My road to nationals began way back in November. Remember that time lapse video of me dressing to train in 20 degrees? That lasted for a good 5 months. Most of the time, I was forced to surrender to Mother Nature and train indoors where I could feel my toes. Being on the trainer for 2.5 hours at a time, 5 days a week was torture. But I stayed focused on nationals, even though it was 8 months away. When March came and it was finally warm enough to go outside, I thought the tough times were behind me.
Most of you saw the photo of me pretending to be a porcupine (acupuncture) while electricity was running through me. In case you were wondering the details of this, and how it affected my 2014 journey, continue reading . . .
Following a successful state championships (in which I earned 3rd in the pro/open category,) I began to feel some burning on one side of my lower back / top of the glute. I thought it was typical muscle strain from being hunched over the bars, so I shrugged it off. The next day, the burning nearly doubled in intensity and my eyes welled up with tears. Being my stubborn self, I kept riding thinking it would work itself out. The day after that, I didn't even make it through one climbing interval before I had to call it quits. I was flustered because it came on so fast and the pain was increasing every day. I immediately scheduled appointments for acupuncture, electrotherapy, and sports massage . . . all in the same day. The 45 minute drive to and from the physical therapy center, the simultaneous treatments, and the stress was the last thing I needed so close to nationals. I felt run down and ragged, but it didn't break me down mentally. I was NOT going to let the 5 consecutive months I spent on the trainer go to waste. If there was one thing I could control, it was my attitude.
If there was one thing I could control, it was my attitude.
For a while, no one could identify the injury and time was ticking away. I knew that my fitness would begin to decline after only 8 days of inactivity and that deadline was approaching quickly. My mom, who is always promoting positivity, finally told me to "face reality." But every time she told me this, I stubbornly replied, "No, I have to convince myself that I am racing at nationals. It's not too late." I stuck to this mentality and I improved, but not at the rate I needed to be. The 8 day deadline was now behind me and I was entering a crucial time period. Fitness plummets drastically after 2 weeks of inactivity and I wanted to hold onto every ounce of strength I gained over the winter. Then, my mom thought of getting me fit on my bike again. None of us thought that this was the problem since I was fit at the beginning of the season; however, we soon found out that I had grown an inch and a half over that time period!
Lucky for me, Dario Fredrick (of Whole Athlete) came to the rescue! He gave me a virtual, remote bike fit as I emailed videos and photos from all different angles. He corrected so many small details that seemed impossible to notice online. After this, my pain decreased quickly, but I had to resist the urge to jump back into training and risk the small chance I had of racing at nationals. Only a few days from the 2 week cutoff, I was able to complete a 45 minute spin without any pain at all. I smiled from ear to ear - something I hadn't done in a long time! I ramped up my training little by little, hoping I had enough time to get my fitness back to where it was when I left off. As the difficulty of my workouts increased, I was surprised to find that I didn't lose too much power. The bike fit was the main problem solver, but I truly believe my positivity was a factor. I honestly surprised myself with how hard I was willing to fight - revealing my commitment to the sport and my passion to succeed.
I honestly surprised myself with how hard I was willing to fight - revealing my commitment to the sport and my passion to succeed.
I also recovered just in time for the Pro XCT in Wisconsin (aka WORS Cup), marking the beginning of a 3 week adventure consisting of 2 Pro XCT races and Nationals! I could tell that my mom was a little nervous about leaving my dad home alone for that long . . . She left multiple sticky notes around the house with things like: keep the car clean, how to do laundry, instructions on running the dishwasher, etc. My dad assured us that he could take care of himself and he returned the favor by providing a free "How to Hitch a Trailer, Change a Tire, and Check the Oil Tutorial." I couldn't blame him for being apprehensive after my mom declared, "As long as I don't pull into any dead ends, I'm sure I'll be fine!" My mom and I have been on many road trips together and we sort of got used to the red glow of the check engine, check oil, or low gas lighting up her face. Somehow we always survived and got to where we needed to be. This, however, was going to be 3 weeks... a lot of things can go wrong in 3 weeks!
There was a moment when I thought I shouldn't race at nationals if I wasn't at the level I wanted to be. I hated the thought of getting a result that didn't reflect my hard work and dedication. But it wasn't long before I declared, "It's all or nothing at nationals."
It's all or nothing at nationals.
Race morning was unusual because I was not nervous at all. I felt like I had nothing to lose and I focused on all the things running in my favor. Having nationals in my home state was empowering and I was ecstatic about the technical aspect of the course. I had all of the lines ingrained in my mind and I was really determined to show what I was capable of.
In WI, I learned that getting the hole shot is not always the best thing to do. I applied this lesson and held back a little when the gun went off. Going into the woods, I found myself in the 4th position. I dropped 5th place after about half a lap. 3rd was not in sight, but that did not stop me from believing that I could catch her. At the end of the second lap, I spotted her only two switchbacks ahead of me on the grassy climb. I hit the A-line and was right on her wheel going through the feed zone! A wave of adrenaline rushed through me as I came to the realization that a bronze medal was achievable.
A wave of adrenaline rushed through me as I came to the realization that a bronze medal was achievable.
She pulled away quickly, but I anticipated catching her again on the technical sections. I was feeling strong and I kept my eyes peeled for third. I sprinted up the gravel road past the second feed zone. I was smooth all the way through the heckle pit and technical switchbacks. I still did not see third, but I reminded myself that anything could happen. I pushed across the line, almost meeting my highest goal. I have no regrets and I am thrilled with how strong I felt during the race despite the setback I had only weeks before!
It's so comforting to look back and know that I didn't have to think twice about many important factors.
Osmo and Probar provided me with optimal hydration and fuel . . . And both products are easy to eat / drink because they taste SO good! The biggest factor would have to be the machine that gets me from point A to point B . . . my Specialized bike! But it wouldn't be a smooth running machine without SRAM components and Progold Lubricants. Comfort & style are also factors that play a significant role. My DNA Cycling kit feels like Cloud 9 and looks like a million bucks! Hello bibs that don't give you "sausage legs!" Another comfort factor would be ESI Grips. They feel great under your hands and they're made in the United States. Oakley combines the last two factors perfectly. I have a really small face and they are the only glasses that feel snug and look pro.
Following a successful XC race on Friday, I was excited for the Super D on Sunday. I felt pretty dialed on the course since it consisted of the most technical sections of the pro course. I did not think a gold medal was out of the question, so I was pumped. I knew I would probably be the only one riding a hardtail, but I did not think of this as a disadvantage. It just meant that I would have to be 100% focused on my lines. About 10 seconds into my run, I choose a bad line and my bike was stuck in a really awkward place. That added a good 5 seconds. Following that mistake, I knew I was not riding smooth. In an attempt to make up time, I hit a tree and lost another 5 seconds. I was upset looking at the times because I could see that I had a really good chance at gold if I had not made those mistakes. I ended up rounding out the top 3 with my teammates, so it was still a good day.
Probably the coolest thing that happened at Nationals was meeting a special 8 year old girl. Following my podium, a dad told my mom how much his daughter liked my blog and nickname. In fact, she even made a blog of her own based off of mine and established the nickname "Goose." I immediately knew I had to meet this girl! It was so nice to meet Alison and I highly recommend visiting her adorable blog http://thecyclinggoose.weebly.com/
Right after Nationals, the team travelled to Vermont for the Catamount Classic Pro XCT. The course featured three A-lines which I was stoked about. The first was 2 mini jumps, the second was a big gap jump, and the third was a rock drop. Long story short, I felt really under recovered after Nationals and it only got worse during the race. I felt helpless and was pedaling at an embarrassingly slow pace. Some days your legs are your friend and other days they are your enemy. On the bright side, the A-lines were so much fun!
Although my 2014 season didn't consist of a plethora of podium finishes, the experience I gained is much more valuable than any gold medal. I learned that there are always going to be bumps in my "off-road" to success and it's up to me to decide if they will make or break me (or my carbon frame!) I proved to myself that I can overcome adversity and not become discouraged.
Being on the Whole Athlete / Specialized Team has given me the opportunity to test my limits and see what it takes to be a top-notch racer. I want to thank Matt McCourtney and Dario Fredrick for taking a chance on me and believing that I can accomplish the goals that I set for myself. Both of you have taught me so much and that means the world to me. Next year, I am determined to come back faster and stronger.