EHF Barcelona Race

Podium=Barcelona

Girls on the Podium in Barcelona!

I have always wanted to visit Barcelona so an European Handcycle Circuit (EHC) race which was a P1 competition with the UCI, combined with a bit of sightseeing plus practice for my first UCI World Cup in May seemed a great idea. I would also gain points for my world ranking depending on my finishing position.

The Hotel, airport transfers, and a trip to the Formula 1 track for training were organised by Handbike Barcelona Club and two members also kindly accompanied me on two rides during my visit. The roads were busier than I was used to in Lincolnshire, so I was grateful to Martin for helping me train.

The TT was held around the Olympic Rowing lake, which meant a headwind into the finishing straight but a bit of wind assist at the start. The University of Barcelona was doing some research and we lined up after registration the evening before for calliper tests with bicep measurements, The same tests were repeated straight after the TT and I was so occupied that I hadn’t realised I’d come second!

The RR was held on the flat beach road the next day with a loop of about 4km with one technical turn and a roundabout. I made the mistake of assuming the race format was one hour plus a lap but it turned out to be the first rider past the post having done 38km. I was working with Romina from Italy sharing the drafting and sprinted when I heard the bell, only to do an entire lap at my best pace unnecessarily! I did, however, come second and was pleased with my race preparation for Italy in a few weeks time.

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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.

Poland EHC Race

Flowers on the Podium

Flowers on the Podium

Getting up at 2am on Friday 13th is not my idea of fun, but a trip to Poland was on the cards, this being the first EHC hand cycle race ever to be held here. To get an overall European ranking, I need to compete in at least 8 of the 12 races and Poland offered both a TT and a RR over one weekend.

I decided not to recce the course as the roads of Rzeszow were busy, and so the hill climb on both the TT and RR came as an unwelcome surprise! I had a bad dream the night before, felt a bit chesty and ill and had decided on using disks which were a mistake considering the side winds encountered on the course because of the buildings. The only consolation was producing higher Watts than in Italy, but it is impossible to compare a flat with a hilly TT.

I spoke at length to hand cycle legend and Paralympic Gold Medallist Walter Albinger at the dinner laid on for us by the organisers and came away reassured that I was on the right path and just required more years of training. Competing in Europe means I get to talk to many hand cyclists, discuss equipment modifications and learn lots from my fellow competitors, who push me to do better.

So I faced the RR with renewed enthusiasm and rode positively despite being unable to draft the faster girls. The hill was more a mental problem than physical, as there were 9 laps to do, but I was relieved to hear the bell after 1 hour, having tackled it 7 times already. I came away with two 3rd places-and a bouquet of sunflowers.

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 🙂

UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup Italy-May 2014

Despite not knowing a word of Italian, I embarked on a solo trip encumbered as usual by my hand bike, a wheel bag, a suitcase, a rucksack and a wheelchair, this time to Castiglione della Pescaia in Italy for the first World Cup on the para-cycling calendar. I booked a holiday apartment in a camp site thinking I could ride to the race venue and Facebook-ed a plea for help in how to get from Rome to Castiglione.

My journey proper started with a coach transfer from the Airport to the main Railway Station in Rome, where fortunately various lovely random people offered their help to get my ticket and shift my luggage, I even acquired a rather handy Italian phrasebook from an American couple. Unfortunately, I was unaware that assistance needed to be booked 12 hours in advance and this caused much gesticulating and harsh sounding phone calls at the Sale Blu office before help could be arranged. After a couple of hours waiting, I was loaded onto the slow train to Grossetto via a kind of golf cart lift, as the trains are two stories high. I eventually arrived late at night to my accommodation via a further 25km taxi ride.

Whilst training on the road the next day, Andrey Ri, a Russian hand cyclist who had replied to my plea for help, stopped and spoke to me. We arranged to meet for training and he also took me to Registration and the official Team Hotel where the British cycling guys were, so that I could give them my uniform for approval and my race licence. I was also blessed with meeting a lovely Austrian couple with their toddler who drove me and my bike into the race venue each day.

On race day, I parked my kit next to the official GB tent and went off to warm-up, only to find the road closed. Mildly panicked, I was kindly offered a British Cycling turbo to use, then it was lining up and the bike check and straight onto the start ramp. Whilst the TT was on a flat course, the road surface was not ideal and the turns were tight and technical at the start, turnaround and finish. I’d decided to pace myself over the 15km, but was disappointed with both my average speed and Watts, although I came 5th.

The RR the next day was around the Town and rumours had spread about crashes and how dangerous it was, being both fast and technical. My race started badly, with a crowded, chaotic start in a narrow side street. I knew as soon as I started it would be a solo effort with nobody to draft. I had to set my GPS during the race and then my water bottle split and dragged along the ground. I stopped twice for help from Marshals and eventually pulled the drinking tube free and ditched it. I had a gel thinking at least that would give me some much needed fluid over the 57km race. I then fought hard to regain my position and finished 5th.

As it turned out, I was lucky, as Karen Darke (H3) crashed out of her race, breaking her nose. One of my competitors, Silke Pan crashed into a wall, with the Korean H4 girl snapping her hand crank clean off her Carbon.ch bike! She still finished the race in third place!

Aside

CAF Grant received!

So, so pleased to receive a Challenged Athlete Foundation Grant @CAFoundation this year towards my Hand cycling coaching/training costs! I’m now motivated to train hard and keep my dream of competing in Rio alive!
Thank you so much to all the supporters/fundraisers who made my grant possible #CAFChangesLives

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!

Aside

Athlete Food

Protein bars

Protein bars

These little squares of yummy-ness are from a recipe given to me by Duncan Shea-Simonds (@DSS123) an Ironman Triathlete, whose recipes and food on Facebook  I have admired from afar 🙂

I’ve included a Vegan option, as well as the standard Vegetarian one. Both are equally good. You may have to play around with the amount of protein powder to get the right consistency to the bars. I’ve decided to chop my dates, rather than risk losing the other half of my tooth to another stone…

The mixture makes about 44 small squares, so I suggest making half the quantity at your first attempt! They keep for weeks-well, they would if I didn’t keep eating them! Warning: About 300 calories for a twix sized finger!

Ingredients:

  • 100g cashews
  • 100g almonds
  • 50g oats
  • 30g chia seeds
  • 100g whey protein (or mixture of hemp/pea/etc)
  • 50g dessicated coconut
  • 1 tsp Maldon sea salt
  • 40g dark chocolate
  • 200g dates
  • 50g apricots
  • 50g cranberries
  • 100g coconut oil
  • 50g honey
  • 40g dark chocolate (more depending on how thick you want the topping to be)
  1. Blend dry ingredients to a coarse mix in a food processor or liquidiser
  2. Chop dried fruit finely (alternatively use food processor)
  3. Melt coconut oil, honey and chocolate in a bain marie (a glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water)
  4. Combine all ingredients
  5. Press into a baking tin approx. 12”x 9.5”
  6. Chill in fridge for a few hours, then cut into small 2” squares

Eat and enjoy!

 

Christmas Cheer…or not

Image

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!