I could happily share about a thousand details of how awesome it was to be immersed in slalom with some of the best athletes in the world for three weeks. Teams that welcome you into their groups, relax with their fellow competitors and create an event that is less about the race, and so much more about the slalom. I got to race in front of a grandstand of people, and walk in a city in kit and people asked what our sport was and what we were doing. I loved all of it. Which is really the opposite of what I was expecting. To explain myself properly, I need to rewind about three months, to the weeks post selection.
I'm going to share some things that I found challenging after the race in London that got me a place on the U23 GB team. The first, and perhaps most significant, was that my level of expectation and self judgement went up massively. Better, older canoeists than me might look at this and remember, or roll their eyes, at a classic outcome-focussed mistake. But all of a sudden, sessions became life or death. Races became more nerve wracking. And I don't think my body or my mind stood a chance with the abuse I let myself inflict on them. Rather than relaxing, and giving sessions 100%, I felt as though I was functioning at 100% constantly, and sessions were the point in the day where my brain just couldn't take anymore and I would struggle more than I have ever struggled to refocus on the gates. I did not enjoy a time period that I should have been having a great time in.
I think this is one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made. Luckily for me, no important races or deadlines overlapped this learning period. Of course, it didn't stop me judging the hell out of any decision I made - was this what a PROPER athlete would be doing? You might laugh, and luckily I can now. But I was not expecting that! Mostly I was furious with myself, for wasting almost two months on being a ridiculous nervous wreck.
BECAUSE. When I got to Krakow with the GB team, I seemed to remember two things. That I was here, first and foremost, because I love canoeing. Secondly, that there is absolutely nobody and nothing that can distract me from my job. Sitting in the GB tent, waiting for my first run on an international stage, I was relaxed, and the happiest I've been in months. Why wouldn't I be? I'm waiting to do the most important job so far, and I've prepared perfectly for it. I could be as annoyed as I like about stressing for the last few months; that isn't going to change anything. Or I could use it as a contrast. How I can let myself feel things that are totally irrelevant to the project at hand and get completely weirded out, or I can give it 100%, allowing everything else to fade away into the noise.