Two Years, 10:03 – 9:07

It has been a few months since I have written and I feel like I have so much to say! A lot has gone on, from race highs and lows, an amazing mid-season break and vacation, lots of travel, new favorite races, and some training ruts. For now I’ll focus on a race update and my recent decision not to race the Ironman World Championships this year in Kona.

I think when I last wrote it was just after St. George back in May. St. George was a great race for me as it showed I was ready to compete with some of the top ladies. But…that race took a LOT out of me and I really struggled to recover. My recovery time was sort of an in between of a 70.3 and an Ironman. It was frustrating, and mentally took a lot of patience and resolve. I race 70.3 Florida a few weeks later and then Ealgeman 70.3 in early June as my last tune up before I flew to Austria to race an Ironman there at the end of the month.

Florida was a total disaster race – well – maybe not complete disaster. I have an OK swim, but when I got on my bike one thing after another kept happening. The entire ride I thought I could hear my brake rubbing, but I was too impatient with trying to catch up to the lead girls to stop. Only after the race when I returned to my bike did I see that in fact it was. It went less than a quarter turn before it came to a complete stop.

Then, about 20 miles in, I was mis-directed on the course and ended up riding an extra 3 miles. And with about 8 miles to go part of my aero-bars and extensions fell off. The last bit wasn’t a huge deal – I just couldn’t ride in aero. But the combination of events played with my psyche.

When I got off the bike I had no idea what place I was in, but I knew it wasn’t good. After having a pity party for myself during the first of the three-lap run, I made the decision that if I was going to finish this race, I was going to finish it right! For the next 9 miles I just put my head down and ran as best as I knew how.

My result wasn’t great, but I did end up with one of the fastest run times of the day, and I walked away feeling proud of myself for simply just “hanging in there”. It would have been so easy to quit, and it was certainly humbling to finish so far back, but I couldn’t let myself give up, and I did what I could to make the most of the day.

At Eagleman I finished 5th. I had a terrible swim, but was generally happy with my bike and run. It wasn’t my best race, but I have certainly had worse!

I left for Austria on June 22nd – a full 8 days before my race. I didn’t have an international plan on my phone, so when I arrived in to Venice, Italy, I was relying on the google map print out to take me to my homestay in Klagenfurt. The problem with this is when google maps says “Go North” and you have no idea which way North is, it doesn’t do you much good! After driving in many different directions from the airport, I finally was on my way. When I arrived in to Klagenfurt, I once again got lost. Little did I know that few people in the town speak English, so after numerous attempts to get directions, a gas station attendant finally was able – through lots of hand movements – to at least point me in the right direction. I arrived at my homestay after midnight and collapsed into bed.

The family I stayed with were AMAZING!!! The daughter, Anna, actually works for Ironman Merchandise in Europe, so is part of the Ironman family. Her parents, Sissy and Albert were just extraordinary. They made me feel SO at home and we had a great time teaching each other words in German and English (mind you – most of them were food words!). haha. Seriously though, they just opened their home to me and are a huge part of what made my experience in Austria so special. When my cousin, his wife, and James all arrived, Sissy, Albert and Anna welcomed them too. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

I was excited about the race in Austria and when race day came I felt ready to go. I was a little worried as I had really struggled to adjust to the 9-hour time change, but I knew once the race was underway, all of those feelings would be out the door and replaced with adrenaline and focus on the race.

I had what I consider to be a breakthrough swim. I came out of the water only 5 minutes down on the lead girls, which was a significant improvement over where I typically exit. Once on the bike I felt great, and I went to work. By the time we hit the turn around to start loop two I had moved myself up into 3rd place (from 10th) and was only about :30-:45 seconds back of the lead girls. I put in a push to catch up to them, thinking that once I caught them I could ride with them for a bit, recover, and then put on a strong surge in the last 20 miles, but the closest I got was about 15 seconds back. At mile 70 I just died. I completely blew up and the wheels started coming off. As I watched the lead girls ride off, and as I started to get re-passed by others, I wondered what to do. “Do I go with them?” “Do I hold back and recover?” – I didn’t know. The thing about the Austria course is that it is not easy – there are a few significant climbs that are steep and long, where you have to spend a lot of time out of the saddle. I felt like I had cooked myself too much on loop one and I knew if I went with them that I would be even more cooked by the end of loop two. So I held back, hoping that I could find my run legs and that someone else might explode from over-biking.

By the time I wimpered into T2 I was in a VERY bad mood and feeling like the race was not unfolding as I had planned. But as I started running and looking down at my pace, I was running fast. Matt had said to me before the race “Be patient, Be strong, and then be a warrior”. So as I looked down, feeling like I was running easy, and saw myself running 6:20’s, I kept saying to myself – “save it for the end”. “Don’t run too hard now”. – I made myself slow my pace and not run faster than 6:35, and I instead turned my attention to being vigilant about my nutrition. Every 20 minutes I took a gel and I walked through each aid station where I took sports drink, water, and almost always a slice of nice cold watermelon (thanks Linsey Corbin for that suggestion!!). As I went, I started passing girls. I came through the first 13.1 miles in 1:27 and kept thinking – “Holy Cow – I could break 3 hours!!”. I continued to feel great until miles 15-20 where things started to hurt. But…I was 4th and making up time on the women ahead of me. With 6 miles to go I gave it everything I had – I pushed the pain aside and just went. Looking back at my splits I actually negative splitted those last 6 miles from the first loop.

Unfortunately I didn’t catch the girls ahead and crossed the finish line in 4th.

Part of me was disappointed about the day. I felt like I hadn’t biked even close to my potential, and when I set out on this adventure, I set out to win that race. I wanted to get my first Ironman win. So to finish 4th – it just wasn’t what I had envisioned.

But when I took a step back and I looked at the race as a whole, it was really hard to be bummed. I thought about how almost two years ago to the day I had done my first Ironman (Coeur D’Alene) and finished in 10:03, and today I had completed a similarly challenging course almost an hour faster. I had a HUGE breakthrough swim. And an even bigger breakthrough run – nearly 14 minutes faster than I had ever run off the bike before as well as the fastest run of the day (a first for me). And while my bike wasn’t good at all, from a strategic and mental standpoint I made the right choice so that I was able to get off the bike and actually run well.

So…I walked away proud.

After the race, James, Travis, Zoe and I drove up to Lienz, Austria where we spent two days hiking in the Alpes. It was absolutely stunning there and I had such a wonderful time spending those days with people that are so important to me.

James and I then drove down to Tuscany, where for 10 days we lived the life. We had strategically positioned ourselves where we could take a lot of day trips and see different parts of the country without having to constantly be moving hotels. It left us both feeling very grounded. We ended up renting an apartment in an agritourismo just outside of an amazing medieval village called San Gimignano. We were 20k from Sienna, 1 hour from Florence, 2 hours from Cinque Terre, and sitting literally in the heart of the Chianti region.

We took every day as it came. Some days we were up early and took excursions to the coast. Some night we stayed up late and drank endless bottles of wine and Italian beer. We visited wineries. We went to farmer’s markets and got fresh vegetables, meats, fruits and breads and made some amazing meals at home. We took walks in the vineyards. We went for a few runs. We took a hike. We ate gelato at LEAST twice a day. We strolled through old towns and meandered in and out of stores. We went to Florence. And on our last day we made our way to Venice.

It was hands down THE MOST amazing vacation I have ever taken in my life. It was very special and memorable and …to be honest, it was really darn hard to come back!! Italy just sucks you in. The light in tuscany is so warm and inviting. The smells of the flowers and trees just linger everywhere you go. The cities are incredibly romantic. The food – yum! the wine – even more Yum!! It was great.

When I got back, we both struggled to get back into a routine. For me it meant getting back into shape! But week after week I just couldn’t seem to recover. I was tired, I felt heavy in the pool, on the bike and on my runs. My times and wattages were way off. On one threshold workout on the bike I couldn’t even hold Ironman level watts. I was struggling across the board. Mentally I felt fresh and ready to go, but my body just was not responding. It was very stressful for me. We all thought I was going to return from my mid-season break fresh and ready to go – but I wasn’t. Matt and Gerry both felt that perhaps my run in Austria took more of a toll than we had initially thought, and so after a bit of time, we just took a big step back and let me rest.

Around the same time, the first cut off for Kona came and went, and I was not on the list. I knew this was going to be the case, as I needed a top 3 finish in Austria to secure my ranking and spot for Kona. It was stressful for me, and incredibly dis-appointing. Kona is THE race for sponsors and the sport, as well as (in addition to 70.3 worlds) a very big deal to all of us athletes. For me to qualify, I knew I would need to do another Ironman, which had not been in the plan earlier in the year.

Knowing I need a lot of rest after an Ironman, and a longer and bigger build up, we had structured my season so that my last Ironman race before Kona would be in June (Austria). I didn’t know what to do, but in the end, we decided to have me race Ironman Mt. Tremblant on August 17th. The race was the North American Championships, so in addition to giving me the points I needed to get my Kona spot, it offered the allure of good prize money and high exposure for my sponsors.

My lead up into the race was not pretty. I literally just could not get my body to come around. I was starting to play mind tricks with myself and try to convince myself that I was feeling better and better each day. But, I also am a believer that the body is an amazing thing and you NEVER know what can happen on race day – particularly in an Ironman. I went in to the race really believing I could have a great one. As it turned out – that didn’t happen!

From the gun, I was smoked. I was exhausted the entire day, and it showed in my swim, on the bike and in my run. We actually have video of me looking miserable as I started on my second loop of the run and my dad yelling across the crowd “Suck it up! Suck it up!”. haha. You could see I was hurting.

But – I was surprisingly not too hard on myself after that race. I knew how I had been feeling going in. I knew the race was a total gamble, and honestly, I was just really proud of myself for not giving up and making it to the finish line.

I got my Kona spot, but I have since declined it. It was a very hard decision to make. There were sponsor considerations. There were financial considerations. There were emotional considerations. But at the end of the day, I had to make a call quickly. It was only 1 week after the race and I was not in a position to know where my body would be 5 weeks from now. Under the new points/ world ranking system for pros, I would need to finish in the top 15 at Kona to put me in a strong position for next year’s qualification. It was a risk to take for me as if my body didn’t recover, and I went there and didn’t finish in the top 15, my season would be over (after 3 IMs back to back, I wouldn’t be looking to race again), and I would potentially be in a position to be scrambling for my spot next year. This is something I don’t want to do. Not only that, if I am going to race in Kona now, I want to race there to compete – not just to show up.

So, instead, I have decided to take the pressure off, allow myself to properly recover, have a nice long build in, and then race Ironman Arizona on November 17th.

I am bummed. Kona is a special race for so many reasons, and it is hard to turn down a chance like that. But I also want to be successful in this sport, and to do that, I have to think about what is going to be best for me today, to set me up well for the future – and in the end, I do feel confident that I have made the right choice.

The last 1.5 weeks I have been in Henderson, NV helping my friend and training pal EK Lidbury prep for her big race this weekend – the 70.3 World Championships. I feel a bit bitter-sweet about it all – being here and knowing I had the chance to race and also chose not too. But I also have loved the chance to spend time with EK and be part of her process to greatness.

So – that is it! I get back to LA in a few days and am looking forward to starting new, putting the stresses of the last few months behind me, and getting back to work.

I wanted to extend a huge thank you to all the people that have been such amazing supporters of mine over the last 3 months. You can never under-estimate the power of great friends and family. A big thank you to James Duffy, Travis Keller, Zoe Keller, Avery Roth, Emma-Kate Lidbury, Heather Gillespie, Todd Larlee, Gerry Rodrigues, Emile Levisetti, My parents, Elena Pavloff, Kate McGlynn, My brothers, Vanessa Piampiano, Sarah Cameto, Linsey Corbin and so many others – Thank you.

To my sponsors for their incredible an amazing support of and belief in me. So many of you could have insisted I race Kona, but every single one of you have supported and encouraged me to make a decision that was best for my in the long run. Thank you. To Saucony, Cervelo, Shimano, Helen’s Cycles, Clif Bar, CycleOps, PowerTap, Timex, AquaSphere, ISM, Game Ready, Widsix, and Kask Helmets – Thank you thank you thank you.

A big shout out to Phil Goglia and Performance Fitness Concepts, The Chris Pogson and his team at Pogson Physical Therapy, and to Eric Nepomnaschy at Bay Chriopractic – you guys have all given so much of your time, energy and loyalty to helping make me a better, smarter, healthier, leaner (!!) and more balanced athlete. Thank you so much for all you have done.

And of course – Matty Dixon and Gerry Rodrigues (Ger!!) – for being there for me 100%. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about how much you guys have helped me and how much I value these relationships. Thank you for being such wonderful coaches and friends.

Until next time, don’t dream it. be it.

xxx
Sarah-

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