The National Championship. Even the words carry such a weight with them. A weight that makes the entire week so exciting that I wish I could live it every day, yet a weight that makes the exposure heavy enough that I’m glad I only have to carry it once a year.
The National Championship is a time to prove that not only are you strong enough to race with the best, but you are smart enough and brave enough to show up on the one day that counts.
This year at the National Championship, it was special. It was one of the first times I lined up knowing that I had done every single thing that I could possibly do to prepare. Period. Up until this year there was always an asterisk, always a “given the circumstances” following that statement. Not this year, this year I was ready.
Prior to this weekend, I completed the hardest training block of my life. It left me empty, broken, tired, and so so so much stronger. It made it so that there was only one emotion left for me to feel on race day: gratitude.
Mountain biking in the USA is the strongest that it has ever been and we are ranked as the 2nd best country in the world for women’s XC Mountain Biking. All of this to say, I knew I was literally racing some of the strongest riders in the World.
On Saturday I competed in the 2019 USA Cycling Professional Mountain Bike National Championship. I stood on the start line, on the front row, with a little bit of tears in my eyes. Thank you. Thank you, God. That was all I could think. To get to that point of standing on the front row of the National Championship, it took so much. It took so many people. It took so many hours and so much of an investment. I felt all of these things, not as pressure, but as people that I was racing for. Reasons that I wouldn’t give up.
As the gun went off we all eased off of the start line. Racing at 9000+ feet, everyone knew that we had to be smart about our efforts. As we climbed the first long hill I stayed conservative, not fighting for positions but staying in the group and within myself.
As we entered the first descent, I got gapped a little bit. I was no longer in contact with the front group but I could still see the riders just up ahead. I tried to focus on carrying speed and momentum and when I exited the woods on my first lap I wasn’t far behind.
Up the climb on lap 2, I closed the gap and began to ride with the chase group (one rider was off of the front). I tried to stay calm, but my body started to fight me. I was frustrated. I thought I might get sick. My legs were pulling back on me. I couldn’t get the oxygen I wanted and I was suffering. Then it started to pour rain and hail.
The race was now in epic conditions. The mud was sinking beneath my wheels, I was getting splashed in the face with mud, and just praying that I would still be able to see as the mud felt like it gripped to my contacts. I was questioning my tires on the wet roots that had been dry all week in practice.
I came down through the start/finish on lap two and pushed reset. I took one pedal stroke up the climb for lap 3 and I was back. My body was firing and I was ready to take control of my race. I began to accelerate up the long climb, still in pain, but the kind of pain that means you are doing your best.
I came around the first corner and my coach held up 6 fingers. I was in 6th place and 5th was just around the corner. I had to do it. I had to make the move. I felt like I created a steel wall in my mind and I kept all of the pain and doubt on one side as I spoke the truth to myself on the other. This is what I had trained for. I could do this.
At the top of the climb on lap 3, I over took 5th place. I descended back into the start finish and with 1 lap to go I could hardly believe it. I was sitting in 5th at the National Championship. I focused on looking ahead. I felt myself shaking with the effort and the excitement of the possibility. I began to repeat to myself, “It’s just you and me, God. It’s only you and me doing our thing out here.” That thought took me to the finish.
As I came down the finish shoot, I looked back. There was no one there. I beamed with excitement. I high-fived spectators cheering and I celebrated. It’s kind of funny, but in that moment, I felt like I had won the race. The truth is, for me, 5th place was a win and I am so grateful for my friends and family and coach who celebrated me like it was.
Lining up for short track the next day, meant putting the excitement of Saturday behind me. There was still work to be done.
I lined up 2nd row this time and prepared to start with 100% intensity. My whole strategy was to get to the singletrack in the top 3. That was what I had to do to have the race I wanted.
The start sounded and…I missed my pedal..and I entered the singletrack in maybe 15th?
In the past this might have been the end of my race, but now I know how to deal with these circumstances.
I started to chase. I chased really hard, for 2 laps. Then on the 3rd lap, that hard effort allowed me to catch onto the lead group. That wasn’t enough though. I went straight through the group and all the way up to the front. I led the race for the next lap or 2.
Not only was it exciting to sit on the front of a National Championship race, but it was the perfect cap to me gaining confidence all season long. After a few laps of shifting around in the top 3 like I had originally planned, I missed the attack, just by a second.
I proceeded to chase hard with the rest of the field for the last 5 minutes or so of the event. Places were switching around and an all around exciting race ended with 2 women just off of the front and then the next 7 of us all within 15 seconds. I ended 9th. Pleased by both my effort and the closeness of the event.
I’ve now returned home from Nationals and I am so happy and still so incredibly grateful for BOTH the opportunity AND the result. It gives me confidence and motivation as I look forward to the rest of the season and my career.
Thank you to the Clif Pro Team for the incredible support, my coach, Chris Mileski, for preparing me for the effort and coming out to watch, my mom for the cheers and listening to me as I trained and prepared, Joe Zambrano and family for coming to cheer, my cousin Bekah for making the trip up to watch me race, and of course Clayton for dealing with me every day that I follow this dream. There is a remarkable amount of people behind not only me, but every athlete on that start line. If you support any of us crazy athletes, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Now I am training and preparing for the 6 day stage race, The Breck Epic starting in less than 2 weeks.
All Photos By Bill Schieken (CX Hairs)