Saturday, 21 April 2012

Solo 24 hour racing-team or solo sport?

AQR teamwork

Sorry I haven't updated my blog for ages! The last few months have simply been too hard to put down on paper... Injuring my back last summer changed everything for me. As a physio my aim is to heal other people and help them reach their goal - but now I feel a bit of a failure because my own goals are so far out of my reach...
Dormant race shoes

The injured nerve in my back has left me with a numb foot and weak leg muscles. Mother nature has her own healing time and frustratingly I know there is nothing I can do to hurry this healing process. I have had to bury racing goals along with my new, unused race shoes in the bottom of the cupboard.

I have tried to be upbeat about it because in the great scheme of things I am fine - at one point I was worried that I might not be able to walk at all. So the fact that I am mobile, back at work and even riding my bike (albeit in variable straight lines with unpredictable steering) is brilliant.

Seeing other people around me training and racing has been hard. Forced to stay at home while my riding buddies thrash their bikes around the woods and listening to their excited banter when they come back makes me feel like an an outsider. How was I going to pull myself out of this dark, lonely place called injury?

UCI world cup 

Two months ago I was lucky enough to work as track side physio at the Olympic test event at the London velodrome. The event was incredible!
To see a rider in pain one day, then racing around the track and even getting a podium the next gave me a massive buzz.It was after this event that I started to look at my race shoes without the same pang of sadness. I wasn't racing but for some reason I was still getting a buzz from other people's race...

Since joining AQR's race team, the Exposure 24 Solo Championships have been a key event for me. Being the only event dedicated to my particular discipline it has been the highlight of my calendar. Sadly, this year, I wasn't able to race.
My AQR endurance team colleagues and close friends Ant and Rach were both entering, and I had also persuaded Simon (who normally supports me) to enter the 12 hour with me repaying his support. But I wasn't really looking forward to it.

This was partly because it is my favourite race and I wouldn't be on the course, but it was also because I am rubbish in the pit - or at least I was the last time I supported Simon. In fact I was so bad he ended up grabbing his own bottles and gels!

So here I was, supporting three of my closest friends in the pit feeling immense pressure to do a good job.
Team AQR at the start
One thing I haven't mentioned is that, as part of the AQR coaching setup I provide tailored physio support and that two of these riders were still under my wing...
Rachel had fractured her pelvis last year requiring physio alongside her training to enable her to push hard while keeping her body repairing properly. Her goal was to race at the 2012 24hr champs and give it her best shot. Simon fell off his bike (road riding is so dangerous!) 4 weeks prior to the race hurting his back and knee making walking painful let alone cycling for 12 hours. He ended up spending more time in physio than riding his bike on the lead up to the race and his goal had become purely to get a top 10 finish with a smile on his face. Both their goals were a long shot but I was determined to help as much as I could. 
The race day arrived and I was a bag of nerves just as if I were going to race! Getting to the start of the race in a minibus shuttle rather than on my bike and standing at the start holding a camera rather than a bike was a stark reminder that I wasn’t racing - so why was I still nervous and still needing that 'pre-race panic' toilet stop!?

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Exposure 24 2012

Back at the pits I kept checking and rechecking the riders race instructions. From a riders perspective I knew how crucial it was that I didn't get anything wrong. One, two, three successful pit changes. I started to relax and enjoy myself.

Jolly Pits
I may be a pit monkey newbee but from the racing side I always appreciated passing pits that were loud, supportive and bright. I'm not sure how many people truly appreciated my fairly lights, flags and cheesy 80s play lists, but I did smile (a lot) when I heard several people the next day singing Chesney Hawkes - 'The One and Only' as they dismantled their camps...
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Bright pits

Several Non AQR riders passed our pit through the night struggling. Understanding their goal, we would always ask if we could help with their bike or a cup of tea. Some riders at Newcastleton had a surreal moment while I, a total stranger, worked on their legs/back/shoulders to ease their pain or Ian fixed a problem on their bike. Seeing them return smiling lap after lap saying thank you made the fact that I was in the pits, not on the course totally worthwhile. (despite having Chesney messing with my brain - how come he was on every random play list!?)

Simon arrived at the pit after 6 hours looking really sore. A dose of 'physio magic' and he was back on course, flying with a grin on his face. He managed his top 10 position with a smile - something which had seemed impossible 4 weeks ago. I also nailed every single rolling pit, having actually read and understood his race plan :-)

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Rach, Ant and Simon 

Rachel rode her socks off. We had talked at length during her rehab sessions how she was going to ride this race with her recovering back and pelvis and it all went to plan. Some fairly interesting pit stops through the night involving a lot creative tape application to support the areas we are still working on helped Rachel to finish well ahead of all the competition. As she crossed the finish line as National and European Champion I couldn’t have been more elated.

As I stood there and watched our riders stand on the podium I felt an immense sense of inclusion and pride (Ant had come 3rd in the U.K). Solo racing done well is very much a team race. What I learnt that weekend was that just because I wasn't racing didn't mean I couldn't be a valuable part of the team.
If I had raced - only one person might have had a successful race. Being race physio and Simon's pit monkey meant that I was part of a team that helped several racers over the finish line.

It felt amazing to be part of the winning AQR experience and I finally dont mind about my injury anymore. (well,not as much!)

The AQR Exposure 24 hr team 

Aqr ridersfor incredible racing - (Rachel Sokal 1st European 24, Ant Jordan 3rd  UK24 . Simon Usher 9th European 12),
Coaches Kate and Ian Potter for all their hard work before the race with coaching, skills tuition and performance bike fit.
Pit Crew Carole, me and Ian B for bike washing, chain lubing, tea making, and cheering and and.......
Mechanic and bike fit Ian Potter for making racers fast and all the bikes run sweetly
Bikes Cy at Cotic for making bike that you really love riding for 24 hours
Physio Anne Dickins for keeping those bodies performing to their potential
Cheerleaders and Bell ringers Kirsty, Matt and Katie- other AQR riders who came a long way to support us.
Music-Chesney Hawkes for being that gift that carries on giving...I am the one and only la la la la....

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