Friday 21 September 2012

Letting go of the fear of failure

The Team Epilepsy Forward Project, is one that is made up of 3 parts:
The 24HR Track Cycling WR, the Race Across America Mixed 4 Team record and of course the Race Across America Solo.
The ultimate aim, to try and raise funds for the UK's largest member led epilepsy charity, Epilepsy Action and most of all, become a case study for people with epilepsy to point to and make a mockery of the stigma of the condition.

Taking on one part of the project is by far and away the toughest, most terrifying, most difficult part of it all. The Solo RAAM.
The Solo race isn't terrifying because of the risks however to my health. In many ways it's more terrifying to me, that you wouldn't finish the race. There has always been a constant doubt in my mind as to my ability as a cyclist and more importantly as a person, to be able to finish the "world's toughest sporting event".

Many sports psychologists say if you don't believe you can do something, you will never achieve it in sport. The difficulty with the RAAM Solo however, is you can never truly train for the race. You can't simulate the 3000 miles Solo in under 12 days 20 hours, unless you actually do it. So you can never know if you are actually able to achieve it as a rookie rider.
Unlike marathon runners who many, a few weeks before their big event would run the same distance, the ultra cyclists can only train for a plateau of ultra endurance speed... and pain. After that it's just about hanging on for dear life.

The biggest fear for me, is the fear of letting people with epilepsy down. That, in a way I would be proving the stigma right. But then is that my own ego, or is it a real issue?

I wanted to show that despite adverse effects from medication, the experience of overcoming the condition and dealing with the every day of epilepsy, is something which is more powerful. At the end of the day, if I get to the brink of breaking point in the race, if my crew asks me: "Katie, why are you doing this?" I'll never lose sight of the answer.
After 23 years of having the condition, controlled or otherwise, the ups and downs, the stigma, the lack of awareness, information, the massive underfunding of the condition, I know that doing the Solo RAAM would be doing my part to try and tackle all of it, even just a little.

But I need to not be afraid of the embarrassment of failing. I need to accept, that merely finishing the race, even if it's unofficially, would demonstrate to some extent what I hoped in regards to the stigma.

One thing I have learnt from other Solo competitors of the race is that, you have to let go of your ego and not be afraid to show yourself in a light that perhaps you wouldn't like to in an everyday scenario. In doing that, you loose the tension that is a monkey on your back, allowing you to be loose enough to just get stuck in to the race itself.

The race is slow and punishing and for a long period you have nothing to rely on but you and your bike. So the first thing for me is I need to know I love my bike enough to spend that much time with it! I know I do.
The second is to not be afraid of what I can and more importantly can't do. Each yard of every mile, you are for much of the time, alone with your thoughts. If your thoughts turn to doubts during the race, then you know you're in trouble. The RAAM is too big to try and landmark in many cases. I wonder, if actually the best way to approach the race is just to enjoy riding it, soak in the incredible surroundings and take in the privilege of being part of the race.
It's impossible to landmark in relation to the finish. Riding 100 miles is no mean feat, so focusing on how close you are to the end when you are in the middle of riding 100 miles will destroy you. Letting go to thinking about the finish and taking the race 50 miles, by 50 miles is the only way you can achieve what you are setting out to do. Getting to the 1500 mile mark might be a high, normally. But then there's no other sporting event on the planet, where knowing you're over half way there, means riding another 1500 miles.

I think where riders fail is when they stop enjoying riding. To a large extent, you can never enjoy RAAM, it's hell on wheels. But many parts you can.
The simple pleasure of riding your bicycle through some of the most incredible scenery. The little highs of your crew encouraging you every pedal stroke of the way, or when you hit a little mile landmark them going nuts. If you focus on that rather than the enormity of what you're actually doing, then you have a chance to succeed.

I have no doubt that the scariest part of the whole race will be on the start line before the race even begins. You have no idea what will be ahead as a rookie, you fear becoming another member of the 75% club, that didn't finish the race officially. But that's about my own ego talking.

The real question will be, is just riding 3000 miles in less than 2 weeks enough to make a point about the condition?

The answer is yes. I won't get a medal for it, I won't get my name on a plaque or prize money. I won't get my name in the record books. But at the end of the day, if I loose the ego and just go into the race to ride, then I'll let go of the biggest fear I have about RAAM.

When that's the case, I believe that's when you get the best out of yourself.

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