WT actual F, 2020.

Ok so let me just kick things off by saying FOR THE SAKE OF ACTUAL FUCK, WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING.

And breathe. That feels better already.

So far, the only good thing to come out of this year are the memes, which have been out of this goddamn world. Other than that, 2020 has felt like one of those anxiety dreams where you’re trying to get somewhere and there’s planes crashing around you and the ground has been replaced by treacle and someone has tied your shoelaces together. AND IT IS ONLY APRIL.

meme 3
The best yet.

We all waited with baited breath for BoJo to tell us if we were going to be allowed outside during lockdown. The collective sigh of relief from everyone on Strava was audible around the country. Now if only the fucknuggets could stop driving to parks and public spaces to exercise their brats and dogs, that’d be great….

Despite the fact that December was actually in fact last year(NO, REALLY), it feels like it’s been 1900 months since we started hearing about this new Coronavirus that was taking out cities in China. My line of work involves every day dealings with the Far East, and it was clear from the start that this would have a significant global impact.

China shut down for CNY and then remained closed. It started spreading. And now it is here and suddenly everyone is making banana bread, naming their sourdough starters and stockpiling bog roll while watching Tiger King. What a time to own a conference calling platform, eh?

meme 2

I started working from home around the 18th March which was surreal. I’m very lucky that we have office space in our house so my work PC and desk plant have come home to live here for a bit. Then, on April 1st, I was put on Furlough. A relatively new word to most of us but one we’re now hearing many, many times a day.

Furlough is bizarre. I have never not worked. Not since my first job at 15. So being UNABLE to work, or check emails, or do ANYTHING work related makes me exceptionally anxious. At the moment, we are able to run or cycle or walk outside once per day as exercise. Which means that I can train to some degree. However I had signed up for the small matter of a 140.6 and this change in routine and lifestyle has COMPLETELY floored me!

I haven’t swum for nearly a month and that makes me so unbelievably sad inside. Our back garden isn’t the right layout for a paddling pool plus tether set up, so I’m restricted to focusing on upper body and core work to ensure I don’t lose too much strength. I am gladly in the position where my swim is still strong AF, so I should hopefully not lose too much speed.

The arrival of a smart trainer has massively boosted my cycling fitness. There’s no hiding from resistance now! (I see you, Strava wankers with your low AF heart rates and massive speeds…..) And I managed a very consistent and not-at-all-traumatic half marathon round Loch Leven on March 29th as Alloa had been postponed.

I also notice that all it’s taken is the apocalypse for Scotland to have some outstanding weather. One theory I heard from a tinfoil hat wearer was that the weather has suddenly improved because there are no planes in the sky……

Capture3
See? No planes. Must be true….

My gut is telling me that it is EXTREMELY unlikely that Kalmar will go ahead this year. Which is a pain because I was hoping to spend next year planning a wedding (lol – yup you read that right…..) however I refuse to let anything get in the way of doing what I can in case it DOES go ahead…. Am I nervous about bike fitness? Absolutely. But I can only do what I can, and literally everyone in the world is in the same situation.

Mentally, I’ve been very much up and down. Not being able to hug my sister when I asked her to be my maid of honour was rough (I’ll elaborate in a sec) And not being able to cuddle my mum and dad is the actual worst. I miss my niece and my friends and I worry so much about my parents and Beardy’s as well. But I am reassured that they are all taking the threat VERY seriously and letting us help them by doing their weekly shops. Being able to help gives me something to focus on.

So. Maid of Honour, eh? Well. Lissie came round to pick up some stuff for Rosie and, through my open office window I handed her an envelope, inside which was a card and a bracelet asking her to be my matron (LOL – cause she’s old and married) of honour. We cried, held hands through the open window, and then dutifully applied hand sanitiser….. certainly an experience I won’t forget in a hurry. No less meaningful, but certainly drove home how much our lives have changed over the last month.

One thing I find I struggle with massively, is the open-endedness of all of this. Not knowing when I’ll go back to work, not knowing if Kalmar is definitely off, not knowing when this will subside here and just general horrible news everyday is really piling up and pushing me under. I know I am very much not alone. My friends and I send each other video notes and voice notes every day in an attempt to help combat the perils of isolation, I’ve been baking and cooking more and working my way through a very (VERY) long to-do list for the house and garden.

I’ve had good days where I’ve felt like I’ve really accomplished something, and I’ve had bad days where I’ve just felt like this will never end and had absolutely fuck all motivation to do anything!

I try to see this as a huge opportunity to read the books I’ve not had time to read, try some distance-learning, do what I can fitness wise (I’ve started practising yoga properly every single morning which was bloody unheard of for me!!) and I am trying to make the most of being at home and unable to go anywhere. I guess as a Millennial, this is the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing retirement(LOL FML)

I’ve given myself a daily schedule and I set my alarm for the same time every day so that I don’t waste the mornings lying in bed scrolling. I also try not to get sucked into rolling news coverage. There’s only so much I can take before I’m being drawn back into the whirling vortex of dread where I realise it could actually be another 3 months before I get my balayage topped up.

Whatever the next few months brings, my house will be spotless, my cat will be sick of the sight of me and my baking skills will have improved wildly.

I look forward to emerging bleary eyed from the apocalypse into the bright sunlight with quads like kegs and a monobrow, ready to fight to the death in the streets for the last remaining roll of Charmin.

Stay well, friends. And may the odds be ever in your favour.

meme 1

 

“It’s a Me, Myself kinda attitude”

2019 will always be known as the year I finally joined the Lizzo party and, with her for inspiration, began the long, slow slog towards not hating myself quite so much quite so frequently.

Maybe that sounds mental for someone with such a vast array of selfies on social media. And a blog where I almost exclusively talk about me (Hello, Narcissism) but all of that masks a deeply forged dislike of myself. Emotionally and physically.

Real talk.

With Lizzo’s powerful, feminist, self loving voice in my head, this year has been about trying to come to terms with how I see myself. And working on practising what I damn well preach.

This is all especially poignant as I now have a tiny niece, who, I am determined will grow up with her crazy ol’ Auntie Bean doing these weird endurance things for fun because I bloody well can and Rosie Jess will know that she can do anything. And that it doesn’t matter what people tell you you should do, think or be, you can create your own damn path in this world. And do whatever the hell you want with it.

SO. My list of things what I’ve sort of learnt but kind of haven’t but really should make more of a concerted effort to implement in my day to day life aaaaaaaaare:

Listen 👏🏻 to 👏🏻 your 👏🏻body 👏🏻

I’m sure I write those words every year. And yet, every year, something feels fucked and I say “shut up, hip flexor, we have a 5k PB to beat” and then I have to spend 18 billion pounds on physio and spend 8 years rehabbing something THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN FINE IF I RESTED AHAHAHAHA FML.

Honestly. WTF, Bean.

Our bodies tell us when they need rest. I am militant with my HR monitoring. As soon as my RHR is up 10% I’m resting because I know I’m ill before I’m actually ill. I am that in tune. But when it comes to physical aches and pains, I guess I am still learning the difference between “good” pain and bad pain. (Not really. I’m just stubborn as shit)

Don’t, whatever you do, panic and overdose on birth control pills.

I mean, that’s kind of obvious, right? You would think.

Having spent over 15 years on birth control, and never missed a single pill, imagine my abject horror to realise while brushing my teeth on a Thursday evening, that not only had I failed to start my new packet of pills, but I’d forgotten to start it on the Tuesday. 

I read the leaflet, I googled and I decided “fuck it” and took Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s AND Thursday’s pill. And then Friday’s when I woke up 8 hours later.

Good lord I was ill. I managed not to spew at my desk somehow. Or shit myself.

Nowhere did anything say “take every damn pill you’ve missed and then spend the following day hallucinating with stomach cramps, you absolute riot”

You live and learn….

Treat your mental health the same as your physical health. (Listen 👏🏻 to 👏🏻 your 👏🏻mind…..?)

I’m getting better at this one every year. I’m a total germophobe. If you cough or sniff near me I will maintain eye contact as I use hand sanitiser and a dettol surface wipe to disinfect surfaces around you as you speak to me. I’m a pro at recognising the physical signs that I’m not well (but clearly not that I’m injured) so why is it so hard to recognise when my head needs a rest too?

Recently, I’ve been checking in with myself more frequently and staying away from things/people/situations that cause me stress. This doesn’t mean I’ve turned into a hermit, but it does mean that I’m not afraid to say no, to cancel plans if I don’t feel up to them, or to switch off whatsapp and go to bed at 8pm. My friends and family know it’s nothing personal, and that’s why they’re the best.

Life is busy, and for those of us who experience depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges, taking some time for yourself to be quiet, or to do something that makes you happy (for me that can be a long, solo bike or binge watching queer eye in my pjs with jam sandwiches and cups of tea on a Saturday afternoon or belting out music in my car on my way home from work) can be of huge benefit.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

“Comparison is the thief of joy”

Teddy Roosevelt nailed it. I’ve got the job I’ve wanted for 8 years. I’m an ironman. I have achieved the very thing I set out to athletically, academically and my career has been rewarding and varied and I’m only 33. And yet…… when it comes to training, I frequently find myself feeling disheartened or frustrated that I’ve “only” cycled 40km when someone else has done 75. I can’t seem to stay sub 30 on 5k for very long before bits start falling off (or at the very least, wildly protesting). I look at others who say they’re injured and curse their speedy legs. How can you really have torn your quad if that’s your pace?

We all do it.

More than just a basic comparison of my ability as an “athlete” (nope. still think that’s weird), as a woman, I’ve spent a good 27 years out of my 33 on earth, scrutinising myself against other women. And it’s awful.

I’ll go from feeling fit and strong and smokin’ to feeling fat and slow and howlin’ in 5s flat. (The one thing I can do very quickly, apparently)

This year I stopped using Strava so religiously. I muted and unfollowed a heap of accounts across social media and so far I feel like a weight has been lifted.

I also started trying to correct myself when I am self critical. I’ve a way to go before I actually succeed properly here, however progress is occurring.

Growing up, I was always under the impression that if you had a high opinion of yourself, that was cocky and arrogant and unattractive. Apparently people only like women who hate themselves and talk themselves down….. There is, however, a balance that involves knowing your goddamn worth, gurl. While still being open and accepting of (fair) criticism.

As humans, we often have a tendency to anthropomorphise animals and objects. I know I do it with bloody everything. My car included. So if I can feel emotionally attached to my childhood teddy bear (holla at me, Rupert) then why the fuck can’t I feel that attachment to my body? Like…. it’s actually human. And it defo has feelings.

To combat this, I’ve started trying to imagine someone saying the stuff I say about my body to my face. And it makes me feel sad. And every time I do that, I get one tiny step closer to acceptance that this is just how I look and I gotta start appreciating it.

Learn to love yourself. You’re the only you that you’ve got. Or something.

To Quote Lizzo’s Soulmate (which is a fucking tune):

‘Cause I’m my own soulmate
I know how to love me
I know that I’m always gonna hold me down
Yeah, I’m my own soulmate
No, I’m never lonely
I know I’m a queen, but I don’t need no crown

Recently, I ended up scrolling back through 6 years of my own instagram posts looking for a picture I knew I’d taken and shared.

I discovered a few things:

– I post a *lot* of shite on Instagram

– I miss my dark hair/fringe combo

– Why did I spend so much time thinking I was fat when I really fecking wasn’t?!

And you know what it did? It made me sad. I looked back on the last 6 years and I felt SAD!?

But I have achieved SO fucking much. And I have changed beyond measure. Why the fuck was I sad?!

Because. Because I felt old. And fat. And I don’t feel like I’m the person I was back then. I can’t believe I didn’t appreciate that body. Or my age.

Isn’t that fucking mental?!

6 years later, I’ve come through some of the toughest challenges I’ve faced emotionally, and in my career. And I’ve ended up in the job I believe I was destined for, in the place I was always supposed to be.

I’m an endurance athlete. An ironman. And, although I feel fat compared to what I was back then, in reality it’s like 4kgs and I can do a shit tonne more than I could back then.

My inner Lizzo playlist cursed me for being so negative about myself. About my body which always ALWAYS does what I tell it to (eventually and not without an argument).

I have GOT to learn to be more body positive. And to appreciate my health and fitness.

2020 is going to be a big year: I’m going long again. Imma keep being the best role model I can be for my niece. I’m going to keep bossing it at work. (Or trying to). And I’m going to FINALLY decorate my kitchen.

I’m officially strapping myself in for the ride and hoping beyond all hope that my hip flexor holds out until the end of August next year…

I’ll leave you with this. Because I fucking LOVE it.

The One with the Air Ambulance

img_5062

As I pulled into the drive, my phone buzzed as Beardy sent me this message. I’d been looking forward to my Friday evening bike ride all day. The weather was perfect! Not too windy, sunny and warm. Beardy was on day 13 of his Vuelta challenge, which involved cycling every day of the race. His finishers medal had arrived the day before and I’d managed to source a good finishers jersey for him, as I did when he completed his TdF challenge last year.

He arrived home shortly after me, and after all the usual faffing, we were out the door and into the sun.

Our plan was an easy hour or so of biking on my favourite roads out the back of Glenfarg. “Why don’t I show you the Hilton of Duncrievie climb?” said Beardy about 3km in. I agreed, cautiously. I am not the best climber but he reassured me it was just a short slog followed by a nippy descent.

He was right, as it turned out. (For once). I managed the climb easily and we were soon cresting the top of the hill where he announced he was off to blast the next Strava segment. Nothing unusual here. I followed as he stomped the pedals and disappeared down the hill. I caught sight of him wobbling slightly as he disappeared round the corner at the bottom of the road.

The next few seconds are a blur. As I rounded the corner behind him I was aware of a flash of something. And then I saw him: lying on his back in the road, his hands up at his face, his bike nowhere to be seen.

Oh. Fuck.

“Oh FUCK” is basically all I said for the next minute and a half. I’m used to seeing him fall off his bike a lot, as he is a go-hard-or-go-home type of guy. But this was different. This *felt* different straight away. His words were jumbled. I don’t remember getting off my bike but within a second I was standing over him shouting at him to tell me what hurt.

“Why are you here?”

OH. FUCK.

OK, Bean. Remember your first aid training:

  1. check for danger: you are in the middle of a road. There is a blind corner. It is harvest season and we’ve already seen loads of tractors out. There are dozens of farms locally. Get him to safety.
  2. Is he alert? Yes. Sort of. Dazed but he’s awake and able to speak.

Me: “Ok I need you to think and tell me where it hurts”

Beardy: “My face. My face hurts”

Me: “what about your neck? or your back? can you move your legs and arms ok?”

He could move. It didn’t look like he’d broken anything. Blood was POURING out of a deep cut on his face below his eye but otherwise, physically, he seemed relatively intact.

I got him to the side of the road, where there was no flat ground to lie him, and sort of propped him against a rock while I moved the bikes and tried to come up with a plan.

He was bleeding heavily and he wasn’t making sense. I knew that we weren’t going to be dusting ourselves down and cycling home. This was 999 territory. I asked him some more questions and it became clear that he needed urgent medical help. As I wrestled my phone out of my pocket (damn you, grippy phone case!) a car pulled up and I waved my free hand (the other one was keeping pressure on Beardy’s cheek). A woman got out and asked if we needed help. I explained what had happened and she gave me tissues and said she was going to get her husband and would be right back. I dialled 999.

“Which service do you require?”

“I need an Ambulance”

“Transferring you now”

“999 what’s your emergency?”

“My partner has crashed his bike, he’s bleeding heavily from a cut to his face. He is awake, breathing and responsive but is showing signs of a concussion and he needs an ambulance”

After answering some safety questions about his general state, and the type of bike he was on and speed he was doing, the woman (who was amazing) advised she would send an Ambulance right away.

“I need an address. Do you know where you are?”

Sort of. But no. I tried to explain where we were. But it wasn’t working. We were on a very rural unclassified back road. She was struggling and I was panicking. (We now know that the coordinates passed to ambulance dispatch were along the A91 near Strathmiglo which was MILES away)

Another car pulled up and out jumped a girl in her slippers. “What can I do to help?” she shouted as she ran over. “Do you know where we are? are you local?”

She was. “Please can you tell 999 where we are??”

She grabbed the phone and gave a precise location to dispatch (Thank you, Lauren, you god send) and when she gave the phone back the girl on the other end started talking me through some pointers to watch out for.

At this point, it gets a bit grim. Beardy started to drop out of consciousness a bit. He was grey and sweating profusely. He was very confused and couldn’t remember even being out on the bikes. I still feel a bit sick when I remember this bit as I really thought he was in serious danger. The girl on the phone was so lovely and tried to keep me calm and talking. Lauren got us a blanket from her car and Linda had arrived with Gordon, her husband, who was busy reassuring us that our bikes would be looked after in their garage until we could collect them.

After what felt like 18 years, the girl on the phone said she was struggling to locate an ambulance close by. “We don’t know how long it will take to get you help. We’re sending the air ambulance”.

Oh. Fuck.

About 10 minutes later, I heard it. Gordon had his hi viz on and a torch. He’d opened the gate to a field and was waving the helicopter over. They circled, down-draft kicking up dust from the road, as they scouted out places to land in the deep valley we were in.

“what’s that noise?” asked Beardy.

“It’s your lift to hospital” I explained.

Naturally, as Wendy and Rich the SCAA paramedics arrived by our side, so too did the road Ambulance, a police car and a doctors car.

5 paramedics began assessing Beardy and I was allowed my, now very bloodied, hand back.

I stood back and watched them work, taking his blood pressure, blood sugar, assessing his wound and asking him questions.

Worryingly, he had now started repeating himself on a 90 second loop.

“Oh I think I know what’s happened here, guys. It’s ok. I’m piecing it all together. I think I’ve binned it on that corner, haven’t I?”

He’d say it with such confidence, everyone would nod and say yes, he’d go quiet and then a minute later say the same thing.

My stomach dropped.

I started to busy myself with picking up bits of his glasses, switching off our Garmin’s and getting the bikes into Gordon’s car. Later, Beardy would ask on repeat how his bike was. I’d tell him it was fine. In reality, I gave it a cursory glance and as everything was pointing in the right direction, decided to tell him it was fine.

(Miraculously, it is completely unscathed. Much to my relief)

img_4907

The hill Beardy came down at 63kph before he lost grip, his brakes locked and he hit a “soft verge” which turned out to contain a boulder. The skinny black line in the foreground is his “OH FUCK” marks from his tyres.

His MTB instinct had kicked in as his brakes locked up, and he’d aimed for the soft ground. Unfortunately it wasn’t that soft, but it was still the safest option given that he couldn’t see if there was any traffic on the road.

His GCS score was moderate, so the road and air paramedics needed to decide if he’d be taken by air straight to Ninewells in Dundee, or driven by road to Perth. So marginal was his score that they phoned it in and were told Perth would be fine. This was GOOD news. It meant his condition wasn’t horribly serious. (I would be lying if I said I wasn’t totally gutted to miss out on a helicopter ride though………)

We were packed into the Ambulance and headed for Perth.

Beardy kept asking to see his helmet, asking how his bike was, asking what his face looked like, asking if he’d crashed his bike etc the whole way there. Once I got over the initial horrifying dread that comes with your significant other sustaining a TBI meters in front of you, I started to laugh at his verbatim reactions to each answer I gave him.

He’d take his helmet off me and say “ooooooaft. Your work need to see this on Monday” (He was wearing an Endura FS260 Pro Helmet) and then hand it back. Then he’d ask about his face, I’d tell him he’d need stitches and he’d say “my mum is going to kill me, isn’t she”.

It obviously wasn’t funny, but your brain does things to you when you’re in shock, which I very much was.

At PRI in Perth, he was assessed by a young doctor who cleaned up his wound and stitched him up with some of the neatest stitches I’ve ever seen. After an hour, he was a bit concerned about the repetition, so put in for a transfer to Ninewells for overnight observation. The next few hours are a blur of telling parents (awful) and being driven to collect clothes, back to the hospital and eventually home to a cold, empty house (other than our very confused Stigbug)

As I’d taken him his glasses, he was able to text and tell us all several times that he’d made the text on his phone big and he was being transferred about midnight.

I didn’t sleep, instead replaying everything in slow motion.

At 0530 I cracked and called the A&E short stay ward at Ninewells, who told me that although I wasn’t technically allowed in out of hours, I could come up and see him for a bit if I wanted. At 0730 I was curled up beside him as he apologised profusely. He was much better. Sore and very bruised, with some serious road rash on his face, but his repetition had stopped and he was able to remember being in Perth (still nothing after locking his brakes up). He was also now acutely aware that this little adventure had cost him the rest of his Vuelta challenge.

After 15 minutes, I was politely asked to leave and come back after doctors rounds, so I wandered round to my sister’s flat up the road and had my mind taken off things by my gorgeous baby niece and sister who scooped me up in a giant hug and fed me tea.

Doctors rounds were at 0930 and I was a bit peeved to be told I wasn’t allowed in, despite Beardy having NO RECOLLECTION of ANYTHING. So when I got the text to collect him at 0945 I was hugely annoyed that there was no CT. I should have been relieved that they didn’t deem it serious enough for that but I know how sneaky concussion can be.

Examining Garmin data, we now know he crashed at 58kph. His graph shows 63kph – 58kph – 0kph in about 5 seconds. His forehead took the impact of the ground and every paramedic, nurse and doctor we saw were gobsmacked at how lightly he got off and completely certain that his helmet saved his life.

(WEAR. A FUCKING. HELMET)

img_4941
These are his Oakley’s. As you can see they are pretty scuffed. They did their job, protecting his actual eye’s from the ground, by exploding into their component parts but without compromising the glass. The only problem was that the corner of the lens is what punctured his cheek. I collected the parts of the glasses from the road and he put them back together in the hospital. 

Once home, we visited and were visited by parents, I collected bikes while my mum kept an eye on Beardy, his mum and dad made and brought us meals, he slept and I still didn’t. But we were home and he was on the mend. I googled everything I could about TBI’s and concussion. (This did not help the lack of sleep…)

I felt overwhelmed at the kindness of people. Linda, Gordon and Lauren who all stopped and stayed with us until we were safely in an Ambulance. The girl on the phone at 999 who kept me as calm as she could. The police, paramedics, pilot (?!!??! A fucking actual PILOT) and doctors and nurses who all showed us nothing but compassion and empathy. It was a truly humbling experience.

Of course, I am already eternally grateful for the NHS, but this was just further proof that we NEED it. And we MUSTN’T take it for granted. I am also incredibly thankful for SCAA: Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance. They are funded 100% by donations, and not by the government. Quite often, Scotland is viewed in terms of population as opposed to geographical scale, therefore, we have 2 funded helimeds in Scotland. SCAA takes our total to 3. To cover a very widespread population within 31000 square miles. SCAA is a charity that relies entirely on members of the public digging in their pockets and giving them their hard earned cash. Soon, they’ll be launching their second Charity Air Ambulance in Aberdeen, which will further their reach within the country and help even more people.

Before we’d even left the scene of the accident, I had already decided to do Ironman Kalmar for SCAA.

Having registered the day it opened, Kalmar is my focus for 2020. And now I have an even bigger incentive: I want to raise £2500 (the average cost of a call-out).

I immediately messaged my friend who works for SCAA to tell her about what happened and then arranged, once we were home and Beardy was on the mend, to visit them at Perth Airport and speak to the pilot and paramedics.

We had such a great time meeting them and getting an up close look at their “wee buggy” as they called it.

Rich was one of the paramedics who came to our aid. G-SCAA is smaller than I imagined it would be as it regularly flies over our house on it’s way to medical emergencies around Scotland.

My Justgiving link is below for you to donate, if you wish.

To summarise, Beardy is lucky he got away with a mild concussion and 6 stitches in his face. He has bruised ribs, ruined knuckles and cannot remember crashing at all. He has been told, in no uncertain terms, that 63kph is TOO fucking fast. It is also close to the speed Froome was doing when he blew his nose and hit a wall. He did not get off so lightly.

All of this has made me even more frustrated with people who don’t wear a helmet. I will NEVER understand the arguments they come up with and will, forever more, file them under “vain and stupid”. There is no question that Beardy was saved by his helmet. Had he not been wearing it, his skull would have taken the full force of the tarmac. I’m no doctor, but 14 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy has taught me enough to know that an impact to the skull at that speed is pretty much game over.

Although he was doing stupid speeds, you do not need to be going fast to do yourself damage: in 2014, I was cycling my MTB along the Great Glen Way, slipped on a tree root at no more than 4mph (I’d just pushed off to move) and had a slow motion sideways fall onto a rock, which smashed my helmet and left me with a concussion. If I hadn’t been wearing that helmet, even in slow motion, I would have been left with permanent brain damage.

Helmets can’t save you from every disaster, but they can limit and prevent damage. So don’t be a total dick, and WEAR A FUCKING HELMET.

 

(AND ALSO PLEASE DONATE TO SCAA WHO ARE AMAZING https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ironbean)

Aberfeldy Middle Distance 2019

Ok. Let’s cut right to the chase: this was a tough day out.

Going back to last year, after Lakesman I decided to take a step back on distance and have another go at 70.3. Now don’t be fooled, dear reader. Just because it’s half the distance, doesn’t mean it’s half as hard.

Pre Race

Race build up was not ideal. Some late nights and busy days at work meant I was in a sleep deficit for the week and feeling a little run down.

I had been catastrophically and uncharacteristically disorganised with plans and, having made the executive decision never to have to get up at 3am for a race again, I’d wanted to stay in Aberfeldy the night before.

“No chance” said google.

So I reached out to Neil and Beth Scholes (of Performance Edge Coaching. They are total couple goals) and, thanks to a last minute cancellation, they managed to snare me the last room in Feldy for Saturday night at their friends B&B.

Fernbank House is stunning. Tina and Jason are so kind and welcoming. They sorted me out with pre race porridge and basically let me make myself (and all my kit) at home. If you’re ever looking for somewhere to stay to relax and explore the surroundings, I can’t recommend them enough.

I had a chilled morning at home on the Saturday. Until I received a text from a friend doing the sprint tri in Kenmore: “do not go near the carpark”

Since the route changed to not actually really involve Aberfeldy at all (apart from a bit on the bike course), race HQ, T2 and the finish are all in fields outside Taymouth Castle Estate. T1 is still over at the Marina. If you know Kenmore, you’ll know parking is scarce, which means it’s a field for race weekend. And what has it been doing since basically May? Raining.

Last year, with a bone dry summer and a few days of rain pre race, the entrance/exit to the carpark was sketchy. This year, before even midday the day before the 70.3, cars needed towing out. How did Durty Events not see this coming??? On Saturday night they put mats down but it didn’t stop the carpark itself becoming a mud bath.

This had me panicking. I left early to head up to register and go to briefing. In the end this worked out well as traffic was fucking awful!

I managed to snag a space on the road outside the church (where there was a wedding full of very confused looking people. I felt for them. Their photos were probably ruined by hundreds of Triathletes posturing outside their church) and head to registration. I bumped into Rosie (hello fellow Twink) who had a stand showing off beautiful laser cut wood as her charity made the medals for the events. While speaking to her, I met Leanne who follows me on strava. We headed to the tent where I found a lost soul called Leslie. She needed her race number. I found it and we started chatting.

When I’m nervous, I tend to find other nervous people and talk to them. It makes me feel better, especially if I can talk to them about the race and put their minds at ease. I also bumped into Michael who I know from school. With so many friendly faces, it was starting to feel far less intimidating being there on my own.

Briefing had its own drama: a woman standing in the packed hallway outside the main hall had a paddy cause there was no room and started hollering at people to squeeze in. This really wasn’t possible and someone eventually told her to pipe down. Instead she went outside and started banging on windows shouting at people to move back. What a rocket.

We all walked down to the swim start after briefing just to have a look and get some air. Swimmers were coming out of the water from the various swim distance events they had on for the weekend. Dryrobes everywhere. It looked slightly choppy, but beautiful. I was excited.

Soon it was time to head back the the B&B, have some more snacks, lay kit out and rest.

I had packed an array of carb heavy food so tucked into that while fettling with kit and race numbers.

I wandered into town and met Dan and his folks at The Black Watch. Paul (Dan’s father) had taken on and smashed the sprint tri so they were celebrating. It was so nice to catch up with my drinking buddy. I broke with tradition and had lemonade instead of a hundred quids worth of cocktails…. just this once.

After getting pumped at pool, I sourced chips and headed back to the B&B where I had a very leisurely bath and crawled into bed.

Race Morning

I woke very early and dozed. I ate porridge. I applied lube and suncream. I dressed and headed out to the car with all my stuff.

I was scared about parking. But by some incredible luck, I got the last space outside the Kenmore hotel. WINNER.

I pumped my tyres, prepped nutrition and bottle and headed down to T1. A calming voice had appeared in my head and I managed to rack quickly but efficiently and head towards T2 to leave my bag and keys. Gladly, I opted for a waterproof bag. It was still raining and there was mud EVERYWHERE.

Once the faffing was done, I headed to the start. By this time, Ironman had found me. He was up supporting for the weekend and had clocked my nervous face. He was on hand to help me zip up my wetsuit and provide some last minute helpful advice. As well as the usual light mockery.

And with that, it was time to start.

The Swim

We all piled on to the start ramp and I heard my name. I looked up, and there was Laura and Neil!!!! My Runch buddy and her husband!!! WHAT? BUT ITS YOUR DAD’S BIRTHDAY PARTY TODAY!!!!!!!! All week she’d been telling me about it except it was LIES! She’d made a sign and everything. I was so blown away that she’d come to the swim start to see me!!! I hugged her, had a small cry and headed for the water.

Race nerves are weird. I build things up a LOT in my head, but that’s normal, and whenever the klaxon goes, it stops, goes quiet, and I just do the things. I wanted 35 minutes. I knew I’d never beat last years 31. Given the fact that I wasn’t a relay swimmer this year so I had energy to conserve, and also I’ve had a lot of problems with my neck and shoulder again. Goals aside, I waded in.

The water wasn’t particularly cold. I mean, it was cold, but it felt fine. I had a wee panicky moment at the start but just focused on breathing and treading water. I thought I’d secured myself a nice wee bit of space but as I looked round when the klaxon blew, I realised I’d drifted into a crowd. Damn. Immediately I was in a washing machine. Punches and kicks were thrown. I struggled to get into a rhythm and found myself next to a Huub with no ability to a) sight or b) maintain a set course. I fought to get past them and succeeded just before the first buoy.

Given the strength of the wind, I was amazed that there was relatively little surface chop. Surface chop can destroy your swim time. Punching through waves and having to crane your neck to Sight is very energy sapping. The issue here was swell. I’ve never experienced swell like it in a Loch. We were being lifted a few feet and dropped. This did make sighting hard, but at least I could maintain a steady stroke. The second buoy took FOREVER to appear. My watch was showing increasingly quicker splits averaging about 1:44/100m. Not my best. But not bad at all. Once I was round the second buoy, the swell was behind us pushing us back towards somewhere that was not the Crannog. I struggled a lot here. The last buoy was small and I couldn’t lock eyes on it. Eventually I used the flags at the Marina to sight but in conditions like that, more large buoys would have been great.

Around now, another Huub came from nowhere and swam right over and across me. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE WITH ABSOLUTELY NO ABILITY TO SIGHT AT ALL. He narrowly missed taking my goggles with him but I got a nail full of his ankle skin. Serves him right.

I dragged myself from the depths and crossed the timing mat. 35.45. Nailed it.

Jogging up the mats, I managed to successfully escape my wetsuit. My feet were already numb so I didn’t feel all the stones on the tarmac. It was hosing it down, but I was already wet. So I knuckled down and got on with the business of T1:

  • Helmet on.
  • Jacket on.
  • Tube in pocket (I always carry a spare spare)
  • Garmin on
  • Race belt on
  • Dry feet and face (fucking pointless but feels nice)
  • Shoes on
  • Go

T1 : 04.26

The Bike

I was almost immediately soaked. It. Was. Hammering down.

I had put my bike in a lower gear than needed so I focused on waking my numb legs up and getting into a rhythm. After a few kms I started eating. Veloforte bars are amazing. Pricey, but tasty and packed with everything you need. They’re also really easy to chew and don’t dry your mouth out. At 240kcals per bar, they keep you going for a good while. Really hard to open with wet hands though and I cursed myself for not cutting the packets in preparation.

The new bike route has given this course about 3-400 more metres of elevation. You now start with a loop out via Fortinghall before starting the Schiehallion climb out of Coshieville.

It poured. The roads were flooded in places and like a river everywhere else. I was mercifully warm in my custom Endura suit and Pro Adrenaline Race Cape. I didn’t opt for gloves but I was doing ok. My feet, however, were not ok hun. I couldn’t feel them. At all. I assumed they were there and just kept pedalling away.

After about 20km, you turn left and literally up the Coshieville climb. 7kms worth of grinding away. I knew I’d need to spin this out to have any chance of surviving the bike, so I got into the easiest gears and spun.

The rain eased and stopped enough to allow some sun to poke through the clouds. Ideal timing, extra warm with a sweaty jacket on is just what I needed.

I’d already started getting passed by almost everyone ever. But I just kept my head down and got on with it.

The thing about being a good swimmer, average cyclist and not-a-natural-runner is that you have to get used to being overtaken all damn day. It’s fun to play “nice TT bike, shame you’re such a shit swimmer” for the first 2 hours but then it just gets annoying. One day I’ll be better on the bike and it won’t be so constantly frustrating. ONE DAY. (I’ll never be a runner. So that’s fine I guess)

The descent into Tummel Bridge was wet but sunny and I was very grateful for disc brakes. They allow you to brake later and more efficiently than calliper brakes so I could be slightly more aggressive without being too careless. I actually enjoyed this bit immensely and smiled the whole way. I even passed some other athletes!

By this point it clocked that my bike computer was drunk. From experience, I know that the Coshieville climb is approx 250m. My Edge was showing 52m of elevation gain. LOL. Wake up, mate. Looks like it woke up eventually though…

Next comes the Trinafour climb. A nasty fucker. It’s not particularly steep other than a couple of wee kickers, but it’s a long grind. More spinning, more food, energy drink and water. I was feeling great!

The descent is short and sharp from this hill, straight into a road round a VERY sharp bend. An ambulance was loading a casualty as I passed. Sobering to see but a good reminder to take it easy.

By now the heavens had opened again. I was glad of my jacket. I saw a lot of very cold athletes in sleeveless tri suits with no extra layers. Brave, I thought.

The sweeping descent down into Kinloch Rannoch was fun. But it really was pissing it down and I was getting bored of the sound of rain. The wind here was totally unforgiving. Pedalling downhill is never a good sign.

I’d continued fuelling because the next climb is the ominous Braes of Foss. The steep KOM stage followed by a lengthy grind. I’ve done it 5 times now through training and racing. It never gets any easier.

The rain was utterly relentless. I was suffering but in denial that I was getting colder. “Just work hard on the hills, girl. You got this” I kept saying.

Again, the rain eased at the top and I got to enjoy the sketchy as fuck descent into Coshieville. This was followed by a fast spin to Aberfeldy with a wonderful tail wind. This used to be the home straight, but with the new route, there’s now one final fucker of a climb over to Kenmore from Feldy. I passed a lot of riders here. It’s a tricky climb that just keeps giving and when you’re 80km into your bike leg, that’s a lot to deal with. Happily, it’s downhill into Kenmore. With a slight lump before turning through the castle gates and down the mudbath hill into T2. …

…. which was a fucking JOKE. It was a total mudbath. Not what you need after 89.5km of riding. My feet and legs were numb. I somehow racked my bike and got my socks and shoes changed and cap on, jogging out in 2.38. My quickest ever transition.

Laura sprinted up to the barrier “you’re doing amazing!!! You smashed the bike!!!!” She shouted. Oh yeah!!! I’d wanted sub 4. That’s all. The hills are plentiful and I’m still working on my bike split. I clocked ironman and was immediately jealous of his umbrella. It was going to be a soggy 13.1 miles.

Bike: 03:58

T2 : 2.38

The Run

The first few hundred metres were a fucking slip and slide. Down through muddy woods onto a muddy, flooded trail. My socks were no longer dry. Not that I could feel my feet anyway.

As I jogged along the path I heard my name and looked up. I couldn’t believe what I saw. My Runch gang!!! Robyn, Emma and Josefine!!! They’d driven all this way for me and I was soooo emotional about it. I managed to get round the corner before I had a cry. I felt so loved. It was amazing.

This gave me such a boost.

The first few km felt strong and consistent. I was impressed with how good I felt. Brick training had paid dividends and I sunk into a 6:30/km pace. Comfortable and easy. Things started to go a bit downhill after the 6km feed station. I started to get tummy cramps and had to pee in a bush (good sign that I was hydrated, but energy sapping having to stop and start again) and pretty soon the mind games started.

“You’re last. You’re not getting your sub 7 target time. Give up. Stop. It hurts.”

It did hurt, to be fair. My feet had woken up and my baby toe felt like it was being mashed. I stopped and adjusted my sock but it was too late. I’d have to amputate, I was sure.

I started walking the hills. It’s not a “hilly” route but it’s undulating. And to be honest it felt a lot worse than it was. I was eating ok (salt and vinegar oat cakes for the win) and drinking plenty.

By 12k I switched to water only. My tummy was really not happy. The old Code Brown situation was coming. I could feel it. Somehow I kept jogging and walking the hills. My splits were now shameful and I was beginning to want to quit.

The route is out and back. I knew when I got to the campsite it would only be 2km but it felt like another 10. It felt like SUCH a long course. I felt awful. Every time I tried to run, I ached. When I reached the 20km sign, I started to jog again. And then run. I made it into Kenmore to find my Runch gang armed with the most EPIC signs. I was utterly blown away by their support. Standing in the rain and mud for HOURS.

I felt guilty that I’d taken so long. I knew my sister would have been waiting for ages with baby Rosie and Sean. And Beardy would have been waiting and he’d cycled from Pitlochry so would have had the same weather and he’d be cold.

I got to the last 500m and started walking the hill when Tina (my B&B host who was running the relay) appeared behind me about to finish her run leg. “Come on let’s finish together”, she said. And she basically dragged me through the muddy fields, up the slidy hill and round the last few corners. She saved the day for me. Truly. I crossed the line and can’t really remember much for about 5 minutes. I stumbled around trying not to puke and then my sister scooped me up in a cuddle while I cried cause I was sorry I was late. Beardy appeared too and we all had a family hug. Rosie slept through the whole thing but I’ll let her off. She’s only 12 weeks old.

I cannot thank these girls enough. What a gang. I’m so lucky to get to work with this lot.

I even managed to catch swim pal Dougie for a quick evaluation of the race and then find my poor, muddy, soaked bike and kit before heading for the car.

Overall, my initial disappointment at my time has dissipated and I’m so proud I was able to finish in conditions that many had to bail because of.

I’m tougher than I give myself credit for sometimes. I guess it’s easy to gloss over things in retrospect. I tend to focus on the humour of things instead of actually taking stock of what I’ve achieved in such a short time. I’m proud to be a triathlete. And excited for the next adventure. Which will hopefully involve less mud.

Iron Amnesia

Somehow, in the darkness, I remembered how to run…

My bones ached. My stomach was on its arse. My body was so over the relentless forward motion of the day.

My mind was also done. This was the last sport thing I’d ever do. Ever. No more exercise. I mean it. NO MORE SPORTS.

The disco-lit finish line appeared from behind the tree line like a mirage. Except it wasn’t a mirage. It was real. This time I wasn’t going to have to hobble past and start another sodding lap. No. This was it: I was about to finish my first ironman. 140.6 miles. It was done.

Nothing on earth prepares you for the elation you feel when you cross that line. This was different to anything I’d ever finished. Different to passing my driving test. To graduating. To baking the perfect banana loaf. To landing my dream job. To finally nailing the high notes of Hello by Adele. Similarly to all of those glorious achievements, it was my own hard work that got me to this point. We’re there points during the previous 16 hours and 20 minutes where I thought I wouldn’t finish? Oh god yes. (Especially the bit where it GOT OFF THE BIKE AND CRIED ON A MARSHALL) but I wasn’t backing down. I’m tough, apparently.

140.6 miles. 16:21.20.

finish 2

I thought I’d never forget how hard it was to train for an iron distance triathlon. The 0430 alarm clocks. Pushing through discomfort trying to work out what was “good pain” and what was “bad pain”. The tears. The bottomless pit of a hungry triathlete stomach. I thought I’d always remember every painful detail of the race. But alas. As a wise man once said to me: “when you’re ready to do another one, you’ve probably forgotten”.

Well I must have fallen and bumped my head cause I’ve been looking at races again. Uh oh.

I’m a couple of weeks out from this year’s 70.3 which I entered to keep me fit and focused. Training for 70.3 is just as tough. It doesn’t get easier because it’s half the distance of a full. It’s still a demanding race. The training hours are slightly less daunting and more manageable with life and a full time job, but the training itself doesn’t get any bloody easier… yet still. Here I am. Browsing the Ironman website like some corporate brand-led sheep. Looking for the next place to cry on a marshal at the side of the road.

Baa. Take my money.

I’ve had a fun year of reconnecting with myself, enjoying a social life, being an Auntie and feeling fitter than ever so I know that scaling back the fear factor with races and training volume has been more than beneficial for me both mentally and physically. Apparently it’s also allowed me to be lured into a false sense of “I can do this again” as well.

Fuck sake. Am I really ready to take on a full again?

Someone once arrogantly spouted that “all you need to do an ironman is a wetsuit and a bike”. I mean…. you definitely need those two things BUT you need the whole metric butt tonne of other stuff: Lets start with the sheer balls to try and squeeze that training in around life, then there’s respect for the distance. Then the fitness. The miles in the tank. It’s all very well squatting twice your bodyweight and being able to sprint for a mile, bit what use is any of that if you’ve never ridden your bike further than 50 miles? What use is that when you get to 80 miles and you’re exhausted, mentally and physically and you sustain a mechanical? Or cramp. Have you trained for that? Do you know how your body will feel after hours of relentless, punishing movement? Have you trained yourself to push through that barrier?

Sadly I do know. I know those things. But for some reason I’ve still decided to do it to myself all over again.

I will literally never learn.

Cowbells and Speedos

It’s hard for me to believe that a mere 365 days ago, I crossed the finish line at Lakesman and unlocked that achievement. So much has happened in the last year both good and bad. Some lofty plans are in motion and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve changed my perception of myself as a person and as an athlete.

The biggest, most wonderful and exciting thing to happen (in my life ever. Not just since Lakesman) is that I am an Auntie. Rosie Jess Kennedy Robertson was born on May 27th at 1914 weighing 10lbs 10. I have never been more proud of another human than I am of my beautiful sister who is the most wonderful mummy. I am completely in love with my niece.

Full of excitement and happiness, when Jayden asked if I’d be up for a weekend in the Lakes to cheer her on at Lakesman, I jumped at the chance to get involved. Jayden roared into my life through the world of Facebook athlete groups. She was in a few of the ones I’m in and we struck up a friendship based on creative uses of swears and a mutual appreciation of doing stupid shit for fun.

A member of not just the 100 club, but the 250+ Marathons club (plus she ran from London to Paris and cycled back. And shes finished the GUCR…. And she’s done many MANY iron distance races.) Jayden is one hell of an athlete. But also an entirely normal human (ish. But we’ll get to that) with a proper job that has ridiculous hours (she’s in finance…).

The week before heading down, I was drafted in to marshal the half bike course, an opportunity I jumped on as an excuse to cowbell myself to death while supporting. It was set to be a bloody great weekend!

The last few weeks have been crazy busy with work and with training ramping up for 70.3, so the prospect of 2 more very early starts had me a little shook. Still. I braced myself for a 5am start on a Saturday and haul-assed down the M74 and M6 to Penrith. I had some Parkrun Tourism to do.

I always say that in life, you should be mates with people who *get* you. And Jayden GETS me. We don’t stop laughing or talking even to breathe when we’re together. It’s magic. We were going to do parkrun in swimming cossies. Because why the fuck not?

Yes. Those are cats with pizza slices. And yes. I’m wearing shorts. And yes. There were a lot of wedgies.

We jogged it out with a heap of Lakesman past and future and apparently provided some excellent entertainment to the runners around us. A good effort.

The rest of the day was spent cutting about Keswick, prepping Jayden’s kit and stopping for snacks. (My support also extends to carb loading)

We caught up with friends and lapped up the pre race atmosphere. She was ready to rock and I was ready to cowbell the living shit out of some triathletes.

There was also the Budgie Run. Brain-baby of tri-pal Lee Kennedy. A mostly scarring experience but one I can recommend if you want to just say “fuck it” at your own negative body image and go for a jog in some speedos. 10/10 would defo recommend.

It was soon time to head off to my bed for the night(thank you Suze and Dennis for letting me crash!), not before my satnav took me on quite the jolly around the Cumbrian sticks…. eventually I made it and we ate, put PJs on and….. Jayden started STUDYING FOR AN EXAM.

That woman never ceases to amaze me.

We half watched love island and then fell asleep for a mere 4 hours before the stupidly early alarm woke us.

Triathlon is stupid if you think about it: getting up at 4am to go swim in a fucking freezing lake and then go for a very long bike ride and then run a bastard marathon.

See? Stupid.

Being at the start brought back all the feels from last year. The nerves, the abject horror at what I was about to do. The pain. The relentless forward progress. The disappointment that my bike split was so poor. The realisation that I hadn’t trained enough. The slowest marathon I’ve ever done…. such a happy time.

My wistful reverie was remarkably improved by watching Jayden down half a litre of yoghurt.

Once she was safely in the water, my day of trying to find a fucking signal and trying to find out where the fuck my mate was began.

This was after I’d somehow found my way to the arse-end of nowhere to Marshal. I took a detour to get out from amongst the cyclists already out on course and ended up going over Whinlatter pass. A beautiful detour which cemented my aversion to ever EVER doing Fred Whitton or Tri X.

Once I reached my destination, the cowbelling began.

For two hours I stood cheering, cowbelling and selfying in the sunshine, rain and wind. I LOVED IT. I was able to recognise some pals and they got extra big cheers.

Some time later, when I was thawed and safely back in Keswick, the anxious wait began for Jayden.

After several nervous hours, she breezed down the hill into T2 and I caught her on the start of her run where, in true Jayden fashion, she pointed to her crotch and in her best Russian accent groaned “my vagiiiiiiiiiiine”.  There is nothing fun about bike saddles, ladies. Amiright?

I pretty much failed at being able to tell her her position and splits because the signal was shit, the tracker was crap and I was so tired I had no idea who was who. Eventually I had to call Beardy and ask for his expertise (and WiFi connection).

Despite my inability to act as Live Data Cheer Squad, Jayden finished in 11hrs49 which put her at 7th female overall in a much more competitive field than last year. She’s 5 weeks away from Deca which I cannot even imagine. (google Deca Ironman. I dare you) I was so thrilled to see her finish and to spend some time in one of my fave places, with some amazing people, watching others realise ambitions. A magic day.

Another brilliant bonus, was finally meeting my Twitter Chum Sarah and we have already started planning next years Lakesman weekend….

8 weeks to go until my 70.3. I definitely don’t feel ready yet!

Capture

Thank you, Lakesman 2019! See you next year……

Kinross Sportive 2019

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.

The Route

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.

f8d161cb-f899-499a-89a0-0487821cd223

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! img_2731

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.

img_2733

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!

img_2735

The Dirty Not 130.

Let me start the blog with a slight spoiler alert: I ballsed this one up, guys.

Let’s begin by reviewing “training” for this event: I didn’t do enough. I worked hard and improved my bike fitness in the run-up, but no amount of power interval training on a wattbike in a sweaty gym will set you up for the gravelly climbs of Kielder Forest. I will issue no blame on anything or anyone other than myself for this.

I did not do enough climbing. I did not do enough descending. Which leads me to lesson numero dos: I need to get better at going down hills. I am terrified of descents. I wish I could be one of the amazing cyclists I so admire, who whizz past at a rate of knots. I am too busy gripping the brakes until my forearms explode and my teeth shatter. I am too busy thinking about road rash if I misjudge a pothole or a bend. I am too busy NOT enjoying the free speed that comes with downhill.

A few months back, I asked Beardy to help me with my cycling. He is one of those modest types that just loves being out on his bikes and happens to be insanely good at being on those bikes. Literally all bikes. He has all the bikes. Being an Endura employee, I felt compelled to enter Riever as it would be fantastic training for my A Race later in the year. The goal for 2019 is to absolutely nail the bike split. I can swim well, running will always be a bit of an issue but if I can nail the bike, it gives me the opportunity of redemption at 70.3 and 140.6 level. With all this in mind, I worked out my FTP and then bodged together a training plan which wasn’t really a training plan as it was sort of shoe-horned in to a 70.3 plan…. Setting myself up well there!

In the weeks and days leading up to Riever, I was largely shitting myself. I would be tackling it on a cyclocross bike. Grippy but narrow tyres and aggressive geometry were filling me with dread the more I read in the Facebook group about bike set ups. No matter, I could still do it. Right?

RIGHT?

The thing is…. I had pretty much decided that I couldn’t do it. The negativity had started to creep in hella early this time. I felt a wee pang of excitement at work the week before, but other than that, I was dreading it.

I prepped decent nutrition. I prepped decent kit. I prepped my bike. But my mind was not prepped. And neither were my legs.

Event Day:

I am totally ok with a 0325 alarm clock. A 30 minute lie in when compared to Lakesman. I was totally ok with a 2hr30min drive at 4am.

We set off on time (remarkable) and made it to Kielder with only one minor navigational error. Overnight road closures were the source of much stress but eventually we were on the same road as other people carting bikes into the depths of the borders.

We registered in good time and then snacked in the car and made final adjustments to bikes and kit.

Beardy had had a bit of a mare with his wheels in the run up. An attempt to convert them to the more favourable tubeless set up had gone tits up so he was running tubes on wider tires with a deeper rim on the back. This meant trying to source a 33mm tire with a minimum of a 60mm presta. Apparently this is not a common set up for tubes and so he had 2. 2 Entire tubes. Wiggle & Chain Reaction’s entire stock. And one was already on the rear wheel.

I had maintained my narrower tyre set up so had plenty of spare tubes and all the required tools. My Endura MT500 Hydrapak backpack was stowed to the brim with tasty snacks and 2litres of water with 750ml of High Five Energy mix in a bidon. We were ready! I was determined not to bonk or hit a wall.

It was fucking baltic at the start. It had dropped to -5c on the hills over to Kielder and our bikes were covered in ice on arrival. An icy saddle sounds appealing after a 100+ km ride, but it isn’t what you need at 8am.

Bikes de-iced, we set off on time, with “Mr Endura” (Ian) getting a special shoutout from the organiser. I got to the end of the row of flags and CLUNK.

What the actual shit.

My chain had come clean off. I hadn’t even shifted. This has never happened (on this bike) at any time ever and WHY is this happening now?! A quick jump off and re-position and I was able to get underway. Somewhat mortified. Thank you to the RD who quickly abandoned his MC duties to hold my bike while I reattached my chain….. SAKES.

The ride out is neutralised for the first 3km or so to prevent people from sprinting off the line and to drive home the fact that this is not a race. You start with a nice, gradual climb which is a good warmup for the legs and lungs. And then I heard the words no one ever wants to hear: “I think I’ve got a puncture”. I turned to look at Beardy expecting it to be a joke.

It was not a joke.

We hadn’t even crossed the first timing matt. Jesus H Christ. This is going to be a long day.

Of course, it was a total dick to change. Beardy told me to go on ahead and if he couldn’t get it seated in the tyre he’d call it a day and see me when I’d finished.

I pedalled on, a little upset and worried that he’d worked so hard on his bike for this to happen so early in the day. And, because it happened WHILE WE WERE ON A TARMAC ROAD, I began to shit myself about only packing 3 spare tubes….

Of course, while we’d been stood beside the road, literally the whole field had passed us. So I was immediately on a catch-up mission. I reminded myself to take it easy and relaxed a little and enjoyed the climbs and the absolutely beautiful scenery. After about 20 minutes Beardy appeared at my side with a “haven’t you finished yet” and a slightly under-inflated rear tyre.

The 130km route has approximately 2400m of elevation (81miles with 7900ft for those of you who speak imperial) so it is pretty lumpy by my standards. Lakesman had 1000m in 180km. For the first 20 or so kilometers, I was actually enjoying the satisfaction of climbing and was coping relatively well with the variable surfaces. One particularly tricky section featured boulder sized chunks of sharp flint and it was marked as a “steep descent”. I gritted my teeth and went for it. We reached the bottom having aged a few years and with forearms so full of lactic, it felt like they were no longer attached to my body. At 35km, I started to feel a bit weary. I don’t know why. I had plenty of snacks and so far had managed to eat enough and drink enough. I’m used to shite sleep the night before an event so I knew what to expect with tiredness. But all this allowed the “I can’t do its” to start to seep in very, VERY early. This was an entirely new kind of event for me. I ride off road at home, both on CX and on my MTB, but the trails in Kinross-shire are hard-packed with very little loose gravel. Despite living in Scotland and being unable to leave the relative flatness of my immediate surrounding without climbing a hill, I am a total novice with climbing.

Beardy provided encouragement and support throughout, making sure I ate and was holding it together. By 40km, however, I was not holding it together anymore. With 90km to go, I was really struggling. For some reason, despite my legs feeling ok so far, I was dying on the hills. Beardy was spinning in his easiest gear which I can usually keep up with, but on this day I simply did not have the strength to keep up. I was being passed a LOT and this was really grating on me. It’s not a race at all, but people seemed to be gliding passed with little effort (in huge gears, to be fair… I run a compact double with an 9 speed 11/27 rear. No 32-tooth cog for me on the back!)

At around 50km, we had run into Justin. A rider in the 200km event who had experienced a gnarly mechanical leaving him with 2 gears on the back. Ouch. He rode with us and kept us chatting. We knew we were going to be up against it for the 1230pm cut off at 65km.

Justin was retiring and to be honest, I was pretty much following suit. I felt utterly broken. Not so much physically (although the lactic burn in my quads was making me wince with every climb, and for some reason, my lower back was in shreds) but mentally I was done. DONE. The thought of another 65km with the same elevation again had me wanting to do a little cry at the side of the road.

Somehow, we made it to the cut off point with minutes to spare.

I am tough. And I’ll rarely pass up a challenge. I have never, ever DNF’d. Until today. When presented with the choice of going hard or going home, I went home.

And I stand by my choice. I know, I know. I can hear you all groaning and rolling your eyes.

I absolutely love being outside on my bike, I love being outside full stop. But today, I was losing the love because I had thrown my training in the bin and ruined it for myself. I chose not to push through pain barriers on an event that was approximately 18 million miles outside my comfort zone. I chose to listen to my head and call it a day.

It was a gutting decision to make. I could see in Beardy’s eyes that he was bitterly disappointed. He knew I wasn’t ready though and, despite having the fitness (though lacking in spare tubes) to continue, he chose to stick with me and call it a day.

Once I stopped moving and got back to the car, I realised how cold I was. I hadn’t felt it out on the bike, thanks to my brilliant Endura kit, but as the adrenaline wore off, my body would not heat up. I had thermal joggers, a base layer and hoodie AND a DryRobe on in the car and I still needed the heating up full. It wasn’t until we got home that I’d eventually thawed out. Imagine if I’d started to suffer with that if I’d stayed out? That would have been bad news.

I am reliably informed that the pain of the choice, as much as I believe it was correct, will dissipate.

Besides… I have Kinross Sportive in a couple of weeks, and a lot of work to do in that time, apparently! At least I can literally roll out of bed and roll to the start for that one…

I have never DNF’d since I started my adventures in endurance. And I am honestly shocked at myself for choosing to DNF. At least if they’d stopped me from continuing, the decision would have been out of my hands and I could have used that as an excuse. But there is no excuse. I simply didn’t prepare and train enough for an event that requires SERIOUS respect. 130km on the road is a bit of a trek but it’s no huge feat for someone with an iron distance under their belt. But this was so tough. And I was not tough enough!

This whole experience has been a stark reminder that you can’t wing it for everything. And for a lot of things, winging it is the absolute worst thing you can do. I know what I need to do now to improve. And, being a goal-oriented lass with a strong will to do better, I will come back from this braver and better-equipped.

Would I recommend Riever? Absolutely. ABSOLUTELY. What a place! Such a great atmosphere and everyone I spoke to was wonderful. Fantastic marshalls, volunteers and a really slick event. It just wasn’t my day.

Onwards and upwards!

New Beginnings

I love Spring. It is my favourite season. Watching the trees and plants (and, unfortunately the weeds in my neglected garden) come back to life after the longest of Winters, makes me so excited.

My birthday is in Spring. My shiny new first-ever niece or nephew will be along in the Spring. The evenings are lighter. It’s slightly less baltic in the mornings. What is not to love?

This year, i decided to shove my A-Race back to August and give myself the long, dark Winter months to focus on rebuilding my strength and stamina after a brutal year of training for iron distance. It’s been a great decision. I’ll swiftly bypass the fact that I am hugely under-trained for the Dirty Reiver 130km in less than two weeks…. but this aside, I feel mostly ready for a few months of 70.3 training.

My plan for the Winter was to try to maintain my weight as well as my CV fitness, and work to improve strength and power on the bike while avoiding injuries and illnesses as much as possible. I’ve become good (some would say too good #hypochondriac) at listening to my body and thankfully, so far, I have only experienced a few niggles here or there. My biggest obstacle, as it has always been, is stress. I get very stressed. Once I am passed being able to deal with it psychologically, my body responds and I experience recurrences of the fibromyalgia I have worked so hard to beat. It can be exceptionally frustrating, especially as exercise, the one thing that alleviates stress, contributes to the pain which, if I’m not careful, can cause injuries that stay for a lot longer than I’d like. For example: in January, I was experiencing my usual shoulder and neck pain. Sometimes all I need is some light weights or an easy swim to allow my muscles to work through the tightness. But on this occasion, I pushed a little too hard and ended up with an extremely sore rotator cuff injury that lasted, on and off, until mid Feb. Not ideal for this swimmer!

With all this in mind, I have worked hard to recognise when it is essential that I take a big ol’ step back and reset mind and body.

Easier. Said. Than. Done. I can assure you.

The most important thing that I try to remember is: I do this shit for fun. I’m not an *actual* athlete. This isn’t my job. I have an actual job that I love and that pays my bills. I have life stress, family and a social life. (also I unfortunately have a garden. sigh) Life happens. I eat cake and pizza as well as vegetables. Life is short and is 100% for living. I’m not in this shit to win it. I’m in it to *live*.

Removing this competitive pressure from myself has been so important. Going into my new training plan with a relaxed mind set and totally flexible goals is (hopefully) going to make this summer fun and exciting as well as successful.

As things shift and change with my career, my family life (and my attitude), I have to remember to be flexible and to adapt. I mean, if last year taught me anything about myself, it is that I am tenacious as hell. Shove me in a difficult situation and I’ll drag myself out of it to the best of my ability.

Over the last few months, I’ve worked hard to bring my FTP up. I’ve attended to my strength and conditioning, I’ve enjoyed running (and hated it in equal measure but that’s standard for me) I’ve rekindled my enjoyment of “training” and made the most of parkrunning and days out on my bike. I’ve conquered some of the hills I’ve been scared of on my bike, and I’ve faced my fears of downhill MTB by accidentally not taking the chicken runs on red routes.

After Lakesman, I forced myself through some more events, I achieved the things I wanted to (apart from that illusive 5k PB which was JUST out of reach). But I felt sort of numb. Nothing was really hitting the spot and I knew I needed to take one of those big steps back and realise how lucky I am to be able to do any of this in the first place.

The last few years have shown me how cruel and short life can be. We get literally one shot at this, so why throw that away or waste it? While my body works, I’m gonna USE it!

I have channelled this renewed sense of purpose into this years “plan”. Which I refuse to put too much pressure on because this is an adventure and I want to enjoy it….and I am EXCITED to see where I end up.

I even went on a proper running adventure with my pal and colleague Laura. We hopped on a ridiculously cheap flight to Stockholm and spent a long weekend marching round the city in -12 and running in Djursgarden in the snow. We also discovered just how British we were by encountering a traditional NAKED (like…. extremely fucking naked) sauna where everyone jumps in the frozen lake after…. We wore our towels with shame/pride and closed our eyes in the communal showers and did we FUCK jump in the lake. Needless to say, when we visited a beautiful roof top spa the following day, the first thing we checked was that we could wear our swimming costumes……

So I guess, this Spring, I get to spend my time watching lambs play in the fields as I huff and puff on my bike, I get to chase choppers down in the pool (LITERALLY FUCK OFF IF YOU SWIM BREASTSTROKE IN THE FAST LANE WHEN THERE IS SPACE IN THE SLOW LANE) and I get to keep trying to run…… FOR FUN.

 

Falling in Love Again…

As I stepped out of the house and into the chilly, damp morning air, I took a deep breath in. I always do this before I set off. As though my brain automatically wants my insides to get used to the outside temp. The air felt cool enough to warrant a cursory “brrrrrr” but not too cold, plus I was well dressed for it, so I hopped on my cyclocross and headed for Parkrun. Being outside is the BEST.

Somehow, despite owning a Parkrun barcode for 6 years, I only started taking part in May 2018. Since then, I have managed to complete a whopping NINE parkruns (I know. I know. Bow before my greatness….. ) and while completing a run and basking in the endorphins glow while hobbling my achy calves to the car afterwards is lovely, my absolute FAVE is volunteering. Which I’ve managed to do twice so far and plan to do a lot more!

Truth be told, it took me a long time to gain enough confidence to go along. Despite the Parkrun ethos being super inclusive and not about pace at all, I simply couldn’t face it. I was too critical of my own abilities and I just didn’t think I’d fit in: I am not a fast runner. I don’t really like running while I’m running. I’m also historically shite at pacing myself while being famously skilled at picking up injuries due to this lack of aptitude for taking it fucking easy. Therefore, I used to swerve Parkrun the same way I avoid talking to humans before 8am. I could do it…. I just chose not to.

Recently, however, something has clicked. With my “Race Schedule” (Read: Fatness Prevention Scheme) now pencilled in for 2019, I have some plans. But the most magical thing has happened: I am enjoying sports again! I’ve managed to remain semi active over the festive period to combat the alarming quantities of cheese consumed. I’ve not even done this because I have to meet a target or anything. I’ve done it because I WANTED to! Shocking!

From Crammond Parkrun on Christmas Day, to climbing West Lomond cause I damn well wanted to, and double Parkrun on New Years Day, it’s been fun and I’ve been loving it!

dd13e18d-2285-4af9-8bdd-830f670ee38a

It’s been tricky balancing work, fun and avoiding the frankly disgusting amount of germs floating about in my air conditioned office, so being sensible and staying healthy has been my priority.

2019 is shaping up to be a proper whirlwind: 2 cycle sportives in April, my first Duathlon, another bash at 70.3. But that’s not the biggest, most exciting thing: My little sister is going to be a mummy. Which means I am going to be an Auntie. And this is the BEST NEWS EVER. I cannot wait to have a tiny human to borrow and show them how anything is possible. Every time I think about it I just beam with total happiness. Lissie and Sean are going to be wonderful parents.

Another super exciting thing that has happened, is that Beardy bought me a project for Christmas! A full carbon frameset with super light wheels. And with Ultegra components thrown in from himself and my in-laws, I have myself a beautiful new toy. He is called Toothless and he has already taken up residence with Stella and the gang while he gets his wings.

So….. as I gently pedalled my way to Parkrun through the gloomy morning light, I took some time to think about how lucky I am to be able to do what I do. I smiled to myself as the tail-wind gently pushed me along. I breathed in the chilly air and enjoyed the peace of eerily quiet roads and a completely vacant trail. It was glorious.

Then, I spent 45 minutes enthusiastically cheering and clapping for every runner and high-fiving the kids to keep myself from getting cold. All before taking the long way home on the bike and spending 20 minutes thawing myself out in the shower. It was a morning designed specifically to boost my Happy.

One of the things that has spurred me on the most recently is the statistics coming through from Parkrun. On NYD, the number of people in attendance at Scottish parkruns was up by 87% against 2018. And among that, the number of first timers was incredible: in 2018 on NYD, there were 717 first timers at parkruns throughout Scotland. On Jan 1st 2019, there were 1,599. a 123% increase. That is AMAZING. (Source – David Black from Parkrun Friends Scotland) Seeing more people get off the couch and get their trainers on is massively inspiring!

All of this has made me super excited for my adventures this year! First up: Stockholm at the end of the month! Bring it on!