullings for all the great pics!**

2 Comments Add yours

  1. sberggren says:

    Nice job Kara! Inspiring to say the least after reading the various posts about your injury…way to kill it! I’ve followed your blog for sometime and I am aiding at IMLT… Look forward to seeing you out there!

    1. karalapoint says:

      Thank you SO much, Sarah! I really appreciate the nice comment. It certainly feels good to be back!! I see you also did Vineman 70.3 this year, after your own injury, and posted an AWESOME time in your first half! CONGRATS! Very cool to hear you are aiding at IMLT, I will be on the lookout for you (and probably very glad to see you for some much-need aid)! 😉

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