The day started off like any other race day. Well, perhaps not like any other race day. We didn’t have an early wake up call and we had plenty of leisure time in the morning to pack and prepare to leave. The drive to the course in Diegem was quiet and focused. Once we arrived and were registering for the race in a nearby mini castle, I had the shocking realization that I had forgotten my warmup pants as well as pins. That was the beginning of my mental struggle of the day.
I could write an article about how the course was a unique combination of icy, frozen ruts and slippery deep mud but instead I will write about the hardest part of any race. Mental readiness is, in my opinion, the toughest part in cycling. It’s like that one piece that you always lose when trying to solve a puzzle. From the very beginning, I think I lost that piece. Today was full of learning how to keep all my puzzle pieces in a box instead of scattered all over the floor.
Just to start with the little things, that definitely built up, I learned that taping shoes in muddy races with lots of running is a mistake that I will not make again. I learned that sections that are fun and completely rideable are sometimes quicker to run. Finally, I learned that the ladies in Europe are far more aggressive than in the United States. This is something that I relearn every time I come here but it is still eye-opening each time.
Mentally focusing and being confident are two things that I have been trying to work on for some time now and I don’t know if this is something that I will ever get right. Getting over the mental hump of feeling unworthy of coming to the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross Development Block 3 camp and racing tough races such as Diegem and Essen have been challenging parts of racing as a whole.
I broke my one rule of not being negative before my race and I think that's what disappoints me more than the “not so boastful” result. Mental strengthening comes from repetitive and consistent practice, and time. I need to learn how to not let little things get in my head and how to adapt to a situation. At some point during my race I decided to just focus on smoothness and skills rather than fix the fact that I was going backwards and I don’t think that was the best decision because it felt like giving up. That did not help with the mental aspect.
Libby White impressed me with her mental strength today. She had a bad hand injury but she still finished strong and survived it without complaining or slowing down.
To end on a positive note, the day did have some happy sides. These were like the edge pieces of a puzzle that just came together nicely and easily. There was a very friendly man that owned a coffee shop near our team set up that offered us free coffee even though everything is usually closed on Sundays. The mechanics and each and every member of our support crew were amazing today, keeping our bikes functioning and helping us out in any way possible. Thank you for everything you all do and for keeping us positive.