Monday, July 18, 2011

US Mountain Bike National Championships - Sun Valley, ID

US National Championships Short Track Women's Podium

Sitting in your respective room, hermit-like in a massive house at Sun Valley trying to harness any energy you have in your body is NOT what you want to be doing the day before the US Nationals.  Yet, I was.

After racing 10 years + now I know my body and I can tell when it’s not happy or when it’s about to get real unhappy.  I am fortunate in that sense because it allows me to pull the plug, take a step back and try to salvage anything left that my body has to give for an upcoming race.  Sometimes this approach works and sometimes you still end up sick as a dog. 

Although way fun, the lead up to US MTB Nationals was maybe not the best for me travel wise.  I knew I was cooking myself a bit with lots of travel to races prior but that is part of it and its DANG fun too.  When opportunities arise you must partake!!  Part of being a pro athlete is recognizing these things and putting the pieces together in a manner that will work for you, whether it’s when you are planning your schedule for the year or just planning on what you do in the hours leading up to your big races.  Oh and just so you know, the second you get it dialed in….it changes!  That is part of like I said and it’s actually what makes this sport so intriguing and keeps you grasping for more.  There is a reason I have been racing for as long as I have!!!

A view of Sun Valley from the Gondola
I had everything going for me as I sat there in my own private room with bathroom attached and now I just needed to make it work for me.  Our well supported team had 2 team mechanics in Sun Valley, Alex and Jimmy, our never ending working team manager Shannon, my wonderful teammates Kaila, Zeph and Nina and we even had someone to cook and clean for us.  Things really couldn’t be better. 

Jimmy Deaton in the feed zone.  Note the bottle still in mid air.
That said, it is tough when you have wonderful support at the race but your body is not in the right place!!  There is nothing more that you want than to make it all work out.  That is all I had to do this week once I made the short drive up from the Salt Lake City area – RACE and STAY HEALTHY.  Sometimes that is the toughest job of all. 

Cross Country
The body is such a crazy thing. Everything I did worked which means doing nothing worked!!!  I was lucky to be allowed to do NOTHING and just show up for dinner and excuse myself to return to my room each night.  Thank you to EVERYONE!!!
On race day I felt good in my warm up from the first pedal stroke and everything was GREAT from there.  Who would have thought!!!?!
At the line with teammate Zephanie
Well aside from that horrid hill that went straight up a mountain on fire road that we had to climb up 5 times.  500 + feet of climbing all at once in just over ½ a mile.  Ouchy momma!!!!   NOTHING can really prepare you for something like that except for some good ole fashion mtb stage racing I don't think.  Or your Garmin Edge 500!!!  If you knew what the course was going to be ahead of time you could train appropriately using the data from your Garmin since it will record every last detail of a course. Especially for a key race such as US Nationals this is an extremely useful tool to have on your side.  Map it out and train for it!  And since the Garmin Edge 500 weighs only a scant 57g you really have nothing to lose.  That is less weight than my former heart rate monitor and I have the option for 3 data screens that each contain 8 features vs. the whopping 2  features total I had been using on my old set up!!  I would say that is a fair trade indeed!

Garmin Edge 500 tells all:  The main climb was topping out around 20% grade (oh, wait....I didn't want to know that!!)  Haha.

When I first pre-rode the course it dawned on me that no one really trains like this anymore because courses are in the process of really changing.  But in stage racing you are always presented with something of this magnitude at least one time each stage.  My legs were more prepared than I gave them credit for after mtb stage racing in Spain earlier this year.  And here I was looking for a pair of legs to swap out with for the race!!  Well, as it turned out, that wasn’t needed and I really just needed to believe in myself a bit more.  I owe myself a big apology. 
Rock Drop for the fearless.  There was a B line option too for those with brains.  Ok, it wasn't that bad.

Of course, up the hill the first time I was pegged, gassed, and almost literally crossed eyed and I did think “Can I really do this 4 more times??”.  But that dang downhill that was literally ALL downhill  allowed your heart rate to drop to near resting heart rate levels (ok, well, not really) but it seemed that way.  So by the time you got to the bottom, hit the rock drop (totally fun!!!)) and made your way through the rock gardens you had already recovered and was able to convince yourself that going back up for another lap was doable and not going be THAT BAD.  What a sick way to live eh?  What is wrong with racers?!!  : )

Shannon on the dusty powdery singletrack.

The downhill was pretty fun but there was no passing unless a wonderful soul ahead of you was kind enough to let you by slowing down and moving over (you know who you are – thank you; good karma headed your way).  The corners were moon dusty and rutted (I LOVE ruts) and the lead up was fast and packed.  It was a balance of not letting your speed get away from you as you approached each corner because blowing one of those things meant you and your bike were tumbling down the mountain for a while – game over.  By the 3rd lap I had really figured out how to slide around the loose 180 degree corners effectively – a new tool for me!!  Pretty exciting to learn something new that I could do but never tried.
Spectator friendly Rock Garden

As the race went on I only found myself getting faster and faster and was gaining on the group ahead.  That was a nice feeling and set me up well mentally for the next day.  Although I never attached to the group ahead of me I did take 11th place!!  

I have to thank Stan’s NoTubes and Schwalbe for the best set up out there. We were hitting rock gardens and the rock drop without a second thought at unthinkable speeds.  And did any of our team have any issue??  Ah heck no!!  That is one reliable set up!!!!

Short Track

What a great way to end the weekend….on a Short Track course that was extremely similar to a Cyclocross course minus barriers and run ups.

After a busy and bustling morning of gathering all our stuff that we had scattered around in the 5000 square foot house we were staying in (read: we had to text each other to find one another!) we made our way over to the venue for a late afternoon race start under blue skies. 

I don’t know what it is with me but everyone deems me as “Calm Kathy” in most situations and today on the start line was no different.  I have never been one to get all riled up and anxious on the start line.  It’s just another day on the bike I guess…. 

I had a descent call up for the race and plopped myself on the 2nd row behind some fast legs.  I had the opportunity for a first row start (one spot was left open up front) but thought the better of it based on the layout of the course making 2 turns immediately upon start.  That seemed like a recipe for a nice ball up. 

Trying to get away.

The gun went off and 5-10 seconds into the race I heard metal and crashing behind me and even got slightly shoved around  unintendedly.  Oh geez….need to pedal faster now to get away from the mayhem!!   I found myself immediately in the top 10 but what I didn’t tell anyone was that I was NOT going away from this weekend without a podium and that a top 10 today was not going to cut it.  I was bound and determined to make it happen. 

With my legs on boards with this scenario, I made my way up towards the front while sitting on the fast turning pedals ahead of me and looking for opportunities to pass.  About halfway through the race I found myself in a group of 4th place to 6th.  That was a huge reminder of last year’s US Cyclocross Nationals.  I had the same mind set too of that I WILL be 4th and I NEED to make it happen.  When confidence comes like that it’s overwhelming and has so much passion behind it that you can’t ignore it. 

Making my way up to towards the front

After drilling it on the front and then sitting in and recovering I was able to split the group up with 2-3 laps to go.  Now I was alone in 4th and noticed that 2nd and 3rd place was coming back to me a bit at about 10 seconds ahead!!  I then really put my head down to close that gap knowing that time was ticking.  I was taking even faster and sketchier lines and in doing so felt my rim bottom out on the final lap.  It was at that moment that I decided to take my carbon Orbea Alma 29r gingerly around the rest of the corners and chuck the idea of trying to close the gap.  I came across the line in 4th place! 

Having 2 US National podiums in 7 months time I could not be happier!!!    I must thank my sponsors for EVERYTHING that they have done to get me here.  It means the world to me!  THANK YOU!!!!!

That is no road.  That is part of the mecca of bike paths Sun Valley has!

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