BaseCamp 2022 member Jill White shares her experience at the Appalachian Journey bike race in Floyd, Virginia.
“It is exactly the unattainability, which differentiates a dream from a goal: Goals are reachable, when you fight for them. Dreams are not. Athletes shouldn’t dream, but set goals for themselves and fight for them.” — Fabian Cancellara
Serena Gordon posted this in BaseCamp 2022. It settled on my soul.
“My attitude and expectations set the tone and lead the way. Succeed or fail. Struggle or fly. I know my character and the internal characteristics to be a champion are being built when I am willing to respond and /or to try and do something hard.” – Amber Neben
I carried these words to the Appalachian Journey race.
I had worked on what mental arrows to queue up in the quiver. I spoke each one by name and mentally placed them in my bag.
Fear of crashing. It haunts me, and when the roads get spicy I start to circulate a thought of I am not equipped. I am not enough. I am going to crash. The arrow = slow it down, ride within your ability. Make smart choices. No mistakes to be faster. It's okay to slow it down. You have made big strides in learning. Keep it within your abilities. You are stronger than you think. Just think. Calm steady progress.
Negative floods. I start to believe I am slow. I can’t. I am foolish. I am too old. The thoughts overwhelm me. Arrow = eat, pedal, drink. Slow down. If I am last, I am okay, I finished giving a gift to the second to last person. Find gratitude. Keep pedaling.
I shot both these arrows in the race. Landed both.
We drove to Floyd, VA, a 7ish hour drive. Set up camp, got packets. Vibe was overwhelming with kindness and joy. I realized really fast this was going to be a magical place.
Set up my bike, felt super calm. It's very familiar and calming to pack my bike bags and do all the checks. I am in control.
I went to sleep at 9pm and slept till 5am. Total win. Ate 200g carbs. Another big win. The sky was full of stars. Vast and magical were my morning thoughts. I'll take them. Soaked them in. I spoke to myself. You are training within your abilities. This is within your reach. It is a goal, not a dream. You can reach this goal. It will just be hard.
0730 race start. Race description words: "This race takes place in one of the least populated and highest mountain plateaus east of the Mississippi bordered by the Eastern Continental Divide, the Floyd Plateau has always been home to the stalwartly independent….Its highs and lows beckon with mystery and challenge…. This is character we invite you to dive in, go farther, and take your own Appalachian Journey." The start was fast and I was falling back fast…the first punchy climbs and descents came fast, and I found myself falling behind the pack fast. My heart rate too high, my fears drowning me…. I shot my first arrow within 15 minutes. Slow down. This is a long day. Finish is the goal. No mistakes. I looked around, everyone here was a phenomenal rider. Strong. Experienced. I am here, I am learning, I have to stay within my ability. It is enough. I just said it over and over until the arrow landed. I said to my duo partner, I have to slow down. I have to be smart. He said, "This is going to be a great day, keep pedaling, Jill."
My energy and spirits stayed high and my nutrition stayed on point for 30 miles. Now almost 3 hrs into the ride and 4,000 ft of climbing. I felt fatigue starting to rush in. I got behind on my drinking, the roads got tough. I struggled to drink enough and focus on the dirt/rocky gravel. We hit a decent that was way above my ability and nothing I had ever descended before. I started out loud saying some words from a BaseCamp team member when I spoke of my inexperience and fear of the downs (I love the climbs 1000x more): "Hands in the drops, hover over the saddle, arms relaxed, fingers light and ready, brake to stay in control, never in a panic." I said it over and over….but started feeling dark. I need more technical work. That is just truth. But a beautiful moment happened when another woman lifted me. Tears about to come when I hear, "I am going to pass you on your left. It will feel tight and scary, but I am an expert at this stuff, and I want you to know I've been watching you and think you are doing great. This is hard and you are in great control." Then she flew past me, and I watched her grace as she was in total control showed kindness. She took my dark thoughts as she flew by me. I just kept going. Losing control of time and drinking and eating.
Mile 50ish and 8,000ish feet of climbing. Negative creeping in. I say to my partner, "I don’t think I'm going to be able to finish. Fatigue just hit me and I can't." His response: "You're not quitting, figure it out."
Perfect. Arrow 2 in queue.
I ate a Picky bar, drank as much to finish my bottle and made it to aid station where I refueled, repacked my top tube, and focused on more calories in. This worked for the next 26 miles.
Then….stomach done. I could drink but not eat. So I asked my partner for help. What have you got in your bag I can eat? He gave me a handful of Haribo peach gummy candies. I never have even seen them in my life…. Arrow shot…..landed. I had to keep eating them and drinking the Sword in my bottles. They stayed down and were 50 cal each. Every 15 minutes I would let one just dissolve in my mouth. It was all I could stomach. Another opportunity for where I can improve—figuring out nutrition when I am maxing out my body.
Last 10 miles were the toughest. My climbing legs were gassed. Fumes almost gone. I really just head down quiet and kept in my lowest gears, spinning as much as I could. I had emptied my legs. But the joy flooded in….I knew I was going to finish. I just had to keep smart because right hand in hand with joy was mental fog. I found it hard to concentrate on the gravel and keeping my mind on making decisions on lines to take. I started hitting potholes before I saw them. I said out loud, "Thank you, Lord." It reset me one last time. I knew I was tired, but I knew I had a little more ….so I focused on just focusing. Silly to say, but it was what I had to do.
The finish was like air. All I said as we rolled in was, "We did it." That was enough. 14,000 ft of climbing. 110 miles.
I am grateful. For today was a good hard day.