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. 

If it looks like shit and smells like shit…. It’s probably shit. 

So about 3 weeks ago, two of my colleagues, who are also mental, decided to convince me to enter the Spartan Sprint race in Edinburgh. 

“It’s just a few obstacles and it’s only 6km” turned out to be the two biggest lies I’ve been told in my adult life. 

The clues were in the waiver we all had to sign. There was an actual list of things that could kill you or “cause serious illness” such as “ingesting faeces”, “burns” and “animal bites and stings”. Oh tremendous. 

On a cloudy Saturday, me and the guys headed to a wee farm just outside Edinburgh and realised we’d be running up a LOT of hills. 

After a hilarious warmup and some burpees, we were let loose. 

We realised pretty quickly that it was absolutely unquestionably not “only 6km.” Looking at strava routes recorded by people brave enough to use Garmins, it’s sitting between 8.5-10.5km. And 23 obstacles varying from jumping into neck-deep vats of slurry (“GUYS WTF IS THIS SURELY ITS NOT ACTUAL SHIT???” “Mate if it looks like shit and smells like shit… It’s probably shit!”) and carrying 30kg of gravel in a slippy bucket.  Fucking brutal. 

Lots and lots of climbing, scrambling and literally being dragged up a hill by Owen while shouting Eminem lyrics at each other. 

My biggest moment of glory? Throwing a fucking spear at a fucking target and nailing it. Perfectly. 

Low points? Getting Actual Shit in my mouth (currently awaiting the onset of diphtheria) Tearing holes in the Arse of my leggings and my back on barbed wire, ending up backwards exiting the barbed wire crawl while pissing myself laughing, getting stuck in a queue on the log carry because the obstacles were so tough to negotiate and everyone was having to take it slowly, having to lug 20-30kg of gravel up a HILL in a fucking bucket which about broke my back, failing a rope climb miserably and having to do 30 burpees. Losing the skin on my heel within the first 3 km. 

High points? Rapping Eminem on the side of a Pentland hill, swimming in shit, lots and lots of jumping in freezing streams, getting mud wiped all over my face, throwing actual shit at my mate, helping fellow competitors over and under obstacles, climbing a rope ladder on top of a hill, letting gravity pull me down the hills, getting told where the “girls weights” were and shouting “NAH FUCK IT” while lifting a “boys weight” 40kg kettle bell right up to the top of the frame, Bossing some monkey bars, and finishing it all with my buddy. Who I managed to kick in the face. Soz. 

Time is virtually irrelevant in a race like that. 2hrs 7 minutes for us with over 550m of elevation gain and 23 obstacles, a lot of walking and wading through thigh deep mud. And 20 minutes of that 2 hours was spent waiting for the log carry obstacle. I was 75th female out of 373 and 18th out of 82 30-34 year olds. Absolutely chuffed to bits with that and loved the whole experience (sort of). 

Owen, former marine, was absolutely the person to get me round the course, giving me the best ways to complete the obstacles and not die. Although I nearly killed him afterwards when he told me he found it easy. I suppose anything is easier if you’re not being shot at! 

I managed to get to the penultimate obstacle before throwing a teeny tiny strop. 3 angled wooden ramps angled backwards towards you so that you couldn’t get purchase on them to climb. My arms had literally nothing left. I just. Could. Not. Do it. I had to rely on leg-ups to get me over them and then again for the last 3 wooden walls. It was here I managed to pull myself up so severely that I have bruises in places I didn’t think it was possible to bruise… 

The final wee jump was over ACTUAL FIRE! We crossed the line triumphant and while a wifey in a dry robe shouted “YOU. ARE. SPARTANS.” Bloody amazing. You’re handed the most outrageously chunky medal and some SiS stuff to refuel. 

After the run, the need to shower was strong. This meant marching into a stream of FREEZING water with a bunch of men shouting “pass the soap, lads” and being watched by those sensible enough not to bother with the whole horrid affair. 

The changing tent was a dark, harrowing place. I had to bin everything. Literally everything including my sports bra. It was a brutal retirement for my old, worn out Asics GT1000s. Trying to get my clothes back on to wet skin in a low-ceilinged, dark tent was an experience not for the faint hearted or impatient. I tell thee. I punched myself in the face a few times and there was actual mud in my belly button. 

The whole event was bloody brilliant. It was ridiculously expensive when we first entered but you get a LOT for your cash. Free race photography (it remains to be seen how absolutely WRECKED I look in the photos), gels and water at two stations, incredible support from marshals, a bloody amazing medal and t shirt plus the whole thing is run seamlessly. We had a GREAT time. 

What did I learn about myself? I’m tougher and stronger than I gave myself credit for. I’m a determined wee fucker when I want to be. And I CAN do difficult things if I really bloody grit my teeth. 

I’ve also discovered that I adore the freedom of running off-piste. It’s inspired me to sort myself out with some decent trail shoes and find some hills to crawl up. 

In the mean time, I can add SPARTAN to my title. 💪🏻


The Familiar Twinge

… We’ve all felt it. The pop, tweak or twinge that makes your sweat go cold. That “Oh fuck. Fuck fuck fuck” moment when something you’re doing makes the usual weak spot give way. The moment of silence before the screaming agony works its way through your nerves to your pain receptors.

It’s like seeing a flash of lightening and waiting for the rumble of thunder. Knowing the next coming days or weeks are going to be spent being moderately high on prescription pills.

Here’s some background info for you: I have a weakened spinal column from various injuries sustained as a clumsy child and as a clumsier adult. Nothing serious or life threatening, mostly hairline fractures to vertebrae that healed fast but left me with compressed discs that seem to decide for themselves when they would like to cause me trouble by swelling and trapping various nerves. And that’s just my thoracic spine.

My lumbar spine and sacrum were damaged in a fall down the garden steps 20 years ago. So if it’s not the top of my back getting itself worked up into a frenzy, it’s my lower back that wants to party.

And by party I mean fly sporadically into spasm and make me turn into the actual devil for a week.

Into this cake mix of pain, you can add 20 odd years of avid couch-potatoism, several university years of fudge cake breakfasts (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss those) and an honours degree in binge drinking and poor life choices.

Basically because of all this neglect, I’m usually only ever one violent sneeze from a trip to the chiropractor.

About 8 years ago, I reached peak-chub. I spent a weekend at T in the Park with my girlfriends and woke up on the Monday unable to walk. “Just a bad hangover” became several trips to doctors, physios and eventually an Osteopath who pointed out the unusually pronounced curvature in my spine, uneven leg-lengths (more so than a normal human my age) and my weight was a factor too. I was ordered to lose weight and shape up or face a lifetime of pain. This lasted until graduation, when the stresses of grown-up life and near constant access to a biscuit tin led me down the same path again. Finally, in 2012, size 16 and very deeply unhappy, I spent 3 months hooked up to a tens machine. The camel’s back had literally given up and I HAD to make a change.

So I did and I’m hoping that I’ve caught these things before it’s too late. Before I’m 50 and confined to the use of a walking stick as my core can’t support itself. You only get one body after all, and I wish I’d spent more time looking after it and treating it with a bit of respect instead of shoveling it full of chips and sambuca.

It’s not been plain sailing, by any means. Quite often, as I travel along this road of athleticism, I am reminded of my weaknesses. Physically and mentally. I’m not patient. Therefore any injury is a massive set back. Even when it isn’t. My back, shoulders, hips and knees are weak. I took on a coach to target these areas and the improvements, especially in recovery time, have been significant. However, injuries can and will appear…

This time, I should’ve seen the signs. I’ve been incredibly stressed with work. I’ve had pressure piled on both there and with my running. I wanted sub 60. So I worked hard and got it. And my body needed a rest. It told me this mid deadlift. Ping. Bastard. Ouch.

Rest it is, then.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. By some amazing happy coincidence (and probably definitely not because her eldest daughter is so terribly afflicted by Clumsius Maximus) my mummy is a therapist of many kinds: Manual Lymphatic Drainage, Bowen, Reflexology and Remedial Massage. Often she’ll be facebooked at 6am. “Help I’m broken can you fit me in today?” SuperMum will then knead and smooth the knots away as best she can.

Since I last experienced chronic back pain 3 years ago, (and by chronic, I mean pain that lasts for months in its acute phase) I have been very proactive in my own muscular rehabilitation. I started gently with beginners Pilates and then introduced walking long distance before even considering running, cycling or reintroducing swimming. Eventually I found a coach determined to make me stronger than ever.

I know too many people who live with varying degrees and types of chronic pain. From my pal who’s shoulder sporadically stops working, to my dad and his plantar fasciitis and my mum with her arthritic knee that popped one night and never recovered.

Pain changes a person. It’s a real test of your personality. It makes you tired. So so tired. And irrational. And irritable. It can even change the way you look.

Personally, my mind goes into overdrive. Self confidence goes through the floor and I HATE not being able to do stuff. I feel lethargic and withdrawn.  Not to mention crabbit as fuck (nothing new there, eh?!).

It saps positivity, even when it only lasts a few days it will leave me exhausted for a week afterwards. It’s horrid.

Pain management becomes key. I’ve learnt, through years of experience, how to manage different types of pain and more importantly *when* to manage. Niggles are the bane of every athletes life and will often disperse on their own. Some muscular pain, I’ve found, is best treated with gentle exercise. Other pain is definitely meant to be left the hell alone. I’m a fan of foam rolling as a way to improve mobility and conditioning in muscles and to iron out knots. It’s not for everyone and I know some of you reading this will tut and say you’ve never needed it. But it helps me and doesn’t do any harm.

I’m keeping everything crossed that this latest relapse buggers off soonest so that I can race my favourite race on Saturday. Although I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I may have to DNS for the second time this year. *Sulks*

The Endurance 10k

Inspired by oor @ironpugsley’s blog : Scenes From A Swimming Pool, my in-built awareness of choppers was heightened this weekend. And Lochore 10k didn’t disappoint!

Picture the scene: a cold, crisp October morning. A misty loch footpath. A 10k with a low limit to participants. 150 max. 

As we warm up by the loch, I spot the first of many choppers. 

Let me clarify the term “chopper”: I define a chopper as someone who takes themselves, and chosen sport, a little *too* seriously. 

Now. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take your chosen sport seriously, and preparation for any distance and any event is always essential… But this is a 10k. With a water station. Are nutrition packs, with two full bottles in the belt, gels AND a 750ml hand-held bottle necessary? All that weight must be a challenge to carry. I don’t think I even drank that much on the bike leg at Aberfeldy… On a 10k it is a bit excessive. 

It gets worse.

As we lined up on the start line (footpath) I was nudged by my other half. He whispered “camelback to your right”. 

Surely fucking not. 

Well. It wasn’t just *any* camelback. No. No dear readers, it was a Herbalife camelback. She was getting beaten no matter what… 

I started to panic that I’d missed a memo. Was this some kind of endurance race? Was I about to run a great deal further than planned? A quick look at the other 80 people sans 15 litres of fluid attached to them and I was reassured. 

The race started and I very quickly overtook Mrs Herbalife. “Good”, I thought. “One down.” 

Mr Nutrition Pack was running a similar pace to me, so I was treated to the overspill of music from his Yurbuds AND the sloshing of all of his bottles of juice. I was also privy to his breathing. 

Brian perfectly summarised it after watching/hearing him cross the line. “He sounded like someone was kicking a horse”

You may think I’m being harsh, here. But 57 minutes of sloshing, faint dance music and sniffing, coughing and spluttering is enough to fill anyone with the kind of rage that Spurs one on to a 3 minute PB…

Oh! And the PB! I should mention that. Did I mention that? I must thank Mr Nutrition Pack for being so unbearable to run near. Because without his spluttering and sloshing and throat-clearing I’d probably not have been able to keep as fast a pace for as long. 

I do love Choppers. There is nothing like some top quality entertainment and a reminder of when I used to adorn myself with every conceivable thing to improve performance. Turns out it’s just hard work and determination that helps there! 

‘Mon the Choppers! 

A Blog About Boobs 

Ha! That got your attention… This *is* a product review. Hopefully a good one. And definitely not for boys. Soz.

A while back, I wrote a blog about boobs which prompted global* outcry and immediately millions** of women sought out a correctly fitting bra because of my blog. I know. I just change lives.

*very small Twitter based chat.

** about 7

It was therefore quite unexpected and lovely when the kind folks at Shockabsorber got in touch to ask if I’d review their Run Bra for them. I’ve never been asked to do that before. I was slightly hesitant due to accidentally clicking through to some very dull and uninformative review blogs over the years… But I do love this product…
Let us kick things off with a picture of said Run Bra:


I know what you’re thinking… But sorry, it’s not me in that picture. Because I categorically do not look attractive while running. Also I live in Scotland. I need 8 layers of thermals over my run bra.

Getting Fitted
First of all, let me remind you ladies, no matter your size, it is VITAL (shouty capitals for emphasis…) that you always wear a correctly fitted bra. *adopts geek voice* Especially when you are engaging in physical activities… Get yourselves fitted, by a trained fitter and try some bras out. Everyone is different and every brand has a different fit. This means that often trial and error is the best way.

A good fitter will measure you but use their eye and intuition to find you the ideal fit. It’s not always as simple as whipping out a measuring tape…
How do I know this, you ask? Because it’s my job. I was trained to fit bras at 16 and I’ve worked with every leading brand in the subsequent 12 years. So you can trust me, I knows my stuffs.

The Bra
The Run Bra keeps The Girls strapped down and safe and is really very comfy. They don’t chafe or shift about and the fabric lining to the cups wicks sweat (boob sweat is the WORST) also, aesthetically, it gives you a nice shape without flattening you entirely. #BanTheShelfBoob

There is only one minor drawback to this bra: when you are in a rush, or not, or sweaty, or not, it is the single hardest thing to get on over your head. And you DEFINITELY need to put it on over your head. Because trying to fasten the upper clasp when it’s on is basically the equivalent of trying to fly an aircraft while cooking an 8 course meal.

Here’s a snap to show you the clasp…

I have spent many frustrated minutes in a swimming pool changing room cursing at it as it twists itself and sticks to my skin meaning my head is kind of caught and my arms are stuck out at odd angles.
However. PERSEVERE. Once it’s on its comfort-all-the-way. And your heart rate is up from all the swearing and hauling of stuff so hey! You’re warmed up!

The bra is unwired, which used to scare me because traditionally, unwired means that your boobs don’t get as much of a robust support. But actually it adds to the comfort and it means your Garmin HR strap (that’s a heart rate strap, not a row of Personnel managers, and other brands are available and probably work better…) will sit tucked under it slightly.

At the moment, the Shockabsorber Run bra is only available up to a DD cup. I’d like to see them push this up to the bigger cup sizes. If you are more generous-of-boob than this, check out Shockabsorber’s Active Classic D+ sports bra (up to a FF) or Panache Sport (it’s a formed cup and is available both wired and non-wired) which goes up to a GG.
Price
Price wise, Shockabsorber are pretty competitive and are stocked by most online sports retailers and department stores. If you shop around you can get some pretty decent prices on the “core” colours (black and white) and on previous fashion colours. Best deals I’ve seen are from around £22 up to £35. I would always recommend you did invest in a decent brand like Shockabsorber.

Competition 

There are arguments that the sports ‘houses’ like Nike and Adidas have sport at their core so really understand how the body moves. However, from actual proper wearer and fitter experience, stick with the lingerie specific brands.

One of the things which makes this product unique, is that the research conducted by Shockabsorber shows that your breasts actually move in a figure of 8 pattern when you are up and about which, if left unsupported, stretches and irreversibly damages the Cooper’s ligaments attaching the breast tissue to the muscle. Trust me when I say Nike and Adidas are purely trend driven. They look nice but when they are put to the test, if you’re any bigger than an AA cup you’re not getting ‘sturdy’ enough support.

Hahaha. Sturdy. Makes it sound like some kind of girdle. A boob girdle.

User Experience

I’ve worn the Shockabsorber Run bra for weights, running, cycling, yoga and Pilates. The weird looking back panels are actually very comfy to lie on. You don’t notice them. They can twist though so make sure they’re in the right position once the bra is on.

This was also my bra of choice for the Aberfeldy Middle Distance triathlon. I opted to wear it under my tri suit beneath my wetsuit. It dried very fast and there is enough flex and arm room to prevent restrictions on the swim.
Then there’s the colours! I have owned black and white. But lingerie buying, generally, is quite a monochrome experience. I was delighted to receive the black/pink version above.

So! Overall, I’d emphasise the importance of a good, correct fit in your sports bras, girls. This is on of my favourites. But it might not be YOURS. So please go and try some and jump about like a loon in the fitting room (seriously. Make sure The Girls stay put) and find out what suits your shape and sport.