I thought as I was walking down to the shop today (I know, walking?) about the calendar on our kitchen wall, which has all the important dates I will be away racing this year and social gatherings I will miss. A colourful display of weeks spent in other time zones. But I thought about the start I’ve had to this year, in particular, two very different races. Rovaniemi, Finland in mid February, and less than a month later, the UCI Track World Championships. A throw back to the South America wooden boards of a very memorable Rio 2016.
While I walked, trying not to think about my aching legs, from a gym session I had earlier in the week. I felt quite proud of myself, something I don’t often feel. Not in a negative way, there is just always something else to focus on around the corner, forget the past and move forward. Anyway, I’ve achieved these two totally different goals I set myself over a year ago.
From the moment I came across the Rovaniemi 150, I thought it was a race I could do well in, even possibly win. Even though people had told me, you need to learn how to race these type of races, before you have a chance of winning them.
For me it was the perfect storm in a way, years spent battling winter conditions in the Scottish Highlands, terrified out of my wits, wishing I was at home safe or some place much warmer, as I clung onto my ice axes in the poor snow conditions. I didn’t realise back then, it was instilling a grit in me, a determination to succeed and struggle through, to get the jon done. Pairing that grit, with the latest arrow in my quiver, being an athlete ,is a winning formula, or thats what I thought. Training full time on the bike, being the fittest I’ve ever been in my life, and on top of that, a thirst for adventure, the love of wild places and pushing myself both mentally and physically to breaking point. People asked me why I wanted to do a race in the Arctic circle, well, I guess your answer is above. I love it. Like people love going shopping and buying new clothes, or eating out. Like children love playing video games. Everything I need, is in a big adventure.
The only downside in my preparation to riding one hundred and fifty kilometres in the arctic, I was training for an event four weeks after the Rov150. All of my training had been short and sharp, for the four kilometre pursuit Adam and I were riding in Rio, which would be a hand full of seconds over the four minute mark. Not ideal for a race that would take Ibrahim my sight guide and I, seventeen and a half hours to finish. If only the Rov150 was in October, I was in great shape, having just ridden my fat bike from Lands End to John O’groats in nine days, However after nailing our race plan and winning in the Arctic, the pressure was really on to deliver another winning performance in Rio.
I had the odd occasion like before the Paralympic’s, where I would sometimes drift into a day dream, of what it would be like to win a gold medal. Instantly I would shake myself and tell myself that if I sit here dreaming about it, it will never happen. That time would be much better spent thinking about what I could do to get better, and it worked for the games. This time I would dream about going back to Rio, riding the same track Adam and I broke the four kilometre world pursuit record, and later that day rode our way into the history books winning our first gold medal. The day dream would be winning again, making it our first World Championship title. How special would it be to have a track that we never lost a pursuit on, and have all those three accolades to our name. I couldn’t help but think about this over and over again. It would be a dream come true. However three weeks after coming home from Finland, I was still struggling with the fatigue of a non stop seventeen hour epic in the snow. My form had disappeared in Finland, and now I had serious doubts I could pull off this fairytale ending in the Rio velodrome.
Fitness is a fickle thing. I get told I must be “fit” a lot, people’s way of giving you credit for all your hard work. I guess to most, I am pretty fit, well fit for riding a bike. I’m not fit for a lot these days, walking to the shops, running, and I would suffer climbing. What I realised when I got as fit as I’ve ever been for the Games, is that you’re still trying to be fitter. We are on an endless journey in our lives of trying to get fit, and no matter how fit we get, we want to be fitter. I spent most of the year feeling tired, run down and exhausted from the training I do. The only time I feel good, alive and full of energy is when I’m about to race. I felt like I had lost my fitness after Finland, but the reality was, I was still fit, I’d just lost form and was still heavily fatigued.
My form returned once we hit the Siberian pine boards of the Rio velodrome, maybe it was the ten hours sat still on the flight, or maybe the sunshine and thirty degree temperatures that burnt my white winter skin. But it was great to be back feeling the hard work over the winter block paying off. It felt like make or break for myself and Adam, I’d swapped my fat bike for a tandem and a world title was at stake. The great thing about having a Paralympic title is we get to ride off last in the qualifying ride, so we know the time we have to beat to make the finals. We rode against the Malaysian tandem, better known for sprinting than pursuiting, and it showed, we lapped them 4 times. We stopped the clock just over four minutes and twelve seconds, qualifying us in second place by three hundreds of a second. But most importantly, in the finals and riding off for that gold medal and world title.
I was nervous as I sat in the start seat waiting to get on the bike. A dream so very close to coming true, yet it was going to be another agonising four minutes away. But once on the bike, and the countdown started, all of the doubt and negative thoughts disappear. All that is left to do, is lay everything you have out on the track and finish the race spent. Adam told me afterwards, with 6 laps to go, “I thought the Spanish had it.” I have no idea what is going on while racing, I’m tucked in behind Adam, trying to stay as aerodynamic as possible. I felt good in those final 6 laps, giving the pedals everything I had. I only knew we had won after we crossed the finish line, I heard our finishing gun fire and then shortly after, another blast from the far side of the track. My head hung between my shoulders, chest pounding, as I tried to get more oxygen into my engine which was still in the red. World champions, the dream becomes reality. Two from two for 2018, both on the a bike, but literally polar opposites in discipline. One race lasting most of a day, the other over in a fraction of it. This is why I feel proud of myself, as I carry the milk back home. What a stupid idea it was to walk, why did I not ride? I’d be home by now.