Journals Riders

Charlotte Broughton journal: an athlete’s experience of coronavirus

Rider journals 2021: Charlotte Broughton #1/February

Charlotte Broughton is one of nine cyclists keeping rider journals for The British Continental in 2021. Charlotte was a ten times national champion as a youth and now rides for the new UCI Continental AWOL O’Shea. In her first journal entry, Charlotte shares her experience of starting the year with coronavirus …

Gosh! Where to start? January was a crazy month after testing positive for coronavirus.

So unfortunately I don’t have any joyous cycling-related anecdotes to wow you all with. I didn’t ride a bike at all for the first three weeks of the year. And what followed was only short walks to the local supermarkets and, eventually, short sessions on my bike.

Coronavirus started off with feeling just a tad under the weather: something I’m quite used to at this time of the year, as I’m sure many of you will be able to relate to. My winter training was going great and I was set to be furloughed for the first week of the year. I was thinking, “perfect – a week off where I can focus completely on my training”, something I rarely get the opportunity to do. But it was obviously not to be. Instead, I spent the first day of ‘rona vomiting. This was then followed by aching all over. I then felt confused, extremely fatigued, weak and I also kept coughing. Additionally, I lost the majority of my taste and smell as well as my appetite. All of this combined made it really hard to sleep: the aching even woke me up. I’d honestly never felt pain like it; having a tattoo is less painful than coronavirus aches!

Charlotte and boyfriend Matt Gibson. Photo: Calvin Cheung

Obviously, I had to stay inside and self isolate, along with my boyfriend Matt [Ed; Gibson, who rides for Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling] who strangely tested negative. I felt guilty that it meant Matt could not carry out his planned training, which consisted of long hours on the road. Instead, Matt had to stay inside with me and, when needed, help me out. A few days after Matt also had symptoms, though thankfully milder than mine. 

I was sat in my house in my PJs wondering if I’d ever fully recover

I found isolation difficult in the way that it gave me time to think. Not always the best position to be in when you suffer from anxiety and depression. I’m normally charging around at a million-miles-an-hour in true Taurean style, trying to organise things and plan ahead. But instead, I was sat in my house in my PJs wondering if I’d ever fully recover, knowing many cyclists have had to cut careers short due to contracting viruses. Doubt just kept creeping in: “How long will recovery take? Because I’m asthmatic, what’s the likelihood my symptoms get worse? Will I end up in ICU? What if I develop long Covid? Is this my season over? My cycling career over? What if I affect Matt’s season?”

I guess this was planning of sorts: planning for the worst eventuality. What?! I’m a pessimist, don’t judge me! All jokes aside, I was definitely worried. My asthma medication had also just been changed by my GP to a stronger prescription as I’d been really struggling with my breathing recently. This mixed with how awful the virus was making me feel scared me a lot.

So many people reached out to me: nurses, professional cyclists, doctors, athletes

Despite how alone and worried I felt, people across social media were honestly amazing with support and advice. So many people reached out to me: nurses, professional cyclists, doctors, athletes. I received amazing advice about vitamins that will help me to recover, how to approach my return to training, and also just letting me know that I’m not alone. Therefore a big thank you is in order to those of you who did so kindly reach out to me: this is a great example of how social media can be a tool for social good.

After I had served my isolation period I found I was still feeling very tired. I waited a day after isolation ended before I decided to walk up the road to the supermarket with Matt. At first, I was so relieved to be outside breathing in the fresh air, however, my thighs started to really ache and my chest felt very tight. I was so annoyed. I felt so stupid. Uut of sheer frustration I thought to myself “why am I out of breath I’m meant to be a 22-year-old athlete”. But coronavirus doesn’t discriminate, no one knows how their body will react to it until they contract it. It’s most definitely not ‘just a cold’. After this ordeal, I rightfully decided to take it easy for the next few days, of which I slept for about 14 hours each day.

Photo: Calvin Cheung

Then, towards the end of January, I started to reintroduce low-intensity cycling. I had already returned to work as Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) just isn’t enough to live on. I found work hard, mainly due to the 64-mile round trip up and down the motorway and focusing on a computer for hours on end. Not being able to be as productive as normal really frustrated me. This, combined with a lack of exercise, really made me miserable. COVID-19 affects your brain in some very weird ways; I have also been suffering really badly from insomnia and brain fog. It’s fair to say I was feeling just a little bit worn out.

My body feels stronger and I just feel so incredibly motivated to race and do myself justice

Now that I’m back cycling I’m so much happier. My body feels stronger and I just feel so incredibly motivated to race and do myself justice. Numbers-wise I actually haven’t lost much, therefore please remember that ‘REST IS BEST’ for optimal recovery. If I’m honest, I’m so fed up with uncontrollable life events hampering my chances of success, most notably in the last few years. It’s felt like one step forward has always been closely followed by three steps back as clichéd as it sounds. But it’s not a cliché – it’s my life – and subsequently can be so disheartening every time a bump in the road occurs.

You don’t just lose talent so I know I still have what it takes to be up there on a world level, whether it takes a few months, a year, a few years. I’m so motivated to make it work. I don’t want anything else but cycling, and of course writing. Writing sets my soul on fire and cycling is my purpose. 

Adversities faced on your road to success can be heartbreaking and traumatic, it can be so painful that it’s both physically and mentally hard to talk about. These emotions can build the foundations of doubt and insecurity – but only if you let it. I know all of this will make future success oh so much sweeter and have such a deeper meaning for me. Retirement never once crossed my mind, only ‘how can we get over this’. This life is yours, you don’t get to chose what happens but you do get to chose how you react to it. I’m going to keep taking it in my stride until I reach where I know I belong. I feel every athlete should feel this way – you should know that you have what it takes and that the obsession and drive for success will fuel you along even in you darkest times. Self-confidence is not taboo, it’s what sets the great apart from the mediocre – and that’s across the board, not just in cycling. For now, I shall keep pedaling away until I reach my destination. 

Featured photo: Calvin Cheung

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Rider journals 2021: introducing Charlotte Broughton

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