BECOMING THE CHAMPION : PART 1

Fresh off her double championship weekend at the US Nationals, Chloe Woodruff lets us in on her journey towards the biggest race of the year – and how she came through with flying colors. 

By Chloe Woodruff

THE PREP

Lining up for the US Mountain Bike National Championships wasn’t any different this year than any other race. All year I’ve been feeling prepared—well rested at the right times, completely exhausted from training at other times, and with complete confidence in my support and equipment. It’s a simple formula that after years of practice and refinement seems to work. But being prepared doesn’t necessarily lead to a win. In fact, before last weekend I’d never even won a UCI cross-country race. So here’s my disclaimer: I’m no expert on winning. But I think I’m starting to learn a thing or two about what it takes: the ability to turn your focus on and off (we’ll call this mental discipline) and a bit of luck. 

Starting with my first year in the Elite category in 2011 (which came after four years in the Under-23 age group, and two as a Junior), my coach, my husband— TJ Woodruff—and I have always noted our National Championship race as a high priority event—if not the highest in any given season. It’s the one day where you get to compete to be the best in your country, and the winner gets to wear that special Starts & Stripes jersey for a year. It’s also a chance to show your National Team coaches you can perform when it matters. So we’ve had a bit of practice in ‘peaking’ at the right time. We’ve had some success. (Like a career-best 4th place in cross-country in 2013 and a couple of second place finishes in short-track). But we’ve also had disappointments, which is just a normal part of this sport and a painful part of the process. Last year I spent the week before the Nationals Championships sick-in-bed and barely kicked my fever in time to start. Needless to say, things didn’t go very well in the cross-country race at Nationals in 2014.

So what’s different about this year? I think it might be that I’ve really loved training this year—more than others. Writing a training program isn’t ‘rocket science’—it’s overload, recovery, overload, recovery…and so on, with race-specific training thrown in the mix. The hard part is the customization for the individual so that their motivation develops and they remain excited about doing the work. That’s me this year: motivated and really excited about doing the work. For that, I have a huge amount of gratitude towards TJ whose patience, subtle manipulation, analytical brain, and no-bullshit approach to coaching have enabled me to thrive this year. I’m definitely his biggest pain-in-the-ass athlete but growth doesn’t happen without a challenge and he’s grown into a great coach (and not just for me).

MENTAL DISCIPLINE

I feel like a poser talking about this topic. Without a doubt, the most disciplined athletes are those balancing World Cup schedules and 30+ hour project engineering work weeks (e.g. Erin Huck) or those scheduling child-care for their two-year old daughter around a full training and racing schedule (e.g. Rose Grant). And by the way, neither of these athletes makes excuses or puts limitations on what they can achieve in this sport—and they are kicking ass.

But there are more subtle forms of discipline and one in particular that I’m proud of (and have had to learn over the past decade) and that’s having the ability to dial down or, in my case, dial up my focus. I’m not 100% focused all the time. The people that manage that are crazy (and there are many successful crazy-athletes), or, they’ve struggled with burn-out because such focus is exhausting.

Many athletes come from families of world-class athletes (or so I hear…my second disclaimer is that none of this is based on any actual research). They may be exposed very early to training programs, strict diets, performance testing, and coupled with some lottery-winning genes, this sets them up to be great athletes. And they are. My Dad, Chuck Forsman, is a world-class…artist. And I’m a lot like him. There’s space-time continuum that TJ refers to “Chloe-time” which is a less-advanced condition of “Chuck-time”. It’s when you’re oblivious to normal, socially-accepted, frameworks of time. And you’re oblivious because you’re doing something that matters to you and it requires focus (and please don’t rush us). But what’s truly remarkable about my Dad, is his focus often shifts from some incredible thing to another—a conversation, a bike ride, a book, or an idea—but his art and his work inspire out of him a compulsive focus that kicks in when it needs to. For me, it’s taken a lot of work to learn how to maintain focus when I need to—but perhaps the reason I’m still enjoying the process while getting faster, bit by bit, is that I’ve been exposed to that balance. It’s a little paradoxical but I think I think my mental discipline means I’m pretty good at taking mental recovery.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post…(Part II : Winning & Racing)!



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