Monday, 20 September 2010

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)

When I started mountain biking 6 years ago aged 37 I had no idea that I would end up representing England at the world solo 24 hour championships. The reason for me learning to ride a mountain bike was not that I wanted to compete, I just wanted to get a bit fitter.  Lots of people now say to me that they wish they could get fit, Well they can! It often surprises them to find out that I have not always been an athlete. Far from it!
As a child we were forced into riding our bikes every Sunday with the family. The only reason I went along with this was the promised stop at the sweetshop on the way home.  As a student I begrudgingly rode my bike because I was too poor to afford the bus. My parents for my 21st bought me a road bike, which I thought was a strange present because all my friends were given jewelry, cars and big parties.

In my mid twenties I fractured my spine. This resulted in pain and a weak right leg. Surgery sorted out the pain but I was left with muscle weakness and a limp and although I could walk a short distance I would soon start to struggle.  Luckily, being a Physio, I understood the rehab process and devised my own strengthening program. Gradually the limp went and I maintained a basic level of fitness by walking and occasional cycling.

Life became busy with having kids and then setting up my own business. I suddenly realised that I was preaching fitness and health to my patients but really had no fitness or health myself.  ‘Im not a good example’ I decided. Not one to remain idle once I have decided something, I remembered my old bike in the garage.  I dusted it off, pumped up the tyres and went for a ride, I’m not sure what creaked more- me, or the bike. I managed less than half an hour and had to come home, red faced and exhausted! I was utterly ashamed of myself. I vowed to get fitter- to be role model to my kids and my patients
Not being able to fix the creaking bike I bought a new one, I wanted to ride in the countryside so bought a mountain bike. I am lucky enough to live near some stunning countryside and fell in love with riding my bike through the woods. Concentrating on where you are riding, trying not to fall off while negotiating tree roots and rocks certainly focuses the mind. This I found to be ideal therapy to my busy mind, always returning from my rides refreshed in mind albeit weary in body!
I spent the first year of riding covered in bruises and mud from falling off, but I just loved the challenge. That year, I went to watch a 24 hour mountain bike race. It was incredible! 2000 riders racing around a 10 km course in relay teams or solos for 24 hours. The energy and the buzz from the riders was infectious. Instantly, I knew I wanted to race a 24 hour race- not as a team, no! I wanted to ride for 24 hours solo. This was a massive leap up from me riding for an hour around my local woods twice a week. If I had stopped to think about it I would have seen how mad this idea was. At that time I could ride for an hour max, I had neurological weakness following on from my back injury, I had no real skills on a bike and I was contemplating racing for 24 in a national level race!!!??
My ethos for my patients is ‘perform to your potential’ and I strive to help them reach that goal.  I knew I had not reached my potential, I wasn’t sure how, but I was determined to see how far I could go!

Over the next 2 years I practiced and practiced. I got some skills lessons, asked lots of questions and I fitted in riding my bike as much as I could. I managed to squeeze in rides between patients, the kids activities and often at night after they had gone to bed. I worked diligently on my core stability, learnt Pilates and devised a specific cycling rehabilitation program that eradicated my muscle imbalance to make me stronger on the bike.  My strength, endurance and skills gradually increased.

By 2007 after many, miles, lots of determination, hours of core strengthening work and a huge dollop of naivity I felt ready to enter some national level endurance races.

Team 24 hour Endurance racing is extreme. Solo 24 hour endurance racing is insane! The object is to keep riding your bike on an off road, technical circuit (typically 10 miles long) from mid-day on Saturday to mid-day on Sunday. You eat and drink as you are riding and stop only for comfort breaks. The person who rides the most miles in the 24 hours wins.
 Racing solo is not so much a race against the clock but a battle with in.  You have to know yourself and your limitations, you have to leave your ego at home, being prepared that you will be overtaken a million times by the team sprinters on the same course. You have to know that your pace is the pace that will keep you going for 24 hours. You have to know that whatever you are going through, it will pass. The race goes in waves and you have to put your mind in the place that a ‘high will follow a trough’ you just have to pull yourself along enough for that to happen. Pain gives way to numbness and back to pain again. Tiredness ebbs and flows. A bad lap where you are riding like a turkey can be followed by a lap where you are riding like a trail god! Filling your body with enough food to fuel you makes your insides feel peculiar - you have to understand your body incredibly well to manage it surviving for 24 hours.  You have to have the will to succeed and the stubourness to keep going.

My background as a Mum and A Physio is perfect training for endurance mountain biking. There were many days when the kids were young that I was so tired from lack of sleep that I could barely stand or string a sentence together. But then the baby needs something so you learn that there is always something in reserve; that you can dig deeper and keep going with a smile on your face. The same as being a physio, seeing patients one after the other you do not have the luxury of a coffee break or a daydream break whenever you feel so inclined. You have to remain focused, cheerful and in the moment 100% of the time. This crosses over to riding my bike because if I loose focus, I risk falling off. If I stop smiling, a negative thought can make me want to give up!
My knowledge of how my body works has also been invaluable. I am a Pilates instructor and have developed the ability to feel and change how my muscles are working, allowing me to keep pedaling for hours and hours. 

Since 2008 I have been placed in every national level endurance race I have taken part in. 

Transwales 2008 7 day stage race 2nd overall ladies vet (winner of night special stage 2nd/3rd in all other special stages), 

24/12 in Plymouth - 24 hour mixed pair: 2nd
Torq torq in Hampshire - 12hour solo: 3rd
‘Dusk til Dawn’ in Thetford, - 12hour solo enduro race (through the night): 3rd 

Mucoff 8, -8 hour enduro: 1st  Ladies Vets
Gorrick 100 - 50 mile enduro : 1st Ladies
Exposure 24 - Natiional 24 hour solo championships: 2nd Ladies Vets 
24/12 in Plymouth – 24 hour mixed pair: 1st (7 hour lead on second place.)

In May 2010 I entered the first ever UK National 24 hour solo championships.
The race was the hardest yet; massive hills, long laps with blistering 30’ heat through the day making hydration difficult.
I managed to ride 132 miles through the mountains of Scotland clocking up over 6000 meters of climbing (the equivalent to cycling ¾ up Everest and down again from sea level)

This feat qualified me to represent the UK at the world solo 24 hour championships to be held in Australia this October.  I will be cycling against the worlds best and I cant help but feel amazed, proud and a little bit- ok a lot nervous!  

If I had time to stop and think about it I would realise what a massive challenge I have undertaken. But I have not stopped. Stopping and thinking risks you putting up false ”I might fail” barriers to hamper your progress. Im a “yes” kind of person and I have never even considered that I might be too old, too fat, too unfit, too inexperienced….It’s amazing what you can achieve if you ignore the negatives.

I have to stop, only to say thank you to all those who have made it possible so far. My parents for not getting me a car for my 21st! Olly Townsend from Cloud9trails who taught me how to ride a mountain bike, Kate Potter, Elite Mountain bike racer and skills coach who inspired me to race. Simon Usher my partner and pit manager who willingly helps sort out the domestic stuff and stays awake all night to look after me while I race, Petra Cycles in Oxted, who look after my bike and make sure it works, The boys from Oxted MTB who ride every sunday morning, making me ride faster than I really want to, Natterbox, and Candela Capital who have sponsored me to go to Australia, AQR holidays and Cotic who have lent me a KP24- a protype 24 hour race bike to take to Australia,  Westminster Physiotherapy and Pilates Centre where I work, for supporting me with time away from the office to train and treatment from the very talented Sudhir Daya to keep my muscles balanced, CC Tweaked for re building my wheels (what an amazing job they did!), for Goodness shakes for their recovery drinks, Maxxis tires for donating enough cross marks to keep us riding for ever! Lastly to my kids for giving me ability do anything despite being exhausted!

My initial goal of ‘perform to your potential’ has allowed me to get to a place I never even dreamed of.  If I had said I would like to run a marathon, I might have stopped there because it was a dead end goal- my open-ended goal called potential has allowed me, via inertia to continue achieving. 

My next goal? To inspire more ‘ordinary’ people to reach their potential wherever it might be, to finish the world championships with a smile on my face! Then, who knows?

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