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Jan and Feb - 2014

January and February 2014

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The 2014 season started with a first for me, on the 6th of January I traveled to the University of Limerick to spend three weeks in an Altitude house based in the student village. This was something that I had looked forward to for months, even if I was going to be in the house on my own. The basic idea behind spending time at altitude is to boost your red blood cells, therefore increasing your ability to transport oxygen to your muscles allowing you to work harder for longer. I spent a total of 14hrs per day in the house, starting out at 1900m and gradually building up to 2700m for the final week. The house is a basic college campus house with the ability to replicate altitude in each bedroom and kitchen/sitting room. I am not exactly sure how this is achieved even though Rachael, the technician, explained it at length several times.

Each morning just after waking I used two devices, one to calculate oxygen saturation in the blood and the other to measure heart rate variability. During breakfast Rachael arrived in to go through a spreadsheet that tracks motivation, hours sleep, hours spent at altitude, hydration etc. All this info is used to ensure I was adapting to the elevation increase in a safe and steady manner.

Each day I trained as normal at sea level and didn’t really notice many difficulties adapting to the new environment in the altitude house. The one exception is the increasing trips to the toilet during the night. It’s hard to establish if this training camp has made a difference in my endurance and power, and even if it had I don’t think my coach would approve of me broadcasting it so I will keep the numbers to myself.

While I was also in Limerick I started my work as a Sky Sports Living for Sport Athlete mentor, visiting schools in Galway, Mayo, Offaly, Longford and Westmeath.

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It is a privilege to meet so many great teachers and students who were brilliant fun. There were lots of interesting feedback and questions after my presentations. After each initial visit I return to these schools to see how the selected group of students have got on with their Sky Sports living for Sport Project. Some of the schools have decided to organize soccer and rugby competitions, 10k fun runs, circuit training and charity cycles. The power of sport to help improve people’s lives is exemplified by these groups and the way the students behaved during the visit is a credit to the teachers and the schools.

I spent 10 days after exiting the altitude house doing various power tests to determine when my peak performance would occur. I hope to replicate this before major events in the lead up to Rio. To be honest, I wasn’t too concerned about the results; I just wanted to get the green light to travel to my annual winter training camp in Portugal. During the ten-day test period I had the honor of filming a piece for Transworld Sport program based on Irish athletes. I was surprised to hear that the show had been running for over 25 years. I remember waking early on a Saturday morning to watch Gazette Football followed by Transworld Sport and I always loved the way they managed to capture the athlete’s life story. Carol and Jose from Transworld Sport travelled down from Donegal and I really enjoyed the two days spent filming with the crew, my family.

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I think this episode airs sometime on the 12th of April and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product. The fact that a world-renowned sports program has decided to include Paralympic athletes in the schedule reflects the increased profile of Paralympic Sport on a global scale.

Early February started with myself and good friend Chris Donaghue packing up my Renault Grand Scenic and heading for Portimao in the Algarve. This is the 3rd year I have made this trip and usually spend 10-12 weeks training in preparation for the year’s competition. The first leg is a Celtic Ferries over night sailing from Rosslare to Cherbourg in France followed by 6 hours a day driving. We stopped for the night in Bordeaux, France and Salamanca, Spain before landing in Portimão 2300km later.

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On the way down we met a bunch of French and Spanish students travelling in Renault 4’s as part of an annual charity drive to help fund desert kids in Morocco. A total of 1300 Renault 4’s cars take part, with each car required to carry at least 50kg’s of charitable supplies, ranging from toilet paper to school supplies. Chris taught this was a brilliant idea and a worthy cause, mostly because the ratio of women to men was around 3:1.

As soon as we landed in Portimão the hard training started in earnest. It was such a relief to get out on the bike in a short-sleeved jersey with the sun in your face for the first time in four months. I always look forward to catching up with my good friends Ann and David Hadfield. Their house is like a second home at this stage, between the home cooking, Irish sport on TV and David’s company during training. Each year Anne and David follow the Volta de Algarve around for the week and, if training allows it, I try and make at least one of the stages. The organisers of the event have allowed me to present the stage winners with a trophy for the last couple of years. I have met Riche Port and Theo Boss on previous years and this year I had the privilege of presenting the leaders jersey to Rui Costa, the current Road Race World Champion and home favourite.

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Here are the top 5 Movies and Tunes that have kept me going over the last two months.

Top 5 Tunes                                                          Top 5 Movies

Feelin Alright- Joe Croker                                  Wolf of Wall Street

Riptide – Vance Joy                                              Machine Gun Preacher

Magic- Coldplay                                                    American Hustle                                          

Strong – London Grammar                                The Intouchables (French)                        

Gone Too Long- Him Self Her                            Lone Survivor

 

Over the next two months I will continue to build fitness in the Algarve. My season opener is a race in Barcelona in early April.

 

Until then, safe riding

 

Mark 

Road to Rio 2016

Christmas 2013 - Mind tricks

 

It’s just passed 12:15am on Christmas Eve, I fill my car with friends and begin to drop them home after a night catching up in Moran's pub. A tradition with friends over the last 10 years. This year however is different, I am the designated driver for the night. In 2013 I lost the Road Race and the Time Trial World Championships in Quebec, crushing defeats at the time.

I sat in Moran’s pub that night and wondered if I had made the right choices over the last year. My three sisters had just travelled back to Ireland to join family and friends for two weeks, one from England with twin girls and my younger two sisters from Melbourne. Life has moved at a fast pace for the majority of people my age over the last 6 years, Melbourne, Singapore, Kuala Lumpar, Vietnam, Seoul, Qatar, Dubai, people are working and living all over the world and seem to love it. I feel as if I am missing out.

 

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Chris Rea comes on the radio as I take the Clonmacnoise exit off the N6, the car is now empty. I constantly ask myself if I made the right decision to commit the next three years of my life to qualifying for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Why didn’t I retire after London and go out on top, move to the US and throw myself into a career in Sports Management. I presume it is normal for a full time athlete to have self-doubt, to question what path they are taking.

The truth is, I find these mini self psych sessions excellent. They help me review my goals and beliefs and keep me on the straight and narrow. After wrestling with these thoughts I realize that I am extremely motivated to train harder than ever before, I will make commitments that I haven’t made before, make sacrifices that are essential if I am going to claw back 69 seconds, the losing margin in the TT world champs. I will make these because I love the sport of Handcycling, the freedom I get from it, and the power that sport has to change peoples lives and preconceptions.

Over the next three years I am going to use this blog to keep you up to date with travel tips, training tips and stories I experience along the Journey to Rio.