It’s another race in the books, and one big step forward on the Road to Rio. Last week, I returned from Monterrey, Mexico, where I competed at CAMTRI Continental Championships. Two days later, I moved (which as everyone in the world knows, is the worst) from one Chicago neighborhood to another. Hence the delayed race recap. But here it is!
Being that this was Continental Championships, there were more points on the line than there are at regular ITU events. As a reminder, points determine your world ranking, which determines what races you can get into, and eventually determines Rio qualification. CAMTRI was to be my sub-A race for the year, so I had spent the month of April in a phase of high-intensity workouts. I entered an intimate relationship with my Trigger Point roller, and for the first time in my life, made napping a regular part of my week. I’d also recently begun working with Aris Atoa, a strength trainer at Fit Speed Athletic Performance, and was feeling good about the work we’d put in. After the bike malfunction in Australia, my ride was all tuned up with some new components thanks to the bike gurus at Running Away Multisport. I went into the race feeling especially strong, and with the goal of placing first in my sport class so I could maintain my position at the top of the world rankings.
Continental Championships are only open to athletes in North and South America, and with a large US contingent present, I had the chance to catch up with many of the friends that I’ve made over my years of racing. Every time I go to these events, I’m reminded of just how much I enjoy spending time with my fellow athletes. For this particular race, I was lucky enough to have my coach, Kimberly Shah, along for the ride. Having her there was invaluable, from using her as a sounding board to go over course specifics to serving as an extra source of motivation on race day. She was able to watch both me and my competitors in action on the course, and gain valuable insight that we’ll use to develop my weaknesses going forward. But most importantly, she was there to carry my shit, deal with all of my meltdowns, and take care of all the high-maintenance demands that I tend to have on race day. The fact that she still talks to me after the weekend is a testament to her patience and dedication.
The course was unlike anything I’ve raced before. The entire race was held within the confines of what could best be described as an industrial theme park, a smorgasbord of a tourist attraction that contained everything from our hotel, to a ferris wheel, to a factory. The swim was essentially in a lazy river without the current (though it did boast a lovely water feature, pictured to the right), and the bike course was a smooth, fast, 6-loop course with lots of twists and turns. After going through course familiarization the day before the event, I knew it was going to be a fast race.
The race got off to a rocky start on the swim—I was so focused on trying to get in the draft of other swimmers, that I ended up zigzagging the course (Kimberly was on the sidelines yelling at me the entire time and according to her, I’m lucky I couldn’t hear what she was saying). I came out of the water in fourth place, but passed two of my competitors by the second lap of the bike. By the fifth lap, I had taken over the lead position, and knew I just needed to maintain that lead through the run. I’m lucky in that the last section of the race also happens to be my strongest discipline, so I just did what I do best—tune out the rest of the world and gut it out. I was thrilled to cross the finish line in first place, and to earn some valuable points to put in the bank. More importantly, I had my fastest bike split ever, as well as my fastest average pace on the run.
So what’s next? I just finished up a well-earned recovery week, and now it’s time to do it all again. Fortunately, I have enough points that I’m going to be able to opt out of the next few ITU races. This was a difficult decision to make, as international racing experience is always valuable. But I also know that too much racing and traveling can take its toll on me both physically and mentally, and I can’t afford to lose my focus this year. So instead, I will be dedicating the next 12 weeks to a solid training cycle that will take me though my peak race on August 1st. This race is actually an Olympic test event that will be held in Rio, on the same course that we’ll be competing on in 2016. This event is going to be crucial for Paralympic qualifying purposes, as the winner of the race essentially earns a spot for Rio 2016.
I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me between now and then, and Fun Hailey will be all but dead for the next few months (though let’s be real, she died a long time ago). But in all honesty, I can’t say I really mind. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices over the last 6 months, and I know that I will be making even more in the months ahead. I’ve made a lot of life-changing decisions since the Rio announcement came out, and I know that I will be making many more between now and September 2016. But all of those sacrifices and all of those decisions are validated every time I get on the race course.
Case in point: as I was walking back to the hotel room after the race, I found myself thinking about all the reasons why days like this are my favorite. The “Christmas morning” feeling of waking up on race day; the adrenaline/caffeine-induced exhilaration of setting up my transition area; the heavy beating of my heart that’s anticipating the sound bullhorn at water’s edge; the burning pain in my lungs, legs, and pit of my stomach that somehow makes me want to push even harder; the sheer jubilance of sprinting down the blue carpet and breaking the finish tape; and the absolute contentment with the knowledge that I am doing exactly what I was meant to do with my life.
So yeah, the rest of the summer is going to get a little crazy. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.