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:
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:
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.
I think it's fair to say this year has been a DIS-A-STER. Rehabbing from plica syndrome in my knee since November, broken ribs and now a broken collarbone.
I’m now at week 8 post-accident. At week 5 it was clear the collarbone wouldn’t heal on its own, so I had an operation and a plate put in. I was fairly upbeat as the consultant said 4-6 weeks to full-recovery; all very straight forward.
Europeans in Romania…game on!
Then, just before the op, the surgeon came in to talk me through things. The mood took a downward turn when he started talking 4 months' rehab and then another operation to remove the plate. 4 months! 4 freaking months!! I know I can be pedantic but that’s a tad different from 4-6 weeks.
Europeans in Romania…no longer game on!
So, the highs and lows of breaking a collarbone. Well, let's face it, the highs are non-existent, so, let’s crack on with the lows.
1. Since the op, my collarbone hurts. It really hurts. It makes all other experiences, including two drugs-free childbirths, a walk in the park. I’m amazed this is categorised as day surgery. I was bed-ridden for 4 days. 17 days on I am still really struggling.
2. Sleep. Oh, to be able to curl up in the foetal position. Oh, to not wake every 3 hours in pain. It turns out my traditional herbal medicinal restful night’s sleep product is utter tosh!
3. Strong painkillers send me loopy, give me heart palpitations and make me panicky.
4. I'm finding a lot of people really annoying!
I’d say the two best things that can be offered to an injured athlete are: empathy and practical help. Certainly, that's what I'm finding useful.
P.S. Two things I’ve found really helpful on this “journey”:
Springtime! I felt my luck was changing. I was up to an hour on the turbo with some intervals - a huge improvement from 4 minutes at 100 watts. I’d even managed a family bike ride in the sunshine; it was amazing. My daily rehab and hourly icing was working. If single leg squats was a sport, I’d now be a competitive age-grouper.
100 days to the Europeans in Romania…game on!
I was beginning to believe my knee would hold up to riding outdoors. After 5 months off proper training, it was perhaps time to reveal my pastey legs to the world. Perhaps even shave them!
But, now I’m searching “Turbo training with a broken collarbone”. The ‘let’s take up BMXing to improve my mountain biking’ is proving a bloomin’ disaster. Yes, I’m loads more confident on a bike, I’m more knowledgeable, my pumping's half-decent and I’ve had lots of fun, but at what a friggin’ cost!! Another crash and this time a broken collarbone. And of course, it’s in a place with an increased risk of not healing and needing surgery. Of course!
The consultant talked through the best-case scenario; I zoned out, waiting for the worst-case scenario, which these days feels more relevant! Flash backs to my broken finger that took 17 weeks to heal. “Fuckety-fuck!!” And as for Dartford A&E, I thought I was in a waiting room for auditions for the Jeremy Kyle show.
I want a life without painkillers. I want to be able to wear a bra! I want a life where my husband isn’t doubling up as my carer. I want to be able to drive - have some independence. Dare I say it, I want to be able to aqua-run!
I want my old life back!!
It's been seven hours and 105 days. Since I could ride without knee pain.
Never have I felt like such a sloth on her period 24/7!
The initial prognosis was pretty straight-forward - loosen off your IT band area and all will be fine. Straight-forward it hasn’t been…15 appointments (doctor, physio, osteo and a consultant in sports medicine & rheumatology) and an MRI scan later. Thank the Lordy I have health insurance!
My life currently comprises hours and hours of diligent rehab and foam rollering whilst watching Eating With My Ex* to stave off the boredom. Then, rest, more rest. Then, test the knee; it’s worse than ever - tears, anti-inflammatories, ice...repeat…ad infinitum.
I’ve never quite realised the profound effect exercise has on my mood. Not just the endorphins but the social interaction, being outdoors, enjoying nature, pushing my limits, the process of getting fitter and working towards goals.
Then there’s the whole issue of my relationship with food and weight. Totally normal in training-mode. Totally not normal in sloth-mode!
My initial concern was being fit for the Europeans in July. More recently, as captured in my consultant's notes, it's simplified to: "she has no idea as to what is causing her pain and her lack of training is causing psychological distress." "Psychological distress" feels a bit strong but I've definitely found myself in a downward spiral...feeling blah, which made me hermit-y, and being hermit-y made me feel more blah...repeat…ad infinitum.
To break the blah-hermit cycle, I decided to focus on what I can do. Strangely, I can ride my BMX pain-free so, I decided to focus on that (and hopefully there will be some transfer of skills to when I finally get back racing my MTB.)
Marginally more interesting than a vid of me aqua-running! Courtesy Harry Molloy.
I can also aqua-run, which is deadly dull. And I look a total dork! But, the evidence suggests it’s an effective substitute for proper running and afterwards I get the same feel good response as I do to ‘proper’ exercise.
My BTF Level 2 Diploma also got finished so, I am now offering 1-to-1 coaching. Yey!
So, my diagnosis is plica syndrome (knee inflammation near my fat pads). I’ve had a corticosteroid injection, which should have me fully back with the love of my life between my legs in 4 weeks ;-). I'm on a week of total rest and then next Wednesday I have “a date” with my turbo, super low wattage, to see if I can ride pain-free. Fingers (and everything else) crossed as I desperately want to be back riding.
*If my knee doesn't improve soon I fear I'll be appearing on Eating With My Ex!
Searching “broken ribs” wasn’t in my plans for 2019.
But that’s where I’m at. So much for hitting 2019 right between the eyes!
Rewind a few days and I’m splattered on the floor after an unsuccessful attempt at jumping a tabletop on my BMX. I'm focusing all my efforts on not crying and slowly assessing the damage. My right side feels shredded. But hopefully all superficial. Phew!
Once back in the car, the adrenaline rush was inevitably dialling itself down and things started to take a sinister turn. With my gloves off, I noticed my wedding ring finger. My knuckle was like a purple marble. Oh, that’s not good. Flashbacks to 2017, when a broken finger took 17 weeks to heal. You don’t easily forget a 17-week block of 1-armed swimming! The lyrics of “Fuckety Fuck” started to play on repeat in my head.
Then Anthony made me laugh and my ribs burnt with pain. Oh jeez. I turned to Anthony: “I think my finger and ribs are broken.”
It was a very quiet journey home!
Once at A&E I was in “the care” of a nurse who could have been a baddy character in a David Walliams’ book. A tincy wincy bit of empathy would’ve been nice!
Once my elbow was patched up, the focus was my finger. “You need to get your rings off.” “I don’t think I can.” “Well then we’ll have to cut them off!” I looked at my three rings. I don’t know exactly what they are worth. In sentimental value they are priceless. In real money terms they'd be worth a very nice bike. “Fuckety Fuck” started playing again.
I don’t wish to recall what the next 10 minutes were like. Let’s leave it at you will never ever find me wearing rings again whilst running or biking. On a lighter note, it did open my eyes to what is possible when using lube!
My finger was x-rayed. Not broken! Euphoria. The ribs…they don’t x-ray. So, it’s now a waiting game to see how quickly (or slowly) they heal.
In the meantime, I’ll just be pissy about all the social media…New Year…New you…Shout your goals out loud and proud. There's never a good time to be injured but at New Year it really does suck!
*“Fuckety Fuck” is from the book Downhill From Here, written by Gavin Boyter who ran from John O'Groats to Land's End. The lyrics comprise just two words!!
My 2018 goals were to peak for the Worlds and Europeans (and medal) and become a better mountain biker with more flow. So, here’s how it went…
2018 has been FAB-U-LUS! Mainly because of two game-changing decisions I made.
The first was to work with Jenny Copnall to help me with my biking. She’s a former pro mountain biker and her results CV is enviable; as are her coaching qualifications. I have got a ridiculous amount from her - too much to list. Alongside a great training programme, the thing that has helped me the most was to introduce regular timed flat out rides at Cyclopark and Bedgebury. Initial times at Cyclopark were 28 mins; that’s now down to 24:30. Bedgebury was a 42 mins; now a 36:22 (and an all-important Strava QOM!). Seeing ‘data doesn’t lie’ improvements are incredibly motivating and definitely shut my chimp up.
No single thing made me faster, rather it's been a combination of lots of things: I got fitter and stronger, more confident, tried riding with my Bootylicious not glued to the saddle, rode with better riders (and tried to copy things), changed my definition of a long ride from 2 hours to 3-5 hours and rode my MTB a lot more. Then later in the year, there was the 'Harry met Claire' effect. Which leads nicely to the second game-changing decision.
I decided to contact Harry Molloy to help with my riding technique. Jenny and I thought working regularly with a local coach on local trails might help. And boy, has it! Harry’s been brilliant. I’ve nicknamed him 'the miracle-worker.' He instantly sorted my suspect cornering technique - I can finally die happy!! We’ve also done a lot on line-choices, staying tall on the bars, pumping and most recently getting up and over obstacles with techniques slightly more sophisticated than my 'hit it and hope for the best.' I’m loving the progress we are making. It's definitely a Harry Ever After!
So, I did peak for the Worlds in Denmark. I came second - to someone better than me. I also peaked for the Europeans in Ibiza, but more on that later... And I am definitely a better mountain biker with more flow.
Bizarrely, running concurrently with finding myself in the form on my life, has been my desire to end my passionate love affair with triathlon. A real moment for me was when I got an apologetic email from the Hadleigh off-road triathlon organisers to say the swim part was cancelled due to blue-green algae, making it just a bike-run. I was over the moon! It hit me that after 10 years of trying, the reality is I just don’t find the swim part of triathlon enjoyable. I much prefer racing off-road duathlons and mountain bike races.
After much ‘dilemma-ring’ I’ve decided triathlon and I need ‘a break’. And similar to Friends’ Ross and Rachel's "We were on a break!" I haven’t hung around in seeing what else is out there. I've got lots of exciting non-triathlon races pencilled in for 2019. Also, for ages I’ve wanted to take up BMXing - so I have; with Jamie. I’m the oldest in my group by about 40 years but I don’t care. In fact, it’s now my favourite night of the week and I actually found myself counting how many sleeps until the next session!
That darn DNF!
For the Europeans in Ibiza I was really excited to race the off-road duathlon as I was in the form of my life. I came off the first run with a 2 min 9 sec lead on the next girl in my age group. This was up to 2 min 26 after a fast T1. Time to have some fun on the bike. What could possibly go wrong?
As soon as I got on the bike, I knew my rear tyre was soft. I road a bit and stopped to check it. It was soft but not flat so I carried on to see if I could get away with it. I got up the first big 10-minute climb but it was really sketchy, so I pulled over to re-inflate the tyre and the valve just flew off. There was nothing I could do - my race was over! Time for a long, lonely walk back to transition.
It wasn't really the way I wanted to end a pretty perfect season. But DNFs are part and parcel of racing. Sometimes it's your turn to be unlucky.
There’s plenty more races, so roll on 2019!