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

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Manchester 10k

Me and Helen sharing a joke after the Great Manchester Run

Meand Helen sharing a joke after the Great Manchester Run

I decided last winter to commit to para-cycling and see how I could progress in a single sport, with an aim of qualifying for both the British Cycling Team and perhaps the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

It’s always been an ambition of mine to eventually compete in the Kona Ironman, but I donated my Aspire part funded race chair to Stockport Harriers for a young lad to use. I’m incredibly lucky to have been supported by the Matt Hampson Foundation who are now providing me with a custom-made racing wheelchair. I finally got a call from Draft wheelchairs in early May that my custom-made racing chair was ready for a fitting and was so excited I decided to enter the Bupa Great Manchester 10k having done no run training at all in the last 5 months. The only draw back apart from the lack of training, was the fact that I now have no car due to financial problems paying my mortgage.

I like a challenge though, especially when it comes to logistics, and I managed very last-minute to arrange a taxi driver willing to get up early in the morning, go for a cooked breakfast whilst I raced and drive me and a borrowed race chair back home again!

One of the reasons I race is all the friendly, supportive people I have met along the way and I was fortunate to meet Helen at the race. It’s so lovely seeing people take up sport and enjoy themselves and we instantly clicked. It was her first 10k and I hope to see her at more races in future. I beat her to first place with a 1:22 PB in windy conditions, so guess all the hand cycling training is good cross training 🙂

London Marathon

Virgin London Marathon

Virgin London Marathon

Making the decision to run a marathon, only two years after first squeezing myself into a race chair, and taking part in two Half marathons, was not easy. I knew it would involve full commitment to a training regime over the winter and one of my disciplines would have to take a back seat for six months. A personal ambition of mine is to compete at the World Triathlon Championships in Kona in the future, so an attempt at the distance seemed like a good idea.

I travelled down to London with my borrowed kneeler racing chair, which Rick Hoskins at Stockport Harriers had kindly lent me instead of my very basic sitting chair with small pushrims and 650 wheels. After registration I caught up with friends and gossip over a buffet dinner provided by the organisers.

We travelled to the race start next morning and mingled with the Elite wheelchair racers. I chatted with Ernst van Dyk and said hello to Heinz Frei, who I hugely admire, then it was time to warm up, line up at the start and wait for the gun.

I knew I would have no-one to draft and it would be a solo effort, but I still set off at a rate of knots to try and latch on to someone. The organisers had said we would be pulled off the course if we didn’t reach the 11 mile mark by 1:20hrs. Paranoid about having a DNF, I did a 6 minute PB of 1:22:47 by 13 miles and paid for it in the second half.

I was sick three times, felt dizzy and my arms refused to work. I had hit the proverbial ‘wall’…but with wheelchair racing, there is no walking to recover, as the chair needs to be constantly propelled by the arms. It is at this stage that you learn the most about your inner strength and willpower to finish.

The crowds were absolutely amazing all round the course as thousands lined the route and created a huge wall of noise from both sides. At times I wanted to block out the noise and the few tunnels and underpasses on the course gave some relief. Then I heard individual voices-‘You rock!’, ‘Go purple lady!’, ‘Don’t stop!’ ‘You can do this!’- and regained some strength after a volunteer handed me a gel.

I finished the race in 3:13:40, to rousing clapping from the wheelies who had already finished, something which was better than any prize I’ve ever received.

Silverstone Half Marathon

The first wheelchair race of the season, preparation for one of the bigger goal of 2013, the London Marathon, came after a winter of hail, snow, freezing temperatures and ice and yet more snow. My long training runs outside in thin lycra trousers, thick ski socks and three thermal layers on top plus snood under my helmet, were over, as I aimed to qualify for the Marathon with the help of Rick Hoskins, a wheelchair racing coach at Stockport Harriers.

Mid run Silverstone

The course at Silverstone is convoluted and challenging for wheelies and doubly so when Able Bodied runners (‘AB’s’) do their little dance as shown in the photo above in response to shouts of ‘Wheelchair! On your right!’ (Sorry number 2367!) when approached from behind.

Racing wheelchairs are silent machines, dependent entirely on the occupants upper body strength to strike the push rims attached to each back wheel and propel the user forwards. Stopping or slowing down means losing speed and having to overcome inertia again. There is only one brake attached to the 20″ front wheel, ineffective at high speed as it locks and skids and burns a hole in the expensive tub tyre. Another option is to use the gloved hands to scrub speed off directly on the back wheels, but replacements are £120 a pair…

Despite the dancing, I managed second place, with a time of 92:55, and was asked by Michelle Weltman if I wanted to do the London Marathon in March.