En route to Albi, World Champs: Gearing up for a performance

I’m an amateur and in practice that means my bills are paid via other ways and the outcomes of my weekend’s pursuits will not determine whether I can afford dinner the rest of the week. In theory, it also means without those significant consequences of a lack luster performance that I am free to enjoy myself when racing, whatever the result.

I’m very adept, to say the least, at getting myself into a frenzy about my academic performance (there’s some very good friends with ears who can vouch for that!), perhaps because that does pay the bills (well, mostly anyway, bikes are not cheap) but also because it’s my sole purpose so to speak. Probably not quite my salvation though. In the hurricane of early career research and academic performance environments generally, my harsh self-critique may be a little more justified than in my sport, although a considerably gentler version of that would often be most welcome.

I don’t need to give myself a hard time riding my bike too and so once I started to race more, got faster and gained some confidence, I tried to tell myself, ‘the result does not matter’. I’m still doing that several years later, but it’s not entirely easy though because once labeled as an ‘athlete’ or put onto a start line (as opposed to going to an ‘event’), the effect is a very different mind-set that becomes emotionally invested too. If one wants to race, then the very idea of such suggests they are not doing so to ‘get around’ by themselves at the back of the pack. I won’t lie, I am dead excited, proud and happy to be heading out to France to ride for Great Britain at the World Championships. Not many get the chance to do that.

But, given what I have said above, and that I am now sitting here in the departures lounge at Gatwick, waiting to be called for boarding for probably what outsiders would call the ‘biggest’ race of my life, what I am thinking? How am I feeling? What’s been going down the last few weeks since I last had a chance to write? Does this race matter?

Regarding, the last question, yes! But also no! I’m approaching it with the same ambivalence that I approach every other race, using a classic self-protection mechanism to deflect the responsibility and pressure from myself. So, in the days leading up to a race, I begin to look past it and instead think about the next one, not because I have reason to believe that the immediate one is going to be an entirely awful experience, but because I like to tell myself that there’s always another day if plans fail or I don’t cut the mustard. I do that to protect myself from an onslaught of defeatist thoughts and because of the prominence of sport in my life. I also do it so I can be realistic about my chances; whilst I have had the best year physiologically on a bike, I’m still a triathlete, and to a certain extent a little bit of an unconventional rider that got faster by carrying an enormous set of lungs. Using this technique, the longer term and calmer proposition is that whilst I am fit and able, any potential can be unleashed by my efforts, decisions and judgements that I could make at any other time. I am already making ambitious plans and adjustments for next season and those are exciting the hell out of me.

How does this slightly neutralised mind racing mind set work for me? It lets me race. That wasn’t a surprise, really was it? You knew it was coming. In the early stages, it protects me enough to set out and head for the starter’s orders. It then takes all the pressure away and if the body is in a fit enough condition, it will just go on its own, probably even before the ‘beast mode’ switch is tripped consciously.

What’s the goal for Sunday then? Just to finish, even last would be cool. This was a race planned 5 weeks ago, not 10-12 months like would normally be the case. The achievement was in qualifying but has also been in knowing that within that short turnaround time I have made a few adaptations and gotten myself, legs and pedal stroke, into the best possible position that I could have managed for the distance and setting. I’m pleased with that and I happen to quite like surprises sometimes.

















Learning success: You better believe

I had some pretty big things happen a week ago and combined they were so exciting that at some stages it all felt a bit much, in a good way though I think. Every few minutes I seemed to get a ‘congratulations’ email/text, a hug, a thumbs up across campus, some chocolates, etc.

Things happen in threes.

In the space of less than a week I had qualified to represent Team GB cycling at the Gran Fondo World Championships, finished my third full distance triathlon (coming 6th with a huge personal best) and received a second research grant.

I was simply elated and nothing gave me more pleasure than sharing those moments with those who ride the Charlie rollercoaster train with me everyday. At the time these seemed such big things and I will probably look back on this week as one of the most defining in my career, life and sport. As it was all such a giant leap from where I had been previously I was a little unsure, these things were for me? I did them or got them? Are you sure? Really sure?

It was clear I needed to ‘learn’ how to accept success just as I had tried to manage the setbacks. This was quite polemic thinking, not uncharacteristic at all for me, but, had I been successful before?

Was I successful the days I sat in my pyjamas all day, paralyzed by fear and depression trying to plug away at snail pace in the hope that something would work, just once, one day?

I wouldn’t have said so at the time but I categorically say so now. Big and shouty nice things happened this week, and people were very lovely to me, yes, but without those laborious days, months, and years of arduous effort those wouldn’t have happened. Those were the even more successful days, the days where I held on, or at least others kept me on a train that I thought was going into an eternal black hole.

Success undoubtedly breeds success, that’s well known and when I’d quite believed what had happened, the effects soon started to show. In that week, I wrote more words than I had in any of the other weeks in the previous 6 months, even though I have a very strict and regular writing routine and wasn’t exactly slacking. I raced my bike the best I have ever done so. I know I have a huge amount of work ahead of me, but I appreciate that by having some things that went right behind me that it will mean I will give everything I have, with the resources I have, with my project of self and do so with utmost pride.

I’ve had more time to reflect on these things now and I know the bad bits will still be there but I am at least starting to learn more about the troughs and peaks accommodating success (what does that word mean anyway?). Things are more normal now and I am back to my usual routine but I can at least visualize how this works. I wouldn’t want the good bits to happen all the time, just as I haven’t wanted the bad bits to redfine me and my life. But now those good things have happened, and they will occasionally get forgotten in amidst the hard labours that one loses oneself in, they will seem much less significant too, but I can at least visualize and feel them close enough to draw a steady state of energy from them. Classic athlete mindset, let me have a little and I’ll give you everything I can in return.