So What Next, IronBean?

The Aftermath

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how I felt after Lakesman.

Newly crowned as IronBean, the initial buzz wore off fast and I was left feeling……. disappointed.

DISAPPOINTED?! I hear you ask…..

Yes. I’ve been racking my brains for two months and that is the best word I have in my vocabulary.

In the end, you can only race the race you’re given. I far surpassed my expectations on the swim, but the bike was my biggest downfall that day. Post-race diagnostics revealed that if I’d just kept adjusting the gear cable (which I was trying to do on the move) I would have restored almost full function on the rear mech. I half wish I didn’t discover this. But alas, I still managed to finish within cutoff. And the extra hour on the bike meant I had to cram far more nutrition in than planned, which scuppered my stomach for the run. I truly got my money’s worth. And finished in the dark, in heroes hour.

Dissection aside, I felt fidgety. I immediately wanted to look at other full distance races and go swimming and running and cycling. But I knew my body needed a rest. I gave it a week before trying anything, but, when I eventually tried Sport, it was as though the pool had been filled with molasses and my trainers had been filled with lead.

My body was wrecked.

I have read articles which discuss the toll an iron distance race takes on the body, even on a cellular level. I mean, I was out there, exercising, for 16 hours and 21 minutes. Now I’m no human biologist, but I’d wager that doing ANYTHING for 16 hours and 21 minutes that is not sleeping, is bad news for your organs and your muscles. But because I hadn’t done “very well” (by my own definition… and yes I know how stupid that sounds….) I didn’t think I deserved to feel fucked.

wanted to exercise. But I just had no desire to once I actually started. It felt awful.

So. I rested, right? I burned all my kit and just chilled the fuck out, yeah?

No. I entered the GSS 10 fucking kilometre swim.

*facepalm emoji*

Now I look back, I realise the bit that needed the most rest was my mind. Back when I trained on a hybrid plan, I pushed and pushed and PUSHED myself. Constantly. I’d usually end up broken. It has taken 2 long, hard years to re-learn how to listen to my body and to train holistically and mindfully. With this constant pushing and shoving going on in my head, I had neglected the fact that I am a normal person. With a stressful job.

But anyway. I had a BIG FUCK OFF SWIM to train for.

Ideal.

img_9328
My most favourite race pic ever – Thank you Eilidh McKibbin (c/o Endura)

Finding my Mojo

After a few weeks of dossing about, I knew I had to get back in the gym. I set about focusing on 2 strength sessions a week, plus 4 swims, maybe a jog and definitely a bike if I felt like it.

This approach seemed to work on a self-care level and I soon rediscovered my mojo, putting in some excellent swim times in the pool.

I started to feel like the athlete I deserve to call myself but don’t because carbs.

I also now had something I was really looking forward to. I was actually going to RACE! In Open Water! I had joined some pals and their team for Aberfeldy Middle Distance triathlon. I was their pet mermaid. And I was EXCITED.

It’s a competitive race, and it is the exact race where I fell in love with Triathlon back in 2014 while spectating. In 2015 I smashed any target I ever could have given myself. So getting to do the swim and then sit on my bum for the rest of the day, cheering on amazing people taking part in my favourite sport?

A THOUSAND YESSES TO THIS.

My swimming had been getting increasingly good, so I set a target of sub 35 minutes for the 1.2 mile swim. Fairly leisurely given my 1:08 split at Lakesman (still smug about that #secondlady) but quick enough considering I was tired after over a year of training.

The day before the middle distance, the weather was NOT kind. Swimmers at the Sprint Tri were DNFing left, right and centre.

I was nervous.

I can handle chop. But this sounded extreme and I was TIRED.

However, by some miracle, Loch Tay was flat-ass calm on the Sunday Morning. The race was ON.

I waded in, letting the icy waters of Loch Tay find my bum crack (always the worst bit) and moved to the front left of the field. With zero ceremony, the relay wave was released and I successfully avoided the stramash of legs and arms. I soon found my rhythm and my watch hit 500m. 7mins14s. Oh. That is VERY quick…. ok. Maybe too quick. Slow it down a bit. Just let the diesel engine you’ve built kick in and tick over, Bean….

2nd 500 – 7mins48s

I wasn’t out of breath. What the shit?

With less than 900m to go I thought “fuck it”. And just went for it. Strong, calm strokes. I had fully overtaken most of the previous Blue Wave and was now nestled firmly amongst the stronger swimmers in the leading pink wave. I hit the exit ramp at 31mins51s. I was absolutely BUZZING. A few hesitant seconds were spent in a confused state trying to locate my wetsuit zip but I was soon launching myself up the carpet to find Joe, our cyclist. Wetsuit stripped (apparently only flashed half a boob) and chip handed over, Joe was off in the pissing rain. And I was stood shivering in said pissing rain. In my swimming cossie. Dignity on the floor along with my limp wetsuit.

Ella and I eventually found each other and I slipped into the warmth of a DryRobe. I’d also managed to locate my flipflops to rescue my feet from the gravel before cheering the our rival teams swimmer out of the water, and their cyclist on his way.

Joe smashed out a 2hr41 bike split in atrocious conditions, 2 weeks before he heads to SA for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs. And then Ella provided the icing to the cake with a brilliant 2 hour half marathon (literally less than a month after a 100km ultra, FYI). Our transition times were unbelievable (under 2 mins for T1 and 35s for T2!!) and our total time was 5hrs16min. 4th mixed relay overall. Amazing.

I felt buoyed (swim joke LOLZ) by the success of our team and, with a week to go until GSS, started to look forward to my long swim.

TriSexuals

A bloody long way

10km. 10,000m. Shit.

Such a good idea at the time. At 4am on Saturday August 25th, it was 100% NOT a good idea.

Having arrived in Balloch too early as usual, a van pulled in in front of me, and my nerves evaporated immediately: The Lakesman Watersafety Team had arrived. I shit you not. And they’d parked in front of me.

If I have ever needed a reminder that I’m a badass, it was at that moment. And the Iron Gods delivered.

I forced down breakfast and took a wander to the start. The initial breeze soon died down and the loch looked inviting.

maid

Initial temperature readings had read 17 degrees C at the start of the week. But I know my Great Swims, now. And I knew that would be complete and utter bollocks.

On my wandering, I stumbled upon an Ironman who was swimming the 5k (with like no training…) and we got caught up and speculated about water temp. It had spent a few days hammering down with rain, so it was obviously going to be lower than 17.

“15.6” so wetsuits were optional.

The .6 was totally ambitious. But people still went for it in skins…. nails.

Acclimatisation proved my point. It was cold. Very cold. And I was about to be submerged for 3 hours. Ok, good.

My new Speedo wetsuit felt really good but I was nervous now. The neoprene is thinner across the chest and shoulders for better flexibility, and I was worried that I hadn’t worn an extra layer underneath like last year.

With very little time to worry, we set off.

The Big Yellow Bastard 

I always forget how vast the course is at GSS. It’s a mile lap but I’d be swimming it SIX times. To break it up and help me keep count (it never measures accurately and after 2 hours in cold water, YOU try doing distance maths…) I’d stop every 2nd lap for a gel.

To help pass the time, I named the buoys. First there was Pointy Bastard. The Giant Green Prick, then Big Yellow Bastard, then Smaller Orange Pleb, then Pink “Halfway” Bastard, then another Green Prick, then Yellow Fucker, then Turny Green Twat then it was back to the start again.

Big Yellow Bastard was so fucking far away from the start buoy that I wanted to cry every time I started a new lap.

Because I’d done this before, I was in complete denial about how hard it is. Fucking hell it’s SO hard.

I was keeping pace extremely steady, but consistent. I felt ok until about 4km when my left shoulder finally decided that I’ve done far too much swimming this year and gave up. I felt the pop and then the burning sensation spread through my deltoid. With the cold getting deeper into my soft tissues, my hands now felt like a cross between seal flippers and claws.

Tremendous.

I could have called it, rolled over and thrown my limp, claw hand up and hailed a water taxi back to shore, but I’d rather have my bloated corpse dredged from the murky depths of a loch. So I pushed on.

“THIS IS THE LAST RACE OF YOUR SEASON, BEAN. YOU DON’T NEED YOUR SHOULDERS ANYMORE. FUCK IT”

So I blocked out the (now agonising) pain and swam faster…. Go figure!

Before long (lie. it took fucking ages) I was playing “next time last time” and was accutely aware of the chafing on my neck, the pins and needles in my left flipper, the fact that my hands were now totally numb and that if I even THOUGHT about kicking, my hamstrings would immediately spasm and I would die right there. In the NOT 15.6 degree waters of Loch Lomond.

There was also now a significant chop to the water at the far end of the course. What I had initially believed was safety boat wake, were actual waves and I was having to fight cramp, a burst shoulder, the urge to cry AND a current. Oh joy.

Happily, the wind direction meant that as I turned into the final straight for the last fucking time I had a wee push to the end. And boy did I use it.

I am extremely proud of my training this year. Especially with swimming. I have really, truly focused my efforts on a solid swim fitness level. I don’t pansy about in the pool with IMs and breastroke warmups. I set targets, hone my technique on front crawl and spent 4-5 hours per week minimum tweaking my diesel engine to make it powerful. With all of this behind me, after 9000m I had enough left in the tank for a strong final 6-800m.

Looking at my watch, I was frustratingly close to last years 2hrs53 (which I had achieved after a solid summer of training sans ironman) and for my sanity I HAD to beat that time.

Happily, on a course measuring 2-300m longer than last year, I was a whole 4 minutes faster. Finishing in 2hrs49mins. 10th lady overall and I’d broken the 2hrs50min barrier.

After initial frustration that I hadn’t gone EVEN FASTER, I realised the magnitude of what I’ve done this year.

Consistency. So. Much. Consistency.

A 140.6 mile race. A sub 32min HIM swim. And now a sub 2:50 10,000m swim.

Achievement: Unlocked.

beabn

I have long maintained that the only way to get faster at swimming is to swim. I’ve often been laughed down by so-called “experts” who attempt to teach people about a sport they have never mastered themselves. But my consistency speaks for itself:

The above graphs make me super proud of my arms: 2015 training for HIM = 95809m. 2016 spent rehabbing injuries borne from INconsistency = 63561m.

2017. Where it clicked. and I started to FOCUS on consistency = 211,762m. And then 2018. Where, to date, I’ve swum over 247000m and constantly proved myself (and the haterz) wrong.

I love my sport.

Now that I know the key, I fully intend to apply this to cycling and running. I WILL go back to iron distance. The jury is out on another 10km swim though…….

On to the next chapter.

Advertisements

Lakesman 2018

Warning: this blog contains my standard swears and chat about poop and sharting. It is also 8 years long. So as to do justice to 16hrs21mins of race time. Continue reading at your peril…

The build up

I’m pretty sure that the week before your first iron distance should be spent resting and tapering to prepare for the big day upon a bed of soft things, wrapped in cotton wool, in a safe and hermetically sealed environment.

It probably shouldn’t be spent nervously refreshing tracking info on the emergency Garmin you’ve had to order from Wiggle because your extremely expensive, flashy, all bells and whistles Fenix 5s has DIED.

OH YEAH, GUYS.

DEAD. DIED. DEED. RIP. FML.

I’d gone for a taper swim on Tuesday and noticed that the watch wasn’t syncing or recording HR. It stubbornly refused to restart but once it did it seemed ok. UNTIL IT TURNED OFF.

Then it would only power up under charge. 100% not impressed. 4 days before Lakesman. NOT IDEAL.

I hit return on wiggle and promptly ordered a 735xt which, ironically, had been my second choice to the Fenix.

It turned up in the nick of time and I’m happy to report that so far it works apart from a brief glitch the evening before the race. (Don’t even go there)

What I probably also could have done without, was a vague text message from Beardy requesting immediate assistance after a MTB-off in Whinlatter forest had bent his handlebars and scraped his knee. THIS WAS NOT A TIME FOR VAGUENESS. The panic was a little much for my heart rate but the run across Keswick carrying all my registration kit was a nice warm up for the main event… (Beardy is fine. If a little bruised and scraped. The bike is also fine)

The Saturday – Greig vs. Triathlon X

We had rented a cottage with our good friends for the weekend. Katherine and I worked together at the shop, and her lovely hubby was tackling the absolutely monstrous Tri X the same weekend. It made perfect sense to base ourselves in Ambleside. Mostly because Greig’s swim start was 4.30am. Yup. You read that right…

They were up and out in the middle of the night, so we had a lazy morning before I headed to Keswick to rack and attend the briefing.

Tracking Greig was virtually impossible thanks to very shoddy signal for the timing guys on the fells. The weather was bad even for the Lake District, with driving rain and unforgiving wind.

Climbing ANY hill in that weather would have been horrific. But Kirkstone, Aira Force, Honiston, Whinlatter, Hardknot, Wrynose, Coniston in that weather? Then a run up Scarfell Pike and back?

Fuck that noise.

But Greig has been chasing this for two years. And having had his training derailed by a horrid injury in 2017, he managed to smash Triathlon X in 14:51.23 placing 13th Overall. Absolutely astonishing and watching him try to walk up and down the stairs in our cottage afterwards was both hilarious and a worrying indicator of how I’d be spending the next few days…

Race Day.

My alarm was set for 0305. Boke. I woke up at 0248 and couldn’t lie in bed for another minute. I got up and made porridge and toast. Dry heaving as I forced myself to eat the only actual meal I’d have that day.

Beardy surprised me at his level of enthusiasm so early in the morning. He was up and dressed and ready to go ahead of schedule. We navigated our way to the car and set off for Keswick.

I was struggling to keep myself from throwing up. I sipped water carefully and only had to stop the car once for an emergency pee (no mean feat in a tri suit)

I was met at T1 by Eilidh, one of my colleagues from Endura, who had travelled down to document my day (amazing) as I debuted my custom tri suit. My mum and dad soon appeared and I had my first cry of the day!

I found Brian and Kate off of facebook/twitter and we shared laughs and hugs. And then it was time to walk down to the swim. Shit. I was actually going to have to do this.

IMG_0667
The neoprene cap is my security blanket… There’s also a spare set of goggles shoved down my cleavage.

The Swim

An excited buzz surrounded the crowd of neoprene clad athletes as we filed down to the edge of Derwentwater. The view was breathtaking. I felt ready, scared, excited and not as overwhelmed as I expected.

I had prepared for this moment. I wasn’t emotional as I had expected to be. But extremely calm. It was time to do three things.

I waded in to the warm, slightly choppy water of the lake into a deep swathe of weeds. Like…. hip deep. Gross. Splashed my face and dipped in to get myself ready to go. On the advice of my swimming buddies, I positioned myself toward the front and out wide to the left. We treaded water for about 4 minutes and then the horn was blown. I got my head down and got stuck in. The water temp was perfect and it was so clear! They had laid out 25 buoys for us which was very generous. I had a bit of a Dougal: Small/Far Away situation because the buoys looked like they were small and close. But actually they were very very large indeed. Just far away. Really fecking far away.

IMG_0673
I’m the one one the wetsuit with the white cap…

I swam straight for about 10 minutes before edging over towards the buoy. (140.6 miles is quite far enough without adding distance, thanks.) I managed to hug the buoys without drama for the full course. Up towards the island, the wind was whipping up some small waves, not big enough to cause problems but big enough to give me a nice lungful of water as I lifted my head to sight. Across the island, there was shelter and then all the way back there was a nice tail wind to give me a push. My splits flashing up every 500m looked good but I really felt like I was struggling to keep a solid pace. I tried not to get too worried and just keep swimming. Eventually I realised that the finish was only about 500m away. I started upping the pace and was promptly kicked in the face by a swimmer who just appeared in front of me. Punch-drunk, I pulled myself onto the exit matt, put my right foot down and felt cramp take hold of my calf.

OUCH.

I was trying to remove goggles, cap and earplugs and run and take off my wetsuit and listen to instructions and felt extremely overwhelmed. Stopped and saved the activity on my 735XT (didn’t even look at the time cause it felt terrible) and then someone shouted “YOU’RE THIRD LADY!”

Wait. WHAT? I wanted to stop and check but I needed to RUUUUUN the 8 miles to T1. Then someone else shouted “YOU’RE SECOND” and then Beardy confirmed this as I ran passed.

WHAAAAT? Shit. That’s serious stuff. I wondered how close I got to my goal time of 1:10.

My friend’s words of advice rung in my ears as I trotted into transition stuck firmly in my suit. “Don’t waste any time.”

I didn’t. An amazing volunteer effortlessly removed my wetsuit while I shoved my helmet on, dried my face and feet, applied chamois cream, threw bike shorts on over my tri suit, and put my gloves on. The same volunteer then helped me put my socks and shoes on my claw-feet. She was my hero. I thanked her and trotted out to T1. I was the first biker into my section!!!!!

I wobbled to the mount line and the girls clapped shouting ” YOU ARE FIRST LADY ”

Oh. My. God.

That is the first and last time that will ever happen in a race. I breezed out of T1 and onto the bike.

Swim: 1:08

Transition 1: 6 mins.

The Bike

I was pretty much immediately NOT first lady. Or second or even third. But I’ve always been an barely-above-average cyclist and a decent swimmer. The plan was always to just get through the bike. It was the bit that frightened me the most. The possibilities of what could go wrong are pretty limitless. I felt intimidated and not at all confident.

img_0675.jpg
Sailing out of T1

My concerns about retaining my initial crown were almost instantly replaced when I tried to change gear.

Clickclickclickclick brrrrrrrrr ping.

What. The. Fuck.

I’d taken my bike apart to bring it to the race and when I’d put the back wheel back on, I’d run it through the gears but hadn’t made time to ride it and run through the gears under load. It was immediately obvious that the cable tension was off. I adjusted it on the move but no improvement.

This was going to be an issue.

Not to worry. Just find a gear that’s comfortable and quiet and preserve that fucking chain! JUST GET THROUGH THE BIKE.

The roads out to Cockermouth (fnar) were smooth and gently undulating. I was passed by almost everyone. (That’s how it felt) I shouted encouragement at everyone who passed. Unless they were drafting (there was a fair bit of that!)

From Cockermouth we made our way down windy, winding roads to Egremont where we had a short out and back before turning up the coast with the wind behind us. My pace shot from 23kph average to 31 and I was making good time. By Workington and Maryport I was bang on track for a 7hr bike split. I was living my best life. Feeling good, nailing nutrition and in a gear that felt workable and safe for the bike.

There were some long drags up dual carriageways which were arduous and pretty scary, with the apalling driving of some motorists. I was bursting for a pee and had tried several times to pee while cycling but for some reason my brain won’t communicate with my bladder and I cannot do it! I stopped at an aid station, picked up a banana and a fresh bottle of PowerBar isoactive. I didn’t waste any time and quickly made it back onto the road. Still on target. Still ok. Just get through the bike.

I wish I’d made the most of the tail wind. Because life was about to get tough.

At Silloth, an odd wee town on the coast that I could see Scotland from across the Solway Firth (“ha!” I thought, “I’ve basically cycled home”) you turn back and head in a loop to Aspatria before heading back to Silloth. The headwind was constant and unforgiving. With nasty gusts from in front and the side. The terrain had evolved from flat coastal roads to lumpy countryside with some sharp wee kickers. Of course, I couldn’t spin my legs in the granny ring up these because Stella wouldn’t let me select that gear. Instead I had to stomp the pedals. This approach is faster over a shorter distance, in theory, but it saps the legs. I was soon having to take on more fuel to avoid bonking. This would cause problems later…

Around about now I heard the words “ALRIGHT MY LITTLE PASTYYYYYYYY” from behind. KATE!!!! Man was I pleased to see her. She breezed past looking strong as hell. “I HAD AN ABSOLUTE SHITTER OF A SWIM, MATE” she shouted as I dropped back and she moved forwards out of the drafting zone. “ME FUCKIN GOGGLES SNAPPED IN THE SWIM”. I shouted encouragement after her and watched her pedal off into the hills.

Kate
The BEAUTIFUL and MENTAL Kate

It was on this first loop that I executed the perfect bottle swap. Chucked my empty bottle directly into their bin from the bike, shouted “WATER AND A BANANA PLEASE” at the amazing volunteers who duly held these out to me, grabbed a bottle, put it in my teeth, grabbed a banana and shoved it in my pocket, switched my rear bottle to the front cage and put the water bottle in my rear cage, then peeled the banana WITH MY TEETH like and actual PRO and all without losing what little speed I had. That, right there, is winning.

Once the top of the lap is completed, you do 16 miles of it AGAIN before turning towards Cockermouth from Aspatria.

This section took for-fucking-ever.

After about 20 minutes I heard “THERE SHE IS. GINNIE BABE. KEEP GOING YOU’RE DOING AMAZING” and it was Kate again! “Nice work babe. are you on your second lap now?” “NAH MATE. TOOK A WRONG FUCKING TURN LIKE A TWAT. WENT AN EXTRA TWO MILES. FUCK SAKE”

This was the first time I’d laughed all day. It felt good to laugh. Off she went again. Pedalling like the machine that she is. (She did GUCR – all 152 miles of it like 3 weeks ago. And then won an iron distance tri the following weekend. Just in case you weren’t sure how badass she is…)

After another half hour, my good mood had subsided. I had spent the whole day being over-taken and felt like I was dead last. This is when the first Dark Place happened. There was a 3km climb, it was doable in the gear I was in but my quads were in tatters and my calf was beginning to noise itself up after the swim cramp.

I cried. I cried on a very quiet road because no one had passed for a decade and I was certain I’d missed a turning, was last, and was going to miss cut off. My pace had slowed to about 18kph which is really dire. All of a sudden, a man called Carl (I saw his bib) cycled past. “Why are the hills and wind at the end?!” I sobbed. “It’s just life, innit” he said.

Shit. That cut me deep. So simple. Yet so true.

Iron-distance races are designed to weed out the weak and ill-prepared. Maybe I didn’t get as many long rides as I’d have liked. But over the last few years I’ve developed mental fortitude. I’ve had meltdowns on long rides, but I’ve pulled through that to finish every single one. And as Carl so wisely observed, sometimes things get lumpy. You just have to knuckle down and get on with it. Just. Get. Through. The. Bike.

So I did. Save a brief moment at the 150km aid station. I’d literally been falling asleep on bike and the perplexed marshals held my bike while I sat on the kerb with my head in my hands for “just a couple of minutes please”.

Some tough love from the amazing marshals, a few more bits of nutrition collected and half a bottle of powerbar downed and off I went. Into the rain and wind.

“It’s only 15 miles back to Keswick” were the team’s parting words.

I may as well have had another 112 in front of me. Those 15 miles lasted FOREVER.

Eventually, I rolled into Keswick, passed the end of one of the out and back sections to see hundreds of runners on the marathon. Sigh. I had a lot of work still to do.

My earlier smiles had been replaced with a persistent grimace as my body was in absolute bits. My knees were killing me, my feet were numb and my neck was stiff from being so tense. I was so thoroughly fed up and knew that my goal time was now long gone. This was going to require every ounce of grit in my body.

I’d limped a very dodgy mech round 112 miles within a cut off. I’d made it. I’d made it on to the run. I knew now that I would finish. By hell or high water.

Bike: 86 years.

T2 – 6 minutes (including meltdown and pee break. THANK YOU to the incredible volunteer for her “tough love” which told me to harden the fuck up and get the fuck on with it. LOVED her.)

Highway to Hell. The Home straight x 20

5 Laps of an 8km course. Sounds totally ok, right?

Well let me be perfectly honest with you. I love everything about Lakesman. The organisers, volunteers, athletes, locals, location. I did NOT love the run route.

I mean, it was great for my support team who positioned themselves at various spots to see me. This helped immeasurably. But starting lap 1 when there were people on laps 3, 4 and 5 was absolutely shite. And turned a seemingly easy and flat course into much more of a test of mental strength and tenacity. There were ample opportunity to miss chunks of out and backs, especially as it became more and more quiet. But I walked and jogged every single meter of the assigned course. And it was brutal.

You start through Hope Park and then out through the woods into the back of the town centre. Then you run along the main road out to a wee path that takes you through fields. Small out and back here before your first aid station. From here you hit the Highway to Hell. a mile(ish) long section of road that you traverse FOUR times per lap. Yup. That’s 20 times in total. After the first up and down, you have two teeny out and back bits with another aid station. Then you’re back to HtH for another two traverses. After which you head back into town, winding your way for about 3km before you’re back at Theatre on the Lake, PASSED THE FINISH LINE (this is SO tough) and back out to the next loop.

DRHT8651[1]
Highway to Hell. While Beardy was waiting for me. It’s so quiet.
Lap 1 passed fairly quickly. I exited T2, entered the park to rapturous applause from the huge crowd and my friends and family and then I see her. SARAH ACTUAL TUCKER!!! “Surprise” she shouts! So I cried. Again. And then I mustered the courage to head off. I spent the lap congratulating my fellow athletes on a hard days graft. I was reassured to hear other grumbles about the bike being such a chore. Not just me, then.

Lap 2 got a bit shit. I still had miles to go. And by this time, my stomach had made me very aware that it did NOT approve of 8 hours on a bike. My legs felt ridiculously good. But every time I tried to jog, I was becoming terrifyingly close to a Code Brown situation. The danger was real. PLEASE not in my custom tri-suit, guts. PLEASE.

There is a saying: “Never trust a fart in an ironman”.

I had the fear.

My guts were heavily protesting and I knew I needed to settle my tummy or the remaining 3 laps would be extremely challenging. I was being chased by cut off.

I knew what was coming. I knew I would need to use a portaloo on an ironman run. I have read things, terrible things, about this. I was more afraid of this than following through in my suit. But I was really, truly going to have to do this because no one wants to be that guy  on the red carpet that’s shit themselves.

In a futile attempt to silence the extraordinary tummy cramps, at aid stations I picked up cups of water and coke and sucked ready salted crisps until they dissolved on my tongue. By the end of Lap 2, I was able to hold a jog for a couple of minutes before I experienced any, ahem, rumbling.

I’d noticed a portaloo with the door open on one of the out and backs. “It’s either so awful the door has to be left open, or it won’t be that bad because the door is open….” I thought to myself.

And I was EXTREMELY relieved to discover it was not as bad as expected. Tales of shit up walls and vomit everywhere had me shook. But this was fine!! THERE WAS EVEN TOILET ROLL. This was fucking luxury.

After what can only be described as an “uncomfortable” few minutes, I had to go through the ordeal of getting my tri suit back on my arms. It is the comfiest piece of kit I’ve ever owned, but at this stage my skin had a thin layer of sticky salt and sweat. I must have punched myself in the face 8 times trying to get back into it.

I’d survived. Dignity relatively intact.

By now, the field had thinned substantially. Stoic chit chat between athletes and the “chapeau, sir!” banter had been replaced by 1000 yard stares and unapologetic farting. This was the bit I’d been warned about. When it gets really tough and you can do nothing but dig in and just keep moving forwards. All the advice I’d been given, all the hours of boring turbo trainer rides, howling headwinds, bitter cold morning runs and long, early swims culminated in this last few laps of my first ironman distance.

“Just. Keep. Moving. Forwards. Bean. ”

I have never been a fast runner or a particularly good cyclist. I am well used to back of the pack. But after an 8:22 bike split and pushing on for a 6:30hr marathon, I was at rock fucking bottom and I felt utterly defeated. I thought about all the support from my family, friends and colleagues. My work had given me an incredible suit and I felt like I’d let everyone down. I admittedly gave thought to the haters. The ones who would only track me to watch me suffer and debate how soon I’d tap out.

Well fuck that. I’d come this far. I was finishing this. In Hero’s Hour. So maybe it wasn’t the 14 hours I’d wanted. 16+ hours of relentless forward progress is miles more than they are capable of. If anyone thinks for one mere second that I am not going to finish something I set out to do, then sorry, that’s not my style.

As I trudged passed the Crow Park Hotel for the 3rd time, I was greeted by Brian Drought. He’d had an unfortunate swim experience and had to withdraw. He asked how I was. I was quite honest. Something like “shite mate this sucks”. And he offered to chum me on my last two laps which were now going to be in the dark. Alone.

At the start of my 4th Lap,  he joined me in his running kit with a spare waterproof for me. The weather had closed in by this time and my body temperature was becoming worryingly low.

He distracted me with chatter and held my cups while I tried to jog (it was definitely faster to walk by now). And we quick marched and tried to keep my pace up.

Beardy had stayed put at the highway to hell and had been clapping and cheering every runner through their final laps. He really seemed to enjoy giving people much needed encouragement in their final hours of The Longest Day. He saw a lot of suffering that day!

Lap 4 passed in a haze of trying not to shit myself and trying to keep up with Brian. Marshals asking if I was on my last lap made me want to cry but by now I knew I was capable of finishing within the final cut off. I had gone into this with no expectations, other than finishing. But it was still a weird feeling to be chasing the 2130 last lap cut off. Following advice, I had wasted as little time as I could. Stopping only when things got really desperate. But I felt panicked and worried. I didn’t want to let everyone down and I really REALLY had to finish this.

As we hobbled through the park to start the final lap, the support was amazing. I got my fifth and final band and we muddled through. I thanked, high fived and hugged every marshal and volunteer that I could. What a long day they’d had.

It’s hard to describe where your head goes at this point in a race. I had been moving for 15 hours. I was SO close to finishing. Yet the looped out and backs were absolute hell on earth. I mean, i knew this would be tough. But this was tough. 

One things for sure: I am tougher.

We marched back into town. And I finally let myself think about finishing. After a year of hard work. 3 years of daydreaming of this moment. 6 Months of intense training. A new job. Injury. Stress. 4am starts. Zero social life. Sacrifice. Commitment. And not just from me but from my family and my friends and partner. I had to get there. I had to get there within cut off.

My entire day was spent adjusting my expectations. The goal was now: get to the end. Don’t be shit. And don’t shit.

IMG_0685
On the Run with Brian

Brian and I plotted the finish. He’d run through the short cuts to the finish and wait for me. I’d finish the lap solo. With a mile or so to go, he made his way to the finish line. And I hobbled in the dark towards the last aid station. As I was walking up the hill I heard “she’s coming!” “We’ve got another finisher” “come on girl!!!” “Well done Ginnie!!” Hugs, high fives and appreciation administered, I worked up the courage to run my last 200m.

When I met Lucy Charles, and asked her what to expect of my first race, along with some really solid advice on being prepared and soaking it all up, she said “You will only finish your first ironman once.”

With those words ringing in my ears, I ran down the hill towards the finish, the lights of the gantry now flickering through the trees. Loud music, cheering, my mum screaming encouragement, and I finally, after 16 hours and 21 minutes of relentless forward progress, got to turn left and cross the last timing matt and soak up the red carpet. I milked it as much as I could. High fiving and laughing and crying. They held the ribbon over the line for me and I crossed it to the words of “Congratulations, Lakesman”

I had done it. It was done. I laugh-cried as I was photographed by Eilidh and her boyfriend and handed a t shirt and medal. I cheered over the next finisher and then went to find my family and friends who had also had the longest day.

Job done.

The next few hours are sort of a blur. I was absolutely exhausted but totally buzzing. My head had gone from the lowest low point to the highest high. I couldn’t process anything. The incredible support coming through from friends and family who’d had a worrying day tracking me as I slowly flung myself around the Cumbrian countryside was overwhelming.

I’d been warned that I wouldn’t sleep. However, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out cold.

I awoke at 5am. Sore and starving. It was time to bum shuffle up two flights of stairs to the kitchen, where I sat eating cocktail sausages and toast until Katherine and Greig joined me.

I’d earned my iron crown. And now it was time to bask in the sense of achievement. Compounded by the fact that I battled HARD to finish in time. And I truly earned my bling.

finish 2
Pic courtesy of Endura

“Run”: 6hrs 35mins – my slowest EVER marathon

140.6 miles: 16:21.13 – got my moneys worth!

The Lakesman

What a superb event, with an amazing, friendly and supportive team of directors and volunteers. Marie and Paul were there at the start and finish high fiving and meeting everyone.

The setting is beautiful. The swim is stunning. The bike is challenging in it’s own special way. The run is mentally punishing but the support on the way round was unbeatable.

I can’t think of anywhere I would have preferred to earn my iron status.

The Reason

Lets not forget that I did this for charity. And so far, thanks to my incredibly supportive friends, family and colleagues, my total is sitting at £1600. That is going to help Lymfund in SO many ways.

Thank You’s

At this point, I have some very important people to thank:

My mum, dad and sister. For their endless support and love. Lissie made dad facetime her to see my finish live. She cried more than me for the first time EVER. Mum and Dad were up from 4am and stayed on the course cheering everyone all day.

My other family: the Belchamber girls for being an amazing Cheer Squad.

Beardy, who kept me as calm as possible (give or take a few fraught moments……..) and who, over the last year, has helped me balance training and life. Often setting aside his own goals to help me achieve mine.

The Spences for your constant support and help for both me and Beardy.

My friends, who literally haven’t seen me for a year. And if they have seen me, they’ve patiently understood my need for a 9pm bed time.

To Tucker and Daniel who drove all the way down to see me on to the run and over the finish line. Thank you for being the absolute best and for bringing BONBONBONBONS.

IronBuddy. For literally everything. Your advice, patience and help. And your book recommendations. You kept me inspired and motivated. And thoroughly grounded when required.

My Endura family: for the incredible support and enthusiasm for this challenge. For my suit, for introducing me to Lucy Charles and giving me the best kit a girl could ask for.

Brian Drought. Thank you from the bottom of my blistered feet for marching around those two laps with me. Your chat kept me suitably distracted from the pain and you kept me smiling when I just wanted to cry. Your family are amazing and I’m so glad we all finally got to meet!

I did it. I am IronBean. 

Iron Ready?

I’m not sure how I thought I’d feel by now. Did I think I’d feel like an athlete? Did I think I’d look ripped and muscly? No and also no because Jam. And cheese. And bagels. And sausage suppers. But I definitely expected to feel different: Fitter, stronger, highly tuned. Less like a sofa dwelling carb-addict and more like Leanda Cave.

Alas, I’m much closer to the sofa than the Cave. Literally.

I guess I must be different than I was, though. Even with my gut and bingo wings. All the indicators suggest I am at my fitness peak. But I still feel like me. I still feel normal.

I’ve gone into taper feeling ready for it. Not totally wrecked but with plenty of niggles and a requirement for plentiful sleep and water. I made it to 82 miles of my last century ride before I lost my shit. This is progress!

I had a beer and managed to finish it for the first time in months! I’ve been eating well and trying not to overdo the carbs as I taper down my efforts.

I’ve also been driving myself, and my people, CRAZY with taper madness. It is a real thing and it is happening in my head ALL THE TIME.

If I thought Maranoia was a thing before, I was wrong. Try Iron Maranoia.

It’s 100% horrendous.

I’ve trained for a year, but I’ve prepared myself for THREE years for this challenge. Painstakingly ticking off bucket list stuff en route to hopefully one day becoming IronBean. And the job is barely finished. I have the actual work to do now.

I’m so close that I can touch it.

And yet I’m terrified.

I’m terrified of that which I have no control of: Bike mechanicals. Relentless headwinds. Torrential rain. Unbearable heat. Hungry Pike. Cramp.

I can control none of these so naturally it’s all that consumes me as I beg for last minute mechanical tutorials on repairing chains and dealing with snapped mechs.

I guess the thing that frightens me more than anything I’ve done so far, is that I might not finish. I could have A Disaster. This isn’t set in stone. You can’t wing 140.6 miles. If something goes tits up and it’s non repairable, it’s game over. You can walk a marathon or an ultra. You can breaststroke a 10km Swim. For me to feel home and dry, I have to get to the marathon. And even then, I’ll need ample time to finish the damned thing.

Just get to the run, girl. Then you’re on the home straight. Then it’s just a marathon.

Just. A. Marathon.

I have never had a good marathon. (Ssshhh. Nothing could be good after 112 miles on a bike. Not even sitting down is good. You’d rather be running.)

I’ve been waking up at 4am bathed in sweat panicking about why my bento box won’t sit right on my top tube, how much lube I should apply, what if the photographer gets my chins from the wrong angle, what if I forget to hit save on my Edge….. all crucial, of course.

The last few weeks have passed in a blur of busy work days and last minute Lakesman fretting. Somehow, I’m about to enter the final week of taper and pack for the Lake District. So….. I’m basically going to do this, then.

I’m watching my footing, wearing sensible shoes and glaring at anyone who dares to cough or sniff in my presence.

I’ve had shoulder issues and a gammy knee which, at 8am on Sunday was ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY A MEDIAL MENISCAL TEAR OR AT THE VERY LEAST A TEAR IN MY MEDIAL COLLATERAL LIGAMENT OR OH FUCK WHAT IF ITS ARTHRITIS.

*hyperventilates*

Physio was booked for Sunday anyway, and Sarah reassured me that it was literally not even one of those things.

And relax, Bean. Do your stretches, Bean. Eat your protein and your fibre, Bean.

It’s all just come round so fast! (The exact opposite of how the event will go, just FYI)

Lakesman was a distant dream last June when I psyched myself up to register. Now it’s next fucking WEEK.

Next week. Shit the bed.

140.6 miles. Iron. My dream. My goal. THE goal. (Insert 18,000 ridiculous instagram hashtags here)

Shit.

Am I ready? Who the fuck knows. But it’s time to HTFU and find out!

Psychological Warfare

It’s been a funny old week. With less than a calendar month to go until Lakesman, the mind games have well and truly begun.

It started on Sunday night when we had to take my newly serviced bike apart to try and figure out what the fuck was causing the front derailleur not to shift. Diagnosis: fucked shifter.

Cue an almighty panic attack even by my own standards.

There is, of course, plenty of time to fix it. Beardy swiftly hopped on ebay and sourced replacement shifters while I continued to have meltdowns about every single thing I possibly could. I also have the luxury of owning several bikes (n+1 comes in handy, you know). So I tried to convince myself that if the worst came to the worst, I could do my last 100 miler in a weeks time on my cyclocross.

I have also noticed a tiny flaw in my shiny, hideously expensive new Garmin Fenix 5s. The back plate is squint. No problem, right? Garmin customer service is famously actually brilliant, and I got an email back within a few hours asking for photos. But they close for the weekend. So at the moment, my incredibly sophisticated bit of kit is not going near water until I’m sure there is no risk that the “waterproofness” has been compromised. This pragmatic approach is absolutely not what I was experiencing last night when I decided I may as well stop training because if it’s not on Strava, what even is the point.

Happily, I got back in open water this week, for my first loch swim since the 10km last year. It felt fantastic. Cold, of course, but importantly, I felt comfortable and confident in the water, easily smashing out 1:40/100m pace without feeling tired or breathless. Definite progress to be proud of!

Capture1

As my HR and Garmin stress score begins to settle back down to within reasonable limits, I find myself reflecting on another significant milestone that I reached this week.

Five years ago, I registered for an event. And this morning, I finally took part. I’ve trained hard for this day. Practised with kit, nutrition, hydration. Visualised the start and finish. Paced myself….

That’s right, kids. After 5 years, I finally ran my first parkrun.

Why hadn’t I done one before now? Well there’s a few reasons for that:

  1. I can’t “just run 5k” without trying to absolutely tear the arse out of it. This is not good news for this famously perma-injured runner. So I avoided parkrun during marathon prep (x4) as I didn’t want to risk disgruntling the underlying injuries I am plagued by.
  2. It always fell on long run day. I liked to keep my long runs on a Saturday so that I could either recover or bike on a Sunday. And, as per previous point, I try to avoid trying to run hard, which I seem to have to do over 5km, when I’m going long.
  3. I get hideous anxiety before anything that involves crowds of people. And parkrun’s near me are super busy. So I avoided them due to my fear of crowds.
  4.  Ignore all of the above. It literally took me 5 years to figure out how to log back into my Parkrun account to reprint my barcodes….

I’m SO glad I did it though. It was the first ever Lochore Parkrun and over 340 people descended on the Meedies to run. This made it really congested for the first 2km but the pack soon spread out.

I went out way too fast and at 5:19, my first km was too quick for me. I slowed it down, reminding myself that my actual A Race is in 4 weeks, and I could do without undoing all my hard injury-avoidance work! It was roasty feckin toasty. People were stopping to walk and puke. But my legs felt BRILLIANT!

I guess listening to your body does work?! Who would have thought it?!??!

I only noticed the camera thanks to the chap in front of me shouting “PHOTOGRAPHER” and was able to react in time.

Capture

I’m amazed that there is finally evidence that I can run without shuffling.

So there we have it. My first parkrun. I loved it, obviously. I even got within 30s of my fastest ever 5k time. 27:52 is not a shit time. Which makes me very happy as I didn’t feel totally dead afterwards!

It’s time to start my last big week of training now, and then I start my taper! It’s FINALLY HAPPENING!!!!!!!!!! I sincerely hope the stunning weather continues. But I’m not getting too cocky. Lakesman has been both gloriously hot and sunny, and extremely moist and windy. I’m definitely prepared for both!

Capture2

 

Build, Build, Build

Shit. Is. Getting. Real.

As of today, Lakesman is 10 weeks away. That’s far enough away not to stress too much, but in contrast, is close enough to start having LakesmanMares and sporadic meltdowns about how shit I am at 2/3 disciplines.

Totally normal. Right?

Things are going as I would have expected them to go, knowing myself: with the usual niggles rearing their heads and sleep completely escaping me! Despite being 100% fucking shattered all the fucking time.

Thanks to the amazing* Scottish weather, my bike confidence has been at an all-time low. Sure, I’ve turbo’d myself into oblivion but that does not an ironman make. Winter has been hella long, this year. With deep snow and biting cold winds. Not exactly road-biking weather for the fledgling ironman who doesn’t want to risk a broken collarbone or worse, a broken bike.

IMG_7530 (2).JPG
*not amazing. Not amazing at all.

So where am I at, fitness wise?

Well. I have had several tiny meltdowns about this over the last few weeks. Culminating in having an ugly cry in Bannatyne’s changing room after a particularly grotesque run where I literally thought my legs were just going to stop working. (I know. I am such a chilled person, this may come as a shock…).

After a very tough week, I decided to take a rest and cut training right back for 7 days. Usually this is all I need. But no. Body wanted MORE rest. (MOOAAAR?) So I kept things light and now I feel like I might be ready to get going again. Maybe. After this donut and nap.

As I snivvled in a changing room, I was reminded that this is not supposed to feel easy. It is meant to hurt. It is normal to feel so tired you might actually nap standing up. If it was easy, everyone would do it!

I picked myself up, blew my nose on my compression sleeves and got dressed. No one even suspected I’d been crying either because I still had that post-run glow**.

 

**beetroot face.

 

Pre-bike anxiety seems to be A Thing for me. I was awake at 4am this Sunday. I wasn’t due to head out until about 8am. So this was somewhat frustrating seeing as I am permanently fucking shattered, mate. I got up at 6, ate porridge with Nutella, drank a pint of water and set off just before 8am. Chamois-buttered up (I have my first ever saddle sore. We are not ok with this) and dressed in my finest Endura kit.

I went off exploring some local bike-friendly routes. Quiet lanes, NO HEADWIND (this will be the only time ever that there is no headwind. Excuse me while I jump for fucking joy about this) and 100km of quiet, fun biking.

Mojo: Restored.

Lomonds from Drunzie
The Lomonds from Drunzie 

Swimming has taken a wee back seat over the last week as I wrestled with an existing injury that strikes whenever I’m at a low ebb. Nice how my body likes to rub salt in it’s own wounds…. However overall, it’s been going…. swimmingly….. soz.

Aside from one particularly unsavoury encounter in Livingston’s Bannatyne’s at 6am, where I was asked to leave a lane before I’d even finished fucking about with my goggles because the bloke presumed I’d be swimming “Granny Breasktroke”. Well. I sure showed that prick. By catching him from a whole length behind within 2 lengths of him slating me. He soon learned not to judge a swimmer by their pink Speedo cap….. fucktard.

Running is…. well it’s running. I’ve been heading out with a colleague at lunchtime, which has helped my pacing. Laura is speedy AF so it’s great training for me as I hate running so I rarely push myself. This has all improved my CV fitness and I’m definitely seeing the benefit on my longer weekend runs. Even if my legs feel as though they are actually going to buckle.

I have been examining my training logs from past races, as well. My biggest Month in prep for Aberfeldy in 2015 was 870km. In March, I travelled 840km. And I’m nowhere near peaking yet! So really, my body is capable of more than it ever has been. And that is simply incredible.

I’m not doing this all for myself though, I’m doing this to raise awareness and vital cash for Lymfund. If you’d like to support me as I struggle through the next mental phase of training,  I’d be super grateful for your donations. As would Lymfund, who need your help to provide critical treatment for people living with Lymphoedema and Lipodema.

Thank you x

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ginnie-kennedy

Highly Strung Bean

This will come as a shock, I’m sure, but…. I am occasionally highly strung.

I know. New news, right?

I’ve been extremely quiet. Because I’ve been extremely busy. New (amazing) job and Lakesman training do not make for A Nice, Relaxing Time.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to blog, it’s just that I’ve had writers block. There are about 8 half-finished blogs in my drafts folder that have been discarded. I’m attributing this to the fact that I’m barely still for 5 minutes a day at the moment. My alarm goes off at 04:55 and I am back in bed at 21:30 to try and help my body rest. And maybe even my mind. (Massive fat chance of that. Ever.)

My body has coped remarkably well so far. The usual aches and pains and ridiculous bruises from falls off bikes and collisions with furniture and just general clumsiness have come and gone and come back again. I keep my Physio busy, that’s for sure.

Physically, I’m Just about coping. Psychologically, however, things are a little more challenging:

My (surprisingly) highly-strung nature means that I am, quite often, a total stress-head. I’ve tried my hardest to keep this under control, especially while I’ve been in transition between jobs and also up to my neck in Garmin data and Cadbury Mini Eggs. (hands down the best part of endurance training is how much I get to eat…) but sometimes…. SOMETIMES the actions of others make me stabby.

I have been spending a minimum of 3 hours a week immersed in a tepid chlorine bath.  This undoubtedly means that I will bump into others who share the same penchant for latex caps and various other gizmos and gadgets. I’ve been spending even longer out on my bike on the roads.

For the most part, my fellow splashers and motorists are considerate and we all co-exist in peaceful harmony. However. There are others.

At most pools, there are signs that cover the basics of lane etiquette. And the basics are not exactly hard to understand. So it beggars belief when people, or “choppers” to which they are more commonly referred, decide to brazenly ignore these guidelines that are not simply decreed by the Pool Gods for the hell of it. They are actually for the safety of all pool users.

So. What’s the cause of this rant?

I’ll give you some examples.

1. The Sideways Swimmer.

The Sideways Swimmer swims a very bizarre sideways crawl. Always in the fast lane, even when the other lane is completely empty. The Sideways Swimmer wears headphones. The Sideways Swimmer swims said weird crawl slower than my slowest breastroke. The Sideways Swimmer doesn’t give a single fuck if you have tapped her toes and cannot overtake as there is a third swimmer in the lane. No no. The Sideways Swimmer will push off just as you get to the wall.

The Sideways Swimmer is a prick.

2. Angry Men in Swimming Trunks

I grew up as a competitive swimmer. Which makes it hard to switch the Must Race Everyone programme off in my head each time I train in a pool.

But. Sometimes I get a really smug joy out of being faster than another swimmer. Especially when that swimmer is openly cross at me for being quicker.

It’s almost exclusively men that get cross with me. And I’m not being paranoid, here. I have been kicked in the arm, hand and leg by male swimmers who have taken a dislike to me tapping their foot or overtaking (safely) when they’ve ignored my foot tap.

I always make sure I take my rest at the same time as them too, just so they can see I’m not even out of breath….

(Oh Bean, you smug shit.)

But really. I love swimming. It’s my favourite and my therapy and it’s the one discipline I’m confident in. So I’ll take my little successes where I can get them.

3. Road Rage

I get extremely fed up while I am out on my bike on the roads. There is a huge amount of cyclist vs driver debate out there and I am seriously not getting into that shit here. But I will say this:

I am someone’s sister, daughter, partner and best friend. I am a motorist (a 10+ hour a week commuter, thank you). I am courteous. I do not cycle like a prick. So don’t handlebar me.

My pet hate is inconsiderate motorists. There really is no need to sit on my back wheel revving the tits off your Fiat Panda. If you need to get somewhere, give yourself plenty of time. I have Lakesman to train for and I give zero fucks if you’re in a rush to get to Sainsbury’s.

The majority of motorists on my local roads are used to cyclists and are largely courteous. But there is a minority of dangerous bastards who really should get off their arses and try cycling to calm them the shit down and reduce their level of impatience!

ANYWAY.

My current issue is with the bastard weather. I’ve been snowed in since Tuesday and it doesn’t look to be receding any time soon!

This weather has coincided with rest week, mercifully, which means I am able to work from home and chill out in the evening without stressing about getting to the gym or pool.

I’ve finally set up my just giving link, too!

You can donate here.

Hoping to escape for a run soon. But it doesn’t look good!

The Dramathon

“Run from Glenfarclas to Glenfiddich, pick up stamps along the way and get single malt samples at the end. Love running and whisky? Time to cross the streams”

The inaugural Dramathon had instant appeal with its Speyside setting and whisky-based incentives. A group of friends were signing up for it and I managed to secure a spot, despite being skint AF at the time, thanks to my fairy racemother Miriam.

As a startup event run by Durty Events, it was a pretty laid back affair from sign up right up until the finish line.

There was zero communication from the organisers until a couple of weeks prior to the event. Too much is annoying but too little can be worrying! Anyway. With two weeks to go, the participants guide was released.

I chuckled at the line: “course distances are approximate and intended as a guideline for you to estimate the nature of the event. Please don’t be surprised if we have limited interest in ‘what your garmin said'”

I’ll come back to that later…

In March, we got a new member of our team at work. Sarah and I immediately became mates and she was really interested in all my marathon chat. Unfortunately Dramathon had no places, but she was able to get on a waiting list and then I got a text one evening saying she had 24 hours to decide if she wanted a place. As she’s a total legend, she jumped at the chance! I had a marathon buddy and it was going to be SO much fun.

Despite training individually for this event, we decided a few weeks beforehand that we’d run it together. I’d keep pace for as long as possible and then we’d see how we got on from there. I’ve never done an event anything other than solo, but I was looking forward to having my friend with me to keep me focused during the dark moments.

A big bonus for this Marathon was that it fell on a Saturday. Having a full day to recover before returning to work is a definite plus for me! Sarah’s mother-in-law very kindly offered us her cottage on the Glenlivet Estate for the weekend. This stunning, cosy house would be our base for the weekend and was no further than 30 minutes in the car from the start and finish. Her lovely man joined us and became our chauffeur. I was extremely grateful! We were joined by my London Sherpa Michelle and hubby Jonny who were also running. Along with half the contents of Tesco in Perth, we had the ingredients for an absolutely amazing weekend!

Sarah and I decided we’d head up on Friday afternoon, via the stunning Glenshee, so that we could register and get settled and have a relaxed evening. The drive was breathtaking as ever, with Scotland giving us her best Autumnal realness.

 

Looking south down Glenshee

 

Registration at Glenfarclas Distillery was quick and easy. We were fitted with our “Dibbers” at reg (which soon became extremely annoying). And we headed back to the cottage for pasta, Bridesmaids, Friends and flatlays.

 

Pretzels as race nutrition are my new thing.

 

 

The annoying dibber that was pissing me off before we left registration.

Daniel arrived at the cottage around 6pm and Michelle and Jonny joined us after a challenging drive around 10pm. Some chilled catching up and last minute prep and we all went to bed for a restless night.

The 6am alarm was grim but I’ve had worse. Forcing porridge down was equally horrid and the rain battering the windows was filling us all with a sense of impending doom. Daniel and Sarah tried to reassure us that the Braes has it’s own microclimate, but I was beginning to dread the event. 26 miles in the pouring rain did not make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Daniel drove us to the finish line at the Glenfiddich distillery where we’d be getting buses to the start at Glenfarclas. We managed to get Michelle and Jonny registered and catch the rest of the Painless Performance crew. A big cuddle from Jonathan Pain resulted in the first hilarious moment of the day. I’d overfilled one of my soft-flasks in my race vest which promptly began to leak. “WHAT THE FUCK. I’M LACTATING” was my reaction which resulted in some concerned glances from passers by.

One big flaw in Durty Events plan was only having 4 portaloos for over 200 people. It was an entirely harrowing pre race pee experience. Boke. Not to worry, we thought, there will be more loos once we get off the buses at Glenfarclass…

Nope. Another 4. So we queued for 25 minutes, freezing to our cores, and JUST made the start before the piper set us off.

Me and Sarah pretending to be full of joy at the start.

At 10am, we were let loose on the Speyside countryside. The race winds uphill on tarmac for around 1km before switching onto rough twintrack on a gradual downhill until you reach Ballindalloch castle.

I’ll just put this out there now: I am not very experienced in the trail-running department. I am also inherently clumsy as fuck. This meant I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the Scottish mountain views because I was otherwise occupied with trying not to fall arse-over-tit into a muddy puddle.

After dibbing out and in as we crossed the A85, we were soon jogging past Ballindalloch distillery and it’s beautiful new building. We hit the first aid station. I had a pretty well-rehearsed nutrition plan but the lure of chocolate chip cookies was too much. This was Class A catering from Durty Events. We crunched our cookies happily and continued on to the next road crossing and dibbing point.

The first section of the route is pretty undulating. Nothing too scary considering you’re running in Speyside, but my hip had already started to protest.

Trail presents different challenges to road running. Road running has greater impact on my joints, but trail involves more stabilisation and my ankles and knees were struggling to keep me vertical.

Sarah and I ran together and were keeping a pretty steady rhythm by now. The undulating hills had been replaced by slippy, slidy ex-railway line.

Sarah’s stitch subsided about 7 miles in and we were approaching Tamdhu and an aid station.

They had brownies. BROWNIES. *throws nutrition strategy into the River Spey*

I risked shitting myself and horsed a brownie. Winning. At. Endurance.

We continued on our railway adventure and soon passed Michelle and Jonny. Jonny had run into cramp issues and they were having to walk. This would prove to be a race-ending cramp for the lovely Jonny, who made it to 14 miles before retiring.

As we passed a distance I can’t remember, we made it to a relay cross-over point. The guy we’d been running near for a while told us there were no more hills.

If I ever see you again, relay man, I will KILL you.

After Tamdhu distillery, we were directed up a gentle tarmac hill, to a GIANT MUDDY CLIMB. It was brutal. It could have been worse but it was tough considering we thought we were pretty much avoiding hills for the remainder of the race. We wound up past Cardhu distillery and then back down towards the railway line again. The downhill was where I hit my first wall. At about 12 miles I held back tears as shockwaves shot through my shins and hips. The cobbled, steep downhill twintrack was very difficult to navigate at a decent pace. And it HURT. Sarah’s knees were killing her and we were getting tired already. Stupid hills. Stupid marathon. Stupid idea.

We made a deal to start a run/walk strategy once we made the “half way” checkpoint at 25km.  We stopped here to gather our thoughts, eat some more cookies and stretch our aching legs. 4mins run, 1 min walk would start from here. We then negotiated the extremely slippy, boggy path for another mile or so before we could really get moving properly again.

By Aberlour, Sarah was deep in a dark place and I was hurting really badly. I was in agony and just wanted to get to the end. We exchanged “words” and got back onto the route to continue the long slog to the finish line. It was at this point that we were passed by Miriam, sister of Jonathan Pain and my fairy race godmother! She looked in fantastic shape. We also bumped into my buddy Chris who was suffering from a long season of MANY events including Craggy Island Tri and Glencoe Marathon. He was utterly broken. Some gentle abuse and encouragement and we were all on our way.

Me and Sarah now moved to marching. I was getting sore from walking (WTF) and my walk/run strategy was making Sarah queasy so I’d jog on a little and then walk until I could see her. I checked my phone and 112 messenger notifications later learned that Pete, Maria and Jonny had all pulled out of the race. I was so gutted for them. I was also hitting a wall BIG time. There were no mile markers and because the aid stations were sporadic, I was finding it really tough to work out where we were.

A quick call home for some words of encouragement and I was back in the zone. I waited for a bit at a gate to see if Sarah was close behind me. She wasn’t and I was worried. I knew she was fighting hard for this and I was struggling without her beside me so I jogged back to find her so we could finish this absolute monster together.

Eventually we hauled ourselves to the 35km checkpoint which was at about 32km and were told there was only 6km left to go.

WHAT?

I thought this was a Marathon?

Mixed feelings ensued. I mean, we couldn’t walk another fucking step. So we were quite delighted that the course was measuring short. But we didn’t want to get our hopes up in case the guy said miles. But we checked, like…. REALLY checked. “are you SURE it’s only 6km?????”

The “last 6km” is a very very gentle climb up another long, long LONG disused railway line. It was wooded and stunning but to be honest we just wanted to be fucking FINISHED.

There wasn’t another runner for miles in either direction so we were pretty convinced we were last and they’d have run out of medals and whisky.

The lack of mile markers was taking it’s toll psychologically and we were really hating every painful step.

We were passed by a woman called Kat who was from Perth and running with her hubby. She thought we were sisters and we chatted for a while before she continued on her way to the finish line…. wherever the fuck that was!

We trudged on at what felt like a good-paced march for at least 180 years until we started passing big corrugated buildings that looked (and smelled) like a whisky bottling facility. Was this Glenfiddich? Literally who the fuck knows.

I had my phone out and was trying to get a location on google maps. We were close-ish. Maybe.

There was now a road parallel to the track and I clocked a sign for Glenfiddich but no distance indicator. We were still passing big buildings so it was clearly a large distillery.

The lack of distance markers was REALLY taking it’s toll now. We were so grumpy and tired and desperate to finish.

The only thing keeping me going was Sarah’s unbreakable determination. She fought through the depths of marathon-pain and was still going. We had to finish together.

We were guided by arrows onto a road with a sign! A SIGN! THANK FUCK FOR THAT THIS MUST BE GLENFIDDI—– The Balvenie? FUCK.

Now, if I’d properly studied the Participant guide, I’d have known that Glenfiddich is beside The Balvenie. Instead we had to wait until we found A Man who promised us the finish was 500m away. Did we believe him? No. But he PROMISED.

He wasn’t wrong. We had to try and run up a hill but we could see flags now. I took Sarah’s hand and she somehow found the legs to drag me over the line at a sprint.

I was SO happy to see that finish line and SO proud of my friend.

Sarah, who tragically lost her Grandpa and then her mum in the space of months last year, fought hard and properly rallied to finish that race. It’s determination like that which inspires me. Having the ability to kick the walls down is what makes an endurance athlete. While I encouraged her, I somehow encouraged myself. It was so so tough and lonely. I couldn’t have finished it without Sarah by my side.

Daniel scooped Sarah up and took her off to buy her a very fucking well earned beer. I spotted the team and hobbled over to say hello and dish out smelly cuddles. Michelle had breezed past us around 30km having chucked her ailing hubby on a bus back to the finish line. I painfully lowered myself to the ground (mistake) and was handed a beer by Daniel.

The Medal was in actual fact a chunk of whisky cask, which was a lovely touch. The beer was tremendous and me and Michelle cuddled up for a photo (I won’t show you the others…)

 

Our chauffeur drove his smelly passengers back to the house where we all hobbled inside for showers and food.

Bizarrely, I only managed a couple of slices of pizza and some salad before heading through to my sofa bed to hide under a duvet. My buddies all piled through to join me before long, and we spent the evening grazing on snacks, beer and watching Friends. It was a good day.

The miniatures in the goody bag are fantastic and it took all my willpower not to tuck in immediately.

Overall, The Dramathon is a superb event. The marshals were lovely and the course was stunning (when I wasn’t trying not to die).

There needs to be some improvements if they choose to run it in the same format next year, however:

  • More toilets at the start and at the race HQ. (like… at least 10)
  • more accurate information in the guide regarding the format of the event. We were told we’d collect stamps at each distillery. Then it was tokens. But on the day it was nothing? With no explanation.
  • We were told the week before the event that mandatory kit would be confirmed 2 days prior. We received no further update from the organisers. And weather forecasts can’t always be trusted.
  • The course measured a whopping 4km short. I appreciate completely that not every race will always measure accurately. That’s a given, especially on trail, but despite their disclaimer in the Participant guide, I feel like 4km is a big deficit for a race calling itself a “Full Marathon”. After I posted this on their page on Facebook, a girl who was marshalling posted a link to the map-my-run route which showed we’d missed a whole section around Ballindalloch golf course! The marshal and arrows at the edge had directed us straight to the distillery. We’d missed the loop without prior explanation and as yet, we’ve received no update as to why this decision was made.

To sum up, I’d recommend this if you fancy a challenge in a stunning part of the world’s most beautiful country. Make sure you sort your accommodation and DEFINITELY make sure it’s within a comfortable distance of the start/finish distilleries!

And finally, a huge, heartfelt thank you to my race buddy Sarah. You were beyond nails. You kept me laughing and our Friends and Rupaul quotes gave me LIFE. Shantay, you stay, my friend! Here’s to the best, most flattering photograph anyone has ever taken ever. #WinningAtChinning x

22549823_692375094299092_6030892650933199266_n

The Reluctant Runner. 

Oh I know. I know. 

Reluctant? But you run marathons, guuurl. 

Yup. Still reluctant. 

You see, my relationship with running has a chequered past. When I was wee, running was literally only away from stuff that I didn’t want to be near. As I grew up, I was forced (forced) by our education system , to partake in this absurd activity. 

Cross Country PE. Reserved only for the most frosty of winter mornings. And also the words that reduced me to a quivering wreck and latterly resulted in me bribing my mum to write me excusal notes for most of 5th and 6th year. 

When I did take part, a permanent stitch, a hatred of all physical activity and a general loathing of being outside and/or cold, ruined any possible enjoyment of the sport. 

Fast forward 15 years and 15 year old Bean is rolling her eyes so hard she’s practically seeing out the back of her head. 

And to be honest, running still sucks. 

3 marathons. I’ve run THREE and number FOUR is in a matter of weeks. So why? If it sucks why do it? 

Usually my approach to endurance is that if it’s not fun, why do it?

However. Running is such an important part of going long. It’s psychologically tough on me. Therefore each long run I do is designed to test my mental strength. Much like doing all the swimming. 

Similarly to the mental toughness of the actual act of running, preparing for a run is also character building. 

For example: on longer runs, I like to wear my 2XU compression socks. They may or may not help but I like how garish they are and they make me feel less like my calves will explode while I run. Because that happens. 

Putting these on, however, is not an easy task. Imagine trying to wrestle a sweaty body into an already damp wetsuit. Then make the wetsuit two sizes two small and swap dexterous hands for a pair of fluffy mittens. Add some face-punching (your own hand and your own face…) and 18 minutes of swearing per calf and your only at the ankle. 

Once the ordeal of getting dressed in all manner of compression gear is done, it’s just the running to do. Oh good. At least I’m warmed up. Right?

Now. I feel I should add that I like how running makes me feel afterwards:

Empowered, satisfied, strong. 

I do not enjoy how it makes me feel during:

Shoogly. What’s that crunch? Oh it’s my hip. There’s another stone in my shoe. Why does my shoulder hurt? Why am I so shit at this? My shorts are giving me camel toe. I need to pee. 

Etc. 

When I am asked “how was your run?” The reply is usually “GREAT! Apart from the part where I had to actually run. ”

My body is categorically not designed for running. Evolution has bestowed upon me a level of laziness that is satisfied only by getting off the sofa and walking to the fridge. It has also given me flat feet, a rotated pelvis (holla at me ladies), one leg significantly longer than the other, two tendons in my left hip joint that crunch together with every. fucking. excruciating. step, terrible posture and boobs that need to be strapped firmly down. 

(I realise I’ve just painted the most epic picture of myself.)

Like most women affected by the rotated pelvis issue (it’s common AF), running any kind of distance results in real, proper pain that keeps me awake at night. So I also have to stretch. A lot. Which is boring and painful. And it usually results in me falling asleep on my yoga mat, or getting distracted by intagram stories. #FirstWorldProblems

I digress. The plan now is just to gently ease up the miles, and prepare mind and body. I have 5 weeks (I think?? I’ve stopped counting) until the marathon and in the words of RuPaul: “good luck. And don’t fuck it up”. 

The Surprisingly Good Run

Well. What a 48 hours it’s been. With the GSS 10km on Saturday, I knew entering the Forth Road Bridge 10k the following day would be a big ask on my body. But if I ate well and rested after the swim, there’s no reason why a 10km run the following morning wouldn’t be achievable. I just had to let go of any time goals and enjoy running across such an iconic landmark. 

Of course, I was absolutely buzzing after the swim. A weird mix of feelings similar to that which I’ve experienced post marathon. I discovered that I had actually performed exceptionally well. Coming in at 51st overall in a male dominated race, but also coming in 4th in my age group and 9th female over all. 


I was completely blown away. I knew I was a competent swimmer, but I never race well. In any sport. I’m just average and I’ve always been completely ok with that. This is a hobby and a bit of “fun” for me. I train hard and as well as I can but generally I don’t take races too seriously over and above the obvious respect for the distance and the course, so to see results like this was wonderful. Confirmation that anything is, in fact, possible with a lot of hard work and some heavy determination. 

Post swim, Beardy BBQ’d our dinner and I slept the sleep of a tired swimmer. The following morning my stomach woke me up for more food. Toast and banana administered, we headed to North Queensferry for registration. 

We opted to park at the multi-storey and walk up the hill to the community centre. A decent warmup which we did twice as we decided to go back down the hill and deposit jumpers and bags in the car. This decision was based on the fact that neither of us fancied the 8,000,000 steps back up the hill after the run. It wasn’t until we were about to start that Beardy looked at his Garmin and told me that we’d already walked 8km. I was already starving. This was going to be tough. 

I have issues with blood sugar regulation after long or difficult runs. I bonk really badly and I started to feel nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to finish. 

However, I was hydrated and I knew that calorie wise, I’d eaten enough in the morning to see me through…. if you ignore the 10km swim the previous day. 

Being that the race starts in North Queensferry, you’d be stupid not to expect hills. The race starts downhill and then loops back up the steep hill past Gordon Brown’s hoose and then down down down into Inverkeithing. Throwing time-goals out the window, I wished Beardy good luck and wound my way through the deep-heat scented crowd to the 60 minutes and over pen. 

As we crossed the start line, those around me shot off down the hill at WAAAAAAY under 5mins/km. “Excellent”, I thought. “I will be last.” 

I had already made the decision to run based on feel with no pace goal and no HR strap. My body would decide the pace for this. So when the first km beeped in at 5:54 I thought “oh. This is interesting”. 

Up up up-hill, where I started to pass those who’d shot by me, most of them walking already, and then doooooown the steep descent into the arse-end of Inverkeithing. Weirdly, I wasn’t out of breath. 

I managed to completely miss Beardy at the out and back section by the docks, purely because I wasn’t expecting an out and back section so I was busy moaning to the guy next to me about this outrage. (Edinburgh Marathon’s out and back has forever scarred me) 

We turned back and headed for the bridge and 3 solid but steady kilometres of uphill. 

I’d be lying if I said I noticed much of the bridge. I was too busy admiring the Rail Bridge and looking under the roadway at the structure I drive over twice a day, every day. It’s really quite something. 

The weather was still. The sun was out and it was HOT if you didn’t catch whatever breeze there was. 

I was passing a lot of walkers now. I managed to smoke a British Military Fitness dude who was pissing me off with an annoying walk/sprint strategy and ignoring the pathway etiquette and blocking cyclists. 

Pretty soon, I was enjoying free speed from the downhill slope of the bridge towards shade and water. My splits were mostly inconsistent but sitting around 6min/km. Most bizarrely, I was feeling absolutely FINE (apart from the bit where all running is shit and I hate it). 

You dip down under the bridge where you’re given water. Most of it went over my head (I was BOILING) and then I clawed my way up the ridiculously steep incline to get to the other footpath. 

3km left. I was on course for 60 minutes. I was feeling good. 

Fuck it. Let’s do this. 

I shuffled my way over the bridge. The incline somehow feeling steeper on this side. I’d been using a woman from Rotherham Harriers to pace myself and soon started to catch her. By 8km I was overtaking a lot and my legs were still feeling amazingly fresh. And a 9km I put the hammer down. 

Jeez I gave that last km everything I had. I was flying. My watch said 4:35/km. sure, it’s downhill but that is quick for me. I glanced at my watch about 200m out from the finish funnel. 59:19. 

Fuck. Come on. 

I sprinted. (Guaranteed it did not look as fast as it felt). I “breezed” past about 5 people and crossed the line. My watch said 59.45. 

The official chip time? 59.59. That is the definition of “by a bawhair”. 

I walked through the funnel, high fiving Beardy who had run 48mins and was not expecting to see me so soon, and mid way through being congratulated by a man on my “tremendous” sprint finish, I puked.  

“Tremendous sprint! That was fantasti—–oh my…”

I puked at the side of the A90. Into a hedge. In front of hundreds of people. Hilariously while a girl apparently admired my Fenix watch. She was asking me about it as I came up for air before realising what she’d interrupted. 

This wasn’t my fastest 10k which I did on an almost entirely flat course. But it was my fastest 10k this YEAR. The morning after a marathon swim. 

Without HR data it’s difficult to tell how much I properly suffered but my body felt completely fine apart from the immediate requirement to evacuate my stomach. (It was empty anyway) 

We had somehow made the excellent life choice to do our weekly food shop on th  way home. My body became aware of its endeavours while I perused Aldi’s meat section and the minute I got home I HAD to nap. 

I am happy (and shocked) to report that the following day, I am unscathed. My shoulders are still not over the swim but my legs feel good! 

I’m sure this won’t last…. 

next stop? The Dramathon. Gulp. 

When Do I Get My Clam Bra? 

You may recall that back in June, I was supposed to swim 10km in Windermere. Unfortunately, Weather occurred so events were cancelled and although they allowed us to swim 1 mile, I still had a “burning desire” (see also: weird and fucking stupid desire) to swim that distance. So I entered the Great Scottish Swim 10k as a back up. 

For the last two months I’ve trained hard while also convincing myself that GSS would be cancelled and OH WELL NEVER MIND I WON’T HAVE TO DO IT EVER. 

No such luck. 

I awoke at 3am on race morning with the familiar knot in my stomach and the even more familiar pre-race lack of appetite. I forced a crumpet down my neck and performed the standard last minute OCD checks on my kit. Everything present. Everything correct. 

I had prepped an array of car snacks and a Sensible Breakfast of porridge and banana to “enjoy” en route and at 06:32 I parked up at Loch Lomond Shores and settled down to try and not vomit while eating the aforementioned porridge and banana. Somehow I managed. Even if I fluffed the swim, this was a great achievement. 

I gathered my many belongings and trudged unwillingly towards the event site. The Loch was flat-calm. The rain was on and off and the air was still. The conditions were completely perfect and this was going to happen. 

As I stood on the pier dry-heaving at the mammoth course laid out in front of me (the curvature of the earth actually prevents you from seeing the far buoys I promise), I spotted IronPugsley and his friend looking a tad more awake than I felt. It’s Dougie’s fault that I’d entered this stupid race in the first place. He was calm and confident. I was a wreck. 


We wandered round to the changing tents which had moved from their usual spot (that’ll learn me for not checking the signs…) and went off to slip into something a little less comfortable and a little more rubbery. 

 I took my time, applying Body Glide liberally to any bits of skin that may or may not chafe. And some more just for luck. I prised myself into my Orca, got my hair in place and grabbed the rest of my stuff to head round to the start. 

Kit wise, I had layered a tri-top over my swimming costume just for an extra layer. I’d not opted for gloves or booties. I knew I’d struggle with numb hands but the gloves were heavy and I’d just rather not have extra weight to drag about for 6.2 miles. 

I found Dougie, Jan and Andy all suited and still ridiculously awake. Much mockery of D’s silicone “neck protector” (Soz but it looks like a sex toy) and other silly carry on. It wasn’t until Dougie asked me which colour goggles I’d gone for that I suddenly thought OH FUCK. GOGGLES. Thank FUCK I’d packed them. A half-sprint-half-barefoot-hobble-on-rocky-tarmac later, I had them firmly in my grasp. That was close. What a pisser that would’ve been. 

Dougie introduced me to his pal that runs the Forth Swim. He tried to convince me to enter but I’m not 100% sold on swimming through human jobbies. We’ll see….

We were soon allowed into check in and went straight into the acclimatisation zone. Which sounds fancy but is actually just the boat-launch cordoned off with a lady shouting at you that they’re closing it soon. 

By this point, I was a complete bag of nerves. The loch was 16 degrees but that’s not exactly a fucking bath and I was worrying about freezing to death. I went through my mantra in my head on repeat while everyone buzzed around me. (I like to have a quiet moment before a race kicks off):

Lap twice. Stop for gel. Lap twice. Stop for gel. Lap twice. Medal. 

Easy. Right? 

Kerri-Anne Payne was on hand to start us off and before I knew it I was saying goodlucks and goodbyes (thanks Andy for the hilariously awkward are-we-high-giving-oh-wait-fist-bump-nope-hug moment) and dipping into the loch with Dougie to start our 10km. 

Shiiiiiiiiiit that’s cold. 

Ok. Draft a bit. Swim a bit. Draft some more. Panic a bit. Breathing! Remember breathing! Breathing is so important. Lift your head to breathe. Perfect. Off we go. 

I’d posted in an all-girl group I’m in on FB for some words of wisdom and the women were AMAZING. Their words went round in my head and Rach (off Twitter!) who is a swimming queen gave me some great breathing advice. I stuck to her words and soon found my rhythm. 

The first lap passed in under 30 minutes and I was feeling great and full of energy. Just one more lap and then it’s BOAT SNACK TIME, I kept telling myself. 

Lap two done and I clung to the side of a rib boat while a lovely man handed me water and a Cliff gel to chew/swallow (they are a fucking weird consistency. Sort of like thick snot. And also opaque yellow like snot. A lovely thought. You’re welcome.) I have to say, I was a little upset to learn that the “snack boat” didn’t have a buffet of pasta dishes and hot tea. Nope. Just jelly babies and gels. But at this point I’d have eaten roadkill if I thought it would have given me the beans to keep going…

Onto lap 3 which meant I would be HALF WAY!! I checked my watch. It was clear that either the course was going to come up short or Garmin was being a tad lazy. Not to worry. We battle on. 

By now I am catching the subsequent wave. Picking through the slower swimmers definitely cost me time but I took a draft where I could get it and managed to avoid any painful kicks this year. I was passing caps from my own wave and nothing was sore or tired yet. WTF. Was I kicking ass at this?! I went through 5km at bang on 1hr30 (including gel stop). Yes. I was kicking ass at this. 

Through laps 4 and 5, my index fingers on each hand had gone numb, I was fighting the onset of calf cramp and I was really suffering with lower back pain (which has all but completely fucked off lately so I was NOT happy about this!). My head started to tell me that I’d had quite about enough of this charade and it was time to find a kayak and die quietly. 

At the end of Lap 4 I found the boat and “enjoyed” another “delicious” snotter/gel. Unfortunately, as I was clinging to the boat with my claw-hands and trying to stretch out my back, my leg became tangled in one of the buoy ropes. Not even a little bit tangled. Properly fucking caught. Like a sodding fish. I was snagged. This was going badly. I shouted to the boat dude who was about as confused as me as to how this had happened. Thankfully, the very nice man beside me swam under the boat to untangle my leg and I was able to continue. Amazingly, no cramp was sustained during the ordeal. 

5 minutes lost to being a twat, I continued onto my penultimate lap to play Next Time Last Time. 

Next Time I see this buoy it will be the Last Time. For a mile. A confusing mile, at that. My watch was showing that the course was 400-500m short. But my tired, water-logged brain as beginning to convince itself that we’d somehow missed a lap. I retraced every stroke and after *some* debating, I decided that this was 100% my 5th lap. No doubt. Stupid GPS. 

Last lap time. 

It was now that a Huubster appeared. A pink cap (2 mile swimmer I think ) and a £500 Huub Archimedes suit plus matching goggles. He appeared to my right and swam directly over me without stopping. He was not going in the right direction. Having been dooked unwillingly and by surprise, at 5 miles into a 6 mile race I needed to gather myself and swear at him loudly. A woman doing breastroke to my right checked I was ok before we laughed as she asked where the fuck he was going. Apparently £500 can by you an incredible wetsuit but not a sense of direction… 

A weird thing began to happen: I started to have fun. For the first time LIKE EVER, my goggles had not fogged up at all. I was picking red caps off and passing swimmers like a proper fast swimmer. The TV chopper was over me the whole last lap. The noise was deafening. I was KICKING ASS AT THIS! My watch had me finishing well under 3 hours. Even with the shorter distance I’d be under Dougie’s (seemingly ridiculous) prediction of 3:05. 

I AM A SWIMMING QUEEEEEEEEEEEN I shouted in my head. 

The final buoy was in sight. I just had to swim past that, through the pointy buoys, under the gangtry and that was it finished! Let’s GOOOOOOO. 

I gave the last 400m everything I had. My best technique, no kicks, strong, positive pulls, slight bend at the elbow with a straight arm exit from the water. Smooth, effortless gliding but with breathing that sounded like was seconds from death. Ignoring the fire in my shoulder muscles and the numb as fuck hands. 

I reached the finish funnel and attempted to stand up. Wobbling and probably not smiling, I stumbled over the finish line to the ankle-beeper where the guy asked my name and it took me far too long to remember it. 

I was done. It was finished. 2hours 53 minutes and 46 seconds. 

Holy. Shit. 

That’s not just a little bit good, that is BRILLIANT. 

As I staggered past chip-removal towards the goody bags and my warm clothes, a young lad shouted “YOU JUST DID THE 10k! YOU NEED TO GO THIS WAY CAUSE YOU GET A BETTER GOODIE BAG!!” 

Oh YAS! I thought. FINALLY Great Swim have bowed to pressure and made a non-generic medal for the 10k swimmers. Gimme!! 

This really did not impress the two-mile swimmer next to me who moaned a “that’s not fair!” At the lad before he gently but firmly suggested that if she wanted a 10k goodybag she could nip back in and swim another 4 miles. She declined…

As with every GSS I’ve done so far, the heavens had opened as I was dragging my carcass out of the loch. I padded painfully round to the sweaty changing tent, shivering violently and acutely aware that my arms were absolutely livid with me. I had to ask a stranger to unzip me. I then had to apologise to two other strangers who were freaked out by my squealing as my hand found my chafed neck. I borrowed a chair and used it to try and assist with dressing. This was more challenging than the fucking swim. 

I did all this while shovelling pretzels into my face and downing water. I felt ok but I knew I’d soon bonk if I didn’t take salts and carbs on board. 

Eventually I staggered to my car. Dougie and Jan were walking down the road and had both had as much fun as you can while swimming endurance distances. Dougie swam 10km in under 2:40. I mean really. Half man half fish. 

Once in my car I asked a marshal to direct me to McDonald’s where I horsed a Big Mac meal and large milkshake before hitting the road. Somehow, I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel. But my arms are all but useless now. Honestly I’ve typed this with my nose. 

I am over the MOON. This was one hell of a challenge. Unsurprisingly, swimming 10km is not on many athletes radar as something they want to do. But I did it and I did it well and wildly over-achieved on my original target of 3:30. 

Thank you, Great Swim for another fantastic event. 

I am now a marathon swimmer! And I’m waiting for my certificate welcoming me to the Mermaid community.