NOLA 70.3 Race Report
The first race of my season is done and in the books! It was a celebration of the commitment to hard work and self-belief I have put in over the last few months. This was a major breakthrough race for me, my first time racing at the front and my first podium! If you read my last blog post you may know that after 2015 I was looking for things that I could change going into 2016. I recognized that I needed to work on my mindset and self-belief. Having done that, it allowed me to be present in my training, to not be afraid to fail and consistently train at a new level. Because I was feeling like a completely different athlete, I was really looking forward to putting it all on the line at NOLA 70.3. Looking back a week later on my 2nd place finish, I realize how much those changes shaped the way I performed in New Orleans.
For the first time since becoming a pro, I felt a sense of confidence and calmness before NOLA 70.3. Even though it was the first race of my season, I didn’t panic or experience the “what ifs” that the first race normally brings. I especially noticed this change starting with the pro meeting the day before. Previously, this was a source of anxiety for me because I spent time sizing up my competition, wondering how far up I could place, and questioning who I was capable of beating. This time I was relaxed and focused on my own goals and didn’t really pay attention to anyone else. I know there will always be those pre-race jitters, the apprehension of the pain that is to come and questions about my fellow competitors, but rather than being fearful, I tried to embrace each moment going into this race.
Race morning I woke up excited, something I hadn’t felt since I had raced as an amateur! The winds were howling that day, which I knew was going to make for a difficult race starting with a tough swim. As I stood on the dock of the harbor looking out over the course I was definitely a bit nervous. Even though the water looked pretty rough, I still thought I could sight the buoys; however, when the gun went off the chop made it difficult to see or follow anyone in front of me, and our pale red caps didn’t stand out in the gloomy weather. The course was an “M” shape and once I made the first right-hand turn I couldn’t make out where the next buoy was! I had to stop to get my bearings and figure out where I was going. I couldn’t see the next buoy but thought if I just kept swimming I would eventually find it. There was no one around me to follow and I literally felt like I was swimming all alone. Finally, one of the safety boats came up to me and told me I was way off course so I had to swim back to get in line with the buoys and then swim to the next turn around buoy. I was a bit frantic because I thought I had lost so much time to the rest of the field. In the past, when things haven’t started out great in the swim I have let it affect my entire race. This time I stayed focused on my swim and realized I actually felt pretty good in the water.
Exiting the water I had no idea where I was but when I got to the bike racks and saw a good number of bikes still there I realized I wasn’t last out of the water, I was actually third! I was prepared to face the winds on the bike because I had done a lot of work with Paul Buick of Purplepatch Fitness and learned how to handle my bike in these conditions. The headwind made for a tough start and I was getting blown around quite a bit, but once I got into a rhythm the wind didn’t seem to phase me. I was riding solo and felt like I was in no man’s land until around mile 20 when I caught up to the only two girls who had exited the water ahead of me. Watching myself close the gap little by little gave me a burst of energy that I used to ride to the front. This was definitely a new experience for me! Interestingly enough, my teammate Sarah Piampiano and I were talking the night before the race and one piece of advice she gave me was, “If you find yourself riding at the front don’t panic and think that you’re riding too hard. It’s totally possible that you could be and just keep going.” I hadn’t thought of that as a possibility, but there I was in front, and thinking about that conversation made me smile. I enjoyed being in the front but I knew there was a great group of girls behind me so I had to keep focusing on riding my bike well back to T2.
The run was grueling to say the least. I knew it was going to hurt after my ride and that the second half was going to be straight into a headwind, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how strong the headwind was! When you’re running, it never really feels like you get a tailwind, it just feels like the wind isn’t blowing, so the first half didn’t exactly feel easy. Before I got to mile 1, I got a massive cramp in my hamstring and both of my quads cramped at the same time! I had to stop and stretch my hamstring and wait for it to go away. I panicked a bit and thought “Please don’t let this happen the entire run!” I had no idea how much time I had on the ladies behind me, but I knew there were some good runners so I didn’t want to give up any time. Once I started running the cramps only came at the slightest bit of incline, but if I slowed down a bit they would subside once I got to the top. When I turned around, running into the wind was like climbing a hill for the entire way, which meant I was cramping most of the way back and pretty uncomfortable. There were parts of that run where I felt like I was literally standing still and thought for sure I was going to get caught. Luckily it was just as tough for everyone else and I was able to hold on to second!
When I crossed the finish line in second place, I was so excited for what I had just accomplished. I had executed my race the best I could on that day and I was really proud of my effort and the result. I know this didn’t happen overnight, in fact it’s been a couple of not so glamorous years in the making, but it was an incredible feeling to show myself what I am capable of doing. It wasn’t the perfect race, but that’s what makes it exciting. There are a lot of things I will take from this race into the next one and the next but I experienced racing on a whole new level, both physically and mentally in New Orleans. I think my biggest takeaway from this race, and my preparation and training for it, was learning that true self-belief has to come from within. In the weeks leading up to NOLA 70.3 I found myself visualizing the finish of the race. I wasn’t sitting down meditating trying to visualize a certain result; it was just a feeling I anticipated having of crossing the finish line; being proud of how I executed the race; and being happy with the result. At the time, I didn’t know what those feelings/thoughts/visions meant. But looking back now I think that was my internal voice speaking; reminding me of the hard work I had put in; encouraging me to let go of expectations; and telling me to trust the process, regardless of the end result. I finally understand what it means to really believe in yourself and it isn’t anything anyone can give to you. Self-belief is what allows me to take risks, accomplish my goals, and truly enjoy the journey I’m on. I will carry this belief through my 2016 season and I’m excited to see where it takes me!