I can't even explain the amount of preparation it takes to train for an event as big as nationals. I didn't want to go into the races thinking: "Did I do enough training? Am I both mentally and physically ready?" So, to avoid such questions, I did every workout to a "T" so I didn't have to second guess myself. However, this is much easier said than done. Every time I looked at my Garmin and realized I had many more grueling minutes left, I visualized that red, white, and blue jersey. I wanted to be one of the few who pushed just a little harder to get themselves to the next level. Once I realized I could do that, I stayed focused on my goal and checked off each workout that brought me closer to nationals.
Luckily, we only had a six hour drive to Bear Creek Resort (instead of the usual long flight out west) and we were able to arrive on Tuesday. The first thing that always made it's way into the conversation was the weather. It was close to one hundred degrees with what felt like 100% humidity. It didn't matter if you were from the east or west because it was miserable for everyone. It was the kind of hot that made you want to jump in the hot tub to cool off!
I wanted to pre-ride Tuesday afternoon, so I rode the 4-mile pro course which was listed on the USA Cycling website for several months prior to Nationals. The next day, I was told by an official that I would be racing one 6-mile lap on the amateur course... so I pre-rode THAT course. On Thursday, the day before my race, there were arrows for all courses except the junior course. Everyone was freaking out because it was so unclear which course the juniors were going to race. Need-less-to-say, the riders meeting got pretty heated. I stood up as a representative for the juniors and expressed my thoughts and concerns. It was clear that everyone in the room disagreed with the decisions made by the officials to "dumb down" the junior course and give us a mere 2.5 mile loop with several laps. I mean, come on, this IS Nationals. This is where we come to race the best in the country on the toughest course, right? In the end, we were not heard and we all had to deal with it. I wasn't even going to get the chance to pre-ride my race course. This is where the mental aspect needed to kick in and I had to stay positive.
Although I was bummed that the course didn't feature any of the awesome technical sections that Bear Creek has to offer, I tried to look at things optimistically. I just kept telling myself that I needed to get the hole-shot and get into the woods first. If I did that, I could do my work on the uphill switchbacks and get a comfortable lead. I went over that plan and visualized how I wanted it to all go down. I don't ever remember being nervous before a mountain bike race but my stomach was in knots as I laid in bed visualizing my race.
I raced at twelve-thirty... the hottest part of the day. Anxiously waiting in the starting chute, my mom and our good friends from Pittsburgh held an umbrella over me and a bag of ice on my neck. Mom dumped the coldest water I have ever felt right on my back before I went to the line. Thirty seconds... Fifteen seconds................ THE WHISTLE BLOWS and my heart leaped out of my chest. I sprinted to get to the front before the left turn onto the single-track. The first part of my plan was successfully executed. I pumped up the narrow ridge, not knowing what was going on behind me. I stayed focused and pounded the uphill switchbacks. I found myself passing boys left and right as I neared the end of the my first lap. My dad yells out, "You have a two and a half minute gap! Stay steady and be safe!" I took a breath to calm myself and rode into the feed zone with a comfortable lead. My mom dumped water down my neck and I was off for a second lap. I found myself riding really steady, but I didn't want to let my guard down so soon. My dad yells out again, "Veda, you have a four and a half minute gap! Just ride safe and don't take any risks!" I took another deep breath and kept reminding myself to race smart and not risk my current position. Although I was aware of my lead, my last lap was barely any slower because of my excitement. The moment I turned into the finish chute and saw everyone cheering for me, I knew everything I did up until that point paid off and I will never regret the training and preparation it took. I ended up almost seven minutes ahead of the second girl and passed half of the boys field which started two minutes ahead of my group.
I would be a fool to take all the credit for my successful season. From my parents to my coach to every person along the way who cheered me on and helped fix my bike - it was a true team effort. Setting a goal and being able to perfectly execute the plan to achieve it feels amazing; so a sincere thanks goes out to everyone who was a part of that plan.
Click the button to watch my USA Cycling interview :
I also raced Super D on Sunday... If you know anything about me, you know I love to bomb the rocky downhills! So, I wasn't too nervous since everyone goes off one at a time. I was a little to frantic in the beginning and wrecked. This made me nervous since I knew I could do well if I didn't break my bike. I only lost five seconds, but then I wrecked a second time! Now I knew I needed to take some risks in order to make up the time I lost. I passed all three girls who started before me but I didn't know what was going on with the girls after me. I almost wrecked a third time right before the finish because the gravel road ends with two big turns. Luckily, I kept the rubber side down and the shiny side up. I added a second national title to my weekend and I felt amazing. Two races... two golds!
This nationals was so fun because all of my friends from the Talent ID camp and from my team were there and we had each other to cheer for. It was exciting witnessing other people succeed and being able to celebrate with them. The more the merrier, right? It definitely felt like a festival more than a serious bike race and that is what makes Nationals the best experience.