Friday, 24 August 2012

Sports in school - a personal perspective

I hated sport at school. I can't really run, or catch a ball and I'm quite bookish so I wasn't cool enough to be picked for teams anyway. My reports always read:
Effort - excellent
Achievement - average.

I enjoyed swimming but I think we only did that in year 7- once,  and I did a paper round for years and years on my trusty Dawes racing bike (sadly stolen in Cambridge but that's another story). I just was never any good at the stuff you were meant to be good at.

Despite all of that in 6 weeks time I will be representing my country at the World Marathon Mountain Bike Championships. My school PE teachers would be astounded.

How did this happen? 

Firstly a few people inspired me to try cycling at university, some more to try mountain biking. I was rubbish, but it was sociable and we were all rubbish apart from a few. I realised I liked being out in the countryside on my bicycle, I explored and took my bike on holiday with me. I tried racing, I was still pretty rubbish but the atmosphere was nice at the events so I wanted to get better. I gradually improved, I took it more seriously and here we are 5 years later and by a quirk of the UCI qualification rules I am going to the World Championships, with GB kit in my wardrobe.

How I think sport in school should develop

I often wonder what would have happened if when I was at school some people had come in and allowed us to try cycling as a sport. Or if I had become aware that cycling clubs existed. I certainly always loved to ride my bike. Whatever would have happened to me, the concept of school children being exposed to lots of different sports is a brilliant one. Sports clubs being encouraged form links with schools so that if a child wants to continue outside school they have an idea how to is also a really key development. Unfortunately the School Sports Partnerships that facilitated these links have been closed down by the present government but I hope that sports clubs and national governing bodies for sport will continue to develop these links.

Lizzie Armitstead is someone who benefited from  the fledgling school cycling programme now known as Go-Ride. Through exposure to the GB coaches she has excelled in a sport that she might never have come across otherwise.

Sport can change lives, but not every sport inspires every child. The more different sports a child can try the better in my opinion.

Monday, 6 August 2012

A brief history of GBR19811114

On a baking hot July day in 2008 I raced my first National XC Championships at Crow Hill in the New Forest. It was hot, very hot and to me, at the time based in Cambridge, very hilly. I remember the start being insanely fast and feeling completely like a fish out of water but the atmosphere was really buzzing more like a festival than a bike race. I had no expectations about my result. My coach at the time Jenny Copnall became National Champion for the 5th time. I managed to get one Elite scalp and was the top Expert finisher. Chris had a great Sport race and was 3rd, becoming completely starstuck when he got his trophy from XC legend Barry Clarke.

I finished in 10th place.


In 2009 it could not have been more different. We were in Innerleithen Scotland, there was mud, lots of mud and some proper hills! I hitched a lift up with the AW Cycles team from Reading - making what would have been a lonely and long drive much more bearable. The only worry I had was when Simon Ernest got a bit crazy behind the wheel on the winding Scottish roads. The course was hard, up a big climb and then down the otherside, and the start/finish field for the XC (the DH was held at the same venue) was nasty and lumpy. The atmosphere could not have been more different from 2008 and us XC racers felt like we were insignificant compared to the DHers in the next field. I didn't even make it around the first lap as a pucture at the top of the descent made me realise I needed to practice using a CO2 canister.



This National Championships is not one that sticks in my memory. I was having a bad year - working for British Cycling and racing just didn't work for me. The race was at Pippingford SE of London and was another hot one. For the second year I punctured - only this time I was able to fix it and get back on the bike. I was never really in the race, but the course was such great fun that I kept riding round and chucking myself down the fun descents.

I finished in 9th place.


Another year another National Championships this time in Richmond, Yorkshire. 2011 was the year I remembered why I race bikes after a bit of time in the wilderness. Racing for AW Cycles it was great to be part of a successful and friendly team. The course in Richmond was very varied and really challenging. One steep ferny descent which I slid down on my bum a number of times really sticks in my mind. The conditions were changing all the time and an ever present layer of mud kept things slippy. Having been living up in Scotland though I was more prepared for muddy conditions than I would have been for dry. I felt really strong and had a good battle with a number of riders. When the heavens opened on my final lap and the course became a river I think I enjoyed it even more!

I finished in 10th place.


And so we get to this year. In the tradition of alternating conditions it was baking (particularly unusual for this year) and I was very worried about dehydrating. The race was down in the South again at the Wasing Estate near Reading. The course was pretty much flat with only a few short, sprint hills. This year I felt more competitive than I ever have and my race was a great battle with a couple of girls that I have been racing for years. I don't think it is my result of the year but as ever the AW Cycles team spirit was bubbling over. We all had good rides, notably Simon Ernest who won the gold in the Masters 35-39 age category.

I finished in 10th place!

So... 5 years, 5 races, 3 x 10th places, one 9th place (which was actually my worst result) and a DNF. The National Championships is, for most people, the event of the year. Every year I have competed there have been more racers and more competitive fields. My continual 10th placing despite improvements in my abilities just shows how strong women's XC racing is becoming in the UK. Long may it continue....