It’s been 2 months since CAMTRI, which means we are ‘only’ 2 months away from them announcing the Paralympic team. July 8 is the announcement day and it can’t come soon enough.
A week after the race in Sarasota, I was back on the #road2rio track because really, there was nothing else I could do. I couldn’t wait around until July 8 before I got back into training so I made the choice to train as if I was going and choosing to stay positive and be optimistic. A few times I questioned if it would all be worth it but I’ve decided that it will be. That is a conscious choice that I’ve made.
The training picked up and my coaches and I decided to focus on the run because that’s what I struggled with in Sarasota. In the past few weeks I’ve noticed a big change and was even able to PR a 5K, something I haven’t done in almost 4 years so I was pretty pumped.
As we work our way to July 8 there are a few other ITU races that I could choose to do. I am actually writing this on my way back from a race in Spain, but more about the in a second.
First, to remind you of the selection process for the team. Starting in June of last year, we could do ITU races and earn points that would rank us worldwide. Only the top 3 races mattered, so once I hit my maximum number of points and had my ranking, there was really no need to do any more of the ITU races. Last year I traveled to Australia, Mexico, Rio and more to chase these points but wasn’t planning on doing that this year. Since I didn’t secure my spot in FL, I was (and am) counting on the fact that I am ranked #2 in the world, to get me to Rio. The decision will be made by a committee and although no one knows what criteria they will use to decide, I felt pretty good about the #2 ranking.
There is a 4th American athlete who is now in the scene and trying to earn a slot on the team. She has chosen to do all of the ITU races this year, as I did last year, to podium and to prove that she too should get an invite slot. Either the slot I want, or a second slot, the committee will decide. With this news I decided that I needed to do an ITU race this year to prove that I was still in the mix. I decided on ITU Aguilas, which is a town in Spain about 4 hours south east of Madrid.
With some logistical planning to figure things out, Brian was able to take off of work to join me in Spain. A special treat as this doesn’t happen much. His dad and my mom were able to take care of Dallas and we were able to get off for a few days of travel and racing.
My goal for the race was to win (every race I enter I want to win) and to come away even more confident in my chances of making the team.
We got to Madrid on Thursday night and drive the 4.5 hours to Aguilas on Friday morning and met up with the other 6 Team USA athletes that were there to race. It was a fun group of athletes and I honestly feel like they are my family away from my family. We all want each other to do well and have fun both on and off the racecourse. Plus, we all get to wear a uniform representing the greatest country in the world and we all do it with pride.
The race preview was on Saturday and I felt great. On Saturday night I was calm, confident and ready. Choosing again to be excited for the race and happy to be there. I was going to race as best I could and hope the outcome was in my favor. There were 4 other athletes there. The girl from Finland who came in 4th at Worlds, a girl from Spain and the 4th USA athlete. We were all there to win.
Sunday morning I woke up ready. We all nervously chatted before we got in the water but seeing Brian as a familiar face in the crowd can always ease my nerves. The horn started and we were off. I felt good and as usual I was not fast enough for the fastest group but in the lead of the slower group and it was up to me to keep going strong. As we got near the finish, I saw the girl from Finland swim up beside me. We came out at the same time at Worlds last year and I knew she was fast. We came out of the water together and made our way to T1. My time was over 13 minutes, about a minute slower than I’ve been swimming so I wasn’t too thrilled with that. My lack of open water swimming through the Chicago winter is showing. My pool times are awesome but I need to get back to the fast open water swims.
T1 went ok. I couldn’t get my biking leg on right away and Finland was out on the bike about 15 seconds ahead of me. I finally got it on and as I was off on the bike.
As the bike started I knew from the start I was in trouble. The course was not in my favor as it was a gradual incline to a hill, down the hill, around a turn, back up the hill and then down. 3 loops of hills that I was not used to from my flat city of Chicago. I started to pedal and I couldn’t believe the amount of effort I was putting into my pedal stroke and remaining so slow. I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere and struggled to keep my momentum going. The other US athlete passed me early on, on the hill and I tried to keep her in my sight but hills are her strength and she pulled away fast. On every turn, I could see my two competitors getting further and further away. I tried to keep up the cadence and to keep my power up but this was not my day on the bike. I wish I had an excuse like a flat tire, or my chain came off or something. As I came into T2 I tried not to think about that this was my slowest bike time in a long time. I had my fastest bike time ever in March, and now my slowest. Why? I don't think it was an indication of my bike fitness or my training, it was just an off day and one that I can't afford, especially on race day.
I was a little defeated when I saw the girl from Finland already heading out on the run, with the other athlete seconds ahead of her, as I was running into T2. I changed my leg as quick as I could and started the run knowing I had a good run in me if I gave it my all.
As I started I saw Finland way in the distance and Brian shouted that I was 1:45 behind her. He yelled, ‘You can do this, you are strong and I believe in you’. I took those words to heart and completed my first mile at a sub 8 min pace, something I’ve never done off the bike. I could tell I was gaining on Finland and had a shot to catch her if I kept it up. As we rounded the first loop Brian called out that I had gained 50 seconds on my competitors. I saw that Finland was slowing down and told myself I needed to do everything I could do to pass her. At the final turn, with .75 miles left, I did just that. I actually caught her. I picked up the pace as I passed wanting her to think it was effortless as my leg screamed under me to stop. I kept going and finished the run with my fastest post bike 5K time ever and happy that I had something to smile about.
Did I achieve what I went to Spain to do? No, I didn’t. I was there to win and I stood with my silver medal while someone else got gold. Does this help my chances of a slot to Rio? Probably not. Does it hurt it? We don’t know. Will the committee pick an athlete based on the podiums this year or will the rankings take precedence? Nobody knows.
I have talked and thought about this for hours and hours and there is nothing more I can do but wait until July 8. The thought of the decision is like a nagging ache that won’t go away, or a constant lump in my throat just wanting to know and wanting to see that the past years of training and racing, and coming back after having Dallas and the time spent away from my family…I just want it to all pay off.
If this had happened a few years ago, I would have been a wreck. After I got a flat tire at World Championships in London in 2012, I moped around for a month. Even after Sarasota in March, I needed a few days to recover. But in the past few months I have realized the power of positive thinking. Focusing on the good instead of the bad. My bike was off, but I had a killer run. Knowing how much my run improved when I focused on it and knowing my bike can do the same. I know I have it in me.
At each race there has been a positive part and I just need to figure out how to put it all together. I can do it. I know that I can and I want to prove that I can.
So now I head home and as usual, seeing Dallas will put it all in perspective. I’m still the luckiest girl alive to be his mom. I will continue to train as hard as I can staying positive that I will be in Rio. I will wait until July 8 when they announce the team and then I hope to race in Worlds at the end of July and then in Rio in September. As we all know, the #road2rio isn’t always a smooth one, but it’s the bumps that keep it interesting.
Oh, and in other non- related race news (yes, there is that too), Little Leg turned 12. TWELVE. And as usual, her party did not disappoint. A day to be thankful to be alive. Something we should all be thankful for everyday!
And that’s my story. Until next time.