Saturday, August 29, 2015

Racing with Trials and Tribulations

 Windham World Cup Podium
My mom, by far my loudest supporter.  Thanks Mom!
I have just wrapped up my most successful World Cup season
in my career. I never once placed outside of the top ten, and this consistency
put me in fourth overall coming into World Cup Finals in Val di Sole,
Italy.  There was only a mere twenty four
points separating me and current World Champion, Catharine Pendrel, in third
overall.  The gun went off at Val di
Sole, and I led out a good portion of the start lap.  I was feeling great, and then I had a quick
bobble coming into the first feed zone. 
Then, on the first lap, I found myself completely sliding across the
grass on an off camber corner.  With
these two crashes, five girls passed me. 
The world cup races are incredibly competitive and close these
days.  I was a little out of my descending
rhythm, and I settled somewhere in between tenth and eight amongst a pack that
was constantly switching places.  Since
Catherine was about a minute up on me battling for third place, I thought
moving ahead in the overall wasn’t a possibility.  But then, something amazing happened in the
last lap, and a group came together from fourth through tenth place.  That group included Catherine and then things
got really interesting.  The hunt for the
overall was on, and l passed her with about half a lap to go.  I knew I had to get at least two places in
between us so I caught Blaza in front of me as well.  Then, it was a battle to the finish line and
I outsprinted Blaza for seventh place. 
Lady luck was on my side, and Eva Lechner outsprinted Catharine.  Helen Grobert squeaked in between us as well,
and I captured third place in the world cup overall by as little as four
points.  My Specialized teammates, Howard
Grotts, Jaroslav Kulhavy, and Troy Brosnan, also stepped onto that third step
in the overall in men’s U-23, elite men, and elite downhill respectively.  Fun fact, Troy, Howard, and I also all got
bronze world championships medals last year in Norway.  We are number three!

I didn’t start the season with the world cup overall as my
main goal, but it sure was a fantastic added bonus to the season.  Over the season, each world cup race is
unique and has a story, but three races stick out in my mind in
particular.  I’m still incredibly excited
by my career best second place in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, but I’m also very
proud of my sixth place in Mount Saint Anne, Canada, and my fourth place in
Windham, NY.  Sometimes, life
happens.  Challenges pop up, emotional or
physical, big or small, and can come at any time. Athletes just have to put
their heads down and train or race.  I’ve
faced some significant physical challenges in the form of hip surgeries in the
past, but some pretty big emotional trials came right before Mount Saint Anne
and Windham world cups, my home races.  I
believe emotional events, a loss in the family, a relationships break up, etc.,
are way more adverse than an injury. 
With an my hip injury, I got it diagnosed, I fixed it, I let it heal,
and then I worked as hard as I possibly could during rehab.  With emotional challenges, there’s no step-by-step
process laid out in front of you, and, at this high of a level at the world
cup, a lot of racing is mental.  Believe
me, sadness is slow.  For me, it’s a
proven fact that happiness is fast.  So,
how to race when feeling broken on the inside?  
            The Mount Saint
Anne course is the most technical course on the circuit, and this year was no
exception.  The week before the race, I
was an emotional wreck, and I was in my head a lot.  Read: not grounded.  I knew I absolutely needed to be grounded to
ride this technical course or it was going to be dangerous.  So, luckily, I grounded myself by falling
into my normal pre-race routine, and pre-riding with my teammate Kate.  She had checked out all of the lines before I
arrived, and I just simply followed her wheel. 
I was delighted to be able to ride everything smoothly, especially given
the circumstances.  I think another
important step through emotional trauma is to feel emotions.  If I suppress emotions, they just get
increase or rear their ugly head in a worse form.  It’s important to release sadness, cry, and
surround myself with a great support network to help pick up the pieces.  It’s also good to channel that emotional release
through workouts.  Also, I find it’s just
also very grounding to get one my bike and start pedaling.  It’s very familiar. 

Athletes are a paradox within themselves.  We are really in tune with our bodies.   We
know what threshold feels like, and we can detect slight tweaks..  But, we also are really good at the art of
denial.  I can’t even count the number of
times that I’ve heard athletes say, ‘No, I don’t have a cold.  This is just allergies’.  We must be able to deny the screaming legs
and the burning lungs and push through one more lap.  When the time is right, the art of denial can
really come in handy when dealing with emotional loss.  It’s crucial to use the power of denial to
focus on the task at hand, for me, racing Mount Saint Anne, and submerse myself
in racing.  Then, after the race, I could
start to deal with reality.  Everyone is
different, but the important steps for me were:
1) Fall into a familiar routine (if it doesn’t include or
remind you of the challenge at hand)
2) Surround yourself with positivity
3) Focus on the present (and use the perfected art of denial
to your benefit) when it comes to race time
4) When the time is right, feel and start to process.
5) Flexbility.  Go
easy on yourself. 

Maple Creemees and happiness watts are a important part of the healing process. 
This whole process seemed to work for those two North
American world cups.  I scored another
two top ten finishes and maintained my place in the world cup overall
ranking.  For me, overcoming the
circumstances to have two solid races was one of the biggest victories of the
season.  Up next is the World
Championships in Vallnord, Andorra.  I’m
so excited!  Thank you so much for all of
your support!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Growing up Vermont.

 I took the L.L Bean vintage vest to our old adventure spots.  Desso's

Growing up in Vermont means growing up outdoors.  Being lucky enough to have outdoor oriented parents, my youth was filled with adventures outside.  My sister and I spent our summers barefoot running around the dirt road in our neighborhood.  We used to play kick the can or flashlight tag with all the neighborhood kids.  When In the Arena sent all of its athletes a vintage L.L Bean vest last week, it ignited many memories of my young adventures.  There are a couple of spots around our house where the paths were well worn in.  Thus, these particular adventures were burned into my memory.   
Occasionally we got to add some penny candy to that Snapple

My parents would take us on a weekly weekend pilgrimage to Desso's, the local general store.  This was probably a ten mile ride round trip on a dirt road.  Intially, we would huff it over to Desso's on our old school Schwinn ten speed bikes with the dial shifter on the handlebar.  Then, one Christmas, we got matching purple Mongoose Hilltoppers.  These machines still probably weighed just as much as we did, but we did get an upgrade in shifters.  To be honest, I was purely food motivated to haul this thirty pound metal machine up and down those roads.  My parents would buy us a snapple of our choice at the general store.  This was the kindling for my cycling career, and I still ride by Desso's (now Jericho General Store) often on my training rides. 
The snack spot at the Town of Essex pool

In the summer, we lived at the town pool.  The Essex town pool was closed in the morning for swim team practice and swimming lessons, and then it would open to the public at one o'clock.  From this time until dinner, we swam, played Marco Polo, jumped off the diving boards, or sunned on a towel on the hot pavement pool deck to warm up.  Every quarter of an hour on the hour, all the lifeguard whistles would blow for adult swim.  The adults got the pool to themselves for fifteen minutes every hour which Sabe and I would use for snack time.  Food wasn't allowed in the pool so we would go out to a fenced in area adjacent to the pool and eat pretzels and animal crackers.  My mom also put us into swimming lessons and diving lessons in that pool.  We learned how to do a pike dive, front flip, and swan dive even off the high dive board.  She also threw us onto the swim team.  I was a bit too late to the party so I was put into the lane with kids about three years younger than me.  This was the only time in my life that I didn't want to compete.  I was awful, and I would hope with all of my might for a thunderstorm on the days of swim meets.  The only way I could do the butterfly stroke was to jump off of the bottom of the pool.  Yes, I was that bad.  Regardless, I only had to go through early morning practice and cold water with the young kids for one year.  This wasn't enough time to taint all of our good childhood years spent at that pool. 
 The Long Trail trailhead 

One of my most impactful memories was our first backpacking trip on the long trail one summer.  My sister belonged to a hiking club in middle school (how cool is that?) so my parents decided to lead the group on a week long trip one year.  This way, I got to come.  This trip was a natural extension of our yearly family camping trips.  Each summer, my parents would pack up the twelve person tent (I'm not sure why, we only have four people total in our immediate family), the sleeping bags, and the pads and drive to a location to camp for the week.  We went to the Adirondacks where we sat in the car and watched a bear completely ransack the neighboring campsite.  We camped on Prince Edward Island where we ate fish straight from the ocean, and it poured on us for two days straight.  We even took three weeks to drive out west and camp at all of the major national parks.  Alone, this Out West trip has about fifteen blogs worth of memories.  There were two constant themes on all of these camping trips.  My mom used to bring Bisquick.  She would mix it with water to make a paste, form the paste around a stick, and roast it over the fire.  We would cover it with honey and eat it. We called it a doughboy, and it was delicious.  I would also always be so sad to leave our campsite that I would need to say a special goodbye to the place alone before we left.  

Many of these adventures were accomplished with my mom wearing a similar vest to the one I got in the mail.  L.L Bean gives people the tools they need to get out and experience the outdoors.  I bet that red vest sat around many campfires and even hiked the long trail.  Maybe that vest was put around a shivering kids shoulders on a chilly summer Vermont day at the pool.    In the age of computer screens, the outdoors is needed now more than ever especially with kids.  The memories that can be made even within one's backyard can last a lifetime and plant the seeds to a healthy and fulfilled life.  Not to mention, my mom's vest is probably still kicking around, just like the one that showed up in the mail.  And, if it succumbed to the one hundredth adventure or a flaming doughboy, L.L Bean would replace it.   Thanks for L.L Bean for getting us and our Little Bellas outside.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The European Mountain Tour

 Jumping for Joy in Switzerland on a training ride
Specialized Women are leading the world cup team overall standings Photo: Michal Cervany

The past two weeks have been phenomenal with ample time spent in some of my favorite places in the world.  The first week, I traveled to Sella Ronda in the Italian Dolomites for the World Marathon Championships.  The World Marathon Championships is a longer race than I usually compete in.  This race was sixty kilometers with twelve thousand feet of climbing.  The cross country world cups are an hour and half of racing compared to this four hour effort.  I had done the amazing Sella Ronda ride with my family about five years ago.  My sister led bike tours for Trek Travel in this region and treated our family to a trip of a lifetime.  The Sella Ronda is a huge rock massif among the jagged Dolomite peaks, and five mountain passes complete the ride around Sella Ronda.  For the Marathon World Champs, instead of climbing many switchbacks up paved roads (read: easier grade climbing), we just climbed straight up dirt roads on our mountain bikes.  It was epic and incredible.  Although I didn't feel great on race day, this race still goes down as one of my favorite experiences on a bike.  I couldn't have picked a better place to have an off day, and I still ended up in ninth place.

And, just when I thought it couldn't get better, the trip skyrocketed.  We drove over through the dolomites and the alps to the World Cup in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.  We were treated to the drive up the iconic Stelvio Pass, a climb which is one of the top on my 'to ride' list.  My sister also has guided many bike trips in this region and I finally got to have a famous sausage sandwich at the top of the climb. Lenzerheide, Switzerland didn't disappoint.  Team Specialized stayed in fantastic lodging in the town nestled by a lake and towering peaks.  The landscape was breathtaking the world cup course was so much fun.  It was unlike any other course I've ridden, packed with technical single track and flow.  In short, it was a blast, and my racing reflected just how much fun I had been having.  Happiness is fast, and I had stocked up on happiness watts for two weeks.  When it came to race time, I was ready to go.

Like the previous world cup, I had a front row start in eighth position.  This is a huge advantage in a mass start race.  Unfortunately, I came out of my pedal about ten pedal strokes in quickly erasing a front row start advantage.  It wasn't ideal but not all was lost.  I got stuck in some traffic that I desperately got around as fast as I could, and I just set out to pass as many people as possible in the opening laps of the race.  Luckily, I felt fantastic and I was able to ride onto podium position in fifth by halfway through the lap.  I was trading leads with world cup points leader, Jolanda Neff, for third position for the majority of the race.  Neff also happens to be Swiss so I felt like I was battling an entire country.  On the last lap, I attacked Jolanda on the opening biggest climb, and she didn't respond.  Then, World Champion, Catharine Pendrel appeared in front of me, and I was closing.  To have my best world cup finish twenty seconds in front of me was extremely motivating.  Halfway through the lap, I caught Catharine and passed her.  She then passed me right back so I stayed on her wheel and tried to recover for a decisive attack.  I sprinted as hard as I could in the final feed zone, and I didn't stop sprinting until I reached the finish line.  With a last lap filled with all of this excitement, I also clocked the fastest lap time of the entire race.  I am just so excited.  Combined with the women's world cup final game and my result, I didn't sleep much that night.  To clock that kind of result on fourth of July weekend, wearing the national champion kit, and to do it on the same day that the U.S women's soccer team won World Champs, it's a weekend that will be remembered.

Thank you to everyone for all of the cheering, comments, and support.  I hear you.  It makes a huge impact.  Thank you!

 Teammate Christoph, Howie, and myself were there for a Specialized store opening in Italy.  Red carpet and all
 Training for the World Marathon Champs

 Top of the final descent at World Marathon Champs
World Marathon Championships Photo: Michal Cervany
 Photo: Michal Cervany
 Photo: Michal Cervany
 Photo: Michal Cervany

 I LOVE mountains…especially these ones

 Team Specialized took a gondola to the top of a peak after the race and played in the snow!
 Passo Stelvio
 Lupines in Lenzerheide
 Photo: Michal Cervany

Photo: Michal Cervany

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Colorful Little Bellas session and the Vermont Grand Fondo

 Little Bellas Color Day
 Vermont is beautiful
The "Roaring Riders' roaring away
The summer is in full swing, and there has been a lot of great things happening recently.  The Vermont Little Bellas Sunday Sessions have begun in earnest, and I was actually here for color day. It's a miracle.  Color day is always one of my most favorite sessions of the season.  Imagine the color runs and then switch the running shoes for mountain bikes and Little Bellas.  The girls get doused in color powder while playing games and going through activities to learn about body position.  This year, Sabe sourced the color powder from a different location, and it smelled absolutely divine.  I believe the quote of the session was, "This color powder smells like a lady".   I never know what the Little Bellas are going to say, and it's the best.  There's at least three really good laughs per session.

This Sunday at Little Bellas, we went for a mountain bike ride, named our groups, and then decorated our group flags to fit our group name.  My group, the seven to eight year olds, were discussing names and vikings was thrown out there.  This is how the conversation went.

Little Bella: "what's a viking?"

Mentor: "A viking is a Norse dragon slayer"

Little Bella: Silently ponders and then in all seriousness says, "Oh, I've seen one of those before"

I love the Little Bellas.  It's never a dull moment and we're not afraid to get muddy and colorful.  It's been raining in Vermont for the past week so the trails have been a bit soggy.  Today, I stopped our group at the first big mud puddle, and we rode through it one by one cheering.  I wanted to see who could get the biggest splash.  Then, we proceeded to go through a unplanned mud pit, and the girls' shoes were getting eaten alive. I could see that some of the girls were getting a bit upset about their kicks  so I set the stage for the muddiest shoe award and the muddiest legs award.  Some wanted to see if they had muddier legs than I did.  They definitely won that competition.  It seems to have worked. Later on, I gave my group the option between two different trails. They asked which one was muddier.  I told them and they unanimously yelled that they wanted to go on the muddier trail.  I was so proud.  I'm so happy that these girls live in a world where they want to get muddy.  Not only is it okay, but they are excited about it.  Just from that moment alone, I would call the today's Little Bellas session a raging success.

Personally, I got the green light to go to the Marathon World Championships in Sella Ronda, Italy at the end of the month.  I couldn't be happier.  Sabe led our family on a bike trip in the dolomites, and we rode around Sella Ronda.  It's one of the most gorgeous places I've ever witnessed, and I'm thrilled to go back.  I've been training hard for this event and the XC World Cup the weekend after in Switzerland.  This weekend, the Vermont Grand Fondo lined up as perfect preparation.  This event is a ride that climbs up four of Vermont's toughest hill climbs (or gaps as we call them here) in the span of 104 miles. It was ten thousand feet of climbing, and this ride has been on my 'to do' list for awhile. I've climbed each of these gaps individually but never in succession.  It was incredible and one of the hardest rides I've ever done.  Lincoln Gap has the steepest paved mile in the United States averaging twenty two percent.  We climbed App Gap, Lincoln Gap, Brandon Gap, and Middlebury Gap.  I think this ride should be one anyone's list that's up for the ultimate challenge.  Plus, the feed zones come complete with nutella and peanut butter sandwiches.  This combined with Clif Blocks and drafting off two friends were the main reasons I made it through.  I'm confident that this was definitely adequate preparation for the monster effort that lies ahead.

I leave for Europe in about a week.  Please send me the strong endurance climbing vibes for World Champs.

Thanks for the support!


 Decorating our Flag
 Even if it's not color day, we still get colorful

 Little Bellas mentors. Color Day. 
 Sabe did a half ironman triathlon in NH and WON!  So Cool!

Beautiful Collateral damage from Color Day

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

2015 World Cup opening campaign

 The Yellow Fields of Czech Republic
 Czech Republic Rock Garden Photo: Michal Cervany
 Leading Women's Team Overall after Czech World Cup Photo: Michal Cervany
 Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
Albstadt, Germany Photo: Michal Cervany

The last two weekends marked the beginning of the 2015 mountain bike season.  The world cup got a later start than usual on one of my favorite courses and venues on the circuit, Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic.  Since I had a slower U.S spring race campaign than most of my competitors, I was naturally a little bit nervous going into the first world cup.  But, spoiler alert, every single person is nervous going into that first race.  The North Americans have been racing separate from the Europeans so not everyone has raced each other.  No one knows how she is going to measure up.  I spent a month training in Vermont and motor pacing with my coach, Andy Bishop.  I worked really hard and gained confidence from Andy’s feedback during our motorpace workouts.  I could also rest my nerves a bit in the workouts themselves, which were some of the hardest I’ve ever done in my ten year long career.  This is saying a lot.  Going into Nove Mesto, I knew I could go really hard.  My goal was to really push myself and be mentally and physically strong.  I’m completely overjoyed to say that I accomplished both of those goals, and all of the hard work in the spring training build paid off.  I raced to 7th place in Nove Mesto and also the best start to a world cup season I’ve ever had. 
            It was such an awesome race.  I didn’t get the best start, but it was one of those starts where everything miraculously works out afterwards so I wasn’t completely out of contention.  I took the right line when girls piled up on the left line.  I rode a climb when other girls were walking.  With a little luck and a lot of hard efforts, I was able to catch groups of girls and bridge up briefly to the group battling for a podium spot.  It was incredibly exciting race, and I’m definitely relieved to have top 10 fitness.  My Danish Specialized teammate, Annika Langvad, also raced to fifth place, and our results combined put us in the lead of the women’s team competition.  This means that we got to go up on the podium and spray champagne.  This also means that we got the yellow leader number plates for the world cup the next weekend in Albstadt, Germany.  The most exciting part is that Nove Mesto result put me on the front starting row for the first time in my world cup career.  Since we start all together in a mass start and it usually bottlenecks into singletrack quickly, start position is crucial. 
            This past weekend’s race in Albstadt, Germany couldn’t have been more different from the Czech world cup.  The Nove Mesto course has perfect loamy soil that my tires just bite into.  The Albstadt course has clay soil and it’s so slick that it’s icy.  The world cup course in Germany is also packed with steep, relentless climbing.  While Nove Mesto is challenging in its own way, Albstadt is really just a pure sufferfest.  Nevertheless, with the previous weekend’s success, I was very excited to race.  I lined up on the front row, and my family watching the live Redbull feed online got to see me wave to the camera.  What happened immediately after the start probably also made their heart rates go a little too high for five o’clock in the morning.  I got into my pedal and then three pedal strokes in, my other foot unclipped from the pedal.  I couldn’t believe it.  My first front row start potentially wasted by a mistake.  I immediately clipped back in and noticed that the whole left side of the start straight where I was was open.  So, I sprinted and got the hole shot that I wanted.  I lead out the start loop, and it was such a great feeling to be leading a world cup.  That was the highlight of the race.  It all literally went uphill from there, and I was a bit off.  I hung tough mentally and was riding consistently in the top fifteen.  Finally, with the help of some caffeine, I came around for the last two laps and finally was racing aggressively.  I passed four girls on the last two laps for a ninth place finish.  I was completely relieved when that race was over.  I am still ranked eight overall in the world cup standings which means I get another front row start for the next world cup in Switzerland.  Until then, I am headed home for another hard training block in Vermont.  I so excited to see what this new venue in Lenzerheide, Switzerland and the next month brings. 

Happy training!  Thanks for all of the support and well wishes over in Europe. It makes a huge difference.


 We found a 'spirit cat' at the Czech accommodations
 Check riding through a field of flowers off the life list.  This was incredible. 

 The Czech fans are the best. Photo: Michal Cervany
 "Kate Courtney, Kate Courtney, Let down your hair"
 It's so great when you can explore Europe a bit.  Kate and I rode to one of the most amazing castles I've ever seen

 With a mandatory Frites and cake feed mid castle ride
 Whoa.  The view is incredible. 

 Backroads of Germany.  This is a lovely area. 
 Happiness Watts.  Mandatory Gelato stop with part of the team: L to R, Benno our team manager, Annika Langvad, Kandice Buys (soigneur), Kate, and myself
 Teammate Jaroslav's fan club at the Czech World Cup.  They made him into a princess cutout 

 German Countryside
 Our Team is killing it this year.  Start numbers for World Cup #2, noone places out of the top 10 in Czech
 Last Lap feed.  Photo: Michal Cervany
 Kate gave me this necklace for my birthday
 Watching Kate on the big screen during her U-23 race.  The fans come out in full force in Germany.  It's incredible
 Kate having a killer season so far and not afraid to show her excitement on the podium.  I love this. 
 Photo: Michal Cervany
Michal Cervany