What do you do when disaster strikes?
Going into the final stage of Joe Martin Stage race I had every reason to have a positive outlook. I was wearing the leader's jersey and my teammate Jessica was sitting in second. Based on our times we had a clear and easy to manage plan to win the GC. One hour before race time the unthinkable happened. My teammate Jessica was hit by a car during our pre-ride of the crit course. Having narrowly missed being hit myself, hearing the impact of the crash and fear over how bad it was, sent an adrenaline rush and anxiety that I have never experience.
Marci, another Pandemonium Cycling team member, and I needed to see that Jessica was in good hands. We insisted she take an ambulance as she had hit her head and was complaining of neck pain. The ambulance seemed to be taking forever, although it may have only been minutes. When a local cycling coach and friend of Jessica arrived, he encouraged me to go do whatever I needed to get ready to race. I asked him to take care of her bike and Marci to make sure a police report was filed.
I returned to my car to warm up safely on my trainer with 30 minutes to race time. I wondered how I would be able to race. I felt like I might puke, my heart rate was elevated and my thoughts racing. I knew I had to get focused and started implementing strategies to deescalate the physical and mental stress I was experiencing. I completed a body scan to give my mind something to focus on. I noticed tightness in my chest, lump in my throat, butterflies in my stomach and tension through my muscles. As I began spinning on my bike, I concentrated on my breathing. I visualized myself allowing my body to relax and my heart rate to slow. When I felt like my physical response was under control, I kept my mind busy visualizing the race. I pictured myself going through turns smoothly and safely. I pictured which attacks I would cover, where and when I thought they would happen and when I would start my sprint on the uphill finish. When it was time to go to the starting line, I focused on positive affirmations. “You got this.” “You were the strongest yesterday and will be today.”
The race happened and for the most part, went as I visualized. I think adrenaline led me to chase all the attacks and I found my self unintentionally in a break with one other rider. I worked the break but only as hard as the other rider could. When we were caught with two laps to go, I refocused on conserving for the final sprint. Several riders started their sprint early, and I followed their wheel but waited until the spot I had planned to start mine. The hill proved too much for those that started first, and I passed them in time to win the stage and retain 1st in the GC.
After the race, I received lots of congratulations, hugs, and questions. “How was I able to get it together to line up and race”? To be honest, I went back to my card and had a mini emotional break as I allowed the roller coaster of emotions sink in. However, in reflecting I know what allowed me to regain composure was that I frequently practice the skills I utilized. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist and work with many clients on developing relaxation and coping skills plans. I encourage them to practice them daily, during times they are not overwhelmed so that when they are in crisis, they can implement them without thinking. This was the first time I had put my plan into action in an emotionally intense situation but had done them hundreds if not thousands of times before as I have prepared for races, hard workouts, challenging work situations, or just relaxing to go to sleep.
I encourage every person to start developing their routine for managing a stressful situation. If you find creating and implement your plan challenging, then go to see a local counselor or contact a sports performance consultant to help coach you in developing a plan.
Leigh Ann Fields