Grand Ideas 

“The sky is not the limit… I am” T F Hodge

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…

Day 1.

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.

Day 2.

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:

FB_IMG_1496742498866

Day 3.

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.

Day 4.

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!)

Day 5.

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.

Loch Lomond – I am coming for you.

Water Baby

“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” 

Mia Hamm

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.

Charming, mum.

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. 

Love, your Frog x 

Iron [Keyboard] War

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. 

But. 

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! 

Busy, Busy Brain.

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.

I digress.

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. 

 

Iron Dreams

“To accomplish something extraordinary, one must have an extraordinary dream. A goal so high, a journey so demanding, that it’s achievement, to most, seems impossible….”

Daydreaming. We all do it. On a quiet afternoon in the office when the rain is running down the windows. When you’re stuck in traffic. Before you drift off to sleep. Sometimes when you can’t sleep…

Most people daydream of holidays, beaches and switching off their work emails. 

Me? I dream of 4am alarms. Porridge that sits in your stomach like lead. Nausea. Nerves. Wobbly-bottom-lipped and misty eyed goodbyes and good-lucks with family. Ice cold lakes and clear lochs. Lycra. The whoosh of disc wheels. The quiet, metronomic ticking of a cassette. The quiet pad of feet on tarmac. Pain. Determination. Up to 16hrs 59 minutes of just….moving….forwards. A red carpet. A clock: I dream of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a marathon. I dream of 140.6 miles.  

It’s not always been that way, believe me. Bean of Yesteryear would have daydreamed almost exclusively of hot beaches with unlimited ice cream and a device that changes your DVD for you so you don’t have to move. 

What was it that sparked this apparent lapse in judgment, you ask? Was it a head injury? U OK hun? 

Well… Around 3 years ago, a seed was planted in my head by a dear friend and accomplished endurance athlete. “You know you could become IronBean…. if you really want to….” 

I watched endless YouTube videos of ironman races, Celtman, Norseman, Swissman, you flipping name it. I anxiously tracked friends as they tackled these unfathomable distances. I coveted that title of being “Iron”. Knowing just how much commitment and drive it takes to complete such a thing. 

Oh, I wanted to be IronBean. But I knew that what was required would be too much, at that time. I trained for marathons, a 70.3 and various other events but training for those was extremely demanding. I could never commit the time and energy to training for an Iron Distance race…. 

…. could I…..? 

In 2016, a new race was launched. The Lakesman. 140.6 miles of stunning Lake District route. I pored over race reports and excitedly waited for updates from twitter buddies who were racing there. And once I heard their stories and saw the pictures, I knew that would be my Iron Race. 

I briefly considered saving up, selling organs and cars and sacrificing meals to pay for entry to a branded Ironman race, but swiftly laid those thoughts to rest on the realisation that it’s the DISTANCE I want to do. It’s fuck all to do with brand. And reading race reports for every conceivable brand or type of 140.6 event, I knew Lakesman’s atmosphere and ethos was 100% for me. 

So I waited. I bided my time. I put in serious fucking groundwork and experimented with huge volume training weeks on swimming and running. I began to develop self belief. The kind of belief that says “if you worked hard at this you could do it.” 

This couldn’t be a selfish choice though. I’d be sacrificing a lot of time. I’d need all the support I could get at home. I discussed this idea with Beardy and in his typically non-chalant way, he shrugged and offered his support. Probably somewhat relieved to be signing up to 6 months of total peace and quiet. 

And then came the day the entries opened. I sat at my desk, bank card at the ready, anxiously refreshing their page. There are only 400 slots. And chatter on social media indicated that a large number of people were interested and looking to enter. 

Please please please Let me get a spot…..

….. and I did. 

So there we have it. June17th 2018. Lakesman day. 

It’s going to be an epic adventure. I have the small matter of another marathon and a 10km swim to get done first before I can knuckle down and start a 30 week plan. 

But it’s happening. I cannot wait. 

This is not impulsive decision. I know, and have suspected for a while, that I am ready for this. 100%. In my head and my heart. My body will just have to accept it. 

Mission IronBean is GO. 

Strong and Stable…?

Oh heeeeey! Yeah it’s a topical blog title and I am impressed with myself. 

Be assured, this is not about Brexit or Emperor Palpatine. So if you were looking forward to an informative insight to the upcoming election, this is not the post for you. 

Soz. 

So! What is it about? Well! Unless you live in a cave or under the sea or somewhere with no access to the internet (so….Fife?) you’ll have noticed, by now, that this week is Mental Health Awareness week. 
Mental Health is something that we all possess. Some are in control of it, others not so much. But we are all beginning to learn that we each have a responsibility to look after ours and that of other people. 

Over the last few years, there has been a huge upsurge in the number of organisations fighting against the stigma associated with mental health. And it’s such an important subject. 

The more open we are about it, the more comfortable we become with the fact that sometimes we are not ok. And that it’s ok not to be ok. Ok? 

Since I ran London, I have experienced the typical highs and lows of emotions that follow such a huge achievement and also what turned out to be a very difficult race. This time however, the lows have been lower. I’ve lost control a few times and had to try and scrape myself together more than once. It’s been particularly tough. There are some other factors contributing the the lows this time, but largely I’ve felt less able to cope. My BFF gave me a shake and encouraged me to take some time and try and get myself to turn a corner. And it’s got me thinking….

The link between fitness and mental health improvements has been debated many times over. The more active we are, the greater the rush of endorphins and the more positive and healthy we feel and physically become, over time. But there’s a dark side to all that post-run adrenaline. 

The risk of overtraining is great when you take on so many huge challenges. I’d become a victim of that. I was pushing myself too hard in training both physically and mentally. And it took its toll. 

There is also the fact that Post-race blues are a real thing and they have challenged my anxiety to its very limit. 

Of course, my story started a very long time ago now. Here’s a sort-of-summary:

Admitting I wasn’t well. 

I was overweight. I had been suffering from chronic back pain for nearly 3 months and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. This followed years of sporadic fibrositis. My GP, having seen quite enough of me, thank you, was quite frank with me. At 24 years young, I was informed that if I chose to continue on my path of Sitting Still and Filling My Face, all I’d have to look forward to would be continued muscle damage and pain. I had compressed discs in my back and if I didn’t get active, I’d likely require surgery by 40. A sharp kick to the arse.  

Around this time I also reached what I perceived to be “rock bottom”. My partner encouraged me to ask for help. Again, my GP didn’t hesitate to offer support and immediately referred me for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) at the Murray Royal Hospital in Perth. 

I was not strong or stable. I didn’t know which way was up, where I was going or what I’d do if or when I got there. I was the physical and emotional embodiment of Brexit. (#topical #sorrynotsorry)

I also now began to experience, first hand, the stigma of mental health. At school, if someone was being a bit of a weirdo, you’d tell them to fuck off to The Murray Royal. It’s got a reputation for housing some pretty fucked up humans and I figured I’d best keep my referral to myself. 

So, if anyone asked, I was seeing my “Chiropractor” WINK. (Note; I was also actually seeing a chiropractor so if you were one of the people I said this to, I’ll leave it to you to decide where I was…)

To be honest, I found that after 6 months of CBT, all I was able to do was identify some of the factors that triggered the chronic anxiety I’d suffered from childhood. I couldn’t actually do anything to prevent the triggers, or avoid the downward spiral. But at least I could say “HEY! Thats a thing what makes me anxious!” As I cried and panicked. 

Following CBT, I tried more holistic approaches such as EFT and acupuncture. These provided short-term relief from anxiety but were never going to get me close to the root of the problem, nor would it give me the right tools to control it. 

Of course there was initial relief that I had finally broached the subject, I was still painfully aware that my issues could be shrugged off as needy and selfish. And that just because a doctor has given what I was experiencing a name, didn’t mean I could dine out on that. 

I wasn’t going to let high-functioning anxiety define me. I needed a hobby to distract myself and to give me direction. 

The beginning of Marathon Bean. 

In 2012, my dear friend and colleague (at the time) gently badgered me into entering the Kiltwalk with her and some of her friends. It was Lesley who gave me the first motivational kick in a positive direction. She doesn’t know quite how much she helped, until now. 

After Kiltwalk, I set my sights on running marathons. The obvious next logical step, of course. 

I now had drive. I had goals. I met more people with these goals, entered more races, diversified, became a triathlete, rekindled my love of swimming and now I’m busy taking that to the extreme as well. The whole time I laughed inwardly anytime anyone said “you’re mental” for entering something stupid. Yes. Yes I am. But I’m at least 80% less mental now that I’m active….

I found my positivity. 

But this new positivity came with new challenges. 

Truthfully, the mental health problems that I’ve encountered seem almost impossible to “cure”. It’s a case of managing them. Sometimes I manage to manage them. Other times I don’t. But at least now I have an outlet. I have a level of control over myself that I need in order to feel in control. It is a balancing act. 

The effect that took me completely by surprise was The Post Race Blues. No one warned me about this. So…. let me get this straight: I’ve just completed the most amazing achievement, and now I’m going to a) feel like shit and b) experience a renewed and greater lack of self confidence?

Oh ok, cool. 

Over time, I have trained myself to allow this to happen. I realised that it’s important to feel the lows so that you can appreciate the highs. And simply accept that it’s part of the ride and the learning curve. 

This time, however, the post race slump has been particularly jaggy. I’ve had to fight harder to hold on. And I’ll admit to letting go, not wanting to get out of bed and finding solace in comfort food and crying at Dogs Trust adverts. 

However, I am working on pulling myself out of it. Focusing on the next challenge while allowing my head to accept what it’s done to itself and move on. This isn’t easy or straightforward, but the sheer fact that I’m able to identify these thoughts and feelings is progress enough for me. Sometimes it’s about the smaller victories. 

I’ve also learned to stop focusing on the event as the achievement itself. Instead, taking a big old step back and looking at the journey. 7 years ago I was miserable and had no health and no fight. Now I’m all fight and despite injury from overtraining and occasional illness, I really am healthier than I’ve ever been. 

I now sit down after every race and, instead of looking predominantly at what I could do better (this is always important)and what I did on the day, I look at what I actually did to get me to that start line.

Because it’s all me. 

I mean, yeah I’ve seen the odd remark along the lines of “but she has a coach which makes it easier” … and I’ll say this: Having a coach to help me plan in sessions has made my ridiculous combination of disciplines FAR easier to manage around 5am starts and a stressful job. BUT. (And this is the crucial bit)….. it’s ME that gets myself ready to go to the gym. It’s ME that lifts the weights off the ground. It’s ME that keeps myself going through 3 minutes of lunge jumps. It’s ME that gets up at 4am on a Sunday to cycle 40 miles so I can spend a day with my family. It’s ME that goes out running in sideways rain and snow and sleet. I wrestle tired limbs into a wetsuit and jump in a freezing Loch. 

It’s. Me. 

Realising this was huge. A lightbulb moment. I am the driving force behind my achievements

If you are pushing yourself to achieve things it’s because YOU are your driving force. Do not let go of that. 

So. Will I ever not be crippled with anxiety and fear? Hopefully! But until then, what keeps me focussed is the fact that every hurdle, every blocked path, every set back I have ever experienced, the common denominator in beating those things?

Myself.

 I have the strength. And so do you. 

Don’t. Give. Up. 

You know those dreams where you are desperately trying to get somewhere but you can’t run or something is in your way?

That. But real.

Sunday was my final big push for London. 3 hours, no prescribed pace. Bliss, you’d think! But no. A lap of the loch plus a little bit extra to get the distance up is normally my idea of heaven. I live in a beautiful part of the world. But the sloshing of the water in my hydration pack and the crunch of the loose gravel on the path were combining to do my head right in. My legs felt great (unsurprisingly. I’m literally SO rested right now…) but my mind just was not in it.

This may sound a little bit mad, but whenever I’ve undertaken one of these ridiculous endurance events, my head hasn’t really considered just how far 26.2 or even 70.3 miles actually is. It’s just not a thing I think about. If I did I wouldn’t enter these things. My commute is 27 miles. But I’d never dream of running to work. And yet I train to run that distance without thinking. Weird, innit?

This time, however, my mind is entirely preoccupied with the route. With which bits sucked and which bits I should look forward to. With where I hurt. With where I needed to pee. I don’t know if this is a blessing or a curse. I’m dreading the stretch from Cutty Sark to Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. I’m dreading Isle of Dogs and Limehouse (WHY DOES LIMEHOUSE CONTINUE FOR SO LONG). I’m dreading miles 21-23 where my body really starts to hurt.

What am I looking forward to, you ask? Michelle waiting for me with a Five Guys burger at the end. That’s what… but seriously. I’m excited for the different start. I’m blue start this year, so I’m hoping to be over the line in under 40 fecking minutes. I’m excited for Cutty Sark. The crowd there is huge! I’m beyond excited for Tower Bridge because I still get goosebumps when I remember it from last year. I’m excited for the party bus at miles 13/23. I’m excited for Embankment because I know when to expect Big Ben this year! I’m excited for Big Ben, and the incredible sensory experience that is running down Birdcage Walk. Bucks Palace is next and the almost deafening crowd. Then the finish line looms and it is SO MUCH FURTHER AWAY THAN YOU THINK IT WILL BE…

More than anything, I’m excited to get that incredible bit of Bling around my neck and definitely NOT enter the ballot for 2018. Gurl, we have had ENOUGH of training for marathons. (What’s that? Number four is in October? Shit.)

So. Less than a week to go. 3 days of work. Glycogen depletion joy. Carb loading MEGA JOY and then London, I’m sort of coming to get you a bit.

 

Hobbled. 

I’m not one to overthink or anything, but…. I’ve been overthinking. 

I know. I. Know. It is not like me at all. 

(Cough)

Things have been going well. Too well. Sure, there’s been some bugs, a bout of shin splints, a projectile vomiting incident and some lost sleep, but largely I’ve been getting the hell on with it and kicking ass everywhere. It’s been ACE. 

This was until I was 500m into Tuesday night’s swim. A gentle push off the wall and OH HOLY CHRIST THAT IS CRAMP. 

Right foot. Shit the bed that hurts. I stop in the middle of the pool. The staff know me well enough now to notice this is not normal behaviour unless I have lane rage and I’m waiting to punch a chopper in the goggles. After a few minutes stood wincing in waist deep water, unable to move, the lad asks if he’s going to need to fish me out. 

Oh how I fucking laughed. But seriously, help. 

About 8 hours later I managed to doggy paddle back to the shallows dragging my misshapen claw-foot behind me. Slightly out of practise, having not had cramp for a few years, I began violently stretching the living shit out of Claw Foot until it eventually returned to its normal form. 

4000m of sporadic cramp later I hauled my carcass out of the water and home to eat the entire contents of the fridge. 

I slept the sleep of a person full of pasta and awoke at 5am to begin my morning ritual of “I HATE BEING A FUCKING ADULT SCREW THIS”. 

I put my feet down and OW. 

What? What?! My right foot felt like someone had driven a rusty stake through its ankle. 

This isn’t good. Try again. 

Nope. Fuck. 

Walking was, at best, a challenge. I hobbled about and managed to make it to work where I spent the day googling “WHY THE FUCK IS MY FOOT BROKEN” and learning about tendons and metatarsals. Self diagnosis was broken everything and ruptured other stuff and basically no more running ever again. Thank you, Dr Google. Serves me fucking right. 

Eventually the pain subsided enough to allow me to make the 100% sensible and not at all stupid decision to GO TO THE GYM AND THEN DO A THRESHOLD RUN. 

Good. Fucking. Work. Bean. 

Somewhat shockingly, this didn’t hurt. 

But when I woke up the next morning it was basically def con 4 south of my ankle. I was not getting away with training through this. 

Thursday was spent in a growing state of utter panic. Marathon in 10 weeks. Cannot walk. Oh god. Kill me. 

It culminated in the most epic meltdown when coach advised NO CARDIO. 

WHAAAAAAAAAAAT. NOOOOOOOOOO. BUT SWIMMING??? No. No swimming. 

Oh, well fucking kill me dead. 

There was ugly crying. There was texting friends telling them that THIS WAS IT I AM GIVING UP FOREVER BYE. 

Eventually Beardy appeared and quite simply stated “your foot’s been sore like a day. Calm the fuck down” 

*sniffles* ok. You’re right. 

No one ever likes to hear the words “no cardio” when they’re training for endurance, but I decided, seeing as I was told to continue weight training, that all would not be lost. 

Terrified of losing all the progress made with running and swimming, I gave myself a pep talk and decided against immediate amputation. It might heal. I’d rather not train for london with a bloody stump. 

So. Now we wait. We ice, elevate and stretch. We have been through WAY worse. Hell, we ran 25 miles out of 26.2 with 6 weeks training last year. #lol 

The swimming ban will hopefully be over inside a week. This is a huge relief. I’m nowhere near as quick as I could be. And certainly no where near ready to swim 10 fucking thousand metres. (What was I thinking) 

Fuck knows when I’ll be able to run on the Claw but I know if I can keep my strength up it won’t take me long to get the run fitness back. 

Onwards, with a limp. 

“You’re In”

In a moment of madness, and perhaps hysteria, I entered the VLM 2017 Ballot the day it opened. I was still high on the buzz of finishing VLM2016 in one piece and being able to walk immediately afterwards. Of COURSE I’d do it again. Who WOULDN’T?

It’s SUCH a difficult ballot. People try for years to get in. People also enter knowing full well they don’t really want to do it or couldn’t commit to training for what is an incredibly tough challenge and then get in. Proper waste if they decide not to nut up. (The less we say about those gits the better…) So I’d basically decided I wasn’t getting in. I hadn’t opted to pay on application (because I’d recently lost my job) so I didn’t double my chances. I’d applied and been rejected for 2015 so I just assumed I wouldn’t get a place.

It wasn’t until the week before last when my pal reminded me the results were due out that I began to worry that I would get in. I have set my sights on a 10km swim in June and training for that will be tough enough. I remember how utterly killer marathon training is. Especially through winter. It’s bloody tough. You need proper balls.

Still. I wasn’t getting in.

vlm2017

Oh.

OH!

Shit.

Ok. Wow. Wasn’t expecting that. How amazing?! Was I going to pass on this opportunity? Was I fuck. London, Baby!!!!!! I’d already seen so many wasted ballot places that I was never EVER going to turn down this incredible event. Turn down the opportunity to run over Tower Bridge? Down Birdcage Walk? Turn down the opportunity to earn my third marathon medal? No. I was not passing up this chance.

Not only did I inexplicably get a place, but Michelle, fellow Team Painless athlete and mega bad-ass, FINALLY got in after five attempts. So we immediately booked our hotel and flights. I can’t believe that I’m sitting here, less than a week after receiving my magazine and paying for my place, with plane tickets and a hotel reservation for London next April.

Of course, now the all-too-familiar hard work begins. With a better base than ever. Training Peaks has me at my fittest EVER so lets flipping keep it that way, yeah?!

It’s going to be a helluva challenge to fit this in with swimming and strength work as well as having enough flexibility in my training plan to have FUN and take days off now and then.

But……. VLM2017 – – – – I am coming to GET YOU.

Great Scottish Run 2016

I’ve never been one to deal well with post -race blues. This is why I knew I’d need something after the Awfy Long Swim to keep me from getting fidgety…

Having been scouring the net for a decent sized race towards the end of the summer (but not a marathon because hell no), an email from Great Swim happened to remind me about The Great Scottish Run. 13.1 miles around Glasvegas. Flat. Fast. Take my money. 

Having discussed race ideas with the bearded one, I decided to register him as well. Brian has been progressing well with the running and much to his outrage, I put him down for a 1:45-1:50 finish. #lolz. Well I wasn’t gonna let him have an easy time of it, was I?! 

Meanwhile, I popped myself down for the 2:15-2:30 category, thinking I’d not have the time to get below my current PB of 2:15. 

Immediately after the swim, coach and I set about adding to the graft I’d put in all year with my strength and conditioning. 

What followed was 6 weeks of metabolic conditioning, full body workouts, threshold work and LISS work. At times, gruelling. For the most part, INCREDIBLE. I can’t believe what my body is getting good at. It’s pretty exciting! 

El Magico Fifty. 

Two weeks on the trot, the day after a hellish metcon workout, I bashed out sub 60 minute 10ks. Something which has previously been illusive and required MEGA teeth gritting with DOMs that would last for days. 

But here I was, bashing the miles out with little-to-no muscular punishment. 

The week before the half, I was able to run 18km with ease and comfort at a pace I was miles away from when I arrived at the VLM start line earlier this year. 

So. October 2nd 2016. Brian and I found ourselves on a packed train to The Weege. It was freezing. Beautifully sunny but very cold. We shivered our way to drop bags and then parted ways. He was off to the white start. For fast folk. And it was pink wave for me. 

Frosty morning. 

I somehow managed to weave my way right to the front of my pen. Probably to the disgust of faster runners behind me, but to be honest I’m sick of having to pick my way through so fuck it. I’M GOING FIRST. ME. 

I was nervous. And excited. But nervous. Obsessively checking over my body in my head making sure everything was as it should be. The  11:50 start time became 11:57 and the atmosphere was amazing. The race starts in George Square and in the bright autumn sun it was perfect. Absolutely bang on, Scotland. Nice one. 

The walk to the start. 

As we set off, I was overtaken by literally everyone. Pegging it up the hill of St Vincent St is brave, guys! 13.1 miles is FAR. 

Running out towards the west end, my watch beeped 1km at under 6 mins. Oooooops. It was NOT the plan to beast it. 

I’d already clocked the 2:10 pacer in the start pen, that was the first and last time I saw her. Not because I was behind her, as per VLM, but because I WAS AHEAD. 

Omg. Just keep it consistent, Bean. You got this. 

2km was still quick. Bugger. Running down a motorway was pretty cool. (It was closed, I wasn’t lost). All the sights of Glasgow, from rough and ready to sprawling homes and gardens. All in crisp October sun. Lovely. 

By 3km my quads woke up and decided they were not happy at all with the situation. After a lecture they settled down for what would turn out to be a hard bit of graft. 

To my amazement, pacing stayed pretty consistent. I wasn’t being overtaken by anyone in fancy dress. The weather was incredible and so was the support. I stuck to my plan of gel at 5k and 12k and took water at each station to sip. 

Pollock park arrived. Along with a surprise hill. Which was not what I ordered. Legs continued to protest. Lungs stayed on my side, luckily. 

Lucozade was on offer. I imagine the elites and the super speedies took all the orange because all we got was raspberry (Ever puked up a raspberry daiquiri? That’s what it tastes like) alternatively there was “Tropical” which is basically Passoa puke. Lovely. 

Around the 8 mile mark I spotted the flame-haired Anne, my pal’s mummy who has so many running medals I’m surprised she isn’t in the record books. Hello’s and good lucks exchanged and we were in Bellahouston park. 

Pretty soon I was at the 10 mile mark with the telly chopper overhead. I was still in a pack but I was passing a LOT of people. I WAS GETTING FASTER. 

The sun had taken its toll on a number of runners who were receiving emergency care at the road-side. Huge shout out to the volunteer medics who kept everyone safe. Two of the four people I passed were completely unconscious. I hope they’re ok now! 

I spotted a lucozade station up ahead and figured a sugar boost would help me to the finish line. I bravely took a slug of Pukeozade and immediately my stomach turned into a fiery furnace of sulphuric acid. 

Nice, that Lucozade stuff…. 

I’d made it this far ignoring fire in each of my shoes.( I MUST see a chiropodist. Must. ) but my feet became lead weights as I crossed the squinty bridge onto clydeside for the “sprint” to the end. I was still at 5:50 /km. My elapsed time was under 2 hours. If I stuck at this I could get sub 2:10! 

My feet burned, my hips ached, my quads were screaming, but I was KILLING THIS! 

To put this in perspective for you, my relationship with running has been difficult at best. Forcing my body to do something it’s not designed for and not willing to do has caused me numerous problems. But taking on a strength coach has seen times tumble. So while my times may not be impressive to most, to me they are huge achievements. I could feel myself welling up with pride for my wee body. 

I pushed on under the railway bridge and towards Glasgow Green. The Finish chute loomed. I saw Brian waving and cheering (1:49 was a bloody brilliant first ever half!)…. I saw the gangtry. I saw  2:07.10 on my watch. 

SMILE FOR CAMERAS. SPRINT. MORE CAMERAS. FIST PUMP. SPRINT. 

2:07.39

Nailed it. NAILED IT. 

I can’t wait to see my majestic* finish line sprint** photos. 

*agonised

**death-shuffle 

I cross the line beaming proudly. But what’s this? Oh god, my body is rejecting life. Water. WATER. Finish pack. Find Brian. Sit down. Yes. Sitting down is nice. No, don’t make me get up. 

I force a 9 bar down my neck. I’m sure it’s normally very tasty but I may as well have squirted expanding foam into my ruined face. I chew for days. Eventually I start to feel the benefit and manage to avoid the dreaded sugar crash that floored me after VLM. 

Of course what you really want after any event what you really want is a long, painful shuffle to a train station! So hobbling back to Queen Street while trying not to puke and shit myself at the same time was exactly all the fun I needed right then in life.

That was hard, hard work. 

But. 

Amazing. 

I’ve really worked for that. And it’s paid off. It’s made me want to take a wee break from distance for a while, but I’ll be back. 

Home for Chinese and the most epic sleep with early Physio to flush toxins from my achy legs and I feel tip bloody top. 

Thank you, Glasgow! And especially huge thank you to the amazing volunteers who cheered us on and kept us all safe.