Thoughts and Sensations of competing at a World Title

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Close to 300 men and women will compete at the MTB marathon elite world championship this weekend here in Grachen, Switzerland. Some will be vying for the honour of spending the next 12months in the coveted rainbow jersey, a widely respected prize throughout the world of cycling. Others will be lining for the sheer experience and prestige of representing their home country at a world championship event.

Team riders Imogen Smith and Justin Morris will be racing in Grachen this Sunday. Photo: AMB magazine

I place myself in this second category here, a degree of realism is required when lining up at an elite world championship.. Am I chance of winning this race? Barring some kind of landslide or other natural disaster that takes out the vast majority of the field rendering a Steven Bradbury type situation, the realistic answer is a definite NO. So why turn up to such an event that has required a significant degree of sacrifice and expense?

Justin Morris at Tour of Taiwan

As a coach and a motivational speaker I am very aware of the importance of setting goals and not talking oneself out of a result event before the race has even happened. I am also very cognisant of the need to make goals realistic and respecting those whom have made far more sacrifices than myself. Gaining selection for the Australian team was a goal of mine since I began the sport of MTB racing in 2000. I came very close as an U19 XCO racer but never quite hit the mark. My cycling life then traversed to road racing where I was lucky to live the life of a professional road cyclist for 5 years. Since those years I have returned to MTB racing and specifically the XCM discipline with team marathonMTB.com, this year I saw an opportunity and prospect to commit to a pathway of selection for the Australian team at these XCM world titles. This was not an easy path but in July this year I was very honoured to receive news of my selection. Representing your country is an honour to not be taken lightly and with the context of the aforementioned I thought I would break down the reasons for my attendance at such a race and how I am approaching this race from a mental perspective.

Justin Morris at the 2019 XCM World Championship, Grachen. Photo: AMB magazine

WHY ATTEND A RACE YOU HAVE NO CHANCE OF WINNING:

  • A lot of life is all about opportunities, sometimes they pass us by and never rear themselves again. One thing I have learnt over the years that if an opportunity that offers growth in any aspect of your life presents itself, you grab it!
  • Opportunities lead to experiences, this is where the guts of life happens. Especially experiences that are outside of your comfort zone. Lining up at a world title is outside of my racing comfort zone but I know that it will give me an experience that will make me stronger and more resilient on and off the bike.
  • Experiences lead to stories. Stories are amazing, I spent the first decade and a half (and still today) of my cycling life being inspired and in awe of the stories that the local forefathers of our sport would share with me. I now spend a portion of my professional life with a job to share such stories with others. Representing my country and competing against the world’s best I know is a powerful story that can have an impact through my work as a speaker and a coach.
The men’s podium at XCM Worlds, 2013

My mental approach toward competing at a world champs:

Grachen
  • The Australian jersey is something that requires a great deal of work and commitment to wear. Pulling on the green and gold conjures up a sensation of wanting to give your ABSOLUTE BEST performance. I know that lining up on Sunday I will draw on absolute every last skerrick of energy in my being to make sure I cross that finish line on empty!
  • On race day I will compartmentalise the course in my head. The race covers 97km and 4400m of elevation. This is a MASSIVE day on a mountain bike. The enormity of the challenge can overwhelm me, however if I can break it down into the 3 ‘clover leaf’ loops we must cover. I have a moderate goal to constantly chip away at during the race.
  • Focussing on the things I can control now. In high performance sport there are a lot of things that can become stressful. Of these things only a handful are things that we as athletes can control. Things like the weather, the start list, the course, location of the feed zones and so on are things I have 0 control over. So keeping myself in check and channeling my focus to what I can do now to ensure my best performance on Sunday is my best bet. I will prepare my bike meticulously, I will prioritise recovery in the days prior, I will stay off the feet and I will ensure I stay hydrated and well fed. The past 3 months have been somewhat of a rollercoaster with work and life, these times have passed and now I am here so i will focus on what I can do NOW.
  • Follows on from the above, come race day I will aim to devote 100% of my mental energy to being present. There are about 1 million things I could be thinking about in my life at present but for 5-6hours on Sunday these thoughts can wait. I must give the race, the jersey and my team the respect of my 100% mental devotion to the trail and the race in front of me.
The course for the 2019 XCM world champs is a mix of extended road climbs and fast, steep singletrack descents. Photo: Mike Blewitt

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