How do you pick a favorite race? I’ve learned so much from every race I’ve done, felt so much joy and growth from each experience, it seems impossible to zero in on just one to spotlight.

Narrowing it down to the 2015 season, my first season racing pro, I’d have to go with Sugar Hill. It’s a brutally hilly course, just climbing all day, and it was only my second race of the year on a brand new bike, so I had no idea what to expect of myself or my equipment. That said, it was one of the strongest performances I’ve ever put in.

I woke up at 3am to drive down to Maryland for the race. It was a long drive, and I was a little out of it from the lack of sleep. I got there bizarrely calm, and that strange zombie/zen feeling stayed with me even on the start line. I just felt relaxed and ready to rock.

We took off and I was second into the singletrack, the calm feeling persisting, I just felt it out and took my time. The pace was brisk, but not brisk enough; I felt that I could pretty easily put out more speed without blowing myself up, so I took the lead on one of the first ascents. My legs were spinning nicely up the hills and when I finally took a moment to look back, there was nobody to see.

Being out on your own in the woods during a race can do funny things to you. You either speed up because there’s no traffic to slow you down, or you drop the pace because you’re not being challenged. I just tried to keep my pacing steady, paying attention to my computer and never falling below a certain mph, letting myself go as fast as I could while remaining on the right side of the red zone.

The entire way, spectators were screaming at me, cheering me on, going nuts. I figured it was just because I was leading. Their excitement spurred me on, made me dig deeper, made me push harder. I wanted that W, and I wasn’t going to let it go. When I felt myself fatiguing, I drank from my Camelbak and visualized myself with the win. If I’m tired, they’re tired; I pushed harder.

When I finally crossed the line, I was ecstatic to find out what all the excitement in the spectators along the trail had been about. I had not only won, but I had crushed the course with a massive 9 minute lead. I felt so amazing mentally and physically; I had shown myself what I could do, what all my hard work was for. I could have cried, but that would have been a sissy thing to do. Maybe I did a little on my way home… What a way to start the race season!