Psychological Warfare

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!

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4.  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.

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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!

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Burnout and Big Weekend

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……

Ummmmmm YES.

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!

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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.

FML.

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.

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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!