Part 2: Islander to Athlete

Kerry MacPhee | Wednesday 28th October, 2015

Part 2 of Islander to athlete :-) Part 1 was posted yesterday :-) When I left the islands to go to uni, I played lots of team sports and went to the gym but was never particularly competitively as I really believed I wasn’t good enough and just didn’t have the confidence to try and find out. I trained to be a PE teacher in uni so sport was always a big part of my life. It wasn’t until I was doing a master’s degree and working as a graduate assistant and a friend convinced me to do a triathlon that my competitive spark was reignited once again. We duly purchased our first bikes from recyke-a-bike (huge clunky things with down tube shifters, possible 80’s models, haha!!) and set about training for a novice triathlon- Bishopbriggs to be exact- and it really is a case of the rest is history! Embarrassingly (or hilariously- whichever way you want to look at it), my training ride then was a measly commute to work on campus (3 miles) and my long ride was my commute to work via Bridge of Allan (4.5 miles?!). Anyhoo, we thought we were training our little socks off and being the youngest 2 in the novice triathlon (all the good/experienced/faster people were doing the sprint distance), I came first and Shemane came 2nd! It didn’t matter that really, we were only racing each other, it was enough to reignite the dream… or at least get me wondering about how far I could go in the sport :-) The clunky bikes were soon traded in for equally clunky bikes but just a little more current with gears on the hoods rather than the down tube, and we started doing actual training, joining the local tri club and doing road rides that lasted longer than 15 minutes. Within a year I was Scottish off-road triathlon Champion and within 2 I’d won the British off-road triathlon Championships and come 2nd at the World Age-Group Championships. Within 3 years I was racing for GB and came 4th at the European Championships. This was all unbelievable to me at the time and I couldn't quite get my head around it, "it" being that applying yourself and working hard does reap rewards and I was actually achieving something I once though was completely impossible! Even now, I sometimes want to share with people that I'm an actual athlete- me, from the islands, an ACTUAL athlete! But there was always a bit of a problem with my triathlon- I really was rubbish at swimming and I really struggled to improve. The cycling came easily to me and I had always loved running but swimming- don’t ask why but Islanders, yes folk who live on a small piece of land surrounded by sea- are notoriously bad at swimming. We are always told to respect the sea and there are many tales of lives lost at sea so swimming was never something we learnt to do properly (pier jumping and seaweed slides don’t really count do they?). I guess one of the reasons I have become an athlete is that I possess a fierce determination to do whatever it takes to improve and I applied this to my swimming. Yes it improved and yes I got faster but was it fast enough? No. And did I love it?? Hmm. I tried to and I committed to improving but it really held me back. It was also probably partly to blame for my biking abilities given I’d get out of the water a few minutes down on the lead girl and have to absolutely bury myself to get back into race contention! Anyway, to cut what is becoming a very long story short, I entered my 1st mtb race to supplement my triathlon training. It would have been around April of 2013, at Round 1 of the Scottish mtb series at Forfar. I had no idea what to expect, I had 1 bottle on my bike for the whole race and a gel in my back pocket- no tools, spares and no clue about tyre pressures, tyre choice, bike set-up, nothing. I knew the race would last about 1hr 30mins but when the gun went, the last thing I expected was everyone to ping off the start line like rockets! What a crazy start a mountain bike race has! I realise now the importance of a fast start but then I just s**t myself! I remember thinking “flip flip flip, last already” (or words to that effect) and getting clipped in and getting going. Then, something strange started to happen. All the riders who had pinged off the start line started coming into view and 1 by 1 I caught and passed all but 1 rider. What was even more amazing was that I finished that race sandwiched between 2 girls who at that time were ‘Commonwealth Games hopefuls’, namely Lee Craigie and Katie Winton. This would go on to be Katy’s last XC race before she committed fully to Enduro and my 1st race before nearly committing fully to XC. I say nearly because after this race, the triathlon national coach put me in touch with the mountain bike national coach (I think he knew the swimming thing was a dead duck and that cycling was my sport) and I soon got an elite licence to allow me to race the British series. I continued to juggle triathlon and mountain biking (I guess you could say I was keeping my options open :-)) and competed in the British series for the 1st time. My performances were never anything special though, at best I came 6th and worst I came 12th. I remember I would always blow up half way through the race and just be knackered! The bike I used didn’t really fit me and I’m pretty sure I persevered with nobby nic ‘tractor’ tyres as I just did not have a clue. I would either drive myself to races or my sister would take me after work so I was always tired. At the end of that season, I had no reason to believe I could go on to be a performance mountain biker but I decided to pack in the triathlon and focus on just biking for good. If I really wanted to race mountain bikes, I had to commit and race properly. The hours I'd put in slaving away in the pool were replaced by bike miles and in late 2013 I took myself to Belgium to do a mountain bike race in Houffilaze. Much to my astonishment I finished on the podium and, again I had that overwhelming urge to pursue mountain biking and become an actual cyclist, and the best cyclist I possibly could be. Not a 'triantelope' as my coach likes to call me and not a 'triathlete who can't handle a bike' (some of us can, thank you very much!), and not a "triathlete who thinks she can go to the games then go back to triathlon afterwards". Don't worry, I guess it's natural to think that. The story is very much running away from me again so to get back to cutting it short, I guess when 2014 came round and I had a solid winter of "just" cycling behind me, I was a different athlete come the start of the season. I was suddenly racing at the front of the British series races, I wasn't blowing up and I was loving every second. Again, perseverance, hard-work and a big sprinkling of gritted teeth and single minded determination seemed to be the recipe that worked for me. What a lot of people don't realise or appreciate about athletes is that a lot of us work too and for the later part of 2013 first few months of 2014, I juggled three jobs to help fund my racing and get a qualification for the games, I don't know how I did it as I struggle now even with just 1 job! I had a lot of help along the way too and huge support from people like Rock and Road cycles who looked after me even when I swam and ran. For fear of missing any names or sponsors, I'll not list any but add that the Braveheart funding I received this year helped get me to some races abroad and has been a huge help. This year I raced my first world cups and feel like I am at the stage I was during my first year racing the British series. Everything is new, harder, faster, tougher, but with the experiences from this year will come a confidence for next year and I'm excited to step up at World Cups as I did at British level. Thanks for reading.... hopefully you made it to the end :-)


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