I had a disappointing World Cup in Pau - I wrote about it on social media, but actually didn't give myself a huge amount of time to reflect. It was easy to diagnose the problem - penalties. The speed was there, and there was evidence that our approach to training was continuing to make me faster. Over the winter, I decided to do the same program again, but this time there were more hours on London. Which could only be better, right?
What I wasn't really ready for was selection this year, and how different it felt. Looking back over the winter, I went through the motions, and did the sessions as they were planned. I lifted weights and did rehab exercises for my elbow, and physically everything looked good. I'd spent more time on London, and improved a couple of things from last season. The trouble was, none of it really registered. I was just going through the motions. Sessions didn't feel like they mattered. My only interest was the chance I'd have, to be on the world stage in 2022.
Last year, every session felt special, because you could never be sure if you would still be allowed to train on the water from one week to the next. Lockdown, training camps and even that one London trip where we weren't allowed to use gates, every session had a purpose because it might have been the only opportunity to get something done. That's truly what this winter was lacking. I did the intervals because they were good for everything. But I didn't push myself as though my life depended on it. My heart rate would go to max, I'd record the penalties and analyse the technique, but I didn't really care. Because what mattered to me was that I'd gotten the session done, not what I left the session with.
The trouble with success is we hold on to the tangible parts that we feel made it happen. It's where you get all sorts of pre race rituals and habits - anything we can do to hold onto the feeling of being right, of doing exactly what we need to do. It takes a special kind of tolerance to change everything, just when you think you're doing it all right.
I started selection this year just feeling tired. There were a few things I could have done to change that, and I didn't - again, because I was going through the motions. Doing exactly what I did last year, because it can't possibly fail - right? The trouble is, I wasn't truly immersed in what I was doing, and I paid for it by performing in a way I truly hate. Not pushing all the way to the end - because it really felt like I didn't care anymore.
I consider myself extremely lucky, that almost straight after selection, I had a chance to race again at a national event. I decided to go ahead with it, because it would give me some information - when less is at stake, will I have more energy? Will I do everything I can, to implement the things we've been working on? To my immense happiness, the answer was yes. I left the race with a very average result, but I didn't care - I never have done, when I've raced freely. All that matters to me is that I have the motivation and energy to paddle the way I want to.
So we've decided to change everything. The program we used last year will be back for sure, because the success of using intervals to improve concentration, fitness and technique was so obvious it would be ridiculous to shelve it. But for now, what my brain needs is change, and the opportunity to come to every session treating it as special. A once in a lifetime opportunity to leave the water better than when I got on. I think there's limitless value in that approach, and while it does sound painfully cliched, finding a way to get myself into that headspace every day was a skill I completely took for granted. Sometimes, it's about putting yourself in those situations, whether it's mental games, exercises or just giving yourself something consequential to "race" for in sessions.
If anyone's interested in learning about my program for this summer I'd be super keen to chat, as like last year it's pretty experimental and we haven't truly tested it in a performance scenario yet. But as I have no major races this summer, we've decided now is the time to try, and innovate, and think laterally. The thing I'm most stoked about, is that I still have the chance to race. I'll be posting a bit more about what we're working on this year, and as always thank you so much for reading and being a part of my journey. We're working on some pretty cool stuff, and I'm so excited to be paddling freely again.
Change is hard for everyone, but when you have an opportunity to try it out - for me, a season without significant races - it can completely change the lens you look through.