Biathlon: Skiing, Shooting, and Existential Crisis
I am currently in beautiful Antholz, Italy, where I am feeling so lucky and happy to just be. The snow is beautiful, our hotel feels like a magical Narnia castle in the mountains, and family and friends flock to come and watch us race. It is such a good feeling to be here.
But this great feeling comes after some weeks of feeling mentally down. I have to admit that I have been asking a lot of questions about what I am doing in biathlon. I think that every athlete goes through phases like this. In fact, it seems like my teammates have also been going through this from reading their blogs! I sat down to think about what I was feeling sad about and how I have worked to turn it around with the help of others. I would characterize myself as a positive person so it feels good to be back to a more normal state of being.
To start off with, I have been frustrated about race performances for myself. This gets compounded by wanting to have good performances for others as well. For example, the wax technicians who ski 40 k trying to get you the best skis, coaches who stand out in the rain for hours, and parents who feel sad if you feel sad. Then on top of that, having very uninspiring biathlon conditions like cold rain, fog, dirty manmade snow, and wet heavy slushy, snow, which makes biathlon in and of itself, a bit less enjoyable (imagine laying down on a slushy mat, holding metal rifles that are wet and cold in your hands and trying to feel the trigger, and then skiing up big steep uphills in concrete snow and not moving very fast).
These thoughts then morphed into missing home, family, and friends. Add to this the feeling that a clock is ticking and the world is moving on without you. This starts questions about what the future holds like what do I do with myself when I retire? And how do I know when it is time to retire?
This was all SUPER NEGATIVE!!! Not my normal style. But when these thoughts all converge at the same time and snowball, it is so detrimental to performance, which is exactly the thing that started the negative spiral to begin with.
So, I did what I always do when I am having a hard time. I start talking. I reach out to people for advice. This is what I got.
First, I wrote my sports psychologist to ask for some strategies to work on my performances, and also whether or not it was time to retire. He said, “You are not ready to retire if you still care so much when things don’t go well”. That was a good piece of advice. Then I talked to my mom, and she thought I should “make a plan” so that I don’t feel as stressed about my future and can focus on where I am are right now. And then she handed the phone over to my dad who told me “You think too much! Don’t think so much! You can’t do this for the rest of your life, so enjoy it now. You will be fine in whatever you do once you finish biathlon, so don’t worry so much. Plus if you were home all the time, you might get bored.” Then I went to dinner with my boyfriend and over a glass of wine he told me, “It’s all in your head. You can’t think, I don’t want to be slow. You have to think that you are going to be fast. It’s all mental and what you believe yourself to be capable of. Plus, what have we to complain about in our lives?” And then I wrote a message to a fellow athlete that I respect incredibly because she achieved her goal of placing in the top 5 of the Tour de ski. She asked how I was doing and I told her that I was feeling frustrated and her reply back to me was, “It will come around, just keep believing! That has been the biggest thing for me, going after a race with no holding back, no other thoughts, just being selfish and channeling what you need to do to perform your best”. And lastly, I was talking to the sister of one of my teammates and telling her about the blog I was busy writing up and she replied, “Isn’t that what biathlon is all about? Skiing, shooting, and existential crisis!” I guess she has had this same conversation before…
So that is what got me to where I am today. All of these nice gems really helped shape my thinking process. PLUS- I got a few gifts from the Universe too. TA DA!!!!
The first gift was that I decided to go and cheer for the Mass Start in Ruhpolding. It was incredible. I forgot how thrilling exciting biathlon was. And the FANS! Being on the other side of the fence was a great reminder of how much I would rather be on the inside of the fence.
And the second gift was a snowstorm that was so beautiful it made me want to ski just for the pure pleasure of skiing again.
So here I am, in Antholz, Italy. I love the beautiful snow. I am excited that I get to be on the inside of the fence this time and be part of this crazy circus show. And I am motivated to race and it all out there again.