Friday, May 15, 2009

Colds and Mental Crashes...All part of the XC Adventure.

World Cup Series Round 3,
Houffalize, Belgium.
May 3, 2009.
The third round of the World Cup Series was almost two weeks ago now, but it has taken me some time to write this report, as I wasn’t overly happy with my race or my race preparation. A combination of a head cold and allowing my brain to go into stress mode overdrive caused me to feel exhausted before I had even lined up on the start line. I finished 54th which means I won some much needed UCI points and moves me up to 112 in the rankings, from 300 and something at the start of the year....a result that I can’t or shouldn’t be disappointed with. But being a perfectionist, a curse that I’m certain is in my genes (yes Mum you are just as bad), means that I often try and do everything in a day, and more often than not feel guilty that I’m not working and training as hard as I can or should be doing more to achieve my goals so that I can get from A to B to Z in 24hrs....hence why I used to race 24hrs solo J  So every now and then the brain and body shut down and I crash land back down to reality....and it hurts!


Ian and I had arrived in Houffalize on Tuesday night and were sharing a large farm house with the Aussie junior national squad. It was a lovely set up, with warm log burning fire and a huge barn where we could work on bikes. There were rolling green fields all around us where we could escape the hustle and bustle of the race course village in the centre of town which can bring on pre-race nerves. That gave me a good four days to prepare physically and mentally for the third world cup round.


The next three days we were out training on course, with Saturday a chill day where I could just rest back at base. Training went well and I was riding the course confidently. Only a few sections had changed from last year, but it was still in my eyes the most physically and technically demanding course I have raced, but not scary as some courses can be. There are roots (more roots than last year), rocks, steep switchbacks (yes Luchon stylee), drop offs, steep hold your breath on, fast shoots, and of course mud, and the climbs are long, but also technical. In my opinion Houffalize is a proper mountain bike course. It has brutal climbs, brutal descents and brutal traverses. At the same time I love this course and the technical and physical challenges that confront you. So I was looking forward to my own person 2hr adventure, as XC really tests you and takes you to your limit....a challenge I thrive on!


The day before all I had to do was enjoy a cruisy 1hr ride around our base, and had planned to do a little bit of work, read and relax in the sun. I decided to ride to where my coach and the Tasmanian Team were based which was just around the corner, as they had free wifi. Only somehow I got lost and found myself closer to the race village, rather than where I needed to be. I made a panic call to Chris (the juniors’ Aussie coach) who sent me back to base because I had missed the very obvious turn off that I needed to take. So I was back on track, well so I thought, when I took another wrong turn into the back of a farm and instead of my chilled out recovery spin I was sprinting for my life....away from four big dogs, and this little thing that kept trying to bite my feet....Why are little dogs always so aggressive! In the end I had to descend down a road with my feet on top tube, as this little sausage type dog wouldn’t leave my heels alone. I was shaky and stressed by the time I found the house I was looking for, and noticed I was taking really short breaths and not breathing properly.


When I returned to our base there was nobody around as the juniors were racing, with Ian and Chris working in the feed/tech zones. I had no distractions and found my brain going into overdrive. I had too much time to think, and suddenly everything I could stress about I did. My job for AQR Holidays is event’s organiser, secretary and Mr Potter’s gofer....our roles reverse at the races when Ian appears to do everything for me....don’t worry he gets his own back when we are in Luchon...endless bike washing and polishing duties is always top of the list J


But suddenly I was stressing that I wasn’t on top of my AQR work load, then I was stressing that I wasn’t doing all I could for my sponsors and people who support me in the Cotic Bontrager Race Team; then I was stressing that I was a bad friend and hadn’t contacted so many people for ages; then I was stressing that I wasn’t meeting my coaches expectations and that I needed to try harder, and then I was stressing that I was a bad wife because I forgot to heat up Ian’s soup the night before, then I was stressing that I had given myself so many tasks lately that I wasn’t doing any of them well enough....good golly gosh I was losing the plot! So then naturally being in this mindset I started stressing that I was losing the plot.....TOO MANY STRESSES!


Anyway by the time Ian had returned I was mentally exhausted and took myself off to bed. I was tired, but couldn’t sleep. When Ian came to bed he said my temperature was sky high and my HR was going mad. Then my head started pounding and I spent the night feeling really hot all over, but then feeling cold and shaky.


So instead of waking up, jumping for joy that I was going to race, I couldn’t move and my glands felt like they were swelling up. Ian had to leave early and I just lay there with two thoughts (1) ‘how am I going to ride that steep tarmac climb fast on the start loop?’ (2) How am I going to get out of bed and ride to the course (gulp) (well kind of gulp as I had a big lump in my throat) ???


I had to ride to the course as part of my warm up  and already every muscle ached, my head was throbbing even more and my sinuses were all blocked...I had a cold! So then I started stressing about that....grrrrrr.


On the start line I was gridded 37, but I knew on this start loop there were alot of places where you could overtake and be overtaken. I just thought, well I’m here, and no matter what I’m not going to be lapped, and I’m going to finish. What will be, will be. I’m also a great believer of the power of the mind, so kept trying to think positive thoughts and not dwell on how I felt.


Surprisingly I had a brilliant start. I paced myself well, so that I could attack at the top of the climb, so that I would be in a good position on the first section of single track. Last year there were so many girls trying to make their way on to the narrow twisty trails that I had to run, but today I got a clear ride. I found myself with a group of racers who I needed to be close to if I was going to improve my world cup position. But after that start loop, it was race over as my whole body and brain just shut down and I couldn’t get my HR to rise. I could feel myself slowing down on each lap, where usually I like a long race as I always feel like I get stronger as a race goes on. I battled on and just counted down the three laps until the finish line appeared.


It ended up being a very short race, as I crossed the finish line in 54th position, well under the 2hr mark, 1hr37min I think. It probably should have been a 4 lap race, but I was relieved when I crossed the finish line as I just wanted to rest. I was certain I was out of the top 60, so pleased that I still won some valuable UCI points, one of the main goals this year. If I had felt this way last year I would have been lapped for sure.


It’s best to focus on the positive side of any race, and I’m relieved more than anything that I managed a top 60 result in a strong field of over 100 racers. So my next thought was on much needed rest and recovery to be fit for the next race I was heading to in the UK (BMBS R2, Dalby Forest).


Unfortunately there was not much time for rest and recovery as Ian and I had to leave Belgium at 2am the next morning for what was a 17hr drive to Luchon. I still hoped to race in the UK, but it was not to be as my head cold symptoms got worse and I thought it best to get myself back on track for the next world cup in Madrid two weeks later.


I’m pleased to say I’m feeling alot better and my strength, both physical and mental is back on track. Just being in the fresh mountain air here in Luchon has been great therapy for my overzealous brain and I’m learning to deal with the stresses that has been creeping up on me for a while now. It’s a strange thing stress, and we all feel it at times in different ways. When you’re in the right mind set it’s easy to look at your daily tasks as just another task, but when you’re tired, ill, run down then every little task can appear a mammoth one and that’s when stress can really play havock with your brain.


Now it’s back to nursing Mr Potter who has come down with the same I’m force feeding him 6 cloves of garlic daily, endless amounts of vitamin C and a good dose of L-glutamine so it won’t be long until he is back on track too.



As always Special thanks to –

Cotic –

Bontrager –

Magura Forks & Brakes –

Torq & Torq Australia –

A Quick Release Holidays –


Skins –

And co-sponsors Crank Brothers, Exposure Lights, Bigfoot bags, 661 gloves, Nokon cables, Sundog eyewear and Purple Extreme Lubricants.


Plus lots of thanks to Neil Ross (Cycling Oz) for coaching me, and Mr P. For all your endless support.                         

A Quick Release Holidays
Tel: 0845 1304824

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graham bird said...

I have to say I think you train too much, and possibly in the wrong way! Now I might not be at your level Kate but since I took the attitude of... what the hell just enjoy the racing, and train but train easy don't stuff yourself, I found, certainly in the last cross season that I was getting good results far better than anything that I had done before, so don't stress just line up, relax, and go. But what do I know!

Kate Potter said...

You know an awful lot Graham (you taught me how to get on and off bikes remember :) and I will be picking your brain this winter as my coach wants me to try cyclo cross. But don't worry it's not the training that is the problem, I have got an excellent coach who addresses all aspects of training, racing, recovery....I'm not running and riding around the mountains at all hours like I used to....promise. It's my brain that needs to relax, believe it or not I think too much for my own good :)

graham bird said...

I think you will be great at cross once your into it, you gonna do the Nationals then? I don't know about picking my brains, I mean you know the best in the business your old team mate Paul Oldham who better to ask than Paul for advice. One thing though use a proper cross bike, please don't race on your mtb!

Kate Potter said...

What! I can't use my Cotic Soda? :) Don't worry already thought of trying a cross bike. Don't know exactly what races I will do yet....I will build up to a national as I have no idea how I will get on with a cross bike. Looking forward to the challenge though :)