Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Going backwards to move forward

Last year, I really enjoyed the course at Cannock Chase for the final round of the British XC Series.  So I was delighted to see it on the calendar again this year, and again as the fifth and final round.  The course had been changed a bit this year, and while a bit on the lengthy side for a modern XC course at 7.4km per lap, it didn't disappoint.

It's not the most technical overall, or the most hilly, the most rocky or most rooty.  It just has a bit of everything and flows really well.  It featured the infamous rock garden (which I think everyone gets far too worked up about - it's really not that hard!), some lovely flowing singletrack and some new natural sections which I really enjoyed.  I'd go as far as to say it's my favourite BCXC course of the year.

Rocking the rock garden.  Even on my hard tail, it's not that difficult - you just have to pick your line.  This was during practice on Saturday but it drew quite a crowd on Sunday - cameras at the ready to capture the crashes! 

It's a damn good thing I enjoyed the course though.  Because I definitely didn't enjoy my race outcome.  My worst result.  Ever.  At least I wasn't last, but not far off!

I feel like I've been going backwards recently in all kinds of ways.  Not just at the start of this race, when, yet again, I messed up my start and couldn't get clipped in and ended up last out of the start area for the 3rd time this year!  My no.1 focus for the winter has got to be sorting out my starts!  I feel I need to explain something though as this features quite frequently in my blogs . . . 

I have a shim between the cleat on my left shoe and the sole of the shoe, to deal with a biomechanical imbalance in leg length (which most of us have).  This is to help prevent an old injury re-occuring and balances me out on the bike when pedalling.  However, the shim makes it a bit trickier to get clipped in to the pedal.  So, you may ask, why don't I just start with my left food already clipped in and then my right will go in more easily as it doesn't have a shim?  Well, I'm right handed and right footed and have always just naturally pushed off with my right foot clipped in already.  I've tried the other way round and it just doesn't feel natural.

However, it's time to change this!  For the entire winter, I'm promising it to myself and I'm saying it publicly on here:  I'm going to practice clipping in the other way round at least once a week in a "standing starts" session until it feels natural.  On my commute to work, I will unclip at every set of lights with my right foot so that I have to get used to pushing off with my left foot already in.  Until it feels natural.  I'm going to sort this once and for all!

So, back to going backwards . . .  I went backwards at the start but I soon made up a few places during the first lap.  We were held up with the usual carnage at the back of the field on entering the first section of singletrack but I managed to hold a track stand while those who crashed got back on their bikes and that helped me get going again and grab a couple of places.

But it's not just in the race I felt like I was going backwards.  As I mentioned in my last blog, life has had its ups and downs over the past few months and, in summary, this season has just not gone to plan.  While I'm really happy with my technical skills and some other aspects of my training, I feel like other areas have been going backwards.  I've not been as dedicated to my training plan as I'd like to be, but life sometimes has to get in the way of training for good reason.  Not training then leads to putting a bit of weight on and that's another area where I feel like I've been going backwards and that in turn leads to feeling like I'm going backwards up the hills on my bike.  Hills are an area I've always been quite strong at but not when there's a bit of extra weight to carry up them!

All this culminated in me feeling like the entire race was spent going backwards.  But, in fact, I actually moved quite far forward during this race.

Not in my race result; but in many other aspects.  My lap times were the most consistent they have been all season and that's an area I've been trying really hard to work on.  I didn't make a single technical mistake in the entire race.  I cleared the rock garden every lap and carried good speed through the other singletrack sections.  In fact, when comparing the sections that featured in the race both last year and this year, I was faster in almost all of them.  Even my times on the uphill sections are about the same.  So, taking away the extra weight I've been carrying imagine how fast I'd be up them if I wasn't carrying it!

So, in a lot of ways, this means my training has moved forward, even if not evident in the race result.  I need to keep reminding myself I've moved up a category this year, and while I had hoped to be getting better results by the end of the season, it's not just about results.  Given I've been struggling to fit training around life this season, to be getting consistent lap times and doing better on technical sections than last year is a great step forwards.  And even on the hills, to be just as fast up them when carrying some extra weight is a sign that my power is actually even better.

And this has all moved me forward not just physically but in my head.  We're all too quick to beat ourselves up when we don't do as well as we'd hoped.  But this is why process goals are so important.  Forget the result and focus on what you can control.  After a bit of a lull in motivation recently due to the lack of training time, this has really pushed me on again.  With a bit of hard work, that extra weight will soon be gone again.  With more time and focus, I am back and dedicated to my training plan again.  And while I know I'm not going to get the results I'd like in any of my remaining 3 races this season, I know the reasons why and I know I have improved in specific areas (even if the results don't show it).

So, yes, Cannock was my worst result ever as a percentage of the field.  But it has helped me realise there's more to racing than results.  As I reminded myself earlier this season, I'm doing this because I enjoy riding my bike, not just for race results!

I'm not completely writing-off this season but I'm already starting to focus on next year.  I've got some big ideas for what I want to do next year and I'm genuinely looking forward to my winter training starting again.  It's an opportunity to reflect on what I've learned this year and focus on my weaknesses.  But I also want to focus on my strengths next year . . . I'll not give it all away just now but let's just say there may be more of a focus on endurance in 2016!

The season has absolutely whizzed by this year and although that's the end of the British XC Series for 2015, there are still two rounds of the Scottish XC Series left as well as an event I love: the Tour de Ben Nevis.  One of those SXC rounds is this coming Sunday and it doubles as the Scottish Championships.  With a strong field in my Elite/Expert category, I'm not expecting a podium result like last year in the Masters Championships, but I'm really looking forward to riding at Badaguish for the first time on what I'm told is a fun, natural old-school technical course!  And no matter what the result, I'll definitely be moving forwards!

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