As the old saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20,” and as cliché as that sounds, it rings so true in bike racing. I was, I thought, prepared for Jingle Cross and I expected to come home with some of my best results of the year.

It had been 3 weeks since I raced at Indian Lakes and those races didn’t go as well as I had hoped. As a brand new Cat 3, I felt nerves on the start line and I wasn’t sure how the extra time would affect my abilities. Long story short, I suffered through some of the worst back pain I’ve ever felt, my chain snapped on Saturday, and after racing for 61 minutes in the P123 race my legs felt hollow on Sunday. I left that weekend thinking that to make top 20 in Cat 3 I was going to need to go deeper and I would need to fix the pain issues.

So, fast-forward to Jingle. Since Indian Lakes I had tweaked my bike fit and my back pain was gone. I hit the trainer hard and continued to do my weekly cross practices. At those practices I was doing my fastest lap times of the year, so I had big expectations. I ‘thought’ I was prepared for this race because I was feeling strong and had figured out my nagging back pain issues.

Friday night I raced under the lights at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. The conditions: muddy, 34 degrees, and looooong. Let me break down the mud first. This mud was nothing like the mud at Rhythm and Blues. That mud was slimy; it kind of fell off the bike and because the course was flat I didn’t seem to care much about it weighing my bike down. The mud at Jingle? It was full of grass – long long grass that clogged up everything and it was so deep in places. The result was a course that necessitated 3 long running sections. All with uphill portions, where the mud was in places 4-6 inches deep. You couldn’t see your shoes it was that deep. With your bike slung on your shoulder, about all you could manage was to slog through the stuff, hoping to keep your HR in check to put out power through the rest of the tough course, before your next running sections.

Looking at Strava, there was 4 minutes of running per lap on Sunday. Mt. Krumpit is famous for its brutality and on Strava the segment is aptly titled “Run up?” because you cannot run this beast. You trot, slog, and stammer up it to the immense noise of the crowd and on Friday night, the blaring loud speakers from the DJ booth. My fastest time up Mt Krumpit was 1:15, with other laps hovering around 1:30. On Saturday the backside Mt. Krumpit climb was unrideable for all but the top pros. My times on that run up were averaging 3 minutes. My HR, was averaging 184. Total running for the weekend, was somewhere around 30 minutes; most of it uphill, with a 25-30lb muddy bike and a heart that was about to explode. Point is? I was definitely not ready for what I experienced this weekend.

The best way to get better, to improve yourself, is to do what challenges you most. Take your weakness and make it your strength. Can't run, practice running. Can't corner without braking, take corners fast in practice. Attacking your weaknesses and trying something that is harder than anything you’ve done before will transform your results. I may not have been ready for the brutal run ups at Jingle Cross this year, but yesterday I was in the gym on the stair machine because Jingle Cross ’16 is less than a year away! ?