Monday, 19 October 2015

That crazy treadmill of achievement...

Today I 'rode' my mountain bike for the first time in about three years.  At the start of the final training season, when I try to qualify for Rio, this might seem odd.  But I just needed to …
Me on my favourite bike
Three years ago my main reason for taking up kayaking was to make me smile again; to fill a void left by not being able to race my bike anymore. 
 Me learning to paddle - 2012 Photo by Phil Gunney 
 At the beginning my goal was simply not to fall in, then it became to make the GB squad, and now without realising it's happened my horizon is vastly different. Somewhere along this path it’s become all about achievement. I've ended up wanting to paddle as fast as possible, to win international medals, and to be selected to paddle at Rio. My whole life is about kayaking. It governs every day, where I am, what I eat, how I sleep, even what I can and can’t do in my spare time.  Most of the time I’m perfectly happy with this – I like the focus of achieving goals – but a few things happened this last week that questioned if this performance driven focus is completely healthy. 

Me qualifying a boat for Rio 2015
photo from bbc sport
About a week ago I had my 2015 season review with the GB coaches and performance directors. All of my data was reviewed, and each and every “check and challenge” question was focused on performance gains. No detail was too small, no area left out, and I left the meeting feeling completely exhausted but positive and focused about 2016.

Then a couple of days later I had an unofficial 'performance meeting' (aka a catch up over coffee) with good friends from my kayak club. They are the volunteer coaches who had taken me under their wing and got me into the GB squad in the first place and who have stuck by me since. This 'meeting' could not have been more different.  No data, no lists of questions, just a sofa and a cup of coffee (oh, and their adorable 4 week old baby cuddled up on my chest).  We went through my goals and my take on the last season and they got me to realise that at the end of this next season I want to be able to look back on four years of my life and genuinely smile - that I need to remember who I am, and to keep everything in perspective.  Will this final year be filled with good memories, happy and full, or will the whole four years be solely remembered on my performance at one final event? 

2015 -Loosing my world title Gold medal by 200ths of a second :-(
That got me thinking and we decided I would reflect at the end of every week on what had made me smile. If I hadn't smiled and enjoyed myself, I would change things for the better next week. This would ensure that, come the end of 2016, whatever the outcome there could be no regrets. I would stick to the training plan, but I would also try to see life beyond this. I like to think this is how I normally try to live my life; creating amazing, positive, happy memories, but maybe last year, caught up in in the tunnel vision of performance, I was either too tired or too distracted to have this perspective.

And then yesterday I was reminded how important perspective is…

Yesterday Jenn Hill died aged only 38 (link) Jenn Hill was an incredible woman who influenced and inspired many, many people in the mountain biking world. I don't think I ever saw her without that trademark smile on her face. In fact I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have considered 24 hour racing if I hadn't seen her nailing it while smiling for the entire duration of a 24 hour race, (with only 1 gear on her bike!) making me think it could be fun (and not too painful?!?).  So it was Jenn and her smile that started this whole crazy adventure for me… 

Her husband put this message on twitter yesterday and it struck me how great memories can be made up from the simple things, and that my adventure is not just about Rio or medals.

"Thank you for the kind messages and love for Jenn. Now go ride bikes, hug loved ones, bake, enjoy life xxx"

So today I did what Tom suggested.  I dusted off my bike in memory of Jenn.  It wasn't a long ride and I was really wobbly and spectacularly poor on the technical sections, but I smiled the entire time. I also realised that it didn't bother me that I can’t and won’t be able to ride like I used to, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying being on a bike. 

This simple Twitter message reminded me that life isn't all about the crazy treadmill of achievement we can so easily find ourselves on, its about doing the things that make us smile; like riding bikes with your loved ones in the Autumn sunshine followed by tea and cake ... just because you like doing it. 
Post ride 'buzz' with tea and cake :-)

Thank you to Tom and to Jenn for inspiring me and for reminding me what’s really important. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi! My name is Vitório and I started training paracanoe at Minas Tenis Nautico, at Belo Horizonte, Brasil. I will be part of the host team for the British Canoeing in January, 2016. Are you coming to Belo Horizonte, in January?