I recently read a very good article on skifaster.net, in which Shane Stevens discussed a new outlook on training and the attention to detail of great champions. While agreeing with what Shane had to say, I also think of an element that has held me back as well as something I see in many less successful athletes. I am referring to having performance impeded by being intimidated by opponents as well as the fear of training hard.
I have read autobiographies by Lance Armstrong and Gunde Svan as well as my observations of athletes who are successful around me. One thing I notice about these people is that they are not intimidated by those they compete against. I remember watching on television the 100m of the World Track and Field Championships a few years ago in which one runner was leading at 60m, was not able to handle the idea that he was going to be World Champion and came second in a personal best time despite being the stronger runner on the day. He was not successful because he got intimidated whereas the other runner won by not being afraid.
In order to be successful you must believe that you belong in that position and that you are capable of beating your opponents. This is more than just dreaming of the day on which it happens but showing up at the start line without any preconceived notions of defeat. This is something that many of us struggle with. I also see it in the common attitude in Canadian skiing where people assume that we cannot beat Europeans. As long as we keep believing that we cannot beat them, we will not. The same applies to us as individual racers who may believe that certain other skiers are inherently superior.
The other aspect of fear, which has affected me and many others, is the fear of training hard. Training hard involves tiring out the body during workouts and pushing harder when enough lactates are pumping through your legs that every natural instinct is to stop. It involves working harder than in previous years so previous notions of limits will always be surpassed. When people get scared of hard workouts, racing to their limits or difficult programs, they impede their chances for success. Serious injuries in individual workouts or races are not more likely to occur if you push harder so there is little short term risk. Also, if proper concern is placed on recovery most of us can handle a heavier training load. The body must still be listened to and its signals followed in order to prevent illness and overtraining but fear of illness should not prevent effort. The only way to gain international success is to train effectively at the limit of one's abilities, and this can only occur by taking some risks and exploring the limits. Do you think Andrus Veerpalu is scared of a 100- hour month of training? Do you think Per Elofsson gets scared when his coach suggests doing some form of zone 3 and 4 intensity 6 days in a row?
In conclusion, fear is a factor which often limits racing performance and training efficiency. It has impeded me in the past in both respects and continues to impede many North American skiers. Remember that limits must be surpassed in order to be successful.