Category Archives: family

When You Find Something You Love

While I’ve been a bit under the weather and not running I’ve found myself contemplating my childrens’ own involvement in sport and exercise.

Usually on a Sunday I tend to stay behind while my eldest, who is 7, goes off with his dad to play tag rugby. Last Sunday it was too beautiful a day to stay at home so we all went down to the rugby field as a family to cheer the minis on. As I watched my boy play I noticed two things. The first was that he had obviously improved since I had last seen him. His passing was better, his tagging had improved and he has even developed a little dummy move. The second thing that I noticed was that he played the entire time with a smile on his face. There was a look of pure joy as he chased kids down to grab their tags and glee as he would find the ball in his hands before he decided to run with it or pass.

The next day when we were in the car together I turned to him and asked him if he had enjoyed playing and he said (of course) that he had. Then I told him that he played with a huge grin on his face.

‘I know Mum’, he replied ‘It’s because I love rugby so much and it makes me happy and I want to play it all the time’.

I think I remember feeling the same way about athletics. I remember being excited about going training and loving being around people who wanted to try and run fast. I loved the competition and I loved finding out what my session was going to be.

I remember my father taking my brother and I to all sorts of activities and sports. If we showed the slightest inclination about trying something he would take us along, let us have a go and then if we moved on so be it. Before I found running I had tried swimming, karate, dance, Brownies and ballet. But when I found the thing that I loved there was no going back. It was like being given a gift. It took practice and time and effort but because I loved it, it never felt like work or a chore. It’s a special thing and I have always vowed to do the same thing for my boys. I will let them try as many things as they can until they find the thing that they really want to do.

My son is still young and he may decide next week, or next month or next year that he doesn’t want to do rugby anymore. Until then he will keep going to rugby as long as it makes him happy. His little brother will carry on going to karate while it excites him and makes him want to practice his moves around the house to Iron Maiden. But equally I don’t want them to specialise too young so I will encourage them to continue all manner of other activities for as long as possible.

I started running age eleven and at age thirty five I still love it. Maybe I’m lucky that I found a sport that I loved at such a young age and despite all the peaks and troughs I’ve had with running I’m still drawn back to it. I found something that I loved and when you find that thing you shouldn’t let it go.

Passing The Baton

I haven’t run much at all lately. I was getting on okay and on the verge of signing up to races but a calf niggle stopped me in my tracks. Before I used to panic and enter all the races just in case, an urge that I never think is helped by reading achievements by others on social media. I used to get a ‘I must enter races to feel like a runner’ anxiety but of late I have taken a more sensible approach. There will always be races, the time will come again, I will get there and save myself wasting money in the long run.

I was about to start to get going again but my chest has flared up and I’m now on steroids and blah, blah I feel rough etc. But while I’ve not been running something else has been happening in the background. My seven year old has been quietly going off to cross country practice at school. He’s been taking his PE kit in, going to lunch early and then joining in with an older group of juniors who go to the same practice every Thursday. I thought it would be a flash in the pan, he’d realise his mates were off playing touch rugby and sack it off. But no. He’s kept going and I think he’s enjoying it.

On Saturday I took him to his first cross country race. It was at a high school and involved a lap and a half of a field. It didn’t all go to plan though. There were hundreds of kids, a huge scrum and sprint at the start meant a few boys tripped and fell. As the boys ran past me I couldn’t see him anywhere. Not at the front and not at the back. No where to be seen in the middle. I ran one way across the field and back to the other. And then I saw him. Floods of tears, holding his face. A boy had fallen in front of him and he’d tripped over him and hit his chin on the floor. A combination of shock and pain (and a fear of coming last) overcame him and he dropped out. My first instinct was to tell him he should have got up and carried on but then I scolded myself, as after all, he is only seven. I comforted him and we went home. On the drive home he said he was disappointed and that he was worried he wouldn’t get another go. I felt sad for him but I was relieved that he hadn’t been put off altogether. Having been spiked and elbowed in the past I think a cross country race can be just as vicious as many other sports

A side effect of eldest boy running has been that his younger brother aged five now wants t have a go. He had a bit of a pout on Saturday when I had to explain that the cross country was only for juniors and not for infants. I then remembered that we had a couple of junior Parkruns near us and a promise to sign him up and take him soon cheered him up.

I have to say that I’m thrilled that my children are taking an interest in running. Even if they don’t join a club or do it competitively I am happy that they seem happy to run for fun. I’m glad that they’ve been able to watch me enjoy running and I know that they’ve sometimes been frustrated when they haven’t been able to run with me. They’re definitely doers not watchers. As they’re getting older I’m sure they will do lots of other sports but I’m happy that I seem to be passing the baton down to them to continue my running tradition, in whatever manner they see fit. I feel that they’re also being taught that going for a run is a perfectly normal, acceptable activity and this will give them a good platform for their fitness and other sports as they grow older.

And after the disappointment on Saturday I came home from work to some lovely news. Eldest has been picked to run for his primary school at a cross country on Thursday. Proud Mum is probably an understatement but yes, I really am proud of my two little runners.

Face Your Fears And Good Things Might Happen.

It seems that my eldest son and I have been learning a valuable lesson alongside each other over the past few months.

I faced my fear of swimming in open water.

wpid-img-20150805-wa0010.jpgAnd then eleven days ago I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon which included my first open water 1500m swim in the Royal Victoria Docks.

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A few months ago my 7 year old auditoned to be a mascot in the Rugby World Cup.

wpid-20150704_121108.jpgThis weekend we were able to surprise him with some awesome news from his rugby idol Leigh Halfpenny. Finlay is to be mascot for Wales at Wales’ first game against Uruguay.

wpid-20150815_125732.jpgI am so unbelievably thrilled for him. I’m still thrilled for myself that I completed my first standard distance triathlon at the biggest triathlon event in the UK.

Finlay and I both nearly walked away from these opportunities. Both of us turned back round and faced our fears and we’ve both discovered that sometimes you have to do that to make the good stuff happen. Go and do something that scares you. You never know what might happen.

Being Watched

On Saturday I completed my first ever Olympic Distance Triathlon. It was an absolutely brilliant day, full of lots of ‘firsts’. First race Olympic distance race. First race in open water. First time competing in a trisuit and first time racing in my fabulous golden visor. But there was also a significant first for me. It was the first time my two children, ages 5 and 7, had come to see me in a race.

As a teenager I raced nearly every weekend. Through the year track races would become road races and road races would soon become cross country competitions. I would have family at nearly all my races. Mum and Dad. Sometimes just Mum or Dad. Mum, Dad and brother. Occasionally extended family would come along too and it would become a massive deal. I remember cringing at being cheered on or as a female relative would loudly lavish me with praise in front of my team mates and other coaches. My nerves didn’t help either. Before a race I would become moody and irritable, snapping at anyone who tried to talk to me. I wanted to be left alone but I never was. In my own selfish, teenage way, I envied girls who were on there own, probably not even thinking that maybe they would like to have someone with them. Looking back I can see how I took my family being there very much for granted.

When I started back running after my second son was born I had accepted that I might not be able to have all the family around watching me in races. Trying to entertain a toddler and a young baby at a long event is no fun for the parent trying to support and it’s boring for the kids. I decided a while ago that I wasn’t going to force my children to come along to races to support me, especially if it was just a glimpse.

And then there are the crowds, trying to manoeuvre children on public transport, stopping them from running off, fighting and arguing. Ugh. It just wasn’t something my husband and I wanted to inflict on the family, especially when I felt like what I was doing was a little bit on the selfish side anyway. So for the races I have done since then it has just been my husband who has met me somewhere near the finish line. I don’t think I’ve even seen him on the sidelines as he’s had to fight through those crowds to try and find a good place to try and spot me while trying to get to the finish.

A few weeks ago I did a novice triathlon. It was a really early start and even though it was local I hadn’t wanted to drag the whole family out of bed to see me. I went along on my own, finished and then wandered around. I could see lots of children running along the side of the running course cheering on their mums and dads. Whats more these kids were around the same age as mine. I felt a little pang inside and started to wish that I had had someone at the end to give me a hug. I fought off the temptation to go up to one of the marshalls and hug them and went home.

On Saturday I had fully intended to go to the triathlon on my own, meet up with Team Tricurious and head back with a brief phone call to family to let them know how I had got on. My husband was away at a function with his ‘bar bus’ so the boys were with my folks. In the morning my Dad inquired a little bit as to where I would be and how long it would take. I just thought he was showing concern and some interest.

As I came out of the ExCel after my bike transition I had a huge surprise. There on my left were four people I recognised. Four of my own people. People who were there for me. I shrieked in excitement as I ran over to greet my parents who had brought the boys to see me for the very first time. They weren’t somewhere else just to meet me at the end, they were here to see me run!

My heart lifted and I tried to get more spring in my step. At the end they were waiting just beyond the finish line and they all flung their arms around me. My heart inflated even more with the love of my boys…….until they started fighting over my medal, moaning that I was too sweaty and pulling daft faces when we tried to take a nice picture. Right there the inflated heart shrank a bit as I had to go back into parental mode.

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On a serious (and soppy) note it meant a lot to see my family on Saturday. I can’t believe how happy it made me feel to see them and I am thrilled that they were able to come along. I’m glad that the boys got to see one of the events that they see me training for. They have seen that the hard work goes towards something special. I also think it’s important for young boys like mine to see that the women in their lives can be strong and determined.

Saturday was an incredible day for me for so many reasons but having the boys there really topped off a fantastic day. My teenage self obviously underestimated the power of having people there cheering you on. My 35 year old self however really appreciated having people there for me and right now being watched in all my races is something I could get used to. Until the time comes when the boys’ activities take over and I become the cringe inducing parent of teenager on the side line.

Facing Fears

We were down at Barry Island for the Cardiff Blues beach rugby event which was a fantastic event arranged by the marketing team at the Blues. The beach was transformed into two pitches and teams of men’s and women’s sides were signed up for a tournament. Our eldest boy who is 7 is absolutely rugby and Cardiff Blues mad so in exchange for him tidying his room the whole family headed to Barry Island (we would have gone anyway but I love a bit of leverage).

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We wandered up and down the promenade taking in the activities and enjoying the dry but windy weather. Then we came across the team from Land Rover who had a Rugby World Cup 2015 branded car on show. And beside that a sign promoting auditions for kids between 7 and 13 years to become a Rugby World Cup mascot. The kids had 3 choices for their audition: sing a national anthem, give advice to a rugby world cup team captain or welcoming words for a team travelling to the UK.

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I asked my son if he fancied it and the lady from Land Rover asked him if he wanted a go. He said no and became really shy which is just not like him. I tried to persuade him ‘no one was watching, nobody would laugh at him, it’s good to have a go, nothing bad will happen’ etc etc. Still the answer was no. He didn’t want to speak in front of crowds of people on camera. Fair enough I thought.

An hour of so later, as we made noises about leaving he changed his mind and asked to go back. So we turned back and found the nice lady who took her details and he stood to wait his turn.

As I looked at him I noticed how forlorn and worried he looked.

‘You really don’t have to do this. We can just go home. Nobody is making you and it’s not important’.

‘I’m just nervous and I’m trying to think of what I should say’ he replied.

When his turn came though he didn’t fall over his words and even smiled for the camera. His advice for a rugby team captain? Play well and enjoy the game. I think as advice goes in sport that’s pretty good!

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He had done it. It was a small thing to me but a huge thing for him. He had pushed his nerves to one side and auditioned.

How is this relevant to me and running/triathlon/sport?

Tomorrow I am doing my first triathlon, a novice one being held at a swimming pool. I feel very nervous and for some reason I feel a bit silly. But then I remember how as an adult I tried to persuade my son to do something he was nervous and fearful of.

No one is going to laugh at me.

People might be watching but they are there to be supportive.

No one cares if I come last.

It’s good to have a go.

Nothing bad will happen to me.

I’m so good at dishing out this advice to my kids but then I can forget about applying it to myself. I am nervous but I think those nerves are of the ‘good’ variety. I have always avoided triathlon because of my fears about it. But now I’m going to face those head on for my first tri, just like my boy did today.

Tidy.

P.S We missed out on seeing the Webb Ellis trophy this afternoon. Gutted!

Velothon Wales 2015

Yesterday I completed what is probably my toughest personal challenge to date: Velothon Wales. This event gave cyclists the chance to take on routes that professional cyclists take on and indeed yesterday there were pro teams competing. It was a 140km course taking in several South Wales counties: Newport, Gwent, Monmouthshire, Torfaen and Cardiff.

This is my take on how it went yesterday. It’s a bit long and I wouldn’t say it’s a race report because I certainly didn’t race it. Instead it is a collection of my thoughts and feelings about the day.

A dodgy start

The first part of the route took us through a fairly industrial part of Cardiff and out through some pretty countryside towards Newport. It was flat and not very challenging. But for some reason my legs felt like they were on a permanent incline. I wondered if I had eaten enough breakfast. I wondered if nearly three weeks without a bike had effected me. Were my legs too heavy with running? Teams of incredibly fast cyclists went past me over on the right and my confidence took a nose dive. I started to feel like an imposter. Who did I think I was taking on this challenge? People were flying past me and I started to feel more and more intimidated. I kept telling myself that I was going to be out for hours and hours so there was no point in pushing the pace early on, I needed to save myself for the later stages.

Then as we cycled through Newport and the bland dual carriage ways I started to feel very bored and lonely. Most of the long rides I have been on before have been with groups of people. It’s always been social and friendly. There was nothing social or friendly about this. And everything was grey. My mind was swirling the drain into negativity and was on the verge of falling into the plug hole of ‘drop out’. I have never had negative thoughts strike me so early in anything else I’ve done before.

‘You’re a runner. Why are you even here? You’re not a cyclist. You’r going to come last. You’re going to get pulled over by the marshalls for being too slow. Pull over and wait for the sweeper van’.

The negative thoughts were relentless. The scenery and my mind were murky grey. But then the landscape started to become greener and the route started to undulate. Turns out hills wake my legs up and I started to feel slightly better. Everything became far more interesting and I started to focus on the inclines and the Monmouthshire back drop rather than other cyclists. My mind filled back up with positivity and I started to enjoy myself a little bit.

TACKS!

As we cycled up another steep incline in Monmouthshire I could see that people were walking. It was a narrow road and I assumed there had been an accident. As I unclipped the call rippled back like a wave along the tide of cyclists.

TACKS!

Before the event there had been rumours that a lot of the course would be sabotaged with tacks and drawing pins. I really didn’t believe people would do such a thing until I saw the evidence on the tarmac yesterday. As soon as the call came back through the crowd and echoed back down the hill hundreds of cyclists dismounted, lifted their bikes and walked the rest of the way up the hill. Unfortunately I think some of the cyclists in front had been affected and there were men and women off to the side trying to repair the damage done.

I don’t understand why someone would go to the bother of driving the course and chucking drawing pins out their car windows. And for what? To damage the tyres of cyclists doing something rather amazing. Well, these individuals failed if they were hoping they would hurt the 15,000 cyclists on the course. The solidarity of cyclists shined through and fortunately that hill was the only evidence of sabotage on the course that I experienced.

I didn’t take the short cut

When the competitor information came through it advised cyclists that if any of the competitors on the 140km course were struggling, then they had the option to divert at 67km at a place called Little Mill. There was also a cut off point, that if you weren’t at Little Mill by 12.30 you would automatically be diverted off to take the 67km route. This had weighed heavily on my mind and I was terrified that I wouldn’t make it. In fact I think this effected my sleep quite badly the night before and it was on my mind throughout the first half of my ride.

As I rode through Monmouthshire I started ticking off the distance markers: 40km, 55km, 60km. I was going to make it before the cut off!

When we turned right at Little Mill I noticed a van and a marshall surrounded by cyclists. The marshall was giving directions for the shorter route. I noticed that some of those about to take the shorter route had gone past me many miles before. I let myself have a little cheer. For the first time in the race I actually felt good about things and I had no intention of turning off. I was nearly half way. I wanted to do the 140km. I wanted to get to The Tumble.

The Tumble

Unfortunately my hill training had been virtually non-existent. The loss of my bike for nearly three weeks meant my intended hill cycles didn’t happen. I was in no way ready for anything long and steep. But at the bottom of infamous Tumble I put my stubborn pants on and decided to have a go.

For miles and miles through Monmouthshire I had been wondering to myself ‘Where is this bloody Tumble then?’. I had never seen it but plenty of friends and cyclists had an opinion on it. I even heard cyclists talking about it among themselves as we cycled along. Local cyclists were regaling visiting cyclists with tales about the climb ahead of us.

‘I’ve done it a few times but never when I’ve had nearly 80km of riding in my legs’, I heard one guy say. ‘You’ve never done the Tumble?’ another said with disbelief as he then made a sucking in noise through his teeth followed by a sinister chuckle.

To give you an idea about what I’m fussing about the Tumble in the Brecon Beacons National Park is a 6km climb over a 10% gradient. The Tour of Britain web site even refers to it as one of the UK’s most feared climbs. I did know this before I attempted it yesterday and yet actually doing it is something else all together.

As I said I started it. I was so determined to have a good crack at it. I had come this far and I wanted to give it my best effort. I made the first corner and although my thighs were on fire I didn’t feel too bad. I found myself cycling past people which boosted my confidence. I would come out of the seat for a while, pumping my legs and then sit down to try and get some semblance of recovery (ha!). I turned the next corner and kept going. But then it all started to go wrong. Sweat was pouring into my eyes. My base layer which I had been so glad of earlier felt like it was melting me from the inside out. More and more cyclists were stopping in front of me and dismounting which meant some of my effort meant slowing, changing direction and then moving back in for the more competent cyclists. The narrow road started to feel even narrower and I started to feel dizzy and wobbly. My head felt like it was on fire and my chest felt like it was about to explode. I tried to change down a again and realised there was no where left to go. So rather than fall into the hedge or another cyclist and hold everyone up, I unclipped and got off my bike.

At first I felt ashamed and disappointed. I was cross with myself that I hadn’t got further up. But as I looked up ahead and down below I knew that I wasn’t the only one suffering. I started to push my bike, staying well over to the left, watching in awe as many other riders continued pedalling their legs off up this ‘mountain’. My calves burned as I pushed up the incline and I wondered if it would actually be just as easy to get back on. I pulled over to the side by the gate of a house where a farmer was watching us all with great amusement.

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‘I’ll get the trailer out and give some of you a lift up there’ he shouted and I wondered how many of us would have taken him on. I drank some water, stripped off my base layer and wiped the sweat and salt out of my eyes which were stinging. As I carried on, pushing my bike I took a chance to take in the surroundings. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful views I have ever set eyes on. A small scattering of supporters appeared at the side and I realised they had made the effort to hike up the Tumble to cheer on the cyclists.

When we reached the summit I don’t think I have been as happy to see a feed station in my life. Welsh cakes, bananas and water were all taken on board. I put my base layer back on as it was windy and I was now cold again.

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Many cyclists seemed to be on their phones talking to loved ones or trying to track down team members. Many sat round Keeper’s Pond having a well deserved rest. I popped my husband a quick text ‘think I’ll be done in about three hours or so‘, hopped back on my bike and made my way down the other side of the Tumble. I may have walked most of it but in hindsight it was probably for the best or I would have needed to be scraped off the floor by the sweeper van.

Bored

I never get bored when I’m running. I know lots of people say running bores them but it’s never bored me. I do get bored when I cycle though. And I got especially bored on one section of the course through Torfaen and Gwent yesterday. The boredom seems to happen on long flat roads that are surrounded by lots of concrete. One road on the way to Caerphilly seemed never ending. Was this cycling purgatory?

The numbers of cyclists had thinned out a bit and I started to wish more people were around me. It also didn’t help that support was sparse or non-existent on some parts and that I was on my own. I had no one to banter with. No one to cheer on and equally to boost me when I got low. But after digging in a bit again I knew we were nearing Caerphilly Mountain which was the last tough climb before the end.

Caerphilly Mountain

In my favour can I say that I did attempt this climb in the same way that I tried to attempt the Tumble. I had watched a video of Dani King ascend this climb on a London Boris Bike. The fact that she managed that on a heavy bike with no gears is nothing short of incredible. However in my defence, she didn’t have 70 miles of riding in her legs before doing it.

It is no surprise that I pushed my bike up it. In fact I think most people around me were doing the same. There was some giggling and chatter among the cyclists as we all commiserated with each other and then reassured each other that we were near the end. At the top of the climb there was a feed station. I could have stopped and refuelled but I was roughly 8 miles off finishing. I did some maths in my head about how long it would take, threw my leg over, clipped in and descended the Mountain.

Cow Bells

Coming back through Lisvane and Llanishen in Cardiff was wonderful. Amazingly my legs seemed to zoom over the roads and I felt a much needed second wind. People were out on the pavements with barbeques, drinks, massive banners and signs. Cow bells rang everywhere and cries of ‘you’re nearly there’ came at me from either side. I think the sound of cow bells is now one of my favourite things, especially when you know you’re near the finish of the hardest 80 plus miles of your life.

The last 500m were suddenly upon us. The crowds seemed sparse again along the finish but with the staggered nature of finish times and the road closures it’s not surprising. I could have felt underwhelmed at the lack of fanfare at the finish but I don’t think I cared. I had finished, I had picked up the medal. I just wanted to see my family. It had been a long day.

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Thoughts

I’m not a natural cyclist and I’m still very much a novice. I am I think a natural runner so this challenge took me way out of my comfort zone. To have completed it, to have at least tried the two tough climbs and to have made the whole distance makes me very proud of myself and what I have achieved. It was tougher than any running event I have done and it was mentally very draining. The fact that I didn’t stop other than at feed stations has actually revealed to me how tough I can be if I just believe in myself.

I think I underestimated the ‘take the pro-road’ element. There were some very serious riders out there yesterday. I was concerned that cyclists like me were an annoyance to the teams that were flying through and almost clipping me at speed ALL THE WAY OVER ON THE LEFT. But I was incredibly lucky in that I had no real incidents: no punctures, no chain issues, no falls. I am relatively unscathed other than a pair of stiff hips and a creaky shoulder from sitting hunched over for 7 hours 17 minutes.

I am never in the habit of checking the routes of running races, if there are hills I am confident in my ability to run up them. If I did an event like this again I would scrutinise the route a bit more and do way more hill training.

Finally, I did it. I cycled 140 km of brutal but mostly beautiful roads. It was a mixture of agony and ecstasy the entire time I was out there. 7 hours of nearly every emotion I could muster on what was literally at times a rollercoaster. If you love cycling and you love a huge challenge, physical and mental, then this event could be for you. I have never said never again after a marathon. I did yesterday. But last night an email popped into my message box:

Pre-registration for Velothon Wales 2016 is now live…..

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Thank you to everyone from Velothon Wales for making it a great day.

P.S If you like my cycling jersey it’s from Chapeau!

P.P.S Thank you to the guys at Ride Bike Wales for getting my replacement bike ready in time for yesterday’s antics.

Motorway Mishap

As I watched my bike rack and the two bikes attached to it fly away from my car and onto the middle lane of the M4 near Newport, all the expletives that I know spewed out of my mouth like the girl in the Exorcist. My eldest was sat in the front passenger seat and looked at me sternly as I pulled over to the hard shoulder in bank holiday Monday traffic.

When I think about it now it’s almost in slow motion and the bikes leaving the back of my car remind me of a huge object being pulled out into space in a sci-fi movie. As I looked back in the mirror I could see three lanes of the M4 grinding to a halt as they pulled round the rack and the bikes. I immediately phoned the police to tell them what happened, almost forgetting my own name as my hands shook and my voice quivered with fright. The police said they would send someone out to clear the highway but as I looked back again, some brave soul had exited their car and removed the bikes from the tarmac. The M4 started to flow once more.

I have no idea what happened but I am choosing now to take the positives from the events of Monday:

The kids are fine and not mentally disturbed by their mother’s ability to speak in tongues.

The rack didn’t fly into the windscreen of the car behind. No one was injured and by the grace of God I did not cause a pile up.

It was not human error that caused the rack to come off.. In fact the bikes were still very much attached to the rack. It seems my car wasn’t really up to holding a bike rack and I discovered I am missing part of the top of my car.

My son’s bike is fine.

My bike needs a new tyre, new gears, new brake lever and a new pedal but the frame is miraculously untouched.

The kindness of strangers revealed itself to me. A man stopped and helped me, put high viz jackets on the three of us, retrieved the bikes and rack, put them in the back of his 4×4 and we drove in convoy to the next junction where he deposited us to wait for my other half.

I discovered at 35 years of age that my parents will do anything for me and they drove down the motorway from London to check that we were all okay.

By Tuesday we were all over it and the boys and I have made it up to London to enjoy the rest of our half term. It was a frightening thing to happen and I’m just relieved that it wasn’t a whole lot worse. The only down side is that I have no bike to practice on now for the London Triathlon. Enforced emphasis on running and swimming until further notice!