BREAKING NEWS/SPOILER ALERT: I entered a bike event, made it to the start AND FINISHED IT.
The first bike event I entered was Etape Caledonia in 2016. It was 2 weeks after my first London Marathon. I ended up DNSing due to an epic bout of tonsillitis. The second event I entered was Dirty Riever…… and we all know how that went. This HAD to work. I HAD to finish this. And I did!
Now, with that out of the way, allow me to furnish you with some details of this brilliant event:
I decided to enter this as part of 2019’s master plan to get the bike split nailed. With 3 route options to choose from (Blue, Red and Black) I opted for the 68mile/109km Red Route which features 2 gnarly local climbs and totals 1000m of elevation over the 109km.
With the disaster that was Dirty Riever, my confidence was knocked. So the weekend after, while Scotland bathed in 20+ degrees and stunning sunshine, I hit the road on Stella and headed straight for Dunning to attempt the second climb of the Sportive.
What I ended up with was a brilliant adventure that left me filled with excitement for the event. I didn’t die on the climb. I DIDN’T DIE!!! ON THE CLIMB!!!
60kms in the sunshine also gifted me the opportunity to trial nutrition for the day. Veloforte is pricey but, in my opinion, worth the cash. The bars are packed with natural ingredients, don’t cloy or stick in your mouth, and taste incredible. My faves so far are the Chocolate one and the Sea Salt one which is LUSH.
With my cycling tan kickstarted, and my confidence renewed, it was time to plan kit and look forward to 109kms on some brilliant roads.
The weather forecast was typically Scottish. All seasons, one day, no particular order, totally random. Kit required some thought, and with the drop in temperature, and my predicted slow-ass attempt, I went for: Endura pro thermo bibs, Pro SL jersey, FS260Pro armwarmers, Pro SL Primaloft gilet, grip-grab overshoes and Pro Adrenaline race cape. I opted for mitts over gloves as my hands heat up WAY too much on long rides. In the end, the kit was perfect. I didn’t need the waterproof until the last climb when the heavens opened.
We set off from home just before 0830 and pedalled up to the high school to Event HQ and the start. What an absolute treat it was to be able to sleep until normal time and then roll outta bed and eat a good breakfast before leaving at a sociable hour. Beardy was also tackling Red (albeit, WAY quicker than me!) and we got ourselves registered and joined the back of the queue for the start. You’re released in groups of around 20 at 2 minute intervals. Once we got to the front of the queue, and the timer set us off, I was pretty much on my own.
Beardy was immediately off in a group of speedy speedsters, so I just enjoyed the fact that the morning sun was warm and I was picking off some people from previous waves.
The route is as follows:
Kinross-Scotlandwell-Kirkness “bump”-Auchmuirbridge-Leslie-Falkland-Newburgh-Bridge of Earn-Forteviot-Dunning-Yetts’o’Muckart-Crook of Devon-Cleish-Kinross
There are two large climbs on the route: Falkland and Dunning. Falkland feels worse as it’s shorter and arguably steeper, although it has less overall elevation gain. The descent into Falkland is marked as dangerous and for good reason: Narrow roads, tight, blind corners and slippery tarmac from 2 days of rain made for some twitchy bum time on the very fast descent. As I hit the last corner I was met almost head-on by an Ambulance. Ideal, to be fair, but he was on his way to rescue a stricken cyclist, so I somehow managed to avoid him and continue my long, terrifying brush with death!
The other climb comes after 60km, which I’ll get to later, and despite being longer and more challenging on paper, it didn’t feel so bad!
After the nail biting descent into Falkland, its off to navigate the Howe of Fife towards Ladybank and through Lindores. Eventually, you end up at Newburgh and it was time for feed station 1:
My nutrition strategy had been to eat from 30mins in and drink energy drink until the first feed stop when I’d top up with water and continue with food. Over time, I’ve learned that sweet energy drink starts to make me feel rank after a couple of hours. With this in mind, I planned to use mine up and then move to water. With a backup electrolyte tab in my bento box in case I started to sweat more.
The plan was going pretty well. I’d got through about 400ml and half a Veloforte bar (150 kcals ish) when I swung into the feed station to find….. no food. Or water. At all.
Now. I’d set off 2 hours previously. It was only 11am. Sure, a few hundred cyclists had passed through but there were still hundreds more to come. The poor marshals were adamant that more supplies would be along “soon” but for the hundred or so cyclists getting cold, this was not a good situation to be in. I’d now have to eke our 350ml of fluids to get me another 40km. I only have one bottle cage on Stella just now after the seatpost jammed in the down tube, so I was relying on this feed stop.
Hopefully they can plan this stop a little better for next year. After 8 years (this year being the 9th) you’d think Kinross CC would know how to correctly stock a feed station.
Anyway. Rant over. Things were about to get hella fun!
I am a bit of a lone wolf during training. Being a triathlete I’m used to non-draft-legal races. So I NEVER get to play at drafting. Also, being chronically glacial, I tend not to get the chance to keep up with anyone.
Well. That changed today.
I was already pleasantly surprised to see 24kph average on my garmin (yes, cyclists. You read that right. I’m THAT slow and that’s quick for me over distance) so I kept assuming I’d blow up and die on a quiet Perthshire lane somewhere.
Imagine my surprise when I caught a group at some lights, and as I looked back I noticed I’d caught a chain gang who were all now using my draft. After 5 minutes or so, the guy behind me took the lead and I kept to his wheel and immediately discovered why there were so many pelotons swishing by earlier! This was MEGA! Pretty soon we were gliding along at 30kph and it felt effortless. I took turns up front and we chatted and discussed the ride so far.
This lasted all the way to Dunning. It was well timed as the hydration panic had begun to set in so, mentally, I was flagging.
At Dunning, I found the second feed station. And oh MY was it good. There was a fantastic selection of baked goods so I tucked into half a yumyum and refilled my bottle, downing about 500ml extra of water just to be safe.
If you’re on the black route, from Dunning you head for Glenfarg via Rossie Ochil and the aptly name section of road called “The Dragon”. As I’d opted for the slightly tamer Red Route, I began the slow and steady ascent of Dunning Common. It’s a grind, this one. So I just spun it out in as low a gear as possible and tried not to look up too much.
The views on this part of the route are superb and you’re soon winding up between beautiful houses on smooth tarmac.
A strange thing was happening, as well: with this being a sportive with a rolling start, it’s unusually to be totally alone with no one else in sight. But now I was catching cyclists. I was passing other riders on a hill. I’m not used to this!
After what felt like hours of spinning in the granny ring, I made it to the end of the timed hill climb and began the much more gradual, pleasant descent in the pissing rain.
I made my way down to Yetts’o’Muckart and the worlds most complex junction then headed for Rumbling Bridge and Crook of Devon. A brief spell on a busy road with the only shit driving of the day (Audi. Obvs) then a wee wander along a lovely lane towards Lendrick Muir. My average speed was sitting back at 23.4 but was climbing. How was I doing this?!
I wasn’t looking forward to the next stretch. The road from Crook to Cleish has really crap surface that’s tarmac but the tar has all but fucked off so you’re left with the stones that shake your teeth loose. I was on my own again but maintaining between 26-30kph. This road feels like it lasts forever, but I made it to Cleish with my teeth intact, to where the surface becomes smoother and I could maintain pace with greater ease.
A wee climb up past the Fruix and over the motorway and onto the last long drag back to Kinross.
Here, I caught Chris again and we worked together with a guy from Kinross CC to draft back to town. From the 30 sign at the bottom of Kinross, I started my strong finish up the new road, negotiated the Sainsbury’s junction and roundabout, hammered it along Springfield road and when the Marshall at the high street gave me the clear to pull out, I gave it the beans and clocked 45kph coming in to the finish.
I cannot BELIEVE how strong I felt until the last minute. I’ve never been able to sustain that amount of output over distance, so it’s safe to say I’m delighted.
My chip time is 4:48 thanks to a pee stop and a yumyum stop. But my garmin read 4:33 moving time and I am so chuffed with that.
If I can now build on this and work towards a huge PB on the bike split at Aberfeldy, I can hopefully combine that with a decent swim and maybe survive the run with a more respectable time this year!
I’d gone into this battered, with low expectations of myself. Initially thinking I’d be happy with 5hrs30, to come away with 4:33 moving time and legs fresh enough to pedal home after, is a huge victory for me.
Of course, the main incentive for finishing today was the temptation of Chinese food for dinner. The qualifying 100km ride was achieved. It was time for Sesame Beef in Honey Chilli sauce…. and a cuppa in my new Sportive mug!
I definitely rate this event if you’re looking to build confidence on the bike and on some steep climbs and descents.
Now it’s time to focus on the A Race this year and build towards Aberfeldy!
Warning: this blog contains my standard swears and chat about poop and sharting. It is also 8 years long. So as to do justice to 16hrs21mins of race time. Continue reading at your peril…
The build up
I’m pretty sure that the week before your first iron distance should be spent resting and tapering to prepare for the big day upon a bed of soft things, wrapped in cotton wool, in a safe and hermetically sealed environment.
It probably shouldn’t be spent nervously refreshing tracking info on the emergency Garmin you’ve had to order from Wiggle because your extremely expensive, flashy, all bells and whistles Fenix 5s has DIED.
OH YEAH, GUYS.
DEAD. DIED. DEED. RIP. FML.
I’d gone for a taper swim on Tuesday and noticed that the watch wasn’t syncing or recording HR. It stubbornly refused to restart but once it did it seemed ok. UNTIL IT TURNED OFF.
Then it would only power up under charge. 100% not impressed. 4 days before Lakesman. NOT IDEAL.
I hit return on wiggle and promptly ordered a 735xt which, ironically, had been my second choice to the Fenix.
It turned up in the nick of time and I’m happy to report that so far it works apart from a brief glitch the evening before the race. (Don’t even go there)
What I probably also could have done without, was a vague text message from Beardy requesting immediate assistance after a MTB-off in Whinlatter forest had bent his handlebars and scraped his knee. THIS WAS NOT A TIME FOR VAGUENESS. The panic was a little much for my heart rate but the run across Keswick carrying all my registration kit was a nice warm up for the main event… (Beardy is fine. If a little bruised and scraped. The bike is also fine)
The Saturday – Greig vs. Triathlon X
We had rented a cottage with our good friends for the weekend. Katherine and I worked together at the shop, and her lovely hubby was tackling the absolutely monstrous Tri X the same weekend. It made perfect sense to base ourselves in Ambleside. Mostly because Greig’s swim start was 4.30am. Yup. You read that right…
They were up and out in the middle of the night, so we had a lazy morning before I headed to Keswick to rack and attend the briefing.
Tracking Greig was virtually impossible thanks to very shoddy signal for the timing guys on the fells. The weather was bad even for the Lake District, with driving rain and unforgiving wind.
Climbing ANY hill in that weather would have been horrific. But Kirkstone, Aira Force, Honiston, Whinlatter, Hardknot, Wrynose, Coniston in that weather? Then a run up Scarfell Pike and back?
Fuck that noise.
But Greig has been chasing this for two years. And having had his training derailed by a horrid injury in 2017, he managed to smash Triathlon X in 14:51.23 placing 13th Overall. Absolutely astonishing and watching him try to walk up and down the stairs in our cottage afterwards was both hilarious and a worrying indicator of how I’d be spending the next few days…
My alarm was set for 0305. Boke. I woke up at 0248 and couldn’t lie in bed for another minute. I got up and made porridge and toast. Dry heaving as I forced myself to eat the only actual meal I’d have that day.
Beardy surprised me at his level of enthusiasm so early in the morning. He was up and dressed and ready to go ahead of schedule. We navigated our way to the car and set off for Keswick.
I was struggling to keep myself from throwing up. I sipped water carefully and only had to stop the car once for an emergency pee (no mean feat in a tri suit)
I was met at T1 by Eilidh, one of my colleagues from Endura, who had travelled down to document my day (amazing) as I debuted my custom tri suit. My mum and dad soon appeared and I had my first cry of the day!
I found Brian and Kate off of facebook/twitter and we shared laughs and hugs. And then it was time to walk down to the swim. Shit. I was actually going to have to do this.
An excited buzz surrounded the crowd of neoprene clad athletes as we filed down to the edge of Derwentwater. The view was breathtaking. I felt ready, scared, excited and not as overwhelmed as I expected.
I had prepared for this moment. I wasn’t emotional as I had expected to be. But extremely calm. It was time to do three things.
I waded in to the warm, slightly choppy water of the lake into a deep swathe of weeds. Like…. hip deep. Gross. Splashed my face and dipped in to get myself ready to go. On the advice of my swimming buddies, I positioned myself toward the front and out wide to the left. We treaded water for about 4 minutes and then the horn was blown. I got my head down and got stuck in. The water temp was perfect and it was so clear! They had laid out 25 buoys for us which was very generous. I had a bit of a Dougal: Small/Far Away situation because the buoys looked like they were small and close. But actually they were very very large indeed. Just far away. Really fecking far away.
I swam straight for about 10 minutes before edging over towards the buoy. (140.6 miles is quite far enough without adding distance, thanks.) I managed to hug the buoys without drama for the full course. Up towards the island, the wind was whipping up some small waves, not big enough to cause problems but big enough to give me a nice lungful of water as I lifted my head to sight. Across the island, there was shelter and then all the way back there was a nice tail wind to give me a push. My splits flashing up every 500m looked good but I really felt like I was struggling to keep a solid pace. I tried not to get too worried and just keep swimming. Eventually I realised that the finish was only about 500m away. I started upping the pace and was promptly kicked in the face by a swimmer who just appeared in front of me. Punch-drunk, I pulled myself onto the exit matt, put my right foot down and felt cramp take hold of my calf.
I was trying to remove goggles, cap and earplugs and run and take off my wetsuit and listen to instructions and felt extremely overwhelmed. Stopped and saved the activity on my 735XT (didn’t even look at the time cause it felt terrible) and then someone shouted “YOU’RE THIRD LADY!”
Wait. WHAT? I wanted to stop and check but I needed to RUUUUUN the 8 miles to T1. Then someone else shouted “YOU’RE SECOND” and then Beardy confirmed this as I ran passed.
WHAAAAT? Shit. That’s serious stuff. I wondered how close I got to my goal time of 1:10.
My friend’s words of advice rung in my ears as I trotted into transition stuck firmly in my suit. “Don’t waste any time.”
I didn’t. An amazing volunteer effortlessly removed my wetsuit while I shoved my helmet on, dried my face and feet, applied chamois cream, threw bike shorts on over my tri suit, and put my gloves on. The same volunteer then helped me put my socks and shoes on my claw-feet. She was my hero. I thanked her and trotted out to T1. I was the first biker into my section!!!!!
I wobbled to the mount line and the girls clapped shouting ” YOU ARE FIRST LADY ”
Oh. My. God.
That is the first and last time that will ever happen in a race. I breezed out of T1 and onto the bike.
Transition 1: 6 mins.
I was pretty much immediately NOT first lady. Or second or even third. But I’ve always been an barely-above-average cyclist and a decent swimmer. The plan was always to just get through the bike. It was the bit that frightened me the most. The possibilities of what could go wrong are pretty limitless. I felt intimidated and not at all confident.
My concerns about retaining my initial crown were almost instantly replaced when I tried to change gear.
Clickclickclickclick brrrrrrrrr ping.
What. The. Fuck.
I’d taken my bike apart to bring it to the race and when I’d put the back wheel back on, I’d run it through the gears but hadn’t made time to ride it and run through the gears under load. It was immediately obvious that the cable tension was off. I adjusted it on the move but no improvement.
This was going to be an issue.
Not to worry. Just find a gear that’s comfortable and quiet and preserve that fucking chain! JUST GET THROUGH THE BIKE.
The roads out to Cockermouth (fnar) were smooth and gently undulating. I was passed by almost everyone. (That’s how it felt) I shouted encouragement at everyone who passed. Unless they were drafting (there was a fair bit of that!)
From Cockermouth we made our way down windy, winding roads to Egremont where we had a short out and back before turning up the coast with the wind behind us. My pace shot from 23kph average to 31 and I was making good time. By Workington and Maryport I was bang on track for a 7hr bike split. I was living my best life. Feeling good, nailing nutrition and in a gear that felt workable and safe for the bike.
There were some long drags up dual carriageways which were arduous and pretty scary, with the apalling driving of some motorists. I was bursting for a pee and had tried several times to pee while cycling but for some reason my brain won’t communicate with my bladder and I cannot do it! I stopped at an aid station, picked up a banana and a fresh bottle of PowerBar isoactive. I didn’t waste any time and quickly made it back onto the road. Still on target. Still ok. Just get through the bike.
I wish I’d made the most of the tail wind. Because life was about to get tough.
At Silloth, an odd wee town on the coast that I could see Scotland from across the Solway Firth (“ha!” I thought, “I’ve basically cycled home”) you turn back and head in a loop to Aspatria before heading back to Silloth. The headwind was constant and unforgiving. With nasty gusts from in front and the side. The terrain had evolved from flat coastal roads to lumpy countryside with some sharp wee kickers. Of course, I couldn’t spin my legs in the granny ring up these because Stella wouldn’t let me select that gear. Instead I had to stomp the pedals. This approach is faster over a shorter distance, in theory, but it saps the legs. I was soon having to take on more fuel to avoid bonking. This would cause problems later…
Around about now I heard the words “ALRIGHT MY LITTLE PASTYYYYYYYY” from behind. KATE!!!! Man was I pleased to see her. She breezed past looking strong as hell. “I HAD AN ABSOLUTE SHITTER OF A SWIM, MATE” she shouted as I dropped back and she moved forwards out of the drafting zone. “ME FUCKIN GOGGLES SNAPPED IN THE SWIM”. I shouted encouragement after her and watched her pedal off into the hills.
It was on this first loop that I executed the perfect bottle swap. Chucked my empty bottle directly into their bin from the bike, shouted “WATER AND A BANANA PLEASE” at the amazing volunteers who duly held these out to me, grabbed a bottle, put it in my teeth, grabbed a banana and shoved it in my pocket, switched my rear bottle to the front cage and put the water bottle in my rear cage, then peeled the banana WITH MY TEETH like and actual PRO and all without losing what little speed I had. That, right there, is winning.
Once the top of the lap is completed, you do 16 miles of it AGAIN before turning towards Cockermouth from Aspatria.
This section took for-fucking-ever.
After about 20 minutes I heard “THERE SHE IS. GINNIE BABE. KEEP GOING YOU’RE DOING AMAZING” and it was Kate again! “Nice work babe. are you on your second lap now?” “NAH MATE. TOOK A WRONG FUCKING TURN LIKE A TWAT. WENT AN EXTRA TWO MILES. FUCK SAKE”
This was the first time I’d laughed all day. It felt good to laugh. Off she went again. Pedalling like the machine that she is. (She did GUCR – all 152 miles of it like 3 weeks ago. And then won an iron distance tri the following weekend. Just in case you weren’t sure how badass she is…)
After another half hour, my good mood had subsided. I had spent the whole day being over-taken and felt like I was dead last. This is when the first Dark Place happened. There was a 3km climb, it was doable in the gear I was in but my quads were in tatters and my calf was beginning to noise itself up after the swim cramp.
I cried. I cried on a very quiet road because no one had passed for a decade and I was certain I’d missed a turning, was last, and was going to miss cut off. My pace had slowed to about 18kph which is really dire. All of a sudden, a man called Carl (I saw his bib) cycled past. “Why are the hills and wind at the end?!” I sobbed. “It’s just life, innit” he said.
Shit. That cut me deep. So simple. Yet so true.
Iron-distance races are designed to weed out the weak and ill-prepared. Maybe I didn’t get as many long rides as I’d have liked. But over the last few years I’ve developed mental fortitude. I’ve had meltdowns on long rides, but I’ve pulled through that to finish every single one. And as Carl so wisely observed, sometimes things get lumpy. You just have to knuckle down and get on with it. Just. Get. Through. The. Bike.
So I did. Save a brief moment at the 150km aid station. I’d literally been falling asleep on bike and the perplexed marshals held my bike while I sat on the kerb with my head in my hands for “just a couple of minutes please”.
Some tough love from the amazing marshals, a few more bits of nutrition collected and half a bottle of powerbar downed and off I went. Into the rain and wind.
“It’s only 15 miles back to Keswick” were the team’s parting words.
I may as well have had another 112 in front of me. Those 15 miles lasted FOREVER.
Eventually, I rolled into Keswick, passed the end of one of the out and back sections to see hundreds of runners on the marathon. Sigh. I had a lot of work still to do.
My earlier smiles had been replaced with a persistent grimace as my body was in absolute bits. My knees were killing me, my feet were numb and my neck was stiff from being so tense. I was so thoroughly fed up and knew that my goal time was now long gone. This was going to require every ounce of grit in my body.
I’d limped a very dodgy mech round 112 miles within a cut off. I’d made it. I’d made it on to the run. I knew now that I would finish. By hell or high water.
Bike: 86 years.
T2 – 6 minutes (including meltdown and pee break. THANK YOU to the incredible volunteer for her “tough love” which told me to harden the fuck up and get the fuck on with it. LOVED her.)
Highway to Hell. The Home straight x 20
5 Laps of an 8km course. Sounds totally ok, right?
Well let me be perfectly honest with you. I love everything about Lakesman. The organisers, volunteers, athletes, locals, location. I did NOT love the run route.
I mean, it was great for my support team who positioned themselves at various spots to see me. This helped immeasurably. But starting lap 1 when there were people on laps 3, 4 and 5 was absolutely shite. And turned a seemingly easy and flat course into much more of a test of mental strength and tenacity. There were ample opportunity to miss chunks of out and backs, especially as it became more and more quiet. But I walked and jogged every single meter of the assigned course. And it was brutal.
You start through Hope Park and then out through the woods into the back of the town centre. Then you run along the main road out to a wee path that takes you through fields. Small out and back here before your first aid station. From here you hit the Highway to Hell. a mile(ish) long section of road that you traverse FOUR times per lap. Yup. That’s 20 times in total. After the first up and down, you have two teeny out and back bits with another aid station. Then you’re back to HtH for another two traverses. After which you head back into town, winding your way for about 3km before you’re back at Theatre on the Lake, PASSED THE FINISH LINE (this is SO tough) and back out to the next loop.
Lap 1 passed fairly quickly. I exited T2, entered the park to rapturous applause from the huge crowd and my friends and family and then I see her. SARAH ACTUAL TUCKER!!! “Surprise” she shouts! So I cried. Again. And then I mustered the courage to head off. I spent the lap congratulating my fellow athletes on a hard days graft. I was reassured to hear other grumbles about the bike being such a chore. Not just me, then.
Lap 2 got a bit shit. I still had miles to go. And by this time, my stomach had made me very aware that it did NOT approve of 8 hours on a bike. My legs felt ridiculously good. But every time I tried to jog, I was becoming terrifyingly close to a Code Brown situation. The danger was real. PLEASE not in my custom tri-suit, guts. PLEASE.
There is a saying: “Never trust a fart in an ironman”.
I had the fear.
My guts were heavily protesting and I knew I needed to settle my tummy or the remaining 3 laps would be extremely challenging. I was being chased by cut off.
I knew what was coming. I knew I would need to use a portaloo on an ironman run. I have read things, terrible things, about this. I was more afraid of this than following through in my suit. But I was really, truly going to have to do this because no one wants to be that guy on the red carpet that’s shit themselves.
In a futile attempt to silence the extraordinary tummy cramps, at aid stations I picked up cups of water and coke and sucked ready salted crisps until they dissolved on my tongue. By the end of Lap 2, I was able to hold a jog for a couple of minutes before I experienced any, ahem, rumbling.
I’d noticed a portaloo with the door open on one of the out and backs. “It’s either so awful the door has to be left open, or it won’t be that bad because the door is open….” I thought to myself.
And I was EXTREMELY relieved to discover it was not as bad as expected. Tales of shit up walls and vomit everywhere had me shook. But this was fine!! THERE WAS EVEN TOILET ROLL. This was fucking luxury.
After what can only be described as an “uncomfortable” few minutes, I had to go through the ordeal of getting my tri suit back on my arms. It is the comfiest piece of kit I’ve ever owned, but at this stage my skin had a thin layer of sticky salt and sweat. I must have punched myself in the face 8 times trying to get back into it.
I’d survived. Dignity relatively intact.
By now, the field had thinned substantially. Stoic chit chat between athletes and the “chapeau, sir!” banter had been replaced by 1000 yard stares and unapologetic farting. This was the bit I’d been warned about. When it gets really tough and you can do nothing but dig in and just keep moving forwards. All the advice I’d been given, all the hours of boring turbo trainer rides, howling headwinds, bitter cold morning runs and long, early swims culminated in this last few laps of my first ironman distance.
“Just. Keep. Moving. Forwards. Bean. ”
I have never been a fast runner or a particularly good cyclist. I am well used to back of the pack. But after an 8:22 bike split and pushing on for a 6:30hr marathon, I was at rock fucking bottom and I felt utterly defeated. I thought about all the support from my family, friends and colleagues. My work had given me an incredible suit and I felt like I’d let everyone down. I admittedly gave thought to the haters. The ones who would only track me to watch me suffer and debate how soon I’d tap out.
Well fuck that. I’d come this far. I was finishing this. In Hero’s Hour. So maybe it wasn’t the 14 hours I’d wanted. 16+ hours of relentless forward progress is miles more than they are capable of. If anyone thinks for one mere second that I am not going to finish something I set out to do, then sorry, that’s not my style.
As I trudged passed the Crow Park Hotel for the 3rd time, I was greeted by Brian Drought. He’d had an unfortunate swim experience and had to withdraw. He asked how I was. I was quite honest. Something like “shite mate this sucks”. And he offered to chum me on my last two laps which were now going to be in the dark. Alone.
At the start of my 4th Lap, he joined me in his running kit with a spare waterproof for me. The weather had closed in by this time and my body temperature was becoming worryingly low.
He distracted me with chatter and held my cups while I tried to jog (it was definitely faster to walk by now). And we quick marched and tried to keep my pace up.
Beardy had stayed put at the highway to hell and had been clapping and cheering every runner through their final laps. He really seemed to enjoy giving people much needed encouragement in their final hours of The Longest Day. He saw a lot of suffering that day!
Lap 4 passed in a haze of trying not to shit myself and trying to keep up with Brian. Marshals asking if I was on my last lap made me want to cry but by now I knew I was capable of finishing within the final cut off. I had gone into this with no expectations, other than finishing. But it was still a weird feeling to be chasing the 2130 last lap cut off. Following advice, I had wasted as little time as I could. Stopping only when things got really desperate. But I felt panicked and worried. I didn’t want to let everyone down and I really REALLY had to finish this.
As we hobbled through the park to start the final lap, the support was amazing. I got my fifth and final band and we muddled through. I thanked, high fived and hugged every marshal and volunteer that I could. What a long day they’d had.
It’s hard to describe where your head goes at this point in a race. I had been moving for 15 hours. I was SO close to finishing. Yet the looped out and backs were absolute hell on earth. I mean, i knew this would be tough. But this was tough.
One things for sure: I am tougher.
We marched back into town. And I finally let myself think about finishing. After a year of hard work. 3 years of daydreaming of this moment. 6 Months of intense training. A new job. Injury. Stress. 4am starts. Zero social life. Sacrifice. Commitment. And not just from me but from my family and my friends and partner. I had to get there. I had to get there within cut off.
My entire day was spent adjusting my expectations. The goal was now: get to the end. Don’t be shit. And don’t shit.
Brian and I plotted the finish. He’d run through the short cuts to the finish and wait for me. I’d finish the lap solo. With a mile or so to go, he made his way to the finish line. And I hobbled in the dark towards the last aid station. As I was walking up the hill I heard “she’s coming!” “We’ve got another finisher” “come on girl!!!” “Well done Ginnie!!” Hugs, high fives and appreciation administered, I worked up the courage to run my last 200m.
When I met Lucy Charles, and asked her what to expect of my first race, along with some really solid advice on being prepared and soaking it all up, she said “You will only finish your first ironman once.”
With those words ringing in my ears, I ran down the hill towards the finish, the lights of the gantry now flickering through the trees. Loud music, cheering, my mum screaming encouragement, and I finally, after 16 hours and 21 minutes of relentless forward progress, got to turn left and cross the last timing matt and soak up the red carpet. I milked it as much as I could. High fiving and laughing and crying. They held the ribbon over the line for me and I crossed it to the words of “Congratulations, Lakesman”
I had done it. It was done. I laugh-cried as I was photographed by Eilidh and her boyfriend and handed a t shirt and medal. I cheered over the next finisher and then went to find my family and friends who had also had the longest day.
The next few hours are sort of a blur. I was absolutely exhausted but totally buzzing. My head had gone from the lowest low point to the highest high. I couldn’t process anything. The incredible support coming through from friends and family who’d had a worrying day tracking me as I slowly flung myself around the Cumbrian countryside was overwhelming.
I’d been warned that I wouldn’t sleep. However, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out cold.
I awoke at 5am. Sore and starving. It was time to bum shuffle up two flights of stairs to the kitchen, where I sat eating cocktail sausages and toast until Katherine and Greig joined me.
I’d earned my iron crown. And now it was time to bask in the sense of achievement. Compounded by the fact that I battled HARD to finish in time. And I truly earned my bling.
“Run”: 6hrs 35mins – my slowest EVER marathon
140.6 miles: 16:21.13 – got my moneys worth!
What a superb event, with an amazing, friendly and supportive team of directors and volunteers. Marie and Paul were there at the start and finish high fiving and meeting everyone.
The setting is beautiful. The swim is stunning. The bike is challenging in it’s own special way. The run is mentally punishing but the support on the way round was unbeatable.
I can’t think of anywhere I would have preferred to earn my iron status.
Lets not forget that I did this for charity. And so far, thanks to my incredibly supportive friends, family and colleagues, my total is sitting at £1600. That is going to help Lymfund in SO many ways.
At this point, I have some very important people to thank:
My mum, dad and sister. For their endless support and love. Lissie made dad facetime her to see my finish live. She cried more than me for the first time EVER. Mum and Dad were up from 4am and stayed on the course cheering everyone all day.
My other family: the Belchamber girls for being an amazing Cheer Squad.
Beardy, who kept me as calm as possible (give or take a few fraught moments……..) and who, over the last year, has helped me balance training and life. Often setting aside his own goals to help me achieve mine.
The Spences for your constant support and help for both me and Beardy.
My friends, who literally haven’t seen me for a year. And if they have seen me, they’ve patiently understood my need for a 9pm bed time.
To Tucker and Daniel who drove all the way down to see me on to the run and over the finish line. Thank you for being the absolute best and for bringing BONBONBONBONS.
IronBuddy. For literally everything. Your advice, patience and help. And your book recommendations. You kept me inspired and motivated. And thoroughly grounded when required.
My Endura family: for the incredible support and enthusiasm for this challenge. For my suit, for introducing me to Lucy Charles and giving me the best kit a girl could ask for.
Brian Drought. Thank you from the bottom of my blistered feet for marching around those two laps with me. Your chat kept me suitably distracted from the pain and you kept me smiling when I just wanted to cry. Your family are amazing and I’m so glad we all finally got to meet!
I’m not sure how I thought I’d feel by now. Did I think I’d feel like an athlete? Did I think I’d look ripped and muscly? No and also no because Jam. And cheese. And bagels. And sausage suppers. But I definitely expected to feel different: Fitter, stronger, highly tuned. Less like a sofa dwelling carb-addict and more like Leanda Cave.
Alas, I’m much closer to the sofa than the Cave. Literally.
I guess I must be different than I was, though. Even with my gut and bingo wings. All the indicators suggest I am at my fitness peak. But I still feel like me. I still feel normal.
I’ve gone into taper feeling ready for it. Not totally wrecked but with plenty of niggles and a requirement for plentiful sleep and water. I made it to 82 miles of my last century ride before I lost my shit. This is progress!
I had a beer and managed to finish it for the first time in months! I’ve been eating well and trying not to overdo the carbs as I taper down my efforts.
I’ve also been driving myself, and my people, CRAZY with taper madness. It is a real thing and it is happening in my head ALL THE TIME.
If I thought Maranoia was a thing before, I was wrong. Try Iron Maranoia.
It’s 100% horrendous.
I’ve trained for a year, but I’ve prepared myself for THREE years for this challenge. Painstakingly ticking off bucket list stuff en route to hopefully one day becoming IronBean. And the job is barely finished. I have the actual work to do now.
I’m so close that I can touch it.
And yet I’m terrified.
I’m terrified of that which I have no control of: Bike mechanicals. Relentless headwinds. Torrential rain. Unbearable heat. Hungry Pike. Cramp.
I can control none of these so naturally it’s all that consumes me as I beg for last minute mechanical tutorials on repairing chains and dealing with snapped mechs.
I guess the thing that frightens me more than anything I’ve done so far, is that I might not finish. I could have A Disaster. This isn’t set in stone. You can’t wing 140.6 miles. If something goes tits up and it’s non repairable, it’s game over. You can walk a marathon or an ultra. You can breaststroke a 10km Swim. For me to feel home and dry, I have to get to the marathon. And even then, I’ll need ample time to finish the damned thing.
Just get to the run, girl. Then you’re on the home straight. Then it’s just a marathon.
Just. A. Marathon.
I have never had a good marathon. (Ssshhh. Nothing could be good after 112 miles on a bike. Not even sitting down is good. You’d rather be running.)
I’ve been waking up at 4am bathed in sweat panicking about why my bento box won’t sit right on my top tube, how much lube I should apply, what if the photographer gets my chins from the wrong angle, what if I forget to hit save on my Edge….. all crucial, of course.
The last few weeks have passed in a blur of busy work days and last minute Lakesman fretting. Somehow, I’m about to enter the final week of taper and pack for the Lake District. So….. I’m basically going to do this, then.
I’m watching my footing, wearing sensible shoes and glaring at anyone who dares to cough or sniff in my presence.
I’ve had shoulder issues and a gammy knee which, at 8am on Sunday was ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY A MEDIAL MENISCAL TEAR OR AT THE VERY LEAST A TEAR IN MY MEDIAL COLLATERAL LIGAMENT OR OH FUCK WHAT IF ITS ARTHRITIS.
Physio was booked for Sunday anyway, and Sarah reassured me that it was literally not even one of those things.
And relax, Bean. Do your stretches, Bean. Eat your protein and your fibre, Bean.
It’s all just come round so fast! (The exact opposite of how the event will go, just FYI)
Lakesman was a distant dream last June when I psyched myself up to register. Now it’s next fucking WEEK.
Next week. Shit the bed.
140.6 miles. Iron. My dream. My goal. THE goal. (Insert 18,000 ridiculous instagram hashtags here)
Am I ready? Who the fuck knows. But it’s time to HTFU and find out!
As of today, Lakesman is 10 weeks away. That’s far enough away not to stress too much, but in contrast, is close enough to start having LakesmanMares and sporadic meltdowns about how shit I am at 2/3 disciplines.
Totally normal. Right?
Things are going as I would have expected them to go, knowing myself: with the usual niggles rearing their heads and sleep completely escaping me! Despite being 100% fucking shattered all the fucking time.
Thanks to the amazing* Scottish weather, my bike confidence has been at an all-time low. Sure, I’ve turbo’d myself into oblivion but that does not an ironman make. Winter has been hella long, this year. With deep snow and biting cold winds. Not exactly road-biking weather for the fledgling ironman who doesn’t want to risk a broken collarbone or worse, a broken bike.
So where am I at, fitness wise?
Well. I have had several tiny meltdowns about this over the last few weeks. Culminating in having an ugly cry in Bannatyne’s changing room after a particularly grotesque run where I literally thought my legs were just going to stop working. (I know. I am such a chilled person, this may come as a shock…).
After a very tough week, I decided to take a rest and cut training right back for 7 days. Usually this is all I need. But no. Body wanted MORE rest. (MOOAAAR?) So I kept things light and now I feel like I might be ready to get going again. Maybe. After this donut and nap.
As I snivvled in a changing room, I was reminded that this is not supposed to feel easy. It is meant to hurt. It is normal to feel so tired you might actually nap standing up. If it was easy, everyone would do it!
I picked myself up, blew my nose on my compression sleeves and got dressed. No one even suspected I’d been crying either because I still had that post-run glow**.
Pre-bike anxiety seems to be A Thing for me. I was awake at 4am this Sunday. I wasn’t due to head out until about 8am. So this was somewhat frustrating seeing as I am permanently fucking shattered, mate. I got up at 6, ate porridge with Nutella, drank a pint of water and set off just before 8am. Chamois-buttered up (I have my first ever saddle sore. We are not ok with this) and dressed in my finest Endura kit.
I went off exploring some local bike-friendly routes. Quiet lanes, NO HEADWIND (this will be the only time ever that there is no headwind. Excuse me while I jump for fucking joy about this) and 100km of quiet, fun biking.
Swimming has taken a wee back seat over the last week as I wrestled with an existing injury that strikes whenever I’m at a low ebb. Nice how my body likes to rub salt in it’s own wounds…. However overall, it’s been going…. swimmingly….. soz.
Aside from one particularly unsavoury encounter in Livingston’s Bannatyne’s at 6am, where I was asked to leave a lane before I’d even finished fucking about with my goggles because the bloke presumed I’d be swimming “Granny Breasktroke”. Well. I sure showed that prick. By catching him from a whole length behind within 2 lengths of him slating me. He soon learned not to judge a swimmer by their pink Speedo cap….. fucktard.
Running is…. well it’s running. I’ve been heading out with a colleague at lunchtime, which has helped my pacing. Laura is speedy AF so it’s great training for me as I hate running so I rarely push myself. This has all improved my CV fitness and I’m definitely seeing the benefit on my longer weekend runs. Even if my legs feel as though they are actually going to buckle.
I have been examining my training logs from past races, as well. My biggest Month in prep for Aberfeldy in 2015 was 870km. In March, I travelled 840km. And I’m nowhere near peaking yet! So really, my body is capable of more than it ever has been. And that is simply incredible.
I’m not doing this all for myself though, I’m doing this to raise awareness and vital cash for Lymfund. If you’d like to support me as I struggle through the next mental phase of training, I’d be super grateful for your donations. As would Lymfund, who need your help to provide critical treatment for people living with Lymphoedema and Lipodema.
“Run from Glenfarclas to Glenfiddich, pick up stamps along the way and get single malt samples at the end. Love running and whisky? Time to cross the streams”
The inaugural Dramathon had instant appeal with its Speyside setting and whisky-based incentives. A group of friends were signing up for it and I managed to secure a spot, despite being skint AF at the time, thanks to my fairy racemother Miriam.
As a startup event run by Durty Events, it was a pretty laid back affair from sign up right up until the finish line.
There was zero communication from the organisers until a couple of weeks prior to the event. Too much is annoying but too little can be worrying! Anyway. With two weeks to go, the participants guide was released.
I chuckled at the line: “course distances are approximate and intended as a guideline for you to estimate the nature of the event. Please don’t be surprised if we have limited interest in ‘what your garmin said'”
I’ll come back to that later…
In March, we got a new member of our team at work. Sarah and I immediately became mates and she was really interested in all my marathon chat. Unfortunately Dramathon had no places, but she was able to get on a waiting list and then I got a text one evening saying she had 24 hours to decide if she wanted a place. As she’s a total legend, she jumped at the chance! I had a marathon buddy and it was going to be SO much fun.
Despite training individually for this event, we decided a few weeks beforehand that we’d run it together. I’d keep pace for as long as possible and then we’d see how we got on from there. I’ve never done an event anything other than solo, but I was looking forward to having my friend with me to keep me focused during the dark moments.
A big bonus for this Marathon was that it fell on a Saturday. Having a full day to recover before returning to work is a definite plus for me! Sarah’s mother-in-law very kindly offered us her cottage on the Glenlivet Estate for the weekend. This stunning, cosy house would be our base for the weekend and was no further than 30 minutes in the car from the start and finish. Her lovely man joined us and became our chauffeur. I was extremely grateful! We were joined by my London Sherpa Michelle and hubby Jonny who were also running. Along with half the contents of Tesco in Perth, we had the ingredients for an absolutely amazing weekend!
Sarah and I decided we’d head up on Friday afternoon, via the stunning Glenshee, so that we could register and get settled and have a relaxed evening. The drive was breathtaking as ever, with Scotland giving us her best Autumnal realness.
Registration at Glenfarclas Distillery was quick and easy. We were fitted with our “Dibbers” at reg (which soon became extremely annoying). And we headed back to the cottage for pasta, Bridesmaids, Friends and flatlays.
Daniel arrived at the cottage around 6pm and Michelle and Jonny joined us after a challenging drive around 10pm. Some chilled catching up and last minute prep and we all went to bed for a restless night.
The 6am alarm was grim but I’ve had worse. Forcing porridge down was equally horrid and the rain battering the windows was filling us all with a sense of impending doom. Daniel and Sarah tried to reassure us that the Braes has it’s own microclimate, but I was beginning to dread the event. 26 miles in the pouring rain did not make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Daniel drove us to the finish line at the Glenfiddich distillery where we’d be getting buses to the start at Glenfarclas. We managed to get Michelle and Jonny registered and catch the rest of the Painless Performance crew. A big cuddle from Jonathan Pain resulted in the first hilarious moment of the day. I’d overfilled one of my soft-flasks in my race vest which promptly began to leak. “WHAT THE FUCK. I’M LACTATING” was my reaction which resulted in some concerned glances from passers by.
One big flaw in Durty Events plan was only having 4 portaloos for over 200 people. It was an entirely harrowing pre race pee experience. Boke. Not to worry, we thought, there will be more loos once we get off the buses at Glenfarclass…
Nope. Another 4. So we queued for 25 minutes, freezing to our cores, and JUST made the start before the piper set us off.
At 10am, we were let loose on the Speyside countryside. The race winds uphill on tarmac for around 1km before switching onto rough twintrack on a gradual downhill until you reach Ballindalloch castle.
I’ll just put this out there now: I am not very experienced in the trail-running department. I am also inherently clumsy as fuck. This meant I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the Scottish mountain views because I was otherwise occupied with trying not to fall arse-over-tit into a muddy puddle.
After dibbing out and in as we crossed the A85, we were soon jogging past Ballindalloch distillery and it’s beautiful new building. We hit the first aid station. I had a pretty well-rehearsed nutrition plan but the lure of chocolate chip cookies was too much. This was Class A catering from Durty Events. We crunched our cookies happily and continued on to the next road crossing and dibbing point.
The first section of the route is pretty undulating. Nothing too scary considering you’re running in Speyside, but my hip had already started to protest.
Trail presents different challenges to road running. Road running has greater impact on my joints, but trail involves more stabilisation and my ankles and knees were struggling to keep me vertical.
Sarah and I ran together and were keeping a pretty steady rhythm by now. The undulating hills had been replaced by slippy, slidy ex-railway line.
Sarah’s stitch subsided about 7 miles in and we were approaching Tamdhu and an aid station.
They had brownies. BROWNIES. *throws nutrition strategy into the River Spey*
I risked shitting myself and horsed a brownie. Winning. At. Endurance.
We continued on our railway adventure and soon passed Michelle and Jonny. Jonny had run into cramp issues and they were having to walk. This would prove to be a race-ending cramp for the lovely Jonny, who made it to 14 miles before retiring.
As we passed a distance I can’t remember, we made it to a relay cross-over point. The guy we’d been running near for a while told us there were no more hills.
If I ever see you again, relay man, I will KILL you.
After Tamdhu distillery, we were directed up a gentle tarmac hill, to a GIANT MUDDY CLIMB. It was brutal. It could have been worse but it was tough considering we thought we were pretty much avoiding hills for the remainder of the race. We wound up past Cardhu distillery and then back down towards the railway line again. The downhill was where I hit my first wall. At about 12 miles I held back tears as shockwaves shot through my shins and hips. The cobbled, steep downhill twintrack was very difficult to navigate at a decent pace. And it HURT. Sarah’s knees were killing her and we were getting tired already. Stupid hills. Stupid marathon. Stupid idea.
We made a deal to start a run/walk strategy once we made the “half way” checkpoint at 25km. We stopped here to gather our thoughts, eat some more cookies and stretch our aching legs. 4mins run, 1 min walk would start from here. We then negotiated the extremely slippy, boggy path for another mile or so before we could really get moving properly again.
By Aberlour, Sarah was deep in a dark place and I was hurting really badly. I was in agony and just wanted to get to the end. We exchanged “words” and got back onto the route to continue the long slog to the finish line. It was at this point that we were passed by Miriam, sister of Jonathan Pain and my fairy race godmother! She looked in fantastic shape. We also bumped into my buddy Chris who was suffering from a long season of MANY events including Craggy Island Tri and Glencoe Marathon. He was utterly broken. Some gentle abuse and encouragement and we were all on our way.
Me and Sarah now moved to marching. I was getting sore from walking (WTF) and my walk/run strategy was making Sarah queasy so I’d jog on a little and then walk until I could see her. I checked my phone and 112 messenger notifications later learned that Pete, Maria and Jonny had all pulled out of the race. I was so gutted for them. I was also hitting a wall BIG time. There were no mile markers and because the aid stations were sporadic, I was finding it really tough to work out where we were.
A quick call home for some words of encouragement and I was back in the zone. I waited for a bit at a gate to see if Sarah was close behind me. She wasn’t and I was worried. I knew she was fighting hard for this and I was struggling without her beside me so I jogged back to find her so we could finish this absolute monster together.
Eventually we hauled ourselves to the 35km checkpoint which was at about 32km and were told there was only 6km left to go.
I thought this was a Marathon?
Mixed feelings ensued. I mean, we couldn’t walk another fucking step. So we were quite delighted that the course was measuring short. But we didn’t want to get our hopes up in case the guy said miles. But we checked, like…. REALLY checked. “are you SURE it’s only 6km?????”
The “last 6km” is a very very gentle climb up another long, long LONG disused railway line. It was wooded and stunning but to be honest we just wanted to be fucking FINISHED.
There wasn’t another runner for miles in either direction so we were pretty convinced we were last and they’d have run out of medals and whisky.
The lack of mile markers was taking it’s toll psychologically and we were really hating every painful step.
We were passed by a woman called Kat who was from Perth and running with her hubby. She thought we were sisters and we chatted for a while before she continued on her way to the finish line…. wherever the fuck that was!
We trudged on at what felt like a good-paced march for at least 180 years until we started passing big corrugated buildings that looked (and smelled) like a whisky bottling facility. Was this Glenfiddich? Literally who the fuck knows.
I had my phone out and was trying to get a location on google maps. We were close-ish. Maybe.
There was now a road parallel to the track and I clocked a sign for Glenfiddich but no distance indicator. We were still passing big buildings so it was clearly a large distillery.
The lack of distance markers was REALLY taking it’s toll now. We were so grumpy and tired and desperate to finish.
The only thing keeping me going was Sarah’s unbreakable determination. She fought through the depths of marathon-pain and was still going. We had to finish together.
We were guided by arrows onto a road with a sign! A SIGN! THANK FUCK FOR THAT THIS MUST BE GLENFIDDI—– The Balvenie? FUCK.
Now, if I’d properly studied the Participant guide, I’d have known that Glenfiddich is beside The Balvenie. Instead we had to wait until we found A Man who promised us the finish was 500m away. Did we believe him? No. But he PROMISED.
He wasn’t wrong. We had to try and run up a hill but we could see flags now. I took Sarah’s hand and she somehow found the legs to drag me over the line at a sprint.
I was SO happy to see that finish line and SO proud of my friend.
Sarah, who tragically lost her Grandpa and then her mum in the space of months last year, fought hard and properly rallied to finish that race. It’s determination like that which inspires me. Having the ability to kick the walls down is what makes an endurance athlete. While I encouraged her, I somehow encouraged myself. It was so so tough and lonely. I couldn’t have finished it without Sarah by my side.
Daniel scooped Sarah up and took her off to buy her a very fucking well earned beer. I spotted the team and hobbled over to say hello and dish out smelly cuddles. Michelle had breezed past us around 30km having chucked her ailing hubby on a bus back to the finish line. I painfully lowered myself to the ground (mistake) and was handed a beer by Daniel.
The Medal was in actual fact a chunk of whisky cask, which was a lovely touch. The beer was tremendous and me and Michelle cuddled up for a photo (I won’t show you the others…)
Our chauffeur drove his smelly passengers back to the house where we all hobbled inside for showers and food.
Bizarrely, I only managed a couple of slices of pizza and some salad before heading through to my sofa bed to hide under a duvet. My buddies all piled through to join me before long, and we spent the evening grazing on snacks, beer and watching Friends. It was a good day.
The miniatures in the goody bag are fantastic and it took all my willpower not to tuck in immediately.
Overall, The Dramathon is a superb event. The marshals were lovely and the course was stunning (when I wasn’t trying not to die).
There needs to be some improvements if they choose to run it in the same format next year, however:
More toilets at the start and at the race HQ. (like… at least 10)
more accurate information in the guide regarding the format of the event. We were told we’d collect stamps at each distillery. Then it was tokens. But on the day it was nothing? With no explanation.
We were told the week before the event that mandatory kit would be confirmed 2 days prior. We received no further update from the organisers. And weather forecasts can’t always be trusted.
The course measured a whopping 4km short. I appreciate completely that not every race will always measure accurately. That’s a given, especially on trail, but despite their disclaimer in the Participant guide, I feel like 4km is a big deficit for a race calling itself a “Full Marathon”. After I posted this on their page on Facebook, a girl who was marshalling posted a link to the map-my-run route which showed we’d missed a whole section around Ballindalloch golf course! The marshal and arrows at the edge had directed us straight to the distillery. We’d missed the loop without prior explanation and as yet, we’ve received no update as to why this decision was made.
To sum up, I’d recommend this if you fancy a challenge in a stunning part of the world’s most beautiful country. Make sure you sort your accommodation and DEFINITELY make sure it’s within a comfortable distance of the start/finish distilleries!
And finally, a huge, heartfelt thank you to my race buddy Sarah. You were beyond nails. You kept me laughing and our Friends and Rupaul quotes gave me LIFE. Shantay, you stay, my friend! Here’s to the best, most flattering photograph anyone has ever taken ever. #WinningAtChinning x
You see, my relationship with running has a chequered past. When I was wee, running was literally only away from stuff that I didn’t want to be near. As I grew up, I was forced (forced) by our education system , to partake in this absurd activity.
Cross Country PE. Reserved only for the most frosty of winter mornings. And also the words that reduced me to a quivering wreck and latterly resulted in me bribing my mum to write me excusal notes for most of 5th and 6th year.
When I did take part, a permanent stitch, a hatred of all physical activity and a general loathing of being outside and/or cold, ruined any possible enjoyment of the sport.
Fast forward 15 years and 15 year old Bean is rolling her eyes so hard she’s practically seeing out the back of her head.
And to be honest, running still sucks.
3 marathons. I’ve run THREE and number FOUR is in a matter of weeks. So why? If it sucks why do it?
Usually my approach to endurance is that if it’s not fun, why do it?
However. Running is such an important part of going long. It’s psychologically tough on me. Therefore each long run I do is designed to test my mental strength. Much like doing all the swimming.
Similarly to the mental toughness of the actual act of running, preparing for a run is also character building.
For example: on longer runs, I like to wear my 2XU compression socks. They may or may not help but I like how garish they are and they make me feel less like my calves will explode while I run. Because that happens.
Putting these on, however, is not an easy task. Imagine trying to wrestle a sweaty body into an already damp wetsuit. Then make the wetsuit two sizes two small and swap dexterous hands for a pair of fluffy mittens. Add some face-punching (your own hand and your own face…) and 18 minutes of swearing per calf and your only at the ankle.
Once the ordeal of getting dressed in all manner of compression gear is done, it’s just the running to do. Oh good. At least I’m warmed up. Right?
Now. I feel I should add that I like how running makes me feel afterwards:
Empowered, satisfied, strong.
I do not enjoy how it makes me feel during:
Shoogly. What’s that crunch? Oh it’s my hip. There’s another stone in my shoe. Why does my shoulder hurt? Why am I so shit at this? My shorts are giving me camel toe. I need to pee.
When I am asked “how was your run?” The reply is usually “GREAT! Apart from the part where I had to actually run. ”
My body is categorically not designed for running. Evolution has bestowed upon me a level of laziness that is satisfied only by getting off the sofa and walking to the fridge. It has also given me flat feet, a rotated pelvis (holla at me ladies), one leg significantly longer than the other, two tendons in my left hip joint that crunch together with every. fucking. excruciating. step, terrible posture and boobs that need to be strapped firmly down.
(I realise I’ve just painted the most epic picture of myself.)
Like most women affected by the rotated pelvis issue (it’s common AF), running any kind of distance results in real, proper pain that keeps me awake at night. So I also have to stretch. A lot. Which is boring and painful. And it usually results in me falling asleep on my yoga mat, or getting distracted by intagram stories. #FirstWorldProblems
I digress. The plan now is just to gently ease up the miles, and prepare mind and body. I have 5 weeks (I think?? I’ve stopped counting) until the marathon and in the words of RuPaul: “good luck. And don’t fuck it up”.
You may recall that back in June, I was supposed to swim 10km in Windermere. Unfortunately, Weather occurred so events were cancelled and although they allowed us to swim 1 mile, I still had a “burning desire” (see also: weird and fucking stupid desire) to swim that distance. So I entered the Great Scottish Swim 10k as a back up.
For the last two months I’ve trained hard while also convincing myself that GSS would be cancelled and OH WELL NEVER MIND I WON’T HAVE TO DO IT EVER.
No such luck.
I awoke at 3am on race morning with the familiar knot in my stomach and the even more familiar pre-race lack of appetite. I forced a crumpet down my neck and performed the standard last minute OCD checks on my kit. Everything present. Everything correct.
I had prepped an array of car snacks and a Sensible Breakfast of porridge and banana to “enjoy” en route and at 06:32 I parked up at Loch Lomond Shores and settled down to try and not vomit while eating the aforementioned porridge and banana. Somehow I managed. Even if I fluffed the swim, this was a great achievement.
I gathered my many belongings and trudged unwillingly towards the event site. The Loch was flat-calm. The rain was on and off and the air was still. The conditions were completely perfect and this was going to happen.
As I stood on the pier dry-heaving at the mammoth course laid out in front of me (the curvature of the earth actually prevents you from seeing the far buoys I promise), I spotted IronPugsley and his friend looking a tad more awake than I felt. It’s Dougie’s fault that I’d entered this stupid race in the first place. He was calm and confident. I was a wreck.
We wandered round to the changing tents which had moved from their usual spot (that’ll learn me for not checking the signs…) and went off to slip into something a little less comfortable and a little more rubbery.
I took my time, applying Body Glide liberally to any bits of skin that may or may not chafe. And some more just for luck. I prised myself into my Orca, got my hair in place and grabbed the rest of my stuff to head round to the start.
Kit wise, I had layered a tri-top over my swimming costume just for an extra layer. I’d not opted for gloves or booties. I knew I’d struggle with numb hands but the gloves were heavy and I’d just rather not have extra weight to drag about for 6.2 miles.
I found Dougie, Jan and Andy all suited and still ridiculously awake. Much mockery of D’s silicone “neck protector” (Soz but it looks like a sex toy) and other silly carry on. It wasn’t until Dougie asked me which colour goggles I’d gone for that I suddenly thought OH FUCK. GOGGLES. Thank FUCK I’d packed them. A half-sprint-half-barefoot-hobble-on-rocky-tarmac later, I had them firmly in my grasp. That was close. What a pisser that would’ve been.
Dougie introduced me to his pal that runs the Forth Swim. He tried to convince me to enter but I’m not 100% sold on swimming through human jobbies. We’ll see….
We were soon allowed into check in and went straight into the acclimatisation zone. Which sounds fancy but is actually just the boat-launch cordoned off with a lady shouting at you that they’re closing it soon.
By this point, I was a complete bag of nerves. The loch was 16 degrees but that’s not exactly a fucking bath and I was worrying about freezing to death. I went through my mantra in my head on repeat while everyone buzzed around me. (I like to have a quiet moment before a race kicks off):
Lap twice. Stop for gel. Lap twice. Stop for gel. Lap twice. Medal.
Kerri-Anne Payne was on hand to start us off and before I knew it I was saying goodlucks and goodbyes (thanks Andy for the hilariously awkward are-we-high-giving-oh-wait-fist-bump-nope-hug moment) and dipping into the loch with Dougie to start our 10km.
Shiiiiiiiiiit that’s cold.
Ok. Draft a bit. Swim a bit. Draft some more. Panic a bit. Breathing! Remember breathing! Breathing is so important. Lift your head to breathe. Perfect. Off we go.
I’d posted in an all-girl group I’m in on FB for some words of wisdom and the women were AMAZING. Their words went round in my head and Rach (off Twitter!) who is a swimming queen gave me some great breathing advice. I stuck to her words and soon found my rhythm.
The first lap passed in under 30 minutes and I was feeling great and full of energy. Just one more lap and then it’s BOAT SNACK TIME, I kept telling myself.
Lap two done and I clung to the side of a rib boat while a lovely man handed me water and a Cliff gel to chew/swallow (they are a fucking weird consistency. Sort of like thick snot. And also opaque yellow like snot. A lovely thought. You’re welcome.) I have to say, I was a little upset to learn that the “snack boat” didn’t have a buffet of pasta dishes and hot tea. Nope. Just jelly babies and gels. But at this point I’d have eaten roadkill if I thought it would have given me the beans to keep going…
Onto lap 3 which meant I would be HALF WAY!! I checked my watch. It was clear that either the course was going to come up short or Garmin was being a tad lazy. Not to worry. We battle on.
By now I am catching the subsequent wave. Picking through the slower swimmers definitely cost me time but I took a draft where I could get it and managed to avoid any painful kicks this year. I was passing caps from my own wave and nothing was sore or tired yet. WTF. Was I kicking ass at this?! I went through 5km at bang on 1hr30 (including gel stop). Yes. I was kicking ass at this.
Through laps 4 and 5, my index fingers on each hand had gone numb, I was fighting the onset of calf cramp and I was really suffering with lower back pain (which has all but completely fucked off lately so I was NOT happy about this!). My head started to tell me that I’d had quite about enough of this charade and it was time to find a kayak and die quietly.
At the end of Lap 4 I found the boat and “enjoyed” another “delicious” snotter/gel. Unfortunately, as I was clinging to the boat with my claw-hands and trying to stretch out my back, my leg became tangled in one of the buoy ropes. Not even a little bit tangled. Properly fucking caught. Like a sodding fish. I was snagged. This was going badly. I shouted to the boat dude who was about as confused as me as to how this had happened. Thankfully, the very nice man beside me swam under the boat to untangle my leg and I was able to continue. Amazingly, no cramp was sustained during the ordeal.
5 minutes lost to being a twat, I continued onto my penultimate lap to play Next Time Last Time.
Next Time I see this buoy it will be the Last Time. For a mile. A confusing mile, at that. My watch was showing that the course was 400-500m short. But my tired, water-logged brain as beginning to convince itself that we’d somehow missed a lap. I retraced every stroke and after *some* debating, I decided that this was 100% my 5th lap. No doubt. Stupid GPS.
Last lap time.
It was now that a Huubster appeared. A pink cap (2 mile swimmer I think ) and a £500 Huub Archimedes suit plus matching goggles. He appeared to my right and swam directly over me without stopping. He was not going in the right direction. Having been dooked unwillingly and by surprise, at 5 miles into a 6 mile race I needed to gather myself and swear at him loudly. A woman doing breastroke to my right checked I was ok before we laughed as she asked where the fuck he was going. Apparently £500 can by you an incredible wetsuit but not a sense of direction…
A weird thing began to happen: I started to have fun. For the first time LIKE EVER, my goggles had not fogged up at all. I was picking red caps off and passing swimmers like a proper fast swimmer. The TV chopper was over me the whole last lap. The noise was deafening. I was KICKING ASS AT THIS! My watch had me finishing well under 3 hours. Even with the shorter distance I’d be under Dougie’s (seemingly ridiculous) prediction of 3:05.
I AM A SWIMMING QUEEEEEEEEEEEN I shouted in my head.
The final buoy was in sight. I just had to swim past that, through the pointy buoys, under the gangtry and that was it finished! Let’s GOOOOOOO.
I gave the last 400m everything I had. My best technique, no kicks, strong, positive pulls, slight bend at the elbow with a straight arm exit from the water. Smooth, effortless gliding but with breathing that sounded like was seconds from death. Ignoring the fire in my shoulder muscles and the numb as fuck hands.
I reached the finish funnel and attempted to stand up. Wobbling and probably not smiling, I stumbled over the finish line to the ankle-beeper where the guy asked my name and it took me far too long to remember it.
I was done. It was finished. 2hours 53 minutes and 46 seconds.
That’s not just a little bit good, that is BRILLIANT.
As I staggered past chip-removal towards the goody bags and my warm clothes, a young lad shouted “YOU JUST DID THE 10k! YOU NEED TO GO THIS WAY CAUSE YOU GET A BETTER GOODIE BAG!!”
Oh YAS! I thought. FINALLY Great Swim have bowed to pressure and made a non-generic medal for the 10k swimmers. Gimme!!
This really did not impress the two-mile swimmer next to me who moaned a “that’s not fair!” At the lad before he gently but firmly suggested that if she wanted a 10k goodybag she could nip back in and swim another 4 miles. She declined…
As with every GSS I’ve done so far, the heavens had opened as I was dragging my carcass out of the loch. I padded painfully round to the sweaty changing tent, shivering violently and acutely aware that my arms were absolutely livid with me. I had to ask a stranger to unzip me. I then had to apologise to two other strangers who were freaked out by my squealing as my hand found my chafed neck. I borrowed a chair and used it to try and assist with dressing. This was more challenging than the fucking swim.
I did all this while shovelling pretzels into my face and downing water. I felt ok but I knew I’d soon bonk if I didn’t take salts and carbs on board.
Eventually I staggered to my car. Dougie and Jan were walking down the road and had both had as much fun as you can while swimming endurance distances. Dougie swam 10km in under 2:40. I mean really. Half man half fish.
Once in my car I asked a marshal to direct me to McDonald’s where I horsed a Big Mac meal and large milkshake before hitting the road. Somehow, I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel. But my arms are all but useless now. Honestly I’ve typed this with my nose.
I am over the MOON. This was one hell of a challenge. Unsurprisingly, swimming 10km is not on many athletes radar as something they want to do. But I did it and I did it well and wildly over-achieved on my original target of 3:30.
Thank you, Great Swim for another fantastic event.
I am now a marathon swimmer! And I’m waiting for my certificate welcoming me to the Mermaid community.
Before I start this, I have an apology to make. I made a huge error in my previous blog. Catastrophic, in fact. I referred to my pal @ironpugsley as a mere four-time-marathoner, marathon swimmer, ultramarathoner, two-time Ironman and soon to be swim-runner. I neglected to mention Alcatraz Escapee. Sincere apologies for my devastating oversight, Ironman.
So…… Back to business.
140.6 miles. That’s the distance from my house in Not Fife almost to Wick. Which is basically the top of Scotland. Which is essentially the North Pole.
It’s a distance that, over the last 3 years, has become the epitome of Awesome to me. I idolise Ironmen and those who can push their bodies and their minds to complete a race of such a punishing distance.
I respect the distance. I aspire to be the level of Nails required to complete a race that encompasses everything I have come to admire about the sport of Triathlon.
Recently, with the inaugural Ironman 70.3 race in Edinburgh, it’s brought Triathlon newbies out in force. Let me just preface this slight rant by making the point that this is a very good thing. Triathlon is marvellous. It teaches you so much about yourself. Technically I am still a newbie, having only done a single tri.
Much like the fact that you wouldn’t swan into the office on the first day of a new job stating that you take your tea with just the right amount of milk and that the office temperature must always be no more or less than 21 degrees…. you wouldn’t call yourself an Ironman for finishing a 70.3. Would you? Oh, you would. Well. I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy religiously for well over 7 years now, can I just go ahead and start practising medicine? Call me Dr Bean.
Ordinarily, something like this wouldn’t bother me so much. People call themselves stuff every day. But…… Sometimes, something just means too much to you to let the Internet tarnish that significance. Let me explain why I took offence to the remarks of a fool in a forum.
To me, there is currently no achievement that I want more than to be able to cross a finish line at the end of a 140.6 mile event. It’s a goal that will require sacrifice, commitment and the type of drive that’s taken me 3 years to realise I may actually possess.
In one Facebook group, I saw someone announcing that as of Sunday evening they would now be calling themselves an ironman.
What a fucking liberty.
The keyboard warriors destroyed them but it really stuck in my head. I managed not to engage, having already had The Debate with some good friends who had, despite the grotesque conditions, each done an incredible job at finishing the race.
Having sat on this for a week, I wanted to take a minute here to think about why that is such an audacious thing to do in my mind.
First let’s have a history lesson. John Collins et al held the inaugural Iron Distance race in Hawaii in 1978. It was a combination of the 2.4 mile Waikiki rough water swim, a 112 mile Round-the-Island bike race and the Honolulu marathon. It was a competition, following a booze fuelled debate amongst talented athletes in each individual discipline, to see who was toughest. Who could complete this gruelling race first? Surely he (or she) would be the epitome of athleticism.
John Collins famously said the words “whoever won that ought to be called Iron Man”. And so the race was born.
Note: not 70.3.
History lesson over, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture, shall we?
I must point out that I am not discrediting the toughness required to complete a 70.3 race. I’ve done one. It was hella tough. I trained my ass off and still hold that finish line feeling as one of my greatest memories and achievements. So if you’re sitting there sucking your teeth and calling me bitter, kindly swivel. Because I’ve been there. I know What’s required. I didn’t have an easy ride, either. Injury, illness and niggles all tried to derail me. I didn’t blag it (which you can do, if required) But I made it. In 6hrs43 mins. I did it. And it was phenomenal.
Unfortunately for my tired legs, it was never going to end there. As soon as I crossed that finish line and located the nearest Big Mac, I knew I had the bug. I’ve dreamed of doing a full iron-distance tri for years. I wanted more. I wanted to push harder. Go further. But I knew I couldn’t yet. I wasn’t ready.
To me, 140.6 miles is an unparalleled achievement. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea and, at the moment, I am receiving two reactions. 1) OH THATS AWESOME! And 2) Ummm, you’re gonna do what?
I hold it dear to my heart. I feel like it’s something I have to respect and do justice. I feel like, after being mentored by my IronBuddy that I owe it to the race to do the best I possibly can.
So to hear and see people throwing that Iron Title about defending their choice because Ironman is a global brand, just rubbed me up the wrong way. It didn’t start as a brand. It BECAME a brand. It is about so much more than a title. It’s about being so mentally robust that you can push your body past the point of pain and giving up. These races don’t allow outside assistance. You do that shit alone.
I can’t bear to see people devalue the status of being Iron. Being Iron is something to strive for. To aspire to. Not a term to be chucked about haphazardly.
I’m not one to take such grave offence at the remarks of keyboard warriors, especially those with no understanding of the history of the race they try to lay claim to. But this was different.
The fuss has died down now and hopefully the absence of Paul Kaye shouting “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” at the finish line was enough to drive home the point that they are not now in fact an ironman.
The biggest issue I have with this whole ‘pavlova’ (hi, Tucker ❤️) is that they are detracting from the incredible achievement that is finishing a 70.3 mile race.
Don’t simultaneously stomp all over my dreams while crushing my sense of achievement, you pests.
In the mean time, I continue to fuel my excitement for the unbelievable challenges ahead. I’m inspired and focused and it feels amazing. It won’t last, so I’m making the most of it!
It’s been a week since I entered The Lakesman, and what a week it’s been. There is something wonderfully empowering about finally believing you’re capable of training for a 140.6 mile race.
I’m doing this. OMG.
It’s been a week of excitement, fear, negotiation (with myself) deep thought, planning, organising and surfing the net for higher spec bike components! (Any excuse, but the prospect of 1000’s of miles of training requires unquestionable use of n+1 and Stella needs to feel loved as well……)
Don’t worry, my friends. I shall not be breezing past you, as you sip your pint outside the pub, clad in cycling skins and a sperm hat with a disc wheel whirring away. No. I leave the marginal gains to the pro’s. I’m pretty down to earth with this stuff, but my faithful Stella has done many thousands of kilometres already. With a carbon fibre frame, she needs plenty of TLC. I’m also not the smallest of athletes so she needs good components to make up for my somewhat un-dainty frame.
It’s also been a week of reflection: I’ve come an awfully long way from the naive, clueless lass that decided to get fit by entering a sodding marathon. The fact that I’ve made it to the point where I feel I can commit to training for an event like Lakesman makes me feel incredibly proud. Even if the wheels fall off and I end up unable to do it, I know I made it this far.
So aside from bike browsing, welling up every 15 minutes at inspirational YouTube videos and also buying a very exciting new swimming costume which will likely make me look like a misshapen potato, I have been squirrelling away at excel spreadsheets, putting the bare bones of a training plan together. I am gonna be busy.
I’ve spent hours poring over race blogs, tips and life-hack posts to try and stand myself in good stead for the huge amount of adjustment this training is going to require.
My buddy @ironpugsley penned this blog just before tackling his second Ironman. It is the very best advice that I could have in my arsenal as I begin to start piecing together this massive puzzle. As a two-time Ironman, four-time marathon runner, ultra-runner and marathon swimmer, I can think of no one I’d rather take advice from when it comes to this stuff. Mostly because he’s a) a normal human with extraordinary grit, b) did these things while juggling normal life stuff and c) likes beer.
Every night this week I’ve gone to bed buzzing with ideas and excitement and apprehension. The race is a long way off in many ways, but not that far away in many other ways. I am relieved that I’ve got GSS and Dramathon to look forward to and occupy my legs and my mind. I just have to not get broken…
I’ve caught up with friends, started planning routes for rides and even found one which incorporates cake at my bestie’s house:
Check that view!
I’ve had fun inspiring/bullying new friends to take up endurance sports, setting challenges and generally mucking about on bikes beside lochs and up hills…
It’s been a much brighter few weeks.
It feels good to have finally taken the plunge and signed up to Lakesman. The last few months have felt tough. I’ve been all over the place inside my head. Huge highs and crushing lows and sustained periods of darkness had left me feeling empty, dulled and numb. Over the past few weeks my sparkle has started to return. I have a focus and I’ve regained my drive to not only tackle this next obstacle but have the most fun I possibly can in preparation.
It’s like someone has turned on a light. And I’m so ready to feel light again.
“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.