2021 Race Reflection #1: St. George 70.3 – North American Championships

This trip was a doozy. The real process of crossing the finish line started two months earlier when a coworker of mine quit unexpectedly, resulting in me and my superior working overtime for the next several weeks. I work as the strength coach for a local club swim team, but recently obtained my USA Swimming Level 1 certification. This allows me to be on deck and coach as needed. To be clear, I have zero competitive swimming background besides triathlon and an occasional master’s meet, so I rely heavily on my coworkers to help me! In light of a coach quitting just before our biggest swim meet, and first meet in over a year due to COVID, I stepped up to help the team out. Coaching on deck for a four day swim meet out of state is not in my job description, but these hard-working athletes deserved every resource to be competitive at a big meet. It was the best decision I could have made. I learned so much about swimming in the lead up to their meet and my race!

Another reason to travel with the team to their meet was that it happened to be one week before my race in the same location: St. George, Utah. In my mind, it couldn’t be a coincidence and it was unlikely the opportunity to travel with the team AND race myself would come again. The meet was as stressful and time consuming as it was exciting and educational. I have never coached a swim meet before, and this was a big one. All the athletes who traveled to this meet had to qualify, so it was a competitive group of 28 athletes. I assisted our head coach as best as I could, but with my little swim knowledge my main task was keeping the kids warmed up, injury free, and focused. I had no idea swim coaches spend 10+ hours on deck every day, so getting my training in was hard but not impossible. It gave me perspective for my athletes that work overtime or 10-hour days!

By committing to coach the Sectional meet, I was also committing to training while on the road and all through the meet. I prefer a short taper, so I kept my foot on the gas throughout the travelling and swim competition. The drive was 16 hours, about 1,200 miles each way, so we split it into two days and booked hotels with training options. We had the bikes, trainers, recovery boots, and all the gear needed to fit training and some form of recovery around our busy schedule. Elliot was also working during this time, so we had two laptops and a printer along with all of our training supplies. It looked like a triathlon bomb went off in our hotel! It probably wasn’t optimal to our race timing, but it worked out as best as it could have. Communicating with my head coach regarding the schedule allowed me to plan swim, bike, and run sessions. We only ate out once in the span of two weeks thanks to Costco and our trusty cooler, so we felt healthy going into our taper week. Elliot was very supportive and helpful in adapting sessions to fit the busy meet schedule.

We ended up winning the Sectional swim meet, which was VERY exciting! I really loved being a part of the energy of each event, especially the relays! I grew a lot as a person and as a coach during the experience. I’m always thankful for the opportunity to grow and learn! The following  weekend, two athletes went on to qualify for the Olympic Trials, which was even more rewarding to learn. The momentum from the Sectionals win carried me into taper week with a confident attitude.

Elliot and I were both nervous heading into taper week. We hadn’t raced in a year and a half, like most people, but after receiving both vaccines we were ready to punch out. We were able to train on the race course the week prior, which was helpful and the main bonus in heading to the race venue two weeks early. Personally, I hate the nervous energy athletes bring to town in the days before the race, so I avoid any popular spots or training grounds.

The only bit I struggled with was the water. It was cold, 56 degrees, and really windy the day we tested the water. I had a full meltdown, tears, anxiety, taper tantrum galore. After two attempts, I gave up, left Elliot in the water, and called my dad. He gave me exactly the pep talk I needed. I was able to get past the cold and fight the waves to find a rhythm, but it was certainly no confidence booster. The combination of race week nerves and minimal open water training this year was a mental challenge more than a physical one. Moving forward, I will do more open water swimming before a big race, even if its cold! Following my breakdown, Elliot made the decision to forego any other training sessions and took me up to Zion. It was exactly the break from sports that I needed to recharge, connect with nature and myself. Thankful for those memories! Luckily, the next day, we met up to swim with an old friend from Arizona and races with the male pro field, Paul Stevenson. His sweet girlfriend, Lauren, also has a swim background  so between the two of them I felt a lot more at ease about the swim coming up. Thanks guys!

Before we knew it, race day came. The water had warmed up slightly, but sadly the age group athletes don’t get any water access prior to the race start. Elliot turned to me and whispered some last minute words of wisdom to me, and in we went at 7 am. Sadly, I swim a pace that most competitive age groupers swim (32 ish minutes) so it was crowded, physical, and still cold. I focused on energy management more than anything. The goal was to finish without conceding too much time or energy overall and, after the little freak out I had a few days before, not giving in to anxiety. My chest felt tight from the nerves, and probably a little from the cold, but I was able to get into a decent flow. I knew by the way I felt in the water it wasn’t going to be my fastest swim, but that I was going to finish it. Came out with a 32 high, not bad, certainly not great. Training motivation!

The bike was flipping fantastic. My bike computer popped off at mile 10, so I was racing by feel. Boy, what a freedom. I may have to do that more often. It’s a hilly course, but plenty of down after you go up so I would say it’s an honest but fair course if you are well rounded. The highlight was getting caught by a female around my 40. I rarely get passed on the bike or run, so I was ready to battle it out and pace with her. After yelling at her to get off my wheel (fuck anyone who shows any hint of drafting, seriously) we rode through the town of St. George and up Snow Canyon together. We each took pulls in front of the other, which was exhilarating. To me, this was the first time the race felt like a race with another girl. We were dropping guys who had full disc wheels, so I knew we were doing ok. Again, no bike computer to provide feedback, but judging by the guys we were passing and the steady flow of “Wow, Girl Power!” cheers we got, I figured we were up front. As I was taking my shoes out for T2, I saw Elliot on the run in a pack of strong runners. “GO ELLIOT!” I screamed, knowing his strength is in his run.

I came into transition 6 bike lengths behind my female competitor, and after barking at a few guys to move it or lose it, found my rack and made the awful decision to continue on without socks. I stomped my shoes on and  got a few cramps in the quads to remind me I’m human, and took off to see who I could conquer on the run. Sadly, my competitor got out of T2 before me and went on to run just ahead of me and I didn’t see her till the finish line. The run was what I expected. I was able to run the course 6 days prior to the race, so no surprises. I will say my race fitness isn’t there, so I have signed up for more races in the next few months to get that back. I moved forward and had a decent run, saw the men and women’s world class pro field’s battle it out, and was thankful to finish. I could have done better, but any honest athlete will say that. My favorite part of the run was seeing our fellow Airbnb mate screaming “GO BECCA! TEQUILA!!” while holding a neon sign that read (you guessed it) TEQUILA!

I was helped to the med tent to inspect my extremely bloody foot. During the race, I didn’t feel anything (thanks, adrenaline!) but I did see the blood on my instep around mile 5. The medical staff thought I had stepped on a nail! Turns out it was just several blisters on both feet that bled through my shoes. 4 days later and I’m still treating them, but it’s a good lesson learned.

I biked well (2:35:02) and ran ok (1:32:50). I would have liked to be closer to 2:30 on the bike and under 90 minutes on the run, but chalk it up to race fitness/experience. 5% better on the swim, bike and run would have changed my position, but getting beat is good for a person. I’m humbled, thankful, and ready to begin working towards my upcoming events. I accepted my slot to 70.3 World Championships in September. I also qualified for a pro racing license for the first time, but am not even considering racing as an elite until I feel mentally and physically ready for the jump. One thing I learned from a year sans racing: my purpose is not in my results, but rather in the experience and relationships I build in the process. Every workout, or race, is an opportunity to grow. The scarier or more nerve racking the session, or race, the more I’m going to grow from it. I am a better person because of this sport.

My husband, Elliot, has coached me for the past 3 years and has done an absolutely remarkable job. I know I will continue to grow, learn, and teach, which makes me happy and gives me purpose. I can’t wait to see how he grows as a mentor, athlete, and coach, too. I enjoyed meeting some amazing friends via our Airbnb, and truthfully that was the highlight for me! We met some awesome folks from Canada, Phoenix, Peru, and Mexico City. I learned how to make homemade corn tortillas, saw the world’s biggest Rubik’s cube (Simon!), and got to experience the beauty of Zion. Our dear friend and athlete, Sascha, made the trip from Phoenix to Sherpa and cheer (and seriously spoil us with post-race goodie bags!!) which was a big highlight as well.

I’m excited to be home and back to work, with my soul renewed and my feet raw.

Bring it on 2021!

Best,

Becca


Age is Just a Number: Getting Fitter, Faster, And Stronger with Age

I’m turning 30. WHAT! Where did time go?? 30 may sound young to some, and old to others.  Some athletes achieve world titles and Olympic medals at 20, while some athletes cross record-breaking finish lines in their 80’s and 90’s. In fact, some people over 100 years old still compete in events like track and field. So, why let aging stop us from becoming fitter, faster and stronger? Today, I’m speaking to any level of athlete at any age about breaking mental and physical boundaries NO MATTER WHAT.

Part 1: Swag

“3 – 2 – 1 SWAG” The swim team I work with broke down an epic practice with a confident, unified (and yes, still socially distant) cheer. What stood out to me, as their strength and conditioning coach, wasn’t the speed or power generated (though both looked great, too!) but the mental fortitude that was impossible to ignore. After 4 weeks of grinding in the water and in strength workouts, these 13-18 year old athletes now carried themselves with poise, purpose, and a little swag.

When we come together with others that share a common goal to simply improve, great things can happen. Whether you’re on a swim team, in a spin class, part of a running club, or train with a lifting group regularly, the intention of the group often dictates the level of productivity. While I discourage relying completely on another person or group of people to feel validated or successful, I highly encourage athletes to engage with a peer group that will challenge them in a healthy way. Humans naturally adapt to their environment, and if that environment is pumped full of energy, focus, and SWAG, I don’t know how you couldn’t see some marked improvements.

If you feel like you’re lacking confidence, I want to challenge you to find at least one other person that shares a goal you have (losing weight, improving a skill or hobby, picking up a new sport, etc.) and commit to 12 weeks of consistent, goal-oriented work at least 3 times a week. I don’t care if it’s knitting or power walking, if you want to improve, you have to put the time in. Encourage your partner(s), make it fun, work hard and give it the right amount of time. Take a photo, write a note, or do a baseline test on Week 1 to compare it with Week 12. I would be willing to bet you’re in a better place mentally AND physically in Week 12!

Part 2: Coaching is Critical

“These results aren’t that great and, quite honestly, I know you can do better.” Elliot, my husband of 3 years, reviewed my test set with an unenthusiastic response. Elliot is my coach, and a very honest one at that. What he lacks in tenderness, he makes up for in results. While this style isn’t the right approach for everyone, it is the right approach for me. Sometimes it hurts to hear the feedback we are too afraid to tell ourselves, but hindsight is 20/20 and if he hadn’t spoken that truth to me, I highly doubt I would have committed the 10% more time and energy into the next training block. I’m happy to report 2 weeks later I did the same test and completely obliterated my previous results. He was right, even if it made me mad and defensive at first.

*I should note that both Elliot and I got into triathlon in our mid-twenties. This could be considered “past the prime” for some sports that rely on youthful energy systems to be successful. Both Elliot and myself have continuously improved year over year in some capacity since age 25. Endurance sports are certainly the way to go if you want to get into something “late in the game.” A coach is especially important for older individuals, as the risk of injury generally increases with age. The right coach will load and unload at an appropriate pace so you don’t get hurt or burnt out. If you suffer from chronic injuries, your program is probably not appropriate for you. The right coaching style and program should eliminate or decrease chronic injuries.

On the flip side, some coaches can speak in harmful and borderline abusive ways to their athletes. No coach is perfect, and every coach has at least one bad day. There are plenty of under-educated, inexperienced coaches out there sharing damaging information, and I hate that. I have personally been the victim of a coach’s personal insecurities, and it was damaging. I am dedicated to being a constructive coach that listens and pushes at the same time. You can find a coach that does both. A great coach should be able to adapt their approach to fit the athlete. My message to you if you are in an unhealthy coaching relationship is this: You are worth it. Break away, find a new team or coach that speaks truth in a way that works for you, and pushes you to get the results you want and need.

I do believe having a good coach is critical. Having  an objective, external source is extremely helpful, especially if you classify yourself as an overthinker. If you are coached by someone who has never been coached, you are in for trouble. We should only preach what we also practice. Hold your coach accountable to that. If he/she doesn’t listen to you and adapt based on your results, it may be  time to go shopping for a new coach. If you don’t have a coach, I invite you to look finding one. Any goal worth reaching is worth the time and financial investment that goes with it.

Part 3: Self-Awareness and Perspective

Not every day is going to be a breakthrough. Especially as we age. You’re going to have bad days, maybe even bad weeks. As we mature, it does get a little easier to allow the process to take time. Even so, I still have mature athletes rush their timeline a bit too much. All great things take time. Allow yourself to have bad moments or rough days. One or two workouts won’t completely ruin your timeline for achieving a goal. Heck, a bad week probably won’t either.

I had to include self-awareness and perspective as two key tools to have in your toolbox, especially if you are someone who really wants to improve on a skill or sport at any age. You may not be a college athlete anymore, and it’s really easy to look back at what you USED TO be able to do. I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t the same person you were when you were 19. What you do have now is experience, and patience. If you really want something, I hope you have the tenacity to see it all the way through. It takes adaptability and endurance. You may have to try several routes before achieving the end product you want, but the process is the rewarding bit.

At the end of our lives we probably won’t look back on the things that took us a few minutes to pick up, but rather the days and weeks we spent trying to get better at something we’re passionate about. If you’re thinking about giving up because you’re “getting too old” or “aren’t as good as you used to be” then I affirm your decision. But I won’t let you off the hook easily. Are you taking the easy way out? The response should come naturally to you. If the answer is yes, then take some time to reflect on your perspective. You’ll grow either way. If the answer is no, then maybe it’s time to find a new hobby to devote yourself to.

In conclusion, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope I encouraged you to find a community of peers that will push you to be stronger, mentally and physically, because you can have all the swag you want at any age! I hope I encouraged you to seek guidance from a coach or mentor if you don’t already have a great one in your corner. Lastly, I hope I encouraged you to give yourself grace and space to try, fail, and try again.

And remember: You can get stronger, fitter, and faster at ANY age.

Love,

Becca


A Weekend of Firsts!

Champions train, endure pain, and never complain.

– Shalane Flanigan

This weekend I had the absolute pleasure of cheering on two family members, Emma Watanabe and Joy Kawaoka, my cousin and mother-in-law. Both women, on separate occasions, decided to run the races they signed up for a year ago: The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Marathon and the Maple Valley Half Ironman (a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run completed in one day). They planned and plotted how to train for the courses and execute the massive distances completely self-supported. They were successful.

My mother in law, Joy, has survived cancer twice. At 60 years-old, she’s battled broken bones, early onset osteoporosis, and the development of unique food allergies, all likely results of chemotherapy. Joy has been at almost every full Ironman and half Ironman for her son (my husband) and began training as a lifestyle change post-cancer. She never thought she would be able to do a distance like a half ironman without getting hurt, and certainly not within the 8-hour time cut off required by the race organization. I began coaching her almost a year ago to help her prepare for the grueling triathlon. As part of her training Elliot and I would join her for swims every Sunday evening, before having a family dinner, and on virtual bike workouts via Zwift. Incorporating family and socially distant outdoor workouts with her friends has helped her during quarantine, as she’s very high risk with her low immune system and age demographic. Every time I checked in on her regarding the training I gave her, she responded “I really like the training. It gives me energy, and helps me feel strong and accomplished every day.”

She feels the consistent, smart training got her to the finish line injury-free and well within sanctioned race time cut offs. In terms of a race plan, we focused on a good swim (where she is the strongest of the three), fueling on the bike with enough fluid and calories, and getting through the run. I’ve never seen her smile so bright! My father-in-law, Daryl, recorded much of the day as he offered words of motivation and encouragement, such as “You didn’t expect this to be easy, did you?” 🙂

Her results: 42 minute swim. 3hr32min bike. 2hr45min run.

Cumulative time: 6hrs59minutes. Mission accomplished! She reflected: “I’m glad I pushed to finish. I really thought about quitting….I thought of Elliot in a wheelchair at the [Ironman] finish line. Got me to the finish.”

My cousin, Emma, is part of an active family. Her father Derek, a competitive cyclist, inspired my husband to get into running and triathlon racing. He ran the marathon that brought us together in 2017, Phoenix Marathon, and has been an integral part of our relationship. Emma and her sister, Clare, have cheered Elliot and me on to many finish lines, yelling splits and positions to us while sharing root beer floats afterwards. We were beyond excited to thank Emma in a small way by joining her for her first marathon attempt.  She consistently trained through the pandemic and a crazy work schedule (she’s an accountant for Costco), putting in big miles, often with a face covering, wherever her work required her to be. Inspirational.

Derek offered to ride his mountain bike to carry the water bottles, cell phones, throw-away clothing, gels, and bars that were required for the three of us (Elliot, Emma, and myself) to successfully finish the distance. It was one heavy bike! Our Auntie Anne dropped the four of us off at the start line, snapped a photo, and wished us good luck before heading to the finish line, 26.2 miles away.

The route is incredible. We started early, so the first several miles were in crisp, foggy mountain air. The famous railway tunnel, 2 miles long, felt like running through a scene from Lord of the Rings. A small dot of light and Derek’s bike light guided us through the dark, wet tunnel before opening up to breathtaking mountains covered in evergreens. We continued on the trail, a gentle -1%  gradient, running under a canopy of trees, over fascinating bridges, and past abandoned railway buildings. Mountain streams trickled by, a constant soothing sound echoed by the constant shuffling of feet. We slowly shed layers and handed them off to Derek, who was careful to keep us hydrated and fueled. The temperature rose from mid 50’s to low 80’s by the end.

Emma never wavered. She started cautious, building her effort throughout the run. By the final miles, she was hard to keep up with! Determined to make the experience race-like, she didn’t stop at any point in the run. She did, however, smile and make excellent conversation while soaking in the views. There were no time goals in place, but she managed to crush Elliot’s first marathon time by almost 20 minutes and negative split the distance (meaning she ended faster than she started, which most first-time marathoners struggle to do!) As promised, Anne was there at the finish with cowbells, old medals to place around our necks, signs, and shouts of joy to bring Emma home!

Emma reflected: “I definitely feel accomplished! It would have been fun to beat random strangers (in an actual race setting) but I think I also proved that I could motivate and push myself even without competition.” She was also happy she didn’t have to deal with long lines to the bathroom before the start!

Hats off to these ladies, who proved that with the right mindset, consistent training, and a little determination, anything is possible. It seems both Emma and Joy surprised themselves, finishing faster than they imagined they would have in an actual race. I was humbled to be a small part of the day, running next to Emma for 4 hours before heading over to Mama’s house to cheer her on to finish her grueling 7 hour triathlon. Well – deserved burgers, fries, shakes and beers were had by all, but even more importantly we banded together as a family to conquer mentally and physically challenging distances. Thankful, humbled, happy, and sore, we haven’t stopped messaging each other since we stopped moving. Love you guys!

 I encourage you to find a community, whether its fellow family members or like-minded friends, to join you in a challenge. It doesn’t have to be a half ironman or marathon, perhaps a 5K, group bike ride or open water swim is more appropriate. Don’t wait around for “real races.” Make a plan, find someone who will join you in training and execution, and just DO IT. If not now, when?  I promise you won’t regret it!

         


The Value and Disillusionment of Age Group Rankings

I am new to this sport, with just over 3 years of experience under my belt. Soccer and weight lifting were my outlet for a decade before I got into the endurance world. I grew up on a farm, which provided me with a strong work ethic and introduced the idea early in my life that women can step up and work just as hard as men. Bailing hay with my daddy, gutting a fish with my uncle, and lifting with the high school football team taught me a unique sense of character that’s still hard to put into words. I hope this snapshot sets the background for the upcoming content in this article.

            Of my 10 + years as a fitness professional, I’ve had the pleasure of training a variety of people: old and young; secure and insecure; divorced, single, and married; skinny and overweight, weak and strong, dedicated and somewhat lazy. It’s no surprise that as I’ve focused my personal goals on endurance training and racing that my clientele has shifted towards that demographic, too.

            At first, I was thrilled! An opportunity to use my passion in this new endeavor to help a new demographic of people, what could be better? Unfortunately, the world is not always sunshine and rainbows, and quickly a sense of defeat replaced my enthusiasm. The root cause of my frustrations? The rampant obsession with age group placements.

            Age group placing has value, without a doubt, in running, cycling, swimming, and multisport competition. It brings a sense of competition to the field, and can provide an extra push in workouts. In what other sport can a 25-year- old place 3rd in her field, while her father at 63 can also place 3rd in his field?! It’s an awesome way stay positive and competitive throughout the training and racing years. It levels the playing field between the youth and senior. For that, I am thankful!

            However, I have seen people completely demoralized when their dreams of placing in an event, or qualifying for something with an age group win, are dashed in one race. What kind of absolute rubbish is that? Sports are a LIFESTYLE, a celebration of hard work and dedication that most of us thrive on. Athletes that throw in the towel after a race that didn’t go the way they wanted it to remind me of pouting children that need an attitude check. Clearly, the intentions of training and racing are not to be a better person with an active lifestyle. Rather, it seems these people are “age group champions, or not athletes at all.” This all or nothing mentality is exhausting to witness, so I cannot imagine how exhausting it would be to live under such pressures.

            Athletes, I strongly encourage you to think about your training and racing intentions. Each session should have a focus, mentally and physically. Each race should have process (emotion-based) and outcome (results-based) goals. Why do you want to get faster? How do you feel when you train hard? What emotions are you seeking from completing a race or a workout? What makes you feel better about yourself? (fueling well, being organized with family/work/ training, hitting numbers you never thought you could, etc)

Age group placements and rankings are an awesome thing to check after a race to see if executing a plan aligned with beating people that happen to share the same birth year as you. How silly to allow self-worth to be determined by a sport, let alone a birthday. Don’t let that uncontrollable factor dictate how you feel about yourself. You can’t control who comes to a race, just like you can’t control weather and mechanical issues.

For me, training and racing next to men reminds me a bit of childhood activities, like learning to hunt with my cousins. I smile as I share a course that’s open to males and females alike. I know I’d make my high school boys proud as I pound the run hard and chick the field. Sure, it helps to be a strong, youthful athlete, but the sense of joy I feel by training and competing at my best is essential to my lifestyle. I respect my body, so I train it in a way that brings the best out of each muscle. I bond with my husband by sharing miles with him, and the emotional ups and downs training brings. Am I happier when I place highly at a race? Yes and no. I have finished quite well in my age group in some races, but been completely disappointed with my execution. I knew I could have done better. Placement is bonus, a detail that matters very little. My process goals, which consist of taking risks at certain points in a race or pushing through certain adversities, dictate how I feel about a performance 100x’s more.

How about we try to take some pressure of that pressure off? Try to think about your intentions: If an age group placing is important to you- awesome! I hope you can use that to develop yourself in a deeper way. If qualifying for an event is a MUST, list some reasons why training, racing, qualifying, and racing that event will make you a better person. What opportunities will you have, what risks will you need to take that will lead to you being a better you? Talk to some people who share your goals, and have successfully achieved them. This may help keep you, your ego, and your timeline in check.

Life is much too short to spend it comparing splits to people in a 5-year age category. Yes, a world championship event, or Boston, would be cool to compete in. I won’t deny that (though it’s not personally appealing to me, I acknowledge it is an awesome motivator) Sports are so much more meaningful than the sole “tunnel vision” drive of AG placing or qualifications. The process driving you to each workout or finish line should be so apparent. I hope that the character you develop, the audience you attract, the teams you build, the lives you change (including your own) drives you more than a medal that you share with thousands. Define what lifestyle means to you, and how sports fit into it. Figure out what drives YOU to push the pedals, lace up the shoes, zip up the wetsuit.