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2010 Mountain Bike Nationals
By Justin Griffin

The week of the mountain bike nationals was pretty stressful; on Thursday, July 8th I had a bad crash while pre-riding the Solitude race course. It was difficult for me to walk because my knee hurt and I also hurt my finger pretty badly. On the way home my dad decided to take me to urgent care. I received X-rays on my left hand and my right knee. Luckily, my knee wasn't broken, but there was a small fracture on my middle finger.

They gave me a splint and said I needed to wear it for about a week. I really thought I might not be able to race at nationals because of my injuries, I was so angry at myself for making such a dumb mistake. The day after my crash, I took my road bike out just to get my legs moving and it wasn't good. It was very difficult to shift and brake with my left hand because I could barely bend my middle finger. I really hoped that I would be able to recover in time for nationals.

I was supposed to have a race on Saturday, July 10th at Solitude, but because of my condition, I wasn't able to race. On the following Monday I decided to try and go for another road ride. It was a very hot day with temperatures in the 90's, but despite the heat, I felt great. It was still difficult to shift and brake, but not nearly as bad as it had been, and my knee felt fine. I decided to rest on Tuesday, and on Wednesday we left home
We arrived in Granby, Colorado, around 9 PM so we checked in at our condo and went to bed. The next morning we got up and prepared to go and pre-ride the race course. Before we got the bikes out, we went to go and pick up our race packets. It took about an hour before we got all the papers signed, received our swag, and got back to the truck.

We looked at a map of the course and found out where it started. Then we got the bikes out and headed over to the XC race course. I rode the course a couple times to get familiar with it. On the ride my finger hurt a little bit, and was causing a little trouble. I found out that if I used my middle finger to brake, I wouldn't have to bend it as much. I was pleased to discover that my finger probably wouldn't slow me down in the race.

My lap was about 3 miles and in my race I was supposed to do 3 laps plus a start lap. It was a very short race compared to the distance I usually race in the local series, which are usually around 20+ miles. I estimated my race would be about 1 hour long. Because it was going to be such a short race, I predicted that it would be a very fast pace throughout the race. After the pre-ride we went back to the condo and I cleaned up my bike and got it ready for the race that would be on Friday at 3 PM.

After my bike was race-ready I went to eat a nutritious dinner and prepared to go to bed. I had trouble falling asleep because there were so many things going on in my mind, but eventually I was able to clear my head and fall asleep. In the morning I woke up after a good night's sleep. Today was the day I needed to prove myself. I was excited and nervous. I could already feel the adrenaline building up.

Before the race I got all my bottles and gel ready to go. As we headed up to the race site I was trying to prepare mentally for all the things to come in the next few hours. When we arrived I unloaded my bike and got ready to go warm up. During my warm-up I wasn't feeling 100%. My legs felt a little sluggish and a little lazy, but I ignored it and continued to warm up.

I went to the start line about 30 minutes before my race started in hopes that I could get on the front line. It didn't happen. They called everyone up to the line by their bib number. I ended up being in the middle of the group on the third line. It all came down to this, I thought. I heard the whistle, the race began, it was a fast start, but I wasn't fast. We hit the steep hill at the beginning of the race. I found myself near the back of the group in 27th place. Only 10 riders were behind me on that first hill. I was thinking about how stupid I was to get myself into this position, but I pulled myself together and began to pass people.

We hit the singletrack and I had passed about 15 people, but the lead group was still pretty far ahead of me, but I was able to reel them in on the first 1.6 mile start loop. I was in 5th place as I started the next lap. I was quite pleased with myself because I was in the first group. It was a good pace, but nothing I couldn't handle. At the beginning of the second lap I was surprised to find that the pace had slowed down quite a bit. But I just decided to sit back for the time being, because it was still early in the race.

My rest was short-lived. Soon, I saw someone go by me and everyone else to get into first place. I later found out it was Joe Christiansen. Soon, Joe had about a 50 yard gap between him and second place. I knew I had to bridge the gap. I passed the people in front of me and got into 2nd place. It was a painful time in my race. I felt a tightness in my chest and felt a little short of breath, but I kept riding.

About halfway through the second lap I bridged the gap and caught up to Joe. I followed his wheel for the rest of the second lap and about halfway through the third lap. I started feeling a little bit better and decided to pass him. I got into first place and set a good pace. I soon had a gap between me and 2nd place and 3rd place was nowhere in sight. It was a race between me and Joe. But I was feeling good. I thought I could win as long as I kept up my fast pace.
On the beginning of the last lap, I felt a strange thing. I was tired, very tired. I felt like I was close to hitting the wall. I knew I was slowing down because on each switchback, I saw Joe get a little bit closer. I was determined to stay in first, but the pain was getting worse. I felt like stopping, I didn't feel like I could finish the lap. My heart was pounding. But I couldn't take second, not after everything that had happened. I was in the perfect position, but my body was failing me. I pushed through the pain. I was nearing the top of the climb. I was almost there. I could hear Joe coming behind me. I pushed harder.

I got out on the dirt road at the top. I looked behind me. Joe was now about 50 yards behind me. I could see the beginning of the singletrack and the decent ahead. I only needed to make it there, and I knew I could rest. It seemed forever, but I finally made it. I was on the decent with a small gap between me and 2nd place.

I knew I had done it. I was going to win. I just needed to stay in control on the decent and not crash. I went down the mountain as quickly as possible while staying in control. I saw the finish line, I was getting closer and I couldn't see Joe behind me. I crossed the finish line. I could hardly believe it, I was the national champion, and suddenly all the pain and suffering was worth it.

After the race I felt almost as bad as I did during the race. I became very lightheaded and dizzy, I felt like I was going to pass out. Luckily, my dad went to get me an energy drink and I soon felt better, but still extremely tired, I assumed it was the altitude getting to me. The awards ceremony was at 5:30. I was feeling a little better now.

When they started calling up the people in my category, I got ready to walk up to the podium. I walked up and received my national champion's jersey and gold medal. It was a great moment, after a year of bad luck, my luck had finally turned around.
On Tuesday, three days after my race, my dad took me to the doctor. There I got a chest x-ray. The doctor looked at the x-ray and saw constricted bronchial tubes. That, he said was the reason I had felt tightness in my chest during the race. I had been trying to draw air through tubes that were too small to get that much air through. It would also help explain my strange feelings and fatigue after the race. Dr. Chapman put me on antibiotics and an inhaler to open up my breathing passages. He said it would clear up the illness that has lasted six weeks much faster than if we just let my body take care of it. He said it could be another four to six weeks for my body to get better and he wanted to help me be healthy for my next two races coming up soon.
Justin's MTB Nationals  By Jay Griffin
On July 9th, we were pre-riding the Solitude race course. As I was merging into the full lap trail Justin went flying by me. I wondered as I descended the technical and rocky descent, how Justin can descend that rugged stuff so fast. As I arrived back at the truck Justin was just coasting around the parking lot on his bike as I rode up. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Then he stopped in front of me and said, "I crashed and I think I broke my nose."

Keegan Swenson in 1st place and Noah Talley in 2nd -- both Utah
riders in the age 15-16 championship race.
His nose was bleeding and swollen and the skin below it was all scraped up. Fingers of his left hand were mangled and bleeding. He was also complaining of severe pain in his left knee. He could barely put weight on it and thought something was broken. It looked bad, but there were no immediately serious issues. I couldn't help asking why he had to ride so aggressively the day before the State Championship Solitude race and only one week before Nationals.

I had been hoping, perhaps more than he had, that he could redeem himself at the XC Mountain Bike Nationals, after he had been so sick for road nationals. Now it seemed his hopes for that were probably over. It has been an unlucky season for him in the big races. He has performed exceptionally in the ICUP, but no one notices our little Utah race series.

Justin wears the winner's jersey at the top of the podium for age 13-14.
The doctor did Xrays of his hand and right knee. The news was good and bad. Nothing in his leg was broken, but the middle finger of his left hand was. The question was, could his knee recover enough in one week for nationals?

The secondary question, could he ride with a broken finger? We already knew neither of us would be racing at Solitude. The next day he rode his road bike and shifting and braking were difficult, but possible. He could probably race in a week if the rest of the pain in his body could subside. He rode a little on the road before we left on Wed. It looked like he would be able to ride. His knee was better and his finger was not too painful. He had figured out a two finger braking method that should work. He wouldn't need to bend his finger much, which was good because bending it much was not yet possible.

We arrived in Granby, Colorado too late on Wed to ride. Thurs we picked up our packets, signed liability releases in seven or eight places. It was amazing the amount of paperwork for one racer. I sort of rode with Justin on two of his 3.2 mile laps and then he then he had someone tell him what the initial 1.6 mile shakeout lap would be and we rode that. It was almost the same course the pros would be riding and he had it figured out. It was not very technical and we figured it would be basically an all-out criterium on dirt. We would plan how he should race and in two days at 3pm it would be the day of redemption.

On Friday, race day, I know I was more nervous than Justin. My heart was beating pretty fast. We had discussed that getting as close to the start line in the lineup of the 37 racers in the 13-14 yr old race would be important, so Justin finished his warm up early and was one of the first to go to the start area. Then they announced that racers would be called up to the line by bib number. I had my fingers crossed that Justin would be called up early. He ended up in the third line of six riders. Not great, but pretty good position.

With camera ready I waited for the start. Finally the start whistle sounded. Through the camera I looked for Justin. I snapped the first picture. No Justin. I snapped the second picture. No Justin. I was concerned. In the third picture, there he was, finally. Later, in the photos, I counted racers. He was in 27th place out of 37 racers. That was hardly what we had planned.

Mom was handing Justin water bottles up on the hillside and she had binoculars. She was actually able to watch much of the 3.2 mile laps from her vantage point, but I had camped out where I couldn't see much of the action. I wanted a good position for photos. I was pretty sure Justin would hang with the leaders. He is a very strong racer and I thought he would be OK.

He had still been coughing a bit, even six weeks after his illness at the disappointing road nationals races. I was a little worried he still hadn't recovered enough from his illness and from his crash one week before. As they came by after the first long lap Justin had moved into second place. Now his position was perfect. Justin was right behind the guy who was 5th on the first steep hill. On the next big lap Justin came by in first. He was 15 seconds ahead of second place. Now all he had to do was hang on.

I moved down to the finish line for the final lap. I was scanning the hillside above the finish for the first racer to come by. There he was. Justin was still in first. I snapped a telephoto shot and waited. I got a good shot of Justin coming across the finish line in first place with a time of 1:01. He had the national championship! It had been a good race. Justin needs to practice his championship arm raising at the finish. In the picture he looked like he was just crossing the line to go out on another lap. The second place guy crossed the line 9 seconds later. After the race Justin was totally exhausted. That's not typical. His championship race had only been an hour long. Usually he races in expert races that are two hours or more. He was complaining of being dizzy and not being able to get enough air during the race and had to sit down to rest. I got him an energy drink and that helped a little. After getting back home I took him to the doctor. He said he was suffering from the lingering effects of mycoplasma. The doctor gave him a prescription for an antibiotic and for an inhaler he could use to unblock his blocked bronchial tubes, which was the reason he couldn't get enough air during his race.

Two weeks after starting the medications Justin has finally stopped coughing. He won his first expert race since nationals in 2 hrs and 27 min. He didn't even look that tired when he got done.