Nationals Part 2 of 3

The Big Dance

When you plan your whole season leading up to a big, one day race, there is a huge struggle as you get closer to the event. We have been racing all year, and we know how to get ready for races, so its just another race right? But its Nationals! But its just another race, BUT ITS NATIONALS!!!! That mental battle, combined with tapering, resting, relaxing makes the mind freak out. Time to think can be the worst enemy of an athlete, or at least me. Ive made a concerted effort to up my game in that department, and I want to share a snapshot of what I did (and do) to get ready for each day, not just the National Championship. 

Photo: Brett Rothmeyer

Photo: Brett Rothmeyer

After an awesome week leading into the National Championships (you can read all about it here) it was Saturday night. The night before Nationals. 

How does one try and go to sleep on the night before the National Championships? Not easily. It is so easy to go down the rabbit hole of possibilities of the race the next day. The more you fight it, and try not to think about it, the louder it becomes! So before bed, I prompted myself to affirm what I know I could do the next day. Getting it out of your head and on paper allows you to go ahead, think about it. Get nervous, get pumped, then close the journal and get to sleep. 

Saturday Nights entry

Positive Affirmation:

“I will get top 10. I’ve done everything I can to be my best for today. The work is done. The past is just that. Past. No matter what happens tomorrow, I am fine. But Please Feel Free to race with abandon. Put yourself in the position for greatness. Be strong on the first turn. Push to and up the run up. Be Smart about using your energy. Don’t blow up. I can go downhill fast. No brakes. Adapt. Kill. Never Quit. Never Quit. Always Push.”

Sleep.

Sunday. Nats day. But, its just another day. No need to change up the routine. Get up up and meditate for 10 minutes (www.headspace.com), then do a morning journal. It focuses my intention for the day, sets goals, and gives me a boost of positive affirmation. Part of the daily journal I do is write what the expected result of my day will be. It is such a powerful tool to visualize what you want for yourself. If you’ve already seen it in your head, its “already happened”. 

This is what I wrote in my Journal on Sunday morning.

What is my desired result?:

“I expect to have a strong start, top 5 into the run up. I am going to be more aggressive than the other riders in getting tmy position. I am going to settle after the first half lap and and start to be measured in my efforts, being cognicasnt of the reces length. I am going got be relaxed on the bike, move my body with the bike. Flow. I will keep fighting to catch people who blow up. I will never quit and always be pushing forward. I know that the pain in the legs is very temporary, either in a small section or the whole race. I EXPECT TO FINISH IN THE TOP 10. 

I am a damn good bike rider. I will have a great race”

With all that established. All I had to do was go to the course, like any other race and get the job done. Thanks to Sam Kolntz my mechanic for the weekend, we were able to set up in the CX Womens Project tent which was a huge blessing. As the temps dropped throughout the day, I was able to stay warm and focused on the task at hand. Sam, with the help of Brett Hungerford, dialed in my Ritchey Swiss Crosses. and we practiced our pit exchanges. We made the decision to run both bikes with the Challenge Limus tires (a mud tread). It would have been possible to run less tread in hindsight, but the MXP (mid tread) was holding a lot of mud during the pre ride. Better safe than sorry. 

My work chasing points this season paid off and I was able to start with an 18th call up, the second call up on the third row. Choosing the right side of the grid, I hoped to avoid the pinch in the first corner and have the chance to get to the front of the race. But best laid plans…A missed pedal by a front row rider in front of me pushed the field left to avoid him, smashing bars and saddles with me. And just like that, in the late 20’s in to the first turn. Not ideal. But, thats what was dealt, the only thing to do was move forward, ride my race. Adapt. 

Instead of trying to be a hero and ride to the front from the 20s in the first lap, I settled and committed to riding the fastest lap times I could. Because I had made the plan in my journals, I knew blowing up would be the fastest way to not achieve my desired result. Over the first 2 laps, the course took hold and I found myself moving past riders on their way backwards. The urgency in the field was gone, and I was able too move forward, never settling into the group, always pushing. On heckle hill (the big run up) I was able to run unto and through the groups I was with, which was a great confirmation that the work I did on my run paid off. 

The atmosphere was absolutely insane!!! It felt like everywhere on the course, there was at least one person who was yelling for me, for my bike, or just yelling. I was carried around by a flow of noise and positive energy. Dropping into the “mountain bike section was so LOUD! One of my highlights/lowlights of the race was following Zack McDonald to the downhill section, then dropping in under him as he did his super rad nose manual to set up for the drop. Freaking out because I just dropped in on Zack, the crowd screaming, I got loose, and next thing I know, I am on the ground. Get passed by 3 guys, jump on the bike, hey! Everything works! Dig in, keep riding. 

I had a very smooth pit with Sam and Brett and refocused on gaining the positions I lost in the crash. Before the crash, had managed to claw my way up to 11th, only a few seconds to of the group with 8-10. But the crash, and subsequent pit moved that group out of reach. Never Quit. I moved back through the group, taking Jack Kisseberth and Justin Lindine with me. On the bell lap, Jack came through and put in an incredible last lap. He slowly pulled away, and I messed up the short run out of the barn, and he was gone. With Lindine on my wheel, I knew the race was going to be for 12th. So I rode only as hard as I needed to, keeping him behind me, saving energy for the final descent and the flats into the finish. I was able to hold him off in the sprint and crossed the line, 12th. 

Photo: Stephen Keller

Photo: Stephen Keller

After I crossed the line, the mute was turned off, noise rushed in! Colors brightened and the blinders were ripped off. I was overwhelmed with the emotions of disapointment at missing the top 10, elation that I rode a solid race regardless of the result, had so many friends at the finish line, industry and out of industry. It was over. All the build up, all the focus, all the energy. Over. 

I wish I could put words to the 10 minutes after the race. Seeing the Smallwoods, my Dad running up with a “Go Ben!” sign, hugging friends, feeling the love, getting cold! taking pictures, trying to digest the race. Fighting disappointment and embracing (literally and figuratively) all the people who helped me get to that point. 

Dad 

Dad 

People asked me how I felt of the result. In the first hour, I responded, I will feel happy about this in 2 weeks. It was a gut response from not getting in the top 10, my goal. But as I drove to dinner with my close friends and family (who drove 8 hours to watch the race in person) I finally had the space and silence to think. I looked macro. I took a step back and found great satisfaction in the result, given the year as a whole. 

In the next blog, I want to explore the comparisons, come full circle and wrap up the 2015-2016 season with you. Thanks so much for reading and check back for part 3. 

Ben FrederickComment