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;-)

Friday, 23 August 2013

New Beginnings

Anniversaries have a habit of making you remember what has happened in the past at that particular time of year. Anniversaries can be nice and are generally celebrated (weddings and birthdays (if under 30;-)) or can be bad and be an annual reminder of something sad.
August bank holiday has very mixed emotions for me. Life changing events always seem to happen to me around this time of year. The last 3 years have been a particularly extreme roller coaster of good and bad things, so am I going look forward to August bank holiday 2013 or am I dreading it?

August 2010 I was lucky enough to have qualified for the World Solo 24 hour mountain bike championships in Australia.

 August bank holiday saw me putting together the final preparations for this epic challenge. I ended up coming 4th in my category which was pretty cool considering I had only been cycling for 4 years and competing for 2. After this race I was offered sponsorship from Team AQR coaching which led to wonderful friendships and a bike focused lifestyle of training and racing.

Loving riding my bike.....

August 2011 I injured my back causing nerve damage to my leg.

August bank holiday saw me being rushed to hospital for an emergency spinal decompression. This knocked me down both physically and emotionally. On the plus side, the surgery had been a success in that I could walk, but on the minus side I was so wobbly and weak that I couldn't even lift an empty dinner plate. Riding my bike again was a far off dream and I mourned the loss of my previous lifestyle.

August 2012 After a year of struggling to ride my bike again I decided that if I couldn't compete and 'take' from sport, I would volunteer and give back to it.

It was during a volunteering stint at the 2012 London Olympics that I met the GB para canoe coach who after hearing about my weak leg offered me a chance to try out for GB para canoe. August bank holiday week saw me getting into a kayak for the very first time. Looking back I was pretty awful - On the water I looked more like a frog in a blender and during my gym assessment I couldn't even lift the bar that the weights go on! But they must have seen potential and train-ability as I was offered a place on the squad on condition of meeting certain criteria.

Me working at the Velodrome.

August 2013- This bank holiday week I have the the biggest challenge yet. I am going to be representing Team GB at the World Sprint championships as a 200m sprint paracanoeist.

Team GB para-canoeists

Yes I met all those criteria and have improved immeasurably over the year. I have improved largely due to hard graft, a good dollop of grit and determination together with help and support from some very talented people who believe in me. Their belief has spurred me on to try harder and train better, but it has all happened so quickly making me sometimes wonder if its happening at all!
 Only 2 years ago I couldn't even lift a dinner plate! Since then I have changed shape and I can fling the bar (plus 'grr man' weights) around the gym with relative ease. One year ago I had never been in a kayak and now am European champion and preparing to compete at the World championships.
Me as a cyclist in 2011with weedy arms vs me as a sprint canoeist in 2013

So back to the original question,  am I looking forward to or dreading this August bank holiday week?

The answer is easy, I am really looking forward to it because a year ago I thought I would never be able to do sport again, and yet here I am, able to compete at the highest level possible. My whole Family and best friends are coming out to cheer me on, how could I not look forward to, and be happy and excited about all that?


If anyone wants to watch the live feed of my races here is the link

Here is the race schedule (in German time)
Heats 28.8.13 at 12.00 or 13.00
Semis 28.8.13 at 16.00
Finals 29.8.13 at 14.55
Medal ceremonies 29.8.13 at 15.15

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Perky and the cowbell make it to the Worlds

When my parents said that they wanted to come and watch me compete at the World Sprint canoe championships I was a thrilled, then a little worried. Those of you who have met my parents will understand...

My parents have been wonderfully excited about me taking up kayaking. This might have something to do with them having dabbled in paddle sports themselves in their younger days. They even went on their honeymoon in a canvas pack up canoe (called Packy) where they had many adventures, including accidental white water along the way.
Mum and Dad 1962

Yes, my parents are not that conventional.

As a child my parents would always enthusiastically come and watch me competing in various sporting events, and funnily enough my friends still remember them!

Was it the plumes of blue smoke emanating from the exhaust of the illegal eastern block car (called Wilhelm - or Willy for short)? Was it the horse box (called Hercules), which doubled up as a team minibus, meaning we turned up to events covered in straw and smelling of manure? Or was it the the citroen Diane (called Freddy) who's rear seat came out and handily doubled up as a spectators bench?

When my parents decided that they were coming to Duisberg to watch me race I was delighted.  Then a wave of apprehension swept over me as I relived these embarrassing moments usually, but not exclusively involving named motorised vehicles.

My parents have really been struggling to sort logistics as mum has mobility issues. They wanted to find disabled friendly hotels and parking near to the regatta lake and this email from Mum I think was was meant to reassure me.... 

"Many thanks for giving me some useful internet addresses. 

We were told that it would be difficult to find accommodation as all the hotel rooms would be booked nearby and that we might have more luck in a private house. Dad worked it out that one such house was just 3.5 Kilometres from the Regattabahn!! He phoned the owner and in his best German immediately struck up a friendship with him. Right we were a good step forward. 

Next step was to find out if Perky" (mums motorised wheelchair) "could meet the challenge of getting me the 3.5 km to the regatta without conking out. We haven't been able to work out if there is disabled parking at the lake for Stumpy" (their latest named car which actually looks more like a breadvan) "yet so yesterday we had an exciting time taking Perky to the local national trust forest and driving him up and down the drive.  Perky showed us he could cope, and I am sure he appreciated being an important part of our plans!!  However, to be reassured, we have booked him in for a full MOT at the local Perky Hospital.

I cannot tell you how excited  that we have been able to crack all obstacles and are now up and almost ready to be able to cheer you on at Duisburg. We will be there waving our Union Jacks. 

I jokingly asked Simon if you still have Grans Swiss Cow Bell.  You may not hear us shouting, but boy, you sure would hear the loud clang of that Cow Bell.  Its OK, we would not want to embarrass you!!!"

Thanks Mum, I'll remind you of that ;-)

And if you find yourself at Duisberg, watch out for an English couple with a mobility scooter and a large cow bell... Please go over and introduce yourselves, and don't forget to say Hi to Perky...

Monday, 24 June 2013

European Champion

Smile says it all
There is little  worse than getting to the start of your race with 3 minutes to go and seeing no other competitors anywhere in sight.  Refusing to be ruffled by this, I returned my focus back onto my race, visualising everything I had to do for the 200m to the finish line.

My coaches had drilled a race plan into me so well that here I was at the start line feeling really well prepared and completely focused .  I would be lying if I said I hadn't had that funny feeling in my tummy on the lead up to the Europeans, but as soon as race day came around and the race plan kicked in I became focused, calm and ready to do everything my training had worked towards.
Race lake
2 minutes to go and still no other competitors. Slight concern waved through my head, I hadn't got the wrong day had I? For those who know me this thought won't surprise you! ;-)

The doubt had started because there had been much confusion about when we were actually racing. With lots of new athletes needing formal classification we didn't find  out our race times until late on Thursday evening. My race was to be on Saturday, but most of the team were racing on the Friday. Stressfull! This meant I was left alone with my thoughts in the Hotel on Friday.  I was joined at breakfast by John Anderson (performance director for the whole of GB canoeing). I was still finding it odd being part of Team GB. "Hi I'm Anne, one of the para canoeists". "Yes, I know who you are. I've watched you paddle."  Now that's a weird way to start your day!

The morning of my race was completely different.  Now it was my turn and as soon as my race plan kicked in the butterfly tummy was replaced by a sense of calm and purpose. Claire, my coach, had drummed into me what was expected. I knew what to do and when to do it so glancing at my watch I saw it was time to warm up.

Team GB had its own portable 'high performance' centre set up with an office, lounge and warm up zone. Lying down on the mats I noticed someone else had joined me, Ed Mceever was also warming up. "Mind if I join you?" he asked. I had to stifle a giggle - it's not everyday an Olympic gold medalist asks to lie down next to you like this..

Into my race gear - the other para athletes had nicknamed it a mankini but I was assured by the olympic athletes it was actually an "all in one". Either way it wasn't what I would have chosen to race in. Skin tight white lycra on untanned British skin is never going to look great.

Race Kit
The warm up paddle to the start of the race was on a lovely sheltered side lake.  My first experience of warm water had been really strange. It felt like I had been practicing in treacle back at home and I had needed to change my stroke slightly, ( thanks for the top tip Claire!).  As I went through my warm up routine I could hear a familiar voice over the tannoy from the main lake. Jim Rossiter from Wey Kayak, my home club, was the official commentator. It was very comforting to hear his voice as I paddled to the race start.

With less than 2 minutes to go, my focus was distracted by one of my coaches shouting, "You're in the wrong lane!!". (Good skills by the way for being able to project that far against the wind...) I have reasoned that it was the strong cross wind that had blown me into the next lane, but then again I could have just got it wrong! (once more those of you who know me wont be surprised..)  By this time all the other competitors had arrived as if by magic and the race was about to start.


Batty from Wey had been helping me with my stability during my starts and I was pleased with how I did here- so thank you Batty for standing in the cold River Wey at 6.30 in the morning to help me with balance drills:-) 

In the zone I lost all peripheral awareness and simply stared down through my tunnel vision to the finish line. My body went into autopilot and I just did what I do every day in training.

I was vaguely aware of lots of cheering- thanks team!!  As I crossed the finish line I looked left then right and realised I had won.

I felt a massive sense of achievement and relief rolled into one. I had paddled to the best of my ability. I had done everything that was expected of me, but more than that I had won!

What next?  My race plan hadn't mentioned what to do if I actually won and I felt a bit naughty by spontaneously grinning into the TV camera as I paddled past. But hey, I was happy!!

I've watched medal ceremonies and stood on podiums before but never standing under my national flag, listening to my national anthem.  Such an amazing, indescribable moment! All our hard work was worthwhile!

And now looking back at my race video I  can see that although I did my best, I have lots of work to do and  a long way to go. Luckily there are a whole 9 weeks before the World champs, so my training diary is already set and I'm raring to go. 

A very big thank you to my wonderful coaches from GB paracanoe and to UK Sport for providing funding to make our high performance centre simply rock. And then a special thank you to Claire, my local coach at Wey - and in fact all at Wey who have been so supportive, every step of my journey from wonky cyclist to European para champion.

Gold Medal

Friday, 31 May 2013

Europe here I come....

In exactly 2 weeks time I will be racing for Great Britain at the sprint kayak European championships in Portugal. 

This will be an incredible championship, not just for me, but for para canoe as a whole. This is the first international championships of the new olympic cycle. It is also the first cycle that para canoe, (which will debut at Rio) will be included.
 I'm sure that because of this, new nations will be competing and new talent will be showcased. Athletes will have transferred from other sports into paracanoe and undoubtetly there will be many unknowns and 'dark horses' at this first international race. 

What I do know is that many nations will be upping their game now that para canoe is an Olympic sport and Olympic medals are the ultimate goal.  New names will be put on podiums and new records will almost certainly be set. 

I am really looking forward to this race. I have been training hard for the last 7 months and despite this being my first international race in a kayak I'm excited more than nervous. 

I'm excited to see how I compare with the other new talent out there, I'm excited to see if my training aiming to change me from an endurance cyclist to a sprint kayaker has worked, and probably most of all, I'm excited to be racing against the established names in para canoe. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Stripping Down


A strange thing has happened at the river, the sun has finally come out!! ....After a long cold winter summer is trying very hard. The blossom is colourful  on the trees, small ducklings are learning to swim and sprint kayakers are training with no clothes on.
Yes, that was my first response too as I did a double take when 3 men with bare torsos paddled  past. Realistically they probably weren't completely naked... but you couldn't see below the boat line so how was I to know? 

This was the same day that my coach persuaded me to paddle bare foot- "she is starting me off gently" I chuckled to myself, "next week it'll be my socks and then my top..... " Naked paddling is obviously the way to go!

To be honest I think I would have preferred to paddle naked than go through the training I have had in the last month.
I have been totally stripped down,  not in the clothes sense however but metaphorically with my technique.
My technique  was originally put together in a rush 7 months ago to enable me to achieve selection time- but now this basic paddling style had to change.
My coaches all agreed  I had to be stripped back down to square 1 with the intention of building something bigger and better in time for races later in the season.
In the gym again.

It has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Every inch of my brain has had to concentrate and  learn new ways for my body to move- remember as a cyclist I've never had to rotate my torso and now rotation was the key. My timing needed to be changed- my legs feel things differently to each other so when I feel equal I'm not. I've had to learn to to use them 'unequally' which  actually makes them work the same. Yes complicated!

As a physio I know how the brain and body works, and it takes at least 6 weeks for a new movement pattern to become 'established'  I was trying to learn not one new movement, but several interrelated patterns at once and I had less than 4 weeks to master them. Not just master them but be able to use them at sprint pace on wobbly water at the European selection regatta.

My goal was to paddle better but I also wanted to win my races. This would enable me to qualify to race for team GBR at the European champs in June.

As I said, I would have preferred to paddle with no clothes on than be stripped down metaphorically in this way so close to a selection regatta. 
In addition to my training sessions I have had to use every trick I know in my Physio 'tool box' to help expedite the process. I have practiced,  practiced and practiced and discovered first hand muscles in places I have only ever seen on the chart in my treatment room.
Keeping with the stripping bare theme, Ive developed some mighty fine sores on my feet where the skin has been stripped off the top from the pull bar, and from the bottom by the grip tape on my foot plate. Who needs a pedicure, pumice stone or ped egg to remove layers of hardened skin?? 
sad feet

I'm happy to say that despite not feeling totally ready to be 'on show' I won my races - just! I also managed to hold onto my new technique - just! and I also managed to stay 'unequally  equal' for the most part, despite the customary Nottingham wavy water and gusty side winds.

So what next?
Its back to join in the 'naked' paddlers at Wey, where I hope I'll be getting less naked by steadily putting my 'layers' of technique and confidence back on as the summer progresses. I'm really looking forward to this challenge!

Thanks again to Claire, Matt, Colin and Batty and all for your support - I can't do any of this without you.