How to Race Across the West only a few years after major hip surgery.

Recently we've been sharing our chats with some of the pro and elite athletes in the Precision Hydration family to give you some inspiration and tips to help you achieve your goals. But you don't have to be a pro to be inspirational and there are so many interesting stories from within this little community of ours that we've decided to start sharing some of those with you too. First up is Penny Barker, who's a few weeks away from riding the gruelling 923 mile Race Across the West in less than 90 hours...


Hi Penny. Tell us a little bit about yourself…

Well, I’m a vet by profession, working across 2 sites of a busy small animal practice. I had a period away from veterinary practice doing project and programme management before joining Ernst and Young as a management consultant. Despite enjoying the challenge of these jobs, I realised that I wasn’t fulfilled by them so came back to vetting 4 years ago and haven’t looked back. I’m a big believer in doing what makes you happy; that may not be the job that pays the best but life’s too short to be miserable!

I’m also a Trustee for Hounds for Heroes. They’re a small charity trying to do great things and I’m very proud to be a part of their mission. I’m raising money for them and the British Heart Foundation on my “Going the Extra Mile” campaign which will hopefully see me complete the Race Across America in 2017.


Ok, so your main sport is cycling then?

Nowadays, yes, although I also love running. I completed my first marathon in 2002 at London and have done an assortment of marathons since, including the Forces March in 2010, which is actually 5 marathons in 5 days. This was also my first introduction to ultra-distance events. Running inevitably led to triathlon, which took me to my first Ironman, Lanzarote in 2007. I completed other Ironman-distance races but unfortunately came to a grinding halt in 2010 with a back pain and torn cartilage in my hip. Over the next two years I had 2 surgeries on my hip and various nerve blocks for my back and pelvis. I couldn’t run or swim (which didn’t bother me as I hate swimming!) but I was gradually able to get back on the bike. Cycling became my main sport and I decided to commit to my dream of completing the Race Across America, a 3000 mile non-stop bicycle race, in 2017.


Penny Barker of Hounds for Heroes


I started my journey with the Race Around Ireland last year and made it to 675 miles in 3.5 days (just over half way) before I developed a condition called Shermers Neck, where the supporting deep muscles in your neck fatigue and fail meaning you can’t hold your head up! It was excruciatingly painful and meant I had to retire which was galling as my legs felt fine. This year I’ve devoted more time to training my upper body to support myself on the bike and I’ve started doing Crossfit, which I really enjoy; it’s a totally different way to challenge yourself and, as I spend a lot of time cycling on my own, I enjoy the group aspect of it.


What are you goals for 2016?

The big goal for 2016 is Race Across the West. This is 923 miles, from Oceanside, San Diego to Durango in Colorado and there’s a cut off time of 90 hours. It’s a qualifier for RAAM and follows the first 900 miles of the RAAM course, so it’s ideal preparation. It starts on June 14th, so not long now…. I’m also planning to do Revolve24 which is a 24 hour race around Brands Hatch in September. I’ve not done something like that before and it will be good to push myself for that length of time, with slightly different tactics to a multi-day race.


What are your favourite foods?

I love food, so it’s hard to pick a favourite! I’m vegetarian but do eat fish and dairy and I’m a big believer in the influence of food on both health and the quality of training and recovery.  Whole foods, vegetables and healthy fats are the mainstay of my diet and interestingly when I’m tired, it’s these my body craves rather than sugar. Eggs are also a big staple in our house – they are so versatile! My favourite meal is probably salmon with a garlic and herb crust, with green veg and sweet potato mash. I do love pudding (anything apple….) and do treat myself as I also believe in everything in moderation! After Race Around Ireland, I found half a packet of dark chocolate digestives which I sat and devoured on the sofa in self pity so I’m as guilty as everyone else of making the unhealthy choices sometimes…


Penny Barker on a Wattbike

Penny taking a VO2 Max test on a Wattbike. Looks fun...


Who inspires you?

My parents are my ongoing inspiration. They have taught me to work hard, believe in myself and never give up. Also Scott Jurek, the American ultramarathoner, helped me take my first steps towards my endurance goals. He’s a passionate vegan and his book Eat and Run both helped me realise that I could make RAAM a reality and inspired me to try giving up meat. His recipe for Minnesota Winter Chillli is a firm favourite in our house!

I’m also constantly inspired by those around me. Allen Parton MBE, who suffered life-changing injuries whilst serving in the Royal Navy and went on to found Hounds for Heroes, has touched many people with his story and I’m very proud to do my bit for the charity. My Crossfit coach Jules Sterling came back from cancer and a slipped disc and qualified for the Crossfit Masters Regionals this year – talk about leading by example. Whilst you need to find your own path and inner strength on endurance journeys, I find celebrating the achievements of others uplifting and that it keeps you positive along what can be a long and lonely road.


What Precision Hydration products do you use and how do you use them?

I use Precision Hydration 1500 for preloading before a big ride and then the 1000s when I’m on the bike or working out. During the day I often have a bottle of 250 as I’m on my feet all day in air conditioned buildings and it’s easy to get dehydrated, particularly if I’ve trained hard in the morning. I also have some SweatSalt capsules for long events, or training rides in the heat.

Getting my hydration right was a big concern for RAW and RAAM – dehydration and hyponatremia in the desert are two of the biggest causes of DNFs and medical incidents in these races. Having a Sweat Test and the support from Precision Hydration has really given me confidence. I’ve tested the products on a training camp in Lanzarote, in the heat chamber at the Porsche Human Performance Centre, as well as during two 10 and 12 hour sponsored indoor rides which were VERY sweaty! They taste good and are easy on the stomach and an added bonus is that I don’t have as many wee stops as the fluid I’m taking in is staying where it’s put!


Penny Parker in Ireland reccing for Race Across Ireland


Where can people follow your Race Across the West and Race Across America journeys?

Through my website, on Facebook or @penster550 on Twitter.


Awesome stuff, best of luck in a few weeks Penny, we’ll be routing for you!

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2 comments from fellow athletes

  • Penny Barker: August 04, 2016

    Thanks Domenico!

    The Munga” sounds like a serious challenge – I love the idea of less supported riding, it is a really different challenge and one I’ve yet to really embrace. I also love the sound of the trail run part of it…. will add both to my list! Watch this space…

    “The Real Meal Revolution” was actually the book that started my LCFH (low carb, high fat) journey. I found the science compelling and the fact that Prof Noakes has completely switched sides is really telling. I couldn’t see how I could really embrace it as an athlete but ‘The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance” by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney, and “What’s the Fat – Sports Performance” by Grant Schofield gave me the blueprint to follow. I’m now working with the team at Vespa on the Optimised Fat Metabolism nutrition model to ensure I get this right.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Domenico Cutino: August 02, 2016

    Hi Penny
    Fantastic story!….
    Two things for you to Google

    “THE MUNGA”. It’ll make a good training ride.

    “The real meal revolution” by Prof. Tim Noakes.

    Regards and best of luck.