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Karen Darke - Believe: Getting in the right mental state for Paralympic handcycling races

Karen Darke

It’s probably a challenge for any of us to consistently believe in our abilities, or in the possibility that we may even have ability! My journey as a handcyclist to the London Paralympics has involved a roller-coaster from self-doubt to absolute belief that I can become a better athlete, and produce a performance worthy of a good medal.

With less than two weeks to go now until my first Paralympic race, I’m resting quite a bit between training sessions with plenty of time to think. The physical gains that can be made so close to the race are small now – that work is done – and I find myself contemplating the question that British Cycling Sports Psychologist Steve Peters asked our team at a recent seminar. “On the day, how much of your performance do you think comes from your physical condition, and how much from your mental state?”

Could it be 80% physical, 20% mental, or maybe it was vice versa? Regardless, mental state on race day is critical, and sitting here thinking about it all I have the usual facets of thinking going on. There’s the part of me that believes I’m strong, in the form of my life, well trained, well prepared and expecting a fantastic performance (I’m calling this bit my ‘lion’); and there’s the part of me that knows I’ve never beaten some of my competitors before, wonders if I’ve done enough, questions my ability and worries about things going wrong on the day (I’m calling this part of me my ‘mouse’). People talk about taming lions, but I’m practicing mental techniques to tame the mouse and bolster the lion, because on race day, I need to believe!

Thanks to Inspired Cycle Engineering for the loan of a trike over the winter – my coach John Hampshire of Fit for Purpose trained with me on it, and put me through my paces. Here’s what he says…“The ICE trike has helped Karen learn how to hold a wheel. It gave her good practice in the months of winter training in Mallorca.”

Fingers crossed it all pays off in 2 weeks times! Races are at Brands Hatch, Kent on Wednesday 5th September and Friday 7th September.

Karen has a new book coming out in early September about the adventures that led to her inspiration to train for London 2012. Boundless: An Adventure Beyond Limits is available in Kindle already, and can be pre-ordered at