I spent January with my left foot in a boot thanks to a late-season stress fracture, so when the Stokesville 60/40 MTB race rolled around as my 2022 season opener, I was admittedly a little nervous. I’d only been riding my bike for 4.5 weeks and didn’t feel like my fitness was anywhere near what it needed to be to race. The only hard effort I had even done leading up to the race was a FTP test the weekend prior….which was dismally low (at least compared to what I was hoping for). Other than that, everything was short, light workouts–mostly cadence drills and easy Zone 1/2 rides.
My coach’s instructions for the race were specific: “Do the 40k distance, stay within threshold–don’t ride at or above it for too long or too often, this is not about results.” Honestly, I didn’t know what to do with that. Would I be able to rein myself in? What did this new, lower threshold feel like anyway? And, of course, in big, bold letters in the front of my mind, was that ever-nagging question: “what if I’m not ready?”
Having ridden the 60k version of the course in 2021 on my hardtail, I remembered the course as rocky, rough, and challenging…but I also knew that I’d now spent a year training in rocky conditions and was better technically prepared than I had been in 2021. Or, at least as of December 2021, I was better prepared. When I went out to do a shakeout ride the night before the race, it was only my second time on trails since the start of the year–and I felt shaky at best. Still, despite some last-minute second-guessing, I chose the hardtail again. It is a straight-cross-country hardtail, the 2020 Specialized Epic HT with a 120mm Rockshox SID fork for a bit of extra shreddy-ness. My thinking was that it was at least light and fast for the long stretches of gravel at the start and finish of the race.
In the end, removing the expectation to go deep or to get a result was exactly what I needed. I had more fun at this race than probably any race last season because I was able to sit back while the field jostled for position at the start of the race (something that always makes me anxious), then push to “comfort,” backing off anytime the perceived effort starting getting too high. I surprised and excited myself with how much of the technical portions of the course I rode without hesitation (in comparison with the previous year where I remember being truly scared and/or unable to ride much of it). Because I wasn’t racing for a result, it bothered me less when other riders clogged up the trail or walked down the middle as I rode up behind them, and only laughed as I tailgated dudes on full-suspension bikes on the descents. I was grinning the entire course and finished with “gas left in the tank,” exactly as instructed. Getting 4th place was just an unexpected bonus that gave me a lot of confidence going into the season after coming back from injury!