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.....