She wasn't afraid of the pain. Jessie Diggins knew that was inevitable Sunday, given the gut-busting hill climb that would end the 10-day grind of the Tour de Ski.
Her bigger concern was the yellow leader's jersey on her back, the one that signified how close Diggins was to a historic goal. The Afton native could become the first American to win the Tour de Ski with a solid performance in the final race, a 10-kilometer freestyle mass start in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
To grab the prize, though, she had to make certain her mind was as strong as her legs.
"Your brain wants to say, 'This is yours to lose,' " Diggins said. "What you have to say is, 'No. It's mine to win.' Just ski like you own it, like you skied to get into that jersey in the first place. That's all you have to do."
Diggins' nerves were no match for her will, as she captured the Tour de Ski overall title with a second-place finish in Sunday's final stage. She completed the eight-race series with a cumulative time of 3 hours, 4 minutes, 45.8 seconds, a margin of 1:24.8 over Yulia Stupak of Russia.
Winning the Tour was a lifelong dream for Diggins, who combined with Kikkan Randall in 2018 to win America's first Olympic gold medal in cross-country skiing. Sunday, hours after the Tour's conclusion, she told the Star Tribune via Zoom that her body was "wrecked" and her stomach still in knots from the anxiety. Her legs were covered in bruises from collapsing repeatedly onto her skis at the finish line, a reminder that Diggins had wrung every ounce of effort out of her body in every race.
She knew that was what it would take to win the 15th edition of the Tour, one of the most coveted crowns in cross-country racing.
"There was nothing left in the tank when I crossed the finish line," Diggins said. "It was intensely painful, but there was so much joy.
"I collapsed, then I got up and went to the coaches, and that's when I burst into tears. It just sort of sunk in. This has been a career-long dream, this almost impossible goal of winning the Tour."
Norwegian skiers had won the past seven Tour titles. This season, concerns about COVID-19 kept them home, but they were there in spirit. Diggins said she had received many texts and messages from her friends on Team Norway, cheering her on.
She recorded two victories and six top-three finishes over the eight races, which vaulted her into the lead in the World Cup season point standings. She took the overall Tour de Ski lead with a victory in the third stage, a 10K freestyle pursuit last Sunday in Val Mustair, Switzerland. Another win in Stage 4 expanded her margin.
Because the Tour is so rigorous, with eight grueling races in 10 days, Diggins said it's easy to fall victim to doubt and nerves. Sunday, she entered the final stage with a 54-second lead over Stupak, and a 1:51 margin over third-place Krista Parmakoski of Finland. She tucked in behind the pacesetting Swedes, conserving as much energy as she could for the final 3.5k climb up a steep alpine course.
Sweden's Ebba Andersson won the race in 36:45.6, with Diggins second across the line 9.2 seconds later.
"The last 10 years of training prepared me for that moment," Diggins said. "I know how to go into the pain cave. I know how to push. That gave me a lot of confidence.
"You try not to get psyched out about the things that are out of your control. You don't have to be a hero. You just have to be yourself, and know that's going to be enough."
Diggins said many things have to fall right to win the Tour, and she credited her coaches and the equipment team with giving her the tools she needed. She will take 10 days to rest up from the effort before resuming World Cup competition Jan. 23 in Lahti, Finland.
To celebrate Sunday's victory, Diggins stayed on the course to cheer on the American men, then indulged in some peppermint dark chocolate. It was a sweet conclusion to an even sweeter day.
"This is such a hard thing to do," she said. "It's really emotional and overwhelming to think, 'Wow. This is really happening.'''