September 16, 2017
Xterra Pan Am Championship, 4th place. People either say, “thats a great result!” or “oh really, what happened?” I never know what people are going to say and I never know how to respond. I don’t want to discount their reaction that in the big picture, it’s pretty good, but I really want to say, NO, it’s not good; I should have been on the podium. But, even though I’m unhappy with my performance that day, I’m still thrilled that I was able to wrap up my second Pan American Tour win. It’s tough to have so much self expectation, because then others come to expect the same. Especially when you’ve won a handful of races earlier in the year.
The reason that I’m unhappy with my performance isn’t becasue I didn’t win, or because I finished 4th; it’s because I wasn’t able to RACE. I know I was capable of finishing in the top 2 or 3 and my brain was telling my legs to go but I couldn’t get to race intensity. I felt like my body was on a governor and I just couldn’t get it up to race effort.
Ever since ITU Cross Tri World Champs I’ve been feeling less than my best with heart rate irregularities and breathing difficulty. A lot of people suggest that I’m overtrained (or under-recovered) or overly stressed because it’s been a long competition season with a lot of traveling (and other life stressors) and I agree that I’m tired and ready for a break from training and competing, but I don’t think I’m overtrained. I feel like my airway is restricted and I just can’t get enough air in to make my legs go fast enough, so I try to make my legs go faster but that doesn’t last too long because I’m not getting enough oxygen to keep them going. I suppose it could be asthma, allergies, or systemic inflammation resulting from any number of things. At any rate, it’s holding me back and it’s frustrating me like crazy, especially when I want to attack race day with my best effort and I just can’t do that.
Going into the race, I was worried about how my body was going to react to the race stimulus. I feared having another episode like I did in Canada and watching my Pan American Tour victory slip away. I knew that I had a lead of over 70 points, which meant I had to finish within 9 places of Kara LaPoint so I decided to start a little on the conservative side, which I thought would produce the best results.
I got in the water early and got a pretty good warmup in. I would have liked a little more time still, but with the race nerves, I suspect I’ll never really feel completely ready for the gun to go off but I did the best warmup I could, trying to get my HR up so that the start didn’t shock my system.
We lined up on the boat ramp and watched the men go off a minute ahead. And thats when the nerves hit their peak! I tried to stay calm and just focus on the line out to the first buoy and who I would tuck in behind to draft. The gun went off and I made the dive into Pineview Reservoir with the 16 other elite women. I swam hard for a couple hundred meters until the field spread out and I found a nice draft behind a couple faster women, likely Julie Baker, Jessie Koltz and Jacqui Slack.
At that point my focus was to keep my effort comfortable and stay in the draft. Unfortunately, I drifted a little off line and lost them just before the first buoy. I thought about trying to put in a surge to catch up because they weren’t far ahead but I was concerned about spiking my heart rate and having an arrhythmia issue again so I decided instead to just kept my effort consistent where it was and I came out of the water just less than a minute behind the 3 leading women.
I got through transition smoothly and I think I actually made it onto the bike before one of the women ahead of me. I tried to open up my legs and lungs on the flat before hitting the climb but I never was able to find a rhythm all the way up the mountain…it was like I was just chugging along and couldn’t get up to the next gear. A few times I tried to attack a section to open things up but it never worked, it just made my legs feel heavier and my breathing shallow and labored. So I just settled in and went at the best effort I could. Just before arriving in T2 I got a report that I was 4th, and just 1 minute behind 3rd place. My mind wanted to believe that I was capable of catching 3rd and I wanted to continue fighting, but my legs were also feeling pretty heavy. I knew that when I started the run I couldn’t attack the first climb too hard and risk blowing up, but I could see third place up the hill ahead of me. I found a steady pace and got up that first long hill. It was slow, but I got up it and that always feels like a little victory in itself. I was able to pick up the pace at the top and I tried to let the legs open up on the rolling terrain, but they really started to get heavy again. I pressed on and then my quads began cramping. That 10k felt like the longest 6 miles of my life and I wanted to run as fast as I could just to get it over with. I realize that’s not a great attitude to have and I’m not proud of it, but thats how much mental and emotional energy I had used just to get through the day and I was in no way proud of finishing 4th because I know I’m capable of so much more. The one thing I am proud of is managing my body and mind when it was frustrating to feel restricted. I knew the end goal was to do well enough to win the Pan Am Tour and I made it happen.
Thinking back, I don’t know how I stayed so focused and kept moving as well as I did. My splits weren’t impressive but my focus was. My breathing was shallow, labored and fast but I never panicked or let it get out of control- until I crossed the finish line anyway. By then I was so tired, both physically and mentally that I couldn’t even celebrate that I had won the Series or talk with my friends about their races. Instead, I was so tired of trying to control my body and will it to the finish that I just stopped and let it do what it wanted to do, which was be out of control… My heart rate was so high and my respiratory rate so fast and shallow I struggled to breathe. Everyone wanted to help somehow but there was nothing anybody could do. I went to medical and all they could do for me was give me more albuterol, which I didn’t want, and try to warm me up because I was shivering so badly my body couldn’t relax. I don’t know how long it took, but had to be over an hour of huddling under blankets, drinking hot chocolate and finally taking my wet clothes off that got me warm and relaxed again. And thats when I realized that my foot was hurting pretty badly so I took my shoe off and it felt like there was a pebble lodged in my skin. It turned out to be a goathead that I must have stepped on while running to T1 and raced with it there for 3 hours! You wouldn’t believe how badly it hurt, and continued to hurt for almost 3 weeks. As a matter of fact, it’s still a little sore!
Now that it’s been a few weeks since the race I’ve been trying to train hard again in preparation for Maui. I’ve had good days where I feel like myself and I can push really hard, but then I also have days where I feel that restriction and like my body just won’t go like I want it to. I’ve seen a cardiologist, done an EKG, an echo, a stress test, and worn a Holter monitor for 4 days. So far no answers yet so I keep searching for someone who may be able to help. And in the meantime, I keep training as best I can, though most of the time it feels like it’s less than optimal. With Worlds another few weeks away I’m happy that I have more time to train and hopefully gain a little more fitness and figure some things out, but I also wish the season were over and I could take some much needed R&R. I’m ready for the off-season to do some different activities, have some fun adventures with friends, or maybe just sit around when I feel like it! Right now it feels like it’s pretty far off so I just have to stay focused on the task at hand and do the best I can. Next report to come on Xterra World Champs, early November!