“The real (wo)man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.” -Thomas Paine
I deeply believe that you have to look back in order to gain clarity and understand what lies ahead. When I saw the Thomas Paine quote above, I couldn’t help but be struck by how it incapsulated my 2018 season (at least, in my opinion).
I specify “in my opinion,” because I’ve had conversations with more than a handful of people who have remarked at what a strong season I had. Hearing them say this has pushed me to acknowledge the progress I have made.
Looking back to this time in 2017, I have evolved into a very different athlete and person. Adam often teases me because of how excited I get when I earn TrainingPeaks “Peak Performance” medals, but it’s the progression that they represent that thrills me so much. And this year, I earned many medals! Across the board in swim, bike, and run, my power, speed, form, and fitness improved drastically. This growth enabled me to step up to new levels of competition, from standing on the podium at the CAMTRI Lima Continental Cup, to earning consistent starts in highly-competitive World Cup fields, to racing Olympians and World Champions in Super League Triathlon.
Making the step up to racing the best in the world is certainly an opportunity I am grateful for and have worked hard to achieve. But as Laura Joffe Numeroff showed us, “if you give a mouse a cookie, he is bound to want some milk. If he is given the milk, what will he want next?” With each step I make, I can’t help but want more.
So while I do acknowledge this progress, I came away from this season with a sense of disappointment; of coming up short. From my perspective, there were races where my new-and-improved swim showed up; where my transition work showed up; where my bike showed up; and where my run showed up. But no races where they all came together to reflect a result that I knew I was capable of based on my performances in day-to-day training.
Given how much I have invested to perform on race day, this incongruity was at first distressing. But speaking with extremely accomplished athletes and reading about the journey of World and Olympic champions, I realized that this is part of what makes sport—and especially triathlon—so challenging, and therefore, so magical. The champion is the (wo)man who executes everything in the exact moment when it matters. Swim. Bike. Run. Transitions. Nutrition. It takes hours and hours, years and years, in order to achieve a lever of mastery where this is possible. I’m on my way, but I still have marble to chisel before my masterpiece comes together.
On top of these conversations, I layered consultation with my support team—including Coach Jarrod Evans and my #1 fan/advisor Adam Sopko—and then last but not least, quiet reflection. Just as Paine predicted, reflection—about how far I’ve come in draft-legal racing; how far I have to go to race at the level that would make the investment worth it for me; more broadly, where I am in my life; and what I want from sport and outside of sport—made me brave and gave me confidence in the decision that followed: to shift my focus in 2019 to non-draft triathlon, specifically the 70.3/half-Ironman distance.
I’m incredibly proud of the progress I’ve made in ITU. I achieved results that countless experts in the sport told me would never be possible given my age and athletic background. That said, the further I’ve gotten in the sport and the more I’ve addressed weaknesses to build sport-specific fitness and speed, the clearer it’s become that my strengths—such as finding a speed and holding it (energizer bunny, anyone?!)—are not able to fully shine in draft-legal triathlon. The shift is bitter-sweet: bitter because it represents the end of an era—my push to qualify for Olympic trials; but the sweetness far outweighs that bitterness because it opens the door to a race format where I believe I can compete at an even higher level and experience a really rewarding racing career. It’s an exciting pivot, and I can’t wait to explore this uncharted territory!
For all you long-coursers out there, I’m all ears! What has been your greatest challenge racing the 70.3 distance? What has helped you the most in executing great races? What are you most curious about in terms of the shift from draft-legal/short-course racing to the longer formats? I’m excited to share this learning journey with you so we can all grow together!