Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

“When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less.”  —Paul Brown

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It’s been over a month since my last blog posting, and I have been reluctant to write this post.  After two disappointing races in Igls, I was hoping the worst had past and I would be able to report about better sliding and better results.  This was not the case, however, and the truth is things just got worse…

Altenberg, Germany, was the 4th stop on the Intercontinental Cup Circuit.  We were (lucky?) enough to get three races in Altenberg, 2 ICC and 1 Europa Cup. I doubt most people would be thrilled about spending an extra week at this notoriously difficult track, but I was happy to move onto a new track and surroundings.  Although my previous experience in Altenberg left me a bit worried (one teammate with a crash out of Kreisel leading to an injured ankle and another one with a broken wrist that still hasn’t healed properly), I figured with the extra years of experience, especially sliding on tricky Whistler, I was good to go.

The official training for me was like learning the track over again.  The last time I was there was in 2008 as a second year slider. [singlepic id=347 w=320 h=240 float=right]To shrink the learning curve I did as much preparation as possible–looking over notes, watching video, soliciting advice from teammates who were just there last year, etc.  The first few runs down were a little messy, but I seemed to be picking it up reasonably well.   It didn’t go without casualties again though.  The Kreisel corner again spit out one of my teammates (luckily soft tissue injuries only),  left another competitor with a broken arm needing surgery, and yet another hospitalized for “observation”.

I went into the race feeling cautiously optimistic.  However, when I heard the forerunner times before the first heat I was a little perturbed that the downtimes were almost two seconds faster than in training!  In some situations this can make things easier, but more often than not it takes the challenge to another level.  Also, all week we were working on the “letting it go” philosophy, where we concentrated on not over-steering and improving flow down the track. I wasn’t sure how well this would go over with the increased speeds.

I managed to push all the distractions away for the race, and had two average runs. The start in Altenberg is particularly challenging for me, as it seems to go on FOREVER, but I did get a personal best for the fourth straight track in a row. I managed to get through the rest of the two runs with no major difficulties, but I must admit with the added speed I did feel a little sketchy in corner 4 and exit of Kreisel. I finished a mediocre 13th.  Given the high level of competition on the circuit this year anything can happen in any given race, but of course I was hoping to do better.  Luckily I had two more races to pick things up.

The next race the following day I was focused on “letting it go” even more, as discussed during the race review with my coach after the first race.  My lines were good, but I was uncomfortable on the sled and over-driving key areas like Kreisel.   Again during the race warm up, I heard the forerunner downtimes were even faster than the day before.  But I told myself to not worry about it and focus on fast, clean lines like I had planned.

I pushed off for the first heat ready and confident.  I felt my speed pick up nicely through the top and got through 4 cleanly.  I headed into Kreisel where I wanted and told myself to trust it and “let it go”.  This corner has 3.5 (crazy) oscillations.  The first one felt high, but I told myself not to panic and stick to the plan.  However, I dropped big time as the oscillation reached its nadir.  As a result, in the second oscillation I shot to the roof, and then had a sharp descent down into the belly.  I knew I was in big trouble.   From the belly of the turn there is nowhere to go but up and I headed for the roof again on the third oscillation and flew off the end of the corner.  For the first time ever, I crashed in an FIBT race.  I fell out of the corner hard onto my back and right side.   I somehow managed to hold onto my sled, which was far out in front of me.  I went through a few more corners dragging behind the sled until I slowed down enough to pull it back under me.  I finished the run bruised and battered, both my body and my ego.

Fortunately I didn’t hurt my head, neck, or any major organs.  It really shook me up though.  Because I finished the run on my sled I technically was able to do another run, but after discussion with my coach and the race director, we decided it probably wasn’t the best idea.  This was one of the most difficult decisions of my sliding career.  I’m not a quitter and I am one of the most determined people out there, so not completing the race felt like a huge failure to me.  But, given the fact I could barely move my right arm and hip, and that I needed time to reformulate a plan on how to get through Kreisel safely, I knew it was the right thing to do.  Some things are not worth the risk, despite what the ego wants you to believe.

I’m not sure which was more challenging, the physical or the mental recovery. [singlepic id=313 w=320 h=240 float=left]  I only had a few days to get it together to prepare for the next Altenberg race the following week.  My teammates and myself took a day trip to Prague on the day off, which was just what I needed.  A beautiful city with amazing history and architecture, not to mention to great company! Following only one more short day off, it was back to the track to face the beast.

As I loaded onto the sled for the first run down post crash, I was of course worried and a little bit terrified.  But I was able to control the negative thoughts and self doubt, something I have worked on a great deal with my awesome sports psychologist over the past few years.  I made a plan on how I would get down the track safety and quickly, and stuck to it.  I am pleased to say I had no problems getting through Kreisel at all, and in fact proceeded to get personal best after personal best downtimes for the rest of the training week!

Coming off 4 bad races in a row, I threw all expectations for the third Altenberg race out the window.  And lo and behold, I managed to cross the finish line 6th!  Although not a win or even top 3, I am actually quite proud of that race.   I focused on doing what needed to be done and blocked the rest out.

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Next and final race of the season–Winterberg.  Blog post to follow shortly.

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