Senior Selection was held at Lee Valley whitewater centre last weekend. Training at Lee Valley has been extremely challenging over the last year and a half, and without the Scottish booked sessions there would have been almost no chance at all. So I feel extremely grateful for the people that made training there possible during rafting slots, and also grateful for the Scottish program for booking water that made proper training available.
With no races over the last two years, I wasn't sure what to expect. I've had a couple of amazing training "phases" - I felt in peak physical form at the start of 2020, and had a great summer of race simulation and adapting to the situations that came up due to COVID. This turned around a little in 2021, and I'm not sure if I was just tired of tapering and peaking for races that got cancelled over and over again. I just felt super flat, and like I couldn't paddle to my normal standard.
One of the things I've been working on with Oscar is race technique - which sounds kind of obvious. But a trend in my racing has consistently been letting myself get into a state of "safety". Which is relative, of course - but quite often in racing I will allow myself to start taking wider lines, to avoid poles and "not fuck up" - which doesn't really work in slalom. So often this way of racing leads to more mistakes, and slalom athletes know that you're actually less likely to hit gates the closer you are to them. So my goal for this selection series was to race without boundaries - to take risks that I normally would in training.
Selection this year was over two days, and made up of four individual race runs. Your best three runs count, and they have to be within senior percentage (which is a percentage taken from the fastest boat in your category), in order to demonstrate speed as well as relative placing. My first run of the weekend put me in 3rd, and was a bit of a wake up back to racing. I didn't play safe, but I did lose concentration significantly and ALMOST went back into some old, safe techniques. Second runs I was able to reengage with my plan to take risks in a calm, controlled manner - and finished 2nd.
The second day of racing is always a bit bizarre, and for me completely about energy management. Especially after a good first day of racing, it feels like the competition is almost over; when it's only half begun. It's super easy to get into a mindset of "just get it finished" and to let feeling from the previous day guide your movements in the next runs. I was so proud to race like myself on run 3 during day 2 - I took risks and raced without fear, though I did have a mistake at the bottom (spearing the bollards on the last drop) which we think cost me between 10 and 14 seconds. But that's slalom, and it gave me a kick to race hard in the last run.
In previous years I would have held onto the mistake from the morning, and it took a huge amount of mental energy to avoid the "play it safe" feeling. But my promise to myself at the start of the weekend had been that I would regret going slow and clean, over fast with a penalty. My last run was fast enough to put me in third, and with that, qualify for the World Cup final in Pau d'Pyrenees. It's also my cleanest ever racing weekend, with only one touch (which adds two seconds to your final time) over the whole race.
The amount of support and encouragement I've had over the last few weeks has been insane. I feel more than ever that slalom is turning into one of the most inclusive and supportive communities in the world, and it felt like everyone really stepped up to the demands of sportsmanship, as well as the demands of racing. I'm so excited that my best years of racing are coming from working together with my partner and my coach Oscar; sometimes it takes an entirely different perspective to break out of what used to feel "safe" and satisfactory, into a racing mindset that allows you to race without fear, and everything to gain.
Thank you everyone who's come with me for this. It means the world to me, and I hope I can bring value to our beautiful sport for the years to come.