Brazil was a trip that wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t on my original schedule, as I had planned to return to Chile and Argentina to kick off my Xterra season. But then when I broke my big toe just a couple days before I was set to leave, everything changed. And as devastated as I was at that time to miss out on a trip I’d long been looking forward to, in the end it was a twist of fate that led me to two brand new destinations and some of the most incredible experiences I’ve had, and for that I am extremely grateful.
When I added Brazil and Uruguay to my restructured Xterra calendar, I promised myself I would approach these trips as the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that they were, prioritizing the experience every step of the way, and maximizing my time there to the fullest extent possible. In that regard, I was so fortunate to be able to go to Brazil ahead of my race in Uruguay — and well ahead of the Xterra Brazil race that followed — and just be able to spend some time taking in all the country had to offer. In total, I was there for just over two weeks, sharing time between the busy city streets of São Paulo, the expansive farmlands of Morungaba, and the lush and beautiful island of Ilhabela, where the race was held. I was hosted and tremendously well taken care of by one of my best friends on the circuit (and in life), and my all-time favorite Brazilian, Laura Mira. And while my race in Brazil was frankly terrible, Laura and I had an unbelievably good time together throughout my stay, and I wouldn’t have traded any of it for the world. The entire thing felt like one big epic adventure that I couldn’t quite believe I was lucky enough to be experiencing. But here are some of the things I will remember most…
I’ll remember marveling at the magnitude of the city of São Paulo, and just feeling completely in awe of the hustle and bustle and the wonder of it all. I’ll remember how I never once felt uncomfortable or out of place even in a space so big and far from home, where I didn’t know the language — because I had Laura by my side. I’ll remember how much Laura’s grandmother’s eyes lit up when the two of us walked in the door to her apartment where we were staying in the city, as Laura was returning after a few months away. I’ll remember how I felt so disappointed that I couldn’t speak more than a few words to her, to let her know how grateful I was that she’d opened up her home to me, but how that didn’t seem to matter one bit — and how I realized in the end just how much you can actually communicate and connect with someone even when you don’t speak the same language.
I’ll remember how good my first sampling of Brazilian cheese bread tasted, and how it continued to blow my mind each time thereafter. (Same thing goes for the Acai bowls!). I’ll remember how refreshed, relaxed and completely at home I felt when we arrived in Morungaba, where we stayed at a friend’s farm for the week. I’ll remember how at peace I felt laying on the hammock in their yard, where I would read and listen to the sounds around me until I fell asleep each afternoon. I’ll remember how incredibly green the land was and how blue the sky looked, and how there were endless routes we could explore right from the door. I’ll remember how I could barely hobble my way through those first couple runs in my return post-injury, but how my lack of form only made running feel like that much more of a treat, the scenery that much more spectacular, and the company that much more enjoyable.
I’ll remember how Laura, Kim and I just laughed our way through all those backroads on our bikes, soaking up every last drop of beauty and sunshine the Brazilian countryside had to offer us. I’ll remember how good it felt to jump into the pond at the end of a long, hot training session, and how good the wine tasted at the end of each day. I’ll remember how we ate homemade chocolate cake and cookies each afternoon to help “fuel our next workout,” and how it was worth every last sideache I got on our evening runs. I’ll remember how immeasurable the collective excitement felt when we joined in on a big group ride organized by one of the local bike shops, and just how special the experience and the whole vibe around it was. I’ll remember how thankful I felt for the aid stations they’d set up along the way with fresh fruit, and how insanely delicious that watermelon was at the end of our 4-hour expedition.
I’ll remember how much fun Laura and I had when we went and got our nails done back in São Paulo on our return from Uruguay, before heading out to Ilhabela for race number two, and how genuinely thankful I felt to have a friend who enjoys all the little things — and all the silly things — every bit as much as I do. I’ll remember how I felt this exact same way the next day when we pre-rode the course together, and Laura didn’t hesitate for one second to stop mid-ride and enjoy a little picnic with me on the course’s high point overlooking the ocean. I’ll remember how completely blown away I was by the beauty we experienced out there on the the bike course — from bamboo shoots to waterfalls to river crossings to sweeping ocean vistas to cobblestone streets — which was in stark contrast to how brutal the course itself actually was. But I’ll remember how excited and optimistic I felt about it, because I freaking love a hard-as-hell race course, and felt so ready to excel on it. I’ll remember how the whole island just seemed to be buzzing with excitement and how I loved every second of it. I felt so surrounded by positivity, and so ready to THRIVE in that atmosphere.
But then I’ll remember how horrendously awful I felt later that night, when I got horribly sick and spent the next 24 hours in total agony in our tiny hostel room, curled up in a little ball of misery all night and well through the next day — the day before the race. I’ll remember how disappointed I felt that this was happening to me yet again [as it had in Argentina the year prior] just before race day, and how tough it was to not immediately count myself out, as I tried desperately to get in some form of pre-race energy via tiny sips of Gatorade and small bites of rice crackers, and did every single thing within my power to channel my mind away from the unfortunate situation I was in and continue to believe in what might still be possible for me the next day.
I’ll remember how crappy I still felt when I woke up on race morning, but how much I tried to “fake it,” and how I still felt every ounce of drive and desire as any other race morning. Sick or not, I was going for it; no holding back. I had nothing to lose.
After the gun went off, I’ll remember how good it felt to swim in that warm, clear water, even with hundreds of bodies bashing into me along the way. I’ll remember how thrilled I was to see Laura next to me on the pier half-way through, and how comforted I felt to have her feet to guide me the rest of the way home to transition. I’ll remember how focused I felt when I moved into the lead early in the bike — a feeling that was suddenly familiar after my experience in Uruguay, but which I desperately hoped I could hold on to this time. I’ll remember how in control I felt for the first half of the ride as I charged away at the front of the field, like I had risen above my circumstances and was going to make my dream day happen anyways, in spite of it all.
But then, I’ll remember how drastically the sickness and fatigue took back over, and how slowly-but-surely my energy started to leak away, dragging my confidence along with it. I’ll remember how quickly things went downhill after I first started to really lose it and feel so drained that I could barely hang onto my bars. I’ll remember how hard I hit the ground when I really couldn’t hold on to the bars anymore, and went OTB on the next descent. How quickly I started to go backwards once the rest of the field began to pass me by, and how totally deflated I felt as I struggled to just keep my pedals turning over. I’ll remember how I went from first to fourth in what felt like a matter of minutes, but was actually an agonizingly long few miles of next-level suffering.
I’ll remember how completely empty my body felt, and how every ounce of me just wanted to stop on the side of the trail and say “uncle,” but how somehow that part of me that just refused to give up still spoke the loudest. I’ll remember how Laura took the time and energy to encourage me as she went by, and how I continued to repeat her words in my head about keeping my spirits up as I whimpered my way back to T2, feeling like I might just fall right over at any moment. I’ll remember how I thought there was absolutely no way I could possibly run, and how I sat down in transition for a solid couple minutes just trying to regroup — but eventually stood up and headed out onto the course. I felt defeated by everything: the sickness, the course, the day, myself and my competitors. I was in a WORLD of hurt and misery. But I’d come all the way to Brazil to do this race, and I was going to finish what I’d started.
I’ll remember how painful that run was as I willed my body to stay upright and my legs to keep on moving, and how the whole thing just seemed like one giant blur. I’ll remember how the hills felt like they would never end. I’ll remember how I felt like I was just waiting for the next person to come by, and how shocked I was that it never happened and I managed to maintain my 4th place position. I’ll remember the sheer sense of relief I had when I crossed the finish line, and how the happiness I felt when I learned Laura had turned in one of her strongest performances ever for a 2nd-place finish in so many ways overrode the sadness I felt about my own day. And I’ll remember how eventually I was able to look back and feel a tremendous sense of pride and achievement about this race, given all I’d had to push through to earn that finish, even if it was far from the one I wanted. I’ll remember what a great lesson it was for me in controlling the controllable, and acknowledging that beyond that, all you can do is the best you can — and that was exactly what I’d done.
I’ll remember how I felt like I was seeing Ilhabela with completely new eyes the next day when we went for “tourist cruise round 3,” eating tapiocas, swinging on the beach, stopping at the flower market, admiring each mural, and savoring the ocean breeze as we pedaled along the water. And as my trip was coming to a close, I’ll remember how I felt this total sense of contentment that was almost overwhelming, even in the face of the disappointment I’d experienced around both of my races. How I felt like the vibrancy of the island was filling me right up, and pushing me forward. How I was suddenly so fully aware of all the goodness I’d been able to experience during my three weeks in South America, and how the races were really such a small part of it all along. I’ll remember how while that one piece of the trip didn’t go as I’d planned and hoped, everything else — that means much more than any race possibly could — had exceeded all expectations. And in so many ways, I actually got so much more than what I came for.
So, Brazil: Obrigado. You were truly something special.
Next up: Good ol’ Bama!