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.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

2010 Year in Review

Racing in Kent in September 2010
As is traditional for many people at this time of year, I'm going to do a quick Year in Review for 2010. This is largely for myself to look back at 365 days from today so I have something to compare with, but it will also give you an insight into the ups and downs I have faced in my first year racing at the international level.

And so... to start at the beginning. January 2010 started off full of promise. At that stage I had only spoken with the coaches of the Ireland squad – and they had agreed to have me over to Ireland in early February to do some testing and see if I was good enough to get a trial with the team. I spent all of November and December training as hard as I could, trying to mould myself into the best possible condition for my try out.

But as bid farewell to 2009, the New Year got off to the worst possible start. Just a few days into January, I managed to severely overdo it on a training ride. I found myself with chills and fever, and most worrying of all – peeing blood. A quick trip to the doctor confirmed that I was suffering from severe dehydration. Turns out that even though it might be freezing outdoors, you still lose a lot of fluid on a long ride and if you don't take care to replace those fluids – well... you end up quite sick.

To make matters worse, in the following days while at home recouperating, I somehow managed to pull a muscle in my back – probably from something s innocuous as reaching for the TV remote while splayed out on the sofa. For the next month I suffered with severe back spasms, barely able to move at times – the pain was so severe. I was constantly medicated to try and dull the pain. I tried everything to try and speed my recovery along – from doing absolutely nothing to sports massage. It just needed to run its course.

The entire time I was suffering with the back spasms, I was unable to ride my bike. This was the most frustrating thing of all – watching the date of my trail with the team approaching and not being able to properly prepare for it. With just 2 weeks to go until I was due to travel to Ireland – and still not having started training again – I had to tell them I wouldn't be able to make it.

But no sooner had I sent the email bowing out of the trial, the pain in my back seemed to vanish as quickly and mysteriously as it had arrived a month earlier! Within days I was back on my bike (at last) and making up for lost time. I thought to myself that even though I wasn't at my best, there was no way I was going to miss out on the opportunity to go and try out for the team. If I didn't go then, it could be another year before I had the chance again.

Therefore, in February I travelled over to Ireland to get my testing done. In the end it was quite simple. Just some power testing in the lab to see what kind of wattage I could put out and a few road rides with the rest of the squad to see how I looked on the bike. When it was all over – I had earned myself a chance to go and do some racing with the team. Perseverance pays off!

Team Sprint competition in Wales

Fast forward to May and I got my first invitation to go and train with the squad. We spent a week in Newport, Wales training mostly at the velodrome there. At the end of the week, we all competed in the Disability Grand Prix of Wales – the only Disability track cycling event in the UK. I walked away with a  Gold in the Kilo, a Silver in the Pursuit and a Bronze in the Team Sprint event. I was on my way!

Next up was a chance to show my skills on the road. In June we jetted off to Segovia, Spain to compete in the UCI Road World Cup race there. This would be a baptism of fire for me – competing against the best road and time trial riders in the world. Up until this point I had only ever raced against a limited number of disabled riders in the UK – and mostly on flat, closed road circuits. While there are some good UK riders, the level of competition drops off very quickly. In Spain.... everyone was good.

Start of race in Spain. I'm hidden away at the back (middle). 
The road race was the hardest thing I had ever experienced on a bike. The course was long and hilly, and all the riders were good. VERY good. I was completely out of my element. I managed to lose the main group of riders on the first lap and spent the rest of the race riding by myself – all the while into a headwind – just getting more and more tired. Finally, on the last lap with just a few miles to go, another group of riders caught up to me, eventually passing me at the finish line. Still.... I had finished my first international race!

The next day went a lot better. In the time trial I managed to finish in 9th place, despite not having my normal TT bike. I could have finished much higher if I had ridden the course a little smarter and pushed a little harder. Nevertheless, it showed where my strengths lie and had earned me a spot to go to the World Championships.

UK races have a mixed field across all disabilities
In the domestic UK racing scene, I was quietly racking up second places in the Disability Circuit Race Series. By the end of the series, I had earned enough points to be crowned National Champion. That was one of my big highlights for the year. I hope to repeat in 2011 – but with an expanded international race schedule, I may not be around for enough of the races to get the points I need.

August brought about the team's trip to Canada to compete in the World Championships. I have already covered that event in another entry, so will just say that although it was one of the best experiences of my life, it was also one of the worst. I failed to achieve my goal of a top-10 finish in the TT, and missed the automatic qualification time for funding by a mere 30 seconds. At the time, with no funding in place for 2011, I thought that would be the end of my career racing with the team.

Start line in Canada. I'm not smelling his armpit!
September brought my last race for the team – anther road race and TT, this time held in Kent. Not nearly as many competitors as the Worlds, but still a few big names to compete with. I rode a very poor road race and although I was one of the strongest riders there, my poor tactics meant I finished down on the field. But again, redeemed myself with a second place in the TT.

In Canada I picked up an injury – an abscess in my perineum. It meant that once again I was forced off the bike – this time also for a month. I spent week after week doing test after test and seeing doctor after doctor trying to get the issue resolved. To this day it is still ongoing and no clear diagnosis has been made, but it has healed enough that I have been able to resume my training.

Limerick Training Camp in Ireland
Finally, in October I was invited to travel to Ireland to participate in a London 2012 preparation camp. Athletes from all Paralympic sports were invited – with an eye on preparing those most likely to be in London for what lies ahead. It was at that time that I found out that I will have another chance to obtain my funding for the next 2 years based on how well I do at the Track World Championships this March in Italy. So I am training my little bottom off as it will will go a long way to determining if I make it all the way to London or not.

So, all in all it was a good year. Full of ups and downs, but gave me a good taste of what it takes to compete at the top level and the amount of work that I will have to out in over the next 2 years if I want to be more than just a participant in the London Games.

And to anyone that managed to get this far – I wish you all a healthy, happy and successful 2011!