Thursday, 17 April 2014

Looking forward to Easter!

Is it sad that coming up to Easter the thing I'm looking forward to most of all, even more than my Easter egg, is the arrival of my new mattress?
The healthiest Easter Egg I could find:-)

  It's funny to reflect, but one of the hardest things to get to grips with on the GB program is just how much sleep I am supposed to have.  Not just time in bed, but 8 hours of quality sleep... Sleep is where your body repairs and recovers. Good sleep means you can train hard day after day. After years of choosing my own bedtime it's like being a child again - being sent to bed earlier than I want ... and I havn't even been naughty!!

 As an adult choosing my own bedtime has been one of life's simple pleasures and with my busy schedule, sleeping less than 5 hours a night has been commonplace. 

Even when I was training for 24 hour mountain bike racing I would frequently only go to sleep when I was so tired that I couldn't think straight, I would then choose to leap out of bed early the next morning.  My coach even put in 3am training sessions to help me get used to functioning when every cell in my body wanted to sleep.  She also used to tell me I needed recovery time, but I'm not convinced I ever really got it.....

Ragged at the end of a training session :-(

 All that has changed. Just as a child and a teenager need sleep to grow I am building up so much new power that I need more and more sleep to help my muscles recover and get stronger. As much as I hate to admit it, the research supporting the theory that quality sleep is a crucial for fast recovery is right.  If I want to get stronger and faster I simply have to get more sleep.  One of my strangest training goals for this season has been the search for a new mattress to replace the old one which is uncomfortable.

 Mattress buying is the strangest thing. Lying down with your partner on a bed in the middle of a busy shop feels a bit naughty - or am I the only one who thinks this? 

And there are so many mattresses out there that are all so different... As a physio, and someone with a history of 2 serious back injuries I am incredibly particular about what I sleep on and I felt much like goldilocks finding something wrong with every mattress I found. In true female shopping style I dragged Simon to loads of shops without giving in to his exasperated pleas "this is just like the last one" doh! no it's not!! 

Finally, after much research as well as the field testing of lying down, turning over and head shaking (me) eye rolling (Simon) we (I) now know we have found the perfect mattress :-)

Mammoth claim to make mattresses that are loved by athletes and "Olympians".

 They came up in my research and I don't usually do hype, so they were just one of many I tried out.  I have to say that as soon as I lay on one I smiled - "Just right", said Goldilocks".  Simon was away at the time, but as soon as he got back I found an excuse to drag him into a shop.  Within moments of lying down he was gently snoring (he says it was jet lag having just flown in from Thailand, but I recon it was the uber comfy mattress)

 I will be open with you - I am immensely grateful to the fantastic folk at Mammoth who have been incredibly supportive and I can't thank them enough!
 This mattress will definitely help with my training!

 So it's Easter coming up.  I will have an Easter egg, (and won't tell my coaches just how big it is), but they will be pleased to hear my new mattress is coming - because sleeping properly for 8 hours is going to be the easiest gain ever in my training.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

You know its too windy to paddle when...

The 2014 season has arrived! This weekend was GB Paracanoe assessment and I am relieved to have secured my place on the squad.

This first event succeeded in blowing away the cobwebs - both literally and figuratively with the customary Nottingham uber head wind.

who sunk the jetty?
Fortunately challenging weather was nothing new because the entire winter training weather has been testing... Too much water made finding training venues challenging (who would have thought you couldn't train in a boat because of too much water). The winter has also been consistently windy, causing a few 'hilarious' training sessions. 

My coach Griff is known for his wise words, and at the last session he commented that "if it's too windy to carry the boat from the car to the lake then it's probably too windy to paddle".  In spirit with this helpful observation here is my own "its too windy to paddle when" list - please feel free to add your own;-)

You know it's too windy to paddle when...
- The birds have given up flying and are walking south instead
- Waves on a usually flat lake are braking over the jetty.  Oh, in fact, where is the jetty?
- You Paddle full pelt into the headwind and just stay still
- Dog owners appear to be flying 4 legged kites as owners struggle to keep them on the ground
- Your hair, despite being firmly tied back, escapes and blows sideways/forwards making it look like you have a 'comb over'
- You can hear voices carried on the wind across the lake but the people are too far away to actually see
- You struggle to get out of your car because you can't open your car door
- You find a sphincter you never realise you had whilst clenching really hard to try and keep yourself upright in the boat
- Your "sprint kayak" has the sudden desire to be a Malibu surf board and takes off down the lake on the crest of a wave with you hanging on in surprise
- The wind sock is gradually being reduced to shreds of cloth as the training session goes on
- You begin to wonder if there is a water equivalent of the yellow brick road and if in fact you might not be in Kansas anymore...

comb over
So that summarises the winter training season and did we stay in the cafe drinking hot chocolate? oh no!! But at least we were prepared for the Nottingham assessment day. Bring on the 2014 season!

The Dorney Kitchen- ace for post training refuelling

Monday, 24 February 2014

Anyone missing the sunshine ?

Sivota Greece

Sea kayaking in the Ionian sea

One of the greatest challenges last season was getting the “being a  
mum” balance right.  I was determined that the kids shouldn’t miss out,  
including going on holiday, but with my main event being at the end of  
Summer meant I missed out on any family holiday time with them.

Then, with the Worlds over and October half term looming I decided I  
really needed a break.  Having spent a year of full on kayaking I was  
definitely due a change of scenery.  But winter training had already  
started and I didn’t want to slope off.  I spent countless hours  
researching options for places I could train that were also options  
the kids would enjoy.  With a teenage daughter who liked her social  
life and a teenage son who wanted sport, I was really  
struggling.  Looking back on it I don’t know why it took me so long to  
find the solution.  We had been on Neilson holidays before.  But back  
then when I was a normal person (well, ish), I was a mountain biker, and  
really didn’t like the sea that much.  Almost in desperation I looked  
at the Neilson website and noticed they had a specialist kayak centre  
– how perfect is that!

For those of you who haven’t done Neilson, the combination of a beach  
resort specializing in sports, with kids clubs for different age  
groups, has become a family favorite.

A bit of late summer sunshine, the promise of flat, warm sea,
kayaks, a gym for my training, teenage activity clubs and an all  
inclusive buffet to allow for my serious protein habit - all bases  
were covered.
fun boat
I’m used to travelling with my bike, but I felt a prize idiot trying  
to convince the airport vigilantes that my paddles were perfectly safe  
to take as hand luggage. That feeling continued as I turned up at the  
hotel. The other ladies arrived clutching a handbag and a large floppy  
hat - not a seven-foot carbon Kevlar pole.

I was really excited to get to the beach to check out the kayaks.  
Hmmm... lots of plastic fun boats, sea kayaks and stumpy boats for  
white water... not a sprint kayak in sight. I couldn't wait to branch  
cave exploration
For the previous 12 months I had been focusing on going as fast as  
possible in a straight line. Here in Sivota I had signed up for my 1  
star paddle sport award. Having jumped in at the deep end of elite  
kayaking I had missed all the basic stuff, and here I actually got to  
learn basic boat skills including safe capsizing and deep water  
rescue. Now capsizing was something I had done before, but never on  
purpose. To do it deliberately was daunting. Falling in at home  
usually involved the 'swim of shame' in freezing water to the bank, or  
getting a wedgie while being pulled into the rescue boat. Falling into  
the warm Ionian Sea in contrast was actually quite pleasurable :-)
In fact the entire “holiday” was immensely pleasurable. I had thought  
that continuing my training would be difficult but I didn’t have any  
trouble at all. The gym had an epic view over the bay and mountains,  
and I was able to spend hours on and in the sea practicing my boat  
skills.  Going in a straight line in a boat designed to be  
maneuverable actually helped me work through my technique.  Recovery  
was also sorted as I could pile my plate ridiculously high at the  
buffet (to the incredulity of the ladies with designer bags and floppy  
hats) with freshly grilled fish, meat and veg. Mmmm.
not a shabby place to paddle;-)
It wasn't all about training though. Without the need to travel for  
training there was plenty of time to relax with the kids, on the beach  
or by the pool. 
relaxing on the beach
chilling with my daughter
The kids got really into the water sports and my  
daughter took full advantage of the powerful engine (me) as we  
explored the local islands and caves in the double kayaks.

Where else could you get thumbs up from a GB para-canoeist in  
training, a teenage daughter who doesn't like exercise but wants a  
full social scene, and a teenage son who wants to have a go at  
windsurfing, Stand up paddle-boarding, waterskiing, mountain biking,  
Tennis, volleyball…?

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Monday, 9 September 2013

My first season done!

My first season as a GB paracanoeist comes to an end. Its been a manic year full of amazing adventures, new friends and incredible challenges. Here are a few stats to summarise my year. 

Weight lifted in the gym - probably a small heard of elephants - not bad for someone who hated gyms

Meat eaten - probably a small heard of elephants - not bad for an ex vegetarian. 

Blisters -  yes, all the time. 

Capsizes -  8 (all during the winter!) and yes I got back in and continued the training sessions in wet kit with chattering teeth.

Weight lost - 3kg

Inches lost on lower body - 5

Inches gained on upper body - 6 

Miles driven to and from training - over 30,000 On the plus side I now know all the sneaky routs around the M25 to avoid traffic jams! 

Times we have paddled past a coffee shop or a pub during training - 312

Times we have stopped for a coffee or a pint -  0! So different from cycling!!

Nights I've dreamt of paddling - 364

Times I've accidentally hit Simon in the face while dreaming of paddling - 2

Times I've been so sore after training I can't even lift the kettle - lost count.

Training sessions missed - 6 (snow, injury and 1 overslept -sorry coach!)

Alcohol consumed -1 cocktail at a party last November (see above, sorry coach!)

Training sessions done in a blizzard, howling gale or minus temperatures - Ive blanked that bit out!

Hours spent training - more than 3,285

Minutes spent racing - less than 9

Races lost -1

Medals won 2 - Gold at the Europeans and Silver at the Worlds.

All in all a pretty cool year and I cant wait to get back into training for next season - Better never stops!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Silver at The world Championships!

Did you have a nice, relaxing summer holiday?

Like most people I took a couple of weeks off work this summer.  Many of my patients will have assumed was lying on a beach somewhere sipping cocktails.
Err not quite.....!

To spend your annual holiday competing at the World Canoe Sprint Championships is nothing short of amazing, but it’s hardly relaxing…!
Flags of all the Nations competing

In fact nothing about the last few weeks has been relaxing at all! After winning at the Europeans it was all systems go for the Worlds. A new technique to dial in, increased training sessions, increased weights, all aimed at getting me as fast as possible for August….

Unfortunately my body said no.  After an incredibly tough year of learning a new sport, the additional strain proved too much and I developed a rib injury just 7 weeks out from the World Championships. I was absolutely gutted.

I am a physio and I have competed as an athlete. In my opinion training is 'relatively easy' – you just follow the plan and sweat a lot. Managing an injury so close to your main race of the season on the other hand is incredibly stressful.  Everything I did for that seven weeks was a gamble; continuously having to think about consequences, change training plans on a daily basis and being extra smart about how/if I could train.

It was definitely on an emotional roller coaster, and for most of that seven weeks I was genuinely wondering whether I was going to be fit enough to compete. It was awful feeling my hard earned fitness seeping away, seeing my team mates training hard and posting PBs while I couldn’t even sleep properly without pain. 

With some incredible support from hugely experienced and talented English Institute of Sport physios, and from my coach who skilfully managed to push me enough, but not too much, I arrived at the World Championships knowing at least that I would be able to paddle. It wouldn’t be my finest performance, but I was there!!

screen shot of me racing
On the day of my heats all the calm I had at the Europeans wasn’t there. I hadn’t practiced a 200m since the Europeans and I was feeling sick with nerves. I didn't know if my body would stay together.  With my rib injury, the starts were the highest risk for further injury.  In my heat I had an awful start, and it went downhill from there as I didn't want to put any real power through the stroke in case my ribs went ping. Unable to be powerful I completely lost technique and I spun my arms around manically. In the frenzy of the race there was nothing I could do to bring it back. Thankfully I just squeaked into the final by coming 3rd (4th overall). This was just the heats, but it was the first race ever that I had lost and it was a horrid feeling.

I slinked off the water with my tail between my legs, not wanting to meet the eyes of my coach or fellow team mates.  I knew I had deviated from my race plan and I had some serious 'brain work' to do to get it back for the final.

My final was to be the next day and I spent the time visualising my race plan, knowing that I just had to disregard my rib pain and what I couldn’t do, and instead focus on what I could do. The last time I disregarded an injury I ended up having to undergo emergency surgery on my back then wondering if I would be able to walk again, so this was going to be a massive deal for me. 

paddling in the final
That night I had a long chat with my coach and also with Simon, which helped enormously.  The GB team had taken me through my race data – in fact I had posted a PB, but I knew what was wrong.  So when it came time for the final, though still not feeling my finest, I was a good deal better than the day before.  I got on the water for my warm up and could see the Union Flags waving from across the lake – knowing that Simon, Will, my parents, Ant, Rach and all the amazing group of GB supporters was over there was a real comfort. 

Go! The noise was incredible! Hooters, cheering, clanging, shouting! Never say that the British are reserved!!

In lane 2, I wasn't really aware of the race going on around me, which was perfect.  The plan agreed with my coach was to ignore the competition and focus on my race plan.  The pain in my ribs forced me to put myself into another place completely. I just went blank and paddled, paddled, paddled, focusing on technique and forcing myself to push on towards the finish. 

What an incredible race! As we reached the finish line no one knew the placing because the race was so close. Then the big screen flashed up in front of us showing that I had come second, with the top 3 positions within about half a second of each other. 

For the last year I had dreamed of being here.  For the last seven weeks I had doubted I would even be able to take part.  I was thrilled to have simply competed in the World finals, and then to get silver was simply fantastic! Coming second to the 4x world champion and world record holder was an honour and I felt very proud to stand on the podium next to her. 

The enormity of what I have achieved this last year as a para-canoeist is almost too much for me to comprehend. I’m sitting here now looking at my silver medal wondering if it was really me who won it. 

My Silver Medal:-)
And of course in reality I am just the tip of an iceberg, the bit of that medal winning performance that people can see. I may be the one who paddles but underneath me is a huge base of support holding me up and helping me achieve, and I really wouldn’t be here today if it wasn't for those amazing people who believe and invest in me. 

So a massive thank you UK sport for funding me, to all at GB paracanoe – the staff and my team mates, and particularly Colin who believed in me a year ago; to all those at my local club- Wey Kayak who have put in time, effort and encouragement – particularly my coach Claire Gunney who understands the way I tic; and to my amazing family – who have had to put up with a lot. 
GB Paracanoe - Athletes,  medals and Coaches.
Im really looking forward to all the challenges of next year, but it doesn't get any easier! Jess and Will have their A level and GCSE exams and I have a gold medal to win;-)