When people ask me what I do and I tell them I am professional triathlete, they often respond with a bit of awe, and then express how tough it must be given the physical demands, the day in/day out training, early mornings and tough competition. My response is often to smile, and tell them it’s not so bad. They way I see it, I would be doing much of this irregardless of if I were a ‘pro athlete’ or not. I’ve always been active and to me exercise and even competition is a way I keep healthy and happy; it is really just something that is ingrained in who I am. It makes me feel alive. That said, I am realizing that while the physical demands are high, it is so much more the mental and emotional toll that competing at a high level can have. In the big picture, keeping it all in perspective and striking the right balance of ‘easing up on oneself’ combined with staying focused and getting the job done can be a rather tough challenge, one I have found myself battling with a bit this season.
I am coming off of another week of back-to-back races, which started here in Austin. I decided to do Lifetime Fitness Cap Tex Triathlon as a rather last minute decision (1-2 weeks out). It is very tough to pass up a hometown race, much less one that pays out fairly well. I have also not raced in downtown Austin since 2010. I opted into this one but did not take quite the ‘full rest’ I do for my bigger races, knowing that Rev 3 Quassy was the following weekend. I was also anxious to try out my new bike fit (which I had done at the Faster wind tunnel in Scottsdale, Arizona after St. George). It had been feeling very good for a few weeks and I was excited to see if it would translate in a race, especially a shorter one (Olympic distance).
The 1500-meter swim was in Town Lake, non-wetsuit, and I opted for a one-piece Zoot race suit so that it would negate my taking the time to remove a speedsuit. This suit is extremely comfortable to both swim and bike/run in and gets tons of compliments! The pink on black looks awesome and it is just a nice, simple alternative for a non-wetsuit race. The swim was decent (in a small field of about 10 women) and I exited in the group trailing Sara McClarty by about 1.5 minutes. With all due respect, Sara does an excellent job of making even good swimmers look like idiots. Onto the 4-loop and fairly hilly bike around downtown Austin, I was so excited crank out a hard effort on the short 25-mile course. My setup was my QR Illicito, Reynolds RZR 92 combo, ISM Breakaway saddle, Giro Selector with the eye shield, and Atomic chain and chain rings. Little did I know the crosswinds in downtown were pretty fierce and I got blown a bit coming down Congress Avenue each time! I felt strong for about 20 minutes, then it felt like the quads started to ache and it got tough pretty quick; much the same of what I have felt multiple times this season, as I struggled to stay on the gas. I did my best and came off the bike with about 5 minutes down to Alicia Kaye and in 5th place. I tossed on my Zoot Ultra Race’s, Oakley Radarlock’s and took off for the 10k run. The legs didn’t feel great, but I tried to push the effort with all I had knowing it was only 6 miles. I managed to move into 2nd by about mile 4, at which point I told myself to dial it back a notch knowing I had another race in 6 days. I was happy to maintain that spot and take 2nd here, about 2.5 minutes behind Alicia, who is in incredible form right now. Always a privilege to be able to race with a hometown crowd and have a solid finish! It was a fun race and a great job by Life Time Fitness Tri as well as Jack & Adams who helped with race organization. Many thanks to the Austin’ites who cheered out there! This felt to me a successful little ‘tune up’ race for Rev 3 Quassy.
The week following, I spent quality time recovering with massage, bonding with my Recovery Pump boots, and doing some easy days of workouts followed by a few days of sharpening up. We headed out to Middlebury, CT on Friday morning for Rev 3 Quassy.
I’ve done this event twice. In 2010, I was 2nd and in 2012, I was 6th. It is a tough, honest, hilly, challenging course and it draws out extremely competitive fields every year. Call me crazy but even when I feel like my form has been a little ‘off’, I still seek out these races. I love to know how I stack up against the best. If something is lacking, I want to know that. I guess you could say I don’t like to hide. Well needless to say, I got what I was looking for here.
I felt good on Saturday before the race; fairly relaxed, the body felt good, rested, and excited to get out there and see what I could do. It looked to be hot and humid, which I love. Race morning came and it was a non-wetsuit swim. We kicked off 2 minutes after the men and as we ran in from the beach, one of my goggles filled up with water and I could feel my contact in my eye. Shit. Whether it was smart or not, I stopped briefly to clear my goggle which was probably not in hindsight the smartest move. We took off and while I tried to keep pace with the top few women, I had lost them. Suck. I found a rhythm and after we made the first turn around the buoys it was as if the sun was blasting into our eyes; definitely tough to see. The women had spread out quite a bit and I tried to see the yellow buoys but all I could see was SUN. One woman started drifting to the right but that buoy was red, which was a turn buoy… I knew we had to pass 3 yellow ones first. Decision time; it is essential for the success of your own race to stay on course. I stayed left towards the yellow ones knowing that many people were confused out here, but I had to stick to the course and I knew that was on the yellow buoy line. After the final turn towards home, it got a bit easier to spot the path and by this point I just wanted to be out of the water, knowing I had likely lost some time already.
Onto the bike and I was anxious to attack it with all I had. I took it out strong but was left in the wake of a few women who were near me at the start. I tried to stay positive and stay on the gas, and about 20 miles in, I took a left turn and hit a bumpy patch. I looked down and my aero bars had slipped significantly, pointing downwards. Shit. I tried to pull them back up to no avail. I knew I couldn’t ride the entire race like this. I stopped, and tried to yank them up. Nothing moved. I got back on and continued riding, when I saw the neutral mechanical bus drive by and waved him down. We stopped and had to remove my new Profile Aero HC bottle to access the bolts, by which point I left the aero bottle with the mechanic as I didn’t want to take the time to put it back on. Off I went, maybe 2 minutes later. Annoying but it happens and I have had very few mechanicals to deal with, so I can’t complain. I got back on and continued to give it all I had but just never, ever really felt strong on the bike. It was tough as I battled in my own head. “What the HELL? This AGAIN?” I debated pulling out as I as so frustrated to yet again feel weak and useless on the bike. I finally decided, as I always do, to just GET THROUGH THIS and onto the run. For some reason, this is an ongoing battle this year and it is something that we need to continue to try to get to the bottom of. I just cannot stand the idea of quitting. I feel like if I do it once, it’ll be far too easy to take that option again. Not quitting in this situation makes me vulnerable, it exposes me. It says “this is all I’ve got, for better or for worse; no excuses, no viable explanation; and it sucks but it’s a fact”. It doesn’t let me hide from a poor result. And that is the way I like it. I gritted my teeth and pushed as hard as I could until finally I came to the end of the 56 miles.
I heard someone yell “16 minutes down!” and I honestly wanted to go and hide under a tree. I knew it would be bad, but wow, that was pretty bad. Derick told me “You got some work to do Kel” to which I thought “I love you and all but, NO SHIT HONEY!” I knew starting the run that a 16 minute deficit was fairly insurmountable for a win, likely tough to pull off a Top 3 (I was also told 11th place at that time) but maybe if I ran well I could muster a respectable Top 5 finish. At this point as an athlete you have to do your best to focus on what is happening IN THE MOMENT. Each mile one at a time, not thinking ahead; not letting yourself think about how disappointing this race may be; at how embarrassed you are at what has already happened (yes, there is a part of me that thinks ‘Kelly why are you riding like a dumbass? Can’t you just ride faster?!’). You have to shut out all of the external things and literally just tell yourself ’Give this all you’ve got and make the most of this opportunity, right here, right now. Anything can happen and it’s not over until it’s over.’ You can either stay positive or go negative, and the second option never helps anything. I have gotten fairly good at this (from experience; not by choice). I sometimes joke that slow bike splits is all part of my master plan; I just aim to make the races exciting.
I ended up feeling fairly strong on the run, and kept my nose to the grindstone; moving up within the first few miles to put me into 6th place, where I would ultimately finish.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it and I’ll try to spare you any whining here, but to be completely honest, I was not pleased with 6th place. I was proud of the fact that I didn’t give up on myself and I never counted myself out of it. I was proud of the fact that knowing I was likely only running for a Top 5 at best, I ran like hell as if I was going for a win. That can be tough to do. I just find myself frustrated at this recurring bike struggle with every race. That said, I am so very happy for Heather Wurtele as she came back from 2nd here in 2012 to take a huge win; major props to her, she deserves it and she is having a stellar year.
A few days post race, I am left with a simple realization: At times this can be a hard and frustrating sport; yet it can also give back to you things that are immeasurable. It’s frustrating when you put the work in, you see progress, and you truly believe that progress will be reflected in your race; yet it’s not. I know that in the big picture I have an immense amount to be thankful for…I never forget this perspective. But, it’s in my nature to want to win; to be up there in the thick of it, putting it all on the line, contending to cross the line first. I believe that I was able to finally start winning races only when I truly believed I COULD; and that took many years. And of course if I don’t win, but I give it all I’ve got and I know my body was able to leave it all out there, I can walk away satisfied knowing this. But for whatever reason, that is just not happening right now; it feels like something is holding me back. I realize you cannot expect to win a race when you give up 10+ minutes on the bike. These are the facts, and in life you have to deal with the facts. This is forcing us to look critically at things, and hopefully we’ll come out of it on the other side and I’ll be a better athlete for it. Struggles like this allow you to never take anything for granted. I’ll admit, early last season I felt a bit unbeatable. My confidence was high and it almost felt ‘easy’. Right now, I’d give anything for that feeling again. But I’m fighting like hell to find it and I have no doubt that when I do find that form, that state of ‘flow’ whereby I feel truly like ‘me’ again, then it’ll mean the world and I’ll savor that feeling. Sometimes we may not ask for it, but we’re given life’s lessons whether we want them or not.
I think this is my lesson in patience.
And troubleshooting. That’s an important life skill, isn’t it?
As always a huge thank you to my incredible sponsors: Memorial Hermann, Zoot, PowerBar, Reynolds, Quintana Roo, The Westin Lake Las Vegas, Recovery Pump, ISM, Road ID, Giro, Jack & Adams, Nulo, Katalyst Multisport, SRM, Profile Design, Campagnolo, Oakley, Endurance Shield, and Atomic. I couldn’t do any of this without my husband Derick and Durata Training for his support and guidance; he sees the highest of the highs and of course the lowest of the lows! Onward and upward.