Over the last few months, I've felt as if I'm stuck in a bit of a rut with wheelchair racing. Because of illness and injury, I haven't been able to train at the intensity I want. The races I have done have been OK but unremarkable, as has the training. I felt as if I've plateaued - I knew the only way to get faster was to get stronger and fitter, but my attempts to do this at the moment are just counter-productive.
A different representation of (some of) what's up with my shoulder!
Fortunately, this week we had a visiting coach with lots of experience of training world class wheelchair racers. I was hoping he might have some useful ideas that would give me a bit of a boost, and I wasn't disappointed!
The first thing that Paul (the coach) did with us all was to have a chat about warming up. Normally, we just head out wherever the session as a whole will be held and do some gentle pushing, followed by some drills, and then some harder pushing. He suggested we do some work outside the chairs first of all. We had a go with trying to move medicine balls quickly and then stop the action quickly too. The weakness and immobility in my left shoulder made it quite hard for me to do this compared to the others but it's definitely something for me to work on as I can see how valuable it will be.
Next, he had a look at our seating positions. This is something I've not really had a huge amount of input on and as it's pretty vital I was interested to see what he'd suggest. I had a feeling that I needed to move backwards. It's a good job Paul came, because he suggested doing the exact opposite! I had been trying to get to a position where I could reach more of the pushrim, thinking that this would make me faster, but Paul pointed out that I could move the wheels just as fast by using less of the pushrim, which would in turn be less tiring and help me to keep going at a higher intensity for longer. I'm always keen for efficiency and energy-saving so I duly plopped myself out of my chair and immediately set about adjusting it! Even on the tightest setting I could do with being a little further forward so I'm going to investigate some padding to go in.
Once we'd all had our seating positions improved, we headed out to the track (thankfully having missed a downpour). We had a few laps to go round and try and get used to our new positions. I quite liked mine and it did feel as if I was working less but still moving at a good speed.
When I'd done a couple of laps like that Paul asked, 'Can I give you a challenge?' - stupid question! He asked how much attention I paid to the front wheel, to which the honest answer as 'barely any at all'. I tend to watch my left rear wheel so that I know I'm staying nice and close to the inside line but not actually going over it (there's a metal rail that goes around the inside of the track and it's pretty good at bursting tyres or flipping chairs over). Paul set me the task of doing an entire lap with my front wheel on the line between lanes 1 and 2. I expected to find this impossible, but it was a bit easier than I thought it would be. That said, I wasn't pushing very hard because I was so focussed on keeping the wheel in the right place! It was a useful exercise though, and one I'll definitely keep working on.
After that, we got to do some drafting as a group. We've never done that before so it was very exciting! Paul explained that the best way of drafting is to keep your front wheel just to the outside of the right rear wheel of the person in front of you. Some coaches teach you to keep your front wheel between the leader's two rear wheels, but although this means you shave a bit of distance off it does leave you vulnerable to being boxed in during a race. Going round as a group like this was really, really fun! Again, we didn't go really quickly because we were all concentrating on not crashing into each other, but it was nice to have something else to think about (steering) rather than pain. It also made it feel much more sociable!
By the time all of this had happened we'd been there about two hours and it was time for Paul to make the long trip back to Leeds! He was so friendly and helpful and will hopefully come back another time to coach again. I feel really good that I now have some new challenges to work on (namely, watching my front wheel and adapting technique to use less of the push rim) as they are things I can do even though I'm tired and weak of shoulder! I like to have goals and since any that I've been thinking of in terms of racing and events are on hold for the time being it's nice to have other things to work towards.