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 cr̬che too Рnot 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)?