Let me start the blog with a slight spoiler alert: I ballsed this one up, guys.
Let’s begin by reviewing “training” for this event: I didn’t do enough. I worked hard and improved my bike fitness in the run-up, but no amount of power interval training on a wattbike in a sweaty gym will set you up for the gravelly climbs of Kielder Forest. I will issue no blame on anything or anyone other than myself for this.
I did not do enough climbing. I did not do enough descending. Which leads me to lesson numero dos: I need to get better at going down hills. I am terrified of descents. I wish I could be one of the amazing cyclists I so admire, who whizz past at a rate of knots. I am too busy gripping the brakes until my forearms explode and my teeth shatter. I am too busy thinking about road rash if I misjudge a pothole or a bend. I am too busy NOT enjoying the free speed that comes with downhill.
A few months back, I asked Beardy to help me with my cycling. He is one of those modest types that just loves being out on his bikes and happens to be insanely good at being on those bikes. Literally all bikes. He has all the bikes. Being an Endura employee, I felt compelled to enter Riever as it would be fantastic training for my A Race later in the year. The goal for 2019 is to absolutely nail the bike split. I can swim well, running will always be a bit of an issue but if I can nail the bike, it gives me the opportunity of redemption at 70.3 and 140.6 level. With all this in mind, I worked out my FTP and then bodged together a training plan which wasn’t really a training plan as it was sort of shoe-horned in to a 70.3 plan…. Setting myself up well there!
In the weeks and days leading up to Riever, I was largely shitting myself. I would be tackling it on a cyclocross bike. Grippy but narrow tyres and aggressive geometry were filling me with dread the more I read in the Facebook group about bike set ups. No matter, I could still do it. Right?
The thing is…. I had pretty much decided that I couldn’t do it. The negativity had started to creep in hella early this time. I felt a wee pang of excitement at work the week before, but other than that, I was dreading it.
I prepped decent nutrition. I prepped decent kit. I prepped my bike. But my mind was not prepped. And neither were my legs.
I am totally ok with a 0325 alarm clock. A 30 minute lie in when compared to Lakesman. I was totally ok with a 2hr30min drive at 4am.
We set off on time (remarkable) and made it to Kielder with only one minor navigational error. Overnight road closures were the source of much stress but eventually we were on the same road as other people carting bikes into the depths of the borders.
We registered in good time and then snacked in the car and made final adjustments to bikes and kit.
Beardy had had a bit of a mare with his wheels in the run up. An attempt to convert them to the more favourable tubeless set up had gone tits up so he was running tubes on wider tires with a deeper rim on the back. This meant trying to source a 33mm tire with a minimum of a 60mm presta. Apparently this is not a common set up for tubes and so he had 2. 2 Entire tubes. Wiggle & Chain Reaction’s entire stock. And one was already on the rear wheel.
I had maintained my narrower tyre set up so had plenty of spare tubes and all the required tools. My Endura MT500 Hydrapak backpack was stowed to the brim with tasty snacks and 2litres of water with 750ml of High Five Energy mix in a bidon. We were ready! I was determined not to bonk or hit a wall.
It was fucking baltic at the start. It had dropped to -5c on the hills over to Kielder and our bikes were covered in ice on arrival. An icy saddle sounds appealing after a 100+ km ride, but it isn’t what you need at 8am.
Bikes de-iced, we set off on time, with “Mr Endura” (Ian) getting a special shoutout from the organiser. I got to the end of the row of flags and CLUNK.
What the actual shit.
My chain had come clean off. I hadn’t even shifted. This has never happened (on this bike) at any time ever and WHY is this happening now?! A quick jump off and re-position and I was able to get underway. Somewhat mortified. Thank you to the RD who quickly abandoned his MC duties to hold my bike while I reattached my chain….. SAKES.
The ride out is neutralised for the first 3km or so to prevent people from sprinting off the line and to drive home the fact that this is not a race. You start with a nice, gradual climb which is a good warmup for the legs and lungs. And then I heard the words no one ever wants to hear: “I think I’ve got a puncture”. I turned to look at Beardy expecting it to be a joke.
It was not a joke.
We hadn’t even crossed the first timing matt. Jesus H Christ. This is going to be a long day.
Of course, it was a total dick to change. Beardy told me to go on ahead and if he couldn’t get it seated in the tyre he’d call it a day and see me when I’d finished.
I pedalled on, a little upset and worried that he’d worked so hard on his bike for this to happen so early in the day. And, because it happened WHILE WE WERE ON A TARMAC ROAD, I began to shit myself about only packing 3 spare tubes….
Of course, while we’d been stood beside the road, literally the whole field had passed us. So I was immediately on a catch-up mission. I reminded myself to take it easy and relaxed a little and enjoyed the climbs and the absolutely beautiful scenery. After about 20 minutes Beardy appeared at my side with a “haven’t you finished yet” and a slightly under-inflated rear tyre.
The 130km route has approximately 2400m of elevation (81miles with 7900ft for those of you who speak imperial) so it is pretty lumpy by my standards. Lakesman had 1000m in 180km. For the first 20 or so kilometers, I was actually enjoying the satisfaction of climbing and was coping relatively well with the variable surfaces. One particularly tricky section featured boulder sized chunks of sharp flint and it was marked as a “steep descent”. I gritted my teeth and went for it. We reached the bottom having aged a few years and with forearms so full of lactic, it felt like they were no longer attached to my body. At 35km, I started to feel a bit weary. I don’t know why. I had plenty of snacks and so far had managed to eat enough and drink enough. I’m used to shite sleep the night before an event so I knew what to expect with tiredness. But all this allowed the “I can’t do its” to start to seep in very, VERY early. This was an entirely new kind of event for me. I ride off road at home, both on CX and on my MTB, but the trails in Kinross-shire are hard-packed with very little loose gravel. Despite living in Scotland and being unable to leave the relative flatness of my immediate surrounding without climbing a hill, I am a total novice with climbing.
Beardy provided encouragement and support throughout, making sure I ate and was holding it together. By 40km, however, I was not holding it together anymore. With 90km to go, I was really struggling. For some reason, despite my legs feeling ok so far, I was dying on the hills. Beardy was spinning in his easiest gear which I can usually keep up with, but on this day I simply did not have the strength to keep up. I was being passed a LOT and this was really grating on me. It’s not a race at all, but people seemed to be gliding passed with little effort (in huge gears, to be fair… I run a compact double with an 9 speed 11/27 rear. No 32-tooth cog for me on the back!)
At around 50km, we had run into Justin. A rider in the 200km event who had experienced a gnarly mechanical leaving him with 2 gears on the back. Ouch. He rode with us and kept us chatting. We knew we were going to be up against it for the 1230pm cut off at 65km.
Justin was retiring and to be honest, I was pretty much following suit. I felt utterly broken. Not so much physically (although the lactic burn in my quads was making me wince with every climb, and for some reason, my lower back was in shreds) but mentally I was done. DONE. The thought of another 65km with the same elevation again had me wanting to do a little cry at the side of the road.
Somehow, we made it to the cut off point with minutes to spare.
I am tough. And I’ll rarely pass up a challenge. I have never, ever DNF’d. Until today. When presented with the choice of going hard or going home, I went home.
And I stand by my choice. I know, I know. I can hear you all groaning and rolling your eyes.
I absolutely love being outside on my bike, I love being outside full stop. But today, I was losing the love because I had thrown my training in the bin and ruined it for myself. I chose not to push through pain barriers on an event that was approximately 18 million miles outside my comfort zone. I chose to listen to my head and call it a day.
It was a gutting decision to make. I could see in Beardy’s eyes that he was bitterly disappointed. He knew I wasn’t ready though and, despite having the fitness (though lacking in spare tubes) to continue, he chose to stick with me and call it a day.
Once I stopped moving and got back to the car, I realised how cold I was. I hadn’t felt it out on the bike, thanks to my brilliant Endura kit, but as the adrenaline wore off, my body would not heat up. I had thermal joggers, a base layer and hoodie AND a DryRobe on in the car and I still needed the heating up full. It wasn’t until we got home that I’d eventually thawed out. Imagine if I’d started to suffer with that if I’d stayed out? That would have been bad news.
I am reliably informed that the pain of the choice, as much as I believe it was correct, will dissipate.
Besides… I have Kinross Sportive in a couple of weeks, and a lot of work to do in that time, apparently! At least I can literally roll out of bed and roll to the start for that one…
I have never DNF’d since I started my adventures in endurance. And I am honestly shocked at myself for choosing to DNF. At least if they’d stopped me from continuing, the decision would have been out of my hands and I could have used that as an excuse. But there is no excuse. I simply didn’t prepare and train enough for an event that requires SERIOUS respect. 130km on the road is a bit of a trek but it’s no huge feat for someone with an iron distance under their belt. But this was so tough. And I was not tough enough!
This whole experience has been a stark reminder that you can’t wing it for everything. And for a lot of things, winging it is the absolute worst thing you can do. I know what I need to do now to improve. And, being a goal-oriented lass with a strong will to do better, I will come back from this braver and better-equipped.
Would I recommend Riever? Absolutely. ABSOLUTELY. What a place! Such a great atmosphere and everyone I spoke to was wonderful. Fantastic marshalls, volunteers and a really slick event. It just wasn’t my day.
I love Spring. It is my favourite season. Watching the trees and plants (and, unfortunately the weeds in my neglected garden) come back to life after the longest of Winters, makes me so excited.
My birthday is in Spring. My shiny new first-ever niece or nephew will be along in the Spring. The evenings are lighter. It’s slightly less baltic in the mornings. What is not to love?
This year, i decided to shove my A-Race back to August and give myself the long, dark Winter months to focus on rebuilding my strength and stamina after a brutal year of training for iron distance. It’s been a great decision. I’ll swiftly bypass the fact that I am hugely under-trained for the Dirty Reiver 130km in less than two weeks…. but this aside, I feel mostly ready for a few months of 70.3 training.
My plan for the Winter was to try to maintain my weight as well as my CV fitness, and work to improve strength and power on the bike while avoiding injuries and illnesses as much as possible. I’ve become good (some would say too good #hypochondriac) at listening to my body and thankfully, so far, I have only experienced a few niggles here or there. My biggest obstacle, as it has always been, is stress. I get very stressed. Once I am passed being able to deal with it psychologically, my body responds and I experience recurrences of the fibromyalgia I have worked so hard to beat. It can be exceptionally frustrating, especially as exercise, the one thing that alleviates stress, contributes to the pain which, if I’m not careful, can cause injuries that stay for a lot longer than I’d like. For example: in January, I was experiencing my usual shoulder and neck pain. Sometimes all I need is some light weights or an easy swim to allow my muscles to work through the tightness. But on this occasion, I pushed a little too hard and ended up with an extremely sore rotator cuff injury that lasted, on and off, until mid Feb. Not ideal for this swimmer!
With all this in mind, I have worked hard to recognise when it is essential that I take a big ol’ step back and reset mind and body.
Easier. Said. Than. Done. I can assure you.
The most important thing that I try to remember is: I do this shit for fun. I’m not an *actual* athlete. This isn’t my job. I have an actual job that I love and that pays my bills. I have life stress, family and a social life. (also I unfortunately have a garden. sigh) Life happens. I eat cake and pizza as well as vegetables. Life is short and is 100% for living. I’m not in this shit to win it. I’m in it to *live*.
Removing this competitive pressure from myself has been so important. Going into my new training plan with a relaxed mind set and totally flexible goals is (hopefully) going to make this summer fun and exciting as well as successful.
As things shift and change with my career, my family life (and my attitude), I have to remember to be flexible and to adapt. I mean, if last year taught me anything about myself, it is that I am tenacious as hell. Shove me in a difficult situation and I’ll drag myself out of it to the best of my ability.
Over the last few months, I’ve worked hard to bring my FTP up. I’ve attended to my strength and conditioning, I’ve enjoyed running (and hated it in equal measure but that’s standard for me) I’ve rekindled my enjoyment of “training” and made the most of parkrunning and days out on my bike. I’ve conquered some of the hills I’ve been scared of on my bike, and I’ve faced my fears of downhill MTB by accidentally not taking the chicken runs on red routes.
After Lakesman, I forced myself through some more events, I achieved the things I wanted to (apart from that illusive 5k PB which was JUST out of reach). But I felt sort of numb. Nothing was really hitting the spot and I knew I needed to take one of those big steps back and realise how lucky I am to be able to do any of this in the first place.
The last few years have shown me how cruel and short life can be. We get literally one shot at this, so why throw that away or waste it? While my body works, I’m gonna USE it!
I have channelled this renewed sense of purpose into this years “plan”. Which I refuse to put too much pressure on because this is an adventure and I want to enjoy it….and I am EXCITED to see where I end up.
I even went on a proper running adventure with my pal and colleague Laura. We hopped on a ridiculously cheap flight to Stockholm and spent a long weekend marching round the city in -12 and running in Djursgarden in the snow. We also discovered just how British we were by encountering a traditional NAKED (like…. extremely fucking naked) sauna where everyone jumps in the frozen lake after…. We wore our towels with shame/pride and closed our eyes in the communal showers and did we FUCK jump in the lake. Needless to say, when we visited a beautiful roof top spa the following day, the first thing we checked was that we could wear our swimming costumes……
So I guess, this Spring, I get to spend my time watching lambs play in the fields as I huff and puff on my bike, I get to chase choppers down in the pool (LITERALLY FUCK OFF IF YOU SWIM BREASTSTROKE IN THE FAST LANE WHEN THERE IS SPACE IN THE SLOW LANE) and I get to keep trying to run…… FOR FUN.
As I stepped out of the house and into the chilly, damp morning air, I took a deep breath in. I always do this before I set off. As though my brain automatically wants my insides to get used to the outside temp. The air felt cool enough to warrant a cursory “brrrrrr” but not too cold, plus I was well dressed for it, so I hopped on my cyclocross and headed for Parkrun. Being outside is the BEST.
Somehow, despite owning a Parkrun barcode for 6 years, I only started taking part in May 2018. Since then, I have managed to complete a whopping NINE parkruns (I know. I know. Bow before my greatness….. ) and while completing a run and basking in the endorphins glow while hobbling my achy calves to the car afterwards is lovely, my absolute FAVE is volunteering. Which I’ve managed to do twice so far and plan to do a lot more!
Truth be told, it took me a long time to gain enough confidence to go along. Despite the Parkrun ethos being super inclusive and not about pace at all, I simply couldn’t face it. I was too critical of my own abilities and I just didn’t think I’d fit in: I am not a fast runner. I don’t really like running while I’m running. I’m also historically shite at pacing myself while being famously skilled at picking up injuries due to this lack of aptitude for taking it fucking easy. Therefore, I used to swerve Parkrun the same way I avoid talking to humans before 8am. I could do it…. I just chose not to.
Recently, however, something has clicked. With my “Race Schedule” (Read: Fatness Prevention Scheme) now pencilled in for 2019, I have some plans. But the most magical thing has happened: I am enjoying sports again! I’ve managed to remain semi active over the festive period to combat the alarming quantities of cheese consumed. I’ve not even done this because I have to meet a target or anything. I’ve done it because I WANTED to! Shocking!
From Crammond Parkrun on Christmas Day, to climbing West Lomond cause I damn well wanted to, and double Parkrun on New Years Day, it’s been fun and I’ve been loving it!
It’s been tricky balancing work, fun and avoiding the frankly disgusting amount of germs floating about in my air conditioned office, so being sensible and staying healthy has been my priority.
2019 is shaping up to be a proper whirlwind: 2 cycle sportives in April, my first Duathlon, another bash at 70.3. But that’s not the biggest, most exciting thing: My little sister is going to be a mummy. Which means I am going to be an Auntie. And this is the BEST NEWS EVER. I cannot wait to have a tiny human to borrow and show them how anything is possible. Every time I think about it I just beam with total happiness. Lissie and Sean are going to be wonderful parents.
Another super exciting thing that has happened, is that Beardy bought me a project for Christmas! A full carbon frameset with super light wheels. And with Ultegra components thrown in from himself and my in-laws, I have myself a beautiful new toy. He is called Toothless and he has already taken up residence with Stella and the gang while he gets his wings.
So….. as I gently pedalled my way to Parkrun through the gloomy morning light, I took some time to think about how lucky I am to be able to do what I do. I smiled to myself as the tail-wind gently pushed me along. I breathed in the chilly air and enjoyed the peace of eerily quiet roads and a completely vacant trail. It was glorious.
Then, I spent 45 minutes enthusiastically cheering and clapping for every runner and high-fiving the kids to keep myself from getting cold. All before taking the long way home on the bike and spending 20 minutes thawing myself out in the shower. It was a morning designed specifically to boost my Happy.
One of the things that has spurred me on the most recently is the statistics coming through from Parkrun. On NYD, the number of people in attendance at Scottish parkruns was up by 87% against 2018. And among that, the number of first timers was incredible: in 2018 on NYD, there were 717 first timers at parkruns throughout Scotland. On Jan 1st 2019, there were 1,599. a 123% increase. That is AMAZING. (Source – David Black from Parkrun Friends Scotland)Seeing more people get off the couch and get their trainers on is massively inspiring!
All of this has made me super excited for my adventures this year! First up: Stockholm at the end of the month! Bring it on!
As I sat slumped on a pavement on a bitter January night, waiting for Beardy to come and pick me up, I sobbed. My shins were so painful it hurt to walk. My hips were in shreds. I was broken.
“If I feel like this after 7 miles, how the hell am I supposed to do a marathon in 4 months?” I thought to myself.
A few weeks prior to this, I had run my first ever race: the Edinburgh MoRun 10k. I finished in 1hr11 and couldn’t walk downstairs for 2 days afterwards.
I was struggling to understand how a human body can run without serious physical consequences.
Most of my salary was already going on Physio treatments for the injuries I was collecting faster than the miles were building. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.
I had no idea about nutrition. I was still losing weight. It was a wholly miserable time.
That first big finish line
Crossing the finish at the 2014 Edinburgh Marathon was a pivotal moment for me. I’d run to 16 miles and then walked the rest. It took me 5hrs40 (A time I’ve never really improved on) But, as it still remains, it wasn’t about the time. It was 100% about proving to myself that I am capable of tough stuff. And that I can do things that are difficult if I a) want them enough and b) work hard.
The journey to that point had been riddled with bumps and obstacles. First and foremost, my body was not ready. I was not strong. Determined? Absolutely. But I had about as much strength in my legs as a piece of over-cooked pasta.
I knew if I wanted to continue doing Stupid things, I’d have to get stronger.
So I did.
I worked. I cried. I worked some more. And slowly (very fucking slowly) I started to discover what my body was capable of. I began to understand my limits and how far I could push them.
Including strength work into my training became essential. Basic range-of-movement stuff as well as deadlifts, squats, HIIT and MetCon became staple parts of my weekly routine.
The Ultimate Goal
Early on, I knew I wanted to become an ironman. 140.6 was THE goal.
I wanted my first time to be special, informal and fun. I devoured hundreds of race reports, watched the live footage of Ironman branded races, followed trackers for non branded ironman races. I read the history of the sport, immersing myself in the inspiring world of the distance.
I focused on each discipline, building confidence and stamina.
Setting huge goals along the way was crucial in building said confidence: entering endurance swims, completing more marathons and generally being around bikes more often were all part of a Grand Plan.
And then finally, I stumped up the cahones and entered a race.
Marie and Phil have built something unique and special with Lakesman. Everything is athlete focused. Everyone is there to push you and encourage you. It’s not about brands or money or gloating. It’s about working fucking hard for as long as you’ve worked to get there, and celebrating this effort with a 140.6 mile lap of honour in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK.
It’s about overcoming adversity in whatever form it has taken in your life. It’s about sacrifice. Commitment. Determination.
It is so much more than a race.
Lakesman was a fantastic athlete experience. From start to finish. I could not recommend this race enough.
I guess I expected to feel different. More Badass, or something. To be honest, I felt tired. Very fucking tired. I was buzzing but sort of quietly disappointed. I know I can go faster and do better. But the thought of doing that again just made me want to weep.
My energy levels peaked and dipped like nothing I’ve ever experienced: one minute I was itching to swim, the next I wanted to sleep for a week.
I’ve battled with utter disappointment about my time. I’ve felt totally gutted. I’ve cursed my weight, my lack of power on the bike, my lack of long distance rides.
But most importantly, I’ve LEARNED stuff: Train harder. Train smarter. Eat better. Your body tells you when it needs to rest. You CAN do tough stuff. You WILL do another 140.6. Chamois Cream is LIFE.
I ticked off some “smaller” events and set some goals to see my year out: Another 10k swim in Loch Lomond (ended up with a 4 minute PB), swam the relay leg of Aberfeldy middle distance in 31 mins (4th fastest relay swimmer over all!) Smashed through my 3 year old 10km PB with pacing help from my father-in-Law and I’m currently working on bettering my 5km PB (this is proving trickier than anticipated….)
Next year will focus on building my bike speed, mastering middle distance and getting faster and stronger across the disciplines, all while having as much fun as I can!
One thing that iron distance has helped me with is perspective. While I still struggle with stress, I can now talk myself down with greater ease than before.
In the words of Kara Douglass Thom: “Ironman will trivialise past hardship and prepare you to minimise those to come”
The strapline for this blog used to be “the journey to 26.2 and beyond”. Now, “it started with a marathon” feels much more fitting.
A huge thing to come out of Lakesman, was realising the importance of fixing my relationship with my body and body image.
I haven’t weighed myself in months. I can feel most of you reacting to that! “Oh gosh she’s let herself go!”. Quite the opposite.
I was sick and tired of having my days measured by a number on a screen.
You know what it’s like… you get up, get undressed for the shower, look in the mirror and think “oh yeaaaah looking like you’re getting the abs back there, Bean” and then you step on the scales and they are the wrong side of 72kgs and all of a sudden your day is ruined.
Here’s the solution: I don’t weigh myself anymore. And I feel fucking brilliant, for it! My clothes fit better than ever and food-wise, I stick to the same healthy balance with occasional treats which I no longer punish myself for.
I’m still active. Not 17-hours-a-week active, but active enough to enjoy exercise for it’s physical and psychological benefits.
I’ve loved this year. There have been really crushing lows, but the highs have more than made up for those.
I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how I felt after Lakesman.
Newly crowned as IronBean, the initial buzz wore off fast and I was left feeling……. disappointed.
DISAPPOINTED?! I hear you ask…..
Yes. I’ve been racking my brains for two months and that is the best word I have in my vocabulary.
In the end, you can only race the race you’re given. I far surpassed my expectations on the swim, but the bike was my biggest downfall that day. Post-race diagnostics revealed that if I’d just kept adjusting the gear cable (which I was trying to do on the move) I would have restored almost full function on the rear mech. I half wish I didn’t discover this. But alas, I still managed to finish within cutoff. And the extra hour on the bike meant I had to cram far more nutrition in than planned, which scuppered my stomach for the run. I truly got my money’s worth. And finished in the dark, in heroes hour.
Dissection aside, I felt fidgety. I immediately wanted to look at other full distance races and go swimming and running and cycling. But I knew my body needed a rest. I gave it a week before trying anything, but, when I eventually tried Sport, it was as though the pool had been filled with molasses and my trainers had been filled with lead.
My body was wrecked.
I have read articles which discuss the toll an iron distance race takes on the body, even on a cellular level. I mean, I was out there, exercising, for 16 hours and 21 minutes. Now I’m no human biologist, but I’d wager that doing ANYTHING for 16 hours and 21 minutes that is not sleeping, is bad news for your organs and your muscles. But because I hadn’t done “very well” (by my own definition… and yes I know how stupid that sounds….) I didn’t think I deserved to feel fucked.
I wanted to exercise. But I just had no desire to once I actually started. It felt awful.
So. I rested, right? I burned all my kit and just chilled the fuck out, yeah?
No. I entered the GSS 10 fucking kilometre swim.
Now I look back, I realise the bit that needed the most rest was my mind. Back when I trained on a hybrid plan, I pushed and pushed and PUSHED myself. Constantly. I’d usually end up broken. It has taken 2 long, hard years to re-learn how to listen to my body and to train holistically and mindfully. With this constant pushing and shoving going on in my head, I had neglected the fact that I am a normal person. With a stressful job.
But anyway. I had a BIG FUCK OFF SWIM to train for.
Finding my Mojo
After a few weeks of dossing about, I knew I had to get back in the gym. I set about focusing on 2 strength sessions a week, plus 4 swims, maybe a jog and definitely a bike if I felt like it.
This approach seemed to work on a self-care level and I soon rediscovered my mojo, putting in some excellent swim times in the pool.
I started to feel like the athlete I deserve to call myself but don’t because carbs.
I also now had something I was really looking forward to. I was actually going to RACE! In Open Water! I had joined some pals and their team for Aberfeldy Middle Distance triathlon. I was their pet mermaid. And I was EXCITED.
It’s a competitive race, and it is the exact race where I fell in love with Triathlon back in 2014 while spectating. In 2015 I smashed any target I ever could have given myself. So getting to do the swim and then sit on my bum for the rest of the day, cheering on amazing people taking part in my favourite sport?
A THOUSAND YESSES TO THIS.
My swimming had been getting increasingly good, so I set a target of sub 35 minutes for the 1.2 mile swim. Fairly leisurely given my 1:08 split at Lakesman (still smug about that #secondlady) but quick enough considering I was tired after over a year of training.
The day before the middle distance, the weather was NOT kind. Swimmers at the Sprint Tri were DNFing left, right and centre.
I was nervous.
I can handle chop. But this sounded extreme and I was TIRED.
However, by some miracle, Loch Tay was flat-ass calm on the Sunday Morning. The race was ON.
I waded in, letting the icy waters of Loch Tay find my bum crack (always the worst bit) and moved to the front left of the field. With zero ceremony, the relay wave was released and I successfully avoided the stramash of legs and arms. I soon found my rhythm and my watch hit 500m. 7mins14s. Oh. That is VERY quick…. ok. Maybe too quick. Slow it down a bit. Just let the diesel engine you’ve built kick in and tick over, Bean….
2nd 500 – 7mins48s
I wasn’t out of breath. What the shit?
With less than 900m to go I thought “fuck it”. And just went for it. Strong, calm strokes. I had fully overtaken most of the previous Blue Wave and was now nestled firmly amongst the stronger swimmers in the leading pink wave. I hit the exit ramp at 31mins51s. I was absolutely BUZZING. A few hesitant seconds were spent in a confused state trying to locate my wetsuit zip but I was soon launching myself up the carpet to find Joe, our cyclist. Wetsuit stripped (apparently only flashed half a boob) and chip handed over, Joe was off in the pissing rain. And I was stood shivering in said pissing rain. In my swimming cossie. Dignity on the floor along with my limp wetsuit.
Ella and I eventually found each other and I slipped into the warmth of a DryRobe. I’d also managed to locate my flipflops to rescue my feet from the gravel before cheering the our rival teams swimmer out of the water, and their cyclist on his way.
Joe smashed out a 2hr41 bike split in atrocious conditions, 2 weeks before he heads to SA for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs. And then Ella provided the icing to the cake with a brilliant 2 hour half marathon (literally less than a month after a 100km ultra, FYI). Our transition times were unbelievable (under 2 mins for T1 and 35s for T2!!) and our total time was 5hrs16min. 4th mixed relay overall. Amazing.
I felt buoyed (swim joke LOLZ) by the success of our team and, with a week to go until GSS, started to look forward to my long swim.
A bloody long way
10km. 10,000m. Shit.
Such a good idea at the time. At 4am on Saturday August 25th, it was 100% NOT a good idea.
Having arrived in Balloch too early as usual, a van pulled in in front of me, and my nerves evaporated immediately: The Lakesman Watersafety Team had arrived. I shit you not. And they’d parked in front of me.
If I have ever needed a reminder that I’m a badass, it was at that moment. And the Iron Gods delivered.
I forced down breakfast and took a wander to the start. The initial breeze soon died down and the loch looked inviting.
Initial temperature readings had read 17 degrees C at the start of the week. But I know my Great Swims, now. And I knew that would be complete and utter bollocks.
On my wandering, I stumbled upon an Ironman who was swimming the 5k (with like no training…) and we got caught up and speculated about water temp. It had spent a few days hammering down with rain, so it was obviously going to be lower than 17.
“15.6” so wetsuits were optional.
The .6 was totally ambitious. But people still went for it in skins…. nails.
Acclimatisation proved my point. It was cold. Very cold. And I was about to be submerged for 3 hours. Ok, good.
My new Speedo wetsuit felt really good but I was nervous now. The neoprene is thinner across the chest and shoulders for better flexibility, and I was worried that I hadn’t worn an extra layer underneath like last year.
With very little time to worry, we set off.
The Big Yellow Bastard
I always forget how vast the course is at GSS. It’s a mile lap but I’d be swimming it SIX times. To break it up and help me keep count (it never measures accurately and after 2 hours in cold water, YOU try doing distance maths…) I’d stop every 2nd lap for a gel.
To help pass the time, I named the buoys. First there was Pointy Bastard. The Giant Green Prick, then Big Yellow Bastard, then Smaller Orange Pleb, then Pink “Halfway” Bastard, then another Green Prick, then Yellow Fucker, then Turny Green Twat then it was back to the start again.
Big Yellow Bastard was so fucking far away from the start buoy that I wanted to cry every time I started a new lap.
Because I’d done this before, I was in complete denial about how hard it is. Fucking hell it’s SO hard.
I was keeping pace extremely steady, but consistent. I felt ok until about 4km when my left shoulder finally decided that I’ve done far too much swimming this year and gave up. I felt the pop and then the burning sensation spread through my deltoid. With the cold getting deeper into my soft tissues, my hands now felt like a cross between seal flippers and claws.
I could have called it, rolled over and thrown my limp, claw hand up and hailed a water taxi back to shore, but I’d rather have my bloated corpse dredged from the murky depths of a loch. So I pushed on.
“THIS IS THE LAST RACE OF YOUR SEASON, BEAN. YOU DON’T NEED YOUR SHOULDERS ANYMORE. FUCK IT”
So I blocked out the (now agonising) pain and swam faster…. Go figure!
Before long (lie. it took fucking ages) I was playing “next time last time” and was accutely aware of the chafing on my neck, the pins and needles in my left flipper, the fact that my hands were now totally numb and that if I even THOUGHT about kicking, my hamstrings would immediately spasm and I would die right there. In the NOT 15.6 degree waters of Loch Lomond.
There was also now a significant chop to the water at the far end of the course. What I had initially believed was safety boat wake, were actual waves and I was having to fight cramp, a burst shoulder, the urge to cry AND a current. Oh joy.
Happily, the wind direction meant that as I turned into the final straight for the last fucking time I had a wee push to the end. And boy did I use it.
I am extremely proud of my training this year. Especially with swimming. I have really, truly focused my efforts on a solid swim fitness level. I don’t pansy about in the pool with IMs and breastroke warmups. I set targets, hone my technique on front crawl and spent 4-5 hours per week minimum tweaking my diesel engine to make it powerful. With all of this behind me, after 9000m I had enough left in the tank for a strong final 6-800m.
Looking at my watch, I was frustratingly close to last years 2hrs53 (which I had achieved after a solid summer of training sans ironman) and for my sanity I HAD to beat that time.
Happily, on a course measuring 2-300m longer than last year, I was a whole 4 minutes faster. Finishing in 2hrs49mins. 10th lady overall and I’d broken the 2hrs50min barrier.
After initial frustration that I hadn’t gone EVEN FASTER, I realised the magnitude of what I’ve done this year.
Consistency. So. Much. Consistency.
A 140.6 mile race. A sub 32min HIM swim. And now a sub 2:50 10,000m swim.
I have long maintained that the only way to get faster at swimming is to swim. I’ve often been laughed down by so-called “experts” who attempt to teach people about a sport they have never mastered themselves. But my consistency speaks for itself:
The above graphs make me super proud of my arms: 2015 training for HIM = 95809m. 2016 spent rehabbing injuries borne from INconsistency = 63561m.
2017. Where it clicked. and I started to FOCUS on consistency = 211,762m. And then 2018. Where, to date, I’ve swum over 247000m and constantly proved myself (and the haterz) wrong.
I love my sport.
Now that I know the key, I fully intend to apply this to cycling and running. I WILL go back to iron distance. The jury is out on another 10km swim though…….
Warning: this blog contains my standard swears and chat about poop and sharting. It is also 8 years long. So as to do justice to 16hrs21mins of race time. Continue reading at your peril…
The build up
I’m pretty sure that the week before your first iron distance should be spent resting and tapering to prepare for the big day upon a bed of soft things, wrapped in cotton wool, in a safe and hermetically sealed environment.
It probably shouldn’t be spent nervously refreshing tracking info on the emergency Garmin you’ve had to order from Wiggle because your extremely expensive, flashy, all bells and whistles Fenix 5s has DIED.
OH YEAH, GUYS.
DEAD. DIED. DEED. RIP. FML.
I’d gone for a taper swim on Tuesday and noticed that the watch wasn’t syncing or recording HR. It stubbornly refused to restart but once it did it seemed ok. UNTIL IT TURNED OFF.
Then it would only power up under charge. 100% not impressed. 4 days before Lakesman. NOT IDEAL.
I hit return on wiggle and promptly ordered a 735xt which, ironically, had been my second choice to the Fenix.
It turned up in the nick of time and I’m happy to report that so far it works apart from a brief glitch the evening before the race. (Don’t even go there)
What I probably also could have done without, was a vague text message from Beardy requesting immediate assistance after a MTB-off in Whinlatter forest had bent his handlebars and scraped his knee. THIS WAS NOT A TIME FOR VAGUENESS. The panic was a little much for my heart rate but the run across Keswick carrying all my registration kit was a nice warm up for the main event… (Beardy is fine. If a little bruised and scraped. The bike is also fine)
The Saturday – Greig vs. Triathlon X
We had rented a cottage with our good friends for the weekend. Katherine and I worked together at the shop, and her lovely hubby was tackling the absolutely monstrous Tri X the same weekend. It made perfect sense to base ourselves in Ambleside. Mostly because Greig’s swim start was 4.30am. Yup. You read that right…
They were up and out in the middle of the night, so we had a lazy morning before I headed to Keswick to rack and attend the briefing.
Tracking Greig was virtually impossible thanks to very shoddy signal for the timing guys on the fells. The weather was bad even for the Lake District, with driving rain and unforgiving wind.
Climbing ANY hill in that weather would have been horrific. But Kirkstone, Aira Force, Honiston, Whinlatter, Hardknot, Wrynose, Coniston in that weather? Then a run up Scarfell Pike and back?
Fuck that noise.
But Greig has been chasing this for two years. And having had his training derailed by a horrid injury in 2017, he managed to smash Triathlon X in 14:51.23 placing 13th Overall. Absolutely astonishing and watching him try to walk up and down the stairs in our cottage afterwards was both hilarious and a worrying indicator of how I’d be spending the next few days…
My alarm was set for 0305. Boke. I woke up at 0248 and couldn’t lie in bed for another minute. I got up and made porridge and toast. Dry heaving as I forced myself to eat the only actual meal I’d have that day.
Beardy surprised me at his level of enthusiasm so early in the morning. He was up and dressed and ready to go ahead of schedule. We navigated our way to the car and set off for Keswick.
I was struggling to keep myself from throwing up. I sipped water carefully and only had to stop the car once for an emergency pee (no mean feat in a tri suit)
I was met at T1 by Eilidh, one of my colleagues from Endura, who had travelled down to document my day (amazing) as I debuted my custom tri suit. My mum and dad soon appeared and I had my first cry of the day!
I found Brian and Kate off of facebook/twitter and we shared laughs and hugs. And then it was time to walk down to the swim. Shit. I was actually going to have to do this.
An excited buzz surrounded the crowd of neoprene clad athletes as we filed down to the edge of Derwentwater. The view was breathtaking. I felt ready, scared, excited and not as overwhelmed as I expected.
I had prepared for this moment. I wasn’t emotional as I had expected to be. But extremely calm. It was time to do three things.
I waded in to the warm, slightly choppy water of the lake into a deep swathe of weeds. Like…. hip deep. Gross. Splashed my face and dipped in to get myself ready to go. On the advice of my swimming buddies, I positioned myself toward the front and out wide to the left. We treaded water for about 4 minutes and then the horn was blown. I got my head down and got stuck in. The water temp was perfect and it was so clear! They had laid out 25 buoys for us which was very generous. I had a bit of a Dougal: Small/Far Away situation because the buoys looked like they were small and close. But actually they were very very large indeed. Just far away. Really fecking far away.
I swam straight for about 10 minutes before edging over towards the buoy. (140.6 miles is quite far enough without adding distance, thanks.) I managed to hug the buoys without drama for the full course. Up towards the island, the wind was whipping up some small waves, not big enough to cause problems but big enough to give me a nice lungful of water as I lifted my head to sight. Across the island, there was shelter and then all the way back there was a nice tail wind to give me a push. My splits flashing up every 500m looked good but I really felt like I was struggling to keep a solid pace. I tried not to get too worried and just keep swimming. Eventually I realised that the finish was only about 500m away. I started upping the pace and was promptly kicked in the face by a swimmer who just appeared in front of me. Punch-drunk, I pulled myself onto the exit matt, put my right foot down and felt cramp take hold of my calf.
I was trying to remove goggles, cap and earplugs and run and take off my wetsuit and listen to instructions and felt extremely overwhelmed. Stopped and saved the activity on my 735XT (didn’t even look at the time cause it felt terrible) and then someone shouted “YOU’RE THIRD LADY!”
Wait. WHAT? I wanted to stop and check but I needed to RUUUUUN the 8 miles to T1. Then someone else shouted “YOU’RE SECOND” and then Beardy confirmed this as I ran passed.
WHAAAAT? Shit. That’s serious stuff. I wondered how close I got to my goal time of 1:10.
My friend’s words of advice rung in my ears as I trotted into transition stuck firmly in my suit. “Don’t waste any time.”
I didn’t. An amazing volunteer effortlessly removed my wetsuit while I shoved my helmet on, dried my face and feet, applied chamois cream, threw bike shorts on over my tri suit, and put my gloves on. The same volunteer then helped me put my socks and shoes on my claw-feet. She was my hero. I thanked her and trotted out to T1. I was the first biker into my section!!!!!
I wobbled to the mount line and the girls clapped shouting ” YOU ARE FIRST LADY ”
Oh. My. God.
That is the first and last time that will ever happen in a race. I breezed out of T1 and onto the bike.
Transition 1: 6 mins.
I was pretty much immediately NOT first lady. Or second or even third. But I’ve always been an barely-above-average cyclist and a decent swimmer. The plan was always to just get through the bike. It was the bit that frightened me the most. The possibilities of what could go wrong are pretty limitless. I felt intimidated and not at all confident.
My concerns about retaining my initial crown were almost instantly replaced when I tried to change gear.
Clickclickclickclick brrrrrrrrr ping.
What. The. Fuck.
I’d taken my bike apart to bring it to the race and when I’d put the back wheel back on, I’d run it through the gears but hadn’t made time to ride it and run through the gears under load. It was immediately obvious that the cable tension was off. I adjusted it on the move but no improvement.
This was going to be an issue.
Not to worry. Just find a gear that’s comfortable and quiet and preserve that fucking chain! JUST GET THROUGH THE BIKE.
The roads out to Cockermouth (fnar) were smooth and gently undulating. I was passed by almost everyone. (That’s how it felt) I shouted encouragement at everyone who passed. Unless they were drafting (there was a fair bit of that!)
From Cockermouth we made our way down windy, winding roads to Egremont where we had a short out and back before turning up the coast with the wind behind us. My pace shot from 23kph average to 31 and I was making good time. By Workington and Maryport I was bang on track for a 7hr bike split. I was living my best life. Feeling good, nailing nutrition and in a gear that felt workable and safe for the bike.
There were some long drags up dual carriageways which were arduous and pretty scary, with the apalling driving of some motorists. I was bursting for a pee and had tried several times to pee while cycling but for some reason my brain won’t communicate with my bladder and I cannot do it! I stopped at an aid station, picked up a banana and a fresh bottle of PowerBar isoactive. I didn’t waste any time and quickly made it back onto the road. Still on target. Still ok. Just get through the bike.
I wish I’d made the most of the tail wind. Because life was about to get tough.
At Silloth, an odd wee town on the coast that I could see Scotland from across the Solway Firth (“ha!” I thought, “I’ve basically cycled home”) you turn back and head in a loop to Aspatria before heading back to Silloth. The headwind was constant and unforgiving. With nasty gusts from in front and the side. The terrain had evolved from flat coastal roads to lumpy countryside with some sharp wee kickers. Of course, I couldn’t spin my legs in the granny ring up these because Stella wouldn’t let me select that gear. Instead I had to stomp the pedals. This approach is faster over a shorter distance, in theory, but it saps the legs. I was soon having to take on more fuel to avoid bonking. This would cause problems later…
Around about now I heard the words “ALRIGHT MY LITTLE PASTYYYYYYYY” from behind. KATE!!!! Man was I pleased to see her. She breezed past looking strong as hell. “I HAD AN ABSOLUTE SHITTER OF A SWIM, MATE” she shouted as I dropped back and she moved forwards out of the drafting zone. “ME FUCKIN GOGGLES SNAPPED IN THE SWIM”. I shouted encouragement after her and watched her pedal off into the hills.
It was on this first loop that I executed the perfect bottle swap. Chucked my empty bottle directly into their bin from the bike, shouted “WATER AND A BANANA PLEASE” at the amazing volunteers who duly held these out to me, grabbed a bottle, put it in my teeth, grabbed a banana and shoved it in my pocket, switched my rear bottle to the front cage and put the water bottle in my rear cage, then peeled the banana WITH MY TEETH like and actual PRO and all without losing what little speed I had. That, right there, is winning.
Once the top of the lap is completed, you do 16 miles of it AGAIN before turning towards Cockermouth from Aspatria.
This section took for-fucking-ever.
After about 20 minutes I heard “THERE SHE IS. GINNIE BABE. KEEP GOING YOU’RE DOING AMAZING” and it was Kate again! “Nice work babe. are you on your second lap now?” “NAH MATE. TOOK A WRONG FUCKING TURN LIKE A TWAT. WENT AN EXTRA TWO MILES. FUCK SAKE”
This was the first time I’d laughed all day. It felt good to laugh. Off she went again. Pedalling like the machine that she is. (She did GUCR – all 152 miles of it like 3 weeks ago. And then won an iron distance tri the following weekend. Just in case you weren’t sure how badass she is…)
After another half hour, my good mood had subsided. I had spent the whole day being over-taken and felt like I was dead last. This is when the first Dark Place happened. There was a 3km climb, it was doable in the gear I was in but my quads were in tatters and my calf was beginning to noise itself up after the swim cramp.
I cried. I cried on a very quiet road because no one had passed for a decade and I was certain I’d missed a turning, was last, and was going to miss cut off. My pace had slowed to about 18kph which is really dire. All of a sudden, a man called Carl (I saw his bib) cycled past. “Why are the hills and wind at the end?!” I sobbed. “It’s just life, innit” he said.
Shit. That cut me deep. So simple. Yet so true.
Iron-distance races are designed to weed out the weak and ill-prepared. Maybe I didn’t get as many long rides as I’d have liked. But over the last few years I’ve developed mental fortitude. I’ve had meltdowns on long rides, but I’ve pulled through that to finish every single one. And as Carl so wisely observed, sometimes things get lumpy. You just have to knuckle down and get on with it. Just. Get. Through. The. Bike.
So I did. Save a brief moment at the 150km aid station. I’d literally been falling asleep on bike and the perplexed marshals held my bike while I sat on the kerb with my head in my hands for “just a couple of minutes please”.
Some tough love from the amazing marshals, a few more bits of nutrition collected and half a bottle of powerbar downed and off I went. Into the rain and wind.
“It’s only 15 miles back to Keswick” were the team’s parting words.
I may as well have had another 112 in front of me. Those 15 miles lasted FOREVER.
Eventually, I rolled into Keswick, passed the end of one of the out and back sections to see hundreds of runners on the marathon. Sigh. I had a lot of work still to do.
My earlier smiles had been replaced with a persistent grimace as my body was in absolute bits. My knees were killing me, my feet were numb and my neck was stiff from being so tense. I was so thoroughly fed up and knew that my goal time was now long gone. This was going to require every ounce of grit in my body.
I’d limped a very dodgy mech round 112 miles within a cut off. I’d made it. I’d made it on to the run. I knew now that I would finish. By hell or high water.
Bike: 86 years.
T2 – 6 minutes (including meltdown and pee break. THANK YOU to the incredible volunteer for her “tough love” which told me to harden the fuck up and get the fuck on with it. LOVED her.)
Highway to Hell. The Home straight x 20
5 Laps of an 8km course. Sounds totally ok, right?
Well let me be perfectly honest with you. I love everything about Lakesman. The organisers, volunteers, athletes, locals, location. I did NOT love the run route.
I mean, it was great for my support team who positioned themselves at various spots to see me. This helped immeasurably. But starting lap 1 when there were people on laps 3, 4 and 5 was absolutely shite. And turned a seemingly easy and flat course into much more of a test of mental strength and tenacity. There were ample opportunity to miss chunks of out and backs, especially as it became more and more quiet. But I walked and jogged every single meter of the assigned course. And it was brutal.
You start through Hope Park and then out through the woods into the back of the town centre. Then you run along the main road out to a wee path that takes you through fields. Small out and back here before your first aid station. From here you hit the Highway to Hell. a mile(ish) long section of road that you traverse FOUR times per lap. Yup. That’s 20 times in total. After the first up and down, you have two teeny out and back bits with another aid station. Then you’re back to HtH for another two traverses. After which you head back into town, winding your way for about 3km before you’re back at Theatre on the Lake, PASSED THE FINISH LINE (this is SO tough) and back out to the next loop.
Lap 1 passed fairly quickly. I exited T2, entered the park to rapturous applause from the huge crowd and my friends and family and then I see her. SARAH ACTUAL TUCKER!!! “Surprise” she shouts! So I cried. Again. And then I mustered the courage to head off. I spent the lap congratulating my fellow athletes on a hard days graft. I was reassured to hear other grumbles about the bike being such a chore. Not just me, then.
Lap 2 got a bit shit. I still had miles to go. And by this time, my stomach had made me very aware that it did NOT approve of 8 hours on a bike. My legs felt ridiculously good. But every time I tried to jog, I was becoming terrifyingly close to a Code Brown situation. The danger was real. PLEASE not in my custom tri-suit, guts. PLEASE.
There is a saying: “Never trust a fart in an ironman”.
I had the fear.
My guts were heavily protesting and I knew I needed to settle my tummy or the remaining 3 laps would be extremely challenging. I was being chased by cut off.
I knew what was coming. I knew I would need to use a portaloo on an ironman run. I have read things, terrible things, about this. I was more afraid of this than following through in my suit. But I was really, truly going to have to do this because no one wants to be that guy on the red carpet that’s shit themselves.
In a futile attempt to silence the extraordinary tummy cramps, at aid stations I picked up cups of water and coke and sucked ready salted crisps until they dissolved on my tongue. By the end of Lap 2, I was able to hold a jog for a couple of minutes before I experienced any, ahem, rumbling.
I’d noticed a portaloo with the door open on one of the out and backs. “It’s either so awful the door has to be left open, or it won’t be that bad because the door is open….” I thought to myself.
And I was EXTREMELY relieved to discover it was not as bad as expected. Tales of shit up walls and vomit everywhere had me shook. But this was fine!! THERE WAS EVEN TOILET ROLL. This was fucking luxury.
After what can only be described as an “uncomfortable” few minutes, I had to go through the ordeal of getting my tri suit back on my arms. It is the comfiest piece of kit I’ve ever owned, but at this stage my skin had a thin layer of sticky salt and sweat. I must have punched myself in the face 8 times trying to get back into it.
I’d survived. Dignity relatively intact.
By now, the field had thinned substantially. Stoic chit chat between athletes and the “chapeau, sir!” banter had been replaced by 1000 yard stares and unapologetic farting. This was the bit I’d been warned about. When it gets really tough and you can do nothing but dig in and just keep moving forwards. All the advice I’d been given, all the hours of boring turbo trainer rides, howling headwinds, bitter cold morning runs and long, early swims culminated in this last few laps of my first ironman distance.
“Just. Keep. Moving. Forwards. Bean. ”
I have never been a fast runner or a particularly good cyclist. I am well used to back of the pack. But after an 8:22 bike split and pushing on for a 6:30hr marathon, I was at rock fucking bottom and I felt utterly defeated. I thought about all the support from my family, friends and colleagues. My work had given me an incredible suit and I felt like I’d let everyone down. I admittedly gave thought to the haters. The ones who would only track me to watch me suffer and debate how soon I’d tap out.
Well fuck that. I’d come this far. I was finishing this. In Hero’s Hour. So maybe it wasn’t the 14 hours I’d wanted. 16+ hours of relentless forward progress is miles more than they are capable of. If anyone thinks for one mere second that I am not going to finish something I set out to do, then sorry, that’s not my style.
As I trudged passed the Crow Park Hotel for the 3rd time, I was greeted by Brian Drought. He’d had an unfortunate swim experience and had to withdraw. He asked how I was. I was quite honest. Something like “shite mate this sucks”. And he offered to chum me on my last two laps which were now going to be in the dark. Alone.
At the start of my 4th Lap, he joined me in his running kit with a spare waterproof for me. The weather had closed in by this time and my body temperature was becoming worryingly low.
He distracted me with chatter and held my cups while I tried to jog (it was definitely faster to walk by now). And we quick marched and tried to keep my pace up.
Beardy had stayed put at the highway to hell and had been clapping and cheering every runner through their final laps. He really seemed to enjoy giving people much needed encouragement in their final hours of The Longest Day. He saw a lot of suffering that day!
Lap 4 passed in a haze of trying not to shit myself and trying to keep up with Brian. Marshals asking if I was on my last lap made me want to cry but by now I knew I was capable of finishing within the final cut off. I had gone into this with no expectations, other than finishing. But it was still a weird feeling to be chasing the 2130 last lap cut off. Following advice, I had wasted as little time as I could. Stopping only when things got really desperate. But I felt panicked and worried. I didn’t want to let everyone down and I really REALLY had to finish this.
As we hobbled through the park to start the final lap, the support was amazing. I got my fifth and final band and we muddled through. I thanked, high fived and hugged every marshal and volunteer that I could. What a long day they’d had.
It’s hard to describe where your head goes at this point in a race. I had been moving for 15 hours. I was SO close to finishing. Yet the looped out and backs were absolute hell on earth. I mean, i knew this would be tough. But this was tough.
One things for sure: I am tougher.
We marched back into town. And I finally let myself think about finishing. After a year of hard work. 3 years of daydreaming of this moment. 6 Months of intense training. A new job. Injury. Stress. 4am starts. Zero social life. Sacrifice. Commitment. And not just from me but from my family and my friends and partner. I had to get there. I had to get there within cut off.
My entire day was spent adjusting my expectations. The goal was now: get to the end. Don’t be shit. And don’t shit.
Brian and I plotted the finish. He’d run through the short cuts to the finish and wait for me. I’d finish the lap solo. With a mile or so to go, he made his way to the finish line. And I hobbled in the dark towards the last aid station. As I was walking up the hill I heard “she’s coming!” “We’ve got another finisher” “come on girl!!!” “Well done Ginnie!!” Hugs, high fives and appreciation administered, I worked up the courage to run my last 200m.
When I met Lucy Charles, and asked her what to expect of my first race, along with some really solid advice on being prepared and soaking it all up, she said “You will only finish your first ironman once.”
With those words ringing in my ears, I ran down the hill towards the finish, the lights of the gantry now flickering through the trees. Loud music, cheering, my mum screaming encouragement, and I finally, after 16 hours and 21 minutes of relentless forward progress, got to turn left and cross the last timing matt and soak up the red carpet. I milked it as much as I could. High fiving and laughing and crying. They held the ribbon over the line for me and I crossed it to the words of “Congratulations, Lakesman”
I had done it. It was done. I laugh-cried as I was photographed by Eilidh and her boyfriend and handed a t shirt and medal. I cheered over the next finisher and then went to find my family and friends who had also had the longest day.
The next few hours are sort of a blur. I was absolutely exhausted but totally buzzing. My head had gone from the lowest low point to the highest high. I couldn’t process anything. The incredible support coming through from friends and family who’d had a worrying day tracking me as I slowly flung myself around the Cumbrian countryside was overwhelming.
I’d been warned that I wouldn’t sleep. However, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out cold.
I awoke at 5am. Sore and starving. It was time to bum shuffle up two flights of stairs to the kitchen, where I sat eating cocktail sausages and toast until Katherine and Greig joined me.
I’d earned my iron crown. And now it was time to bask in the sense of achievement. Compounded by the fact that I battled HARD to finish in time. And I truly earned my bling.
“Run”: 6hrs 35mins – my slowest EVER marathon
140.6 miles: 16:21.13 – got my moneys worth!
What a superb event, with an amazing, friendly and supportive team of directors and volunteers. Marie and Paul were there at the start and finish high fiving and meeting everyone.
The setting is beautiful. The swim is stunning. The bike is challenging in it’s own special way. The run is mentally punishing but the support on the way round was unbeatable.
I can’t think of anywhere I would have preferred to earn my iron status.
Lets not forget that I did this for charity. And so far, thanks to my incredibly supportive friends, family and colleagues, my total is sitting at £1600. That is going to help Lymfund in SO many ways.
At this point, I have some very important people to thank:
My mum, dad and sister. For their endless support and love. Lissie made dad facetime her to see my finish live. She cried more than me for the first time EVER. Mum and Dad were up from 4am and stayed on the course cheering everyone all day.
My other family: the Belchamber girls for being an amazing Cheer Squad.
Beardy, who kept me as calm as possible (give or take a few fraught moments……..) and who, over the last year, has helped me balance training and life. Often setting aside his own goals to help me achieve mine.
The Spences for your constant support and help for both me and Beardy.
My friends, who literally haven’t seen me for a year. And if they have seen me, they’ve patiently understood my need for a 9pm bed time.
To Tucker and Daniel who drove all the way down to see me on to the run and over the finish line. Thank you for being the absolute best and for bringing BONBONBONBONS.
IronBuddy. For literally everything. Your advice, patience and help. And your book recommendations. You kept me inspired and motivated. And thoroughly grounded when required.
My Endura family: for the incredible support and enthusiasm for this challenge. For my suit, for introducing me to Lucy Charles and giving me the best kit a girl could ask for.
Brian Drought. Thank you from the bottom of my blistered feet for marching around those two laps with me. Your chat kept me suitably distracted from the pain and you kept me smiling when I just wanted to cry. Your family are amazing and I’m so glad we all finally got to meet!
I’m not sure how I thought I’d feel by now. Did I think I’d feel like an athlete? Did I think I’d look ripped and muscly? No and also no because Jam. And cheese. And bagels. And sausage suppers. But I definitely expected to feel different: Fitter, stronger, highly tuned. Less like a sofa dwelling carb-addict and more like Leanda Cave.
Alas, I’m much closer to the sofa than the Cave. Literally.
I guess I must be different than I was, though. Even with my gut and bingo wings. All the indicators suggest I am at my fitness peak. But I still feel like me. I still feel normal.
I’ve gone into taper feeling ready for it. Not totally wrecked but with plenty of niggles and a requirement for plentiful sleep and water. I made it to 82 miles of my last century ride before I lost my shit. This is progress!
I had a beer and managed to finish it for the first time in months! I’ve been eating well and trying not to overdo the carbs as I taper down my efforts.
I’ve also been driving myself, and my people, CRAZY with taper madness. It is a real thing and it is happening in my head ALL THE TIME.
If I thought Maranoia was a thing before, I was wrong. Try Iron Maranoia.
It’s 100% horrendous.
I’ve trained for a year, but I’ve prepared myself for THREE years for this challenge. Painstakingly ticking off bucket list stuff en route to hopefully one day becoming IronBean. And the job is barely finished. I have the actual work to do now.
I’m so close that I can touch it.
And yet I’m terrified.
I’m terrified of that which I have no control of: Bike mechanicals. Relentless headwinds. Torrential rain. Unbearable heat. Hungry Pike. Cramp.
I can control none of these so naturally it’s all that consumes me as I beg for last minute mechanical tutorials on repairing chains and dealing with snapped mechs.
I guess the thing that frightens me more than anything I’ve done so far, is that I might not finish. I could have A Disaster. This isn’t set in stone. You can’t wing 140.6 miles. If something goes tits up and it’s non repairable, it’s game over. You can walk a marathon or an ultra. You can breaststroke a 10km Swim. For me to feel home and dry, I have to get to the marathon. And even then, I’ll need ample time to finish the damned thing.
Just get to the run, girl. Then you’re on the home straight. Then it’s just a marathon.
Just. A. Marathon.
I have never had a good marathon. (Ssshhh. Nothing could be good after 112 miles on a bike. Not even sitting down is good. You’d rather be running.)
I’ve been waking up at 4am bathed in sweat panicking about why my bento box won’t sit right on my top tube, how much lube I should apply, what if the photographer gets my chins from the wrong angle, what if I forget to hit save on my Edge….. all crucial, of course.
The last few weeks have passed in a blur of busy work days and last minute Lakesman fretting. Somehow, I’m about to enter the final week of taper and pack for the Lake District. So….. I’m basically going to do this, then.
I’m watching my footing, wearing sensible shoes and glaring at anyone who dares to cough or sniff in my presence.
I’ve had shoulder issues and a gammy knee which, at 8am on Sunday was ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY A MEDIAL MENISCAL TEAR OR AT THE VERY LEAST A TEAR IN MY MEDIAL COLLATERAL LIGAMENT OR OH FUCK WHAT IF ITS ARTHRITIS.
Physio was booked for Sunday anyway, and Sarah reassured me that it was literally not even one of those things.
And relax, Bean. Do your stretches, Bean. Eat your protein and your fibre, Bean.
It’s all just come round so fast! (The exact opposite of how the event will go, just FYI)
Lakesman was a distant dream last June when I psyched myself up to register. Now it’s next fucking WEEK.
Next week. Shit the bed.
140.6 miles. Iron. My dream. My goal. THE goal. (Insert 18,000 ridiculous instagram hashtags here)
Am I ready? Who the fuck knows. But it’s time to HTFU and find out!
It’s been a funny old week. With less than a calendar month to go until Lakesman, the mind games have well and truly begun.
It started on Sunday night when we had to take my newly serviced bike apart to try and figure out what the fuck was causing the front derailleur not to shift. Diagnosis: fucked shifter.
Cue an almighty panic attack even by my own standards.
There is, of course, plenty of time to fix it. Beardy swiftly hopped on ebay and sourced replacement shifters while I continued to have meltdowns about every single thing I possibly could. I also have the luxury of owning several bikes (n+1 comes in handy, you know). So I tried to convince myself that if the worst came to the worst, I could do my last 100 miler in a weeks time on my cyclocross.
I have also noticed a tiny flaw in my shiny, hideously expensive new Garmin Fenix 5s. The back plate is squint. No problem, right? Garmin customer service is famously actually brilliant, and I got an email back within a few hours asking for photos. But they close for the weekend. So at the moment, my incredibly sophisticated bit of kit is not going near water until I’m sure there is no risk that the “waterproofness” has been compromised. This pragmatic approach is absolutely not what I was experiencing last night when I decided I may as well stop training because if it’s not on Strava, what even is the point.
Happily, I got back in open water this week, for my first loch swim since the 10km last year. It felt fantastic. Cold, of course, but importantly, I felt comfortable and confident in the water, easily smashing out 1:40/100m pace without feeling tired or breathless. Definite progress to be proud of!
As my HR and Garmin stress score begins to settle back down to within reasonable limits, I find myself reflecting on another significant milestone that I reached this week.
Five years ago, I registered for an event. And this morning, I finally took part. I’ve trained hard for this day. Practised with kit, nutrition, hydration. Visualised the start and finish. Paced myself….
That’s right, kids. After 5 years, I finally ran my first parkrun.
Why hadn’t I done one before now? Well there’s a few reasons for that:
I can’t “just run 5k” without trying to absolutely tear the arse out of it. This is not good news for this famously perma-injured runner. So I avoided parkrun during marathon prep (x4) as I didn’t want to risk disgruntling the underlying injuries I am plagued by.
It always fell on long run day. I liked to keep my long runs on a Saturday so that I could either recover or bike on a Sunday. And, as per previous point, I try to avoid trying to run hard, which I seem to have to do over 5km, when I’m going long.
I get hideous anxiety before anything that involves crowds of people. And parkrun’s near me are super busy. So I avoided them due to my fear of crowds.
Ignore all of the above. It literally took me 5 years to figure out how to log back into my Parkrun account to reprint my barcodes….
I’m SO glad I did it though. It was the first ever Lochore Parkrun and over 340 people descended on the Meedies to run. This made it really congested for the first 2km but the pack soon spread out.
I went out way too fast and at 5:19, my first km was too quick for me. I slowed it down, reminding myself that my actual A Race is in 4 weeks, and I could do without undoing all my hard injury-avoidance work! It was roasty feckin toasty. People were stopping to walk and puke. But my legs felt BRILLIANT!
I guess listening to your body does work?! Who would have thought it?!??!
I only noticed the camera thanks to the chap in front of me shouting “PHOTOGRAPHER” and was able to react in time.
I’m amazed that there is finally evidence that I can run without shuffling.
So there we have it. My first parkrun. I loved it, obviously. I even got within 30s of my fastest ever 5k time. 27:52 is not a shit time. Which makes me very happy as I didn’t feel totally dead afterwards!
It’s time to start my last big week of training now, and then I start my taper! It’s FINALLY HAPPENING!!!!!!!!!! I sincerely hope the stunning weather continues. But I’m not getting too cocky. Lakesman has been both gloriously hot and sunny, and extremely moist and windy. I’m definitely prepared for both!
As I have approached the Pointy End of training, I’ve been waiting for a retaliation from my immune system which, bless it, has been very obedient.
The tonsils have been swollen for months but as someone who had tonsillitis several times a year from the age of 8-25, I know what’s normal and what requires a doctor’s appointment.
Knowing my body has been an essential weapon to have in my arsenal during this challenge. Over the last 5 years, through MUCH trial and error, many stupid mistakes and a LOT of arrogance, I have learned (and continue to learn) which niggles are niggles, and which niggles need rest. Its the same with The Feelz.
Knowing the difference between tired and TIRED is crucial. With a full time job and 2 hours of commuting per day, its very easy to feel tired. But when does tired become TIRED? There is a point and I found it a couple of weeks ago.
I had a very full on week of training and despite feeling stronger than ever, I was flagging. The whole Friday at work was spent trying to stay awake. The whole evening at home and doing my weekly shop was spent periodically sleeping standing up.
I went to bed and slept for 10 hours. I was burnt out.
My runs during the week had felt even more painful than usual, with the familiar and completely unwelcome twinge of shin splints. Like a vice gripping just above my ankle. I knew that my body was officially at breaking point.
I noticed the signs. I needed to rest and did so immediately: and what a difference. I spent the next few days resting and stretching in preparation for The Big Weekend, which was now looming ominously over me like a big iron cloud.
In contrast, I had the most incredible week at work: I was given the opportunity to meet Ironman LEGEND, Lucy Charles. My work had found out about my Iron Adventure and asked if I’d like to spend some time with her to ask questions.
Let me think about that for a second……
She is such a lovely, funny, totally badass woman. With huge drive and grit. I was so inspired and totally blown away at being given the opportunity to spend some time with her. I asked as many questions as I could (that would provide useful answers for me, a person not even remotely capable of a sub 9 hour ironman…) and we shared stories of our swimming pasts. It was BRILLIANT. Massive thank you to my work for giving me this fantastic opportunity!
The Big Weekend was something I chatted through with my IronBuddy months and months ago: Designed to break my soul but not my body, while testing my strength, endurance and nutrition plan. Usually completed 4-6 weeks prior to the race, it should feel extremely tough. It should make me weep. But it shouldn’t cause injury. It felt every such a long way off. Far away in the distant future where I’d miraculously feel fit enough and totally ready for it…..
I had booked and extra day off to accommodate this effort. I’d swim and cycle full distance on the Friday, run on the Saturday if able, and then have Sunday (me and Beardy’s birthday!) and Monday to recover… Easy peasy.
I was fucking nervous. 112 miles on roads was a hell of a thought. I am plenty confident now, but there are certain roads in Fife and Perthshire that you MUST avoid. 1. because motorists are ignorant fucktards, mostly. and 2. Because Fife is HILLY AF.
I toyed with some Perthshire routes, but they were very hilly…. As opposed to just Hilly. In the end I opted for Route 1: The Kingdom Cycle Route.
Kinross-Cleish Hill-Dunfermline-Inverkeithing-Dalgety Bay-Aberdour-Burnt Island-Kirkcaldy-Thornton-Glenrothes-Markinch-Star-Ceres-Strathkinnes-St Andrews-Guardbridge-Dundee-Invergowrie-Carse of Gowrie-Errol-St Madoes-Glencarse-Kinnoull-Perth-Bridge of Earn-Glenfarg-Kinross.
In the end, it was 1700m of elevation over 187km (yeah, that’s right. I somehow did an extra 7km) Which isn’t millions, but Lakesman is only 1200 max. So it was GREAT to manage that. Race day will feel like nowt! (HA! Ok then…)
I woke early. 4am to be exact. So this was gonna be a true simulation of race morning!! I forced breakfast down and drove to the pool. I was joined by 2 other swimmers in the lane. One a wee bit faster than me. I used the opportunity to try and catch the toes of the faster swimmer. (Swimming with someone faster is VERY good training). The sets flew by and I managed Iron distance comfortably in under 65 minutes. I was VERY happy considering I hadn’t had to push for that.
I took a minute to remind myself that this weekend is not about pace…
Returned home for more food, where Beardy was just leaving for work. He wished me luck and I spent an hour faffing about, prepping, eating and spontaneously crying because I was so nervous.
I left just before 9am, bento box stuffed to the gunnels, 3 spare tubes and Endura from head to toe.
I got about half way up Cleish Hill when disaster struck: my quad (the one I tore last year) seized. Holy crap it hurt!! It’s not done that for AGES. I had to stop once the climb levelled a little and stretch. WHY TODAY. FFS. Mercifully, it sorted itself out and I made it to the top of the climb while gritting my teeth and headed for Dunfermline.
Sustrans are responsible for maintaining cycleroutes and signage in Scotland, and they do a semi decent job most of the time. However, what you tend to find is that a route will be very well signposted until it isn’t and you’re at a T-junction with an arrow pointing back the way you came and one other direction but none say what they should say and the bit of path you’re on says “end”. I had to stop and get my phone out to consult google maps a LOT. It’s very good news that I have a decent sense of direction and the ability to read maps!
Somehow, I managed to negotiate the national cycle network and complete 187km of cycling. I stopped in St Andrews when my pal Joe met me with a litre of water and biscotti (he saved the day). It was then headwind all the way to Perth. After Perth, it’s uphill the entire way home. As I churned my legs through Glenfarg, I was overtaken by a commuter cyclist. I felt like shouting “I AM ON KILOMETER 178” but was then distracted by the bright red POC helmet and yellow jacket of Beardy who had cycled from home to come and get me. I immediately burst into proper, deep sobs. I then cried the entire way home, stopping every so often to cry harder.
I knew this day would be tough, but after 10 hours out on the roads, stop-starting constantly to check bearings, battling headwinds and nasty climbs and Scotlands shittiest motorists, I was completely and utterly fucked.
Of course, the weekend wasn’t over. Even when I crawled into bed full of Dominos.
I was supposed to run the next day….
Unbelievably, once I got up and stretched, I felt fine!!
I ate, hydrated and then danced about the bedroom while I got ready to go run. Beardy had gone to tackle a local 46 mile Sportive (he came 11th out of 200 other cyclists!) and off I went.
What is this? My legs feel GOOD???? This never happens…..
I ran to 5km. Fine. No niggles. I kept running to 8km. Still ok. Slight shin issues. But ok. I ran to 11km. Still ok. Should probably start run/walk practise now. But feeling good….. I started run 4mins, walk 1 min. It was great! Time was passing and I was feeling brilliant. And then I got to 15km and my stomach started to cramp and I started to feel TIRED. (Not tired. TIRED). At 18km I sat down on a bench and stretched my legs out. I literally could’ve just stopped there, but the path isn’t accessible for cars at all so I would never get home unless Beardy came to collect me with a trailer hooked up to his bike. So I had to keep moving. I somehow managed to drag my ass into a run until my watch hit 21.1km. A half marathon. Holy shit.
NOW I was fucked.
It wasn’t quick or pretty (but somehow isn’t my slowest half marathon?!).
I didn’t even go home. I walked passed home to go to sainsburys and buy almond Magnums and cans of coke. I drew confused looks from shoppers as I shuffled to the frozen aisle. But I didn’t care.
It was done. I could already feel my tonsils rebelling. But it was done.
And now I’m 32! 6 weeks today, I’ll be swimming, biking and running 140.6 miles. The enormity of that challenge is starting to hit home. Even though the bike will be flatter and (hopefully) faster, I am beyond nervous. But I’ll give it my best shot!
Huge thank you’s to Joe and Beardy for coming to cheer me on, and Beardy for diagnosing chain wear and replacing it the day before! To my parents and sister for their text encouragement during the day (still confused at why you told me to “drive safe” mum…..). Thank you to James and Andy for route suggestions (I promise I’ll try the Perth one when I’ve recovered!) and last but by no means least, to Ironman for your reassurance and help planning what turned out to be exactly the elevation we thought I’d avoid!
As of today, Lakesman is 10 weeks away. That’s far enough away not to stress too much, but in contrast, is close enough to start having LakesmanMares and sporadic meltdowns about how shit I am at 2/3 disciplines.
Totally normal. Right?
Things are going as I would have expected them to go, knowing myself: with the usual niggles rearing their heads and sleep completely escaping me! Despite being 100% fucking shattered all the fucking time.
Thanks to the amazing* Scottish weather, my bike confidence has been at an all-time low. Sure, I’ve turbo’d myself into oblivion but that does not an ironman make. Winter has been hella long, this year. With deep snow and biting cold winds. Not exactly road-biking weather for the fledgling ironman who doesn’t want to risk a broken collarbone or worse, a broken bike.
So where am I at, fitness wise?
Well. I have had several tiny meltdowns about this over the last few weeks. Culminating in having an ugly cry in Bannatyne’s changing room after a particularly grotesque run where I literally thought my legs were just going to stop working. (I know. I am such a chilled person, this may come as a shock…).
After a very tough week, I decided to take a rest and cut training right back for 7 days. Usually this is all I need. But no. Body wanted MORE rest. (MOOAAAR?) So I kept things light and now I feel like I might be ready to get going again. Maybe. After this donut and nap.
As I snivvled in a changing room, I was reminded that this is not supposed to feel easy. It is meant to hurt. It is normal to feel so tired you might actually nap standing up. If it was easy, everyone would do it!
I picked myself up, blew my nose on my compression sleeves and got dressed. No one even suspected I’d been crying either because I still had that post-run glow**.
Pre-bike anxiety seems to be A Thing for me. I was awake at 4am this Sunday. I wasn’t due to head out until about 8am. So this was somewhat frustrating seeing as I am permanently fucking shattered, mate. I got up at 6, ate porridge with Nutella, drank a pint of water and set off just before 8am. Chamois-buttered up (I have my first ever saddle sore. We are not ok with this) and dressed in my finest Endura kit.
I went off exploring some local bike-friendly routes. Quiet lanes, NO HEADWIND (this will be the only time ever that there is no headwind. Excuse me while I jump for fucking joy about this) and 100km of quiet, fun biking.
Swimming has taken a wee back seat over the last week as I wrestled with an existing injury that strikes whenever I’m at a low ebb. Nice how my body likes to rub salt in it’s own wounds…. However overall, it’s been going…. swimmingly….. soz.
Aside from one particularly unsavoury encounter in Livingston’s Bannatyne’s at 6am, where I was asked to leave a lane before I’d even finished fucking about with my goggles because the bloke presumed I’d be swimming “Granny Breasktroke”. Well. I sure showed that prick. By catching him from a whole length behind within 2 lengths of him slating me. He soon learned not to judge a swimmer by their pink Speedo cap….. fucktard.
Running is…. well it’s running. I’ve been heading out with a colleague at lunchtime, which has helped my pacing. Laura is speedy AF so it’s great training for me as I hate running so I rarely push myself. This has all improved my CV fitness and I’m definitely seeing the benefit on my longer weekend runs. Even if my legs feel as though they are actually going to buckle.
I have been examining my training logs from past races, as well. My biggest Month in prep for Aberfeldy in 2015 was 870km. In March, I travelled 840km. And I’m nowhere near peaking yet! So really, my body is capable of more than it ever has been. And that is simply incredible.
I’m not doing this all for myself though, I’m doing this to raise awareness and vital cash for Lymfund. If you’d like to support me as I struggle through the next mental phase of training, I’d be super grateful for your donations. As would Lymfund, who need your help to provide critical treatment for people living with Lymphoedema and Lipodema.