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:
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:
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!
If We Were Riding is a weekly podcast I Iisten to. It’s hosted by Kelly O'Mara and Sara Gross and the premise is: if we were out riding this is what we’d be chewing each other’s ears off about. It covers the latest triathlon gossip and the hosts are both informed and opiniated (a good combination), there’s a fair bit of swearing and they do a good job at highlighting the sexism that’s unfortunately still rife in triathlon.
So if I was out riding I’d be yarning about why does the following happen…
Today I rode my mountain bike at Bedgebury and I pretty much had the place to myself. Until you pass a guy! Now when you pass someone you’ve normally been clocking them for a while and you know the pace they’re riding. So when you pass, all things remaining the same, you know you will soon drop them.
Not with guys that don’t like being chicked!
They clock the pony-tail or something that shouts out “Girl!” and within a minute you can hear huffing and puffing like a steam-train and they’re right back on your back wheel. And so it is for about 5 minutes until I’m guessing they can’t hold the pace.
Today this happened not once, but twice. Guy number one nearly killed himself to catch me up to tell me it was the fact that he was on a cyclocross bike that I was quicker than him in the single-track sections. What??
Guy number two; credit to him, he really put a massive long effort into being my shadow. A proper limpet.
I must admit I found today weird. If I was a guy I don’t think either of them would have reacted like they did. This was all about their attitudes to Getting Chicked.
The concept that a ‘chick’ who loves training and racing shouldn’t be able to ride faster than some guys is pretty offensive. Unless you’re a man at the absolute pointy end of biking, there’s a woman out there who is faster than you. And similarly I’m under no illusions of how many blokes (and girls) out there are much much faster them me. I'm well down the food chain.
It would be nice to stop bringing gender into riding! Stop making things unnecessarily weird!
The World Cross Triathlon Championships in Denmark was a race of firsts for me! Unfortunately, my final position wasn’t first but at a Worlds, second ain’t too shabby and a result I’m pleased with!
Let’s start with the firsts that I hope are one-offs…
1. Crashing badly on the bike. I’d settled in nicely behind a Danish girl and was hopeful this set-up would last the entire bike section. On a nice single-track straight section I must have not seen something and went flying over the handle-bars. Dazed and sore, I assessed the damage: a lot of blood down my left-hand side; saddle bag off; chain off; and a saddle at right-angles. No problem I thought, thinking the saddle was quick release. It wasn’t and I was riding without alan keys (which I won’t be doing again!). Despite numerous attempts I couldn’t move the saddle back. Stress-central… and all the time athlete after athlete riding past; some with a token, “You alright?” Me muttering, “Do I look alright???!!!” I eventually sorted it…but 5 minutes lost and riding a bit more tentatively thereafter.
2. Swimming with jellyfish – not just the odd ‘oh look there’s a jellyfish’; friggin’ loads of the stingers. They got my face good and proper and during the swim my face and lips were morphing into Katy Price’s after a boxtox special.
3. Having my face shaved! Yep! At the end of the race I headed to the medical tent to get cleaned up and they suggested shaving my face to get rid of whatever it is that jellyfish leave in you. They assured me I wouldn’t end up with a beard…fingers crossed!
And the firsts that I hope won’t be one-offs…
1. Producing a race swim that isn’t too far off what I can do in a pool. I swam in a pack, I didn’t go off course or hate every minute of it.
2. Running off the bike - I had the best run I’ve ever had in a triathlon.
So overall a great experience. Frustrating about the crash given I'm riding better than I ever have. Next stop is the Europeans in Ibiza in October. Lots to work on but first a well-deserved break. Thanks to everyone that’s helped: Hubby Hitchings, Jenny Copnall, Team Endurance (Mark and Tracey), riding buddies (Pete and John) and Chris Ball at Velocipede Cycles.
There’s always a story behind a logo…here’s mine!
For my logo I wanted something striking that represents what Claire Hitchings Coaching is all about. There’s three inspirations:
1. The swimmer, cyclist and runner represent my love of triathlon. Can you spot them? (there’s clues below if you are struggling).
2. I ‘borrowed’ from cycling the iconic world champion rainbow stripes they award to World Champions to represent the pinnacle of my triathlon career - winning the 2013 ITU Sprint Triathlon Age Group World Championships.
3. I love butterflies…their transformation from a larva to a butterfly is magical and beautiful. The butterfly represents much of what coaching is about - helping athletes transform and spread their wings and fly!
And so, the Claire Hitchings Coaching brand was born.
1. The swimmer: at the top, diving in. She shares her head with the cyclist’s.
2. The cyclist: look for the two black circles - they’re the bike wheels.
3. The runner: her head is the front bike wheel.
I have a few pet-hates: people who litter; dog owners who don’t clear up after their dogs; and people who cheat and by doing so selfishly rob other athletes of precious and magical moments. Think about crossing the finish line and knowing you’ve won a medal versus years after the event being awarded a medal after someone is disqualified following a sample re-analysis. The two things just don’t compare.
So most people like to win; they like to be as fast as cheetahs but some prefer to cheat rather than put in the hard work.
Some just out-right dope, some get found out and then it just gets uncomfortable watching them try and get out of the messes they’ve created for themselves.
Then there’s the whole controversial issue of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs). The Russian hackers Fancy Bears have revealed some stuff that I bet many top athletes so wish they hadn’t. And there have been many debates that whilst no anti-doping rules are broken when the TUEs is approved, but what about the ethics of TUE use? I like the following quote from Geraint Thomas: "I would be quite happy to ban them [TUEs] completely in sport. I think sport is about pushing yourself and your body to the limits. If you have a sore knee or asthma or something, that is just part of it. It is a bit of a dodgy area, though, isn't it?"
Then there’s the weird and wonderful…Earlier this month a story that did the rounds on social media was ultra-marathoner Kelly Agnew who won his races by hiding in a Porta-Potty. The organisers discovered that he wasn’t clocking in at a checkpoint halfway through the ~1-mile loop. Turns out, he was sitting in a Porta-Potty for 7 minutes and then jumping out to cross the mat at the start/finish at the exact time he needed to keep his ‘mile pace’ consistent. OMG! Who thinks to do stuff like that!? Porta-Potties are pretty vile places to hang out; especially when been used by nervous athletes!
And it’s not all about elite athletes. Oh no, there are occasional stories of middle-aged age group women like myself who seem to be quite comfortable cheating especially when slots for the World Champs in Kona are up for grabs!
Canadian triathlete Kristen Johnson was disqualified from a triathlon after she let air out of the tires of a competitor’s bike before the race. The bike owner’s husband happened to be near the bike when he heard the loud 'pssssssss' of air being released from a tire, and saw Kristen bent over behind his wife's bike." Kristen’s version of events was that she thought it was her friend's bike and was letting air out for her. Yeah right!!
This was the huge profile case of Julie Miller, covered by The New York Times in an article called Swim. Bike. Cheat? It’s defo worth a read: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/10/sports/julie-miller-ironman-triathlon-cheat.html In short, she seemingly often ‘loses’ her timing chip and goes and hides somewhere and then pops up at the end as the winner. This time the girls that thought they’d won and podiumed weren’t at all convinced. At the medal ceremony the girl who thought she’d won confronted her. ‘Where did you pass me? I was looking for everyone in the age group and I would have seen you.’
Let me tell you when you are out on the run you know exactly who passes you! It’s a horrible feeling. There’s nothing you can do but watch them put a bigger and bigger gap into you.
Anyhow, some people pieced it all together using photos taken on the day and other evidence and it didn’t add up and she was disqualified and suspended by Triathlon Canada. As far as I know she’s never admitted her guilt or apologised.
So there you go! Actions have consequences. So stop cheating and get training!
Onto my other news for 2018:
I’ve qualified for the World Off-Road Triathlon Championships in Denmark in July. Whoop whoop!
Yesterday I got the Strava QOM (Queen of the Mountains) for the road I grew up in Haywards Heath and where my parents still live. A 71 km ride to then blast the final 100 ms! Crazy, crazy!
Hopefully by the end of this week I will have completed my Triathlon Level 2 coaching award.
My Team Tri Hard athletes are smashing it in training!! Roll on race-season.
It’s often assumed that just because a person was/is a successful athlete he or she will make a great coach.
And so in setting up my coaching business I have unashamedly milked that assumption! “Would your child love to give triathlon a go and receive coaching from a World Champion age group triathlete?” I’ve chosen having a World Championship title as my unique selling proposition (USP) - to make my business stand out from the crowd and to tell prospective customers what is special about me.
But do great athletes make great coaches? Some do of course. But not all and I suspect that’s because their talent is very natural and they’ve mainly achieved their successes on instinct.
My own progression in triathlon has been very different. I am not a natural! I have had to work very hard to become an all-round triathlete and I think that helps when I am coaching.
To help my performance I have worked with numerous coaches across all three disciplines and I have had a range of extremely positive experiences as well as some quite disappointing ones. With my own coaching I’ve tried to ‘copy’ stuff I’ve liked and found useful and avoid the stuff that's irritated me. In short, for me to rate a coach they need to make me go faster! I also need to enjoy their company and they also need to be professional. So they need to know their stuff but be able to coach me (not teach me - there's a big difference!). They need to be able give specific feedback based on their observations. Coaching is not teaching.
With coaching children my emphasis is still on first teaching them something, then observing, and then providing feedback again. But having fun is key; as is building confidence.
I’m respectful of the need to gain appropriate qualifications - even if at times it has felt like jumping through hoops and death by group work with a flipchart and pen! Personally I don't think people should be coaching without qualifications. There needs to be assurances that a person has the minimum knowledge, skills and understanding necessary to be safe and fit to practice.
So am I a good coach? Did becoming World Champion somehow morph me into a great coach? Who knows? I’ve had some really positive feedback from kids and parents so far. Feedback from my BTF Level 2 tutor on my assignments (based on my actual coaching sessions) has been excellent.
Coaching is a craft and with everything I do in life I am fully committed to being the best that I can be.
Anyhow, that’s enough about coaching! Let me talk you through the day I became World Champion…
It’s 09:59 on Friday the 13th 2013. It is raining and I am sat on the pontoon on the Serpentine, Hyde Park, London. To make the start line has been a big achievement. For the past 2 years I have been trying unsuccessfully to sort out chronic high (proximal) hamstring tendinopathy symptoms. Ten weeks ago I decided to stop resting as it wasn’t helping. So I am here, with no expectations.
I am frantically kicking my feet, trying to block out the cold. There are two girls to my left and 87 to my right. My race head on. I think about Peter my swim coach. I think of all the 800 metres he has made me do. Surely that gives me an advantage.
The starter signals to get in the water. I brace myself for the cold. Goggle check and then we are off. I get a flying start. I have managed to hook my legs up and do an ungraceful, but effective, make-shift backstroke start. When I take my breath to the right there are green swim hats for as far as I can see. I am momentarily in the lead - it will take me about an hour and 10 minutes to regain this lead!
I am approaching the first bouy about 200 m from the start. I am aware of a pack of girls ahead of me. I guestimate about 10 of them. 10th - I’ll take tenth. I have girls all over my feet at the first bouy and have to kick hard to free myself. The next bouy is uneventful and I’m on the back straight. Trying to keep focus, swim straight and keep the turnover going. Two more bouys and then I see the exit. Two girls swim past me. Annoyingly, I’ve given them a free tow.
Goggles off, top half of the wetsuit off and then the long run to my bike, racked on a muddy grass slope. It’s a long transition.
I mount my bike for what is normally my strongest discipline. Not now. I have only 10 weeks of bike and run training in my legs but I have opted for 4-6 runs per week and only one bike per week.
A GB athlete flies past me on the bike. Nice helmet - Add to wish list! Way too fast wheels to follow. There is a Kiwi girl just ahead. We seem quite evenly paced so I try and keep her in my sights. At the first chicane she crashes on the wet slippery roads. I think that is her race over but a minute later she goes past me, probably with a huge adrenaline surge. She resumes her normal pace. With T2 approaching I dig deep and try and close the gap. As we dismount I noticed her legs - proper nut cracking track cyclist’s legs. Her power out of the turns now makes sense - but surely they can’t be runner’s legs? Please!
I feel like I am shuffling up the muddy slopes, the final surge on the bike has sent my heart rate sky high. When I get to my rack there is no space for my bike. My brain is in overload; caught in a loop - rack bike…no space…I am like a bunny rabbit in headlights. I shove my bike somewhere, helmet off, trainers on and GO!
I exit the transition area and hit the run course. At this stage I think I am still about 10th as I haven’t seen anyone on the course apart from the Kiwi. I am actually 2nd. I look ahead and see a Brit - she looks familiar and good! I quickly work out that I am running faster than her. I tell myself not to rush the catch and to go at my own pace. At the end of lap one I catch my breath and go past her with a surge.
Ten minutes later I am approaching the finish - I look behind for the first time and see I am safe. There is an Aussie guy just ahead. I debate if I am up to trying to get a pointless scalp. I don’t have anything left, but then he starts show-boating, so I sprint and dip and have him!
A good race - I think a Top 10.
The Brit I have passed on the run also finishes and she heads towards me with a huge smile, saying “I got silver - you got gold.” “Really? Are you sure?” “Yes the guy announced it.” The penny drops that this is Tanya Brightwell. Blimey how have I beaten her? Next a Canadian joins us. “I got bronze, which one of you won?” I say nothing. Tanya responds. Next more girls finish - some asking who has won. I remain silent as I get congratulatory hugs from some of the Brit finishers. It is all very surreal. Where are the ten girls in the lead pack of the swim? I am not at all convinced that I have won.
I decide to head to find Anthony, to get some normality.
When I see him I get all teary. He gives me a hug and says, “You didn’t do too badly!” I mutter, “I think I won.” “Really? Really? Are you sure?” “No, not really.” “Well we need to see something in writing.” And so one of the oddest hours of my life started. Anthony and I try to hang out like normal as he tries to access the results on his phone. We sought out Jon Hollidge in the mechanics tent and tried to chill in the dry. A random girl said she’d look to see if my results were up. She returned to the tent and told me I’d been disqualified. My brain instantly went back to T2 - did I do something wrong racking my bike? Lost in my thoughts I then hear her say “Only joking.” Oh hilarious!
I go and check for myself and I see my name at the top of the list! World Champion!! Wow!