With 50 meters to go I choked back tears.
It had been well over a year since I last crossed a finish line, and I was blindsided with emotion. At the beginning of 2021 I was unsure if I would get here again, to take to a start line, and then cross a finish line. My first race back, my 3rd ever MTB race, and I was finishing in 2nd. Yeah, I was choking back tears, realizing this moment meant a lot more to me than I ever could have anticipated.
Crossing my second finish line this year, I was consumed by the same emotion, just seconds away from uncontrollable sobbing. The third time across the finish line was special though. It was unlike any finish line I have ever crossed. It left its mark on me and I’ll forever be changed by it. More on this in a minute.
The pandemic has upset all of our lives, plans, dreams, and our goals. Many have suffered loss and continue to do so, and it’s far from over. But, we have also found ways to adapt, and even thrive. With a pause on racing in 2020 and no start to the international road calendar this year, I have had the opportunity to take a step back and redefine what it means to me to be an athlete. This was not an easy process. I’ve nearly always been part of a team, and lined up at local crit races, all the way up to world tour and international races, with a job and a team goal most of my 15 year racing career. It took time away from racing for me to realize that it is not the team or the start line that defines who I am as an athlete, but my own ability to push myself, and see what more I can get out of myself on a daily basis.
I cycle because I love it, and because it empowers me to do other things that in turn hopefully empower others: to inspire and encourage kids and adults to develop bravery and determination through sport and adventure. I like to lead by example. Instead of sitting on the sidelines in 2020 and 2021, I mapped out my own challenges and adventures, stepping way outside my comfort zone, and competing on new ground.
That third race was Co2uT, a 190 mile gravel (and sand, rocks, mud, and potholes) race in the Colorado and Utah desert covering the longest distance, most elevation gain, and longest time on the bike I’d ever done. I finished in 3rd place for the women 11th overall, in less than 10 hours.
Getting to the start line was admittedly the hardest part. I felt like I was racing my bike for the first time, entirely out of my element. I’ve lined up to more crits and stage races than I can count, and rarely would I experience nerves or concerns at those starts. I’m used to being focused and excited to execute my job. This was completely different; I could not have felt more green. My nerves leading up to the race were felt throughout my household. I have never done more research preparing for a race in my life, nor have I had more doubts and questions.
Was I riding the right bike?
Aero bars or no?
Am I on the right tires and running the correct tire pressure?
Hydration pack or vest, or just bottles or both?
How much food and what type should I consume?
Should I be prepared to go the full distance, or rely on aid stations?
How long will it take me?
Will I make it or will I have to bail out and distance down to a shorter course?
These were all the questions and doubts I was struggling with. I had never tested or pushed my body like this before, and I honestly had no idea how I would respond to such an ask both physically or mentally. There was plenty of self doubt, and I questioned why would I do this to myself, and how would I cope should I fail.
I’m glad I never had to answer that last question! I never really thought that I would have to, because I’m not one to give up even when I probably should. But, this was so new to me I feared it may be a possibility. I could give a full race report, but what it comes down to is this: I showed up, believed in myself, I never gave up, and over the course of the race, I fell in love with the experience. I came across that finish line holding back sobs, because I knew I had leveled up as an athlete, pushing myself into new territory and out rode fear that day.
Since Co2uT, I have crossed a finish line a few more times winning the 107 mile gravel race at the FoCo Fondo, and finishing Ned Gravel with an injured hamstring. Ned Gravel was a race I was just happy to finish, and was ok with that. The day was about the experience, putting in the effort, pushing through the discomfort, making the most out of my choice of bike (I experimented with a hardtail mountain bike, and learned it wasn’t the right choice for me.), enjoying the beauty and challenge of the course, and remembering the big picture of what the day’s ride was preparing me for later in the season.
I’m starting to find my groove and confidence in this new sport of gravel and endurance racing. The confidence is not to be mistaken for confidence that I will win or even finish every race though. It’s confidence knowing that I will take to the start line, be challenged, support other riders through their ride, and I will enjoy the experience and adventure of it all.
For those of you that are curious about how I ended up answering all those questions in my Co2uT race prep, below is the list of gear, nutrition and product that has worked for me in that race and others so far. It is ever evolving but I hope it helps someone in their own adventures. Please reach out if I missed anything or if you have specific questions.
Bike: Specialized S-Works Diverge (modified with no dropper post) Handle Bars: Enve SES AR Bars Tires: Specialized Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss 700×42 Power Meter: Sram AXS Power meter spider Pedals: Time ATAC XC 12 Titanium Carbon MTB Pedals.
Helmet: S-Works Prevail II Vent Shoes: S-Works Recon Lace Gravel Shoes Bibs: Specialized Women’s RBX Adventure Bib Shorts w/ SWAT™ Jersey, Socks, Gloves: I like to switch them up depending on weather Glasses: Julbo Rush Reactive performance lenses Hydration Pack: USWE outlander 2 Hydration pack and USWE Pace 2 running vest Nav Computer and HR Strap: Wahoo Element Bolt GPS / TICKR HR monitor Performance: Whoop Saddle Bag: Orucase Saddle Bag HC 25 Dry Case: Q36.5 Smart protector holds my phone, cash, key, mask.
Nutrition is individualized and you need to find what works best for you, the best time to experiment is in training, please never try something new on race day. The Feed is my go to resource for nutrition, they source the best products for athletes, do all the testing and research, and then share that knowledge with you, it’s a great way to try new product or subscribe to products you love. You can buy a sample of 1 or a whole case, its easy, they have fantastic customer service and other resources and they provide a tone of info about each product and the best way to use it.
Race Day Nutrition: Evening before and after race SIS REGO Cherry Juice Night Before SIS Sleep Plus Morning of Race Kyoku Superfood Shake, Swiss Rx Nitric Oxide, Enervit Pre Sport. During in my pockets Enervit Liquid Gel, Enervit Isotonic Gel, Clif blocks I like Salted Watermelon, Ginger Ale and Margarita, Maurten Gel 100, Neversecond C30Energy Gel. During in my Hydration pack and Bottles CarboRocket 333 Half Evil all in one Endurance Drink I mix one serving of the Half Naked Unflavored and one Serving of the Cold Brew + Caffeine in my hydration pack, this is where I get the majority of my calories from, I will mix one bottle of unflavored in my first bottle and my second bottle is plane water. Depending on the distance of the race I will bring single serving packets of Carbo rocket I love the Tart Cherry and or Skratch Labs Sports Hydration Single serving packs.
Depending on distance and race day temperatures ill mix it up and add other foods like pickles to help cut the sweet or salty chips, a baby can of coke, or a bar like JoJe Bars white chocolate coconut blondie is my goto, or Betty Lou’s Bars apple Pie is my favorite.