Are nerves of carbon better than nerves of steel? I'm not entirely sure, though I'm certain everyone has an opinion. Regardless, both are strong, steady, resistant to stress, and have a high fatigue limit.
(We don't care about the properties of alloyed metals and polymers, Alex.)
I'd like to tell you that I don't get nervous, but that would be a lie. I don't get nervous in the sense that I get sick, or dizzy, or shaken, but I definitely get a bit mentally-wound up. My heart races, my breathing quickens, I get this weird tingle in my neck and back, and I become hypersensitive to everything around me. When it comes to competition, who doesn't get that way? I mean, you are about to huck yourself down a mountain, riding a bike that is one-fifth of your body weight, probably only wearing knee pads and a helmet, as fast as you can manage. Add a timing chip and a roster of other fast people into the mix, and all of the sudden you are trying to go faster than you've ever gone before down some real gnarly stuff. That's a little intimidating; nerve-racking, you might say.
But being nervous isn't a bad thing. My nerves keep me in check. If I'm nervous about something on the trail or on a particular stage and I can steady myself about it before I leave the line, then I know I can do it. If I can't calm myself down and I'm still nervous when I leave the start, I know I should be a little more careful. Being nervous also helps me push myself a little harder. Nervousness helps me activate that [super] competitive part of my brain; it initiates my fight-or-flight reflex.
This is how my brain works: There is a level that I just ride and that I train at (sometimes), and then there is the level that I race at. Often I have been told to "train how you race and race how you train," but I'm fully convinced that we cannot ever train how we race. You can try--you can put yourself in the pain cave and push as hard as you can doing intervals or climbing, you can try and go flat out on a descent, but you will never be able to do the things you can do when you're racing when you're JRA. We can race at the level we train at, but not vice-versa. There are "race reserves" buried deep within our brains that can only be tapped into at the very instant before we leave the start line. Mine are activated by nervousness--I imagine two huge barrels of sparkling white liquid courage getting dumped into my head as soon as the ten-second beep sounds.
That beep is the last kick in the ass. That's the moment that the pressure is on, it's the last few seconds that you really have to think about what's coming, and the last few moments for you to breathe calmly and deeply before your heart rate sky rockets and you can't think anymore. When the five-second countdown begins is when I gage my gut; it's when I decide if I'm riding at 90, 100, or 110%.
For me, it's important to gut check myself, to quantify and qualify my nerves; are they push yourself nerves, or are they hold back a little nerves? How much do I push, how much do I hold back? I have a tendency to throw myself full tilt into just about anything when I'm racing, and that's not always the best idea. I've also done the opposite, and crossed the line knowing that I could've pushed myself more. So which would I rather? Risk it all and hope you don't lose it, or keep it together but cross the line wondering? I'm inclined to choose the first, but I know how much it sucks to get hurt. So where's the fine line? How long does it take to find that balance?
School is out, summer is almost (officially) here, and race season is upon us. Looking forward from today, BME Snowmass is in two weeks, followed by BME Keystone in July, the EWS in Crested Butte at the beginning of August, BME Winter Park at the beginning of September, and the Monarch Crest Enduro at the beginning of October. I’m incredibly excited to be racing with the support of Juliana-SRAM, G-Form, MRP, my coach, Ryan Geiger/Geiger Coaching, Smith, and most importantly, Flag Bike Revolution. It’s been a long while since I raced my bike and my off-season has been riddled by some not-so-funny elbow injuries. As of today, I am 18 weeks post elbow dislocation number two, and even though I have to ride with an elbow brace that makes me look like the bionic woman, I feel incredibly strong and faster than ever on my bike. So as you might imagine, I’m getting super anxious to get my first race of the season out of the way.
As much as I love racing, I’ve elected to race less than I did last summer. I had to put off my first race until the end of June so that I could get more time back on my bike, and as of right now I don’t plan on racing any other races besides the three BME stops, the EWS in Crested Butte, and the Monarch Crest—that could all change, who knows. But a lighter and more spread out schedule should hopefully keep me from getting tired and burnt out—not that I’m terribly concerned about the latter, but after being hurt for a majority of the winter and spring, I really I just want to go on as many adventures, near or far, as I can. Not that racing isn’t an adventure, it’s just a different kind of adventure. Yes, I get to travel all over to some of the most beautiful and renowned biking destinations, I’ve met countless incredible humans along the way, I always have a great time, and I always come home with a good story or ten. The difference is that the race adventure is very organized and narrowly focused. I don’t get to roll out of bed when I want, ride whatever I want, stop and eat and take pictures when I want… Don’t get me wrong, I have a sick obsession for competition and racing, and I have a very different outlook for the 2016 race season.
I’ve been training and competing in one sport or another for a long time (I’m only 21, I know). Around 11 years old I started traveling to ski race. A few bad snow years plagued Flagstaff and lead to weekly weekend trips to Telluride, Durango, or Wolf Creek to train from Thanksgiving onward, unless we were going somewhere else to race. I started racing for AVSC when I was 15 and I took travel to a whole new level. I was all over the Western, and sometimes Midwestern United States with my team from the end of October until the middle of April, then training all summer. I blew my knee to pieces at US Nationals when I was 16 years old and ended up with a lot of time to think about competition. I loved ski racing and training and traveling, but I spent a lot of time panicking about the training and racing I was missing. Eventually I realized that panicking about something I couldn’t change was pointless, and that I needed to keep competition fun above all other things.
When I quit ski racing in 2013 there was an odd moment of calmness. I had no training trips to New Zealand or Hood planned, my family hadn’t planned any big trips, and I thought that I might actually be done being a competitive athlete. That moment was very brief. When I quit skiing, my mom made the mistake of suggesting that I take up a new sport, like mountain biking, to keep myself entertained (and sane). I went full throttle into mountain biking and started racing that summer.
I made a mental promise to myself to keep mountain bike racing fun above all other things. And it has been nothing but to this point. But there was a moment of panic when I hurt my elbow the second time that was all too familiar, a moment that I started freaking out about training and racing and results. Then I remembered that I can’t change what already happened, and I should probably take this season a little easier than I had planned. I just want to hop into a car loaded down with bikes, listen to awesome music, and shred sweet trails with my friends. And do well at the races I am going to. :)
Writing is something I have always been passionate about. I love sharing my stories, my thoughts, my advice, but mostly, I write to record memories and express myself. So here are a few of my fondest memories, best and worst moments, my most profound and boisterous thoughts, and riskiest advice. Enjoy!