With borderline sports psychological depression.
UCI Amateur World Championships 2015 – Denmark
16th place age group / 74th of ca. 120 female riders
Well, the preparation is a much larger part of the journey than the actual race. And I will have to rewind and take you back a bit further to understand what really happened.
***If you are interested only in race day, skip down to double dotted line***
Nationals in June. Big fail. Was exhausted and pulled out. NAS race in July. Big fail. Was still powerless and couldn’t even make it over the flyover. After this I took one week of rest and at the end of that week it was exactly 8 weeks and counting till World Champs date.
It was now the height Dubai Summer with temperatures reaching 40C at 8:30am. Preferably the work had to be finished by 7:30am (in my case at least, as I drink extortionate amount of fluid in temperatures above 35C) and that meant alarms set for any time between 3:30-5am. It’s the same for all. However, I struggled. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t reach the same numbers as I had done during May and June. I just couldn’t squeeze anything out of my legs. I tried to convince myself it was the heat that affected power output. Hmmmm… Well, going backwards in the preparation for the world championships wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for. Also, due to the high temperatures I found it impossible to ride more than 3 hours. 3 hours is not quite enough preparation for a 5 hour race.
I tried taking the training indoors on a home trainer. Nothing. No power. No change. And certainly no enjoyment. After one session I also managed to slip in my own sweat and pull a ligament in my right shoulder, which then meant I couldn’t really pull from the handle bar, so no standing on the bike for the next week or two.
There was now 3-4 weeks remaining and I still felt I had just come off Christmas or something. It was probably at this point it really started affecting me mentally. I started losing hope and confidence. The time was simply running out.
I raced the world championships in Slovenia last year. I have witnessed the levels and what it takes. If you remember, last year, I placed last. I mean very last. Last of all women. I rode the last 100K on my own and arrived only at a completely deserted finish line. Although this was within my first year of cycling and I owe myself some credit, I remember it like it was yesterday. My heart starts to pound when I reflect. No way I would put myself in a position to repeat this.
Back to this year, as the weeks started to close in on race day, I started to fear more and more each day, that I would be the first person to drop behind from the peloton again. I also started fearing that I wouldn’t even be able to complete 165K and that I would have to pull out, just like the Nationals. Potentially at this point I had hit a small sports psychological depression. Thoughts had spiralled a bit out of control. Confidence had dropped to zero. At this stage, had the 2015 World Champs been anywhere in the world but in my home country Denmark, I would have pulled out. 100%. I had started to feel like a slave to my bike. I have to train, but I can’t think of anything worse.
I arrived in Denmark almost two weeks before race day. I was trying to convince myself I would regain some strength when I hit the Danish cool countryside roads. It will be okay, I heard my inner voice. I had some time off, some mechanical and weather issues the first half of a week. Also, I still didn’t sleep through the nights as I continued being troubled by the the injuries from the crash I had in training the week before. I still couldn’t lie on my left side at all.
I then entered a federation race, which would be my chance to really test if I had any ‘racing strength’ and ‘fighter mentality’ in me. Or perhaps find it.
Yeah. It couldn’t have gone any worse.
In Denmark, I categorize as a B rider (ambitious amateur female, non professional, non team rider). There are many riders and many categories in the Danish federation races. B women race with men over 60 and men over 70 years old. It’s no joke. 35K into the race (of 80K) I am hanging at the back with 193bpm heart rate and fatigue invading my legs. And this is while I watched the girls break away from the ‘oldies’. OMG! WHAT? I pulled out after 60K. DNF. I really needed to come here to get a ‘boost’, to regain my confidence. And there I was, completely destroyed. I didn’t get on my bike the day after. I couldn’t think of anything worse.
A few days later I decided to give myself one more shot at this. Success: I will race worlds. Fail: I will not make the start line of the world championships.
Tuesday night, 5 days before race day, I went out on a training ride with a local group of juniors 13-17 year olds (and one 10 year old riding 30K (of 60K)). We were around 8 total. The wind was a little strong. 3 of the guys had raced Junior Nationals two days before, one won a bronze medal. We were gonna take it easy, let the boys recover. Okay. I will do whatever. I just follow and take my turns on the front. Take it easy?? OMG!! Every time we hit a ‘secure country side road’ coach went to the front and hammered out 45-50 km/h in the wind. Oh the heart rate. Oh the fatigue. On a few occasions I had to let them go. Damn! I am pleased at least to announce I was never the first to drop, but 5 days before worlds, it was particularly painful to watch the wheels of the kids disappear in front of me, while I had to accept: I don’t have what it takes. At least not now.
I woke up Wednesday. I was due to head to Aalborg (360K drive) on Thursday. I still had no clue what to do. I had two options. I could lose or I could lose. Which option would be the least worse?
1. There was no way I could race the worlds, however I could ‘ride’ as the last rider or maybe with a few others and then take the sweep bus home when I had had enough. That’s not a worthy option. But at least I would be on the start line.
2. I could accept that I didn’t have what it takes for this level at this stage – and pull out. Not go to Aalborg despite already being in the country. Not racing despite earning my spot. Not digging myself a deeper hole. Surrender and hide.
It was a painful day (well, only a little more painful than the last few weeks). I had no desire, no joy, no excitement for the world championships. I didn’t want it to happen now. I didn’t want to be faced with this situation nor decision.
And here is my decision:
I may not be fit for racing, but I am fit to support my friends who travel to my home country with excitement and joy.
I may not be able to even complete 5 hours of riding, but what is 5 hours of an entire weekend? Nothing. For all those remaining hours I am not under pressure and I am surrounded by friends and family.
How many times do the world championships come to Denmark? Not often. I may never be able to take part again. This might be my only chance to ride the Danish flag on Danish ground.
Done! I am going 🙂
It’s the day before the race. Kevin and I are out powering up our legs in the horrendous rain. We can’t feel our fingers or toes and we can’t either see or break in the rain. Oh great. We make only lunch by 4pm and warm ourselves up on whiskey and coffee. WHISKEY! Never ever in any serious state of mind would I ever dream of drinking alcohol the day before a big race. However, I was doomed anyway. At dinner time, I had a nice Italian red wine with my pasta. Sod it.
Just before midnight I was awake, on Tinder, swiping every man in Aalborg to the right, just to see if I got any swipes back. This was a dangerous move. It could potentially completely break my confidence. Oh thank god I got swipes. A lot. Phew. Okay, this was a really silly thing to do, I admit, but it was also kinda fun and I needed a giggle. In fact, it was Kevin’s idea!
RACE DAY (finally)
At breakfast the nerves unfold and spread through my body. I search for the reason. Under normal circumstances the nerves are fiery adrenalin rushes getting me ready and excited, bringing the fighter to the surface. At this moment the nerves are spreading as fear. Fear of performing embarrassingly terrible. Go away.
On the start line I find the only other Danish rider in the 35-39 field. She is a bag of nerves too. I have raced with Tine before. She is 2015 Danish Masters Champion, she placed top 10 in the real Nationals and a few weeks back she rode for the first time with the Danish National team in Sweden in a world class field. Tine didn’t qualify; she was brought in on a wild card. I had high hopes for Tine. As expected from gun start, I didn’t see her again. She finished 5th age group and crossed the finish line in the front peloton. Tine Rasch Hansen you are just Incredible.
Out of the box and onto the roads. What will be, will be. I am prepared for the worst.
We snake around the many road furniture out of town with the pace car in front. It’s a little nervy, but nowhere near as much as I have experienced in a male field. With still 99% of the race to go, at least the females seem to have more respect for the safety of others.
I had been warned that around 32K there would be a sharp left turn followed by a hill. I was preparing for it. Moving up in the field. Finding a place in the front half. There had been a few bumps before and I had witnessed the pattern. The first riders fly through the corner and come onto the first part of the bump/hill with speed. The rest of the riders slow down for safety and have to kick start their own power machines from very low speed and up the hill. I believe I had come far enough to the front according to my calculation of this scenario. With my lack of strength I would hope to still have enough riders behind me to glide through them. We turn sharp left and my front wheel hit a pothole with a BANG. Oh crap. My LOOK handlebar had just dropped from 22 degrees to the very lowest level. This is an uncomfortable an unfamiliar position and I know the consequences. It bothers me, but I have to quickly get my act together and kickstart my machine, for the girls around me are climbing with higher speeds. As I reach the top, I scout into the distance to read the terrain. Narrow tree lined road sloping slightly downhill. The peloton has now formed into a very long and very fast train. The front end is now hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of meters further forward. I have to hit the hammer to stay on this train. It’s now a bit of a blur, but the roads open and I find myself with a gap in front. I see a chase group in front of me and I ride as fast as I can, but of course this is not enough to catch a chase group. Pretty much at this stage I withdraw from ‘the race’. I have a feeling that I still have close to half the peloton behind me. I am happy to ride ‘behind’ the front peloton. Another chase group powers past me. I hook on. At the pace they were going and with the gap to the front peloton, this would have to be a suffer chase. And who knows, if we are lucky we catch the peloton. And if we are lucky/unlucky we catch them at the bottom of the hill and certainly then I would suffocate. No thanks. I don’t want to suffer for a 40th place or something. I unhook. Another group powers past me. They also chase, but their gap is larger. Oh no. Definitely not. Once again, I unhook. (These are clear signs that the fighter in me has gone missing. What kind of attitude is this?) I know there are still plenty of riders behind me. I look back. It will be a little while before the next group passes me. I take the foot off the accelerator and embrace a bit of rest. Three girls slide up next to me, smile and say ‘ jump on’. Thanks. I think I found my ‘comfortable’ group. After all we still had around 120K to go. These girls are not chasing, just riding strong. The peloton is no longer in sight anyway. We ride together for a very long time, taking our turns. We increase to around 10-12 riders, picking up some Masters men. Also we are caught from behind by a younger guy with a few girls on his wheel. I am one of the stronger riders in this group and do a significant amount of work at the front. Equally I am one of the first riders reaching the hill tops. The result of this is, as we reach the top of the 110K mark and 2nd fuel station, we have separated quite significantly, with the a Norwegian girl 1st , me 2nd and a British girl 3rd . The rest I can’t really see down the hill. I quickly grab my fuel and sustain the power output from the hill. I settle into a chase aiming to hunt down the Norwegian. It takes me a while and I have to manage my power well. Not long after, the British girl’s chasing power hooked her on to us and we are now a trio, quite randomly all in the same age group. Luckily. As at least this will most likely motivate all of us to stay together. The Norwegian and myself carry most of the work at the front. From 3 hours on or around that 110K mark, those consequences are creeping up on me. My position on the bike is too aggressive and I struggle with lower back and neck soreness. My saddle is on loan and this is also around the time I discover it is not the right one for me. I am getting very uncomfortable with pain creeping up on me everywhere. No matter where we turn, we never have the wind on our tail. And hills, they just keep coming, again and again and again. In the last 25K I am digging into fatigue on every section of every hill, no matter the size. On every hill I fear I won’t have enough to stay with the two girls. Luckily, they are going as slow as me. I am not the only one who is this spent into the 5th hour of the ride.
We make our way into Aalborg. And as we hit the centre of town and coming into the last four bends, I sense some twitchiness around me and I hear the clicks of the shifters. We are now riding side by side. Oh we are getting ready for the final sprint then. YESSSSS!! I have been waiting for this for 1 year and 10 months!!! This is my number one excitement factor of racing – and I have never yet had the chance. Bring it on. Smashed legs or not. Bring it on!
No one makes a move into the first three bends. Neither the fourth and final bend. We are on the final straight moving towards the finish line. I am not sure, but I think I have a greater chance with a short distance and a quick max power output. But I don’t know. Norwegian girl is first to pick up on speed. We match and stay by her side. We are getting close now. Flip. I am going. Drop the gear heavier; off the saddle and BOOM, I am taking my shot. I quickly get half or even a full bike length or so on Norwegian girl and I sense I am keeping it. And that’s how we cross the line. I didn’t need to go all out as I felt my advantage in the corner of my eye. I knew I had it. Okay, we were not sprinting for gold, most likely the scenario would have been different, however being in the same age group we were sprinting for 16th, 17th and 18th place. I was excited about my first ever chance of sprinting and certainly I wouldn’t miss a chance to practise. (Norwegian girl later sent me a message saying ‘thanks for the sprint, was worth the entire ride’ 🙂
Looking back I cover my head in shame.
How on earth could I consider not taking part?
How could I think I was not worthy my spot in the field (which I earned myself)?
How could I lose so much confidence I was convinced I would be the first person to drop?
How could I even consider to withdraw myself from rare opportunity that not many people get and which I had worked hard for myself?
I feel really shameful. Especially to the people who wanted to, but couldn’t be there. One being my Danish friend, who was in position for medal in the time trial, but crashed with 1K to go and broke her collarbone – LLine Eriksen you were greatly missed on the start line in the road race.
And what about all the people who didn’t qualify?
I know exactly what it feels like after crashing out of the Dubai qualifier, being miles ahead for an age group victory, but going home with nothing, no ticket to Denmark and no chance of a wildcard as I didn’t finish.
But I did get my act together and I did take part. I certainly didn’t produce any great results. But given the lack of quality in my preparation, my lack of strength, my lost confidence, my borderline sports psychological depression and my unwillingness to suffer in the race, I am pretty relieved with what I managed to put out on the day.
I loved being in my home country. I loved riding the Danish kit and I loved the roadside support from the Danes. I loved teaching about the foods we eat and I loved having friends and family around the entire weekend. I loved sharing this experience.
I apologize to the people I was grumpy towards in the weeks before race day, especially my family. It was hard feeling so low.
Once again, special thanks to my number one fan base, my mum and dad, who drives the entire country to support me. They were there at the start line and they were there at the finish line. In between they drove 200K to find me three times on the route. THANK YOU!
Once again, I have learned so many valuable life lessons in the journey of my cycling. If cycling makes me a stronger and more balanced human being, then despite any results, this will be well worth everything I go through.
Ps. For the remaining of September, I will ride only when and where and how ‘I’ want to 😉