Since I got back from St. George, it’s been a racing whirlwind. Counting St. George, I’ve raced 5 of the last 6 weekends, with another race set for this coming Sunday to make it 6 of 7. I really like racing (in case it wasn’t evident!), and my coach and I purposefully set up a big racing block for this point in the season when I am really primarily trying to make progress toward my goals for my “A” races later this year, and looking to gain speed, fitness and experience through these hard racing efforts.
The important thing when racing a lot, however, is to know — and to plan — that you can’t be great in every race, and not every race can be treated the same way. Ultimately, some of my races are “training races,” meaning I use them as an opportunity to get in a hard intensity workout and get more practice and experience with different race-day scenarios. In the case of a training race, the goals are very different — unrelated to performance in the field, and usually change each time as I’m focusing on trying or improving something new, or pushing my body in a different way to see how it reacts. Everyone is different when it comes to racing, but my personal preference is to race often, practicing pushing my body and mind, and learning as much as I can each time… but keeping the expectations in perspective — which is crucial. Provided that you can treat them as such, I think training races can be a tremendously valuable tool in helping to prepare for the “big races,” so your body knows exactly what to do and is accustomed to doing it. The key is integrating these races into your training plan so they are essentially treated like a tough workout.
I am very fortunate to live in a region where local racing opportunities are abundant, and always an incredibly positive experience thanks to the committed and professional race organizers, hard-working volunteers, and top-notch competitors throughout Northern California. We have an amazing racing scene here, with great competition, so I like to take advantage of it whenever I can. Not to mention, it is always so FUN to be able to race in a laid-back environment with great local support and energy.
Folsom International Triathlon
So, the weekend after St. George I decided I really needed more practice racing on the road, and was lucky to be able to jump in to the Folsom International Triathlon just a short drive away from my house. This is an awesome race put on by Total Body Fitness, and I was psyched to be able to compete in it again. The race starts with a calm, cool swim in Folsom Lake; then rides out on to some of my favorite terrain of all time, winding through the foothills on some fast flats broken up by a few steep, punchy power climbs; and finishing with a challenging but beautiful run on hard-packed trails. My main goal with this race was to really push the envelope from the get-go and try to hold my pace through each leg, to work on improving my speed (and, incidentally, my pain threshold!). I also really just needed some more hard work on the TT bike, as was evidenced by my lackluster riding in St. George. I had a solid day and felt like I was able to accomplish my goals and rack up some more valuable road-tri race experience. Fortunately, those things also equated to an overall female win on the day, with a time of 2:25:25 on what I thought was a pretty challenging course. I have to admit, after getting my butt kicked in St. George among such an incredible elite field, it really did feel nice to feel a bit more like a “big fish” again, rather than a tadpole! Of course, both experiences have unique benefits, and whether you’re racing from the front of the pack or the back, there’s always so much to be gained from giving it your all out there.
Xterra Southeast Championship, and a Southeast Tour
The next day I headed off to begin a grand adventure in the Southeast for the Xterra Southeast Championship. While my trip centered around the race, I was fortunate to be able to extend it into a mini vacay/Southeast tour of sorts. One of my best friends, Lindsay, is getting her Masters of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, and I was thrilled to take advantage of the opportunity to spend a few days there with her before the race. We made the most of our time together and my first-ever visit to this very special southern city between training and exploring all the touristy destinations, and I was so pleasantly surprised with how green and beautiful it was, and how many incredible trails and parks were within easy access (including some awesome mountain biking!). It was so great to have Lindsay to swim and run with again, and of course show me around her new home. After three very fun days in Georgia, we drove down to Pelham, Alabama together to get ready for some Xterra action. It was a gorgeous drive, although we stayed entertained and on our toes trying to count the number of Waffle Houses and BBQ joints we passed along the way (too many to keep track!).
Pre-riding the Xterra course, I was surprised to discover how awesome the trails in Oak Mountain State Park were! The tight twists and turns through the trees, many roots and a few rocky sections made for really fun riding, and it was great to have some more technical aspects in an Xterra, as I believe this helps me excel on the bike. That being said, it was definitely different riding than I’m used to, and I found it particularly challenging to keep my speed up through the twistier sections. I never would have imagined there would be such good mountain biking in Alabama! Happy to be proven wrong. 🙂
Alabama had a few other surprises for me come race day. To start, the swim was deemed wetsuit legal based on water temperature. That rarely happens at this race (so I’ve been told, as a first-timer), but then again it’s also normally super hot and humid at this race. Not the case this time around! We woke up to cool — yes, cool! — temps and light rain, which I have to say I was totally psyched about! Tahoe weather! It seemed like a great day to have a great day, and I really set my sights high in hopes of a great race.
I had a pretty good swim to start the race, though not quite what I was looking for. I know my swim has improved a lot these last few months thanks to some really hard work in the water, but it didn’t quite show this time around — next time! I was bummed to get separated from the fastest swimming ladies pretty early due to some “directional differences” (my terrible sighting job) as I was really hoping to stick with them for a bit, but I kicked and pulled as hard as I could despite swimming alone, and exited the water in 6th place, eager to pedal fast and see what I could do on the bike.
But within 5 minutes of starting the ride, I learned another surprise was in store, as my seat post slipped down (later I would find it slipped over an inch-and-a-half), and was twisting back and forth from left to right. This was 100 percent my own fault, as I put Petra (my ever-impressive Orbea Alma 29er) together myself after the travel, and neglected to put friction paste on the seat post to make sure it stayed put. Total rookie mistake, but hey, I won’t make that one again! Ironically, I had no issues with the seat when pre-riding the entire course, but race day was obviously a different story. I tried my best to push on and not let the seat bother me, but unfortunately the twisting was super distracting and I had to keep pushing it back to center with my legs. But the fact that the seat was now so low was what had the biggest impact on my riding, as I felt like it just took away all my power to be so out of position. I did a lot of stand-pedaling and tried to focus on a smooth pedal stroke, but it just did not feel good at all. Bummer!
Nothing I could do, though, but ride on and make the best I could of the situation. By the halfway point in the ride, I’d gotten passed by LUNA teammates Shonny and Danelle, and though I tried to ride with each of them after they passed, I just didn’t have the power to hang on. Somewhere mid-ride, the sky opened up and started absolutely dumping a fury of rain on us. It was nuts, and made it very difficult to see on the already dark, tree-lined course, but it definitely added some excitement to the race. Fortunately it didn’t last too long, and by the time I reached the last few miles of the bike course the skies were getting sunny and much friendlier. The last couple miles of the course are super twisty, and I really struggled to find a good rhythm and maintain speed. I knew I was seriously doggin’ it and really needed to go faster, but I just couldn’t seem to make it happen.
I was relieved to make it back to T2 after what seemed like the longest last couple miles of mountain biking ever, and excited for a fast, flat, two-loop run. I left T2 in 8th place, but a solid few minutes out from 7th. As was also the case in Xterra West Champs, I had a lot of room both behind and in front of me, which can be a tough spot to be in. But I was motivated to try and make up some of the time I’d lost on the bike, and mainly just to see how fast I could run on the relatively easy course, so I turned on the gas and tried to push as hard as I could through those two laps. Lindsay was there cheering me on, which was much appreciated, as I did not feel stellar. I think my legs were especially tired after trying to compensate for the lack of power on the bike due to the low seat. After a good (but not great) run, I crossed the line in 7th, as Shonny ended up having to drop out after the first run lap. I honestly felt pretty good about my run until I saw just how fast the gals ahead of me ran. They were absolutely blazing, and I was definitely off the pace. A good reminder that I still have lots of work to do.
I knew I gave it all I had, and was pleased to finish 7th among such a fast field of ladies, but I was a little disappointed because I felt like I’d made backwards progress from my performance in Vegas, even though my place was the same. I tried not to read too much into it given the issues I had on the bike, but nonetheless I know I have my work cut out for me to keep my results progressing. I’m looking forward to giving it another go in Richmond this weekend!
The day after the race, Lindsay and I got to run the 21k trail run together, which was super fun, and a great post-race training day. She did amazing, coming in 3rd woman overall, less than a minute out of first. I was one proud friend! Then she drove me up to Chattanooga, Tennessee where I met my aunt and Grandma, who took me up to Nashville to stay with them for a few days. I hadn’t seen my grandma in over a year and a half, which is much too long, and it was SO special to be able to spend a couple days with her, even though it was brief. I flew back home out of Nashville, ready to back, but super grateful for an amazing trip and all the people who were a part of it. It was a true southern experience, with some awesome (albeit sweaty and sticky) memories, and I look forward to going back next year!
After so much traveling, it was great to have a few weeks at home again. I was able to get in some really quality training sessions, as well as give a slideshow presentation for the Biking for a Better World season kick-off, and an endurance training presentation at a health expo put on by the local hospital. I always enjoy these kinds of opportunities to connect with the community and share my knowledge and experience, and I want to extend a big thank you to everyone who attended!
After one weekend sans-racing, I got in another local Olympic distance race as a tune-up for the Boise 70.3, which I just returned from this past weekend. Two more solid race experiences, a lot of lessons learned, and another race report to write! Stay tuned… I promise it won’t be so late this time!
Thanks for reading, and happy start of summer! 🙂