Are nerves of carbon better than nerves of steel? I'm not entirely sure, though I'm certain everyone has an opinion. Regardless, both are strong, steady, resistant to stress, and have a high fatigue limit.
(We don't care about the properties of alloyed metals and polymers, Alex.)
I'd like to tell you that I don't get nervous, but that would be a lie. I don't get nervous in the sense that I get sick, or dizzy, or shaken, but I definitely get a bit mentally-wound up. My heart races, my breathing quickens, I get this weird tingle in my neck and back, and I become hypersensitive to everything around me. When it comes to competition, who doesn't get that way? I mean, you are about to huck yourself down a mountain, riding a bike that is one-fifth of your body weight, probably only wearing knee pads and a helmet, as fast as you can manage. Add a timing chip and a roster of other fast people into the mix, and all of the sudden you are trying to go faster than you've ever gone before down some real gnarly stuff. That's a little intimidating; nerve-racking, you might say.
But being nervous isn't a bad thing. My nerves keep me in check. If I'm nervous about something on the trail or on a particular stage and I can steady myself about it before I leave the line, then I know I can do it. If I can't calm myself down and I'm still nervous when I leave the start, I know I should be a little more careful. Being nervous also helps me push myself a little harder. Nervousness helps me activate that [super] competitive part of my brain; it initiates my fight-or-flight reflex.
This is how my brain works: There is a level that I just ride and that I train at (sometimes), and then there is the level that I race at. Often I have been told to "train how you race and race how you train," but I'm fully convinced that we cannot ever train how we race. You can try--you can put yourself in the pain cave and push as hard as you can doing intervals or climbing, you can try and go flat out on a descent, but you will never be able to do the things you can do when you're racing when you're JRA. We can race at the level we train at, but not vice-versa. There are "race reserves" buried deep within our brains that can only be tapped into at the very instant before we leave the start line. Mine are activated by nervousness--I imagine two huge barrels of sparkling white liquid courage getting dumped into my head as soon as the ten-second beep sounds.
That beep is the last kick in the ass. That's the moment that the pressure is on, it's the last few seconds that you really have to think about what's coming, and the last few moments for you to breathe calmly and deeply before your heart rate sky rockets and you can't think anymore. When the five-second countdown begins is when I gage my gut; it's when I decide if I'm riding at 90, 100, or 110%.
For me, it's important to gut check myself, to quantify and qualify my nerves; are they push yourself nerves, or are they hold back a little nerves? How much do I push, how much do I hold back? I have a tendency to throw myself full tilt into just about anything when I'm racing, and that's not always the best idea. I've also done the opposite, and crossed the line knowing that I could've pushed myself more. So which would I rather? Risk it all and hope you don't lose it, or keep it together but cross the line wondering? I'm inclined to choose the first, but I know how much it sucks to get hurt. So where's the fine line? How long does it take to find that balance?
Writing is something I have always been passionate about. I love sharing my stories, my thoughts, my advice, but mostly, I write to record memories and express myself. So here are a few of my fondest memories, best and worst moments, my most profound and boisterous thoughts, and riskiest advice. Enjoy!