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Paralympic Ambition, part 2

Karens JourneyParalympic Ambition 2

On the 14th of December 2011 we posted a blog entry “Paralympic Ambition” telling the story Karen Darke’s ambition to win a gold at the 2012 Paralympic games. We’ve recently been in touch with Karen and her trainer John Hampshire to see how things are going.

Karen’s update

I have good intentions to write a blog at least every week, but then I suddenly realise that nearly a month has gone by. Training seems to suck time away. Three hours or more of training a day always takes at least six - getting dressed and organised, washed and de-organised, fixing the bike, eating right, recovering etc. And bang, the day has disappeared again.

I figured that the best chance for good training this winter would be spending most of it abroad, in warmer climates away from snow of the Scottish Highlands. As it turned out, there’s been barely any snow in Scotland and over a metre in Mallorca! 

My coach John accompanied me on most of the training camps so he could shout at me to go faster whilst I chased him down on the trike. The Swiss and the Americans seem to lead the way in handbiking but often they train with others or as a team, pacing and racing each other. Surely this must give them an edge. Hence the idea for the trike. There have been rides where I’ve thought there’s nothing left in my arms, but then John hammers on by me, I tuck in behind his wheel and give it every last bit I have left. 

I’ve had a difficult run with the training of late though, with three colds in six weeks - its seems to have been hard to shift them. Overtraining? Possibly a bit, but it’s more likely the damp lingering winter in the UK that seems to have had bugs thriving. Each time I’ve caught a flight back from a training camp I seem to have been sniffling almost as soon as the plane touches down and then sapped of all my energy for the next ten days.

It’s not good for the head to be laid up unable to train well and not meeting targets. At least not in the year you aim to compete in the Paralympics for the first time, and in your own country. A bit like being injured, you want with all your heart to be able to perform, but it just isn’t happening. 

So after getting down about this, “That’s it, I’ve blown it. I must have chronic fatigue. I’ll never be able to ride fast again. My dream is slipping away....” kind of thoughts, I’ve gone back in my memory bank to the very early days of me being paralysed. When sleeping was bliss and waking was a nightmare. I used to force myself to get up in a morning, put on a brave face, force a positive mind and face the world. 

My motto then was ‘Fake it ‘til you make it”. I pretended I was happy, putting on my brave face... until one day, I realised I wasn’t pretending anymore. Our mind is malleable. What we tell it, it will start to believe. 

So the last weeks, I’ve been going through the motions of training, doing my sessions, failing to meet my targets but putting on a brave face (well, most of the time. I only cried at my coach once...). “Be patient” I’ve told myself. “It will come good. Just fake it ‘til you make it.”

And today, I made it. I hit my ‘gold session’ targets for the first time in a month. Phew.
It must be being back in Mallorca paced by the trike that’s done it! (instead of on a turbo on my own at home). 

The first British race is at Salt Ayre in Lancaster, 31st March, then the first European race on April 7th in Rosenau, France. From then onwards the race calendar picks up. In-between British races, there’s the first World Cup race in Rome on the 26-27th May, the following weekend in Switzerland, then another World Cup in Spain, 16-17th June. Paralympics selection for Team GB is on June 6th. 

If anyone is interested in watching the races in the Paralympics, the venue is Brands Hatch on the afternoon of Wednesday 5th May (Time Trial, my best chance of medalling) and the morning of Friday 7th May (Road Race, all female handcyclists combined together). Tickets are only £10 and it’s bound to be more exciting than the 100m swim final at £4K a ticket!!

Johns update

We have found the ICE trike invaluable in Karen's training. During our first trip to Mallorca in December I rode with Karen most days, being at the same height as each other allowed us to talk about all sorts of things, making the longer rides easier and helping us understand how to work together more effectively. During the hard rides I could sometimes ride close behind watching Karen's pedalling and shouting encouragement, or ride in front so that Karen could practice sheltering behind - a skill that is vital for road racing. 


We have continued to use the trike in this way throughout our other camps, but with more focus on the hard sessions and in Lanzarote Karen's partner Andy joined Karen for some long rides on the trike. Me being with Karen on the hard sessions has allowed me to understand her strengths and weaknesses (which are few), adjusting training plans and on some occasions the session we are doing at the time. Something that would have been much more difficult without the trike.


I have found riding the trike an interesting experience, it's hard work to keep up with Karen and I am grateful for the top quality machine you have supplied.... not sure I would have been up to it on anything less. Descending is fantastic with disk brakes and the low centre of gravity but hopefully I won't be repeating the two wheeled experiences too often.


Karen, Rachel and I will be on our first British Cycling training camp together starting on Tuesday; we will have the trike with us so it will be interesting to see how well we can train together as a threesome. In particular I think it will be good for road race practice.