Precious Cargo: traveling with your bike

In sport, business, and life, we often talk about and work on controlling what we can control. In ITU racing in particular, I find I am constantly operating in situations where there are factors outside of my control that can have defining impacts on my race finishes. I am therefore constantly problem-solving to determine what I can do to either be prepared to react to the situation or – ideally – adjust my approach in order to take control of the situation.

A prime example of this is traveling with my bike. While this is something that might have never crossed many travelers' minds, it is as common as flying with a carry-on item for professional triathletes. As an example, starting with Hamilton Continental Cup 10 days ago, I will be traveling with my bike domestically and internationally every other week (7 times) through late June/early July. That’s a lot of travel for me and my precious little bike!

Obviously, it is critical to get your bike from your home to the race with minimum risk of damage. To do this, every athlete has his or her trusted bike bag/box, and there are many to chose from! Hard cases are very secure with their thick plastic sides but also very heavy and hard to handle (which, I theorize, leads to more instances of mishandling by cargo crews). Soft cases are typically lighter and easier to handle but can be less protective since they lack the plastic armor of boxes. What to do?! It can be a conundrum for even the most experienced of athletes. I've had many people ask my opinion/experiences in this area, so I thought I would take a second to share it here!

I have personally only ever had soft bike cases. My most recent case – the Helium Biknd case – was awesome because I barely had to take apart my bike, the sides had inflatable panels that provided good bike protection, and it averaged 45 pounds with bike, wheels, pump, and even some clothes tossed in! I had an older edition that didn't have all the awesome handles and the tapered design that they offer now, so while I lucked out ~20% of the time, I had to pay a bike fee 80% of the time. That said, I like the changes they have made to their bags! That said, I only ever felt 90% confident that my bike would arrive to my destination untarnished. At the level at which I’m seeking to perform, I would never consider 90% execution of my training, nutrition, or recovery. It’s 100% or bust. So why should my bike case be any different?

For this reason, I recently switched to the Ruster Sports Henhouse case. Folks, I’m in heaven! I didn’t realize how much my bike’s safety weighed on me until I tried out this bag for my trip to Cuba in February when I had to borrow my coach’s. While this bag requires you to dismantle your bike a few steps beyond some other bags, everything is packed so tightly, and the bags are so well constructed and light that I feel 100% confident my bike will arrive with me in equally good shape as I left it. I actually also love that I’ve gotten to know my bike better in the process of taking it apart and putting it back together – I’m much more confident troubleshooting issues, and that is important at races where mechanics aren’t accessible! Plus that peace of mind while I travel is absolutely worth the investment. While we’re talking money, in my experience, the bag has qualified as regular luggage. In only a few flights, the bag has pay for itself.

The pictures below show my bike-packing process with the case (1hr to pack my first time, down to 45 the second, and I think I can get it down to 30 for my trip this weekend now that I have the routine down!). Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the case, the packing process or packing for races!

My case fresh out of its box last month!

My case fresh out of its box last month!

Only 2 tools required for (dis)assembly! (I'm upgrading to a torque wrench... should have long ago eek!)

Only 2 tools required for (dis)assembly! (I'm upgrading to a torque wrench... should have long ago eek!)

Bike disassembled, ready for padding + packing

Bike disassembled, ready for padding + packing

The foam tubes, velcro straps, and plastic discs for wheels are KEY in the packing process!

The foam tubes, velcro straps, and plastic discs for wheels are KEY in the packing process!

Bike parts ready to be locked 'n loaded

Bike parts ready to be locked 'n loaded

Ready to Rock!

Ready to Rock!

2 Seconds

I'm gonna keep this post brief.... it matches my most recent race/trip to beautiful Bermuda!

This past weekend was a whirlwind. Nothing like flight cancellations, itinerary diversions, and arriving in the country you’re racing in only 18 hours before you toe the line! All this considered, my race at the Hamilton Continental Cup this weekend was decent – not outstanding, but not poor by any standards. I was glad to have a swim that more accurately reflects my fitness/ability versus my last showing in Sarasota, and at the end of the day I was grateful just to be able to race this weekend.

But the race was a reminder of how 2 seconds can make or break your race in draft legal racing. While non-draft and draft-legal racing are all technically “triathlon,” they are two completely different sports. ITU/draft-legal racing is unique in that even the smallest lapse in focus can turn a 2 second deficit coming out of the water into a 1+ minute deficit by the end of the bike. One false step coming out of T1 and I couldn’t quite make the front pack. I continued to dig in on the bike and put up a respectable run given the fact that we continue to keep bike and run mileage low to focus on the swim. But it’s both encouraging and frustrating to be so close but so far from the medal hunt!

I’m coming home from Bermuda happy with the baby steps of progress and of course grateful to be bringing back some cash-moneyz, but more hungry and motivated than ever to keep chipping away to close that 2-second gap…. Actually, forget 2 seconds… we're shooting for 10secs in that swim. Go big or go home, right?! Gotta get fast enough so I can return to the gorgeous island and its amazing people for the WTS race next year :D

For your enjoyment, a few shots of my brief (48-hour) trip to Bermuda:

Wiser, not older

The last day of my 20’s (Monday) was a day off from training, which was great cause it gave me a little time (or maybe too much time?) to reflect. Feels like just yesterday I was turning 20 – I spent that whole day on the bus with my Dartmouth Crew teammates driving home to Hanover from our spring break training trip in Oak Ridge, TN. It’s hard to believe all the adventures I’ve had between then and now… although I guess 10 years IS a long time!

I choose to believe that age is merely a state of mind (in which case I’m nowhere near 30 yet!), but perhaps it’s also true that wisdom comes with age. There’s so much more to see, learn, and do for me, and I’m thinking the best is yet to come! But I thought I’d share a few things that I’ve learned (many of which I’m still working on!) over the last decade:

No pain, no gain. From falling over and over again - day in and day out at the ice rink - to perfect that triple salchow; to falling off the erg and thinking my lungs might actually burst at the end of a crew race; to pushing to the point of hurling in triathlon training and racing. I remind myself that if it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. So when it hurts, find more. It will pay off.

Perfect your game face (I’m still working on this one)…. And your sad puppy face (also still working on this one). They will both come in handy.

If it scares you, GO FOR IT!

Save your work often. Diligence always wins. Just do it.

Say yes to adventure (see the world! Note: still working on this one, and excited about the opportunity to do it through triathlon!)

Get outside. Having spent 8 of the last 10 years in school or at an office job, too much of life is spent inside. Don’t let the world pass you by!

sailboat

Cherish time with the people you love. With the demands of triathlon, and school before that, and work before that, and school before that, and skating before that, it can be hard to make time to just be with the people you care about. But it’s those moments that have been some of the most meaningful for me.

You are what you eat. So don’t skimp on the good stuff (note, I don’t necessarily mean only eat organic everything. But seeking a “rainbow” at meals and knowing where your food comes from as much as possible has made a big difference in my energy and performance!).

Take it like you stole it! (Learned this one from Tessie!)

tessastarbucks

Spend time with people who inspire you to be better than you are.

Be silly sometimes! (Cause it feels good to let the weird out!)

Last but not least, It’s OK... even good!... to say no. This is perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned… and am still working on. As someone who wants to please, and a high achiever that wants to achieve, saying “no” doesn’t come naturally to me. But committing to a journey requires closing doors to others. It’s so hard to do, but it’s incredible what you can achieve when you throw your heart, body, and mind wholly into one thing. That kind of gratification is something I wish for everyone!

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Since I started my career as a professional triathlete last year, I’ve been chasing. Chasing the collegiate swimmers and the women who have been doing triathlon since before I even knew what the sport was around the race course. But after Cuba, even though I knew it was only a Continental Cup (the first of the three levels of ITU racing), I felt like all the blood, sweat and tears this winter were beginning to pay off. While I knew I had no means made it, the feeling of being in the front pack – being in the race – was so gratifying.

However, my most recent race in Sarasota was reminder that I am by no means in a place where I can have a bad day on the race course and expect to still be in the race. I didn’t execute the swim to my ability, and it was a chase from there. I organized the ladies around me on the bike and we worked decently well together to hold our ground after the first lap of the bike. And I dug in on the run – putting up a decent split given the fact that I have still never worked explicitly on my run… well… ever!

Taking a couple quiet moments before my name is called to the starting line.

Taking a couple quiet moments before my name is called to the starting line.

Despite these silver linings, Sarasota was a harsh reminder that I am still chasing. And this fuels me every day in training! After Sarasota, Adam and I hopped in the car and hit the road back to South Bend. We were ready to get home and did the 17+ hour drive in one day – talk about getting it done! While Florida was amazing from a weather perspective and it was fun to have all of Team IE around all the time – so much laughing! – it is definitely nice to be home! In our own bed, with our clean kitchen. And since then, we’ve gotten right back to work. Up to 10k a day in the pool, baby! It’s back to real life. Back to reality!

This might sound weird to some, but funnily enough, while the result wasn’t what I wanted in Sarasota, it was more the feeling of not performing to my potential that frustrated me and has fueled me every step, stroke, and lap since getting back to South Bend. I’m more focused and driven than ever and excited to hit it every day leading up to my next showdown in Bermuda!

We arrived home to temps in the 20's and snow. Yikes! Luckily it has all melted and spring is in the air as I write this post!

We arrived home to temps in the 20's and snow. Yikes! Luckily it has all melted and spring is in the air as I write this post!

Bringing back the layers big time! 

Bringing back the layers big time! 

Cold weather and big training days called for some turkey pot pie! yummmmm.

Cold weather and big training days called for some turkey pot pie! yummmmm.

All work and no play makes Jack & Jill dull kiddos! Ad and I departing for a birthday scavenger hunt (which ended in insane burgers + birthday cake at the Morris Inn!!)

All work and no play makes Jack & Jill dull kiddos! Ad and I departing for a birthday scavenger hunt (which ended in insane burgers + birthday cake at the Morris Inn!!)

ITU RACING: Havana Nights

Many of the ITU Continental and World Cup races are in locations that are veryy off the beaten path. In only 1 year of racing, I’ve racked up some great (at least, in retrospect) stories, and Greg has told me even more amazing ones from traveling with his former athletes.

CAMTRI Habana – at Hemingway Marina, Cuba – was no exception, with limited cellular service; no wireless access; crazy data fees even if you have general international service; cars from the 1950’s driving on streets with 0 traffic signals and next to no signage; and a race in a small town 30/45 minutes from “downtown”/Old Town Havana.

Life in Cuba moves at a refreshingly slower pace than in the States, and it is so different from anything I have experienced, but in a quaint way that I absolutely loved! It was a trip I would recommend to everyone, and I would certainly love to go back, whether for work/racing or for play (note: I would not necessarily say this for everywhere I have raced!).

It was a great weekend for me, with the cherry on top being a 3rd place finish – my first ITU podium! I’m still reflecting on the race and a report with takeaways is forthcoming, so stay tuned!

USA swept the podium with Kaitlin Donner taking first, Erin Storie second, and me claiming bronze!

USA swept the podium with Kaitlin Donner taking first, Erin Storie second, and me claiming bronze!

A big part of my ability to enjoy the trip and race well was due to pre-planning and organization, some of which was very tricky leading up to the trip, as information was very dispersed and oftentimes unclear. With this in mind, I thought I’d take a moment to share with you the essential planning/packing list for general travel to Cuba (whether you are a triathlete or not) and additional Cuba-triathlon-specific items that made my trip smooth sailing!

But first, some of the sites of Habana/Cuba:

OK. On to business.

General Preparation List

Whether you are going to Cuba for an athletic event like I was or just to kick back, explore, and/or experience the culture, there are a number of basic things you will need to know/take care of before you go. It was hard for us to find this info in one place, so I’ve compiled it here in the hopes it can help all of you before you travel to the island:

Medical insurance

Technically, everyone must have international medical insurance to enter Cuba. We went through insuremytrip.com for this on the recommendation of the folks at UnitedHealthcare – it was easy, cheap ($7.75 for 4 days), and reliable. We read we would need to show proof of this at the Havana airport but they didn’t say a thing…. So unclear if we actually had to worry about that! My motto when racing though = better safe than sorry! (FYI Michael, my teammate, flew Southwest and they said medical insurance was included in airfare, but I didn’t read that anywhere for JetBlue, which we flew).

Cuban Visa

You will need a visa to get into Cuba, but this can be bought at the airport when you check in – it is $50 and, at least with JetBlue, that includes entry into Cuba and back into the United States.

Currency Exchange

Everything in Cuba is done in cash (as of Feb 2017 credit cards are a no-go!) and you can't make the exchange until at the airport, but it is easy to do there! The currency you will need to use is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC; they ALSO use CUP - Cuban Pesos - but only in local markets, etc. So unless you are going off the beaten path for food, etc. you will only need CUC's). There is an exchange fee for USD, so you only get 0.87 CUC per $1 USD as opposed to Euros, Sterling, and Canadian currencies, which exchange without the fee. We figured that it would pretty even out as compared to doing a double exchange (USD à Euros or pounds à CUC), but if you have Euros on hand (slash the time and energy to get em), go for it!

Transportation

There are plenty of taxis available at the airport – you can negotiate your fee before you get in (to a certain extent!). For us, a sprinter van that took 5 people + 3bike cases + suitcases from Havana to the Hemingway Marina neighborhood was 60 CUC.

Lodging

When we were looking into lodging, there were many beautiful hotels to choose from but there were very pricey! A friend of a friend who had recently gone to Cuba recommended we go the route of AirBNB, which was much cheaper and, as long as you were careful with your selection, much nicer! I can’t speak to the hotel experience, but our AirBNB experience was fabulous! While there was a bit of a language barrier, it was great to meet Cuban natives and get to know them a bit! The home was also so spacious, comfortable, and easy to come and go from (thanks to Jorge, our host who drove us to the race course and back whenever we needed it!).

Cuba+Triathlon-specific checklist:

I have a standard race-travel packing list (such as race flats, rubberbands, helmet, etc. etc. Stay tuned for a later post on that! Having your standard checklist and organizational process is a must when dealing with crazy travel logistics and navigating new exciting/confusing places!).

But beyond those standard items, I brought the following specifically for Cuba:

FOOD!

It’s a little different traveling to new fun places when you’re racing there. Sometimes, you just don’t know what you’re going to get, and we heard about a number of athletes getting sick last year from one thing or another. So I brought with me enough essentials to get through at least race morning if I had to: packed with me: 1 bag of rice cakes, 1 jar of peanut butter, 2 bags of dried mango, 1 can of soup, 1 can of tuna, 2 bags of oats/chia seeds/cinnamon, 2 bags of my latest favorite light snack: Peas Please!, 4 Hammer Whey Bars, 6 Hammer Vegan Recovery Bars, 8 Emergen-C’s, and Goldenseal (plus race-day nutrition – Recoverite, 2 gels, and Endurolytes). Luckily our AirBNB actually had a beautiful kitchen and our hosts were amazing cooks! So we got to experience true Cuban cooking on both Saturday and Sunday night. Also remember: bottled water only! (We bought 2x 5L jugs each from the little “Mercado” 2 blocks from our house for only 3.80 CUC!)

Bike Parts

Pump – I invested in the Lezyne travel pump before traveling to Cuba and am so glad I did! Definitely no bike pumps in site here! This pump is so easy to use and will definitely now be in my packing list for any race I go to.

Miscellaneous items – derailleur hanger, allen wrench, Park tool, chain lube, extra skewers, extra tube, and electrical tape. Most of these things I take to any race I go to. It sounds like a lot but I keep all of these things in one little bag, and there were absolutely 0 bike shops or maintenance support leading up to race day. So while luckily everything was fine with my bike, I was so glad I had everything I could have needed since it would have been bad if anything had happened!

Spanish Phrase Book

OK so I didn’t bring this but I WISHED I had! My very long life to-do list includes learning Spanish, particularly after a few races in predominantly Spanish-speaking countries over the last 12 months (6 years of French and 2 years of Italian unfortunately don’t seem to translate as well as I’d have liked!). But in the meantime, if I could go back, I would have invested in this before coming to Cuba to be able to communicate better with everyone down here!

These 8/9 items felt like a lot to think about in the days leading up to the race (particularly since it was hard to find all of this information in one place! So there was a lot of time spend researching everything), but it’s not actually that much nor was it that hard to do in retrospect! Next time we race here (and I hope there will be a next time), it will certainly be easier (particularly once I get my Spanish Rosetta Stone rolling!!!!)

Hereee we go! Race time HUH!

Hard to believe racing season is already upon us! It feels like just yesterday I was wrapping up last season in New Orleans, hungry to find speed in the off season; hungry for more in 2017! But here we are - Major League Triathlon just had its draft for this season and I leave tomorrow for first race of 2017!

Training has been going well - I'm a different swimmer and different all-around athlete from a year ago... even 4 months ago! There are always jitters going into the first race though -- will that progress show when it counts? How did everyone else grow in their off-season? In the midst of all these questions, I continue to remind myself to focus on what I can control: me, myself and I!

Racing the boys for the wall has been great prep for race day!

Racing the boys for the wall has been great prep for race day!

My Team-IE-Mates - Michael, Elliot, Alissa - and I are hopping down to Cuba to face off against some stiff competition this weekend. Lots of logistical details (stay tuned for my "triathletes guide to racing in Cuba" because there really needs to be one!) and little bit of butterflies, but excited to lay it out there and get that honest look in the mirror!! No live coverage due to lack of service in Cuba, but check out ITU's website for results on Sunday afternoon (we race at 10am EST)!

T2 compliments of Kyle Doehla

T2 compliments of Kyle Doehla

Post-hill run powwow!

Post-hill run powwow!

Races don't change the routine -- train hard, recover harder, and don't forget to SMILE! :)

Races don't change the routine -- train hard, recover harder, and don't forget to SMILE! :)

Focus. Persistence.

Coach and I talk a lot about “distraction” and being able to focus within, keeping an eye on controlling what you can control when everything around you is out of control. This is something I’m continually working on mastering, and I would say it’s played a big role in my consistency and associated growth as an athlete over the past 16 months.

But this week was a reminder to me of how much easier it is to do this when things are going smoothly. What is meaningful is maintaining that zen when mayhem ensues. In the last 24 hours, my phone was stolen (along with credit card and license), January paycheck intercepted and deposited in mystery bank account (whattt!); phone reclaimed (thank you Clermont Police!) but SIM card and credit cards gone; AT&T said it could replace SIM card for me; then AT&T said it couldn’t replace SIM card immediately since we had deactivated device while it was missing; 2 of 3 credit cards easy to replace and cancel the fraudulent cards made; 3rd of 3 was so difficult to deal with that it outweighed ease of the first two. Top it off with a rough rough swim this morning and it was the kind of day when nothing could go right! Basically, it was the perfect test of my ability to focus on controlling what I could control and not letting the craziness take away from my ability to perform in training.

I was somewhat successful…. Somewhat. Some wins and some stumbles, slowly working through the craze, keeping my training priorities in line, and hitting reset while reminding myself how much worse life could be! THEN, lo and behold, Mayor Pete Buttigieg put it perfectly in his tweet this afternoon: “ ‘Nevertheless she persisted’ sounds like a perfect motto for today’s happy warriors.”

Your problems right now may be far graver than mine, or perhaps today was close to a perfect day (yay!) – either way, may this motto guide you through the good and the bad: focus on controlling what you can control; block the distractions; and PERSIST!

Scene of (one of the) crimes.... But I still love it so!! 

Scene of (one of the) crimes.... But I still love it so!! 

I've heard that smiling improves your mood.... Today, I'm a believer! It worked. Truly. Give it a try!

I've heard that smiling improves your mood.... Today, I'm a believer! It worked. Truly. Give it a try!

New Year's Resolutions

I’ve never been someone who does a lot of new years resolutions. I’m more of a proponent of constantly self assessing and asking myself, my coaches/managers/mentors, and my family/friends “how can I be better?” This constant search to find “better” is something that definitely translates into my quest for speed and high performance in triathlon.

That said, January 1 is always a good prompt to think about what you can do to create a better version of yourself. I am a little late (26 days, to be exact), but in that vein, I’m re-committing to sharing my journey with you – and all the lessons and stories along the way – more regularly this year. To get back on track, in this post, a summary of the 2 months in photos, including Adam's and my WEDDING (for wedding photo blog, click here!), Naples FL swim camp, holiday baking, and Team IE’s set up in Clermont FL this winter.

Family shot from my bridal shower in Boston!

Family shot from my bridal shower in Boston!

Ready to walk down the aisle!

Ready to walk down the aisle!

The big moment :)

The big moment :)

Basking in the freezing cold Newport RI December sunset

Basking in the freezing cold Newport RI December sunset

From wedding dress to swim suit in 48 hours! Open water swim camp was a bit of a shock to the system (now I get why people honeymoon right after their wedding!), but we wouldn't have it any other way (honeymoon plan is Japan..... timing/dates TBD!)

From wedding dress to swim suit in 48 hours! Open water swim camp was a bit of a shock to the system (now I get why people honeymoon right after their wedding!), but we wouldn't have it any other way (honeymoon plan is Japan..... timing/dates TBD!)

Holiday baking (and ice cream!) nom nom

Holiday baking (and ice cream!) nom nom

Our home away from home in Clermont, FL

Our home away from home in Clermont, FL

Gorgeous view for my PM strength sessions!

Gorgeous view for my PM strength sessions!

Coach saves a turtle (and gets peed on in the process!)

Coach saves a turtle (and gets peed on in the process!)

ROKA contingent of Team IE, ready to hit the open water!

ROKA contingent of Team IE, ready to hit the open water!

First date as a married couple! Training consumes the days (and works up an appetite), so great to have some one-one-one time with my better half (and bottomless tortilla chips on the side!)

First date as a married couple! Training consumes the days (and works up an appetite), so great to have some one-one-one time with my better half (and bottomless tortilla chips on the side!)

Back to the Drawing Board: 2017 on the mind!

Hard to believe that my 2016 season has already drawn to a close! It's flown by in a blur of travel, adventures, and defying boundaries I was unsure I could. I capped off my season with a bronze medal at the Elite Sprint National Championships in New Orleans 2 weekends ago. It was a small but competitive field and I had a blast racing with my new Team IE teammate, Alissa Doehla!

While I was of course happy with a podium finish, I was equally disappointed because I did not execute the race I was hoping for and know I was capable of! It was a good mental test, though, to have to fight to the end - and I mean, to the END! - as Brittany Warly and I had a sprint finish for 2nd.

Nationals Podium: USA Triathlon's Up & Comers!

Nationals Podium: USA Triathlon's Up & Comers!

And so I entered my end-of-season break happy but with an underlying frustration and fire. That said, I’ve been working on living in the present and that’s exactly what I've done the last 10 days, enjoying ice cream, home-baked cookies, and even a full day (or 2) in bed… plus some quality time with Ad and my family!

Wedding planning is kicking into high gear! Guestbook arrived!

Wedding planning is kicking into high gear! Guestbook arrived!

Visits to Buck Hill Falls (Ad's childhood home) are good for the soul!

Visits to Buck Hill Falls (Ad's childhood home) are good for the soul!

COOKIESS & CREAMMM -- the ultimate combo :D

COOKIESS & CREAMMM -- the ultimate combo :D

crazy for gummy candies!

crazy for gummy candies!

Nothing like a good game of keep-away -- Tess loves her Starbucks!

Nothing like a good game of keep-away -- Tess loves her Starbucks!

Swapping spandex for suit/dress at Dario & Lizzie's wedding!

Swapping spandex for suit/dress at Dario & Lizzie's wedding!

Having enjoyed my time off, I’m hungrier than ever. 2016 was a fabulous rookie year, including three top-five Continental Cup finishes and the opportunity to race at Montreal World Cup and WTS Edmonton. But that was 2016 and there are MUCH bigger fish to fry. So now, I’ll enjoy my last night on the couch. Tomorrow, it’s time to hit it. It may only be October, but I’ve got 2017 on the mind.

For last year’s words belong to last year's language and next year’s words await another voice. ~T.S. Eliot

New Heights

When I went to Greg for coaching 2 years ago, I told him I wanted to do two things: 1st, race the best in the sport, and 2nd, be the best.

We’ve been working towards that goal since then, and it has been baby steps. Incremental gains that are barely visible on a day-to-day basis but seem to somehow keep adding up to leaps and bounds when I least expect it!

The first big leap in our journey came when I stepped up to the elite ranks. Since then, my first 10 months as a pro have been a constant test of my ability to find consistency in the midst of constant change, to be comfortable with discomfort, and of staring walls in the face and breaking through them.

While I have been making steady progress this year, up until even a month ago, if someone told me I would be racing a WTS and that I would actually be IN the swim, I would have probably laughed in your face! But in late August, the opportunity arose for me to throw my hat in the ring at Edmonton WTS, and, as I said, my time as a professional triathlete thus far has been defined by aiming big and embracing discomfort. So, why not?!

Legit!

Legit!

Beautiful greenery of Edmonton!

Beautiful greenery of Edmonton!

Prepped and ready to race!

Prepped and ready to race!

There was so much learning in Edmonton. On the one hand, the weekend was a celebration of my hard work and of reaching my first goal: racing the best in the sport. But on the other, I was there to do a job, and it honestly felt like any other race (well, except for looking to my right at the pre-race briefing and seeing Jonny Brownlee a few seats over... I admittedly did a double take!).

My biggest takeaway from the race?

At this level, you can’t lose focus for a second.

And by a second, I mean not even ONE second. I was thrilled with my swim in Edmonton – coming out on Non Stanford’s feet?! Hell yeah! Still not satisfied, but it was lightyears from getting dropped in a continental cup less than 10 months prior. That being said, I got out of the water and was perhaps so shocked to be “in it” that my focus lapsed. I fumbled T1 and proceeded to watch the main pack pull away as I pedaled in vain to catch up. Womp, womp. From there, my mindset went to simply biking as hard as I could and working with the handful of girls around me to minimize the damage. Off the bike, I focused only on running as fast as my legs would go and having no regrets once I crossed the finish line. My legs didn’t have it and my result was admittedly underwhelming.

On the other hand, I’m so proud of my effort and there are so many “results” that don’t show in my official race finish of 40th place. The race was just positive enough that I could walk away happy and proud; and it was just frustrating enough that I returned back to The States more motivated than ever to continue the exponential progress I’ve experienced in 2016.

All smiles + fire in the eyes -- there is WORK to be done this fall!

All smiles + fire in the eyes -- there is WORK to be done this fall!

The following weekend, I got to have some fun with Major League Triathlon in Portland, ME. Finally, a race on the east coast! My mom, aunt, and puppy got to watch my team as we raced to our best finish of the season (4th!), and I got some quality time with them before and after the race…. Happy days all around!

Bird's eye view: Portland, ME

Bird's eye view: Portland, ME

Tessa really liked her first hotel experience.....

Tessa really liked her first hotel experience.....

Now it’s back to the grind! I’m back to 40k weeks of swimming plus biking, running, and swim cords galore from now until my final race of the season: the Elite National Championships in New Orleans, LA. From there, I get a week off (woohoooo!) and then we really get to work! Stay tuned for training updates, NOLA stories/race report, baking adventures on my week off, and the wedding planning fun in store for me this fall! Lots of excitement ahead :D

Seeing is Believing

Before heading out from Flagstaff for my first World Cup race – the Montreal World Cup – Greg told me, “You belong there, you just have to believe.” I wanted to believe. I felt fit and strong and perhaps the most rested/freshest I’ve been since worlds last year. But I couldn’t quite silence the nagging voice in the back of my head… You know it. The one that keeps saying, “What if I don’t stack up to the competition?” Going head to head with Flora Duffy, ranked #1 in the world, and 13 other Olympians was no small feat.

But going into race day, I was calmer and more focused than usual. I knew all I could do was push as hard as possible – as Adam said, I just had to make those girls take every inch they got from me. Perhaps having my mom, aunt, and cousin there helped keep my mind off of what lay ahead as well!

It’s weird not racing until the evening. So much time chilling in the hotel room! But everything went as smoothly as it could leading up to the race, including warm up (this is the first race ever I’ve felt like I got a full warm up in! Boy, does it make a difference!)

Greg and I talked about not shelling myself in the swim – just looking for feet as soon as possible, as I probably wouldn’t out-swim the strong field of women I was racing. I did just that, but upon reflection, sold myself short. In the process of not quite believing I could hold my own in the midst of the pack, I let myself drive to the back of the group. And while this is still light years ahead of where I was less than a year ago in my first pro race, and quite an accomplishment for someone without a swimming background, I know I have more to give. This leaves me eager for my next chance to race these ladies!!

Elite Women's swim start (thanks Leah for the vid!)

Coming out of the water, I was in the “take no prisoners” state-of-mind. I had a quick transition and started picking people off one by one. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite bridge up to the group just up the road, but I definitely put up a fight on the bike, dropping numerous competitors in the process. Heading out onto the run, I thought only about turning my feet over. It’s the first race in which I haven’t looked at my watch once. My eyes were glued on the back of Jillian Backhouse, with whom I ran for the first lap of three. Unfortunately, I let her slip away in the second half of the run. I put up a competitive time, but one that Greg and I know can be improved significantly once we actually start working my run!

Overall, I’m not sure I could have asked for a more positive World Cup debut. Each time I race, I learn to much about the sport of triathlon, the art of racing, and about myself. But perhaps my most important lesson this weekend came from seeing that I do belong racing at the top of this sport. I believe. And that’s a huge step in the right direction.

Thanks to my family for coming out to watch and cheer and experience Montreal with me; to my Team IE family for all your support from all over the US; to Coach Greg and Kim Whitney for your endless guidance and believing in me before I did myself; and to my sponsors – Rudy Project, Kiwami, Hammer Nutrition, Northeast Site Contractors. Next up, full steam ahead with training, some short hard racing at Major League Triathlon, and then…. Who knows! Stay tuned. Onward and upward!

7000 FEET

Hello from Flagstaff! A week after arriving here, my lungs are finallyyy beginning to adjust (I only sometimes feel like lungs are gonna explode) and it’s hard to believe I only have a few more days in the beauty of the southwest before heading back east for some racing FUN!

Nothing like hills to open up the lungs (and eyes -- love the view from the top!)

Nothing like hills to open up the lungs (and eyes -- love the view from the top!)

Making the adjustment to training at 7000 feet has gone relatively smoothly (I think?), and the last couple days I’ve been able to jump into some VO2 bike sessions, to throw down a ‘lil bit of fast running, and most recently, (to try) to hold my own in quite the solid swim session! I believe that you are the average of the company you keep. So as an athlete with the highest goals and aspirations in the sport, it’s an incredible opportunity to train with Olympic-bound athletes. I am seeing firsthand the gaps I must bridge to get to where I want to go.

I am seeing the intense focus and commitment it takes to be the fastest in the world but also the power of maintaining balance. I’m coming to embrace more than ever the importance of enjoying the journey, loving the process. As always, I continue to be a sponge – soaking up every bit of wisdom I can while I’m here and getting psyched to see my new training mates kill it in Rio! 

A Duathlon, Eh?

Time flies when you’re having fun…. And working hard! In the last month, I kept meaning to write but whenever I had a free moment, a nap just seemed a little bit more enticing! ;-P

All of a sudden, it’s the end of July and I realize I’ve been radio silent, which means time for an update! I also have the treat of a few easy days post-race as I adjust to altitude in Flagstaff, where I’ll be based for a two-week training block surrounded by Olympians before heading to Montreal for my first World Cup race – all very exciting stuff! Easy days = time and energy reserves!

Last weekend, I visited Ottawa, Ontario for the first time to race at the Ottawa CAMTRI Continental Cup. In my first season as a pro, if there is one thing I’ve learned when it comes to ITU racing, it’s to expect the unexpected…. And Ottawa continued this theme. Travel day went smoothly, my AirBNB couldn’t have been more perfect, tucked in a quiet, quaint little neighborhood (The Glebe) just 200m from Whole Foods and other awesome restaurants, and only 1mi from the race transition zone.

WelcomeToOttawa
My neighborhood in Ottawa -- so cozy and quiet!

My neighborhood in Ottawa -- so cozy and quiet!

Everything couldn’t have gone more smoothly, until we were told that the swim familiarization the night before was cancelled since no test results had arrived (red flag!). They assured us we would have a triathlon the next day… but got no confirmation either way until 10:15am the next morning, when we received the final announcement that there would in fact be no swimming for the elite women for that – it was a duathlon for us!

While this was a disappointment, as we have been focused on my swim and I was looking forward to put that work to the test, there was no time to dwell on the change. It was almost time to race, and as I said before, gotta expect the unexpected!

When the gun went off, I went out with the front four ladies and was on their heels coming out of T1… and then came the worst bike mount of all time…. Chain fell off front crank and I fumbled to recover as quickly as possible. While I avoided catastrophe, I lost the front pack and ended up biking with the main pack. We struggled to work together in the first half, and by the time we were running more smoothly in the second half, the damage was done as the front pack had put a painful 2+mins on us! While a few girls in my pack flew out of T2, my legs were feeling flatter than I hoped so I built into the run – I knew I had the fitness to run down the ladies from my pack… and perhaps even 4th. I committed to staying strong as others faded. Unfortunately I ran out of runway and could only come up with (yet another!) 5th, but it’s not possible to be unhappy about having the opportunity to dig in and coming away with a little cashola and a lot of experience.

I stayed a day after the race, which gave me the opportunity to explore the area – swimming at Carleton University and riding through the gorgeous Parc Gatineau – and get to know my AirBNB host and her puppy, Winter, who were amazing! Canadians are so nice and I loved seeing the little cultural differences (i.e., it’s a “Press Pot” not a “French Press!) that arise in a new place!

I’m never happy with 5th – I race to win and I can feel the podium at my fingertips! – but I take away many positives from the weekend, and now it’s back to training hard (and working on bike mounts. a lot.) so I’m ready to throw down again in T-minus 10 days! Stay tuned for an update from Flagstaff between now and then :D

Living the (Nomadic) Life

Where in the world is Sarah Alexander? Is the question I am constantly asked… and with good reason! The last six months have been quite the adventure between training camps in the southeast, the west coast, races all around the US and abroad, and most recently, a 2-week camp up in New Hampshire.

Beautiful Baker Tower!

Beautiful Baker Tower!

All smiles riding in the mountainsss

All smiles riding in the mountainsss

Over the last couple weeks, I had the opportunity to take a “walk down memory lane” in Hanover, NH, where I spent four glorious years at Dartmouth. I haven’t been there in five years (gasp!) and running roads/trails with so many memories, visiting the Dartmouth Boathouse, and also getting new view of the area – riding on gorgeous roads through the woods, open water swims in Storrs Pond and Post Pond, and workouts in the Dartmouth pool. While training was the focus, I also got to see a couple old friends – like my crew coach from Dartmouth! – and, just as great if not better: make new ones.

Nothing like finding a beautiful lake tucked into the hills on the way home from a long run!

Nothing like finding a beautiful lake tucked into the hills on the way home from a long run!

This summarizes most of our riding in NH/VT. Serenity now... :)

This summarizes most of our riding in NH/VT. Serenity now... :)

Already miss getting dropped by the crew everyday at this pool!

Already miss getting dropped by the crew everyday at this pool!

I’ll be the first to admit that constant travel and change can be hard to handle at times, and the first week in NH, I was definitely in a dark place between fatigue from racing and travel, breathing/allergy issues, and training with muchhhh faster athletes than I! But it was such an incredible opportunity to see where I stand in the world of triathlon – one that not many can get day-in and day-out – and I grew immensely over the past 10 days or so! It’s good to stay humble and hungry!

Other than my upcoming MLT race in Sarasota (June 18), I get a nice 6-block of time to be in one place (home in South Bend), train my butt off, and enjoy meals/movie nights with the love of my life. Life is good!

Lessons from Ixtapa

Hello from beautiful Hanover! From last Sunday morning to Monday night, it was planes, trains, and automobiles for me - from Ixtapa, Mexico to Houston, Houston to Chicago, Chicago to South Bend, and then South Bend to beautiful Hanover, NH for a 2 week training camp! It was a long few days of travel - but such is the life of a pro triathlete! - and I haven't been back to Hanover in years so it is SO GOOD to be here... like coming home.

But before I fully move on to the wonderfulness that is Hanover, I've had lots of questions about how my race went last weekend, so I thought I'd share my 4 key takeaways and reflections from ITU CAMTRI Ixtapa.

View of the Ixtapa shore from the sky

View of the Ixtapa shore from the sky

One of the many planes, trains, and automobiles I've been on in the past week -- walked right up to this one!

One of the many planes, trains, and automobiles I've been on in the past week -- walked right up to this one!

1. Be prepared… To go with the flow.

I’m a planner, yessirree. Just ask Adam and Greg – I love my to-do lists and spreadsheets. But I’ve also quickly learned that in the world of ITU, flexibility is paramount. You control what you can control and be ready for people to say, “yes” as they shake their head “no” to you. This has been a huge area of growth for me – ambiguity used to be my arch nemesis but I’ve found that I actually enjoy being able to let go and let it flow (gasp!). This weekend, I was better able than ever to remain in the moment and just focus on what I had to do versus wasting energy stressing about heat, language barrier, etc. I think that showed in my performance in challenging conditions.

The weather might have been sweltering, but I did my best to control how cool I stayed with copious amounts of ice in my jersey/suit leading up to race start!

The weather might have been sweltering, but I did my best to control how cool I stayed with copious amounts of ice in my jersey/suit leading up to race start!

2. Hola & Gracias go a long way.

Yes, I was that American who could only speak English and fumbled her way through customs. Luckily I had another newly made friend - Ryan Bailey - with me to fumble around! The whole weekend was a reminder of how much communication can be shared with basic phrases and how far a friendly smile can go :) I’m coming away from this weekend inspired to learn Spanish so the next time I return I’ll be able to interact with all the friendly, interested people who wanted to chat!

Talk about a welcome! I <3 Mexico :)

Talk about a welcome! I <3 Mexico :)

3. Racing always hurts.

I love this quote from Boys in the Boat: “The and most fundamental thing that all novice oarsmen must learn about competitive rowing in the upper echelons of the sport: that pain is part and parcel of the deal. It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.” This might refer to rowing, but it is SO true for triathlon! While this is not a new revelation by any means, it captures a new mindset that I have taken on this spring – there is no room for fear, for nerves about how fast others will go. My goal in Ixtapa was to go as hard as I could in each portion of the race: swim, T1, bike, T2, run. While the result wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, it was a solid, unrelenting effort in challenging conditions, which is all I can ask for!

View of the swim course from above

View of the swim course from above

4. Playing catch up isn’t fun.

The speed that my competitors took out the swim with took me a bit by surprise and as we approached the first turn buoy I was sitting further back than I both wanted and expected. From that point to ½ way through the bike, it became a game of catch up. I made up some ground at the end of the swim, passed women in the long run from the beach to transition, and biked my way into the main pack a mile or so out of T1, then we worked pretty well over the first half to real in Dolan, Perez, and Ruedo Santos. Once we caught them, the energy of the group deflated and it took a lot of shouting on my part to get women to work. I understand playing the game, but I wasn’t going to let us just sit. The effort in swim, T1, and bike definitely caught up with me on the run.

My legs were zapped and I couldn’t put up a run that I felt represented the fitness and speed I have right now, which was the one disappointment of the day for me. So the question is: should I have broken away when our groups merged, as my legs were tired anyways and at least I might have had a head start on the run? Could I have played the bike differently for a stronger run and podium performance? I suppose we’ll never know, but if I had to do it again, I would have kept barreling forward when we caught the front three women and shot for a breakaway as opposed to sitting in the group. Valuable lesson learned, and I am definitely taking incredible experience from this race for the next time I toe the line!

Two Weddings and a Race

The last week or so has been quite the whirlwind, between racing at CAMTRI Richmond, a trip up the coast to Newport, RI for WEDDING PLANNING (weee!), and the wedding of one of Adam’s best friends.

It was a blast to be back on the east coast – I flew into Washington Reagan, and driving out of DC down to Richmond, I couldn’t help but smile as I passed by running trails and views that were so familiar when I lived there after Dartmouth. I had an amazing homestay – the man I stayed with there is an incredibly accomplished endurance athlete and was a blast to talk to. Made me feel so at home!

My room in Richmond, called "The Glamour Room!"

My room in Richmond, called "The Glamour Room!"

Look fast, feel fast, race fast!

Look fast, feel fast, race fast!

The weekend went by in a blur of rain showers and workouts, and I was pretty zoned in – Greg and I planned to train right up until the race so I was focused on one thing at a time.

Just a little rain leading up to the race ;-P

Just a little rain leading up to the race ;-P

Luckily for us the rain cleared as we lined up for the start, and before we knew it we were off. Greg and I have been working my swim since Florida and seeing progress, but I didn’t know exactly where I would stand, so when I got out of the water next to girls who I was 20-30seconds behind in the swim 6-weeks prior, my head was like “WHERE AM I!” Out on the bike, our pack wasn’t working well together, which was somewhat frustrating, but I decided to sit in as opposed to burning matches. Going out on the run was bizarre – my legs were tired, but fresh, and for the first time I felt like I could actually go out too fast! I balked and didn’t quite execute on the run, but I was still happy with a 5th place finish and my first ITU paycheck!!

Rain cleared just in time for the swim -- talk about calm waters!

Rain cleared just in time for the swim -- talk about calm waters!

Post-race refueling -- my fave, Whole Foods Pizza!! 

Post-race refueling -- my fave, Whole Foods Pizza!! 

The next morning I was off to Rhode Island, land of sailboats and Adam’s and my wedding come December! From there it was 24 hours of wedding planning madness! And by madness I mean FUN! – wedding cake tasting, florist meetings, and the chance to see our venue in person for the first time! 

The venue for our big day!

The venue for our big day!

Cake, cake....

Cake, cake....

.... And more cake!!!

.... And more cake!!!

Training stops for nothing! Had plenty of workouts to work off all that cake!

Training stops for nothing! Had plenty of workouts to work off all that cake!

It was also amazing to spend time with all of my family who live in Newport… and get a little road trip with my mom and Tessa (our puppy!) back down to New Jersey, where Adam joined us for the next wedding… which was actually a wedding! One of Adam’s best friends got married in the Hudson Valley area and boy was it beautiful! The wedding was a blast start to finish – Adam and I had to laugh, because we’re so in our South Bend training bubble these days, and it was a little weird to be around “regular” people with 9-5 jobs who were boozing it up at the bar, eating whatever they felt like, dancing the night away knowing they could just sleep in the next morning. It was definitely a refreshing change and nice to let loose a little with our friends. We had such a fun night -- incredible band, soooo much dancing, delicious food and cake, and the happiest, most beauteous couple ever.

The newlyweds!

The newlyweds!

Gorgeous cake, insane filling (cannoli!!)

Gorgeous cake, insane filling (cannoli!!)

All in all, it was quite the week. All great things, but now it’s great to be home and I’m back to work leading up to my next race on May 21 in Ixtapa. Stay tuned for updates! 

Major League Talent Takes Temple

If you don’t read further than the first lines of this post, I’ll say it up front. Whether you think of yourself as a triathlon enthusiast or not, don’t let 2016 go by without attending one of the Major League Triathlon Series events!

LAYING THE SCENE

Last weekend, I made my way to the Lonestar State with 31 other pro triathletes for first Major League Triathlon (MLT) Series race. The race location – Temple, TX – is an army town sandwiched between Dallas and Austin. Home of Bucee’s – literally the BIGGEST gas station I’ve ever seen. Temple was a bit of a hike to get to – my travel began on Thursday morning at 4am with a drive to Chicago and flight from Midway to Dallas. Lucky for me, I was able to train in Dallas on Thursday and then stay overnight with friends before embarking on the 2hr drive (well…. 3 thanks to construction traffic!) with John O’Neill & Erin Jones, who were also racing there (road trip woohoo!). And Temple itself was actually a cool town - it's right on an army base so it very vibrant with a lot going on! It was a great setting for a weekend of racing.

TAKING A STEP BACK: WHAT IS THE MLT SERIES?