Friday, 22 April 2016

Curve balls and Tandems

3 - 2 - 1 GO!!.... No this wasn't the start of a race. It was Simon - the pilot - tying to coordinate with me - the stoker - as we pedalled off on our debut ride on a tandem bicycle.   This may seem like an odd thing to do in the middle of a training block in the run up to Rio, but I'll get onto that later... The bottom line was that I was in a forced break from training, and I had also been missing riding my bike -a lot.
A forced break from training-My coach and an empty boat...
We had headed up north to the Yorkshire Dales for a mini break, to visit a tandem shop that had been recommended to us.  In my mind we were just going to look, and maybe take a spin around the block, but before I knew what was happening a trial off-road tandem had been picked out for us and we found ourselves in the car park, wearing bike helmets, and receiving instructions on how change gear, how to dismount without Simon tipping me onto the floor, and (most importantly) how to get to a good café a couple of valleys over.  I was really curious to see how the two of us would get on. 
learning how to brake safely 

It's worth mentioning here that both of us have the ability to be quite headstrong and we have very, very different approaches to bike riding. Simon likes taking short cuts at speed, seemingly without caution (in a "who cares about broken ribs and a punctured lung" kind of way- see my Mongolia post.  I on the other hand am much more deliberate and I like to be in control, so this experiment where I couldn't even see where I was going was going to be 'interesting'. Potential arguments and accidents aside, I was really excited to think that we were going to be out cycling together on a crisp, sunny, spring morning through amazing scenery in the Yorkshire Dales, to a café for tea and cake!! It had been soooo long...

cycling and cake...
I won't say we were slick through all the gear changes, and some of the dismounts were simply hilarious, but amazingly we had no arguments and had an absolute blast. Admittedly there were some moments when I wished I had control of either the brakes or the steering, but these were fairly minor negatives compared to the absolute exhilaration I felt in being able to ride a bike at speed again without the worry of my weak leg letting me down. The very best bit was that anytime I needed a rest I just stopped putting in any effort and Simon (who is much stronger than me) just put down a bit more grunt.  The added bonus for him was that he had a great workout without having to wait for me to catch up. (couples who ride bikes will understand this). There were many other added bonuses besides, including the benefit for me of being able to take in all the views rather than just focusing on the trail and for him being 'entertained' by my constant chatter. Most importantly we made it to the cafe without getting lost because (according to Simon) I wasn't in charge of steering or navigation. So all in all a huge success and we can't wait to order our first tandem.
We made it to the cafe!!
But back to paddling and the road to Rio... As I mentioned earlier, this may seem a slightly odd thing to be doing in the final season before the Rio Paralympics, but things don't always go to plan.  One of the lessons I have learnt in life is that it's the curve balls which, although really tough to deal with at the time, can often give unexpectedly positive twists and turns to your journey. I'm not sure I ever feel as if I have genuinely achieved something or had  that massive adventure if everything has always followed the plan!!

I had picked up a virus, which hadn't seemed so bad, but it left me completely exhausted. Having seemingly shifted the virus the exhaustion remained and I wondered if I had turned into a hibernating bear.  I found myself falling asleep in the gaps between daytime training sessions, and yet I still needed 12 hours sleep every night. I slept so much that I thought the pillow creases in my face were going to become permanent! Initially I thought the exhaustion was a normal part of training so hard, and even getting in from training and  not making it past the first step in the hall didn't seem that odd to me. I would just sit down and fall asleep -right there - until my son would come home from school waking me up with the offer of a cup of tea.  
Bullishly carrying on...
My coaching team was getting worried.  My heart rate wasn't slowing down properly and my resting heart rate was up- a sign that my body wasn't recovering properly.  I couldn't even go through a gentle warm up without my heart rate shooting through the roof. Any normal person might have had a week in bed, but I didn't want that. Training makes you faster, right? So I bullishly carried on, pretending to everyone that I was OK, and deluding myself that everything was going to get better. The team doctor didn't share any of my optimism, and in a very blunt conversation said that if I carried on like this I wouldn't be able to train... at all... ever.  She banned me from all training and sent me home with instructions to rest and keep my heart rate below 120 at all times until my resting heart rate returned to normal. 
 I hit a bit of a low, but if there's something I've learnt along the way is that if you can't do one thing, don't be miserable, just do something else! So when Simon phoned me up on my second morning of 'house arrest' saying  "You know we have been talking about getting a tandem after Rio well how about we go and look for one??..."   Well my bag was already half packed!  
Waking up in the dales...

And this kind of explains how we found ourselves on a tandem in Yorkshire. It was an opportunity to get away from the stresses of being at home but not being able to train.  I could get some gentle cross training exercise in whilst keeping my heart rate well below the designated 120 (so me not peddling hard was actually Dr's orders, not just me being lazy).  But most importantly it gave me the opportunity to change my focus and to see opportunities beyond Rio - an exciting opportunity to get back into riding bikes together, which is something we haven't even been able to imagine since my injury. Having proved tandem riding was possible and fun, I allowed myself to dream about all the incredible adventures we could have and the places I could see from the back of a tandem. This change of focus made being forced not to train much less stressful and almost certainly lifted my mood which then no doubt helped me to recover quicker.
Some cross training.
Returning back to the "now" I am happy to report that I am back in training, which feels amazing. OK my lungs are now hanging inside out, my muscles feel about 2" short for my body and I still have a way to go to get back up to full strength. But the good news is that my heart rate is back to normal and I can easily stay awake until a grown-up's bed time! 
Back to Training!! whoop!

It scares me quite a lot that that I'm going to the World Championships in 4 weeks, when I'm not convinced I will be anything close to race ready. But race ready or not, it will give me a great opportunity to practise all my racing processes, otherwise GB Rio selection (two weeks later) would be my first race of the season, which would be less than ideal.

This last three and a half years have not been easy, with some really big curve balls, but I'm definitely having an adventure, and definitely getting the opportunity to practise my resilience skills at the same time, which is never a bad thing!

 Beautiful Dorney lake on a winters morning
So my favourite coaching quotes, which have helped keep me motivated despite knowing I was falling behind, have been:

"If you cant paddle fast you may as well paddle perfectly slow"... Hours and hours of slow paddling could have been frustrating, but we have used the time as an opportunity to work on some technical areas I have been struggling with.  I'll say it again, kayaking is the most technically difficult sport I've ever been involved with.

"Don't look at how far you have to go, just see how far you have come"... Each session we would look for improvements from the week before, not just stress about where I might have been if I had not been ill so keeping my perspective positive.

I also feel very lucky because I've been given something to get excited about beyond Rio. I have found that there is a way for me to safely ride a bike at speed without fear of damaging myself despite my wobbly leg. 
Happiness is....
 I know the World Championships are fast approaching, and Rio is just around the corner, but the question that I find myself thinking about in idle moments is not, "I wonder how I will get on", but, "Which tandem do we want and where shall we go first?"

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