Back when I was 16 or 17, I watched my team mate win a bronze medal in the Kierin at the British National Track Championships. He stared at it most of that evening with a goofy smile on his face and then drove 100 odd miles home to show it to his partner, driving back again the following morning for his next race.
From that moment on I wanted to win a national medal one day. There have plenty of fourths, fifths and sixths in the years since and at times I wondered if I’d ever achieve it.
However last Friday night I won 3000m individual pursuit bronze at the New Zealand National Championships in the Masters 1 Category. I had qualified fourth fastest and was up against Peter Murphy from Otago in the “mud medal” ride off, who was third qualifier.
Between qualifying and the evening session’s ride off there was time to kill so I stayed rested and tried not get too hyped up. While the race only lasts four minutes, the build up goes on for hours. I ate early, got to the track 90 minutes beforehand and put on my kit before beginning a regimented warm-up – all the while keeping an eye on the time and fitting in a large number of nervous toilet breaks.
But before you know it, the bike was in the starting gate, the countdown clock was beeping and then I was away.
Unlike during his qualifying ride, Peter started quick and at the halfway mark was over 1.8sec up. Nigel, my handler, was giving me my lap times and screaming at me to go faster. I felt it was too early though and wanted to stick to my plan of steady 18.2 second laps, raising the pace in the final kilometre.
According to Nigel, Peter then started to tire and lose time. I pulled ahead with three laps to go but all I could hear was noise and pain, convinced I was still down. I don’t think I have ever pushed so deep, desperate to fulfil my goal under the realisation that this was the best shot I’d ever had, and may ever get.
Sarah Ulmer was once asked what she remembers about her Olympic winning pursuit ride. “The pain to be honest,” she replied. “Not being able to breathe…” I guess I came some way to understanding that level of committment.
On the final curve I searched for the finish line expecting the gun to go off to signify my opponent had crossed first. It didn’t happen and instead it fired for me. I looked over as he finished to second crack of the gun.
The realisation I’d done it was just amazing. I looked at Nigel who was cheering with a huge smile on his face and then at the scoreboard to double check the race was mine. I did a few weird laugh/ cry things and waved to the Wellington supporters. I wished my family was there.
Nigel had to help me from my bike and then down the stairs – my legs were so wobbly. I coughed up phlegm from my lungs for a good 20min after and it took a while to be able to get on the rollers for a warm down.
I’m under no illusions – I’m not the most talented cyclist and this ride was fairly average on the grand scheme of things. But for those three minutes and 44 seconds, I was the best rider I could ever be and it meant I was able to achieve a goal after 22 years of trying.
I slept the next two night with the medal under my pillow and have had it in my pocket every day since.