I’m once again tucked into the Red Roof Inn in Allentown, PA, once again on the eve of a race at the USA Cycling Cross Country Mountain Bike National Championships. And how so much has changed in a year!
Last year I was apathetic and burnt out. I had little desire to ride a bike, and mostly skated through the season successfully on good luck. No training, and definitely no desire to ride at Bear Creek in all it’s rocky and rooty hellish glory. Too many races, not enough riding, and and overwhelming desire to throw my mountain bike off a mountain and find a new hobby.
This year it’s not like that! I’m not burnt out, and I don’t want to sell/harm all my bikes! Though I am kind of thankful that I have a few weeks to just goof around and stop worrying about everything being full throttle before ‘cross season, I still want to get on my bike. And Bear Creek? I’m kicking her ass. I’m tackling so many sections that I couldn’t ride last year, and am staying in harder gears. The climbs feel easier, and I feel like I’m riding with a vengeance to teach that damn ski resort mountain a thing or two!
But the biggest surprise is that I still don’t care how I do. I mean, I do. Of course. But I don’t mean apathy like last year either. I’m the type that will drive themselves crazy with pre-registration lists, researching my competition, looking at Strava, already deciding race results in my head before I’m even at the race. It’s HORRIBLE. I read a good article by Selene Yeager about the things she wish she had known when she first started racing: Letter to my Younger Self. And I realized I had some self destructive race behaviors going on.
Focus on yourself. Stop checking BikeReg for “who’s registered.” You’ve been training to be the best you can personally be. That might mean you win. That might mean you come in midpack or dead last. Be your best and be good with whatever that means. And believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter if a former World Champion is on the line or if the field is full of relative unknowns. It’s a race, and on any given day, the win is up for grabs. Believe you can grab it no matter who else is going for it. – Selene Yeager
I like that part the most. This year at Bear Creek and at Nationals means conquering those goddamn rocks in my own monster trucking, swear word yelling ways (I’m a strong believer in the dirtier names you call a rock garden, the higher the chance of cleaning it!). Dammit, I can ride drops. Dammit, I can ride rock gardens. Dammit, I can ride wet roots. I’ve already seen the difference a year makes during my 4 practice laps (2 in the rain, 2 in the dry). I’m cleaning stuff I never thought I would. Suddenly Bear Creek doesn’t seem intimidating. Sure, there’s a few sections that I just can’t ride, partly mentally and partly because I just don’t have the skills (yet). But otherwise, I am surprising the piss out of myself this year, and that’s only been practice! Am I the fastest Cat 2 30-39 women signed up? Doubtful. Am I the slowest? Doubtful (yes, I still did a tiny bit of research.. ahem). But am I beating myself? Hell yeah! I think for the first time I’ve learned to race my own race. There’s a total of 4 of us racing tomorrow, so we’ll all be on the podium. I’ll have a shiny piece of hardware in some color to bring home, show around to people, and to brag about and take photos with because it still is a great accomplishment to make the commitment to drive across the country and race at a national championship, and tomorrow afternoon I’ll submit my upgrade request for Cat 1 MTB/Cat 3 cyclocross. But I already feel like I’m winning because I chose to return to a super hard course that I swore last year I wouldn’t return to, and I’m kicking her ass, bit by bit!
I’ve had quite the adventurous week, and I do hope to have some blog posts result from it, if anything just to chronicle my adventures for my elderly self. I took my first Cat 2 win at FORC Side Thrill Ride in Davenport, IA which was awesome, and a good kickstart coming into Nationals, so perhaps there will be a race report for that as well!