An undulating year – and the lessons from it
I always tend to get somewhat nostalgic at the end, or beginning, of something like a new year. I guess it’s my romantic side really – being so driven by feelings and visions. To me, a new year is the perfect time to gaze upon the past and simultaneously dream about the future. And while this have been a bit of a roller-coaster year for me personally, I’m not bringing regret nor sadness to the dawn of the new year. This the lessons that I have learned during this past year.
It all started with a very positive message saying that I’d been accepted in the local amateur racing team. And with that message, I actually fulfilled a three year long goal – one I’ve had since I completed my first race. New and increased sponsorships and a few really good friends in the team kept my spirit high during the dark months.
The off season went by really fast, and suddenly I was off to Mallorca to push through a week long training camp. I’d gotten the programme a couple of weeks prior, and while it was certainly looking tough I was also looking forward to it. There’s something special about pushing boundaries, you know. And if I pushed boundaries? Woah.
There was pretty much non-stop suffering in the schedule for me, as I wasn’t in climbing form compared to the other riders. I didn’t actually stack many hours in endurance zone, which is a shame – but I knew I’d get something out of fighting to stay with the group and developing my weaknesses day after day. After 7 days on Mallorca, finishing it with a 230 km ride including the last hour on threshold pace, I was pretty done, but I was happy with completing such a hard week on the bike – actually the hardest I’ve ever done.
Back in town, the season start was getting closer every day and I knew that I’d eventually get something out of the training camp. We’d gotten new time trial helmets, skinsuits and I was getting really stoked for doing the first TT training of the year. My girlfriend accompanied me, and raced too – and I had some support from my family. Everything was really, really great and I was feeling happy. The race went well considering I haven’t hit form as early as March/April the last couple of years. The emotional support that day gave me wings to push and I was battling the feeling of exhaustion with the will of going even faster against each other.
Crossing the fictional finish line, I was completely drained and totally in harmony with what I’ve just performed. What happened just a couple of seconds later still cause chills to run down my spine. Without going into the details of it, I had a frontal collision with an oncoming car in a right hand turn. There was cars parked everywhere, and there wasn’t room for both of us. Now, a year later I don’t really feel scared of crashing anymore but I still remember that sight of yellow headlights coming right at me and having nowhere to go.
Magically, I didn’t break anything physical. My initial feeling was that I was OK. I was very dizzy, felt disoriented, had a bit of a headache, saw blood running down my hand from cutting myself on the broken windscreen. But after all, I was fine. I appreciate the immediate support I got. Especially from my friend Christopher who just wouldn’t take no for an answer when I kept denying getting into an ambulance. The hospital visit was easy and hassle-free, and me and Jessica was home quite early.
But looking back, this is where things went south. With the added pressure of being a sponsored cyclist, and wanting to get on with the racing and develop strength, speed and form through fast-paced cycling clouded my sight. I wouldn’t let myself look at me as wounded, even a bit. I was fine, and that accident was soon going to be forgotten, I told myself repeatedly for months. I learned how to deal with a physical, and psychological trauma the hard way – and I don’t know if I’m through all of it yet.
Being motivated is sometimes a good thing, but I’ve learned its dangers, too. When my expected form wouldn’t come (like it usually does after a tough winter and the progression of training schedule and early races) I wouldn’t see it for what it was. I told myself that I was honestly being too lazy. I wasn’t pushing hard enough on the training. And for every session that didn’t go as planned, I’d gather my full mental focus on giving more on the session after. While my motivation is a core piece of my overall work ethic and ambition, there are times when I wish I’d just listen to my body and ignore my head. Easier said than done.
The first races went off, and I was worse than I’ve ever been. My heart rate was peaking when we were going slow, and the slightest gradient or increase in tempo made me blow up. It felt like heading into a pro race as an unfit beginner. My morale didn’t break though. I had confidence in the form, I knew it would come. And it did – but not until months later.
A week before the national circus, I went to the swedish mountains with my better half. The aim was relaxation and preparation for the time trial and road race. Since I hadn’t had any positive inputs leading up to that point of the season, I knew I wasn’t going to perform at my highest. But I looked forward to it. Still, my head wanted to push. What my body said at that time, I can’t recall – since I wasn’t really listening.
We were heading out for a easy ride on the TT bike. Bikes were clean, chains lubed and kit in order. But as soon as I got out I felt that something was really off.
We headed towards a bridge crossing the big river, and I felt this horrific wave of anxiety running through me. It felt like my blood turned to poison. An abnormally elevated heart rate aided the panic and I could see Jessica a couple of hundred meter ahead. I tried to close the gap but it wasn’t happening. Unknowing of what hit me, I was suddenly feeling very, very sad. My heart rate wouldn’t stop rising and I noticed my nose bleeding. Since I had started to ride a bike, I had never felt such discomfort with cycling. I was considering just rolling over into the ditch and cry. Until today, I really don’t know where all that came from. Was it the trauma from the collision that suddenly caught up with me? I don’t know.
About three months after the collision, I decided to pull the plug on competitive cycling for uncertain time. Clearly, I had physical and psychological issues that I need to deal with. And after acknowledging the disruptive feelings I could hear my body just screaming for rest. That day was one of the harder this year, but I think I learned a very valuable lesson. Pushing yourself means nothing if you don’t listen to your body. It doesn’t matter how hard, or long you ride on a day when your body says rest. Today, I’m thankful for learning that lesson at the age of 24.
But since that breakdown in the swedish mountains a week before the nationals, it feels like I’m twice as wise as I were then. And I’ve changed my attitude towards the sport.
The attitude change is the result of the lessons I’ve learned.
1. I’m much more concerned about my own well-being now. I have grown confident enough to take my feelings for truths, and not disregard them as signs of weaknesses.
2. Today matters. What I didn’t do yesterday, or what I could do tomorrow is completely irrelevant. I’m focusing on what I can do each day to shape myself into who I want to be.
3. I remind myself to not take my health for granted. I’ve learned the ‘not take your health for granted’ lesson the hard and absolute way, but anyone can benefit from taking a moment every day to show gratitude for your health.
4. I feel more motivated to make my training count. Along with all the other things I’ve learned this year, a stronger motivation helps me to do everything I can, when I can. If that means going all out in a two hour training session, I’ll do that. It doesn’t mean going 6 hours when you’re supposed to go 3, though.