Pining a bib on for the first time in a year brought upon a wave of calm I haven’t felt since I was last in Burlington. The familiar whirring of the hotel room heater, gear strung around the room, and pre-race pizza harkened me back to simpler times of swim meets from a time long ago. This bib was additionally special, as it was the first to have both my correct name and gender marker on it. Throughout the past year, I spent over 500 hours out training in solicitude and had ample time to reflect on all the woes of life. During this time I was surprised how often I found myself wishing to train with others. Even a conversational hike once every few weeks offered a slight reprieve from the monumental task that is ultra-training. But, in a year where isolation is the bare minimum that kind of company was sparsely found.
When I was a swimmer I probably did less than 10 workouts throughout my entire tenure that weren’t with a team. Yet in the over 400 activities I posted in 2020, only a handful was with even one other person. As the restrictions lessen throughout 2021 and some hope begins to emerge of a return to socialization, I hope to remember the importance of training partners and accept a few more invites to early morning bagel runs.
Truthfully, I did not actually put in that much training for this race. In January I barely surpassed 35,000ft of climb and December consisted mostly of sleeping. Ever since my hospitalization in October I have been battling some bizarre health situations. I’ve tried to be more mature and respectful of the difficulties I’ve been facing during this time; so I’m hopeful that that caution will result in a healthier year overall.
Fortunately, I had such a large bank of fitness from the rest of the year that I was able to coast through some of the rough early winter conditions and health without my legs falling too flat. I was even able to sneak in some solid 5,000ft+ days above 10,000ft altitude in Winter Park. Additionally, I’ve gone back to doing some strength and core work.
The morning started off difficult as while I was getting ready to leave for the race I learned of Sophie’s death. She was a revolutionary trans artist who helped pioneer many of the current trends in music. She was only 34 years old and died while trying to watch the moon rise. I sat in the bathroom on the floor for quite a few minutes trying to comprehend the headline that seemed to illuminate the room. I think often about how many trans, especially black, die so young. It breaks my heart that so many of us expect to be dead by 30. I hope that I can be able to demonstrate that trans people can live long, fulfilling lives, just like everyone else.
Heading to the race I was still a little rattled from the morning but I was resolved to focus and prepare for the race. We were able to find a close parking lot which I greatly appreciated. After walking a mile to the startling before the 2018 JFK 50 mile I like to avoid walking whenever possible pre-race. The weather that morning was serene, there had been a light dusting overnight, but only enough to silence any footsteps. The wind was slow, and a cozy blanket of clouds kept the sun at bay. At the start, the usual suspects for an event like this were present: skinny lawyers in lycra, teenagers in hand-me-down bike helmets, and frat bros with 6lb skis all hurriedly scrambled to get their kit ready.
Due to the rather low profile of the race, I opted to skip a warmup, a la HS swim meet style, and just do a few strides and arm swings before toeing the start line. Although it was wonderful to be around other dorks in skinsuits at 6 in the morning, I was nervous to be around so many people. COVID isolation has hit my social comfort hard, and I’ve found myself increasingly worried to interact in any manner with strangers. Hopefully, once vaccines roll out more I’ll be back to conversing with anyone I can get to listen to me.
Just like any good race, the race was started by an old-fashioned countdown and loud yell. As per usual, the front pack was off like an XC 5k, and the rest of us took a more measured approach to the opening few minutes. I was immediately pretty far behind the 2 other women in my field, and I almost immediately realized that much like HSXC, I would not be competing for a podium today. I settled in behind a few old runners who seemed to be holding a steady pace and put my head down. The course started out much steeper than I expected, and within 200m I was already cursing my decision to use the waxed skins. The steepness of the climb, combined with the slippery fresh snow resulted in frequent defeating slips. It took just as much effort to move forward as it did to keep myself from falling. Every stride was tenuous, and I felt like a child trying XC skiing for the first time. Once we crested the worst of the first pitch, my slippery skins became more of an aid, as now I could glide past all of the post-holing runners.
Moving into the second part of the course, I began to physically and mentally feel better, I wasn’t falling backward, and I was beginning to move up in the field. The next 15 minutes were brutal, but nothing that I wasn’t confident in. The terrain was moderate, and I focused on keeping my form solid. Although I got passed by a couple of the men from wave two, I tried my best to keep a positive attitude. Whenever negative thoughts crept in, I tried to think about my Exercise Psych prof, Dr. J. He always preached about how important positivity is, so I tried to do my best to not disappoint him. With the meters clicking by I realized that the race was nearly over. I spend so much of my time these days climbing for 3-5 hours that I often consider the first hour or two to just be a warmup. But, today the whole race was going to be over in under 45 minutes!! I did my best to empty the tank on the last pitch, and ready my mind for the transition. Cresting the last roller into the transition box, I took a deep breath and prepared to drop my poles. Immediately after entering the zone I almost jumped through my transition. It was such a good transition in fact, that Strava didn’t even think I stopped moving. Skating away and pulling my goggles on I looked for the signs that would take me back to the finish line.
While I certainly appreciate and love Jonathon for creating some of the most hardening race descents possible, it was nice to aero tuck a blue groomer for once. The soft, untouched corduroy, lent itself perfectly to my 65mm skis and shaking quads. I maxed out the speedometer at 42mph and left the ground for quite a few seconds over some of the lower rollers. With the finish line in sight, I attempted my best Kilian Jornet impression and skated across the line.
Just like usual, no fanfare awaited me at the end, and I was certainly the most exhausted out of all the other finishers. But, that’s to be expected after spending a year with my hr under 160.
It felt really good to race. I love this sport so much. The silly kit, austere community, and love of suffering all make me feel right at home. I’m proud to have shown up at a race that isn’t quite my forte and have given my best effort. And while I didn’t place overall, I won my age group and got a cool hat out of it !!!
With COVID offering no relief, and my race plans looking foiled yet again, I’m trying to find more enjoyment in the climbing and views. I get to train in some of the most beautiful places on Earth, so I’m hoping to enjoy them a bit more.
I, as I always, want to thank everyone that supports me. My friends and family have made all of this possible with their support not only within sport, but mostly outside. I also want to thank the brands that I’m working with this year !! Goodr and Orucase make phenomenal cycling products, and I’m hoping that the plans I have in the works for this summer will make them excited.
Thank you all so much !!! I’m really looking forward to climbing some mountains with other people sometime soon ❤