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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Photo shoot at the University of Lincoln

Me posing in front of my hand bike

Me posing in front of my hand bike

People often wonder why I never have time to phone them back, email or text them but I am usually busy either out training, cooking proper food to fuel my training, looking after my dogs or travelling! Then of course, are events or meetings that I get asked to attend on a voluntary basis. This visit to the University of Lincoln for a photo shoot was in-between two back-to-back trips abroad for EHC Races.

I’ve been in touch with the University of Lincoln Sports Science Department for some time now and they have recently agreed to sponsor me with support for the next year. That’s a huge bonus for someone not on a UK Sport Lottery funded program or supported by their NGB and the EIS as I am able to tap into a huge reservoir of sports science and knowledge for free. They are taking a huge interest in me and hand cycling and I will also be able to speak to engineers about various adaptations and modifications I’d like to make to my bike for next season.

The photo shoot came about because Dr. Willmott at the University had a friend doing a 52 portraits in 52 weeks project and asked if he knew of anyone wanting free photographs done. I arrived back from the Czech Republic, put the bike back together and off I went to Lincoln the next day.

I was a Graphic Designer working in London in my 20’s and am no stranger to photo shoots, although I was normally the person art directing it. We went through some shots David had thought about after I’d given him some input on where to find shots of hand cyclists on the web.

My bike is nearly six-foot long, has reflective elements on it and lying in it does not always mean a flattering picture of oneself, or show the components of the bike and how low it is to the ground.

To his credit, David took all this on board and produced some wonderful pictures, which includes my favourite above. To have a look at his project visit: https://www.facebook.com/davidtravisphotography

Czech Republic EHC

Romina and I chatting before the TT

Romina and I chatting before the TT

Barely three days at home before I jetted off to the Czech Republic for another EHC Race, this time with the TT and RR on the same day. I arrived at 10:30 at night and put my bike back together as I had an early start to register for the races in the morning, with the TT scheduled for 10am.

I love coming to Louny, a town outside Prague, as the countryside is beautiful and the roads are really, really good! I can confidently leave my race wheels on my bike for a training ride, knowing that my route will not involve pot holes, surface dressing or many cars.

It’s a great advantage to know the course before you ride it, so I was well prepared for the fast downhill, but gruelling uphill for the TT. I felt fantastic and really strong and was over 3 minutes faster than third place.

The RR unfortunately, had been changed to a tight and technical 4km sprint round the town, with a nasty 180 up a hill and round a cobbled roundabout. I drafted Romina for the first lap, but then dropped her when I went in front. She chased hard for the entire race, and was a mere 35 seconds behind at the finish. It was impossible to pick up any decent speed with constant braking for corners and the uphill section, so I was lucky to stay in front of her. Two second places were a great boost to my morale.

I spent the next two days biking round the scenic hills and enjoying the company of Seine and his mum, regulars on the EHC scene.

Winter training in South Africa!

Mosselberg on the Indian Ocean

Mosselbaai on the Indian Ocean

Most hand cyclists I know disappear off to Lanzorote for a few weeks of winter training, but I like to be different!
I met Hilary Lewis, organiser of the Toer de Kaap (TDK), at my first UCI World Cup in Segovia last year and she managed to talk me into giving the hand cycle event an attempt. I didn’t know at the time I booked that she has only completed the entire tour once and Hilary thrives on tough challenges!
It seemed sensible to stay on in South Africa and visit relatives in Cape Town afterwards and then of course, it was just the right timing to do the beautiful Argus Cycle Tour. I love how they describe it as a tour, when in fact it is a cruelling 109km with 1340m elevation.
It turned out that the TDK was extremely good training for the Argus, despite suffering in the 39 degree heat and having to be doused with cold water virtually every half hour by our lovely support drivers. I did 386.7km, with 4,129m elevation in 29:37:00 over the six days of the tour, and was 170.3km short of completing. Perhaps living and training in Lincolnshire was my downfall! Actually, I’m very proud of my achievement, as I massively increased both my weekly miles and hours and am not fazed by climbing any more!
So, a few ‘easy’ weeks followed, staying at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport http://www.sastraining.co.za and training with beautiful views of vineyards and mountains.
Then it was onto Cape Town to stay with my Aunt and visit my cousin and his baby daughter and relatives. My cousin Craig is attempting the Robben Island swim in April and he was keen to show this ex-triathlete the beautiful Bays of Cape Town. Armed with my trusty Huub wetsuit, I braved the 14 degree water, feeling decidedly wimpy compared to the cozzy only clad swimmers. It did cross my mind that I would definitely look more seal like in my rubber suit and hence potentially appetising to any passing Great Whites…I kept my face in the water far more than I usually do!
I was lucky that Craig had a big new family car to take me and my bike to the bottom of the two last climbs on the Argus, so I was able to practice Suikerbosse and Chapman’s Peak before race day. Each single climb was not difficult, but they would come when I’d already completed over 80km, so it was nice to feel mentally prepared.
I was also delighted to be ‘kidnapped’ by Delia, who I had met in George before the TDK, and her husband Johann, both hand cyclists,and taken to Melkbosstrand, so that I could train somewhere flatter than the side of Table Mountain. They were incredibly generous and wonderful people, to the extent that Johann was up at 4am race morning to drive me to the start, having prepped my bike the night before.
There were 28 recumbents in our start group, with just over 20 being hand cyclists, although only two women. Unfortunately, we had a South Easterly wind for the first 50km of the race but the scenery was a good distraction. I rode with Brunhild, a South African hand cyclist, sharing the load and motivating each other on, until about 30km to go when I seemed to get a second wind and picked up the pace.
I completed the Argus in 07:09:04, the first official female handcyclist to finish. What a fantastic way to end my wonderful month in South Africa. Now it’s all about training to race!

Christmas Cheer…or not

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What a difference a year can make! This was me in 2012, at the English Federation of Disability Sports Nationwide Awards evening just before Christmas, where I won a Rising Star Award for ParaTriathlon and a bursary of £1000 towards my competition costs. I’d won a bronze medal at the World ParaTriathlon Championships in New Zealand to finish a great second year in paratri.

In March, I applied for the Lottery funded Paralympic squad for ParaTriathlon and was rejected by the British Triathlon Federation (@BritTri) as I was deemed too far off the Gold medal winning standards. I was 1:41mins behind silver but the BTF chose to take the silver medallist. They were not within the stipulated published criteria.

Yesterday I heard from the Lincolnshire Sports Partnership (@LincsSport) that I was not successful in gaining a place on the Lincolnshire Elite Athlete Program (LEAP) for 2014 ‘as the level of applications this year was exceptional.’ I am further encouraged to not be disheartened but to ‘keep training and setting myself goals’. Unfortunately, not being on LEAP means my free access to the Meridian Leisure Centre in Louth will also stop in December. This will have serious repercussions on my training and race preparation.

It’s sometimes difficult to deal with major setbacks in my sporting journey, especially when they involve funding that I need to take part in elite sport. I rely totally on charitable donations from individuals, Schools, small businesses and prize money to enable me to afford the costs of competing and am not funded by any National Federation. It can seem unfair that those who receive Lottery funding from their NGB also seem to be able to receive private sponsorship amounting to considerable amounts, allowing them to afford new equipment annually, training abroad, even cars, whilst those of us on the ‘fringes’ don’t.

Fortunately all is not doom and gloom, as I have been busy networking and applying to other sources of funding. I’m so lucky to have received a grant from the Women’s Sport Trust (@WomenSportTrust) just this week, one of only five people to receive funding this year. It will enable me to at least travel to one, hopefully two UCI Para-Cycling World Cups next season. I’m also in discussion with a local firm, Viking Signs (@VikingSigns) and hope to have some good news regarding sponsorship in the New Year. And I will be setting up a Fundraising platform for donations soon, so keep checking my Blog!

 

 

Newbie Para-Cyclist

Sophie and I lining up in hand bikes on my path

Sophie and I lining up in hand bikes on my path

Sophie and I have been competing at Disability Swimming competitions as part of the East Midlands Squad for several years now and I have been encouraging her to give ParaTriathlon a go. She attended a British Triathlon Federation Talent Day in March but was keen to try out a hand bike for the first time, since none were available in Loughborough.

Luckily, Sophie is petite like me and she slotted neatly into my race bike with no problems. I decided it would be cruel to put her in my old second hand 20.4kg Force R, so the Force RX at 12kg was the only option.

With Sophie’s mum off on my son’s road bike for a jaunt round Lincolnshire’s lanes, we set off on our own adventure. This was Sophie’s first EVER bike ride, as her severe CP has meant she has not even been able to ride a trike.

It was lovely to be able to introduce Sophie to hand cycling and the smile on her face was wonderful to see. I understood her fears on the road as she has never been on a bike before and has only just passed her driving test. We stuck to a quiet route and she managed over 11km on her first attempt, 7km more than I did 🙂

Now of course, she starts the difficult road to finding funding for all the expensive adaptive equipment she will need to compete in ParaTriathlon, but I have a plan up my sleeve to help her…

Para-cycling Road UCI World Cup Sergovia

Pep talk before the TT

Pep talk before the TT

It was with trepidation that I travelled to Spain to compete in another UCI Para-cycling World Cup this time against the worlds top female hand cyclists, all of whom had competed in London 2012 Paralympics. To be able to compete Internationally in Para-cycling required me classified again and my appointment had been allocated a few days prior to the competition which meant I had time to do a few training rides in the sunshine.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account the topography of the area where the official Hotel was situated and my ‘easy’ ride turned into a bit of a nightmare, especially when my gears failed on the long climb back. A UCI official Jose Aurelio, kindly stopped after seeing me stuck on the side of the road. I was fortunate that the South African Team Mechanic was able to fix the problem.

As I was classed as an ‘Independent’ and not part of the official funded GB team, I relied on the organised transport to get me to the race site, about an hour away. The Time Trial was a flat and fast out and back course with one steep bridge. I was seeded first as the slowest competitor and we set off down the start ramp in two minute intervals. It was hard to gauge my effort with nobody to chase down in front, but Rachel Morris overtook me after the halfway point, with the others swiftly following. My lack of an opportunity to navigate the course beforehand meant I was unprepared for where the turnaround was and how to tackle it.

Fortunately, I have met Mark Rohan, an Irish Paralympian, at other races, and his friends Anne and David Hadfield where only too happy to drive me round the course for the next day’s Road race course so I was more prepared for the tight turns, speed bumps and steep cobbled section repeated over three laps totalling 36km.

The Road Race was a bunched start and I had hoped to be near to Rachel to at least draft for the first of three laps, but I was placed way back in the pack. I had not realised the mixed category and gender race meant I could draft anyone, as usually we can only draft within our own categories, indicated by helmet colours, and did the entire race as a solo time trial.

I finished fifth in both the TT and RR, and was pleasantly surprised to be ranked joint first in the UCI world rankings afterwards!

Paracycling Bizkaiko Bira

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I was persuaded to participate in my first UCI Cup by my Spanish friend, Susi Rodriguez. The clincher was that the organisers subsidised the cost of the Hotel and provided transport, which meant no logistical nightmares for me as I always travel ‘solo’ to my competitions. This is not by choice, but because of financial constraints and I am grateful to Brain Alldis and Chris Madden for showing me how to put a bungee cord to good use when travelling with a hand bike, wheel bag, day chair plus luggage!

The Bira races takes place in Artxanda (TT) and Mungia (RR) outside Bilbao. Now, if I had studied Geography at School, I might have realised that it is rather hilly round Bilbao…The 10.5km Time Trial elevation map showed a double dip with climbing of 211m and the Road Race of 33.5km involved 235m, with both events on consecutive days. I am one of those strange cyclists that relish a challenge, especially when it involves hills, having a good power to weight ratio, but I soon realised why there were so few hand cyclists at the event!

The weather was not good on race morning, chilly and cloudy with light drizzle, but fortunately it cleared up by mid morning. Mark Rohan, Irish Paralympian, warned me to take it easy on the first uphill section and on the downhill sections of the TT, which had many tight turns. I was glad of his advice as I grinded my way up the steep inclines and flew down the steep downhills. My chain fell off as I prepared to cyle down the last hill to the finish and I managed to put it back on just before the finish line.

Unfortunately, I had ‘tweaked’ my supraspinatus in my left shoulder at the BIDS swimming competition earlier this year, and my whole shoulder, neck and arm spasmed and locked up with the effort of the challenging course. Fortunately, the Fundacion Saiatu had volunteer Physios on hand to massage and tape my shoulder for the following day.

I had further problems in the Road race the next day when the ratchet in my gear shifter broke half way round, which meant I was stuck in a high gear for the climbs. Despite the set backs, I finished first in both races and was ‘crowned’ overall Champion with a rather charming felt ‘chapella’.

The pain from my shoulder was made bearable by the enormous hospitality and friendship at the after race prize giving and lunch provided by the organisers. I was even ferried to a Rehabilitation Centre the next morning for some more Physio treatment before my flight home, carrying a yellow jersey, three bottles of wine, a trophy, a medal, flowers and of course, my hat!