The One That Wasn’t To Be

You’ve spent months prepping for the most intimidating challenge you’ve ever faced. You’ve prepped yourself as best you can mentally and physically. You are ready as you’ll ever be to swim 10,000m in a chilly Windermere. 

Then this happens:


Well, shit. 

I’d been obsessively checking the weather for a few days but Brian and myself were more concerned with Saturday for my cycling adventure and his 25km fell race at Keswick Mountain Festival. Sunday looked breezy but ok! Until I studied it again and saw wind gusts of over 30mph. Ah. Not terribly ideal for swimming in a huge body of open water. 

Bollocks. 

The email from Great Swim said that they wouldn’t be able to accommodate the longer events on the Saturday, but they would happily let us swim a mile. 

My initial reaction was total, utter disappointment. I have trained my arse off. I really have worked so hard for this. It’s like training for a marathon, travelling down to it and then being told it’s cancelled but please feel free to do a lap of this here park. 

Meh. 

I never make excuses. I finish what I start and I give it my all. I have happily never been in this situation, but I absolutely understand safety protocols and experience swimmers are ingrained with respect for open water. It can be a formidable beast. I think the only reason I didn’t descend into a Bean-Strop-Tantrum was because: this was no ones fault. Mother Nature decides. Mother Nature wins. 

Witnessing my heartache, Brian gave me a hug and we set about making alternative plans. 

Luckily, i had been advised by my lovely friend to stay in Ambleside. This turned out to be the saving grace of the weekend. Brian could drive to Keswick and do his run. I’d skip the spectating (it was POURING so this was FINE) and I would spend the day exploring Ambleside (also in the rain though) until I could wander down to swim in the afternoon. (Still in the rain) 

At least I’d get a chance to kick the arse off this smaller distance. As coach said “at this point you could fart out a mile”…… Even if it is only a SIXTH of what I’m capable of. I could do it justice and earn some bling. 

We woke up and had breakfast(s) with our lovely hosts. The rain battering off the sky-lights in their gorgeous kitchen. No tops of any hills visible. 

Brian set off with all his kit to tackle some insane Cumbrian fells and I decided to go for a walk up the falls. 

I wasn’t disappointed. This is such a beautiful part of the world. 


Note: Those pictures appear bright. However the light belies the truth. I was very much wetter than after 10km in Windermere. I was soaked. Despite quality waterproofs. I. Was. Soaked. 

I wound my way down into the village and stumbled upon a small cafe. As I trudged in, the young girl serving smiled and said “you definitely need cake” and proceeded to bring me a perfect latte and, quite probably, the best Victoria Sponge I will ever taste. 

To reach Peak Cake at 31 is sad. But I swear I will not let my attempts to find a better cake end here. No no. I shall continue upon my cake quest. 


I digress.

I wandered back up to the B&B where I was served home made soup and bread while we checked on Brian’s progress. He’d made excellent time and reported that he was still alive. 

Once it hit 2.30, I slowly set off and began the 45 minute walk to the start. It was still wet. My clothes were soaked but I was on my way for a dook anyway so fuck it. Off I went. Soggy. 

As I walked along the side of the lake I could see how choppy the water looked. The winds had started to pick up and for the first time I felt relief that I wouldn’t be having to pick my way through that for 3 hours on Sunday. 

Of course…. Due to Sunday’s cancellations, they had amalgamated TWO DAYS of swimmers into one. Those that could/wanted to swim the mile were allowed. The email stated that you should bring your original cap and chip straight to check in and go. 


No problemo. Or so I thought. 

I got changed. Couldn’t find my chip. Spent 8 frantic minutes searching before it mysteriously reappeared beside me, popped my bag in check in and made my soggy way to the start. I watched the wave before mine set off. I watched about 6 people miss their chance to swim through what I can only describe as sheer ignorance. Marshals were shouting them over but they were too busy faffing about to notice. Then they got shitty with the marshals. Silly, silly swimmers. 

They open your wave check-in 30 minutes prior to your start time. I was organised and one of the first through the gate. Except I was being pulled aside. Uh oh. WHAT HAVE I DONE.  “You need a pink cap for this wave.” Said the girl. I must have looked beyond confused.  “You need to go to Race Information which is over there”. She pointed to a tent about 50 yards away. Across stones. I was barefoot. Nice. 

I now refer you back to the above email. It was LIES. Not so amazing from Great Swim who usually have faultlessly slick communication. 

I had to peg it across stones in bare feet to the girl in the customer services tent who hurriedly handed me a new pink hat. Sakes.  I didn’t need that stressful few minutes at all. 

Finally through check in, I could get my fecking pink cap on and warm up in acclimatisation. Or cool down apparently. Windermere was 15.5 degrees. No colder than I’m used to but I’d have preferred something a little warmer having made the effort to travel for this race. 

Keri-Anne Payne was there to set us off and at 4.30 on the dot I wrestled my way into the lake. The start was violent as usual. I seeded myself with the other 10k rejects as I knew they’d be quick. I enjoyed the drafting as long as I could before we were clear of the marina and out into the lake. 

It wasn’t just a little bit choppy. 

Within about a minute I had already taken a face full of water. The wind was behind us and you could feel yourself being lifted by over a foot and then dropped. I felt sick but I was determined to PB on this distance. My previous best mile swim at Loch Lomond in 2015 was 34 minutes. In these conditions I knew I had to push hard. I wanted sub 30 but knew as soon as the first waves hit, that it would be a huge ask of my body. 

I battered on. Literally. Staying wide of the crowd and trying to relax into a fast rhythm. I felt panic on a whole new scale. Every time I lifted my head to sight I was met with a wave. I couldn’t see the beach or the pink buoy that marked half way. There was too much splashing. 

I powered through half way in 14 minutes. But I knew if the wind was behind me on the way out……….. it wisnae gonna be braw heading back. 

Oh. What. An. Understatement. 

As I turned parallel to the beach, the shallows meant the waves were breaking on us. I had to switch from bilateral breathing to LHS only. Even still every time I lifted my chin to sight the next buoy I took a lungfull. One hit me so hard I choked and for the first time in my swimming life , genuinely thought I was in trouble. After a minute of calming myself down, I bashed on relentlessly as swimmers who’d choked badly we’re being pulled from the water around me. I saw at least 3 swimmers get plucked out the waves. 

Heading back towards the finish, I became extremely uncomfortable. The waves were everywhere. Breathing one side was no better than bilateral. It was honestly quite frightening. I knew I was tight for my time so I tried as best I could to keep my pace strong. 

At this point the water is standing depth. Windermere has enough clarity that you can see the Lake bed fairly easily. I was giving it everything I had and the stones beneath me weren’t budging and inch. It was like swimming up a river. The final buoys took an AGE to appear. 

The field was pretty spread out so imagine my shock when, out of nowhere, a man swam over the top of me and then stopped immediately ahead to do breastroke. He narrowly avoided drowning me and kicking me in the head. I’ve always been told not to take anything personally in the swim, but this was total ignorance and despite the conditions he would have been aware of my proximity to him. He may have narrowly missed knocking me out but he did not narrowly miss a mouthful of my best Scottish swearing. What an absolute turd. 

As I reached the finish gantry I broke into as much of a sprint as I had left and clawed my way out of the water only to discover that their ankle chip beepers were not working. A very tired, very fed up volunteer, wrote my name down wrong three times before I was released, bless her. We were both frazzled. I was so genuinely distressed by what I’d just experienced that I almost forgot to collect my finishers pack (GASP). My watch said 30.20. I was gutted. I wanted sub 30 so badly. After the crushing disappointment of losing out on my main achievement, the sub 30 mile had been the next best thing. Sigh. 

I was worried about Brian getting back from Keswick. I knew he’d finished but his legs would be wrecked. His mountain race turned out to be extraordinarily mental. It was as I was climbing up to the changing tent that I felt the tap on my shoulder. And there he was. Bruised and battered and emotionally scarred. Alive though, so bonus. 

I changed, we hoovered (incredible) burgers, and then we trudged back to Waterhead to the van and a shower. 

As we walked, some thoughts began to surface; For the last few months I’ve been questioning my decision not to enter Ironman 70.3 in Edinburgh. I know I can comfortably do those distances but having just experienced actual real waves, I felt overwhelming relief that my gut instinct had said NO. There is not a hope in hell that I’m ever doing a Sea swim in a race. Nope. Fuck that shit. The thought of colder water, salty water at that, in potentially the same level of swell makes me feel sick. Good decision, Bean. And good decision, Great Swim. Safety first. 

Of course, it also dawned on me that I’d just swam a 4 minute PB in the most challenging conditions I have experienced to date. I finally felt like I deserved my medal. Like I’d actually raced. I left everything out there. That was 10/10 for effort from me. 

I still want to swim 10km. Like some kind of mental idiot. I want that achievement. I can do it (in less choppy water……) and I WANT to so……


Oops. 

Endurance swimming isn’t dead to me. I shall not be beaten by the weather! 

One final silver lining to the re-shuffles this weekend was that we were able to spend a day driving into the Yorkshire Dales to visit my grandparents old home. I spent most summers there as a child and hadn’t felt able to return after my granny passed away in 2002. I felt the pull to go back when Grandad died a few years ago now, but this weekend was the first time we were able to visit. 

The family that now own the house welcomed me in with typical Yorkshire hospitality and gave me a tour showing me all the TLC they’d given to that house I loved so much. 

It was emotional but so worth the winding roads.


Ambleside, you’ve been wonderful. ❤️

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. 

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.

365 days

I would consider 365 of most things to be ‘a lot’. Other than donuts. That, my friend, is a challenge. Or hobnobs. Or peanut butter cornetto’s….. I digress… A lot can happen in that many days. But equally, it’s not a lot of days. It certainly doesn’t feel like that long since I tackled my first ever triathlon. 

Much has happened in the days, weeks and months since August 16th 2015: about 8 Big Macs in the immediate aftermath, for a start. Then a not non-serious back injury, chest infections, ruptured hip flexor, subsequent evil French Physio, his elbows, redundancy, London Marathon, numerous 10ks and a new job. 

It was Facebook that alerted me to this milestone memory. “You have memories”, was the reassuring notification this morning. Glad to see I’ll still have the ability to recount tales from my past should my cognitive functions ever be compromised. 

 I thought about it for a bit. Wondering if it was really that big a deal. Cringing at my gushy, triumphant blog. And then I snapped out of that. It’s easy to discount an event once it’s done. Once the rose tinted glasses have gone on. Once you’ve tactfully removed memories of almost peeing on your beautiful carbon bike, crying at 15km into your run, mainlining brownies while lying on the floor, bursting into tears when you saw your mummy and punching yourself square in the jaw during the swim exit. 

I am very lucky (#blessed 💁🏻) to be surrounded by wonderfully accomplished friends. I have ironfolk who inspire me all of the time. When we chat about their achievements, it makes my Wee 70.3 (and I’ve still only done ONE tri!!! Been busy with other shiz innit) seem a bit…. Well….. Wee. And to be honest nothing else has appealed to me as being worth getting my hair wet for. 

But at the time it took over my life. I didn’t just want to survive it, I wanted to do it as best I could. And I did. I put in one of my best ever swims.  I couldn’t have pushed any harder on my bike or I’d have done worse than piss on Stella. By 18km in to the run I literally had nothing left. My bro in law had to drag me to the finish. 

I trained 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day for MONTHS. I ate upwards of 3000kcals on big training days (fucking BLISS, by the way. Yes. Yes I will have that piece of cake. AND THAT ONE. And I’ll have an extra side of JAM PLEASE.) 

It was a MASSIVE achievement. Seventy miles. That’s fucking FAR. and there were bastard hills as well. So it’s not like I could cruise it either! 

My little legs took me a long way. And continue to take me long ways. Even my arms are getting stuck in now, with hopefully a 5km swim in a couple of weeks. 

I guess my point is this; while it’s good to focus on the future, and your past will always fade a bit with time, never forget the journey. Because the journey is what makes you who you are. (Deep. As. Fuck) 

Once you’ve finished cleaning up the vomit I’ll continue…..

I’m stronger, more resilient, faster, fitter and much much more determined. I also give fewer fucks about what other people think. Which is a new development for me. Miss Cares What Every Body Thinks. 
I know I can do things. I don’t even care remotely how fast or slow they are unless I’m comparing them to my own effort because, let’s face it, very few of us are pros. So what’s the actual point in getting worked up about age group positions when actually what you’ve achieved compared to your own efforts is nothing short of miraculous. 

Aberfeldy changed me. And I love that I pushed myself to do that. So today I am INCREDIBLY proud of myself.

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 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! 

It’s all about the what-now??

I was sent a link to a blog this morning. A blog that made me irate while lying in bed nursing a sore shoulder/neck after a weekend of athletic excess. A blog so unintentionally (I hope) insulting and condescending that I slowly staggered through to the living room from my pit of despair in order to write this probably slightly over-defensive rebuttal.

Click HERE for a link to Tom Demerly’s article.

To anyone who wants to see more people engage with triathlon, this probably seems like a great blog! And to be fair Tom Demerly clearly knows his stuff about endurance and triathlon and being an all-round awesome human with some ridiculously tough challenges under his belt. Who am I to argue with such an accomplished person?

I think what you might be trying to say Tom, is that the Triathlon industry could make more money by tailoring products and marketing towards those of us who perhaps aren’t “in it to win it” but want to better ourselves physically and mentally by becoming fitter and tougher. This isn’t a ‘day job’ for us. Just a hobby. So we don’t want or need to spend the earth either. Therefore stop trying to peddle £5k TT bikes to people who probably won’t actually get the gains you claim they will. And maybe make some kit that doesn’t accentuate sausage legs and back-boobs.

That’s kind of all you needed to say…

You cover some sensible and pretty accurate ground to begin with, making reference to how the recession impacted consumers who previously had disposable income and now have less cash to throw about or set fire to or whatever. All of that made perfect sense. Triathlon is an expensive hobby, but it’d be great if you could get decent enough kit for less than a trip to the moon. All fine.

But…. Then it all gets a bit “fattist”. Even the title hints at the underlying theme of “curves”

“The number of svelte, uber-athletes is smaller now than it was 20 years ago relative to the general populace, who apparently has been spending what’s left of their shrinking discretionary incomes on Krispy-Kremes, not qualifying for Kona”

*Shocked face*

Last time I checked, The Scale of Fat doesn’t go directly from ‘Svelte Uber-Athlete’ to ‘Skint And Crying While Mainlining Donuts’….

“The sport is growing from an increasing number of new athletes who are more average, heavier, less athletic but still inspired to participate– if not necessarily compete.”

The sport IS growing. And I’m sure Tom will agree, with his sporting pedigree and involvement in many an association geared towards improving Triathlon as a sport, that this is BRILLIANT! Look at all these people who want to push themselves physically and mentally?!! But hang on… “heavier” and “less athletic”?

Ouch.

Quite often, Joe Average takes up an athletic hobby because he or she is unhappy with their figure. There’s really no need to draw further attention to this. Especially in a sport famously rife with eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

“There has never been an ad campaign in triathlon featuring realistically sized, average age group triathletes.”

This is true in as much as most sports-based retailers, magazines and events use elite athletes to market them over  poor old Joe Average. It’s called Aspirational Marketing. It’s not un-realistic in the same way that fashion brands push skinny over normal. We know we’ll never look like Jess Ennis! But people would usually rather see her on the face of an athletics magazine than that of Charlene from the local Co-Op who did her 5K race for life last week. No offence, Charlene.

The faces they use to market products and services are not the problem, here. It’s the attitude that accompanies it. The elitist and frankly pretty snobby attitude that you get within ANY sport. That’s a real problem.

My final bug-bears lie here, Tom. Where you skip further towards dangerous territory:

“Apparel manufacturers have missed the mark too, alienating prospective customers with images of sponsored pros with little or no recognition among average triathletes and building clothing that is too tight, too short and in size runs that are humiliating to try on. If a forward thinking triathlon apparel brand introduced a tactfully marketed apparel line called “PR” with upward-adjusted size runs, modest cuts and middle-road visual appeal they would outsell too-tight, mis-sized brands designed to fit anorexic Kona winners.”

I agree. The sizing jumps are too big between S-M and L. All this needs is some light attention to pattern grading. Dress sizes. Easy. Not a sodding “plus sized” range! This now means Joe Average has to put up with kit snobbery as well as bike snobbery! Kick us while we’re down, why don’t you?

“Yes. I’m looking for your plus sized lycra. With ‘modest cuts’ because I do not wish to inflict my plus sized thighs on any ‘proper’ athletes. And my love handles may throw their focus off their race.”

And then. “Anorexic Kona winners”.

Oh dear, Tom. Oh. Very. Dear.

Let’s be quite clear that the likes of Sebastian Kienle, Frederik Van Lierde, Crowie, Mirinda Carfrae, Chrissie Wellington and Leanda Cave (to name but a few) do not in any way look ‘anorexic’. And I’m SURE your use of that term is purely “for the bants” and that you don’t actually mean it. Because that’s just outrageous. Bit insensitive to refer to an eating disorder when discussing an athletic pursuit that has experienced quite negative press about this before. The incredible Chrissie Wellington has revealed her own struggle with body dysmorphia within the sport, as has Hollie Avil. Who gave up her successful and still promosing career following two battles with an eating disorder.

These are fiercely talented, accomplished athletes who strive to be the best that they can be. They eat well, they live well and they work damned hard. Anyone entering the world of triathlon aspires to be at that level of fitness and skill. And what I think you’re suggesting is that newbie triathletes who are perhaps, as you say, “average” look at these incredible athletes and think “pah, she needs a kebab!”.

No.

What you’re doing is, yet again, drifting down into the depths of body-image and the rabbit hole that is body-dysmorphia.

Allow me to finish with the following:

I accept that I am considered “average” by elite athletes. But you’re getting a bit personal with the “heavier” and “less athletic”, buddy. What you’re saying here is “hey. It’s cool that you’re not as fast as the elites. You only need to compete with yourself! You’re average and it’s the taking part that counts”.

Let me tell you the most important thing I’ve learnt since deciding to undertake this Triathlon Adventure:

No one who has ever completed a triathlon is “average”.

I cannot emphasise that point enough. We may not be “elite” but training for a tri, especially if you have kids and/or a full time job (which we need to FUND this clearly incredibly expensive sport) requires über dedication and a kind of drive that differs to that of a person motivated by sponsorship and podium-payouts because TRIATHLON is their day job. The kind of dedication borne from a person who wants to be the best that they can be, while fully accepting but not really caring that we won’t be winning Kona anytime soon.

Don’t you dare belittle that by saying “ah it’s ok! You can do this AND be slightly fat and poor. It’s the taking part that counts”. You use the term “filling from the bottom” a few too many times, for my liking. Is that a fat-jibe or your way of saying that Triathlon is filling with average people who look rubbish in lycra? I think both.

We already know that. And to be quite honest, we’re not that arsed for winning! I just want to be able to eat cake and still look smoking hot in skinny jeans. I don’t need a crazy-experienced athlete to tell me that this is actually ok. Because I already know it is. I don’t need to win! My income doesn’t depend on winning. I have a job so that I can buy cakes.

That’s kind of liberating.