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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

By Kathryn Neuhardt | May 05, 2017, 10:55 a.m. (ET)

Championship BlogI often have a hard time talking about triathlon with people who aren’t familiar with the sport. You often have to tell them how long a triathlon is and explain that not every race is an IRONMAN, which is usually followed by a question about when you’re going to do an IRONMAN even if you have no interest in ever doing one. For me though, there’s one more thing. People who don’t do triathlons will not let me complain about being slow. “But you finished! That’s so impressive!” And in the beginning, I agreed. Finishing was impressive the first few times, but now I’m not content with just finishing. Now I want to finish faster than before. To me, that’s progress.

Honestly, Nationals felt like backward progress. It was the slowest race I did as a senior by almost 20 minutes. Twenty! When I saw people at the finish line my first response was to say that I was angry. Mostly, I was angry that my ankle, which had been injured for over a year, was healed but still not strong enough to get me through a whole race. Every step felt like I was walking on Jell-O. My run was a nightmare from the start, and I knew I could go faster if only my ankle would move.

So, I sulked over to my bag after clearing my things from transition and pulled out my phone. Like most races, I had a text from my mom. “Congratulations! Great Job!” I didn’t really feel like I’d done a great job, but getting that text made me think. My mom sent me that text because she tracks me at all of my races since my first Olympic. At that race I never got a text because I never finished. Instead I got lost on the bike course and crashed bad enough to lose a lot skin on my left leg. After that race, I got a concerned phone call. I guess that’s progress too. Then there was the fact I never once considered quitting the race. That used to happen all the time — more progress. Then there’s my ankle. I had gone a year with every kind of tape, brace and shoe insert you can imagine supporting my left foot just to relieve some of the pain. Nationals was my first race without any of them since 2015. Yeah, the muscles in my foot were weak, but at least they weren’t injured. And finally, one thought hit me. Sure, my time from Nationals this year was worse than any I’d done as a senior, but it tied my best race as a junior. It even blew away my 2016 Nationals where I limped every step of the run and wasn’t sure I would even make it to the water to start.

People always talk about one step forward and two steps back. Yet, when I stopped to count it all at the end I think I may have taken two steps forward and only one back. I’m still not happy with my time in Tuscaloosa, but there were plenty of victories to be found there. I didn’t use my inhaler during a race for the first time ever. I had a bike time I could be happy with. I had enough fun to forget about the sunburn I was getting (it’s much harder to forget about now though). And I got to a point where what used to be my best is now my worst. That’s progress, and that’s hard to argue with.
Nationals was my second to last race before graduating, and my last Olympic-distance race as a collegiate triathlete. That’s a bit hard to swallow in some ways. I won’t have a team anymore or specific trisuit to wear around. There will be a lot less “let’s go terriers” while I race, and my cheering section will get smaller. But I keep reminding myself that this isn’t really the end. I will still have the friends I made on the team to support me, even if we won’t match everywhere we go or see each other almost every day anymore. I’ll still have triathlon too. I still get the challenge of pushing myself harder and harder with each season regardless of what college is or isn’t on my suit. I still get to keep making progress, and I can’t wait.

Find more coverage from the 2017 USA Triathlon Collegiate Club & High School National Championships at usatriathlon.org/usatcn17coverage.