Charlotte Broughton is one of ten 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. Cycling is full of ups and downs, literally and metaphorically, and in her fifth journal entry, Charlotte explains reflects on a tough time post-COVID.
First and foremost, I’d like to apologise for my absence of late, things have become a tad complex again. I wish that I had more positive news to report (I promise that I’m really enthusiastic about cycling and I love racing bikes!) but unfortunately yet again there’s been a bump in the road. This time, the bump is in the shape of a lung infection.
After struggling a lot with my breathing during races, namely the CiCLE Classic and the Otley GP, I kept finding that my reliever inhaler wasn’t fixing the issues that I kept experiencing. Subsequently, I spoke with my GP who put me on a waiting list to have an x-ray. This seems to be a routine course of action for any patients who, like me, are asthmatic and have had COVID-19.
My brain took me to some dark places again and I started to panic
At first, I was pretty calm about the whole thing but the waiting made my anxiety worse by the day. My brain took me to some dark places again and I started to panic. ‘What if my lungs were damaged as a result of COVID-19?’ ‘What if my season is over?’ Worse still, ‘what if the diagnosis is really bad and this is career-ending?’
I carried on riding my bike which may not have been the best idea, but until I had conclusive evidence that I shouldn’t, I felt I couldn’t afford to not keep pedalling, at least a little, if only to help cling onto what little sanity I had left.
When the day of my x-ray came I felt so scared. I felt sort of numb as I tied up my hospital gown. I’m getting used to seeing the inside of hospitals and that just doesn’t sit well with me.
I had to then wait around two weeks for my results to be examined by a doctor before a diagnosis could be decided on. Eventually, the news arrived and the conclusion was that I had been suffering from a lung infection. My stomach dropped. But I was also relieved, to a point; I knew I had been feeling strong so it was good to have an explanation for why I wasn’t performing. They weren’t sure why the lung infection had occurred but there was a good chance that it was due to the way my body was affected by the coronavirus all the way back in January of this year.
After a course of antibiotics, I seemed to recover well, but then the post-antibiotics cold hit, and gosh did it knock me for ten! I was very fatigued for the next two weeks, headaches, swollen glands, a blocked nose, and just the sleepiest of feelings. In my haste to get back into the swing of training, I kept misjudging how I felt which in turn prolonged the cold further. It’s something I feel very foolish for but in a way, this demonstrates just how fired up and motivated I am; young Charlotte most likely would have milked an injury or illness to get some time off from her chaotic schedule. But how much I want to succeed now is not comparable to before. I’m different, life and its teachings change you, and I for one want to get the most out of myself as an athlete and person.
Sometimes this is what you have to do, take it back to basics; do it for the enjoyment and the process instead of focusing on the result
Nevertheless, I was really happy that I seemed to finally be heading in the right direction. I had my first week back into structured training and I was very much looking forward to racing the Tour Series with my AWOL O’Shea teammates. Normally I’d have been looking to get top five in these races, but this year I just felt relief that I was able to get onto a start line. I had zero expectations and I was just going to go out there and do what I could on the little saddle time I’d had of late. Sometimes this is what you have to do, take it back to basics; do it for the enjoyment and the process instead of focusing on the result. I think it’s really easy at this level to lose this mindset, which can definitely be detrimental to an athlete’s wellbeing, especially after setbacks.
Unfortunately, things didn’t seem to run as smoothly as I’d hoped. During the first round at Guisborough, I just couldn’t breathe properly at all; thick sticky mucus was filling my airways making it really difficult to breathe. But I persisted and tried as hard as I could to finish in order to help my team with the overall standings. Post-race my lungs were aching and sore, my cough also came back. I was so upset with how I felt physically, properly ashamed of how I performed even going in with zero expectation. Nonetheless, I was really happy with my cornering skills after two years of no crit racing. Every cloud has its silver lining as they say!
Sometimes the simple things like this can make all the difference while going through a rough patch
After examining my situation I then decided to race the second round at Sunderland, but once again I was struggling with the same issues. The burning in my lungs only seemed to worsen and I was just so upset. But here’s the key thing: I didn’t give up. I kept going, accepting that this is all my body could give that day, and that’s ok. Sometimes you are the hammer and other times the nail. And I did have a wonderful time pre-race with my teammates, laughing and joking around. Sometimes the simple things like this can make all the difference while going through a rough patch. With the support of my team, I decided it was in my best interest to sit out of the last round. This was a tough call to make but seeing my teammate Frankie sprint to 4th in Castle Douglas was such a special moment to share from the other side of the barriers.
It’s been a tough time, of course, but seeing my boyfriend Matt [Gibson] do so well, winning the first round of the Tour Series with a solo break and then his team, Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling, securing the win in the overall men’s competition, has made everything just that little easier to cope with. I think success breeds success and seeing my boyfriend (and coach) doing so well really motivates me and inspires me to follow my dreams too. I really look up to and respect him as a rider. His positive outlook and calm nature has been a huge help in keeping me focused on the ‘bigger picture’ this season. He also reminds me that if this isn’t my year then there’s always next year. I think we all need a Matt Gibson in our lives. For now, I’m just going to focus on my health and then rebuilding my race fitness.
Find out more
Follow Charlotte on Twitter
Follow Charlotte on Instagram