I started writing this post (in my head) way back in June, in Italy. I was there for just a few days, at the beginning of my European racing trip, and the time in Italy was my “mini vacay” in the midst of an already jam-packed season. [Personally I think it’s important to take a small break from structured training — for mental reasons more than anything — in the mid-season between race blocks, to refresh and reset for the intensity of the bigger racing ahead. We had a good friend getting married in Italy right around the time we planned to head across the pond for my first Xterra European Tour stops, and we decided tacking on a couple extra days to the beginning of the trip was a perfect idea.]
Though I knew all my time in Europe would be incredibly special (and it absolutely was!), the trip was still very much about racing and training, and although it took me to some new and unbelievably spectacular locations, I knew that on leaving Italy, it would be back to work. So I made the most of my four vacation days, packing in every last ounce of joy and indulgence possible, and it was absolutely glorious.
The daily schedule went a little something like this…
- Wake up (sans alarm), walk down the street to bakery for fresh bread and some of the best coffee on the planet
- Leisurely stroll around town to take in the sights and soak in the beauty of Lake Maggiore
- Mellow run along the lake (still in awe of how insanely gorgeous everything around me is and how fortunate I am to be here in this moment)
- More best-coffee-on-the-planet and another treat from the bakery
- Get ready to eat lunch (because when you’re in Italy, you actually take off the spandex and running shorts and make yourself presentable for meals)
- Spend a solid 1.5-2 hours eating lunch, which also includes plenty of wine
- Post-most-amazing-lunch-ever digestion walk and some more time by the lake, before an afternoon nap
- Head out for late afternoon cappuccino or cocktail, depending on the mood
- Get ready for the best dinner of your life (and once again, you dress up, because these meals deserve it!)
- Spend another 2 incredible hours at dinner eating, chatting with friends, drinking more wine, laughing til your belly hurts, and feeling even more in awe of your presence in such an incredible experience
- Walk to the gelateria and savor every bite of the freshest, most richly flavorful and delicious gelato you could ever imagine
- Stay up for more chatter, more laughter and (if you’re up for it!) even more vino
- Fall asleep with a smile plastered to your face, and get ready to do it all again tomorrow…
On the last day there, I had some quiet time to myself, sitting by the lake and watching the ducks swim around. It got me thinking about triathlon and all the adventure it has lead me on (because this, too, was one of them — as I would never have been able to be here if it weren’t for my upcoming races bringing me over to Europe for the early part of summer). As I sat there eating my umpteenth gelato for the week, and getting ready for yet another extended midday lunch break, I don’t think I’ve ever felt less like a professional athlete – and yet, I’ve never felt more like I totally “got it.” In that moment, feeling so far removed from the sport I love so much, yet so deeply connected to it at the same time, I felt like I understood better than ever what it’s really all about. And as I took my time to reflect on my sport, everywhere it has taken me and all that it has given me, this is what I realized, above all else: the experience. is. Everything.
When our mini-vacay ended and we left Italy, surrounded by incredible lifelong friends (who I also met through sport), I felt so refreshed, full (in the belly and in the heart!), and happy. I knew I had some seriously hard work and very tough races ahead, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt more excited about that work. And as my time in Europe went on and I pushed through intensity sessions in the pouring rain and mud, suffered in conditions that were completely foreign to me and totally got my butt kicked, I still felt a sense of intrigue and appreciation for my sport that went deeper than I’d ever quite realized before. And I felt grateful beyond measure for all I was experiencing, and all I’ve already experienced, because of where triathlon and cycling have lead me.
As the year went on, my experiences only continued to leave me in awe. And as I look back on my entire 2016 season and consider what themes and lessons have come to be most important to me, “experience” is overwhelmingly the one that stands out.
This year I wanted to say “yes” to as many of the opportunities that came my way as possible. I wanted to push my limits in new ways, try new things, and find grand new adventures. And that is exactly what I did. Over the last 12 months triathlon and mountain biking took me to the beaches of Costa Rica (for the first time!); to the “urban jungle” of Southern California; to the familiar yet always-stunningly-beautiful Central California coast; to the steamy sweatbox of the south (which after several years I’ve learned to embrace, and even come to love); to Switzerland, France and of course Italy; to the mountains of Colorado, and right back to my own mountains at home in Tahoe; to some of the most unique remote beauty I’ve ever seen, in the Dominican Republic (also a first-time trip!); to the most brilliantly vibrant mountains above Ogden, Utah, popping with the red and orange hues of late September; and finally, once again, to the always memorable tropical paradise of Maui, for the Xterra World Championship.
Over that time I did a lot of racing, and far more training. I had days when I felt incredible, and days when I felt awful. There were times I was more motivated than ever, and times when I had to drag myself out the door. I had good luck, and I had bad luck. I had some really great races, and I also had some tough breaks and major disappointments. I succeeded in many ways, and I failed in others. I felt elation, thrill, and heartbreak.
But above all, I had some truly incredible experiences. Well beyond enabling me to see so many new and amazing places, in 2016 triathlon introduced me to the most wonderful new people. It helped me strengthen existing relationships with some of my most cherished lifelong friends. Once again, it taught me more about myself than I ever could have hoped, and it encouraged — and sometimes forced — me to grow in entirely new ways. It gave me some of my most deeply treasured memories.
In total, I lined up to 27 start lines in 2016, and I made it to 27 finish lines, each one a unique journey. I earned a specific placing at each of those 27 finish lines, some of which exceeded my expectations, and some of which fell short. There were so many details that went in to achieving each one of them, and in that moment when you first cross the line, the weight of the result – good or bad – can seem all-consuming. It can be tough to look beyond the results, and to not define a season by the number next to your name at the end of each race day. And sure, when it is your job to compete, performance matters. But in the grand scheme of things, it is certainly not what matters most.
For athletes with big goals and big expectations, it’s all too easy to fixate on the numbers. But sometimes we get so caught up in the outcomes that we forget to focus on the process. We forget the experience. We forget the real value. We lose sight of what really matters.
And ultimately, the real value of sport cannot be quantified by a place or a finishing time. Because the real value is in the intangibles. It’s in the places sport leads us to, and the journey that we take. It’s in the adventure we discover along the way, and all of the lessons that we learn. It’s in the connections that we make, and the friendships we form. It’s in all of the ways our sport shapes us, enables us to grow, and pushes us to be the best versions of ourselves. It’s in the way that sport helps us to see the world, and broaden our perspective of it. It is in all that sport gives to us, and all that we give back. It is in the memories that we make. The real value is in the experience.
Results are circumstantial. They are fleeting. But these – the intangibles– are the things that last. When I look back on my year, these are things that stand out. And I know that in the long run, when I reflect on 2016 years from now, I probably won’t remember what place I finished at a given race, save for a few very special ones. But these are the things I absolutely will remember…
- I’ll remember the way the water felt in Costa Rica, so warm and calm and clear. I’ll remember how delicious each batido tasted, and how excited I was to see my first monkeys in the wild. I’ll remember how sweet my host, Renate, was to come watch me race at 6 in the morning, and how genuinely concerned and caring she was when I was struggling from heat exhaustion at the finish.
- I’ll remember how when I fell off the back of the remaining elite field near the last lap of a soaking wet and muddy mountain bike race at Bonelli Park, my friend Sabra stayed out well after the front of the field had finished to cheer me on, even way out on to the middle of the course, and never lost one single ounce of enthusiasm.
- I’ll remember the smile on each little girl’s face as they experienced the pure joy of riding bikes at the Sea Otter Classic Little Bellas Camp, and how lucky I felt to be a part of it.
- I’ll remember the pre-ride I did the day before Wildflower 70.3, led by my long-time friend Chris, along some of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever ridden, and how much fun we had (even if I did get made fun of for testing out my aero helmet).
- I’ll remember the joy of sharing the podium with great friends in Alabama, and how special it was to see Debby earn her first one and to watch Suzie start her incredible comeback after such a tough recovery from injury in the months prior.
- I’ll remember how much I enjoyed every single day of training I got to do with Lindsay by my side in Atlanta (despite that it all happened in a steamy sweatbox).
- I’ll remember the look on Allie’s face when she proudly delivered me the game ball she chased down at the Durham Bulls game on my trip to race Raleigh 70.3 (attending one of these games was a major bucket list item for me!)
- I’ll remember the endless kindness and generosity of my host family (and very dear friends) in Switzerland, and just how special each and every moment spent with them was, from backyard barbeques to tea on the patio to celebrating the victories of the Swiss soccer team. I’ll remember how much the views at the top of every single climb, and around every last corner, completely took my breath away, and how beautiful each cowbell sounded. And I’ll remember how insanely delicious those croissants were – especially in the middle of a four-hour ride.
- I’ll remember dancing and laughing the night away with great friends at Lutz and Amanda’s wedding in Italy, and how I didn’t feel the least bit concerned about how the long night might affect my upcoming races. And I’ll remember the way all my friends rallied to jump into boats (and even into the water with me!) to help me pull off a 50-degree no-wetsuit swim in Lake Maggiore, which while absolutely freezing was without a doubt one of the most spectacular swims of my life.
- I’ll remember the kindness of our hosts in France, who like so many others this year also took time out of their day to come and watch the race (which was, yet again, muddy and very wet!). I’ll remember the taste of each one of the five homemade jams they set out for breakfast each morning, and how very content I felt there.
- I’ll remember singing at the top of my lungs with Lizzy all the way down the pass from Beaver Creek back to Boulder after Xterra Mountain Champs, and how being with her in that moment, and on our run together in CO Springs the next morning, seemed to melt away all the disappointment from my flat tire.
- I’ll remember how special it was to race at home, in front of my family and friends, and with my niece Asena cheering me on for the first time, at the Donner Lake Triathlon.
- I’ll remember the sincerity, enthusiasm and genuine curiosity of everyone I met in the Dominican Republic. I’ll remember the young boys who ran with me, barefoot, all the way to the top of the steepest climb on course to cheer me on after we met the day before the race, and how thrilled they were when I gave them my leftover GU gels and Nature’s Bakery bars. I’ll remember my friend Yurelia, who I met on the beach during a swim practice, and who came back out on race morning just to see me off, and to tell me, “Tú vas a ganar” (and even though I didn’t, it sure meant a lot to have her vote of confidence and encouragement).
- I’ll remember the incredible support of my friend Bri at my first enduro this summer, and how good it felt to make it through those final three stages crash-free after sweating about them all night – even if I was slow!
- I’ll remember how special it was to watch my teammate, Suzie, achieve a career-long goal of taking the win at the Pan-Am Championship, and how honored I felt to stand on the podium there with her, just as we’ve stood side-by-side on so many training sessions.
- I’ll remember what an absolute blast it was to hang out with the beyond fabulous Coeur Sports staff out at Interbike in Vegas – especially at the Prince tribute show!
- I’ll remember the sheer delight of finding myself alongside my friend Mimi in the swim in Maui, and how despite the insanity of the conditions, I couldn’t help but smile when she stopped mid-stroke to apologize for accidentally kicking me, and then stopped again to tell me we needed to point ourselves further left.
- I’ll remember how happy I felt to see my family out there on course in Maui, even though it was an otherwise miserable day. I’ll remember swimming in the ocean with Asena for the first time and how much she loved it. And I’ll remember how rejuvenated I felt when I reached the summit of Haleakala with August just two days after Xterra World Championships, and how the joy of being out there on my bike on such an epic adventure made me forget all about the disappointment of my race, and instead remember exactly why I continue to chase these crazy triathlon dreams, and why I love it so much.
I am so very grateful for every last experience triathlon brought to me in 2016, from getting up to run at the earliest hours of the morning, right down to the dinners and shared bottles of wine lasting well into the latest hours of the night. I am constantly in awe of everything I gain from this sport each and every day, and all the ways it continues to enhance my life, which extend so far beyond the racecourse.
And with the year now behind us, I want to extend one final, massive thank you to everyone who helped me chase down my goals this year, and most importantly who helped make each one of these experiences possible.
Thanks to Matt and Aimee and the entire crew at Sierra Endurance Sports (especially Suzie, who has been my teammate for my entire Xterra career now) — for creating an amazing program right in our backyard, and working so hard to provide us with the platform we need to pursue our dreams. Thanks to our incredible team sponsors: Reno Running Company, Nature’s Bakery, Altra Running, Todd’s Body Shop and GU Energy Labs for supporting us in so many ways, providing exceptional products and service, and going above and beyond to help enable us to achieve our goals. To Coeur Sports, for not just making incredible apparel that truly addresses the specific needs of female endurance athletes, but for creating an unparalleled community of passionate women who are eager to support each other in their endeavors. And, of course, for reminding us that we have more heart and courage than we even knew! Thank you to Catlike for providing me with the absolute best cycling helmets and shoes in the business, for every discipline. Thanks to Synergy Wetsuits for making the speediest and most comfortable wetsuits and speedsuits out there. To the crew at Paco’s Bike and Ski for making sure that my bike was always ready to roll on race day, and providing me with the confidence and peace of mind in knowing I never had to worry about anything but the race. To Kevin and the rest of the Zealios crew for keeping me protected under all that HOT sun this year. And last but not least to August/Unleashed Coaching for supporting me in more ways than I could ever fully quantify, for caring more than I will ever really know, and for always knowing exactly when I need to do to be ready when it matters most.
It has absolutely been a privilege to work with you every one of you this year, and I feel fortunate beyond measure to be surrounded by such good people.
Finally, thanks to my family and friends, within the sport and outside of it alike, for your constant belief and encouragement this past year, and for helping me to never lose sight of what it’s really all about. 2016 was one very special year, and I’m so glad to have had each of you on my side through every moment of it.
Here’s to an even better one ahead in 2017, with many more incredible experiences! Cheers!