What a day!
This weekend, the 2022 Virginia State Marathon MTB Championship took place in Palmyra, Virginia–an incredible event hosted by the team at RVA Racing.
I went into the event cautiously optimistic. I was nervous because I know that Virginia is home to an incredibly strong group of women Mountain bikers, and because I had failed to make it out to pre-ride the course in advance. With the 4-hour, mass-start format, I assumed that any advance knowledge of the course would be paramount, but, even lacking that, really just wanted to finally get on the top step of a race. For the last two seasons, I’ve been either on the podium (or close to it) for nearly every marathon-distance event I’ve done, but that top step has been soooo elusive.
During my warm-up, I did hit the last two-ish miles of the course and was surprised at how flowy, fast, and non-technical it was. And flat! Despite being a 10 mile loop with almost exactly 1,000 feet of climbing, the little, punchy climbs seem sooo different than the long climbs (and long descents) of Southwest VA that I’m used to riding. My immediate mental comparison was Brown County State Park, Indiana—my old stomping grounds. If nothing else, I was now excited about the race because my mini-preview of the course was so ridiculously FUN!
At the start of the race, I settled into fourth position, holding a conversational pace with the rider behind me, hoping to set a solid first lap, then start moving up as opportunity allowed. Some early bobbles on the singular technical climb (loose and rooted) gave me that opportunity earlier than expected, so I took it, getting into a congo line that included all three of the female riders ahead of me. I was still breathing easy and knew I had legs to go harder when the chance came, so stayed patient and waited for the passes to come. One by one, they did, and by mile five of the first lap, I was in the lead.
It’s been over two full years since I’ve led a race, and I’d forgotten how stressful of a position that can be. In a marathon-distance event, too, there is the juggling act of staying out of sight, going too hard and potentially blowing up, or going too slow and giving up the lead. I pushed hard through the remainder of the first lap, and went into the second lap with the aim of negative splitting, which, thanks to having seen ALL of the course, I did. I saw Seth’s text early, noting that I had just a 75 second gap on second place, and dug deep to add time to it—or at the very least, not give it up. My second lap was PERFECT, or as close as a lap likely can be mid-race.
Starting lap 3, I realized that I was starting to get palate fatigue from my hydration mix and just wanted some plain water…and it was getting warmer, and I was just plain thirsty. I was also getting a bit more tired. I made a few small mistakes and dabbed my foot a few times on lap 3, and by time I was eight miles into the lap, was out of water. The plan had been for Seth to give me a single bottle each lap, but being that I typically race with a hydration vest, plus bottles, that was based on a pretty rough estimate of “a bottle per hour.” Not enough. When I came to the feed zone, I skidded to a stop rather than just grabbing the rolling bottle, quickly chugged half of one bottle, dumped the rest down my neck, then started off again. (I envy the riders who can do all of that through a rolling feed—I don’t have those skills!).
Lap 4 was defined by the mantra “take what you can, give nothing back” that kept going through my head. I felt thirsty again, but tried to focus on staying smooth through the trails and pushing hard anywhere I could. Attack the climbs, pump the rollers, smooth through corners, and PEDAL! Even during the warm-up, I got great amusement from the signs posted on-course, things like, “If everything is under control, you aren’t going fast enough.” By lap 4, they were all true. And still funny. With one mile to go, I was completely solo with seemingly no other riders around for one of the first times of the race. I had no idea how close behind the second rider was, but I was determined not to lose the win. By the same token, with a look over my shoulder on the final climb, I was also incredibly relieved to not need to sprint for the finish. Still, I pedaled hard all the way through… for my very first marathon-distance win EVER and the title of 2022 Virginia State Marathon MTB Champion!!!