Thursday, 1 September 2016

The 2016 Rio Olympic Games

Just under 2 weeks ago I officially became an Olympian. Life long ambition achieved. Precious memories that will stay with me for the remainder of my days. Yet it already feels like a lifetime ago. Such is the Olympic bubble. It's a different world. Like stepping through the wardrobe doors into Narnia. You're lost in a parallel world that's cut off from normality and reality. Not much penetrates. The outside world is but a hazy blur that passes on the other side of the bubble. Your vaguely aware that it's there but, selfishly, you let it pass by without too much consideration. In the Olympic world you're cooked and cleaned for. Your constantly surrounded by a team of people working hard to make your life as easy as possible. It's filled with packet fresh kit from Beetles offspring, accreditations and lanyards, pin badges, flashing shoes, giant dining halls, free McDonald's, news of incredible triumph, and stories of dream shattering losses. It's a crazy, cool, unforgettable world that I feel privileged to have experienced.

But suddenly, you stumble out the other side, tired and bleary eyed and wonder if it did just happen or if it was all some weird dream. You stare at the kitchen and try to remember how everything works. You begin to get your head around the oven again, and then realise that in the real world you even have to buy your own food. But where from?! 

Everything is so quiet and calm. You have time to sit on your sofa with a cup of tea and reflect. 

"Fourth is the worst place to finish at an Olympic Games" 

We've all heard it. We've probably all said it. Remarked at that poor person who just missed out on a medal. But you never think it's going to be you in that situation. It never crossed my mind anyway. But I was fourth at the Olympic Games. 

"Better than 5th at least!" 

That's the spirit. True plucky Brit logic. Maybe it's true? Or maybe I would have preferred to have finished 34th, too far away to feel the heartbreak of coming so close? I've considered both options. Sometimes I prefer one over the other. Other times times my emotions sway me a different way. The grass is always greener, as they say. 

There were 306 podiums in Rio 2016. 306 Golds. 306 Silvers. 306 Bronzes. And therefore 306 fourths. I was certainly not alone. I wondered how many of the 306 fourth placers were at home now, happy with their result? Or how many were wallowing in self pity after coming so close? I wasn't really sure what I was supposed to think. Jury was out. I was sat on the fence. Well dangling my feet either side at least. 

"Fourth at your first Olympics! You should be proud!" 

Rationally, I know this is probably true. But the irrational side of me cried a few tears. Disappointed in myself. Disappointed for all those people who invested so much time and effort in me. Disappointed for all the friends and family I neglected in pursuit of an ultimately elusive dream. 

But this is starting to read like a pity plea. And pity is not what I'm after. I've rationalised. I was fourth at the Olympic Games. Yes it fell short of my own, and I'm sure others, expectations. I didn't perform to my ability and I didn't deliver the performance I wanted. I'm not going to bore you with excuses as to why I wasn't good enough. But I gave everything I had on the day, and for that at least, I have to be proud.

I think it's human nature, or maybe a flaw, to never be satisfied. To always want more. As an athlete it can be a strength and a weakness. The need to be better, to continue achieving, it's what gets you out of bed, it's what makes you push harder, push limits. It also makes you vulnerable to the highs and lows of sport. I wonder if I had held on for bronze, would I actually be satisfied? Or would I be wondering what it feels like to be one or two steps higher? I don't need to wonder, I already know the answer. 

Regardless of the outcome and my interpretation of it, my Olympic experience was a special one. Hopefully it won't be my last, but that's impossible to predict. An endless number of people contributed to this journey. Some more than others, but ultimately every one that helped, supported, believed, enabled, endured and cheered deserve thanks. There are far too many to mention here, so I'll spare you. But to everyone that I can't reach personally, Thank You. 

A special mention and of course congratulations must go to the three that crossed the line first. 
Gwen breathtaking as always. 
Nicola as inspiring, if not more, than 4 years ago. 
And Vicky. You already know everything that I could possibly write here and more. You know 'us' better than anyone else. So simply, Thank you. 

And if you're wondering, this blog, as usual, is the result of another long haul flight. One in which my e-reader has unfortunately broken and entertainment options are otherwise limited. Which means I must be on the road again. 

Onwards. Always. 

One of my favorite images from the Games. Thank you for whoever captured the moment from their TV screen! 

Sunday, 1 May 2016

4 Years; a Lifetime Away or Just Around the Corner?

The last time I laced up my racing shoes on South African soil the circumstances in some respects were the same, but on the whole, they couldn't have been more different.  

First race of the season. Check.
Olympic year. Check.
Table mountain in the background. Check.
Genuine, if not slightly unnecessary, fear of being eaten by sharks whilst dressed as a seal. Check. 

That's probably where the similarities end, because fortunately, the day's played out very differently. 

The first occasion was in February 2012. An early season Continental Cup. I was on the points chase. Not an Olympic points chase. Far from it. I just wanted enough points to maybe, just maybe, get one of those elusive World Series starts. So shiny and exciting in all their blue carpeted glory. I had two or three rather dismal attempts the season before on the big stage, most of which had ended with DNF's for one reason or another. Lapped athlete being an almost reoccurring theme. Undeterred however, I was determined to try again, my eyes set on the iconic chase around the Sydney Opera House. Apparently completely ignorant to the lack of promise or potential I had displayed in any races up to that point. 

The day did not get off to the best start. A good luck text 60minutes before race KO roused me from an unusually deep, pre race sleep; I'd managed to snooze through an alarm that hadn't even accounted for the one hour time difference in the first place. Slightly panicked I jumped out of bed and frantically dashed around the room collecting my things. The only thing I could find to eat was a fairly squashed slice of banana cake that I'd probably squirreled away from the BA snack bar during my flight a day or so earlier. 

Bed to athlete lounge in 15 minutes...must be some sort of ITU record?! I'm claiming it anyway. 

Unsurprisingly the race didn't go much better. It got off to an equally dyer start and ended with me being tripped mid run, performing some overly elaborate tumble, jumping up and running in the opposite direction, only to be completely confused when an equally confused Dutch athlete rounded the corner into me. I managed to eventually find my way to the finish line and spent the rest of my stay nursing a concussion and a dented sense of pride in the shadows of Table mountain.

Fast forward 4 years and I'm sat atop of afore mentioned mountain, basking in its sunshine instead of sulking at its foot, marveling at the age old adage "what a difference 4 years makes". Ok so no one ever remarks at the wondrous changes that occur in 4 years. 4 years is actually a pretty long time to instrument some significant changes. Rome wasn't built in a day, but I bet they made some seriously straight inroads into changing its skyline over the course of a few years. 

So what was different?

Thankfully the start, middle and end all played out to a completely different tune. 

I woke up in ample time and ate a substantial breakfast. 
I nearly had enough time to get bored in the athlete lounge. 
I encountered a slight hiccup when an official decided he'd try and hurdle me in the pre race line up but instead ended up kneeing me in the head. Luckily I could laugh this one off.
I managed to stay upright the entire race and didn't once run in the opposite direction to everyone else. 
I won my first World Series race in almost 3years. 

So much has happened in the time between those two Cape Town races. Yet the time has genuinely flown. It feels like only last year I was stood cheering from the sidelines of London 2012, yet here I am now, a whole Olympic cycle later, preparing to compete in the Games myself. 

So what's really different? Not a lot. I'm still the same athlete and the same person. I just found a good road and made decent headway in evolving my own skyline. And depending on how you look at it, a lifetime away or just around the corner, 4 years is just about enough time to make the unattainable, attainable and seemingly elusive dreams a reality.

'Enjoying' the view from the top. I'm actually pretty terrible with heights and definitely posing rather tentatively!
I do enjoy the new 'Pano' function on the iPhone...
Getting the work done on the bike.
Photo credit: Delly Carr
Job done. 
Photo credit: Delly Carr

Friday, 22 January 2016

My Declaration to Patience

Four years ago today I posted one of my first ever blog entries (well second ever if we're going to be pedantic about it). I was initially asked to start the blog to document my build up to the 2012 Olympic Games. Without even reading that particular entry I remember it quite well. I remember being quite surprised that 2012 had already come around; 7 years since the announcement that London would host the greatest show on earth. Aptly I was with Team GB at the 2005 Youth Olympics when the announcement came. And like every other starry eyed kid on the team I thought to myself "I'll be there!" 

Some of those kids did make it too. They donned their Stellar McCartney, stepped out onto the various stages of London, and did the class of 2005 very proud. Most of us however, didn't quite fulfill the lofty ambitions of our 15 year old selves. I watched from the sidelines, full of enthusiasm and admiration for those who had managed it, but at the same time vowing that next time it would be me. 

And so we have arrived yet again. Another Olympic cycle in its final quarter. The finishing straight. 11 years on from 2005, but 18 years since I asked my mum if I'd "ever go to the Olympics?" And 'only' 4 sports later I've finally booked my ticket. This time I won't be standing on the sidelines either. I'll be toeing the start line. Childhood ambition fulfilled. 

But again I can't quite believe it's come around so quickly. 

Already I've been asked countless times; "are you excited about Rio?" 
I don't think the question even needs answering. 
Sun. Sea. Sugary cocktails. 
The Olympic Games.  
What's not to be excited about?! 

After all it's only taken 18 years of dreaming. And I only have to dream for another 7 months before it becomes a reality. 

But a lot can happen, and needs to happen, in those 7 months. Like all athletes, Olympic bound or not, they will be predominately filled with hard work. Countless bleary eyed, chlorine filled mornings. Although with less than 200 days to go I probably could count them up if I cared to. Endless hours chasing that golden "chamois time", and ample opportunity for repetitive strain injury from tying shoes laces. 

But for me, that's the easy part.

Seven months of being patient. Now that's difficult. 

Patience is probably my biggest nemesis. I find waiting 20 minutes for my dinner to cook agonising. What do you mean I have to wait 14 days for my Amazon delivery?! How much is next day?! 

But as an athlete I've learnt the hard way, on too many occasions, that patiences is a virtue. A virtue worth mastering. I definitely haven't got my 10,000 hours yet. But I am aware that patience is probably my biggest hurdle between now and August. My coaches routinely preach this sacred scripture to me. They know me too well. Far better than the devil on my shoulder would like. She's really pissed off right now after being told to be patient since starting back training in November. If she had her way I'd be ready to go already. Luckily my rational side is just about reigning supreme. Just. 

So I will use this blog as a declaration of my commitment to 'Patience'. I know this will come around to bite me in the backside in a few weeks when I'm arguing with said coaches;
"Just one more hour please?"
"What harm will that extra rep make?"
"Can I run those laps just a few seconds quicker?"
And they will smugly bring this blog up and declare they have it all in writing. But if that's what it takes to make an Olympic start line in better than 'one piece' then so be it. 

Patience I am your disciple. Yours sincerely, Non Stanford.