Adios ‘Viva’ the VW Van


Less than two weeks after returning from the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii in October as World Hand cycling Champion, I was contacted by my Van sponsor, Fogarty Ltd., with the devastating news that they had gone into Receivership and my beloved VW Transporter, ‘Viva’ would be seized as a Company asset, to be sold to the highest bidder… 

The Van was especially fitted out to hold all my adaptive sports equipment, all my camping essentials and even had a special Kennel for my dogs Monty and Smudge to travel safely with me. We all had many adventures in ‘Viva’ travelling as far east as the Czech Republic, south to Italy, north to the Netherlands and throughout the U.K. The Van enabled me to travel cheaply, using the EuroTunnel and Ferries to get to Para-cycling and Ironman competitions in Europe, carrying both my Hand cycle and Racing Wheelchair, plus my race wheels, tools, spares, which meant I wasn’t restricted by weight or worried about damage unlike flying.

Now I am without transport and living in rural Lincolnshire is proving logistically difficult even to get to swim and gym training in my local Town, six miles from where I live. I’m lucky to be able to train on both the Hand bike and racing wheelchair directly from my front door, but travelling abroad is a different challenge altogether because of the sheer size of these two pieces of equipment.

I’m currently looking for a new Sponsor for 2019, who might help supply an adapted Van. I have new goals for next year and there will be lots of foreign travel, trying to gain vital qualifying points for the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2020. I hope you would like help me on my journey!

VW Van Transporter back view showing fitted bike wheel rack, bed and storage with Hand cycle on ground
‘Viva’ the VW Transporter all fitted out for all my hand cycling racing equipment
Winter camping in Germany with ‘Viva’ 
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2018 Ironman World Champion!

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Words can hardly describe how it felt to finally push myself along the finish chute at the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii, with Mike Reilly announcing my name to the huge crowds, ‘Liz McTernan, you are an Ironman!’ Then to be greeted by my daughter Rebecca, running up the carpeted ramp to kiss & hug me and present me with my shell Lei, was a very special moment in my life.

It’s not my first Ironman of course, having already attempted to finish this iconic race in 2017, and then going on only six weeks later, to complete my first full Ironman in Cozumel, Mexico- just to prove to myself that I could do it. Another long year of tough training, another qualifying race in Luxembourg and I had earnt my slot to ‘The Big Dance’ once again.

What is remarkable is that I’ve just become only the second ever female hand cyclist to finish the race and have set a new course record of 14:21:12 hrs. The course for the Ironman World Championships is tough, without a doubt, with a combination of heat, humidity and hills plus fierce winds to contend with, but the mens field seems to have increased in-depth and performance since Hand cycles were allowed to race in 1997, with Australian John MacLean being the first Physically Challenged athlete to finish. For whatever reason, very few women have attempted the challenging course.

I now know of two other female world-class athletes who are preparing to tackle Kona as Hand cyclists, but not until 2021, after the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Currently, there are five qualifying slots worldwide for men, but only three for women, and only three qualifying races in the world in which to claim a Kona slot. I’m hopeful that in 2021, all three slots will be hard to earn and the standard of performance will be even higher, with more female hand cyclists setting their sights on the Ironman World Championships!

 

“Swim 2.4 Miles. Bike 112 miles. Run 26.2. Brag for the rest of your life.”

John Collins, IRONMAN co-founder

 

Thank-you’s:

HuubDesign for providing my custom wetsuit pants for racing and awesome kick pants for pool training plus an awesome T-shirt for the Parade of Nations

TYR I love my swim skin! And my goggles stayed mist-free the entire 2.4 miles…

Wattie Ink for a stunning Trisuit which made me feel like a Pro Triathlete

Challenged Athlete Foundation for once again supporting my sporting goals and dreams with grants for travel and equipment. Stoked to be part of #TeamCAF

T.Balfe Construction for providing a much-needed cash injection as I booked all the Kona accommodation and flights!

OTE Sports/VivoLife/Gu products which kept my energy up throughout the day

Bill McCarrick, my Mechanic and Emotional Support Human at Endurance Sports Travel who tirelessly worked on my hand bike so that I could rack it for race day

Ken & Christine Glah of Endurance Sports Travel, who were excellent Sherpas in my first week in Kona-thanks for all your help

Tealby Tennis Club whose lovely Ladies put on a fundraiser to help with my travel costs

Irwin Mitchell Solicitors for their Disability grant earlier in the year

All my lovely Facebook friends who raised over £1000 to help me get to Kona

 

 

 

 

 

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

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!

 

 

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

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…