And So It Begins!

I regret letting so much time go by without a blog update, as I’ve got so much I want to share now. But as usual life has been crazy, and time was as scarce as ever these last couple months leading into my first pro season. But despite all the scrambling amidst an obligation overload, I made it to the start of tri season as excited as ever, and now have my first pro race in the books! It was a fantastic experience, and I can hardly wait for all the racing yet to come this year. But until then, here’s a little recap of the season’s kick-off and my Xterra pro debut.

The Lead-In: Patience, Perspective, Perseverance

MTBwithJulie1The “3 P’s” above were the theme of my lead-in to race season this year. As I mentioned in my earlier off-season blog post, I had the opportunity this winter to do some pre-season mountain bike and running races, which I was happy to take advantage of. I think it was super helpful for me to start shaking the rust off early and put my body through the motions of racing a few times before it really counted. Not to mention, it was a lot of fun to spend some more time on my bike! However, it’s so important during these pre-season “training races” to keep those 3 P’s in mind, remember what the real goal is, and not let yourself get too caught up in the results. It’s still SO early to make any judgements whatsoever about your fitness or race-readiness during this time, which is why you have to stay patient, maintain perspective, and push on! I had some really great racing experiences during the pre-season, and some pretty poor performances too. At times it was easy for me to keep my 3 P’s in mind, and other times it was much more challenging. In the end, it was all solid experience and training in the bank, and a great opportunity to test myself, see where my strengths and weaknesses were, and see how I was progressing as tri season continued to approach. This was by far the most pre-season mountain biking I’ve ever done, and I can see now that it is paying off!

DCIM100GOPROAs I also mentioned before, I tried to maximize my ski racing opportunities this winter, even though they were so few with our terrible snow year. I love cross country skiing so much… it is my foundation as an athlete and where I really discovered my passion for sport. That will never change, and I will always want to be involved in it in some way or another. This winter I tried to prioritize ski racing a bit more than I have the past few years, as I think it can be great training for tri season in its own right, and is just downright tough. It pushes my body and mind in a whole different way than triathlon, and I think it’s good to have that variety.

Photo by Mark Nadell
Photo by Mark Nadell

I had some really good races this year, and was pretty surprised by how strong I felt given how little I was actually able to ski. But racing was challenging for me in many ways too, as I expected a lot out of myself and found my heart really invested in each race — probably much more than was fair to me given my situation. Ultimately, I couldn’t help but have an “all-in” approach and “all-in” expectations, even though the task of trying to balance my desire to continue to be a skier with my now full-time identity as a triathlete really only allowed me to be “very-partially-in” when it came to skiing. Given my competitive nature with myself, I want to be able to not just do it all, but to give 100 percent of myself to all of it too, but I know that’s just not always possible. This is a hard truth for me to acknowledge, and I just can’t picture myself wanting to take a more “half-in” approach to skiing next year, but I also know I can’t keep pretending to be a full-time ski racer for a couple short months when I’m most definitely not. This caused me some unnecessary disappointment this year, and I don’t want to feel that way again. So, we’ll see what happens next winter. I know I will be involved in skiing, but I’m really not sure to what extent yet.

Kicking Things Off

Needless to say, after so much anticipation and a variety of preparation through the winter, I was incredibly psyched to get my 2014 triathlon season started.

Photo by Craig DeVita
Photo by Craig DeVita

I am very fortunate to be able to kick things off each spring with a fantastic local Xterra race hosted by TBF Racing the last weekend of March, Xterra Real. This was my third year starting the season with this race (which was also my very first Xterra race, in 2012), and it really is the perfect opportunity to get in a competitive swim-bike-run race experience in a low-key but very professional setting before heading off to more high-stakes races. This year’s race was made extra challenging thanks to cold temps and pouring rain throughout the event. Personally, I kind of enjoyed the extreme weather, and I felt strong across the board to lead the women’s race from start to finish. I was really pleased to feel good in this first triathlon effort and come away with the win, but more importantly I was happy to get a race under my belt and accomplish the specific performance goals I had set up for myself. Really, this race was all about preparation for the Xterra West Championships in Las Vegas two weeks later, where I would be making my professional debut! It was, indeed, excellent prep. I was able to get the kinks out, open things up and remember how to put the swim-bike-run together again.

XterraRealRun1The following weekend I attended the annual LUNA Chix Summit event, where all the LUNA Sponsored Athletes like myself, the LUNA Pro Team and the regional LUNA Chix Ambassadors come together for a weekend of training, clinics, presentations, friends and fun! This event really deserves a blog post of its own, but let’s just say it is one of the most inspirational events I ever get to be a part of, and such a great reminder of how fortunate I am to be part of a program like LUNA that is making such a big difference in the lives of women everywhere. The 80s-themed dance night was also a special highlight!

Xterra West Championships: My Pro Debut!

Coming in to Xterra Las Vegas, which is the first race in the Xterra U.S. Pro Series, I got asked again and again if I was nervous for my first race as a pro. Honestly, I really wasn’t. What I was was EXCITED! There were a few moments when nerves tried to kick in, but I just reminded myself that it was really no different from any other race, and what I needed to do was exactly the same as what I’ve done so many times before. Only the people around me would be different. But I was so thrilled to have my first opportunity to see how I could do racing side-by-side with this stellar group of ladies. I already know very well that for me, the bigger the challenge, the harder I will push myself to meet it, so honestly I was expecting a lot out of myself in terms of progress from the season before. However, I had no result expectations whatsoever, because I really had no clue how I’d do! So I stayed focused on my personal race plan and goals. But, that doesn’t mean I didn’t believe that something great was possible! I never, ever rule that out!!

I arrived in Vegas earlier than in the past, and got in a couple solid days of pre-riding on the course, which was helpful given the rough conditions, with lots of erosion and lots of very loose sections, in addition to the usual super steep climbs that make up the Xterra Las Vegas course. It’s not technical in the traditional sense that I’m used to, but it has its own unique combination of brutal elements that make for a very challenging day.

On race morning, I was still overwhelmed with excitement to be starting in my first pro race (and fortunately still not too nervous). I felt ready to go and eager to see what I could do! As I mentioned, I had some pretty specific personal goals in mind for my race, and was ready to push myself to the limit to achieve them. As we all lined up on the beach before the start, I thought about all the events, decisions, hard work, and most importantly all the people, that had led me to this very special moment in my athletic career, and I felt so grateful to be there, in a moment I’d dreamed of and dedicated so much of myself to since my very first triathlon.

Photo by Liz Gruber
Pro start. Photo by Liz Gruber.

XterraBeachRunOnce the gun went off, I charged hard out of the start to try and find some fast feet to draft for the swim. I was able to hang on to the front group of ladies for a few short minutes, but pretty soon found myself on my own in between the front group and the next group of gals behind me. This made it tough to sight the buoys with no one else around, and also difficult to keep the pace high, but I felt strong and was happy to see all the work I have been doing in the pool was starting to pay off. When I came in to the beach after the first lap, I was excited to hear I was the 5th woman. This, in addition to the cheers from spectators, made me feel awesome… that is, until I failed to pick up my feet enough on the beach run and tripped and fell in front of the crowd before making it back into the water for lap two. SOLID! Fortunately it made for a good laugh and probably helped me relax going in to lap two. I slowed a bit on the second lap and two other swimmers (LUNA pro Danelle Kabush and Katie Button) were able to get on my feet. We came out of the water pretty much right together, and I was very happy to head into the transition as the 5th woman!

Race1Heading on to the bike, I was determined to go as hard as I needed to to stay in the mix. I knew there were some very fast women out front after the swim, and still others behind who would be chasing hard, including LUNA’s Shonny Vanlandingham, who is always one of the fastest bikers in Xterra. I felt really fortunate to have come out of the water near Danelle, as we were able to ride together, trading places back and forth, for much of the bike course. I was hoping to try to hang on to Shonny for a bit when she came by, but unfortunately she blew right by me on a wide section of the course, so I never even made contact. Danelle and I came through the first lap together, in 6th and 7th place, and I was psyched to still be in such a strong position. I gave it everything I had to hang in there on the second lap, and continued to feel really good on the bike, but I lost a little ground and headed in to T2 about two minutes back from Danelle (in 6th), and a couple more minutes outside of the top five. This was my first race on my new Orbea Alma 29er, and I absolutely loved it!

Photo by August Teague
Photo by August Teague
Photo by August Teague
Photo by August Teague

With so many strong runners in front of me, I knew it would be a very tall order to make up any time on the field, so I refocused on the goals that I’d set out for myself, which included running up all the hills (in the past I have had to walk on some of the steeper parts). Despite pushing really hard on the bike, I felt like I was able to find a good rhythm on the run. I did make it up all the hills and was able to really open things up and push my pace on the flatter sections. It was a bit of a challenge to keep my foot on the gas throughout the 10 kilometers, as I was completely by myself, with no one in striking distance either in front of or behind me. But I did my best to push all the way to the line, and was absolutely thrilled to cross the finish in 7th place behind some of the fastest Xterra competitors in the world.

I was very happy with the effort I gave and the result I was able to achieve on the day, but even more importantly, I had SO much fun in my first pro race! It was an absolutely incredible experience, and one that I am so grateful for. Going in to the race, I didn’t know at all what to expect, but knew it was important just to get the first pro race experience under my belt. But as the race unfolded I began to really feel confident that I was where I belong, racing at a whole new level than I’d ever achieved before, and it felt so great to get that validation for making the step up to the pro ranks. My main goal was to feel like I’d progressed from last season, but I certainly did not expect to see as big of a jump as I did here. It’s an amazing feeling to see your hard work pay off and to be rewarded for taking on a new challenge. I’m so grateful for the way everything has come together, and incredibly excited to see how I can continue to progress and push myself from here.

There are so many people who have helped me get to this point, and who encouraged and supported me in taking this next step, and I could not be more thankful. Thanks so much to all of you for standing behind me and pushing me forward! Extra special thanks to my dear friend Liz, who cheered like crazy and smiled endlessly even though she couldn’t race (she’s just the best!), and to the LUNA Pro Team gals, who were so kind and supportive to me in this effort. I am so lucky to be a part of the LUNA family. And, of course, to August for giving me the confidence and tools to make this step, and supporting me along the way.

After the race, August and I went on to St. George to preview the 70.3 U.S. Pro Championship bike course there (where I’ll be racing on May 3rd), and then to Zion for a couple days where we got to do some amazing running, hiking, mountain biking and camping. It was a trip I will not forget!

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Rory says:

    BOOM!!! Awesome report Kara! And even more awesome race! You were killing it out there! I was stoked to see you when you were on the run, def helped me pick it up for the last mile of that crazy windy bike. Good luck next weekend!

    1. karalapoint says:

      Thanks Rory! You crushed it, too… Worlds Qualifier in the first race of the year, WOOP WOOP! Super stoked you will be back in Maui again, it’s gonna be FUN! Let me know if you’re coming up here for any of the races this year, you’ve got a place to stay for sure!

  2. Sue Daniels says:

    WOW! Awesome effort…..amazing photos too. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
    Good luck in the next one 🙂

    1. karalapoint says:

      Thank you so much, Sue! It was beautiful out in St. George and Zion, so it was easy to get some great photos! 🙂

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