At last weekend’s Cycling Ireland Awards Orla Hendron was presented with an ‘Outstanding Achievement Award’ for the gold medal she brought home from the 2014 UCI Track Cycling Masters World Championships. The championships took place in Manchester from 4th to 11th October and after gruelling preparations Orla was delighted to bring home the goods. We caught up with her to find out more.
Orla, tell us more about the Masters World Championships.
Male and female riders over 35 years of age are eligible to enter and they are broken in to five different age groups. I now compete in the 50- 54 age category. The championships are very competitive, many ex Elite and Olympic champions race in the Masters Championships and some younger riders use them as an avenue to achieve selection on to Elite National teams. I was competing in all the bunch events but was targeting the 2k individual pursuit.
You were disappointed with silver last year, how did you set about improving on that performance?
I decided to focus on the 2k pursuit. I knew that my opening laps and finishing laps were pretty good but it’s the middle part of the race that needed to be improved. In order to do this I needed to work on my strength and speed. Plus, I had to improve my pacing.
How do you go about improving these?
First up was a strength and conditioning programme. Mary Hunter had given a very inspiring talk at a Women’s Commission training Camp in Naas in the early winter, so I asked her to give me a programme. Mary is based just outside of Belfast on the Dublin side in Magee Gym, so while it was a bit of a trek up, it was well worth it.
I also spent a lot more time on the track bike this year. I used the sessions run in Sundrive by the great crew down there. Plus, I used the Tuesday night women’s racing in Corkagh Park. These were great races that I could use to my advantage for a good session depending on what was needed that week.
When did you start to see improvements?
By the time Track Nationals came around in August I was going well and feeling confident. I now had just over four weeks till the big event and some work needed to be done on my pacing and deciding which gear was best for me to ride on an indoor velodrome. All this is very hard to do from an outdoor 460 meter track. So Susie Mitchell, Brian Coonan and myself piled into our coach Mark Kiely’s campervan and took the fast boat to Holyhead. We camped outside Newport velodrome for the night and the next day we met Chris Davis, one of the top coaches at Newport. We had the track hired for four hours which gave us plenty of time to experiment with gears. This was very beneficial for me and I was able to make a new gear choice with confidence.
Tell us more about your preparations, what sort of training did you have to do?
Along with the strength training I was doing with Mary Hunter I was also spending a lot of time on the track. I did the Sundrive League on Wednesdays, as well as Monday and Friday sessions. Susie Mitchell and Roisin Kennedy were also training for the event so we had a nice crew! We did a lot derny sessions with Mark Kiely and Hugh Byrne worked with us on our starts.
Let’s move on to the big day. Who was your biggest competition at the race?
I wasn’t sure who was going to be my biggest rival as I hadn’t competed against any of the women before. I found out what times the other ladies had done last year and while none of them were beyond what I was doing last year you just never know if someone’s times will be the same this year. I tried to focus on my own race and I just knew I had to go faster than last year.
How much does the win mean to you?
It means a lot as I am breaking into the world of coaching myself and it gives me some kudos! I have learnt so much from the whole process and I can draw on own experiences and pass on this knowledge in my coaching.
Orla, not many women can keep racing at the top level for so long. Most women (and men!) tend to wind down after a couple of good years . Where do you get the motivation to keep going year after year?
It’s fun! The training is always great fun and while it may be hard at times it is always rewarding when you have done a good session. I like being fit and I enjoy racing so it’s not hard for me. The only thing that really is that the Masters comes at the end of the racing season. We are training outdoors and it can be difficult when the evenings are drawing in and it’s raining. That said though, we had such a fantastic Autumn this year it was great to be making the most of the last bit of the lovely sunny evenings.
You’ve achieved what you set out to do this year, where do you go from here?
Well you would have to try and defend it wouldn’t you? While I might be getting older I am still relatively new to this sport(!) and it is very inspiring to be getting faster at my age. I have seen world records been broken in my age category that many of our elite riders would aspire too. So yes, it will be more of the same for next year, I’ll try and improve again and juggle the coaching along with my own training and then I will look at thinking about a new challenge.
Thanks Orla, you’re a legend.