I was back in Sardinia at the Half Challenge Forte Village, the same race I ended my season with the year before. When I stepped onto the beach, I remembered how anxious I was, lining up against accomplished and experienced pro athletes, knowing my best performance was maybe good enough for a top ten. With the field twice as big and twice as stacked this year, I had the same performance ambitions. I was still nervous, still self-conscious of my performance level but, after my second season as a pro, things were a little different.
“How do you actually cope with it?” Nick asked me at the race briefing, referring to the list of big name athletes. “I don’t cope,” I laughed but he waited for a real answer to follow. I scrambled, trying to compute how I actually felt. I still felt like a new kid on the block; I was still intimidated being on the same start line with “real” pro athletes; I still felt like I wasn’t good enough. On the other hand, over the last year I had learned how to balance those emotions, that it was okay to feel that way, but all that was still very much a work in progress. “I try to do my own thing,” I replied, knowing it didn’t sound sincere but that it was also the truth.
The race was forgettable. A good swim start followed by a lacklustre swim finish, strangely bad legs on the bike in incredibly windy conditions, and then a great run overshadowed by the massive deficit I created for myself on the bike. It was a mixed performance and I had mixed feelings. According to the results, I had also performed worse than the previous year but, comparing the two races, that didn’t really feel true on all counts.
I couldn’t quantify the performance gains I had made. It wasn’t a result I could use to qualify for my license, leverage for sponsorship, or prove to others I was making progress. It wasn’t a power output or a podium. It was the simple fact I wasn’t overwhelmed by my emotions. Half the battle is mental and last season I had lost that battle. Now, I was shoulder to shoulder with accomplished athletes well above my level and, although I felt out of place in their company, I also knew I belonged there. I still felt anxious. I still felt intimidated. I still felt like I wasn’t good enough. But I also felt calm, confident, and worthy. I wasn’t good at keeping that balance but this season I figured out the only way to win the mental battle was, actually, just to do my own thing.