2022 Season Opener: Stokesville 40k
I spent January with my left foot in a boot thanks to a late-season stress fracture, so when the Stokesville 60/40 MTB race rolled around as my 2022 season opener, I was admittedly a little nervous. I’d only been riding my bike for 4.5 weeks and didn’t feel like my fitness was anywhere near what it needed to be to race. My motto: “Ready or not, here I come!”
Since starting to get back on the bike in early February, my coach and I were taking a conservative approach. The only hard effort I had even done leading up to the race was a FTP test the weekend prior. Other than that, everything was short, light workouts–mostly cadence drills and easy Zone 1/2 rides.
Having ridden the 60k version of the course in 2021 on my hardtail, I remembered the course as rocky, rough, and challenging…but I also knew that I’d now spent a year training in rocky conditions and was better technically prepared than I had been in 2021. I chose the hardtail again. It is a straight-cross-country hardtail, the 2020 Specialized Epic HT with a 120mm Rockshox SID fork for a bit of extra shreddy-ness. Due to the mostly-dry trail conditions, I ran a Maxxis Rekon Race 2.35 on the front with a Maxxis Ikon 2.35 tire on the back, both recently refreshed with Orange Seal.
Nutrition & Hydration
The weather was predicted to be gorgeous, with highs in the mid-70s, which also meant that it would be the warmest weather of the spring riding season thus far. I knew hydration would be key, so I grabbed my Osprey Duro 1.5 and two bottles, filled them all with Osmo Active Hydration for Women, and then supplemented with a variety of Honey Stinger and Untapped Waffles, Clif Shot Bloks, and Spring Energy gels throughout the race.
Because this particular race is “local,” only a two-hour drive from my home in Roanoke, VA, I opted to do my shake-out ride at home on Saturday night after work, then drive up to Stokesville in the morning. I’m glad I did, because in the process, I discovered that the battery in my AXS shifter was “critical,” and was able to replace that before arriving at the race.
The other somewhat unusual thing about this race was the strategy that my coach and I had agreed on. As a season opener with very little training in my legs, I was instructed to not push into or above threshold often, or for too long. “This is not about results.” Thus, all expectation of going deep or of a result was removed. In truth, I was a bit concerned at how well I would be able to carry this out. What if my competitiveness edged out my self-control?
In the end, removing the expectation to go deep or to get a result was exactly what I needed. I had more fun at this race than probably any race last season because I was able to sit back while the field jostled for position at the start of the race (something that always makes me anxious), then push to “comfort,” backing off anytime the perceived effort starting getting too high. I surprised and excited myself with how much of the technical portions of the course I rode without hesitation (in comparison with the previous year where I remember being truly scared and/or unable to ride much of it). Because I wasn’t racing for a result, it bothered me less when other riders clogged up the trail or walked down the middle as I rode up behind them, and only laughed as I tailgated dudes on full-suspension bikes on the descents. I was grinning the entire course and finished with “gas left in the tank,” exactly as instructed. Getting 4th place was just an unexpected bonus that gave me a lot of confidence going into the season after coming back from injury!