A Triathlon-ish Blog
An editorial for The Sport and Exercise Scientist, Spring 2021, Issue 67
This is my last issue as Editor of The Sport and Exercise Scientist, so please join me for my final editorial. The title If we were riding is taken from a podcast I Iisten to. Its premise is, if we were out riding then this is what we'd be yarning about. Today, I'm riding the red route at Bedgebury in Kent, my local single-track mountain bike trail. Riding there nicely reflects how I'd describe my time as Editor across 30 issues: a happy place but ever so occasionally some weird stuff happens (see my blog on being treated differently whilst riding because of my gender, Hitchings, 2018). I'm going to mainly chat about people because it's people that have made the greatest impact on me in this role, with each issue involving manifold relationships with people. My overall experience has been that most people know their stuff, but the differences lie in reliability, attention to detail and how enjoyable they are to work with.
The first segment of the trail is Genesis, so let's start at the beginning with a brief flashback to issue 1, September 2004. I covered a lot of this in an Editorial celebrating 50 issues (Hitchings, 2016), so I won't repeat myself. At its inception, I had a clear vision of what I wanted the publication to contain and that vision has remained steadfast. Namely, succinct CPD articles with take-home messages, written in a personal and reflective way without the grandiose and byzantine format typically required by peer-review journals. For me, the style of the publication has real value and it personally provided me with an outlet for some lessons learned on behaviour change that I thought were of worth (Palmer, 2005), but didn't have a place in my PhD thesis. The usefulness of a publication isn't always captured in its impact factor or ranking!
Succinctness of an article is always an interesting balancing act. I love the following quote: "An article should be long enough to cover the subject, short enough to be interesting." Over-long articles have on occasion been submitted accompanied by authors' claims such as, "Because this is so important we exceeded the word count." It exemplifies the expression, "I'm sorry this is so long, I didn't have time to shorten it." The second clause could have "take care" for "have time."
Back to the ride and we're now approaching Cardiac, a 10% climb that is sure to evoke a physiological response in me, in a manner similar to conflict I've occasionally had in the role. I've learnt that conflict can be useful; for example, "dialogue" with one individual prompted me to create Dr Shaun McLaren's Real World and Long Story Short with Dr Robert McCunn; both useful applied additions to the publication. Conversely, some conflict is unnecessary, with even the simplest exchanges of information extremely hard work and unpleasant. In an era of mental health awareness and #beNice hashtags, I really don't understand such modus operandi. But then there's very little training out there specifically on soft skills such as how to #beNice to work with, self-awareness, emotional intelligence and how to get the best out of your co-workers. Perhaps something to be discussed at the next Heads of Department Forum?
I think one part of being nice to work with is the ability to say sorry. And not one of those cringe non-apology apologies: "I'm sorry you feel that way." I recently read American bike rider, Chloe Dyget's "apology," having apparently liked a transphobic tweet from Donald Trump, as well as posts stating, "white privilege doesn't exist." Rapha, as a partner of her team, called her out, saying that she, "has made very serious errors of judgment, which were compounded by an apology she issued that was not sufficient." (Cash, 2020). Good for Rapha! We need more of this! How about our community starts calling out people claiming authorship when they shouldn't; a practice almost as unethical as e-bikers claiming STRAVA Queen of the Mountains!
Anyhow, we're approaching an awesome part of the trail, Sweetness, so let's talk all things sweet! I've absolutely loved working collaboratively with authors, providing fresh eyes and helping to shape their ideas. Signing off each issue has always given me an enormous sense of satisfaction and pride (and relief). It's like a swan gracefully moving like a picture of elegance on a lake but what is hidden is the activity beneath the water's surface - the considerable team work and the frantic eleventh hour problem-solving required when the promised isn't delivered!
Now the final part of the trail, Cake Run, an apt place to say a heart-felt thank you to all those that have made a positive contribution to my time as Editor, especially the authors, the Editorial Advisory Board, Jane Bairstow and Mercer Print. Best wishes to the incoming Editor. And with that, I will say, "Goodbye."
Cash, D. (2020). Rapha says Dygert's apology 'not sufficient' Available: https://cyclingtips.com/2020/11/rapha-says-dygerts-apology-not-sufficient
Hitchings, C. (2016). The Sport and Exercise Scientist: The 50th issue. The Sport and Exercise Scientist, 50, 3.
Hitchings, C. (2018). If We Were Riding...Getting Chicked. Available: www.clairehitchings.rocks/post-if_we_were_riding_getting_chicked.html
Palmer, C. (2005). Changing athletes' behaviour: Lessons learnt. The Sport and Exercise Scientist, 2, 12.
Dr Claire Hitchings FBASES
Claire is a mum of 10 (two children and eight bikes). She is a triathlon coach and runs Claire Hitchings Coaching (www.clairehitchings.rocks). No matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.
This editorial will be published in The Sport and Exercise Scientist, Spring 2021, Issue 67. Published by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences - www.bases.org.uk
I've wanted to learn to track stand for a while - it can be a useful skill out on the trails (especially on tight uphill switchbacks) but, most importantly, it looks CoolAF!
I got into biking very late in life, so I never did that hanging out on bikes and learning tricks. In the past I've made some half-hearted attempts to learn to track stand - mainly asking better riders than me how to do them. They'd then do a lovely demo and I'd try the same and my front wheel would suddenly self-identify as a crazy windscreen wiper, thereby ending any further attempts to learn.
Being a geek I then turned to the internet for guidance. There are some YouTube videos but, frustratingly, most focus on how to do a track stand as opposed to how to learn to do a track stand. Somehow I fumbled through and now I can do them. So, I decided to put together this little blog-torial to share how I learnt. I'm under no illusions that I'm an expert but hopefully there's some useful info here to help you learn.
Before you start, I'd recommend you check out two resources I found useful:
- Asa Sala's article: www.primalwear.com/blogs/team-estrogen/how-to-track-stand
- Anna Glowinski's video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VyDY-OPhIA
- Learn up an up-slope (also I found grass to be much easier)
- Be out of the saddle
- Pedals level, with your favourite "chocolate" foot forward
- Turn the front wheel towards the chocolate foot
- Eyes looking 1-2 m ahead
- It's easier on flat pedals (I learnt clipped in as I didn't have flats and had some stressy "I can't clip out" moments. But, hey, if you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space!)
- Find somewhere private to practise!
I'd add thinking about engaging your core, trying to stay loose and staying off the brakes - if you're on an upslope then you shouldn't need your brakes. Instead, try and find the balance between applying forward pedal pressure on your chocolate foot and then feeling gravity pushing your foot back. It's a subtle rolling back and forth motion.
How to learn
So, the first thing is to become comfortable at ratcheting (standing up and moving your pedals smoothly between 1 o'clock and 5 o'clock). This is easier on a slight upslope.
Once you can do this, then ratchet, standing up and riding in circles (both directions) and figures of 8. Have a fun play around doing this.
Then, progress to riding (still ratcheting) switchback up a slope in a continuous S pattern - like an uphill slalom. The aim here is to purposely come to a momentary pause (normally just as you are turning the corner and the front wheel is pointing up the hill) and then continue ratcheting and keep repeating (shown in the video below.) I found doing left-hand turns way easier (my chocolate foot is my left one) than right-hand turns.
Key is to spend a lot of time riding across a slope and turning up the slope in your favourite turning direction while ratcheting and trying to pause. Gradually the momentary pauses became longer and longer and then, I was like, Yey, check me out! I could find the sweet spot almost instantly.
I hope that's been useful and that you have fun playing on your bike.
A couple of weeks ago on a ride with my friend, Pete, riding the South Downs Way (SDW) was mentioned. And by nightfall I'd agreed to attempt it in a day. Almost instantly I regretted the decision, as my brain flooded with worries, worries and more worries.
The South Downs Way is not to be under-estimated. Whilst only 100 miles, it is predominantly off-road with over 3,500 m of climbing (as a gauge the Ben Nevis summit is 1,345 m). A lot of the terrain is extremely exposed and it's rare for it not to be tremendously windy. Completing it within 10 hours is considered an achievement. And I'd just agreed to ride it with someone much, much faster, fitter and more skillful than me. I train for 1-hour flat out cross-country races...what the frig was I doing!!??
The logistics are an additional challenge. We needed to get ourselves to the start, have sufficient food and drink available and then get home. Our plan was for Pete to drive us to the start, picking me up at 04:30 and my husband kindly agreed to meet us twice on route (at Bignor Hill and Ditchling Beacon so we could grab provisions) and then again at the end to drive us home. Pete then had the job of collecting his van the following day.
So, on Tuesday 28 August just after 6am, Pete and I set off from Winchester and a little over 10 hours of riding later we arrived in Eastbourne like Cheshire Cats. I'd done it! And, I'd loved all of it. The scenery had been stunning, the weather was kind-hearted and the Goddess of Mechanicals had looked down on us favourably.
Here's a few things I did that really helped me:
- Respect for the SDW! 10 days before, I did a 4-hour ride on the South Downs. It was meant to boost my confidence. But I rode it under-fuelled, too fast and the heat was unbearable with sweat dripping into my eyes. Afterwards I had a spaced out feeling and my confidence was anything but boosted. In hindsight this was a blessing in disguise. It meant that I needed a plan! I agreed with my coach, Jenny Copnall, to ride to heart rate and stick to 130-150bpm (my zones 3 & 4). For some of the hills it was impossible to keep this low but overall I stuck to this pacing as much as possible.
- A working and comfortable bike. At the beginning of the year I had a bike fit at Cyclefit and I'd thoroughly recommend them. Also, just before, I got my bike serviced at Velocipede Cycles, who I race for. So, I was as confident as I could be that the bike wouldn't be the limiting factor!
- Nutrition. I was super worried about this as I usually have no appetite when riding. But I put together hourly bags on 50-60 grams of carbohydrate and I force fed myself the contents. I used a mixture of bananas, fig rolls, garibaldis, roast potatoes, bagels, jelly babies and fingers of fudge. For drink I had water and electrolyte tablets.
- An "enjoy the moment" mindset. I deliberately didn't have distance showing on my Garmin as I didn't want to be obsessing about that. I just had time (and heart rate). I intentionally didn't know how many big hills there were or when they were. My approach was that I would just have to ride whatever was ahead of my front wheel.
- Comfort. Any ride over 3 hours and my saddle becomes quite uncomfortable. This became quite a stressor for me, so I decided to switch my normally super comfy road saddle onto my mountain bike but somehow this was even worse so I switched back to my original saddle. I couldn't see how my bootie was going to last the 10-hour ordeal! At the very last minute I decided to wear two pairs of shorts. This totally went against my usual "nothing new on race day" approach but the risk luckily worked out and my bootie survived!
- Good company. I loved riding the SDW with Pete. Not because he kindly opened 99% of the countless gates (my attempts normally accidentally inflicted pain on him); but because it feels like we share the same magic and joy of cycling.
The experience has been a brilliant reminder for me to try to not fear failure and to pick up the dice and roll'em because outside the comfort zone is where the magic can happen!
The Cheshire Cats in Eastbourne
If it's not on Strava, it didn't happen!
An editorial on Covid-19 for The Sport and Exercise Scientist, Summer 2020, Issue 64
The date is 3 April 2020. Today, worldwide coronavirus cases reached 1 million. In a short space of time, the world has changed immensely. Like many, I haven't had time to stop and take stock. I am throwing myself into juggling work, parenting and teaching. I'm also trying to process that my dad is now receiving palliative care in an isolation ward, having caught Covid-19. The call I don't want is likely to come today or tomorrow.
It's hard. It's extremely hard. Most of the time I have no words.
Only a few weeks ago, adults were still at work, children were still at school, pubs and restaurants were busy, sport was being played, I could easily get a next day supermarket delivery slot and people weren't embarrassed at the state of their hair. Toilet roll, hand sanitiser and paracetamol were aplenty. People shook hands, hugged and kissed those they knew. With strangers, maybe a nod, a hello, eye contact, even a smile. People could exercise as much as they wanted without neighbours ringing the police.
With barely noticeable steps, headlines about what was happening in China, Italy and other countries became applicable to the UK. Each day the number of confirmed cases crept up; most tagged with: s/he had an underlying health condition. I will pause briefly on those last five words.
My feel is that someone high up the food-chain believed that "an underlying health condition" was a key message. It seemed a consistent message; almost a tag line. Perhaps the intention was to try and allay widespread fear and panic? My honest initial reaction when hearing or reading those words were twofold. The first (wrongfully), is that, that person's death isn't as much as a tragedy as someone's without underlying health conditions. The second is that, Covid-19 isn't relevant to me. I think if the powers that be had focused on a different key message, perhaps we wouldn't have seen such blasé behaviour as on Mothering Sunday weekend. Parks and National Parks were packed - "social distancing" was not being adhered to. There's a learning curve here for all of us: words matter; every sentence matters; and key messages really matter. This is perhaps something to reflect upon.
The other issue I wish to briefly pause on is "bottom lines." When Covid-19 is all done, there will be a total death toll number. What that number will hide is each important individual. It doesn't do justice to the horror of Covid-19 and what "isolation" means to families affected. My family want to be with my dad. We will want to be with my mum but won't be able to. It's heartbreaking. So, let's not be in a rush to get to the bottom line of our work and research and miss important aspects. Rich description is important.
Our community has a lot to offer with regards to dealing with the undeniable impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on emotional well-being and mental health. Many people don't cope well with enforced change. Many now have considerable financial worries. Most people's daily routines are in chaos; interactions are minimal. Social distancing and self-isolation are hard. Not all people are in happy homes.
All competitive sport has been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Athletes, coaches and support personnel are having to reframe. For a while the summer show-piece held out, adamant that the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 would run. Lockdown in some countries made it impossible for athletes to train. The uncertainties proving increasingly difficult. With mounting pressures to postpone, the Games organisers announced it will now be held in 2021. Many people will now be busy adapting plans.
Personally, I've found a few things useful in adapting to the new "normal." A tip from Anna Glowinski (a bike rider isolating in Spain) was to "make life about something else" - she's allowing herself only 5 minutes a day of catching up on coronavirus news. I implemented this straight away and found it helpful.
In addition, my friend and psychologist, Dr Mark Bellamy has done a couple of nice Facebook posts. In the first, he talked about the 4 x 3 format that puts some structure into the day:
- 3 x 20 minutes exercise or physical activity
- 3 x 20 minutes social phone calls
- 3 x activities that bring you joy
- 3 x meals that truly nourish you.
I like this and it's working for my family. Our daily outdoor exercise is an essential part of our day. Like many, I will really struggle if this is taken away.
Mark's second post was a rework of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It was re-worked so that the base level basic need is "Support the NHS." The NHS's message is clear: Act like you have got it. Anyone can spread it. Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.
The world has changed immensely in the last few months. This pandemic is affecting everybody, everywhere. We need to remember that not all are affected equally. When things go wrong, inequalities are magnified. I sincerely hope we can emerge from it all with some aspects of life enhanced: being better global citizens; being more community-spirited; and ensuring a better work-life balance.
Dr Claire Hitchings FBASES - Claire is Editor of The Sport and Exercise Scientist. She is a triathlon coach and runs Claire Hitchings Coaching (www.clairehitchings.rocks). She currently lives in a messy house, juggling parenting, home-schooling, working and training.
This editorial will be published in The Sport and Exercise Scientist, Summer 2020, Issue 64. Published by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences - www.bases.org.uk
RIP Dad - you had an innings to be proud of! I will miss you. xox
Returning to training after a long lay-off is an interesting one. Part of you is chomping at the bit to get back and the other part of you is dreading it, as you know all your numbers are going to be p@nts!
Fortunately for me, the part of me desperate to get back is definitely winning over any dwelling on poor numbers. I'm back and I'm totally loving it.
I've got a slightly altered attitude to training in that the odd time it feels a bit like a chore I give myself a slap! Then I focus on being grateful to be able to get the feel-good hormones I'm addicted to; and actually, that feeling is the same whatever your wattage or pace.
A while back, I watched an interview with Jess Ennis-Hill and her coach about her returning to training and racing after having a baby. Their strategy was to have post-baby PBs (personal bests) and not to compare to her pre-baby PBs. In a similar way, I've made a conscious effort to do different training sessions and ride and run new routes. Even when I felt my running was at a stage that it was worth doing some 5ks I deliberately chose a parkrun I'd never done before. Limiting opportunities for comparisons has definitely worked as I've loved this block of training.
Also, there is a positive of being a bit p@nts: each session you get a little less p@nts! Gains are a bit easier than when you're flying.
And to the person who has been Hitchings Strava QOM huntin' during my hiatus...I'm back hon! 😉
So, I haven't blogged in a while. Mainly because I wanted to blog when I was feeling a bit more upbeat and also because rehabbing my collarbone (complicated by a frozen shoulder) doesn't leave much free-time.
I'm now 14 weeks post-op (20 weeks since the break). Pre-op, all I wanted was to be back riding my bike. Post-op, I had to quickly re-calibrate my hierarchy of needs.
Pain and Sleep: I was totally unprepared for the level of pain. Unfortunately for me, I had really bad side-effects from all the strong painkillers I tried. So, I had to settle for ibuprofen and paracetamol. I was also totally unprepared for the lack of sleep. Anyone that knows me well, knows how much I love my sleep! 9-10 hours please! Post-op, a typical night for me has been bed at 10, then awake midnight, 3 and 5 to take painkillers, mobilise my shoulder and heat up my beddy-teddy for comfort. Then, up at 7 to face the day, bleary-eyed and spaced out. My body reacted with constant cold sores and mouth ulcers. Not the best!
Hot tub and Love Island: Getting a hot tub has been great as I can do a daily hydrotherapy session in the privacy of my own garden (I look a total dork at the swimming pool). Hydrotherapy is physiotherapy in a pool and involves doing various weird-looking exercises. I would say this has definitely fast-tracked my rehab. Rehab exercises get very dull without distraction so, Love Island has been my guilty pleasure. Don't knock it until you've watched it!
Bike riding: I got back on the turbo at 4 weeks. Initially, riding in a (very sweaty) sling and then slowly but surely my arm had enough mobility to reach the handlebars! Yey! 10 weeks post-op, I started running (with a slightly weird asymmetrical arm swing).
Racing: I plan to race a 2020 World Champs qualifier at the end of September - a road sprint duathlon. I'm not quite sure what form I'll be in but I'll have to race with what I've got. Bike-wise, I'm pushing nice wattage...actually really nice wattage. Running-wise, it's all still quite ploddy...but I'm enjoying getting endorphins in the Kent countryside.
Another operation: I need another operation to remove the hook plate, so I will be sliding quite spectacularly back to the bottom of the mountain I'm slowly climbing ☹.
The consultant reckons 18 months post-the next op to get strength and mobility back to close to normal. I can well believe it as even with all this rehab my mobility is depressingly poor and I'm currently using 2 kg weights and that's an effort. The hazy days of bench pressing my own body weight of 50 kg are well in the past!
So, the goalposts have changed a bit since the original diagnosis from the consultant who said 4-6 weeks full-recovery; all very straight forward!! ???
Anyhow, for the moment I'm enjoying taking little steps with big smiles. Onwards and upwards.