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Day 36: The XC National Championships

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

It has rained in California more recently than my last blog post, which says a lot about my posting schedule... The last few months have been consumed by school for me as I get my prerequisites completed for grad school. That, on top of coaching for ultimate frisbee and mountain biking, has made my schedule tough to write around. However, I am now on break and hope to get as many posts done as I can before school resumes. The majority of my break will be spent in Costa Rica, so we'll just have to see how many posts I can actually make...

When we left off, I had just competed in the mountain biking nationals and placed first in the lower division race. Wanting a challenge, I signed up for the championship race that was being held two days later and I spent the two previous days resting and hanging out with Zephyr, a friend from home. Now, it was the morning of the championship race and I left to pick up the bike from Christy's Bike Shop in Winter Park. The guys at the bike shop had the bike all ready to go and I talk to Jim, the manager, about today's rental. Previously, they had given me a generous discount on rental prices and let me ride it for free all over Winter Park. That was far more than I expected. Today, Jim said the bike was all mine for free! (At least for the race). The shop is a few miles from the race venue and always served as a nice warmup on my way to the races.

There's not much that makes me more anxious than being at the start of a race waiting for it to begin. I don't have a heart rate monitor, but I'm sure if I had one, my heart rate would appear to be midrace before I've even started. It didn't help that I knew I was against some tough competition. Having stalked some of the other riders' Stravas (ride tracking) they were doing race simulations and lots of high altitude riding and preparation specifically for this race. Meanwhile, the previous few days I had spent lazing around eating donuts and ice cream. That didn't make me feel much better as we were soon out of the starting gate and I quickly fell to near the back of the pack. The advice I got from my awesome Warmshowers in Winter Park was to try and stick to the pack as best as I could and eventually they would drop, but I found myself slipping further and further behind as the first lap progressed.

This was about what I had suspected given my lack of preparation for this race and being on a bike that was not at all designed for racing or perfectly fit to me. Even if I had a race bike, I doubt too much would have changed. Those guys were all just crazy good (probably why they were in the championship race). So now my goal became to not place in last and looking over my shoulder it seemed likely I would meet that goal. The few riders behind me were burning out fast. I think it's likely those were riders who didn't have time to acclimate to the Rockies before the race.

This race had one more lap than the previous race for a total of four laps and just over twenty miles. I always held out hope that someone would tire and I would be able to pass them, but I never saw another rider in my race after the first lap. I would end up finishing in 1 hour 55 minutes. The fastest rider finished in 1:39. Finishing more than 15 minutes behind the front wasn't ideal by a long shot, but I was just happy to be competing with some of the best riders from the surrounding states. After all, I bet not many other nationals riders can claim to have biked four states to just be at nationals. I think all that riding, while helpful, also made my body much more used to that style of long days than the 20 mile race. When I finished the race, I felt like I could have done another five laps whereas, when I raced in high school, I would be near to falling off my bike at the end of races. I lost that ability to exhaust myself fully while having to pace myself for hundred mile days like I had been doing for a month upon arriving in Winter Park.

(Photo credits to Zephyr)

But it's good I had the energy reserve because Helen, an actual pro cyclist, had a friend who needed to be supported during his own race and I volunteered to be his feedzone guy. Basically, I just needed to hand him water and get him tools if he needed it. Helen's friend would turn out to be Nate Whitman, a cyclist known for his Leadville 100 races and another professional athlete. Right as I finished, I B-lined to the feedzone since I knew his race started right about when I was finishing mine. He was already lined up and ready to start so I just got to wave at him before his race started. He and I had not seen each other before and had just communicated via text about what he wanted for feedzone support. Luckily, I didn't botch it and after his race he offered to buy me some food and beer. He would finish his four lap race in 1:44. I can only hope to be in that kind of shape when I'm in my mid forties... Given my time, I'm not even in that shape in my twenties!

After I supported him, I went to return the bike to Christy's and thank them profusely for allowing me to have this awesome opportunity in Winter Park. Bill, one of the employees, had come to cheer me on during my own race on his day off from working at the bike shop. I didn't even crash the bike they rented me. It's the most expensive bike I've ridden to this day! They gave me congrats on my race and I hung out there until it was time to meet up with Nate for dinner.

I had a good dinner with Nate at Deno's, where my Warmshowers host worked. And then I met with with Zephyr's family back at their rental house, where I stayed the next couple days before I resumed my trip east.

I don't have many photos of these days since I was spending so much time in one spot, but here's a photo from inside of Christy's. Before too long I will have plenty of photos to share!

Oh, and if I haven't made the easiest joke ever already, it's something about me riding in an XC race while I literally ride across the country. It's just too easy to not slip in somewhere.

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