We drove to Oklahoma from Colorado. It always lowers stress levels exponentially when you can drive to a race. We arrived Wednesday evening (Saturday race) and headed out for a short run to shake out the drive. We were able to jog across the street right to Lake Hefner, the race venue. It felt like seeing an old friend! I remembered everything about the area. The days prior were relaxed; swimming in the lake a bit, riding the roads around the lake, hanging out with my parents. Despite it being ITU and there being some more stringent rules, the overall vibe to this event felt pretty laid back; however with it being the ITU Long Distance World Champs, there was some solid talent in the field which I always like. We knew it would be hot and very windy. I was prepared for whatever the day tossed my way; waves, winds, heat; I was actually more in a place to embrace it than I have been in awhile. I reminded myself, “This is the beauty of triathlon. This is why I started it. It’s not a swimming pool, a controlled environment. The challenge doesn’t lie in the race itself but all the uncontrollable factors.” It was a refreshing change to have shifted my mindset away from a podium finish to giving my best and appreciating the challenges that would be presented come race day.
Race morning dawned just as anticipated, hot and windy! I put on my little ITU specific one piece race suit and soon we were wading into the shallow waters of Lake Hefner with no idea the shit show of a swim that was about to ensue. The gun sounded and the field of ~18 women was off. I felt relaxed and fairly strong. We had 2 loops of an out and back. Out was uneventful, minus the few strokes when I was touching the bottom of the lake. When we made the run, I knew it would be choppy, but holy cow. The 850-meter stretch back was a series of massive waves smacking you from the side, endlessly relentless, and really quite humorous. Any semblance of a ‘pack’ blew apart and I was solo for the rest of the swim. I’ve done choppy many times, but this just felt like a controlled water flail. There were many moments I wasn’t even sure I was making progress! Despite all of this, I kind of enjoyed it. I just kept flopping along until I had reprieve starting the second loop of ‘swimming’ only to get to wrap it up with 850-meters again of swimming like a baby flounder in the ocean. I smiled upon the swim exit, simply glad to be out, and not wanting to know what my time was.
Onto the bike and we were greeted with a crazy head wind, followed by a ripping tail wind, some massive cross winds, and this same thing repeated for about 3.5 hours. As always I was impressed with how stable I felt on my Felt IA. I didn’t feel phenomenal but I pushed as best as I could in the conditions, trying to stay positive and stay aero. I was glad to have my new Beachbody Performance Hydrate beverage in my bottles (about 500 mg of Sodium) given the very hot conditions. Finally we approached the lake again and I was quite happy to dismount and begin the run. I’ve been working pretty hard to get “my run” back and I was excited to see what the legs had in store.
I came into T2 and tossed on my Zoot Coronados, a more supportive training shoe, just to be on the safe side; laced it up as quick as possible (no socks, and no blisters!), grabbed my visor, Rudy Project yellow Tralyx’s and was off. Right away my legs felt strong; I felt relaxed but smooth. I never looked at my pace. We had 3 loops of the run. I often take races like this per loop and aim to adjust my pacing accordingly; trying to build my effort as I go. Loop 1: Strong yet very steady. I could see Lesley Smith ahead of me whom I know is a great runner; rather than force to catch her, I held my pace. She was running so well! I started taking some salt tabs given the heat. Loop 2: Sustain. I was not catching Lesley! But, I knew if I was meant to catch her (and others) I would; I just stayed very patient. The thing about long distance racing is, even when you feel amazing (and I did), you know at some point you’ll feel like crap. And it can happen very quickly. I passed her and managed to move into 6th or 7th but just maintained the effort. Loop 3 I tried to dig deep and start to give it what I had left. It definitely got tough running into the wind from about miles 12-15 but I knew a tailwind would push us to the finish. Each time I came through transition, on each loop, I smiled and threw out a high-five to my family. It gave me back such positive energy. With about 1 mile to go, I started to just leave it all out there. I still felt strong and it was so satisfying. It’s those moments that we train for; when we can push so hard even when we’re fatigued. I managed to cross in 6th place, which all things considered, left me feeling just as I had intended to race; beat up and tired, but grateful and happy.
While this may appear just another race recap, to me, this one was special. We all experience challenges whether it be in triathlon, other athletic endeavors and goals, or simply in life; totally removed from anything active. I have had challenges this year. I’ve been frustrated with physical setbacks, I’ve questioned my ability to still perform at this level. I have wondered if I’ve lost the passion; if I’m kidding myself. I will always go into a race wanting to do my best and challenge for a win, however, I knew that given the context of the past 6 months, I needed to adjust my expectations. It didn’t mean I would put forth less than 100%; it simply meant I had to cut myself some slack. Get back to why I started the sport. Realize that no matter what I’ve done in the past, not a single thing would be handed to me on race day. It would be hard. I would have to work for everything. Embrace the gifts I have. Appreciate having my family there to cheer me on. Take in the beauty that sport and challenge has to offer. Focus on the process; each challenging, uncomfortable, thrilling step of it. And I knew if these things were my focus, a good result would follow. Because on some days, a good result is defined by the effort and by the process, not the podium. I’m proud of myself for having the maturity to acknowledge this; and to hold my head high knowing that I raced simply with passion, gratitude and humility.