I've been an athlete for most of my life, swimming competitively as a young kid and through a couple years of college, road bike racing for the next 8 years, and now mountain biking. Unfortunately, both swimming and road racing ended in burnout--I reached a point where I wasn't progressing, despite significant time and emotional investment. I started to feel consistently frustrated because the improvements I was working hard to achieve just weren't coming.
So when I started mountain biking, I told myself it would just be for fun—no racing—I wouldn't even give myself the opportunity to experience the frustration that comes with a bad race, a bad season, comparing myself to others, or failing to meet my own expectations. But then I started to remember all the good things that came with road racing: traveling around the world with my bike, spending time with my teammates and friends, and the boost racing gave me to be a better rider. So I finally decided to give mountain bike racing a try, starting with a few collegiate races last fall, and now the Big Mountain Enduro races this summer.
My first BME race was in Aspen/Snowmass, and it blew me away. I was really happy with where I finished, but that was almost an afterthought. I met a rad group of ladies who were all equally excited to ride mountain bikes in amazing places. These women were obviously dedicated to working hard on the bike and doing well in the races, but off the bike there was no competitiveness or ego. A group of us prerode one of the more technical stages together, and everyone gave each other support and advice about how to ride the tough sections well. Whether or not we all race together again, I hope these ladies will be my riding buddies for many years to come.
My second race, the BME at Keystone, went a little differently. I was reluctant to sign up, because I just wasn't feeling in the mood to ride fast, much less race. But I did sign up at the last minute, and was excited to see my new friends again. I prerode some of the courses with a few of the other women racing that weekend. Just about every stage ended on an extremely technical trail, many of which I hadn't tried before our preriding day. But other than one difficult part of a trail called Helter, I was able to ride the tricky sections and felt like I could put it together on race day.
But I didn't put it together. There was a big difference between riding those technical parts individually in practice when I was feeling fresh, and riding them in the race, when I was tired and had put some extra pressure on myself. I struggled through the end of every stage, bobbling, putting a foot down, letting my fear/exhaustion get the best of me, "running” sections (usually more like an awkward walk/slide). It was especially frustrating because I knew I could ride almost all of it--things just weren't coming together in the races. After stage 2, I was ready to give up and go home.
But thank god for my new friends--I made it through the race because of their support. Every other lady in my class helped me through it, whether it was just to listen to me talk through my frustration, give me words of encouragement, or share similar experiences they'd had in the past. I'm still not sure whether I was riding my best or just having a rough weekend, but either way my friends helped me focus on some of the smaller things I could work on. I learned a lot about calming myself down, focusing on what I could control in each moment, and keeping a postive attitude. I have to admit that I still feel some residual frustration, but I know that soon I will be ready to come back to Keystone to work on the trails where I struggled in the race--not just to be able to ride them when everything is aligned and I feel perfectly fresh, but to have them so dialed that I can put things together at the end of a tough race too, and eventually really race them instead of just making it through.
I know it's not over--I'm not plateuing like I did in swimming or road racing. There is so much more room for improvement and progression. And even if there wasn't, I think I'd still want to come back to these races, just to spend time riding and hanging out with the other awesome ladies who love this stuff too. Thanks gals for helping me get through it and have fun! See you all again soon!
- Holly B