My journey, though it may be tiring and jam packed full of erroneous mind games, certainly brings a sweet sigh of relief (sometimes). As the dust settles and the medal is draped around your neck, all that can be said is…Hell yea! What’s next? The morning routine, multiple bowel movements, gear bag shuffle and myriad of logistics that tag along with any race are now second nature (16 total races this season). I travel with a carry-on full of necessities and my bike/race gear-nothing more. Awhile back I’d imagined what this lifestyle might feel like; traveling, racing, recovering etc. Now, here I sit with my loose fitting board shorts, compression socks, Team shirt and hat- Headed home from yet another race…. getting mentally ready for the next race in California, 70.3 Vineman. Another big Pro race.
First off, I’m the type of person who focuses on efficiency. The airlines drive me nuts and so does TSA! More notably, people who travel often leave me perplexed while they mill about the airport. Where else is it acceptable to drink at 6:30 am? Only at an airport terminal! Also, we’re so quick to emphasize problem like it’s the only problem occurring at that moment. We will inconvenience hundreds on an aircraft (that’s already running late) with arguments of seat selection or overhead luggage space. What I’ve learned most during this journey is we’re habitual time wasters. I’m guilty of this pretty often. In no way am I saying we’re lazy because our culture is typically always doing something. Too often and in excess. My opinion is, we spend too much time in focusing on “the end”. But what about a mind-set where our decisions leave us an opportunity to take a few deep breathes and appreciate a nice view…or even a smile (and actually mean it). This gray area is tunnel vision. A place where we pile up our “tasks” that we allow too define us. To help re-focus on what matters, before every race, I’ll get as far away as I can from the loudness. Away from the announcer badgering athletes in transition and the endless conversations about how the course was "easier last year"- I get away from all of that. In those few moments before race start, I’ll seriously just breathe and imagine myself falling, light as a feather. This may last 20 seconds, or it may last 5 minutes…who knows. It all depends on where the bathroom is right? I mean come on, race morning means NEVER trust a fart and always know where the crappers are! You’d also be keen to note this…I’ve found many hidden, secluded bathrooms that aren’t overcrowded and “full”.... Wait….you mean you like to stare down a hole full of liquid butt lava? Ok, then stay with the masses! But really, branch out and find your zen moment before a race and know that you can handle anything the course throws your way. This skill has really helped my race focus.
To wrap up this mess of thoughts, let’s remember we love this sport and lifestyle and couldn’t imagine living any other way. I mean seriously, FOCUS on that! Besides working, commuting, eating, sleeping and dealing with this complex society…we’re training 10+ hours a week. We’re a badass culture and trust me, no one will really understand until they’ve lived it. We’re a select few of successful people who grind out a living, raise our kids right and try to live a healthy lifestyle. This blog post is most definitely inspired by my latest race at REV3 Williamsburg.
REV3 Williamsburg..The Pro Race that Wasn't
Since USMES already got us tickets and airfare, we were committed to this race. So when REV3 unexpectedly pulled the plug on the pro race, we had no choice but to follow through in the age group ranks. I can’t complain too much since the significantly aided my 5th place finish…so no big deal, right? The most amazing part of this race was to be welcomed into someone’s home with open arms, open fridge and a set of car keys! (Oh yea, freedom to explore). Yes, Nicholas Sterghos and I were most definitely spoiled by our home stay. My most humble “ THANK YOU” to Alan and Laura (pictured above) for their deep hospitality. They’re the whole package when it comes to family values and are no strangers to hard work. Seeing them interact, support each other and manage two young children was inspiring. It’s just me, Karen and 2 dogs….we’ve got it easy! Anyway, if you’ve ever hosted a pro athlete, you have no idea how much we appreciate your drive to support this wonderful way of life.
For this race, I felt a little awkward racing the Olympic since there was a Half going on but I could go faster so, hell yea. Once finished I thought differently…”Ah yes, I’m already done”. It was a sigh of relief and a warm energy of accomplishment certainly prevailed. No matter the race, finish time or placement…crossing that line just does it for me. So my general thoughts on the race are…”freaking awesome” “jitterbug” “Jay-z” “get off my wheel you dick” “wow, we’re running in the woods” “I’ll never race with a damn Garmin watch again” “Can I run away from this mud butt”? “Please don’t let these fools catch me on the run” “Hey look, my there’s a lot of blood on my shoe”.
Specifics on the race:
Swim: The cannon booms, heart rate soars…and it’s time to find some feet. After I found the feet I wanted, I momentarily lost focus and then it was just me…per the usual. Hearing “4 minutes” down as you exit the water is never awesome. I think my legs have ears though, they knew it was time to work. My heels started hitting my butt, I sense because my legs were planning to kick my ass. HA!
Bike: I Accidentally hit a button on my watch indicating “transition 2”….at the start of the bike (Doh). No power data for me! Oh well, I got this! With foggy glasses and a drive to catch Mr. Sterghos…I took off. For nutrition, I mixed 3 scoops of OSMO and an added Honey Stinger Gel in a bottle. This protocol works best for me during an Olympic race. I charged ahead, leading about 4 guys who were in the “legal” draft zone…By the way! I forgot how easy it is for our amateur field is to draft. From my perspective they were pretty close, but who knows…I saw a ref bike trailing us so I was confident they were at least careful. In the Pro field you don’t even want to be within what seems like a mile…they love handing out the penalties and have different rules. Either way, I was happy to have the 3rd fastest bike split. I knew I worked my butt off to try and gain ground. I didn’t end up catching Nicholas Sterghos but I did see him running out of transition as I pulled in. Time well spent. My hopes were that my competition had to work really hard to hold on (turns out they did). It’s not over til it’s over! No one was gonna run me down!
Run: I knew to take the 1st 3 or 4 minutes at ¾ speed since my body needs that time to re-arrange how it’s activating muscles. Nutritionally I felt fine and after some caffeine, I felt even better. I sipped a gel flask every 2 miles and use the aid stations to splash cold water while using the out and back section to judge how much ground I was gaining…(or losing). Turns out the studs who hung on me wheel dug a little too deep, BOOM…run run run! Finished feeling strong and was overjoyed to know USMES had 2 on the Podium. 5th place was a good day for me. It was also great to know Kathy Rakel took 2nd overall female.
The past few races haven’t been very stellar as far as results go but I know I’m getting more durable and developing some great mental strength. Nutritionally, I’m completely plant powered and have never felt better. The protein hype has been proven to be more of a nervous retreat to a “brainwashed” mentality and I know my body is totally nourished by what I eat….Plants, Nuts, Seeds, Fruit, Legumes. As with everything the devil is in the details. So the caveat would be to always stay whole foods plant based! Duh!!
That's right! The picture above contains the very serious, very accomplished and very proud Air Force Triathlon Team. It's fair to say that our team won the "smile" award at the dinner social. I didn't know I ordered my dinner with a side of "scowling eyes" from other teams. First off, I'd say our team is super accomplished when it comes to work related accolades. I know a few members of our team performed open heart surgery while preparing a turkey sandwich at the same time....and landing a C-17. Honestly, this was another unforgettable event and a stout reminder of why I love this sport.
AHA, so why do I relate triathlon to art? A very curious reference indeed; however, open your mind and you may understand. First off, I found a lot of inspiration for this blog post after I watched some surfing documentaries. Those guys carry themselves in a way that inspires me. They are challenged by mother nature, respect her raw power and are friendly with their competition until the point of competition. I suppose this "idea" coincides with most competitive sports but I'd like to think I'm on a spiritual (not religious) journey riddled with tough days of competition. Draft legal racing is especially tactical, requiring some very intense bouts of energy. Either way, that's just how I try and stay balanced.
It's hard to believe blood thirsty men and women charged into this water, with what was set to be a remarkable day, full of passion for the TEAM. For once this year, triathlon wasn't just for ME. My teammates needed me to run harder, stay focused and drop elbows on the competition. This year was especially different because I was no longer a "newbie". Myself and my bearded room-mate Brad Williams just completed our 3rd tour at the Armed Forces National Championship....sadly he won't be back (separating). That's right...my room is up for grabs and yes I prefer to sleep in the nude, except for my studded mask of course! Anyway, this location brings me a more balanced outlook on who I really am, almost like a "hippie" finds his balance while living in nature or eating bark? (they do that right?)
After the very scenic..amazing...inspiring drive to Pt Mugu, it was time to settle in. This was the latest I'd ever gotten in so there wasn't any time to really ride or run...just wanted to EAT (Trader Joes!)! The plane ride was long but pleasant, especially the older lady who had lost control of her butt and cut many farts during the 4 hour flight. As I sat there marinating in fart fumes, I tried to somehow imagine she ate organic food and I was getting good energy by breathing in the pungent aroma.
Once on base, it was time to get my head in the game. It was time to deal with some light nervousness and again...share a room with Brad "the beard" Williams. This meant I will probably be woken up in the middle of the night by moaning, followed by horrific screaming and yes...more terrible farts. But hey, he's super fast and always lubes my chain before races, gotta love a guy like that right?
Team gear issue was awesome (thanks Brooks and Team Coach/Coordinators)! The Ice breaker dinner was required event you don't want to miss. The Marines grunted, the Navy sank, the Army drooled and we gave long introductions, successfully irritating the hungry mob. After dinner we all departed for our beds, looking forward to the next day of NOTHING. No events planned (except team dinner). A Full day to kick up your feet. Oh wait, I can't forget the part where I drove around for 5 hours trying to get a new tubular tire glued since I flatted on my ride earlier in the day.....lame! At least I got to eat lunch while watching some surfers.
How Did the Race Go?
Race Prep: I ate a lot of salad the night before. They were all loaded with quinoa, some nuts and roasted veggies. I opted out of the team dinner at Olive Garden. I was pretty tired and honestly wanted to get down my mental prep. Like I said in the title, there is an art component I've been trying to connect with. Our race didn't start until 10:30 the next day so Brad and I tried to sleep in until at least 7:15...so naturally I was up by 4:30am. I ate a banana, almond butter, quinoa, blueberries, cinnamon and coconut milk. It was almost like cereal...but way better. Between breakfast and the race I indulged in a Honey Stinger Waffle and sipped on OSMO!!
Time To Swim: The water temp was a face freezing 57 degrees. Somehow I end up falling in love with this swim though, maybe it's because of the cold. There isn't any wetsuit overheating or tension (Thanks XTERRA)...I can unleash the crack'n! There was a strong current from left to right on our way out so naturally I was continually off course. I felt like an idiot! Every-time I would spot, I couldn't correct enough to hold a straight line. I'd bet all that cost me 30 seconds! Regardless of the long course and current, I felt amazing under max effort. Finally, a breakthrough experience!! I think I may have been 5th out of the water so I'm certainly pleased. The course is 2 X 750m loops where you have to run around a buoy on land in between 1st and 2nd lap. I'm glad I watched the WTS Men's race before my race, it gave me clarity!
Bike: Unfortunately my swim still wasn't quite fast enough to make it into the lead pack. They were still a couple minutes ahead ...BUT it's not over until it's over. My bearded room-mate was able to bridge up despite coming out minutes behind me...super strong cyclist! For me however, I got caught up in a very lazy group which kept getting slower the lazier we all got. This was the most unorganized I'd seen a bike pack during this race. We all sighed and knew it would be a runners race (unless you have crusty white beard like Brad Williams and can bridge to the front).
Run: Since we all did minimal work on the bike, a solid run was certainly within reach. For some reason they decided to alter the course this year. Based on the various GPS files it ended up to be 6.356784334 miles....no big deal! Either way, I had a great run this year, holding pace with some past "top 5" winners and typically fast runners. Took a Stinger gel at 5k to keep the energy going but couldn't out-kick a Pro Army fella at the end. Either way, I'm 100% happy with my performance...still a long way to go at 13th place, 5th on the AF team.
So after all is said an done, where am I mentally?
I needed this event to be concrete, I needed to walk away knowing I at least felt confident I'm getting faster (even if it's 1%). I've never been a D1 swimmer or runner and I certainly can't stack up to those fellas quite yet....but I ONE DAY they're going to have to wipe my sweat from their face when I blow by them. Until then, this sport is as much art as it is utter pain. I heard this quote somewhere and It keeps me pretty level headed and always pushes me further.
"Not all pain is significant"
A final thank you to Scott Bicycles for a very very light and rigid Foil 10, OSMO for keeping my bottles full of anti-cramp fluids/nutrients, Honey Stinger for keeping me buzzing along, American Classic for safe carbon wheels (even at 60mph), Rudy Project for protecting my pretty brown eyes and wavy hair and XTERRA Wetsuits for making a seriously flexible wetsuit that kept my "man parts" very warm despite the frigid temperatures. Oh and let's not forget the US Military Endurance Sports! Without their partnership with Boeing and Snapple....I wouldn't be able to do ANY of this!
Congrats to my USMES Team Mate Sam Morrison for taking the Female overall win and helping the Women take 1st overall For the Air Force Team! Air Force Men took second by 5 points but we're still way better looking....Also, great way to end your AFTC journey Brad Williams....Stellar top 5 performance!