Man, this was a rough weekend for me. Let me put some things into perspective. I started riding in 2020 as a form of cross training for my running races. In August 2021, I did my first mass start race at Gravel Worlds, and in November 2021, I did my first MTB race at Iceman. I live in Michigan with no mountains and very little rock or terrain that mimics that of Sea Otter. But at the end of the day, the reality is I just started riding bikes, let alone riding bikes on single tracks and mountain biking trails in a race.
I have had to think really hard and process a lot since the finish of the race. I am not sure if I should be proud or disappointed, but those are the two emotions I feel the most right now. I rode part of the course on Thursday when I got to Cali and I crashed three times. I felt terrified and wondered how I would try and race this if I couldn’t even ride it on recon without crashing. Two things stuck out to me right away that I knew I would struggle with, long descents and then cornering on single track with a very loose sand layer over rock leading to minimal grip. When you descend on a mountain bike, you have to basically squat in an “attack” position. This position uses different muscle groups and since all of my “descents” in Michigan are about 1-3 minutes long, I have practically no development or training of these muscles. The bigger issue however, was the loose nature of this course. I’m sure with practice and exposure to these types of riding conditions, it would be much easier to ride confidently. But after going down hard three times on my pre-ride, I made a choice to ride within my comfort zone to avoid ruining the rest of my season.
Now, normally a lack of skill on the trail means you just ride more cautiously and get to point A slower. However, in a race, this means you can jeopardize and impact other people’s races, which made me want to avoid being in the front when we entered the single track. That sounds like a cop out, but having a strong field of actual REAL mountain bikers behind me on a single track is not something I wanted to happen. Even with that mentality, I still had someone yelling at me as we entered the single track. Once we hit a climb or anything power based, this person was not near me and it was less of a concern. Imagine my mentality during those moments. I started pretty chill, so if someone was behind me at that point when entering the single track, they would have to wait until I had a safe spot for them to pass.
The entire day was basically me catching people on anything power based, non-technical, and playing catch up. I felt that the bulk of the technical riding was in the first half of the race as well as most of the descending. It wasn’t overly technical either, but you did gain speed on this course so this was more difficult for me. The second half was much more mild. I was WAY far back on the first lap halfway through, but I think I passed about 5-6 women in the second half. But of course, they all passed me back once we got through the technical descending and single track again on lap #2.
I had a lot of mixed emotions during the race. I tried to remind myself that I just started riding bikes. I tried to remind myself to be proud for showing up and not making excuses to get out of the race. Some people only show up to races that suit their strengths, but where is the learning in that? Learning is painful sometimes. It’s painful because you see where you are at and then you see where you want to be. For me, getting more skills also means I need exposure to different terrain than I live in. With working two jobs and fitting all this in, that may take years to accumulate that exposure. I also had moments during this race where I thought to myself, “I really wish I would have started this sport sooner.” The little devil on the shoulder sits and taunts you with your biggest fears. But then you look at the results and you see legends like Katarina Nash, who is 45 years old, and placed top 10 in a completely stacked MTB field. I’ve got 10 plus years still left in my legs, where will my skills be in 10 years?
I know that I have learned so much in the last year. From learning how to corner on gravel, to riding in a pack, to starting MTB skills, etc. If I can learn ALL of this in a year, I know I can make gains over the course of another ten years. But this requires patience, and anyone that’s competitive usually wants results much sooner. I’m not saying that is a healthy approach, and in fact, I share these emotions for perspective because I know others likely struggle with this as well. But if you are learning, then you are growing. I’m proud I showed up and did something completely out of my comfort zone. I saw during that race that my strength is there. Strength cannot be taught, but skills can be. Skills can be learned and trained overtime if the athlete is willing to work.
The other reality is I know I will likely never be a world class mountain biker, and that is totally okay. I want my skill set to improve, since this will help me in gravel and be an all around better cyclist with improved technical riding skills. But when I work full time and pay for all my own support for MTB races (flights, lodging, bike, mechanicals, etc...), this means it probably isn’t going to be the highest priority. If it was, I would be traveling to different terrain to train and live in order to develop those skills. I mean, look at the Sea Otter results ,all the top riders are from Colorado, California, Utah, etc. You need mountains in order to gain those skills. But at the end of the day, with working full time, I can only do so much and that is something I have to accept. Comparison is the thief of joy. My life and the reality of where I am at is something I have to accept. When I compare myself to others, that is when my perspective gets distorted. If we are all honest, I think we can relate to that in some form or another in our lives both on the bike and off.
Now a note about the Lifetime Grand Prix. For the series, we score 5 out of 6 races. I even thought about not racing here and using this as my dropped race. The cost to attend was high and this race did not play into my skill set. But I wanted to have the experience and learn, so I showed up. When I finished the race, I saw all the news reporters at the finish surrounding all the big names and doing their interviews. No one knows who Paige Peters is. I can slide past the chaos and go past the masses of people without anyone recognizing me. When we have our “meet and greet” with the press, I can sit in the corner and just watch as the legends of this sport tell their story. At the end of the day, I’m just a girl who is learning how to ride a bike and sharing my journey so others will keep riding too. I don’t have a large audience to read this, but if it gets one other person motivated to keep pedaling, then I consider this a win. Sometimes the journey is painful and sometimes the journey is joyful. The results don’t always tell the full story. Don’t forget that!