Building up to the NJ State Championships at Jungle, I had been taking training, nutrition and race prep pretty seriously. After so much intensity – I feel like I’ve been ‘building’ since the Short Track Series in March – I let myself really relax this past week.

Saturday was packed with some much needed social events, which resulted in sacrificing my usual pre-race routine & pre-race nutrition. I didn’t have a lot of expectations heading into this race. I’ve always enjoyed the Williams Lake course, it’s fast and rocky with lots of punchy climbs, so I was looking forward to it.

I did a quick warm up on the bike and spent a solid half hour stretching out the back of my legs and lower back.

The women collected at staging and we all started chatting. The vibe was positive and friendly. The heat was intense. Having stayed up late the night before, I was glad for the late start time at 1:00, but the blazing sun was just cooking us as we waited for our start.

Our turn. I had a smooth start and we all started trucking down the fire road. I was feeling solid. The pace was well within my abilities. My lungs felt good, despite the thick dust we kicked up.

We rounded the first bend and I could tell the pack was already starting to thin out. I wiggled through the crowd to get onto Stacey’s wheel and decided to settle in here. We pedal up the hill, I feel great. So great, that I decide I can push a little harder and pass her.

When I crest the top and stand for the descent, my quads started screaming! Oh man, I laugh at myself – that’s what you get for walking around Manhattan in heels for hours last night! This is going to be a tough race to push through.

I truck along through the single track getting a slight gap on Stacey. At the next fire road she roars past me. Back on single track I’m able to get on her wheel. We hit a descent and I encourage her with some positioning advice. We are flying. The trail flattens out and she stalls through some rocks, but there is no place to pass, I tell her, don’t pick a line between those rocks, the line is up and over the rocks. We continue pedaling.

We head into a punchy climb and she has to dismount. I power by her. She cheers me on as I pass.

I keep a steady pace and pedal. On the next, more extended rooty climb I approach guys who end up dismounting, I’m stuck in their line and can’t pass. The stall causes me to dismount as well. Stacey zips by us. “Nice climbing Stacey!”

I run the hill and jump back on, hot to catch her. I’m slowly gaining ground. We hit a loose, steep & short descent. Stacey mentioned that she almost bit it here during her pre-ride lap. She decides to run down it. There’s no room to pass, so I gently brake behind her. I’m thinking I’ll have a good chance to pass now, but she’s running and executes a smooth CX mount without losing any momentum.

885946_10153421931162853_8837530376018326623_o-Darius Huppert

The trail opens up into a long fire road climb, some sections with soft wood chips and she pulls away. I know I don’t have the gas to stick with her, but I don’t give up either.

I don’t see her until we hit the open grassy field right before the lap/finish line.

The course winds through the field with a few s turns. Spectator tents are set up throughout. Everyone is cheering. She can only be what, 30 seconds up?

I keep pedaling. Second lap I’m riding pretty much on my own. I make a few passes against men. Every now and again I catch a glimpse of Stacey’s neon green helmet. I keep trudging.

Third lap is nearly identical to the second. I’m doing my best to stay focused, trying to keep the intensity up, trying to ride smooth through the tech. The open fireroads are rough, I know Stacey will be drilling it here, meanwhile I have to use these to stretch out my aching back before digging in. I lose sight of Stacy entirely until I hit the grass again.

I’m surprised to see she’s only 20 seconds ahead! I shout across to her, I’m coming for you Stacey! She screams back, You can’t catch me! We are both laughing.

The biggest challenge is staying focused. Without a carrot in sight, it’s easy to let off the gas. Luckily the single track is flowy, lots of sections can be pumped and I’m totally enjoying these to the fullest. Pushing the pace here keeps me on point, I’m relaxed but the pace is high.

I’m surprised how quickly the laps pass. I know Stacey isn’t far ahead, but I’m also feeling spent. I keep trudging.

Part way through the lap I hear a jet engine approaching. Ben & Jasper come barreling through at a pace that makes me feel like I’m standing still.

Towards the end of the lap I catch Art who’s riding a single speed. We work together, encouraging each other through to the last descent where he pulls away. Back into the grassy field, I can see that Stacey is just a turn away from the finish.

I power through the grassy turns and cross the finish line.willimanslke-Thierry Blanchet

(photos courtesy of Darius Huppert & Thierry Blanchet)

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