By Robert Eric Wagner
Nina Machnowski, up on two wheels before most, could even tie others’ shoelaces.
“I learned how to ride the bike when I was four,” Machnowski recalls. “My parents taught me the basics. When I was a toddler they used one of those baby seats attached to their bikes so I could ride with them.”
And the fourteen-year-old cyclist from Verona hasn’t stopped pedaling since. It didn’t take long for that love of riding outdoors to grow into a serious passion. With the support of her mother and father, avid mountain bikers themselves, Machnowski began training for competitive off road racing. She explains that starting out, it took time and effort to learn how to control the bike and master the trail.
“Initially, the most challenging aspect of mountain biking was learning all of the technical skills,” she says. “Now, riding is just an instinct to me.”
After placing first last month at the Taconic 909, in Pleasantville, Machnowski once again stepped up on the pedestal for her most recent accomplishment. Claiming third place at the 10th Annual Hampshire 100, on Aug. 21, Machnowski completed the race in less than four hours. But it wasn’t an easy finish.
“It was just one big 33 mile lap through beautiful back-country trails with the hardest hill climbing I’ve seen yet,” she explains, “but I loved every mile.”
Machnowski attributes her success on the trail to a healthy diet, active lifestyle and a regimented training schedule.
“On average, I train about four to five times a week,” she says. “The day before a race I always go on a spin just as a leg-opener.”
When asked about her methods leading up to race day, Machnowski explains that she doesn’t take any chances. For hydration, the teen enjoys drinking lemon-lime Skratch Labs mixed with Nuun electrolyte tablets, a popular combination among endurance athletes. She believes that proper nutrition and eating clean several days before race day can make all the difference in performance on the bike.
“I’ve been vegan since birth and my plant-based diet helps me to be the athlete I am now,” she says, “since you can burn days’ worth of food during a race, you need to start preparing at least four days before.”
She went on to share that recently, learning proper nutrition both before and during the race has been an important focus in her mountain biking career.
“The Hampshire 100 was the first race that I finally figured out the proper nutrition I needed,” she explains, “15 minutes before the race, I ate a Hammer peanut butter gel. Every 45 minutes to an hour, I ate a Gu caramel gel. I also ate a peanut and chocolate Larabar at the second aid station.”
A member of the Pedal Montclair Jr. Cycling Team, Machnowski is looking forward to seeing more opportunities for young mountain bikers like herself.
“I’m very excited with the fact that the NJ Interscholastic Cycling Association (a chapter of NICA) will start a scholastic mountain bike season in New Jersey this year,” she shares. “I recommend kids in middle and high school interested in mountain biking to check out their website www.newjerseymtb.org.”
When not on the bike or busy preparing for her first year in high school, Machnowski says she enjoys cooking vegan recipes for family and friends, playing online video multi-player games, volunteering at the local animal shelter, and sketching.