Standing at the start line can create all sorts of emotions. The best feeling for this moment is confidence in your ability to reach the upcoming competition's goal.
Of course, our personal ability can change a little from day to day. That´s why we sometimes can not be 100% sure what to expect from ourselves the day it counts the most. Yes, we can make sure we have done everything the last couple of days before the race to perform at our best. Got a good night’s sleep, followed a performance diet, had some good training sessions to boost the confidence, and all those things. Then we feel strong, energized, and ready to compete. Unfortunately, this would be too easy to achieve big things. Those aspects play a significant role, but it´s not the whole picture.
Sometimes it´s not possible to have this perfect pre-race preparation. We had to travel far, couldn´t sleep well, or the food at the hotel was awful - at least for performing athletes. Should this make us give up before we even started? Of course not!
So what´s giving us confidence? For me, it was when my training went well - Not only the session before the race but the whole training season. I basically agree with the saying that winter athletes are made in summer and vice versa. That, of course, includes spring and fall for both. All the “off-season” training was most important for me to feel somewhat comfortable at the start line - or not, depending on how training went.
The race I have been a little more nervous about was the season’s first world cup race. Until this point, I knew what I did, but I didn´t know what this meant in comparison to my competitors besides my teammates.
After this first race, I had a much better idea of what I was capable of in the just-started competition season. Depending on how this first race went, I would feel more or less comfortable standing at the start line the next day, but at least I knew what to expect.
This first race did show a tendency at what level I may be competitive. I got an idea if my goals for the season, World Championships or Olympic games, are realistic or if I should adjust them. I didn´t need to win the first race to see if I could be on the podium, but I had to be within a certain range with some specific parameters. In my case, that was my skiing speed. Of course, I wouldn´t have minded being on the podium, but I mainly wanted to see that I was capable of getting on the podium at some point.
What wasn´t done during training season is hard to catch up on during race season - that's a fact. If I was far behind the fastest skiers, there was no time anymore to close the gap. I don´t say it is impossible to get better throughout the competition season. We see some athletes getting in better racing shape when getting more and more races done, while others might fall back a little bit. The “late starters” might not be in their best form when competition season hits because of a lack of “off-season” training but using those first rases as part of the preparation for the Championships, Olympics, or other seasonal highlights. You still know what´s a reasonable gap and what´s not.
No matter what time in the season I was competing, I wanted to show the best I had to offer on any race day. It didn´t matter at the start line if I was in peak shape or not, if it was a World Cup, World Championship, an Olympic race, or even a training competition because a race is training as well. When racing at 90% capacity, we train to race at 90 % capacity. How would we feel comfortable in a race where we want to show 100% when we never did this before?
Let me summarize what makes us feel as comfortable as possible going into the competition that counts the most:
- Great training in the off-season.
- Having an idea about achievable goals.
- Give 100% as soon as we wear a bib - every single race!
When giving 100% every time wearing a bib, our brain relates a bib with 100%. To pull off everything we have when it counts the most, we need to know how 100% feels to feel comfortable with that. No one feels comfortable with something new or something we don´t do very often - at least not when there is a need to perform.
The 100% rule also brings us back to point number one: We can not hope that competing will show something other than our training results. Things we didn´t train can not show up in a race. Every once in a while, an athlete gets lucky and has a personal best. I didn´t feel comfortable hoping for luck. I learned that I just had to do the training to be excited about racing. And yes, I had two years when I re-learned this the hard way.
Do you have a Dream? Keep going towards it :)
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