“Take your time and hurry up.”
Growing up, my grandfather used to say this to me as we packed my backpack, put my shoes on and went out the door to school. I have distinct memories of these moments: I’d try and tie my shoes as quickly as possible, only to miss a loop and go barreling down the sidewalk with un-tied laces. My backpack would be half-open, my uniform tie fastened backwards. He’d chuckle, put his arm around my shoulder to slow me down and point up to the hummingbirds in the pear tree.
Funny how moments like this one re-surface from time to time. Just recently I was thinking of my grandfather, and the dichotomy of life he was inadvertently sharing with me on our way to school. Reflecting on this 2016 season as a professional triathlete, I find that this moment in particular serves as a synecdoche to the grander experience. For the past 2.5 years in the sport of triathlon, I found myself both literally and holistically in a state of ‘taking my time and hurrying up.’
I left off in my last blog describing the experience of missing the 2016 Olympic Team. And how my support team and personal acceptance combined to renew the competitive fire for the remainder of the year. That fire burned all the way through from WTS Stockholm back in July to the final World Cup in Miyazaki at the end of October. I was on a mission to make the second-half of the season my ‘comeback,’ a vindication of the countless hours of training, both a physical and emotional investment. “Every race is my Olympics” was my moto to close out the year.
Although my training and competitive mindset were sound, I still fell short of performance goals, finishing 18th in the World Championships in Cozumel in September. In the lead-up to this race specifically, I had come off of a roller coaster of racing in Europe, a consistent training block, and a shocker in the penultimate race on the WTS circuit in Edmonton. A couple of 24ths sandwiched around a win in Europe and what was essentially a ‘survive to the line’ finish in Canada were cause to slow down, stop, recognize and respect: “Not every race needs to be my Olympics”. I finally admitted to myself that from June to September, I hurried. I barreled through training and created expectations that may have been one-step ahead of current capabilities within development. When I slowed down and reflected on all that was learned and accomplished—or not accomplished—throughout the course of the 2016 season, I came to peace with the year’s journey. I resigned on judging the season as anything but highly productive and informative, a step in the right direction.
Now that 2017 base training has begun, and I’m starting to think about my process and performance goals for the upcoming season, I’m carrying the consistency and mindfulness that was attained at the close of 2016. Yes, I’m still in a state of ‘taking my time and hurrying up’, but now I recognize and respect the balance. That arm-over-the-shoulder provided by Jarrod Evans, USAT, supporters from Team Psycho, NYAC, Blueseventy, BiPro and, of course, family and friends continually help me point out all the hummingbirds up in those pear trees. Thank you for taking me under your wing.
“You are always in a dance of yes and no.” – Baron Baptiste
Over the course of my 2.5-year career in triathlon, I’ve been fortunate enough to make the trip to Yokohama, Japan twice for their World Triathlon Series race. Both times the trip itself has gone smoothly. Both times I lined up and raced with no regrets. And both times I’ve returned back to the United States in a bit of shock.
In 2015, my shock stemmed from a breakthrough performance above and beyond expectation of a full inaugural year on the WTS circuit. This year, however, my shock was two-fold.
On the one hand, I experienced this warm, full-filling state of shock from all of the love and support I received throughout the lead-up and during this last Olympic selection event. The positive messages and good vibes from everyone within my support circles gave me so much strength and pride, regardless of the result on race day. Family, friends, friends of friends, former classmates, teammates and training partners, mentors, sponsors, the community of Ocean City and even people I don’t personally know made this experience truly unforgettable and special. For all of you, I am so grateful. For all of you, it is so worth it!
At the same time, this empty, low-blow type of shock also hit hard. An underperformance on the run portion of the race—a usual leg of strength and comfort—had me unraveled. I was left wondering ‘why?’ What happened? I was confident coach Jarrod Evans had me physically prepared for the race and the circumstances that unfolded, so why did my body not respond? A number of reasons danced in my mind post-race. Was it my run cadence? Did I over-train and botch the taper for the run required? Am I just physiologically not cut-out for this type of endurance sport? Or was it simply unfortunate timing to just ‘have a bad day’?
Now that I’ve finished my break and am back into the swing of training for the remainder of the season, I’m learning to let the questions go and re-focus on the here and now. The break at home in Ocean City was good to me. Family, friends, and community members welcomed me home with an understanding and a renewed source of energy.
A neighbor of mine, fellow Grace and Glory yogi Patty, gave me a book for a change of mental stimulus, titled Perfectly Imperfect by Baron Baptiste. Although Baptiste writes the book for a yoga-minded audience, I couldn’t help but apply his approach of Eastern philosophy to the sport of triathlon as well. In doing so, post-race next-step analytical clutter became more clear: “Consider that you can only really exceed yourself if you can first relax with yourself, right where you are—on the mat, in the pose, and in your life.” This statement could not be more relevant.
Not feeling yourself mid-race on the run leg? Accept it and roll with it. By resisting that current state, you only create more tension and rigidity. Not the race result you were gunning for? Accept it and move forward. Once you choose to accept it, you relinquish yourself from forcing an answer or creating a story. You save yourself from wasting energy looking for an answer that might not even exist. Instead, you can channel that energy into something more fruitful. Like, fostering trust in yourself that next time you will know how to handle a disconnection in breath, a laboring turn-over, or whatever obstacle presents itself.
It’s not easy to let go of something you work so hard for, but at the end of the day, the underperformances and the self-questioning help lead you to a deeper understanding of the process and what creates success. In that experience, you realize that not every question needs an answer. And that ‘acceptance’ is a powerful, revitalizing tool. It also helps when you have family, friends and an entire community waiting for you to come home with open arms. Although it might not have been my day on the race course, I sure do feel like a champion with all this support. Thank you, USA Triathlon, Team Psycho, Blueseventy, NYAC and BiPro for giving me the tools to realize this potential. Here’s to the next one.
The feeling of finishing off the 2015 season 44th in the World Cup in Cozumel did not sit well with me. In fact, after May 2015’s breakthrough race at WTS Yokohama, every one thereafter resulted in a missed opportunity, a non-performance. I finished off the 2015 season with a handful of podiums paired equally with a handful of deep, double digit finishes. How did I manage to climb so high and then fall so hard? By October, I welcomed the break from training and competing. It was time to let my body and mind soak up all of 2015’s race experience, rest and hit the ‘reset’ button. There was really no answer to the aforementioned question. That’s just how the sport of triathlon can unfold sometimes, especially when placed on the fast-track to achieve certain targets within a short timeframe. And at the end of the day, that’s OK—that’s sport.
During the season break, I went back to the basics. I reflected and synthesized all that happened in 2015 and put together a goals and expectations outline for the 2016 season. This exercise built the fire up pretty quickly: I redefined how to set my goals and the process of achieving them. Shifting from a results focus, I now define the success of a race around the feeling on the start line. Every time I walk onto the pontoon, if I’m happy and healthy and confident that I’ve done everything possible to put myself in the mix, the race is already a personal win. It might sound simple, but shifting to this ‘line-up balance’ versus ‘end result’ interpretation of a race is actually challenging to hold oneself accountable to. Points, place finishes, splits, numbers: these are the outside factors that many—including myself—use to judge a race as a success or a failure. This year, though, I’m learning that if I cross the line with a smile, it’s a personal win. If I sprint to the finish, knowing I laid it all on the line, I have to hold myself accountable to be satisfied knowing I gave it my all.
I feel so fortunate that the first two races of this 2016 season have gone off without a hitch. Back-to-back top-5 finishes, one at the WTS level in Abu Dhabi and the other at the World Cup race in Mooloolaba, AUS, position me in the top-13 on the ITU points list and top-5 to-date on the WTS points list. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t stoked on where these results have placed me holistically. But what I’m holding close to me from these two races are the smile and the fire that were felt at both the beginning and finish of each race, respectively.
Abu Dhabi went smoothly—the swim felt decent, a step in the right direction. The bike felt comfortable, in control. The run felt strong, but not extraordinary. Together with transitions, I put together a well executed race and found myself in the right place at the right time. I’m fortunate to have avoided the crash that unfolded heading into transition on the last lap as well. Many of the women involved could have made the end result of the race play out differently—wishing them a speedy recovery!
All-in-all, race day itself was one full of positive energy and balanced excitement. But I have to say the lead-up shared with US teammate Joe Maloy was the best part of the trip. Joe and I arrived on Monday night of race week in downtown Abu Dhabi. Upon landing, I received a text from him: “Where are we staying again?” and I knew immediately he would be an easy-going travel companion. After some much needed, post-travel sleep, we took the next couple of days to soak up as much as we could before race day. We took our bikes out for a spin on the Formula 1 Grand Prix track under the lights, ate at some awesomely dirty hole-in-the-wall curry joints, cruised out to a high-end Souk for a steak dinner with surprise fire works, and enjoyed the endless cups of coffee down at the hotel breakfast over light-hearted political banter. The hang time with Joe paired with a group dinner organized by a friend of USAT, Omar, were definite highlights of the trip and maintained a positive pre-race balance. I owe a lot to this South Jersey triathlete: Joe was one of the first whom I contacted about pursuing this sport at the professional level. He always has a positive demeanor, knows what he wants out of life and has fun doing it. Everything I emulate.
Jumping across the Indian Ocean one week later, it was time to line up once again for the World Cup race in Mooloolaba, Australia. It felt like a homecoming—I was back in the land of sunshine, waves and good coffee. Race-wise, I knew that if I had a solid swim leg, I would again be in the mix to do something special. Unfortunately, the NJ lifeguard in me did not execute the swim leg to the level of competition and found myself about 30 seconds away from the lead pack heading onto the bike. Some days the ocean can play to your favor and some days she takes away all control. And at the end of the day, that’s OK—that’s nature.
T1, bike, T2 and run were all executed to a high degree; however, our chase pack lost time on the leaders. That Saturday I crossed the line knowing I gave all that I had to secure 5th—and I had to learn to be happy with that. Initially I was not satisfied with the end result, especially since my main goal surrounded the swim leg, but I’m learning to settle with this effort as a work-in-progress and another step in the right direction. The fire that grew within from this race alone has helped fuel the current training block leading up to my next race, Gold Coast WTS.
For now, as the CRP and a handful of National Team members base ourselves in Geelong, Australia, my head is down in the water. Focused on the road. And zoned-in on the trail. Goofing off with flat mates, Hilary Krein and Molly Higgins, keep the training regiment light and entertaining. Not to mention the views along the Great Ocean Road help envision the path to realizing the impossible. As always, this journey would not be possible without the support of USA Triathlon, Team Psycho, NYAC, Blueseventy, friends & family, and of course, coach Jarrod Evans.