It's been a minute since I've connected with the ether in this form, so I'll keep it short and sweet. A lot has been achieved, a lot has been left for further processing. Covid had set me back a bit, but that's hardly the worst thing I've been through this year. It sucks while you're in it, even when you're out of it, but eventually you are okay. That has been the theme of the season for me, starting with Sea Otter all the way through the middle of June. But, here we are, pretty okay given what the year has brought. I've clawed myself out of the darkness that crept up this year. If you want to read about how I learned and re-learned some lessons in practice, mindset and letting go of perfection, you can do so in my other blog post.
200 Miles in Kansas
Unbound is the biggest gravel race in the world now, which is wild to think about. I had always said I'd never do that race, mainly because I thought it was too much of a "cool guy" scene but also because 200 miles of rolling hills never really appealed to me. Thanks to the Lifetime Grand Prix I found myself toeing the line with some of the strongest men and women in the world, and I must admit Unbound was raced while on the recovery but other than that it was a glorious day out there. I wrote this, post 200 muddy miles:
When you start a race you don’t think of the finish. Not right away at least, you can’t, because it’s the thing that feels the furthest away. You have to focus on each passing moment, small personal battles. It’s funny, we think we are racing each other out there but for 200 miles you’re only racing yourself.I experienced a very different form of racing out there than I’m used to. Perhaps it’s some residual Covid lingering in me, maybe my fueling wasn’t on par, possibly the 3 week unplanned rest from being sick leading into the race? Or perhaps just what happens in a 200 mile race. You go through these extreme highs and lows…over and over and over. I hit my first low at mile 50 after the chaotic start. It was both physical and emotional, my chest hurt, my legs were empty. My brain was somewhere dark. I remember looking to Emily Newsome, someone I’ve never even spoken with in person (just fan girl’d over) and sobbed. I’d just looked down at my “Ride Like Mo” sticker on my bike and was overwhelmed by everything. We all missed her out there. She rode next to me and patted me on the back, said she knew what I was saying and feeling. I knew she understood because I know all of us thought of Mo that day.You hit that bottom and you think you’re done. Then you eat something, you’re still pedaling. You drink something. Pedaling. You feel better. You catch more riders. Confidence goes up and you realize that you’re doing it, that you will actually finish this damn race. You fight all of those little battles all day. You peel yourself out of mud you’ve face planted into, ignore your gears that aren’t working, your broken backpack and you ride that shit out!And then you’re there. You’re standing at the finish line somehow. You feel that relief and know that the soreness and exhaustion are lingering, just waiting to make their appearance after the happiness and hugging stops.
After Unbound we had enough time to drive the bus home, unpack and "un-f***" the bikes (as Dylan said) before I flew to D.C. with Protect Our Winters to speak with lawmakers about the climate crisis as part of their newly launched bike alliance. It was a special experience and one that sparked something in me. I knew it would be a rough go to fly to D.C. just days before driving to Oregon, but it was something that held importance beyond winning races for me. (More about the climate piece at the bottom of the email). Even with a good airport meltdown and an extra day of travel it was worth it. I got home just in time to re-pack the bus and head out to Oregon for a 5 day stage race, Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder. Ellen and I took a few days to drive out which was something I was really looking forward to, road trips are one my favorite parts of racing. We camped and rode bikes along the way, hitting Moab, UT and Boise, ID on the way out and Ely, NV and Beaver, UT on the way home. The race was, per usual, an amazing week of hard riding, close racing, meeting new friends and hanging out with old ones.
Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder
I love stage racing. It's everything, all at once, intensely, full on. Normally I start out. a bit slower on day 1-2, then I come to life. My body adapts to the routine of racing, resting and then waking up and doing it all again. This year was different, it took me until the 5th and final day of racing to feel like myself, I was fighting as hard as I could to defend my win from last year but all it takes is one day of sluggish legs mixed with the steep competition to watch the minutes build up. I was really proud of myself by the final day, though it wasn't a win it sure felt like one. I found the fire and the fight on the last day and came away with a stage win!
On Day 4 I was ready to give up on securing a podium finish for the race. I was more than 6 minutes behind Heather Jackson who was sitting in 3rd. I wrote this the night before our final day.
As racers we always want to do our best and find luck to piece it all together. But we cannot win it all or even win anything! However, this time I will be walking (or rather limping) away from this experience with a lot more than a victory, I get to build and grow as both an athlete and a person. Yeah, there have been some less glamorous moments within that growth but I truly feel that you can pile up all of the “bad” and “unlucky” things to climb up higher than you’ve ever gone before.
Then, for the first time in my entire career I won a race by riding into 1st. Not going from the gun as hard as I could, holding on and hoping I wouldn't get caught. I showed myself I can put in the suffer, get stronger and faster as other riders faded.
We don’t get to know how things will shake out. But we do get to ask ourselves for just one more minute. Can I push this pace for another minute? Another pedal? Can I go hard over that hill up there? I kept asking myself these questions and unlike the rest of the week, the start of my season, my body answered back with a, “yep, sure can”. Those days, those moments where that happens, it’s truly glorious. Things finally clicked into place with my mind and body, it’s almost meditative when it happens. I crossed the line 9 min up on 2nd place, a very strong Sarah Max and secured my 3rd place GC. In the big picture, a stage win was a small win but to me it was a lot more. It meant that I still have that fire somewhere inside, that I can dig and push through the hard moments that make you question everything. Finally I got a day on the bike where I was focused, felt good and didn’t look behind me.
The 5 days of riding was the first bit of consistency I have found most of the season. I've had some bad luck with sickness, travel and commitments stacking up. But with a few days back home to recover and prepare for Crusher in the Tushar (the third stop for the Lifetime Grand Prix Series) I felt like my normal self again! I was really excited for this race, finally a stop with some climbing and a lot of it, like 10,000 feet in 69 miles.
Crusher in the Tushar
After leaving Oregon I knew I had a shot to do well at Crusher in the Tushar in Utah the following week. After some consistent riding, recent realizations and mindset work I'd been doing (more on that here) I felt so ready for the challenge of the day. I cannot express how helpful it is to have my partner, Dylan and Noman our dog along for the weekend. They are my home, family and security. Having them around makes me feel like myself, knowing they're at the finish line helps me dig even deeper. This sport is selfish, ego drives so much of what we do, I see how much Dylan does to help me perform my best and how much he sacrifices I feel so incredibly grateful to have him in my life. Appreciation is important, being gracious and respectful are key components in making it in life and definitely in sport. I see how lucky I am to be where I am, to have the opportunity to race at my best, to have the opportunity to put work in. That is what drove me this weekend and it was freeing. I finally let go of pressure and expectation and rode.
After everything I've learned this season a 3rd place finish feels like a win, and in a lot of ways it was for me! I went into the day with something new, confidence in myself versus fear of others around me. I was just really excited to go ride and see how it all shook out.
Haley Hunter Smith raced so incredibly strong all day. She was absolutely the strongest woman out there and it was truly awesome to see her win. She and I met during Unbound when we raced together for several hours. I was struck with how strong and how kind she was, truly a gem of a person who I am excited to get to know more over the season. That's been the coolest part of the Lifetime GP, I've met so many amazing women I'd probably never have the opportunity to meet let alone race with. From Heather Jackson, a professional Triathlete, to Haley Hunter Smith and Lea Davison, World Cup mountain bikers and Olympians, it's such a rad mixed bag out there and I'm into it.
Something from a Friend
On my way to race Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder a few weeks I listened to my friend Maghalie’s podcast with recent 3x MTB World Cup winner Rebecca McConnell. Together they talk about how hard it is to win. Something you don’t often really hear the best athletes in the world talk about. Usually we just see the high moments, crossing the line with hands in the air. The hard work is assumed but never talked about. Occasionally we see an IG post about how they’re fired up after [insert any setback or less than desirable race result]. It never seems like these athletes are humans, robots maybe, but not humans. So you can gather how refreshing it was to hear from Rebecca, an amazing athlete, talk about her path through the cutthroat world of World Cup racing. She said something that really stuck with me, she talked about how she felt when she (finally) won her first World Cup. She said you never know when your last good result is going to be and that you have to just soak it in, take in all of the glory when it happens, appreciate it and all of your work, luck and timing that got you there.
This podcast pairs nicely with the thoughts from the blog, please listen, read, engage and send along. This is how our sport progresses, this is how we build mentally healthy athletes and people! I love hearing from introspective female athletes and I'll keep sharing the goods.
Usufruct is a film about beetle kill in my local mountains. We show the effects of warmer, dryer winters and why mountain bikers and trail users should care. This film was in partnership with Protect Our Winters. POW helps passionate outdoor people protect the places we live and lifestyles we love from climate change. They are a community of athletes, scientists, creatives, and business leaders advancing non-partisan policies that protect our world today and for future generations.