Many thoughts can take over your mind when preparing for a big race, I believe female athletes might be slightly more extreme in falling into this negative spiral of doubts. “Am I good enough, did I train hard enough, do I belong here, do I look fit enough, will I get smashed, what if I get smashed, the other girls look so much stronger, they ride so much better and run so much faster, not even mentioning the swimming, what if I don’t feel good, what am I doing here, my legs are twice as big…” And so on. The key is and the more experienced girls have found a way to do this, to block these thoughts out, focus on the race and believe.
When I arrived in Switzerland, I was on my own and the race venue was quite isolated, I was left alone with my own thoughts and after all the travel and the extreme weather conditions I felt very average which contributed to the spiral of negative thoughts. By the time the weekend came around I was convinced I didn’t belong amongst this very strong line up of champions. Even my friend Renata’s positive attitude could not snap me out of it, looking back on that week, I was already beaten before the start. The irony is that my mental toughness is what has allowed me to get here, much more than my power or speed, I have been able to fight my way to the front enduring all sorts of pain in the past. Not much was left of that whilst lining up for my first Europeam XTERRA on the wet, cold afternoon in Vallee De Joux in Switzerland last week.
The triathlon was turned into a duathlon due to the air temperature having dropped to 7 degrees, which was below the water temperature of 14 degrees.
Looking back at the race now, I was pretty much lost, I hadn’t made a proper warm up plan, or plan at all for the race, I wasn’t focused and couldn’t get rid of the feeling that I simply did not belong amongst the other athletes.
Things got worse when the gun went off and after 500m we were led into a paddock onto a very slippery hill, I was wearing racing flats as I believed the run was on a flat gravel road along the lake.
I was wrong.
I got some comfort in running just behind fellow Dutchie Maud Golstein who was struggling as much as I was, and we both had to watch the front pack run away from us as if we were standing still.
I lost her down the hill as I slid into a tree, and after that it took a while to find my feet again. I wasn’t even in the first km of a three hour race, “this is a disaster” I thought to myself and I felt like giving up.
I battled on and tried to pick up the pace on the bike, I was so cold and wet by this stage that my legs weren’t working and when I got passed by top age group girls my morale dropped even lower, I was considering giving up almost every pedal stroke.
When I had reached the forest the mud was so deep it actually made me laugh. I had never ridden, let alone raced in such conditions. I used my skiing skills and managed to move forward in the field through the muddy sections of the course. There was a lethal hike a bike section which seemed to last forever and I don’t believe I was actually moving at certain steep slippery sections, but I was not alone in that. The 2nd lap of the bike course I rode a lot better and I kept on moving forward in the field.
Whilst dropping down into transition I felt awful about the run, the thought of having to cross that paddock twice on my racing flats was almost enough to make me not want to do it.
But off I went, scrambling, slipping and sliding, people run passed me as if I wasn’t moving. All I could do about it was laugh, battle on and finish the damn thing.
After the race, talking to other athletes I was certainly not the only one who had had a bad experience, even some of the podium getters weren’t happy with their performance. Everybody was laughing about the extreme conditions of the race and sharing their experiences. Stories were told about other races and The Xterra spirit which I love so much was in full action.
I will remember this race by sharing accommodation with little Helena Erbenova and her clan of about 8 Czech athletes including her father following her every step. She is an absolute thoroughbred athlete coming from an Olympian mother and World Champion father. She herself has already multiple World and European Champions behind her name. After the race she she modestly said she only won because she had been training in the rain all week. It was a great experience to meet all the pro’s on the tour who were all so welcoming and friendly.
The following day Renata took me to the Capital of Switzerland, Bern, where she and her lovely sister Ursela showed me around the city before I had to jump on a train towards Gerardmer. The sun finally came out and it was lovely to play tourist for a day with great friends.
I was happy to turn my back on Vallee De Joux and with lots of new inspiring friends made I am hoping I will find my form again for my next race, Xterra France.