Crossing the Finish Line with a Smile

By Ashley Tan | Aug. 16, 2017, 3:56 p.m. (ET)

ashley tan at youth & junior nationals

Every athlete has a race where everything goes well; after all, it’s practically a given, for why else do we train? For me, this race was Nationals. Not only did I perform better than I ever have in my five years of racing, I had a blast with my teammates. Of course, the road to Nationals wasn’t easy. I had to hop over a few obstacles to get to that pontoon start in Ohio.

When I moved from Iowa to Texas in February 2017, I was so eager to prove myself at practice that I pushed myself to train harder than ever before. I started running every day outside (at the time, the average temperature in Iowa was about 30 degrees, so the 70-degree weather of Texas was a welcome change.) However, I was doing too much, too fast. I had gone from running about two days a week to running at least 3 miles every day. My coaches warned me that upping my mileage so quickly could only lead to injury, but I pretty much ignored their advice and carried on. Moral of the story: listen to your coaches. They are smarter than you. I ended up with a stress reaction in my right shin and was forced to take some time off running.

During those months when I wasn’t allowed to run, I had never felt so beaten down. I tried to replace my lack of running with strength, extra biking and swimming. But when you’re a triathlete whose least favorite discipline is swimming, adding extra sessions of pool time into the mix does not make for a happy camper. I was so convinced there was no point for me to keep training, that there was no way I could catch up to the other athletes once I was allowed to run again. I was frustrated with myself; I constantly complained about why my leg couldn’t just hurry up and heal so I could go about my training pain-free. However, I knew there was nothing I could do about it, that none of my complaining or irritation would help me become stronger. So I pushed through my haze of self-doubt and worked as hard as I could to improve my biking and swimming.

Four weeks of rest and two months of physical therapy and AlterG running later, I was allowed to run outside again. Pleasant Prairie, my first draft-legal race of the year, was only two weeks away, and I scrambled to get to the point where I could at least run a 2.5k without dying. I ended up 20th at Pleasant Prairie, with the second fastest overall bike split. Feeling encouraged, I went into my next race at Monroe with the hopes of placing top 10. I crashed on the bike and had to drop out of the race. My next and final race before Nationals, Flatlands, wasn’t any better; I had a terrible swim, struggled to catch up on the bike, and bonked on the run. I was feeling rather low after two disappointing races; however, I was determined not to fall into a pit of self-despair. So I threw those races in a metaphorical bucket and shoved them out of my mind. I took the time between Flatlands and Nationals to tack on extra swim, bike and run sessions to my training schedule. I returned home every day after practice tired but happy with my hard work. When Nationals rolled around, I was a bit more nervous and jumpy before my race. After all, it was my last race as a Youth Elite, and I was determined to leave it all on the course. I told myself all I had to do was trust my training, and I’d be just fine. I ended up finishing 23rd, with the fastest run split I’d ever had. I was proud of myself; not just because I’d left everything on the course like I wanted to, but because I knew how hard I had worked to get there. However, I have to say my favorite part of Nationals was the relays. Although we got DQ’d (our 4th leg left VERY early), we had a pretty awesome handshake.

This Nationals was the cherry on top of my wonderful last season as a Youth Elite. As I go into my years as a Junior, I bring with me the knowledge that at the end of the day, it’s anyone’s race. True to life, you just have to be willing to grit your teeth, push through the hardships, and trust that when you finally cross that finish line it’s with a smile.

Find race recaps, social coverage, photos and more from the 2017 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior National Championships at usatriathlon.org/usatjr17coverage.