Fear, anxiety, stress and pressure - what am I doing here? Why am I doing this to myself? Take me home, give me a normal job - 9-5 is fine, give me a normal life - these are the places your mind takes you when you are feeling nervous. Nerves are one of the biggest battles you will face in competition if they aren’t handled.The bad thing about this feeling is that you are weak, you start to shake, your stomach feels numb and you can’t control your emotions.
I took a big mouthful of my lunch on race day and my throat closed over and my stomach shut down. I placed my sandwich back onto the plate opting for a banana instead, something sugary, sweet and easy to digest. “Shut down mode" is when all your energy is being sent to one place, sapping the motivation from other parts of your body. Most of the feeling in your body vanishes and you are left helpless, asking how you ended up in a this moment of weakness - after all, you're only sitting at the lunch table.
There isn’t one person who doesn’t feel nervous at one point or another. In sport, in work or just in general at some time. The highest level athletes still feel nervous; they are just using the feeling for their benefit, to help them perform at their best rather than letting the emotions take over, causing them to choke or fail. There’s so many scenarios that your mind makes up to work against you when you're trying to get into the zone.
You need to prepare the tools so that when you're in a vulnerable state of mind you are strong and ready to fight and channel the nervous emotion in the right direction. The direction that puts you on the edge and allows you to perform better than you could without it. We need nerves, they are a strength. They help us to be better than our average, and sometimes even better than our best.
Instead of allowing my nervousness to make me feel weak and lack confidence, I build a case with strong evidence like a lawyer in a courtroom. I take the stand, me against my emotions. I state my case with fact and logical truth, I argue and show reason as to why I am not lacking confidence, why I'm not afraid to fail, and why I do not have pressure. It is possible to win the case against your nerves, just remember to bring the truth to the table. You cannot lie to yourself, but when you have trained hard and your skills are there you have facts and hard evidence.
Sitting atop the mountain weakened by your nerves, awaiting that moment that will be the last chance. Your start time that felt like hours away is now in 2 minutes. Next minute the starter has shouted in a voice that feels almost ghostly as the reality of the moment flows through your body, “30 seconds“. He shuts the timer gate and now you need to be ready to race.
Learn to handle your nerves before it's too late, you don’t want to be moments from the start questioning yourself. There's not much worse than choking from being unprepared. Jelly arms are no use to anyone going into competition.
Once I’ve handled my nerves I’m ready for them to be redirected into excitement and adrenalin. I think positively and allow no thought or emotion to interrupt as I warm up and prepare for my race run. I take deep breaths and live in the moment. I don’t care or give thought to anything else except me and what I am about to do - perform the best I can. Sometimes it's not enough, it's not a win but accepting results for what they are and using them to know how to be better next race is all you can do - be your best.
In the end we are here because we love this sport, we have a passion for what we are doing. Going through the mental and physical battles will always be worth it because there is nothing better than racing down a hill as fast as you can on a mountain bike. It's crazy to think that it's even a challenge, I guess everything that's worthwhile is. That's the cool thing about life, if you are passionate about something and you love it then you will stop at nothing to move forward no matter the cost because that's what makes you happy.
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