Going into my third weekend of NICA racing, I was hit hard with a head cold and sinus problems. Mentally, this was a game-changer. My head was not in the right place, overthinking what others expected of me coaches, teammates, etc. especially since I would be racing in the Leader jersey.
I pre-rode with my team on Saturday, the day before the race. My first impression of the course was “this isn’t my course”, it was a mostly flat or descending with lots of two-tracks and lacking any real elevation. I usually create the most distance on the climbs. For me, this continued to dig a deeper hole of self-doubt and generate negative thoughts about how I would be able to perform while being sick.
Race day was the coldest of the season (about 45 degrees). My lungs and the cold have never mixed well, and even at the start line, my mind would not stop over-analyzing and jumping from one cynical thought to the next. But before I knew it, the announcer was counting down from 10 and I no longer had the time to think about what would happen, only what was happening.
Right out of the start, another girl and I lead the pack through the fast, flat single-track, and made a decent size gap between us and third. My legs were cramping in the cold, and my lungs felt like someone had lit a fire inside of them, but if racing has taught me anything, it’s perseverance. Instinctively, I attacked every slightly hill-looking rise I could find, and slowly started creating a gap between me and the girl in second but I could tell by the crowds cheering that she was not far behind.
At the end of lap 2, I managed to hold the lead across the finish line. I had finished with my smallest time gap yet.
This race was definitely a lesson in the mental side of racing. I truly believe that if your head is not in the right place, you cannot reach your optimal performance level. When I found myself struggling, and thinking things like “she isn’t even breathing hard” and “you can’t pull this off” I had to remind myself, that a positive mindset creates a positive outcome.