How to race at altitude and deal with setbacks in cycling.
Athlete Stories

Hannah Otto | National Championship

Well, this won’t be my longest blog, because I truly don’t have much to say about this weekend at the National Championship. I’m extremely disappointed. I think this is the most I have ever underperformed from my true potential. It hurts. I’ve cried, and now it’s time to move on.

Lining up for the National Championship this weekend in Winter Park, Colorado I was extremely hopeful. I’ve come off of a long stream of XCO wins and my fitness and racing prowess is better than ever. I know that I have what it takes to race at the front of this event, and quite honestly, there is nothing anyone can say that will make me think otherwise, even after the events that unfolded. The thing is, even if you are at your best, racing at 10,000 feet above sea level can always seem like a little bit of a shot in the dark because you never quite know how the body will respond.

Before races, I believe in optimism so I looked directly at my fitness and preparation and managed to ignore any other signs that may have been obvious at a different time. My preparation was great and I was ready. What I failed to be willing to acknowledge was that ever since arriving at elevation on Wednesday I have struggled to sleep on any regular schedule, tossing and turning for hours at night as well as struggling to eat the amount that my body needed. Struggling to sleep and a suppressed appetite as well as nausea can all be signs of altitude sickness or at least not responding the way you would hope to before such a huge event. To add a little insult to injury I had been on prescribed antibiotics for the entire week before due to a skin infection from cycling. I needed the anti-biotics so I didn’t think much about the fact that a side-effect of anti-biotics can be inhibiting your red blood cells. I really could have used all of those this weekend.

All of that to say, when I lined up on Saturday no amount of wanting to be my best was going to make it so. I started the race with quiet confidence, settling into my own pace and coming around lap one in 4th feeling like I had plenty still left in the tank and ready for my heroic move to the front. Shortly after starting the climb on lap 2, I knew that this wasn’t going to be the case for the day. I tried damage control. I tried everything. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t turn over the pedals, and I didn’t think I could even keep my lunch down. If the nausea wasn’t holding me back, the dizzy spells were. I fought all the way to the end and as the finish line came into view so did the reality of the situation. I would finish 10th.

As spectators held out their hands for high fives, I held back tears and plastered a smile on my face. I don’t believe in crying at the finish line. I smiled. I hugged those I could. No one on the outside would know that my heart was breaking, but my competitors and friends would, and some even whispered encouragements in my ear. That was actually pretty beautiful.

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Photo: CX Hairs

I struggled that night to come to terms with the disappointment but ultimately found my way through. There’s always another race. I put the pieces of the puzzle together slowly but surely and ultimately realized that there is nothing more I could have done this go-around. The altitude got me this time and this race is in no way indicative of my abilities. The deck did not fall in my favor and that is ok. In fact, that’s racing. I know that God is in control and by the time I walked back out onto the course on Sunday, my smile was no longer forced. It was genuine.

I lined up for Short Track, not because I magically thought the elevation wouldn’t impact me anymore. I lined up because I wanted to. I lined up because love racing my bike. When the whistle blew, I decided to lead out the charge and be a part of the race for as long as my body would let me. I led for two laps and held on for several more. I actually finished better in the Short Track (8th) although still nowhere that I know I can be. So, with that, I put this weekend behind me, I hold my head high, and I descend to lower elevations with higher expectations.

Photo credit: CX Hairs


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The Feed. / Tuesday, July 26, 2022