Dealing with Disappointment

A week ago I competed in my second Commonwealth Games. Four years after I won bronze in Delhi the Glasgow Games had been a major target of the 2014 season and something I had been building towards since I started preparing for the season all the way back in October last year.

In July last year I received an email from the Australian national women’s road coach who had just been to Glasgow to preview the course; he wanted me to know that it was one I could do well on if I put my head down and worked hard.

Body composition, climbing, endurance. They’re words that have haunted me since I entered the women’s international peloton in 2009 but I was willing to face my ghosts to get selected in the six rider team that would race in Glasgow.

And I did. I worked hard and won a stage of the Bay Criterium Series in January. In February I went to Qatar and finished third overall behind Kirtsen Wild and Amy Pieters before starting the European racing season in March. In April I won Omloop van Borsele and in June I won the bunch kick to finish sixth in the tough Belgian classic Gooik-Geraardsbergen-Gooik.

I took myself on two training camps with my talented teammate Elisa Longo Borghini to further work on my weaknesses and the results showed. In the next two stage races, Emakumeen Euskal Bira and the Giro Rosa, my climbing was better than it had ever been.

The race…

2014-08-01 12.20.51

On race day last week as my five teammates and I walked to the buses at 6.30 in the morning for our 8am start I joked that I felt like throwing up. I put it down to nerves and didn’t think any more of it until one lap into the race.

We had gone into the race with the clear objective of trying to isolate Lizzie Armitstead. She has been, next to Marianne Vos, the stand out rider of the season and we knew that we didn’t have one individual rider who could match her, but we did have a team.

With that in mind we made our tactic clear from the start; we attacked. One rider would go, and then another until – we hoped – the elastic band would break and we would have a rider away.

Martin Barras, the national coach and director on the day summed it up; “Let me be clear, we’re just going to roll the dice and whoever it falls on is who we back.”

From the beginning our team of six which was made up Mel Hoskins, Katrin Garfoot, Shara Gillow, Gracie Elvin, Tiffany Cromwell and myself were committed to the team plan.

My roommate, Katrin, had unfortunately woken up sick on race day so did as much as she could early. Mel Hoskins then took control and she did an incredible job, launching attack after attack. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her ride better.

Then I was up but when the race had started it had become apparent to me that the sick feeling in my stomach might have been more than nerves. As soon as the intensity of the race went up, so did my breakfast.

After twenty minutes or so I was having to pull to the side of the peloton and hope that I wasn’t about to shower those behind me with my breakfast. In my head I told myself that I just had to get through the next few kilometres and the situation would improve.

On the third lap Gracie rode up to me and asked how I was feeling.

“I keep throwing up on my bike,” it maybe wasn’t the answer she was expecting.

“It’s alright, it’ll get better,” she replied. I hoped so too.

I attacked once and then one more time and was able to establish a small gap but the English and Scottish girls who had latched onto my wheel weren’t rolling through.

One lap later, my breakfast in my mouth, I lost contact with the peloton.

Later that day the doctor said I could have come down with a mild case of gastro. In a village of 7000 athletes, most of whom had finished competing, hygiene may not have been at the top of everyone’s agenda.

The race went on to shatter into pieces. A select group of seven escaped on the longest drag of the circuit which the peloton tackled as it raced out of Glasgow city centre. The break included Tiff and Gracie, Lizzie and Emma Pooley, Ashleigh Moolman and few other individual riders. For us it was a better situation; with Katrin and I now both off the pace our numbers advantage wasn’t what we had hoped it would be.

In the end, as we had known, Lizzie was just too good. She launched herself out of small group of seven on the second last climb of the day and rode solo to the line to become Commonwealth Champion. Emma Pooley finished second and Ashleigh Moolman just edged out Tiff for bronze.

Later that day the doctor said I could have come down with a mild case of gastro. In a village of 7000 athletes, most of whom had finished competing, hygiene may not have been at the top of everyone’s agenda.

The real issue…

But this blog isn’t so much about the race last Sunday as it is about dealing with disappointment when you don’t perform to the standard you – and others – expect from yourself.

Talking about disappointment and underperformance is such a taboo subject in this sport of ours, which is odd because there are inherently more downs than ups in professional sport and cycling more specifically.

More often than not a voice recorder is shoved under our mouths and we’re meant to recount how enjoyable our experience was and why it was so fantastic. But what happens when you would rather forget it?

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy my Commonwealth Games experience. In fact, it has been the Australian team I am most proud to have been a part of. The way we came together and backed our tactic made me proud to wear the Green and Gold.

 I had no motivation to ride my bike and I turned to food and going out to try and forget my Olympic experience, which was for me an overwhelmingly negative one.

However, when you become consumed with the idea of one event – one race – and everything you do is in preparation for that it is easy to loose track of the bigger picture. What is particularly difficult is when that event is over and you underperformed. The feeling of ‘now what?’ can be overwhelming.

I was faced with this situation in 2012 after the London Olympics and unfortunately I didn’t deal with it very well. I rapidly went into a downward spiral.

You may have heard people talk about the ‘black hole’ athletes face after retirement or major events. I successfully located this black hole, walked in, had a look around and decided I would keep following the darkness. I had no motivation to ride my bike and I turned to food and going out to try and forget my Olympic experience, which was for me an overwhelmingly negative one.

It wasn’t until months later that I was ready to face the music and decide if cycling was really what I wanted to be doing. The short answer was ‘yes’ so I took steps to make sure I could continue.

I signed with a new team, got a new coach, mixed up my training to include mountain biking, running, gym, swimming and road cycling and rediscovered why I started cycling in the first place; because I love it.

After finishing the race at the back of the field on Sunday I experienced the same suffocating feeling of disappointment that I faced after the London Olympics. I had let my team down, I had let myself down, and I had let my family down.

I’m happy to say that two years on however, and having been through the experience before, I have learnt to deal with my disappointment. Because there is a bigger picture. There are still three months of the season left and still major races that I want to perform well in for both myself and my team.

The process…

In my experience, acknowledging this disappointment is the first step in actually dealing with it. It’s okay to fall, but you need to be able to address why you fell, pick yourself up and answer the question, ‘what now?’.

My fall came on Monday morning when I met up with my family. I could see in their faces that they had expected more, and I had too, but when your body doesn’t want to cooperate there is little you can do. I cried as my Auntie hugged me.

While the disappointment I felt after I crossed the finish line on Sunday is still with me I think I’m in a much better position today to deal with it than I was in 2012.

When this happens, for me the most important thing is to surround myself with my ‘support network’, which for me comes in the form of my family, discuss what happened to a point and then focus on other things. So for four days I did everything but think about bike racing. I went to Edinburgh with my family and took in show after show at the incredible Fringe Festival.

Feeling refreshed and with itching legs I flew back to Girona on Thursday but I didn’t get on my road bike. As I discovered after the Olympics there are plenty of other things that can help me stay fit and motivated.

I went running in the morning and then mountain biking in the afternoon. Getting lost in the bush around Girona I found myself wishing I was back on paved roads where my GPS could navigate me home.

Finding the enjoyment after a disappointment is just as important as answering the question ‘what now?’. Wanting to ride your bike rather than doing it because you feel like you have too is also important. When I was out on my mountain bike and found myself thinking about the road I knew it was time to get back into it all.

Tomorrow I start my rebuild for the second part of the season and I’m excited to get back on my road bike. While the disappointment I felt after I crossed the finish line on Sunday is still with me I think I’m in a much better position today to deal with it than I was in 2012.

Hopefully I’ve seen the last of my black hole days, but as I said in this sport there are more downs than ups, it’s just about how you find your way through the darkness and come out the other end. Here’s to a fantastic end to the 2014 season.

Some photos from the Games:

More clothes than you will ever know what to do with.

More clothes than you will ever know what to do with.

Selfie before the course recon on Saturday morning.

Selfie before the course recon on Saturday morning.

With our event on the last day of the Games and an early morning start we saw some behaviour not traditionally associated with elite athletes. This here is an invitation to a party within the village on Saturday night. We couldn't make it.

With our event on the last day of the Games and an early morning start we saw some behaviour not traditionally associated with elite athletes. This here is an invitation to a party within the village on Saturday night. We couldn’t make it.

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13 Comments on “Dealing with Disappointment

  1. Pingback: 2014 in review | Chloe Hosking

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  4. An honest report is a contribution to us all. It’s easy for the spectator to see that for Chloe to see herself as letting anyone down is absurd. Thank your body for doing it’s best on the day and give it another chance. Its time will come!

  5. Pingback: Rocacorba Daily | CyclingTips

  6. Hi Chloe
    Keep up your great blog. You write very well with honesty and authenticity. I really felt your disappointment and I look forward to sharing your future triumphs.
    Nicola

  7. Hey Chloe ,

    Shows a lot of character and the true fight of a professional athlete this article.

    It’s such a accomplishment to get there in the first place Chloe.
    I’m proud to say I went to the same school 😀

    All the best with the rest of ur season.

  8. Chloe, if there’s one thing I like about you more than any other it’s your honesty. You’ve dealt with this difficult situation with a maturity few athletes can muster and I really admire that! Good luck for the rest of the season. 🙂

  9. As always a great and moving honest read. I am sure that what you saw in the family faces was compassion for your disappointment not a sense of failure . I think of all the other sports people that feel as you did and are never able to express it and suffer so much in self doubt and silence.I agree with you that these are the teaching times and the really tough ones but you with your courage will have helped many more than yourself with your honesty by sharing how you have and are feeling. Enjoy being back on the bike and keep well. Love AJ

  10. Hi Chloe,
    What a heartfelt report. I feel for you. Anyone who has followed your blogs will know that you are a superb athlete. Wishing you all the best for the end of the season and beyond. PS my wife and I are holidaying at one of your favourite spots-Lago Maggiore.

  11. Hello Chloe, look forward, you’re always special. It is not a fast track but you’ll be there in Ponferrada?

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