Why am I here?

Today is 7th December. I’m sat in the sunshine in Bahrain reflecting on what feels like a very long year.

Why am I here? Well that’s a big question….the straightforward answer is to compete in one last race of the season. After the euphoria of Ironman70.3 World Champs in September I really wanted another hit of the world championship buzz and so decided to try and secure my place as quickly as possible for 2019 by finding a race somewhere in the world that could give me that all important qualification spot. Bahrain provided the first opportunity so here I am.

 In the days after the race in Port Elizabeth in September it all seemed so simple. Take a few weeks off then put together a solid block of ten weeks training, travel out to Bahrain five days before, adjust to the warmer climate, relax, put in another performance like South Africa and fly home with the 2019 place in the bag. What could possibly go wrong?

I guess the next 24 hours will provide the answer ….

Back to the big question….why am I here?

I started this blog a few years ago with the grand ambition of providing inspiration to others to follow their dreams. I’d always wanted to be a sportsman and not just a weekend warrior or Sunday footballer. I wanted it to be what I did. Its taken me over 50 years but I’m now living that dream. Sport provides my focus and influences what I do, how I do it….. Its completely changed my life to the point where I feel so much more confident, I have self belief ( although I still struggle with self doubt in the days leading up to races!!) and has allowed us to make such radical steps in our late 50’s that we have bought an old farm in the Brecon Beacons with the intention of creating a cycling business from it. This really is living the dream.

Living the dream though is never a bed of roses. Over the last few years both of my parents have passed away following tragically slow painful journeys to the end. Dementia is a cruel condition that slowly strips away everything from those that are unfortunate enough to suffer with it. Currently there is so little that can be done to arrest the onset once it has taken hold and I feel a little traumatised still by the emotional pain that I could sense both of my parents struggling with as the condition stole from them even the most basic human skills that enable us to exist independently. Having observed, experienced and helped care for them through this awful process I have tried to learn more about it. Through reading and asking questions I’ve developed my own view on what we can do to try and prevent dementia from attacking our own brains. “Constantly challenging ourselves in new ways” is my over-riding view of how we can improve our chances of beating dementia.

That means learning new things ( languages are ideal as its really difficult especially as we get older but that’s what makes it ideal), keeping fit, really fit, eating healthily, avoiding becoming set in our ways. Avoiding becoming set in our ways is a really big one in my view. We learn as humans when we are on the very edge of our comfort zones, that place that makes us uncomfortable, makes us nervous, makes us awkward or painful, makes us question why we are bothering and in order to force ourselves to repeatedly go to this uncomfortable place we need a really strong reason or purpose for doing it. Often the difficulty in identifying a purpose leads to that comfortable outcome of unknowingly getting set in our ways. Avoiding dementia seems to me to be a negative reason to fight against inertia and I always encourage people to frame their goals and ambitions around positive thoughts. So this is why I hark back to dreams. What did you dream you’d achieve when you were a child or what do you wish you could make happen now? Use this as your powerful motivator to constantly challenge yourself.

Back to that question, why am I here?….because I want to be world champion. I know my Mum and Dad would be so proud, I know I am gaining so much from the process of learning how to be the best triathlete I can be and I’d love to think that through my trials and tribulations I could inspire a few more people to make their own dreams come true. If this helps in some small way to derail the juggernaut that is dementia then that seems like a really good thing to me.

I’ll take this thought with me into the race tomorrow. Wish me luck.

From Terror to Joy. The 60 minutes of a cyclocross race!

Its important to keep learning. Its important to keep taking ourselves out of our comfort zone. And its really important to keep doing it as we get older. Being the wrong side of 50 is no excuse for not experiencing the terror of not really knowing what you are getting yourself into.

Mold Cyclocross race

This happened for me yesterday. For a while I’ve been dreaming about doing some cyclocross racing, but not having a CX bike or even a mountain bike meant that it remained exactly as an idle dream. Most dreams remain just that because we don’t put a plan together to make it real.

So I bought a bike. A beautiful Merida carbon frame CX bike. I took it out a few times off road and loved the freedom and sense of adventure that it instilled in me. Next, I entered a race. North Wales CycloCross Group organise a series of races throughout the region each winter and the first in the new season took place yesterday in Mold. Mold is only about 15 miles away so I had no excuse.

I rocked up nice and early. Picked up my race numbers, got my bike out of the car and set off onto the field to have a bit of a warm up.

Oh dear. Within a couple of minutes I was experiencing total terror. Narrow woodland trails that could only be reached by heading down steep muddy slopes with 90 degree turns at the bottom. How was I going to control my bike down these? The answer was, I wasn’t. during my warm up laps I ended up in a heap more times than I can remember. I withdrew to the car park to get my thoughts together.

DLC50MgXcAAiLPq.jpg-largeIf pottering around slowly was creating challenges that were proving difficult then how would I cope in the heat of the race battle? I was very quickly realizing that riding offroad in deep mud was very different to my usual road cycling. I was way out of my comfort zone, deep in the land of the conscious incompetence and concerned that I may visit unconscious incompetence several times more before the day was out! But, heh I wanted a challenge. I wanted to test myself with some new stuff and it felt like I was being thrown in at the deep end, only this time it was deep mud rather than deep water.

In the hour leading upto the start I picked up a few tips from seasoned racers. “Take the air pressure in the tyres down as far as you dare as this will provide more traction through the sticky stuff” was the technical tip and “enjoy it” was the morale boosting tip. So I set off for the start with a simple goal. Enjoy doing something new.

The race began with a couple of laps around a field to stretch out the 120 riders before heading onto the narrow course. All went well around the field and then we were let loose on the brown stuff. The first 180 degree turn came up more quickly than I’d expected and in trying to get around I took out one competitor going into the corner, managed to stay upright myself for a couple of seconds before colliding with another wheel on the way out. I went down, bringing the wheels’ owner down on-top of me together with several other totally innocent, unlucky riders who just happened to be in the wrong place (ie in my vicinity ). We’d only gone a few hundred yards and I’d caused carnage. Luckily no one was hurt and more importantly nobody took much offence to my incompetence. After apologies all round and I was on my way again. Adrenalin was definitely pumping and we headed across the open field towards the next obstacle, a steep drop down a grassy bank. I think I got down this without incident before creating more mayhem on the next 180 turn. Crikey, this was the only the first part of the first lap and I hadn’t even got to the tricky technical wooded section yet. Simply surviving to tell the tale seemed like a more realistic goal at this stage.

Mold Cyclocross 2Somehow I got through the technical section without causing anymore damage to the other racers, but I did block the route a few times as I lost my balance and ended up in brambles and undergrowth. Once back out onto the open section we headed up hill and my strength became an advantage. I started to overtake people as the first lap ended and this gave me a bit of confidence. With confidence came the ability to assess what was happening. I broke the course down into sections, some of which I could attack full gas and others where I needed to take it steady. As the laps went by I also began to learn how to ride through the thick sticky mud. It needed to be attacked with a high cadence in a straight line. As each lap went by I went quicker and quicker and was definitely making my way through the field. 60 minutes went by in a flash and I could now hear the last lap bell. After a very tricky start I’d really enjoyed my debut at cyclocross and didn’t really want it to end.

I crossed the finish line, totally caked in mud, beaming from ear to ear. Cyclocross is such a buzz. I loved it. I’ll be back to do more of the series and can hopefully shake off my Captain Carnage reputation before the season is out!