This is a submission from Colorado based rider, Leah D.K. from December 2018. If you’re inspired by Leah’s story, feel free to share the article or to start a conversation in the comments section below.
- My intro to MTB -
As a young kid, I always wanted to be a mountain biker, but I had no outlet for it. At the age of 30, I moved to Colorado Springs. Here, it seems like everyone mountain bikes, so it was easy to meet people and to start riding. I had a bike that I had bought from a kid on craigslist. It was a department store hard tail mountain bike with extension bar ends.
Yes, I know! ‘Real cyclists’ never ride department store bikes! Well, I know now!
My girlfriend and I both wanted to get into mountain biking. We had a lot of enthusiasm but had inadequate equipment. Nevertheless, we hit the trails with our rickety rusted bikes. It was miserable! We had no idea what we were doing and we hiked the bike a lot! Looking back, I think we were fortunate to share in this experience together. We would spend our trail time laughing at the ridiculousness that was US!
A year after moving to Colorado, I met my now boyfriend who is an avid mountain biker. He helped me to find and buy a new bike: a Trek hardtail mountain bike. I loved this bike as it was my first truly capable bike! I had a nutcase helmet, cheap plastic sunglasses, hiking shoes, and ultimate-frisbee clothes. This time around, I felt ready to ride!
My boyfriend took me on my first “real” mountain bike ride on my new “real” bike. I hated it! I also loved it! There was a lot of climbing on some loose gravel. I wiped out on a turn. I went too high on the edge of a berm and put my front wheel into the loose rock, washing out my front tire and sending me falling to my side. I was surprised when I found myself on the ground. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt. I got back on the bike determined not to let that happen again.
I’m a pretty athletic person so I was getting frustrated that I was not skilled at mountain biking right away; it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I was annoyed with myself for not being great on my first real ride with my first real bike. I remember giving myself a pep talk - “Give yourself a break, this is your first time. You’re new to this sport. Don’t have such high expectations. You’ll get better”.
My boyfriend was very helpful, encouraging and patient and I’m very grateful for that. He’s helped me on my journey countless times. I later talked with my girlfriend who also gave me a great pep talk, “You got out there, you’re doing it!”
The next time I went biking was a little easier. The next time after that I had a lot of fun! I have a rule - the rule of three - if you’re trying something new that you’re considering turning into a hobby, you have to give it at least three tries. This rule developed for me after my first season of skiing. My first time skiing was so utterly difficult and the elevation was draining me. My legs were burning and it was frustrating trying to get the form down. The second time was a little easier for me. Then the third time, I found myself having fun! The same thing happened with mountain biking: my third time riding was awesome!
So, I started riding a lot! I started learning about bikes and different bike accessories and parts. I upgraded from plastic flats to alloy flats. After the new pedals ruined my trail running shoes I invested in a pair of 5.10 flat mountain bike shoes. Wow...my feet actually stuck to the pedals! It was a whole new world! I upgraded my nutcase helmet to a Smith with MIPS! I upgraded my $5 sunglasses to a $60 pair of Shimano glasses specifically for mountain biking. I even got a chamois (pronounced Shamee - but I like to call it a Sha-moi).
My boyfriend taught me a lot of skills in those first few months, but there’s only so much a boyfriend can teach you. I started taking lessons with MTB Stacy! During our first lesson she wanted me to ride over a log obstacle. I was terrified. She asked if I could ride over a curb, which I told her I could not. So we went to the parking lot and worked on just going up and over a curb, something I was nervous about doing. After getting comfortable with the curb we went back to the log obstacle...and I did it!! Woohoo!! I’ve had multiple lessons with Stacy and every time she helps me gain more and more confidence in my riding ability and in myself.
- Diving deeper -
A lot of mountain biking is mental. I’ve found that most of mountain biking is mental strength, followed by technical skill. I feel like half the time I ride, the crux is just talking myself into doing things I know I can do or trying new things! I’m a cautious rider so most of the time the “Just follow me!” trick doesn’t work. I need the obstacle to be broken down for me, I like to know exactly how to move my body, where the bike needs to go… I have a lot of questions! Then I tackle the obstacle little by little until I get it! It always feels so rewarding to eventually get it!
Recently, my boyfriend saw me getting in my head about riding technical trail. As a more experienced rider, he said that I was having a confidence issue and that I’d do much better if I could act like a kid and remember that the most important thing is to have fun! That resonated with me and I’ll keep that in mind when I start getting too much in my head.
Whenever I conquer a difficult obstacle that I’m scared of or intimidated by, I make sure to do it again right away. That’s another rule I have. If I just did it, do it again, and maybe even another time after that, so that I lose the fear and become more comfortable and confident.
A year after getting my Trek, I upgraded to a full suspension bike. It was time for something more capable. Shopping around led me to my Specialized Rumor! Oh My love! I could ride uphill better! I could ride downhill better! I could ride better altogether! My boyfriend helped me upgrade my bike accessories again; I got lighter alloy pedals, upgraded the brakes, and I got wider handlebars! I love the color pink so I decked out the bike with pink grips and purple pedals. I went away for a weekend last August and my boyfriend surprised me by putting pink and purple spokydokes on the wheels!
This is my first full suspension bike. The suspension allows me to go over obstacles with ease and allows me to jump more easily since I can preload the suspension. It’s definitely a ShredWorthy bike!
Last spring I had this overwhelming urge to mountain bike race. I wanted to compete! I had it in my head that I was going to compete in Enduro. I went to Trestle (a lift-service bike park in Winter Park, Colorado) and did a one day lesson to learn how to ride downhill. The lesson was brilliant and was definitely a great idea for me. It helped to boost my confidence. Through this experience at Trestle, I quickly realized that my skill set was not quite ready for Enduro, so instead, I focused on cross country racing and put Enduro on hold.
I joined a newbie all women’s race team. We had a training plan and a support group and we decided to race at the Beti Bike Bash in 3 months. This was a great way to get to ride more and learn from other women. I learned how to develop a training program and what all would be required to compete! It was great motivation, having a group of women with similar goals to share in the learning process with!
I had my first race in June, the Ridgeline Rampage. The course would be 1 loop consisting of 12 miles. I joined the non-competitive division of the cross country race.
The race was on a Sunday. The weekend before my boyfriend and I did a pre-ride of the course. The terrain was so different than what I had been training on. It was a lot of quick ups and downs so a lot of endurance was needed. I was training on the bike trail, getting miles in, I was training at a park that was mostly extended uphill and then extended downhill. The course demanded riding qualities that were not what I prepared for.
One week to prep.
Friday before the course I went to pick up my registration packet and do another shorter ride on the course. Again, it was really challenging, and this time, it was me riding by myself, without the encouragement of my boyfriend.
- Racing mtb -
Sunday finally arrived. My first race ever! I had the support of my boyfriend and some of my friends even came to cheer me on at the race! It was so great to have them there!
I was pretty nerve racked at the starting line. Everyone was in one big mosh pit, I had to ask where my division was. We made our way to the starting line and I stayed towards the back of the pack. Then, in an instant, we were moving! I kept up with the main group for a while, but fell behind on the uphill. Immediately, my lungs and my throat started burning because of the dry hot air. This lasted the entire time, and I was very uncomfortable the entire race. I kept pedaling.
Mountain biking is different for me because it’s a very individualized sport. I’ve played team sports my entire life. In Ultimate, I have my teammates encouraging me to run faster, helping and supporting me. On the mountain bike course, by myself, it was just me with my thoughts. I had to be my own support system when people would pass me. I had to offer my own encouragement. It’s a lot harder to do that for yourself. But it’s a great exercise in mental toughness.
I had to stop a lot. I needed quick breaks to catch my breath, drink some water, and eat Clif Shot Bloks. Then I would get back on the bike. I kept pedaling and pushing myself. I had never pushed myself this hard before.
I made it! My goal had been to ride the 12 miles in 1 hour 30 minutes. I ended up riding it in 1:59:59:18! Under Two Hours!!! Woohoo!! I crossed the finished line. My boyfriend ran up to me right away and tears started welling up in my eyes. I had finished, I finished the race! My legs were wobbly. This was by far the hardest thing I had ever put my body through. I was emotional and I was so proud of myself.
I had another race in a month and this time I felt more prepared. After pushing myself so hard and for so long during my first race, I saw a noticeable improvements in my strength and endurance. I had gone up another level in my riding ability, I was feeling stronger and more confident. I couldn’t wait for the next race.
The next one would be the Beti Bike Bash, an all women’s mountain bike race. I was in the beginner category and the race would be 2 laps, 4 miles each, for a total of 8 miles. This time my goal was to complete the race under an hour.
I rode the course the weekend before...but I didn’t ride the exact course. I couldn’t find it! So I just rode around the park not knowing what trails and what direction the race would be. But I got out there and became familiar with the park which was a little helpful. It would have been more helpful to ride the actual course.
The morning of the race, I met up with the other women with the Sports Garage Race Team. It was great to be on a team at this race. We all wore the same jerseys, met up at the same tent and warmed up together. We were a team in a very individualized sport. It took away some of the pressure, feeling like we were in it together.
On the starting line, I felt more confident knowing I had more experience. It was nice having a race under my belt and knowing, in a sense, what to expect. Then, the race started and I was off! I was racing and I felt great! After the first hill, our team coach was there on the side lines yelling encouraging words to us. It was great to have her on the course for extra encouragement.
The race was going well! I was hanging with the pack this time and I found that with shorter laps, it’s easier to stay in the pack. It encouraged and excited me to feel like I was in the race! I did my first lap in 25 minutes - I was on track and I was very happy with my time! I was pumped to start on lap number 2!
I felt strong on lap 2 and I was about 3 miles into it when someone had a bad crash just ahead of me. I didn’t see the crash happen, but there was only one other person stopped with the rider at the time. Since I am a NOLS Wilderness First Responder, I felt compelled to stop and help. Unfortunately, the rider had a pretty bad accident. I tried to help the best I could but there wasn’t much to do until more knowledgeable people arrived. Soon the medics arrived and I was no longer needed. I got back on my bike and rode to the finish line. I was cautious in that last mile as nearly all of my energy had been wiped out by the adrenaline. On the last hill, there was a guy standing on the sidelines, cheering and yelling at me and another racer to “Keep pedaling, you’re almost there!” With that, I picked up some speed and found my last reserve of energy to finish the race! It’s so helpful and inspiring when strangers encourage you to keep pedaling!
This was not the race that I wanted in the end, but I do not regret stopping to help an injured fellow rider.
The next race was in a month in Winter Park - it would be a 14 mile course with over 2,000 feet of elevation. Training had to continue.
I was feeling more and more like a mountain biker! I had two jerseys now. I had all the gear and I looked the part! One thing was missing, however: mountain bike shorts. All summer, I had searched for shorts to give me that iconic mountain biker look, but nothing fit me. I have wide hips and muscular thighs and it seemed like no one makes shorts for my body type. Not even companies that claim to be women’s specific. I definitely became very frustrated with this fact, and still am to this day. I’m very fortunate that I still have my awesome clothes from Ultimate. Specifically, my FiveUltimate Triton shorts work great for mountain biking!
The Winter Park Race would be on a Saturday and I had a late start time. I drove up to Winter Park the morning of the race. The city of Winter Park is at 9,000 feet, about 3,000 feet higher than where I live. I felt a little intimidated about this race because of the elevation gain. It was so much more than I had ever done before: 14 miles with 2,000 feet of elevation gain! I met a friend there at the race, we warmed up, and then got ready to ride! Immediately the race was uphill, and I’m slow on the uphills, so I was the last racer. The medic/sweeper was behind me. It was really hot out and it was really hard to breathe. I was pushing myself hard.
After we climbed for a while on a fire road, the trails became beautiful, flowy single track through aspen trees. I was having a hard time with the elevation. I’m prone to elevation sickness so I had been drinking water and electrolytes and eating right. But every time I would push myself to go a little bit harder or faster, I felt like I was going to throw up.
After making it 8 miles and climbing quite a bit, it was decision time: either bail here or tackle the next big uphill, where the majority of the elevation gain was. After talking with the medic, we both thought it better to bail now and be safe than go on and get stuck where it’s harder to get extracted from.
So with a heavy heart, I headed down the hill. What a bummer. I talked with my boyfriend right away, practically crying. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to join me in Winter Park because he had to work. I waited for my friends to finish and they finished strong! They even medaled! To add insult to injury, I would have got my first medal - 2nd place - if I hadn’t bailed, because of the age divisions. I was pretty bummed.
The next week I rode in Crested Butte at 11,000 feet and I did great, no elevation sickness! I learned from these two experiences that I can train to ride at high elevations. So this year, I’m going to train at elevation for Winter Park and I’m going to finish that race!
That was my first race season - 3 races - 1 fully completed. Not a great record, but I raced! And I had a great time doing it! Racing helped me to learn how to train. I rode my bike more, I pushed harder while riding, I learned more skills, and I ate healthy! I eat a plant based diet and preparing for these races helped me focus on eating a whole food plant based diet which I definitely give credit for my energy and for my ability to recover pretty quickly.
- Moving forward -
This upcoming year, I’m ready for race season! I’ve joined the Bicycle Experience Race Team and I can’t wait to start training and race again in the Spring! I’m excited to plan out the race season. I’m looking forward to completing in those 3 same races from last year, and to plan for more cross country races, an enduro race or 2 and maybe even a long gravel race!
There’s a lot to learn about mountain biking, and to me, that’s what’s fun about it: there will always be something new to learn! Always new people to meet! New communities of awesome and supportive shredding people!
If you’re new to mountain biking, keep at it! You’ll gain knowledge over time. Take a few lessons. Join a race team, even if you’ve never raced. Be patient with yourself. Have fun! Enjoy nature. Ride like a kid!
I’ve become obsessed with mountain biking and I have no doubt that if you give it a shot, you’ll become obsessed too.
Special thanks to Leah for being vulnerable and willing to share her story.
If you’d like to share your own story on ShredWorthy, you can submit here.