Thursday, 8 November 2012

The End of The World...(As We Know It)

I recently wrote an article on ‘The Travelling Athlete’ for a triathlon based website. I’m not sure it was quite what the editor had in mind when I sent it through. He feared my tongue in cheek, nonchalant approach to the subject would be lost on his American readers. Nonetheless he printed it in good faith ( if you’re interested). 

Within the article I made reference to the effects of altitude on your emotions; how suddenly, even those with the emotional capabilities of a fish, are reduced to a blubbering mess.

Even after the 200th time, when Kate promises Jack she’ll “never let go”, but tosses him over board for an eternity of ‘sleeping with the fishes’ anyway, the tears swell up and your sat in 31C shovelling  in airplane issue crackers between sobs, desperately hoping your neighbour doesn’t catch you out.

No?! Just me?!  

Well anyway, I’m not sure what’s inspired me to finally crack out a much over due blog, but I’m not actually convinced it’s the best time for me to be doing so. 

After all I’m sat in 31C, airplane issue crackers in hand.  

Maybe it’s the rousing tones of my favourite Fleetwood Mac album playing on my headset (the movie section on my entertainment system has been firmly switched ‘off’ for the remainder of the flight!)

Or maybe someone, namely my travel buddy, has switched the sleeping pill I popped an hour ago for a pro plus?

Traitor? Comedic genius? I’ll leave you decide. 

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to do, like any proper triathlete does, is get my excuses in there early, before you read on. I cannot be held accountable for any emotional drivvle that you are about to read. It’s the altitude. I swear.

So 2012. 

The year that everyone’s harped on about since God made man from dust.

OK maybe that was a little ‘flowery’ but remember; altitude.

But to be fair it hasn’t really disappointed.

The Queen’s Jubilee. A great excuse for a good old knees up on the village green.

The Olympics. No extra explanations needed.

The European Football Cup.  Being Welsh I’d be disappointed if England had done well.  

And on a more personal level..?

2012 has been, honestly, surprising beyond my own, often high, expectations. I’d be lying if I said I’d started the year entertaining visions of myself getting top 10 finishes at World Series events, let alone clutching two World Championship Gold’s. As clich├ęd as it may sound, I do have to pinch myself.

One of the first questions I remember being asked after winning the World U23 Championships was “to what do you credit your recent success?” I think my response was something akin to an Oscar acceptance speech, thanking everyone, including my best friend’s dog. I say think; the whole emotional episode was aired and forever preserved by the BBC.  

But since then I’ve had a lot of time driving in a camper van around New Zealand to think about it. And unsurprisingly the list is endless, and the people that I’d need to mention would only bore you. Again. So I’ll thank them in my own time, in a more personal fashion.

But ultimately it keeps coming back to one thing. One thing that, if you choose to listen, although I’m sure many people enable their selective hearing mode whenever this answer is provided, is repeatedly echoed by those achieving excellence. Coincidentally, it’s also the one answer that people spend (and probably make) a lot of money and a lot of time avoiding, instead thinking up elaborate alternatives and magical short cuts.  

Answer: Hard work.

The last 12 months were tough. Bloody tough. There was definitely blood. There was definitely sweat. And there were definitely tears. My poor training partners will vouch for all three.

But sorry kids there are no substitutes for hard work. Yes you have to be smart. I’ve learnt that the hard way through numerous illnesses and injuries over the years. But there are also no secrets. No magic formulae. Just get out there and get on with it.

I’m not professing to have mastered this triathlon business either. I definitely have a long way to go, many more 12months like the last, until I can maybe, one day, with a little bit of luck for good measure, entertain the idea of ditching the U23 part of my title.

In addition to Royal celebrations and crap football, I think it’s also worthy to note, that the end of the world, as predicted for 2012 by the Mayans, never occurred. Not that I’m aware of anyway. Although R.E.M nearly had me convinced one night. Wine, not altitude was probably the excuse that time.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

My Marmite

I believe I spent the majority of my last entry marvelling at the benefits of hindsight, arrogant with its delayed intuition and wisdom. I seemed quite at one with it. I’d found peace with its notion and seemed to have accepted that it would always follow me around, normally a few paces behind, but always there, ready to pat me on the back and flash me it’s ‘I told you so smile’ when things didn’t quite go to plan.

And alas, here we are 4 months down the road, and I’m once again humbled by Mrs Hindsight. I’ve decided it’s definitely a woman; women are always right!

The start of my 2012 season couldn’t have gone better; the South Africa ‘headache’ aside.

In April I headed out to Sydney for round one of the 2012 ITU World Triathlon Series.
Marvellous you say; Leeds to Sydney; 33 hours!! My body disagreed. If I'd have known I wouldn’t have gone... 

Well that’s definitely a lie as Sydney might now be my new favourite place; it’s funny how the outcome of a race can determine your perception of a place;

Hong Kong. Puncture. Not so keen.                                                                                          
Sydney. 11th in a World Series. Better than Orange Wednesdays and 2-4-1 dough balls at Pizza Express.                                       

I still find it hard to believe that I finally managed to have a disaster free race (fat lip from swim fight discounted) and the fruits of a winters labour paid dividends. It was quite surreal running past former World and Olympic champions; I was convinced it was all going to go wrong at any given minute. I was overly cautious around water stations (Lausanne. Rogue water bottle. Damaged ligaments) and made sure no Eastern Europeans were anywhere near my ankles (Cape Town. Czech. Concussion). I breathed a sigh of relief every time I finished a lap and was in a daze for at least an hour after the race.

Then reality hit me like a runaway train; post race fatigue and nausea kicked in and although I was told by everyman and his dog (a talking dog amazing I know!!) that I should be out celebrating, me and Blake, my trusty Specialized steed, went for a well earned lie down instead. Rock and Roll I know.  

Next followed a 21st at the second World Series race in San Diego. Via a cheeky race in France of course. There’s always a via in there somewhere. And that’s probably my problem. That’s probably where my current predicament stems from.

Ever since returning from America I’ve been tired.

Cue Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry me a river’ on a very small violin. Thank you. I really do appreciate the sympathy.

But honestly, I’ve been exhausted. After a few weeks of lying around wondering what on earth was wrong with me hindsight came along and gave me a sharp slap on the back of the head.

After some quick calculations with my trusty abacus it dawned on me. I’ve boarded 19 planes in 2012 alone; visiting 4 different continents in the space of a month. I’ve raced some of the biggest and best races of my life. And all off the back of my hardest winter of training to date.

My body was throwing a full blown tantrum. Its toys were well and truly out its pram. Hindsight was laughing in my face.

But this time it actually reared its ugly head just in time. A little late maybe, but this was definitely a case of ‘better late than never’! Yes I have spent the majority of last few weeks in bed. Yes there have been tears of frustration at being told for the hundredth time that I must rest and that no you can’t go to this race, or that one in fact. But, if hindsight hadn’t of come along when it did I might have forged on despite all the warning signs and that terrible word ‘chronic fatigue’ might have been gracing the title of this blog instead.

So hindsight you’re my bloody marmite. I can’t decide whether I love you, or hate you. But at least you’re always there to tell me where I’ve gone wrong. 

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The benefit of hindsight...

So I’m sitting here, on my sofa, knee deep in snotty tissues, massively regretting going out on my bike this Wednesday. Why didn’t  I just stay in and use my watt bike? It’s definitely warmer, a damn sight dryer, and the chances of snapping a chain and arriving home hypothermic are slim to none. Unless you’re very unlucky. 

I guess hindsight is a marvellous thing. 

Rewind a week ago and I’m sitting on a beach, in 30’C glorious sunshine, Table Mountain to one side and Robben Island to another. Albeit nursing concussion and a dented sense of pride; but I feel this detracts from the image I’m painting for you here.

Although I am afraid this is an image that’s becoming synonymous with me. I seem to attract disaster these days. So much so no one was overly surprised when I told them I’d been tripped by the Czech mid race, on that lovely Sunday morning in South Africa. According to all reports I did quite a spectacular somersault on to my head (cue appropriate gasp from crowd), before jumping up and running 10 metres in the wrong direction. Comedy gold I will hindsight. 

And there it is again, the little devil. Always a bit late. Always cocky and confident with its delayed wisdom and intuitiveness. Damn you hindsight. I guess I’ll never know better than you; you’re like my bloody mother. 

But the intention of this blog was not to wallow in my own self pity. No I’m definitely not a ‘should’a, would’a, could’a’ kind of girl. After all, the wise Beverley Knight once sung;

“should’a, would’a, could’a means I’m out of time...
should’a, would’a, could’a are the last words of a fool”

Inspired I’m sure you’ll agree. 

So onwards... 

I was asked to provide something that people would like to read. Something informative that provides insight into the glamorous life of an athlete. I’ve probably failed thus far, but have until now been restrained in any attempts at shameless ambush marketing. 

I’m going to have to succumb however. But only because it bears some, distant, relevance to the story. Oh and there’s also a completely ridiculous picture of me in a woolly hat to accompany it. 

Hello...Watt bike! Subtle product placement eh?! 

But the watt bike really is pretty cool. It’s been a lifesaver this winter at least (when I’ve been wise enough to use it!). In the weeks leading up to South Africa it all turned a little Baltic here in sunny Blighty; far from ideal preparation for an hour race in 30’C heat. When the roads were icy and temperatures didn’t just dip below 0, they bloody well dived head first, I was able to keep training, and with a little initiative and stone-age sport science, try and acclimatise for what lay ahead. 

See me having a fantastic time to the right. I actually look pretty cheery. Must be the warm-up. 

(Please note: discarded turbo in the background; Watt bikes are the future. Clearly).

But thankfully February is nearly at an end; which means March will soon be upon us (the Gregorian calendar was always my strong point), and with that warmer climates and the 2012 season loom ever closer. The back of winter training has well and truly been broken now, which is both satisfying and scary. Satisfying in that you can look back at all the hard work you’ve put in, but also scary in that the time will soon come to consolidate all the blood sweat and tears (none of which is an exaggeration. See earlier reference to my disaster-esque qualities), and hope like hell that it will all pay off. 

Although, I’m sure come the end of October when all’s said and done I’ll once again marvel at the benefit of my old friend hindsight. 

I think if there was a way of bottling hindsight it would be an athlete’s best friend. Although such a powerful tool, it wouldn’t be long before it found its way on to the prohibited list. 

So I guess I’ll just have to battle on like everyone else and embrace the excitement of the unknown; the mystery of what lies ahead. Hopefully what lies ahead isn’t a plastic bottle, but that’s another story for another time. Plus you’ll probably just roll your eyes in exasperation like everybody else did.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Welcome 2012

Welcome to 2012. Yes 2012. Bloody hell that came around fast. 

Over the last 7 years those 4 little digits have gained a celebrity status all of their own. So much so I’m surprised they haven’t done a naked photo shoot for Hello magazine, or appeared on I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here

After all the Mayans, or some similar ancient civilization, did predict that in the year 2012 some cataclysmic event would occur, and the end of the world would finally be upon us. 

Yes the ‘End of the World’. Oh sorry I guess you thought I was referring to the Olympic Games. Yes well ok that’s been pretty big news too I suppose...

In fact if I were given £1 for every time someone has asked me “will you be in the Olympics then?”, simply because I own lycra, I would be quite rich by now. Well at least £50 better off anyway. 

I quite clearly remember the day that the Jacques Rogge and his IOC big wigs announced that London would host the 2012 Olympic Games. I was, quite aptly, in Italy with TeamGB for the 2005 Youth Olympics.  Young and impressionable, the mention of those four little numbers made my heart beat a little faster. The promise, the hope and the glory of a home Olympics was very exciting way back then. To be honest, it still is. Even for an older, far less impressionable and much more cynical me.  I was 16 at the time and my gosh did 2012 seem like a lifetime away! 

I’m now 23, and with the opening of the London 2012 Olympic Games less than 200 days away, you think it would all start to become a bit more real. But to be honest, it still feels like some distant, whimsical event. 

I think it’s going to be a bit like Christmas, in that you look forward to it all year. You plan, you prepare, and in the weeks leading up to it you see it everywhere you go. Every other conversation you have is about it, and you plan your life around it. But then it comes and it goes in the blink of an eye and you’re somewhat dumbfounded that it’s been and gone, and yes it was great, but actually what happened?!

Now I’m not suggesting that 2012 is going to be an anti climax or just another Christmas holiday. In fact I think London will put on a fantastic party, and that a great time will be had by all. I’ll definitely be there cheering on the home team, brimming with pride as the national anthem rings out across the capital, waving my union jack and loading up on Wenlock and Mandeville merchandise. 

But just a reminder to everyone, there is life after 2012 (well providing the Mayans did in fact miss read the stars) and that what happens, happens. Before you know it, 2012 will fall by the way side like any other celebrity, probably appearing in the 99th series of Big Brother, and the newer, shinier model that is 2016, will steal all the glory and headlines. We are a fickle bunch us humans. 

But please don’t interpret this as cynicism. After all the Olympics have been my dream since as far back as I can remember. So...

Welcome 2012. May it be a happy, healthy and fingers crossed damn well successful one for everyone. I include myself in that toast. 

PS. The Olympic Creed. Nice words. But let’s be honest, deep down we all want that bloody gold medal;

‘The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.’