Race Recap: SCS #1 The Knot

So I took a very long (for me), break from racing after I preemptively cut my cx season short due to being exhausted and needing to focus more on school. During the months of December, January, and February, I was training but doing mostly base work, and really just enjoying life outside of cycling. I had zero desire to race at all, and I had no FOMO at seeing other people posting podium and race pics. Instead I was pouring myself into my design work and really having some amazing growth there, and enjoying putting time into my friendships and relationship. I think this time off for a little more personal and self reflection has helped a lot, and my cycling goals are now way different than I thought they would be for this season (but I will talk more about that later).

So, although there were plenty of early season mountain bike races happening, I wanted to wait and kick off my season with the USAC sanctioned Southern Classic Series, which started at the beginning of March. Why? Well more bang for my buck with the ability to qualify for Nats, and gain points. I can’t take off as much time this season since I am in my last semester at school, so I was focusing on quality of races and not quantity. In fact, I almost didn’t end up racing at The Knot in SC, just because of travel time, but it ended up falling during my Spring Break so fuck yeah I was going. My racing partner Matt was going to miss the start of the season because of an injury suffered in early January, so I was making the trek solo.

I loaded up the Santa Cruz and started my drive at the lovely time of 4:45am in order to get there with time to settle in comfortably. The drive was actually really nice (although boring) and pretty much a straight shot down I-95 for me. I had never been to Poinsett State Park in South Carolina before, so I was really excited to race some new trails. During my three hours of personal time, I mostly thought about what I wanted to accomplish with my racing today. I knew that I was slightly behind my fellow racers, as I hadn’t competed for a bit, but I knew that I had put in some really good training rides with my crew and felt like I was ready to see what I could do. I have also mostly been riding more technical trails, so I was prepared to be a little rusty for some flowy-type race trails. I went ahead and made my goal to set a benchmark for my season, have FUN, and not focus on pressuring myself into getting a podium spot so early. I had of course looked up race predictor and knew that we had a very talented Cat 2 field, so it was anyone’s game.

I have to say when I arrived I was very impressed with Poinsett State Park: the facilities were beautiful with plenty of bathrooms and shelters, plus ample parking (which was soon loaded with cars because of the great turnout). I got my gear together, ate a small meal of my staple pre-race nutrition, and talked to some of my fellow Raleigh area racers who had made the trip down as well. I got some very helpful pointers about the course since I didn’t pre-ride (maybe riding blind is my thing now). I watched the Cat 3 racers take off and started to kit up for my race. As I was warming up I was entirely focused on myself, and also the thought that my boyfriend was making me my favorite dessert for celebration that night. In fact I was probably thinking about dessert more than the race (it probably gave me extra motivation).

I made my way over to line up and noticed my fellow teammate Hal had made it to the race as well, so I sped over to say hi and tell him good luck in his race. Then in a few short minutes it was time for the ladies to line up. As we all waited, we chatted about the race and joked around a bit. It was a very different feeling than the animosity and seriousness of cx line ups, which had burnt me out months earlier. Suddenly my spirits were high and I was really excited to get to racing. I noticed that I was pointed almost directly at a large hole, so I knew that I needed to gun it in order to get out in front and around it. The start was a long straightaway, followed by a right handed turn into a longer, slightly uphill stretch, aka a very promising start for me and my well developed road legs. There was a count down and then it was GO TIME.

I immediately slammed my foot in the pedal and started crushing it. I don’t even remember the hole, and I took the right-handed turn with quite a bit of speed and started mashing up the small incline. I noticed that A) I was out in front and B) I was the only one who had no idea where they were going. I knew that I had developed my skills at reading trail a lot more thanks to more technical stuff I had been riding, so I just focused on staying out in front as long as I could and really putting the hammer down whenever the trail opened up. The trail was very flowy, very fast, but also covered with a layer of pine needles and loose sand in spots. I focused on keeping my weight over my back wheel in the turns and trusting my bike to maintain grip and speed. I was still out in front with a nice little gap forming when we came upon a small log over the trails. Piece of cake: bunnyhopped over it and continued on my way. I noticed the gap became a bit larger after that (later learned the racers in positions 2 and 3 had a spot of bother and it shook up the placings). I just focused on looking ahead and staying as smooth and efficient as possible. The race consists of two 12 mile loops, and I knew that I needed to be smart and not blow myself up, but I had many long road miles under my belt leading up to the race so the distance itself was not a big deal to me. The trail continued with the same flowy, turny, meandering way around the park, with a couple sections of some tighter technical turns. Without any climbing I knew I was missing that small advantage, and it wasn’t long before I saw the new racer in second place emerge behind me. She had some really excellent downhill skills, so she was making up the gap a lot there. At one point she was right on my wheel and I let her know that if she wanted a pass she could have one since I was riding blind. She laughed and let me know that she was also riding blind and quite happy to stay where she was. I had a small gaffe at one spot where there was a road crossing and I missed the duck into the trail due to a race volunteer being in my line of sight. But it was no worries, as I quickly jumped right back in and grabbed my fellow racer’s wheel before she could speed off. We entered a part of the trail that finally had some elevation, and I was able to quickly grab my first place spot again when I overtook her on a long climb. I knew this was my chance to make up the gap again, so I started climbing like a mad woman (and I love climbing so I was a happy duck). Before the race I had been warned about one large, steep climb that hecklers liked to hang out on, so I was trying to keep that in mind as another spot to create more space between myself and second place. This section of trail was also a bit more technical, so I was really trying to focus on picking some great lines to be as fast as possible. It wasn’t long before I could hear cowbells in the distance and I knew I was getting close to The Climb. I rounded the next turn and faced a large downhill, and as I flew down it, I was staring right up to the large climb which had a nice group of rowdy spectators making all sorts of noise to encourage racers up. Luckily I love climbing so I attacked quite easily and hammed it up a bit for the boys as I easily sped past, then there was a really nice long open stretch where I just laid into the bike, as I knew I could recover very fast from the climbing effort. Soon the lake came into view on the right and I knew I was almost done with the first loop and still in the lead! I focused on not screwing anything up and quickly sped around towards the start finish. There is a tricky little bridge right at the end of the course I managed to clear (though I did try to make myself as narrow as possible, and was happy I had narrow handbars on) and then HAMMER time down the line to start lap two.


Game face: ON

I took in some water and glanced behind me. I couldn’t see the second place racer, but I knew she wasn’t far behind, so now my focus switched to protecting my lead and riding smart. I knew I would not bonk, but I also knew that one small mistake or crash would definitely cost me the lead. Since I didn’t know the trail super well after only one loop, I needed to be even more alert. The first section went by quickly, and I was only caught up trying to pass a couple riders in a few places (everyone was very obliging and polite about passing, which was much appreciated!!). I was just hammer, hammer, hammer, stay smart, hammer, hammer, hammer, knowing that soon I would hit the downhill section and lose some time on my pursuing competitor. I wanted to keep my gap as large as possible so I could keep my lead through the downhill, and then make my gap up again when the climbing loop began. Everything basically followed this plan exactly; I was in the lead and once I was at the end of the downhill section I saw second place behind me again, only about 15 seconds back. I put the pedal down hard and hit the climbs with even more gusto, knowing this time that she would (hopefully) be more tired than me, as I always seem to have another gear as races go on longer. I didn’t see second place behind me again and focused once more on staying clean and hammering when I could. I could hear the cowbells in the distance and knew I was once again near The Climb and another great chance to create more distance between us. I flew right up and enjoyed another chorus of cheers from the spectators as I sped off. I could hear them cheering for the rider behind me, so I started to really LAY DOWN (little did I know, they were actually cheering for two of the men I had passed earlier that had breached the gap between myself and second place). I knew I was close to the end, and I knew I was in first, so I was just crushing it as hard as I could. I had never won a Cat 2 race (I actually had only raced one before this) and I knew a win would be HUGE for my confidence and put my season off to a better start than I could have imagined. More than that I realized that I was having FUN. Fun was something that I had lost from my racing over the course of the cross season, and here I was racing my heart out but having a blast. I wanted to win of course, but more than that this feeling is what I wanted back more than anything. I saw the lake to my left and thought “Damn I think I am going to do this,” and I wound my way around towards the skinny bridge (almost getting rear-ended my the two male riders having an ego contest behind me), and I could see the finish line right there. I crossed and was exhausted but so very thrilled.

I tried to catch my breath and cough out all the pollen I inhaled, while I waited to congratulate second place on a great race. She came in only a minute or two behind me, and we both celebrated a super race together. Pretty soon another friend and fellow racer crossed in third place and we were all joking and getting ready to take podium pics. I was very thrilled for myself, as I did not expect that result beforehand!


I like to stand on boxes with my race buddies

I was very glad I made the drive to SC to race, and was able to put out a great performance. I think taking that break from racing really helped me prioritize what I wanted to work on, and improve my riding a little more, and it feels good knowing it paid off. I won’t always have such an impressive result, because we have a very talented field of racers, but this was really a good kick in the pants for me. Also I was super looking forward to celebrating with that dessert and it was delicious.


Race Recap: The Umstead Gravel Grinder

The Umstead Gravel Grinder is pretty infamous among cyclists in the Raleigh area. Umstead is known for its beautiful scenery and also challenging hilly terrain. Both runners and cyclists seek it out for some of the best grounds for training in the area. I am known to spend several rides a week out there, and I pretty much know the park like the back of my hand at this point. The local mountain biking association, Triangle Off-Road Cyclists (TORC), puts on the most challenging gravel race in the area in the park every October. Racers have the option of the challenging 50 miler, as well as the daunting 100 mile option. Many people attempt the 100 and don’t finish, and the weather is known to be a tricky factor at this time of year.

My buddy and epic gravel racer Scott had attempted the UGG 100 last year and made it 86 out of the 100 miles before a bad choice of gearing on his SINGLE SPEED mtb took him out. In the spring when registration opened up, I told Scott that we could race it together, thus making sure he kills off the 100 miles and I get a chance to tackle the race myself since I missed out last year. Scott agreed with the “fun” idea, and we registered before the race sold out in a matter of weeks. This was in the spring and– lo and behold– it hits October and I am in the middle of cyclocross season and WHAM! There is a 100 mile race this weekend! Whoops!

As the race neared, Scott had a stroke of bad luck by getting hit with strep throat not just once but twice, thus ending his hopes of racing the 100 miler. Because Scott is a badass, he still decided to race the 50 miler instead. This now meant our plan to race together would be scrapped, but I was hoping that maybe we would at least be able to ride the 50 together. Suddenly I was getting some cold feet about completing the 100 miler alone, and I was feeling very under prepared. I did manage to get my bike checked out and fitted with a new chain, plus bought all the nutrition and snacks that I would need to get me through the race. Even the night before I was still doubtful about whether I would finish (or care to finish) once the 50 milers broke off.

I took my race prep super seriously, by which I mean I took a few extra easy days on the bike but I still was working/pretending I wasn’t racing a 100 miler on the weekend. As race morning dawned, I was still not too excited about what was about to occur. I had filled all my water bottles, gear, food, tools, and anything I thought I would ever need, but my mental preparation was still lackluster. I was settling into what I was thinking of as a long, easy ride through Umstead with a bunch of friends. I arrived about an hour early to the race start at Camp Lapihio, and picked up my packet with my timing chips. I incorrectly put them both on my fork, and then had to nervously fix them. The camp was pretty crowded with plenty of other racers, many of whom were friends, so I enjoyed saying hi to familiar faces. It was quite chilly at the start, but I knew that I was in for the long haul so I kept myself layered up a bit. I found Scott and we talked about the race, I noticed that we went DOWN and then UP a set of stairs, and I grumbled about how I wasn’t planning on racing cx today and didn’t appreciate an added obstacle. I thought that Scott and the other (smarter) 50 milers would be starting ahead of us poor unfortunate 100 milers, but actually we were called to the line first. Dammit, I guess I need to race this thing…

As I went down to the race start (where they graciously started us past the stairs but at the bottom of a gravel climb I would grow to hate) I noticed there was 12 OF US. 12!!?? I immediately knew that I had done something wrong but it was too late to change now. I saw that besides myself there were two other women, one of whom I knew was really training to win the race. I was less than thrilled about having to put out any effort (really I just wanted to be back in bed, sleeping in until my friend’s BBQ later that day). Everyone was laughing and joking at the race start, but I usually have only dark cynical humor running through my veins so I did not join in. I had made a deal with my boyfriend that he would get me a white chocolate baguette for finishing the race, so all I was really thinking about was how a baguette for racing 100 miles was a pretty bad deal on my end, and I wanted to renegotiate. In a few seconds I had exactly zero time to be pissy, as the start whistle blew and I was off on what was sure to be a most painful experience.

So the UGG course is pretty much designed to be TOUGH AS NAILS. Umstead has some pretty great (although not long) climbs, and the course hits every single one of them. The course is a small out and back portion, followed by a figure eight loop. You return to camp on every lap which makes setting up a pit stop super easy; in fact I just used my car. The most talked about and hated portion of the course is the central portion of the figure eight. It is a water crossing which leads to a steep 17% grade technical climb that you repeat twice every lap. Which means you get to experience this wonderful hell 12 times for the 100 mile option. I was very excited of course, and although I have ridden the Cedar Ridge climb on rides (and even done some hill repeats there), I have never ridden it 12 TIMES during a 100 MILER. The great thing is that with this little gem to look forward to, you aren’t really worried about any of the other hills on course! See? Winning!

So back to the start, the whistle blew and since I have been in CX RACE MODE!!! I jumped at the start and headed up the steep gravel climb out of camp first like an idiot (Hey Abby, you got like 100 miles to go… take it easy). Really, I just wanted to get myself in a good position ahead because I knew I would settle in and never want to pass anyone. As we headed towards the gate out of camp, and we took the right onto the main bridle trail, there was a great crowd of spectators cheering for us including my friends Jakub and Kim whom I train with on the road all the time. This lifted my spirits and lifted me out of my Daria-esque funk I was living in. As we started the out and back portion the lead group of three male riders took off. They were running a tight paceline, which is a risky thing on gravel, so I gladly bid them adieu. It was just myself already quite a bit ahead of my fellow female racers, and then I was joined by on old friend that seemed more than peeved a female racer was ahead of him. We traded spots back and forth for a bit as he tried to prove how macho he was, but I knew we had 100 fucking miles to go and I had nothing to prove to him in a silly race like this. I knew I would run consistent lap times and eventually catch up, so I settled into a brisk pace and kept an eye on my HR zone. I was aiming to stay in a high endurance/low tempo pace for the race, so I wasn’t trying to blow up early.

We passed the 50 milers heading out, and I could see that they were FLYING. The 50 mile option is definitely the competitive category of the race, and I gladly let them by when they started to catch up. After all, I had twice as far to go and had no dog in their race. It can be a bit humbling to focus on yourself and let people go by, but I knew I was being smart by sitting in. Before I knew it we were hitting the first climb of Cedar Ridge, and I went through the water with minimal splashing and then climbed out with minimal ill effects. “Maybe it won’t be so bad?” I rather foolishly thought. The trail then loops back towards Cedar Ridge on the ultra fun Turkey Creek trail, which was nice because it allowed quite a bit of recovery time due to the flowy nature of the trail. I knew not blasting that one would be key to lasting the entire race. Again, I made the climb out of Cedar Ridge (Huh, that isn’t too bad!) and was headed back to camp for the first time. I tried to put it out of my mind that I had 5 MORE LAPS to go, and instead just enjoy the fall weather and colors on the leaves. At this point I still had plenty of 50 mile riders around me, so it was almost enjoyable! I managed to ride my way down and then out the stairs, and set off for my second lap.


This is early because I am wearing SO MUCH CLOTHES.

The annoying thing about long distance events is that you don’t want to focus on how long/much you have left, but you have to be constantly preparing for it. I had already put enough nutrition in my pockets to get me through the first two or three laps without having to pit, and my game plan was to start taking in nutrition early because I usually suffer from a sour stomach later in distance events (thanks marathon running for helping me learn all my kinks). Because you’re going to have to eat a lot of sweet, and glucose heavy carbs, you’re gonna need to like them, so I had brought along stuff that I enjoyed and worked well for me. I went ahead and started munching on some Honey Stinger gummies, with my goal to eat the whole pack split over the next lap and a half. Now, I know some people enjoy taking a gel and getting it over with, but there is only like 80-100 cals PER GEL, which means you end up taking in a whole lot more sugary snot over the course of 100 miles than I would ever want. So in my case I was more than happy to spread out my gummies over time and have a much happier stomach. Thanks to the out and back straight in the first portion of the laps, I could easily keep on eye on how much of a gap I had on the second place female racer. After the first lap I had a nice 5 or so minute gap, which I knew I could keep increasing over each lap. Although I hadn’t exactly trained for this distance, I knew I was consistent AF and a good climber so I had zero worry that I would lose my spot.

The second lap was noteworthy only because I was breaking down the race in thirds, which meant I kept telling myself I was almost a third of the way done! YAY! In reality I still had a huge amount of time left in the saddle and needed to chill out. As I went to climb Cedar Ridge for the third time I found some familiar faces handing out stroopwaffles right at the worst, I mean best, part of the climb. Since I was only two laps in and had just eaten I avoided taking the hand up, thus showing just how unskilled I am in cyclocross. In reality the thought of eating a waffle while pushing the climb made me want to barf. As I started the second half of the figure eight I was just enjoying that happy recovery time and trying to avoid all the other runners and cyclists that were around. I turned yet again for Cedar Ridge, got splashed all over by water, and then climbed up while trying to look like I was having a fabulous time to the hecklers. I headed again towards camp and knew that I was fine to not need to pit yet, so I started the third lap, or as I like to call it “Man-you-lucky-ass-50-milers-I-hate-you-so-much” lap.

As I lugged by butt back out of the campsite, I realized that I was hating that climb more and more. It was as if that climb and Cedar Ridge were having a battle over which would be the more pain in the ass, and it was a pretty close call at that point. I once again started the out and back portion, and kept an eye on how my gap was coming along. I was now between about 5-10 mins ahead, so I knew that all I needed to do was sit where I was and I would be fine to take the win for the day. The problem was that there was SO MUCH of the race left that I was starting to bargain with myself that quitting would be just fine also. As I was heading back, the first place woman for the 50 miler scorched past me, and I cheered her on and was secretly jealous that she was having such a great time and almost done. The downhill toward Cedar Ridge was very nice, but not long enough as pretty soon I was back at that damn creek crossing, getting my socks wet, and then putting it in the granny gear to haul myself up that climb. It was nice, in that almost every time I climbed Cedar Ridge, there were people up ahead that I would be able to catch and pass, but I knew that this would not last long. As I made my way to the second half of the figure eight I was finising off my first Cliff Bar of the day, the delicious kind with the fillings inside. I think this one was hazelnut but I am not sure because at this point it could have been manna from heaven because my body was craving something solid. Before I knew it I was again facing Cedar Ridge and more than a little angry about it. Six times up this thing! I had six more to go! It seemed plainly unfair and I used my rage to get my booty back up it. Once I was on the straight to camp, I heard a familiar voice and turned to see my friend Bryan had caught up to me on his way to finishing the 50 miler. My mood was INSTANTLY better now that I had company, and we talked and joked about the race so far. I went from hating every 50 miler, to being very happy to finish Bryan’s race with him. Luckily, Bryan has raced the UGG every year since its inception, so he gave me some handy pointers on how to finish the rest of the day, as well as helping me to keep things in perspective. As we turned into camp, I stopped to grab new water bottles, food, and de-layer a few things, while Bryan sped off to the sweet glory of getting to step off the bike. Once I was quickly restocked, I sped off in better spirits and some hearty cheers as I went through the start/finish gate.

The 4th lap. The big one. This was the start of no-mans-land. I knew that it would be mostly myself and the tail end of the 50 milers out there, but I was lifted a bit as I climbed back out of camp. I almost forgot that I hated the climb… Almost. Again at the turn around I checked my progress and was happy to see that even with my short pit stop I had still gained even more time on my competition. I was again chomping on some Honey Stinger gummies and trying to stay focused. It was really starting to get a bit lonely now. The temperature had risen quite a bit, but it was still nicely cool and somewhat overcast so I didn’t have to worry about overheating. It was all about just keeping my legs pedaling. At one point I took my phone out of my pocket (I usually don’t race with it but today seemed like an occasion that I should have it on me) and checked some texts and emails for a few seconds. My boyfriend was kind enough to let me know that he had my baguette and that I needed to pedal a bit faster because he really wanted to eat it. Thanks Kevin. J I was keeping an eye out, because I knew that Matt would be taking over one of the checkpoints at some point, and so I really wanted to see a familiar face. Speak of the devil and Matt appeared then jumped up to snap a pic of me! I was probably a little too enthusiastic but I was probably a bit delirious and bored out of my mind. I mean, I had been in Umstead in constant motion for like 4 hours at this point. Sadly, I made my way to Cedar Ridge and it was time to climb again. I was pretty sure my bike had decided it didn’t HAVE any lower gears, because I was convinced that it wasn’t actually in the easiest one. There is NO WAY that this climb was still that hard (it was, I was just tired). There was a couple from the 50 miler walking Cedar Ridge and as I passed the woman she shouted to me that I was her hero. It perked my spirits up although I was still pretty convinced that I was a total fool and this woman was sadly mistaken. I was very happy to hit the top of Cedar Ridge and see Matt again, in fact it made the other half of the loop and subsequent climb a little easier knowing there was yet another chance to see a friendly human being at the top. Before I knew it I was passing back into camp.


Look at how happy I was to see Matt! The loneliness was epic.

For the fifth lap, I climbed very slowly sort of like a slug I imagine, out of camp. I was brightened for a minute to see Scott walking back to his car, and he asked me how I was feeling and what lap I was on. I think I yelled something confusing about “Lap 4 now!” which I meant to say that I was finishing lap 4 but probably made it sound like I was STARTING lap 4 and so I had a mini argument in my head over how much of an idiot I sounded like. I started the out and back and was thrilled to see that I had enough of a gap that I never even saw second place. This made me happy as I knew 1. I wasn’t in any hurry at all anymore, and 2. I had enough time for a bathroom break in the woods at some point. My legs were still feeling fine on the flat and rolling portions of Umstead. It was only when I started to climb that they let me know just how angry they were feeling. As I rolled past Matt I think I mumbled something about how this was a lame and stupid idea, but even with my grumpy-funk I was still pedaling. I ate a bit of my second Cliff filled bar at this part; I remember it was peanut butter and chocolate and that I decided it was what I wanted for my last meal because it was so delicious. As I turned towards Cedar Ridge I made a bargain with myself: pedal up this lap and I will walk it on the next one. All my little legs had to do was get my booty up that climb and I wouldn’t have to again. It seemed to work because I made it up even with some drunk hecklers rattling cans at me and before I knew it I was on the back side of Turkey Creek heading towards it again. I grunted or meeped something at Matt as I passed which will now live on forever, thanks to the glory of social media. I then enjoyed some more fall colors as I headed towards camp yet again. I was happy: this was going to be my last lap and I wouldn’t have to see Umstead for DAYS if I wanted. I could have cried right there and then at that notion.

The sixth lap really is a blur of not just being a bit tired, but also just mentally exhausted. I was really getting angry over the whole “pedal fast I want to eat the baguette” thing, but at the same time, I was arguing with myself that it was actually a really funny joke and I needed to have a laugh. Then I was realizing that I WAS REALLY mentally out of it if I was having a fucking conversation with myself over this, so I focused on breaking this last lap down in pieces. The out and back. The downhill to Cedar Ridge, Cedar Ridge, Turkey Creek, Cedar Ridge again, and then home. All I needed to do were those little pieces all together and it would ALL BE OVER. It was like halfway through the argument and breakdown that I realized I was almost at Cedar Ridge and I HAD BARGAINED FOR THIS. I was going to WALK THE DAMN THING LIKE A CHAMPION. But then…. As I started to make the turn I saw another 100 miler ALSO TURNING ONTO CEDAR RIDGE. HOW DARE HE. This meant I HAD to ride it! I couldn’t be seen walking Cedar Ridge from another racer? Much less A MAN??? It was my sole duty to all of my soul sisters and fellow female warriors to RIDE THIS LIKE AN AMAZON QUEEN. Ride it I did with every muscle in my leg screaming at me to uphold my pride and honor. Then I quickly turned back towards Turkey Creek and tried to reason with myself that YES, I could still walk it next time and it wouldn’t count because I had done my job. The last time around Turkey Creek I was really just being lazy AF and would sometimes just take my hands off and sit up for a bit. My back was REALLY HATING me at this point and I was starting to wonder if myself and the bike had FINALLY achieved total oneness. It was like I was now part of the bike and could never leave it, thus becoming a true human-bike hybrid. Then I was getting ready to make my lonely way to Cedar Ridge and walk that mother fucking climb when a friend who was waiting on the last races let me know that Mr I’m-a-man-who-must-always-be-faster-than-chicks was only a few minutes ahead of me. Damn! I swore! If I had known that I would not have been wasting so much time having made up arguments about baguettes!! Forget walking Cedar Ridge I sprinted up that thing and was hauling ass as I headed back towards camp. I knew that if I could put on a bit more speed I might get closer, as The Mr was known for barely scrapping it across the finish line in distance events. I was crossing my fingers but as I hit the next stretch and could get a sight of a mile or so ahead of me The Mr was nowhere to be seen. A few minutes must have been a bit farther ahead than possible, but I knew that I was still going to try and close the gap as much as possible. Plus it was the LAST LAP which meant I could GET OFF soon. I was out of water, out of food, and really out of patience for this whole gravel thing. As I flew into camp I saw that my prey had crossed the finish just moments before, while a rather subdued crowd of three observed as I finally STOPPED THE BIKE.

I laid my bike down and just stood there and thanked people for their words. I think Matt asked me how it was and I lied and said it was fun. Well it was a lie at the time, because I was miserable and mentally exhausted, but looking back it wasn’t THAT bad. I had to wait for second place to come in both out of good sportsmanship and also podium pictures, so I ventured inside where there was plenty of food left over from the catered lunch. I downed some sweet, delicious, amazing Coca-Cola, along with a few slices of pita bread and falafels. My stomach was still a bit sour from all the race food so I didn’t manage a whole bunch. I chatted with Matt’s sweet wife Laura and found out that half of the 100 milers dropped out of the race including the third woman racer. I felt a little more badass about myself after that but still kind of gross because I wanted a shower SO BAD. Luckily in about 30 minutes the second place racer came in and we congratulated each other and both exclaimed about how lonely and mentally exhausting the race was. We snapped a pic, shook hands, I said goodbye to Matt and Laura, and then I peaced out to head to a clean shower and the most delicious white chocolate baguette of my life.



Did I enjoy the UGG 100? Yes, even with the effort and the mental strength it took, it was a really fun day in the saddle and I can say that I am very proud to be the first woman (and now course record holder) to complete it. Would I do the 100 again? Eeeeeeeehhhh maybe. I have now completed it solo, and it would be fun to come back and race it with Scott or a group. It was very lonely on my own and I don’t have anything to prove by doing it again. Would I encourage someone else to take on the UGG 100? 100% YES. If you really want to challenge yourself mentally I think it is perfect for that. It is also nice to have the option of dropping out after a number of laps, unlike other races on one continuous course. Also it is a bit less daunting having it broken up like that. Do I still like Umstead after all that time? OF COURSE! I did take a bit of a break since the race, not only because my legs needed it but I also became extremely ill afterwards (it happens with races like this), but I really can’t wait to get back out in the park.

Race Recap: 6 Hours of Hortons Holler

So after what seemed like an very, very long time, it was time for another race on the mountain bike with the 6 Hours of Hortons Holler approaching. I was suffering from a bit of a cyclocross hang over; not burnt out per se, more of a lack of enthusiasm for the intense pressure of cx racing. I knew that racing back to back weekends of cx with races both Saturday and Sunday was way too much this early in the season, and so I was looking to slow things down. Luckily the 6HofHH would be the best way to give myself a break and get back to having fun on bikes.

It had been a long time (to me) since I had been on a mtn bike, much less raced one. In fact I hadn’t ridden at all since the 6 Hours of Crabtree a month or so back. I was very excited when I talked with Zack and he planned my workouts based on the race. He had me doing one of my tempo workouts on the mountain bikes trails to get my bearings again on the big tires. It felt great to be back, and being in the woods was a very welcome escape. I was feeling pretty good all week as well. My body was a bit torn up from the past two weekends but I had already talked with Zack about how I was going to approach the race with a more conservative approach. There weren’t a lot of entries to it so there wasn’t any pressure to perform.

The Horton’s Holler trails are in Wilkesboro, NC which is home to some of the best trails in NC. I had never ridden Horton’s, but I have raced at Dark Mountain and Warriors Creek, so I knew to expect some climbing and epic berms and flow to the trail. Matt had ridden parts of HH and pretty much all of the surrounding trails, so he was very optimistic that we would end up having a blast. Matt was also excited to try out his new Norco Revolver for the race. He had just bought the super fancy full suspension, and it is FAST and FANCY. Luckily for me this meant I got to borrow the super fancy Santa Cruz, aka my best friend.

We met up the day before to make sure the two bikes were dialed, and get some nice openers in. I felt very fresh and ready, thanks to a careful lead-up to the race, and was very comfortable being back on the mtn bike. My worries about not remembering how to ride it had vanished! We planned to get an early start to Wilkesboro, and would depart at the earlyish time of 6am the next day. I wisely chose to stay in that night and study/get to bed early, and not go out with my boyfriend. Bummer, but smart.

6am came early enough and Matt had the bikes packed and ready to go. We hit the road on time and had a pleasant drive to Wilkesboro. I fell asleep for half of it so at least I hope it was pleasant. This semester of school is exhausting and I can and will fall asleep without warning pretty much anywhere. As we pulled into the race venue we were pleasantly surprised with how picturesque and beautiful it was. We were starting on a small boat dock/swimming inlet on the lake, and it was so gorgeous and relaxing it was hard to remember we were there to race and not just sunbathe all day. We quickly set up our pit site, and then hopped on the bikes to pedal around and warm up. The start was located at the crest of a small hill on the road, which you follow then make a sweeping left turn into a HUGE uphill climb on the road before ducking into the trails on your right. When I say HUGE I mean it was a pretty massive climb and would be a rough start to every lap. It spiked your heart rate right at the beginning but luckily as soon as you jumped onto the trails you had a nice reward of sweet, sweet flow and berms. Matt and I only rode about a half mile in before stopping and with huge grins on our faces, announcing “This is gonna be FUN.”

Matt took the first lap as usual and seemed very excited to be heading out on his new Norco. I decided to take a break and get some studying done while he was out on course (it is just like me to be reading about 19th century artists in America at a race, right?), so I settled into staying as chill as possible. The laps were about 6 miles in length, and before I had finished an entire chapter (tiny words people) it was time to jump on the bike and head out for my first lap. I got into the finishing line-up and waited for Matt. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw him flying around the corner as I knew this meant we had FINALLY gotten a clean first lap this season, and then I was off and gunning towards the massive climb at the start.

I decided to take the first climb at a moderate pace, quick enough to get up and over but trying not to spike my HR too much, because I knew that the trail was going to really start twisting and turning when I jumped onto it and I wanted to be able to focus and not be fighting to get settled down. The climb was not fun, but not as bad as I thought (but again this was only the first lap), and before I knew it I was flying around on some of the best single track I had ever ridden. Horton’s Holler is like an abbreviated version of Warriors Creek: you’re just riding berm after berm, then you will have some nice punchy climbs, and then you are rewarded with even more berms and downhills. Plus the whole trail winds itself around the Lake, so you have some beautiful scenery to enjoy (if you have time to take it in). It took me a few minutes to adjust my riding to the mountain bike, and then I was just flying as fast as I could around the trails. There are a lot of fun features to the trail; you go over/under a couple bridges, have a couple short rocky sections, and a couple small creek crossings. Nothing too dramatic or difficult but it kept you awake and focused. Also, because the laps were on the reasonable side, you could always see a racer ahead/behind you on another section, so you never felt alone. The last half has more climbing than the first portion and luckily I had saved enough energy to be able to tackle the climbs efficiently. I made a mental note to prepare myself correctly for later on in the race, and before I knew it I was wrapping back towards the road and boat dock, and then passing things off to Matt for another lap.


Probably thinking about homework…

I tucked back into my book and grabbed something to snack on, while I waited for Matt to get back. In no time at all he was blasting back through the start finish and I was off yet again for more fun on the Santa Cruz. Due to the fast nature of the course, and the length, the race was going by super quickly. Matt went out, I went out, back and forth. I wasn’t even paying that much attention to the overall time because I was just having a blast on a little mtn bike vacation. Eventually I realized that we were going to get in 9 total laps, with Matt putting in 5 and myself 4. I felt great, as even with the climbing temps my times were staying very consistently at 38 mins, and before I knew it I was heading out for my final lap. I really made a point to enjoy myself on this one, since it would be back to “work” on the cx bike next week. I also knew that I wanted to come back and ride these trails ASAP. I was a little happy to be hitting the final climbs for the last time, and before I knew it I was back at camp waiting for Matt to bring the torch home.

As I waited the skies were getting darker, so I set about packing up camp so that we didn’t get rained out. I was tired but also rejuvenated from some fantastic trail time. I felt very accomplished with my riding. We don’t have big trails like that around Raleigh and I felt like I used my experience from Warriors Creek earlier in the season and rode very well. Although we weren’t very close to first or second place, I was content with how we measured up. Before long Matt was coming into the finishing shoot, and he looked very happy to be done for the day. Matt seemed very pleased with how the Norco handled the trail, and I was glad to see he was satisfied with his new purchase.


I have great podium etiquette… sorry Matt…

All in all we were very happy with our third place finish. I felt great and had a blast taking a break from racing cyclocross to have fun on the big bikes, and Matt was satisfied with a solid performance on some extremely fun trails. We also learned that one of the canceled races had been in fact rescheduled to later in November, so this would not be our last race together this season. So for now, I will head back into the cyclocross world until then.

Race recap: 6 Hours of Crabtree


It is hard to believe that the last 6 hour race I had done was way back on May 6th, but owing to cancelations due to poor weather and low entries, our second race of the season was now here. The 6 Hours of Crabtree is always a really fun event, as Crabtree is our “home trail” and always gets a great turnout from the Raleigh mountain biking scene. Both Matt and I had high hopes for the event; I was coming off of a big training block left over from Nats, and Matt was itching to race again. It seemed like we were primed to have a really great race day.

In the time between Nats and 6HoC, I was living a mountain bike high! My riding time was spent doing base work and easy miles, so I had plenty of flexibility on what I could ride. What I wanted to ride turned out to be plenty of mtb and I had been enjoying hitting up some new-to-me trails with Matt and working on more technical aspects of my riding. In the two or three weeks since Nats I spent more time on the mtn bike than I probably did in the lead up! I am really enjoying riding with new confidence and enthusiasm, and I’m almost sad that cx will be here soon and the mtn bike will be in the shed for a bit.

The week of the race the weather here in Raleigh was looking pretty miserable. Every day there was a good chance of rain or storms, and Matt and I were obsessing over whether or not the race would be canceled due to wet trails. Crabtree is very well taken care of and handled with care, so if it was wet I just knew they wouldn’t allow a bunch of racers to tear it up. There was also the strong chance of storms on race day so we had the added worry that the race would be canceled during the event! I tried not to focus too much and still planned my week like we would be racing. I got in the majority of my big miles early in the week and then settled in to recover a bit before the race. Sadly my body had other ideas as I had a bad allergy attack on Thursday that left me feeling run down and exhausted all day Friday. I was suddenly worried whether I would even make it to the race the next day! I took it super, super easy and just accepted where I as physically and knew I would just race by feel and not go too crazy. Although we had a wet couple of days, the race organizers posted that the race was still on no matter what, and so I packed up my stuff Friday night to grab and go on Saturday morning.

I love racing at Crabtree because it requires very little travel time at all. The trails are only about 20 mins from my house, so I had a very relaxed and chill morning before heading to meet Matt at the race. When I finally arrived it was only myself, Matt, and the race organizers, which told me that the weather must have scared off quite a number of competitors. Oh well, I was still there to race no matter who showed up. Matt and I set up our tent and pit situation, and then changed to get ready to race. Matt and I had decided that I would ride the geared Santa Cruz since I would be faster, and Matt would ride the Stumpjumper SS since Matt knows the lines of Crabtree like a pro. This came with one caveat:, the geared bike took the first lap in order to have a better start and position on the uphill hole shot. I was a bit nervous about starting with the rush, but I knew this was a part of racing that I needed to get used to if I want to move towards bigger events, so I accepted the challenge. I grabbed the SC and pedaled off to see what the conditions of the trail were like. It was definitely wet, but it seemed like it was still holding some tack. I hoped this would be a good indication of what the rest of the trail was like so I headed back to our pit to hang with Matt before I needed to warm up. There were all these massive turkey vultures circling overhead, and I wondered if it was an omen of what was to come (superstitious, much?). Matt even joked “Hey Abby, are those here for you?” and I tried to put the mental image out of my head. More friends from other cycling teams started to show up and set up around us, and so we had a nice friendly alley of competition around us. I could tell this race was MUCH smaller than the last 6hr at Lake Norman, but our category had a healthy number of entries: 6 teams in total. Before long it was time to get warmed up and ready to race. I wasn’t nervous as much as focused on my plan for the race. I wanted to set Matt up in a good position, which meant getting a strong start and holding it through the lap. It was a lot of pressure to ride fast on wet trails, but after what I faced at Nats I felt capable.


We are here to ride bikes and kick ass

The start had us lined up at the bottom of the parking lot, which meant we had a steep paved climb, and then a loop of the lot before we hit the single track. Because of this awkward start there was no prize for the hole shot as the organizers were trying to keep things less aggressive due to the conditions, so I only had to focus on getting settled into a good position. I just kept my plan in focus and as the start whistle blew I took off with the front pack. We took the loop on the parking lot and then dove into the single track in an aggressive but manageable pace. I was pushing hard and had the lead pack in front of me and another group right behind me. I was keeping my wits about me, as I know Crabtree very well and could ride it faster than most trails, but I was also making sure to keep an eye out for slick spots. The trail wasn’t too bad around the lake, but once we entered further into the woods there were some nasty slick spots just lurking around corners. Many riders were losing traction, and I had one really good save around a bend. The race course followed the trail in a counter clockwise direction, which happens to be the way I usually ride and had just raced the last month, and so I was flying! We took a left onto the more technical stretch on Loop 6, but I was still just in the front pack, which I was very excited about. The trail was still very slick and wet, and there are several wooden bridges scattered throughout the trail, which we had been warned about. I knew where they all were so I was trying to keep a high speed in order to have some time to slow it down if I needed to. I knew I was in a good position, and that there was only one Coed team in front of me, with a small pack behind me that included the next Coed team. I made it my goal to not allow them to pass me so that Matt would have an awesome position for his lap and we could create a better gap. The female racer behind me did ask for a pass on a quick downhill section that I did not allow and do not feel the least regretful about, as passing on a downhill is dangerous and I quickly gapped her on the climbs where she was much weaker. I was still keeping an eye on the wheel in front of me and we were reaching the last portion on the lap when I was completely taken by surprise. I was flying down a short downhill section that was slick red clay with a short bridge in the middle of it. I was going so fast that I had no idea what happened until I hit the ground. The SC must have lost traction on the slight angle of the turn and slid out on the mud and hit the bridge, but all I knew is one second I was on the bike and the next I was slamming into the ground with the bike tangled underneath me. The noise was terrible and as I came to a stop with the bike and myself in the middle of the trail, I heard shouts of concern and panic. I quickly threw my body and the bike off the trail as a couple racers flew by. I heard someone asking if I was okay and it was the female racer who had been behind me. She helped hand me my water bottle and I thanked her and told her I was okay before she left. I stood there bewildered and dazed, not knowing if I was really “okay.” I was covered in mud and hurting in multiple places but most noticeably my left thigh. I decided not to waste any more seconds and jumped on to pedal my way home and hopefully not lose any more time. As I started pedaling I realized my left thigh was throbbing with pain and I could see blood coming through my kit. I kept my panic to a minimum, knowing that I would have time to deal with that when I got back to transition. The bike seemed all in one piece, but I was very cautious as I finished the lap. I saw Matt waiting for me, and I could tell from other riders’ faces that I looked a mess. I told Matt to head out and be careful, yelling that I had crashed but I would be okay (which really I had no idea if it was true or not). I made my way over to our pit and started to assess the damage as concerned friends came over to render aid.


Happier times at the start of the 1st lap

I was still very dazed as I tried to get myself taken care of, not only from the crash but also just the effort of the first lap. Luckily two of my fellow racer friends grabbed their first aid kits and patched me up, and I took some pain relievers and sat down to assess where I was physically. My left thigh was badly torn up, with a large gash in it and a huge bruise from getting caught in the handlebars during the crash. My left elbow was also bruised and banged up but wasn’t that much of a concern. I had noticed quite a bit of pain pedaling on my left side after the crash, so I was already worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it through the whole race. I tried to just focus on the present and not think too much about later. I had an ice pack on my thigh to try and help keep the pain and swelling down, and I drank some water and had a snack to get some food in me. I felt terrible. I just knew my stupid crash had cost us the race. We were sitting in 4th and there was a large gap between us and the places above us. The worst part was that the crash had happened so quickly I felt like I had no way that I could have stopped it. We were going to fail to reach a podium spot all because I had a huge spell of bad luck. I sat there hoping Matt put in a fast lap and wishing that it could be possible to erase my failure on the first lap. I had sent Matt a text message for him to read when he returned that explained what was going on, in case he needed to take an extra lap. Looking at the clock I realized Matt would be back soon, and so I gingerly limped to the bike and started to pedal around trying to get movement back in my leg. I found that although it was painful it seemed to help to keep some movement in the leg, so my goal was to take it lap by lap and see how the rest of the day unfolded.

I went over to the pit and Matt came tearing in, I shouted to him that I was okay to race and took off on the trail. I was riding a lot more conservatively than my first lap, in part due to my confidence being shaken and also my lack of strength in my left leg. I tried to stay as smooth and fast as possible, since having to put down a lot of power hurt my left side. I managed to get into position behind another racer and ride his wheel for a bit. It ended up being one of the racers who heard me crash and asked if I was okay, adding that “he hadn’t ever heard a crash that bad before” so I apparently worried a fair number of people. I was still frustrated that I didn’t feel super confident, but I knew it was better for me to warm up bit by bit. I was also sad because I knew both 3rd and 2nd place had a large gap on Matt, and here I was making it even bigger. I decided to stop feeling so sorry for myself and instead focus on the positives: the race was not canceled, the bike was not broken, I was not badly hurt, and my laps (although not quick) were helping the team as long as I stayed as consistent as possible. I ended up letting a solo 6 hour rider pass me, and lost sight of him until I caught him at another slick bridge on the course. I noticed that his kit was a bit dirtier than I remembered, and asked if he had crashed (because I have no shame). It ended up that he had crashed on that bridge so I made sure he was okay, and felt a bit better that at least I wasn’t the only person having a rough day. It was also funny because another rider caught us and admitted that he too had crashed out, so that added another confidence boost. Before I knew it I was back at the scene of the crime, and I saw just exactly how my crash had happened as there was a lovely set of skid marks out there. It looked like the bike’s rear wheel had hit the soft clay at the foot of the bridge, which caused the front wheel to slide out on the wet surface, thus causing a perfect storm of pain for me. This time I was careful not to repeat the mistake and I moved past that section quickly. I still felt like I was holding back too much but I wanted a safely confident lap under my belt. My leg seemed to be holding up well with only minimal pain, so I was happy just to be able to continue to race. As the trail wound its way back towards the start-finish I could hear the noise of music and fanfare, and in a few short minutes I was passing the torch back off to Matt.

As Matt sped off down the trail I went back to my tent to commence my icing/drinking water/eating game plan. My leg didn’t seem to be any worse so I was cautiously optimistic that maybe I would finish the day. I chatted with friends and I checked the results again. According to the live results we were in 4th but not too far off of 3rd place. I still felt horrible for costing the team so much time, and in my eyes there was no way we could finish on the podium at all. I had a couple texts from Matt waiting for me: he was glad to hear I was okay following the crash and said he would take double laps to help give me a break and gain some time on the teams ahead of us. I let him know I would be glad for some extra downtime, and for him to let me know when we switched next lap. Matt was pulling some very consistently fast lap times, so I was in the transition at around the 35 min mark to switch off. It was disheartening to wait there and see the other duo teams ahead of my transition before us, and it served as a reminder just how much I had cost the team with my bad luck. I tried to stay positive and be proud of the fact that I had rallied and I knew we should never give up completely. If I had crashed and taken out several other riders, there was no telling what might happen to affect the standings. Suddenly Matt popped out of the woods and was flying down the pavement towards me, and off I went for my 3rd lap.

The day was really starting to heat up, which was helping to dry out the trails but increasing the humidity and mugginess when in the woods. I was really sweating, not only from working hard at racing but I also felt slightly fatigued from the shock from earlier. I told myself to continue picking up the pace so we didn’t lose more ground, and with the drier trail I was getting more of my confidence back. There were also many parts of the trail that were being packed in from being ridden on, so there was more grip to let the bike rip. My crash was still in the back of my mind, as I knew just one more like that would be the end of our race for me. I was glad for all my experience in Crabtree as it meant that all I had to worry about was to keep pedaling and not worry too much about lines, and what was coming up on the trail. I was doing the math in my head and figured that I would probably get in one or possibly two more laps since I had taken the first lap. As I was getting closer and closer to the music, and thus the start line, I was feeling more like myself and ready to take another break to ice my aching leg. I popped out and handed things over to Matt who shouted out that he would pull double laps to help give me a longer break and I was very happy for it. I rolled back over to our tent, where some of my old teammates and friends had shown up to say hi. As I stopped to speak with my guy friend, I heard my name being shouted and saw Matt running with his bike up the trail. “Abby! I flatted! You have to take over!” yelled Matt, and I apologized to my man and took off back to the start. We were lucky that the flat occurred so early as it wouldn’t add too much to our race time.

As I took off back down the trail for what was now a double lap I had to be slightly amused. There I was all ready to relax for two laps, and instead it was I who would be putting in some extra work. The trail was really turning into some great conditions, and I was therefore able to put my foot down a little more confidently and try to make up the time the flat had cost us. I couldn’t believe our luck: first my crash and now Matt’s flat. It was like we are simply cursed to have the most hectic race days this season! Things were really getting stretched out as well, as there was hardly anyone around me. The only other soul I kept seeing was the same solo 6 hour rider who seemed to be really riding the pain cave. He asked if I was also riding solo, but I let him know that I was only insane enough to do a double lap. I definitely do not have it in me to ride Crabtree for 6 hours straight. I sped off and again was alone in the woods just trying to make it back for some rest. I was really getting that itch that I just wanted to be off the bike and be able to drink and eat something, but I tried to stay focused. The problem when you are so familiar with a trail is you know exactly how much longer you have to go and it can be excruciatingly frustrating when all you want is to sit down. I knew that Matt would be going though the same pain and I would have a good hour plus to relax, so I tried not to be too ornery about it. I was also still trying to put in a good time. I knew that having myself do double laps was not going to help make up any time, and the most I could do is try not to lose any precious seconds and focus on a consistent pace. I was really feeling like I was failing a bit by not being any faster. I knew that Matt would make up a lot of time on his double laps so I tried not to be too hard on myself. Pretty soon I could again hear my friend’s speaker blaring out “The Ride of the Valkyries” and I was popping back out of the trail to gratefully switch off to Matt.

I was so ready to be done that I immediately went over to the tent and started to drink, ice my leg, and check my phone for details from Matt. I was surprised to see that he had left a text that we were in third place! Apparently he had managed to pass the Storm Endurance team on his last lap, and I knew that neither member of the team had not passed me on mine. I was really shocked and relieved that we might just end up with a podium spot after all! Maybe my crash had not completely ruined everything for us! I was holding out hope that Matt could catch 2nd place on his laps, so I was keeping an eye on the race while trying to chill out a bit. It helped a lot that I was so tired I didn’t want to move, and also my guy friend had showed up to get a taste of this crazy mountain bike life, so I got to spend a good hour just talking and snacking and hanging out. My leg was very swollen and painful, but I knew it would hold up for one last lap. I was watching the clock to see if we would make it for my last lap under the cutoff (and a small, tired, injured part of me was almost hoping we wouldn’t) but we should have plenty of time left for the 9th lap. I may or may not have complained to said guy friend that I didn’t want to get back on the bike, but I will blame that on the dehydration and pain medication wearing off. As I was keeping a lookout for Matt to come through to start his second lap, I noticed that the first and second place Coed teams came through… followed by the Storm Endurance racer. Damn! Did Matt get passed??? The live results showed us now back in 4th and I was slightly let down. How could this happen? Had Matt crashed as well?? I started to stress and luckily had someone to calm me down. Matt came through and I told him to go FAST! Hoping that he would pass 3rd place again. As I sat there I noticed that the other Storm Endurance member was already out of kit and packing up and wondered what was up. Were they not planning on trying for a 9th? (What I hadn’t realized was there were two Storm Endurance teams and in fact I had the members mixed up!) I was not worried that maybe my 9th lap would be more important to our standings than I realized, and I wondered if I had not only the fitness but also the confidence to put in a fast lap. The conditions had improved by a lot and it was now prime racing dirt, but I was still a little shaken by the crash and my leg was a constant reminder of how dangerous it could be out there. I vowed that I would let neither our team nor myself down, and I would race as hard as I could to keep our third place spot secure if it came down to it. Before jumping back on the bike I checked standings one more time and was pleasantly surprised! We had bumped back up to third! I checked the clock and noticed that Matt would be coming in under the 3:30 cut off time, at around 3:15, which would give me 45 minutes to get back home. My easier laps were around the 40 minute mark, so I knew I had some extra space to take it a bit easier, but with third place being in close contention I knew I couldn’t risk it by playing safe. I turned my full focus back to the race itself and waited for Matt to pass it off to me.

I waited at the exchange with the second place team from CSH. We were both very silent with little to no words being shared. I think we were both just completely focused on finishing up the race. I saw her teammate approach and she dashed off and left me there waiting. Inside I was cursing every minute that they had on us, and blaming myself for that crash. If it hadn’t happened the CSH team would never have passed me on the first lap, and we would have been the ones in a comfortable second place. Suddenly Matt appeared and I was off for my final lap of the day. Possibly from the extra rest, and also from a renewed sense of purpose to make up for my mistake, I shot off with the same speed I had in the first lap. The conditions were finally just the way I liked them, and I was able to maintain more speed through the corners and downhill stretches. All the nerves that had held me back a bit during my middle laps seemed to melt away and I was back to feeling like my old self once again. The SC was eating up the trail with relish and I was having a blast. I was completely alone but I knew that Storm Endurance in 4th place was probably on my tail trying to catch me and regain their own shot at a podium spot. I would not lose it. It would take another crash or worse to take it from me now. We might not reach a higher step, but I was not going to let us down again. I was pushing, standing, climbing, flying, and being as aggressive as possible. I had almost completely forgotten about my leg and it would only occasionally remind me of its existence. It seemed like the complete opposite of my last lap where I felt like it was taking ages to get around the trail. Instead, I couldn’t believe how quickly it was flying by on this lap! Before I knew it I had hit the scene of the crime and had to smile at how the day had started with such drama. As I started to climb back up the trail as it slowly snakes its way back towards the fire road, I saw some thing blue and orange up ahead. The 2nd place CSH rider! HOW? At first I was convinced that I was not seeing correctly and it was another solo rider out on their own, but nevertheless I kept my relentless pace up just in case. There isn’t much elevation to this portion but it was enough to make my strength at climbing more obvious, as before I knew it I had caught the rider. It WAS the CSH racer! It was SECOND PLACE! I had no hesitation at all as I went for the kill. I knew I had the fitness and I knew that I had the confidence in the rest of the trail to really end this once and for all. I was going to win back our second place and I was going to redeem myself. I didn’t even have to call for a pass when I came up on her; I think she knew that she was beat, as she moved over for me to overtake her. As soon as I was by it was on! I hit the fire road and laid into the SC with all the power I had and sprinted towards to skills area that began the last bit of trail back to the finish. I was riding confident and fast and never bothered to check behind me. There was no way anyone was going to catch me. We hit the rock garden option, which I easily took and started to climb my way towards the parking lot. I could hear music but didn’t even register what it was. All I was thinking of was the finish and how surprised Matt would be to see me first. As I climbed the gravelly portion that leads to the finishing shoot, I saw the other CSH rider posed with his camera to catch his partner presumably solidifying their second place. Instead he saw my face and I broke out into a wild grin. I knew she was nowhere behind me by his reaction and I was safe to sprint it towards the end. Matt was standing there also with his camera and I laughed again. He looked utterly bewildered as I flew past and yelled “SECOND PLACE!” as I came through.


Utterly maniacal grin right here

I was exhausted and yet so elated I hardly noticed it. I hadn’t taken a single sip of water that whole lap and was dying of thirst but I didn’t care. I could deal with that later! I sped over to Matt as he watched the CSH rider come through and realized what had happened. I just started laughing as he was in just as much shock as I had been when I had made the pass. Second place! I was so relieved that I almost wanted to cry tears of joy (they might have been from the pain setting in). I had crashed out and lost what I thought was the whole race but together we had stayed positive and fought back for our second place! Not only had we made it to our podium spot but I had really raced that last lap just as hard as the first and stayed safe and fast the whole time! I felt like the small bit of confidence the crash had cost me I had won back! Before, I had my doubts whether I would even be able to ride the rest of the race, and instead I was able to be a big part of our comeback. I was grinning the biggest, dumbest grin ever as I climbed that podium with Matt, and it felt great to be there. We will have one more race together before the end of this series and mountain bike season, but I think our progress together was really showcased today.


~*~always the bridesmaid~*~

Race Recap: Mountain Bike National Championships

Mountain Bike Nationals! How do I write a recap that is fitting for such an emotionally charged and massive event? I have no idea and I will probably not do it justice, but dammit I will try!

So in the lead up to Nats, I had spent very little time on the bike in order to allow my body to recover and be super fresh for race day. Most of my rides were very short and at a very chill pace (this was a struggle for me!). Mentally this tapering was hard for me (as it is for most people); not only is your body out of routine and unhappy but also it starts to play mind games by second guessing EVERYTHING. Trusting my coach and training up to this point was key, as well as staying as busy as possible. I worked a little more, spent more time reading and creating, and just tried not to focus too much on what was to come.

Zack and his family had already been down for a day or two, as Z was helping out other fellow racers, and his dad Gary was racing on Thursday morning. He pre rode the course and sent me a text Wednesday night to let me know what to expect. When I received it I was a little unnerved as Z informed me that it was totally rad and fun but unlike anything I had ever ridden before and would be my hardest race yet. He explained the tricky sections would be some natural and man made rock gardens, as well as a technical rooty section through the woods. I wanted to compare it to trails around here and Z informed me there was nothing like it in our area. This would be a completely new challenge but he assured me that I had what it took to take it on. I asked for a bit more advice concerning how to handle the rocky sections (an uphill rock garden just sounds so delightful!) and then I told him I would see him on Friday morning.

So as an added bonus my Mom had decided to come along to see me at Nats. This was a very special treat as my parents have never seen me race before, so I was very happy to have her along and also worried it might possibly be a little overwhelming or nerve-racking for her. Since I was racing on Friday the plan was to leave Thursday because neither of us could afford to take too much time off of work on such short notice (next year I will go ahead and plan for Nats J ). This meant we would be leaving around lunchtime on Thursday, and arriving in the West Virginia mountains at nightfall. I knew that this meant I would not be able to pre ride the day before, but I was so happy to have my Mom along I didn’t care, and planned to pre ride Friday morning instead. I booked a decently priced hotel at a town right at the foot of Snowshoe Mtn, about a 45 minute drive for race day morning. At around 1pm we were loaded up and headed North!

The drive up through Virginia and into West Virginia was extremely easy and downright breathtaking at times as we drove up and through the mountains. Traffic was extremely light, and we were making great time. This was nice as it kept me from stressing out about anything before the race. I pretty much just caught up with Mom and looked out the window at all the green, lush mountain views. The only time I got a little freaked out was as we went up into the tight and twisty mountain roads the heights started to make me uncomfortable (I am very scared of heights) but I was also getting excited about riding surrounded by such beauty. We would also drive for half an hour or more before ever seeing another car which was a bit creepy but also nice to be so isolated (not having cell service was frightening though). We arrived in the little town of Elkins, WV around 9pm and decided to check into our hotel and leave the bike safely inside before finding dinner. Getting settled was more important than our growling stomachs. As I took the Santa Cruz off of the bike rack I noticed that the front tire had lost a lot of air and immediately I started to panic (but was careful not to let my Mom know I was having an internal meltdown). I tried to calmly text Matt and Scott for their opinions on what caused it, thinking it could be a combination of a newly seated tire and the changing air pressure as we were driving through the mountains. For now, I settled the bike in to deal with later, while we went out in search of food.


Beautiful views and awkward tan lines


I’m definitely a mountain girl

As I sat in the very nice and updated Hampton Inn of Elkins, I was yelping any restaurant around that sounded feasible. Mexican food was out (too risky) as was Barbeque joints due to my vegetarianism. It ended up that Elkins is not a very hopping town and almost every choice was already closed for the night or closing very soon. Great. We had a microwave in the room, so my ever resourceful mother calmed my panic by assuring me we could go to the town Walmart and get some quality meals and sides to microwave in our room, and all would be well. This made me slightly nervous as a pre race meal, but I knew our options were limited and I needed to eat something. Now I don’t know about you, but heading to a Walmart at 10pm at night in a tiny mountain town of West Virginia is a bit of a scary adventure to me and proved to be quite a unique experience. I was quite happy that I was not traveling alone as we witnessed two fights in the parking lot, which included screaming and hair pulling before we even made it in the doors. Luckily the selection for microwaved dinners was quite large and my Mom and I made some solid choices of side salads with Mac & Cheese with broccoli. Truly a champion’s dinner! We were ravenous as we got back to the hotel but as only we can, my Mom spilled half of her Mac & Cheese on the bedspread, so I apologize to the cleaning ladies of the Hamptons Inn who probably thought we North Carolinians are animals. After eating our buffet of frozen dinners, I took a look at the bike… Both Matt and Scott had calmed my nerves a bit by letting me know the tire was normal and would probably be fine. Just pump it up a little above the pressure I wanted before racing, just in case it had a slow leak. I had my pump in the hotel room so I pumped it up to where I wanted it so that I would tell in the morning whether it truly was leaking or if there was a bigger problem. Then it was time to settle in and get ready for a very early wake up call.

At 4am on Friday my Mom and I woke up to head to Snowshoe Mtn Resort which was the home of Nationals. We knew the drive might be a bit tricky so we wanted plenty of time to get there and settle in/pre ride before my 8am start. I also still had to get my race plate and check in which was freaking me out a bit. As we drove there the weather was not looking great and there was a thick fog rolling in. Once we got to the resort at the top of the mountain, visibility was terrible and you could barely see 10 feet in front of you. My nerves were kicking in as I realized I could not pre ride a new trail in these conditions, especially alone in the middle of nowhere, and there wasn’t a lot of movement going on yet. I decided to grab my plate and super cool water bottle, and then pedal around on the main streets and maybe if the fog would lift enough I could try to see part of the course. Getting to registration was easy, and I was checking over the bike and getting kitted up by 7am. Thank God the tire had held air through the night and my fears over a leak were maybe a bit overblown. I went ahead and added a tiny bit of extra air and started to pedal around. I had the forethought to throw on a rain coat as it was a bit chilly and sure enough it started to sprinkle a bit. At this point many women were out warming up and everyone was very friendly and excited for the race. Suddenly the sky opened up and it started to pour, and we all had to seek shelter under a large tent near the race start (can I add it was amazing to see those USA Cycling gates and know I WAS AT NATS! HOLY SHIT!). The race officials came over to let us know there was severe weather in the area (ya think?) and to head to the PE Center to hide out until the delay was over. We all crowded into the building–bikes and all–and settled in to wait and chat. I saw a fellow racer I knew from cyclocross, Sarah, and asked for her views on the course since I had not had a chance to pre ride (I felt like an idiot for not being able to get a pre ride in all day but I couldn’t change it). Sarah gave me some super helpful views on the course, and I felt a little better after talking to her. The officials finally came back and said that they would update us on the start time around 8:45, but that they were definitely shortening our course to 2 laps due to the amount of rain we were getting. I think we were all relieved more than disappointed at doing just 2 laps, as pretty much everyone was focusing on not letting competition get out of hand and everyone staying safe.

Before recounting the race, let me first take the time to describe the conditions of the Nats course at Snowshoe:

You start on an slight uphill climb on asphalt down the main street of the resort, before taking a sharpish left turn onto a grassy stretch with a big downhill right in front of the spectators and on the opposite side of the hand off/technical area. From there you take a couple of swooping grassy turns and a few uphill/downhill stretches and then on to the start of one of the gravel climbs. This first one is not too bad, but you take a sharp left where the climb becomes sharply steep and is more of a rocky run up than a climb. From there you dive back downwards and enter into the wooded singletrack on your left.

The woods are a wet, damp, loamy sort of footing with roots EVERYWHERE. Slick spiderwebs of roots appear in varying sizes so you are constantly picking your way across lines as you navigate on the twisty and windy trail. It is pretty flat at least, with only a small amount of climbing, but the slick roots make it difficult and frustrating. You sort of feel like you are making zero progress moving forward. You wind around quite a bit before you start to hit the downhill section, but it is still that wet loamy dark dirt that doesn’t allow any traction on your bike and so you are slipping and sliding over roots while trying to navigate the switchbacks downhill (many riders will take the option of dismounting and running this as it is a bit faster than risking sliding out all the time). You take a couple sharp turns, and then finally you get spit out onto a fire road.

This fire road starts out on a gradual uphill which seems okay until the grade starts to become increasingly steeper and steeper. Due to the rain, it also has sections of peanut butter like mud that cakes your wheels and makes keeping your traction uphill super super fun. You finally start to reach the top and things are easing off a bit, until it starts back uphill with a man-made rock garden right in the middle. Keeping your momentum going uphill with the wet is hard enough, but now you have to maintain it to try and navigate a very clear line to the left. The rock garden itself is not that difficult, but the fact it is on a hill makes it harder to keep a good speed to pop over the rocks smoothly. Most riders attempting it will get about half way before they will end up having to put a foot down and catch themselves since they cannot pop over a rock. Due to the wet conditions the rocks were also very slick which just adds to the difficulty. Most riders, including myself, will simply dismount and run the thing since it will be much faster, as long as you are careful and you have time to remount and get back up to speed before the incline starts to get too bad. From there you take a hard left onto the enduro portion of the trail.

The left hand turn drops you straight into a really fun downhill with nice berms that are sandwiched between rocky shored up walls. You sort of have to trust your bike and tires to keep grip on some of the looser portions. You travel downhill and then drop down a few rocky drops into the woods and the enduro gets even more rad. Big sweeping berms, long downhill stretches, you can really fly and it is easy to forget how steep the drop off is to your left. You then take a couple sweepy right/left/rights before you have a sharp off-camber right handed turn out of the trail. The off-camber is slick and you have to take a high line and use a flat rock shelf to make the turn correctly which is a bit daunting, as failing means sliding down into a gully.

After the enduro portion you are again spit out onto a fire road that is the worst climb of the entire track. You are spinning and spinning as the grade gets worse and worse. It is a tough and grueling 12% grade and all you can do is get into a rhythm and try to not let the feeling that you are falling backwards get to you. The climb then takes a sharp and steep right hand turn and flattens out a bit, before dropping you down into a rocky gully. This natural rock garden alternates between large rocks that you have to pick around or pop over, and more manageable stretches that present multiple lines to take. Due to the rain there was a lot of standing water in this section which makes reading lines even harder because you can’t tell just how deep the puddles are, or how large the rocks might be sticking out of them. The gully continues for a very long stretch before you finally start with a technical rocky climb out of the gully. A lot of riders will choose to run this as the larger rocks are difficult to clear 100% of the time. You then climb out onto a grassy portion which spits you back near the start.

You head down a grassy uphill/downhill section which is nice because there are no rocks, but everything is on an off-camber that is very slick from the rain. The most deceptive down hill off-camber leads you straight into a massive flyover with a very steep rise, so you have to maintain a huge amount of momentum while keeping your bike balanced well on the slope. You fly up and over the feature and then negotiate a series of winding climbs back onto the pavement and finally turn and head for the start-finish shoot to continue on your next lap (or the finish if you are lucky).


Getting tatted up


He accidentally wrote 35 first and then I cried and he fixed it

At around 8:45 they came and informed us we were looking at a bit more of a delay but that they were hoping to get us out there at 9am. We waited a bit more and hydrated/ate some energy bars, and also got our calves marked with our age category so we would know who we were racing against during the race (Very smart! Please, all races adopt this policy!). I was happy to have my Mom chilling with me in the center as it really kept my nerves down and I had something else to focus on. It was weird that I felt very calm the whole time even with all the weather chaos. I think I had accepted that my goal was to finish and ride the best that I could on that day. After all, I was racing THE BEST IN THE COUNTRY and I still had only been riding a year so I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I was also one of only two Cat 2 riders in my age category, so I had a sweet pass due to that fact. At 9am the officials were back and said that the race was on and they wanted us to get to the start asap and we would be off. This meant there was no warm up after sitting around for so long but at this point it hardly mattered. We all grabbed our bikes and walked out of the building to cheers from spectators who had lined up for us, and it felt amazing. I heard Gary and Zack call out to me, my Mom gave me a thumbs up and told me to be safe, and I lined up under that USA Cycling finishing gate. We sat in the lineup wishing each other good luck but I could tell we were all ready to race. My fellow Cat 2 rider turned to me and said “Can you believe that you are here?” and I answered her honestly “I never would have believed anyone if they had said I would be at the Mountain Biking National Championships a year ago.” They called us to the line, and amid cheering, the countdown commenced. With the whistle blast we were off zooming up the slight uphill stretch on main street in one giant pack of pure excitement and adrenaline.


Goosebumps….. (it was chilly)


For my first lap my goal was to just grab a wheel and hang on. I was riding blind so I wanted to just follow lines as I learned the course the first way through. The speed was very high even with the VERY WET conditions, and mud was flying everywhere. As we sped along the grassy uphill/downhill stretches I was getting a feel for how the Santa Cruz’s tires were maintaining traction. It seemed to be LOVING all the wet which helped me gain confidence, and I was super glad that Matt had switched to the bigger front tire that I liked (YOU’RE THE BEST, MATT). When I hit the first climb I was doing fine until the sharp steep left handed turn caught me in the wrong gear. No matter, I jumped off and ran up it and remounted and managed to stick with the group, then made a mental note of it for the next lap. We flew down the trail in a group of about four and then took a sharp left hand turn into the woods where a group of young men were watching and shouted “Here comes the fun part!”… oh how right they were! The woods were dark, damp, foggy, and the loamy wet earth was like riding on a victoria sponge cake (thanks, The Great British Baking Show). It was crisscrossed with a network of wet roots that took intense concentration to pick the correct lines through. Even trying to follow another rider’s lines was hard because everyone seemed to be taking a different approach! I was picking my way around and pushing my frustration out of my mind. You really felt like you were going nowhere but luckily it seemed to be the case for everyone. I kept the bike upright and was making good progress (on a blind run no less!) when the trail started a long downhill section with the same rooty, wet, soft earth. Luckily Z had warned me that this spot would be treacherous as the ground was so soft your brakes were useless. Locking them meant the bike would just slide around in the muck, so I tried to carefully roll my way down the trail, which was starting to deteriorate badly.The trail takes some nasty switchbacks, and I saw the two women ahead of me dismount to run the tighter sections. I followed suit and found it to be the best game plan for the moment. It was nasty to run in that loamy dirt, but it proved to be way faster. At the bottom I hit the fire road and fell in behind the two women in front of me as we started to climb.

The climbing was not bad and I was quickly back up with the women I was chasing, thanks to my fitness and strength at hills. There were sections where it was quite peanut buttery, so it was hard to keep up momentum in spots. Right in the middle we hit the man-made rock garden that is on an uphill and I realized that the pictures online did not do it much justice! The line was very clear on the left but the grade made it super difficult to keep any momentum to clear the entire thing in one go. I dismounted and ran it as Z and I had planned, and I actually passed the two women in front of me, who tried to ride and didn’t make it all the way through. I jumped back in the saddle and started climbing back up to dive into the trail for the enduro portion. This was INSANELY FUN! Like, I want to go back asap and ride these trails in better conditions because the berms and downhills were to die for. You hit some nice long stretches with some fun drops mixed in here and there, and in no time you have covered a decent stretch of mileage. I was trusting the Santa Cruz to be a little badass berm-loving monster and just smiling ear to ear (even though I was still slightly terrified and overwhelmed). Before I wanted to, I hit the sketchy right handed off-camber out of the woods (which I fucked up every lap) and it was now time once again for the worst climb of the race.

I was behind two women as we started the climb and right on their heels. The awful part was that although the fire road was wide, there was a ton of peanut butter mud to avoid and so you were stuck fighting over the dry tracks. I really wanted to try to pass since my climbing fitness was better, but as we hit the worse percentage of grade the woman in front of me almost came to a standstill which killed my momentum and I had to put a foot down. Damn! I quickly dismounted and started running the last bit which SUCKED but I was able to get around and up the climb faster than being stuck behind on a climb. The course takes an evil right hand turn where I remounted, and then down into the short downhill stretch into what was a natural rocky gully. As I started to see what was ahead of me I really started to get overwhelmed with just how much was going on. The water had filled up sections of the rock gardens so it was hard to tell where the lines were, and I was picking my way around in the slippery, foggy, darkened gully. I started to really think that maybe I wasn’t ready for this and that maybe I should have waited until next year. As my vision around me was getting bleaker due to the fog, so was my inner dialogue, and I was considering pulling out after one lap. I was worried “What if I messed up Matt’s bike? What if I crashed and got hurt on the next lap trying to go too fast to catch up? Was I really ready for this? Had I overestimated myself?” It was a very dark place but thank God it happened in the rock garden, because I had to just buck up and shut up in order to concentrate. It is distracting to be so negative when you are riding through a gnarly rock garden submerged in water. As the trail started to smooth out (ehh “smooth” is being used liberally as it was still a rocky mess), I realized that no, I had done one blind lap and lived through it so I could definitely handle another.

With my new positivity I climbed out of the rock garden and hit the grassy stretch headed back towards the resort. As I ascended I heard my name and saw Gary, Zack, and Spencer calling out and cheering me on. This lifted my spirits even more and I couldn’t help but smile as I really was having a BLAST. Plus I could see ahead that the GIANT FLYOVER was coming up and I was uber thrilled to hit it. Luckily Gary called out a warning to me to keep the bike upright and I realized it was because the big downhill towards the flyover was on a deceptive off-camber that you had to fight against to get traction for the rise of the flyover. Luckily I was able to adjust and hit the flyover with speed and I was up and over in a flash! From there you twist back and forth before hitting the home stretch and the wall of spectators cheering everyone on. I was able to catch my Mom in the crowd and gave her a wave and thumbs up that I was good to go for another lap.


I’m smiling because the rocks were over.


FRIENDS! Dat fog tho


Smiling after the first lap? Good sign.

I again tore up the main street and was headed for another fun and challenging 4.5 miles of muddy carnage! I had more confidence this lap now that I knew what to expect, so I hit each section with more skill. I felt good physically so I was trying to maintain the same effort throughout the course, because I had no fear of hitting the wall. I hit the steep uphill that I messed up the first lap and only had to dab a couple times to get up successfully this time around. As I flew into the woods it felt eerily quiet as the fog was so intense I could not see too far ahead of me, and I felt like I was completely on my own. With so many racers having gone through the wet earth, it was even worse this lap and I was sliding all over the place while trying to keep my calm. There was that same feeling of not going anywhere at all, but I remembered it was the same the lap before and not to worry too much. I hit the downhill section and again ran it for better time. I was thrilled that I wouldn’t have to ride that section again!

It was time again for the fire road with the man-made rock garden, and I crossed it without incident yet again. I was between a couple racers so it was very nice to have some company. The enduro portion again was a ton of fun and I was having a blast, but covered in mud head to toe by this point. I knew the worst climb was fast approaching so I tried to focus on being fast downhill while recovering for the climb. As I skipped out the fire road I was again behind another rider, but I knew that this climb was MINE and I was going up the whole thing! I picked the inside track and passed, then climbed and climbed while my legs were burning like fire. I kept my breathing nice and smooth and before I knew it I had hit the top, then took the hard right back into my favorite rocky gully. This time through it I was able to pick out a couple better and drier lines, and was very happy to avoid putting a foot down too often. I stayed focused on the fact I was almost done, almost to the finish, almost going to be able to say I raced at NATS. As I climbed out onto the grass I kept my emotions in check and pushed as hard as I could to the flyover. I was going to cross as fast as possible dammit! I was purely in a state of getting to that finishing shoot and crossing that line. I was up and over the flyover, switching back and forth towards main street, where it was noise, cheering, and the voice of the announcer. And in a blur, I was crossing the line amid the voices of my friends and Mom cheering for me.


I thought I was going to run over the photog…

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset


Everything caught up to me all at once: the excitement and adrenaline, the fact I had just ridden a course like that, all my hard work leading to this moment. I was truly overwhelmed as I sat on the bike. I heard my Mom calling to me and I rode over to her and immediately broke down with happy tears as she hugged me. I am not an emotional person in public but I couldn’t help it; I was just so proud and relieved to have really challenged myself like that. Pretty soon I was surrounded by friends giving me hugs and I found myself speechless, because I was rubbish at properly expressing what I thought of the race. There was still cheering for the other racers coming in and riders celebrating, so I just soaked up the atmosphere at being a part of such a big event. My Mom reminded me that I needed to drink some water and get cleaned up, and I waited until the Men’s start had gone off before worrying about myself. I wanted to make sure and cheer for Zack and his brother Spencer as the 19-24 year olds took off on course at an insanely breakneck speed.


Big bikes and happy tears.

Once I was a bit more pulled together I rode around a bit and spectated the race with my Mother. She was very proud of me and she had a great time watching, which I was pleased to hear! Hopefully she understands my passion for mountain biking now! As I cheered for Zack who was killing it on course to a 5th place finish, I just let everything sink in. I had finished 12th in my age group out of 12. Technically last place, but I was also the second Cat 2 rider in the group. I had ridden a trail more technical than I could have imagined and never crashed, never got banged up, and had ridden extremely well for being on a blind run. I now know what level of competition I want to aim for. Being at Nats was eye opening for me as it really showed that I was capable of putting in the hard work in training and showing up on race day ready to tackle whatever I was faced with. My first thoughts were turning to what I wanted to work towards and where I needed to go from here. I went to Nats and came back even more determined to improve and to become truly competitive at that heightened level. I realize that I did not go a year too early; in fact I think I went right at the perfect time to reignite my passion for mountain biking. I will most definitely be back to kill it next year!

Race Recap: MOAR XC at Lake Crabtree

So I have had an odd couple of weeks of racing. I was supposed to race the 6 Hours of Bur-Mil with Matt, but due to several days of continuous rain it had to be postponed. I was disappointed, as it would have been my first race since I started a structured training plan with Z, and to have plans changed at the last second was a bit frustrating. I tried to put a bright spin on it and focus on the fact that this would give me a couple more weeks of training before my next race, which would then be a good opportunity to see where I was in regards to Nationals. Every time I think of going to Nats I still have to remind myself that I AM REALLY GOING OMG because it feels unreal.

The next race on my calendar was the MOAR XC race at Crabtree, which is put on my Triangle Off-Road Cyclists. TORC is a really amazing group that helps keep our trails alive and holds great races and events to help grow mountain biking in the area. Their races have definitely been a huge influence on my growth as a mountain biker, so I try to do every race that I can fit into the calendar. Last year I raced this same race and it was my FIRST EVER race at the Sport level. I competed against Jessica Weinbrenner, who would end up becoming my future Oak City Cycling Project Racing Team teammate and one of my best friends. The race last year had us fighting against each other for 2nd place and I will never forget coming in 3rd behind Jess and having her immediately turn around and give my a giant high five for a killer race. I felt very cool and fast to be able to race against her.

In the lead up to the race I had two solid weeks of training with some pretty heavy (for me) interval workouts mixed in. I have to admit that I am loving these workouts and seeing some data showing my progression. The weekend before the race I even did a race simulation using the trails of Crabtree to do some sets, which gave me some confidence for how things would feel come race day. Since this was my Nats test run, I spoke with Z about which category I should race in. Before, I was always racing the Sport category (or what would be the equivalent of Cat 2), but my Nats race would be a 1/2 category race and a longer length. Feeling that I needed to get the hang of that level of competition and the longer effort, Z challenged me to race Expert. I knew I needed to leave my comfort zone and push myself, so I accepted the challenge and registered for Expert. Holy YIKES. I also talked with Matt and he graciously lent me his Santa Cruz for the race so that I would also be able to race the same bike I would take to Nats. My views towards this race suddenly changed from “Oh yeah another race to try and podium at” to being focused on how I have improved from training and how ready I was for Nationals.

The morning of the race I packed up and headed to the trails very early, as in I was there almost before the race organizers. Matt and his wife were volunteering to help organize and run the race, and had brought the Santa Cruz with them. So I arrived when they were helping set up so that I could get a quick and easy pre ride in. I have ridden Crabtree more times than I can ever count but I wasn’t quite sure what direction we would be racing. Plus, as a whole, the footing in Crabtree can change dramatically so I wanted to see how it was holding up and test out a new front tire Matt had put on the Santa Cruz that would allow for more grip in corners. I quickly jumped on the SC and took off down the trail. I was very happy to see that the counter-clockwise direction suited me as it was the way that I usually ride the trail, and that there was no loop 6, which I hate with a fiery passion. Also the new front tire was AMAZING on corners, so I felt very confident carrying a bit more speed than I usually did. I finished my pre ride and checked my Garmin to see the length and judge how far off of race pace I might have been. I guessed I could easily take off 4 minutes or more. I also realized that even on an easy pre ride I was sweating buckets due to the high humidity and heat. My race was scheduled for 12:30, and it would only continue to get hotter. FUN.


Catching up and talking strategy with one of my favorite badass lady riders Vanessa

I was focusing a lot on hydrating correctly headed into the race because I knew that the course did not have that many opportunities to get a good drink in. For how warm it was, the race had a great turnout and I was enjoying catching up with friends and fellow racers. There was a slight hang up with registration so that meant the Novice category started behind time. I knew this was going to have a domino effect on my race, and so I adjusted my time for when I needed to get on the bike and warm up. I cheered on my fellow racers and watched to see how people were handling the course. It was dry on my pre ride and a lot of racers were sliding out on some loose corners. I tried not to let it faze me too much as the new front tire was very grippy, and being familiar with the trail, I had experience with how loose it could be. A lot sooner than I hoped, it was time to get on the bike and get ready to race.

There was an added prize of a very snazzy kit for the fastest lap of the day, and this Easter egg had piqued the interest of my biggest competitor in the area. I knew that I would have my work cut out for me, as although I was stronger and had better endurance, my competitor had years and years of experience racing some big races and technical trails. This is what will help me get ready for Nats and improve as a cyclist so I was happy to have someone to try to hang with. Z was racing the men’s expert class so we ended up spinning around together and getting a game plan in for the race. With the heat the plan was to grab a wheel and stay with it for as long as possible, and then make a move if it was feasible, and if I had enough in me to not blow up down the road. Most racers were either trying to win fastest lap or the race, but I was more focused on having a successful test run than anything. The race started on the road at the bottom of a long hill in direct sunlight, so it was BLAZING HOT. The game plan was to not go for the hole shot and instead sit in and let others tear themselves up going for it. I tried to stay in the shade and be as relaxed as possible. I was more nervous for this race than I had been in a long time and I think part of it was the added pressure of wanting things to go well. Z let me know that it was okay if they didn’t, or if I cracked; both would be indicators of what to work on and not a negative experience. At around 1pm, it was finally time for the men’s field to take off and I was excited to see how things would end up shaking out between what was a fully stacked field of fast dudes. I was a little less excited to realize that this meant that we had to line up next, but also I was ready to get to work shredding the trail.

As we sat in line waiting for the countdown, we just stared up the paved incline ahead of us. I kept Z’s advice fresh in my mind about letting everyone else do the work and just sitting in at the start. At the sound of “GO!” I slammed my foot into the pedal and sprinted off up the incline at a conservative pace, and clicked down a gear or two to not trash my legs right off the bat. As I started up it (It really looked worse than it raced), I thought “Where is everyone else??”. I had dropped my fellow competitors quite easily on the short climb, probably owing to the hard work I had been putting in on interval workouts and also because I really love to climb, but I kept it at a decent pace on the pavement. The route does a sharp 90 degree turn with a small steep incline before heading towards the single track, but I was still out in front. I thought “Oh well, I guess I will take the hole shot and then allow a pass and sit in” but it was very satisfying to come around the corner and see some surprised faces that I was in the lead. As we took a couple of hard rights into the trails, I was still in the lead but my competitor’s technical skills at cornering were helping her make up the gap. The trail was very loose but my front tire held the grip amazingly well. I knew that I was going against Z’s game plan, so I decided that if I was going to be in front then I was going to set the pace off the bat. The trail was too narrow and twisty for a pass, and I was still going at a fast enough pace that calling for a pass would be silly. I also was very happy in that I was maintaining this pace without too much difficulty; I felt very fresh and my breathing was under control. This was a bit different from the racer behind me whom I could hear breathing heavily already. I just kept my focus on the fact this would be a long hot race and to not do anything silly or make wild moves just yet. As the trail flowed around Lake Crabtree and then back towards the center of the park, we hit a couple of sections with short climbs and I was happy to see that these required little effort, but that I could create a short gap on my trailing rival. As we hit a long fire road though, my competitor slipped off to my left and got the pass she wanted. We hit a couple of tight turns which she took very fast due to her experience and I tried to keep her in my sights for as long as possible. For a short moment I was slightly disappointed but I refused to allow myself to feel this way. I had easily won the hole shot and held the lead for 3 miles against a competitor who has been racing for over a decade. I felt great, I had plenty in the tank, and the heat was not quite as noticeable on the bike. This was my test before Nats and I did not need to let an XC warm up race get me down. These insights gave me a little more pep and my thoughts turned towards keeping consistency and riding well for the rest of the lap. Having ridden Crabtree so many times, I knew I was hitting the end of the course soon as there is only so much you can fit into the acreage out there, and sure enough I climbed back up towards the parking lots and there was Matt keeping time at the timing blocks. Matt called out that I was only about 45 seconds behind, which really lit me up a bit as I was happy to be so close to the leader.


I look very surprised to be taking the hole shot…

As I hit the second lap I heard a lot of friends cheering for me as I took the first sets of loose corners, which helped light me up a bit more. I was only 45 seconds behind and I knew the leader would be a bit faster on this lap as I wasn’t in the lead to control pace like I had been before. I knew that catching her would come down to whether she made a careless mistake or had a mechanical, and I did not want to rely too much on that. Instead I just focused all my efforts on getting my best result possible. I knew that the race win would probably be out of my grasp, but we still had the fastest lap to contend with. Because of the added length to the first lap the best opportunities to get the best lap were the 2nd and 3rd, as the 4th lap is expected to be the slowest of all. I was holding out hope that maybe the leader had gassed herself a bit trying to gap me on the first lap, so maybe if I could pull out a couple strong laps I would not be far off the fastest lap time. With this in mind I decided to really go for it for the next two laps and then hold on as much as possible without cracking for the 4th. The course was flowing wicked fast and at about 30 minutes per lap, I was really cooking. I have raced Crabtree so many times, but not on the insanely agile Santa Cruz and I haven’t raced it since the beginning of the year when I really started to make gains in my riding. All of my focus was on my riding and keeping things in check. There was one stupid rooty section we had to climb up that I hated on every lap (I was actually counting down how many times I had to see the stupid place), but besides that the trail is just pure xc flow. I felt like I was making some really good time, and before I knew it the second lap was over and I was once again passing Matt at the timing blocks and setting off again. I noticed that there were not quite as many people around cheering, which was probably due to the fact it was hotter than hades out there now.


Lookin’ soooo prooooo (for a bit)

As I started the third lap I was again focusing on really pushing it for a faster lap time (in fact my third lap ended up being my fastest), I was also really excited to be half way done with my race. Lucky bitches that only had to do 2 or 3 laps! My thoughts were also turning to another goal of mine: don’t get lapped by the expert men’s field. I had a lot of friends racing that cat and I knew I would gladly jump off the trail to allow them to pass, but I didn’t want to slow down that much. Now I had yet another reason to really start shredding hardcore! The third lap continued in much the same way as the laps before: tight, twisty, dusty, and fast. The heat was climbing but I did not feel like I was hitting my max quite yet. I was feeling very strong on the climbs and was surprised at how quickly I would recover when I put in a push. All it took was a minute or two of turning my legs over and any feelings of effort would quickly vanish. I kept thinking “one more lap, one more lap” over and over again to keep on target. Thank god my Nats race will not be this long or hopefully this hot! By this point I was also getting really sick of riding the same trail and was very relieved when I came through the timing blocks and set off again. Matt asked if I was hot, and I remember saying something stupid like “Oh it’s not too bad” because I am a giant dork.

I was very happy to be on my final lap, and also happy that this meant that I was not going to be lapped by the men! Hurrah! So far I had achieved two of my goals: putting in my fastest laps on 2 and 3, and not getting lapped by the dudes. Now I just needed to bring it solidly home and I would achieve the “A” GOAL of getting my solid Nats tune up accomplished! I was very happy to know that with every turn and corner I was getting closer and closer to being finished. It was very odd to be looking forward so much to a race being over, but I took it as a sign that I was really working hard. It wasn’t until about the last half of the lap that I started to feel like I was hitting my limits, and even then it was more that I could feel the effort in my legs a little more and not that I was worried about cramping or cracking. A lot of my thoughts were “Thank god I don’t have to see these roots again” “Yes that stupid bridge is over with” “Ugh I don’t want to ride Crabtree for weeks after this” because I was just DONE. I knew I was second, I knew I had done my fast laps, and so in my mind my job was over. Yet I still had like half a lap to go. Haha joke is on me, welcome to EXPERT, ABBY. Thankfully I managed to pull it together and get my booty to the finish line where Matt was lounging comfortably waiting for the finishers. Yay! I could stop killing myself now!

As soon as I could, I pulled over rather anticlimactically as there was no one around except for a couple of the men who had finished about 15 minutes before us. As I was pounding water, I started talking some race talk to hear how the men’s race had gone. It had been very fast and competitive and much closer packed than our race had ended up. Coach Z had already left to head home, which I can understand because for the first time ever I really considered heading to AC comfort and forgetting all about podiums. I realized I was disgustingly covered in dirt and sweat and I was grossed out. I knew I needed to do my duty for my new racing team, so I toughed it out to wait for the women’s podium shots.


You can’t tell how sweaty I am in this pic 😉

I was very happy with how my race went today and in fact there aren’t really any negatives I can think of concerning my performance. I DEFINITELY have made major gains from my structured training with Z, and I feel very confident moving forward. This was a big step-up to huge competition, in honestly terrible conditions, and I won the hole shot, held the lead for a bit, put in two very fast laps, and finished feeling quite strong. I was also very proud to represent my new racing team well and show everyone that I am a valuable asset. It really was cool warming up and talking with the other expert racers and feeling like “Yes, this is where I want to be.” I do feel like my hard work and dedication is paying off and I am very excited to move forward and see where it takes me. Time will tell what Nats holds for me, but I know that this season I have accomplished far above my own expectations!

Special thanks to Matt Wilkins and Deborah Hage for the pictures!

How I didn’t die taking a rest week


So last weekend I left off with finishing my first Cat 2 race with my sights set on improving and becoming one of the big dogs. On the way back from the race, I was running my mouth as usual while Matt drove, and I remarked about how physically I didn’t feel that great during the race. It wasn’t an “Oh god, I am pushing so hard I am going to bonk” type of feeling; it was more that I was lacking any sort of upper gear. I was pushing and really working, but I never felt like I had a higher gear. I was happy with my speed and my riding, but I felt like I was missing something. Matt made a little sigh that let me know I was about to hear something that could disappoint me, “Abby, you need to talk to Zack. You’ve hit a plateau.” As soon as Matt said that I knew it was true: I was hitting a lot of big miles and tough rides, but I wasn’t really improving a whole lot anymore. All I was managing to do was tire myself out right at a time when my passion for cycling was increasing. I promised Matt that I would get in touch with Zack, and I new that he would be able to help me.

The next day I was going for an easy recovery ride with my gravel badass friend Scott and his friend Kat, a woman who was interested in getting into gravel racing. I had put the thought of looking into coaching out of my mind (I mean maybe I was worrying too much, right?) and got on the bike to do an easy recovery ride. It soon became apparent that I was TIRED and I was actually pedaling a proper recovery pace for once. Even once my legs loosened up I still felt like I was just going through the motions. It wasn’t just that my legs were tired from a race effort; they were just…. there. As soon as the ride was done I messaged Zack. My worst fears were confirmed: I had plateaued and needed to recharge. Zack’s instructions were simple: don’t touch the bike for the rest of the week. Don’t touch my bike?? My training partners immediately were skeptical if I could follow through (as was I), but I knew that I was not progressing with the way I had been doing things. I was going to trust Zack (after all, that badass is fast AF), and I would not touch my bike. Strength training and light running were okay (oh God that’s right… I used to run??) and so it isn’t like I had to lay around all the time. Okay, deep breaths, I can do this.

Admittedly, it didn’t hit me until around the second day of rest that this was actually going to be hard. The weather was sunny and beautiful, and I found myself with major FOMO, seeing all my friends riding on Strava. Okay, kill Strava for the week. I did my first easy run on the trails and focused on staying within a lower heart rate than I would ever run. I just ignored my pace and my old “Runner Abby” side, and focused on enjoying being out in the quiet woods. To my surprise I really had a great time and I didn’t feel like I was exerting myself too much. My attitude toward running had suffered from major burnout and I was relieved to find myself missing my old sport just a little (not enough to want to ditch the bike of course). Maybe I would survive the week after all.

Besides picking up my old habit of running, I also focused on a lot of stretching and foam rolling to target my very knotted up and sore muscles. I am the worst about preventative measures when training because it just eats up time that you could be on the bike! But this week I focused on trying to help repair the months of damage I had been causing. My legs are always carrying around a degree of soreness and I had places that were so sore it hurt to foam roll with even the lightest amount of pressure. After just a few days of foam rolling twice a day I had a marked improvement. I also started back with my old strength training routine from my cross country days last fall, which was a series of upper body and core exercises to help balance my body out a bit. I have a very bad hamstring on my right side, so I was finally taking some measures to address this (I can actually feel the difference when I am pedaling on the bike, which is odd).

And then there is the mental side of the rest week. It was very odd to have so much free time instead of spending it on the bike/traveling to a trail/maintaining my bikes. I spent it reading (something I have really missed), going out with friends (which I never schedule enough time for), and also just cleaning, maintaining, and organizing my life! I didn’t look to fill that extra time with so much that I was in a constant rush to go/do something like I normaly do. Instead I just enjoyed a nice quiet week. It was glorious! I picked up shifts at work to make extra money, and I cooked! My God how I missed having time to cook without being in a starving rush to eat!


Deep thoughts (and hoping a snake doesn’t crawl on me)

Did I get stir crazy and want to take a non-Strava’d joy ride? Of course I did! But at about day three of rest I was on the computer browsing the interwebs, when I noticed I had an email from USAC about the upcoming Mountain Bike Nationals that were being held not far from me in Snowshoe, WV. I clicked through the website and decided to look at the roster of who was qualified, hoping to recognize some names of friends who I could follow. As I brought up the qualifiers for Women’s Cat 2 I did recognize a name… my own. SURELY that wasn’t right, after all I had only raced one Cat 2 race so far, but it was true that one race had qualified me for MTN BIKE NATS. I had never even entertained the idea of going, thinking it was probably a goal for next season, and now it was right in front of me. Suddenly the last thought on my mind was breaking my rest week! Dammit I needed to take this seriously! Now I was not only going to take my rest week, I was going to be SO PRO at resting. No one has ever taken a better rest week than I. More rolling, more stretching, hell I even went out and bought vitamins. I was going (??) to NATS.

Towards the end of the week Zack checked back in on me to see how I was doing. I told him that I was very much enjoying the break. He okayed me to do our weekly team ride, but assured me to take it very, very, very easy and then rest an extra day. Aye Aye Captain! It ended up being a great ride and I had missed the bike but I felt fine locking it back up later. I didn’t feel like I was tied into getting back onto it anytime soon. A couple more days of resting and then I could see my first easy ride coming up for Sunday. Even as Sunday approached I still didn’t have any idea about what kind of ride I was planning on doing. I would need to ride early before work, and as the morning dawned I grabbed old faithful, my cx bike. It was just myself and the trails of Umstead for my first ride and for the first time in a long time I found myself just getting lost in riding the trails. I didn’t focus on how many miles, just how long, and I ambled around at an easy pace actually paying attention to the scenery and nature around me. I realized just how much mentally I had needed this breather, and how much better I felt physically. The lingering soreness I was carrying around had faded with all my rolling out and I actually felt like I had some energy. I know that these things will only last if I keep up with my maintenance, but I now know that I need to really start taking it seriously if I want to progress forward.

So I had survived! An entire week mostly off the bike and I felt like I was ready to focus and get started back with an actual plan. I have Nats to now look forward to, and I know I will not get there if I run myself into the ground between now and then. I have an easy week of training ahead, with a heart rate test to determine a baseline, and ending with my next 6 Hour Race with Matt on Saturday. For the first time in a long time I feel like I have a plan for the future.