Sunday, 11 December 2016

2016: Praise the glutes

Oct ’15. Buzzing from winning Mayors Cup. I stayed out in Colorado having physio, it was making a difference. I un-diagnosed myself with Iliac Artery Endofibrosis and carried on buzzing. Brief stint in the UK, then headed for a kiwi summer. Dear Vascular Surgeon, It’s a bit too good to be true, I am not getting numb, crampy, dead legs. Dear Emma, Great you have found a way to manage the symptoms but bottom line is we have the objective evidence. Hello increased intensity, hello old sensations. Shiiiit.  You deluded fool, ‘pipes’ don’t unblock themselves.

‘16 was testing and demoralising at times. I wouldn’t recommend trying to work around this injury; at present there are no successful alternatives to surgery. Nah there’s got to be a yoga pose for that. Beet juice? Surely you can belly breath that away…? (lol jks). But, there were good times and some performances to write home about (‘MRN’s’ aka more riveting news emails, parents relish them). It’s too easy to overlook the good when one defaults to harsh self-critic. Nevertheless I will cherish cool experiences, new places, new races, amazing people, host fam’s of 2016 and when shit hit the fan at least it made for a tale...

My year started with an impromptu US departure before I became an illegal alien. One stubborn seat post and equally stubborn US airways lead to a missed flight but the following day I was off to Canada. Embassy interview bossed in the am, spin in the pm. Turns out nature breaks are considered anti-social behaviour in Canada. Putting on your best British accent can be a saving grace when joining two other Emma Grants in the system. The purpose of my trip to Canada went down especially well. Shortly after whilst exploring the local roads I discovered the proximity of the US border. Border awaiting ahead, I made a prompt turn in the road. Unknowingly having already crossed the staggered left hand side border I was sent to report to the main building. When pried, the motive of my trip went down equally well with immigration. But lo and behold 4 days later my passport + visa was returned and I headed off back to sunny Cali.

I decided to finish up my season with one last race on my own and headed to Steamboat Springs. I was hooked up with lovely hosts Cathy and Glenn in the picturesque ski resort town. After a tour of the house I headed out to do a recon. Cathy had forgotten to tell me about the shower so stayed home to be sure to intercept. Whilst upstairs writing me a note she didn’t hear me back, I headed straight for a shower. She was alerted by the sound of a projectile monsoon coming off all four walls, the house's water supply was quickly averted. This was to bag a top 3 in awkward host housing incidents (alongside exploding spaghetti squash’s and oven roasted chopping boards). She sweetly rang friends, ex winter Olympians and lent me a white fluffy robe for the walk of shame along the street to their shower with teams arriving and assembling bikes. The following morning the incident was the talk of race day reg.

And that that was that, season done. After much vacillation I planned to head straight back to the UK and have surgery before my 25th birthday. Because everything involving the NHS goes like clockwork. It doesn’t, but slight dig aside we are very fortunate. Still with no date for the op, I wanted to stay as fit as poss going in to minimise the extent of detraining so I hit up the UK hill climb scene, which was sadistically such fun. Just like old running times mum got to help me up from a bush. After all the time spent working around the injury I had the protocol dialled in. Off the bike, the year’s free time spent attached to fluorescent rumble roller beastie ball, mobilising every muscle less reliant on blood flow from the iliac artery. I’d figured out how to recruit every morsel of glute muscle fibre I had. Praise the posterior chain. My surgeon injured his finger and it was well into the depths of winter when I finally went in for the chop. It wasn’t that bad I'd had months to brace for it so it was quite pleasant in comparison. I now have a cow heart patches on my iliac and femoral arteries.The average age on the vascular ward was ~80 and the corridor was lined with 5m benchmarks so my first steps felt like going for it with rainbow swimming badges. My guests thoroughly enjoyed the meals on wheels service whilst Madre brought me hot nourishing food from home and fed me arnica with my morphine. I am doing pretty well with sedentary life; I enjoy ironing, baking for the elderly in the village and don’t miss the endorphin's at all. Maybe not entirely accurate but after 6 weeks of keeping my blood pressure low I’ll be back on the push bike and psyched for another season with my team Colavita.

I’ll get round to writing about the injury properly as so many other athletes have shared their experiences and helped me. But in the meantime this is a must read for anyone engaging in chronic competitive hip flexoring:

Let’s switch to pics and start at the very beginning…

Good times pre season training in SoCal with room mates Laura and Gaby. Beaut canyon roads, awk LA asian spa experiences and bumping into third cousins.

Host housing never disappoints. Some went beyond their duty with homely peter rabbit bowls and inspirational biking mannequins, new pen pals for life...

Back in Boulder, Colorado my base for the season. Yup same town as the room mate song, that's right.

Good times in celeste with Colavita

Good times representing the team in Maine for the Farm to Fork Fondo. Lobster in chamois with Gretchen was a first.

Banter at Bristol Southmead, just don't make me laugh because it really hurts. My guests enjoyed their locally sourced meals on wheels. I was out after 4 days. Thanks to Sujon blackcurrant power for aiding my recovery and BetterYou Magnesium oil for helping me get some mobility and relieve muscle tension.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Kiwi summer

My time in the sothern hemi is coming to an end. My brain is a bit fogged up from training hard so here is a picture blog! 

Loading up on kiwi flat whites before the land of starbucks!

Visiting the team behind the awesome blackcurrants

Pre training sujon brekkie bowl

Banter with the little bro

Fun training with Emily a now hard out triathlete!

XM with the lovely Lush's my adopted kiwi fam. I'm so grateful for their support, making Nelson the perfect base for my training this offseason!

Too beaut to nap on domestic flights in NZ 

The road to Glenorchy top 3 of fave rides ever

Tramping the Routeburn

Very jammy digs in Queenstown


Jo K showing me the 'lanes' in chch!
Good to notch up a couple of local wins
Thanks tasman wheelers for putting on great events!

Deck life in Nelson ;)

Monday, 23 November 2015

Making the process #AWESOME

A little belated but rest assured this is an upbeat one! The past 4 months have been somewhat of a welcomed whirlwind since my last rather “woe is me” post. Rewind to July, I reluctantly headed off over the pond into the only too familiar unknown. With a recently diagnosed artery condition and off the back of a chronic suck I was so sure I was done with cycling. Madre Grant words of wisdom were to take the bike, but why not just hop on a greyhound bus?! I felt like I was going to let giving up set the tone for the rest of my life.

A change of scene was good for morale. Whilst I felt awful on the bike I didn’t really care, I was enjoying being in Colorado. On a scale of get up and go, Boulder is at the opposite end of the continuum to England (/Belgium/Holland (no offence)). A lot less energy is required to get out the door and on your bike.

I did a couple of races including the Tour of Utah. I focused everything on my left quad, the only part of my leg with normal sensation. I went on to the Pro Challenge, racing at 10,000+ft. Although my legs were so numb it wasn’t the shocker I was expecting. It showed me I had mental reserve I hadn’t tapped into before. At this point I realised that I was racing better purely because my expectations could not be any lower.  For the first time in my sporting career it hit me that my self-worth was no longer determined by how hard I could push on my pedals. I returned to the Boulder bubble and started to scheme up a post racing plan that would allow me to live in Colorado. I was adamant I wouldn't have the artery surgery. 

Pro Challenge was incredible, people want to see women's racing!

Thinking spot on top of Flagstaff mountain
Whilst in Boulder I was recommended a very good physio, I hoped she may be able to help me manage the symptoms a bit better. It transpired that I had been riding 2 different crank lengths (!!) twisting my pelvis and impinging my right artery more than my left.  In addition two old running stress fractures to my lumbar spine were affecting the nerves to my legs (amidst a plethora of other biomechanical dysfunction and concussion related probs). She worked wonders in just a couple of sessions. I headed to Missouri to guest for Colavita and was racing with a lot less numbness and my glutes (my trusty powerhouse) were back! I managed to make the break on the third day and round out the podium. I was then invited to ride the final block of racing in Boston with Colavita. I was excited at the prospect of having two pins! My team mates made the race aggressive which allowed me to time my move when the going was tough. I solo’d away for the win and needed quite a bit of pinching!

Trying to conjure up some fasttwitchers for a downhill drag race to the line at Gateway Cup

A bit of a pants post up in Boston

I have always wanted to hold a gigantic cheque!
I made the decision to postpone my flight home and stay out in Boulder to carry on having physio. The season was over but it felt like it was just getting going. I carried on riding but what I call lifestyle training to make the physio treatment more productive. I kept the momentum going and had the best time ticking off my Colorado bucket list with some cool adventures. At this point in the year not many riders in Boulder were keen for epic 6 hour rides in the mountains which gave me a lot thinking time. One thing resonated with me strongly. If I was going to commit to ~5 years pursing my dreams in this sport the process had to be #AWESOME (in true American spirit). If cycling makes you miserable what is the point? Go get an ordinary job.  This was huge shift in mindset after 5 years of unsustainable intensity and expectation. Some may argue that an identity defined by physical prowess is needed to be truly gritty competitor. Perhaps this serves as an additional driving force when failure becomes defining? Nonetheless my goal is to make the process of fulfilling my potential an amazing journey. My ego has no shame in accepting that I broke myself, but I don’t regret taking myself there.

Moab, Utah- a big check off my bucket list
Making my mtbing comfort zone a little bit bigger in Moab...

Lots of fun times shared with the amazing Jen Reither!!

Elk in the Rocky Mts National Park

Camping in the wilderness

I left the states with a pro contract and a new lease of life. I met so many inspiring people. I am so grateful, so many people had such a positive impact during an impressionable time. It was a blast. I spent 3 short but sweet weeks at home catching up with friends and fam before jetting off down under for a kiwi summer. I am finally sitting down with my laptop after what has been a mad and surreal 4 months. My sister and I have just spent a week seeing family and friends in the north island. Currently heading south on the interislander where I will set up camp in beautiful Nelson until team camp in the NY. Whilst the objective evidence of endofibrosis is still on my mind I am managing the symptoms ok. I am really optimistic heading into the 2016 season with Colavita. Ciao for now, thanks for reading!

(Photo credit to Darrell Parks and Scott Kingsley)
My sis is pretty cool
Enjoying some A to B base training and ending up in spots like this

One way to kick the jetlag tramping the Tongoriro crossing

Trip down memory lane at Grandad's bach

Monday, 20 July 2015

Iliac artery endofibrosis: The lemon drizzle on top

I still can’t believe I am writing about this as am yet to get my head around it. It has been a while since I last blogged as I don’t like to use it as a means of venting frustration, this post however is helping me with acceptance. After another year of struggles, my diagnosis on Wednesday really was the lemon drizzle on top of a very bitter sugar free lemon cake!

I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue in November ’14; generally functioning was a challenge. A lot of my food had to be blended, fun times it was not. I won’t bore you with the details, for the most part they have consciously been repressed. Mitochondrial function tests showed that I was operating at a cellular level of 30%. My little bro still sends me a “make sure you give it 30%” text before races! Within a few months of working with a new Dr. I was improving all the time, at Christmas I was saying to friends it’s almost too good to be true. I don’t know how I would have coped without my parent’s unconditional support.

I had planned to resume my degree in the NY and finish off my final semester at Bath Uni. Fortunately, sufficient brain fog had cleared and mentally I could function again. Cognitively, studying was a struggle but it really helped kick my brain into working again. Having enough energy to be 1.5 dimensional was good for getting back on track. I started racing in April when I was by no means race ready. Tour of the Reservoir in Northumberland was a shock to the system racing in negative conditions and snow. Not many finished and those that did were borderline hypothermic. I was just pleased I finished.

By this point I had been experiencing more and more weird leg sensations in both feet; numbness in both feet, shooting into my calves too. It got worse and worse and my legs felt powerless and weak. Cue Ed Sheeran’s lyrics- when your legs don’t work like they used to before… I gave myself such a hard time for feeling so weak on the bike, attributing the symptoms to the aftermath of chronic fatigue. Maybe I wouldn't make a full recovery or be the same athlete again?? Or is it just in my head?? This internal dialogue plagued me from the moment I woke up in the morning.  You would switch the radio off if it was talking bullshit but I couldn't shut this up.

Winning, a short lived high
I raced on. Occasionally I would have a fluky day; a teaser of how my legs used to feel. Then bam last weekend after winning in Guildford only a few days before, the numbness and loss of feeling became so extreme. That kicked me into seeking out a specialist. After a day of networking and researching I had an appointment booked to see Dr Hinchliffe, a top vascular specialist in London. By this point I suspected I had the dreaded artery problem that cyclists are predisposed to by nature of the repetitive hip flexion. At St Georges in London wheeling my bike into the hospital was a healthy dose of perspective. There are always people worse off than you are, prompts Father Grant’s words of wisdom in my head. I underwent the standard testing protocol: iliac artery ultrasound and blood pressure readings in extremities. Then I got on my bike and rode as hard as I could to bring on the symptoms, this time I welcomed them- come at me! I jumped off my bike onto the bed for the same tests to see the response post exercise. Both legs had a pressure drop off and my artery was narrowed, constricting blood flow. Bilateral iliac artery endofibrosis was confirmed with right leg worse than left.

I left emotionless but maybe felt an inkling of relief; finally I had an answer to why I sucked so much. The only cure is big deal surgery. We decided I would aim to see the season out and retest in November to see what state the artery is in. My flight to the USA for the rest of the season had already been booked for 23rd July after I had had a few days of my old legs. I walked out the hospital past patients being carted off for surgery and was frankly now terrified. Outside the hospital passing patients on their Zimmer frames smoking in their gowns infuriated me; these people were choosing to constrict their arteries!!

My plan is to take a conservative approach to the next 2 months. See how best I can manage the symptoms. Tweaking my position to reduce hip flexion has been paramount and I still get some relief with acupuncture. I’ll consider my options when I am back from the USA in October: do nothing, quit, change sports (race walking?!) or have surgery. Being an athlete is what I have dreamed about for as long as I can remember, this decision I won’t take lightly. Fear of leading an ‘ordinary life’ has always been a driving force!! I’ll gauge how much bounce I have left in me. Having lived with my kiwi friend Courteney, who endured surgery in both legs, I can’t quite believe it is happening to me too. It is scary the amount of pro’s who’ve had surgery yet it is still such a poorly understood condition.

I am extremely grateful to everyone who has stood by me this year, not to mention my sponsors. If any cyclists/ triathletes with this condition stumble across this blog and have managed to continue without surgery, please get in touch! 

Thanks for reading, ciao for now!  

Ironically I bought this book a few years ago, always helps rekindle some optimism with the help of kittens and puppies...

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Hallo from Holland!

Hallo from Holland and a very belated update on my part! I am currently staying in Stoolwijk doing a dutch racing skills and speed work bootcamp. A good combo of crits and motorpacing is helping me get some rpm back! I don't know what's in store for the rest of the season but I'm making the most of a productive time in Holland. I am staying with a guy called Harrie who deserves a few medals in the name of women's cycling- full of knowledge and so hospitable. It transpired he hosted my old coach Fran Newstead during her career, small cycling world!

Riding to Gouda, the home of the ledg cheese!

(Credit to Anton Vos for the pics)

Following a fairly decent wheel ;)

The body's holding out well and that is the main thing. I only really had 1 goal for 2014 which was to get healthy again. It's been one hell of a tough year, but I've got my act together and see it as a blessing in disguise. Roll on 2015 and beyond!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

So this is what you meant. When you said that you were spent...

It's been a tough couple of months.  Before Christmas I signed a pro contract with Tibco, training was making me stronger, I was recovering and adapting. Things were boding well for the season ahead with an awesome team, staff and sponsors. It hurts to write this blog at home. I've been struggling with an endocrine condition on and off for a while. The early season one day races and world cups in Europe are brutal when you are on top form let alone when you are at your weakest. I struggled through it whilst my team mates raced aggressively mixing it up with top 10's. 

Kidding yourself that you are fine is exhausting. Instead of flying back to the States I made the decision to come home and get to the bottom of it. Trying to soldier on through is not going to get me anywhere in this sport other than deeper into this hole I have dug, my health has to come first. Filling up the pack is never what I had in mind. There isn't a quick fix, I have very little patience so me and my type A are just going to have to suck it up. I've been experimenting with some alternative medicine. In the last 10 days I've given reiki, reflexology, acupuncture and homeopathy a go, you can never be too cynical until you've tried it. I am sporting a lovely bindi from an acupuncture bruise!

I should have a clearer prognosis next week, for now its about keeping things in perspective and keeping my head screwed on. If I get the urge to accomplish something in the next couple of weeks I might even finish up my Gold Duke of Edinburgh award (not even kidding).
This is about right! Piked from Courteney Lowe who has overcome so many hurdles

Same number pinning ritual for every race

Team sign on, all smiles before all hell breaks lose

Maxxis tyres are the best- none of us flatted once and we rode in some cruddy conditions!

Dodging the cobbled berg carnage in belgie (far left)

(Credit to Anton Vos for the pictures)