A lot of my job is focused on numbers: results, rankings, power outputs, time splits… When the numbers don’t seem to add up it can feel like the end of the world.
I went to Italy for the World Championship Road Race feeling completely ready, but on the morning of the race I woke up with a racing heart rate and a knot in my stomach. I had never felt nerves like this before! But I was also feeling really motivated and, since sport is 90% mental, I focused on what I had been planning and practicing to do over the past few months.
The first half of the race was flat with a technical run in to the finishing 16.6km circuit. On the circuit was a tough 4.2km climb followed by a fast descent, and sharp turn into a steep 600m kicker. The circuit was where the race was going to heat up and the closer we got, the faster we rode.
Since I was the sole South African, I knew had to be tactically smart throughout the race. I fought to hold a good position at all times and I made sure I was eating and drinking properly. As we entered the circuit and the noise of the excited crowd hit the peloton, I felt that knot in my stomach again and I was about to realise it wasn’t nerves.
As the business end of the race began, I started to feel weaker, like I needed fuel. I had eaten properly but my muscles were crying for energy so I drank and ate more. As the kilometres ticked by, it seemed like I wasn’t absorbing any fuel and my stomach was feeling worse and worse. All I was aware of was how uncomfortable I was and I just didn’t know whether to listen to my muscles and eat or listen to my stomach and not eat. Then I realized, it wasn’t nerves at all, I was sick.
With two of the five laps down, I started to cramp and the race was starting to split. I managed to stay towards the front but then, for the first time in my cycling career, it happened: surprise vomit! There isn’t anything lady-like about puking on yourself. Twice.
Suddenly, I was watching the race like it was a movie playing out in front of me. I saw the winning move go and, although my mind chased after the attack, my body had shut-down and I had no power. I had pictured this move for months and here it was, without me in it. The attack went, the eventual winners disappeared, the bunch seemed to lose motivation and I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it.
I crossed the line feeling like I had let down South Africa. I felt like I had let down everyone who helped to get me there. I felt like I had let down myself. Then a new friend of mine congratulated me on my achievement. I thanked him but, with higher expectations of myself, I was a bit taken aback. Then he told me he would do anything to finish 22nd in a world race and added he was impressed I managed to achieve that under the circumstances. Apparently, he saw me vomit.
A dinner of plain bread, a good sleep, and some distance from Italy later, I realised it was all about perspective. It seemed like it was the end of the world but it was just the end of World Champs. Onwards and upwards!