So my birthday came around in March, carrying me into my first senior year of competition. Approaching senior selection, where only the top three boats can qualify to race at the world championships, I knew this was a time to lay down everything I had learnt in the winter, without fear or reservation. A chance to throw caution to the wind and display what I know. I think it's possibly the first time I have ever sat on the start line of a selection race, and really looked forward to the run. Other races have always felt different; you can play with different approaches, different plans and styles of attack. Selection has for me, always been a time for reservation, for using only what I know I can do 10/10, every single time.
I started the series with a strong race, coming fourth overall on the first day. The second day was a little tougher, a tricky, technical course that I never quite found my flow on, leaving me with a fifth place. Over the three day race, it's your best two results that count in the end, and so I felt strong and confident coming into day three.
What happened on day three was a little bizarre for me, and I felt it highlighted an area of racing that I can now spend a year developing and enhancing. I spend twenty five minutes warming up for a single race run, running through physical and mental processes that I have found put me in the right state for racing as hard as I can. I do turning drills, some stretching, sprints to build my lactic levels up to optimum and breathing exercises to prime my focus. I run through the course a set amount of times in my mind, and going up the conveyor belt to the start pool I know exactly how I will feel, and what I want to do.
In my semi final run on day three, the start person called fifteen. At this point my vision focusses, and I get that first rush of adrenalin that absolutely directs every stroke. I pull into the flow, and at ten seconds to go, I begin my start sprint. In my semi final run, I heard a hiss and bang, but it didn't register at all. I was already absolutely in the moment, in the perfect zone. I flew through gates one and two, and was on the charge to gate three when I heard voices and shouting that were absolutely out of line with what is normal. People were shouting for me to stop - some of the pumps had overheated and stopped.
I sat like a gibbering mess in the eddy next to gate three, my brain already four gates ahead, underneath the bridge. My whole body was shaking with suppressed energy that didn't know where to go. Finally a friend told me to get out of my boat, I had to go back to the start pool. My coach carried my boat to the top, and I was told that in five minutes I could start again. A better athlete would have refocussed. At the time of course, I was confident that I could reset. You have to be - there is no other option when approaching a race. To be honest, perhaps my whole race run would have gone like that anyway - off camber, nervous and hesitant into all the moves. There is a good chance that was what could have happened anyway. But I'm annoyed with myself for letting an opportunity to practise self mind control, overcome my race. I don't know how I would have finished with a perfect run. I am only absolutely concerned that it was not how I planned it would go.
But the beauty of this is I am free to travel around the best slalom courses in Europe, and commit to essentially a second block of winter training - in the summer months. I can go away and work on what it was that let me down in London, and bring back everything when we race all over again next season. Thanks everyone for your support, love and making my kayak life the best it could be. I look forward to sitting on the start line with everyone again, and hope to watch and celebrate our senior team demonstrating the highest standard of racing in the world series 2017.
Thanks Peter Milsom for the photo!