I have a dream. No, not that one I’m afraid. It’s the kind of dream where I find myself powerless in all sorts of situations, whether it’s escaping a burning building, confronting an intruder, or fending off a rabid dog. You know the sort. And it’s these very dreams that fuel uncertainty in real life, leaving you doubting your abilities when it comes to the crunch. – By Paulo Conde and Gresham Enerson
This was never truer than when I started to take my racing more seriously. I would arrive at the start pound, and a brief scan of the guys I was up against left me thinking that they had better bikes, stronger legs, more experience and better BMT. How could I possibly beat these guys? And this is the mentality that used to set the tone for my race. I’d hang back at the start, move over in the singletrack and not even dare attack for fear of failing. It got even worse as I started moving up the batches. ‘A’ batch can be an intimidating place, especially when you’re lining up against the pros!
But then one day this all changed. Gresham and I had trained like Trojans in prep for Sani2c, and one of the first races we tackled for the year was a short, fast 40km race around our home trails. After mistiming my warm-up, I arrived at the start late, flustered, out of breath, and in serious need of a pee! Not exactly a breeding ground for confidence!
The pace was furious from the start, but somehow we managed to stick with one of the leading groups. We were flat-lining like never before, but all the training had paid off and we soon found ourselves mixing it up at the front of the group. Things were going great but that niggling doubt was ever-present and clinging onto me like an overloaded Camelbak. When would my legs give in? Would I be able to keep up if the guys put the hammer down? Was my back tyre losing air?
Just as I was about to give myself a mental high-five, disaster struck! On a bumpy descent about 10km from the finish, my chain dropped, and, in a mild panic I tried to pedal it back on; but this only made matters worse. It had become badly jammed, so I was forced to dismount and watch the group sprint off into the distance, dragging my dreams of success along with them.
It took the better part of a minute to sort the chain out (isn’t it funny how your fingers suddenly forget the meaning of teamwork in these situations?), so when I finally got rolling again the group was out of sight and I’d been overtaken by hordes more racers. My natural instinct was to limp home with my head hung low and my tail between my legs, but I was so miffed at what had happened that I discovered the meaning of the saying ‘to pedal in anger’. I found myself mashing the pedals and turning abnormally large gears over with unprecedented ease. I put my head down and soon realised that I was overtaking people at a rate of knots. Within a few minutes I had caught the group I had been riding with, and to my surprise I blasted straight through them. The guys that I had thought were invincible were now struggling to hang on to MY wheel! I soon dropped them and continued to make my way through the field until I got to the finish and my first ever top 40 at a race.
The afterglow lasted a long time, and I can still feel that sense of amazement as if I have just crossed the finish line. This single feat was all it took to cast off that heavy cloak of doubt. Since that day, when I get to the start pound, I look competitors squarely in the eye (after checking out their bike of course!), knowing that I have what it takes to run with the big dogs. And there’ve been loads more examples of me surpassing my expectations since then. Each of these triumphs is being stashed in my ‘suitcase of courage’ (sorry Phil, couldn’t resist) for those days when I need that extra bit of inspiration.
So take a leaf out of my book, and ensure that you give yourself plenty of match time if you have aspirations of the big time. It’ll be clumsy to start, you’ll stumble, fall and probably make a fool of yourself a few times, but the results will soon start to show and you will find that moment that the penny drops and you discover what you are truly capable of!
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*Originally published in TREAD Issue 38, 2015 – All rights reserved