A happy racer is a fast racer. It’s a good saying, and I think it’s pretty apt. Racing in fear or anger can yield results, but racing happy? That’s the place you want to be for sustainable racing experiences.
Finding joy in riding after nationals was like looking for a needle in a haystack; there was a lot of shit to get through before I could even have a glimmer of light. Speaking to multiple people about this, though, it all makes sense. Having goals dashed in the finishing strait is enough to leave a sour taste in most people’s mouths, and adding insult to injury was the injury itself, limiting my bike time, and any bike time I attempted generally resulted in crashing to to gross shoulder instability.
I have crashed more in the past three months than in the past three years. It’s humbling, and resulted in quite the crisis of confidence I am slowly crawling my way out of.
Heading to NZ for a work trip soon after was an interesting experience. I was treated to some of the best trails in NZ, and potentially the world, but was flagging in enthusiasm due to the burn-out, shoulder injury, no sleep, a test bike that was difficult to manoeuvre; and the flu. A better rider would have fared better but I was pretty broken at the end of the day, despite having a lot of fun at times.
It definitely didn’t help with the crisis of confidence having numerous crashes on slick roots (like I am from Australia; what are they??) but in the end the whole experience made me stoic in the determination to go on some wild adventures and experience more slippery root infested trails to test myself on, and develop that skill we don’t have the ability to do here in Australia.
Working at Crankworx Rotorua was a welcome distraction to the face full of gunk and flu I was trying to shake; it would have been a very sad trip if I didn’t have a purpose other than riding, and Crankworx fitted the bill perfectly. You can only imagine the next-level skill and bravery these athletes have, doing backflips 15 metres in the air, totally phenomenal. Rather than having misgivings about my own lack of backflips, it really provokes a sense of awe and respect for the athletes, and a sense that nothing is impossible (though I may draw the line at backflips…).
Riding through the Redwoods on my single trail ride in Rotorua (yep I was that crook), I was taken for a spin by ex-Aussie and Enduro/Downhill pinner Ronja Hill-Wright. I was totally in awe of her ability to compete in the Whip-Off champs at Rotorua—even the step down onto the jump was massive—and it was so cool to see women really step up to the next level in a gravity-based sport. I had borrowed a demo bike for the ride which was distinctly in the non-fancy club, but being a bit lighter and a better size for me than my review bike, felt like a $10,000 Santa Cruz Bronson (secret tip: it wasn’t).
I felt a new sense of possibility, though at that stage I didn’t really know form it would take.
Back in Australia, I yearn for a trail bike and time just riding and hucking off things. Here in Brisbane, we have a paltry amount of things to huck off without travelling, which makes that a bit difficult.
I know I am at my best in the process. I enjoy the learning, the becoming. Part of NZ was seeing that there are other ways to complete the process, other ways to craft goals.
The racing has always been secondary to the becoming, which makes it difficult when suddenly you’re at the end-game and you have put all the focus on the becoming, but to what end?
I suppose rekindling my spirit of adventure has been pretty integral to the process of ‘what’s next?’, and I think it’s probably integral for most people’s prolonged participation in any sport, but especially one that is as brutal as cross-country. There is not a lot of love to be found in busting out 40mins of VO2 max efforts a couple of times a week, week in, week out. Despite it meaning I could ‘become’ to the point where I was putting out some great numbers, (which gets you out of bed and sustains you through the heaving effort of it all), without the adventure it is difficult to keep the love going when hopes are dashed at the finish line.
So where to now? It’s a slow process of rekindling. Developing that confidence back is paramount, trying to get shredly again after months of riding like a kook (thankfully my Rocky Mountain Element feels like home, it’s amazing. I love it).
I plan to do some things that scare me. Ride new trails. Seek adventure. Find things to huck off. Wear less lycra for a while. Drink the wine and eat the brownies (ok I have been doing that for a while now…). Be a better parent. Be more present for my coached athletes. Recognise that balance is a myth when training 18hrs a week and be ok with that.
But primarily, the goal is about finding joy; it’s the joy of freedom on two wheels and a zest for the outdoors and adventure that brought me to mountain biking. The joy of feeling the fear and doing it anyway (not avoiding something because you’re feeling knotted up about a race). The joy of the challenge and overcoming, and the joy of adventure.