Race season is in full effect and between training, racing, working, and trying to keep up with social obligations, I’m starting to feel… well, fried, quite honestly. I write this from a borderline gross hotel room in Saugerties, NY. I’m staying here for the World Cup race at Windham… but I eff’d up and I’m about 45 minutes away from the venue. I’ll be waking up at 4am no matter what.

Dingy hotel rooms authenticate the pro racing experience.

Setting up shop in another dingy hotel room.

Setting up shop in another dingy hotel room.

I’m learning a lot about the logistics of traveling for races. Nationals was an invaluable experience in terms of this. I had that trip planned perfectly, everything figured out, and I still spent 20+ hours traveling on the 16th, from Newark, NJ to Sonora, CA. It was a brutal day, and might have been avoided if I had planned better. Maybe flown into SFO instead of LAX, or even Reno. Maybe flown into Mammoth and stayed there for 10 days to acclimatize and pre-ride… like I had originally planned.

Next time.

There’s always a next time.

If you want one.

Nationals: 20+ hours of travel, lugging a bike box around airports, rental car agencies, and shuttles, getting a bike put together and taken apart, dying out of the gate because of the elevation, and I ended up  20th in the pro race. Out of 23.

This is called “paying your dues.”

It’s hard for me to keep my perspective, especially after my worst races, because I’ve forced myself (and expect myself) to progress on an accelerated timeline… and I’m my biggest critic when I don’t meet those expectations. I have to constantly remind myself that this is a journey, and I’ve barely even touched the beginning of it.

Let’s rewind. Before Nationals. Racing Kittatinny, I felt strength that I’ve never felt before. I was on the gas the entire time, crushing the hills, and chasing down 1st place. Unfortunately to no avail. I couldn’t catch her through the technical sections.

Trying desperately to close the 30s gap at Kittatinny.

Trying desperately to close the 30s gap at Kittatinny.

Recognize your weaknesses in order to overcome them.

I have a long way to go with my technical riding abilities, a looooong way, but I’m going to try like hell this off season to bump them up to the next level.

2nd place can be just as satisfying as first.

If you’re OK with losing.

And I’m OK with losing. I realize I have to lose a lot in order to win, and that I have a lot of losing to do. Every time I lose, I’m closer to first. I come back for the next race more experienced, smarter. I log the information for next time. This is how we move forward. Can’t let the fact that you don’t win destroy you. Cannot. So second place at Kittatinny was largely seen as an achievement rather than a setback. And that Hattie chick is fast.

Sup with that podium dress? 2nd place at Kittatinny.

Sup with that podium dress? 2nd place at Kittatinny.

There is no shame in losing to fast people.

You don’t need to make excuses when fast people beat you.

They are faster, there doesn’t need to be another reason.

Get your weight up.

Onward to Nats. All that travel, all that insanity, and there I am in California, driving across Stanislaus National Forest to the race venue. It is absolutely breathtaking. From every window of the van, a scenic vista that moves the soul in ways I can’t describe. You feel the awe of untouched perfect mountain landscape in your heart, and you never want to leave. And that’s how I drove to the race, feeling like my life had been changed somehow, but not able to fully understand what the change would mean. Jaw dropped the whole way.

And then there’s the race. I had a lot of nervous excitement. Can’t lie. I wanted to be calm, but I couldn’t be. It was too big. I got some insanely good race advice from Georgia Gould, which I will never forget. In fact, I’ve been applying it every race since: “there are minutes to be made on the climbs, only seconds on the descents.”

Absorb advice like a sponge. Use it.

It happened!

It happened!

They do the call ups. I hear my name over the loud speaker. It’s ******* surreal. Before I know it, we take off, and there are crashes immediately. Thankfully, they’re behind me, I go go go. I’m pinned way below my subLT heart rate, gasping for air right out of the gate. I just keep it going. If I crack, so be it.  Unfortunately, a girl in front of me takes a really stupid line, which I follow. She makes it, I don’t. Everyone passes me. ****. I just don’t want to be last.

I did eventually get past a girl, and then some DNFs helped me not be last. All in all, it was a brutal, miserable race. I couldn’t push at the elevation, I couldn’t breathe.

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

I managed to get in 3 laps before getting pulled, which I’m told is pretty good. Of course, I wish I could have done four… or five, LOL. But we always wish. I drove back to LAX the next day satisfied with the experience I had, the California scenery setting my heart on fire the entire way. Elated.

I think I might need to leave NJ.

And then, just like that, regular life resumed. Back in Jersey after a red eye flight that landed me in Newark 6am Monday morning, I had only Mon-Fri to prepare for the next race: Neshaminy. I was really looking forward to this race, as it would be a good indication of where I was compared to some of my local competition after a season of racing. In prior races, I had always made some stupid mistake or missed my start or something. This time, I wanted to be on point. No excuses.

Whenever I have a great race, I’m always calm before it.

I don’t know why, but historically, I always do well when I show up without any nerves. I don’t know how to force myself to get this mindset and have it on demand yet, but I’m working on it. All I know is this: when it came time to race Neshaminy, I felt like my mind was on Zen mode. Riding the prologue pre-race, I knew it was going to be a fun day, no matter what. It was a long prologue.

We line up and take off. I’m fourth in. No big deal. I’m just chillin’ behind the leaders, with a very manageable heart rate and legs that felt ready to go when called upon. At some point during the prologue, a girl passes me. I don’t panic, I just stay behind her, not too close, just following, just chillin’. I know when things open up, I’m going to go and nobody is going to stop me. If I slightly fumble something, I don’t panic, I just calmly make up the time by throwing a little extra power into the pedals. Totally manageable.

I stay in position until we come out of the singletrack that makes up the prologue, then I throw the pedal down and gas it. Passing the girl who passed me and catching back up with the other two, we duck back into more singletrack for the actual race course. The woman in front of me has to unclip on a log over, and I pass her. She’s quickly back on and behind me. I put more power down to try and lose her, almost going into the tape because of it. I’m in front of both of the local girls I wanted to test myself against, so I don’t let this minor screw up deter me; I keep the gas on, the foot down, but keep it manageable. No need to blow myself up, it’s a long race. Eventually I don’t see anyone behind me, and I catch the girl in second. She’s too fast to pass, so I just try and let her pace me. She loses me through the tech, I catch her on the climbs. We’re back and forth like that for some time. Just like Kittatinny, I can’t quite get her. 30s that I just can’t close. She finishes second and I finish third.


I podium at a MASS race.


3rd place, Neshaminy! They forgot the podium so we improvised.

3rd place, Neshaminy! They forgot the podium so we improvised.

It was an extremely happy moment for me. I somehow was able to get away from the two local girls I’ve been just trying to get near all season. Bad days (and good ones) happen to everyone I guess. I’ll take it! Another great moment in my 2015 race season, another milestone, another reminder that my hard work will eventually reap benefits. I drove home elated.

Now I  get seven days before I race again! Spoiled! Iron Hill is up next on the calendar, and I am stoked for it! I heard it was smooth and buff and right up my alley. This ended up being a horrible lie, LOL, but it all worked out in the end.

You can’t just race the races that suit your strengths.

In order to improve, you have to ride the things you suck at riding.

4am wake up call for Iron Hill

4am wake up call for Iron Hill

So in that sense, Iron Hill was great experience for me! Unanticipated fast chicks showed up and I immediately wrapped my head around the possibility of being close to last… Or… last. We line up and then roll to the actual start (the start line logistics of this race was wtf?) and wait to take off. Hattie (fast chick who keeps beating me, LOL) is nowhere to be found, but I know she’s racing. I’m pretty worried for her, as I know what it’s like to miss your start (Lewis Morris!). And I don’t want to beat her because she missed her start, LOL, I want a shot at actually beating her! With about 1m until take off, she shows up, bibs not even up, totally out of breath and flustered. I feel awful for her, she is already red lined at the start line, that’s going to be tough.

We take off and I fall into fourth place, following the leaders comfortably. Not anywhere near pinned. And then… typical Slavin stupid mistake. I crash in a ridiculous spot. My fork is stuck completely backwards and I’m hurt. More than those things, I am furious with myself for messing it up, and to make things worse, it’s so close to the start that there’s no gap in the race yet, every single woman behind me passes. I can’t make up the time because there is nowhere to pass a solid line of 8 women through the singletrack. I’m watching the time slip away, thinking I’ll never catch the leaders again now.

Don’t give up. Ever.

As soon as we come out into an open section, I gas it. Never mind that it’s on an ultra rocky climb and there’s only one clear line through it… the line that all 8 of those women were taking ahead of me. No. I will not be deterred.  I go hard, straight up the right side, making my own line over the rocks, getting in front of all 8 of them at once (I’m just saying 8, I think there were 8… maybe it was like 6), and then I gas it even harder to lose them. I don’t want to be caught, and I have a lot of work to do if I want to catch the girls ahead of me. So I get on the gas.

This place is brutal and I suck at this kind of riding. There are log overs on an uphill. I screw up numerous times. I’m starting to get demoralized when I see her ahead of me – Hattie, right there, 30s up the trail. I push it harder to try and catch her, but she sees me and it lights a fire under her. She’s gone again, but now I have the motivation I need to get my pace back up. I know there are some ugly climbs coming, and I’m hoping that she’s tired and I can overtake her there. I was right, and in the second lap, I caught and passed her. Now I’m fourth.

If it bleeds...

If it bleeds…

Shortly after, I pass one of the leaders on the side of the trail, she’s split her sidewall open. Just like that, I’m in third. I am cramping and tired and feel awful, but I know that if I just keep it up a little longer, I can get another MASS podium… and I want it so badly.

When you’re tired, drink and eat a GU.

I started forcing myself to remember to regularly drink from the Camelbak and I even ate a GU out of desperation. I never eat anything during races, I just rely on the *secret* ingredients in my Camelbak for calories and energy. But I was cramping badly and willing to try anything. It did actually help a little. Tasted like weird cake frosting. Note to self: always bring emergency GU, tuck it into your shorts by your right quad.

All’s well that ends well.

I am delirious by the finish. After 3 long and grueling laps, I don’t even remember where it is. I’m asking everyone I pass in the area approaching the finish, “Where’s the finish?” It’s right in front of me. LOL! I get third. Another podium. Another mini victory.

Get money!!

Get money!!

Holy ****, what a hard race.

There is nothing better than finishing a race absolutely gutted. It’s the best feeling in the world.

You leave your guts on the race course.

Your guts belong out there, in the dirt, smashed under bike tires.

Hit up the podium, hung around after to talk to ultra cool fellow racer chick and have some gelato. It was a spectacular day. Did I mention I ate gelato? Drove home elated.

3 days to prep for the next race. Windham World Cup is next up on the calendar after Iron Hill. No rest for the wicked. The plan was to leave Thursday after work and get some pre-riding of the course in and then have a rest day Friday so the legs would be fresh. Try and actually prepare for once. Ya know, not go into a course totally blind. I got to Windham around 6pm Thursday and did three solid laps of the course. It is rad. I cannot wait.

Oh, hai Windham! Pre-riding one bad *** course!

Oh, hai Windham!

Until then, I sit in this dingy hotel room, like a real bike racer, reflecting on the insanity of the last month’s racing.

When you’re lucky, you need to actively acknowledge it.

And I am one lucky girl.

Less than 3 weeks ago I was in a dingy California hotel room. Today I’m in a dingy New York hotel room. I’m living a dream. I’m doing what I love. I am coast to coast happiness.

Life is good, life is great.

Life is good, life is great.

Laura Slavin's 3rd Degree Berms | Monday, August 10th, 2015