Rediscovering the Fun Of Mountain Bike Racing

Goals.  I have written before about how important goals are to help you find your way in your athletic pursuits.  However, if the same goals help you apply pressure on yourself, you will not be free to enjoy what you are doing and just do your best.  I think this is what happened to me at the beginning of this season.  No matter how I tried to frame my goals as process (faster swim, smoother bike, quicker run) they were really outcome goals (winning).  Because I was so worried about performance I could not enjoy the moment, and as a result my performances were less than they could have been.  It took a trip to the Canadian National Mountainbike Championships and then a Canada Cup mountain bike race for me to sit back and gain some perspective.  I went to those races to test myself against the mountain bikers and in the process gain some fitness.  However, my mind set for each of them was unfortunately not as positive as I would have liked – all outcome with no process.  This story is a bit about my mountain bike racing, and how I believe that is so important for Xterra athletes to develop bike fitness, but is also a bit of a mental lesson for all of us. As soon as we are not having fun, we will not perform.  Period.  Read on….

I opted out of the Lifetime Fitness race because I felt that my cycling fitness had not been good for the first three races of the Xterra tour.  I felt that I needed a block of mountain bike racing to bring it around, rather than four weeks on my Ordu (although, four weeks on my Ordu would have been wicked since that bike is SWEEEEEEET!  Four weeks from now I will be on it, getting ready for Chicago and LA).  In this block, I did three weeks of just plain hard work, from 20 up to 27 hours per week, lots of long rides, hard rides, hard runs and open water swims.  I have decided to cut back a touch on the swims.  You cannot win an Xterra in the swim, period.  Some of my swimming has definitely been a waste of time, not all of it, but some.  So, in this block I planned to go fast at Nationals, which were being held at Sun Peaks, a ski resort at about 4500 feet outside of Kamloops, BC.

The week of Nationals I was a wreck.  I think I expected so much out of the race that I knew I couldn’t possibly live up to my own expectations.  Because there was some altitude, I went at the last possible time arriving with enough time to ride the course, eat dinner and race.  The morning of the race I planned a race strategy knowing the start would be super important.  I started well but went backwards for most of the race, dropping from about 4th back to 8th at the finish.  I could feel that I had not done any mountain bike racing.  You can’t get that kind of super high end fitness without racing and I had very little.  The Canadian girls are VERY fast and they were all peaking for this race.  I think the worst problem I had was this lack of high end, because at altitude the pace felt even more uncomfortable.  I slowly blew to the moon on the longer steep granny climbs and was just never fast on the gradual road climb. 

So I had planned to race at Whistler, BC the following week.  All of the best Canadians were there, Marie Helene Premont, Kiara Bisaro, Wendy Simms, Alison Sydor and Catherine Pendrel, as well as some of the best American athletes:  Mary McConnelog, Willow Koerber, and Kelly Emmett.  So a bigger and better field to challenge but the problem was I had really been down on myself all week, disappointed with nationals, somewhat disappointed with my season so far (which is ridiculous, because it has been really amazing) and basically just beating myself down, glass half empty, blah blah.

It kind of changed when I rode a lap of the race course with Willow.  She said something to me that finally got through.  We were discussing our altitude strategies and just how sometimes you have to be patient for your form to come around.  You have to trust that you are doing the right things and that, eventually, you will come around and have the ability to race at your highest potential.  She also said, “I don’t care what the race course is or where it is, if I have good legs, I go for it.”  Right on, sister!  I had been counting myself out on the Whistler course because I didn’t ride it enough, it was maybe to technical for me, and remember last week when I couldn’t hold the pace?  I forgot that sometimes it takes longer than you think for things to come around, but eventually, they will.

The morning of the race I went for a quick spin in the morning since the race started at 1pm.  While I was riding I still thought of all the reasons why I wasn’t going fast.  I came back, had breakfast, beat myself up some more, thought negative thoughts….. same old.  When I threw my race kit on and started riding to the start I said, ok, this is ridiculous.  I am in Whistler, BC.  Mother Nature Disneyland.  It is fricking amazing weather.  This is the best riding in the world.  This is what I do and it kicks ass!  Things could not be better.  I could keep whining and being miserable because of something in the past OR I could create a future.  My choice.  So I rode to the start and made a plan.  If I have good legs, I am going for it.  If I don’t, I am going to train as hard as I can because this is what I need to be doing for Xterra.  And either way, I am going to have loads of fun because the course is freaking awesome!

The start was fast with Marie Helene stretching the field into a long line up the first climb.  I went into the single track about 6th, so that was pretty good.  I followed Willow, Alison, Wendy, Mary with Marie Helene chasing down the pro men in first.  I was feeling good and when we were riding the downhill I thought I am so used to being considered a slower technical rider in mountain biking… NO LONGER!  Willow let me by on a climb, I sprinted by Alison and chased after Wendy.  I passed Wendy on lap 2 and chased after Mary.  When I caught Mary on the climb I thought, wow, I could pass Mary right now.  So I did, what the heck, might as well put it all out there!  She attacked me back the next lap and then I settled back to third.   Oh well.  On the third lap I started having some problems on the technical climb and lost a bit of time, so Kiara caught up to me and passed me on the last lap.  I held on for fourth.  A great race in that field, beaten only by Olympians and beating some of the top North American mountain bike field, on a mountain biker’s course.  I am satisfied my form is coming back.  Willow unfortunately had a mechanical and Wendy finished fifth after a crash. 

So in one week I went from nowhere to the front because a) I had some racing in my legs and b) I was having fun.  My moral of this story?  Don’t have expectations for races you don’t prepare for and always make sure you keep in mind that we do this because it is fun.  When you are focused and goal oriented sometimes you can lose sight of the fact this is fun. 

I get to spend a few more days here in Whistler running some mountain bike clinics with Nature’s Path.  Then I am home to do my last preparations for Milwaukee.  Until then, happy training and have fun with those mountain bike races in your schedule!

Thanks for the support from all of my sponsors:  Saucony, Nature’s Path, Orbea, Sundog Eyewear, Shimano, Maxxis, Profile Design, Titec, Fox Racing Shox, Aquaman Wetsuits, Limar Helmets, Fizik Saddles, GU Sports, Speedo Canada, CycleOps/Powertap, Computrainer, Powercranks, Precor and Rider’s Cycles.

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