Late Summer Update: It’s Okay To Think Big!

Back when I was in the 8th grade, my teacher, Mr. Bent, used to start class with these “daily discussions” where he’d put up a quote or some other semi-controversial/ thought-provoking topic idea, let us decide how we felt about it, and then talk about why we felt the way we did. (Kudos to Mr. Bent, as it was actually a pretty brilliant way to get a whole class of adolescents engaged, by giving them the opportunity to argue with each other in a constructive way!). Though we did this daily – and, unsurprisingly to most of you I’m sure, I pretty much always spoke up and was eager to share and discuss my thoughts – there was one topic that to this day still stands out to me. I remember our entire class discussion in such detail, because it was a subject that really hit home for me, and one I was particularly passionate about.

The quote was, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” originally stated by UCLA Bruins head football coach Henry ‘Red’ Sanders (not Vince Lombardi!).

The questions was: Do you agree with that statement or not… And why?

This wasn’t something I even had to contemplate. For me, the answer was a clear, resounding “No.” Wholeheartedly, I did not agree.

Ironically, at the time I was the top Nordic skier in the state, and I’d won every race for two years straight. I was fiercely competitive, and would be the first to tell you that I LOVED to win… and I hated to lose.

But I still realized, even then at the ripe age of 13, that winning absolutely wasn’t what it was all about.

Because there is so much more to sport than winning.

…..

Fast forward to today, in my fourth year competing as a pro, and winning is a whole lot more difficult to come by than it was back in the years of those dominating middle school performances. In fact, I have yet to win a single Xterra Major race so far in my pro career. (To be clear, yes I have won a few Xterra races both this year and last, but those were regional races, and not races on the Professional World Tour calendar.)

Needless to say, I still think that winning is far from everything. (And that’s a good thing, or I’d have probably stopped racing pro by now!). In fact, in the grand scheme of things, I really don’t think winning is all too important at all. For the vast majority of us racing, that’s not why we’re here, period. Personally, there are thousands of reasons why I race: passion; challenge; growth; experience; connection; adventure; perspective… the list goes on. But at the end of the day, the reason I race is not to win. Furthermore, I think winning in itself is a rather silly ‘goal,’ and certainly not a productive singular focus. With all that goes into each and every race, winning – just like any result – is ultimately totally out of our control, and merely a by-product of all the other things that we should be spending our time focusing on. So, for the majority of my professional career, it’s been something I just haven’t thought much about. In fact, anytime ‘winning’ entered my mind, I was pretty quick to dismiss it, aiming to focus my energy elsewhere.

But, all that being said, I have realized now that “winning” – whatever that may mean to you — has its place and its purpose…

I’ve learned that it’s okay to let myself think about it. And, most importantly, I’ve learned (or, perhaps finally acknowledged) that it is also okay for me to want it.

…..

When I first started racing pro back in 2014, the idea of winning a race was far from my radar. While I’d experienced my fair share of wins as an age grouper, I’d let that novelty go in exchange for the challenge, thrill and development I knew would come with competing at the elite level. And it was actually a real luxury in a way to never have to think about winning, or any specific result really, as I focused on gaining experience and building my personal skills while learning all I could competing alongside the world’s best. But as I’ve done just that, and consequently worked my way further up the ladder each year, I’ve found myself inching steadily closer to actually making it on to that top step myself. And now, for the first time in a long time, I’ve been confronted with the idea of winning as a very real possibility, and deciding just how I’d like to approach it.

Learning how to think about winning at the pro level has been quite a process, and one that has steadily evolved alongside my racing. The thought first began to really sneak its way into my mind as I prepared for the 2017 season. After several podium finishes last year and a 3rd place overall finish in the Pan-Am tour, I came in to 2017 looking to keep improving, and I thought to myself: “Hey, it just might be possible for me to win a race this year; that would be super cool!” The seed was planted, and for the first time ever as a professional, I allowed myself to really start dreaming about taking a win, although it still felt like a pretty distant possibility. Then when I went off for my first big trip and finished 3rd in Argentina, 4th in Chile and my closest ever 2nd in Costa Rica, the possibility started to feel more real, and I allowed myself to entertain that dream just a little bit more. It was only April, and I knew there was a LOT of season left, a lot of progress to be made, and a whole lot more possibility. Anything could happen. So I kept my mind open, and let that dream keep residing there, quietly tucked away in the background, but still always present.

Next came Alabama, and the start of the string of “bad luck” I talked about in my last update, which ultimately lead to some good redemption at the end of June at Carson City Off-Road. With some of those frustrating mechanicals and mishaps behind me, things were now truly beginning to come together. Training was going fantastic, my fitness was definitely reaching a new level, and I felt totally poised for some great racing over the rest of the summer, in what was set to be an incredibly jam-packed schedule with 5 off-road triathlon Majors (plus 2 local races) in 2 months, in 4 countries. I was SO excited for each of these opportunities and the possibility of what they might hold for me!

I raced back-to-back weekends at the start of July, at Xterra Victoria and Xterra Beaver Creek – both courses I felt suited me especially well, and felt great about my chances at each. I had two very solid races against some top-notch gals, and finished on the podium both times, with two fifth places in a row. I was really pleased with these performances! Yet, I was still getting fitter as the weeks went on, and I continued to believe that I was building to something bigger…

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As the momentum picked up, I cautiously allowed myself to let the dream of winning come further toward the forefront of my mind. I was becoming more and more willing to think BIGGER – because, hey, why not…?! — and most importantly I was starting to believe more and more in what I am capable of at the elite level. Throughout the summer, as I entered each race, I felt confident about my chances. I saw myself as a contender each and every time, even if no one else did. But it still wasn’t something I had the courage to talk about out loud.

After a couple more weeks of training, I was off for what would be my busiest block of racing yet, with pretty much all of August consumed by international travel: Xterra Mexico on August 5th; Xterra Dominican Republic on August 13th; and ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships on August 23rd in Canada. (Plus a local race at Xterra Aspen Valley on Aug. 19th). Despite a bit of challenge in Mexico, where I had to ride on a borrowed bike and was only able to preview a very small portion of the course, I had another very strong race to take 4th. I was happy!

Then in the DR, I had my best shot of the year at winning a race, coming in as the highest-ranked racer in the lineup (but knowing I had a very strong competitor in the second-ranked racer, Morgane, who had actually beat me in our head-to-head starts throughout the year). This was my best chance yet at a victory, and I was ready and excited seize the opportunity and give it my all. I did just that, and had a truly great day. But in the end, Morgane still did it just a little bit better, and I finished with another 2nd place. But I’d done all that I could, and again, I was happy!

Xterra DR ride 2
Photo: Miriam Castillo
Xterra dr swim
Photo: Miriam Castillo

After a few quick days at home, where I did get a victory in my local race at Xterra Aspen Valley (but remember, this is not a World Major race!), I was off to Canada once more for the ITU Cross-Triathlon World Championship race in Penticton. This was a fantastic event, with a great course, awesome organization, and top-notch racers. It was my first time racing the ITU World Championship, and I didn’t have any firm expectations other than striving to have the best day possible for myself out there. I did have a “dream goal” to finish in the top-5, but I knew that would take a pretty spectacular effort. As it turned out, I felt incredibly strong here, and ended up having one of my best races of the year. I finished 6th place among women’s elite, less than a minute from that dream top-5 result. (Although there was one U-23 racer ahead of me, so technically that puts me 7th). I was also the top American female finisher at the event. I was thrilled with this performance, and above all the way I felt on the day, which really eclipsed any other race so far this year. Bottom line: things are coming together better than ever! My fitness is at an all-time high, and I can definitely feel that I am knocking on the door of some breakthrough results in the very near future. Needless to say, I am beyond excited for what’s to come!

Penticton medal
Just a finisher’s medal, but this ITU Worlds finish felt like a victory!

With just two races left, this season that started way back in March is very nearly over. I can hardly believe how fast it has flown by, or how well things have gone. With 10 Xterra races under my belt in 2017, and podium finishes in all but one, this has been the best season of my life so far, hands down. I am ecstatic, and above all grateful. Racing for 8 months in a row in 7 different countries is quite a feat in itself, and there are so many opportunities for things to go wrong. I feel so much gratitude to have made it to this point feeling healthy, happy, motivated and strong – especially to everyone who helped me get here. It’s been a truly incredible year, with steady, consistent racing across the board. But while podium finishes became the “new normal” for me this year, I haven’t taken a single one for granted, and have kept in mind that it was only two years ago that I was pushing, wishing and hoping so hard for my very first podium finish as a pro, just as I’m striving now for that first-ever win. And while my 7th place in Alabama was the big “disappointment” of the year so far, I’ve reminded myself that in the not-so-distant past, I would be absolutely ecstatic with a 7th place. Remembering where you’ve been and how far you’ve come provides a great perspective, especially when you have dreams that remain unrealized…

…..

Despite a season of great racing, some incredible opportunities, and finding the confidence to dare to put winning on my radar, I still haven’t won an Xterra Major – or at least yet not! But that is totally okay. I’m not the least bit disappointed, and I’m not at all regretful for deciding to let myself dream about it this year. Because while I’ve learned this season that it is okay to want to win, I also haven’t forgotten that the winning itself isn’t really what it’s about.

What it’s really about is what ‘winning’ represents to each of us. (And in many cases, this has nothing to do with the top step of a podium!). It’s about the process: striving to get there. The things that motivate us, and the drive that keeps us going. Who we become, and how we grow, along the way. Having the courage and audacity to set our sights on something big, even if it is perhaps a bit “out of reach.”

For me, getting to the point where I can acknowledge my dream to win and share it publicly has been a process, and having the ability to believe in that possibility wholeheartedly – and not be afraid of it – is truly a victory in itself. I used to dismiss these thoughts and keep these dreams quiet, in part because I felt they weren’t the most productive, but I think also in part because I still wasn’t quite sure if I was ‘entitled’ to have them. Perhaps to some reading this blog, I’m still not. Maybe my results don’t quite yet warrant me believing I can win a race. But nonetheless, I do. I believe it fiercely and unapologetically, and I hope that others will follow suit! There are so many things pushing against us in life; so many ways to talk ourselves out; to keep ourselves from striving for more. But why not push back? Why not build ourselves up; talk ourselves in; and choose to believe in the possibility of something that to those on the outside may very well seem impossible…?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year that stands out among all else, it’s that you’ll never be a ‘winner’ until you can learn to see yourself that way. Something shifted for me this year, and I really started to grasp the importance of that. I learned how to see myself as a contender, regardless of what anyone else saw, and the performances followed as a result. I am certain that a huge reason I’ve been able to finish on the podium in all but one of my Xterra races so far this season is because I started to believe that I belonged there. And I now choose to believe that one day too, when the time is right and it all comes together in the best way possible, I just might also find that I belong on the top step.

…..

So here I am, saying it out loud: I want to win an Xterra Major. I don’t want to keep that idea to myself anymore. I want to embrace that dream, nourish it, and bring it to light. I want to stoke that fire. Despite missing out on it many times this summer, I believe in this dream more than ever. I can see now that I am knocking at the door, because I finally got brave enough to approach it and put up my hand. And as I’ve continued to learn more about what it takes to turn that dream into reality and actually make that door open, I am all the more sure that those are steps I am committed to taking.

I’ve got two races left this year, and they’re the biggest of ‘em all: the Xterra Pan-American Championship this Saturday, and the Xterra World Championship at the end of October. I’ll face my best competition of the year at these events, and either one would certainly be quite the spectacular stage to turn in a first ever victory. As with any day, anything can happen, and I’m certainly not ruling anything out!… but in all realistic likelihood, I’ll be looking to next season for my next big opportunity to earn that elusive ‘W.’ Perhaps I’ll have to wait even longer… But regardless, I’ll keep striving. No matter how long it takes, or how uncertain it is that it will even happen at all, I now know how to move forward with the mindset of a contender; the belief that anything is possible; the commitment to stay patient; and the understanding that even if that victory never comes to fruition, the real value is in the dream itself, and the act of chasing it down.

Because winning isn’t everything. And it certainly isn’t the only thing. But it is a dream worth striving for, in whatever form it takes on for you, and it’s one that we are all entitled to believe in.

So, here’s to dreaming. To having the courage and the confidence to dream BIG and bold, and to do it out loud. To owning our dreams. To believing in them. To being ready and willing to put in the work to realize them, and prepared for a little struggle along the way.

— KLP

Xterra Aspen Run

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Margie LaPoint says:

    Awesome Kara! Never forget Tahoe Ironman! Your day will come in Xterra too!

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