In what is seemingly the year of the injury, another rider’s struggles have flown a bit under the radar because of their more insidious nature.
Katie Compton (KFC Racing p/b Trek Knight) has had some struggles in her legendary cyclocross career, but nothing has been like the allergy and illness issues she has faced this season. “From a results and health perspective, yes, so far it’s the hardest and the worst,” Compton said about the current season.
Compton has struggled with allergies in September races in recent years, but past years were not as bad as this year, with the 14-time national champion taking DNFs in several of the races in Waterloo and Iowa City.
She then headed to Belgium for another full European campaign and quickly, the reigning National Champion signaled she was back with a strong third-place ride at the World Cup in Bern.
Then came the next setback.
“My allergies in the early season made for some bad starts and heavy legs, and as soon as I was starting to recover from that and had a good result in Bern, I caught the Euro stomach flu right before Koppenburg and have felt pretty bad since,” Compton said. “I haven’t had one good ride, be it in training or racing this season, so that’s been super tough.”
Compton spent the month of November trying to shake off the effects of the virus and its impact on her breathing. She has had strong starts in a number of European races, but not necessarily strong finishes. Her best finish since taking third in Bern was a seventh at Flandriencross.
When I spoke with Compton, she noted that dealing with adversity is part of being a professional athlete, but even for someone who has been through the ups and downs over her long career, this season has been a new learning experience.
“I put my whole heart and soul into something, work really hard to have good races and results and then frustration when my body fails me,” Compton said. “It gets pretty frustrating after awhile. So I guess what I’ve learned for this season, is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep doing the best I can and ask for help or support when I need it.”
Next up for Compton is her toughest challenge of the 2018/19 season. She enters Sunday’s race having won 14 straight national championships. With a streak like that, having it broken will be big news.
In the past, Compton has she’s tried to not think about the streak being broken. This year, that has been tough to do.
“Sure have [thought about it being broken], pretty frequently lately,” she said. “It’s been a good run and I’m going to do the best I can to keep it going. One thing that I will do for sure is fight as hard as I can to win.”
Last year after winning her 14th national championship Compton said that the only thing that’s true about the race is it gets harder to win every year. This year, Ellen Noble (Trek Factory Racing CX) enters the race on the heels of a season where she tore through the domestic scene, winning eight North American UCI races. Kaitie Keough (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) is also returning to form with recent wins and is looking to get the national championship that has eluded her thus far in her impressive career.
“It could go to any of us. I’m confident in my abilities as long as I’m breathing well, so a lot of it is up to my body and what it chooses to do on race day,” Compton said about Louisville Nationals. “Racing gets harder every year, and I approach each national championships with the goal of doing my best on the day and taking it as it comes.”
For more from Compton about her tough season and what she is expecting from Nationals, see my full interview below.
Featured image: Dave Mable
Pre-Nationals Interview with Katie Compton
Cyclocross Magazine: For starters, how is your eye doing? What happened to it at Koksijde?
Katie Compton: My eye is doing much better now. The red is gone and it stopped hurting about a week afterward.
I had a blood vessel break in the sclera part of my eye from trying to breathe through an asthma attack for three laps. Unfortunately, I have lots of practice in racing at the level where I am just below having a full-on asthma attack, but Koksijde is such a hard race to go easier since there is so much sand and running. It’s a max power over and over course that requires skill and focus, so I can only back it off so much and go slower.
I tried to recover, pedal easy and relax my breathing at each non-sand section, which I managed to do fairly well to finish the race, but I simply just pushed too hard while trying to breathe through constricted lungs.
CXM: I know it’s been a tough year. We’ve seen the asthma struggles in the U.S. before, but then you got a stomach virus? How did that affect you?
KFC: It’s been my worst yet. And that’s saying a lot because I’ve had some bad seasons health-wise.
My allergies in the early season made for some bad starts and heavy legs, and as soon as I was starting to recover from that and had a good result in Bern, I caught the Euro stomach flu right before Koppenburg and have felt pretty bad since.
I haven’t had one good ride, be it in training or racing this season, so that’s been super tough. I’ve had that virus in my system since then and just got another blood test this week to see if it’s gone yet. I’ve been resting and training as best I can, but it hasn’t been an ideal situation preparation-wise.
And I’m pretty sure the virus has been affecting my breathing since my allergies have been fine lately. The weather and allergens have been good in Belgium this season so that shouldn’t be affecting me as badly.
CXM: One race that was interesting to me when watching from home was Flandriencross. You were in the lead group but did not necessarily try to take control like you might have in the past. Have the health issues affected how you race?
KFC: Yes, I haven’t been able to push hard yet, so I’ve been doing the best I can with what I have at the moment. Also, there isn’t need for me to go to the front when there are women in front of me that are more than capable of pushing hard and doing the work. Sometimes it’s nice to relax a bit and follow wheels.
CXM: Is this the toughest season you’ve had as a pro? Are there comparable seasons from the past?
KFC: From a results and health perspective, yes, so far it’s the hardest and the worst. I’ve had plenty of seasons in the past that have been super difficult for a variety of reasons, but this is the longest time of weeks in a row—during my race season—that I have been feeling badly.
CXM: What have you learned from the experiences of the past few months?
KFC: I think I’m still in the learning process as of now. I’m trying to be patient and kind to my body, but it’s been a roller coaster of ups and mostly downs.
It’s also the first time that I’m actually sharing how I’m truly feeling with others. I usually try to paint a prettier picture because that’s simply easier. Being a professional athlete is a wonderful thing that I’m grateful for, but it’s very challenging and extremely difficult at times. People have a tendency to gloss over the hard parts and emotional challenges we all go through as athletes, and I think that leads to people hiding the sadness through the difficult times and don’t ask for help.
Through this process, I’ve learned that sharing how bad I feel with Mark, my friends and people who care about me, that I have a huge group of people to support me and lift me up when I’m feeling down. I’m sure we all have that out there, we just need to reach out when things are bad for that much-needed hug or laugh to keep us going.
I put my whole heart and soul into something, work really hard to have good races and results and then frustration when my body fails me. It gets pretty frustrating after awhile. So I guess what I’ve learned for this season, is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep doing the best I can and ask for help or support when I need it.
CXM: Turning to Nats, last year you mentioned that you really didn’t want to think about the streak ending. Have you thought about it ending this season at all?
KFC: Sure have, pretty frequently lately. It’s been a good run and I’m going to do the best I can to keep it going. One thing that I will do for sure is fight as hard as I can to win.
CXM: With Ellen winning so many races this year and Kaitie getting back on form, how are you feeling about the race compared to previous years?
KFC: It could go to any of us. I’m confident in my abilities as long as I’m breathing well, so a lot of it is up to my body and what it chooses to do on race day. Racing gets harder every year, and I approach each national championships with the goal of doing my best on the day and taking it as it comes.
CXM: How are you prepping for Nats? Staying in Colorado or heading to the more wintry Louisville?
KFC: Staying in Colorado as long as possible. Dry air, mountains, my own bed and altitude have got to help a little!
CXM: You won twice in Louisville last year. Does past success or failure at a venue change your approach the next race there?
KFC: Not really. I know the venue and what terrain we have to race so that helps the most. I’ll prepare for any weather conditions and take to the start as prepared as I can be.
CXM: Thanks for you time. Looking forward to seeing you race in Louisville.
KFC: Thanks. See you there.