Maggie Rusch

Professional Triathlete

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

A few weeks ago, on my mid-week ride leading up to Challenge Knoxville, I was riding home after a great 40-mile ride when a kid flagged me down. He was probably no older than seventeen or eighteen and walking along the highway I was riding. He asked if he could borrow my phone since his truck had broken down and was walking home. I pulled over, watched a bit anxiously as he dialed a friend and asked for a lift. “Hey, good luck,” I told him as I started to push off. He shouted after me. “Oh don’t you worry! I don’t need no luck—things always work out for me!”

I laughed and pedaled away.

I kind of understood. The past few years, things always seemed to fall into place. I went into races under-trained or feeling junky and then always pulled off a solid race. I’d tell a fellow racing friend that I was worried going into a race and she’d reply “oh, you always say that and then you always do great.” And oddly enough I would. I spent the weeks leading up to Coeur d’Alene last year driving across the South numerous times (ATX > NOLA > ATX > NOLA > NC > NOLA > ATX) and skipping training sessions as I said goodbye to my grandmother and yet pulled off a great race. Training was hit or miss going into Kona 2014 after wrecking myself at Norseman weeks earlier—and yet somehow I did okay. Luck has always tended to be on my side.

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Not more than 10 minutes after leaving the kid walking on the side of the road, I was still pedaling home and an old pick-up truck came roaring down the hill after me. The skinny kid from earlier leaned out the rear window and yelled at me, “I tollllld you I had luck!!!” I gave him a fist pump in return and laughed, shaking my head.

Well folks, it seems like my good luck has passed. The past few months have been somewhat of a rollercoaster, between awesome running PRs—both distance and time—to start the year, followed by some stagnant training and then a sucker-punch as I was knocked down for three weeks from the worst round of flu/fevers/chills I've ever experienced.

Each day as I get further away from my two sub-par races at New Orleans 70.3 and Challenge Knoxville, I seem less and less interested in providing any recap of either race. BUT—something we don't always see day-to-day is the sheer amount of hard work and struggle and set-backs that go into any success. I know I'm guilty of this at times with Insta and Facebook, showing happy cycling photos or picture perfect sunsets from my favorite loops, consciously choosing to not show the photo where I'm really sitting on a curb, throwing myself a pity party as I eat a half-melted Snickers bar.

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This filtered life seems to be a very common theme in the self-indulgent world of triathlon. Lots of smiley faces and fist-pumps, lots of "BOOM! hit my watts" posts, lots of high-fiving and navel-gazing and back-patting. In contrast, there have been a few posts lately that challenge this trend, that I've honestly found very refreshing.

World Champion Pete Jacobs on "Why I Struggle". Elizabeth Rich on "I Quit". Reading a throwback post by Beth Gerdes on tackling St. George two years ago, before she knew how much she'd be crushing her competition only two years and a baby later.

I look to this specific quote by Beth as inspiration:

When a wheel is "out of true" and you try to ride your bike, the wheel wobbles from side to side, usually rubbing the brakes and slowing you down. In order to fix it, you need someone with some knowledge- a bike mechanic or such, to spend some time "truing" the wheel to get it back into alignment. The whole bike is not broken, you just need to take some TLC and careful adjustments to fix it.

My race at St. George 70.3 is reminding me that my life is a little "out of true" right now. My alignment is off. I know this. And so, when I raced on Saturday, and placed 24th, I was still happy to get out there and compete with the very best in the world and place in the top 25. Was it a top 10 finish in a stacked field? No. Was it indicative of the fitness I've had before in triathlon or my fitness in the future? No. Was it a good current "state of the union" address of my current fitness? YES. And for that, I can walk away from the race content to have given my best on that day, and ready to move forward.

The reality is inspiring. I'm ready to move forward too.

The struggle to keep things light and shiny continues to be tempting but after the story of Madison Holleran hit a little too close to home (she was also a Penn athlete, someone who struggled with [self-imposed] expectations regarding performance, both in athletics and the classroom), I thought it was time to share a bit of the #lifeunfiltered as well. This might be helpful for anyone struggling through a plateau, much like myself.

Bottom line is even before getting deathly sick, I was struggling with training. Among work priorities and life's distractions, it just wasn't fun. I lost my ability to totally smash myself, maybe as a result of trying to do just that on too frequent of a basis. I was digging myself into a hole, always tired—and from not that much activity. I resented training for taking up too much of my time and for not giving me the joy that it used to bring. I had to keep reminding myself that I'm still relatively new to triathlon, with only four seasons total under my belt and only two at the Ironman distance, and that despite my elite card, this is a HOBBY at the end of the day—albeit a super intense one. Bottom line, I knew something had to change and it was just going to require taking a deep breath and stepping off of that cliff from the familiar into the uncertain. For me, the "uncertain" meant a shift in training back to the basics.

Now, less than a few weeks into a slightly different routine, already I feel myself on the upswing, physically and emotionally. I may not be doing monster sets on the track or teetering the edge of accidentally making myself black-out on the treadmill but I'm running slower and longer and then the "slow" is getting faster and day by day I'm finding myself feeling a bit more like my old self, loving every moment—both in racing and the training.  Yeah, maybe it's actually more boring—but I feel better and oddly enough the peaks and valleys are slowly getting smoothed out as I find consistency.

This all gives me some hope. Maybe in two years, I too can link back to this after making the podium in a top regional race and laugh at how far I've come.

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So here it is, a quick and dirty of the last few months, that I'll be sharing across my next few posts (links to be added across next day or two):

The Good: Early Season Racing & Awesome Sponsors

The Bad: New Orleans 70.3

The Ugly: Challenge Knoxville

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