“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen” – Michael Jordan
I’ve been relatively quiet, of late. After the slog of Marathon and 10k swim training, my mind needed a rest as much as my body. I let myself have some time to reflect and just do whatever the hell I wanted to do. I still went to the gym, got in the pool and hopped on my bike, but it was when I wanted to and literally just for fun and smiles. What a tonic that’s been. I now feel ready. Ready to tackle the 6.5 months of tough training that lies ahead of me. Ready to sacrifice and commit. Ready to put my money where my mouth is and make my iron-dreams happen.
All being well, on June 17th 2018, I will stand on the shore of Derwentwater with 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling and death-marching in front of me. I will need all the support and encouragement I can get, but I wanted to give myself added incentive to keep me going during the darkest hours of training and the longest hours of Lakesman.
As “Athletes” (I still struggle to call myself that…) we are lucky to be able to do what we do. None of this is ever pain or struggle free, but imagine living life with a condition that meant you physically couldn’t do the things you loved? Millions of people live with Chronic conditions. Some are well known, others are less heard of. And I want to raise awareness of two conditions in particular: Lymphoedema and Lipodema.
In 2016, I raised over £1000 for Lymfund and I decided to support them again for 2018. But what do they do? Who are they? And what exactly is Lympho-whatever or Lipo-something?
I decided to ask WonderWoman herself for some more information……….
Who are you and how do you know Bean?
“I am Lynora Kennedy, The Mother of Bean.”
Aside from being a mummy, what is your day job?
“I am a Lymphoedema Therapist, Manual Lymph Drainage Practitioner and Massage Therapist. I also do Reflexology. I have been a therapist for 40 years.”
What is Lymphoedema (and how on EARTH do you spell it)?
“Lymphoedema is a long-term (chronic) condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissues. It can affect any part of the body. It develops when the lymphatic system doesn’t work properly, or if the lymphatics have been interrupted by trauma, surgery or invasive treatment (radiotherapy). The lymphatic system is a network of channels and nodes throughout the body that helps fight infection and remove excess fluid.”
What’s Lipoedema (and how do you spell this also?)
“Lipoedema is a long-term (chronic) condition where there’s an abnormal build-up of fat cells in the legs, thighs and buttocks, and sometimes in the arms. The condition usually only affects women, although in rare cases it can also affect men. It can be a progressive and very painful condition, and is often mistakenly diagnosed as obesity.”
Are treatments available on the NHS?
“Lymphoedema and Lipoedema are known to the NHS, and whilst there are Lymphoedema Clinics in towns and cities around the UK, few NHS facilities can offer MLD (manual lymphatic drainage) as part of the management of the conditions.”
Where can people find out more information about these conditions and available treatment?
Is there any financial support available for people seeking treatment?
“There is no financial support for those people seeking help from an Independent Therapist, except in very special circumstances via their GP or hospital consultant.
Lymfund will support applications from MLDUK registered therapists to treat individuals who are unable to fund themselves.”
What is treatment like for these conditions?
“Lymfund will pay for 10 treatments per patient. Often the patient has received no care or treatment for their condition, and the 10 treatments given are enough to help teach the patient how to self-manage their condition, reduce the oedema, and often, more importantly, relieve the pain that many patients suffer with these conditions. The feedback from patients who have benefitted from funding via Lymfund, is incredibly positive. One comment that occurs most is ‘these treatments have made me feel so much better and able to cope’.”
Why should people give your daughter their hard earned cash?
“To enable people to receive beneficial hands on care that they cannot access via mainstream facilities.”
Any words of advice for your daughter on her adventure?
“Don’t look back – just keep swimming. No, wait, that was Dory………… oh well – I’ll say it too!!! Go Bean!”
What message would you have for people who think they may be suffering from these conditions but might be too worried to see their doctor:
“Talk to someone – contact anyone at the two organisations mentioned above – their helplines are manned by volunteer patients.”
So. Aside from raising awareness and (hopefully) some decent cash for a very deserving charity, why on EARTH am I doing The Lakesman?
Because of these two. My parents. They are such a massive inspiration to me. They support me and Lissie unconditionally and enthusiastically while simultaneously dealing with their own challenges both together and individually.
They have given me so much throughout my life, and they’ve always supported and encouraged me whatever I chose to do. So this one is going to be for them!
With it being so close to Christmas and the dreaded January blues, I’m going to hold off setting up a justgiving for now…. but in the new year I will start pestering you all with my charm in order to ply you for some of your hard earned cash on behalf of this truly deserving and brilliant cause.
Let me take you back to 2013. The year before my first ever marathon. Young Bean needed some races to give her some motivation, so she decided to enter the Edinburgh MoRun 10k.
She couldn’t run 10k. She definitely couldn’t run hills. So 2 laps of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh would totes be an awesome plan. Ish.
It was a bright, bitter November morning. I travelled through solo, because at this point, I had yet to convince my friends and partner that running was a fun pastime. My parents would meet me in Edinburgh to support me. And I knew a Twitter pal would be there if I needed someone to hold my bag.
This bright, crisp November weather would remain the same each time I took part in the event apart from the one year I didn’t, when it fucking hammered it down. And 4 years on from my first EVER event, I’m now usually flanked by a friend or a Beardy or a Father-in-Law as well as my long-suffering parents. It’s lovely to have so many people support my adventures and join me in the madness!
This year, we didn’t head to Edinburgh due to a family bereavement. But we did get to Perth for their first go at hosting the event!
Beardy and his dad do Parkrun in Perth most weeks, so they were obviously up for the race.
The pavements were frozen solid, but the sun was blinding. The route would start and finish on the North Inch with 2 laps including a town centre section. I hadn’t bothered to look at a route map. Or my number. Or any info. A significant departure from Race-Neurotic Bean of races past. New-Age-Ageing-Bean prefers a more laid-back approach, apparently!
4 and a bit years into my fitness adventure, the enthusiasm for running in winter is yet to appear. I fucking HATE feeling cold. This usually means I wear too many layers and overheat but it was BITTER. I went for Adidas base layer, VLM tee and gloves with full length leggings. That’d do (it was perfect).
This year’s lazy approach to MoRun also involved not actually training for it.
I hadn’t run since Dramathon save one chilly, frustrating 5k and some treadmill sprints.
I have been working my arse off in the gym, however, while trying to drop some post-marathon-greed-gained kilos. So I have gained some strength back and my legs were feeling ready to go.
The route is nice and flat, I had a feeling that I could be close to PB territory if I could keep niggles at bay. I still placed myself quite far back in the pack, though, cause I HATE getting in the way.
Father-in-Law joined me and the gun went right on schedule.
The first few hundred metres were directly into the blinding sun. What a day to forget my Oakley’s! We wound down through the inch, under the Old bridge and down Tay street to the newly renovated council building. I encountered the first poorly judged race route choice here: a narrow path with two directions of runners and no cones with a lead-bike coming flying towards us with the winner of the 5km race on his back wheel. All while being blinded by the sun.
Not the best.
The route then wound round the streets of Perth before taking us back up Tay street, under the bridge and back to the inch.
As we approached the top of the inch, we were beginning to realise the course would be short. As it happens, we’d barely hit 4km before we were at half way and on to lap two.
On the second lap, I was firmly battling a stitch but FiL was pacing me at 6min/km and my legs had bags left in them. We thanked marshals and despite being at my threshold pace, I was able to hold a sort of conversation.
On the final turn, it was crystal clear that the course was VERY short. And I crossed the line at 8.6km. 1.4km short. But 50mins! I’d have been WELL under my 57:58PB. I felt cheated! I’ve tried a dozen times since my last PB to beat it and been struck by illness or injury or The Fear every time. And today TOTALLY could’ve been the day.
The explanation for the course shortening is flimsy at best. With varying reports of when it was actually decided. But it was at no point relayed to the runners. Hopefully they have a backup route next year if it’s icy! Safety first, for sure. But get your story straight before posting on social media.
Also, they’ve offered us free entry into an event next year, which is a kind gesture, but this is a charity event! I’d prefer they donated 100% of the entry fees to the Movember Foundation instead?!
All in, MoRun is a fantastic event with a good turn out and all for a brilliant cause. And it’s given me a confidence boost that I have sub60 firmly in my legs and lungs!
Many things have changed since the first time I ran MoRun in 2013, but primarily my fitness is wildly improved. After my first one, I couldn’t walk up or down stairs for 4 days. And yet right now I could go out and run the last 1.4km. (I won’t though, because it’s tea time.)
Onwards now to changed priorities as Lakesman training takes on its base phase.
“Run from Glenfarclas to Glenfiddich, pick up stamps along the way and get single malt samples at the end. Love running and whisky? Time to cross the streams”
The inaugural Dramathon had instant appeal with its Speyside setting and whisky-based incentives. A group of friends were signing up for it and I managed to secure a spot, despite being skint AF at the time, thanks to my fairy racemother Miriam.
As a startup event run by Durty Events, it was a pretty laid back affair from sign up right up until the finish line.
There was zero communication from the organisers until a couple of weeks prior to the event. Too much is annoying but too little can be worrying! Anyway. With two weeks to go, the participants guide was released.
I chuckled at the line: “course distances are approximate and intended as a guideline for you to estimate the nature of the event. Please don’t be surprised if we have limited interest in ‘what your garmin said'”
I’ll come back to that later…
In March, we got a new member of our team at work. Sarah and I immediately became mates and she was really interested in all my marathon chat. Unfortunately Dramathon had no places, but she was able to get on a waiting list and then I got a text one evening saying she had 24 hours to decide if she wanted a place. As she’s a total legend, she jumped at the chance! I had a marathon buddy and it was going to be SO much fun.
Despite training individually for this event, we decided a few weeks beforehand that we’d run it together. I’d keep pace for as long as possible and then we’d see how we got on from there. I’ve never done an event anything other than solo, but I was looking forward to having my friend with me to keep me focused during the dark moments.
A big bonus for this Marathon was that it fell on a Saturday. Having a full day to recover before returning to work is a definite plus for me! Sarah’s mother-in-law very kindly offered us her cottage on the Glenlivet Estate for the weekend. This stunning, cosy house would be our base for the weekend and was no further than 30 minutes in the car from the start and finish. Her lovely man joined us and became our chauffeur. I was extremely grateful! We were joined by my London Sherpa Michelle and hubby Jonny who were also running. Along with half the contents of Tesco in Perth, we had the ingredients for an absolutely amazing weekend!
Sarah and I decided we’d head up on Friday afternoon, via the stunning Glenshee, so that we could register and get settled and have a relaxed evening. The drive was breathtaking as ever, with Scotland giving us her best Autumnal realness.
Registration at Glenfarclas Distillery was quick and easy. We were fitted with our “Dibbers” at reg (which soon became extremely annoying). And we headed back to the cottage for pasta, Bridesmaids, Friends and flatlays.
Daniel arrived at the cottage around 6pm and Michelle and Jonny joined us after a challenging drive around 10pm. Some chilled catching up and last minute prep and we all went to bed for a restless night.
The 6am alarm was grim but I’ve had worse. Forcing porridge down was equally horrid and the rain battering the windows was filling us all with a sense of impending doom. Daniel and Sarah tried to reassure us that the Braes has it’s own microclimate, but I was beginning to dread the event. 26 miles in the pouring rain did not make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Daniel drove us to the finish line at the Glenfiddich distillery where we’d be getting buses to the start at Glenfarclas. We managed to get Michelle and Jonny registered and catch the rest of the Painless Performance crew. A big cuddle from Jonathan Pain resulted in the first hilarious moment of the day. I’d overfilled one of my soft-flasks in my race vest which promptly began to leak. “WHAT THE FUCK. I’M LACTATING” was my reaction which resulted in some concerned glances from passers by.
One big flaw in Durty Events plan was only having 4 portaloos for over 200 people. It was an entirely harrowing pre race pee experience. Boke. Not to worry, we thought, there will be more loos once we get off the buses at Glenfarclass…
Nope. Another 4. So we queued for 25 minutes, freezing to our cores, and JUST made the start before the piper set us off.
At 10am, we were let loose on the Speyside countryside. The race winds uphill on tarmac for around 1km before switching onto rough twintrack on a gradual downhill until you reach Ballindalloch castle.
I’ll just put this out there now: I am not very experienced in the trail-running department. I am also inherently clumsy as fuck. This meant I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the Scottish mountain views because I was otherwise occupied with trying not to fall arse-over-tit into a muddy puddle.
After dibbing out and in as we crossed the A85, we were soon jogging past Ballindalloch distillery and it’s beautiful new building. We hit the first aid station. I had a pretty well-rehearsed nutrition plan but the lure of chocolate chip cookies was too much. This was Class A catering from Durty Events. We crunched our cookies happily and continued on to the next road crossing and dibbing point.
The first section of the route is pretty undulating. Nothing too scary considering you’re running in Speyside, but my hip had already started to protest.
Trail presents different challenges to road running. Road running has greater impact on my joints, but trail involves more stabilisation and my ankles and knees were struggling to keep me vertical.
Sarah and I ran together and were keeping a pretty steady rhythm by now. The undulating hills had been replaced by slippy, slidy ex-railway line.
Sarah’s stitch subsided about 7 miles in and we were approaching Tamdhu and an aid station.
They had brownies. BROWNIES. *throws nutrition strategy into the River Spey*
I risked shitting myself and horsed a brownie. Winning. At. Endurance.
We continued on our railway adventure and soon passed Michelle and Jonny. Jonny had run into cramp issues and they were having to walk. This would prove to be a race-ending cramp for the lovely Jonny, who made it to 14 miles before retiring.
As we passed a distance I can’t remember, we made it to a relay cross-over point. The guy we’d been running near for a while told us there were no more hills.
If I ever see you again, relay man, I will KILL you.
After Tamdhu distillery, we were directed up a gentle tarmac hill, to a GIANT MUDDY CLIMB. It was brutal. It could have been worse but it was tough considering we thought we were pretty much avoiding hills for the remainder of the race. We wound up past Cardhu distillery and then back down towards the railway line again. The downhill was where I hit my first wall. At about 12 miles I held back tears as shockwaves shot through my shins and hips. The cobbled, steep downhill twintrack was very difficult to navigate at a decent pace. And it HURT. Sarah’s knees were killing her and we were getting tired already. Stupid hills. Stupid marathon. Stupid idea.
We made a deal to start a run/walk strategy once we made the “half way” checkpoint at 25km. We stopped here to gather our thoughts, eat some more cookies and stretch our aching legs. 4mins run, 1 min walk would start from here. We then negotiated the extremely slippy, boggy path for another mile or so before we could really get moving properly again.
By Aberlour, Sarah was deep in a dark place and I was hurting really badly. I was in agony and just wanted to get to the end. We exchanged “words” and got back onto the route to continue the long slog to the finish line. It was at this point that we were passed by Miriam, sister of Jonathan Pain and my fairy race godmother! She looked in fantastic shape. We also bumped into my buddy Chris who was suffering from a long season of MANY events including Craggy Island Tri and Glencoe Marathon. He was utterly broken. Some gentle abuse and encouragement and we were all on our way.
Me and Sarah now moved to marching. I was getting sore from walking (WTF) and my walk/run strategy was making Sarah queasy so I’d jog on a little and then walk until I could see her. I checked my phone and 112 messenger notifications later learned that Pete, Maria and Jonny had all pulled out of the race. I was so gutted for them. I was also hitting a wall BIG time. There were no mile markers and because the aid stations were sporadic, I was finding it really tough to work out where we were.
A quick call home for some words of encouragement and I was back in the zone. I waited for a bit at a gate to see if Sarah was close behind me. She wasn’t and I was worried. I knew she was fighting hard for this and I was struggling without her beside me so I jogged back to find her so we could finish this absolute monster together.
Eventually we hauled ourselves to the 35km checkpoint which was at about 32km and were told there was only 6km left to go.
I thought this was a Marathon?
Mixed feelings ensued. I mean, we couldn’t walk another fucking step. So we were quite delighted that the course was measuring short. But we didn’t want to get our hopes up in case the guy said miles. But we checked, like…. REALLY checked. “are you SURE it’s only 6km?????”
The “last 6km” is a very very gentle climb up another long, long LONG disused railway line. It was wooded and stunning but to be honest we just wanted to be fucking FINISHED.
There wasn’t another runner for miles in either direction so we were pretty convinced we were last and they’d have run out of medals and whisky.
The lack of mile markers was taking it’s toll psychologically and we were really hating every painful step.
We were passed by a woman called Kat who was from Perth and running with her hubby. She thought we were sisters and we chatted for a while before she continued on her way to the finish line…. wherever the fuck that was!
We trudged on at what felt like a good-paced march for at least 180 years until we started passing big corrugated buildings that looked (and smelled) like a whisky bottling facility. Was this Glenfiddich? Literally who the fuck knows.
I had my phone out and was trying to get a location on google maps. We were close-ish. Maybe.
There was now a road parallel to the track and I clocked a sign for Glenfiddich but no distance indicator. We were still passing big buildings so it was clearly a large distillery.
The lack of distance markers was REALLY taking it’s toll now. We were so grumpy and tired and desperate to finish.
The only thing keeping me going was Sarah’s unbreakable determination. She fought through the depths of marathon-pain and was still going. We had to finish together.
We were guided by arrows onto a road with a sign! A SIGN! THANK FUCK FOR THAT THIS MUST BE GLENFIDDI—– The Balvenie? FUCK.
Now, if I’d properly studied the Participant guide, I’d have known that Glenfiddich is beside The Balvenie. Instead we had to wait until we found A Man who promised us the finish was 500m away. Did we believe him? No. But he PROMISED.
He wasn’t wrong. We had to try and run up a hill but we could see flags now. I took Sarah’s hand and she somehow found the legs to drag me over the line at a sprint.
I was SO happy to see that finish line and SO proud of my friend.
Sarah, who tragically lost her Grandpa and then her mum in the space of months last year, fought hard and properly rallied to finish that race. It’s determination like that which inspires me. Having the ability to kick the walls down is what makes an endurance athlete. While I encouraged her, I somehow encouraged myself. It was so so tough and lonely. I couldn’t have finished it without Sarah by my side.
Daniel scooped Sarah up and took her off to buy her a very fucking well earned beer. I spotted the team and hobbled over to say hello and dish out smelly cuddles. Michelle had breezed past us around 30km having chucked her ailing hubby on a bus back to the finish line. I painfully lowered myself to the ground (mistake) and was handed a beer by Daniel.
The Medal was in actual fact a chunk of whisky cask, which was a lovely touch. The beer was tremendous and me and Michelle cuddled up for a photo (I won’t show you the others…)
Our chauffeur drove his smelly passengers back to the house where we all hobbled inside for showers and food.
Bizarrely, I only managed a couple of slices of pizza and some salad before heading through to my sofa bed to hide under a duvet. My buddies all piled through to join me before long, and we spent the evening grazing on snacks, beer and watching Friends. It was a good day.
The miniatures in the goody bag are fantastic and it took all my willpower not to tuck in immediately.
Overall, The Dramathon is a superb event. The marshals were lovely and the course was stunning (when I wasn’t trying not to die).
There needs to be some improvements if they choose to run it in the same format next year, however:
More toilets at the start and at the race HQ. (like… at least 10)
more accurate information in the guide regarding the format of the event. We were told we’d collect stamps at each distillery. Then it was tokens. But on the day it was nothing? With no explanation.
We were told the week before the event that mandatory kit would be confirmed 2 days prior. We received no further update from the organisers. And weather forecasts can’t always be trusted.
The course measured a whopping 4km short. I appreciate completely that not every race will always measure accurately. That’s a given, especially on trail, but despite their disclaimer in the Participant guide, I feel like 4km is a big deficit for a race calling itself a “Full Marathon”. After I posted this on their page on Facebook, a girl who was marshalling posted a link to the map-my-run route which showed we’d missed a whole section around Ballindalloch golf course! The marshal and arrows at the edge had directed us straight to the distillery. We’d missed the loop without prior explanation and as yet, we’ve received no update as to why this decision was made.
To sum up, I’d recommend this if you fancy a challenge in a stunning part of the world’s most beautiful country. Make sure you sort your accommodation and DEFINITELY make sure it’s within a comfortable distance of the start/finish distilleries!
And finally, a huge, heartfelt thank you to my race buddy Sarah. You were beyond nails. You kept me laughing and our Friends and Rupaul quotes gave me LIFE. Shantay, you stay, my friend! Here’s to the best, most flattering photograph anyone has ever taken ever. #WinningAtChinning x
You see, my relationship with running has a chequered past. When I was wee, running was literally only away from stuff that I didn’t want to be near. As I grew up, I was forced (forced) by our education system , to partake in this absurd activity.
Cross Country PE. Reserved only for the most frosty of winter mornings. And also the words that reduced me to a quivering wreck and latterly resulted in me bribing my mum to write me excusal notes for most of 5th and 6th year.
When I did take part, a permanent stitch, a hatred of all physical activity and a general loathing of being outside and/or cold, ruined any possible enjoyment of the sport.
Fast forward 15 years and 15 year old Bean is rolling her eyes so hard she’s practically seeing out the back of her head.
And to be honest, running still sucks.
3 marathons. I’ve run THREE and number FOUR is in a matter of weeks. So why? If it sucks why do it?
Usually my approach to endurance is that if it’s not fun, why do it?
However. Running is such an important part of going long. It’s psychologically tough on me. Therefore each long run I do is designed to test my mental strength. Much like doing all the swimming.
Similarly to the mental toughness of the actual act of running, preparing for a run is also character building.
For example: on longer runs, I like to wear my 2XU compression socks. They may or may not help but I like how garish they are and they make me feel less like my calves will explode while I run. Because that happens.
Putting these on, however, is not an easy task. Imagine trying to wrestle a sweaty body into an already damp wetsuit. Then make the wetsuit two sizes two small and swap dexterous hands for a pair of fluffy mittens. Add some face-punching (your own hand and your own face…) and 18 minutes of swearing per calf and your only at the ankle.
Once the ordeal of getting dressed in all manner of compression gear is done, it’s just the running to do. Oh good. At least I’m warmed up. Right?
Now. I feel I should add that I like how running makes me feel afterwards:
Empowered, satisfied, strong.
I do not enjoy how it makes me feel during:
Shoogly. What’s that crunch? Oh it’s my hip. There’s another stone in my shoe. Why does my shoulder hurt? Why am I so shit at this? My shorts are giving me camel toe. I need to pee.
When I am asked “how was your run?” The reply is usually “GREAT! Apart from the part where I had to actually run. ”
My body is categorically not designed for running. Evolution has bestowed upon me a level of laziness that is satisfied only by getting off the sofa and walking to the fridge. It has also given me flat feet, a rotated pelvis (holla at me ladies), one leg significantly longer than the other, two tendons in my left hip joint that crunch together with every. fucking. excruciating. step, terrible posture and boobs that need to be strapped firmly down.
(I realise I’ve just painted the most epic picture of myself.)
Like most women affected by the rotated pelvis issue (it’s common AF), running any kind of distance results in real, proper pain that keeps me awake at night. So I also have to stretch. A lot. Which is boring and painful. And it usually results in me falling asleep on my yoga mat, or getting distracted by intagram stories. #FirstWorldProblems
I digress. The plan now is just to gently ease up the miles, and prepare mind and body. I have 5 weeks (I think?? I’ve stopped counting) until the marathon and in the words of RuPaul: “good luck. And don’t fuck it up”.
Well. What a 48 hours it’s been. With the GSS 10km on Saturday, I knew entering the Forth Road Bridge 10k the following day would be a big ask on my body. But if I ate well and rested after the swim, there’s no reason why a 10km run the following morning wouldn’t be achievable. I just had to let go of any time goals and enjoy running across such an iconic landmark.
Of course, I was absolutely buzzing after the swim. A weird mix of feelings similar to that which I’ve experienced post marathon. I discovered that I had actually performed exceptionally well. Coming in at 51st overall in a male dominated race, but also coming in 4th in my age group and 9th female over all.
I was completely blown away. I knew I was a competent swimmer, but I never race well. In any sport. I’m just average and I’ve always been completely ok with that. This is a hobby and a bit of “fun” for me. I train hard and as well as I can but generally I don’t take races too seriously over and above the obvious respect for the distance and the course, so to see results like this was wonderful. Confirmation that anything is, in fact, possible with a lot of hard work and some heavy determination.
Post swim, Beardy BBQ’d our dinner and I slept the sleep of a tired swimmer. The following morning my stomach woke me up for more food. Toast and banana administered, we headed to North Queensferry for registration.
We opted to park at the multi-storey and walk up the hill to the community centre. A decent warmup which we did twice as we decided to go back down the hill and deposit jumpers and bags in the car. This decision was based on the fact that neither of us fancied the 8,000,000 steps back up the hill after the run. It wasn’t until we were about to start that Beardy looked at his Garmin and told me that we’d already walked 8km. I was already starving. This was going to be tough.
I have issues with blood sugar regulation after long or difficult runs. I bonk really badly and I started to feel nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to finish.
However, I was hydrated and I knew that calorie wise, I’d eaten enough in the morning to see me through…. if you ignore the 10km swim the previous day.
Being that the race starts in North Queensferry, you’d be stupid not to expect hills. The race starts downhill and then loops back up the steep hill past Gordon Brown’s hoose and then down down down into Inverkeithing. Throwing time-goals out the window, I wished Beardy good luck and wound my way through the deep-heat scented crowd to the 60 minutes and over pen.
As we crossed the start line, those around me shot off down the hill at WAAAAAAY under 5mins/km. “Excellent”, I thought. “I will be last.”
I had already made the decision to run based on feel with no pace goal and no HR strap. My body would decide the pace for this. So when the first km beeped in at 5:54 I thought “oh. This is interesting”.
Up up up-hill, where I started to pass those who’d shot by me, most of them walking already, and then doooooown the steep descent into the arse-end of Inverkeithing. Weirdly, I wasn’t out of breath.
I managed to completely miss Beardy at the out and back section by the docks, purely because I wasn’t expecting an out and back section so I was busy moaning to the guy next to me about this outrage. (Edinburgh Marathon’s out and back has forever scarred me)
We turned back and headed for the bridge and 3 solid but steady kilometres of uphill.
I’d be lying if I said I noticed much of the bridge. I was too busy admiring the Rail Bridge and looking under the roadway at the structure I drive over twice a day, every day. It’s really quite something.
The weather was still. The sun was out and it was HOT if you didn’t catch whatever breeze there was.
I was passing a lot of walkers now. I managed to smoke a British Military Fitness dude who was pissing me off with an annoying walk/sprint strategy and ignoring the pathway etiquette and blocking cyclists.
Pretty soon, I was enjoying free speed from the downhill slope of the bridge towards shade and water. My splits were mostly inconsistent but sitting around 6min/km. Most bizarrely, I was feeling absolutely FINE (apart from the bit where all running is shit and I hate it).
You dip down under the bridge where you’re given water. Most of it went over my head (I was BOILING) and then I clawed my way up the ridiculously steep incline to get to the other footpath.
3km left. I was on course for 60 minutes. I was feeling good.
Fuck it. Let’s do this.
I shuffled my way over the bridge. The incline somehow feeling steeper on this side. I’d been using a woman from Rotherham Harriers to pace myself and soon started to catch her. By 8km I was overtaking a lot and my legs were still feeling amazingly fresh. And a 9km I put the hammer down.
Jeez I gave that last km everything I had. I was flying. My watch said 4:35/km. sure, it’s downhill but that is quick for me. I glanced at my watch about 200m out from the finish funnel. 59:19.
Fuck. Come on.
I sprinted. (Guaranteed it did not look as fast as it felt). I “breezed” past about 5 people and crossed the line. My watch said 59.45.
The official chip time? 59.59. That is the definition of “by a bawhair”.
I walked through the funnel, high fiving Beardy who had run 48mins and was not expecting to see me so soon, and mid way through being congratulated by a man on my “tremendous” sprint finish, I puked.
“Tremendous sprint! That was fantasti—–oh my…”
I puked at the side of the A90. Into a hedge. In front of hundreds of people. Hilariously while a girl apparently admired my Fenix watch. She was asking me about it as I came up for air before realising what she’d interrupted.
This wasn’t my fastest 10k which I did on an almost entirely flat course. But it was my fastest 10k this YEAR. The morning after a marathon swim.
Without HR data it’s difficult to tell how much I properly suffered but my body felt completely fine apart from the immediate requirement to evacuate my stomach. (It was empty anyway)
We had somehow made the excellent life choice to do our weekly food shop on th way home. My body became aware of its endeavours while I perused Aldi’s meat section and the minute I got home I HAD to nap.
I am happy (and shocked) to report that the following day, I am unscathed. My shoulders are still not over the swim but my legs feel good!
You may recall that back in June, I was supposed to swim 10km in Windermere. Unfortunately, Weather occurred so events were cancelled and although they allowed us to swim 1 mile, I still had a “burning desire” (see also: weird and fucking stupid desire) to swim that distance. So I entered the Great Scottish Swim 10k as a back up.
For the last two months I’ve trained hard while also convincing myself that GSS would be cancelled and OH WELL NEVER MIND I WON’T HAVE TO DO IT EVER.
No such luck.
I awoke at 3am on race morning with the familiar knot in my stomach and the even more familiar pre-race lack of appetite. I forced a crumpet down my neck and performed the standard last minute OCD checks on my kit. Everything present. Everything correct.
I had prepped an array of car snacks and a Sensible Breakfast of porridge and banana to “enjoy” en route and at 06:32 I parked up at Loch Lomond Shores and settled down to try and not vomit while eating the aforementioned porridge and banana. Somehow I managed. Even if I fluffed the swim, this was a great achievement.
I gathered my many belongings and trudged unwillingly towards the event site. The Loch was flat-calm. The rain was on and off and the air was still. The conditions were completely perfect and this was going to happen.
As I stood on the pier dry-heaving at the mammoth course laid out in front of me (the curvature of the earth actually prevents you from seeing the far buoys I promise), I spotted IronPugsley and his friend looking a tad more awake than I felt. It’s Dougie’s fault that I’d entered this stupid race in the first place. He was calm and confident. I was a wreck.
We wandered round to the changing tents which had moved from their usual spot (that’ll learn me for not checking the signs…) and went off to slip into something a little less comfortable and a little more rubbery.
I took my time, applying Body Glide liberally to any bits of skin that may or may not chafe. And some more just for luck. I prised myself into my Orca, got my hair in place and grabbed the rest of my stuff to head round to the start.
Kit wise, I had layered a tri-top over my swimming costume just for an extra layer. I’d not opted for gloves or booties. I knew I’d struggle with numb hands but the gloves were heavy and I’d just rather not have extra weight to drag about for 6.2 miles.
I found Dougie, Jan and Andy all suited and still ridiculously awake. Much mockery of D’s silicone “neck protector” (Soz but it looks like a sex toy) and other silly carry on. It wasn’t until Dougie asked me which colour goggles I’d gone for that I suddenly thought OH FUCK. GOGGLES. Thank FUCK I’d packed them. A half-sprint-half-barefoot-hobble-on-rocky-tarmac later, I had them firmly in my grasp. That was close. What a pisser that would’ve been.
Dougie introduced me to his pal that runs the Forth Swim. He tried to convince me to enter but I’m not 100% sold on swimming through human jobbies. We’ll see….
We were soon allowed into check in and went straight into the acclimatisation zone. Which sounds fancy but is actually just the boat-launch cordoned off with a lady shouting at you that they’re closing it soon.
By this point, I was a complete bag of nerves. The loch was 16 degrees but that’s not exactly a fucking bath and I was worrying about freezing to death. I went through my mantra in my head on repeat while everyone buzzed around me. (I like to have a quiet moment before a race kicks off):
Lap twice. Stop for gel. Lap twice. Stop for gel. Lap twice. Medal.
Kerri-Anne Payne was on hand to start us off and before I knew it I was saying goodlucks and goodbyes (thanks Andy for the hilariously awkward are-we-high-giving-oh-wait-fist-bump-nope-hug moment) and dipping into the loch with Dougie to start our 10km.
Shiiiiiiiiiit that’s cold.
Ok. Draft a bit. Swim a bit. Draft some more. Panic a bit. Breathing! Remember breathing! Breathing is so important. Lift your head to breathe. Perfect. Off we go.
I’d posted in an all-girl group I’m in on FB for some words of wisdom and the women were AMAZING. Their words went round in my head and Rach (off Twitter!) who is a swimming queen gave me some great breathing advice. I stuck to her words and soon found my rhythm.
The first lap passed in under 30 minutes and I was feeling great and full of energy. Just one more lap and then it’s BOAT SNACK TIME, I kept telling myself.
Lap two done and I clung to the side of a rib boat while a lovely man handed me water and a Cliff gel to chew/swallow (they are a fucking weird consistency. Sort of like thick snot. And also opaque yellow like snot. A lovely thought. You’re welcome.) I have to say, I was a little upset to learn that the “snack boat” didn’t have a buffet of pasta dishes and hot tea. Nope. Just jelly babies and gels. But at this point I’d have eaten roadkill if I thought it would have given me the beans to keep going…
Onto lap 3 which meant I would be HALF WAY!! I checked my watch. It was clear that either the course was going to come up short or Garmin was being a tad lazy. Not to worry. We battle on.
By now I am catching the subsequent wave. Picking through the slower swimmers definitely cost me time but I took a draft where I could get it and managed to avoid any painful kicks this year. I was passing caps from my own wave and nothing was sore or tired yet. WTF. Was I kicking ass at this?! I went through 5km at bang on 1hr30 (including gel stop). Yes. I was kicking ass at this.
Through laps 4 and 5, my index fingers on each hand had gone numb, I was fighting the onset of calf cramp and I was really suffering with lower back pain (which has all but completely fucked off lately so I was NOT happy about this!). My head started to tell me that I’d had quite about enough of this charade and it was time to find a kayak and die quietly.
At the end of Lap 4 I found the boat and “enjoyed” another “delicious” snotter/gel. Unfortunately, as I was clinging to the boat with my claw-hands and trying to stretch out my back, my leg became tangled in one of the buoy ropes. Not even a little bit tangled. Properly fucking caught. Like a sodding fish. I was snagged. This was going badly. I shouted to the boat dude who was about as confused as me as to how this had happened. Thankfully, the very nice man beside me swam under the boat to untangle my leg and I was able to continue. Amazingly, no cramp was sustained during the ordeal.
5 minutes lost to being a twat, I continued onto my penultimate lap to play Next Time Last Time.
Next Time I see this buoy it will be the Last Time. For a mile. A confusing mile, at that. My watch was showing that the course was 400-500m short. But my tired, water-logged brain as beginning to convince itself that we’d somehow missed a lap. I retraced every stroke and after *some* debating, I decided that this was 100% my 5th lap. No doubt. Stupid GPS.
Last lap time.
It was now that a Huubster appeared. A pink cap (2 mile swimmer I think ) and a £500 Huub Archimedes suit plus matching goggles. He appeared to my right and swam directly over me without stopping. He was not going in the right direction. Having been dooked unwillingly and by surprise, at 5 miles into a 6 mile race I needed to gather myself and swear at him loudly. A woman doing breastroke to my right checked I was ok before we laughed as she asked where the fuck he was going. Apparently £500 can by you an incredible wetsuit but not a sense of direction…
A weird thing began to happen: I started to have fun. For the first time LIKE EVER, my goggles had not fogged up at all. I was picking red caps off and passing swimmers like a proper fast swimmer. The TV chopper was over me the whole last lap. The noise was deafening. I was KICKING ASS AT THIS! My watch had me finishing well under 3 hours. Even with the shorter distance I’d be under Dougie’s (seemingly ridiculous) prediction of 3:05.
I AM A SWIMMING QUEEEEEEEEEEEN I shouted in my head.
The final buoy was in sight. I just had to swim past that, through the pointy buoys, under the gangtry and that was it finished! Let’s GOOOOOOO.
I gave the last 400m everything I had. My best technique, no kicks, strong, positive pulls, slight bend at the elbow with a straight arm exit from the water. Smooth, effortless gliding but with breathing that sounded like was seconds from death. Ignoring the fire in my shoulder muscles and the numb as fuck hands.
I reached the finish funnel and attempted to stand up. Wobbling and probably not smiling, I stumbled over the finish line to the ankle-beeper where the guy asked my name and it took me far too long to remember it.
I was done. It was finished. 2hours 53 minutes and 46 seconds.
That’s not just a little bit good, that is BRILLIANT.
As I staggered past chip-removal towards the goody bags and my warm clothes, a young lad shouted “YOU JUST DID THE 10k! YOU NEED TO GO THIS WAY CAUSE YOU GET A BETTER GOODIE BAG!!”
Oh YAS! I thought. FINALLY Great Swim have bowed to pressure and made a non-generic medal for the 10k swimmers. Gimme!!
This really did not impress the two-mile swimmer next to me who moaned a “that’s not fair!” At the lad before he gently but firmly suggested that if she wanted a 10k goodybag she could nip back in and swim another 4 miles. She declined…
As with every GSS I’ve done so far, the heavens had opened as I was dragging my carcass out of the loch. I padded painfully round to the sweaty changing tent, shivering violently and acutely aware that my arms were absolutely livid with me. I had to ask a stranger to unzip me. I then had to apologise to two other strangers who were freaked out by my squealing as my hand found my chafed neck. I borrowed a chair and used it to try and assist with dressing. This was more challenging than the fucking swim.
I did all this while shovelling pretzels into my face and downing water. I felt ok but I knew I’d soon bonk if I didn’t take salts and carbs on board.
Eventually I staggered to my car. Dougie and Jan were walking down the road and had both had as much fun as you can while swimming endurance distances. Dougie swam 10km in under 2:40. I mean really. Half man half fish.
Once in my car I asked a marshal to direct me to McDonald’s where I horsed a Big Mac meal and large milkshake before hitting the road. Somehow, I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel. But my arms are all but useless now. Honestly I’ve typed this with my nose.
I am over the MOON. This was one hell of a challenge. Unsurprisingly, swimming 10km is not on many athletes radar as something they want to do. But I did it and I did it well and wildly over-achieved on my original target of 3:30.
Thank you, Great Swim for another fantastic event.
I am now a marathon swimmer! And I’m waiting for my certificate welcoming me to the Mermaid community.
As soon as the words “I’m thinking of trying a 30km swim streak” left my mouth, I almost instantly regretted it.
You see… stick me in a race with other runners, cyclists or even swimmers and, if I think or know they are a lot quicker, I won’t bother my arse to compete… But when I throw my own gauntlet down, I strive to achieve the goal. So the challenge was on.
To facilitate this absurd idea, I’d need to juggle some stuff about. Luckily, my current employer offers flexi-time which is a god-send for a the wannabe Ironman. I can flex hours between 7.30am and 5pm to suit and usually I opt for 7.30-4pm. It means getting up at 5am and commuting over the Forth Road Bridge, but I’m home for 5pm.
For my Big Swim Week, I switched it up. Bannatyne’s have permanent lane availability and open at 6am. Ideal. I’d work 8.30-5, swim at 6am and, traffic dependent, 6pm. I could never have done this at my faithful Cooncil Gym due to limited pool access for *actual* swimmers.
As the week approached, 6km per day hovered in my sights like a big, fat, fuck-off neon sign. My biggest swim week in prep for Windermere (AKA: The One That Wasn’t) was 15,000m and I was 15,000% dead by the end of it.
This. Was. Gonna. Suck. So. Many. Balls.
By this point, I can hear the educated amongst you murmuring something about Junk Miles. And you’d be absolutely correct. Technically, swimming 30km in a pool over 5 days could indeed be classed as junk miles. But… I don’t do junk miles. Even ridiculous challenges like this have a point, because the thing about Endurance training is that as much as we bang on about “smashing it” and “having all the lolz” sometimes it’s fucking shit. Sometimes you definitely do not want to smash anything apart from your face into a pizza. So I chuck stuff into my routine that sounds awful and intimidates me in order to strengthen my mental toughness. It works. The added bonus of swimming is that it’s largely low impact and the best way to get quicker at swimming is…. well…. to swim.
And so it began…
Mood: Grim. Hair: Still glossy. Arms: Attached, if a little nervous.
The first morning was awful. I’d tapered the previous week, reduced strength work and rested for two days before the streak started. I have a nasty recurring trapezius injury which has a habit of flaring up during quick swims, so everything was kept very slow below 1:50/100m. Miles below my current CSS pace of 1:41/100m but enough to hopefully keep injuries at bay.
Unfortunately, someone had replaced the water in the pool with treacle over the weekend. I felt shit. My arms were made of spaghetti.
This was going to be an extremely tough week.
Monday evening’s swim was also awful, and, just to add icing to the cake-of-shit, I was joined in the lane by a Master’s age grouper at the end of my set. Who was a sprinter. And was not even sprinting. Not to sound cocky, but I’m well used to being one of the quickest swimmers in a standard gym pool, but I am by no means fast. This guy was just the most elegant swimmer. And my splashy, inefficient 1:55’s were being destroyed by his effortlessly graceful 1:30’s. I went home feeling deflated and dreading the coming days.
Mood: More Grim. Hair: 8% less glossy. Arms: “pls no”
Tuesday was almost the end of the challenge. I really, truly, 100% did not want to be doing this. “This is a stupid idea” I muttered to myself as I dipped into the chilly pool at 6:02am. The water still felt like solid matter and everything that could possibly irritate me was doing so with a vengeance.
“But this shit is gonna make me nails” I reminded myself, “if I can get through this, surely I can get through the 10k swim.”
Tuesday evening saw the beginning of The Shit Traffic. For some reason, everyone in Scotland decided to head north over the FRB every single evening this week. I was already ragey by the time I got to the pool, so when I saw the lane was hoaching, I knew I’d be in for a quicker swim. Fuelled by anger and impatience.
Elbows out, I slipped under 1:50/100m just to get passed the choppers. (Seriously. If you are slow, do NOT swim in the fast lane if it is busy. And ESPECIALLY if you are gonna do fecking breastroke) See below chart if confused:
Mood: Grim, tired, nose ingrained with Chlorine. Hair: Mess. Arms: “hlp mi pls”
I’d quite simply had enough. My head was struggling to get through it, 3km sessions felt like 30km and my pace was in the gutters. I tried a new set instead of 6 x 500m (which usually feels ok) and opted for 400,300,200,100 x 3. This broke things up, gave me a smidge more rest and I could count the distances down. However… mind that injury I mentioned earlier…? Towards the end of my evening session, the ping in my left trap told me it was time to rest.
Mood: Less Deathly. Hair: Had to resort to neat Argan Oil… Arms: So much nope. And yet I feel like I look like Jonny Bravo.
I gave myself an extra hour in bed on Thursday morning, feebly convincing myself that 27km in 5 days would still be badass and right enough, the rest paid off and I was right as rain for Thursday evening’s session.
I had a lane to myself until my last 1000m, when a man sat and watched me swim for 5 or 6 lengths, before proceeding to jump in and push off RIGHT as I got to him. Not correct etiquette. And oh good he’s much slower than me.
Everyone starts somewhere and I am, by absolutely no means, Michael Phelps, but I cannot understand how a person can be working so hard to stay virtually stationary in the water. I was doing doggy paddle and still catching his toes.
The worst bit? He didn’t stop to let me pass at the end of the length. Oh my god. Rage.
The slow lane was empty. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking this was maybe some weird drill I’d never seen. Or a warm-up. Maybe (It wasn’t) And being too polite to ask him to perhaps consider the alternative lane, I had to keep overtaking. Each time he would splash the water hard as if to tell me to fuck off. Yet each length (I was passing him twice to each of his single lengths) he didn’t bother to stop.
If anything, this kept me occupied and I was relieved to get out of that pool and visit my mum and dad. (Mum is now 1 week post knee replacement!)
Mood: Buoyant (swim pun yaassss) Hair: Ruined. Arms: “ohgodpleasedon’tmakeusswimagain”
Work-based anxiety woke me at 3am. And 3.15am. And every 10-15 mins until 5am when I finally decided to make some toast.
At 6:02 I dipped into the pool alongside a lane mate who exhibited absolutely perfect lane etiquette. We were very similarly paced and while he was doing fast 50’s we managed to time our sets well so we were never in each other’s way. MORE OF THIS PLEASE.
I was pleasantly surprised by the ease at which I was able to get through my 500’s. Due to my trap niggle, I’d switched from my usual bilateral breathing, to right side only every 4th stroke. This helped me relax. 3000m flew by.
12 hours later and I was back for the last swim of the week. And what a difference! My 1:50/100m average dipped to 1:44 for the whole, consistent session.
Despite being joined by 2 choppers (one definitely did NOT like being slower than a lassie), I loved this swim and shoulder tiredness aside, I felt strong and relaxed and above all, finally ready to tackle 10km in Loch Lomond.
27,000 metres. TWENTY ACTUAL SEVEN KILOMETRES IN FIVE DAYS. (Which is 16.77 of your junkiest junk miles). All front crawl. All pull.
I have 100% earned pizza.
Interestingly, along with developing a new love for expensive shampoo and conditioner (thank you Kerastase) I realised, as the week progressed, that the problems I was experiencing in the water were well and truly in my head. As much as I set my own goals and work hard to achieve them, I also set my own limits. The minute I choose a goal, I often choose the obstacles. Even by identifying potential issues, I throw spanners into the works well before I reach a possible hurdle. It’s time to relax and just let things happen.
“Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back…. play for her”
In the Maternity ward of Perth Royal Infirmary, on the 6th May 1986, Lynora had just given birth to her first daughter. High as a kite on gas and air, she told her husband Dave to “go away and herd the sheep” to which he replied “WE DON’T HAVE ANY FUCKING SHEEP”. Their baby girl was then placed on the pillow beside Lynora who looked at her in horror and said “she looks like a frog!”.
“She’s not a frog, she’s my baby” was Dave’s reply.
It seemed that this supposed hallucination was not entirely inaccurate. While I may not *look* like a frog (I hope…) I was certainly destined to become amphibious.
I have no memory of my first swimming lesson. Because I was 3 months old, in a pool in Oman with my mum and her friends as we attended “baby swimming lessons” aka “Navy-mum’s have a bit of a chat while the babies splash about and float and stuff”. What was clear to my mum was that I loved the water. And so it began…
I vaguely remember learning to swim crawl (Freestyle) in a manky pool attached to our school in Vienna, Virginia in the early nineties. I remember the feeling of imminent drowning and then noticing a dead frog on the bottom of the pool and forgetting about the drowning.
“Don’t get dead like the frog. Just keep swimming…”
My swimming came into it’s own once we moved to Brussels. The school team was fantastically well coached and I progressed to being quite the champion swimmer. 50m and 100m Freestyle, 50m Butterfly and 100m Individual Medley were my strongest events. Somewhere in my parents house is my box of medals and ribbons. We think they are in the Spider Cupboard. The spiders in that house are the size of my cat so they can keep the medals….
1996 Brussels Dolphins (sorry guys)
Young Bean recovering from another win.
In 1998, we moved back to the UK where I joined the Kinross Otters. I continued to show strength in sprinting but my love of swimming began to dwindle, possibly fuelled by having to attend meets at Olympia in Dundee which, back then, was a shitehole…
By 15 I’d hung my cap up for the last time and took to the sofa for the next 12 years. I would look back on my swimming “career” with nostalgia, and frequently wanted to revisit it, but social life, boys, part time jobs, uni and then grown up jobs got in the way.
It wasn’t until I began my fitness journey that the scent of Chlorine began to whisper to me once again.
My first swim in 12 years actually happened in Fort Augustus on my 28th birthday. In a 10m pool. I was all alone and decided to try Fly, Free and tumble turns. Surprisingly I didn’t die. But I knew I wanted to get back into it.
Over the next two years I dedicated time to swimming again and it felt amazing. I stuck to crawl because breastroke is for grannies and fly is for showing off. I joined an adult swimming club to give me some structure and my form began to return.
Since day dot, I’d always been drawn to water. So I bought a wetsuit and began venturing into lochs. The sense of freedom and serenity that I get from swimming in open water is like nothing on earth. After the initial cold shock dissipates, I am home.
I finished my first triathlon swim well up the pack and began entering open water events, pushing myself to go further and faster.
A wise friend encouraged this behaviour and offered his advice and coaching to help me improve once I hit a rut.
“If you want to get faster, you need time in the water” are the words that stuck. And the proof is in the pudding. Or data.
Today, as I studied data from my latest pool swim, I was shocked at the improvement over 12 months. I have worked hard. I have worked consistently. I have balanced three disciplines relatively well and despite several back injuries and a persistent shoulder injury which occasionally chucks a spanner in the works, I have been able to shave nearly 10s off my average time per 100m for a standard endurance session.
Back in February, I remember saying that if I could get my CSS (critical swim speed) into the high 1:40’s I’d be delighted. I had no idea I’d be sitting here in July with a CSS of 1:41/100m.
I remember 1:55/100m feeling like actual death. Now 1:43/100m feels steady.
Can we have a moment for that total distance? RIP my social life….
With under 4 weeks until The Big Fuck-off Swim, I am getting nervous and actually a bit emotional. Stuff running marathons, this is going to be a monumental effort. My longest open water swim this year (3km) had me panicking about my body temperature, which refused to recover for 24 hours. What the feck is 10km going to do to me?
Looking at these little snippets of history has just made me more determined for that little girl who used to kick so much ass in the pool. Like “annoying female soccer player” (Friends reference anyone?) Mia Hamm says – “play for her”
And I will.
Thank you for taking me swimming all those years ago, mum and dad.
Before I start this, I have an apology to make. I made a huge error in my previous blog. Catastrophic, in fact. I referred to my pal @ironpugsley as a mere four-time-marathoner, marathon swimmer, ultramarathoner, two-time Ironman and soon to be swim-runner. I neglected to mention Alcatraz Escapee. Sincere apologies for my devastating oversight, Ironman.
So…… Back to business.
140.6 miles. That’s the distance from my house in Not Fife almost to Wick. Which is basically the top of Scotland. Which is essentially the North Pole.
It’s a distance that, over the last 3 years, has become the epitome of Awesome to me. I idolise Ironmen and those who can push their bodies and their minds to complete a race of such a punishing distance.
I respect the distance. I aspire to be the level of Nails required to complete a race that encompasses everything I have come to admire about the sport of Triathlon.
Recently, with the inaugural Ironman 70.3 race in Edinburgh, it’s brought Triathlon newbies out in force. Let me just preface this slight rant by making the point that this is a very good thing. Triathlon is marvellous. It teaches you so much about yourself. Technically I am still a newbie, having only done a single tri.
Much like the fact that you wouldn’t swan into the office on the first day of a new job stating that you take your tea with just the right amount of milk and that the office temperature must always be no more or less than 21 degrees…. you wouldn’t call yourself an Ironman for finishing a 70.3. Would you? Oh, you would. Well. I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy religiously for well over 7 years now, can I just go ahead and start practising medicine? Call me Dr Bean.
Ordinarily, something like this wouldn’t bother me so much. People call themselves stuff every day. But…… Sometimes, something just means too much to you to let the Internet tarnish that significance. Let me explain why I took offence to the remarks of a fool in a forum.
To me, there is currently no achievement that I want more than to be able to cross a finish line at the end of a 140.6 mile event. It’s a goal that will require sacrifice, commitment and the type of drive that’s taken me 3 years to realise I may actually possess.
In one Facebook group, I saw someone announcing that as of Sunday evening they would now be calling themselves an ironman.
What a fucking liberty.
The keyboard warriors destroyed them but it really stuck in my head. I managed not to engage, having already had The Debate with some good friends who had, despite the grotesque conditions, each done an incredible job at finishing the race.
Having sat on this for a week, I wanted to take a minute here to think about why that is such an audacious thing to do in my mind.
First let’s have a history lesson. John Collins et al held the inaugural Iron Distance race in Hawaii in 1978. It was a combination of the 2.4 mile Waikiki rough water swim, a 112 mile Round-the-Island bike race and the Honolulu marathon. It was a competition, following a booze fuelled debate amongst talented athletes in each individual discipline, to see who was toughest. Who could complete this gruelling race first? Surely he (or she) would be the epitome of athleticism.
John Collins famously said the words “whoever won that ought to be called Iron Man”. And so the race was born.
Note: not 70.3.
History lesson over, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture, shall we?
I must point out that I am not discrediting the toughness required to complete a 70.3 race. I’ve done one. It was hella tough. I trained my ass off and still hold that finish line feeling as one of my greatest memories and achievements. So if you’re sitting there sucking your teeth and calling me bitter, kindly swivel. Because I’ve been there. I know What’s required. I didn’t have an easy ride, either. Injury, illness and niggles all tried to derail me. I didn’t blag it (which you can do, if required) But I made it. In 6hrs43 mins. I did it. And it was phenomenal.
Unfortunately for my tired legs, it was never going to end there. As soon as I crossed that finish line and located the nearest Big Mac, I knew I had the bug. I’ve dreamed of doing a full iron-distance tri for years. I wanted more. I wanted to push harder. Go further. But I knew I couldn’t yet. I wasn’t ready.
To me, 140.6 miles is an unparalleled achievement. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea and, at the moment, I am receiving two reactions. 1) OH THATS AWESOME! And 2) Ummm, you’re gonna do what?
I hold it dear to my heart. I feel like it’s something I have to respect and do justice. I feel like, after being mentored by my IronBuddy that I owe it to the race to do the best I possibly can.
So to hear and see people throwing that Iron Title about defending their choice because Ironman is a global brand, just rubbed me up the wrong way. It didn’t start as a brand. It BECAME a brand. It is about so much more than a title. It’s about being so mentally robust that you can push your body past the point of pain and giving up. These races don’t allow outside assistance. You do that shit alone.
I can’t bear to see people devalue the status of being Iron. Being Iron is something to strive for. To aspire to. Not a term to be chucked about haphazardly.
I’m not one to take such grave offence at the remarks of keyboard warriors, especially those with no understanding of the history of the race they try to lay claim to. But this was different.
The fuss has died down now and hopefully the absence of Paul Kaye shouting “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” at the finish line was enough to drive home the point that they are not now in fact an ironman.
The biggest issue I have with this whole ‘pavlova’ (hi, Tucker ❤️) is that they are detracting from the incredible achievement that is finishing a 70.3 mile race.
Don’t simultaneously stomp all over my dreams while crushing my sense of achievement, you pests.
In the mean time, I continue to fuel my excitement for the unbelievable challenges ahead. I’m inspired and focused and it feels amazing. It won’t last, so I’m making the most of it!
It’s been a week since I entered The Lakesman, and what a week it’s been. There is something wonderfully empowering about finally believing you’re capable of training for a 140.6 mile race.
I’m doing this. OMG.
It’s been a week of excitement, fear, negotiation (with myself) deep thought, planning, organising and surfing the net for higher spec bike components! (Any excuse, but the prospect of 1000’s of miles of training requires unquestionable use of n+1 and Stella needs to feel loved as well……)
Don’t worry, my friends. I shall not be breezing past you, as you sip your pint outside the pub, clad in cycling skins and a sperm hat with a disc wheel whirring away. No. I leave the marginal gains to the pro’s. I’m pretty down to earth with this stuff, but my faithful Stella has done many thousands of kilometres already. With a carbon fibre frame, she needs plenty of TLC. I’m also not the smallest of athletes so she needs good components to make up for my somewhat un-dainty frame.
It’s also been a week of reflection: I’ve come an awfully long way from the naive, clueless lass that decided to get fit by entering a sodding marathon. The fact that I’ve made it to the point where I feel I can commit to training for an event like Lakesman makes me feel incredibly proud. Even if the wheels fall off and I end up unable to do it, I know I made it this far.
So aside from bike browsing, welling up every 15 minutes at inspirational YouTube videos and also buying a very exciting new swimming costume which will likely make me look like a misshapen potato, I have been squirrelling away at excel spreadsheets, putting the bare bones of a training plan together. I am gonna be busy.
I’ve spent hours poring over race blogs, tips and life-hack posts to try and stand myself in good stead for the huge amount of adjustment this training is going to require.
My buddy @ironpugsley penned this blog just before tackling his second Ironman. It is the very best advice that I could have in my arsenal as I begin to start piecing together this massive puzzle. As a two-time Ironman, four-time marathon runner, ultra-runner and marathon swimmer, I can think of no one I’d rather take advice from when it comes to this stuff. Mostly because he’s a) a normal human with extraordinary grit, b) did these things while juggling normal life stuff and c) likes beer.
Every night this week I’ve gone to bed buzzing with ideas and excitement and apprehension. The race is a long way off in many ways, but not that far away in many other ways. I am relieved that I’ve got GSS and Dramathon to look forward to and occupy my legs and my mind. I just have to not get broken…
I’ve caught up with friends, started planning routes for rides and even found one which incorporates cake at my bestie’s house:
Check that view!
I’ve had fun inspiring/bullying new friends to take up endurance sports, setting challenges and generally mucking about on bikes beside lochs and up hills…
It’s been a much brighter few weeks.
It feels good to have finally taken the plunge and signed up to Lakesman. The last few months have felt tough. I’ve been all over the place inside my head. Huge highs and crushing lows and sustained periods of darkness had left me feeling empty, dulled and numb. Over the past few weeks my sparkle has started to return. I have a focus and I’ve regained my drive to not only tackle this next obstacle but have the most fun I possibly can in preparation.
It’s like someone has turned on a light. And I’m so ready to feel light again.