Last weekend, I drove 12 hours to Williston, Vermont to compete in the 2019 Julbo Eastern Grind Challenge, a marathon-distance MTB race that offered a Pro/Open category. Initially, I had planned to compete in the Cat 1 XCO race, a race more similar to everything else that I’ve done this season, but with the OZ Trails Off-Road and Iceman as the two remaining races on my 2019 race calendar, my coach and I decided the marathon distance would be more appropriate to my later goals–even if it didn’t offer any USAC points.
On the drive to Vermont, I started coming down with a gnarly cold / sinus infection (the same cold that, a week later, caused me to miss out on Labor Day festivities, call off of school, and go to the doctor). There wasn’t much I could do about that, so I showed up to race anyway. After dealing with some last-minute mechanical issues on Saturday evening, I rode some of the Catamount Trails not being used as a part of the race, then headed to a college friend’s place to spend the night.
Getting to hang out with Marilyn and her family was definitely a highlight of the weekend. By our best estimate, we hadn’t seen each other for 11 years–until last weekend! But it was just like old times! We walked down to the sugar house, where Marilyn showed me the updates her brother had been making to the family’s sugaring business and gave me some samples of their award-winning Silloway Maple Syrup and energy-boosting maple-covered almonds! After making dinner and hanging out with her sister Laura and family, I headed to bed early in anticipation of a long day racing and then driving back to Indiana.
Having never done a marathon-distance race before (with the exception of Iceman, which isn’t really a mountain bike race), I wasn’t sure how to handle the pacing, but decided to go off with the group, see how my lungs handled it, and go from there. Aside from an extraordinary amount of snot (gross!), I felt pretty good, so I found a rhythm and stuck to it. The course was far more technical than what I’m used to, requiring me to really focus on my position on the bike and choosing good lines through the rocks and roots.
The entire marathon field, men and women, were started together, so I didn’t really know how many competitors were there, or even my position in the field after the initial sprint off the start, which, in typical form, I didn’t really participate in. Sprinting at the start really hasn’t been my strong point this year–maybe I should work on it for next season, but for most of this year, I’ve gotten comfortable with starting in the rear of the field and working my way up. Its never led to a top place finish, but it hasn’t been terrible either. We had five laps to ride of the rugged course, and I timed my water and nutrition accordingly, carrying only one more Clif Gel Shot than I do for the standard XCO races.
By the second time through the big rock garden mid-course, I had found a line (and dropper seat position) that I liked, and had started smoothing out some of the other rougher spots in the course as well. As a result of focusing so much on the techy sections of the course, I didn’t even realize how much climbing the course included–until the last lap, when my legs were starting to express their fatigue.
Even at the finish, I really had no idea of my overall field position. I knew I had passed several people (men and women), and I knew there were numerous riders ahead of me, but had no idea if I had been anywhere near a podium position. I was actually considering leaving, as I had a 12 hour drive back to Indiana yet that day, when I was talking with one of the other competitors who told me she thought I had gotten third.
When the results were finally posted, it was true. I had gotten third in a stacked podium, next to two Stans-Pivot Pro riders. The registration list included six riders in the Pro/Open Women’s category, but either the other three women didn’t show up or didn’t finish, so by virtue of showing up and giving it my best race, I ended up on a very cool podium with some very fast ladies!
There is certainly value in training well, eating well, sleeping well, and preparing to race well, but there is also something just to be said for showing up to race. Jim Eliot, missionary to the Auca Indians, once wrote, “Wherever you are, be all there.” There was nothing about this race in Vermont that indicated I would be able to pull off a spot on the podium: I was sick, I had last minute mechanical issues, I didn’t get a chance to pre-ride the race course the day before, I don’t have marathon experience, etc. But I showed up and gave it everything I had.
Because I’m a Christian, there’s a second part of that idea of Jim Eliot’s that needs saying, this one from 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whatever you do… do it all to the glory of God.” The verse actually talks about eating and drinking–mundane, normal, everyday things as things we are to do intentionally for God’s glory. When I first started racing mountain bikes, I had many in-depth conversations with some of my mentors about how to participate in this sport in a way that honored Christ. The thing is, racing mountain bikes isn’t much different than the rest of life. It’s part of “whatever I do.”
This year has been my year of “full send.” Almost exactly a year ago, I committed to a year of going all-in to mountain bike racing. I started working with a coach. I did my first ever set of intervals. I started paying attention to my nutrition. I started cross-training with a strength and conditioning coach. I started riding my bike more intentionally, developing technical skills, and planning races. I wasn’t sure I would like it. But I wanted to go full send for a year and see. So this year, I’ve showed up. I’ve been present. I’ve gone all in.
And it’s been great.