IM 70.3 Luxembourg

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My second Ironman 70.3 competition took place in Luxembourg on June 18th. After discussions with my Coach, Dr. Ralf Lindschulten, I had the new and exciting aim of  trying to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii on October 14th, and this race was one of only three qualifying races worldwide for Handcyclists. I loaded up ‘Viva’ the VW Van with all my race kit and camping gear but sadly my two elderly dogs had to be put into Kennels. We have had many adventures in Europe the last two summers, but both are well past retirement age now. It felt very odd to be boarding the EuroTunnel without them, by-passing the Pet Control, but it’s certainly quicker to be traveling solo!

 

I stopped overnight at my favorite campsite outside Calais and travelled the next day to Port de Schwebsange, where I set-up base camp close to the river, only 5 km away from the race start in Remich. I always find campsites in Europe incredibly accessible, with great toilet facilities, ramps everywhere and helpful staff, but this particular one turned out to be absolutely stellar, especially in relation to my race preparations.

As usual, there are a few harder, but shorter sessions to be done before Race day on both the bike and racing chair, so I trained on the wide bike path between a quiet road, and the Moselle River. Then it was off to the race Expo for Registration, packet pick-up and race briefing, where I met the other Handcyclists competing.

 

I didn’t want to have to detach the awning from my VW Van to drive to the race venue as it was so close, but it’s impossible to move both racing wheelchair and hand bike by myself whilst self-propelling a manual wheelchair. Luckily for me, Rent-a-Bike, Miserland, were right next to my camping spot and had offered mechanical assistance when they saw me setting up. They arranged for me to have use of their long wheelbase van and we loaded up all my equipment and dropped it into transition. The race directors had arranged two helpers for me, but they were not available until race day morning.

 

I always worry that I will oversleep on race day morning, but the weather was so hot that it was difficult to sleep in the van at night anyway, plus our actual race start was scheduled for a very leisurely 9:05am! Arriving in transition at 7:00 am I met my two handlers and ran through what was required in helping me transition from one piece of adaptive equipment to another. They helped pump tyres, attach nutrition, fill bottles and got me into my wetsuit, then we rolled over to the swim start.

 

This Ironman race had the newly introduced swim ‘rolling start’ but the Handcyclists and Physically Challenged categories had a glorious 10 minute head start on the Age Grouper Athletes, as we were straight after the Elite Men and Women. This meant that only the quickest swimmers caught us up and I had a lovely relaxed swim without being hit, swum over or kicked! And it was a massive PB!

T1 was unhurried as there is no need for super quick transitions at 70.3 IM level. My Coach had given me a race plan in Watts for the bike, as although the first 35km are very flat, the course then winds through both France and Germany with plenty of hills to climb. Plenty of support at the roadside kept me motivated on the 90km ride, and I was able to help a man struggling, walking up a hill, who had obviously ‘bonked’ (run out of energy), giving him a Clip bar that I didn’t need. He soon peddled past me, shouting his thanks.

I came into T2 a little later than I had predicted, and wasn’t surprised to see Jetze Platz, a Dutch Paralympic Handcyclist had already finished his race! It transpired he was 8th overall male, beating some pros! Off onto the run with the heat rising, lots of other athletes on the course, paper cups and sponges strewn all over the road.

The run was a four lap course, each athlete having to collect a different colored band at each checkpoint. This turned into quite a game, with me approaching at speed on the racing wheelchair, sticking my arm out and the young volunteers snapping it over my pushing gloves and onto my wrist-they scored every time!

To my amazement, I did a new stand-a-lone Half-Marathon PB, despite people dodging, cups and sponges. The good thing about a four lap course is that you pass the same athletes again and again, so they are then aware of a wheelchair racer coming up behind. Of course, in an ideal world, we would have a separate lane for safety and to avoid any accidents, as they do in Sprint Paratriathlon.

 

fullsizeoutput_110f.jpegHowever, everyone without question, was accommodating and encouraging, which I am thankful for.

When I finally rolled along the Ironman red and black carpet, I had to hold my competitive side back from sprinting for the line, and instead, savor the moment, and contemplate the journey that has got me to the finish line in the first place, and earning my qualifying slot to the World Championships!

There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits.” —Michael Phelps

 

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Race day! IM 70.3 Florida

I was incredibly fortunate to stay at a fantastic AirBnB the day before my race in Haines City as Bernie, my host, was able to transport all my race equipment in his truck to the race venue. I met my volunteer Handler, Devin, at registration and with my friend Carolyn who’d come down from Washington D.C., we ran through what I needed them to do in T1 and T2. We then attended the race briefing, grabbed some food and I went to bed early!

Race day dawned horribly early at 3am, as I needed to attend to my sci bowel routine as usual and put in place an indwelling catheter for the race-I would not have time to stop and catheterize and cannot use a Portapotti. We also needed to be in transition before it shut at 6am to put nutrition on the bike and racing chair, get body marked and put on my wetsuit, ready for a 6:50am race start.

I was carried onto the sandy beach by Devin and felt quite nervous. Most lakes in Florida have alligators and I didn’t fancy becoming an amputee! The swim course was also a rather weird ‘M’ shape marked with small buoys and it was barely light before the gun went off. Swimming with the 50-54 year old men was an interesting experience, as was wave after wave of swimmers cramped into a tight course. I tried drafting but was constantly swum over by swimmers crossing my bows, with no idea on sighting. I felt tired at the halfway point and knew that I was off my ideal race pace.

Devin was at the water exit up to his knees, scooped me up and ran up the sandy beach to deposit me in my waiting wheelchair. Pushing into T1, I felt really dizzy, having been swimming horizontal for what felt like forever. I was into my hand bike and out onto the open roads soon enough though.

For the first hour on the bike, I struggled to get warm, my right hand, which operates my Di2, completely numb and my cycling top dripping wet. Florida has a huge temperature range, dropping to single figures overnight and climbing rapidly during the day. It was 11 degrees celsius at the start of my race and climbed to 34 degrees later…

The first 45km were fairly flat and fast, with a good tailwind most of the way, and I was making good time, then we hit the first of a series of 10% climbs over the next 25km, with increasing headwind from the north. I was aware that I still had a Half-Marathon to complete and stuck to my race plan, perhaps a little too rigidly. Out on the bike for hours, I experienced my first-and hopefully last-‘golden shower’, when a woman overtook me, lifted her bottom off the saddle and proceeded to pee all over me. I’d known most triathletes don’t stop at designated Portapotti, but I didn’t expect to be the actual toilet stop!

I nearly missed my transition spot coming into T2 and had to back my hand bike up with my hands on the back wheels. A quick blast of suncream and transfer to my racing chair and I set off on the penultimate leg which I had been dreading since we drove round the day before. The run course was a pretty horrendous mix of ‘sidewalk’ running, sharp technical turns, 8% and 10% hills, flat fast sections, traffic cones, litter, and people oblivious to a fast moving racing chair. My biggest fear was another crash like in NYC Olympic Triathlon in 2012, where I split my Spiuck helmet in two places having landed upside down on it trying to avoid a runner oblivious to the Marshall shouting to him.

Fortunately, by the time I had dashed past most runners on lap 1, most people were well aware of me, giving me plenty of space. The most difficult challenge was the hill from transition with a 90 degree uphill turn to a 10% hill but on the ‘sidewalk’ or pavement. Without any momentum to carry me, I had no option but to turn the wheelchair backwards up the hill and crawl slowly up three times. I got plenty of lovely encouragement from everyone, but I was barely able to mutter ‘Thank-you’ to them.

Crossing the grassy finish line was, however, amazing! I’d done it! The highlight of the day was a fellow competitor who came up to me afterwards to thank me personally. He said seeing me struggle up the hills and not giving up inspired him to carry on despite suffering cramp. And the post race beer-the first in months-was pretty awesome!IMG_1076.JPG

Fe=Iron Male=Ironman Training

With the disappointments of 2016 behind me, I decided to have a ‘Gap Year’ from Para-cycling in 2017, and pursue the goal of completing a 70.3 Ironman in Haines City, Florida. My racing wheelchair ‘Chameleon’ was dusted off after a three year hiatus, and I started swimming regularly again, relying on my Coach Dr.Ralf Lindschulten http://www.lindschulten.de to juggle my workouts and schedule.
I was lucky to be invited to Florida with my Coach and other European hand cyclists to join a training camp run by Paralysed Veterans of America (PVA Team ) in Brooksville, Florida, in February. The Withacoochee State Trail, 46 miles of paved trail, was ideal for doing my long 4:30 hr endurance rides on my hand cycle, and I clocked up an incredible amount of training over two weeks, as well as being Lactacte Threshhold tested by Ralf in ‘Das Pain Cave’ whilst there!
The next warm weather training was in Portugal in March, where I stayed with friends of Mark Rohan, the Irish Paralympic Handcyclist, for two weeks. I had access to the City public pool and 1.6km park path, so was able to train in all three disciplines for two weeks.
A friend, Luke Delahunty, an Invictus Games competitor, was very fortunate to win a weeks cycling holiday to Greece offered by greekcycleholidays.com on the Island of Evia, and asked if I’d come. It was two weeks before my Ironman race and involved taking all of my race equipment with me, including spares and race wheels for both my hand cycle and race chair, as my flight to the U.S. was the day after we returned. But sorting difficult logistics for races are my speciality after years of solo competing!
Steve Frost, the owner of @GCHols, and assistant Lilian Pitsa were amazingly helpful-from the delicious ‘athlete food’ served daily, the lifts down to the seafront for my ‘brick’ sessions, and making the Villa completely accessible with hand-built ramps- I was able to put the finishing touches to my Ironman preparations, with lots of great riding, scenery, food and weather.
I arrived in Orlando, Florida, a week before my race, to high temperatures and humidity. Luckily, all my specialized equipment arrived intact thanks to my specially constructed box: http://www.dssmith.com/plastics/about/newsroom/2017/2/handcycle-box-for-world-ranked-para-cyclist. Unfortunately, I had to get my hand bike fixed at http://bikeshopofwinterhaven.com after my previous flight had caused damage. The mechanics were amazing, staying late to sort my gearing and Di2 so that my bike was race ready. I was kindly taken out to the Fraser Trail by Kris who works at the shop, to do my final hard interval training just days before Ironman 70.3 Haines City.

Six months of hard training were over, the rest was up to me…

 

Training by the sea in Portugal

Bittersweet 2016

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‘Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other’  Walter Elliot

In my 7th UCI World Cup in Bilbao, Spain, I finally made it onto the Podium-twice! Bilbao has always been one of my favorite places to race due to the excellent organization by the Fundazioa Saiatu Foundacion, who have amazing volunteers doing transport, catering and race marshaling, therefore making an unsupported self-funded trip there easy for me. I also love the people of the Basque Country-open, amazingly friendly and always helpful.

I knew that despite my double Bronze medal success, my high world ranking, the absence of Russian athletes in Rio (which opened up further slots for para-cyclists, which were subsequently allocated to specific riders by the UCI) and the points I had earnt over the past two years competing (which were enough to gain a slot for one WH4) meant nothing. If Jess Varnish could not gain a slot to Rio, there was not much hope for me. It seems that glass ceilings still exist…

I was hopeful that the Rio Paralympics would have plenty of opportunities for my para-cycling hand cyclist friends, and would be televised. I was shocked to read results from just one combined road race medal event for FOUR very different categories, totaling 15 riders, whereas the six H5 women-there are only seven on the UCI world ranking list-competed in an entirely separate road race (all were ring-fenced slots). There were also only two time trial medal events, H1-3 with factoring, H4/5 with none, which was totally unfair to higher categories. There was no female Team Relay Team medal event either. I learnt from Sarah Storey, our UCI Athlete Representative, that two medal events had to be dropped to accommodate the Trike event splitting to separate male/females races, as there are only 50 medal events shared between Track cycling and Road cycling.

Unfortunately, hand cyclists cannot compete on the Track, so it is not possible to do the varied and numerous short medal events offered there. In my dreams, I’m doing a World Record attempt behind the Dernyman, sprinting the final 250m to a new Guinness World Record…but that’s the subject of another Blog post!

 

 

On top of the World!

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Imagine my surprise on my return home after a five week trip to Europe to discover that I am top of the UCI Elite Women world rankings! And yes, that really is my age-I have good genes- although you can see that as a whole, female hand cyclists tend to be in their early forties before excelling at hand cycling. This is primarily because most women acquire their sci in mid-life and it sometimes sadly takes many years to discover hand cycling due to lack of promotion, costs involved and appropriate coaching being available. It also takes several years to develop the musculature required to propel a 12kg bike plus bodyweight over a 42km course at 31km/h! As there are even older male hand cyclists than me still winning gold medals in our sport, I don’t think the desire to win fades with age…

It’s only with the financial support from various sponsors and charities that I am able to compete Internationally, as I am not supported by my NGB British Cycling either financially or logistically. So, a big THANK-YOU to The Challenged Athlete Foundation: http://www.challengedathletes.org/site/c.4nJHJQPqEiKUE/b.6449023/k.BD6D/Home.htm The Arctic One Foundation: http://www.arctic1.co.uk, Centrica and my local Church, St. Ediths, Grimoldby, for supporting me financially on my latest trip. Also thanks to OTE Sports: http://www.otesports.co.uk/products/ for giving me a generous discount on their fab products, which keep me going before, during and after racing.

Without ‘Viva’ the VW, I would not be able to travel to races with all the necessary equipment to be my own support staff: Driver, Bike Mechanic, Physio, Dietician, Masseuse-I’ve learnt to do it all!  V’Viva’ is kindly sponsored by Fogarty: http://www.fogarty.co.uk/blog/fridays-news

Lastly, I appreciate all the wonderful help and offers of support which I received at each and every competition I attended as an Independent, self-sufficient athlete over April/May this year, which included; loans of vital equipment, Physio before race day, coffee, offers of meals, a Hotel room, insecticide for an ant infestation (!), fun days out, a new flag, training partners and the unending words of encouragement to boost my morale.

THANK-YOU!

 

 

Gratitude

Whilst 2105 has been a pretty successful sporting year for me as you can see from all the trophies and medals below, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many individuals, friends and supporters, sponsors and businesses, who have supported me on my journey in para-sport.

Medals and trophies 2015.jpgThanks go to:

Fogarty, Master Quilt and Pillow Makers, http://www.fogarty.co.uk/blog/fridays-news who provided ‘Viva’ the VW, fully customized to fit my hand bike, plus two dogs and camping gear for my two month trek around Europe this summer. I’m still getting used to seeing my name on the side of her and am looking forward to more adventures!

Mammoth Mattress http://mammothmattress.co.uk/category/elite-athletes/ who kindly supplied a custom made memory foam mattress for ‘Viva’ to make sure I had adequate sleep recovery in-between my races.

Alfred Bekker http://alfredbekker.com/product-range/hand-controls-for-disabled-drivers/# who converted the van with hand controls that allowed me to cruise along the Autobahns and motorways of Europe in comfort.

KitBrix http://www.kitbrix.co.uk whose bags do a sterling job of keeping all my cycling stuff well organized in the confines of ‘Viva’.

The Arctic One Foundation http://www.arctic1.co.uk who provided me with a small cash grant which paid for my EuroTunnel fare to Europe to compete this year.

Challenged Athlete Foundation http://www.challengedathletes.org/site/c.4nJHJQPqEiKUE/b.6449023/k.BD6D/Home.htm whose training grant allowed me to pay for a cycling coach so I could train and prepare better.

The University of Lincoln http://lincoln.ac.uk/home/media/universityoflincoln/schoolofsportandexercisescience/UoL-Sport-2015.pdf for providing Sports Science support-it’s been an interesting journey so far!

My 5,000+ Twitter followers! The support, jokes, concern, sympathy, friendship and valuable contacts has been unending and I thank you.

To all the people I met in Europe who helped me with dog-sitting, tent erecting, laundry, food, meals, campsites, shopping, doctors, friendship, swimming, directions, training and more!

To my children, George and Rebecca, who helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel after my sci accident and are my most steadfast supporters, I love you more than…

And lastly, to my late best friend Micky Greenwood, who taught me so much about how to live life well and enjoy every moment you are given x
I wish you all have a peaceful, happy and prosperous 2016

 

Highs and Lows-2015

I can’t believe that Winter has arrived so quickly after a protracted mild Autumn. I am in semi-hibernation mode now, only venturing outdoors for long, cold, often wet and usually windy bike rides. I know that getting the Base miles in over the winter is crucial to success next season. Afterwards I retreat to my sofa and my laptop, filling in my training on Strava, my diet on MyFitnessPal and emailing my Coach.

My race season this year started in sunny Abu Dhabi in March and ended in fascinating Beirut only two weeks ago! I trained in Portugal, Spain and Belgium, travelled to 10 different Countries and crashed badly in two races. I won 7 Golds and 2 Silvers in the European Handcycle Circuit (EHC) to finally take the overall Champions jersey in the series. I competed in four UCI C1 competitions, winning six Gold and two Silvers. I raced as an Independent at two UCI Para-cycling World Cups in Italy and Switzerland, finishing 6th, 4th, 5th and 5th. My UCI world ranking is 7th in the world this year.

I spent 10 weeks away from home driving solo over 10,000 miles across Europe and camping in a tent, then a van, accompanied by my two dogs Monty and Smudge. I was ‘living the dream’ according to friends, doing the Grand Tour I’d always dreamed about. In the middle of my travels, my best friend died suddenly. Thirty years of friendship-gone in an instant. Competing in para-cycling races just didn’t seem important anymore, nor did a world ranking, or even Blogging about my summer adventures. It would be two months before I’d enter another race.

So, with a bit of perspective since the event and my best friend’s motto-‘Do what makes you happy’- ringing in my ears, I have two main aims for next year. One is to be selected for a place on the National Team and potentially compete in the Rio Paralympics. To achieve this, I need to train harder than I’ve ever trained before, as the selection criteria from my NGB is to be a consistent Gold medallist at World Cup level.

The other is to raise enough sponsorship to to replace my three year old badly damaged race bike and enable me to travel to major competitions.

Neither are going to be easy tasks, but I’ve come this far…

“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.”
Michael Phelps

UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup, Segovia

Segovia Road Race start

Segovia Road Race start

After the World Cup in Italy in May, my Coach Bryan Steel and I reviewed my training with an emphasis on improving my performance specifically in the Time Trial. Coming from a background of competing Internationally in Paratriathlon, which only involves a 20km bike section in the Sprint distance, my speed endurance was not sufficient for up to 48km of fast racing in this World Cup.

I had to negotiate getting down to London with all my equipment as I had no car, plan where to stay and also how to get to the race venue, as the UCI decided this year to only provide transportation to and from the official race Hotel for National Teams. I also needed to get to the official Hotel to register, collect my numbers and timing chip. I faced yet another complicated solo journey, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the adventure that followed!

I caught a National Express Coach down to Heathrow having used my accumulated Airmiles from the past four years of competing around the world for a free Business flight with British Airways to Madrid. I arrived to find my race bike had been left in London, despite having been marked ‘Priority’ when checking in, due to Baggage Handlers disputes. By the time I had put in a claim, I had missed the last train to Segovia, so had to book a Hotel for the night. Normally, I put all my clothes and medical supplies in with my bike, but had the luxury of two free bags with my flight-my bike and a double wheel bag-so had opted for hand luggage which fortunately contained overnight things!

I had time to research my options to get to the official Hotel in time for race registration and briefing the next day so sent an urgent email to the UCI organisers in case everything didn’t work out. I took a Taxi from the Hotel to a Coach station in Madrid the next morning and helped by the kind driver, found the bus to Los Angeles de San Rafael. I was lucky to discover a fellow passenger Diego was a race volunteer and his wife was picking him up from the station and she kindly offered me a lift to the Hotel. I made it just in time for registration, and was given dispensation for not being able to show my race uniform, which was still in my missing bike bag. The afternoon was spent frantically trying to contact British Airways and praying that my bike would be delivered in time for me to build it for the Time Trial in the morning.

The race venue was a further 86km from the Hotel in Cuellar, near to Segovia. Diego picked me up in a van full of race equipment after chip allocation in the evening. I was all registered and ready for my second World Cup, but my bike was not. It was worrying having spent money getting to Spain and time training. An enforced rest of three days had not been part of my plan either.

It was a lovely surprise to find friends from the Italy at the my small Hotel in Cuellar, but I was overjoyed to find my bike had been delivered! I worked late into the night to rebuild and race prep it, with the Italians helping out when they returned from their meal. I would have to ride and check my bike just before my race the next morning, not ideal as there was no time to fix anything that might be wrong.

The hotel was a short, but steep, ride away from the race start. I set off up a hill at some lights and suddenly stopped with my right leg going into severe spasms. Looking down, I could see my shoe was caught in the front cassette. An Italian friend came running to help me remove it, as I was stuck in the middle of traffic. I had no time to stop and look at my foot as I had to warm up on the road, ready for my Time Trial. The TT went well, with a new PB and hitting my goal average speed, but my leg continued to spasm throughout, making it hard to concentrate and keep the bike straight. I found the race Doctor whilst still in my bike, who strapped up my foot and gave me painkillers, which I found amusing as I have no pain or temperature sensation from the knees down. I knew it must hurt from the amount of spasms I was getting.

The next day my foot, ankle and leg were black and blue, and the swelling was so severe I could not get my race shoes on. I also could not bear any weight on my leg, which made transferring in and out of my bike and wheelchair extremely difficult. I was plagued by severe spasms throughout the Road Race and despite initially staying with the leaders, I soon fell back. The TT had only been 22 minutes in the 38 degree heat, but the RR was 36km- thankfully reduced by the organisers from 48km due to the tmperature-but with a steep, cobbled hill in each lap. I have a limited sweat response due to my C7 sci and I was lucky to have kind members of rival competitor teams douse me with water on each of three climbs which made it more bearable.

I was taken under the wing of the Italian Independent Team staying at my Hotel, taken for meals out and all the way back to a Hotel near Madrid Airport, ready for my flight home the next day. The flight back was delayed and I missed the only Coach home, but British Airways came up trumps, arranging a door-to-door Taxi at their expense. I then got a local Taxi straight to A&E to have my foot and lower leg x-rayed in case anything was broken, but lucky it was just a bad sprain. I got an ambulance ride home at 2am!

I’m so lucky to have the support and friendship of so many people in the Para-cycling community and blessed by Guardian Angels who seem to appear at just the right moments to sort my logistical nightmares out!Segovia Italians