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?!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Twenty - Round 2 - Ding, ding!

It was far from a knock out ...

The third Fowlmead Summer (ironic) Sizzler (even more ironic) was held on Thursday 7th June – and I was there! Following my absolute ecstaticness having raced the previous round – it was my first race, since Willow – I have been determined to make racing part of my life, again.

However, my punchiness and fire that I found in the previous round was somewhat missing this time.

It all began that day ... Well, it actually began a lot earlier and it hasn’t stopped even though we’re now in June. I’m talking rain.

I’ve not always been a huge fan of riding in the wet; in my elite days, I had to do it to be fit. Now I am a mum, I have to do it because I have a babysitter and it’s my chance to ride! Racing in the rain has always dampened my mood. 

I was determined to not let it get to me this time round – I stole Nick’s wheels so I had more appropriate tyres and better, blingy wheels (don’t tell him!) And, I fired myself up on caffeine. Sadly, my caffeine high was spent sitting out the effects of Operation Stack on the M20.

My journey to Fowlmead was a nightmare – I should have gone cross-country.

And, before I could even begin my journey, I struggled to get out the front door because I had a grizzly, teething toddler clinging to me. We had made the decision to keep her at home this time because it was so wet! The sad thing about this is that taking Willow to races has inadvertently enriched our relationships! But that's a whole other blog!

When I did arrive, I had 15 minutes to get changed, sort out my bike and warm up. Hah!

However, the course erased my day’s preoccupations. It was probably the best Fowlmead course I have ever ridden.

I’ve always been a bit of a mud-avoider and my memories of wet races are often clouded by the injuries they have instigated. But this wet, muddy and slippery race was different. I wasn’t as fired up to race as I was last time but I was ready to enjoy mountain-bike riding, this time. I say ‘riding’ deliberately because I wasn’t that energetic.

The course was made from components of the new ACTiV Trail, which I haven’t ridden before. It had tight turns on steep descents and rocky gardens and muddy, loose, shingly power climbs (where I was useless!) There was a gorgeously quick canal path, reminiscent of Hackney Marshes Beastway days and flowing singletrack through trees and shrubs. On a hot day, I think this could be one of my favourite types of course – though I still like to think I prefer to climb a bit more.

Of course, the course should be good – I know who would have also been behind its creation.

In fact, I’d quite like to see this course feature in a regional series ...

And, the course is a great all-weather course.

However, it did properly weather me! I would like to say I improved on last time’s efforts because I was 14th! However, my heart-rate and RPE levels tell me I’d be lying! The weather scared off a few people – you know who you are! So, my positioning was elevated. 

I have two weeks until the next – let’s hope the weather and my mind are elevated this time!

On the topic of elevation, am I mad for considering racing the next Southern XC at Deepcut? I want to but not sure I know how to yet. We’ll see ...

(No chance! I have over 500 GCSE and A2 Level exam scripts to mark ...)

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Nineteen - Mummy be not too unfit after all!

I did it!

My first mountain-bike race since pre-Willow times.

And, wow, did I love it! More than I remember loving it. This sport is fantastic! I'm back and I'm loving it!

There is a local mountain-bike series held in the deep east of Kent. Where the land is flat, the terrain is bleak and the wind and the weather are more than unforgiving. Many a day have I spent fighting the relentless gales and the pelting rain on the Fowlmead track. But equally, I have spent many an evening riding twisty and tight singletrack; kicking up dust; and, in humidity and heat.

I'm trying to describe Fowlmead. A country park found near Sandwich, Kent. A country park that only knows extremes. And, its latest extreme, applies to my elatedness!

Last Thursday, I raced round 2 of the Fowlmead Summer Sizzler. I hadn't raced one of these since 2009 and I was incredibly anxious about how well I would cope with riding my bike at threshold and above for more than an hour. Forget the racing!

In true Gemma-now-a-mum style, Nick was building my bike the night before. How things have changed from the precision I used to apply to bike maintenance! I was out riding it that Wednesday evening at about 10pm just to check the gears didn't slip; and they did. But, so what! I was going to race - no matter!

And I did! And, I am so glad I did.

I felt like a bit of a novice: I didn't know where to sign in; I had to ask which direction around the track the race would be going; I had to beg help with my slipping gears; I forgot to wear my timing chip ... In fact, I had forgotten mountain-bike racing in its entirety. I even went to the back of the line forming at the start because I felt so new to the sport.

But this newness is similar to how I felt when I discovered mountain-biking.

With the blast of the gun, everything I ever knew did return and I felt like I was me 3 years ago. Only slower. But, strangely, not that much slower. In fact, I was surprised to be as strong as I was - but, every mother knows that it ain't easy spending 50% of your day with a 12kg weight attachment. However, I was first lady and very surprised to be ahead of my very own first mountain-bike mentor, Debbie Burton. (No doubt she'll make me pay for this at some point.) And, I was 18th, I think, out of the whole field. I used be a top 10 finisher ... But I mustn't dwell on what I used to be.

I am, now, a proud mountain-bike racing mummy. And, my smile, from Thursday's race, was stuck for the rest of the night and some of Friday ... (yes, some of Friday - working with Willow's sickness bug depleted my enthusiasm for anything except curling up on the floor.)

Anyway, one week on - I STILL LOVE THIS SPORT!

Thank you, Dave Hayward, you made me look like a racer in your photo! xxx

Monday, 30 April 2012

Eighteen - Working out with Willow - Part 2

We have a Monday morning routine and we (I think) love it.

Because sport is integral to my life and so is my daughter, I combine the two. And, ice the session with blueberry pancakes. You would think Willow was the one who exerted the most energy, if you were to judge her vigour in eating these pancakes. You see, prior to the pancakes, Willow and I train. Well, I do.

So, every Monday, Willow and I go for a run and do a circuit session together. I say ‘together’ but mean it quite loosely ... I run and push her about; and, I throw her about like a wriggly barbell while she giggles and squeals. But, this is a session I really look forward to. I am not sure about Willow’s opinions but she hasn’t complained yet. For me, I am combining running, something I love to do, with my baby.

While I was pregnant, I spent a lot of time researching travel systems. I knew I wanted something that was quite robust and would allow me to take Willow for walks in forests, over hills and along beaches. Living in Kent, we are lucky to have all terrains within quick access, except mountains - we have the North Downs, but they're hills. And, I knew I wanted to share these terrians with her when she was born. I was also keen to be running as soon as I could and knew I had to choose a buggy that could accommodate both. I bought a Baby Jogger XC and it has done its job well. (The grandmothers say it’s quite good in the town too but I try not to go there!)

In the early days, she was in a bassinet on the Jogger. The pushchair has suspension so she slept, I trotted. I said, the early days – a trot was on a good day! As she became more knowing, this progressed to the car seat, so she could be nosey. Luckily, I could attach it to the pushchair. Today, she sits facing forward in the buggy and squeals as we come across ducks and dogs and birds and trees and walkers and runners and cyclists and anything that stimulates her greedy little mind!

In fact, she loves it. And, I’m even more ecstatic about this because Willow is enjoying sport with her mum!

Although the buggy is really manoeuvrable, it’s still an additional 15kgs that I’m pushing (she’s 10kg!) I see this as resistance training - I will be stronger! However, it does roll a bit too nicely, so I have to be sensible not to speed too much! And, because I have to hold on to the handle bars, I see it as useful bike training too, especially as the buggy gets speed wobbles when it’s taken over 8mph and I have to push the handles down forcefully to account for these. (Don't tell Baby Jogger this, apparently the Jogger isn't meant to exceed 8 mph!) However, as Willow is becoming heavier, her weight and her positioning are balancing this a bit more. 

But this run has more than just benefits for me. Of course, I am outside, running, getting fresh air. It has benefits for Willow too. She is outside in the fresh air, engaging with the environment and grinning at what an outdoors life brings. 

Sport is not just about fitness. It is a way of life and a way of life that offers more opportunities than anything else. And by me sharing this with Willow, she will always know.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Seventeen - Working out with Willow - Part 1

Being a parent has made want to ride my bike more. Obviously, this is not just because I want a break! 

It is so important to me that my daughter grows upbelieving in sport and being active; and, it is my responsibility to ensure thisvalue. But to do so, I need to make sport part of our lives – not just mine. And, I have realised, I don't think this can be too difficult if we do sport together.

At 15 months old, Willow is already copying her parents: ifI am cleaning my teeth, so will she; if Nick is maintaining a bike, she will beby his side eyeing up the dangerous tools in his box - she always goes for the most lethal; she is not always interested in her toys, when her parents are about, because she wants to interact with and help us. It’s lovely – sometimes anuisance – but lovely.

More importantly, this has huge advantages ...

I have said many times about how guilty I am leaving my baby while I go bike-riding – despite knowing that the cycling is good for me and she is always with someone who will spoil her. However,if Willow enjoys doing things with her mummy, this should include sport,shouldn’t it?

Therefore, I have spent weeks trying to develop a trainingschedule for me that means she has fun too. I have a BabyJogger with which Ican run with Willow; I have a Weeride which means she can come out on my bike (when the weather improves - when this rain stops);and, I have a wriggly 11kg weight that helps me work on my strength and mycore. In fact, this weight moves so much that my core has no other option than to be solid! (I hope!)

My baby is becoming my training mate.

But, the benefits are not only for me. They are for her too.

Willow will grow up to think that activity and outdoors lifeand sport are integral parts of living. Being sport requires being healthy and this mindset is something that I want Willow to learn.

Again, if I involve Willow in my running andriding, she gets to see so much more of the world. Only on Monday did we see a heronflying over a river by the side of the path on which we were running. She pointed at 'dat' and giggled because it was so close and so new. Similarly, sport has allowed me to visit beautiful parts of the country and todevelop a love affair with fresh mountain air. I want to share this with her. I know she loves being outdoors already but I want her to see more than just the back garden and suburban parks. I want her to know that a technical single-track descent leaves you grinning more than a ride at Alton Towers ever can do. And, I want her to have the chance to compare the two. 

Doing sport with Willow means we get to do something together – routined and enjoyed.And, she is involved with me doing something I love. I’m less guilty and she’smore involved. My weights sessions involve intimate and close cuddles – usually sticky anddisjointed because she likes to run about too and in active excitement, she covers me in drool. But, we seem to be playing while I amworking on my biceps and quads! Not to mention, soon she will be counting to 20 quitefluently!

And, what’s more exciting than sharing a passion with yourchild? 

Therefore, Willow and I have so much fun working out together. It's a win-win situation.

Until she becomes a teenager, at least ...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Olympic Mountain-bike Course in Essex

I have to share this.

Lee Williams, one of our top male cross country racers, has recorded a lap of the Hadleigh course. I believe the course was designed by a fantastic Mr Salt, renowned for his great mountain-biking events.

I can't wait until August, when I'll be here - with Nick and Willow - cheering on the ladies. I can't wait until I'm race-ready and able to perhaps have a rude of this course myself, in the future!

So, fellow mountain-bikers, sit back and enjoy. Non-mountain-bike racers, this is what we do - usually 4 or 5 times, flat out, no respite ... This course will be tough!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Sixteen - Mummy be un-fit ... but smiling!

I survived my first weekend away from Willow!

All that panic and worry about leaving her ... what for? By the carnage that was my front living room when we returned and the speed with which my mum was ready to go home herself, that Sunday, I know well that Willow was thoroughly entertained.

Of course, it was tough leaving Willow and I missed her, achingly. 

In fact, Nick and I spent the whole weekend imagining how we could share our sport and lifestyle with her. Already, we know she loves the outdoor life: she tantrums to be in the garden, in all weathers; she is her calmest when we are walking through woods; she is an observer and, like a little sponge, she soaks up all that being outdoors allows her to see. If only I could attach her to my bike and ride the Welsh mountains' single-track ascents and descents with her.

But, above all, for me, this weekend was a chance reflect and relax, a bit. For 15 months, my life has been a continuous whirlwind with no respite. I haven’t slept in beyond 7.00am, sometimes I haven't slept at all and I certainly have not been able to have a duvet day or a day off. This weekend gave me the opportunity to ...

Typically, I chose to overexert myself and make myself even more shattered!

Soothing the pain of leaving my baby behind, in Kent, to be thoroughly spoilt, Nick and I headed for South Wales. Although, it was hard leaving her, it was exciting to have a weekend of time with my husband and trail-riding ahead. And, to really enhance the excitement, I love the sun and the weather was the most gorgeous I have ever ever experienced in Wales: it was full-sun and stunning. In fact, we rode the Skyline trail, on Sunday, with just arm and leg-warmers on our limbs. We’re from the tropics of Kent so it takes a lot to heat us!

It was also so exciting because part of the thrill I have from riding in Wales is that the climbs are quite lengthy. Like I said, we’re from Kent ... !

But, they were much more lengthy than I remember.

My heart rate was over 190 beats per minute within a few seconds of climbing the first trail. But this wasn't because I was riding hard. I was - but harder than I have in a long time. Disappointingly, despite my attempts at training rigour, I felt like a sack of vegetables with no strength trying to ascend those hills. And, I don't remember parts of my body wobbling with every bump as much as they did! My excitement was superseded by my forgetting how hard and relentless mountain-biking is. Permanently carrying a 10kg wriggler is easy in comparison. 

And, I was breathing hard the minute I began. A lack of skill is often survived with an additional pedal push - but, I didn't have that. Once upon a time, I had power to get myself out of trouble. But, I was at my maximum and had nowhere else to go. 

I was so so so so unfit!

As for my arms ... I spend all day holding Willow. She may be walking now but her favourite place is still attached to me. That meant nothing for the strength I needed to throw my bike about. Either my shocks were not working - which is highly likely, they haven’t been serviced for years - or, I was just incredibly weak. 

I was just incredibly weak.

The last time Nick and I rode these trails, I was an elite mountain-bike racer. Nothing scared me and I rode every part, hard and fast. This was a stark contrast to my tentative riding now I am a mother. Mountain-biking is challenging and sometimes scary. This weekend reminded me that I am no longer the driven, competitive and determined athlete I was. That was quite painful to realise. A few years ago, we would have ridden all day: we just about managed 3 hours each day.

This shadow aside, the weekend with my husband, the trails, the weather, the thrill of the descents, the endorphins from the climbs, the fact that I wasn't overtaken by another rider (ok, still a bit competitive!), the being out in a beautiful world – where we saw tornadoes and birds of prey and no one else for hours - were enough to let me leave Wales with a grin.

Seeing my baby’s grin when I got home was the biggest cherry.

Next time, she's coming.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Fifteen - A blog to share ...

I have to share Willow Rockwell's latest blog. Not because she has the same name as my baby or because she is a fellow mountain-bike racer. But, because she is a new mum and she is writing for me, a year ago; and, she is writing for many other mums, whether we've tried regaining fitness or going back to work or adapting to our new life roles and our new relationships and juggling everything motherhood throws at us.

Motherhood is technical single-track on steep inclines and descents that you ride with no brakes. And, we all fall off ... well, some of us, I mean, I have enough.

Obviously, me attempting to regain national elite level fitness is nothing in comparison to this lady's dreams - she is world class, a championship medallist - and, she is aiming to race at London 2012. I hope she does - this is the only event for which I have secured tickets and Willow and I will be there to cheer her. (Of course, we'll be rooting for Annie Last too!)

But, did I say, Willow Rockwell was a new mum?! I mean, a properly, new mum?

Her baby is only 3 months old and she has just raced the first mountain-bike World Cup of the season. This is phenomenal because I could barely sit on my saddle when my Willow was 3 months old. As for riding off-road ... it wasn't just sitting in the saddle that hurt: I remember juggling some tricky roots whilst singing Kelise's 'Milk-shake' song to camouflage the boob pain! And, emotionally, I remember, when my Willow was about 6 months, I had to get off my bike, one evening, because I was sobbing so much about having left her that I began to hyperventilate and couldn't breathe! So, racing? Wow!

I really wish Willow Rockwell every success because what she is aiming for is amazing and quite humbling. And, if she reads this, I want her to know that she is not alone with the struggles that it may throw at her.

Every mother I know, knows.

And, our paths are more often uphill, rocky, boulderous tracks but these are rewarded by the views and the descents, which we will enjoy, when we get there. When we get there.

Our daughters will be more impressionable come 2016, if that means anything ...

I am lucky because my bike-riding is my release and not my job. Although, I have spent years wishing it was my job! But my real job has had to have its sacrifices now: I can't strive to be anything but good enough, at work, now I am a mother; and, these decisions have been tough, heart-breaking, life-changing but not forever.

My baby is forever.

Or, until she is 7 and chooses sleepovers over snuggling with me. These first few years are mine to enjoy and if I have had to make drastic decisions, I have done so because I know they are right for me and for her. It has taken a year to realise this, though.

The years will go quickly ... these 15 months have.

Anyway, I must race soon - Willow must see me race first - how many regional races between now and July?

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Fourteen – This weekend can come quickly enough.

This weekend is looming. It is a grey cloud that has been approaching with a sense of foreboding, fear and dread. I cannot see beyond this weekend – I can just see it and a huge mountain I have to climb – and this is meant to be a metaphor, not because I am going mountain-biking in Wales.

My dread has nothing to do with the fact that I turn 33 on Friday. I am used to ageing now. In fact, I have aged hugely in the past 15 months! Isn't that part of parenting? I am used to looking, feeling and being old. Not that I like it!

This weekend, Nick and I are going away.

We are going away.


Without Willow.

Without my baby!

And, I am not sure I can go through with this because I have never left her before and I don’t want to leave her.

My mum, on the other hand, has been counting down to this weekend. To her, this weekend is sunshine and excitement; a weekend of cuddles, giggles and a sweet-smelling, gooey toddler. She is to be Willow’s safe-keeper. She will be guarding her in Willow’s own house. It will be fine. What have I to fear? Willow adores her.

Nick, too, is excited. He has spent the week servicing bikes, smelling of GT85 and blowing up tyres, all for this weekend. We haven’t had quality ‘us’ time for a long time. For my birthday last year, we had a meal in a restaurant but were home by 7.30pm – worried about the baby!

But me? I’m scared. I chose to have my baby and it’s my role to keep her. I have made some pretty huge sacrifices lately – all because I know I need to be there for her more than I have been. So why do I feel so guilty about leaving her?

I have said before that mothers suffer more from separation anxiety than babies and I am still struggling with it. I haven’t ever been away from her over night or so far away. I am not sure I am doing the right thing.

I know this weekend away has its benefits – I do want to spend time with Nick, he was here with me before Willow, after all, and I do miss his company. And, I so most definitely want to ride my mountain-bike in Wales. In fact, my guilt has been mixed with pangs of excitement because I haven’t ridden Welsh trails for years. It will be good for me. Mums deserve breaks, right?

I am approaching this weekend by trying to forget about it. Although, I have spent the last few hours changing my tyres and being excited by dusting off my Kenda Small Block 8s, whilst being amused at myself stripping my wheels in my smart work clothes. I am looking forward to this weekend but, shouldn’t I be sharing something I love so much with my daughter as well as my husband? Or, will I have time enough for this in the future?

Why is parenting so emotive?

We need a bike seat ...

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Thirteen - Can the mind really overrule the matter?

My head has always been a problem. I suppose, spending hours in the saddle with hours to think, I have always thought a bit too much; analysed a bit too much. Oh, and I am an English Language and Literature graduate; we read into everything! This is not wholly healthy.

Such thinking time no longer seems to exist. Even on car journeys, where Willow is usually well behaved, I’m still too preoccupied by her to daydream.  My only thinking time is on my bike – where everything is sorted. But, most of the time, I have to get on with things before I have even thought about them!

This isn’t a bad thing for me! I actually do quite a lot in a day, now!

An inspiring coach (and friend of mine) once told me my head held me back, in bike-racing. She was right. But, my insecurities are not uncommon. According to a renowned cycling coach, Joe Friel, whose every book Nick and I own, ‘society has taught’ women to feel inferior about their ability in sport – albeit subtly – but based on the crowds watching men’s and women’s events. Obviously, there is much more to this, but you get the idea. Likewise, my inane amounts of thinking have always offered reasons why I couldn’t do as well as the women I raced – but, to be quite honest, they were pretty awesome.

So, my head makes me easily defeated. Or it did.

On Tuesday night, I was sitting on the sofa, drinking a maximum strength Lemsip, telling myself that the run I did on Monday was probably a bit too hard which is why my legs and back and arms and neck ached a little. Nick, Willow and my mum having a flu-type virus was not willingly acknowledged. I was sitting and shivering in a room at 24 degrees Celsius.

But, I wasn’t ill. I couldn’t be ill. If you are a parent of a toddler, you know, illness does not exist. Being ill would be too hard. I was willing my head to work this now. This was a time for mind over matter – my head had to work.

I had to be well because I could not face being ill with Willow, who is at her most energetic, lately. In fact, I was desperate to be well because going to work would be also a break from the germs in my household! Besides, Willow had to go to the crèche too – not the least because I needed a break but because I bloody well pay for it. I am probably better off being a stay-at-home-mum if I calculate how many days she has actually missed and for which I have paid!

I had to be healthy.

My good coach, the same one, told me off once for being too negative. She was right. In bike-racing, my head always fell off in April/May because I was dragged down by the shed-load of coursework marking I would have. Instead of enjoying my bike, I’d feel guilty for not being at work.  She told me I had to think about things I enjoyed to get me racing my bike well.  She was right. The races I began whilst in a good mood were always successful. And, typically, I was always flying after the summer holidays when I had no loads on my shoulders. While on that sofa on Tuesday, if I thought I was ill, I would be. So, I thought of hot, dusty trails ... my positive thoughts.

Well, I did stop shivering but I’m sure that the thermostat was broken in the house – it was like a furnace very quickly afterwards.

This one my head wouldn’t win ... Grrr! And, it’s been a sunny week! 

But next week is a new one - there's my positivity! And, wow, do I feel worse when I haven't been out for a ride.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Twelve - Sport After Birth.

I’m sure there are theories that birth and pregnancy have positive effects on sportswomen. I’m not totally sure about the science behind these theories and I am pretty certain I am too late to try and benefit from these theories myself, but I do know that giving birth has had a positive effect on my approach to riding my bike.

Giving birth was the most difficult thing I have ever experienced and the most difficult thing I don’t ever envisage doing again. Even after 14 months of healing! I admire any mother who would have had another by now. But, those 13 hours – apparently, only 7 in my notes, but it WAS 13 – helped me learn a lot about myself. Only upon reflection, though, because I was way too zoned out at the time!

I know now that I can trust my body to take charge when my mind and head give up, which I can apply to training. It took charge in the birthing pool when I didn't think it could.

I know now that I am less fazed by things that I once found challenging, such as technical and tricky riding terrain.

I know now how to be active rather than passive: I used to over-contemplate everything and live in a whirl of indecisiveness. (But, this is probably attributed to having a demanding toddler who doesn’t allow me time to contemplate!)

Giving birth was tough. Tougher than bike racing. And, the irony? I thought my bike-racing would help me tackle labour! In a deluded idealistic state, I convinced myself that I would be well-trained for labour because of hill intervals. Surely, a three-minute climb would be good training for birth contractions. But, in reality, labour trained me for my intervals. With hill intervals, I control the pace. With labour, well ...

This week, Nick and I went on our Thursday mountain-bike ride together. Riding with Nick is tough enough. However, his cycling has not been a priority since he has had a daughter with a smile just for him. On the bike though, he is still a workhorse; a slave to power; and, relentless on climbs. On Thursdays, I have to ride like this. Unless I decide to sulk ... (Husband and wife training together is another whole blog!)

We rode to Wye, on the edge of the North Downs and tackled a climb that very gradually steepens until it becomes tricky. It was muddy and churned up by horses. It was awful! It bloody hurt!

But, I tackled it.

Riding this hill, I was reminded about anaerobic lung-busting breathing and my heart was pounding my ears – things I hadn’t experienced for over two years. I was close to these feelings on 12th January 2011. I was breathing hard and I felt so alive. It hurt, but enjoyably - a 'hurt' that I seemed to endure quite happily.

There is an old adage that likens anything that is easy to re-master, to riding a bike. But not riding a bike on a steep, uneven, churned, off-road trail. My gear changing was dreadful and I could not keep the front wheel on the ground.

But, I tackled it!
I tackled it because I’ve tackled something harder than a tricky climb.

Giving birth has taught me to be tougher. It is as though I have developed more respect and trust in what my body can do. I let my body lead now – my head can’t cope with pain but my body can. 

And, that has always been a problem of mine - my head! Crikey does it get in the way!

Nick also showed me a descent that was peaty, littered with tree stumps and twigs and very, very, very steep. It reminded me of a descent on a Fort William World Cup course I rode a lifetime ago. That was harrowing enough: I have an incision scar on my knee as evidence.  But, this descent, I rolled with it.


Once upon a time, I would have stood and contemplated it. But now, I was unfazed.
Giving birth has made me braver.

There may be a truth in these scientific theories. I may be unfitter but I am no longer afraid of the pain of training. Giving birth has had an effect on me and my sport
But, in reality, I think this toughness is part of evolving into a mother: mums of children of all ages would move heaven and earth for their babies; and, you know what? We could – unfazed.

Get out running and riding ladies, it's so easy, in comparison!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

One Willow's inspiration isn't enough, it seems.

It's been a bit busy this past week. Teachers will understand; especially English teachers. We all become quieter in March and disappear until the end of April. It's called marking ... and lots of it. Therefore, I've chosen cycling in my free time over blogging. But, watch this space ... I'm missing my writing!

However, I really want to share this link. It comes from a hugely inspiring mum who is racing her bike just a few months after the birth of her little girl. She makes me feel like a mouse! But, she has also made me get out onto my turbo at 9pm and do my interval session.

Coincidentally, she is a Willow. I have a Willow. She shares my baby's name. She races mountain bikes. This wasn't contemplated but I hope this name-sharing inspires my Willow in the future as much as this Willow has inspired me.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Eleven – Depressingly, oppressingly lost without my bike?

My mother has read my blog.

Fourteen months ago, I would have rebelled against her every comment: she has a habit of natural constructive criticism, typical of mothers of daughters, although it’s always with her best intentions, ... But, you see, pre-Willow, I knew best. Of course! Today, post-Willow, I cling to my mum’s every word. Albeit, begrudgingly. I have learnt that, actually, she does know best.

She said: ‘So, where is this Gemma that’s writing these posts? You need to be more like her or at least be more honest with yourself.’ I didn’t understand her at first because I am that Gemma. Well, I want to be that Gemma. Again, my mother has a point because I’m not always that Gemma. Not yet.

You see, the blogging Gemma seems enthusiastic, energetic, optimistic, self-driven. And, she has every reason to be: with a gorgeous baby girl, a loving husband, a very supportive family, an enjoyable job, a beautiful house, her own health ... I should be grateful - I am.

And, I can be that Gemma, occasionally. However, I struggle. I struggle with mundane, every day things and getting out on my bike can sometimes be the hardest thing to do despite being the most necessary. 

I have been told I have PND. Post-natal Depression. Hah! Me? Depressed! Doesn't every mother feel a little down at times? 

I am hoping this blog will help me.  Again, for Willow’s sake. 

Willow's first few months coincided with the biggest identity crisis I had ever experienced. I had sailed through a lovely pregnancy, looking forward to giving birth to a cute and cuddly baby, who would coo away while I regained my active and ambitious lifestyle. I didn’t envisage the overwhelming urge I would have to be the best mother I could be; and, to put this little person before anything else in my life: to live for this little person. Nor did I consider how this little person would expect and demand all this too. Every minute of every hour of every day! The life I had led, previously, quickly became a hazy mirage.

I missed and still miss this hazy mirage. I love my baby girl - I am infatuated by her giggles and her smile. I watch her when she is sleeping, wondering how anything else could be so perfect. And look forward to seeing her when she wakes and spending every minute I can with her. But, I do miss the simplicity of my sole focus of being an athlete. Of independently going out on my bike whenever and for however long I like.

I miss how a long ride in the fresh air can free my mind, fix any worry, focus my thoughts. It makes me positive again.

Nick was keen to get me riding again, quickly after Willow was born, but it wasn’t that easy, physically and mentally. As I have said before, it hurt! And, my baby needed me. Crikey, the lull of a newborn’s cry is very possessive. And, as for the effort to do anything when you’re shattered! But his instincts were right. When I did get out, I felt great; when I didn’t, I didn’t.

Without cycling, I fell into a hole and struggled to climb back out. I didn’t know how to climb out because I didn’t know I was in it. But the hole seemed to increase in depth when I went back to work and when the hole was its deepest, the diagnosis was miraculously cured by my bike.

I mean 'miraculously' because I began this year as that enthusiastic and energetic and focused and dynamic Gemma having spent my Christmas holiday cycling again. I hadn’t felt that normal and good for a long time. And, it was all because I had scheduled time to be on my bike. It was either that or counselling! I had to choose the bike!

Willow’s recently being ill brought me back to the edge of that hole. I haven’t actually been out on my bike for a month, except for a few night rides with Nick, and I’m slipping down its sides again. You see, I feel guilty leaving her if she’s ill – she needs her mummy. But, her needing me has left me longing for a break – for me time – for my bike. I learnt at Christmas, it will do me good. I know it will do us both good.

The only cure I have for this low feeling is my bike. If I don’t get out soon, my hole will get deeper and I don’t want to be that Gemma; I don’t want Willow’s mummy to be that Gemma.

I need my bike and what being on my bike gives to me. The physical benefits are obvious and commonly explicit - we all know that exercise makes us fitter. But, for me, the mental benefits are the most vital. I want Willow to see me happy and energetic and enthusiastic. My bike makes me this way. More than ever, I need to fit in my rides.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Ten – Flexibility? Now that’s new to me ...

When I was pregnant, my body was the most flexible it had ever been. I was able to achieve some Yoga positions too easily, compared to my pre-pregnant body, when they’d been a bit of a stretch. Obviously, this is a hormonal thing – getting the body ready for the big show and all that! But, I think it is also a bit of a metaphor ...

Pre-Willow, the word ‘flexibility’ was something I had penned on a training plan.

There’s an irony: I made ‘flexibility’ into something regimental! And to further the irony, I sometimes didn't fit it in - it wasn't that important - I didn't have time!

It was something I had to do to keep my muscles loose and my body supple and less prone to injury. I alternated Yoga with stretching and balance sessions. ‘Flexibility’ sessions, I did complete, gave my life a bit of calmness ...

Calmness ... I remember that, kind of ...

My life was structured and organised and flowed. I lived by timetables: I had a teaching and marking timetable – I stuck to it; I had a training timetable – I knew how many hours I would be training every week; I had a cleaning timetable. I planned holidays and weekends away; I paid bills on time; I watched new releases on Sky Box Office – all the way through. I could fit in a lot, if I was well-organised, and I did. Even with regard to racing: I couldn’t ever predict a race’s events but I had strategies for all types of hurdles.

Pre-Willow, there was no room for flexibility unless it was on my training plan. Everything was placed, pre-Willow.

Oh, how that had to change. And, I was not prepared for such a change!

On 12th January 2011, I had no choice but to learn about a new flexibility! A newborn baby does not know about structure. In March, 2012, I've learnt, neither does a poorly toddler ...

Therefore, I may have a plan to be fit and healthy, but it has to be a flexible plan.

My poor little baby has had two months of illness after virus after infection after illness ... I said to a work colleague at the end of January, ‘I think we’re over the worst,’ with regard to Willow’s immunity building. That weekend, she caught chicken pox. The following week, a chest infection. Then, a sickness bug. She is currently getting over another infection. Apparently, this is normal!

My poor baby.

An ill baby is reminiscent of the first newborn days – sleepless nights, inconsolable crying, absolute frustration. And, we have had this for the past few weeks. Therefore, riding my bike? I’ve been lucky to do a bit. But, my plan has had to have a few adaptations. I’ve had to be flexible.

A few years ago, if I had not stuck to my plan, it would have been disastrous! I would have begun the season thinking I hadn't trained. In hindsight, I was nuts! How can I have been disappointed if the freezing rain and wind meant my five-hour ride became three? 

I was turning something I had loved into a chore.

Life isn’t about being the regimental person I was. Although it was easier, it was nowhere near as full and as fun as it is now. I may not get all my training done. I definitely won’t get those nine precious hours of sleep every night. I may look like I’m ten years older (that hurts.) But, I have so much else in my life that I do enjoy and riding my bike is just part of that. And, I really enjoy riding my bike, because it's not regimented any more.

The metaphor?

Well, my body changed to anticipate my mind changing. Willow has freed me. Flexibility has a place in my life and not just my regime. Though, all that baby-carrying, I do need to regime it too ... I ache!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Whoops ... !

I may need to re-think the idea of an enduro. Have just blown to pieces, spectacularly, on a two-hour mountain-bike ride with Nick.

I must also remember, that a diet of Coco Pops is not adequate training fuel.

Back to the drawing board ...

A Motivated Mummy Says ...

"I just love to be outdoors breathing in great lungfuls of fresh air. Makes me feel alive!" (Jenny C - mummy to a 9 month-old and National British Cross-Country MTB Champ for many years.)

A Motivated Mummy Says ...

"Getting out on the bike is a cure-all for me. If I'm feeling tired, strung out, stressed or grumpy, it takes only about 45 minutes on the bike and I come back loving life again. Sometimes, it is hard to get motivated when I'm tired and the couch is calling, but I've never gone out for a ride and regretted making the effort." (Jenn, mummy to a 7-month-old and awesome XC and 24-hour champion mountain bike racer.)

Nine – Motivate Mummy Some More

My motivations are: the weather, my favourite trails, my favourite sessions, my favourite music, ‘24’ and seeing Jack Bouer and Tony Almeida, chocolate and, oh, the motivation to wear my skinny jeans again! 

Above all, like most parents, I am motivated by my daughter. I want her to have a healthy, active mummy – I want her to learn to love sport through me.

These are my main motivations.

However, day-in and day-out on the turbo or the same roads and trails and routes and sessions ... can deplete the motivation a bit. Only a bit. But, I think that depletion can be addressed with a challenge. I ran (well ...) the London Marathon when I was 21 because I was told I wouldn’t cope – I thrive on pushing my body. And, I love the social aspect that sport brings to my life. I need to commit to something that motivates me some more.

Challenge One ...

My birthday is the end of March and Nick and I have always gone away for that. And, yes, we have usually gone away cycling. Obviously, we haven’t been away together for what seems like years and this is unusual for us because we spent many a weekend touring the UK’s hotel rooms when we were racing our mountain-bikes. 

I miss this.

I even miss being stuck on the M25 for hours.

At the time, I hated it. But now, I remember it as time we had together. Just me and him. And, I miss that most.

Nick and my mother have forcefully suggested we go away for the weekend of my birthday. Without Willow. She has suggested she looks after Willow; I have suggested that I am not ready to do that. Would I be a bad mother if I did? That’s a whole other blog. That’s a whole other challenge.

So, provisionally, we have suggested going to Wales – mountain-biking. I haven’t confirmed it but the idea of the trip has motivated me a bit more to train.

In my racing life, I liked to think I was a climber. I would ride a hill all day – sometimes not through choice! I used to love the Welsh trails because the climbs were great – steep but enough to ride quickly. And, as for the descents ... I liken the trails to Alton Towers but you don’t have to queue and you come away with a bigger grin. But these hills can be challenging and I don’t know if I am up to them yet.

I have a month and a bit to make sure I am fit enough to ride these hills. There is a bit more motivation for me ... 

Challenge Two ...

I am Facebook friends with a lot of racers and the race season is underway. Reading their reports, I remember the days and I loved them, in hindsight (wasn’t too keen at the time!) Another huge motivator would be an event.

I need to enter an event.

Entering an event is similar to training with a friend. You can’t not do it because you have made a commitment and you can’t let them down. You have to be ready for them. Last Autumn, I entered a 10k running race; I entered it on a whim. It was madness but I had two weeks to prepare myself for it and I hadn’t been so focussed in exercising for a long time until then.

But I did it – and, I felt great because of it.

But what do I choose now?

I retired from racing having done my first mountain-bike marathon. It was ironic because it was as though I had just found my dream event. I’d love to get back into endurance events but definitely do not have the time to train my endurance for those. Though, can a 30-something mother's endurance be improved? I endured 7 hours of labour. I endured months of sleeplessness. Willow has unknowingly made me a natural competitor for 24-hour racing. Can an enduro be that challenging?

With an enduro, it would have to be the right event, where spectators can see competitors regularly. In laps. Short-ish laps. You see, Willow has to see me doing this! When I did my 10k, it made my day seeing Willow in the carrier, with my husband cheering me on. I doubt she even knew what was happening and was too interested in the event atmosphere and popularity than in me. But seeing her (and him!) inspired me. I need to enter something that she can watch. I know, she's only just one ... but ...

If I can pinpoint a specific event, I can focus on being fit for it. I'll need to be.

I know now why many winning parents share their podiums with their children: to inspire the children? Well, kind of. I want Willow to see me racing; to experience the racing environment and to enjoy it. Most of all, I want her to see what mummy’s doing and to want to be part of it too. I want her to experience seeing me when I have completed something that has challenged me: she won't ever be aware of her birth ... 

Willow’s excitement at seeing me finish? Or, just seeing my daughter seeing me race ... the biggest motivator of all.

Now, which event(s)?

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Motivated Mummy Says ...

"I have a pretty busy full-on day everyday with my two rats. It's harder and more demanding than working with 30 accountants demanding everything in unreasonable time scales! When they're in bed, I either whack on a DVD and get on my trainer or do some Wii fit. It's hard going and by this point of the day I'm exhausted, but I feel so much better after. I'm terrible if my husband is out at basketball, I'll comfort eat anything I can get my hands on! This way I'm busy working out for over an hour and then shower, drink a pint of water and I'm not even hungry then! 
"I've lost 1 stone in 2 months and I want to lose another stone.... It's hard but I feel great after workin out!"
(Carley, a city-working mummy of two.)

A Motivated Mummy Says ...

"I didn't want to be a fat mum. I wanted to be a positive role model for my kids and stay healthy so I can be around with them as long as possible. Hence, why I will be getting my running shoes as soon as I can after this next baby is born!"
(Tarnya, a running-working mummy of one and bump.)

A Motivated Mummy Says ...

"I am overweight now and have battled since having Holly to find the time and energy to get fit but I do WANT to get fit. I don't want to be the fat mum at the school gates or the mum panting in the mum's race at sports day. Most importantly, I don't want my health to jeopardise seeing Holly grow into a woman and be there for all the important milestones in her life. 

"This is my motivation and no matter how many times I keep taking those steps back I will always try again and take another step forward."
(Kirsty, a working, active, running, role-modelling mummy.)

A Motivated Mummy Says ...

"Being active beforehand probably was definitely an influence. Wanting to get fit again so I can keep up with my husband on my bike, but I also want to be fit for Antonio, so I'll be around for him for as long as possible."
(Liz, a super-fit, endurance mountain-bike racing mum, with many medals to her name!)

A Motivated Mummy says ...

"I raced when the children were little to hold onto my 'racing identity ' ... and show the kids I could still win. Now I ride to show my children that sport allows you to understand how to work hard to achieve your goals and not sit in front of the TV! There's a world to explore out there!" 
(Michelle, a mummy of two and a successful bike-racer of most disciplines who has given me amazing tips on juggling both!)

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Eight – Motivate Mummy Some

Ok. I have to be fit again. For myself and for being a role model for my baby girl. That’s motivation enough, isn’t it?

Or is it?

I can talk myself into being really motivated. I know words and I can use them; they’re easy. It is a completely different type of motivation that I need to get on my bike. Although I love riding and I am desperate to be riding again, I do attract distractions. I am easily hindered. Exercise is sometimes too much effort.

When I have lots of other things to do: housework, shopping, marking, preparing dinner and all those things I can’t do very well with a toddler clamped to my thigh, they are easier to choose. And, more sensible – we have to eat; I have to work! However, I do lack enough motivation for these chores too ... perhaps I’m just a demotivated!

That is why I need to develop some motivators ...

For example, the weather: it’s so easy to be motivated right now because it has been 16 degrees in Kent and sunny. This reduces the faffing; the need for lights and lots of layers. The weather is a motivator. But, no one can rely on this in the UK – even those of us in Kent. The cold and the wet are not as appealing.

Over the years, I have learnt a few tricks that have helped to keep me motivated. For example, being organised: the longer I take to get ready, the more time I have to convince myself to stay on the sofa. If my bike is set up and my kit is ready to go, I don’t have time to demotivate myself!

As well as being organised, like teaching, I’m motivated by exciting planning. Riding my bike should be exciting enough ... Well, for me it is! But, if that isn’t enough of a motivator, I need to plan to do a session that is. For example, going off-road; easy intervals (I say 'easy' because I hate them!)

I love music. Or, should I say loved? The best I get to listen to now is from the Disney Channel. In fact, during a ride one Thursday, I sang to myself the theme to ‘Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse’ for the entire ride. Pedalling to ‘Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggoty dog’ does not motivate faster legs. But this isn’t rare for me. I have pedalled to the rhythm of reciting ‘The Guffalo’ and I have hummed the melody of Willow’s Jumperoo while riding. The only place I could listen to music, for me and as loudly as I’d like, would be on my turbo. And, you can’t be more motivated than by listening to some late 1990s-early 2000s house and trance. Can you?

But, above all of these motivators, motivating me more than anything right now is my absolute trump motivator: the box set of ‘24’. I have a computer in the garage on which Nick and I watch box sets when on our turbos. I have been so obsessed with Jack Bauer and Tony Almeida that I have actually opted for the turbo on a Sunday rather than the frosty roads – ok, not really too much of a choice!

And, if all else fails ... chocolate. How on earth can I make room in my tight calorie schedule for a Mars bar? 

An hour’s training. That’s how.

BBC 'Horizon': 'The Truth About Exercise' - Tonight!

Dr Michael Mosley claims that we only need to do 3 minutes of intense exercise a week to become fitter! I admit, since I have included intervals in my sessions, I have become hungrier and slimmer - or is that dehydration? Or just being more active?

He does have a point!

I'm going to watch and learn - it could give me more time! Or not ...

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Seven – The ‘Mummy Be Fit’ Support Team

It’s taken some time but for the last six months, Nick and I have established an inconsistent Thursday night bike ride. I say ‘inconsistent’ because I have had to be, sometimes, prised from Willow.

I hate leaving my baby girl, even if I have had a day where being with her has had its own demands ... Crikey, she can demand ...!

It is amazing how I can create situations in my mind to prevent me from leaving her and spending some well-owed and deserved time with my husband. And, the irony? Willow is always with one of two women who comes the closest to replicating our love for her ... Our mums.

From Willow’s first few months, the mothers were adamant that I went out and I rode my bike. However, I didn’t ever want to leave my baby. I should have realised that they have enough experience to know what’s right. And, they are right.

This is the great fear of detachment.

They have been through this and I’ve just begun. From the day Willow and I were snipped apart, she has begun a journey of independence and it is up to me to encourage and nurture that. The mothers have been through this. But what I am forgetting is that although Willow is going to grow away from me, she is lucky to be given the chance to grow closer to the two women to whom we and she owe our existences. And, they are two women who are determined, and rightly so, to enrich her life with their own special relationships.

It’s because of these women that Nick and I get time together. It is because of them that I can still ride my bike. What would I do without them?

Since Willow, we have never needed our mothers more. In fact, in the newborn days, if my mum hadn’t had the audacity to let herself into my house with her own key, I would not have been fed. And, if my mum-in-law hadn’t have sent over home-made meals, Nick would have perished as much as me! From basic survival support to babysitting, our mums have been there from the beginning.


Therefore, I am often shoved in the direction of my bike; I am so lucky to have this grandparental support team behind me. Willow’s relationship with them is awesome. Though, I sometimes wonder if the welfare of their immediate offspring is anymore a concern? I was on the turbo trainer not long ago when my dad visited. I explained that I’d be about 20 minutes and his response, ‘It’s alright. I’ve come to see Willow.’ She’s only just one! Does she realise this? Does it matter? No.

Grandparental adoration for her is vital – Nick and I can train together and we know she is with someone who is going to go over and beyond the amount of attention I can give. That’s actually a fact because I am ashamed at how much energy and attention they apply to their visits when I have sometimes willed Willow to like the TV just so I could chill for a while.

Without them, could I get out on my bike? Probably. But could I go out with Nick, like we used to? No chance.

Tonight, we had a hard, muddy, wet ride in the woods ... (Shame on us!) ... And, this was thanks to a mother. I'm writing this feeling refreshed and clear-headed. Thanks to a mother.

If I want my fitness back, I need to make the most of my support network. There are four people itching for an hour of hugs with my baby. I am lucky. And, so is Willow.

And, this detachment fear I have – the mothers have 30 years on me dealing with this and they’re still attached. They’re still the first call I make when I’m stuck. They’re here for Willow; they’re here for me and Nick. They get us back on our bikes.

Thank you.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

An addition ...

I feel amazing for having been on my bike. I have cleared my head and ached my legs a bit. I feel awesome now ...

Roll on my next session.

Six – More hurdles than a cyclo-cross race.

I have a plan; I must stick to it. For now, it is about doing something regularly so I become used to it. I have a plan and I will be fit, again ...

The weather isn’t too inspiring in the county of Kent. We may boast the country’s lowest rainfall and its warmest climate but it’s too cold to go out on my bike in the evenings. Besides, since Willow, I’ve become a wimp. A few years ago, I would have donned my super lights, waterproof and headed out without a worry. But now ... I feel the need to be close to home or easily accessible, at least.

Who said only babies suffer from separation anxiety? So, I am lucky to have my bike on my turbo trainer, set up in my garage – our make shift gym.

Last night, as soon as Nick was home and tea had been served (yes, I am a control freak, I have to make sure I feed the baby because only I know how to make sure she eats enough to not disturb my sleep in the early hours,) I went to my kit cupboard.

That was depressing.

I am much larger than when I last used my kit. Even my ribs have stretched! How? Even more reason to get on that bike.

My kit cupboard’s contents are now fairly limited. I have a lot of ex-racing kit and when I was racing, I was a different size and shape. That couldn’t be used. I have gym kit – pregnant woman gym kit – neither is appropriate for sitting on the saddle. I have one pair of cycling shorts that I had used on my weekly or two weekly rides over the past year and they had to do. But they were fraying, badly. Not long ago, I had so much cycling accessory choice, how could I be in a situation with just one pair of fraying Lycra shorts? This wasn’t going to be comfortable.

However, the kit situation was not the end of it.

When I had finally found acceptable attire, I had to brace myself for the long walk to the turbo trainer. It’s only to the garage, off the kitchen, but when so much preparation has to go into getting there, it seems a long way off. And, I knew there would be more obstacles in the way.

I forgot about the faffing - and I was good at that pre-Willow. I had a drink and a towel. But, I had yet to secure my bike to the turbo; check the tyre pressure; put on my bike shoes; load the DVD (I need that additional motivation in case I convince myself to stop too soon!) But these obstacles could be dealt with.

The main one obstacle was harder.

It came in the form of huge, penetrating, blue eyes in the living room, through which I had to pass. Asking, ‘Mummy, are you leaving me?’ There was the lure. How could I? Ok, she was with her dad – but, I still felt dreadful about shutting the door on her. It was too cold to keep it open and let her watch ...

...  And, as for the cold! I was in the garage with a radiator; a room next to the kitchen and the wall with the range:  I hadn’t expected to be walking back up to the kit cupboard for leg and arm warmers, fleece, gloves and hat. I was inside and it shouldn't be cold inside! 

Of course, this meant I had to pass her again and I had to shut the door on her twice. But, she wasn’t at all bothered! She didn’t even acknowledge me. Daddy is way too exciting, clearly.

Eventually, halfway through the session, the door opened and there stood my baby, watching me. Her huge grin and her huge eyes and her absolute wonder. She may have been thinking, ‘What on earth is my mum doing on that machine in this boring room?’ But I took it as my daughter’s intrigue: she was interested in me and my bike.

And, so it begins ...