First of all I need to give a big huge Thank You to the sponsors that allowed me to be able to race this season as much as I did. Provision Sports in Knoxville has gone above and beyond helping me through coaching, being there when I need advice, and making me faster and stronger every time I get on the bike. Tennessee Valley Bikes, especially Scott, for staying on top of my bike maintenance week by week and allowing me to not have to deal with any mechanicals. Kona Bikes for providing me with a race machine that does downhill, cross country, dual slalom, and every style of biking out there. The Kona Hei Hei Supreme is everything I need for racing mountain bikes. TVB Race and all its sponsors. Tomato Head for fueling my machine with delicious grub, Three Bears coffee for the
finest caffeine. Vick Dyer for helping Scott and I buy a house last year and Three Rivers Market for all the great food. Also, thanks to Savory Sweet Truck for feeding me after Tuesday Night Dirty South rides. Also last but not least AMBC. I am a very lucky girl to be part of a club that builds awesome trails through out Knoxville that provide some of the best training hours for myself.
It’s been a few weeks since my last mountain bike race, USA Cycling Collegiate National Championships at Beech Mountain, and I’ve been able to take some time to recover and have had a couple weekends at home being lazy and having time with the dog. This year was by far the most intense race schedule I have ever had. Yes I have only been racing for a few years but still I think it would be intense for anyone. It was 9 weeks of racing and 26 individual races. Shenandoah kicked it off and Beech Mountain was the finale. I think my race schedule was one weekend too long because if you have heard about my experience at nationals it was not my best performance by a long shot. However, I ended this season as the best season yet. I won a lot of races, got to ride downhill this year, got second at Monster Cross, won the Pisgah Stage Race, got third in the Queen of Pisgah Series, got third at Shenandoah, won the individual omnium for the SECCC conference, and came home with 6 medals from nationals. I am very happy to say the least. In the past four or so years since I first picked up a bike a lot has changed but my love from day one for the bike is still the same and I am sure that is why I continue to improve.
Since the last blog post, the first race I did was the Pisgah Stage Race. I have no idea why I even really signed up for it and what motivated me to do it, but I am glad I did. I had a collegiate race at Union the weekend before where I competed in the short track, XC, downhill, and Mountain Cross. For the most part I did not feel all that exhausted from it and was able to make the transition to the Pisgah Stage race fairly smoothly. The first day I didn’t really know who my competition was or who all was in the women’s field. I had spent the night before writing a ten page paper for school and had not put a lot of thought into the goals of the week. I really just wanted to make it through the first day and then sort it out afterwards. I started off in the front feeling pretty strong, probably because I had been doing so many XC races, and was able to stay on the front. At around hour two, though, we went up Horse Cove from Squirrel Gap to Funnel Top and I probably should have been riding it but I chose the hiking option. This is where I met my competition, the lady from Australia. I heard a rider back and there she was riding her bike on what I had been hiking. I smiled and gave her a “good job” compliment. I tried not to look scared but I was. I hopped on the bike and refused to let her wheel go. We popped out at Funnel Top and it hit an uphill so I took the pass because she was slowing up. However, she continued to stay on my wheel for all of Funnel Top and then for the long climb up to Buckhorn Gap. We then had to hike over Black Mountain and I knew that I did not want her to be near me at this point. I took off on the last part of the climb and dug deep and she popped off my wheel. This gave me an extra push and even though it was just a minute lead,I knew that mentally it was hurtful to her and encouraging for me (mostly because that has happened to me a lot!). I started up Black Mountain and hike a biked like a mad woman. It’s crazy to think that two years ago, hiking up Black Mountain with Scott, I completely came unraveled and was on the brink of tears yelling to Scott that I wasn’t a hiker I was a mountain biker. (It’s a miracle Scott ever took me back after all that complaining, and it’s crazy just how much my feelings about what mountain biking have changed since that day).
Back to the story though. I could hear her for the most part below me hiking and I just kept pushing faster. I was at the top before I even realized and started the descent down. I love the descent down Black mountain more than almost any other trail. It’s a testimony for just how far I have come. I used to walk down the whole descent and now I ride the whole thing with never putting a foot down. Black Mountain was the enduro for this stage and to be honest I wanted to win it very badly. However, I just had killed myself on that HAB and I was in survival mode to the bottom. My arms, brain, legs, and feet had enough and were just waiting on the finish line. I finished the first day in first place in open women with a huge smile. I did not think that it was a possibility and could not have been more happy at that moment. At the same time though it made me want first more than ever and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
The whole week ended up about the same way. Killing myself on the climbs and staying smooth and steady on the descents trying to recover at the same time. The Australian was always within a few minutes of me and she was actually a faster descender than me on 4 out of 5 of the enduros. Not to brag on myself but I am good at going downhill and I actually thought going into this race that I would make time up on the descents not the climbs. Wrong! She is a badass! The last day was probably my favorite day though, and no, it’s not because it was the last day! It’s a better reason than that! It was my favorite because I had the best run down Farlow Gap I have ever had and it may end up being my best ever! The funny thing is I dreaded this stage more than ever because I knew she was faster going down hill and Farlow could really give her an advantage.
One of my favorite women, Brenda Simril, was at the stage race competing with Lee in the duo category. On the way up the gravel climb to Farlow I knew that I wanted to be behind them going down Farlow. First Brenda can handle a bike better than most men, and second they both have ridden Farlow more than me. I hopped on their wheel and told them that I was just going to try and stay on their wheels down Farlow as far as possible. We started the descent and this is where I fell deeper into love with my Hei Hei and the Reverb seat post dropper. We ended up clearing it down to the second creek crossing. Which is literally the whole first part of Farlow. I usually end up getting caught in huge rocks, lose momentum, and have to get off and walk. Not today! It was great to yell to so many guys hiking to watch out, two ladies coming by, and yes we passed ALOT of hikers! By the time we got all the way down Farlow I couldn’t stop smiling. I even fell slightly in love with the Simrils (I hope that’s not creepy, because there are no creepy intentions) because we cleaned so much together. The three of us smiled and laughed about how great that was and I swear I was beyond ecstatic and could have died happy at that moment! It’s weird yes, but after racing five days to my max and having the most fun on the part that I dreaded the worst will make me feel that way! Of course there was still a 7 mile climb to Bracken Mountain where there was, luckily, whiskey at the top, because I had now reached an all time low of the race. I no longer was the happiest person in the world. I was done, and I was mad that the race didn’t end on Farlow and very resentful actually that I had to do that turd of a climb after having so much fun. Hah! I was on an emotional roller coaster! That is what stage races do to you.
I finished first in the Women’s open, and second in the women’s open enduro. I had one of the best weeks of my life. My friend Zirkle from Knoxville had just retired and I convinced him it was now or never if he wanted to do the stage race and got him to tag a long. We had a blast and made new, inspiring friends from California, who were on a team called F*c* Cancer, because one of the guys was in the process of fighting leukemia yet had the biggest smile of anyone out there. We got to hang out with the Simrils, Betty, and Henry who were a blast, drink good beer, eat even better food, ride our bikes everyday in one of the prettiest places in the world, and have the best times ever. What more could you want? Not much! That’s why the Pisgah Stage Race was so effing awesome and I plan to do more stage racing next year!
The week after the stage race was another collegiate race where I won my first dual slalom race, and won the XC and short track after some tough battling with the Brevard girls. My legs were definitely sore from the stage race but I still had a great weekend.
The next weekend, if my memory serves me right, was the SECCC Championship Races. At this point I was second in the conference because of missing a race, but if I was able to beat the first place girl the conference title would be mine. Conference was held at Lees McRae college, and in my opinion served up the best course of the year. They had a little bit of everything from gravel climbs to super technical descents. A great short track course that utilized a piece of muddy single track and a creek crossing as well. Then the dual slalom course, even though shorter and a little wider then other courses, was downright mud fun at its best. Finally, of course, the downhill was by far the muddiest, most technical, rockiest, steepest, and funnest of the year.
First was the XC race bright and early on Saturday. I pre-rode the course the day before and despite the rain it did not seem muddy. However at the start of the race the rain came down and it came down hard. My choice to not put mud tires on was a bad choice. The course was muddy and started with about a mile of uphill, wide singletrack to a gravel road before entering into the single track. Allison from Brevard and I battled up the climb and I ended up second going into the single track. After a sharp corner in the single track I took the pass and was able to put some time down. I would say this course was everything that I love in MTBing. It had short steep climbs, with sharp corners, roots, rocks, and a bomber downhill that was very hard to get through. I starting catching the Men’s riders the first lap and didn’t really have any problems passing. I made it through the rock garden perfectly and was able to have a good lead by the end of the first lap. The second lap went about the same as the first but as I entered the rock garden a male rider was in front of me and I informed him that I was back so that if he wasn’t able to ride it he should get out of the way. Needless to say he stopped right in front of me causing me to try and squeeze by a with horrific line and ultimately I ended up riding my top tube. This was very uncomfortable even if I’m not a dude. I popped out of the single track and climbed the gravel road just thinking about how I had one more lap and the pain would be over. The third lap was great until Cory, my teammate caught me, and while letting him take the pass we collided full force and I threw him down the bank into the woods. Because I had not seen my competitors in a while I helped Cory up and sent him on his way. This cost us both some minutes but really it was quite funny afterwards. Either way I ended up first in the XC.
It was a great weekend of racing and I was able to come home with the SECCC individual omnium title and Cory also was able to secure his spot in first. It’s the first year that King University had a mountain bike team and not just me as an individual racer. Also we had a new coach that really pushed us in mountain biking. I think personally by having a team to travel with and a coach to support me and my teammates made us stronger and gave me the opportunity to travel to so many races and win the SECCC individual omnium. For that I’m extremely thankful.
After conference I raced Double Dare, which in hindsight was not smart right before nationals, so that I could secure my third place position in the Queen of Pisgah Series. I usually partner up with Scott but because I wanted to take it easy with nationals coming up I thought he should get a partner who would want to take it a little bit more seriously. I was able to convince my friend Rachel to partner with me. We were in it to win it, for “fun” that is. The thing about Double Dare is that just finishing with the minimum is super difficult and tiring. We hiked a ton and climbed so much. We finished though with smiles and we are still able to laugh about that weekend which is really the goal anyways.
Next up Nationals! The weekend I had been waiting on for months. After having such a competitive year I felt ready, and I wanted some medals. Unfortunately my body thought otherwise. The first race I competed in was the short track on Friday which went straight up the mountain and then took a left and descended down to the start again. I would say this was not the race I wanted to win but of course I wanted to podium. We took off and I felt great the first lap and actually ended up coming around in first place. After that things slowly fell apart. I am very good at pacing myself and that usually is not a problem, but after getting passed by the Brevard girls and then an Air Force lady I thought I must have just pushed it too hard, and I did not have a small enough gear to “spin it to win it”. I settled in at fourth and after finishing I realized it was more than just pace and over gearing; I wasn’t breathing. Asthma sucks!
I have had asthma for over half my life and with the help of a terrific doctor, Dr. Mejia, I keep it under raps and under control 98% of the time. Whether it was the leaves, getting sick, or even just exhaustion I don’t know but all I know is that my lungs gave up right then and there. I’ve always been embarrassed by this sickness because as an athlete I hear all the time that my inhaler gives me an unfair advantage and other stuff that is completely rude from people who obviously have no incite or understanding about asthma. When my throat closes up and fills with mucus the last thing I think is thank goodness I have asthma because my inhaler really helps me. Or when I can’t walk down my drive way with out getting out of breath, do I think having asthma really helps me as an athlete. Either way enough ranting to those people.
My doctor was able to keep me healthy enough for the weekend to compete but it was no where near my normal. I watched the girls that I competed all year with ride away with no ability to keep up. I even quit for a moment after lap two of the cross country race because of a broken heart and aggravation with my lungs. I wanted so badly to be able to make my lungs work but they wouldn’t. It is unexplainable to people that don’t have asthma, but there is something totally different about being out of breath because you are riding hard and being out of breath because your lungs are closing up. Allison from Warren Wilson caught up to me as I was standing off the side of the course and yelled some encouragement and I realized quitting was not for me today. I needed to finish even if it was not my fastest. I had to walk up some of the climb, which if you know me is something on a normal day I refuse to do, and even pull back on the descents so I could rest more. I finished 6th which in my mind is not my best but at the end of the day is a great position.
I shed some tears after the race, not a lot, but a few in frustration with my self and then geared up for the downhill. I got 4th in the downhill which was very exciting and then I got fourth in dual slalom after having third secured but losing my pedal in the last corner costing me my position (bummer!). The gravity results secured me 2nd in individual omnium at Collegiate Nationals. I would be going home with a silver medal! Woo hoo!
Then team relay, which is a 4 lap race with at least two team members and one has to be female. Most teams have 4 members so that they can maximize each lap. Cory and I were the only ones from our team competing and had to do two laps each. First was a long shot but we both killed ourselves and I deflated my lungs of every last breath knowing this was our last race of the weekend. We got second! We killed it even with two people and it was awesome!
I came home from nationals with 6 medals and am very happy and thankful for that. The thing I am most thankful for though is the support crew that came out to cheer us on. My parents, Scott, Anna, Coach Joe and his lovely wife Alex, Daniel and Perry Sanders, Emily (King’s cycling mom), and of course coach Allen. They came out for both days of nationals and stood out in the cold. They even ran up the hill cheering encouragements. During the XC Race there is no way I would have finished with out them there. It seems silly to say that but having them there, making me smile through the pain, really pushed me through to that finish line. Encouraging words go along way!