Charlotte Easton

On September 1st, 2016 London's cycling family lost a dear friend to breast cancer. Charlotte Easton was an inspiration whose focus and commitment is neatly summarised below in an email she sent to her coach before the National 10-mile Time Trial. Her husband, Sam Humpheson, sets the scene:

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Gear changes are the enemy

This email was written by Charlotte to her coach, as she prepared for the 2009 national 10-mile time trial. I love it for many reasons and I have re-read it many times since her death on the 1st September.

It is, in essence, a plan and an excellent one at that. She leaves no room for doubt that once this plan has been formulated, it will be followed to the letter. That year Charlotte finished seventh, just 30 seconds off Dame Sarah Storey, who took the bronze medal.

However, this is more than just a plan for a bike race. It’s a glimpse into how my wife operated – she applied the same approach to all aspects of her life, whether it was rowing, cycling, teaching, studying for an MA or her protracted and unpleasant treatment for breast cancer. Analyse situation. Draw up a comprehensive plan of attack. Execute plan to the absolute best of her ability: no complaints, no shirking, no excuses.

I love this piece of writing. It is an insight into Charlotte’s character and her passion for the written word. Though she claimed to be ‘terrible’ at writing prose, this is evidence to the contrary. Her determination shines through – it is a motivational piece that is full of affirmation and positivity.

What’s more, I love the fact that though her approach to performance was deadly serious, her tongue is firmly in her cheek. Her gentle, self-effacing humour is clearly there, alongside her steadfast bloody-mindedness. I particularly love the strength of the final mile-by-mile breakdown, this is as good a description of the effort required to ride a 10 as I have ever read.

Most of all I love the fact that right now, when I feel her absence every minute of every day, Charlotte’s voice is here for me in every line and every word.

On 20 May 2009, at 15:45, Charlotte Easton wrote:

I am going to:

Prepare properly

Wednesday: light spin (no more than 1 hr and on the ss). I will stretch for 15 mins afterwards.

Thursday: ride the 10. I am not going to stress about my time. I am going to ride it in an entirely focused manner, thinking only about my breathing and the effort. I will constantly check that my core is engaged and that I am in charge of the effort I am putting out. I will find my mantra and keep repeating it. I will let the rest of the world fade away for the 24 minutes of effort and ride as if that is my only purpose in the world. I will respond to the hills only in that I shall lean harder on the pedals. Gear changes are the enemy.

Friday: I am going to walk to the bus stop and take the bus to work. No pedal shall be turned on this day. Friday is a day of rest.

Saturday: 1 hour in the park on my single speed with one burst. I shall have coffee, resist the temptation to ride any more laps and then I shall go home. I shall stretch for 15 mins and then drink water.

Sunday. Wake early – at least 5 hours before my start time. Breakfast (scrambled eggs) and some coffee.

On the day:

Drive the course.

I am going to focus only on what I have to do.
I will do at least 40 mins of warm-up.
I will take a spare skinsuit.
I will take spare shoes.
I will listen to my ipod and not get involved in conversations which might start my mind wandering.
I will barely speak: I must be focused above and beyond the norm.
I will be close to the start in plenty of time so that I don’t have to panic.
I will keep moving so that I arrive on the startline with only 1 minute to spare.

I am not going to:

Listen to what anyone has to say about my possible performance prior to the race.
Be distracted from the job in hand.
Allow myself to be overwhelmed by my nerves: nerves are a useful thing but they must not rule me. I will recognise them, understand that I am nervous and then I shall use that energy.
Worry about my limbs feeling inert on the startline.
Allow the world outside to overwhelm me.
Think about anything other than the next 20 minutes.

During the race:

I am going to find my rhythm within the first 30s.
I will repeat the word “rhythm” until I settle.
I will settle at a high pace and know that I can hold it.
I will remind myself that that I am as capable as the very best in the country at sustaining this sort of effort, that I am a rider to be feared.
I will remind myself that I have six and a half months of stellar training behind me. This effort is no fluke as I have trained for this.
I will find my mantra. I will repeat it.
I will remind myself that I am in control of my effort and I will remind myself at every opportunity that it is now that counts: I will not be beaten by a second.
I will consolidate my rhythm at every marker.
At 9 miles I will have a lactic push
At 8 miles I will embrace the pain
At 7 miles I will reconsolidate my rhythm
At 6 miles I will push hard because this is where the race will be won.

At the halfway marker I will re-start my race and push again.

Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm …

I will see 4 miles to go and know that I must ask for more.
I will see 3 miles to go and embrace the pain.
I will see 2 miles to go and up my effort using the big muscle groups to push me into the finish
I will see 1 miles to go and utterly bury myself
I will ride like an banshee into the finish.

Just so you know.

Charlotte was an elite athlete and 32 years old when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. This disease does not respect age or fitness. Catch it early and you improve your chances, examine your breasts or your testicles.