What do you do when you show up to your A race of the season, the gun goes off, and you just don’t have any legs?
This year’s USAC Marathon MTB National Championship returned to the rocky trails of Gambrill State Park and the Watershed in Frederick, Maryland. After racing there in 2021, I made a few trips over the summer and fall to pre-ride the course and nearby trails and acclimate to a level of #EastCoastRocks beyond what I typically ride in the Roanoke area.
Due to the cancellation of the Shenandoah 100, a hurricane, and an unfortunate crash that left me with a pile of stitches in my elbow, I hadn’t raced since the VA State Championship race in mid-August. One on hand, that gave me a much-needed break to get some solid training in and recover from a long season of racing. On the other hand, racing helps keep a body sharp and in true competitive form. I wasn’t worried about the gap in races, however, and was eagerly looking forward to the chance to race again.
Going into the event, I felt ready. I had seen the course multiple times that year, had grown in my technical riding ability, and had even nailed some of the bigger “A-line” rock moves on course during my last trip. My coach had backed off the volume considerably, so I was comparatively rested and ready to rip. My expectations were high.
I met up with a friend and competitor from Michigan for a final partial pre-ride and to shake out the legs on Saturday. During that ride, I was a bit shocked by the number of leaves on the trail and found myself riding a bit more hesitantly than I had hoped. Still, I felt I could channel my “inner Shreddy” and ride strong for race day.
This year’s elite race started with a 7.9-mile prologue, using some trails otherwise not included in the regular race lap, then looping past the start/finish area before starting the two full laps of the course. In total, that meant we were riding approximately 40 miles–a HUGE day on the rocky trails of Gambrill.
The morning of the race, I was thrilled to feel REALLY good throwing my bike around and over the rocks on the short section of trail that I used for my warm-up. A friend was set to help in the feed zone, and I was thrilled to see that my World Cup XCO debut at Snowshoe had gotten me a front-row call-up. I was excited and ready.
Then the gun went off.
My legs that had felt decent during the warm-up felt like concrete blocks.
I tried to pedal through it. Maybe my legs were just cold from waiting at the start line?
I’ve never felt so unable to produce any power at all during a race. Every glance at my power meter only confirmed what I was feeling.
While it is certainly not the optimal situation, sometimes you have bad days…and hopefully not, but sometimes those bad days land on race days.
The solution? Ride anyway.
Looking back, I am so grateful for the three years I’ve now spent working with Mario / Utmost Performance on mental performance. Riding 40 miles of grueling trails with what felt like no legs was mentally exhausting.
Over and over, I challenged myself to stay curious: “Just see what happens–even 40 miles at endurance pace is finishing.” “Try pushing a little harder here–maybe you can hold it?” “Go for that A-line anyway–it can’t hurt to try.” Repeatedly, I tried to turn away from the discouraging thoughts of how slow I was moving to just trying to have fun on course. And for moments, I was successful. I had far more fun riding some especially challenging portions of the course during the race than I ever have before… not because I rode them especially quickly, but because I knew they were psychologically stressful and prepared myself for that with the “just see what you can do” mentality.
I didn’t ride fast. I slipped, lost traction, and stepped down more times than I can count because I just didn’t have the power to push over some of the bigger moves. The junior men started their race less than a minute after I passed the start/finish after the prologue, so I got unfortunately swallowed up on one of the best chunky descents of the course and had to pull over / stop for them repeatedly, interrupting what was my only strong point of the day. And that was true: my technical skills were SOLID the whole day. I descended confidently, hopped all the logs, took the A lines, and navigated the rocks better than I ever have. Whether from skill or luck, I also managed to avoid the flats and mechanicals that plagued many of the other riders and caused several DNFs throughout the day.
Perhaps that is why I was so incredibly frustrated at my lack of power. I have no question that I am capable of a stronger ride–it just wasn’t my day.
I know that I should be STOKED for another top-ten finish in the pro/elite field at USAC Marathon MTB National Championships, but it’s hard to shake the disappointment of a result that was so different from what I expected. I also don’t want to disrespect the INCREDIBLE performances of the other women in my field–women who also faced a challenging course, flat tires, mechanicals, crashes, and other difficulties, but still rode like absolute phenoms. So in the end, it was not the day that I hoped for, but I persevered through a grueling day, still finished, and got stronger in the process. Onward!