How the Race Went Down
I'll keep this brief. Basically, I had a good start, threaded my way through numerous crashes, and pushed a strong pace the first lap. The front of the race quickly got strung out thanks to the crashes, and by the end of the first lap it was clear that a top fifteen finish was the best I could realistically hope for. I wasn't defeatist about it, just realistic. In fact, I went absolutely as hard as I could, and I was very motivated and positive during the whole race. For the remaining 5 laps I battled hard with the 8-10 others who were sitting just outside the top 10. I had great focus, used good tactics, made no major mistakes, and never let off the gas. Thanks to all that, I ended up 13th. Not the top-10 finish that I had set as my stretch goal, but still well within my realistic goal of a top-15 finish.
What I Learned from the Race and the Season--The Positive
1) All my work on increasing my power paid off. This was my main limiter last season, and I put a lot of time into doing all-out 5 minute intervals to address it. I was able to go super-hard on the first lap and keep laying the power down on the straightaway and the big hill each lap.
2) All my work on practicing starts paid off. I didn't think of starts as a limiter, but I knew that in a big race a good start is almost everything. I hit my pedal just right, got up to speed quickly and smoothly, kept myself out of trouble, and kept my cool. Luck played a big role as always, but bike cause I did these things right, I made it ok through the big crashes at the start. And boy were they ugly.
3) I've developed a good feel for when to go hard and when to recover, and I've become really good at staying calm and not wasting energy.
4) My bike handling skills are very good, and I'm getting better at positioning myself against others to take advantage of that.
5) I've developed a much better race mentality. My confidence is much higher than before, and I race to win. That was never really the case before; I always assumed I couldn't win races, and this became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now when I race I recognize the negative thinking right when it starts (usually in the 2nd or 3rd lap of a big race), and I correct it.
What I Learned from the Race and the Season--Things to Work on
1) My biggest problem is that my right quad tends to cramp up near the end of a really hard race. This problem was so bad that it ended my season 2 years ago. This year it was less of a problem, but it still caused me trouble. At Nats the quad cramped up during my last run up the stairs, causing me to lose my battle for 12th place. I'm going to address this by strengthening the quad with heavy weight lifting throughout my base season (and keep up with it less intensely during the MTB and CX seasons) as well as by increasing my endurance and muscular endurance.
2) Another weakness is my ability to push hard through my second and third laps. While I plan to keep improving my first lap (5-minute) capacity, I'm going to focus more attention this year on my 10-minute capacity. This will mean one day per week dedicated to 10 minute hard intervals with shorter and shorter recovery periods each week.
3) I need to do more running--more stair and hill running--before and during the CX season. At both Jingle Cross and Nats I had trouble with running. You'd think since I used to be an ultramarathon runner I wouldn't have trouble with this, but sprinting up a hill or staircase is its own thing.
4) I need to drill my cornering technique even more than I did last year (and I drilled it so much!). It's not a weakness, but I recognize I could get even better at this, and that would pay huge dividends.
5) I need to work on bunny-hopping barriers. This wasn't possible at Nats since they were on an icy hill, but there were a few races this season where I could have gained a second here and there had I jumped the barriers. Especially true at Jingle Cross, so I plan to replicate the set up and drill it.
6) Finally, I really need to get my child-care situation under control. There were many times this season when my inability to get a babysitter lined up prevented me from pre-riding courses, kept me from warming up properly, and just generally caused a lot of stress. At Nats, I was at the race for 2 full days before my race, yet I was completely unable to preride the course. And the day before I was stuck on the trainer trying to get the legs opened up for my race. Not ideal at all!
That was a great season--better than I ever imagined. I look back on the goals I wrote down a year ago and realize I blew them away. Now I have a much better sense of what I am capable of, I've set some great goals (esp. a top-3 finish at CX Nats and a top-5 finish at MTB Nats), and I have a very good plan for achieving them. Here's to a great 2014 season!