I once had a coach who believed in me more than I (at the time) believed in myself. She would throw out these lofty goals, and I’d laugh and think ‘what world are you living in…I’m really not that good’. At the end of the season, she had been right…I’d achieved precisely what she had claimed I would. It seemed a little insignificant at the time (or rather just irony with a little luck), but it’s something I now reflect on often and it’s made me realize that one key to being successful is truly believing that you’re always a little better than what you’ve done in the past. I’ve also found that the naysayers motivate me a bit…while success can breed pressure (if we let it), there are always critics and I seem to thrive on not only success but those various challenges and unexpected elements that each and every race presents.
So for the second year in a row, Derick and I were off to San Juan 70.3. It really wasn’t a question as to if I would return to try to defend the title from 2011, but it helped matters that the timing in the season was absolutely perfect. The race itself was incredible last year, especially for an inaugural event. It was convenient for the athlete (hotel right at the race site), a beautiful race course but moreso the people of San Juan are second to none in terms of friendliness. I was glad I had done Panama, as it seemed to help alleviate those ‘first season’ nerves that I felt much more heavily there. We arrived Friday which was on the tail end of when I like to get there, but I knew that training (especially riding) was difficult in the city so I figured it would be nice to be at home, in my routine, as long as possible. Travel went well and we were at our hotel, eating a fantastic dinner and relaxing in San Juan by Friday evening.
Saturday was filled with the usual sleep in, a short swim and since I couldn’t ride, a 10 min light jog, breakfast, relaxing in the morning then a few commitments in the afternoon. I can’t stress enough how seamless this all was given that the pro panel, meeting, etc were all just downstairs! A huge thank you to Arturo and Alejandro, the Race Directors, for making the setup so incredible for all us athletes; it helps to minimize those pre-race stressors. We had an early dinner, my usual light beer (a Peroni!), and were up in our room relaxing by 7pm. I found it interesting just HOW relaxed I seemed. I was asleep by ~ 9:30 and actually woke up at 10:45 and I’d had a dream, sleeping so hard that I thought it was the morning! To top it off, I woke up again at 3:30 am and thought “Sweet, another 30 minutes” and was out again until 4 am. Pretty atypical! But I figured it was a good sign, just so that I could get into race mode in the next few hours.
The race kicked off promptly at 6:50 for the men and 6:55 for the women. Nina Kraft who always swims well took it out quickly while myself and a few other women tried to latch onto her speed. Luckily we were able to and while I like to find my own swimming space, it seemed that we were all about on the same pace (a small pack of 4 of us). I would have loved to of gotten up front and done a bit of work, but I knew the effort to get around people to do so was not worth it, so I just sat in and found myself in a nice little draft from the other three. It was a great water temp, well marked course and soon enough we were nearing the exit ramp and onto the very long run to transition… maybe 400 meters or so. I actually liked this, because it’s always a little dizzy’ing to stand up and go right to the bike. I made it to the stadium, grabbed the bike and was first out of T1, ready to tackle the flat but expected to be windy bike course.
From the start on the bike, I punched it pretty hard. Having come off a less than stellar bike in Panama, I had been doing some work especially in the TT position on the bike and I knew that if I wanted to go for a win, I had to bike well today, especially with the strong cyclists in this race. I also put electrical tape over my SRM so that I could not see any numbers. I like to think that I don’t get too caught up in seeing it, however, I think those numbers get in my head more than I’d like to admit so I told myself to just race, go hard, and find that edge right from the start on the bike. Needless to say, IT WORKED for me and I’ll without a doubt be doing this moreso in future races! I was able to maintain the lead on the bike through about mile 25 or 30 at which point Linsey Corbin passed me, which did not surprise me, as she’s a great cyclist. I tried to keep her in sight but that was only for a few miles, and when she disappeared, I just tried to keep on the gas and minimize the time that she was putting on me. We hit a bit of headwind coming back into T2, however it turned out to be a fairly calm day on the bike; I probably could have used my Reynolds RZR 92 front wheel, but I played it safe with the 46 (and 92 rear) and I am glad I did as it is still a super fast setup I felt strong throughout the entire bike 56 miles.
I was pretty happy to enter transition as I was tired of cycling by that point. I was ready to run (in my new Zoot Ultra TT5’s!), but as I dismounted I could feel the legs were pretty heavy; definitely heavier than they felt in Panama. But I told myself “You’re supposed to be tired, everyone else is too; just find a rhythm, stay relaxed and dial it in”.
As I left the stadium, I was told I had about a 2 minute deficit, which got me excited as I felt confident about being able to close that gap. That said, it’s a race, and ANYTHING can happen… so I try to never think too far ahead, get too excited or even slightly think about finishing until I hit that final mile on the run. I started out and noticed that WOW the legs were not too spunky! But they had felt this way from the start, even in the swim, just a bit ‘heavy’ so I just kept on keeping on, tried to put it out of my mind; this is racing, I should be tired.
I headed out on the hilly and very scenic run course, up onto the cobblestone hill at about mile 2, down the cobbles onto the fort by mile 3 and started to relax a bit. I managed to move into first right at about mile 4, and Linsey respectfully offered some nice words of encouragement to which I think I responded, “good job Lins, this is brutal…” and tried to keep my head down and just keep the pace steady. For some reason, this run course felt quite a bit tougher this year than it did in 2011! Maybe it is because I knew what to expect, it’s hilly and definitely challenging and of course very warm. I came through transition at the halfway point, got a bit excited and then tried to again calm myself remembering I still had 30+ more minutes of work to do. On the second loop I saw Tim heading in with a few miles to go and he had a solid lead, and I thought “Damn, if he wins and repeats then the pressure is really on me!” Then I laughed at the absurdity of my thought and just kept on running.
I finally hit those final miles, and by about Mile 12, I knew I had this yet I tried to keep on as strong a pace as I could through the finish. I heard some awesome cheers as I entered the crowds, one being “You have this, now relax and enjoy it.” I think a smile was plastered on my face from that point on, as I ran over the bridge and down the final hill into the finish. Whew! A sigh of relief and what a feeling! A huge crowd to welcome me and the satisfaction of knowing I defended a big title, something I have never done!
Emotions got me a bit at the finish line during a brief interview. While I knew that I was ‘capable’ of this performance, there are so many unknowns and it just felt great to know that I had put it all together, with three solid segments today, to make this win a reality; while not letting that ‘pressure’ get to me of being the defending champion. I knew that the key was for me to ride strong and to see that I still had that run in me despite pushing harder on the bike so much reaffirms that I am doing the right things right now; in training, in my head and when I am executing out on the race course. I also acknowledged many times pre-race that this was a new day, and when we toe the line, it’s anyone’s game… history doesn’t care about today’s race. It’s all about who is the strongest on the day, and that is what makes it all so exciting.
I felt like this was only possible by the incredible support system I have, first and foremost my husband Derick who sees how hard I work day in day out when no one is looking and no one cares! The people of San Juan are so welcoming that it just makes you happy to be there; a huge thank you to the race organization and all the volunteers. Thanks to Arturo and Alejandro for all of their endless hard work to put together San Juan for the second year in a row; everyone should do this race. Thanks to my sponsors Memorial Hermann, Zoot, Quintana Roo, PowerBar, Reynolds, Recovery Pump, Jack & Adams, Road ID, ISM, Durata Training, Katalyst Multisport, Vision, Oakley, Giro, Hill Country Running, Go with the Flo Acupuncture, and Advanced Rehab. I’d also like to mention that this race fell on National MS Awareness Week as it did last year, and I am happy to be able to donate a portion of my winnings to the National MS Society in helping out this very important cause, as well as the organization ActiveMSers. If you or someone you know has MS or has recently been diagnosed, please check out www.activemsers.org as this is an incredible community of people living with MS and fighting to stay active and not let it get the best of them; they are doing great things.
While I have Galveston 70.3 in just two weeks, I am going to try to let myself savor, enjoy and appreciate this victory. Life is so short and we never know what tomorrow will bring. I feel lucky to be able to get out there and compete; challenging myself and my limits each and every time. Until the next one, train safe and have fun.
…..and Michelle Blessing, thanks for believing in me, even when I was just a flailing first year pro!