USA National Championships: (mud, sweat, and drama)

Drama:  “an exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances.”  Drama may have been the most commonly used noun in our condo this weekend at mountain bike nationals. Drama is the mysterious entity that hovers over the national championship. Why? Drama exists at nationals because nationals has something for everybody. Everybody wants to walk away with a national title, whether it is a 10 year old kid who wants to bring his or her medal to show and tell at school next fall, or it’s the elite racer who longs to don the stars and stripes in the World Cup events. Desire is high and as the craving manifests itself through each pedal stroke; I think that drama is nothing if not inevitable.

With that said, here’s the dramatized account of the national championship (all facts are true, all adjectives are fun).

Friday morning I woke up with vigor. My eyes opened like curtains drawn up with a single throw. It was race day. We relaxed, we spun, and we ignored the impending race as the clock ticked out the hours. Outside, however, the storm was brewing, the rain was pounding, penetrating each grain of dirt, and saturating the roots and rocks. The members of the Clif Pro Team’s eyes glimmered at the rain like a kid looking at a candy cane on Christmas morning. But alas, like the Grinch that stole Christmas, Twitter exploded with the news that the race would be postponed. A frenzy ensued and everyone was tweeting @usacycling. The drama was just too poetic. We waited for an update, reloading twitter as if awaiting instructions that would save the world. The elite short track race was finally announced to commence at 5:00 pm.

As I began to warm up my legs, I also warmed up my mind. Preparing the mind for racing is like filing papers, neatly placing away the doubts and distractions and opening up all the folders with facts and past indications of success. I was called up to the line in 9th and did my best to prepare for the unexpected. The race started and everyone produced the best pedal strokes that they were capable of to catapult off the line. I started a little bit more like a homemade sling shot than an industrial catapult. I lost some positions as we weaved through the village area, but my mind was calm amongst the chaos. As we entered the rock garden, which at this point was a rock slip n slide, I dismounted and flitted across, passing nearly five people who were subsequently stumbling across. As I now began the main climb I looked up to the summit and trudged into the pain cave. I soon found myself sitting in 6th, but it didn’t feel like sitting, more like painfully clambering and clawing my way through the mud and hills. I was thriving. I lost one position but kept the race close. The minutes turned to hours. 23 minutes down and 3 laps to go. I think we were all riding on the line and playing a balancing act. With one lap to go, the finish couldn’t come soon enough; my body was fighting my desire to accelerate. My legs felt like toothpicks and my eyes were so crossed I think I could see my nose. With less than a lap to go I was resigned to 8th in the elite short track national championship but nothing feels quite as good as being completely drained when crossing the finish line. Short track was just the beginning of the drama.

Saturday night I once again laid in bed listening to the rain pounding on the window and the thunder roaring outside. The drama was nowhere near to being over. As we took to the course on Sunday morning the mud splashed up to our faces and covered our bikes with grit and grime. I learned from the short track, and exploded off the line in a good starting spot and entered the initial single track as 3rd wheel. We maneuvered together as a unit, but when it opened up for the final time before the tricky wooded section we all had the same plan of attack. I entered the roots 2nd. The slick roots were difficult to smoothly navigate. It was as if the roots had thousands of tiny hands grabbing our wheels and throwing them in unexpected directions. I did a lot of talking to myself through these sections…ok more like yelling at myself. The bogs of mud between the roots acted like traps to manipulate your position just in time to send you flying before the next corner. It was during this section that I lost sight of my teammate, Haley, as she glided over the roots and around the corner. I planned my attack on the girl in 3rd place and executed when we reached the most difficult uphill on the course. This hill was a breath of fresh air for me. Even though I was sucking air and feeling my arms go numb from lack of oxygen, this was the place on the course that I felt the most home. The roots and the rocks gave me a speed limit set by my technical abilities, but this hill was my chance to leave every single thing I had on the mountain top. I solidified a gap in this section and gambled my way through the pointy, treacherous rocks. The laps continued like this as I fought my way through the roots. I tried to push harder and I tried to let my bike go where it wanted to go even when it was straight into a tree. I landed face first in the mud at one point, but I carried on covered in mud. I heard the mud and water in my drive train as if it was my theme song. I gutted it out and I am so incredibly happy to walk away from this weekend with a SILVER medal in the U23 XC National Championship.

Thank you to everyone else who thrives in the drama and works to smooth it all over for me. None of this weekend would have been possible without the world class support from the Clif Pro Team! Chris had our bikes the smoothest out there, Waldek was the do-it-all man, and of course to my coach, Chris Mileski for making sure my fitness was dialed.

While the drama of Natty Champs has officially reached a close, the season certainly has not. Stay tuned for the adventures of the next World Cup: Mont St. Anne.

Nationals Finish
Crossing the Finish Line in 2nd (Photo: Bruce Buckley)
Nationals Podium
National Championship Podium: Silver Medal
Nationals Finish Hug
Finish Line Love Between Teammates
Nationals Start
Start of the U23 XC Race (photo: Bruce Buckley)
Nationals Excitement
Doesn’t get much better than taking the top 2 steps (photo: Kenny Wehn)
Nationals Climb
Gritting it out
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