Answer: There are many aspects and methods of answering the question I set myself. I think there are 8 key aspects which tie into seeing myself as an endurance athlete. These have developed over the past 9 months.
1. Mental mindset – there has been a slow realisation that to be successful and achieve my goals in mountain biking I have to develop a strong self-belief system. This belief system must be congruent with my personal values and be centred on my ‘why’. I am now aware of my mental tenacity and strength. My ‘why’ is being a good role model for my young daughter – as she grows up I want her to be aware that she can participate in any sport/other activity she chooses whether or not it’s historically seen as a male-dominated sport/occupation. I have started meditation using the headspace application and have been reading and listening to sports psychology books to gain a deeper insight.
2. Skill practice – races are not won on speed. Races are won on smoothness, minimisation of mistakes, good preparation and excellent line choice throughout the course. I have been racing and training regularly to practice many aspects of the race. I have been attending skill sessions on rocks, cornering and picking excellent lines which is starting to pay off with some podium results.
3. Physical stability – in the last 3 months I came to the realisation that I need a stronger core to be able to ‘race’ a 24-hour mountain bike event. At the National 24 hour mountain bike race my lower back went into spasm and my left arm stopped functioning which made the race even harder to complete. I have been working with a personal trainer on daily core exercises and am slowly becoming stronger.
4. Physical strength – I have always sworn to never attend a gym and lift weights as I didn’t believe this had any impact on my endurance mountain biking. I have been lifting weights and doing other cycling specific strength cross training with a personal trainer. If my core is strong the impact on the rest of my body can be minimised.
5. Physical mobility and mental calmness – I have been doing a 30 minute online yoga class in my study 3-4 nights per week for the past 9 months. Initially, I hated this but am becoming to see the benefit of this vital exercise and am embracing the extra mobility and calmness it has afforded me.
6. Immunity and health – with a nearly 2-year-old who goes to daycare 3 days a week we have had our fair share of illness. I decided a couple of weeks ago to see a dietician to see whether my health could be improved. This is a working progress and I’m attempting to stick to a well balanced diet and cut down on chocolate, crisps, sweets and cake. I have added protein and berries to my diet as it is thought berries act in reducing inflammation in the body.
7. Social networks – I am currently attempting to improve my social networks which include social mountain biking once a week to form a support channel for my riding. I have managed to hook into a good local group which is providing additional motivation to keep improving at mountain biking. Through my coach, I am also in touch with other endurance athletes which helps me feel I am not going crazy and I am not on a pointless endeavor to be able to race at a National level in 24-hour mountain biking.
8. Structured training plan – I sought the help from an experienced and qualified coach who has extensive experience and expertise in the field of 24-hour mountain biking. Having this structured plan is invaluable in prioritising my time between my family (including a toddler Hayley), work as a midwife, training, racing, and caring for our animals and managing the Fibromyalgia.
In summary, I could have rewritten an accurate account of every race I attended in the last 9 months. However, from writing down the objectives and learnings from each race I came to an important realisation. Each race has taught me something new and has played a role in developing my athletic identity. Over the last 9 months I have moved into the following stages:
- Uncoached, social mountain biker definitely not an athlete – don’t even mention the words elite and endurance in the same sentence
- Low self-belief – I’m not sure a world class athlete will want to coach me don’t they just coach really fast/fit athletes?
- Self-sufficiency at races – do I really need a whole support team in a 24 hour can’t I figure it out as I go along – how hard can it be?
- Big scaredy cat – I’m scared of the dark, heights, rocks, roots, leaning my bike – everything!
- Through the training and racing and skill practice, I am actually a good rider and can manage a lot of circumstances and am beginning to have a little self-belief
- Mental understanding of racing – fake it until I make it – meet alter ego Scout Bex
- Good preparation for every race/every training session and don’t leave anything to chance!
- Developed into an endurance athlete