The day before the Xterra Mountain Championship in Beaver Creek, Colo., I read a really inspiring interview with (my personal favorite) Tour De France rider Andrew Talansky. After suffering two crashes in the early stages of the tour, he had to stop with 30 miles to go in a 117-mile stage because he was in so much pain. He was off the back, in a world of hurt, with basically zero incentive to continue. But he did — because that’s the kind of person that he is. He rode in all on his own, behind everyone else. But he finished the stage. He conquered his challenge, he held his head high, and he showed the world the strength of his heart. For me, this was particularly inspiring, because this is the kind of racer I strive to be too. Racing with heart, racing with courage, always giving your best (no matter what that best may be), and never giving up no matter how dire the circumstances, are at the core of my racing philosophy.
In the interview, Talansky said, “I knew I was in for a rough ride from the start, from kilometer zero… I was instantly uncomfortable.” He talked about the breakdown he was having when he pulled over, and how he grappled with himself over how he would possibly finish, and whether it even made sense. “This is stupid… Even if you do finish, what’s the point?” But then, he said: “Something kind of clicked for me. I realized obviously I’m not gonna get back into any kind of group… but sitting there I thought maybe I can finish, maybe that’s possible somehow. One of the most overriding feelings was that my team was going to finish that stage and find out that I had quit the race after everything they’d done for me. … I wanted to finish the stage so I could look them in the eyes and thank them for everything they’ve done. Some days my best isn’t gonna be good enough, and that day my best was finishing a half-hour down on the stage winner. Just so they know I’m the kind of person who isn’t going to give up when something goes wrong.”
I shared the link to this interview on my Twitter the night before the Xterra race, and I wrote, “This, ladies and gents, is what it’s all about. Our true measure is our worst day, not our best.” Because I wholeheartedly believe that. It’s on our worst days, when we’re faced with our greatest challenges and not incentivized by a win or a podium, when we show what we’re really made of.
The Calm Before the Struggle
I didn’t know this would become a precursor for my race the next day. As I mentioned in my last blog, the Beaver Creek race came in the middle of a super tough three-week stretch of racing for me, and after a big training block preparing specifically for Vineman 70.3. I knew coming in that it hadn’t been the priority, and that I probably would not feel good or have a stellar result here. But I had no idea I’d struggle nearly as much as I did.
I had an incredible few days in Colorado leading up to the race, with a couple gorgeous rides on killer singletrack and near-perfect conditions. The wildflowers were blooming, the scenery was stunning, and I was pretty much in heaven. To make things even sweeter, we were staying with great friends from Denver who were spending the weekend in Vail, and I had some of my favorite people of all time (who I hadn’t seen in way too long) coming to visit and watch the race, from Denver, Colorado Springs, Basalt, etc. I felt so fortunate to be back in Colorado and surrounded by so many wonderful friends, who all came out to show their support for me on race day. Basically, I had the best cheer squad ever!
One Very Hard Swim
But while my whole support team had shown up on race day, unfortunately I did not. Like Talansky, I too was uncomfortable from kilometer zero – okay, maybe kilometer 0.3 – and I knew pretty much immediately this was gonna be rough. Being from 6,200 feet, I didn’t think the elevation at Beaver Creek would impact me that much, but on race day I definitely noticed the difference. I was really determined to have a strong swim and prove to myself I could stay with some of the faster girls, so I took off hard and accelerated with the front of the pack. At the first buoy, I was in great position with the top swimmers, and really optimistic this would finally be the time I could hang in there with some of the girls who usually exit the water a couple minutes ahead of me. But that was as good as things would get for me all day, as I quickly realized my hard swim start at such high elevation was a BIG mistake! My body flooded with lactic acid, and I felt completely exhausted. I felt like I was struggling to breathe, and I felt overheated in my wetsuit. I began to feel panicky, which almost never happens to me in a swim, and I had to do some breaststroke to calm myself down. (Sorry to every swimmer behind me, especially Danelle, who I nearly kicked in the face with that awful breaststroke kick!). While my goal had been to stay in a pack and get a good draft, I ended up trying to find my own space as much as possible to try to prevent full-on panic mode. I had to just focus on staying calm and getting through it. My pace slowed way down and I watched myself slip further and further back in the pack. Not the start to the day I was hoping for!
A Brutal Bike Ride
When I got out of the water, I was around 8th place, and I was already exhausted. I felt totally disoriented, and just plain awful. I was all over the place in transition, but I worked on convincing myself that it was a long race ahead and I could make up lots of time, and move up several places, on the bike. The ride here is an absolute monster, with 3600 feet of elevation gain over 15.5 miles. The climbs are unrelenting, and they only seem to hurt more the faster you go. Honestly I thought this would be a great course for me, because climbing is my strength, but given how terrible I felt, I found myself hating every hill. I kept hoping my legs would come around and start to feel less led-like, or I’d find some energy somewhere in my body to tap into — but it never happened. I just had nothing to give. Each time another gal passed me, I told myself to go with her, but my body just would not respond. My heart rate felt through the roof, but I was stuck in first-gear, with no mojo, no push, and all struggle! It was by far the worst I’d felt in any race yet this year, and things were looking bleak. I thought about dropping out at several points on the bike, but I kept holding out hope that things would turn around. But the day only got harder from there.
With a few miles left of the ride, I passed another pro woman for the first time all day, moving myself into 11th place. I was feeling pretty good on the downhill and just relieved not be climbing anymore. But when we got onto the final descent, and the only real technical section of the course, my foot hit a root on the side of the trail just as I was going into a rock drop, and I went over the bars HARD. I landed straight on my head, and my bike came down right smack on top of me. Ouch! This was honestly a much harder crash than the one I’d had in Richmond, but fortunately my bike came away unscathed, and minus a few gnarly scrapes and a little blood, I did too. Thankfully no photo evidence this time, but I came into T2 completely covered in dirt from head to toe. Had I not been so far back, I’d have felt like a real badass…
Not Sure If You Could Call This a Run…?
Starting the run, I felt absolutely terrible, and already defeated. My body was continuing to deteriorate, and I was having major stomach issues and hadn’t been able to eat at all during the race, which certainly didn’t help my energy levels. I was running on empty. I hadn’t previewed the run course, and while I knew it would be hard, I couldn’t believe just how brutal it really was. It started with a 1.5-mile climb that I can only describe as evil. I was reduced to walking early on, and never found my stride again. I got passed by three girls on that first climb alone, and could do nothing to try to hang on. It was a complete sufferfest. When we hit the first downhill, I was so relieved, but so tired I couldn’t get my legs going, and eventually couldn’t even keep them under me, going down hard and splitting open my knee just to add a little more blood and dirt to the day!
When I reached the next long climb I saw my friends Suzy and Lizzie, and August and his dad all cheering me on, yelling just as loud and with the same huge smiles as if I’d been in the top 5, despite the fact that I was totally struggling near the back. I (desperately) asked August how much was left, and when he told me 5k (I was only halfway?!!) I nearly stopped right there. It made ZERO sense to finish at that point, as I was already in a worse position than I’d finished in Richmond and would therefore be throwing this race score out for my total pro series points. (Thank G I stuck it out in Richmond!). I had a big race the following week, and was just burying myself that much more by continuing when my body felt so broken down. But I thought about everyone who came out to see me do this race and how I needed to honor them, and I thought about Talansky coming in all on his own 30 minutes back, and I thought about the kind of racer I want to be, and the character I want to show on my worst day – and I kept going. I wish I could say I picked up the pace, but I didn’t. The next climb was only more brutal than the first, and I was hardly even moving. Never in my life has a 10k run felt so long or so difficult. All I wanted to do was cross that finish line, no matter how slowly, and when I finally did I was just grateful that the struggling was over. That was one crazy hard day, and the course totally kicked my ass!
All Said and Done (Thank Goodness!)
The women’s pro field was stacked here, and deeper than any other race this year, with more women pros than men for the first time! It was great to have so many women to race with, especially after feeling a bit in “no-man’s land” for my other regional championship races this year. I only wish I could have been a bit more competitive! I finished 15th, waaayyyy back from the winner. Aside from mechanical issues, this was my worst performance of the year by far. But honestly, I didn’t feel nearly as disappointed as I expected I would.
I knew coming in that this race would be a tough one for me, and while I didn’t think it‘d be quite the struggle it was, I was prepared for a less-than-stellar result. But clearly I wasn’t recovered enough from the 70.3 effort, and that just made the whole day hurt a heck of a lot more than it should. But while I didn’t have much to give to this effort, I know I gave my best. It wasn’t a good “best” by any means, but it was all I could offer here. My body didn’t show up, but my heart stayed in it, and I believe I found the character I would like to attain on my “worst day.” So while I’m not proud of my performance in Beaver Creek by any means, I’m proud of the choice I made to get to that finish line, no matter how big the struggle. It’s these kind of days that are, indeed, our true measure.
Despite the rough race, my trip to Colorado was still incredible, and seeing so many wonderful friends far outweighed the disappointing performance. I feel so fortunate and grateful to have had such an amazing support team out there, and you all made it a fun day despite the result! THANK YOU for being there! Below are just a few of my fabulous friends and supporters, both on and off the course. As always, thank you to the amazing volunteers and staff of Xterra, and to my incredible sponsors. And I truly think everyone who completed this beast of a course deserves a big congrats!
I was sad to leave Colorado after the race, but I had to reset myself and immediately start looking ahead to the full Vineman just one week later. No time to dwell on one bad day! I got straight into super recovery mode, and a week later raced my first 140.6 of the year and experienced an entirely different kind of suffering – but a super satisfying result! I look forward to sharing my Vineman experience through a race report in a couple of days. Life is just totally nutty right now and I simply can’t keep up! But for now, I wanted to go ahead and share the news that I will not be racing the Leadville 100 this Saturday. This was a very tough decision for me to make, but with a whole week of trade shows for work right now, and travel the following week to Lake Stevens, it was just too much, and something had to give! I very much want to experience this race, but I want to do it in a way where I feel I can really give it the effort and focus it deserves, and when I’m not already overloaded. I look forward to qualifying again in the future, and giving a proper attempt at 100 miles on the MTB! So, next up is Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens on Aug. 17th! But for now, to get through this work week… 🙂
Thanks for reading, and keep chasing those dreams! – K