An article i wrote recently for Mary Peters Trust.
Since becoming a full time athlete I’ve had to get used to the small variety of things to do in a day, namely swim, bike, run, eat and sleep. However, an ‘off season’ as some call it, or ‘base phase’ as I prefer, has it own variety.
This year I decided it would be a good idea to up-skill myself and I took to Castlewellan forest with Tommy Evans to learn to mountain bike. At first it was a full 20minutes before we left the car park but from there we quickly navigated ourselves onto the slight downhill trail over muck, stones and bridges. I was hooked and wanted to experience more so I signed myself up for a ‘learn to Mountain Bike’ course at the Tollymore Forest Outdoor Centre. Shifting the weight, using peripheral vision, manual-ing, and rear wheel lifts, are easy when someone shows you how, it helped that I brought the husband along ‘for the ride’ I guess if he could do it then I could too. Before long we were back in Castlewellan riding the red trails and giving it loads on the pump track. Base phase training, love it.
Its not all as much fun though. I’ve found ‘base phase’ for me often contains recovering from some injury or another. Last year I was 6 weeks learning how to swim properly after my shoulder became so sore I couldn’t lift a tea cup. This year I’m having a small battle with my foot. The physios call it ‘acute plantar fashia insertion pain’, which is basically a sore heel. For me that meant 5 weeks of shock-wave treatment (shock wave is like a mini jack hammer pounding your foot 2000 times a minute for 5 minutes at a time). There were expletives on my first occasion. At the same time I built up some run volume on the Alter G, an anti gravity treadmill at the Sports Institute N.I. The first time I used it I was running at 75% of my body weight at a moderate 12kmph. My heart rate was 98.
With them guys being all smart down there, the physio depart and the physiology dept work together to maximise training potential for athletes. They hooked me up to the altitude simulator and soon I was running at 2200meters above sea level (heart rate now 130-140). Whilst it sounds like decent training I still had to teach my foot all of the little muscles its supposed to be using and let me tell you, big toe exercises are not the most exciting thing you could be doing.
November and December is also ‘awards season’ and I also get asked to do the odd chat with rising stars of sport. I was delighted to get dolled up for the triathlon Ireland awards dinner, and chat with mates off the bike at my cycling club shindig, but two was enough for me as late nights aren’t my thing. Cinderella looking at her watch thinking about 5.30am swim and all that. I do however love to be invited to inspire some young folk. I spoke to a handful of the commonwealth games hopefuls from Swim Ulster. As an ex-swimmer I understand the fierce demands of the sport, and I didn’t need to talk to them about dedication or commitment. Instead I told them that I’m only a wee girl from Derry, who found out she was good at something and gave it a go, and really they are no different from me. We might be a small nation, but that’s not to say we can’t be competing on the world stage.
Then I was invited to talk to the UK schools games competitors from the Lisburn area. I was delighted as Dame Mary herself would also be there. As a young athlete myself I looked up to her and to think of her amazing achievements in athletics and to represent Northern Ireland so exceptionally, gaining a gold medal in the Munich Olympis and 4CWG medals. I spoke about what being a full time athlete was about. About base phases, training, highs, lows, injuries, travelling the world and most importantly that a wee girl from Northern Ireland can do anything she puts her mind to. Last year I was a benefactor of the Mary Peters Trust, and I thanked Mary my parents, and the young athletes parents for giving me and them that ‘leg up’ that I/we needed. Physical and financial help are necessary in high level sport, but sometimes it’s knowing that people believe in you that makes the difference.
An exciting base phase ended with a Triathlon Ireland camp in Spain, next I head off to rejoin my training group in South Africa, then race in Japan, before I return home in May. I realise I’m very lucky to have such variety. I’m very lucky to be a wee girl from Northern Ireland. And I’m very lucky to have the tremendous support from the team of people around me.