When I returned home from competing in para-cycling at a World Cup in Baie-Comeau, Canada, I thought my season was over. The race course in Canada was exhausting. It contained a hill that I named the “Hill of Death” (needless to say, the hill was big and with a steep grade). There were 107 turns in just the para-cycling road race. I was tired, mentally and physically.
As a coach, I knew that in the next week I needed to recover mentally, as well as physically. However, there was one more race I was considering. In New Mexico, every September, there is a time trial called the Paula Higgins Memorial Record Challenge. (A time trial is a race where each person goes against the clock to see how fast they can go a certain distance.) Many people have set records here in the past because the course is as flat as you can get. I decided to attempt one more race this season. This was my last race - I had to make Emerging Standard Times if I wanted to reach my “big” racing goal for the season.
Emerging Standard Times are the first times that allow Team USA to “watch” you and may lead you to be invited to participate in United States Paralympics Cycling competitions or other events. I decided to go for it!
“5...4...3....2...1…” The USA Cycling official counted my start down. As soon as he said “GO!,” I was off! I wasn’t nervous, I knew exactly what I had to do. I followed a logical progression to race this time trial. I didn’t start by going as fast as I could right out of the gate. I kept up a higher cadence, still pushed outside my comfort zone, averaged about 20 MPH, but I stayed within the realm of where I knew I could finish at a fast pace. The race had one, 180-degree turn. Once I made that turn, I realized quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to keep the same pace that I was on the way out. Luckily, I had to complete the race at 18.6 MPH to meet my goal. I was going faster before this, so while I knew I still had to pedal my absolute hardest, I wasn’t worried. I kept my cadence up and for the first time, I didn’t let myself take a little break. Finally, the finish came into sight. I had ½ mile to go. I knew I had to give everything I had. I pushed HARD. When I finished, another race official gave me my time. I had to go faster than 39:77 to meet my goal. I completed the race in 38:48. I made my goal!!!!
So how did not meeting my goal in the World Cup help me achieve my goals in the New Mexico Time Trial? After reflecting on this, there were two takeaways that I learned from the elite athletes that I competed with at the World Cup:
I learned how to deal with challenges. In the World Cup, I had to climb the “Hill of Death’ a total of 7 times. I had never climbed a hill that size before. This hill was a huge challenge for me. During my last race - the road race - I had a mechanical issue on the third climb up the hill. I couldn’t shift into my lowest gear. I knew I had to grit my teeth and climb. At that moment, I learned to overcome challenges.
I learned how to compete. After watching the other competitors, I learned how much race strategy can help. In the time trial, I learned to properly save my energy while still competing outside my comfort zone. In the road race, I learned that staying with the pack and saving energy can pay in the long run.
In the end, both these lessons paid off in the Paula Higgins Memorial Record Challenge Time Trial in New Mexico. By strategizing and being able to overcome challenges, I had a new way of thinking about my race. I knew how to take my race, look at it logically, break it down, and completely conquer it!
Every race offers us lessons! Reflect on your race performance to discover what it has to teach you for the next one.