Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Riding update

At the moment I am working towards a few RDA goals. It's easiest to split them down into disciplines so that's what I'm going to do!

1. Jumping
Having come second in Level 2 Showjumping at Hartpury last year, this year I've entered the Level 3 event. The jumps are twice as big and should all be done in canter rather than trot. I actually find this easier as it makes the horse jump better. To compete at Hartpury (in the RDA Championships) we have to qualify in our region first of all. It's a bit impractical to run a jumping event alongside the dressage and countryside challenge qualifier (which are both always more popular than jumping) so to save trying to find a date that is convenient for all riders, horses, helpers and a judge, we video our rounds and email them off to be marked. Anyway, we did that a few weeks ago and it all went well. I sorted out the videos for Eleanor (Level 2) and Olivia (Level 3) as well and I'm pleased to report that all three of us will be representing Cambs College RDA at Hartpury, alongside Chris Bradley who was granted a bye in the Level 4 class!

Rolo <3
RDA jumping up to Level 3 is scored partly on style, like a dressage test. You are judged on your line between fences, your position, your contact, control of the horse and suitability of the match between horse and rider. Deductions can be made for failing to canter at each jump (Level 3) or, conversely, breaking into canter instead of staying in trot (Level 2). They also deduct points for any poles that are knocked down, fences refused, etc. Somehow, Rolo and I scored 99%, with the only reduction being in the approach to the third jump (a spread) which was a bit fast. I was very happy; it put us in first place and I'm just glad that our hard work as a pairing is finally paying off a bit. Now we just have to keep practising and do our best to take on the opposition at the National finals!
2. Dressage
At the moment I'm working on three separate dressage tests for RDA: walk only (for Dressage Anywhere); walk and trot (Grade 6); and walk, trot, canter (Grade 6). I'm riding Rolo in the Dressage Anywhere test because he has a good walk. It also means that I get some practice in before this weekend's regional qualifier for Hartpury, where I will be riding him in the Grade 6 trot test. We tried the canter test but although he comes down nicely from canter to trot he isn't so good at canter to trot to walk! I've had a couple of private lessons on him with Nikki, who gave me some lessons before Hartpury last year too. She's been so helpful and I've learned some really useful things that I didn't know about before - especially about how to try and get a good halt! I've also learnt to make my right stirrup longer than the left to try and counteract my wonkiness, and this is definitely helping with balance and steering.
My left foot is still lower than my right, even when the stirrup is longer on the right...argh!
For the Grade 6 canter test (also a qualifier for Hartpury), I'll be riding Boysie. I haven't ridden him in ages but I'm hoping he'll be feeling sprightly enough to manage all the canter walk as I think my test is the first thing in his day. I don't have much to say about this test right now as I haven't really done any work for it...not a nice position to be in but at least things are going OK with Rolo!
Prelim (canter) test with Boysie back in February of this year.
3. Vaulting
I'm also going to enter the individual vaulting competition at Hartpury this year, like last year. There's no need to qualify for this so instead I can just focus on getting a good routine ready for mid-July. I'm not quite sure which horse I will be using yet - unfortunately Sandie isn't available, but there's a possibility that I can use lovely Boris. Boris was living in Cambridge when I started vaulting and he was always the horse I felt safest on - he's big and broad and old enough not to be scared by silly things! He was retired to an RDA home in March and we've all missed him a lot, so to see him again and to be able to vault on him again would be wonderful. If he isn't around, I'll probably use the barrel like last year. I've got some funky moves that I can do on the barrel but not on a real horse (yet) so it certainly wouldn't be the end of the world. In the meantime, there's a competition to be working towards in Cambridge in June.
It's starting to get sunny, guys!

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

RDA Creative Writing Competition

Way back in February, I entered the RDA's first ever creative writing competition. You could choose to write a poem, letter or short story, and I went for a letter (500 words limit). I was in two minds of whether or not to share it, but the RDA have permission to share it if they want to and now I have heard that I was 'highly commended' (and got a fancy rosette!) I think the time is right!

So, here goes:

Dear Daddy,

Horses have been part of the story for a long time, haven't they?! From my first encounter with a horse in the village, to all those years of you dutifully waiting at the stables in all weathers and, of course, the best present I ever had (wonderful Rocky, who taught me so much), my love of horses started with you.

You must have been as disappointed as me when I broke my back and could no longer ride. As I got older I spent even more time at hospital but you never expected me to adjust my ambitions - in fact, you understood me and my obstinacy (inherited from you!) better than I realised. I always worked hard and I hope I made you proud.

At university, my health worsened further but you were always my champion. As well as studying (and touring hospitals!) I started rowing, which in a funny way eventually led me to the RDA. Again, you were there - driving, supporting, celebrating, and commiserating.

All that time, though, I could sense that we both wanted the same thing even if we didn't say it. You'd always tell me when showjumping was on the television. You'd email stories about horses, or save clippings from the papers. You listened as I vented my frustration, but you never let me give up hope: you wanted me to ride again as much as I did.

Well, the last two years have seen a lot of riding! The RDA has transformed my life. I ride better than ever before, and I'm the happiest I've ever been. The RDA has given me wonderful friends, happy memories, challenging experiences, many new skills, and, above all, purpose. From my first lead rein ride to winning at Hartpury, I've come so far, learnt so much, and had such an incredible time. Why didn't I join the RDA earlier?!

It's been six years since you died and my life has changed so much that I worry you wouldn't know me now. Six years - but I still automatically think of you when something exciting happens. With each rosette or new skill, I want to tell you first. Whatever it is, I know you'd understand how I feel and you'd share my happiness. It hurts so much that I can't see you or be with you to share the biggest moments.

It's OK, though. You see, at RDA, we always have a friend. We always have someone there who was with us the whole time, in body and spirit. We always have someone who relies on us as we do on them. We always have someone who, without a word but with a gentle expression or their warm breath, makes us feel whole.

When I'm with a horse, it's like I'm with you.

They keep me - and you - alive.

I'll try to keep making you proud and - whatever happens - I will never, ever, stop riding.

Lots of love from Lizzie.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Regional Athletics Champs 2017

Last weekend MJ and I headed to Chelmsford for the East Region Disability Athletics Championships, where we'd be racing in a number of wheelchair track events. This was our third year at the Championships and it was a fun day out again, with lots of new friends made and old friends seen again for the first time in a year!
I was entered into five events: 100m, 200m, 400m, 1500m and 3000m. The 1500m kicked things off on the track. It was an OK race to start the day and get my shoulders moving - somehow all the things you have to do when you first arrive took a lot longer than I had thought so I didn't get much of a warm-up before the race. Fortunately there was no opposition so it didn't matter that I used the 1500 as a warm-up for the rest of the day!
I finished with a time of 6:18.76, which was quite a bit slower than last year's time of 5:46.07. I'd expected to be slower, though, because I really haven't trained as much or as well - and there was quite a vicious head wind round the first bend and back straight this year. The only other racer was a chap who clocked 5:53.24 - so he beat me this year, but my time last year was still quicker. Fortunately we both got gold by virtue of being the only male and female contestants!
Coming slower than last year was a pattern that was to be repeated throughout the day. In the 400m, I came home in 1:30.84 - a long way behind 1:23.95 last year. The 3000m at the end of the day was a lonely slog this year as I was the only person, male or female, who made it to the startline. I finished in 12:37.01, which was a long way back from last year's time of 11:15.46.
Although, on the plus side, no seizure this year!
It was a bit of a surprise to me that I had more luck in the sprints though. The 200m was 41.98 - frustratingly close to my PB of 41.95! Meanwhile, in the 100m I actually broke form and posted my first PB in a year - 22.53, compared to my previous PB of 23.49. I SET A NEW PB AT LAST!
I admit it, I had fun making this.
I'm still a bit frustrated that I'm getting slower not faster so I've made a list of things to I need to remind myself of when I feel pessimistic:
  1. I'm still a lot more injured than last year. My left shoulder is still very sore even though it has more movement than 9 months ago. My back and neck are also a lot worse than they were last year. 
  2. This pain affects my training as well as how I feel in a race. I haven't been able to train as intensively or for as long, so it's not surprising my fitness, technique and strength aren't where they could be. You can only expect the results you've done the work for - whether or not you have a good reason for not doing the work!
  3. I've found it hard to stay motivated in wheelchair racing. I still enjoy it and I still want to go to training, but not seeing the progress can be disheartening. I need to remember that sometimes maintaining a standard is as good as you can get. I also need to remember the advice: anybody can be positive when things are good. It takes courage not to give up on yourself.
    Here's a Rosie photo for fun - she was unimpressed by the travel arrangements.
  4. I've chosen to focus on other things instead. Wheelchair racing is good cross-training for me - I don't think of it as my main sport. I have achieved a lot in other sports over the last year having made the decision to work harder on those other things. Wheelchair racing has helped to make those things happen, rather than just being an end in itself. 
  5. I haven't given up. No matter how slow I am, how tired I feel, how sick I get, how much pain I'm in, or how desperate I feel, I have shown up at every race - at the start line, and at the finish line.
  6. Apparently I'm getting better at sprinting!
Another good point is that my bizarre-looking hip routine before the 3000m potentially did do something to help my back. It's not the same as testing it on a road course, but the fact that the pain was more manageable than normal is a definite plus.
Despite my despondency over my times I still beat all the other female wheelchair athletes, and all but one of the men - so I felt I earned my 5 gold medals. 😊

Friday, 5 May 2017

GEAR10K 2017

It's taken me nearly a week to get round to writing about this, mostly because I'm very tired at the moment, and the event itself wasn't much fun, so it's been hard to gather my thoughts. Here is a potted version of what went on!
Prep! New odo fitted which took AGES because nothing worked.
Sticking to tradition, I went up to Norfolk the day before with my mum so we could stay nearby overnight - massively less stressful than having to travel far on the morning itself. Also sticking with tradition, we had a trip to Church Farm Rare Breeds Centre on the Saturday where we saw lots of lambs and loads of piglets, including some very sprightly little English Lop piglets! (In the absence of race photos, which seem to be taking a long time to appear online, there might be quite a few baby animals featured in this post.)
The day itself was bright and a bit breezey. Quite strong winds had been forecast, much to my annoyance (big winds might have justified using wire wheels instead of discs, and my session with the wire wheels earlier in the week had been dreadful because the pushrims are different sizes and I couldn't adjust). Fortunately, the wind wasn't too bad so I decided that I'd rather have 9km of relatively easy pushing with 1km of battling the wind a bit.
The potentially windy bit!
There was only one other wheelchair racer - a chap who was there last year too. On arrival he asked if I'd done London (the marathon) the week before and looked a bit concerned when I said that, on the contrary, this was my first race since October and until the day before I hadn't really been sure I was doing it! Anyway, it was nice to have some company at the start and soon enough we were off.
Lambs snuggling under a nice warm lamp.
The beginning of the King's Lynn course is a bit twisty as it goes through streets in the town. It's not always easy to see your line but on the plus side there are plenty of people out and about to cheer you on, which is always nice. This time as we came to what I always think of as 'the seafront' (it's near enough to the sea!) there was a big choir who gave us a round of applause which was rather jolly!
A kid on a stump.
After 3km of wiggling around the town you push up quite a steep (but short) bank and go along the canal. This is the windy bit, but actually it didn't feel too bad. For the first time I managed to go all the way along that section without the runners catching up with me. It made it much easier - the path is quite narrow with a drop either side (into water on the right) so it was lovely not to have to fight for space! By this point I was really struggling with my back even though I'd put the old solid footrest on the chair. Luckily I had a fantastic cyclist working ahead of me who was basically my cheerleader throughout and went ahead making sure that people were cheering for me! There's nothing quite like somebody really close to your head shouting, "COME ON LIZZIE!", to make you grit your teeth and grin and bear it a bit longer.
Me meeting a donkey.
Anyway, the rest of the race continued in much the same vein. The first runners caught up with me around the 5k mark. The road with speed bumps was horrific. The bit through the park felt quite nice this year.
In the park last year.
The main problems I had were the old ones: reflux (I regurgitated swallowed my breakfast multiple times that day) and back pain. I frequently had to stop pushing with my left hand so I could use that arm to prop myself up, taking the strain off my back. This wasn't especially good news for the right hand which had had a little incident of its own earlier in the day when someone dropped a door on it and popped some knuckles out! All in all, it wasn't very comfortable, but when I knew I was reaching the end I keyed myself up for a sprint finish. I haven't yet seen any footage of it but hopefully it looked OK!
Going through the finish and attempting to look happy about it.
My time was 44:08 - slower than last year when I was also injured. The frustrating thing is that I don't feel it's either my CV fitness or my arm power holding me back - it's always my back that is the first thing to go. The last 10k I did (in September) felt fine even though all the 2016 half marathons were horrid, so I'm a bit annoyed that it's getting worse. I'm booked in to see the physio and try and get some advice. I'd really love to be able to race one of these races properly, not just try and survive it and push myself round by the skin of my teeth. The only equivalent I can think of for non-wheelies is going running and then desperately needing a poo! From my running days I remember that horrible griping feeling in your middle which just seems to disable your legs completely. My back feels similar - it's absolutely agonising. It can't hold my body up any more, so it just flops and my arms suffer as a result. The problem is that I can't just go to the loo or take loperamide to solve it!
Genuine, bona fide running advice!
Anyway, being the only female wheelchair athlete I won that category again, although at least this time I earned it by also beating the chap (who, in fairness, was significantly older than me). There was no trophy this year! 😞
Me and Gary with our trophies last year.
After the race it was time to go and get some lunch, then my mum drove me to vaulting whilst I had a lovely sleep in the car. At vaulting I was a bit useless but it felt nice to do it anyway.
As useless as >a dozen Saddlepack piglets.
Things to take away from this race: I raised some money for RDA, which is good. On the other hand, I'm getting worse, not better. Before going all guns blazing on a particular workout solution, I need to get this old back checked over again. It's more than half my life since I broke it and it's had relatively little attention in all that time - especially the last ten years or so! It's definitely time to reconsider my lumbar spine - watch this space...
First post-race photo!