Race Report: US XC Mountain Bike National Championships

Muddy & bloody… but at least my socks had lightning bolts on them!

Oh man, where do I begin?!  After three days of making our way across the country (exploits to be discussed in a different blog post, hopefully!), we settled into our hotel in Allentown, PA – final destination on this whole “hey, let’s go to nationals!” idea that I’ve had since last October.

Wednesday was a large practice window, and packet pickup.  As always, I made sure we were there an hour before we could do anything, so we sat around the air conditioned lodge.  USAC races are a weird atmosphere in my mind.  Uber serious bidness, always.  I start seeing people whose blogs I read, or race results I know, and it kinda creeps me out.  Also weirds out Matt when I’m like “oh, that’s so and so.  They’ve won a world cup.  No, I’m not a stalker, I just read lots of stuff!”  I fretted about how my hairstyle matched all the Whole Athlete girls’… you know, all the important stuff I should be worried about before I race a big race on the east coast against people I’ve never seen before in life.  In fact, I do believe I was starting to have feelings of apathy towards the race.  Like I had thrown my hands in the air and decided that whatever happens, happens.  There was 6 girls in my class, and I had resolved that I had to at least get 5th to make the drive worth it.

Swag bag… Gatorade towel, energy bar, USAC stickers and temp tattoos and luggage tag and lapel pin, and the all important ticket to FREE PASTA DINNER!

Seriously, free pasta dinner.  I KNEW there was a reason I came!  Packets picked up, licenses confirmed (they really check that stuff at Nationals… beats CO road races where they don’t even check my category), we stuff our goodies back in the car and hit the course.  Humidity 1, Heidi 0.  I almost passed out on a climb.  I felt horrible.  And other racers were rude.  A girl blamed me, when I was off the trail, as the reason she couldn’t make a technical climb.  Another took to just yelling “EXCUSE ME!” instead of a nice “Hey, yo, can I pass you?” like I’m use to.  Couldn’t decide if it was the USAC atmosphere or just East Coast personalities.  I was saddened.  I realized I’m too nice of a person, apparently.  Then I remembered all the times adrenaline-raging male racers did stupid stuff around me in Wyoming and Colorado and decided it sucks everywhere.  Haha.

The course is… well… to Laramie locals, a combination of Haunted Forest (with it’s wetness, mud, bugs, roots, and rocks) and Headquarters (rock gardens) on hardcore crack.  HARDCORE CRACK.  If there is such a thing.  Rock gardens, yeah… I have ridden those.  Bear Creek Resort?  They make Gowdy seem completely tame.  Literally 5+ miles of a constant rock garden after the crest of the course on top of the ski hill.  There is no rest, flowy section.  Hell, even the wide gravel road portion of the start/finish was loose and rocky.  I learned where to walk when I wanted to preserve life and limb.  I learned that pegging it and just going was key to preserving life and limb.  And hell, screw the mud, just barrel right through it.  I wasn’t going to come out sparkling clean at the end, so play in the mud, why not?

We did one lap of the 6.5 mile course.  We originally – before we saw the course – wanted to do two on practice day.  But my body was done.  I had drained my 2 liter Camelbak during the lap and just felt crappy.  I asked Matt if he wanted to do a pro lap, which was shorter, and apparently 100% tamer, but he declined.  It was over 90 degrees with whatever horrible % of humidity, and I just wanted to shower and get out of my nasty, wet kit.  So back to Allentown we went to clean up, hit up Target, and head back for the pasta dinner.

I really should’ve taken a photo of my plate of pasta.  I’m sure I had a few pounds on there!  We joined a couple from Washington who brought their 15 year old daughter out to race.  The mom thought my pasta plate was Matt’s.  I proceeded to lick my plate clean as we chatted with them about various things.  A race organizer/timer person joined us and we learned how pissed off everyone is that USAC dropped qualifying for Cat 2 and 3 racers.  I agree, as we drove to Fruita to race in a blizzard to qualify, to find out a week later qualifying was dropped… We were also convinced to race with Camelbaks (well, I was… Matt had already decided he would) since the course would probably rattle a bottle out of the cage, not to mention there’s no smooth areas to drink.

Goofing around after creating my pasta food baby in my tummy

Back at the hotel I took to fretting about where I would place.  I realized the 6th girl bumped to Cat 2, so we were left with 5 in my category.  Awesome, we’ll all medal!  But I didn’t want last place, so I compared my Strava segment times to course times at the Bear Creek Challenge (PA State Champs back in June).  I would’ve been 2nd by over 20 minutes.  OK… OK… OK… I got this I started thinking.  I fell asleep rather easy and awoke to my alarm at 5:45am.

Time to get the show on the road.

Not wanting a repeat of the passing out/wanting to vomit thing, I decided on a lighter breakfast of a glazed doughnut and fruit from Wawa, with some juice and then lots of water.  I’m pretty sure I had consumed a few liters of water even before the race started just to stay on top of the humidity.  My right knee has been giving me grief for a few weeks, so I didn’t want to do a huge warm up, and not to mention I didn’t want to be sitting in a completely wet kit before the race even started.  So we did the starting climb, where I pedaled at a horribly slow pace, not realizing Kate Courtney was behind me (my hair twin!  LOL).  She wished us well when I finally pulled over, and we cut under banner tape to get off the course and ride down, behind the lodge.  I told Matt he could warm up more, but soon staging was starting.  Matt’s group was first to go, and they had to sit at the starting line for a good 10-15 minutes.  Talk about nerve wracking!

Matt at the line for his Cat 3 20-29 race

Finally Matt was off and I rode over to the staging area.  I felt so awkward, as most people knew each other and I was just like “oh hayyy, I’m the random girl from Wyoming!”  I picked out the PA State Champ who I had assigned a big target to.  I just wanted to beat her.  Nothing personal, she was just my random “You’re going down!” choice of the day!  I started chatting with Dana and Kim, and we all agreed that we just wanted to survive the course with our bodies intact.

There were two minutes windows into each class, so it took awhile before we were called to the line.  The announcer said all of our names and we waited for the whistle.


And we were off on the loose gravel road.  Not wanting to be in the back to the single track, Amy, Alyssa, and I charged forward.  I was third onto the single track climb, where I then rode off the damn trail into the bushes.  Like a noob, totally.  I jumped off and ran my bike up as Amy and Alyssa pedaled off into the sunset.  Giving myself a big ol’ cursing I jumped back on and pedaled to try to distance myself from Kim and Dana.  I couldn’t see the other two girls, so I almost right then settled on “OK, 3rd place isn’t so bad, just survive the race.”  Kind of sad I had the resolution so quickly, but like I said, I was almost apathetic towards this race.  You build yourself up for months and months and months for a result, and yet I really did so little for training and what not to get any results.  Over ten races in for the season, and I was feeling rather fried both mentally and physically.

And yet, there it happened.  I caught Alyssa.  And the Walker, Texas Ranger theme song popped into my head.  I had a mission now.  “The eye of the ranger is upon you, anything you do she’s gonna see…”  Frantic “get away from this girl mode” clicked on in my head.  Her and I yo-yo’d for a bit, but finally I get ahead and stayed there on some techy bits.  I’m not sure if she was having bike or body problems, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out.  Soon she was out of sight, and I was slowly picking off the 15-18 and 20-29 age group girls.

My body was feeling good, though I was sweating up a storm fast.  The first third of the course is the easiest, with some rocks and roots, but still fairly easy and also has wide gravel road climbs.  I knew my advantage would hopefully come here, though I didn’t really push that hard.  I granny geared all the climbs, preserving energy.  I was smiling, happy that I was sitting in 2nd and having a good race.  A spectator yelled to me that there is no smiling in a race, and that I needed to try harder.  Next time I saw him I did a dramatic frown, LOL.  A first aid guy told me I had 200 yards to the top of the hill, so I dug deep up the steep climb and crested over the top with my heart redlined.  I briefly saw Amy descending in the trees.  That would be the last time I would see her.

So begun the miles and miles and miles and more miles of rock gardens.  At the first descent they actually had three first aid people lining the rock garden, which is always a bit weird to see.  One guy actually said “holy crap, you’re going to ride this?” as I flew over the rocks.  I wanted to say something along the lines of “uhhh, this is cake compared to what comes!!” but I had to concentrate.  My damn glasses kept fogging up with the humidity so I kept having to slide them down my nose so air could circulate around them.  I tried to remind myself to keep drinking as well.

Funny thing is the course was going by a lot faster than practice.  Then again, I was riding a lot faster!  As my body and bike took a beating, I sailed over rocks and roots, trying to carefully pick lines and in other times just monster trucking over things.  Yay for 29ers!

Every once and in awhile I had to come off the bike, whether it was for rider error or just getting caught up in something.  I thought I could fly through the 20 foot wide root/mud pit, but got hung up half way so I gave my feet a good coating on black, sticky mud.  There’s one elevation bridge thing that I can’t bring myself to ride for some reason that I just ran.  Finally shoved my glasses in my back pocket.  I hammered where I could, took it easy where I couldn’t.  Before I knew it I was to the techy rock drops, which I walked, while joking with some lady spectators that today wasn’t a good day to break my neck.  (Who jokes about that?  Yeesh I’m strange.)  Saw a photographer and since I was smiling he asked if I was having a good time.  “I’m having a blast!” I cheerfully called out.  And even sooner I was to the descending rocky switchbacks that I knew I was going to walk for my safety.  And wouldn’t you know, that is where the heckle pit for Cat 3 was.

I swear I wasn’t as terrified as my face appears to be!

I casually said, “What a nice day for a walk in the woods with my bike!”  to which the hecklers responded “Hey, we have a novel idea!”

Me – “yeah, what is it?”
Heckler – “Get on your bike and ride it!”
Me – “Nah, you see I have this novel idea called protecting life and limb, you should try it!”
Another heckler – “Whoa you have lightning bolts on your socks!”
Me – “Hell yeah, they’re magic socks.  Magic powers and stuff!”
Different heckler – “Flash Gordon would be so disappointed in you.  You’re suppose to be riding your bike when were lightning socks.  Poser!”

By then I had rounded the switchback and tried to ride.  “Hey look, I’m riding my bike!”  BONK.  Front tire caught a big rock causing me to nearly endo.

Heckler – “Get back on your damn bike, we see you cheating!”

I hate to know that I would disappoint this guy!

I love hecklers!!!  It was a lot of fun!

By this point, I was getting tired and my bike handling skills were all over the place.  From the summit down I was having chills and goosebumps, which is a not so lovely sign of not so nice things.  I found myself unable to ride straight lines when needed, and unable to turn switchbacks (there I would ride straight lines).  I knew it was just surviving at this point.  Amy was long gone off the front, and my closest competitor was long off my rear.  About a quarter mile to the finish I had my only run in with gravity when I bobbled over in a rock garden, slamming down on a rock and then sliding down it.  Kinda stuck in my bike, I finally unclipped and got up and carried on.  I didn’t waste any time seeing if the bike or I was alright, as I knew I was so close to the finish.

Out of the woods, and by the lake.  The humidity was stifling.  Right before the gravel climb up to the finish line they had the snowmakers turned on, raining cool water down on us racers.  I seriously thought of just stopping and sitting there for awhile, but alas I carried on, putting forth a decent sprint effort towards the finish.

1 hour 14 minutes 15 seconds for 2nd place in Cat 3 30-39 women!


Amy beat me by a good 11-12 minutes.  What a beast!  I had 7 minutes on the 3rd place finisher, Kim.  Dana followed in for 4th.  None of us know what happened to Alyssa, who DNF’d.

I didn’t see Matt anywhere, but I have to admit I was so out of it and shivering so bad in the 90 degree heat that I took to the shade and just collapsed.  That’s there I took the first photo of this post.  I was covered in yucky mud, blood was running down my right thigh, bugs were congregating on me like I was a delicious, I was soaked head to toe in sweat, and I just wanted to sit.  Matt eventually wandered over, both knees bandaged up and ice on his right elbow and a hole ripped into the front of his kit.  He held up two fingers signalling that he finished second.  I did the same.  Then he told me he broke his arm.  Whoops.

We hung around for a few hours, then drove back to Allentown for showers and X-rays at urgent care.  Grabbed a quick lunch at Panera Bread, and headed back to the awards ceremony.

Getting my awesome, super heavy silver medal!
Cat 3 30-39 Podium
His & hers matching silver medals!
My 2013 Specialized Epic Expert performed wonderfully! Only damage is scratches on my carbon seatpost from my tumble… whew! The course was hard on bikes, and people were breaking theirs left and right so I’ll take some scratches!

Tons of photographers on the course, but no photos to be found, at least not yet.

What I learned:  I have better technical skills than I believe I do.  Now that I’ve survived Bear Creek I am super eager to go up to Gowdy and ride.  I think I might be surprised!  Humidity sucks, but it didn’t debilitate me like some people said it would.  It actually kept my lungs quite happy.  Heat stroke is no bueno, as shivering in 90 degree weather is not normal.  Thank goodness I didn’t run my Fast Track tires.  I’m not sold on tubeless – way too many people with tubeless tires flatted out of the races all weekend.  Climbing at sea level rocks.  Only wear lightning bolt socks if it’ll make Flash Gordon proud.  Have fun and smile – it was a Cat 3 race, not the Olympics!  Fly next year if we go, the drive sucks.

I’m now a big girl Cat 2 racer.  And now I think I actually have to train…

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