The top female triathlete in the world has a secret. Despite having the most dominant season in ITU history in 2015, winning every event she entered, Gwen Jorgensen knew there was something she longed to improve. With the most important season of her life ahead, she spent a week working undercover with a team of top cyclists and sports scientists to tackle one of her biggest self-perceived weakness – bike handling and technical skill going fast downhill. In her own words, “I had a hard time coping with high speeds and technical descents on the bike.â€ So with everything on the line, it was time to tackle these fears head on.
When Jorgensen was recruited to try triathlon in 2010, she was confident in her swimming and running from her previous collegiate and high school sport experience. Biking on the other hand, was a completely new endeavor. While she managed to gain quite a bit of skill in her limited number of years in the sport, she still felt held back not only by technique, but also her lifelong fear of going fast. Even in a car, she doesn’t enjoy going over 30 mph. Knowing that both perfecting the technical skill and conquering the mental hurdle would be key to success in 2016, she enlisted a group of experts with the help of Red Bull High Performance to design a camp that would bring her to the next level.
During a crisp December week in the hills around southern California, Jorgensen and the team focused on the key areas identified to improve: Bike handling, cornering, speed, and the psychological fears of going fast. Led by a team including Tour de France yellow jersey holder Dave Zabriskie, professional cyclist Tim Johnson and sports scientist Dean Golich, Gwen spent three days improving her descents taking hill after hill.
Gwen went from 0 to 60 – or perhaps, likely 80mph. Immediately Jorgensen was forced to face her fears by descending steep canyons on the back of famed Supermoto athlete Eric Bostrom’s 1000CC motorcycle. Gripping tightly and letting out more than a few audible screams, Jorgensen was taught to scan the road and how to observe but not focus on objects while speedily turning corners. By the afternoon, Jorgensen was on her bike descending the same hills with a pack of riders, slowly gaining confidence and learning how to change perceptions of distractions to merely variables.
The design to push the limits of comfort zone and go faster than she ever expected had the desired effect – suddenly descending on her bike did not seem so dauntingly fast. In the late afternoons she also worked on basic bike skills, building her confidence, although her coaches felt she was already way ahead of where she thought she was. Maintaining self-confidence is as key to success as the physical drills.
A CHANGED RIDER
By the end of the camp, with steadily improved times, road position and confidence, cyclist Tim Johnson commented that Gwen became “a changed, better rider.â€ The improvement to Jorgensen in her regular training sessions was immediately apparent. Upon arriving to her pre-season training destination of Wollongong, Australia, she improved a descent on a training hill by over 4 minutes from previous years. She also applied the camp learnings in unexpected ways, translating the lesson of mentally reframing obstacles in the road to simply a “variableâ€ into her swim and run training. Said Jorgensen, “a huge breakthrough for me happened at the camp with one word: variable. I was taught to view everything on the road as a variable (example: blind corners, debris in the road, oncoming traffic, etc.) I repeated this word in my head over and over in training to build confidence to help push my limits.â€
Jorgensen was also presented with a VR device programmed with the course she felt was most challenging in her future so she could practice visualization on a whole new level – instead of closing her eyes to picture the turns and hills, she could see them in 360 degrees as if she was really there.
The confidence she built helped push her through the season, where she finally accomplished her dream of becoming the best in the world. Many wonder what it takes to be at your absolute peak – and for Gwen Jorgensen, it was recognizing that being the best in the world in 2015 was not good enough. The feeling of being better than your best? Simply golden.
Photo credit: Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool