Wednesday, July 18, 2012

USA Cycling XC Nationals

Nationals… a race I’d been looking forward to, really, since I left Nationals in July of 2011. Last year, despite the best efforts to plan and organize, my trip came unbuttoned then back together after some unexpected events thanks to the kindness of others. This year was going to be different. This year, I’d fly WITH my bike so as not to lose it somewhere in the western part of the country. This year, I’d have the support of my husband and our friends. Honestly, I was giddy with excitement and anticipation once the school year ended and I could focus on getting ready.

I’d raced two NUE’s in the Spring, so after my last hundred miler at Mohican on June 2nd, I’d planned to focus on speed and tempo work during the month of June. By the end of June, I was feeling exhausted, so I took about 4 days off from regular training. It pained me not to get out on those gorgeous, June days, but I knew my body was crying out for a bit of rest.

On July 3rd, we flew out to Utah and drove up to Ketchum, Idaho all in one day. 19 hours and 1 speeding ticket later, we arrived at our condo where we’d stay for the week. The air was crisp, clean and was filled with scent of the fresh pine that was all around us. I couldn’t have been happier to be there.

For the next few days we took advantage of the numerous trail systems that Ketchum had to offer and tried to suck every last drop out of the amazing riding that beautiful place boasted of. The air was thin, and our legs burned, but it didn’t seem to matter. Carving our way up those mountains through wildflowers, butterflies and backdrops of snow covered peaks, then ripping down the dusty trails gave us all the motivation we needed to forget the pain of the altitude. By Friday I said to Ron, “I’m not sure if I’m just used to feeling poorly, or if I’m actually acclimating a bit…”

By race day we’d pre-ridden our courses and were ready to go. The Cat 1/Singlespeed course was 1 lap with a 6.5 mile climb in the beginning. It hurt to pre-ride but the views were stunning and the downhills were ripping fast. Fun! Ron pulled off an incredible finish despite not feeling his best.

That afternoon, after a solid warm up, I lined up with the nation’s top female riders. This year I’d moved up a bit with the 2nd to last call up. Yes, progress!! There was something unspeakably inspiring about lining up (albeit several rows back) with the women who are representing the U.S. at the Olympics this year. What an honor.

The race started with a sprint to get in a good position before hitting the single track that led to that first, killer climb. Ten seconds into the start, there was a crash in front of me that I was able to navigate my way around. 2nd to last call ups have their benefits! I made a couple of passes through the rocky single track and started my first of those five climbs. Words, pictures, even video clips do not do this climb justice. It is easily the hardest climb I’ve raced. In fact, while we were pre-riding Ron looked over at me and said, “I cannot believe you voluntarily flew back here to race this course.” It’s a gravel road, straight up the ski slope that takes the majority of each lap time. For me, it was about 12-15 minutes per climb and I actually tipped over in my granny gear on the pre-ride because I didn’t keep my cadence high enough. 

Photo by Spoken Chain

Photo by Spoken Chain

Photo by Spoken Chain

Back to the race… once I made it into the switchback downhill section, I tried to focus on my breathing, drink, and take the descents as quickly as possible. This seemed to work well and I made another pass or two. I pushed hard, tried to stay focused and appreciated the encouragement greatly from Ron in the pit and Mike, Ali and Mark on the climb throughout each lap. 

By the last climb, I was cooked. I didn’t know if I had it within me to get up it without walking for a bit. I’d seen some others dismount which made it all the more tempting. A sweet, older gentleman looked me directly in the eyes, smiled and said with great confidence, “You KNOW you can do this.” Right then, I made my mind up and pushed through the burning to get to the top one last time without dismounting. It was a small, yet positive victory.

Photo by Spoken Chain

I finished 19th that day and was elated with a top 20 finish at Nationals. As I flashed back to last year and compared the two races, I knew I’d ridden stronger and with much more confidence this year. More importantly, I had so. much. Fun!

Just as I’ve been drafting this particular post, the same message has come to me twice from different friends. It seems so appropriate to close with. It states, “Your best is always good enough, because it comes from you, and you are always good enough.” –Madisyn Taylor

I know without question, I gave XC Nationals my best this year, and I will never forget the memories made in Idaho and Utah, all of which I’m so thankful for.