#LeadBoatStories Blog #5: Healthy Fear

Fear is a natural emotion that comes with facing the unknown or pushing yourself to new limits. For this week’s LeadBoat blog, we’re going to dive into managing the fear that comes with racing and meet two Leadville mountain bikers, Kristen Mucitelli-Heath and Larissa Connors, who encourage others to embrace all the feelings that come with endurance racing.

Story #1, Kristen Mucitelli-Heath

Kristen comes from a big, tight knit Italian family, and has been a competitive athlete for most of her life. Along with her husband and seventeen-year-old daughter, she surrounds herself with three rescue dogs, a rescue cat, and 14 cuddly chickens.

She started cycling in her early thirties and has a passion for proving that if you commit and put your mind to doing something, then you can. “I’m competitive. Sometimes to a fault. Ok-I’m definitely, definitely overcompetitive”.

She’s competed in hundreds of races- from Ironman Triathlons, to Olympic Triathlons, Leadville Trail 100s, Cyclocross Championships and more…but the LeadBoat Challenge is a new threshold for her, which she finds simultaneously terrifying and exciting.

Kristen is drawn to the simplicity and joy of racing, even when it gets hard. “I love that to succeed, you need to persevere through some amount of suffering, or a lot of suffering, and come out on the other side. It’s mental and intellectual and so basic all at the same time.” She finds that the races are so exhilarating because of the combination of layers and challenges.

“I just inherently love racing. Even when I hate it. Racing itself is joy, even when it’s awful”


Although Kristen has raced many different distances, she still faces fear when pushing herself to new limits. Last year after finishing the Leadville races, she had breathing issues and elevation sickness. “The unknown is scary. Knowing how wiped I am after races, then driving an hour or two to start another 144 miles is intimidating. Pain is a certainty”.

She compares the feeling to when she was pregnant with her daughter and wondering how much labor was really going to hurt, but also knowing she couldn’t avoid it. “I’m not a pro and I have an amazing coach and a great support network, but there is a lot to figure out to make it all go smoothly- from logistics just getting our bikes out there, to race logistics such as fuel, recovery, you name it. This is a whole new level of challenge”.

Although Kristen feels intimidated by new challenges, she enjoys doing things that scare her. “I do these things to feel whole and alive. I do them to find that precious, insanely powerful knowledge of what I can do, what my brain can do, and what I can handle. I do these things to know, during all the other parts of my life that can get stressful and hard and sometimes dark and sad, that I am powerful”.

“Growth is power, pursuing higher thresholds and harder races because of the journey and training is power. Conquering fear is power”.

Kristen praises the ‘good’ in fear. “It’s healthy, it’s natural, it’s your brain trying to protect you. The mistake is when we let fear stop us”.

“Feeling fear and assessing it is healthy”

She urges fellow riders to acknowledge and take note of your fear, but refuse to let it drive, change, or shape you. Instead, she says that it is important to find a mantra or what motivates you, then internalize it and use it. “Work to understand what moves you. Visualize what success looks like, keep thinking about it, and spend time seeing that in your own mind. Make a plan and work your plan, do what gives you a sense of control”.

Story #2, Larissa Connors


Larissa Connors, undefeated in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race two seasons in a row, loved being outside as a kid. This love sparked her interest in running, which shifted to road biking in college. After a brief stint on the triathlon team, a boy (who is now her husband) convinced her to try road racing, and she became hooked.

Though Larissa has made a name for herself in the endurance sports world, the past couple of years haven’t been the smoothest ride. “I worked my way up to racing the World Cup XCO, and had a blast traveling all over to race bikes including the 2016 World Championship in Nove Mesto. At the end of that year a really unfortunate situation caused me to walk away from XC racing, but fortunately after a year of recovery and soul-searching I decided not to give up bike racing altogether and started competing in ultra-endurance mountain bike races”.

She competed in about a dozen 100-mile MTB races and had the time of her life finding her limits, pushing herself to dig deeper, and meeting new people. At the end of the 2018 season, she was competing in LA Ruta De Los Conquistadores when she got severe Rhabdo which forced her to quit the race on the second day.

“After 8 hours in a rural hospital where no one spoke English, a dead cell phone and no shirt I escaped to the race hotel, flew home and promptly spent 3 months feeling like I was dying. I thought that was the end of my bike racing career, but it turns out after 3 weeks off the bike my body had decided it was time to make a baby. I wasn’t dying, I was pregnant”.


“I was undefeated in the 100-mile races for two seasons in a row, but taking a year off to recover from Rhabdo and having a surprise baby is making me feel super vulnerable because I no longer feel like an athlete.”

Though her journey was a little bumpy, Larissa loves pushing her limits and seeing how far she can go. LeadBoat is the ultimate challenge because not long ago she was wondering if she’d ever race bikes again.

“I’m going outside of my comfort zone because I’m used to feeling fit and having tons of base fitness, and I have none of that this season”.

Larissa feels that Leadboat is the perfect goal because it’s humbling, scary, and exciting. When it comes to racing, the unknown is what she is most afraid of. “I know my worth as an athlete doesn’t come from results, but it felt damn good to be one of the best ultra-endurance mountain bike racers in the U.S. I knew at the start of every race that I had a good chance of winning, and I felt strong, confident, and prepared. This year there is so much unknown. My fitness is so different than it was last year at this time. Not feeling prepared and not knowing if I can get to that place in time is crazy scary”.

“I was undefeated in the 100-mile races for two seasons in a row, but taking a year off to recover from Rhabdo and having a surprise baby is making me feel super vulnerable because I no longer feel like an athlete.”

Larissa might be afraid of the unknown, but she believes fear can be good for us. “Fear is what kept me pushing as hard as I could on the pedals and digging deep to stay in the lead. Fear helped me win”.

“If you aren’t scared at the start line are you really going to go beyond yourself on that day?”

“Fear is a healthy feeling that your brain uses to keep you out of trouble, but also an indication that what you are attempting is new, bigger, harder, faster, and more challenging than anything you’ve done before. Fear helps motivate you to prepare properly, and to train, fuel, and recover in a way that will lead to accomplishing a goal but also makes the outcome more awesome when you succeed”.

She feels that doing things that scare you are important accomplishments, and that it is important to step out of your comfort zone. “Racing 100-mile MTB races used to scare me, labor used to scare me, racing at 10,000 feet used to scare me…but by doing these things I have learned more about myself. I’ve grown as a person and I’ve had all kinds of fun, rich experiences that I cherish”.

“If I stayed in my comfort zone, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten Rhabdo, but I for sure also wouldn’t have gotten a baby”.

“If you are scared, embrace it. Let yourself feel the fear, think about what exactly you are scared of, then think of your plan to tackle it”

Kristen Mucitelli-Heath and Larissa Connors show us that facing your fears pushes you to new limits to discover what you’re capable of. Fear is inevitable, but learning to manage and tackle it makes you unstoppable.