Monday, August 29, 2016

Olympics can be magic

Olympics can be magic; they can be heartbreak.  I have had both.

This just happened!
I have learned a lot from each year of racing mountain bikes, but the heartbreak of underperforming in London at the Olympics probably taught me the most. It taught me how to be true to myself as an athlete and how to find the right ingredients I needed to perform.

Preparing for the games in 2012 I let the seriousness of trying to win a medal, and consequently coming up short, steal the joy away from what I was doing. I had to be perfect and anything less wasn’t enough.  That unforgiving mindset gives you no room to come back from adversity or to value a great performance that may be shy of Gold, Silver or Bronze. It means a solid performance can quickly derail into a poor one.

I always perform best when I am smiling and embracing the challenge of racing and after London it took a year to find that joy again and another year to turn that into success with a World Championship win.

Going into my third Olympic Games in Rio I was determined to remember that performing on the highest stage IS fun!  It is an opportunity to give your best and see what you can do. I was determined to embrace the magic of the games despite knowing that some people would think I wasn’t focused.  That focused athletes should only be recovering in their rooms when not out training.  But that is not how I perform. I was determined to vocalize and commit to “having the best performance” I could have rather than stating “I was going to Rio to medal and that anything else would be a disappointment”, because THAT is the attitude where I find my best. I was determined to put out a race I could ride away from with my head held high even if there was no medal draped around my neck.

Despite being a much more dominant racer headed into the 2012 Games in London, I went into the 2016 Games in Rio a much more confident, relaxed and happy athlete.  When I went down in a crash on the start loop before even entering the first full lap I couldn’t believe it.  I headed into the first climb 25th out of 30 women.  But if you know me you know that coming back from poor starts has become a necessarily skill.  I knew in Beijing in 2008 I was in the 20’s off the start and rode to 4th, 9seconds off Bronze.  I knew it was possible.

When my shifting stopped working halfway through the lap though I started to get demoralized.  I climbed flag mountain hoping the camera wasn’t on me so that people wouldn’t see me lugging this massive gear and wondering why I was riding so poorly. I caught a group of 4 women but had no ability to accelerate past them.  When I reached the tech zone my team Canada mechanic, Adam trotter, quickly got the jammed shifter moving again, but I was now over 1-minute back.  I couldn’t believe this was my Olympics.  I was so ready and it was coming down to bad Luck. 

Giving up never occurred to me.  I just had a harder job.  I thought back to the World Cup in La Bresse where I had brought back a 1.40 gap.  I could do this.  I have never been so grateful a course had no trees!  When I cleared traffic and got to Flag mountain the following lap I could actually see the leaders.  Sure they were far ahead, but not that far.  Getting there was possible and my coach Dan was there with the necessary time splits to remind me it really was possible. 

I know how my body feels when I’m riding well, how my legs need to drive, where my eyes need to look.  I knew I couldn’t play around with tactics, that if I wanted to get to the front I had to drive the pace and make it happen.  I had played out in my mind every single scenario that could have played out in this race.  This was not the scenario I wanted, but I knew, in my mind at least, I had come through this and gotten to the front.  Every lap the front became more and more possible.

With two laps to go, a highlight was riding with both my Luna teammate Katerina Nash and my Canadian Teammate Emily Batty in 3rd, 4th and 5th. At least one of us would have a great day! I kept driving the pace and was able to open a gap and keep growing it into the final lap. 
Leading Emily and Katerina into the staircase on lap 4. The girls went on to claim their career bests in 4th and 5th
Then 200m from the finish the unthinkable happened.  I crashed.  It was 100% my fault.  I entered a jump too fast or too tired and all of a sudden I was getting sideways in the air and came down hard.  I can’t even verbalize the intensity of that moment, the thousand thoughts spiraling through my head as I realized I may have just crashed myself out of an Olympic medal.  I ran and hopped back on my bike with no momentum for the next rock garden.  As I turned into the finish stadium I looked back and saw Emily chasing me down.  I poured everything I had into that moment and as I seized up coming through the last corner into the finish line I had to find more.  After being 25 seconds ahead I was only 2 at the finish line, just enough the raise and arm and savour the moment of earning an Olympic medal.

I LOVE my Bronze. To me it is Gold. I got everything I wanted out of that performance.  It was far from perfect, but it was magic.  I rode the race of my life and got exactly out of my performance what I wanted most, a ride that I could be proud of.

Thank you to everyone that made this possible even in the smallest way. I know I will have missed people but please know you are all appreciated!

Coach: Dan Proulx
Husband: Keith Wilson
Mum, Dad, Geoff, Sues, Grainger, Sandra, Jeanine, Bruce, Trent
Luna Staff : Waldek Stepnioski, Dave MacGlaughlin, Chris Mathis, Dusty Labarr, Julien Brugeas
Team Canada Staff  Adam Trotter, Tara Lazarski, Jen Mahone, Kris Westwood, Jacques Landry,
Team Canada riders for the awesome team environment and laps: Emily Batty, Leandre Bouchard, Raphael Gagne, Mike Garrigan
Sport Psych: Sharleen Hoar, Kirsten Barnes
Sponsors: Luna, ClifBar, Orbea, Shimano, Fox, Maxxis, PrAna, SockGuy, Capo, Giro, Oakley, Ceetech, Garmin, Pedros, Victory circle graphics, Genuine Innovations, Inno, Petal Power
Kamloops, BC and Harvey/Fredericton, NB
        
Coach Dan Proulx
Keith, keeping me down to earth for 14 years
Dream Team 2016
Some hugs are simply the best


Thank you!!!!





Monday, August 15, 2016

When things come together


The last World cup felt good.  Winning always feels good of course, but it’s more than that, it’s executing what you set out to accomplish.  I sat out nationals to focus on prepping for Rio and had a solid training block that for the first time this season had me confident that I was going to a World Cup healthy and capable of winning.
 
After a fantastic ride at the La Bresse World Cup where I finished 2nd after being 1min 40 back mid-race due to problems at the start, I made starts a focus of mine.  Starts have always been my Achilles heel and as such the focus of a lot of training attention.  Having developed a bone infection before Albstadt in my broken thumb (surgical pinning got infected) I was encouraged to train road-only until the eroded bone had strengthened.  This led to a change in how I was going to improve my starts.  I was going to try to do it with mental rehearsal.

What blew me away the most was that I literally could not see myself starting fast.  I couldn’t feel how my body was supposed to move.  What it would look like to generate that speed and power quickly.  No wonder I always went backwards off the line!  It took some time, isolating what it would look like, feel like, sound like to start fast in a pack, to hold wheels, find holes to move through.  I felt good in training but it wasn’t until I got to Czech for the world Champs that I got to see if I had actually made gains.  It was exciting to start strong and in contact with the leaders there, to improve on that in Lenzerheide grabbing 2nd wheel into the first singletrack and then to take the hole shot in MSA and feel good! For me starting well will take continuous work to stay on top of, but its very cool to have found big progress in a skillset after years of racing.
  


Taking control of the race early in Sainte Anne allowed me to ride off the front and focus on just riding well consistently.  I have been racing MSA since nationals in 2004 and every year it feels more and more like home.  I love all the families and volunteers that come out to cheer us on, excited as riders and as Canadians to see both Emily and I ride so well heading into the Olympic Games. 

Last Sunday I scored my 12th World Cup win, my 4th at MSA.  It felt amazing and was a good confidence boost headed in Rio.  The Olympics are an unique event.  It is definitely the most intense competitive experience you can imagine.  I know just how hard I will be challenged physically and mentally.  There are more women than ever before capable of winning a medal, but I am looking forward to the challenge and would love to see the Canadian flag rise once again.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sitting Out to Step it Up


 On any given day there are at least 5 women that could take the win at a World Cup and many more that are vying for the other podium positions.  This season is a racer’s gift. I constantly have others challenging me, pushing me to find more.  But I can also see that no one’s season goes perfectly according to plan.  We have all gotten sick, had injuries, made mistakes. It leaves the door always open for the rider with the most perseverance and legs on the day to see the front and know it is possible to get there.
 Living in western Canada offers huge advantages as a rider like a plethora of amazing singletrack and temperate climate.  When it comes to a European biased race calendar it is also not without its challenges.  Travel days to Europe for me are typically 17+hrs and a 9hr time zone change. To get to Eastern Canada, a 9+hr airport day and 3hr time change.  In many ways I think this has contributed to my consistency as a racer.  By necessity I have to plan in a lot of rest days around races and so enter fresh and capable of giving my best.  This amount of travel also means that if I am not conscientious, it would be easy for my fitness to take a gradual decline in-season.  It took years to figure out how to be as fast in September as I could be in July.


I rarely sit out important races, unless forced to by injury.  This year however, I did by choice sit out Nationals.  It sucked.  It’s hard watching the social media roll out and not being a part of it.  It sucks to not fight for the right to wear the National Champion’s jersey which would no doubt have been a nail biter of a race.  But it also feels good to commit to an Olympic preparation plan that is optimal for me.  In order to rebuild my form between Worlds and Rio I need some time on the same time zone and preferably in one place.  Racing nationals, 4500 km from my home, would have meant either being on the road since I left for Worlds in June until I returned from Rio and finding an eastern home base or compromising training by adding in a quick trip back to BC before the World cup in Mont Sainte Anne.  Either could have worked, but as an athlete entering their 3rd Olympics and an athlete that favours the home environment over training camps and altitude, coming home to my trails, my bed, the interval climbs I know intimately, well it was just the right call.  

Sitting out a race is tough, but it also makes me more fired up to step it up for the next one. But please bring the next one soon!