After spending a little time back at home to explore my favorite local trails and relax, I was sooo ready to head to West Virginia! And wow! It's weird to think that it 's that time of year already….. National championships.
I look back now at the winter when I sat down to plan out my season. Thinking about what races I wanted to do, where I would go, and trying to figure out how to fit it all into place with my travel, training, and goals. I had no idea how my season would turn out or if what I put down on paper would become reality. National Championships was just a race in the distance, marked on the calendar for the week of July 17th, but still months away.
Now, here it is. It's time to find out who the best riders in the nation are.
This event has excitement, nerves, and glory all piled into one. It’s hard putting in the work all year to achieve the fitness you hope for at this single event and it’s even harder to have all your cards play properly. Everything mentally and physically has to be at its best and on top of that you need a little extra luck. We all want the jersey, the stars and stripes to wear for the rest of the season and into the next, and every single athlete is prepared to give their absolute best. Sometimes it all starts to get in your head, the strong desire to preform and to prove yourself, but in the end I have to constantly remind myself that it is just another race. Riding bikes... I can do that ;)
Snowshoe, West Virginia. This mountain resort is out there in the middle of well... nowhere, with the grocery store about 1hr away. The forest is dense and feels almost untouched and the views were gorgeous. All of the athletes are staying at the resort (there is really no other option haha!) making it feel even more that you are part of something. Events are going on all day long everyday throughout the week, every category and every discipline. It’s exciting, thrilling, and such an inspiring community to be part of.
We arrived Wednesday night, Lea, Hannah, and I, with the perfect amount of time to pre-ride the courses and prepare for our short track and cross country races on Friday and Sunday.
Thursday we got on track. FINALLY! I feel like I've been waiting for this all week. I usually get very very excited when I pre-ride race courses. It’s like all the energy is just bubbling up inside me and I sing one section of whatever song is stuck in my head over and over and over throughout lap one. Not sure why…. hopefully I don’t annoy my teammates too much while their showing me the lines ;). This week the song of the week was swish swish haha! Could’t tell you the reasoning behind that either… maybe because we listened to it a few too many times on the long drive from the airport. Good team bonding moments!
Anyways. The course was SICK. Seriously. The single track trails were absolutely covered with technical roots and rocks and these sections were separated by long steady fire-road climbs and two man made rock sections.
As the the days went by clouds covered the sky with rain and thundershowers that continued on and off throughout the rest of the week. This made the roots and rocks even more slick and challenging. Awesome. These are the type of conditions I love. The thrill that you feel while riding as it absolutely pours and the unknown of what the course will be like…. scary? unrideable? really hard? epic? It makes me feel bad ass (although in the spectrum of things I’m not doing anything as crazy or epic as many adventurers out there, but still....) I like that feeling of testing my limits physically and mentally in mtb racing and then throw in another curve ball like weather and suddenly realizing how much more you and your body is capable of. So bring on the pouring rain and mud covered trails! This is what we train for, now lets see what we can do out there.
Friday: Pro Women Short Track
Short track. Very similar, yet very very different from cross country. It’s a different skill in a way, more tactical, shorter, faster, and absolutely brutal. It’s easy to push yourself to the limits and beyond in what sounds at first like a short amount of time: 20min + 3 laps, but half why you quickly realize it feels much much longer.
On the line I am called up fifth to stand beside the elite women, the fastest in our nation…. and world, that in itself is an honor. Plus, I’ve got two teammates in this race, so stoke level is high!
BAM! When the gun fires it’s full gas off the line. I am in just the right gear, in just the right place, and I clip in at just the right time, so suddenly I find myself leading the field around the first corner. “Okay whoa! What’s happening!? Is this going to be a good thing or a bad thing?” Kate slips in front of me before the single track and I follow her throughout the first lap. As we enter into the second my legs are starting to feel the hard effort and I begin to slow, three other riders slip past me and I’m in fifth place. “Oh no... Hang on Haley! Keep it going.”
There I am stuck in the middle. I see the group battling in front of me and a couple riders battling behind me, but I’m not getting caught and I’m not catching up. Then suddenly the legs get going again and I’m able to pick up my pace just a little. Every lap I see myself getting closer and closer to the riders in front of me. “Keep pushing keep pushing.” Suddenly Rose Grant is right in reach and in the final lap it starts to get exciting. I can hear my friends and family cheering wildly on the sides of the course. The support is unreal and I am fired up!! (And at the same time my legs hurt realllyyyyy really bad, but I’m just so close to the finish!) I get on her wheel and am able to pass her in the rock garden when I ride the left route and she runs the right. "This is my shot! Fourth place! Okay go go go!” This is when the nerves and excitement start to rush through me, since I know she is literally right behind me. Then I see Kate climbing the hill in front of me. "How can this be happening!?" I climb as fast as I can, but struggle to keep my momentum on the next flat section, I can hear Rose RIGHT on my wheel. Someone shouts “Kate has a flat!” First I think shoot…. that seriously sucks, but then I move my focus back on the battle I am in. Back in the moment. I descend with fatigue and begin to go over the flyover... I'm so so close to the finish now. "Crash!" Someone yells from the sidelines. As I crest the top I see Kate picking up her bike as Rose and I speed past her. This is now a battle for the podium. Third place is in grasp!
This is it. Two tight corners and the finishing stretch. Let's go!!
We round the corners and as the dirt turns to pavement Rose comes around on my left side. I pedal and pedal and pedal as fast as a possibly can, but not an ounce of energy is left in my body to sprint across the line. She simply had more in the tank to grab a medal, but boy was that an exciting race! I couldn't be happier with my fourth place finish in a battle with such strong women. It's also awesome to see Lea finish the day with silver and Hannah with eighth! A great day for the team!
Sunday: U23 Women Cross Country
As Sunday comes upon us this is the day we've all been waiting for. With thunder and lightning putting us to sleep the night before as the rain came pouring down. This was going to be a good battle.
9am I am standing beside a strong field of U23 women on the line. All of us focused and ready to fight for the jersey. Off the start I fell back, but was able to move around the field on the first corner and slip into second as we entered the first section of single track. When we reached the first climb I lifted the pace, found my own rhythm, and moved into first. The next section of single track was absolutely covered in slick roots and tight turns. I was able to find a route through the crisscrossing roots and stay smooth and on the next climb I looked back to see that a gap had formed between me and next riders. I turned forward and moved my focus on what was ahead.
For me, this race was about staying calm and relaxed, before and during the race. I didn't want too much of the nerves and excitement to get to my head. I had to stay in my zone and just focus on the task at hand. Since there were so many technically demanding sections on this course, from slick roots and rocks to the rock garden, I found that it was easier than I expected to keep my concentration on just one moment at a time.
I reminded myself that anything can happen in a mountain bike race. Flats, crashes, simply running out of energy, or suddenly a rider behind you has a really fast lap. I kept imagining the ladies chasing after me and used this to help push me forward. Plus the insane amount of energy coming from my friends and family on the sides of the course was fuel for the fire!
Each climb I tested my limits and each descent I went as fast and stayed as smooth as I could. I loved the course and was enjoying the terrain and the challenges of every climb. It wasn't until the final corners before the finishing straight that I actually realized I was about to win this race.
There are few worlds to express this moment. It seems unreal to become the U23 National Champion. I am so lucky to be part of this community and to have so much support. What a feeling.
I am surrounded by amazing people doing amazing things and it's truly inspiring.
There are no other ladies I would rather share the podium with. My teammate Hannah Finnchamp in second and Kelsey Urban in third. Both incredible strong, passionate, and hard working. I love having the opportunity to share this journey with them and so many other incredible athletes.
It was another exciting day at National Championships across the world for the team. Lea and Catharine brought home silver after exciting races with the elite women in the US and Canada, Katerina took the national title in Czech, Maghalie and Eva took fourth in Canada and Italy, and Andrea placed 7th in Switzerland. Rad!
I am one lucky gal to have so many amazing people and support surrounding me. I am part of one seriously incredible team and have the best support every step of the way. Thank you all for making this Nationals the greatest!
Next up is World Cup #5: Mont Saint Anne!