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. 

Don’t. Give. Up. 

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

That. But real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hobbled. 

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

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

(Cough)

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

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

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

Oh how I fucking laughed. But seriously, help. 

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

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

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

I put my feet down and OW. 

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

This isn’t good. Try again. 

Nope. Fuck. 

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

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

Good. Fucking. Work. Bean. 

Somewhat shockingly, this didn’t hurt. 

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

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

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

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

Oh, well fucking kill me dead. 

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

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

*sniffles* ok. You’re right. 

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards, with a limp. 

“You’re In”

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

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

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

Still. I wasn’t getting in.

vlm2017

Oh.

OH!

Shit.

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

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

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

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

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

The Dark. 

“I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” – Galileo 

I’ve never been a big fan of the dark. I’d happily stargaze forever but I couldn’t do it alone. When I was little, grandad would tell me that it’s never *really* dark. There’s always light to be found if you know where to look for it. That’s true of the sky and that’s true of life. 

Sometimes it gets very dark. And I’m not talking about the winter. Or when you flick a switch in your living room. I’m talking about the type of dark that encircles you. Makes you feel isolated and scared. Makes you feel embarrassed and ungrateful. And makes you want to just lie down and not move. It can come all of a sudden or you can spot it lurking on the horizon and, despite your best efforts to stave it off, it just gets you by the scruff of the neck anyway. 

Over the years, you learn to ride out storms. You try to learn how to know the signs. Sometimes you need someone to show you the best path. Sometimes you need a hand to pick apart your puzzle and help you figure it out. Sometimes you just need to sit in silence with a hand squeezing yours. 

Sometimes it feels like it will never get light again. Sometimes it hurts more to find light than to remain in the dark. But here’s the thing: it will always get light again. It is always there. Even if you don’t look for it it will find its way to you. 

You might, over time, learn to accept the dark. To understand it and not to fear it quite so much. 

As Galileo said of the night, you might learn not to fear the dark so much. You might find your light in the dark. 

Often, darkness has a stigma whereby acknowledging its existence makes you weak. But you’re the opposite of weak. Remember that when you pull yourself out of it for the millionth time. 

Although everyone has light and dark in their lives, it varies. And some are unaffected by their dark. That doesn’t make you less of a whole person. It’s all relative. Remember that. Your battle is yours. 

You are not weak. And it doesn’t stay dark forever. 

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 Familiar Twinge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest it is, then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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