637 Days To Go is my blog, which was originally started with exactly 637 days until the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. And now it's been re-started with 637 days until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

60 Minutes to Make History

You've probably heard of it - a LOT in the past year: the Hour Record. First it was Jens Voigt, then Matthias Brandle, Rohan Denis, Alex Dowsett and lastly Bradley Wiggins. Along the way there were also failed attempts by Jock Bobridge (an epic failure), Thomas Dekker and Gustav Larsson.

So what is the Hour Record: the furthest distance you can ride in one hour, uninterrupted, on a 250m indoor velodrome. It doesn't sound all that hard at first until you take into account you have to do it on a fixed-gear track bike. So you can't change gear when you get tired. And you have to deal with going around a corner.... every 6 seconds or so!

I've ridden hour-long time trials before. They are easy in comparison. You can drink, eat a gel if you need to, change position, stay cool from the breeze, change cadence, get a break if there is a tailwind, and so on. On the track you have none of that - you have to pre-select the one gear you want to use and stick with it. No food or drink. Just a steadily increasing diet of pain and suffering.

The current record for my Paracycling category (MC2) is held by Laurent Thirionet of France and was set all the way back in 1999. It stands at 41km31m.  It may not sound like a long way (especially in comparison to Wiggins' 54.5km) but keep in mind that we effectively pedal with ONE leg (I have one prosthetic leg and one leg that has no function below the knee). There is a huge, personal extra incentive to break this particular record: Thirionet was the rider that snatched the Bronze Medal from me when he beat me by 1/10th of a second in the Individual Pursuit finals in London 2012.

Before committing to a formal attempt I decided it would be a good idea to do a dry run, to see exactly what it would feel like and how far I could go. I set off with a target in mind and a pace to match. For the first 20 minutes I circled the track with (relative) ease - hitting the lap splits I had in mind. As I got to the middle 20 minutes I thought I had better ease off a bit to make sure I could finish the effort. As soon as I slowed down it started to get harder. The ease at which I had been spinning the gear previously was replaced with a slight heaviness as I now had to push the gear at a slower cadence. I could really feel it now.

On top of this, the strain on my upper body from trying to hold myself crouched in an aero position, especially through the corners, was becoming unbearable. I found myself having to sit up every so often to ease the pain and give myself a chance to breathe better.

But still I soldiered on. The lap times tumbled dramatically at times but I kept on going. It was all about getting to the end of the hour, no matter how slow it might be. As I headed towards the final 15 minutes I was starting to become mildly delirious. I had to really focus on what I was doing. I was lucky to have teammates there shouting me on.

And at last.... the hour was up. It was certainly a telling experience. Nowhere near as easy as I thought it would - but the distance I did was good enough for me to commit to doing a formal attempt. And to putting in the specific training I would need to do to make sure I do a credible attempt.

In truth, I have been planning this attempt for the past year, and it has been on my mind in one form or another for several years. But formal planning started to take shape a year ago. I had actually wanted to spend several months preparing specifically for the attempt, but got sidetracked with things like the World Championships and a trip to Brazil to look at some Rio 2016 training venues. But even these 'distractions' were used as training opportunities.

In the last few weeks I travelled to Palma to do track-specific work. Spending 3 sessions a week on the track, doing long blocks of work above my desired pace. Getting comfortable (if such a thing is possible) riding lap after lap in the aero position and testing out different gearing options. And when not on the track, out on the roads for several hours a day working on my endurance.

And now, the attempt is just a few days away. A year of thinking, planning and worrying will come to a close one way or other. I am confident I have done the work needed to put in a good ride, but as I've seen many a time – anything can happen on the day. I have to be super-vigilant to not start too hard as I'll be feeling great – because a fast start will mean a painfully slow finish and can blow the whole thing.

Furthermore, there is a cost associated with this. It's not cheap to do an attempt. So if you get it wrong, you're out of pocket a hefty sum of money. Get it right, and your name goes int he record books.

I'm hoping people will tune in to watch (just the end at least). It'll be steamed live with the help of a company called "A Crew of a Few Productions". The link to watch is:

suppose the last question is: WHY!?

The answer is complex, yet simple. I want to show people what I can do. With Rio 2016 on the horizon (and another Track World Championships in March before that) I want people to start thinking about Paracycling again. Paracycling was one of the highlights of London 2012, and will be again in Rio. I want people to see what we do and realise how hard it is.

There is the selfish aspect also - I want a world record. I want to write my name in the history books. I've won world titles and (hopefully) will win a Paralympic medal. To add this to my palmares would be a huge honour.

And... I want other paracyclists to have a go. There are very few Hour Record attempts made by paracycling riders, but more should have a go. Maybe this will encourage more people to think about doing it. 

Lastly, I'm hoping to showcase what I can do for my sponsors (current and potential future ones). Rio 2016 is a great opportunity for companies to support world-class Paralympians, and I have a great chance to do well there. I want sponsors to look at me (and other Paralympians) and see the potential we have to succeed, and for them to associate their products with elite and inspiration athletes.

So - tune in on October 10. The festivities should kick off around 1:00PM GMT. Or if you want to come and watch in person - just rock up to the Manchester Velodrome and buy a ticket at the door. It's £10 - and you can make a day of it (The World Masters Track Championships are on all day so it's not just me riding around!)

I'll have another post up soon to thank all the people that have made this happen - and hopefully to report on a new World Record!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Thank you to ALL involved. The project is GO.

After 2 months of intense fundraising, it is my pleasure to announce I have reached my target. A big THANK YOU to the multitude of people who donated funds (little or large) towards the construction of a new cycling leg for Rio 2016.

The public crowdfunding appeal netted a significant portion of the funds. Due to a complicated fee structure with the crowdfunding site, I had to put in a significant portion of the funds myself before the campaign closed in order to avoid paying extra fees. (So the actual amount raised online is somewhat less than what you might see on the site!) But regardless of that, we still raised enough to move forward. Why? Well - because of two organisations.

As mentioned previously - Eastmond Medicomm has come on board as a key sponsor in the project  and will be along for the ride, helping document the project as we move forward. If not for them, I wouldn't have even started raising funds in the first place. They were the first ones to step forward to put up seed money and gave me hope that I could raise the rest of the money through the public appeal.

The second group I must mention is Pace Rehabilitation. Pace have been there since the very start with me, building my previous cycling prosthetics. Pace have graciously agreed to build this new leg at a discounted rate, meaning I now have the complete budget needed to complete the project at the highest level. Along with technical and aerodynamic advisor, Dr. Bryce Dyer of Bournemouth University, I am confident we will make the best possible leg for Rio.

Pace are at the forefront of prosthetic design in the UK and are now on the cutting edge when it comes to the design and manufacture of sport-specific prosthetics. I started out with them in 2011 and have won two world titles using the legs they have made for me in the past. With the advancements they have made since, I have no doubt that the leg they make for me will propel me to the next level and help bring home that Rio medal I so desperately seek!

I have hated every single second of this fundraising campaign. Asking people, over and over to donate money is something I can't stand – especially for myself. I would much rather be out there raising money for a worthy charity! But it's done now, and so many of you stepped up to help fill the void. I will never have to ask you for help for something personal again!

So keep watching. The project is now just getting started. I've seen the prototype designs. And they are spectacular. Over the coming weeks and months, Pace will be testing several new designs to see which one provides the best aerodynamic benefit – then it will be time to build one for me. And Eastmond Medicomm will be helping keep you updated. And then.... well - the sky's the limit!