Sunday, 29 May 2016

Glentress 7, being pushed over the edge

People who follow my blogs know that I have been really struggling with my races the last couple of years. Fitting it all in, training, racing, working, general life commitments and priorities. I was diagnosed with parasympathetic fatigue syndrome last summer which forced me to have a 6 month break from it all. In a World Series MTB Marathon Portugal 3 weeks ago, I showed myself a mental strength which I had been lacking and it was one of my most rewarding finishes ever. Unfortunately my body paid the price and I have been struggling with fatigue ever since. Frustrating does not even come close with this what to seem a never ending battle between my mind wanting to push forward but my body simply not being able to follow. And the self-destructing disappointing thoughts that come with it “I am simply not as strong as I once used to be”

I entered Glentress 7 (a 7 hour MTB race in which you ride as many laps as you can in the given time) many months ago as a solo rider, I thought it would be the perfect way to prepare myself for the Mountain Bike Marathon World championships later in June.  3 weeks after the Portugal MTB Marathon it allowed me enough recovery and 4 weeks before Worlds it would be the perfect endurance set. Because of circumstances beyond my control  the race in Portugal ended up taking a real toll mentally and physically.  On hind sight maybe I should have allowed myself more time to bounce back. But the thought “it is not that bad” was so ingrained in me that I just ignored the warning signs. I thought a lot of sleeping and easing up the training the week leading into the race would give me enough rest to get rid of my swollen legs and tired body. “It will be fine” I thought.

I thought wrong. Turned out that my bike recovered much better from Portugal with the great help from Nicholson Cycles than I did. My plan was to start the race hard to practice the MTB Marathon starts at international level and after the first lap settle into a pace I was comfortable holding for 7 hours. I really pushed myself starting hard, ignoring the dead legs and low heart rate, happily reaching the highest point of the course in 2nd  placed female. The descent started with a steep drop with tree roots and rocks and a sharp turn to the left. I was cruising down comfortably sussing my line out when suddenly  I found myself between two aggressive racing males  trying to overtake who literally  pushed me of my own line resulting in my front tyre hitting a rock and me flying over the handle bars. I quickly jumped on my bike to clear the way for the riders behind me only to notice that my handle bars were on an angle. Male riders were coming up so fast behind me on narrow rocky single track that I was too scared to stop and being crashed into to sort it out. Not ideal to start a technical descent. My confidence hit an all time low and I was surprised how aggressive some of these male riders were. I was riding like a numpty and never really found my flow. For the first 3 hours I was riding in the top 5 with less than 5 minutes between the 5 girls. I knew I would be stronger in the 2nd half of the race but as I started my 4th lap I was also aware that my body was not responding, my lower back injury was playing up, I started to feel tingling down the back of my legs and I did not enjoy any of the racing. “What’s the point” I thought. I knew that I was strong enough to be able to finish the race. I also knew that if I would push through I would again be stuck in that big hole of overtraining and it would not do my body any good. I rolled into transition after 4 hours of racing and told Michael “I am done”. A negative cloud of thoughts followed the remainder of the day. I felt like a broken record. Here I was again with a body that was not on the same page as me, creating so many doubts in my mind, making it really hard not to feel like a failure.
My favourite training ground in Scotland
This was not a simple problem that could be fixed by changing my attitude going into a race with the purpose of ‘just to have fun’ as many people have been suggesting. Me not finishing Glentress 7 had nothing to do with too high expectations leading into the race. I was riding with the top end of the female field until I pulled out so I had no reasons to be disappointed with my performance. It was purely about how awful my body felt during the race taking all the enjoyment out of it. I simply did not see the point in keeping on fighting my own body. Racing for me is not about chasing podiums, although it is a nice reward, that is not where my enjoyment lays. For me it is about being the best possible athlete I can be, feeling strong during a race. When I race like that it does not matter where I place, as I simply can not perform any better or go any faster.  But I have not been anywhere near racing that level for two years now. And there is only so much mental strength one can have to pull a non cooperative body through an endurance race. I have reached that limit too many times in the last couple of years. So how long do I keep trying for? keep battling? keep suffering? When is it time to say enough is enough?

Being chased by Fynn and Michael on the bike
After a sleepless night I woke up to a very sunny Scotland. Michael, dog Fynn and I went for a beautiful run along Queens Ferry foreshore along beautiful park trails. Chicken soup for the soul. How lucky am I to have these two by my side. Michael and I had stayed in Edinburgh to meet up with my Ashmei Team mate Owain Williams and his wife Mandy for lunch on Sunday. This is still my most favourite part of racing, meeting other athletes, hearing their stories and the battles they had to overcome. Connecting. I am not sure where I will or can go from here. What I do know is that I love being part of this world of racing, ambitions, dreams, goals and aspirations and I am not ready to turn my back on it just yet.
"And so you touch this limit, something happens and you can suddenly go a little bit further, with your mind power, your determination, your instinct and experience as well, you can fly very high" Arton Senna

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