What holds you back?

In the past two years I have had Einstein’s quote flowing through my mind as I have struggled more than usual to find the performance level I desired, that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result”. It’s not that I was not varying my training, I was, but I was stuck on being 2011-2016 me when at some point that athlete me had changed.  

Sport evolves at a rapid rate and we have to evolve with it. We can’t be the same athlete over and over again and expect the same performance level, equal internal fire or results in an evolving environment. There are many reasons we may not be as fast as we used to be; changes in our age, work, family life, body composition, health, happiness, motivation - they all impact our performance at one point or another. Sometimes they impact us all at the same time. That’s ok because we can roll with it if we acknowledge that "yeah things are different, but I can make the best of new athlete me".  Maybe new me will be a faster me and maybe it will just be the fastest me I can be…. I’m feeling a little Dr. Seuss here, but I really believe mental flexibility is the key to being your fastest you no matter what your circumstances.

One of the best pieces of wisdom I have received for maintaining perspective and continual growth in sport, a piece of wisdom I keep coming back to year after year, is that you are not the same athlete this year as you were 4 years ago or will be in another 2 years.  Your body, mindset and skillset are constantly evolving, sometimes in a forward direction and at other times backwards.  Because of this, what worked for you in the past may not work for you in the future or vice versa.  What works is doing what you-right-now-athlete needs to do to stay motivated and enjoy putting in the work. Perhaps you need more or less volume or intensity now. Perhaps your body holds weight more stubbornly and you need to adjust some habits or you do not recover as well and need more sleep or days off.  Perhaps you need to just mentally get unstuck and free yourself to perform by taking expectations off or by being more realistic.  

Motivation is not static so it is important to really think about what motivates you now. “Old you” may no longer be you, so what can you choose to do about it to put your performance back under your control and feel stoked about your riding?

I used to think that I would retire from World Cup racing if I was “just riding around in 15th”.  Don’t get me wrong, I think top 15 in the World is an amazing accomplishment, but after 10 years of racing for top 5 in the World, my expectations were firmly set at a very high level. I did not think I could possibly get satisfaction and enjoyment out of racing if I was not battling to be the best and for the past two years that held me back. I stopped having fun because I wasn’t as good as I used to be. I felt embarrassed, disappointed, I was supposed to be GOOD! Was I not committed enough? I was afraid to revise my goals from top 5 in fear that meant I was giving up, losing my edge, when in fact it was keeping that result focus that was slowing me down.  I was forgetting how to enjoy the battle if it wasn’t for the results I had learned to value.  

Then gratefully, I remembered that regardless of the result I loved pushing myself for my best on the day.

Numerous times I have found that whenever I get into a performance funk it is because I have lost sight of what I truly want and what helped me get there.  It may sound cheesy or cliched, but coming back to the fact that sport brings me joy and embracing the challenge training and racing provides always seems to make me faster.  Striving to be perfect at every element of yourself or your training can be overwhelming, but choosing the two or three things that really make a difference and focusing on these can put you back in control of your trajectory. Making your training and goals achievable enough to feel empowered and maintain commitment, but challenging enough to maintain excitement and motivation really seems to help me find progression. 

When I am engaged, I am loving it and putting in the work feels easier. When I am loving it, results also seem to start falling into place. I hope you all have a fun summer or riding and personal challenges  planned that have you fired up and loving being out on your bike.



Unknown said…

Very well written . I find with age this is a very valuable point, but I believe a lot of teen athletes would benefit from reading this.


Rick Dwyer
Unknown said…
Excellent post, Catharine. I greatly enjoyed reading it, and I found it presented a very wise approach to training.

Thank you, and good luck!

Anonymous said…
Such a humble honest post from a world class athlete! Your words are very meaningful to me and really help provide perspective. You must be an amazing coach and mentor 😊
Anonymous said…
Awesome piece, I think it will inspire many people, myself included I hope my friends read it. I’ll be honest I never look too deep into reasons why or how with my riding (probably because the answers may scare me) but this made me smile 🦊
dlf321 said…
Very wise advice from a great competitor. This article could be helpful to people engaged in any activity. Thanks very much.
Unknown said…
Nice read Catherine