After 2 years of going cold turkey on athletics, I’m back! (Sort of.)

After telling everyone who’d listen I was done racing, unsurprisingly to anyone who knows how much I love athletics, I am once again racing – but this time with no pressure and for fun and fitness, not for medals! Seeing the epic Josh George win the London Marathon and then spending time with my old friends and teammates both during a recent work trip to Perth, Australia and at the race hotel after the Marathon made me realise that:

  1. I’ve missed my friends during the 2 years I went cold turkey on athletics.
  2. I never stopped training, so really by not racing I was just putting myself through the tough bit of being an athlete and not giving myself the reward of spending weekends with awesome, talented people out on the road or track – or the adrenaline rush of lining up on the start line waiting for the gun to go off.

So almost 2 years to the day since I said goodbye to athletics after winning the 2013 Great Manchester Run, I found myself at Silverstone F1 track sheltering in a garage from the pouring rain on a Wednesday night having sat in hours of London traffic trying to get there from work. Oh the glamour of national racing! But guess what? IT WAS AWESOME. Turns out 2 years of substandard training didn’t actually make a difference, and although I was slow I wasn’t so bad that is was embarrasing, so we’ll chalk that up as a success.

So good to be back with the girls!

As usual I decidec to run before I walked, so after a quick email to the always lovely guys at Nova International I secured myself a place in the Great Manchester Run that Sunday. And you know what? That didn’t go badly either. I may have only placed 5th but I was only 9s slower than the time I won that race in in 2013, and most importantly the feeling of racing alongside my friends and spending the weekend with the amazing Jade Jones and Simon Lawson who I spent years training with, plus some great new faces like Callum Hall (one to watch there…) made me realise what I’ve been missing for the last couple of years.

So what now? With my new job (in football, huge surprise there!) I actually get evenings and weekends off (not something Tough Mudder liked to give us), so training is a lot easier to fit in. I travel a lot with work so for the moment I’m not going to go abroad to race, but I’m excited to get back into doing some British road races and who knows, maybe I’ll even try a track meet this Summer… maybe.

Did it always hurt this much at the end of a race, or am I just out of shape?!

Swim, bike, push (eat, work, study..and sometimes sleep). The ultimate multitasking!

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I last posted on here – the last few months have flown by. The first term at Loughborough was a little too manic even for me. New place to live, new training facilities, new coach, new support, and on top of all that a full-time Masters, a job and speaking engagements to manage. As a result I wasn’t even sure if I was going to continue with elite sport as it just felt like added pressure to what was already a bit of an overload. Thankfully though, by not putting too much focus on training and just treating it as fun breaks for my brain in an overcrowded day I realised that training was actually a whole lot more enjoyable than it had been for years, and I was looking forward to getting in my chair/ bike/ the pool/ gym for every session. The variety of triathlon definitely helped too!

Before Christmas I met Vicky Tolfrey and Christof Leicht from the Peter Harrison Centre at Loughborough University (http://www.lboro.ac.uk/research/phc/), who offered to do some testing with me. The first tests were done on an arm crank, and I was pretty disappointed to find that whilst my power wasn’t too terrible, my VO2 Max was really bad. I guess that wasn’t surprising as with the term being so busy and having exams at the end of it a lot of my training was short and intense, rather than focusing on the aerobic fitness that I’ll actually need for triathlons. But still, seeing the numbers on paper gave me the kick I needed to pick it up a few levels. While normal people were getting fat and drunk over Christmas, I was putting in at least 2 hard training sessions a day. It was worth it though – the tests I did last week showed a marked improvement in both power and fitness.

This term I’m taking less modules as I knew I’d be racing so I packed in the extra last term. That means I have more time to train and work, which is lucky as now that we’ve started working with Loughborough Uni athletes at add-victor, and a lot of performance teams are moving here, work has become really busy. Thankfully I love my job, and I’ve met a lot of amazing athletes in the past few weeks. With race season starting in under 3 weeks though, getting my shoulder fixed (with the help of Rachel at Loughborough Sport through the TASS programme) and training are definitely the focuses.

Out with the Battle Back guys and GB cyclists at Tedworth House

I went on my first British Cycling camp a couple of weeks ago, which was a lot of fun despite my poor injured shoulder not enjoying it very much, but also an eye opener. The team are so fast!! Tedworth House, the new Help for Heroes Centre, was the most perfect training base, so thanks to Battle Back for inviting us. From there I went straight to a British Paratriathlon testing weekend and realised that I love being in my chair enough to put up with having to swim, so I’m now swimming every day to try and raise that part of my game. I’m hoping to compete at the Paratri National Championships in July and if I’m selected, Worlds in September, but if not I don’t mind because regardless of whether I manage to represent GB or not I’m actually enjoying sport again, and that’s really what’s important!

Courtesy of Rachel and Ruth at Loughborough Sport - thanks TASS!

From Dark Blue to..purple, pink and white?! At least the red, white and blue stays constant.

Lots of people have been asking if I’m still doing sport after not making London, and I’ve heard some pretty off the wall rumours about what I’m up to so I thought I’d better set the record straight!

I moved to Loughborough Uni in October to do a Master’s in International Relations with French and German on a Santander scholarship. For those of you who don’t know, that’s far far north of London. It’s really cold ALL THE TIME. I’m loving having to use my brain again, and brushing up on my languages (well, in the case of German dragging it up from menu reading level..), and I’ve surprised myself with how quickly I got back into research and essay writing. During my undergrad I was the opposite of what people stereotypically expect an Oxford student to be – sure I worked hard, but work had to fit around sport and partying. Now I’m loving being a proper geek and putting everything into my course – which is weird at a uni where everyone is expected to be fitting in a degree around training!

Of course the training facilities at Loughborough were why I decided to do my Master’s here rather than at Oxford. The Olympic team used the uni for their pre-Games camp, which pretty much sums it up. The gyms, pool and track complex here are world class, and the support I get as a triathlon TASS Scholar matches it (https://www.tass.gov.uk/athletes/nikki-emerson.html). Through the programme I have a great new support team: Gav is my coach, Andy does all my S and C sessions with me and Rachel is my physio. I’ll also be meeting my sports masseuse and mentor soon. Adjusting to having to fit in my sessions around when the uni performance teams train has been a bit of a culture shock after the constant track/ pool/ road access I had at Stoke Mandeville, but we’re gradually working it out. Road training up here is basically synonymous with suicide as far as I can see so I’m coming up with ingenious ways to get out of going out around the uni (thank goodness for my gorgeous Mini – thank you again Sytner High Wycombe! http://www.sytnerhighwycombemini.co.uk/). This week I’m joining some of the uni triathlon club (http://www.loughboroughtriathlon.com/) track and swim sessions which will be great as I’ve missed training with other people, and of course I’ m looking forward to getting involved with the social side of the uni tri club – so far it’s been all work and no play which isn’t right at all!

Powerbase Gym

Powerbase - my new gym. Incredible but very smelly at elite time!!

On top of training and studying I’m still working part-time for add-victor (http://www.add-victor.com/) which is a lot of fun. The team are great and we’ve placed some fantastic athletes into the perfect jobs for them recently so I’m pleased to be a part of it. The next few weeks are full of meetings with different sports bodies and we’re even taking a trip to Germany to recruit so I’d better make sure my German is actually usable.. Oh and I’m still managing to fit in the odd school/ corporate talk which I love – the receptions at John Hampden and Stoke Newington were especially great!

So as usual, life is busy and crazy but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Although I wouldn’t complain if it could be busy and crazy and little closer to my family, friends and Kyle!

This summer I climbed mountains, kayaked across lakes, swam with turtles..and oh yes, I WALKED.

I’m sorry I havn’t blogged in a while. For the first time in four years the focus of my life over the summer wasn’t athletics – scary! I decided to make the most of not being selected for London so I took off to Canada without my racing chair for the first time and went on a road trip with Kyle to British Columbia, where we hiked up mountains (yes, of course I fell out of my chair), kayaked on the most beautiful lake, swam in the hot springs and managed to set up a camp and a campfire without setting fire to ourselves. The marshmallows fared less well.. It was the most incredible trip ever. Then I went to Barbados with my family and swam with turtles who got so close 1 even nipped my finger which was very cool.

So worth the hike to see this view!

And then it was back for the Games. I went to lots of of Olympic cycling and Paralympic athletics, and also to some wheelchair tennis and rowing and the atmosphere at all of them was just electric.

UK/ US loving at the marathon

The other (very big) highlight of my summer was getting to try the Ekso Bionics eksoskeleton, a computerised robot that straps around my legs and moves them in a gait very similar to normal walking. What shocked me with it was how much it actually does feel like walking did rather than feeling jerky or unnatural. The knee bends so you feel like you’re taking an proper step rather than the leg just swinging through like it did when I tried to walk on calipers. I love being the right height again when I walk in Ekso as for once people aren’t looking down at me when we’re talking, and it feels so good to stretch out and not be sat down all the time. At the moment the Ekso is designed for rehab use so I couldn’t walk around at home without a physio but I can’t wait until they bring out the home use one – I’ll definitely saving up for it!

My first walk in 4 years in the Ekso Bionics skeleton

Lots and lots of talking

It’s been a very busy few weeks of speech days, sports days and Olympic Torch Relay events and I’ve really enjoyed speaking at them all. I had a great time at Wycombe Abbey, Felsted, KCJS and the Hackney primary schools – so many talented students – and the Oxford University torch relay event really was the cherry on top of a great week. Check out my Felsted speech at http://felstedschool.newsweaver.co.uk/prepschool/155w0llb44p1ok2i0mnwgr?a=2&p=25605995&t=19656605.

Although I wasn’t selected for the Games I’ve had such an amazing four years and I’m so grateful to have been given all these opportunities in the run up to London. I’m taking a few weeks off to go camping in Canada but once I’m back can’t wait to get training again for World Champs next summer and Rio in 2016.

100 degrees in the shade of the..well there weren’t any trees!

I hadn’t intended to race internationally again this summer, but when the opportunity to compete in Indianapolis in the final week before selection for the Games I jumped at it. After weeks of getting wet and cold out training in Britain I have to say that I was equally excited to be going somewhere sunny as I was to be racing at a big international meet like the US Paralympic Trials!

Indy didn’t disappoint – with temperatures at a record high for the state and a super fast track there were some fantastic performances including many world records being smashed. For me the meet was especially important and reassuring as I had a rocky start to the season after having to take time out from training during the spring, and this was the first track meet where I’ve been close to back to my old form. I love to race in the heat and the majority of the top competitors in my racing class are from the US so it was great to line up against them and even beat one of them for the first time this year. It was also really nice to spend time with some of my friends from the GB and US teams – and even play tourist after our last race!

So now there’s just 2 more meets at Stoke Mandeville and Birmingham this weekend before the team for London 2012 is announced. It’s been a great three years in athletics, and I’m excited to keep training and go for those medals in Rio whether or not I make the Great Britain team for this summer. I’ve trained as hard as I can and my times are steadily improving as my fitness returns so all I can do now is hope!

Three years goes by very very quick

Three years ago today I started wheelchair racing. That’s gone seriously quickly! My first ever race was the Silverstone half marathon in 2009, which took place again today. Rick didn’t want me to race as I am focusing on the 200m in the run up to selection for London 2012 so a half marathon was a little off the training plan but I went to watch anyway. It’s been a long winter without seeing most of my racing friends so it was
great to catch up with Simon Lawson, who placed 2nd in the men’s race, and my old coach Ian who I’ve missed my almost daily chats with, and Jenny Archer who’s coaching sessions I used to join in with in Richmond. Watching definitely wasn’t as good as taking part though, especially as I could in no way justify the usual post-race pick and mix! It was great to see so many people racing but I was very glad my course record still stands!

I can’t believe that this time three years ago I was fresh from my first experience of wheelchair racing and excitedly awaiting word from the race organisers on whether I’d be allowed to race the London Marathon, which my time at Silverstone qualified me for. I’m so grateful Michelle Weltman let me race the Marathon that year – it was one of the best days of my life. Reminiscing about that first season racing has made it really
clear to me how much my attitude to racing has changed for the worse over the years. Although I still really enjoy road racing, track meets have lost most of their appeal thanks to the combination of pressure to succeed and starting to find them a little monotonous.

I think it’s time for a bit of an attitude adjustment. I loved track racing for the adrenaline rush when the gun went off and it was my time to race. Now when the gun goes off the crippling nerves that I used to only experience in the call room that would disappear once I came out onto the track stay with me until the race is over. That’s not how it should be. So this season I’m going to try to relax. I’m a lot happier in training now
I’m working with Rick and part of the Cyclones Road and Track Club in Saskatoon, Canada (check out our new website at www.cyclonesroadandtrack.com) so I hope that will have an effect on my mood at races too. Being nervous is good and I’m a firm believer that if you’re not nervous before a race you’re not going to perform, but it’s also supposed to be fun, whether it’s a Paralympic year or not. And as my coaches are always saying, I push a lot better when I’m relaxed so hopefully it will have a positive effect on my performance!

Almost time to head home

After 2 months training and racing in Australia and Canada it’s finally time to wrap up my pretty pink chair for the last time and head home. I don’t want to leave as Canada has been so great and I’m really enjoing training with my new coach as part of the Cyclones Road and Track Club. And I’ll miss Kyle of course! I’ve missed my family and friends back in the UK tons though, and of course my home from home, the lovely Stoke Mandeville Stadium.. Check out their new video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAkD52uDAys

Loving my newly pink chair!

Thanks to TopEnd’s super fast delivery and Alex at www.revolutionsportequipment.com for painting my chair, it now looks amazing – and fits too!

Thanks to TopEnd and Alex at www.revolutionsportequipment.com

Helllooooo Cyclones!

After my terrible races in Australia I had to accept that I needed to sit back and evaluate every aspect of my wheelchair racing. I sought advice from lots of experienced athletes and coaches and the general response was slightly daunting: They felt I needed to change my training programme, my seating position in the racing chair and my gloves. And there are only four months left until the qualification cutoff date for London. I took all this advice on board and eventually made the tough decision to change coaches so that I would be able to see my coach more and get more hands on input to my training.

I am now coached by Rick Reelie in Saskatoon, Canada where I have been training a lot this winter with the Cyclones Road and Track Team. Rick has made some massive changes to my training already, most notably replacing the hard plastic gloves I’ve been pushing on pretty much since I started racing to Harness gloves which are very different. At first I couldn’t push in the new gloves at all but yesterday we did a 5km maximal test and I was only 0.3kph off the speed I averaged when I did this in my old gloves. So it’s getting better! I’ve also moved onto the Cyclones training cycles so we have a ‘rest’ week every fourth week where we only train alternate days. The sessions we do are very tough and involve maximal testing so it’s not really supposed to be an easy week but it’s really nice knowing that every fourth week I’ll have three days off to see my friends and get lots and lots of sleep. My training has also become far more focussed to just sprinting which makes sense as I am aiming to perform in the 100m, 200m and 400m this summer. So lots of change but I hope it will bring good results!

I really enjoy training withthe Cyclones as they have athletes who are both faster and slower than me which pushes me to perform in every training session as I don’t want to get left behind. I’m a lot happier training here than I am in the UK as it gets really lonely training at home on my own and of course I don’t get to see Kyle. In Saskatoon I’m never lonely as I live with Kyle and his three sisters, and of course Nixon the puppy, at their new house and outside of training I hang out with Keira, Marianne and Becky, three of the Cyclones girls. It’s starting to feel more like home than Buckinghamshire!

Saskatoon isn’t exactly a tourist town but as usual Kyle’s been a fabulous host so far and taken me lots of places including the ice sculpture park where we sat on this incredible bench carved out of ice. On Valentine’s Day I was super proud of him as he was invited to carry the medal in the Rick Hansen Many in Motion relay which goes across Canada to raise money for spinal cord injury research. It was great to catch up with his family at the event and even better to get home to a beautiful bunch of pink roses and be taken out for an amazing meal. I did have to break my chocolate and alcohol abstinence for a night but hey, it was V Day!

 

With Kyle and his family after he carried the medal in the Rick Hansen Many in Motion relay