Thursday, 26 June 2014

An update from Dr Sneds

I have been having a superb summer so far. Following on from the mule bar girls training camp I have been riding and training at home in the peak district. I'm not particularly that excited by road racing so I am more than happy to support the other girls whilst they slog themselves round various courses. I particularly enjoyed acting as DS at the Stoke Tour series. It gives me such a warm fuzzy feeling to see the girls gelling so well together as a team and suffering together (especially whilst I sip coffee and cheer from the safety of the roadside). This year I have had a bit of a break from the trials and tribulations of being a full time doctor and have been working part time in A&E. This has allowed me the flexibility to plan an adventure and catch up on the all the events and excitement I had missed out on the past two years when I was working nearly every weekend. This summer I wanted to do something different with my bike and I decided I would try touring. Charge bikes very kindly helped Chris and I get our touring bikes set up ( the super sturdy Plug 5). We looked at a map of the world and decided where we would like to go. We ended up choosing Vietnam and Cambodia. Without much of a clue about what cycle touring would involve - I packed my bikinis in to my panniers and boarded a plane to Ho Chi Minh city, South Vietnam. From there Chris and I pedalled our way across the Mekong delta exploring rural villages, waterways and floating markets.Surviving mainly on noodles in broth with floating mystery meat and mini bananas. Thankfully this part of Vietnam is pan flat we barely needed to change gear all day. It was dammed hot and it soon became to the norm to stop every hour or so for a cold drink and take in the scenery. On reaching the coast (following a few days of sunburn,mild heat stroke and dicing with death with the motos), we boarded a boat to Phu Quoc island and spent a few days relaxing on the beach. After a sunset proposal on the beach and celebrations we then returned to mainland engaged and headed across the border into Cambodia. I absolutely loved Cambodia the people are so friendly, the food is fantastic and the scenery spectacular. we spent a great deal of time learning about their fairly recent genocide and civil war, the country has a tragic pasr but now seems to be thriving. Following a week of risking our necks on various dusty dirt roads we made it to Angkor Wat home to the world's largest religious site (the temples where tomb raider was filmed). It was here in the town of Siem Reap we finished our trip enjoying endless happy hour cocktails and 30p beers with a number of gap year students who had finally "found themselves, got a tattoo (terrible) and discovered Buddhism" This was our final destination before flying home and it made an unforgettable end to our trip.

Aline Coaching  - they can coach the uncoachable
Arriving home it was back to work in A&E, like I had never left and back to getting some speed in the legs. This past 12 months I have suffered a couple of nasty crashes one on the road and one breaking my elbow in the 3 peaks. Following these my nerve on the bike off road seemed to be suffering. As many of you will know in mountain biking it is particularly hard to ride with your boyfriend who is far superior and who continues to shout totally unhelpful things like "let the brakes off" until you consider whether or not you have the physical strength to strangle them using a bike chain. I spent quite a few frustrated weeks contemplating what the problem was. When skiing I'm not scared and when I want to improve I have a lesson with an instructor - so why not have a session with someone whom I won't be tempted to murder. I was browsing twitter one day when a tweet came up stating places available for mtb skills in Sheffield - I looked into it, called them up and spoke to John of Aline coaching John completely understood what I was talking about. I've had a couple of session with John who previously coached out in Whistler and helps out some of the top DH and enduro riders and it has worked wonders. John breaks things down, fixes the bad habits and constantly encourages (rather than criticise). I am so grateful for him helping me get my mojo back on the mountain bike. Hopefully Chris and I can now ride together without a hint of a murder or nuclear meltdown. I would urge any of you out there wanting to improve on the MTB but not quite sure how to do to check him out. You couldn't find a nicer more supportive chap.

Last Sunday I took part in the Eroica Britannia - this was a British version of the Italian Eroica on the Peak district's very own Strada Bianca or as we call it disused railway lines. The event is ridden on vintage bikes (pre1987) and in vintage kit. My dad has been building up to this event for the past 18 months and for it to take place on our very own home roads was the cherry on the cake. Thee vent could not have been better. This is the first year they have run it in the UK. The weather was glorious the free festival in Bakewell was a huge success and the ride - well I'm not sure I can put into words the joy of riding around the peak district on my vintage Mercian with 2000 other enthusiasts, the feed stops included free Pimms, beer and sparkling wine. I am already preparing myself for next year.

As we've passed the summer solstice my attention has turned to preparing for the cross season which always comes round faster than I expect and my bikes are usually still in bits. I have to go back to work full time in August so I'm trying to squeeze every last moment out of my spare time in June and July to ride my bike. Working in medicine makes you realise how short and cruel life can be and why it is paramount to enjoy as much of it as you can doing the things you enjoy with the people you love.

PS for those people that keep asking - no I will not be riding the cyclocross 3 peaks this year - I promised myself if I crawled to the finish last year I would never make myself do it again. I'm sticking to that promise. However I will be there to cheer on the rest of the riders probably with my running trainers on instead.
For those of you excited by the prospect of a wet and muddy winter filled with cross racing check these teasers out

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

It's been a while...

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to write a blog.  V will no doubt be cursing me in her sleep but I am finally sat in a comfy chair with a cup of tea ready to pen a little about the past couple of months.  It’s been a hectic one, with a lot of racing, a lot of driving, a lot of recovering and generally a lot of hanging about with the team eating a lot of MuleBars.

May and June were down to be the busiest months I think I have ever had on my bike.  It makes my brain ache to think that far back but the start of May saw the Bedford 3 Day, a gloriously sunny affair where a good TT and a well-timed breakaway placed me in 3rd on GC going in to the final stage.  Sadly a badly timed loss of concentration and even worse tactics lost me a few vital seconds on that very stage and I slipped back into 6th.  At every race you learn and with my head held bowed low I learnt a lot at that one.

For all that the sun was out for the first bank holiday, May’s second one returned to form and it was cold and rainy.  Torrential rain in fact, and we were camping.  In prep for the National Championships I trekked over to Wales for the Tour of Carmarthenshire.  A race that was hard last year stepped up a notch this time around; 70miles of climbs and undulating roads finishing at the top of the Black Mountain.  It was tough going but a fantastic race as always with teeth gritted on the 10km climb to the end. 

It was actually pretty refreshing to see Commissairres in this race committed to ensuring riders race safely by removing those who repeatedly broke the highway-code from the peleton.  Unfortunately, riding on the wrong side of the road is a familiar sight in women’s races which is not only dangerous but also unfair for those who keep to the rules of the road and are disadvantaged as a result.  

Although the annoyance for anyone who was asked to leave and return to HQ was clear the racing was safe and the problem quickly became self-policing.  It would be nice to see this happen elsewhere.  We are often told off for racing on the wrong side of the road but as there are never any consequences for those who do the problem persists.  I’m certain I’m not alone in my worry that one day it will not end well when a peleton extending across the width of the road goes round a blind bend.

Back to May and it was also the start of the eagerly anticipated Tour Series.  Last year I learnt to love crits and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in again.  I’d been training harder and focussing on the series so was keen to get racing.  That is until I woke up in the morning of the first round in Stoke with a sore throat.  My boyfriend had brought me home a nice little present from his training camp in Mallorca – a cold (and I bottle of wine I should add but he proceeded to drink that himself.  I didn’t get so much as a quaff of it!).  I felt pretty ropey so was super pleased to finish in 4th place, missing out on the podium in a sprint for the line from our chase group of 5.

By the next round in Peterborough I’d spend a couple of days on the sofa and a couple more persuading myself that I was well again and everything would be fine at the race.  A blocked up nose and not able to breathe you say?  Just a little sniff I say.  I limped home scraping into the top 20 after dangling off the back the whole race but still in 4th place overall.

Next up was Edinburgh (with the trip to Wales in a wet tent sandwiched in between) a road trip of epic proportions for a 40 minute crit race.  It was worth it though, the race was fantastic.  The course was brutal with a cobbled climb that went from a drag to a steep kick that seemed to go on forever and the crowds were brilliant.  Being in a group with Eileen Roe, Claire Thomas and Charlie Joiner; all Scots, meant they got the cheers but it amused me every time to hear constant shouts of ‘Come on Eileen’.  The party sounds of Dexy’s Midnight Runners whirled round in my head for days.  I placed 7th in the cobbled sprint from the chase group. 

Then over to Redditch.  I did not enjoy this race.  This is totally unlike me as usually I have something to smile about even if I’m not happy with the result.  We nearly had a car crash on the way there after a lorry’s load became lose and flew straight in our direction, only a quick reaction to avoid the huge metal plate looming down on us saved our bacon.  Then my wheel was broken so I had to use the spare except it had a 10-speed cassette on it, cue frantic changeover in the pits which resulted in me dropping it all.  Finally I fell off the rollers in the warm up.  It was a little damp and a chap asked me if I found it difficult in the wet to ride them.  To which I replied that it simply required a little care and attention and then promptly stacked it.  Suffice to say the race went no better than the build-up.

That weekend it was on to the London Nocturne, one of my favourite races in the calendar.  A twighlight crit in my home town with huge crowds and a fabulous atmosphere.  I was really looking forward to it not least because I had a number of demons to put to bed after Redditch.  I had a good starting position and was in the top 10 coming out of the first corner, everything was looking up, except that it wasn’t actually.  I did not feel myself at all.  In a matter of minutes I had dropped back at least 20 riders and was hanging just to hold onto the wheel.  After a few laps my back started killing me.  

In 2011 I slipped a disc in my back while I was racing in Germany and low and behold, it had gone again.  It was radiating pain all across my lower back and down my legs.  It was all I could do not to stop every time I went past the pits.  It was the National Masters Road Race Championships the following day where I was hoping to defend my title and I had no choice but to miss them.  I knew this injury and I knew a few hours was not going to fix it.

A hastily booked trip to the GP & chiropractor on Monday confirmed my fears that my disc had indeed gone again.  Not only is it painful but the gel that bulges out of the disc presses onto the nerve of my right leg.  This prevents signals being sent to it which means a big loss in strength in that leg.  Over the previous few weeks I had been feeling that something wasn’t quite right and I was missing the edge I’d had in previous years.  I was worried I had overtrained but didn’t feel burnt out and in fact it had been really stressing me out.  I am usually an attacking rider but didn’t have the extra zing to do it.  This explained it all.  It was no wonder I didn’t feel as competitive when I only had one leg at full strength, my right one was very noticeably weak.  It was no wonder I felt so bad at Redditch.

Sadly this means I’ve had to step away from my bike for a few weeks.  Not an easy thing to do.  Not least as it meant I missed the last round of the Tour Series in Woking when I was sitting in 4th place overall and Woking was worth double points but also as I’d have to miss the National TT & RR championships that I’d been training all year for.  Gutted does not describe it.

I’m lucky to have fantastic support from my chiropractor Nick Metcalfe at The Chiropractic Clinic in New Malden who is doing everything he can to get me back on two wheels as soon as possible and it’s working.  It’s already improved loads quicker than in 2011 and I’m itching to get back on the bike.  In the meantime it’s been a case of finding other things to keep fit and distract myself.  I’ve dusted off my goggles and started swimming again and spent the weekend at the beach walking, sea swimming and canoeing.  Things I never get the chance to do usually.  Meanwhile my Cannondale is waiting patiently for the day when we can head out again, it won’t come too soon!

Natalie x