It has been a difficult season for me. I have had problems with my breathing which have affected my training, races and blog posts. My last post was in March and I have been waiting for some good news before I wrote on here again.
Last week I had an operation on my nose in order to address the issues I have suffered with all year. I have spent the last 8 months trying to treat a constant cough that I get in races and while training. It has prevented me from reaching the level I rode at last season and, ultimately, meant I needed to end my season in July in order to return to the UK and have surgery.
The symptoms started in the winter but got worse in the first few races. Whenever I had to make an effort of over 5 minutes in a race, on a climb for example, I would begin to cough. The coughing would disrupt my breathing and I’d be unable to keep up with the bunch.
Initially, thinking my problems were asthma related, I saw an allergist. I did some tests and began taking medications to rule out possible causes. I spent the first 4 months of the season in a constant cycle; I’d struggle in a race, go back to the allergist, try new medication or remedy, hope to go better the next week, only to suffer with the cough again. With every doctor or specialist I saw, the list of things I’d tried would get longer. Eventually in May I was referred to an ENT specialist, who booked me in for a CT scan. I made the trip to Cruces hospital in Bilbao for my scan with a well rehearsed timeline of all of my symptoms and a list of treatments that hadn’t worked as long as my arm:
- Sleeping with a humidifier
- Turning off the radiators
- New mattress, pillows, bedding
- Cutting out lactose
- 2 weeks off no riding
- Living by the coast
- Living in land
- Every type of nasal spray
- Allergy tests
- Allergy medication
- Multiple Asthma Tests
- Asthma pumps
- Nasal rinses
- Salt water
- Steam treatment
On the scan it was clear to see I had a deviated septum, the middle bone in my nose was blocking my left nostril. The doctor explained that a deviated septum is a common problem caused either by growth or trauma. Not only does having a blocked nostril obstruct breathing, it also prevents nasal sprays from reaching the desired area. So as well as the cough being caused by by the blockage, the deviated septum may also have been preventing me from properly treating my allergies. I was told the only option was surgery.
I was pleased to have found what sounded like the most plausible explanation but it wasn’t good news. I wasn’t going to improve without the surgery and the recovery time is around a month, so getting the diagnosis in May meant the end of my season. I was apprehensive about telling the team. Luckily for me, Eiser Hirumet were very supportive and offered me another year on the same conditions next season despite my lack of racing. This is a great show of decency and confidence in me which I really appreciate.
By this point the cough was constant. Training was miserable and racing was torture. I felt strong in my legs and good for shorter efforts but I was constantly spitting and clearing my throat while riding. I couldn’t wait and have the surgery at the end of the season, I needed to get things sorted sooner if I was going to continue with cycling.
I continued racing through June while I looked into the surgery. I knew I wasn’t going to keep up on the harder courses so I went about getting in breakaways, contesting intermediate sprints and positioning the team on the front before climbs. This change in approach was something I talked about with the team, having another year lined up took the pressure off getting results and meant I could give everything to help.
Getting the surgery on the Spanish public health system was proving tricky, I was on a waiting list and unlikely to be able to get the operation till October. I looked into getting the operation on the NHS and, with it not being an urgent procedure, the waiting time was similar. The only option was to have it done privately.
While I was weighing up getting the surgery privately in Spain or come back to the UK I went along to a junior race just down the road from Durango. A rider in my team had suggested I spoke to HMT junior cycling team who are sponsored by a private hospital. HMT race twice a year in the Basque Country so I had met them before. I approached Tony Barrett, the chief executive of HMT hospitals, to ask for some advice on the surgery. Tony listened to my case and was very understanding. We agreed I should get another asthma test and have another consultation with an ENT specialist in England before going ahead with the surgery. He also offered to cover the costs. 6 weeks later I had the operation. I can’t thank Tony enough for the help; thanks to HMT I am able to continue working towards my goal of becoming a professional cyclist.
As well as my team and HMT hospitals, I also am very grateful for the support from the Dave Rayner Fund. In 3 weeks time Phil Jones is going to be riding each stage of the Tour of Britain one day ahead of the professionals in order to raise money for the Dave Rayner Fund. You can read more about Phil’s challenge and the fund here: