Re-Invigorating, & Remembering the “Why”

Triathlon season is a long one. So long, in fact, that it seems funny to call it a season at all. Because, really, it’s nearly three seasons, from mid-March to early November. That’s a long time to be “on.” To be focused and ready; eager and driven.

And yet, that part was actually pretty easy for me in 2017. Despite packing in an incredibly full schedule, my spark for racing and training never seemed to dull through that entire eight months. I’m exceptionally grateful for that, and know it means I must have been doing something right!

What hasn’t been quite so easy for me, though – both historically, and especially now – is the off-season. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m someone who seems to thrive on the grind and momentum (and, sometimes more accurately, the chaos!) of race season. While extremely demanding, at the same time it is in many ways blissfully simple. With its all-consuming nature, racing makes it so easy to be totally in the moment. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I love it so much!

XCR
Thriving on the amazing energy of race season, & excited for another start! Photo: August Teague

But the off-season is different… And this is where I realize that slowing down – while absolutely essential for a “reboot” of the body and mind – can actually be a lot more difficult for me than pressing on at full-throttle.

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Although my life operates at a much slower pace November-February, things also seem to be far less simple, and I tend to find myself feeling overwhelmed by the pressures that come with trying to “get it all together” over these short few months. Because there’s an awful lot that has to be fit into the off-season. From a training perspective, this is when we build our foundation for the entire rest of the year, so it’s pretty imperative that things are done well. But beyond that, there’s the stress of getting everything else lined up for a new year ahead: renewing and/or seeking out sponsorship contracts; getting all equipment in order; analyzing last season’s successes and shortcomings, and determining what changes to make; setting up a race schedule and planning travel; and the list goes on…

There are so many pieces to the puzzle of prepping for a new competition season, and there’s really so little time to get them all in place before jumping right back into the grind. So, while one might think the winter months would be a relatively relaxing time for a professional triathlete, it can actually feel quite the opposite. Plus, without that intensity and energy of race season to feed off, and the constant feedback that it provides, motivation can be tough to come by.

I think these are all pretty common, very “normal” issues that many, if not most, athletes struggle with during off-season. But for me, there’s been something more there this year that has made this one feel especially tough.

Unlike the past couple years in a row, I’m not recovering from an injury this winter. In fact, my body has been exceptionally healthy. From a fitness standpoint, I actually feel well ahead of schedule. But mentally, these last few months have been a real challenge, and I have struggled in some ways that are new to me.

Because this time around, that ordinary sense of feeling a bit overwhelmed in my race preparations has been compounded by what I can best describe as a lack of clarity. A lack of certainty in the path I’ve been following, so diligently and wholeheartedly, for quite some time now…

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This season will be my 5th one racing as a pro, which is pretty crazy to think about, especially because in many ways I still feel so new to it all!

When I first discovered triathlon, while working as a reporter fresh out of college, I had no idea it would become such a major part of my life. But I did know – from the moment I crossed that very first finish line – that it was something I wanted to be involved in for a long, long time. It brought a kind of happiness for me that just couldn’t quite be mimicked anywhere else, and I felt compelled to honor that by really investing myself in the sport and my racing, and exploring its possibilities to the fullest extent.

And so, a dream began to take shape. I wanted to see how far I could actually go as an athlete – at least for a little while. Ultimately, I knew that meant racing at the professional level, and while I knew that would take a huge leap of faith and a heavy commitment, I set a goal and an intention for myself to do so. And then, I set chase. I dug in hard, and I kept on digging. And eventually, I made it! I qualified for my professional license, stepped up to the plate, and began the next step of my elite racing journey that continues to unfold today.

elite
Competing in my very first Xterra Elite race, back in 2014. Photo courtesy of Xterra

When I take a moment to really stop and look back on the path that has led me here, and reflect on all that’s gone into it, I realize there’s a lot to be proud of already… for not just doing what it took to actually realize my big dream, but for having the courage to go after it. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to say that I have “made it,”* in the sense that I’ve actually attained the thing I set out for – and I think it’s so important to not lose sight of that.

[*Although, to be clear, “making it” in this sport is a pretty relative term, as almost all of us are just barely scraping by; and almost none of us can actually make it work to be exclusively a racer… But hey, we’re doing it, however we can!].

I know there really aren’t many people out there who can say they actually got to ‘become something’ they truly wanted to be. Many simply don’t get the opportunity to pursue a goal they’ve really set their sights on, especially when it’s not the most practical or promising. I am so thankful I could dare to take a chance on this ‘crazy’ dream.

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As the years have gone by since I took that first leap, I’ve constantly focused forward, always thinking ahead about what I want to achieve next. I’ve continued to set bigger and bigger goals, and keep chasing them down with fury.

I’ve been fortunate to make great progress in that quest, and be rewarded with some strong results — particularly these last couple years as I’ve found the courage to really go for it, and believe in what I’m capable of. But much more importantly, I’ve gained experiences, lessons, memories and connections that I wouldn’t change for anything.

I am often told how lucky I am, to do something I enjoy so deeply, and explore so much of the world along the way. People tell me I am “living the dream.” And indeed, in a lot of ways I truly am living a life that at one point I could have only dreamed of. I fully realize what a tremendous privilege and a luxury it is that I’ve been able to pursue something I’m so passionate about, and I’m grateful to be afforded the lifestyle I have as a part of this pursuit, because it really is so special.

None of this is lost on me, for a single moment.

Flowers
So appreciative to get to do THIS, and have such an incredible view of the world!!  Photos: August Teague

Mountains

Cover : Mtb jersey

At the same time, though, I also know this is a privilege that is extremely hard-earned. I know just how much went into getting here, how much continues to go into it every single day, and ultimately, how much else is being sacrificed at times to “keep the dream alive.”

I’ve been able to follow this path because I committed myself to it, and chased after it with all I had. And I’ve continued to fight tirelessly for it, no matter how bumpy the path may get, or how many obstacles try to steer me away.

I’ve made a series of choices, day after day, year after year, all pointing me very intently in this one direction.

And as I’ve delved further and further into my career as a professional athlete, I have only continued to invest more and more of my heart, soul, energy, effort, and time in to this realm. Throughout that process, the passion has only continued to grow…

But what that means, though – to have given so very much of myself to one particular thing – is there are a lot of other dreams that have ultimately been put on hold to enable this one to flourish.

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I love racing. I love triathlon. I love riding my bike. There’s no question about that.

But, I love a lot of other things, too.

There are so many things I feel passionate about beyond sport. And, ultimately, there’s a lot I want to do with every one of them. And while I’ve continued to be involved in each of these things at some level or another through these last five years of elite racing, they’ve definitely been forced to take a backseat as triathlon has climbed higher and higher up the priority list, alongside my ever-escalating athletic ambitions.

And these last few months, without the engrossment of racing and its corresponding simplicity, my mind has had a lot more room to wander; room to question. And, if I’m being totally honest: room to doubt.

As I’ve felt more confronted with many of the not-so-fun parts of professional athlete life this winter, and a bit more out-of-touch with the things I love most about it, some of those other dreams have started calling out to me in a way I haven’t felt in quite a while. It’s like all of those goals that have been waiting quietly in the wings are suddenly tapping on my shoulder, eager for their chance to come to fruition… knocking louder and louder at the door.

And as they do, I’ve suddenly become more acutely aware that I have, in fact, given up a lot for the pursuit of this one big dream; for this deep love of sport.

And, as that list of other goals keeps piling up, and the mountain of things I want to explore more deeply outside of sport continues to grow, these past few months I couldn’t help but start to ask myself: Is this path that I’ve been fighting so hard to follow still the right one?

Do I still want to keep investing this much of myself into this one particular thing?

Is this still enough for me…?

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Meanwhile, at the same time I’ve become increasingly cognizant of just how difficult it really is to keep this ‘career’ as a racer going. Being involved in “fringe sports” that don’t get nearly the recognition or exposure they well deserve (despite being So. Freaking. Awesome.), sometimes it feels like a serious uphill battle to simply stay afloat. Sometimes, it is downright exhausting. Despite the hard work of so many who are invested in endurance sports and advocating for them fiercely, the reality is that resources are limited, and opportunities for support are few and far between… and getting even scarcer, it seems.

When I first began my pro career, I envisioned that as I worked harder and harder, and fought my way up the ladder, support would gradually trickle in. I hoped that my resources would expand as I built up my racing accolades, continued to increase my involvement and outreach, and steadily became more established in the triathlon world.

On the contrary, though, I’ve found that every year it actually becomes more and more difficult to truly make it all work as a professional endurance athlete. And this winter I’ve had to face some particularly harsh realities about how unsustainable this lifestyle really is for me. Coming off of my best season yet, gaining support only proved to be harder than ever, which was discouraging, disheartening, and in all honesty a little bit frustrating. I let it get to me – probably much more than I should have.

[Although, I must say that these challenges have given me an even deeper appreciation for the partners who continue doing all they can to support me, and remain such an integral part of my journey. As I’ve finally had to really acknowledge and confront some of the struggles that come with the territory of professional athletics, the support I’ve received has come to mean more than ever to me. I’m so tremendously grateful to have each of these companies, and the incredible people behind them, on my “team,” and simply would not be able to do this if it weren’t for their dedication in helping me make it happen! I am humbled and honored, every single day, that they’ve chosen to invest their own valuable energy, efforts, resources, time, and hearts into my endeavors. Please check them out, and show ’em some LOVE!!]

JL
So thankful for the support and opportunities from amazing companies like JLVelo (creators of this fabulous kit!), and proud to represent them! Photo: August Teague

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With some lofty goals in mind for 2018, I’ve felt increasingly overwhelmed by the logistics of the upcoming race season, and how to scrap together each piece of the puzzle.

This left me asking even more questions, like: Is this really still feasible for me? Is it even actually possible to get through another year of racing and travel?

And, is it worth all this struggle…?!

All of these questions have weighed heavy on me these past few months. They’ve left me feeling conflicted and, frankly, a bit lost!

Grappling with these things has also taken me by surprise, on the heels of such a successful, fun, and fulfilling season, where I truly felt I was thriving in what I was doing, and maintaining a solid upward trajectory. In that sense, I’ve also felt a little guilty for questioning myself; like it isn’t valid for me to second-guess my direction.

It hasn’t been easy to acknowledge these feelings, and I really wasn’t sure if it made sense to put them out there. I thought a lot about that, and whether I should even write this blog at all. I worried it might somehow reflect negatively on me as an athlete. That it might make me seem less committed; or weak; or like my heart isn’t totally in it.

But, it has always been so important to me to be completely open and honest about my journey as an athlete, and to share all the parts of it, good and bad alike. Because the real value in an experience doesn’t come from just one singular part of it, but rather from its entire spectrum, and all of its complexities.

And as I’ve continued to sort through all these different feelings, I’ve realized something: it is totally okay to question ourselves sometimes, and to examine our direction.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that most, if not all, of us have struggled at one point or another with not feeling entirely sure about what we’re doing, no matter what our profession. It is okay to feel that way, and it’s okay to talk about it!

It doesn’t mean that we’re any less motivated, less committed, or less capable. It doesn’t mean we don’t love what we do, or that we can’t still be successful. It simply means we are thinking beyond what is directly in front of us. We’re looking at the full picture, and expanding our perspectives.

And in fact, this is a very positive thing to do. Taking time to consider all the options ahead, rather than solely fixating on one direction, allows us to see the same thing in a whole new way. It enables us to make a renewed commitment to our particular path, and be more conscious of the reasons why we continue to choose it.

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Sunset
Time for some reflection! Photo: Harry Lefrak

All in all, it’s been a confusing couple of months, but one thing that has been abundantly clear is that before I jumped into another full-blast season of racing, I needed to follow that exact advice, and do some good old-fashioned soul searching.

When you’re so busy thinking ahead to the next steps as I’ve been, and planning what is to come, it really is so easy to forget to stop and look around. You forget to be present in the moment, and you lose sight of the reason why you’re there in the first place. There are a ton of layers that come with being an athlete at the professional level. With all the stress and pressures of the contracts, schedules, promotions, performance, results, and objectives ahead… it’s so easy to lose sight of what really matters. It’s like the big, truly important things get lost in the chaos of all the little details. And while each of those layers play an important role, sometimes you need to be able to look past all of the ‘externals,’ and get back to the very core of it all: just being an athlete.

JOY
Celebrating the simple JOY of being outside, and remembering just how lucky I am to have that! Photo: August Teague

I’ve been really consumed by “details” this winter, trying so hard to make every single one happen, and piece them all together the right way. But somewhere along the way, I think I forgot about the real meaning. I lost sight of my why.

I needed to take a step back, and a good hard look around, to find that “why” again, and bring it into the light. I needed to remember why I first became so captivated by this dream, and why it still means so much to me. I needed to strip away the layers, and remember just what it is that I love so dang much about being an athlete, at its core.

As I’ve sought to rediscover all of this, I took some time to reflect on the moments that have really stood out to me through these crazy racing escapades; the things that have truly moved and inspired me. And I was swiftly reminded, yet again, that these things had nothing to do with podiums, or placing, or time out on the course. They had nothing to do with prize money, or bonuses, or anything of the sort. In fact, they were totally unrelated to performance at all. Instead, they had to do with the people I shared them with, the places I discovered along the way, all the lessons I learned, and the many ways I grew through the process.

What has stood out, above all, are the connections this sport has given me: powerful, unbreakable, and irreplicable in any other capacity.

In each of those moments, and in those connections, I have found my why again. In remembering that it’s about so much more than trying to be the first one across a finish line, I have found my why. In reflecting on the transformative power of sport — to enable me to see the world, and myself, in a whole new way — I have found my why.

I remember why I really want to do this, and why I’m not at all ready to give it up, no matter how challenging it may be at times. I remember that at the end of the day, I am ultimately doing this for me. I am doing it because I love it, plain and simple. And there really isn’t any possible reason better than that.

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It takes a lot to compete at this level. It’s simply not possible to do it right if your heart is not “all-in.” I wanted to be totally sure that mine was, and I know now that it is. After taking this time to really re-examine why I’ve chosen this path, and why it does in fact still mean so much to me, I feel re-invigorated. And while it hasn’t all been easy, I’m thankful to have gone through this process. I’m thankful to be able to see it all in a whole new way, even as I’m looking at exactly the same thing.

I am so excited for my season ahead, and ready to give it my all. I’ve laid out a schedule that I am eager to take on, and will share the full details soon!

But as I head into this new season, I know that I need to hold tight to my why, and make sure the truly important things remain at the forefront.

I do have some big goals in mind for this year. I’d love to finally get my first Xterra Major win — or perhaps even move up a step in the rankings, and win the whole dang tour. (Because, nothing great ever came from thinking small, right…?!) I’d love to finally get that elusive top-10 finish at Worlds.

But these goals aren’t my driving forces. They’re not what has motivated me for another season of racing, and what will push me along on this next eight-month adventure. These things are not my why. And they will not be my focus as I approach this season.

What I want to focus on, instead, is maximizing the experience of it all, to the fullest extent possible.

I do know the time will eventually come when I have to shift directions, send more of my energy elsewhere, and lean in to some of those other goals more heavily. I’m not sure when exactly that will be, but I’m confident that I will know it when it arrives, and that it will be when I am ready.

In the meantime, I want to continue to make the very most of this chapter. I want to embrace every single step, soak up every last moment of this finite opportunity, fully appreciate the privilege to keep chasing this dream a little longer, and acknowledge all the work that has gone into making that possible. I want to take it all in.

I want more of those truly meaningful moments that I will remember long after this chapter does close, and those connections that will live on well beyond the limits of my racing career. Because these, my friends, are the things that really matter. These are what make every last struggle so worth it.

These are the why.

So here’s to a great season ahead in 2018, and making the most of ALL of it.

— KLP

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Peter Sachs says:

    Have a GREAT Year Kara!

  2. Sissy says:

    Your blog is so inspiring! I always want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro after reading your blogs! Haha, doubt that’s going to happen! Love you and I do keep up with your journey and it’s always good to hear how difficult it is to go the road less traveled b/c it is true that one day you will look back and say, ” and that has made all the difference”! Love!

    1. karalapoint says:

      Thank you so much, Sissy! LOVE YOU!!

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