Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Euro Lessons

I am so behind on this, but I've been meaning to write down the thoughts I had/things I learned while racing in Europe. I learned so much while we were over there, but learning is interesting because I think it's always a process. Hopefully by thinking through the experiences and jotting them down I will be able to better process and remember them for next time (WHICH IS AT THE END OF THE MONTH FOR WORLDS!!!).
Going off a super scary drop in the race because adrenaline
The most important lesson(s) was don't freak out! More specifically don't freak out when you do the first pre-ride lap on the course for a World Cup race. In both Albstadt and Le Bresse I almost cried after my first lap. I was so overwhelmed with how technical they were, and this feeling that I wasn't good enough to conquer all the techy stuff come race day, six times in a row! Both races featured obstacles I could NOT ride on my first lap. In Albstadt it was the slippery steep descents with roots and slick switchbacks. I was sliding around so much I couldn't stay on my bike and some sections were just too scary to even ride, so I walked them, er, slid down them on foot the first day. In Le Bresse right away on the climb there was a steep slick rocky section I COULD NOT ride no matter how many times I tried, and there were A-lines and drops I was terrified of. BUT in both cases the more I rode the course, the more warmed up I was and the more time I had to calm down the easier it all became. In Le Bresse by Saturday, the last day of pre-riding, I was riding almost all the A-lines, including the scariest one no problem. Also, adrenaline and being warmed up matter a lot. Doing a lap cold and seeing everything for the first time is going to be way harder than when you are warmed up and all, so just have patience and know you may not ride everything the first time around!

Watching dudes in Albstadt.
Also along these lines, watching other riders helps A TON. I sat and watched the men pre-ride, and I watched/followed other women to see how they did it, and I learned so much about the body English it took to ride techy stuff cleanly as well as fast. I also got a HUGE hand up from fellow Feltie Nicola who talked me through all the A-lines and even though I didn't ride them all with him, what he said about where to go, plus what I saw watching him and others ride helped me eventually put the pieces together to get it done.

I also learned not to underestimate the power of visualization. When I went to bed Friday night and closed my eyes in my mind's eye I went over what I needed to do with my body to make certain A-lines (over and over) and then the next day I honestly think it made all the difference when I attempted and rode the difficult stuff.
Even this wall ride got easier and easier with every subsequent lap!
I learned that sometimes it's faster to run than ride, or take the B line rather than the A. I learned this in a big way during the race in Le Bresse, especially when traffic slowed me down causing my pedal strokes to be off what I practiced and resulting in my pedal getting wedged in a rock multiple times. After that happened on lap 1, I should have monitored my speed on future laps, and if it wasn't fast enough because of traffic I should have jumped off and ran. Also the last A-line in Le Bresse, the one Yolanda crashed on, I crashed on every lap there EXCEPT for the last lap when I swallowed my pride and just took the B-line (and it was WAY faster than crashing down the A-line). I thought that since I rode it so cleanly in practice that it was a good choice... but the rain changed the conditions so much I should have recognized on lap one that it was a terrible idea.

Gnawing on Salami because Germany
Phew, that's a lot. In the non-bike racing arena, I learned that you really have to read that AirBnB posting well and/or specifically ask if you can use the kitchen when you're in Germany. It's so darn hard to find healthy food there at restaurants, and not being able to use the kitchen at the house we stayed at made it pretty difficult to maintain a similar diet to what we have at home.

And lastly, I learned (or more like, was reminded) that talking about things that are stressing you out is better than keeping it inside. It was a bit difficult feeling like Brendan and his brother were on vacation but I was there for work, and figuring out how much I felt comfortable exploring Europe vs resting. But after I finally talked with them about some of my issues I just felt so much better, even though nothing really changed. I really struggled at points, but they were both super understanding and didn't make me feel bad about times when I prioritized rest and recovery over exploring and fun.

And the BIGGEST takeaway is that I LOVE racing bikes. I don't just love racing when I'm doing well, but also when I'm battling fro 33 place! In both races I genuinely had more fun than I've ever had racing before and because of that I know I want to be a World Cup Mountain Bike Racer when I grow up. Still feeling overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to race in Europe last month!
Not sure what this picture has to do with anything, but that kitchen in France allowed me to make this amazing sweet potato for after the race :)
I may have experienced all these new crazy things, and think I will do stuff differently based on what I perceived I did 'wrong' or just not well, but sometimes it takes repeating these mistakes several times, or just doing things a little better than last time over and over again before you feel like you've mastered something. So here's to hoping I can apply what I learned in the Czech Republic, and that I will continue to learn and grow as an athlete this season and through my whole career. I had a major moment of realization on the course in Le Bresse that maybe one of the most gratifying aspects of the sport for me is that there will always be new skills to master and room to improve, and I am looking so forward to doing just that!

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