2014 US Elite Track National Championships Recap

This elite national championships was the first “big event”, I haven’t been 100% prepared for. Physically, I’m not tapered like many of the other athletes. With the 2014 Pan Am Continental Track Championships taking place in just a few weeks, we’ve taken the approach to prepare completely for that event, being the first Olympic Qualifying event for the 2016 Games. Mentally, I was beat up, feeling the pressure to perform, knowing I’m lacking leg speed, top end, and I’ve been training my ass off. Within the two-week leading up to nationals, my bike cracked, my shoes were falling apart, my race wheels felt terrible…things just kept creeping up on me, and my stress level was through the roof. By the time I arrived in South Carolina, I was so tense and full of stress, I had kinesio tape stretched down my trapezius muscles leading up to my neck, trying to relieve some pressure. I’m incredibly aware of my body as an athlete, and I’m sure like most athletes, I can tell when something is off. I drive my coaches nuts, always knit picking and critiquing every small detail, but when it comes down to it, everything Travis or Andy, or anyone here supporting me says, I know. I know it doesn’t matter, the work is done, I’m not here at 100%, but I still have to do what I can. This is the first time I have taken the approach that this national championships was not the big goal, winning a Pan Am Championship gold medal is.

Day 1 – August 13, 2014 – 500m Time Trial

Winning the 500m last year at the elite nationals was not supposed to happen. It was a dream, a goal, but it came when I least expected it. In a way, it is my favorite win. It was my first national title, and it was when I realized that I could do this, I could become the best, if I put my head down and I took my future into my own hands. But, lining up for the event this year, something was missing. The track was unable to figure out the starting gates, having been used the previous day with many technical problems, they sat on the sideline while we were being held by volunteer holders. The last time I was hand-held by someone at a national championship was at the collegiate nationals, where more often than not, I left the holder gasping for air, as my butt smashed into his gut pushing back with 1 second remaining. I had a terrible start, watching the video of my ride, I looked smooth, but I looked slow. I never got up to speed, and after seeing the times, my start lap was over a second slower than what I had been performing in training the weeks before. My time came through for a bronze medal finish, and the same time I had done my first year as a sprinter, at a 36.9, with only 4 months of track sprint training. I was smashed. It was really disappointing to see the overall time, and not know what happened. But as we looked at the times, it all came down to that start lap. According to my SRM file, I reached my maximum speed through corners 3 and 4 of the second lap…meaning, it took me almost the whole time to get to the speed I was supposed to be riding at. WTF?

I felt a little better knowing what happened, going over it, but the bigger problem following was coming back from being completely crushed, and picking myself up for tomorrow. Coming into the race, everyone said, “Oh, you’ll be fine”, “You got this”, which in a way, put even more pressure on me, what if I didn’t do well? I didn’t feel good in training, I knew what I was missing, and I’d never had to deal with that. Yes, an athlete does need to know how to perform under pressure, how to perform when they aren’t at 100% when it is “go-time”. But how does an athlete learn? By experience, and this was my first. Even though this race does not matter in the big picture, other than wearing the crown of being the national champion for a year, and having those bragging rights, the overly competitive person in me wants to win everything. I went home that night and shook it off. I might have been crushed, but it was time to “not care”. What would be, would be.

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Day Two – August 15, 2014 – 200m Qualifying / 1/8th Round / 1/4 Final / Semi-Final

Back for day two, I was more relaxed. I had faced the dreaded result from yesterday, and accepted that I might not be the fastest in a flat-out time trial, at least not right now, but I knew I had the confidence that my ability to race was much higher. As expected, I qualified 2nd, but not by as much as I had imagined. The top three times were within .2 of each other or so. Since 11 women were present, this meant that the top qualifier had a bye in the first round. I went through, and took on some great women. I was happy to be placed where I was, having to win my rides by using strong tactics and moves. Racing against Gea Johnson, who placed 2nd in the 500m in the 1/4 final ride, who is incredibly strong, as a past Olympic bobsledder and bodybuilder. In the Semi-Final, I rode against Dana Feiss, a previous match sprint national champion, 2012 Olympic long team member, Pan Am Games Medalist, World Cup team member, and Pan Am Champs member. Dana has repeatedly shown she can race way over her qualifying time, and is no easy task to overtake. I remember racing against Dana in the 1/4 final of my first elite nationals in 2012, in the sprints. We went to three rides, with her taking the win, but what an incredibly learning opportunity. It’s hard and fun at the same time to race against friends, but we make each other better for it.

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Day Three – August 16, 2014 – Gold Medal Round

Waking up at 4am, since my body hasn’t adjusted to the time difference yet, I had a REALLY long time until the 6:30pm evening session, where we would start the Gold Medal Final. Leading up to this, I had some great rides with Gea and Dana, and I felt prepared after the Momentum Coaching Group Sprint Open in LA a few weeks prior.

I lost the first ride. I did what I said I wasn’t going to do, and it came back to bite me. We made contact on the home straight, which was 100% my fault, but at the time, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. It seems like from the moment I went into corner four, to the point when we touched, it’s all black to me. I have no idea how or why I came out of the lane, but as soon as I knew I was, I backed out. I got a warning, rightfully so. It made me a little nervous, but onward we went. Not long afterward, we went up for our second ride. With Mandy being one up on me, I had to win this ride to stay in the competition. I had position one, which means I led it out for the first half lap. When I pulled had up track out of corner two to try to get her to roll in front of me, I pulled myself straight out of my pedal. This has never happened during a sprint or effort before, and I was kinda shocked. I put my foot down on the track and it seems like a whole second went by before I realized what happened. I put my hand up, the officials blew the gun, and we went back to the start line. It’s time to put straps on my pedals! I guess I’m officially strong enough!

I went on to win the second ride, bringing us to 1-1 equal. The third ride would determine who the new 2014 US Elite women’s match sprint national champion was. As we rolled up to the line, I looked to the left and saw an amazing sunset. Pinks and purples were painted right above the back straight, and I turned to Travis and said, “Look at the sunset!”, which resulted in a response like, “You need to focus!”. After my 500m performance, I had accepted that I wasn’t riding to the best of my ability. I am not a 12.0 rider, or a 36.9 rider, but I was a rider that was in a huge training block, riding towards Pan Ams, and even so, I would have to use my wits to win this ride. I went into it and did exactly what i did the first ride, but smarter, and better executed, and I came away with the win!

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Day Four – August 17, 2014 – Keirin

Another late evening session took place for the keirin. With only semi-finals and final rounds only, it was cutthroat, with no reps. I made it through my first ride fairly easily. This video from USA Cycling sums up my rides very well.

I’m super thrilled to have won my first elite women’s keirin national title, to match with my sprint win from the day before. I may not be peaked for this, but my racing shows that I am still on top! It was an incredibly close final stretch with Tela Crane, but I’m glad I had the legs to keep pushing!

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Day Five – August 18, 2014 – Team Sprint

This morning I woke up tired. I had the best nights sleep I’ve had since arriving in Rock Hill, meaning I was asleep before 1am, and I woke up after 4am, but even so, my legs were in pain. Mentally and physically I’ve dug really hard over the past few days to take my titles, so I was expecting to wake up one day with some pain.

Since Alissa recently moved to LA, and joined the Momentum Coaching Group family, as well as being named to the 2014 US Pan Am Track Continental Championships team, we joined forces to try for a title in the team sprint. Our qualifying ride took us into second place, with a time of 36.9. Nothing went particularly bad, and nothing went particularly good, but given where we both are in our training programs, we did what we could. In the final, we stepped it up big time. Crossing the line, barely a hair slower than the team of Mandy Marquardt and Shelby Walter. Am I disappointed? Of course! I’m too competitive to not be! But being next to Shelby, rolling on the track when she found out she was the new women’s team sprint national champion was something I’ll remember for a while. The shock and joy and emotion rolled up into one of the sweetest girls on this planet was enough to put a smile on the grouchiest of grouchy faces.

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So there it is. My 2014 US Elite Track Nationals. Was it everything I wanted it to be? No. I’ve already explained why…that competitive drive in me is never satisfied. But did I race to my fullest potential? Yes. Will I be faster in three weeks when I toe the line in the 500m, Team Sprint, Match Sprint, and Keirin, at the Pan American Championships? Yes. I fought through some serious mental battles, including coming back from behind in the match sprints, and pushing harder than I thought I could at the front of the keirin to lead the whole thing out from the beginning.

None of this would have been possible without my crew. Andy was by my side 24/7 through this whole thing, dealing with my complete let down in the 500m, to being through the roof in the sprint and keirin, and once again, back down with the team sprint. I barely had to lift a finger for anything, since him and Travis were changing gears, wheels, and setting everything up. Thanks for both of them, I always had someone to hold me on the line, give me last-minute advise, a boost of confidence, and I never felt unprepared for anything.

Huge thank you to my sponsors, Atomic High Performance, Momentum Coaching Group, Felt Bicycles, CNP Performance Sports Nutrition, DZ Nuts, Women’s Sports Foundation, USA Cycling, Oxygen Fitness, US Olympic Team, and Vie 13 Kustom Apparel. Another thank you to David Espinoza and his dad, for driving me around, to and from the track, being all around great people and house mates. Thank you to everyone in PA, who packed up the things we left and brought them down to South Carolina for us. And thank you to the people of Rockhill, for coming out to watch us race, cheering, and making nationals a great event with TONS of spectators. The lack of start gates were made up for it being the first nationals with more than 15 people in the stands! Thank you for all the messages on Facebook and all other forms of social media, the donations through my gofundme fundraising website, and for your encouragement and support.

I can’t wait to get back to LA, pick up our puppies, get busy in the garden, and visit with my brother who gets some time away from the Marine Base! I only get a few days before we get straight back to work with a goal of a medal at the Pan Am Championships! Thank you, again. The season has just begun!

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