Wednesday, 28 September 2011

First, second, third and fourth

With experience you come to realize that the process, rather than the result, is everything. You still feel disappointment when you lose and joy when you win but the manner of the win is more important. Since giving birth 9 months ago I’ve really had to focus on my performances as the results have been slow in coming. It’s required faith and patience, the latter of which I don’t possess in abundance, and the advice of other mother athletes has been vital. In their experience it takes 6 to 9 months to regain your pre pregnancy form but after about a year you are better than before. For the first 6 months I focused on building my strength and endurance. Sometimes the numbers on the clock were not encouraging, other times I’d reach a plateau on a session where I’d get the same score for a few weeks despite hard training. In the last few months however I’ve seen a real return to form and the national track championships in Sundrive 2 weeks ago provided a good test for me.  There were a number of events from the 200m sprint to the 12k scratch race and as the title suggests I came first second, third and fourth.
The race  of real interest to me was 3k individual time trial where I was third behind my two teammates Caroline and Ciara.  This was a race where my performance was more important than the outcome, although finishing third didn't make me happy. In better conditions 4 weeks before I was 5 seconds slower and ,as a measure of my own improvement since giving birth to Clodagh, it shows that I’m on the right track. What was frustrating was that I was 0.32seconds outside the 4min mark which is a watershed on an outdoor track. It is by these small margins that Olympics are won and lost and from now to London I will be fighting to shave off every millisecond. The good news for the team is that both Caroline and Ciara also made improvements and both of them broke the previous national record in their battle to win the title. It’s a new situation for me to be surrounded by stronger athletes and I’m really enjoying chasing them.
My only National title at the weekend came in the 12km Scratch race.  This is probably the most exciting race of the weekend for both athletes and spectators as all 15 girls race flat out for 25laps. It’s always an eventful race filled with tactical breaks where alliances are made and broken lap by lap. Although it was an individual event my victory had as much to do with good team work as it did with my own efforts. Early in the race Ciara made a break off the front and I jumped on her wheel. Together we distanced ourselves from the main bunch while Caroline stayed behind marshalling any attacks that tried to draw us back . With 10 laps to go Ciara and I had lapped the main bunch at which point Caroline made an attack.  Luckily I was in a position to jump on Caroline’s wheel and the 2 of us broke away to give me my first national title.  In a good day for team Cunga, we claimed first, second and third in this event, the result reflecting how well we work as a team. Personally it was nice to get a first national title since my return.
In the 200m sprint I came second behind Lydia Boylan. By the time the final came round I’d raced 8 times and it was only the healing hands of Austin Mooney that kept my legs from seizing up completely. He was a great help providing massage, mechanical advice and shelter on what was a long wet day.  To complete the weekend I was 4th in the 500m.
Since the championship I’ve had two really hard weeks in Donegal. I did 3 to 4 hours per day on the hills around Letterkenny and was completely spent by the end of last week. It was nice to be home and gave Mum and Dad some quality time with Clodagh and me. As a treat at the end of the camp Sam and I went to Kev and Ruta’s wedding in Lithuania for the weekend. Ruta was stunning. It was a fantastic weekend, the last one I will have with my friends for 11 months. I’m off to Newport now for a few days on the track before the real business starts. The international season starts next month and I can’t wait.
Talk soon.   

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Some things are harder than others...

Every athlete has sessions they dread, the ones that make you want to stop, the ones that you think about for days beforehand. Sometimes you do stop and you feel so worthless, a feeling that builds in you until the session comes round again and the voices in your head that made you stop the first time are louder and more insistent. You develop strategies to drown out those voices, some people count, others close their eyes and imagine a close race and eventually you get through the session. Next time you try to be better, travel more meters in the same time, lift more weights,  do the same distance quicker. You conquer the session but the voices are still there.  With experience you realize the voices are telling you about your state of health, your state of mind.  If they are particularly loud you wonder if you are tired or ill, if they are quiet you take confidence in the progress that this represents.  They are the natural consequence of an assault on your body and they are a vital source of information.
As a younger athlete stopping in a session represented a failure morally, spiritually, pretty much any ally you can think of.  The question of whether I was good enough loomed large. Am I going to make it, is this all wasted effort?  With time I shook those doubts off but it was a gradual process. Session by conquered session I broke down my fears, then I won a race or two. That became a habit and eventually I won the world championships.  I’m trying a different sport now but the process is the same. I’m excited to see how far I can take it. The fear of failure and feelings of inadequacy  have been relegated to a younger time. It's all fun now trying to find my limits. Which brings me to the point.
 We are off to the velodrome in Newport, Wales for four days today. It’s the second week in a row for us and I’m looking forward to it. They are tough camps with a couple of intense sessions on the track each day.  All the coping mechanisms I’ve talked about will be employed  as each session will be maximal. It’s great for us as the feedback on our progress is instant. Brian, our coach, can refine our technique, we can work on our starts and our cohesiveness through the middle of the race and we are developing the savvy you only get from extended track time. It also allows us to gel as a team off the track and the three of us are good friends now. The hard part for me is leaving baby Clodagh behind. She is 8 months now and changing every day. Like every mother I think my little girl is so beautiful and after four days apart I see changes in her others don’t. She claps hands, babbles, crawls, make a new sound. Each time I’m away she does something new. Last week Sam though her to wave when he said bye, bye and I missed it.  Maybe she’ll take her first step or say her first word when I’m away and I’ll miss it. I haven’t developed a coping strategy for that yet. Like I said some things are harder than others.....