Something good will happen this year...
6th Jun 2017
In my last blog I wrote that I was looking forward to doing something good this year. Whether that would be racing or starting a family I didn't know - the latter being something we know we have zero control over.
But sometimes nothing goes to plan and life doesn't work out how you wish, no matter how hard you try...
2017 started out as well as it could in terms of my training. I had a solid winter. I really improved my swim technique thanks to coach Mark with his analytical eye. Physio Pete kept on top of my shoulder mobility and strength, which has been a massive limiting factor in the past. I also improved my power on the bike, my technical skills (finally learned to bunny hop!) and I increased my confidence on the steep descents thanks to MTB coach Tom.
I was genuinely looking forward to the Xterra European season, and couldn't wait to get started in Malta. I thought the course was going to suit me, but it was a lot more rocky, more technical and less flowing than in previous years. I was confident I could ride everything, but being on a hardtail when most of the other pros had full suspension bikes was a massive disadvantage. I am always reluctant to blame my equipment, but even Nico Lebrun (Xterra technical director, 32 x Xterra winner and former World Champion) consoled me and told me that hardtails and full suss are practically in a different race on Malta. Not only does suspension make the whole MTB ride easier but it saves your legs for the run! I finished 7th - not a total disaster, but nowhere near what I was hoping for, and certainly didn't reflect all the hard work and improvements I've made this winter.
There was another thing too, which put me in completely the wrong mindset before the start. For one of my competitors, it was her first race back after having a baby. While I really like this girl and think it's great that she's competing again, it's impossible to stop thoughts of "I wish that was me too". We had both got pregnant around the same time, so it's a painful reminder of what could have been, especially as I am no further along this journey.
But there is nothing I can do to make that happen. So back home in Reading, after a good debrief with Mark and sport psychologist Andy, I turn my focus instead to something I can control. And that is my race bike! I am lucky that I continue to be supported by Mountain Trax, and especially Paul who as always went above and beyond to help me. There were too many signs telling me a full suss bike is meant to be! Yeti make a frame that is geometrically identical to my hardtail, they had it in stock, and the women's version is optimised for a 50kg rider (who, me?!) Plus every credible person I spoke to said it was a good idea. The icing on the cake? The Beti is... PINK!
I had wanted a full suspension bike since 2015 but couldn't justify spending the money, thinking (hoping) if we are able to start a family I won't be riding it. But I am fed up of putting my life on hold in so many ways, I finally thought "f*** it - let's do this!"
Another massive thank you has to go to the team at Silverfish for helping to make the magic happen in double quick time. I've said it already, but I can't thank Paul & the guys at the shop enough for turning round a custom build in 10 days - it was only going to be worth this effort if I could have the bike in time for my next race, Xterra Spain!
I couldn't wait to ride the new steed and wasn't disappointed... this bike is super bouncy, and just wants to eat up the trails FAST! All my technical skills seemed much easier to do - although I don't regret learning on a hardtail. I have earned the right to ride this bike now!
So less than a week later, I was due to take the Beti on her first test race (a local Gorrick) when something happened that I'd almost given up hope of - a positive pregnancy test?!? It couldn't have come at a more inconvenient time in the race season, which is of course probably why it happened! But who cares about racing now?! We couldn't be happier with the news. But it was a case of cautious optimism rather than celebration. Only my coaching team of Mark, Pete, Andy and Tom were allowed to know, and hard training was swapped straight away for low intensity exercise with no agenda. Where I'd normally train twice a day, and maybe an hour of hard running intervals at lunchtime I switched this to easy swims or 30 mins of jogging. I was still cycling to work, but trying to avoid busy roads or get more lifts to reduce risk. I was planning to start Pilates with One Physio and had a lot of good advice from Pete about the increased importance of core work! There was a lot of sleeping, a lot of feeling sick, while trying to get through the day in work as normal so that nobody guessed.
After our previous miscarriage at 7 weeks, we decided to pay for an early scan to hopefully give us peace of mind this time. But unfortunately that is not what we got...
The scan took place the day before I was due to fly to Xterra Spain. Of course I was no longer planning to race, but I'd paid for the flights and hotel and thought I may as well go on holiday and support everyone else. But it proved inconclusive - either we had our dates wrong, or the development wasn't progressing as expected. We left the appointment feeling sick with worry. I didn't sleep that night, and although we had driven to Gatwick I couldn't face getting on the flight, so we turned round and drove home again. We had been told to come back for another scan in 10 days and we wouldn't know the outcome until then.
As the 10 days passed, I actually started feeling better. There is variability in the dates after all, and I had not seen any blood or cramping or anything that would suggest another miscarriage. Surely that would have happened by now if something was wrong? All the normal symptoms continued so we went into the appointment feeling more positive. This only meant we were dealt an even more crushing blow when our worst fears were confirmed. The embryo was not developing but my body had not recognised it yet - this is called a missed miscarriage. Simon's tears fell for both of us, but I simply felt numb with shock - I literally couldn't take it in that this could be happening again.
We were told we have to wait another 7 days (for another scan to make certain), and then either wait for a miscarriage to happen naturally, or have surgery to remove the pregnancy. I thought how can I wait another 7 days?? There is no worse feeling in the world than feeling constantly sick, exhausted, wearing ridiculous 30E bras, all the other undesirable effects of pregnancy and knowing there is no baby. I don't mind going through any of this to have a baby, but it is unbearable going through it all for nothing.
What had seemed like the best feeling in the world, feeling like that there was a baby growing, now felt tainted. Like I had some kind of parasite inside, draining all my energy and making me feel like sh*t. I tried to start training again (well what the f*** else am I meant to do?) but any kind of high intensity made me want to throw up. But I went out on the bike as much as I could, went back to normal swim sets, and counted down the days until I could have surgery. I wasn't even worried about the op, my only fear was the surgeon running out of time to get through everyone, and having to wait another 4 days!! I just wanted it to be over. Simon told me he made one of the nurses cry when she learned I had run 10k that morning, and that we'd cycled to the hospital together. It was the hottest day of the year, and all I wanted to do was be outside in the sun, before I was stuck in the most depressing institution in Reading for the rest of the day.
Thankfully the op was 'uneventful' (according to the notes) so it was home to spend our 4th wedding anniversary recovering. Not exactly the celebration we would have wished for. When we promised each other for better or worse, we never could have envisaged such lows as this, but I am grateful to be on this journey with the right man and the best husband I could wish for.
I am relieved this nightmare chapter is over, and am grateful for the support of my coaching team through this incredibly difficult time. Most of all to Pete and Andy who have gone above and beyond their remit of Physio and Sport psych! Now I just have to try and move on, although it's hard when it takes the body a couple of months to get back to normal.
I hope to make the most of what is left of my race season, and salvage something positive from this year. I'm currently making plans for Xterra Finland, Norway, Germany and Denmark. I am determined to make the most of these opportunities, and trying not to think about the more worrying questions of what happens at the end of the season, like will we ever be lucky enough to have a family when I'll be 37 in September...?
The one silver lining in all of this is looking forward to getting our new puppy in July. We would probably never have gone down the route of owning a dog if we had been successful by now in having a baby! I keep holding on to the idea from my previous blog, that I will still be doing something good this year... Just not anything that I had expected!
So hopefully I will be back racing soon, and in the meantime we can't wait to bring our little Beaker-pup home <3
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