Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Age Group Nationals 2013

          Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was my first Olympic Distance race back since Collegiate Nationals in April and my bike crash in June. Coach Ken was a little skeptical of having me compete in this race since my longest run since the crash was 60 minutes long, and ideally I should have been doing 90 minute runs before an Olympic distance event. We thought another option would be to do Rattlesnake Triathlon, a local race where I could also compete in the Olympic distance, however, I decided to give Age Group Nationals a go! I booked my flight a week out from the event and made travel arrangements to stay with my CU coach Mike Ricci and one of my teammates, Davide Giardini. Ken was the bike course coordinator at this event, so I could only see him briefly.
         I have never been to Milwaukee, let alone Wisconsin before, so I was really excited for the new experience. I love traveling to new places. It was good to travel with a group that enjoys Italian food: Davide really hit it off with the owners of the restaurant Trattoria Di Carlo since he is Italian. We ate at the same restaurant both nights before the race, which was great for me because I love sticking to rituals! I had some trouble putting the triathlon bike together since I had never done it before with my teammate, Adam McKittrick's bike. I am so grateful he has lent it to me for all of this time! Coach Ken ended up coming to my hotel to double check the bike for me, which I needed, since I definitely messed up a few things, including having an extra spring on the skewer. Amateur hour!
         Age Group Nationals is definitely much more hectic and tiring than other races due to the big crowds and everyone trying to get their pre-race plans done at the EXACT same time! This trip involved a lot of running around from place to place, and adjustments on race morning, due to increased security measures. Luckily I got in all of my pre-race stuff, racked my bike and we were out of there. Honestly I don't like these types of events where it's super crowded. Creates more room for error and adds stress.
         I was definitely a bit nervous for this race since Olympic distance events are completely different than Sprint distance. I knew I needed to be smart in terms of energy management, hydration, tactics, and mental strength. I reminded myself of all of the training I put in this summer, and even though my fitness was maybe not where it needed to be, I trusted that it would be enough. 
         On race morning we were rushing around a bit because they closed the freeway we needed to take to get to the venue so we didn't arrive 1.5 hours early in transition as I usually do, which kind of stressed me out. I also forgot my helmet from the car, so Mike had to grab it for me and I didn't finish fully racking my bike until 7:15am, 15 minutes before transition would close. I was definitely a bit jittery and not thinking straight since I felt rushed; I did not double check all of the things I normally check on my bike, and this would later punish me and greatly alter the results of my race.
Towards the end of the run, my CU Teammate,
Matt Wolford cheering me on!
         I think I had a really strong swim start and this set me up for a good race. My swim was a 22:14, which is good for me. I was not too far back from some of the girls that used to beat me by minutes on the swim. I was only maybe 35 seconds back this time around. I had a great T1; this involved a long run since my bike was racked by the bike exit, but I caught a few girls here. I hopped on the bike and after a few pedal strokes I realized something was really off. The whole bike course I did not feel comfortable on the bike; it was not shifting well and it kept jolting and skipping gears every time I would stand up, making me almost fall numerous times; I did not want to crash again, so I stayed seated for the whole bike portion. My hamstrings and calves took the toll from this, but I did my best. I dismounted my bike, ran into T2, hitting a small bump and the back wheel nearly fell off; I jammed it back into place, realizing the skewer was completely open. This could have been really bad...
        I knew I needed to make up the time on the run since I literally lost minutes on the bike. I was 2 minutes back from some of the girls I try to be competitive with, but slowly I started catching them one by one. I felt like my calves were going to cramp for the first 1.5 miles since I pushed it so hard on the bike, due to my power going nowhere with the rubbing of the chain and awkward shifting. I was 16th out of the swim, then 11th off the bike, and finally on the run I moved my way up to 5th over time. I caught the 6th place girl about .5 miles from the finish. I had timed it perfectly without even knowing it. I remember seeing her at one of the out and backs and she was at least 2 minutes ahead of me! Woah, I had a good run! Considering everything I have been through I was really pleased with running a 40:33. I always knew I was capable of running that pace if I stayed healthy, but honestly if someone told me that's what I was going to run on that given day I would not have believed them, based off my run fitness level. 
Happy to finish! Sprinted until the finish!
       In this race I learned how important it is to trust yourself and believe in yourself, and that even if you have a mechanical on the bike or a poor swim, you can always come back...always! During the whole run I kept telling myself to stay strong and never quit. I knew that if I stayed strong, I could catch the other girls in front of me. I made sure to stay mentally focused and very aware throughout the whole race, which I have struggled with in the past. I focused on my breathing and really settled into a good rhythm at the turnaround for the last 5k. I knew I could outrun some of the girls but I needed to be patient, otherwise I would blow up. I did exactly that, staying on top of nutrition and staying cool.
       The whole week leading up to the race Coach Ken put me through my first real taper. "Taper, what's that and why do I need it?' I thought at first. I felt strong and wanted to keep training, but I trusted my coach and it paid off. I think if it weren't for that taper and training smart for this summer and the past few weeks, the race would not have gone so smoothly and this comeback would have come much later. 
       Post race was fun. This included burgers, pizza, and ice cream! Although this does not fit my normal diet, it was so good and so worth it! I had a fun trip getting to see some of my friends I don't always get to see during the school year, getting to meet new triathletes, and learn new things about racing and myself; I know I will be much more prepared for my other Olympic distance events now. I remember going into this event thinking that I am only suited for sprint distance and that's what I'm fit for, but I realized after this experience I can do well at the Olympic distance too, and that in itself is a huge confidence booster and helps me look forward to Age Group Worlds in London and the upcoming Collegiate season. I'm a new athlete this year, 100% committed and excited to keep training smart, racing hard, and staying healthy! There are so many more things to learn and that in itself is something to look forward to!
5th place 20-24 Age Group. Some competitive girls!
My first real USA Triathlon trophy.
So legit!


Friday, August 2, 2013

Evergreen Triathlon- A Personal Comeback

     Wow it's been a month since I last wrote a post on my blog! Things have been hectic with finishing up my summer calculus class, working, training, and recovering mentally and physically from the bike crash. I can truly say things are really getting back to normal again. I could not be more humbled and grounded from everything that has happened. Sometimes I feel that when things are going well, one can become contemptuous of their situation and forget where their core beliefs lie.
     I can say that I have dealt with an ocean of emotions this past month. After the crash, I wanted to be tough and pretend like nothing happened. I jumped back on the saddle 3 days later despite the pain, because I wanted to avoid that fear of getting back on the bike and I was really in denial about the whole situation. Will Murray, CU Tri Team sports psychologist helped me a ton. He and I spoke almost every day on the phone during the early stages, and he really helped me get my perspective right. I think it is incredible the patience and time that Will gave me. The first two weeks of training, the pain was really overwhelming, but I continued to train. Surprisingly it was the worst when trying to kick in the pool, so I swam with only my arms for a few weeks; good news is my arms got stronger.
      Coach George Heidinger has been incredible. My first day back he told me not to let any of this define me and my season; he reminded me that this is all a process and I need to be patient because I am still young in the sport. He told me he would take care of me, and this was comforting when I felt a bit alone since nobody could understand the pain. It really shows what an incredible coach he is. I feel the accident was kind of like a blessing in disguise because my swimming improved a ton since I decided to put all of my focus into that.
     I bought myself a cool gel seat cushion for the bike to take the pressure off my tailbone, and despite me looking like a grandma, this really allowed me to keep up with my biking and get more hours in the saddle, which I think was important after a crash in order to become confident again on the bike. For the first few weeks, Coach Ken was nice enough to write me elliptical workouts to do so I could keep my run form. I think these workouts really made it easier for me to transition back to weight-bearing activity. It only took 2.5 weeks before I could run, which was a surprise since I was told it would take at least 5 weeks.
     I think it wasn't the physical pain that hurt me the most, but it was the emotional pain. I think it is important to be open about one's feelings; bottling them up may seem like the right decision at the time, but in the end a person can only bottle it all up for so long. Once the physical pain had left after about 3 weeks, the emotional pain really hit me. This was my first crash and the whole experience was really scary for me. Thank God it was not worse than it was, but it was still traumatic for me.
     I had trouble sleeping for the first few weeks, so mentally I was not really aware of everything that was happening; I was just going through the motions and my mind was racing. This is the worst feeling to have; I am sure most people have felt at some point that they don't have control of their life, that's how I felt. I realized that it was important to talk to someone, so I fell back on my parents, and they helped me a ton. I was told that everything I was experiencing was normal, and I would be back to my usual, happy self in a few weeks. They were right. "This too shall pass," my dad would always say. One of the main things to conquer for me was the fear I had developed with biking in a pack and holding speed on the downhills.
     On Thursday, July 25th we had our usual long ride in Fountain with the team. It turned out I was the only girl there, so I didn't have anyone to work with really. It was really windy and the first main stretch  on Squirrel Creek Road heads about 12 miles east in the middle of nowhere. I couldn't hang with the guys so I pedaled furiously on my own trying to keep them in sight. This ride was a great test of my mental fitness. I would get a bit startled when a big truck would pass me once in a while, since they would sort of make an air pocket and as they passed it would spit the wind out at me. I kept feeling like I was going to fall over because it was that windy, but I accepted the challenge (not only mentally but physically). The guys and Coach circled around and picked me up, and we made the right hand turn so finally we had a tailwind.We sped down Peyton Highway at 37 miles per hour and I was geared out. I was really nervous, and could feel the tension in my neck and back; I was holding on to the handlebars so tightly that I ripped the tape off of them.
      Coach Ken kept telling me to relax and he really helped me  get out of my comfort zone, by pushing me to stay close to my teammates on the bike. I accepted the challenge and realized that this was the start to me overcoming the fear I had developed; this was all a process. I pushed and pushed through the 2.5 hour ride, getting dropped and then Coach Ken would yell "get out of the saddle, catch up." This is how it was the whole time; get dropped, catch up, get dropped, catch up.
      My legs were done, and mentally I was on the verge of cracking due to my state of fatigue, but I kept telling myself "legy eros, legy eros!" "be strong, be strong." It's amazing how one's inner voice can control the outcome in a situation. Although I knew I was going to have my first race back on the Sunday, I didn't hold back on this ride. I knew it was more important to conquer the fear I was having than to have a good race on Sunday, so I never backed down, effort above race pace for the majority of the ride. I was actually pretty proud of myself that I could hang with the guys for a bit, but my body took the punishment for sure! Near the end of the ride I started hallucinating, I was obviously spent, since my vision became a little blurry. On the last hill, I started to feel myself crying. It's one thing when you physically can't push your body any more, but for me I was mentally exhausted. I have not pushed myself to that extent on a ride before, and I seriously thought I was going to pass out when we arrived back at the car hence me sideswiping it since I was so dizzy and couldn't unclip. I didn't drink enough water during the ride since I was so focused on catching up to the guys, staying with them, and not tipping over in the wind! I felt overwhelmed after the ride, and held back my tears; it may have been more exhaustion than anything. I would not advise doing what I did to myself that day, but I think it was important to push myself past the limits I thought I had. I realized after that ride that I can overcome anything, I realized I was back on the horse.
Caroline and I
photo credit: David Solsberg
My mom and I
photo credit to my dad
David Solsberg
     Evergreen Triathlon, Sunday July 28th was what I think a huge comeback for me. I was terrified to have this be my first race back because the course is very hilly and technical, with a five mile descent to finish the bike. I love climbing hills, but I was scared about the descent. To make things worse it was cold and raining race morning, which isn't ideal for me.
       I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to test myself, since I don't have much experience racing in the rain and I was fearful of slipping.  It was good to have my CU Tri Team Coach, Mike Ricci, there at the race with my teammates because having them around made me relax. Mike gave me a pep talk before the race and reminded me that it's just a race like any other race, and that this race was an opportunity for me.
       I really went out of my comfort zone and pushed myself for this race. Things went pretty well, and I took 2nd overall women behind my teammate Moose, which I was pleased with. This race was not about the results though. This race challenged me more mentally than most races have, and I feel I really conquered much of my fear. I remember finishing the bike and feeling a huge sense of relief; I wanted to celebrate in transition but I had to go run and give Moose a run for her money :)
PEAK Multisport
photo credit: David Solsberg
     Overall I have learned from all of this that things don't always pan out the way we want them to, but people are resilient. We can bounce back up when bad things happen. I've learned that sometimes it is important to share the way you are feeling with others, especially those that love and care about you, and sometimes it's okay to cry. There are a lot of bad things in life, but when things get tough, I think it is really important to look at all the good things and focus on those; focus on the things you have rather than the things you don't have because the things we don't have are infinite. I have realized that I have more inner strength than I ever believed, and I think that in itself will be very important in life. It is easy to feel sorry for yourself, and I'll admit I felt sorry for myself for a while; this was my summer and I felt it was gone and wasted, I believed my race season was done; In fact, I think it's the opposite. I have had the best summer, and after this experience I have realized how good my life is and all that I have going for me. I have no regrets. I wouldn't change the accident or what happened to me because I wouldn't have become the person I am at this very moment. At times I felt like my coaches would maybe throw me on the back burner and they did the exact opposite. Both Coach George and Coach Ken really showed me their support this past month, and that in itself kept me going and meant the world to me when I lacked belief in myself. I have learned that all of this is about the process. It's not about winning races or being the fastest athlete out there; it's about the process and dealing with the things life throws at us. I am blessed to have my family, my teammates, my Coach Ken, George, Tracy (who has become a second mother to me), Kim (my big sister and mama giraffe), Will Murray, Mike Ricci...and so many other wonderful people in my life, too many to list! I think it's important to support each other, and their support and compassion has been unforgettable. Such good people in my life, and for that I am truly grateful. Every time I swim, bike, and run now I have a new appreciation; an appreciation to have the opportunity to push myself once more and feel fulfilled at the end of the day. I feel I have started fresh once again. I have a new perspective on things.
“Often it isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the little pebble in your shoe.” -Mohammed Ali

Happy to finish, happy to be back. Love you papa.
photo credit: David Solsberg

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