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

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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

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.

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!