December racing

Throughout my years in school I typically excelled at written standardized tests and performed well under pressure.  Save for one instance in third grade when I froze and didn’t write anything on an essay portion.  not. a. single. word.  I didn’t like the topic and at a young age I figured that writing nothing was better than writing something I wasn’t happy with…

As evidenced by my lack of blogging, December was a tough month for me, surrounded by a cloud of anxiety and negativity.  I didn’t want to write negative posts-especially leading into the most important part of the season.  However, racing is not positive 100% of the time for anyone and I can’t pretend it’s always perfect!  Now that it is March I’d better catch up on December…yikes.

This was the first year in which Nationals moved to January instead of December (to be consistent with the rest of the world), and it was also my first complete cyclocross season.  Over the past two years I could not afford to get to Bend and always hung up the cross bike early.  Though I knew that Madison in January was on the horizon before I toed the line at Apple Cross, actually retaining that focus through the holidays was way more difficult than I expected.

I hoped to keep the good feelings from Hendersonville through the end of the year but did not have the funding for Jingle Cross or the USGP finale in Bend and that was tough to swallow.  I needed to save/make some money so the ambitions switched to local racing.  Luckily Mars Hill, Kingsport and the NC State Championships provided excellent race options!

Mars Hill is just north of Asheville and it was really nice to roll out of bed and be at the venue twenty minutes later!  They offered equal pay to women and had some really amazing trophies up for grabs:

The course wound around the college campus and was really tough!  It featured a lots of greasy, twisty off-camber sections, a sand pit, several steep hills and a lot of singletrack climbing, followed by a sweeping descent that was a blast to catch a little air on!  At the last minute, the officials decided to start the women with the cat 3 men, which was a bit of a surprise.  I got a bit of separation with two guys within the first few turns and kept my focus on beating as many men as possible.

photo: Stephen Janes

The course was surprisingly, incredibly hard but equally fun and my mountain bike skills were definitely put to the test.  I wasn’t riding flawlessly by any means but it was enough to win the women’s race and come in second for the men!  It was nice to hang out with friends and get a small taste of collegiate racing–something I totally, regrettably, missed out on.  Thank you Mars Hill College!

photo: Rachel Wingo-Hager

Kingsport was UCI-sanctioned and the following week.  It was nice to come into this race with fitness (unlike last year when I jumped in after a month off riding/racing!) and my expectations were pretty high.  As in, I expected nothing but the win.  To my dismay the women’s field was tiny-to earn points all one had to do was finish.

This may sound like a good thing but I find it difficult to get excited about small races.  It only encourages gender disparity in the sport and in this case (likely?) dissolved one of the only UCI races in the southeast (to my knowledge Kingsport is not on the schedule for 2012).  Perhaps more people would have attended if it was a double race weekend, but I think that master’s worlds and the fact that it was mid-December hurt the numbers.

In any case I needed points and they were certainly up for grabs!  Unfortunately everything seemed off from the morning of the race.  I was extremely nervous and that is unusual for me.  It seemed as if Dave and I were just going through the motions, routine and the usual pre-race excitement was missing.  We met up with our teammates and I hoped that seeing them would snap me out of it.

From the start I took the lead…then promptly took out the field on an off camber twisty section.  Luckily it didn’t seem to screw anyone up too badly.  I managed to retain my position but felt like a fool.

photo: David Lehn

From then on I rode cleanly but didn’t have the confidence to ride the log obstacle.  It wasn’t even anything crazy–simply a mental block for me.  Marne crushed the log every time and caught up to me mid-race.  She had had a rough season and was riding better than I had seen her yet.  I was freezing cold even though the temperatures were mild and did not have much power from the beginning.  I told her to go on ahead and focused on holding second instead of chasing her down…

1-2 for Bob's Red Mill! photo: David Lehn

She needed the points for a decent call-up at Nationals so I was really happy to see her take the win!  At the same time I was terribly disappointed in my riding.  Earlier in the season I would have been pleased but at this point in the season I expected a lot more from myself…still, a podium on a bad day isn’t so bad at all!

photo: Emily Shields

The North Carolina State Championships were the following week in Winston-Salem.  Again, I wanted redemption and the big W.  My head was not in the right space and without a call-up I was stuck in the pack for much of the first lap.  I fumbled around to the lead but couldn’t hold it or respond and got stuck in second place for the remainder of the race.

photo: Weldon Weaver

The course was very technical and suited to my strengths but nothing felt right.  Dave and I even botched a bike exchange for the first time ever.  My workouts had been consistently strong so I’m sure the issue was more mental than physical.  I needed to stop thinking and doubting myself.

It was then on to Chicago to visit our families for the holidays and make the final push to Madison.  Dave returned to Asheville for work while I stayed to race the Chicago Cross Cup New Year’s Resolution race on the last day of the year.  The race was held on a golf course 15 min. from my hometown and was unlike any cross race I’ve entered!  It was completely flat, the only “hill” was a mound of dirt randomly piled on the middle of the course and there were at least 10 sand pits!

Instead of typical December snow it poured rain on Friday night and Saturday’s race was a mudfest!

photo: Liz Farina-Markel

Add the picture above to the one below and…you get the idea.

photo: Roxanne King

Luckily I had some help in the pits but I was ruining my bikes and going backwards.  I love racing in the mud but the kitty litter-like sand was another story.

what I was working with...(my pit bike)

What I had hoped to be a final tune-up into Nationals backfired and I decided to pull the plug.  Several of Dave’s and my family members came for support and I felt pretty bad about myself…however my first National Championship race (singlespeed) was a few days away and I didn’t want to take chances.

2011 held a lot of mixed emotions for me-I accomplished a lot of goals in my cycling despite a ton of stress in life.  Switching between three jobs in a year, moving unexpectedly, adjusting to a new home away from friends and family…I decided to put all of my eggs in the professional cycling basket without being established in a career or in cycling…no safety net, financial or otherwise.

I had to sell bikes to pay rent and I still buy discounted dented cans of food at the grocery store.  For some reason all of this came onto my shoulders in December and it struck me just how difficult the year had been.  As soon as I started to question what I was doing my performances suffered and fears became reality.

New Year’s resolutions may be cliché but to me, 2012 was a welcome chance to make peace with my mental demons and clean the slate.  After all I am still getting started in this sport!

Two days later I made the familiar drive from my parents’ home to Madison for the cyclocross season finale…



2 thoughts on “December racing

  1. Sorry your season went the way it did working for you at Chicago in the pits was good for us
    As My son Jake didn’t have a good ending to his season also. But he is ready ro get back at it soon working the pits is good for his mental state and we would be honored to cleen your super muddy bikes some time again for you


    • Paul you were a HUGE help and flawless in the pits–thanks so much!! I really don’t know what I would have done without your help! I am still very happy with the season and I was able to meet some big goals. Keeping it fun and finding balance with everyday life is the big challenge. Best of luck to you and Jake–hopefully I will see you guys again next season 🙂


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