I wrote this blog the day after 70.3 Texas (so on April 28th) but am just getting it onto my website now! Sorry for the delay!!
It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog. I guess a big part of that is because for a while I was pretty frustrated and dis-satisfied with my performances since I have come back from injury. I wanted to come back with a BANG! But that didn’t happen, and the road back has been longer and harder than I had anticipated.
And for me – when things get tough – everyone says I go into “ghost mode” or into the “Poo cave” (my nickname is “poo”), where I get focused, put my head down and go into the zone. I think sometimes when things get hard I don’t like to talk about it – I just need to work to get back on the horse.
Last May I broke my leg, and that derailed my entire season. My first race back was in October of last year- Miami 70.3. And while, ultimately, we were able to look at it as a success – coming back and racing and recovering from it healthy (or reasonably healthy) – the experience was tough. I was earnest when I said I was grateful to be back and how amazing it felt to cross the finish line and be back racing. But frankly, the experience also left me a bit wide-eyed. It made me realize just how much fitness and strength and speed I had lost during those months off. I think I had taken for granted…or maybe not even quite realized just how amazing we women are as a collective group of professional athletes. I truly thought I would come back and be right there again. To not be….and to experience how hard that race felt to me…and how far I had to go…I felt like was that I was starting all over…it was like I was racing as an amateur again and I needed to make some serious gains if I was to race and be competitive as a pro. But my timeframe to be competitive wasn’t 2 years or 3 years….it was a few months.
In December I went and raced Ironman Western Australia. And again…that race was a bust. And yes – I GET IT that it was my first Ironman back and that I needed to cut myself some slack. And I GET that I wasn’t even 85% healed at that point and was still having some serious hip pain. And I GET that I was undertrained going in the race (my longest run had only been 7 or 8 miles). But again…this sport is cut throat and at the end of the day, you either step up and make the cut….or you don’t. I simply didn’t perform at a level I expect of myself at this point in my career. I didn’t fly all the way across the world to have an average race. I flew there to have a great one. The problem with these lofty expectations was that I felt the least prepared for an Ironman than I had ever felt before. I don’t think I have ever been more nervous for a race than I was at IMWA. I knew I needed to step up…but I didn’t know if I was there or I had it.
I do a really good job of being pragmatic. I am able to rationalize things and while in some aspects of my life I don’t manage stress as well, when it comes to competing and my job, when things get tough, I DON’T Accept NO for an answer. FAILING is not an option. I REFUSE to fail. Simply put. It will not happen. So despite being scared, wondering if the pain in my leg was ever going to go away, if I ever was going to return to the fitness levels I was – I put my head down, I told my sponsors I WILL BE THERE, and I got to work to SUCCEED.
Fast forward to January. Over the Christmas holiday I ran for the first time (and for consecutive days) without any hip pain. It was an incredible relief to head out day after day. You know when you are expecting something negative to happen – you go outside and are hit with the wall of freezing cold, or the piercing heat – you brace yourself for the impact. That was how I felt every time I went to run…I braced myself for the painful steps I was about to take. But then suddenly they went away…and as day after day went by, I got more and more excited about what was happening.
As I headed into the New Year I was feeling great. My numbers were coming back on the bike and I was finally starting to build back some run resilience and speed. I felt set up to have a great South Africa 70.3. After the fear, concern, a little bit of apprehension I had felt for so many months after my wake up call at Miami, I really felt ready to have my comeback race.
Except it didn’t happen. My trip to South Africa went about as bad as one could possibly expect. My cell was stolen on the plane in London. When I arrived in to East London, South Africa, I got food poisoning within the first 12 hours of arriving and spent the first 3 days constantly on the toilet…whatever went in came immediately out. I was so scared to eat anything from that point forward that once I could eat again I lived off of seeds I had brought with me, a jar of almond butter and Clif Builder Bars. Literally – that is all I ate.
On race day a chain mechanical left me on the side of the bike course for 20 minutes and put me fully out of the race. By the time I came into transition I felt completely, totally, utterly defeated. I felt angry. I felt frustrated. I felt a little panicked. It was the first time in my life when I have legitimately wanted to quit a race. But….after I moped my way through transition, I knew I wouldn’t give up. I knew I wouldn’t quit. Because it isn’t in me to do that. And I sort of fear that phrase “once you quit once, it is so easy to quit again”. I’m scared to find out if that is true…and I never want to go down a path where quitting becomes easy.
More than anything though, it was the first time since I started this journey where I became a bit panicked that maybe I wouldn’t make it. I hadn’t made a legitimate pay check since May of 2014…and really April, because my pay for my 8th place finish at the US Pro Championships was $1000. Frankly, I didn’t know how I was going to survive. After the race I was working out in my head all the ways I could cut down expenses. I wasn’t sure I would have enough to pay rent…let alone food, coaching, etc…..I felt panicked. I had some equipment I could shed, and knew that would help me for a bit, but I was in a dire place. I had the thought “Am I going to make it through this?? Will I actually make it through to give myself a shot at achieving my dreams and goals?”
I left South Africa in a bad place mentally. I flew from there straight to Hawaii for the Purplepatch Pro training camp. Matt Dixon (my coach) was great when I arrived. I think he could see that the South Africa debacle had really derailed me. On a ride the first day we pedaled side by side and he told me to keep doing what I am doing. He assured me I was in a good place and moving in the right direction and that it would be ok. He just said – don’t let this shake you. Put your head down and work hard at this camp and you will be fine.
Two days into camp, I got sick. I was throwing up and having some serious GI issues. For 4 days I couldn’t keep anything down and barely got out of bed. I felt physically and emotionally depleted. But, after 4 days things started to come around. For the next week we were able to ease back into my training and by the end of camp I was feeling great again.
Coming out of that I put up a solid training block and was feeling great about where I was at. The first test was Monterrey on March 15th. In the days leading up to the race I was exhausted and completely worn out. The first day I arrived I went out for a ride and was not able to ride over 120 or 130W – I was clearly coming down with something. The weather in Monterrey turned that day and for the next 3 days it poured rain. The only thing I could do was sleep and that is what I did. One afternoon I took a 5 hour nap and I think that extra rest is ultimately what saved me on race day.
The race was interesting. I had an absolutely TERRIBLE swim – probably one of my worst ever, and once on the bike I struggled to find my legs or get into a rhythm. I was verging again on a bit of panic as I rolled into T2…I just felt like I really couldn’t afford to have ANOTHER failed raced…..but off I set on the run. A few days earlier Gwen Jorgenson had come from 1 minute back in a Sprint triathlon and won with a stellar run. I thought about that the entire run that day…..that you just have to believe and keep working your way to the front. As it turned out, I had an excellent and breakthrough run – and ran myself up to 2nd place. The relief! It was so great for me to have a podium finish. It was amazing to finally put up a run I knew I was capable of. And more than anything, it was a massive financial relief for me at a point where I was at my last straw. While it wasn’t a GREAT race, it was a stepping stone and a result that was moving in a positive direction.
As soon as I arrived home from Monterrey I got sick. Just like Hawaii I couldn’t keep anything down or in my body. I had a fever, body aches and a tight chest. I was one sick girl.
Just a week after my return from Monterrey I was set to head down to Oceanside, CA to race Oceanside 70.3. Matt asked me a number of times if I wanted to race (give how sick I was) and my answer was a resounding “yes!”. Part of me was scared because I had barely trained, I had zero energy from lack of calories and my chest cold was making it damn hard to breath. But Oceanside is a great race with great competition and I wanted to line up with these girls. In the days before the race I was pretty nervous. I tried to go out for a run and my energy was so low I was not able to run faster than a 10 minute mile. And when I went out to ride, it was a true effort to ride over 100 watts. I was completely depleted. And I was damn scared to get last on race day.
So how did it go? As a performance – it wasn’t a good day…..but on the flip side it was actually a very good day. I went out there and fought all day on very little reserves and battled to finish in the money. I raced with guts and I was actually really surprised of how well I did given how I felt. I was proud of my race.
Just before I left for Oceanside I had gone to the doctor to get tested for giardia – a parasite that affects your gut. When I returned from the race I went to meet with the GI specialist and he confirmed I had the parasite. It was a relief – Since January I had lost a ton of weight, my appetite was nearly nothing, I was heavily fatigued, I wasn’t recovering well from training and the bouts of vomiting and diarrhea were debilitating. While I had been trudging through it, it had been a tough few months.
The doctor put me on a course of medicine that effectively killed everything in my gut, and have followed that up with a probiotic. My energy and appetite have returned, my gut is now back to normal and I’ve been able to go back to consistent training – a relief!
Oceanside really marked the start of an intense training and racing period for me. One week after the race, the PPF pros headed to Stinson Beach, CA for a week for our annual April pro camp. It was a great camp this year with some truly solid work put in. I returned from camp, had one day to unpack and re-pack and then was on my way to New Orleans and Galveston for the two Ironman 70.3 races.
I arrived in to New Orleans ready to go – I felt good – a little tired from the camp, but honestly all around really good. My stomach was feeling better and I was retaining calories so my energy levels were way up. On race day I was really pleased with my swim – still not fast, but I thought I swam decently. Once I got onto the bike I just went. My legs felt great and I was quickly moving through the field. At around mile 25 I was in 3rd and about 30 seconds out of the lead, when…….Psheeeeewwwwwww – I flatted. I was disappointed but I also knew, based on how I was feeling, that I could get myself back up to the front. By mile 50 I had the lead girls right up ahead of me and suddenly – psheeeeewwwww – flat #2. I was PISSED! I thought my day was over and that I was out of the race.
I always ride with 2 spare Co2s and I had one left so I decided to see what would happen. When I put the air in it held so I hopped on my bike and prayed it would get me to T2. About a mile or less from the finish I was flat again but was able to ride it in at that point.
I came into T2 very frustrated – this was NOT turning out to be a good day despite feeling physically great! Where I had gone in believing I could win, I re-adjusted my expectations as I knew a podium finish was achievable. Off I went. The day was hot and immediately on the first few miles of the run, I could feel my core temperature rising dramatically. I ended up stopping at an aid station and dunking my head in a trash bin full of ice water. It helped a ton and from there I was able to start running well. At the turn around I saw that the lead girl was only 400-600 meters up the road in front of me and at that point all frustration went out the window and I went on a mission to get myself to the front of the race.
Winning New Orleans was significant for me because while it wasn’t the first 70.3 race I have won, it was the first one where there was a swim/bike/run. I always had it hanging on my shoulder that my first 70.3 win was a duathlon (the swim had been cancelled because of weather). And so it was validating for me to be able to have had a complete race and walk away the winner.
Yesterday I raced my second 70.3 in two weeks. What I would say about the race was….it wasn’t great, but I am also not that disappointed. For me, racing 70.3’s in back to back weekends is very challenging. Some people pull it off with amazing success, but the second race for me has always been a struggle. My double was perhaps the best I have ever felt in my second of two back to back races, and I took a lot of positive from that as it shows my body becoming more resilient and strong. I was tired out there on the course and I didn’t have a lot in the tank, and there were some great racers out there – so while I didn’t race where I would have liked, I truly was happy to walk away with 5th. Hopefully one day I will become one of those rockstars who has the resilience to be able to put up two great races one after another….but I am happy with the strides I have made. And….I am a big believer that the double is a great build for an Ironman – so while hard, I’m really pleased with how it is setting me up for Ironman Texas.
I’m on the plane headed home after being on the road for the last three solid weeks of training camps and racing. I’m home for a couple of weeks now and then am headed back to Texas on May 9th – Ironman Texas is May 16th. I am SOOOOO excited for this race. The field is amazing and I cannot wait to line up against everyone. It is going to be some phenomenal racing!
I know this is a long update and a long blog, but I suppose more than anything, and the biggest thing I want to convey through it all is to never give up belief in yourself. Over the last year I have been faced with a lot of challenges. A lot of things haven’t gone my way. But this is life. Things like these happen to everyone. Lots of people get sick, injured, have a flat tire. We all have challenges that we face and need to overcome. But ultimately, as individuals, we have a decision to make. We can either let these things derail us from believing in ourselves and continuing to fight to achieve our dreams. Or we can take what is thrown at us, deal with it, manage it, overcome it, and continue down our path to greatness. I could not be more proud about where I am at right now as an athlete and how I have evolved and grown. I’m thrilled with the journey my coaches and team have gone on with me. And I will continue to BELIEVE, will put my head down, and keep working towards achieving my goals and dreams.
Thank you to SO SO many for all of the support, encouragement and love over the last several months. Big thank you to my family – my parents, brothers, sis-in-laws, nieces, aunt and uncles, cousins – , to my best friend Avery, to Matt Dixon, Paul Buick and Kelli McMaster from Purplepatch, to Anthony and Robin DuComb, to the Purplepatch community and to my team…and to all my sponsors – Cervelo, Saucony, Shimano, Clif Bar, Roka Wetsuits, Rudy Project, WIDSIX, Marc Pro, Foundry Performance, Boheme Wines, Shift SF and Corin Frost – Thank you for all the wonderful support. I am truly fortunate!
Until next time – don’t dream it be it!