Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Southern XC Round 2 - Crow Hill - 19th May 2013

Mummy not too bad!

Southern XC Round 2 – Regional Championships – Crow Hill
19th May 2013

OUCH! Mountain-bike racing hurts. I forgot.

Thank you, Southern XC, for the relentless and unforgiving course that was the Regional Champs and Round 2 at Crow Hill; and it certainly reminded me of what I had missed.

Yes, it hurt but I had so much fun doing it!

Owing to a few seasonal, physical and organisational mishaps, this was my first competitive MTB race for 2013. It was also my first since 2009 ... (except, the National Champs at Wasing last year, where I had done a 24 hour event prior to actually lining up, thanks to a toddler.) Sherwood had snowed me off and the first Southern XC round coincided with a Majorca trip.

But, third time lucky, I reached Crow Hill.

Having been kind-of out of XCO racing since pre-pregnancy, I had no idea how fast (or slow) I would be. I ride with Mr Collins, weekly, and he makes me suffer, but he’s not close to his pre-Willow levels of fitness either. I knew I could sprint. I knew I could go uphill. I knew I could be pretty darn good for 5 minutes or so. Perhaps a hill climb would have been a better event. BUT, I had an enthusiastic  Vitus Rapide 29 encouraging me off-road.

Crow Hill. Relentless. Not hilly. More than 5 minutes.

With a 10am start and a 3 hour drive away (yes! Ashford is miles from anywhere but France;) and with Nick racing the SE Divisional RR Champs, Willow was to spend the day with my sister. We were up and away by 5am: I won’t go on about what time we were up really. Did I say, I have a toddler ...?

However, I was at the venue and had pre-ridden the course by 9am, so I was feeling fly.

The course was exactly Crow Hill: I’ve raced here several times; it’s rooty and physically demanding. It hadn’t changed. Except, I had a great bike on which to ride. With a carbon 29’er, what are roots and bumps? And, on a flatter course, the bike’s rolling willingness was a huge advantage to me.

Although the course was familiar, the number of women starting was not – the last Southern XC I had raced, I was one of a few in the Elite/Expert category, along with several Masters women. Sunday’s race had 10 elite riders and many more numbers filling the categories behind us. A true representation of how popular cycling is becoming for women. Not sure how many of us were mums, though: something we need to work on!

And, as 10am ticked over and the whistle was blown, we were all hurtling around the field and towards the first part of the singletrack. And, following Sally Bigham, Emily Iredale and Carla Haines, was me! Yes, me! I was somehow, 4th off the start.

I was conscious that I had to be careful: not to go too hard. I wanted to last the full 90 minutes – quite ironic when Sally reminded me that the last time we met racing was 2009 British Marathon Champs. Today, I wanted to finish – my only aim of the weekend. But, despite my head trying to be sensible, I found myself becoming quite twitchy seeing Sally ride away from us and me unable to follow her. Of course, had I chased, I wouldn’t have lasted: Sally looks and rides as the World class athlete she is; I felt more akin to Iggle Piggle. But, I would have had a go! So, as soon as I had a clear path, I made a move and settled into Gemma-racing: on my own, at my speed, happily admiring the bluebells while breathing my lungs out and spinning my legs off! The bike wanted to ride fast too and it rolled over the course, carrying speed and me with it. I do think I may have been a bit too tentative with it but I am sure I will learn to let it go with a bit more racing.

Photo from Southern XC

Laps 1 and 2 were great. I was enjoying the variety of the roots, steep little climbs and descents, sweeping trails and pushing myself. It was really great. However, as I crossed the line into lap 3, I began to cramp. Nick and I had joked that I had no endurance and would be ok for a lap or two but I had secretly hoped we were wrong. I have no race fitness; my longest rides are 2 hours, usually; and I hate hurting myself! I knew I wouldn’t last. Not for race one.

Therefore, laps 3 and 4 were spent pedalling as softly as I could and gulping my Torq juice as often as I could without risking my 2nd place position but I knew Emily would catch me. She had to. I was in the Elite race and riding my last two laps at tempo. I was lucky not to be caught by the whole field as I coasted around lap 4 watching my heart rate drop but feeling my legs deaden. I reminded myself that my sole objective was to finish and that sprinting too hard and causing the cramp to seize me would have risked a finish at all.

Emily caught me. If only the race had been 10 minutes shorter.

-          I set out to finish – I did.
-          I set out to achieve a benchmark and test myself – I did.
-          I set out to have fun – bloody hell, I did!

In doing so, I finished on the third podium! And, unless Sally and Emily are hiding a little person somewhere, I think I may have been 1st placed mummy! Willow, be proud (she’ll be at Wasing, balance-bike racing!)

Thank you to all those who helped me:
PMR@Toachim House/Vitus/CRC pit-stop crew (aka Sophia, Craig, Emma and Jack!)
Vitus bikes at CRC
My ickle sis and her hubby for Willow-sitting.
Southern XC for a great course and event (as usual.)

And, in tribute to Richard Wood - he told me I pedal fast years and years ago. Today I had to. RIP.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

And so begins 2013! Kingswood Duathlon 24th February.

Kings Wood, Challock, is a beautiful part of Kent and my training rides take me there regularly. It's one of Kent's highest points - which isn't very high, really - but it is very, very pretty. And, in the snow, it is even prettier. Unless you're racing there ...

Back in January, I decided that I'd welcome my gorgeous new Vitus 29'er by riding it in Ashford Tri Club's Kings Wood Duathlon, organised by Nice Work Events.

Back in January, we did have a short spell of warmth, suggesting that February might be, just might be, bearable.

Back in January, when the whole year seemed miles away ...

... 9:00am this morning came upon me way too quickly.

Bloody hell, it was bloody cold!

The temperature was -2 and the wind was bitter. My warm up began in the car with my heating on full while sitting on my hands. And, I covered myself completely in my Sportique warm-up cream. I do think it was just as well we were beginning with a run because I'm not sure I could have accelerated myself into heat as quickly on my bike. It took two Torq gels and a lot of jumping to feel a little warm but I clearly wasn't alone because the race start was unlike any quick 3k ... we must have all been suffering!

The event was a 3k run, a 14k ride and finished by a 3k run, on forest trails and tracks. I began steadily but within about 5 minutes, I'd set a few 2013 records - I hadn't seen 193 on my heart rate monitor for some time! However, what did worry me was the ease with which my body adapted to this while running. The bike-leg, on the other hand ...

I entered this event purely because I wanted to race my Vitus and my Vitus definitely wanted to race. Beautifully finished with some customised-Collins accessories and pair of new Schwalbe shoes, the bike looked good and fast. In fact, it was a bit of a head-turner and it lapped up the attention! Racing it was brilliant.

But my riding legs weren't. I so need to do more work on them! Lots more work. Ouch.

The final leg was tough. I have a lot of admiration for those mad people who race regularly like this: running after a bike effort?! I grovelled for most of this.

Mostly, it was such a fun and well-organised event. I was the first lady home and 8th overall - contentiously: I was a bit stupid and didn't pay attention to the markings and was overtaken and out-sprinted at the end - not that I could have sprinted! I came away with a lovely crank-style trophy and a win for the Vitus and PMR@cing Toachim House Team.

I wish I could have shared it with Willow but the bitterness was a bit too much to expect her to endure.
Next time!

Can you  spot her?

(Thank you very much, Liz and Ali of TriSpirit Events and, of course, Mr Dave Hayward for the brilliant photos!)

Sunday, 17 February 2013

How fittingly predictable.

What is it about February?

I intended January 1st 2013 to be my time to renew my healthy ways. A stressful house-move in October, a career upheaval, the cold and wintry desire for comfort - and, of course, Christmas - left me feeling far from fit. My bike-riding and running had been nearly non-existent and my calorie intake had been incredibly existent. Not forgetting the Christmas holiday was filled with germs. So, January 1st 2013 was my renewal. I was meant to crack on with the look-after-me-and-my-family regime ...

But I kept postponing that! Willow had her 2nd birthday - I had to spend a week prep'ing that. Then I had exams to mark. Birthdays. Valentine's Day ... Hold on. Does it look like I'm committed to my cause?!

Perhaps January 1sts don't work for me.

One year ago this weekend, I began this blog. Therapy to overcome PND and to make myself fit. An outlet to motivate myself and other parents to lead healthy and active lives and promote such to their children. A documented reminder about why I need to include sport in my and Willow's lives.

One year later, I have a much more impressionable daughter who actually asks to go running or on the bike with mummy.

In Willow's words, 'Golly gosh, mummy,' get out there and bloody well inspire her!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

And it starts all over again ...

I've not written for ages - probably because I felt I'd achieved all I set out to achieve in writing this blog and self-therapising (yes, that is a word!)

I was racing my mountain bike again.

I had given up work to spend more time with Willow.

We had a routine and things were settling.

However, I'm clearly not one for being 'settled.'

I realised I missed work and the 'adult-time' it gave me just as I realised how valuable Willow's time at the crèche was - for her own sanity. So, I've been working for my husband ...

We decided we needed to move to a proper sized family house to accommodate Willow's stuff. Wow, she has a lot! So we did ...

I decided I needed to work and am back teaching teenagers and interacting with minds different to the levels of a nearly two years old baby (well, kind of - and, it's often one-sided!)

Oh, and I am riding for a cycling team!


Well, it's that time if year where I can become a bear and eat and sleep (not at all) and eat and eat. However, after a full-sized pizza, totally not good for me, and a few few weeks of generally being lazy and unhealthy, I've realised I need to self-therapise again.

This mummy needs to be fit!

One more slice and I start tomorrow!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Twenty-three: Baby and the Bike.

Parenting is so scary.

From the moment of conception, every decision a parent makes, affects that baby. And, there is so much stuff out there to really boost a new-to-pregnancy-and-parenting mum’s paranoia. My midwife did ban me from Google ...

However, this paranoia has not subsided. I am conscious that Willow is dependent upon me and Nick. She might not think about this as she independently runs at full speed towards anything that remotely suggests danger. But she is. No day seems to pass without me wincing at her fragility.

And, this paranoia affects how much I want Willow to enjoy being outdoors. Being with me - on my bike - I worry. 

Riding my bike gives me so much. 

Fitness. Freedom. Thinking time. Racing. 

It gives me a chance to feel alive and enjoy the beauty of what surrounds us. Of course I can’t force a sport upon Willow but I can encourage her to enjoy the outdoor life as much as Nick and I do. But to do this, she has to be part of what we do.

I have run with Willow in the Babyjogger since my pelvic floor had allowed me. Sitting her on my bike, while I ride, has taken a bit longer. Partly because she needed to be older and partly because I was scared.

As soon as her head was big enough for a cycling helmet, 12 months, we began an earnest quest for the best bike seat we could find. We had opted not to use a chariot because we wanted Willow on the bike with us; learning the feel and the sway. I had also decided I wanted her to be mounted in front of me - on a front-mounted carrier. 

I was fortunate to be given a Weeride front-mounted bike seat to try, which I loved. I wanted to be able to see Willow and keep her safe. I wanted her to see what I saw and not my backside! However, this bike seat came with at the cost of my knees. And, I could see that as she grew, I wouldn’t be able to ride. We were offered one called the Yepp Mini to use. Again, bike set up was a problem. There is a definite market out there for a front-mounted bike seat for bikes that are set up to race – or small, like mine!

I had to settle for the rear carrier ...

Nick and I looked into loads: off-road, on-road, suspension, fabric, the lot. However, we were actually so impressed with the Yepp Mini’s quality that we opted for one called the Yepp Maxi, thanks to RM Cycles.

Our first few outings were tentative: I was so worried about Willow being on the bike with me and I am quite a competent bike handler! The weight of her made the bike handle in completely different ways. I had to be so careful because the bike would feel like it wanted to wheelie! 

However, Willow loved it.

When I asked Mat from Weeride about getting a toddler to keep on their riding helmet, he told me to wait until I see the association she makes with it. He was right. Her cycling helmet means a bike ride and she loves this. In fact, as soon as the garage door opens, she is standing at the pedals saying, ‘More, more, more.’

We are now a few months into biking with our baby and her enjoyment has made it all worth its while. She grins and sings as I’m riding, pointing and attempting to say things. And, when we're out with Nick, whoever isn't carrying her, she watches, intently. As though she is checking our cadence or gear selection. But she is never far from beaming. 

Willow is definitely part of our bike-riding life now; our coffee and cake run on a Sunday afternoon. In fact, she is happy, waltzing with her lid! She wears it on her wheeled-cow and whizzes around the living room like a BMX'er. Willow is beginning to love bikes!

That was until I pinched her cheek in the lid's clasp.

And it begins again ...

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Twenty-two: what will be, will be. The British National Cross-Country Mountain Biking Championships ...

My bravery, or madness, was met with mixed responses thisweekend; I was not meant to have tried to race but I was also meant to haveraced. Does that make sense?

I have a toddler – I no longer make sense – what was Isaying, again?

Oh, ...

I had decided, on a whim, to enter the Masters category forthe National Cross Country Mountain-bike Championships. I was really excitedabout this whim because I hadn’t raced, nationally, in three years, and Ireally missed it.

This race was meant to be a treat: no pressure, a day out,showing my baby girl the atmosphere of a mountain-bike race and the chance forme to see how much work I have to do to be able to race again. I have done a lot of post-8pm turbo work and I have raced a few local mountain-bike crits inthe past few months, so I have tried to boost my race-fitness.Although it is nowhere even half as near as much as I would have been ridingas an elite racer, a week of 8 hours’ training has me chuffed and sofa’don a Sunday evening.

And, recovery? What’s that? Lately, I’m interval trainingjust trying to keep Willow occupied – all day! I probably should be fitter ...

Sunday was to be all about enjoying racing my mountain-bike.Nothing else.

By Saturday afternoon, I was packed; Willow was packed; Ieven made a packed lunch for Nick. I was so well organised. The Masters racewas at a better time of day than I was used to in my Elite days so I waslooking forward to being finished and home by lunch time!

However, come midnight, Willow had other plans ...

My gorgeous little girl is cutting her canines. These gaveher a 39 degree temperature and the ability to scream relentlessly frommidnight to 3.30am. By the time we had settled her, it was 4.30am and I wasmeant to be up and leaving for Wasing at 5.00am. Hah! I thought that was ‘goodbye’to my race.

Thankfully and gratefully and madly, I was thrown alifeline.

Dan Jarvis, Andrew Claridge, Steve Jones and Kelvin Hoy, Ihope the cake was payment enough (Dan, I’ll make you some fudge!) Thanks tothose men, I was allowed to transfer my entry and at 10am, I was leaving hometo race the senior category. 

The senior category. 

What was I thinking?  

I arrived at the venue for 12pm – enough time to do apractice of the course. I felt incredibly foreign and lost despite witnessing aworld that didn’t seem to have changed. The course was flat – not what I like.Rooty – what I hate. And the main technical part was closed to practise. Havinglooked at it from the track below, I did decide that if I couldn’t ride itbefore I raced, I wouldn’t ride it at all. In fact, I returned to the carincredibly deflated because the two technical sections had beaten me.

One was a log-step section. I watched a few men go over itand realised I had not enough upper body strength to force momentumover these. Even in my Elite days I wouldn’t have. There was no chance now – I wouldhave face-planted. I opted for route B. The second was a drop off – nothing comparedto some of the stuff Nick makes me ride on our local routes. But, I couldn’tpractise it and I’m not in a position to risk injuries now.  I am constantly aware of Willow who needsmy energy. Being able to look after her comes first.

The old routines were easy enough to reinstate. Warming upwasn’t necessary – it was so so hot – but 15 minutes of composure was needed. Iwasn’t nervous, I was worried. Worried about leaving Nick to look after Willowin the heat. I was worried that I had been so utterly selfish in dragging herand him to this event. I kept thinking about my responsibilities and that Ishould perhaps grow up and give up. In hindsight, this psychology probably reflectspre-race nerves. But how could I be nervous? I wasn’t nervous – I was going to beracing Elite women who were going to destroy me. I was there to race againstmyself and ride bloody hard and to enjoy racing my bike again.

As I lined up to start, I learnt I had 5 laps, instead of 4;I forgot to place an extra bottle of water in the feed area; and, Nick had justinformed me that he and Willow wouldn’t be in the feed area because she wouldbe a risk, given her current energy and curiosity levels - I was feeding myself.But I wasn’t bothered. I was there to have fun. And, a familiar face in RachelFenton, reminded me of this. Thank you.

The gun sounded and to my shock, I found myself pickingthrough the field – the elite field – going through the draggy slopey section. Iwasn’t allowing myself to be too excited because I knew that I would lose timewith the B routes and that I wasn’t likely to last! Oh, and another thing Ididn’t do – lower my tyre pressure! I was racing on a rooty course with 35psi!Why?! However, I wasn’t doing too badly at all.

As we came to the log section, I knew I’d lose places. Ofcourse, Maddie Horton completed it effortlessly. Katy Simcock ran over it – why didn’tI think of that? And, I rode the B route – but so did others! That reallyboosted my confidence. And, as we came to the drop, I knew I’d lose time onchoosing the B route but I wasn’t alone! Naturally, this drop is nothingcompared to the World Cup courses Maxine Filby’s used to and she flew down thedrop and intercepted me – and so she should have! But I was in luck as there was aclimb directly afterwards that I could use to my advantage!

Lap one was over and Nick shouted that I was in tenth place.I think. I settled into my race rhythm and was actually feeling good. Lookingat my heart rate, I knew I could sustain that effort for an hour more ... afterthat, it would have been new to me!

The log steps approached and I jumped off and trotted overthem – this was such an improvement. And, I was feeling really settled backinto racing despite being out of it for three years. In fact, I was too settledbecause my mind began to wander ...

I haven’t a clue what I hit but I hit it hard. There was a momentwhen I actually wondered where my bike was and knew it would hit me soon. I hadbeen out of the saddle, accelerating and then I was on the floor. My elbow wasbleeding and I was stuck under my bike trying to compose myself.I had to be up quickly because I knew I had to gain time on the girls behind mebecause I would lose it on the drop. I think I managed to move in time, sorryif I slowed you.

I jumped back on and tried to throw myself into the raceagain. However, some tuft of grass hid a branch that had lodged itself inbetween my tyre and rim and my front tyre was deflating. I had no gas or pumpand it serves me right. Disorganised! And, to add to that, I don’t know whatthe hell was going on with my rear brake but it had decided enough was enough.

I was out.

I don’t know how to reflect upon this race. I knew I wasthere by chance. I knew I could be better prepared – logistically andphysically.

I do know, I loved it while I was doing it. But, could Ihave lasted the 5 laps? I don’t know now.

I do know, I feel like I slotted back into Elite racing,albeit briefly – but should I still race as a Master?

Sitting on the sofa, contemplating the weekend, I know Ishould have used insect repellent. The long walk back with the flat tyre leftme open to attack – bastards!

Thank you, gentlemen saviours and lady racers. I'm reinspired! Better start riding that bike more ...

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Twenty-One: Am I mad or marvellously mad?

The last few months have been madness. Other teachers will understand.

There has been the mad panic of the missing controlled assessments needing to be completed; the mad rush of revision for the approaching exams; then there has been the madness for those mad teachers who mark the exams and some are mad enough to mark twice! And, all of this madness is iced with the madness of the summer term.

Teachers will understand how I am feeling today. At last, I can take a deep breath ... for a little while at least, because, I am still a parent of an increasingly energetic toddler! (Holidays? What are holidays?)

The last few months have been exhausting. I have neglected my writing, which is my therapy – I need it as much, as I need my bike, to think and reflect. I have neglected my bike – and being on it. And, just as my workload was increasing, my daughter has been becoming more and more and more energetic. In fact, I’m falling behind her.

How on earth can someone, weighing less than 12kg and standing less than 50cm tall, be so bloody intensely quick and consuming? I thought I was quite energetic but she floors me, literally!

Thankfully, my school-work is up to date (except one scheme of work I owe, sorry Shelley and Paul.) And my GCSE and A2 level exam papers are marked and returned. Now, I can settle into a chilled few weeks of bike-riding and baby-loving ...

Though there is one small problem. I’ve entered quite an important mountain-bike race.

I have madly entered myself into the British National Cross-Country Mountain Bike Championships.


Not as a senior – there is no way I could race for 4 laps. However, I am not quite sure I will be able to race for the three laps applicable to Masters women. It will be my first race as a proper Master. I have a baby and a job and I am over 30 – the perfect qualifications. However, the field is made from some incredibly strong and tough and quick women. I am worried.

Nick thinks my doing this is a joke.

But I’m serious. And, I am actually quite excited, in a strange way.

Of course, I know, my bike is not a race-worthy bike and is heavier than me. I know I haven’t raced properly since May 2009. I know I am not national-level race fit. I know it will be a huge awakening. But it is an awakening I need.

I want to race my mountain-bike again – and I want Willow to see me doing this. Admittedly, she will see me doing this quite badly on Sunday but she’s one, she’ll never remember! It will be next year and the year after that she does and I don’t want to let her down; I want to race well and show her.

This weekend is all about seeing how much I have actually lost so I know how much I need to do to get it back. I will be an athlete again!

The National Championships are at Wasing, near Reading, this weekend and I will be going. To race! Race myself.

I need to.

What the hell am I doing?!