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Behind the Bars: Carson and Eli's XC National Championships

The 2023 XC MTB National Championships were held in Macungie, PA at Bear Creek Resort. Carson Beckett and Eli Kranefuss, HPT members, give us a run down of their year to date and the Nationals experience.

Building up to the race

Leading up to the race, Carson expressed that he benefits from spending a solid four to six weeks at home to be able to build and focus on his own training routine, so that’s what he focused on for nationals. Typically, he tries to do a race at least a week or two before to do a “systems check,” as he calls it, but this time, he wasn’t too worried about that. He was feeling like he was in pretty good shape from training throughout the year, so the main goal was to just stay healthy and be in a good pattern leading up to the race.

Eli, on the other hand, had a hectic week in the office leading up to his race. From packing orders in the warehouse to fixing a broken printer, to needing to fly out to Pennsylvania (versus being able to drive like Carson), he only had a couple days to prepare leading up to the race. He tried to focus on staying hydrated because of the heat and humidity, and he wouldn’t call it his “ideal race prep” overall.

Recovering from Cape Epic

Carson and Eli also raced Cape Epic in April, which is a six-day stage race in Cape Town, South Africa. The race itself takes a toll on the body along with traveling internationally and it can sometimes take a long time to recover. We checked in to see if they thought Cape Epic affected their performance at nationals and how the recovery went overall.

By the time nationals came along, Carson was where he wanted to be. In the months leading up, he was behind the ball and struggling to get back but was able to get things back in time for Nationals. Looking back, he wishes he took a more serious reset after Cape Epic, especially with the international travel and coming back with a stomach bug, but he was able to pick himself back up in time.

Eli was also in a good spot for nationals when the time came, but his recovery from Cape Epic looked a little different. The base fitness and intensity from Cape Epic helped him when it came time to the cross country race, but he faced a couple tough months of training right after Cape Epic. He focused more on shorter rides during the week with high intensity efforts since those were a bit easier to manage with the fatigue from Cape Epic which set him up with good power for XC Nationals.

Race Reports

XC Nationals is a relatively small race, so both Carson and Eli started near the front (until the actual gun went off). Carson was able to stick around fourth or fifth, but Eli missed the initial gun and ended up starting off further back than he wanted to be. Carson kept his head down, focused through the technical sections, and stayed in fourth place for the majority of the race. He focused on what he could control, staying cool in the 90ºF weather, and riding conservatively until the last lap so as to not bonk. In the end, it came down to a pretty long sprint and at the end of the day, he “couldn't ask for better than fourth.”

Eli, on the other hand, started near the back. He missed the start when he didn’t hear the gun go off so that caught him off guard. He got squeezed towards the back, then flatted and had to do a wheel change and try to make up the places. Historically, this race has been a punchy, technical struggle for Eli, but he ended up feeling better than expected. After his initial flat, he was further back than he wanted to be but knew where he could be, so he tried to keep his pace steady, pass other riders, and avoid another flat.

XC Nationals Fueling Strategy

For a typical cross country race, Carson focuses on his fueling for the four days leading up to the race, as well as the day of since the races are later in the day. The biggest strategy for Carson is to make sure he’s slowly increasing carbohydrates and sodium over the three days leading up to the race and keeping this simple from the food perspective. For the race itself, he’s started experimenting with relying mostly on drink mixes and only a few gels, typically NEVERSECOND.

Eli also focused on drink mixes during this race and he typically takes Beta Fuel drink mix. For shorter efforts like this, he finds it easier just to kind of think about one thing and that one thing being hydration and fuel at the same time. The key is to start well hydrated, though, because you’re not going to dehydrate yourself over an hour and a half if you start off in a good spot, which is very different from a race like Leadville where it makes a huge difference in the six hours. Because of the heat at nationals, though, they had frozen socks in the feed zone to try to keep the core temp down.

What’s next for Carson and Eli?

For both Carson and Eli, these results don’t change any plans for the rest of the season. Mostly, for Carson, this race just reaffirmed that he can get back to the speed he expected to have even after a really tough race and recovery from a race like Cape Epic. Up next, he has Marathon Nationals, the Snowshoe Marathon + XC World Cups, and then Little Sugar to round out the year.

Eli had Leadville after Nationals, and while his power was good for Nationals, he wasn't sure if that was the same power he’d need for Leadville as it’s a much longer endurance race. On the other hand, long races at high altitude have been good for him, so he kept his head up and made it through! Next for him is Marathon Nationals as well, then some well-deserved time off.

Photo: @CXHairs

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The Feed. / Friday, September 15, 2023