Oh man, now this was truly an event to remember! I travelled out to Arkansas last Wednesday for the USAT Off Road National Championship in Arkadelphia, AR. I specifically went out early so I could pre-ride the course having learned the value of course knowledge, and after putting my bike together Wednesday, I woke up Thursday, packed a sandwich and headed out to the race venue. I had switched out tires in preparation for the dirt and terrain of Arkansas to the MAXXIS CrossMarks and boy did these do well! The course was fast and fun, loose in places with short pitchy climbs and a couple small creek crossings. Pre ride was a success. Next up, swim; I don’t know if you have tried to get into a wetsuit in humid conditions when you’re already hot and sweaty, but it feels a lot like being unborn might feel….took me a good 10mins to squeeze myself into this suit! Swim was great but I was aware from the get go of the couple holes in my wetsuit letting in a good bit of cold water, not that I was complaining as it certainly helped to cool me down! But your wetsuit should not have holes. Regardless too late in the day to do anything about it.
The next day brought torrential rain, thunder and lightning the ENTIRE DAY AND NIGHT!!! A brief break in the weather on Saturday meant I could go and quickly run one lap of the 2 lap course in some pretty wet conditions, but again I loved the course, good climbs, fun footwork and a fast downhill finish! I felt very prepared having reccee’d the majority of the race and really excited for the course.
I received a text and then an email later Saturday afternoon informing us that due to rising lake levels the venue had been closed down by the Army corps and the race would be moved to a new location and that they would send further details… Now this would probably be a good time to panic but honestly that doesn’t help anyone. This is really just time to be CALM IN CHAOS.
Race morning came and I knew the new location but that was about it. On arrival we learned that the bike would be extended by 4 miles with a 2mile road ride to get to the trail and then 2miles to ride bike in from the trail and that the brand new run course was around 7 miles. People around me continued to panic over the longer distances and change to course but all I could think of was this was exactly what I train for! This is why I will do three hard laps of Badger Pass, or long runs on the trail with hill efforts, for this moment!
I got into the water for race start and felt my wetsuit fill with water around my midriff and torso. The race began and I quickly got into a rhthym. I felt that I was sighting well but my I also felt heavy like I was swimming through syrup. I remained calm and finished the swim, running out of the water I knew I had time to make up!
I jumped onto my bike, hit the lockout for the initial road section and got to business! As soon as I reached the trail I knew this course was going to be epic! MUD GALORE!!! This was almost a completely new course to what I had pre-rode but I learned quickly just how much I could push the corners and terrain with the deep muddy sections, and those small creeks….HA! They were now rivers!! I made up a lot of time on the time on the bike despite a couple epic wipeout crashes in the deep mud and water. I was literally covered head to toe in mud and it was awesome! Arkansas offered crazy fun XC trails with beautiful views spanning over the vast lakes that hug the forest coastline. I had stayed on top of my nutrition throughout per Coach Lesley’s instructions and felt good on an energy level!
Coming off the bike I wasn’t sure that my trail shoes were the right choice for the harsh road section that started the run course. Regardless I headed out on a steady clip, and pushed along the road section, about 1.5miles in we broke off onto the trail section, and I instantly felt better on my feet! I love the free nature of the trail and although still a little technical the ground had significantly dried since the bike leg. My eyes burned from the spurts of mud they had been thrown during the bike but I focused on the trail and my footwork…however I somehow caught my toe on a tree root and stumbled 20feet forward onto the trail, I quickly jumped up and hastened to get back into my pace. Feeling adrenaline rush through my legs I was sure to maintain my CALM. I continued to push the pace in my run and looking at my Garmin, and at 6.5miles we were still in the middle of the woods. KEEP THAT CALM! I knew now the run was going to be long and was grateful of the 2nd gel I had brought with me. Back onto the road section I was able to pass a couple more athletes and only build momentum. Seeing the finish line come in to view I kicked up that final gear and brought it home.
The result although important is only second to the experience of the entire race. Keeping Calm amongst the Chaos is integral to your performance. This was quite a turnaround race for me as I was really able to harness the confidence from my training and the process I have been through to know that whatever is thrown my way I can manage the obstacle and overcome it. This is racing. This is offload racing! It’s messy, it’s dirty, it’s challenging and I LOVE IT!!!
I placed 3rd Female overall and awarded 1st Elite Female in the Off Road National Championship. I have mixed feelings about this result as it feels like a steal but I also hesitate to feel this way because of the effort and fight I put into this event. I really fought as hard as I could especially coming out the water so far back. I earned the fastest run split of the day of the women which is a great way to finish a race…just as strong if not stronger than how your started! I’m excited to continue this journey, and happy to get back to the grind to get faster and stronger!
I was doubly sure to thank and congratulate the race organizers for pulling this event together in less than 24hours in tough conditions, and they truly did such a great job under pressure.
Thank you to everyone who supported me at this race especially my boyfriend Ben Ward and his wonderful family who came to watch and cheer and take care of me over the entire race week!