The day Blobby Boris Johnson overtook me

boris day

I reposted this picture today ‘for the lols’, as I put it, when it came up on my Facebook feed as being 5 years ago. Before I reposted I did think to myself, ‘this is so embarrassing’. For starters, my helmet wasn’t fitting properly and was on the wonk, I seemed to have lost both of my gloves, and sunglasses, and god only knows what was in one of those drinks bottles. And the drinks bottles weren’t matching, a big no no for a cyclist. Sorry fellow comrades. I was riding my trusty Boardman, my first full carbon road bike and was wearing Livestrong (Lance Armstrong campaign) shorts that I still have to this day because they are so comfortable and I can’t ditch them despite their holes and rather tainted brand associations. I then noticed the jersey I was wearing, it was for the London Ride Prudential 100 miles. I might just add that it was only ever white once (you’ll see why in a minute). It was at that point that I realized despite its comical value, that this picture was a very early part of my journey, it was in 2013. I remember the ride well. It was not long after I had started riding centuries and doing so by myself. It would have been in the days where I could run a marathon but was an avid cyclist and hadn’t yet fully pledged myself to triathlon. The route was fantastic, closed roads (a rarity for a cyclist) and I remember climbing Box Hill and actually enjoying it. There was still paint on the roads cheering on Team GB from 2012. However, it remains to this day one of the longest times I have taken to ride 100 miles. This wasn’t because of my fitness, it was because of the punctures. This was the day I had no less than 7. The most I have ever had in a ride and now thankfully ride tubeless which means it shouldn’t happen to that extent again. I spent most of my day by the side of the road fixing them, covered in grease, begging spare inner tubes off fellow riders, borrowing track pumps from people’s front lawn whom were stuck in their homes because of the closed roads, stealing gels and bars off people when I got hungry. I had just fixed the 5th or 6th, a rear one I believe, I stood up and was about to get back on the ‘bloody thing’ but then there was a huge whoosh and a very large pack of riders surrounding someone going past.

Who was that someone?

It was ‘Blobby’ Boris Johnson as I called him.


I was crestfallen. Boris had signed up as a challenge and nobody really thought he could ride a bike but yet he and his posse had just overtaken me whom had trained for weeks and had been putting their heart and soul into this day for hours. I carried on and soldiered to the end of the ride, with just one more puncture. I’d learnt to grind somehow but I’d learnt lessons about punctures that I will never forget. As a result I have puncture paranoia for life. There’s so many rides, miles and places I go on my bike but on this occasion I think this one is right to remember and its of little surprise that it’s still laughing stock in our house.

Blobby, oh Mr Blobby, your influence will spread throughout the land. 
Let’s hear it for Mr Blobby…

National champs race report, peak performance reached in August and a busy September!

vitruvianIt was great to be back racing yesterday at the National Middle Distance (70.3) miles Championships (Rutland Water) despite getting up before 3.30am for a half Ironman! It was an extremely tough field, dominated by Army and Air force athletes. My result was 11th place, 5 hours and 36 minutes. I can’t be unhappy with that given that it’s only my second-best distance, albeit my 5th one of the year!

The swim took on a new level of brutality. I tried not to let a beach start, it being 6.20am in September and two massive clouts on the head get to me (I thought I was going to get concussion at one point). The bike was consistent, but I did make a very dim decision to leave my aero bars off (that new bike has to happen, especially if I want to compete properly at this distance). I was basically resting on my handlebars or drops on my arms without any pads. It killed but I needed to try and make up the 20 minutes I’d lost without bars. The run was also solid, didn’t fall over either but I did have a bit of foot pain which disappointed me as it was after only 10 miles, although I hadn’t any pain relief since 5.30am so I could easily have had some more but had left it in transition. Nutrition went a bit wrong for me yesterday which is rare. There were was only one feed station on the bike and I’d exhausted my supply of gels. Thank christ I didn’t drop the very last one I had at 40 miles. On the run I was getting stomach cramps which is also very rare and all I could manage was a few small sips of energy drink. Overall though I was happy with how it all felt as I hadn’t raced since Outlaw in July.

It’s been different for me this year. Normally I’d just be having a bit of fun in September at the end of the season but when I qualified for the long distance European Champs (23rd sept) and after I’d already planned a full distance at Outlaw (28th July) I knew I was going to have to reach peak performance differently and possibly twice. I was virtually at peak for Outlaw full in July, although perhaps not totally tapered. Whilst August didn’t see me race, I trained very consistently and solidly, most of which was outside of my normal environment. I was out of the country for a lot of it with three trips abroad and being quite a busy academic. I only really needed to maintain fitness but taking an athlete away from their norm can sometimes be anxiety provoking. In short, I planned meticulously and I worked my ar@E off. I packed kit (and much travel wash!) and nutrition and took it everywhere. I rode 100 miles from Ipswich before leaving for the airport, in the UAE, I ran at 5am before teaching, in Portugal I completed a full weeks training from a less than average hotel gym and I also spent 3 miles teaching myself to swim again.

The work paid off, my fitness is at its highest and that always feels pretty special. Whilst I am now taking it down (keeping intensity up) I have decided to ride a 6-hour challenge next weekend. I wouldn’t normally do this a week before a full Ironman, but it was a considered decision and it’s also less damaging than a solid 6-hour ride as I can rest/stop at any point. Primarily I want to travel to Madrid with a good result behind me and being in September it should be cool enough during that challenge to only experience minimal foot pain. I’m also hoping it will take some of the damage away from what might happen in Madrid which is likely to see me really suffer with foot pain due to the higher temperatures and terrain. The best I might be able to hope for is to finish, even if the current x-ray shows a clean bill of health, but that is a long story for another day…

So, my September looks like this:

3rd– rode 101 miles from Chelmsford

8th– 70.3 Vitruvian National Championships

16th– Revolve 6-hour solo bike challenge (Brands Hatch)

23rd– Challenge Madrid Full distance European Championships

30th– One last very relaxed 100 miles from Ipswich (with considerable cake)

After that I will have to sit down and assess several things including foot pain, winter training and races, next year’s races (including GB stuff) and all given the funds available etc.

Enjoy the glorious September sun should it return.

Geraint Thomas: ‘I won the Tour, man’ and the story of more ink

Sport is really special. Like really special. Perhaps being an amateur athlete and cyclist myself makes me more attuned to appreciate professional’s efforts and achievements, but I will never ever forget what follows.

On the afternoon of the 28th of July, the day before the storms and my first Ironman of the season, I sat on the sofa sobbing quite badly. The very same sofa where I also sat almost exactly a year previously sobbing when JT played for Chelsea for the last time and was subbed after 26 minutes. I was naturally a little apprehensive about a full 140.6 miles the next morning in a storm but I really can’t blame that. And this was also considerably more sobbing than for my beloved Chelsea.

Geraint Thomas ‘G’ was stood on the podium in the yellow jersey having just won the Tour De France (2018) after 20 stages (no racing for general classification on the last day, stage 21). Some of you will know I’ve long been a ‘G’ fan. I posted on the morning of the defining Alpe du Huez stage ‘Your stage to take today G, ditch the lanky Froomy’. It was only 12 stages in but something told me to ready myself to dare to dream and it was also something for me to hold onto in otherwise difficult times. I don’t think many believed me. I heard cries ‘Team Sky will never let Geraint race Froome’.

If not now, when?

I then spent the next two weeks avoiding the internet until after 7pm until I’d watched the highlights of each stage.

Most of the time I had to sit behind a cushion. Not because of G’s riding but because I so desperately wanted such a deserving and talented candidate to win. He was quickly becoming the nation’s favorite but he’d been mine for years. The day the peloton was attacked by pepper spray? That. Was. Bad. In the end I had to look at the results with the overall times rather than watching the whole race or highlights. I was so excited, but I needed to put my anxiety to rest in the quickest way possible.

G is now 32 years old (the same age as me) and is thus one of the older pro cyclists. He’s been a huge talent, starting as a track rider, played a big part in London 2012 but always either having a mechanical or crash at the all-important moments. He’s also a very good domestique and has spent many years at Team Sky keeping Froomey safe and sound without being allowed to actually race him.

This year it was different. It was clear the team were letting them race after around stage 12. Green light, green light. They couldn’t not given G’s strength and when roles reversed and Froome took on the job of G’s domestique it really put him up in my estimations!

However, cycling needed a change from Froome’s domination and the many doping scandals previously but right until the last day G was clearly not believing it would be him delivering it. I see a lot of myself in that mindset including the bits where one doesn’t take oneself seriously enough as means of protecting themselves against defeat or deficient performances. Like most sports people he broke it down, steady Eddy, ‘one day at a time’ until the commentator pointed out to him ‘well, there are no more days after tomorrow!’. He did the simple things to perfection, kept himself out of trouble, pushed on when he needed to.

G has a good few more years in him but I doubt he will win many more, if any, grand Tours. I wouldn’t have thought that will matter. He’s waited years for this and one defining victory at the Tour de France is enough to put him up there as one of the best cyclists around. It’s everything he deserved after tirelessly working and serving others for over a decade.

And no, before you would like to suggest my new ink refers to the ‘G8’ summit, it doesn’t. G’s race number was 8 throughout this year’s Tour de France.

I don’t care if you think I am sad for having a second cycling related tattoo on my skin. Nor do I care that few will remember G in 30 year’s time when I am grey and old. I live for the now and all my tattoos come as part of my story, history and moments that were truly special to me and I definitely won’t forget this one.

Paint the town yellow please, give everyone free Welsh cakes and then hand out the Personality of the Year Award to G.

All the fours: Outlaw Full (29th July 2018), 4th AG, 4 Iron distance finishes and 4 years

Racing Outlaw full (140.6 miles) yesterday was bitter sweet for a lot of reasons. The short of it was that I came 4th in my age group. That sounds and is my best result to date in a big event and would have been beyond my dreams when starting out. However, whilst I have only been racing four years, coming 4th in any sport is never easy. The winner in my AG was also the overall female winner who is a pro, broke the course record and whom I would put my bets on winning the Ironman World Champs in Kona. I’m pleased of course for her but also a bit annoyed that there wasn’t elite wave as in some other events because as the results stand virtually nobody in my AG could get anywhere near a GB qualification time. The overall winner isn’t usually allowed an age group prize as well either.

I know for a fact that I put in an absolutely solid performance and in the conditions encountered, 25 minutes slower than last year felt like an hour’s personal best! The foot pain is a permanent worry at the moment but on Monday last week I promised myself I would get to the start line as I wouldn’t make it worse. I wasn’t in the mood for dithering and ripping myself into indecisive bits further as to whether race or not. Green light from first thing Monday, head down and I put in to execution a good taper. I did everything I possibly could to minimize the chances of pain at the weekend and part of that meant minimizing time on the bike even more than usual. It wasn’t an easy week.

I was soldiering on nicely riding the tapering emotional roller coaster pretty well and then I looked at the weather on Thursday and then the game playing came along on its own accord. Thankfully I managed to ignore all future social media posts about the weekend, packed 3 rain coats and applied Velomati rule number 5 (Harden the f*@K up). I’ll be the first to admit I am terrible in rain and even worse in wind but there was a tiny part of me thinking that doing an Ironman distance in these conditions (permanent rain for 13 hours, 40mph winds at times) in some way speaks to the character of the sport and its bragging rights. I also very logically reasoned with myself that being freezing cold and wet would substantially help the feet situation.

The swim was changed to an Australian entry/exit which meant three laps opposed to one. I was out completely in 61 mins and 30 secs (getting closer to that sub hour!) which I was pleased with, even allowing for the ensuing rage in the first minutes from a bullying man who tried to rip my arm and leg off. Sorry Mum, I called him very bad words. The worst I’ve ever done in a race.

Strava and Garmin tells me I was faster on the bike in quite a few places compared to the same course in May (18) and last year. I did a lot of things right but it didn’t always feel like it. I suffered big style in the rain and wind and was on pain management until 90 miles (out of 112) until I finally pressed play when I realized I would complete the course without causing too much agony or further damage for the run. But I have to remember, I’ve had days in the past two weeks when I haven’t been able to manage more than 5 minutes without pain and ultimately its taking a lot of effort to have any confidence in riding a bike and any sustainable power (always been my game plan till now) of note is impossible. There were some further vile bits, like the puddle in my shoes for nearly 7 hours but then I also remembered that water was probably keeping my feet cool. My helmet ripping every neck muscle I have and oh, and jumping two feet across the road with deep rims wasn’t so great either.

Onto the run. I have never been so pleased to see retrieve a pair of dry socks from one of my kit bags in all of my life. I don’t always have a second pair but this was a big bonus psychologically. Just a few miles with agonizing feet but dry ones was a highlight for about an hour. I ran very solidly with a good PB on last year but it was enormously painful in the first ten miles and didn’t get much better really. I had miscalculated paracetamol timings and so when I ran bare foot on concrete through transition off the bike I knew what was coming on the run. Even with the pain I managed to keep running. I tried run (0.45 miles)/walking (0.5 miles) at one point but quickly knocked that on the head when I realized my walking was so bad that I couldn’t let myself do that. It wasn’t even a proper walk and I would get cold and join the growing number of other comrades who were getting hypothermia from being so wet and completing their race walking the run route with a foil blanket. Slow-ish and grimacing running was better. I had intentionally left the run as bit of a “training run” anyway for the European champs as I hadn’t been more than 2 hours and 15 minutes all year for various reasons. I was steady and lasted until about 21-22 miles when I started to fade a bit but kept running. The pain might still be there but so is the fitness and I was happy.

Overall I’m a little disappointed but this is the start of a journey to hopefully recovering my feet and I also know completing an Iron distance in those conditions has given me a massive weapon for the future, for the rest of my life riding and racing in fact. I can’t imagine I will face that weather on many start lines ever again, even in British summer. It was spectacularly awful and whilst I left my support team at home and missed them, I’m also glad they didn’t suffer that.

I felt an absolute car crash this morning but am now nicely recovering and reverse tapering back into training the way I went into race. August will be a relatively normal month’s training (for a long-distance triathlete with potential bone bruises/fractures) without racing before resuming a short race schedule in early September.

6th last year, 4th this year…next year? It’s only Nottingham and really is my home race anyway and I know the course well. Let’s repair the feet, and watch me grow into making me the athlete I have always threatened to be. It’s going to take a while but yesterday has shown me I still have something.

Oh and I’d be lying if G winning didn’t encourage me all the way around yesterday. Vive le Tour!

Keeping in the game: The relief of Team GB Middle distance triathlon qualification

For a few months now I’ve been wondering about my presence in triathlon racing both next season and beyond. And those queries being particularly relevant to full Ironman distance racing (140.6 miles). With things going on at work, having lots of project work, not sleeping well, the cost of racing (with no spare time to find a sponsor even) and unbearable foot pain, start lines have begun to become difficult to cross for the first time in my life. Apart from foot pain though, I’m in good physiological shape considering. Heart rate and particularly power readings are tops. However, racing requires the next level that I’ve been short of recently. I can push myself in training when planned (e.g. Trainer Road bike software says, 2 minutes at 110% of my full power and I will do it because I know its coming), but when someone else (i.e another competitor) puts the hammer down, I simply flop. I’m also not enjoying riding my bike like I always have done due to torturous foot pain virtually all the time. Without being able to ‘get in the zone’ I’ve found my mind switching to worry mode as I think about other academic stuff whilst riding and not about moving my bike forward in the quickest and most efficient way. These feelings were all made very apparent with twenty hours riding in Wales in early June. I had a really enjoyable Welsh tour but ultimately I had pretty much overdosed on paracetamol and ibruprofen in a desperate attempt for just a slither of less pain. I was slower at every stage compared to 2017 despite knowing deep down I am much fitter and capable of considerably better. That hurt. It’s also not just about racing though, riding a bike is my love and my drug and it is one of the most pleasurable ways of spending time and seeing the world, more so than running. As I drove across the M4 home, with my feet throbbing, I was truly gutted.

So with all that taken into account I decided I’d do my 7 races this year (5 half ironmans and 2 full ironmans), get a new related tattoo (still happening, sorry Mum) and then not plan for any next year yet. This could backfire very badly as I really need to be registering and planning now. At my cross roads though at the back of my mind I had been hoping to qualify for Team GB age group at 70.3 middle distance half Ironman as this may provide an answer of sorts to work issues and foot pain. I know this shorter length of race would give me far less pressure training and ultimately require shorter harder sessions that so far this year have been very effective. It would still cost just as much money but it would give me thinking time. I love to train, swim, bike and run and that will never change, but going 70.3 miles is much easier to get around one’s head than 140.6 miles right now. I am also too aware that I don’t need start lines to keep me fit, I’ve done that all my life without anyone ever telling me to do so. Ultimately though, if I can’t be competitive, I don’t want to race. Just finishing stopped being enough for me several years ago.

Here comes the more positive bit. Promise.

At 4.30am last Sunday morning I looked up to the rising sun as I drove through the countryside from Kings Lynn to the start line of Holkham half Ironman 70.3 and thought this is going to be a good day. I can sense a good race coming and as I munched my pre race caffeine gum and listened to my pre-race tunes, I knew if I tried quitting triathlon, I would miss the race atmosphere like hell. On the Saturday I’d decided to leave my loving team behind and go and stay in a hotel the night before the race, by myself, in the interest of energy conservation and catching up with work. I’d had a really good week of preparing for the heat, tapered really well, had slept, had eaten and was getting there with hydration. So I took my chance, I knew I wouldn’t get many chances at races to do all those things right this season, even though they should happen every time. Things just aren’t like that just now.

The swim was good (no getting lost this time). I came out of the lake in 2nd. 1st was just in front but I didn’t need to push past, even though I could. I preferred to keep my heart rate down due to the heat. However, I did do a pretty nifty transition and that saw me out onto the bike 1st. The bike itself wasn’t great, more foot pain and I am sad about that as its probably my best and the most important discipline, but it could have been worse. That was made up with a run, that saw me actually running 13.1 miles, non-stop, with perfectly nailed feed stations and a steady pace the whole way. Interestingly I stuck to liquids and didn’t have a single solid bit of food all race.

I came home 12th, higher up the placings and faster than the same course last year and I felt I had been able to race. I found out the winners’ time and knew it was close enough to be worth running the maths. As I drove two hours home, working out 115% of the winners’ time over and over again in my head, I knew my maths wasn’t that bad. I was well within 115% which is enough for Team GB qualification at that distance. The relief is massive. I’m probably better at 140.6 miles as opposed to 70.3 miles but this will keep me in the game long enough to work things out. I’m also proud to say I now have Team GB qualification at cycling, half Ironman and full Ironman and hopefully soon Aquabike distances. It’s good to have choices, right? I’m still learning and the decisions and practices I deployed last week for heat management worked a treat. I’m also a little hopeful that I have learnt yet more about managing the recent collisions between academia and athlete stuff.

This weekend is the British Championships at 70.3. Recovery from last weekend has been good. I’ve never raced two half Ironmans a week apart though, which might prove difficult, but we will see and there is reason to believe a bit at least now.

Catch you all later

p.s. I’ve also found some new storage space for a new time trial bike! I suspect such is not actually for storing bikes, but instead is my Dad’s new shed he was hoping to keep bike and Charlie free. However, I am pretty sure I can find the key under his pillow.

UCI World Championship Qualifier: The dangers of gender inequality in cycling racing


Some of you will know that I am currently working with a team on a European Commission project researching gender equality in national level sports boards (GESPORT, see here for a brief in interested). We will soon be at the 6-month stage of a 36-month project and from the UK side, that means I am knee deep in developing a database documenting every single sports board member across 58 National Governing Bodies. I have spoken already about the closeness of this project in relation to my athletic pursuits in that I have never researched something in which I am actually involved before and I am still working out myself how those notions interrelate. I suppose that is for two reasons. One is I suspect subconsciously trying to maintain some level of objectivity in my research and the second is that I am so heavily engaged in the being of an athlete, that I don’t often spend all that much time reflecting on what else goes around me in that sphere, or what it means to be said athlete.

Of course, I do not need to know much more than a layman about the UK sport governance code to understand that some parts of cycling and to an extent triathlon, has a tainted history and that traditionally both have taken on a very macho culture. Although I will say in their defence that times are definitely changing there, and especially in triathlon with the GoTri female programme initiative.

But, a few weeks ago I couldn’t help but think more about the gendered nature of cycling racing more prevalently given what I was part of and witnessed. For years I have been the only female standing at 5 feet 3 in a pack of 6 feet plus men looking down at me in their wetsuits at the start line of a triathlon. Definitely thinking as they barge past me “What’s she doing so near the front, surely she can’t swim as fast as us”. “Guess what, she can. And will. And will also definitely be out of the lake and into transition one before you”. Generally, we laugh at these photos as it all seems harmless enough banter.

However, this small notion inkles towards some much bigger problems. My point thus far in the project has always been that in addition to reaching equality on top level boards, there are additionally very significant grassroots levels problems that need addressing in sport equality. This is the gendered perceptions and attitudes of the public (nationally and internationally), and especially those regarding spectatorship (see Insure 4 sport, 2018). In summary, the older generations of men are far less believing that females have the potential to be better than any men at any sport. It would seem very sadly that as my story goes on to suggest, that it is not just the public and those self-labelled as “sports fans”, it is some of the largest sporting organisations in the world as well who hold such ideas precious.

On the morning of the 3rd of June, I travelled to Peterborough showground for the UCI Tour of Cambridge Gran Fondo. Apologies but I will need to just give a brief bit of detail about this kind of race as it’s quite unusual. It is the only chance in the UK to qualify to cycle for the Great Britain Age Group team at the World Championships in Varese in Autumn of this year. To qualify, you need to be within the top 25% of your age group (e.g. in my case F19-34). Up until this last year the majority of people who qualify have done so from a Race Pen and this is where I qualified last year. The difference with being in a Race Pen as opposed to a Sportive Pen is that you are solely within your age group, you need to have a full race license and generally obey the rules of any cycle race, the biggest namely, if you get dropped, you stay dropped. If you are in a Sportive Pen then you self-select your estimated speed. I selected the Sportive Pen this year and the top average speed (21mph). A lot of us were encouraged to go in the Sportive Pen and not the race one this year, although no reason was really given but you can still qualify from there.

Anyway, so I am heading to the start line of my 21mph gate (this takes a while, there are several thousand riders) and I notice some very angry looking ladies whose race number tells me they are female 19-34 racers who should be in the Race Pen and not the Sportive Pen. I hear one of them say “they are starting us behind the men’s over-60 race and 15 minutes after the fastest sportive riders” (i.e. my 21mph pen) and this has been confirmed elsewhere. I can see why they are mad. Year on year the females are getting faster in this race and quite frankly it is a demotion behind the men’s over 60 race who will ride slower than them.

The race gets going, I started out very fast, but all seems well. I then settled and road along nicely in a pack in the 21mph group for a couple of hours. Time wise I am looking at a pretty big personal best on last year at the 50-mile stage and well within a qualification chance. I’d originally thought that if I stayed in that group then I would end up with a qualification place provided they stuck to 21mph till the finish line. Whilst I was tight in the pack and getting the full benefit of all drafting and protection from the other riders, conserving energy nicely, at the 60 mile point I noticed the legs were wanting to go more and I couldn’t ignore them given there were only 78 miles to ride in total. Ignite the rocket, I broke away, by myself, from a pack of 40 mostly men (again, little me, more comical pictures were taken). I had nothing to lose, if they get me, they get me, and I am back in the big group.

What happens next, I did not expect! And definitely hadn’t thought through.

A couple of minutes after my break away which I was holding very fine (thank you very much), a moto marshal comes past and shouts “Lead female, go go go”. “Eh, how the hell can I be the lead female of the whole race of thousands? Let me work this out for a few seconds whilst I pedal at 22mph+ in baking sun, several thousand calories down after circa 65 miles”.

And then it dawned on me. I had managed to ride well enough to stay in front of the female Race Pen which were actually stupidly started 15 minutes behind my Sportive Pen. Not just speculation then. Right. This isn’t good.

When cycling, it is generally quiet around you, so much so that you would be shocked, until one thing happens. A pack of riders is approaching which just sounds like a mighty whirlwind of whoosh and whirring. I can handle a bike reasonably well and I would like to think I am pretty solid still. That is until 30 females in the Race Pen come at you at 23mph+ mixed in with the other group I had just left who they had swooped up en route.

This is dog eat dog amongst two genders and groups of competitors. I’m all for genders racing against each other but above anything else this is DANGEROUS because of the different agendas at stake.

Evidently the laws of speed don’t bode well here. We have 23mph females under race conditions trying to fight through 21mph riders not in a race situation, but wait for it, one rider in that second pack is the male over 60 race leader, evidently with a purpose of maintaining his lead.

What then follows is jostling everywhere, people riding up banks (on road bikes), people barging each other, dangerous riding trying to make passes, carving people up, accidents everywhere. This wasn’t a normal cycle race where we expect some jostling, this is dangerous because we have double the amount of bikes in the same space leaving no room for maneuver, moving at different speeds, all with different agendas. I was utterly shocked that this was allowed to happen. Other than gender discrimination, what is the reason for putting females behind the slower men? I certainly can’t see one. Safety definitely wasn’t on the agenda any more than equality. Carnage was however. I can’t help but wonder “what on earth is wrong with letting 40 years younger females finish first and faster”.

If sport is to be equal, it has to be equal on all accounts. And especially the doing of sport, not just the managing of it.

I haven’t said much about my own performance on that day but whilst I was moving fast enough to stay onto the female race pen pack, the rules wouldn’t have let me because I didn’t start with them. I therefore had to hold back a bit, which was probably safer anyway! I rode solidly, and far better than I have done recently anywhere else, but I came in 52nd and missed out on qualification by two places and 79 seconds. I will almost certainly be offered a GB roll-down place, but I won’t be taking it. Athlete stuff is generally not so good and happy at the moment (more later) and I only really raced because I wanted to see what I was capable of and to get some racing under my belt so to speak.

And a last anecdote which I think sums things up nicely. After I let the female race pack go ahead I pushed on as fast I could to the end whilst maintaining a few minutes gap. There was just enough left in my tank for a sprint down the finish line. Which I did. And when I crossed the line I heard: “Don’t ever do that to me again, you have totally embarrassed me. Stop smiling. You started the same time and have just beaten me over the line”. Those were the words of a man, perhaps 40 or so who I didn’t know and who I had just taken easily in the finishing straight.

Wow. From another rider. A male. Never had that before. It would seem gendered perceptions do have that far to go amongst fellow competitors too.

The hardy of you will remember my explicit moaning about the shortened nature of female cycle races and so in part two of this theme I will share another case of gender equality that is equally shocking and is currently becoming a more prevalent issue within the cycling world.

Please feel free to share this post where you might like. I am also very interested in building up a portfolio of these types of cases, so please get in touch if you have something or would like to talk more. I am happy for these to remain anonymous if that is preferred.

Until next time.

Pocket Rocket.


Charlie’s taxis: Loving the labour of driving the disco bus

disco bus.jpg

A slightly off the wall post this one on driving, even if it is something relatively mundane in the modern world and just seen as a mere accompaniment to what we do nearly every day. It’s often framed as an annoying and exhausting addition to a working day when we want to get home and put up our feet. It’s considered laborious, but not work per se and we supposedly get no payment, at least not in monetary form. However, I am not with the majority here and have never really understood it in that way. It’s a space closely connected with being an academic and an athlete and for me far more than time eaten up just travelling to work and training. It’s not uncommon for an academic to make long commutes at some stage and as experience is gained as a triathlete there is no choice but to travel to bigger races.

Wherever we are going, whatever the time of day or driving conditions, the type of roads, however tired I am or how far we will go, you’ll have to wrestle me for the keys. I only drive circa 19,000 miles a year at the moment (about ten hours a week), but it genuinely gives me the utmost pleasure, so much so that I am usually sad when I park the car after only 10 minutes driving. This is not an arduous form of labour in my life that might be expected. I can understand why many commuters think it’s a waste of their time and money, but I’ve never felt that way, perhaps surprising giving that I cram every minute into my working and training day and devote every bit of spare money to either bike parts or race fees. However, I never find it tiring, perhaps being quite fit helps. Similar to racing drivers who are exceptionality fit outside of driving and are often endurance athletes themselves, Jenson Button and Mark Webber two notable examples. On a tiny bit of caffeine chewing gum I can drive for hours on end.

Of course, we all know I adore riding and racing bikes and a cyclist as a driver is supposedly more proficient in reading the road, has quicker reactions, is more aware of other cyclists, is more adept at controlling and steering a vehicle etc., at least that’s what some insurance companies who give reduced premiums suggest. I certainly drive a car like I ride a bike but more on that analogy later. I adore racing and I can’t deny the similarity in occurrence when driving. I love the intuition with the car itself but also the memories of the regular journeys and things gone past. Precisely nailing every corner, roundabout, overtake, and gear change to perfection is my love and drug. It’s also a chance for me to enjoy music and I never ever drive without my iPod on shuffle. OK, I am destroying the environment and spending a fortune on fuel I won’t deny but it’s also a very effective means of sustaining some sanity, especially if I can’t get out to ride much. It thus remains a fundamental part of my lifestyle that I factor in every week and never feel guilty about it. It’s simply what I do.

Beyond the physical labour and enjoyment of driving the car, there is more concerning the labour on myself during the drive. Like most people, I tend to drive two types of journeys, either longer ones or shorter versions ten minutes to work, the shops or gym (yeah, I am lazy, an athlete never uses extra energy when they don’t want or have to). The shorter ones become more of a transition, usually from training to work in the office or work at home. Those shorter journeys enable me to enjoy myself for a few minutes before shifting to a work mind set in a different physical space. After ticking off my training tasks, I then put the academic ones to the forefront of my mind. Driving also gives me the greatest sense of calm and distraction, probably because I just love to control something moving, ten minutes in the car before an anxious appointment or meeting works wonders like you wouldn’t believe.

During the longer journeys, I love being away from my 3G/4G/Wifi, namely my iPhone and MacBook. No TouchId here, I am out of touch. One of my more frequent drives consists of the A6 and 55 junctions of the A14 and those miles happen automatically, on repeat without any thought. Even though I am not thinking about the drive, I don’t get bored or lonely either, I like that I have to have a lot of trust in the driver in front, but I also like that I don’t have to talk to them. Thinking time. Academically I conjure up my blog posts, lectures, seminar exercises, paper ideas and various other forms of writing. I try to store ten points and if I can remember them when I get home, then they are keepers (of course I can’t or don’t write them down in transit). I also think on a broader conceptual level about myself as an academic rather than my academic work, what’s my research identity? What are my one, three and five-year plans? In this sense both of these pursuits remind me of one of the great benefits of an academic job. I am not always welded to a desk, I think fora job, rather than solely just about my job. In my solitary journeys I find I can think far more easily and freely without the noise of emails, other worries or simply the noise of my own mind telling me I am thinking non-sense. Without the commitment of a screen or piece of paper I can also think far more liberally and give myself a chance to wander with impossible ideas. I don’t have to subject them to a premature death by writing them down until I am ready.

During those long journeys I don’t have a list of things I work through. I just let things pop into my head. So naturally I can’t help thinking about triathlon things given that it’s such a huge part of me. I plan races, strategies, I consider the order of next week’s training sessions, and I believe without restriction. I also use it as a form of recovery. I am sitting comfortably, pretty much resting my body from the week’s or day’s efforts and barely burning calories. I therefore use my drive as time to make sure I am up to scratch with the day’s eating and drinking and if it’s after a long race or ride I will usually be driving on recovery shake. I can’t obviously have a three-course set-down meal but you’d be amazed what can be made portable these days.

On that note re portability, I have recently moved to driving a ‘bus’ which is unavoidable given the amount of kit I shift each week. An athlete virtually lives out of their car. Never go anywhere without anything, just in case an opportunity for a few minutes training presents itself. It makes the labour of shifting to training before or after work much easier when you don’t have to prepare too much kit.

So there, as an academic and athlete, it’s safe to say driving is like my own version of an after-work or training feet up TV show.