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Why a break is important

Fall in Ann Arbor is one of my favorite things in the world.  What is better than football games,

On the deck of the Norwegian Sky cruise ship docking in Miami.

On the deck of the Norwegian Sky cruise ship docking in Miami.

cider mills, colorful trees, and dirt road riding?  My first thought when I finished up my season in New Orleans was… What now?  In my head, I had already planned that I would finally join in on the infamous weekly “Nacho Ride,” where bike racing meets dirt roads and finishes up with beer and nachos.  Or maybe I would try my hand at the “Dirt Hammer,” a full hour effort (ok, probably slower than that for me) of a 23 mile scenic loop touching the some best dirt roads in the Ann Arbor and Dexter regions.

Not having a detailed training plan meant I didn’t need to be too careful of not spending too much energy on one ride or run, and I could fully enjoy all the fun that training in the fall offers. But it took some careful thought to realize that as much fun as all of those things sounded, I need to take this time away from all things swimming, biking, and running.  If I had any doubt about this, a my first run 5 days into my break, I stepped on a stick and rolled my ankle. (It quickly healed, no worries coach!)  Nevertheless, that’s all I needed to convince myself that some rest, away from my normal activities is just what I needed to take advantage of this time of year.  So I replaced my running shoes with dancing shoes, and enjoyed some time lifting with my sister.

Can you see the resemblance? ;)

Can you see the resemblance? 😉

It’s more difficult said than done, as having a schedule to follow is addicting.  However; I never want to do something just because that’s what I do, especially triathlon.  Yes, I am someone who enjoys structure, but I do really believe that the only way to be really successful in sports, is to make sure you love it and don’t just love the structure that it brings.  So even though Ann Arbor has had nothing but sunny and beautiful days (photocred: Lex Williams) since my return this fall, I have resisted the urge to take my bike out, or put my running shoes on.  Instead, I’ve filled my time with appointments, vacations, family time, and planning for 2017.  

Cruise to the Bahamas

Cruise to the Bahamas

I know by taking time away from the sport that when it is time to lace up the running shoes, I won’t be critical of my splits, form, or distance.  Instead, I will be able to feel the freedom a simple run gives you.  To enjoy the satisfaction of feet pounding on the pavement.  This time off will allow me to recharge and remember everything I love about my sport.

After a month off, when it is time to gear up for 2017, I am confident that regardless of the weather, I will be mentally and physically ready for a long 11 month season.  For now, I will be active, but in different ways from my typical triathlon schedule.  Maybe I’ll take up golf or something. 😉

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Climbing Mountains

Wow. There’s nothing like summiting a mountain on two wheels that makes you feel so small yet so powerful at the same time.

Ever since I read the Nancy Drew Bike Tour Mystery book in 3rd grade, where Nancy and her best friends Bess and George go on a bike tour around Ireland, I had always dreamed about having my own European biking adventure.  Spain is not Ireland, but alas, my dream did come true these past two weeks.  Collectively my buds, Claire (aka Bess) and Johan (Claire’s boyfriend, aka George) cycled a total of 400 miles throughout the 14 day span on Mallorca Island.  

The views were beautiful. The contrast of the beauty and pain I was feeling was enough balance to keep me riding. These training sessions were a big wake up call for me, a realization that as much as I thought I had ridden “hilly” courses before, the hills can always get “hillier”! As challenging as it was, I loved every minute on the bike.

Claire and Johan kindly leading me through the routes.

Claire and Johan kindly leading me through the routes.

I appreciated having some incredible guides to follow. Johan led us through multiple 3-4 hour rides, rarely repeating the same route, and somehow managing to never get us lost.

Reinout, Claire’s coach, and Kathleen Sterccx joined us for the second week of training camp. Together as a group of 5, we cycled a total elevation of 18,000 ft (assuming my Garmin is not telling lies).  Kathleen is a fearless descender, so I picked up a few tricks trying to stay on her wheel winding through the hairpin turns.

From L to R, Me, Johan, Claire, Kathleen, Reinout

From L to R, Me, Johan, Claire, Kathleen, Reinout

Kathleen is fearless on the descents!

Kathleen is fearless on the descents!

Following Claire’s training plan and preparations for the Olympic season was impressive. It was inspiring to see her dedication to improving her weaknesses both in the pool and on the bike. She has spent much time looking at her inefficiencies in the pool, and working on her stroke. I can say from 6 months ago when we last trained together in Ann Arbor, she has improved a ton! I can’t wait to see her in action this season (Abu Dabi WTS in 2 weeks!). I think she will make Belgium very proud!

Practicing beach exits. Details!

Practicing beach exits. Details!

Training camp was not so different from the winter training camps I went on as swimmer in college. Daily routine was very similar. Wake up. Eat a lot. Drink a few espressos. Go do the first session of the day. Come back and buy lunch. Eat a lot. Drink some tea.  Sneak in a nap. Go complete session 2 and maybe 3 of the day.  Enjoy the incredible dinner buffet. Have some dessert. Head to bed.

It's not all serious at Hotel Viva Blue ****

It’s not all serious at Hotel Viva Blue ****

The training camp ended in the best possible way. Waking up to find my alma mater had won the Big Ten Championships for the first time since 2004. My heart couldn’t be happier! I may be doing a new different sport, but my pride in Michigan Swimming is always so strong. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m happy to have been a part of the journey!

Class of 2013

Class of 2013

Patience Young Grasshopper

Quick weekend visit to one of the Triathlon Meccas - Boulder, CO

View on my long run in Boulder, CO! Quick weekend trip to visit a Triathlon Mecca.

After being injured over the summer, the hunger for a carefree run was real.  I was thrilled at the prospect of having training plans, and… oh my! a schedule, again!! My legs (and feet) were giddy with excitement!! All I could focus on, was getting back at it, right that second. “Put me in coach, put me in!” was all that was echoing in my head. “When do we start? Tomorrow? Today?? Right now?!?!?!?”  and all I wanted to do right at that moment was a 6 mile sprint, balls-to-the-wall, see-what-you-got kind of effort. (Thank goodness my reliable team comprised of calm and logic held me back from a potentially fatal move.)

The point was, it had been SO LONG (in my mind) since I had done anything “quality.” Which, in the logic of a triathlete, means one of the following:

  1. A swimming session where you finish with a bright red face. AND/OR
  2. A biking session where you’re legs scream in agony, you rest for a minute, and repeat for the duration of the ride. AND/OR
  3. A tempo and/or track and/or hill session.
  4. Tackling a footlong Subway sub in under 3:00 (very proud of this record).
3rd Place and my best Draft-legal finish!

3rd Place and my best Draft-legal finish!

I got my schedule via email, and opened the excel attachment with euphoria.  Trumpets were sounding in my head.. this is it… FINALLY.  And what I heard while reading was more like a kazoo. No tempo runs. No track workouts. No hills (or footlong sub eating competitions). For. Three. Months.

I spent all of November, all of December, and most of January “building base.” And, this week, with just as much fanfare (in my head of course), I completed my FIRST track workout since April 2015.

I recently came across some pictures from a few of my first triathlons. I got this feeling inside, itching to get back out in a lake, river, ocean, and get back to racing triathlons.

Stoked to partner with Aquaman for 2016!

Stoked to partner with Aquaman for 2016!

(Another instance where it’s nice to have some sane people around you to remind you that yes, the lakes are frozen in January in Michigan, and no, as good as your Aquaman wetsuit is, it will indeed not keep you warm enough).

As much as I wanted to get on the track on that very first day of November because I finally had pain free running, I did not. And as much as I want to dive right into competition because I had my first successful track workout, I remember that time is good, and “simmering” just makes things sweeter.  The beautiful things about honest winter training are not captured by race-day professional photographers. The beautiful things about honest winter training are much more subtle. Coffee on the couch after crushing a saturday morning long run. Long rides indoors with buds, catching up on the latest gossip or TV shows. Knowing that this session, plus the next, combined with that long run last weekend, and everything in between will get you to that triathlon, marathon, ironman, open water swim finish line this summer.

So on that note, for now, we simmer!

Winter long runs, and Dirt Roads.

Long Run Bliss and Dirt Roads.


Collegiate Nationals, 2014

If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.

When I began my quest for being a professional athlete, in the fall 2013, I hardly told anyone what I was doing.  Yes, people knew I was active, swam in college, and that I did a triathlon on occasion, but besides my parents and coach, no one knew my biggest desire to become a professional triathlete.  Saying dreams out loud is scary, the fear of failure and criticism can be overpowering.

One of my sister’s best friends (conveniently who has the same first name as me… man those Valerie’s are ruling the world ;)), works for Zingerman’s (iconic local deli and gourmet foods store) in Ann Arbor, MI.  One of the things Zingerman’s trains and encourages its employees to do, is to write a mission statement… and share it.

I realized I had a mission statement, but I was too afraid to share it.  Over the next few months, instead of avoiding questions about my goals and intentions with triathlon, I embraced those moments as opportunities to share my mission statement.  I realized that in doing so, I did not receive criticism, but instead love, support and encouragement.

1.5 years later, I achieved what I first set out to do.  In light of trying not to make the same mistake twice, (something I’m working on), I share with you my next mission:  Make the 2020 Olympic Team on behalf of Belgium.

Using this blog as my platform, I am to stay natural, clean, and true to myself (no promises about unfiltered photos though).  I aim not to brag, but rather encourage those around me.  In return, I hope others have the trust to share their dreams and aspirations, big or small.