Aug 282014
 

Time

The test of time.

What is time? – the number displayed on our watch? – or is it the process of growing or ageing? Why can’t we control it? Ask it to slow down a little, or perhaps fast forward through the hard bits.

Time doesn’t feel like it’s on my side any more. I wish I was in my mid-twenties again, rather than my early thirties. But not in order to go back to that period of my life – no way, I love life as it is now – I just want to be a bit more youthful. I know I’m still relatively young, but I don’t like the lines around my eyes, mouth and on my forehead. Or my collection of scars. Or my wonky broken collar bones. And I notice the enamel on my teeth isn’t as translucent as it used to be. But mostly I have days where I wish to have back my beautiful long wavy blonde hair – the ultimate expression of youth and vitality – rather than this very short crop which was initially to solve alopecia after Meg was born. Perhaps, for me, time is linked to vanity. I try not to care, but the mirror is a visual representation that certain phrases like ‘the World is your oyster’ aren’t going to be directed at me any more. I’m not a child of the future. I have my own ‘child of the future’ now. It’s true that we often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone.

So, now I actively look to appreciate what I do have NOW. And with diminishing youth I have gained knowledge. I’m not talking about academia …I’m referring to life knowledge: the stuff we could really do with being taught while we are much younger, but perhaps that isn’t possible while we are too busy on the ride, being cool and setting trends (or more likely desperately following them). It’s only once this has gone and we are willing to meet the process of acceptance and letting go, that we can begin to appreciate what is left. The fundamentals.

We have found love, and lost people we love. We have pushed through experiences that terrify us, and made it to the other side. We have learnt that forgiveness is better for everyone, rather than harbouring resentment. We have experienced that positive thought brings a positive life, although most people still wont allow themselves to believe this. The opposite is also true. We know that watching a beautiful sunset can envelope us in calm and peace, and how important it is to feel this. We discover that our own life isn’t the most important, and we would gladly lay it down in order to preserve that of a son or daughter, if only we could.

Sometimes I wish I had discovered more when I was younger, like how wonderful it is to be a mother, but perhaps I wasn’t ready then? Or, perhaps it’s the process of becoming a parent that has changed everything? Or maybe falling in love with a man who understands me has allowed me to become me, rather than forever wandering in the no-mans-land of my younger years. This man has totally supported me to achieve selfish goals like my racing (including all the training involved for this), because he knows the satisfaction this can bring to an individual, and how this can shape or release us.

What would have happened if I had discovered racing earlier? Would I have been disciplined enough to train every day? Would I have had the confidence to even enter a race and compete …to put myself out there for all to see?

I like to believe that I really could have gone somewhere as a cyclist, if only I’d discovered a higher level of riding earlier. But I’d also have needed the life learning that I have now. Tests and results show I have a natural ability, a genetic gift, and being female would have placed me in a very small pool of competitors eight years ago.

Things are changing fast now and, as a result of more women discovering performance on a bike, the female field is becoming more competitive. The standard is rising and exciting times are here for younger female athletes who have access to development programs. I hope in the near future we will see dominant teams like sky selecting a mixed team for the grand tours, utilising strong light women to lead riders up the mountains. I personally feel this would be a better direction for female cycling, rather than holding a repeat, less celebrated, race for the women. I don’t see why we can’t reach the necessary standard, especially in endurance type events where it’s been scientifically proven for women to have an advantage.

So, the test of time. What is time? Should we never look back? Should we plan for the future?

Time for me is simply a man-made tool which is used for control and measure. It can be an irritation which encourages us to always be in a rush or leave us open to be described as idle. It certainly removes our natural instinct to enjoy the now. I can’t help chasing time, there never feels like enough. I want more time to play with Meg, to enjoy with my husband, more time to be able to get my work done, or to tidy the house. I need more sleep – that needs time, but before I know it my alarm is sounding for me to get up. Even on the bike I’m chasing it to the line. A new record. It’s a love:hate relationship! With time I am loosing my youth, but in return I’m gaining so much more: love, family, acceptance, peace, fitness and experience. It seems like a trade worth making so maybe I should look forward to having that extra candle on my birthday cake. There is so much more to learn still.

balloon

 

 Posted by at 1:59 pm
Aug 232014
 

Lists

If my mum taught me anything it is to write lists. I even have lists which are simply a list of the lists I need to write, if you get what I mean?! Meal plan, shopping list, housework list, freelance work list, race calendar, etc. Without  lists I’m sure my brain would frazzle; they allow me to remove the nagg from my head and then I can get on with each job in a systematic order. Lists are also great for prioritisation of jobs.

I used to laugh at my mum for her list writing obsession. I’d get up in the morning to always see her ‘To Do’ list on the kitchen table, obviously scribbled down late the night before, probably so she could remove the nagg of these jobs and get some sleep.

I understand now.

It’s not easy to be a full time mum, a part time freelance designer and an athlete. All these things require total commitment and they each need to have specific time allocated. And not to forget trying to feed our family only from home-cooked wholesome food, which requires a surprising amount of planning time as well as cooking and cleaning up every day. It’s not easy, but it is possible …with the help of lists.

We never used to live like this. I remember always thinking that I was busy. I’d sometimes miss training ‘because I felt a bit tired’. We’d have a pile of dishes still to be done ‘because there wasn’t time’. If I take an honest look back I’m horrified by the amount of time that was wasted on faff. Faffing in the bathroom. Faffing trying on different clothes. Faffing with makeup. I’m sure any mum with young children will tell you that just getting on some clean clothes in the morning (for yourself and child) is a major bonus. No chance of wondering if they look good or even go well together!

Now it’s like every second counts. My training is my Meg-free time, where I get to pass over the baton of responsibility to Dad, and loose my mind into turning pedals. It’s as if my brain unwinds with each rotation. I get to look inwards at what my body is doing, as well as outwards at our beautiful Somerset countryside. Deep inhale. Full lungs. Chest stretched. Muscles activated. Beating heart. Outside I’m watching for debris, potholes, traffic, as well as beautiful skies, racing wildlife and changing seasons. I’m listening to the wind through my wheels and the constant rotation of the hard working chain. I feel both peace and exertion. My mind is blank and only on the now. There are no lists while I ride …unless, of course, it’s a list of QOMs to go for today  😉

QOMs

 Posted by at 4:45 pm
Aug 032014
 

It seems like a long time since I did anything good on a bike. This year I decided to complete something that’s been in consideration for ages. Ever since I met an old-time TT racer named Terry Thomas back in 2009. He was a bit of a crazy guy (sadly he passed away in 2010) but he inspired me a lot to ride my bike, and in particular to get fit again and win several big mountain bike races in 2010. So I wanted to do something in memory of Terry, and it seemed fitting to look at the time trials of his day – the place-to-place time trials from that era of our UK racing history. I needed this ride for my own soul, and I wanted to do this for Terry, and the inspiration he shared, thanks old friend…

About to Start - Photo by Oliver Herdsman

The roads are almost empty, and the sun is up, but the air is still cool to the skin. I’m zipping through the outskirts of Yeovil on fresh legs, enjoying the early start, when it hits me: I’m riding Around Somerset! Oh Boy! But it’s far too late to be nervous and there’s no time to stop, the clock was started and all I have now is the task ahead: to finish the course.

Heading for Wincanton - Photo by Oliver Herdsman

All of my prep had been sudden. Thorough, in the form of bike and kit, but left to the last moment by design. I’d bailed out of this ride once already, last year before I’d even pushed the first pedal, so this time around I hadn’t even given myself the chance to think about it. After 5 months, during which I’d been completely off the bike, I climbed back on in early December with just one goal: get riding.

ASTT_S4

Then gradually the miles built, and everything else steadily followed. By March I was back to riding 250 mile weeks, I’d lost a bit of weight, my legs felt OK, my legs had stopped burning on every climb, and I started to think that maybe I should resurrect my goal of riding Around Somerset against the clock?

Heading for Frome - Photo by Oliver Herdsman

So I started endurance mountain bike racing again! nothing like a little but of something else for taking your mind from the inevitable. And that’s what riding a long distance is for me, it’s all about blocking my mind from the fear, the unknown (or the known = it’ll hurt) and then focusing purely on the task. I left my request to go for the record until the last possible moment, whilst slowly prepping all my kit for something I told myself I probably wouldn’t do. I helped load the van, we drove to the start, Phil the timekeeper counted me down. Simple.

ASTT_S3

So I’m riding out of Yeovil with fresh legs, on a cool early breeze, thinking nothing of it. Keeping my head down and turning the pedals as smoothly and as powerfully as I can, without doing anything I think I may not be able to repeat for another 12 to 13 hours. I had no planned stops, no planned rests, very simple food hand-ups and no distractions other than the road.

ASTT_S6

My pacing strategy was simple: I’d be riding to feel with an average speed goal of 19mph for the first hundred miles, but only if my legs felt good enough to hold it. Then after that first hundred I know the real race starts, and I’d better not be done when I get that far, because I’m done for if I am! I always slow down, it’s inevitable when you don’t stop for breakfast, lunch, or tea, and bits of your body start to hurt from the effort, the pressure or from abrasion. It’s easy to tell yourself you’ll not stop at all and you’ll keep the hammer down, but when you’ve worn a few holes in yourself? Well, I can tell you that just sitting on the saddle becomes monumentally painful! So 19mph first half and then maybe 17mph for the second? I’d done the training so there was nothing left to do but put it to the test and find out.

ASTT_S8

The checkpoints came ahead of time and I kept my mind purely on the task. No doubts allowed, no creeping worry, just task: pedal, climb, descend, corner, drink, eat, think ahead to the next junction. I’d memorised the entire route so any distraction I may have had from a map or a GPS screen was removed from the equation. I still took my gps: I wanted the stats, but keeping my eyes on the road would allow for a safer and faster ride once I got tired and my brain began to lose the plot. I drank one 750ml bottle of energy drink per hour, and one gel per hour. The odd sandwich or bar was only by request if my stomach felt empty. The miles rolled by and it seemed pretty good, even the pain: left shoulder at 50 miles seems about right, lower back at 80, ball of left foot at 95…

ASTT_S2

And then I was there with that first one hundred miles in the bag in just a bit over five hours and now?… it all begins; this is where I make it, or it breaks me! This is where the other two thirds of the climbing begins, where all the steep gradients make their appearance, where hurt takes over, where mind either bends or breaks. But I’ve already decided: I’M NOT GOING TO CRACK TODAY, I’m going to just crack on, unrelenting, unstoppable, even if I slow: pedal, climb, descend, corner, drink, eat, think ahead to the next junction.

ASTT_S1

Every single section of the second half becomes a love-hate affair. If I’m tucked on the flat then I’m looking forward to the climb so I can get myself up off this saddle and straighten my back. If I’m on a climb I’m gritted teeth looking for the top and some flat for respite. I’m dodging cramp on every other pedal revolution for the final 50 miles, I’m turning inside out, I feel dizzy, sick, slightly spaced-out. BUT, I’ve been here before, I crack on.

ASTT_S9

Then suddenly I’m climbing up towards the Holy Tree, the sign says Stoke-sub-Hamdon, I flip the screen on my garmin: the ride time says “game on” and then nothing left to give, becomes no time to waste; I’m on the gas like I’m racing a ten! Flat out to town, I’m totally autopilot, racing mode, I’ve done this a thousand times before. I finish as fast as I can, and even when I cross the line and the clock stops my lungs keep going and cannot be stopped. I stand there, in a whirl of emotion, surrounded by friends and family, just marvelling at the rate my heart is beating in my chest.

After the finish - Photo by John Loasby (Large)

I grip the bars to my helmet, my heart starts to slow and the past 10 hours and 48 minutes are now allowed to melt into my subconscious. I keep my eyes closed for just a few more moments, and savour the taste: I did it, I rode Around Somerset. I feel supremely strong, yet completely exhausted, all at the same time. WOW! it feels good, so good, one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever known: knowing you did what you set out to do, not knowing if you could.

Many thanks to my on-the-road support crew: Simon Beard and John Loasby, YCC Time Keeper: Phil Clements. Paul at Rock & Road for the loan of his van, Dave Notley, Dave Driver and Martin Wills from Yeovil CC for their behind-the-scenes support, my wife Jen for all her love and support that made this possible, and last, but not least, Terry Thomas for the inspiration, thanks.

The New Around Somerset Route

The official time splits:
Yeovil (start)
0:49:46 – Wincanton
1:38:06 – Frome
2:06:48 – Radstock
3:03:07 – Bristol Airport
3:31:31 – Clevedon
4:18:04 – Weston super Mare
5:06:32 – Bridgwater
6:32:27 – Dunster
7:33:31 – Dulverton
8:22:28 – Wiveliscombe
8:45:24 – Wellington
9:49:54 – Chard
10:48:15 – Yeovil (finish)

Distance: 193 miles

Elevation gain: 11,975 feet

Previous Record: 10:49:19 (Brian Rice, 1961)

My stats:
Power:
Normalised: 205 watts
Max: 780 watts
TSS: 476
Zone 1/Active Recovery: 3:26:12
Zone 2/Endurance: 4:15:55
Zone 3/Tempo: 2:11:41
Zone 4/Threshold: 38:56
Zone 5/Vo2Max: 9:13
Zone 6/Anaerobic: 4:59
Zone 7/Neuromuscular: 1:15

Heart Rate:
Avg: 137bpm
Max: 166bpm

 Posted by at 9:34 pm
Aug 012014
 

Start Line Waffle

So, it turns out that if you tell all your coached athletes not to get sunstroke in a weekly email – it nearly happens to you at your next race. Whooda thunk it?

When the thermometer on your Garmin reads 30 degrees, your heart rate is stuck at 130bpm at rest, and you can’t get it higher than 145 during what feels like maximal exercise…there is a good reason to stop. Not having pee’d for 7 hours, and having stopped sweating many, many hours ago despite pounding back the fluids should have been a sign, but being the fool I am I tried to push on – ignored my own words – and suffered a real China Syndrome. What a plonker.

Fucked

Sitting in the shade of the pit cramping all I could think about was my own words – watch out in the heat, it will get you – and it did. Lesson learnt, I can’t race as I used to when I was young, my thermodynamics have changed, or it’s just wasn’t that hot in the old days

Dusty trails

So what can you take from it? Well not much other than words of warning – if it looks like its going wrong on your heart rate monitor or power meter, and you feel like it’s going wrong, and people are telling you it’s going wrong: Don’t ignore it. It’s better to fail today, than spend tomorrow on a drip, or in hospital. Safety first.

On the plus side, 7 hrs – 9 laps – an ace course of perfect dry trails – and I still finished 60th somehow…nuts.

As ever thanks to the folks at Keep Pedalling for my bike and bits, thanks to Sean, Oli, Jen, Rob and “Cider hands” Claude for pitting and putting up with me. Hopefully something better will come at the worlds which can’t help but be cool.