Do you know what 'Form' is? Form is the combination of preparation, planning, hard work... and a bit of luck. Not luck in the sense of 'chance', but luck in the sense of 'nothing going wrong': not getting sick; not having your credit cards wiped while you're overseas; not crashing on your rear derailleur in your warm up lap. You can only control so much, and no preparation in the world can overcome a well-timed sneeze from a stranger.
Getting Form is hard. Keeping it is harder. I've had the best coach in the world for the past 8 years and it still pains me that elite sport doesn't provide predictable outcomes in the same way that my regular job does. In the office, outcomes are generally a direct result of how much work you put in. The more work you put in, the better the result. In sport, sometimes the worst thing you can do is work harder.
Form is a shy creature. It doesn't like the spotlight. It prefers to lurk in the shadows, promising to come out but often turning back at the last moment. It's like those Facebook friends you know who tick the 'Going' box to an event but never actually show up. How good a friend are you really, Form? I totally invited you to that race.
Form's close friend is a creature called Mojo. Mojo is like Form, but with an added je ne sais quois - maybe a mixture of confidence and happiness. If you could personify it, it would look a lot like Grug, but with a little more exuberance. Mojo is mercurial: when you have it, it's the life of the party, but next minute it will pull a ghostie and its absence feels like a beach in the winter.
Since starting cross, Mojo has been one of my most treasured companions. It loves the mud, and the excitement, and the rad people who make CX so much fun. Every 'cross trip I've had, Mojo has come along; sometimes shyly at first, but it's always there after the first five minutes of a race. But this trip, something strange happened. Mojo got lost after my first race - the Zolder World Cup - and I couldn't find it. In Diegem, Louenhout and Baal it was nowhere to be seen. I tried everything I could think of. I slept for 10 hours a night. I skipped Christmas celebrations. I went to bed at 9pm on New Year's Eve. I watched two whole seasons of House of Cards, during the day, after training, while horizontal on the couch. I ticked all the right boxes. But I just couldn't put together a good race. I was starting to feel pretty low about it, which was making things even worse. Here I was, never better prepared for a European season, with the best equipment and race support that I've ever had - and yet I felt like I was hitting a glass ceiling in my races. Every other CX trip I've done has seen a step up in my racing and results, and this was a shock to the system.
I talked through it with the Supercoach, and we realised that despite all the box-ticking and diligent TV watching, I had overlooked Mojo's most important ingredient: fun. I hadn't hung out or gone for dinner with mates in ages. I definitely hadn't had a good laugh, because I was too busy trying to be serious. Working harder wasn't the solution: I just needed more beer.
The next day I went riding with a mate and rather than sticking to the regular well-trodden recovery roads we went off-piste and ended up riding some muddy country roads that we'd never seen before. I went to a party that night hosted by my Belgian family and drank beer and heard stories about riders in the off-season. The next day at the Soudal Classic in Leuven, rather than riding the course by myself during the practice sessions I teamed up with a fellow Aussie and we sessioned the technical bits together. I realised that bike racing is only one small part of my trip. When I look back on my good race tours of the past two years, it's not the races I remember so much as the people I've met and the fun times we've shared. It took nearly two weeks of solitude to realise it, but finding the fun in bike riding is like crack to Mojo.
So with that, I'm committing to fun and ruts. I'm riding happy again. I'm taking a couple of days to visit mates in London and to forget about watts and heart rates for a while. Ride Happy, it's a good philosophy. Someone should write a blog about that.