The 2017  USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championship took place in Arkadelphia, AR last weekend. I have not ridden a bike in Arkansas before, or visited this state for any other purposes, for that matter. Arkansas has never been a state I have put in my list of Places to Visit. So when I heard all the hype about this new and upcoming riding destination, I became intrigued. After doing a little research, I found out that Iron Mountain in Arkadelphia had some epic mountain biking trails that offered lots of technical and flowy terrain, and it would give me an opportunity to redeem myself after the terrible race experience I had at last year’s Marathon Nats in Georgia. I won’t go into detail as to why I needed redemption, but let’s just say I was highly unsatisfied with multiple things about that race weekend, so I NEEDED a better experience this time around.

Since June of 2016, every single one of my workouts on and off the bike have happened with this particular event in mind. I have dedicated every ounce of sweat and hurt to this race, and I was absolutely determined to get faster and stronger on the bike to succeed here. I wanted this Marathon MTB Nationals in Arkadelphia to be a subject I could talk about without bitterness, so a few things besides better fitness came to play to make sure I didn’t. All the conversations I had with my coach had a little bit to do with this, Drew Edsall has not only been preparing me physically for this race, but has been making sure my head is in the right place.

Pre-riding the 2017 USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals race course

Fast-forward some months later and I am only a few weeks away from this big day. I find myself in the best shape of my life: I’m faster than ever on the bike, my skills are coming along, and I’m at my ideal race weight. I’ve been doing the Southeast Regional Championship XC series for some weeks now, so I’ve been getting all that high-intensity work I need to continue priming the legs, and my confidence and motivation are at an all-time high. As the time got closer, I found myself feeling extremely anxious, but ready. I felt like my excitement grew as I pre-rode the race course a couple of days before the race, and realized that it had it all! The trail system in Iron Mountain is absolutely amazing, it has a million rocks that form various challenging rock gardens in different areas, which means you don’t hit all of them at once. It also has some steep climbs as well as gradual, so it allows for power management rather than having to spike up in every single one. Best of all, it has one particular trail called the “White/Grey” trail that has so much flow! It’s about a 25 minute section of trail that feels like a rollercoaster. My favorite, however, was the “Green” trail in the eastbound direction that had a lot of the technical features to be approached at faster speeds, as it was mainly a downhill. I truly look forward to coming back to this trail and riding more of it without having the race stress.

My trusty BMC TE01 was ready to rumble on race day!

Race Day came and I found myself noodling around the Start area, seizing up my competition and repeating my Start time in my head constantly. I needed to warm up, but I didn’t want to get caught up with chatting with other racers and miss my start. Two of my good friends Beth Hoffmeister and Tania Johnson kept me some company during this warm up, and we kept our ride chatty, therefore I truly had no chance to get nervous about what was about to happen. A few warm up accelerations later, and I headed down to the Start area. Standing next to Amy Horstmeyer, fellow Floridian and competitor, I noticed that the ladies who carried a number 30 on their calf muscles looked RIPPED. I mean, they looked mean and lean and ready to go down fighting, so I wished Amy best of luck, and made sure to let her know that I was cheering for her even though I wanted to beat her so badly. That’s right, I wanted Amy to win this championship because I feel this is her best year of racing yet, but I’m still very competitive so a part of me wishes to be able to drop her on some climb somewhere. A wish is only a wish.

The gun went off at 8:42 am, and a group of 9 of us headed out on a long road climb which would lead to a descend before entering the singletrack. I realized that I had a great start and I was toward the front of the pack, third wheel back, directly behind Amy who was drafting off of who would lead the race from start to finish. Yep, you read that right. Nicole Dorinzi of West Virginia took off like a bullet from the start, lead the pack from the very first second and claimed the National Champion title for this year…LIKE A TRUE BAD ASS. But before I knew she’d be the one to win, I thought I should stay right where I was, sucking her wheel because I needed to save every bit of energy I could. We had 49 more miles of racing, the pace was already high, and I sure wasn’t going to trade spots with her. As soon as we hit the first gravel climb, however, I waved Amy around me, and a little bit of chaos set in. Several riders attacked from behind me and I fell back to about 5th or 6th place, but that didn’t last very long. Shortly after they all started cracking, letting the gap open behind the two leaders, and I found myself having to ride around them and unleashing some watts to catch back up to Amy and Nicole. I didn’t just manage to catch back up to them, but I also managed to put a nice gap between myself and the rest, allowing me to settle into my “Fast Fun Pace” for the rest of the race. My heart rate was right around what I expected to see, my legs felt great, and I was in my Happy Place. Unfortunately, though I could see the two leaders in front of me, staying with them would require me to ride entirely too hard and I would certainly bonk. Finding myself comfortably racing and holding 3rd place kept me motivated and rolling at my best speed, and I right where I wanted to be. Very early in the race, I started catching some of the dudes that were sent off several minutes ahead of me, and every time I asked to go around them I was encouraged by every single one of them. So I kept on rolling, drinking liquids when I had to, chugging down some Roctane gels every hour and kept my head focused on taking all the right lines to keep most momentum, to not get my wheel stuck in some deep mud, or to cut a tire on those sharp edged rocks.

That is exactly how most of my race went until I was about halfway through. I caught a glimpse of two ladies who were chasing me pretty hard, so I started feeling all the anxiety I hadn’t experienced until now. Now I felt some pressure, and I wanted to believe they were not in my age group, but the chances were that they had been seeing me for some time and maybe realized that I had slowed down a little. So I kept on pressing, riding as best I could and at the same time conserve some energy in case I had to respond to an attack. Suddenly on the very last gravel climb, prior to the rock garden before the finish line, one of the ladies caught me and passed me, I jumped on her wheel and we headed in to battle the rocks. She managed to get around a dude in that section, and when I tried to get around him, he basically blocked me. I guess he didn’t have an alternate line to hit in order to let me by, which is possible, but when he started to tell me “Oh man, I really hate this section haha” and literally slowed down to almost a screeching halt. I felt my blood boiling inside my head, and I just wanted to scream “SERIOUSLY DUDE!!! PLEASE, GTFO. IF YOU HATE THIS SECTION, YOU SHOULD JUST STAY HOME BECAUSE THIS WHOLE TRAIL LOOKS LIKE A BIG ROCKGARDEN”, but of course I said nothing. I had a race going on and this chicken legs was trying to do small chat with me. Anyone that knows me, would know that I’m always down for some small or long chat, but this was certainly not the time. He waited until the trail had to open up like 10 feet wide for him to let me by, which was quite unnecessary. I had been passing people for more than 2 hours now and I passed in very narrow areas without an issue, but THIS, RIGHT NOW is when I needed to get around the most. And that’s when I lost sight of who would go on to take the 3rd Place in the race. Though I had the legs to respond and chase, I had no idea whether she was very close or very far, and I chose to save the legs in case someone else came up behind me again. At the end of the race, she finished only about 20 seconds in front of me, meaning that once she got out of my sight, she probably slowed down and we basically rode the same pace for the following 2 hours. I could definitely have made that up, but that’s racing. We live and learn. In hindsight, I wish I would have been more aggressive around that one dude, but given that everyone had been so polite when passing until then, I didn’t want to be that a-hole racer that pushed her way around someone. I’m better than that, and I would never act that way with a fellow racer.

My best legs and performance brings home a 4th place finish and a whole new level of love for racing. My main goal for this race was to settle into my “Fun Fast Pace” and let it put me where I belong, and didn’t want to have any expectations other than to leave it all out on the course, and that’s exactly what I did. Every bit of my will and determination got me to the finish line in 4 hours and 34 minutes, and I had the honor to stand on the podium with these incredible athletes. I am reminded once again that I do this because I love it, because I am good at it and because there is nothing else that could bring this much excitement into my life. I was born to be a mountain biker, and I’m so proud of that.

Women 30-34 Age Group Podium.

I want to recognize all the amazing women who showed up to race this past weekend, and let them know that I am inspired and so honored to shred the same trails as you. Only those who were out on the course suffering with me will know what I mean, but anyone who can complete a 50 mile race through Iron Mountain is a bad ass in my book. Shoutout to my friend Beth Hoffmeister & Carey Lowery who are National Champions in their respective classes, as well as Nicole Dorinzi who won my Age Group. I tip my hat to all of you.

This event is everything I hoped it would be. The race course was perfectly marked and it had the perfect mix of technicality and flow to keep me hurting but having fun at the same time. The course marshals were out there cheering and encouraging everyone and the camaraderie on the course was awesome. I seriously feel absolutely excited to know that I get to come back to this amazing trail system next year for another shot at the USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championship title. The only different thing I’d hope for is for the race promoter to hand me an event T-Shirt that actually fits me, and not just a men’s Small which is basically a Women’s Large 😉 Other than that, huge thanks to DLT Event Management for hosting this race in such professional manner.

One of the coolest things about going to these events is having the chance to meet Pro racers we admire. Here I met Rose Grant earlier in the week while I was pre-riding the race course.

I feel absolutely excited to see what I can accomplish this new year in fitness, strength and skill. With a newfound level of determination and stoke, I also realize that I do belong and can be competitive in this new Age Group that I have “aged up to”. I can hang with the big girls and I am absolutely grateful for the opportunity to do so. I couldn’t do this without all the cheers and support I get from my family, especially my mother who is my main cheerleader. I am feeling particularly grateful for her as we approach Mother’s Day, and I do hope to make her proud. The biggest Thank You goes to Michael Hodges, who is my training partner and the one who keeps me focused, who thinks I’m the greatest mountain biker chick of all times, and who is the man I will marry next week. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO FOR ME, AND THANK YOU FOR HELPING ME ACHIEVE MY ATHLETIC & LIFE GOALS. To all of those who send me messages of encouragement and wish me well, I am forever grateful. I am humbled by all the support I receive from all of you, near and far.

The sketchy rock garden in the “white/grey loop”. LOVE THIS STUFF!

I wouldn’t be able to finish this blog without thanking Fondo Cycling for providing me with the best racing kits I have ever owned to date, as well as Alex’s Bicycle Pro Shop for providing me with all the best nutrition and equipment I could possibly find on the market. For those who are reading this, if you support me one bit, please go to Alex’s Bicycle Pro Shop’s Facebook or Instagram page and drop a Like or comment on my behalf. One last, but not least, shoutout goes to Coach Drew Edsall/MTB Fitness for continuously challenging me with his endless library of workouts. I know there is no other coach out there that could help me obtain the results like Drew does, so part of my accomplishment is because of his knowledge and professionalism.

What’s Next?

Well, I’m now headed to Brevard, NC, which is my absolute favorite place to ride, and where I’ll be getting married to my favorite shredding partner. Once I’m over my champagne hangover, I’ll head over to Chattanooga, TN for the 5th round of the SERC at Enterprise South Trails.

Michael Hodges finished 8th Place in the men’s 40-44 AG, one of the largest groups of racers on the field.