Hi to all back home in Northern Ireland, I hope you all survived the early part of winter! I heard there was alot of snow, not to mention freezin!That made me feel so much better,(sorry), that I had made the right decision to get out of there before the white stuff arrived.
I am at the end of my fourth week in Potchefstroom, South Africa, at 1400m altitude, with blue skies and average temperature of 30+ degrees. Awesome.
I arrived here after a bit of a problem, as I was due to go to Florida with Jason (Smyth), but it all fell through and I knew I had to get away. So I contacted James Nolan three-time olympian and also my new Paralympics Ireland team manager and he put me in contact with Jean Verster, the Mr. Fixit for world class athletes who want to train in South Africa.
So I had a flight to Heathrow on Saturday 13th November, and then an 11 hour journey to Johannesbourg. After being picked up at the airport by ATP rep Jenny, I made the final 90 minute transfer to my new "home in the sun", Huys Ten Bosch, right on the edge of the Potchefstroom High Performance Centre.
I spent the first day getting to know my surroundings and the next day I met with a group of local athletes that I have since trained with on occasions, that includes Samuel Seppeng, brother of former Olympic 800m champion Ezekiel.
The first few days I found it very difficult to adapt to my new situation, I was away from home, in a strange country, knowing absolutely no-one and staying in a B&B that can accommodate 26, but I was the only person there! To make things worse, the owners didn't live there and when they locked up I felt like a bit of a prisoner in isolation. Add to that the fact that it was dark by 7 o'clock and you start to get the picture. I was more than a little homesick! I spoke to my dad on facebook on the third night of solitude and said I didn't know if I could hack it or not; he then told me some home truths and talked me round and my little sister's comment was "Man up!" From there I took her advice and moved on with the adventure.
Since then, I spent 6-7 days getting used to the altitude and the heat with daily visits to the grass track and the trails that surround it,just running easy miles and trying to keep my heart rate below 200!!, interspersed with trips to the gym and ice bath, where initially my tolerance lasted about 30 seconds!Lol Unfortunately the South African group of athletes took off to a high altitude training camp at 2400m above sea level, which didn't help. But hey!
Did my first workout on Tues 23rd 6x800m + 2x400m on the grass track(beautiful surface) and then 10 x 300m on thursday.
At the weekend, I was taken to a private farm where Jean has an agreement with the land owner, so that athletes can use the roads that run through his land.Contained within was a perfectly smooth road surface that I was to use for my sat hill session. Oh joy! The hill goes on forever! But perfect for what I need with no through traffic.
With my own weekly routine established with tues, thurs,sat session interspersed with wed and fri gym sessions I was firmly in the groove and enjoying the routine of a full-time athlete, with the realisation that being out of my comfort zone was actually good for me and was so I can be the best I can be in January, in the IPC World Paralympic Championships in New Zealand.
In the last ten days a group of Slovenian athletes have arrived and I have made good friends with them and do some of my easy runs in company, as well as having company at dinner each night, and watching plenty of Premier league and Champions league football together.
I have just over a week to go here, before I head back home for christmas, but before that I have 2 more sessions and a time trial to go. Just hoping the weather is kind when I get home and allows me to continue my build up to the championships.
This has been a real journey for me in many different ways, a real learning curve, about athletics and about myself and what I want from life. Very worthwhile and hopefully building the foundations for a great season ahead and hopefully contributing to among other things, St. Malachy's A.C. retaining their Senior Cross Country title!