MidSouth as many of you already know did not go as expected on race day, but the trip overall was a great learning experience and wonderful season opener in so many ways. These early season races always serve a good purpose to check in with fitness and to get back into the groove. After the off season, it’s pretty easy to get out of the habit of your travel routine and I don’t think the stress and logistics of travel are often accounted for with racing. It’s part of our normal routine for many of us racing at this level, but it’s easy to forget all the little details that go into traveling for these races. This trip also served as a test run for the Trek support crew at the aid station and we had some great learning opportunities to make the next races smoother as well. I consider that a win. I can’t thank Tom, RC and the Trek Race Shop crew enough for their support in my equipment and logistics on race weekends.
For me, I always try to prioritize seeing a lot of the course prior to the actual race. This helps me understand important areas for positioning, potential attacks and equipment choices. I saw about 70 miles of the course prior to race day, which I consider pretty good for this race. I knew this course was going to be a chunkier MidSouth than we have had in the past so I stayed with my 40mm tire choice I had previously planned on. I also made note of key areas that had very deep or sharp rock, particularly on the descents/downhills knowing the speed is higher and the chance of flats are much higher in this area, regardless of tire choice. I ran tire inserts as well for the extra protection.
The race started and things got hot fast. Some of the guys ramped up the pace early, which I was okay with given this makes the start less sketchy in my opinion. You either have the legs to hang or you don’t and it makes it easier to navigate at the front vs bunching up. I had a good position near the front of the men's pack, but there was a critical section where an early separation did occur - and in that group was Lauren and Ruth. There was a smaller chase group very close behind with some men motoring to link back up with the lead men’s group and in that secondary group was myself, Emily Newsom and another Cinch rider. Around mile 11ish, we did make contact with their group again which was just prior to the river crossing. I felt like this was fairly good positioning and we had dwindled down that front group quite a bit. I also knew there was a fairly long climb (relatively for this course) after the water crossing and I was ready for a big dig if any gaps opened up. However, right as we were linking back with that lead group, we entered this downhill section with very large rocks. On my recon, I specifically made note of this area to be cautious of flats and line choice. I was on the pace line on the right, but opted to cross over and ride on the left to have a clear line of sight and better chance of not flatting. Sadly, as I was bombing down this hill, I felt my rear tire go flat. Even with inserts, it was not rideable so I think I let out a loud profanity and pulled to the side of the road.
I cannot begin to describe in words how this feels. Many of you reading this have likely been in this position, or may be in this position in the future. I came to MidSouth to try and win and had a plan I felt was ready to get me that goal. This was an important race for me personally that I was targeting and after Big Sugar I was eager to show that the result was not a one off. But at that moment, I knew my opportunity to podium or win was much less likely now. Even though I stopped pedaling, I could feel my heart pounding and the first instinct was panic and disappointment. Several others also flatted in this same area - this section was carnage for flats regardless of your tire choice. Thankfully my years in acute care medicine kicked in and I went into autopilot. I told myself to stay calm and reassured myself that I was prepared to fix any flat. I grabbed my dynaplugs and CO2 and was ready to fix it. I started to inspect the tire and could see I had a fairly decent sidewall slice. I immediately put in 2 of the larger dynaplugs here and then after 1 CO2 it wasn’t sealing. That’s because there was another hole right at the border of the rim. I placed my third dart in the second flat at the rim and tried my second CO2 and it still wouldn’t seal. Knowing I had only 1 more CO2 (I usually only race with 3 for a race this distance), I opted to start and remove the wheel so I could quickly put a tube in and use my last CO2 to inflate the tube. For me, I also have an algorithm in my head for flats that I have reversed and practiced time and time again to make these repairs quick. My rule is 3 darts and 2 CO2s and if no seal, go to a tube. Often, people waste too much time tinkering with things. I can replace a tube in less than 2 minutes (most of the time). However, as I removed the wheel, I started to panic a bit more as I have had some trouble removing these tires as they seat very tightly. So, as I sat on the side of the road, my fear came true and I couldn’t remove the tire. Three guys had stopped to help (1 of which was a local guy who also flatted - thanks Bobby!) and the other 2 were guys who work at a Trek shop and were eager to help. None of us could get the tire off or loose. We decided it was best to keep trying to seal with extra darts - so we placed another and thankfully it started to seal after a few more pump ups and eventually I was off again. At this point, I had spent just under 13 minutes stopped at this location. Then, I had to stop again for a huge pile up of people waiting to cross the river. I also had to stop at the aid station to get a wheel swap which took additional time. Then after this, I spent the next 90 miles motoring my way through hundreds of people - both from the 100 miler and the 50 miler. For those out on course, you know what that meant since there was often one good line choice that was smooth. So I had to get around people in the loose, chunky gravel - weaving in and out of the chunky gravel rather than staying on the smooth surface line that everyone else was on.
At this point, there was another guy who started at the very back of the race and he said that he tried to just see how many people he can pass in a race. I chuckled and said that my day was already over and he made a comment about “not with that attitude” in his eager spirit. I immediately then started to reflect on why I was riding and if winning was the only purpose that brought me value in this race. Certainly not, but when that’s the main goal you have to refocus and mentally reframe. I told myself today was about never giving up and to try and cheer for every woman I passed out on course no matter how tired I was. I told myself to enjoy a hard day on the bike with constant pedaling. I told myself - you are a worker bee - you love to work hard so enjoy this chance to get a stellar workout in. This reframing started to help and I could see my mood transition from sadness and disappointment to eagerness and motivation to pedal hard. At that point, I wasn’t pedaling for a result, I was pedaling hard because that is what my heart wanted.
Something magical happened through this process. As I cheered for people as I went by, they cheered back. My pace was often much faster than anyone I was passing so they’d chant and cheer for me. Some would cheer they loved my bike or yell my name as I passed. An occasional “Yeehawww get it girl” as I pedaled my heart out. I’d smile and throw a hang ten down so they could see that as I drifted ahead and hopefully they’d smile back.
I had my cheerful buddy for about 40-50 miles but eventually the pace was too hot for him and he stopped at one of the aid stations to get some food. Occasionally we’d pick up another guy that could hold the wheel, but it usually didn’t last long. After he had fallen off, things felt a little more lonely but I still was passing several riders and feeling that camaraderie which continued to lift my spirits throughout the day. My triceps started to fatigue as I was in an aero tuck position most of the day being solo or on the front so much. It felt like a 90 mile time trial. The wind in the second half was brutal alone. I tried to be strategic as I passed any groups with women towards the end passing on the other side of the road to avoid anyone trying to jump my wheel. Eventually in the last 15 miles I started to pick up some stronger men who were able to keep the same pace - including David, one of the local Bissel guys from back home. We were both nearing our max after a long day, but it was still nice to have someone to trade pulls with for a little bit. I think we both regained some energy through the single track section and then linked up with a few other men at this point.
As we got closer to town, I could feel a sense of pride and joy for myself. I had no clue where I was finishing relative to anyone else and quite frankly it didn’t matter. I worked hard all day and I didn’t give up. It would have been easy to make an excuse or call it a day at the checkpoint, but you learn a lot about yourself on days like today. I had 5 lovely hours of pedaling my bike, something that I love and enjoy. I had that time to process and remind myself that the race results are not what define me. I was reminded that as a professional athlete you need to have things off the bike that bring value and purpose to you. I went through this process a lot last year when I was injured. So, although the results were not what I wanted, I was still healthy. This is something easily taken for granted.
The winner was 4:54, second place was 5:08. My chip time was 5:20. Per strava, I had 15 minutes of stop time. Per training peaks analysis, the first repair was just under 13 minutes on the side of the road and then 1:30 for the wheel swap. I also had the additional time at the river crossing massive pile up. So, if we remove just 13 minutes from my time, that would put me at 5:07 - second place overall. Now remembering that I was alone for most of the day, particularly the headwind and crosswind sections you can see how easily the time difference to first would be made up. And again, this is all relative and easy to say “what if.” But for me, this is just simple math showing that I absolutely crushed it out there for an independent effort. It’s a reminder to myself that I do have the strength and ability, regardless of what place I finished. This sport is very unpredictable. Flats happen. Mechanicals happen. It’s rare to have everything line up, even if the legs are there. So despite a 7th place finish, I’m damn proud of this effort. But more importantly, I’m thankful for the opportunity to process why I ride and race. In a sport that is results centered and focused, it’s healthy to have those reminders. They are painful to process, much more painful than pushing over 230 watts for 5 hours. But there is growth as a person in that processing. More growth than what a win or podium finish could bring. A win temporarily brings joy and value, both of which feel amazing but are fleeting over time. But personal growth as an individual, having value outside of what the world sees, is a much deeper and intimate joy and value that you can carry with you forever. So thank you MidSouth 2023 for that.
Distance: 100 miles
Time: 5:20 chip time, 5:07 moving time
Bike: Trek Checkpoint, in my lovely cotton candy tie-dye project one paint job :)
Drivetrain: SRAM 2x, 48/35 with 10-33 cassette set up as sequential shifting (my personal favorite and love that option)
Wheels: HED Emporia GC3 Pro Wheels
Tires: WTB Byway 40’s with inserts
Helmet: ABUS Gamechanger
Kit: Voler Velocity Single Sleeve jersey and Cache Bibs
Race Results: MidSouth Results
Strava Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/8698268226