Sunday was my first race in the women’s 1/2/3. I was understandably nervous. But for once I got in a good warmup and a good spot at the line—not that I needed it, as only 10 women started, so we all had spots on the front row.

At the whistle I clipped in neatly and stomped the pedals, lining up behind Samantha Schneider from Team Tibco, Chris Raymo of SRAM, Holly Klug of the Pony Shop, and Mia for the hole shot (not sure of the exact order, but those were the four in front of me). As I dismounted for the brutal, unforgiving runup, those four were still right ahead of me, and I stayed with them through the off-camber twists across the top of the hill. On that first lap, I rode hard and well, with Mia in my sights and Leah Sanda from Flatlandia behind me but not gaining. I can do this, I thought.

On the second lap I started to feel the heat. I got goosebumps, which is my paradoxical reaction to overheating. I can’t do this, I thought. I sucked a gnat into my windpipe and started gasping and coughing. I held Leah off for a bit, but just before the double barriers, she passed me, asking if I was OK. (Thanks, Leah! Just choking on a bug.) I kept her in my sights for awhile—in fact, I almost caught back up to her at the double barriers. I’ve been practicing barriers ever since I saw Tim Johnson at USGP Madison fluidly dismount and remount before I even realized he was off the bike.

On the third lap, I was afraid I’d die.

On the fourth lap, I was afraid I wouldn’t.

And then it was the last lap. The runup was still horrible, but at least it was the last time I’d have to do it. On the final ride up the back hill, I knew I was going to make it. Just after the final single barrier, I saw Chris Raymo running with her disabled bike, and I slid around her and into fifth. As I rounded the final turn, I stood up and sprinted with everything I had, even though there was no one ahead of me or behind me, and threw my bike at the line. It was over.

And that was my first race with the big girls.

I want to acknowledge the people who encouraged me: all my teammates from xXx Racing, the gang from team Johnny Sprockets, Marie Couris from Verdigris, Sara Lu from Half Acre, and everyone else who screamed at me. It really helps!