Friday, March 9, 2012

Reflection and rehabilitation

It's the night before the first day of final trials, and the first time in 4yrs I'm not sat in a hotel room, going through my pre-race preparation. Because I'm not racing. However, I know, almost to the minute, exactly what I'd be doing if I was racing tomorrow. That's because my pre-race routine had become a second nature military operation and I almost didn't have to think about it. Pre-occupied with thoughts of what was to come I would run through the tasks, each one with a specific reason and purpose, like someone possessed.

More than that, I know, almost to the minute, how I'd be feeling if I was racing tomorrow. I can even hear the same thoughts in my head now, as I sit in my room, as if I was racing tomorrow. The constant wave of running through the race from stroke 1 to the finish, followed by the horrible reminder of the process leading up to taking that first stroke before the calming automated responses I'd trained myself to remember.

Although everyone enters trials with the same aim, everyone is different about how they approach them and how it makes them feel. For me, trials was exactly that - a trial. I feared them. It didn't get any easier either, just worse. The longer I was in the team and the faster I got, the more I felt I had to lose. Ironic really, given I was more likely to get the outcome I desired the more experience and strength I gained. I remember looking at the squad girls at my first ever trial in 2007 (at which I came 12th and was incredibly pleased with myself, for the record) and thinking how nice it must be to sit on the start line knowing you were going to do well. That making the A final was a given.

The truth is, as you obviously know, there are no guarantees. We all prepare for success, as to do otherwise would be foolish, but no-one has a golden ticket. Every place is earned. There are talented individuals who seem to go fast without much effort, but they will still have trained hard and will race to the edge like everyone else. I didn't realise it at the time, but those squad girls were just as nervous, just for different reasons. I feared them.

Then there was the pain. I feared that a lot. The longer you are in a sport, the more aware you become of what it takes to push yourself to that place where results are achieved and dreams are made. And that place just gets deeper. But as much as I feared it, I also craved it, as pain is the guarantee that you are pushing yourself as hard as you can, that you are spending the money you put in the bank over all those long, dark winter mornings. Without the pain, the result would never be satisfactory and a bad result would haunt you forever. Pain is what you seek to live with whatever the result may be.

And that result means everything. It is what dictates funding and separates those that go on - and those that do not. It can change your life. That's what happened to me in 2009. I didn't expect to make the team and I certainly didn't expect to go to the World Championships. 3 seconds did that. That's the time difference between my 3rd place and the girl who placed 4th, which dictated my route into the A final and the lightweight quad, and her path into the B final and the lightweight single. You might think that's the same outcome - we both went to the 2009 World Championships - but the course of the rest of our rowing careers was set from that very point in Hazelwinkel and, although I won't go into it here, they turned out very differently.

So I feared the result more than anything. But that's what make sport so amazing and what keeps people coming back for more. Because the highs are unbelievably high - when the result is what you needed, and often more, and the fear is replaced by immense joy. It's like a drug. It's worth the pain, the mental anguish, the fear, the planning, the days, weeks and months of training, the emotional torture and the constant testing. It's even worth putting all that on the line in final trials.

And that's why I sit here knowing what I would be doing and how I would be feeling. Because it never goes away, that knowledge of what rests on this weekend. What it means to those that are racing. It makes me sad to think I will probably never feel like that again and certainly will never feel like that again for the same reasons. Risking it all for the ultimate high.