Connie’s Winter Wrap

I always find the winter months difficult as I switch from the high of the road season to cyclo-cross where I am playing a very different game. However, there must be something that I love about falling off multiple times per race, ‘freezing to death’ and battling the 80% rule at national trophy races. My cyclocross season is always an entertaining venture.

Derby National Trophy was interesting, to say the least. I got forced to run in the sand pit on the first lap and then sprained my ankle. I carried on riding only to be brought down on the bridge (or in my case shall we say slide?) which was pretty scary! I kept going but was really struggling with the pain in my ankle and in my leg from where I had hit the bridge and slipped down it. Ultimately, I got pulled out with one lap to go due to my new best friend, the evil 80% rule!

This was meant to be a cyclocross blog post but I can’t help but mention the National Closed Circuit TT championships that followed the week after Derby. After the set back of my ankle injury, it was unclear if I was even going to start. Thanks to a lot of ice, I made it. It wasn’t my strongest ride and I knew on another day I could have done a lot better, but I was very happy to take third after my disastrous preparation the week before.

Back to the mud, although there was next to no mud insight at this point! A week on the turbo was followed by a family trip to Suffolk that saw me put in a lot of on and off-road miles. I spent most of my birthday enjoying the lack of cars in that part of the country. Always nice for a London based cyclist! Back to London on the Saturday for a quick turn around, heading to Wales at some silly hour of Sunday morning for the Abergavenny National trophy. The last time I raced at Abergavenny I was some little 14-year-old first year U16 with a super heavy Ridley X-bow and a classic red Isla bike, spending most the cyclocross race off the bike as I was too terrified. I came last by a very, very long way that year, and although I still seem to like coming last at cyclocross, I am now a lot closer to the next riders than I was back then! A few years on I was now in love with a course I use to hate and even though it definitely didn’t suit me I was loving it and I was actually racing! I was pulled out alongside half the field due to the 80% rule which really spoiled it for us all. However I took a lot from this race and it showed me that I am slowly getting technically better and that when I have the confidence I can put my foot down. A massive thank you has to go my teamies Lauren, Emily, and Sarah for such a great fun day out. All three of them rode really well which was so great to see.

Now the ankle saga continues. In a rush to meet a friend after school I put my other foot in an awkward position on the stairs that resulted in me going flying.  I spent the next few days hobbling around with the other ankle sprained. Now anyone else would give a cyclocross race a miss after not being able to train that week. However, I’m not like that. It was the first muddy race of the season so I wasn’t going to be on the sidelines. I got a really good start but managed to fall off three times in one lap. On the third lap, and in the mud, my back wheel came out which I assumed was due to it not being locked in correctly. That was the Bury cross race over for me as it was miles from the pits and my ankle was never going to handle the running. Sadly for my bike, it was confirmed a few days later that it was actually a cracked frame that caused the wheel to go flying backward. It was most likely cracked from me sliding back down the bridge at Derby as everyone who saw it assumed either me or the bike would be damaged. I was rather gutted as I rather liked my specialized but its cyclocross, and you have to be prepared to lose a few bikes here and there.

Connie Hayes - Shrewsbury Nationals 2017 (photo: Huw Williams)
Connie Hayes – Shrewsbury Nationals 2017 (photo: Huw Williams)

Shrewsbury National Trophy round was now upon us. Again another course where U16 Connie hadn’t previously had the best of rides. I famously wasn’t actually doing too badly until on the last lap a bike change to my ridiculously heavy Ridley X-bow resulted in me dragging the bike by the handlebars through the mud as I couldn’t physically carry it. This time round it was again super muddy but I was delighted as mud means running and I weirdly love running. I rode the course with Emily and Iona the day before and utterly loved it. I went into the race extremely excited. I got a bad start that was made worse by watching Lauren going flying. However, I put this behind me and gave it a good crack. It was honestly the most fun 40 minutes on a cyclocross bike ever. Not only did I survive the 80% rule but I also was comfortably not last. Now that in my eyes is a good result for me.

The weekend after Shrewsbury saw me turning my attention to running. I love a good bit of cross country and I had a really good run for a short cyclist who shouldn’t be a natural runner. Picking up a good result running resulted in me paying the price the following day at the London League cyclocross held on the Gravesend National course. The race became a course ride for me due to being very stiff, sore and feeling completely dead. I knew the National race the following weekend was going be tough that’s for sure!

Now if I had it my way the next part of this addition of Connie’s random blog posts wouldn’t take shape the way it has. Back at the Lee Valley velodrome the next day, which I loved (Yes! Connie Hayes has been doing some track training this winter.). However midway through the session, I felt a stabbing pain in my right knee. I kept going and managed to block it out. The next day was a rest day so I thought it would sort its self out. Not the case at all. During the club cluster training that Lauren and I go to most Wednesdays the stabbing pain was back. However this time it was a lot worse. I was really struggling. When I got home I noticed it was swollen and the following morning I woke up in a lot of pain, to put it mildly. School was a nightmare as my school is on a hill and it involves going up multiple staircases throughout the day. I knew it wasn’t right at this point but I didn’t want to admit defeat. Luckily I didn’t have school the next day so I spent the day icing my knee in a bid for the swelling to come down. I then decided to get on the turbo to prove to myself that Sunday’s race was still on the cards. To my horror, 20 minutes of easy turbo was more painful than walking. I was still determined to make that start line on Sunday. The early hours of Saturday morning were interesting. I woke up at about 3 with an extreme stabbing pain in my knee, but luckily it eased off and I went back to sleep.  When I came to get out of bed it hurt. Any other person would have said at this point that they were not starting the National the next day but not me. Off I went to Gravesend to ride the course with Emily and Charlotte M. I tried blocking the pain out but every time I stood out the saddle it wasn’t nice. I was still starting the next days’ race at this point.

Connie Hayes second lap at Gravesend (photo: Phil Moir)
Connie Hayes second lap at Gravesend (photo: Phil Moir)

Sunday morning came and deep down I knew I was an idiot. I feel like I have to ride every cyclocross race I can until the days where we have a big enough women’s field to fill races. I didn’t want it to look like I had pulled out due to the cold or something like that. I started warming up, having already established that it was worse than the day before and was struggling from the word go when the race actually got started. It was a course that required a lot of standing out of bends and up banks and my knee just wasn’t in a position to do this. After two laps I realised that enough was enough and if I wanted a quick recovery I had to stop so I did. A lap later Sarah Lomas also had to pull out due to her knee problems. I wish her a speedy recovery as she has been riding like a machine at the other end of the race to me!

A trip to the physio on Monday confirmed that it was tendonitis in my right Patella tendon that’s causing the problems. Although not ideal it could be a lot worse so I’m rather glad it was just that and that I had caught it early. Recovery was going to be any where between two weeks and several months. Luckily I was able to have near to daily physio which really helped. By the end of the week, I was able to walk somewhat pain-free. Although it was getting better I was getting more frustrated that I couldn’t do anything. I went to watch the South-East and Eastern Regional Championships where my fellow teammates utterly smashed it. However, having had so many people say to me “it would have suited you” didn’t really help. Having to watch the women’s race from the pits was tough and it showed me how even relatively minor injuries can affect your sporting moral. Even spending the day walking around supporting and helping out in the pits aggravated my knee, but it was clear it was getting better as the swelling was so minor. I went back to the physio the Monday after only to be told I could get back on the bike for 20 minutes and see how it felt. To my surprise, it was stiff but not sore. From this point, I was allowed to start building it back up on the rollers and by Friday I was doing medium efforts. Now the big question “Was Bradford still a possibility?”.

Connie Hayes Bradford CX Trophy Series (photo: Chris Kendall)
Connie Hayes Bradford CX Trophy Series (photo: Chris Kendall)

When I saw the cyclocross fixtures for this year I noticed that I could end 2017 at the same venue that I started it on. Now for some reason, I thought this would be very cool as 2017 has honestly been my best year on the bike. When I last raced at Peel Park in Bradford back in January I had just come back from having shingles. I probably shouldn’t have been racing but for some reason, I wanted to. It wasn’t an amazing ride by any means but I had utterly loved it. I didn’t expect that I would be heading there in similar circumstances. I was about to do it again on the same course just 11 months later. I was taking a massive risk as although my physio had agreed to it, people still thought I was silly to even be thinking about starting. I hardly told anyone that I was going to start as I didn’t want to know their opinions. I didn’t even tell my coach about my plans (sorry Mark!). Once we arrived at Bradford on Saturday I went and did two laps and I loved it. At this point, I was starting and I was going to finish. Sunday came and I was excited to be back on my bike racing. The elite women’s field was small with only 25 starters. The field may have been small but it was still very strong, and although I was the only Liv AWOL racing in this category, I had not only the support from Charlotte McGreevy who had raced U16 earlier in the day but also Hannah Bayes who had made the trip from Scarborough. Soon we were off and by my standards it was actually going well. The course has a few technical sections but due to the conditions featured a lot of running which plays to my strengths. I was loving it. And then at the start of the second lap it started snowing which weirdly made me very happy. The snow made it even more slippery and more of a technical challenge but I thought it was so much fun. Bradford not only was a surprisingly  good ride by my standards but it was by far my favourite  cross race so far this year. My knee seemed to survive as well so that was a bonus. A massive thank you goes to both my dad and Hannah B being an awesome pit crew having my bikes cleaned and ready for every half lap change!

The Christmas period came and I got a lot of miles in on the road which was good. To round the Christmas holidays off I then had the Herne Hill cyclocross Madison with Maddie Gammons which was so much fun. The following weekend saw the final trophy round in Ipswich. Having raced at Trinity Park in all sorts of conditions over the last 5 years I knew it was going to have to be raining for it to suit me. Unfortunatly it was bone dry and not particularly suited to my preferred riding conditions. My first two laps were good but then it all sort of fell apart after that with me falling into a post and then going through the tape in the funny muddy sand pit section after the flyover. My last lap was a lot better and no disasters occurred which was good! A quick well done has to go to Emily Bridson for her excellent result and to Elizabeth Marvelly for getting round her first National course.

Connie Hayes at National Championships at Hetton (photo: Pat Hayes)
Connie Hayes at National Championships at Hetton (photo: Pat Hayes)

This brings us to my final cyclocross race of the 2017-2018 campaign, the British Cycling National Cyclocross Championships at Hetton-le-Hole. On the Friday I came straight out of school and into the team van to face the 5-hour drive up to Durham. A relatively stress-free journey saw us arrive at about 9 o’clock in the evening. I woke up Saturday morning and headed down the road to Hetton to watch the racing. Due to the lack of rain, the course was drying out, but it was still muddy and slippery in places. Charlotte M and Iona Moir were soon up in the youth race. Both of them battled onto the end despite a few issues here and there. Once all the days racing was over Elizabeth, Lauren and I did a few laps of the course. I really liked it, especially the lower section and the flyover. I was now very excited to be racing it. Sunday came and arriving at the course in the dark was not overly pleasant, but suppose that’s what happens when your race is at 9! Once it had brightened up I did half a lap of the course just to see how it was and it was defiantly drying out but that’s not to say it wasn’t slippy! Before we knew it we were down by the start waiting for gridding and I was gridded at the back as normal. The second the whistle blew, Evie Richards and the rest of the field were off at top speed, under the bridge and then there was a loud bang of someone hitting the barriers and suddenly there were a few flying bikes. I luckily had moved from the left to the right-hand side of the road just before this had happened which allowed me to get the round the crash without getting involved. I had an alright race, a few mistakes early on cost time but I didn’t have any major disaster. I knew I wasn’t going to survive the 80% rule with Evie Richards in the race. When someone shouted she was behind me I accelerated and jumped on her wheel. I think I expected to put my foot down like I would in a TT only to go flying off live on TV. However, I sped up and didn’t go flying on to the ground. I stayed on her wheel for a third of a lap until I was pulled out along with Lauren and Elizabeth due to the 80% rule. I am still slightly confused how I could sit on Evie’s wheel for so long yet couldn’t ride like that at the start of the race. Let’s hope between now and October something clicks and I can ride like that technically all race and have the confidence to do that.           

Cyclocross has been crazy this year and although I am far from being the next Helen Wyman I do enjoy it and would highly recommend it to anyone. Both my local leagues, London and Eastern are run by really nice people and everyone just treats it as a bit of winter fun. I would also highly recommend to any female cross rider to take part in the National Series. As I always say, until we get full fields every female cyclist should be trying to ride them, they are so much fun and worth all the driving around.

Lauren Elizabeth and Connie at Cross Nationals (photo: Pat Hayes)
Lauren Elizabeth and Connie at Cross Nationals (photo: Pat Hayes)

A huge well-done has to go to the whole of the Liv AWOL cyclocross team. You have all been awesome to watch and ride alongside this season. You have all also made it so much fun and so enjoyable. I also have to say a huge thank you to all the sponsors, especially Perkins Ford for the van (or shall I say portable changing room and jet wash transporter?) and to Giant Docklands for managing to get me a new frame in a small enough size so quickly after me snapping the specialized. 

Now back to what I enjoy the best. See you on the road but for now, its back to training!

Connie                                                                                                                                                      

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