Ok so let me just kick things off by saying FOR THE SAKE OF ACTUAL FUCK, WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING.
And breathe. That feels better already.
So far, the only good thing to come out of this year are the memes, which have been out of this goddamn world. Other than that, 2020 has felt like one of those anxiety dreams where you’re trying to get somewhere and there’s planes crashing around you and the ground has been replaced by treacle and someone has tied your shoelaces together. AND IT IS ONLY APRIL.
We all waited with baited breath for BoJo to tell us if we were going to be allowed outside during lockdown. The collective sigh of relief from everyone on Strava was audible around the country. Now if only the fucknuggets could stop driving to parks and public spaces to exercise their brats and dogs, that’d be great….
Despite the fact that December was actually in fact last year(NO, REALLY), it feels like it’s been 1900 months since we started hearing about this new Coronavirus that was taking out cities in China. My line of work involves every day dealings with the Far East, and it was clear from the start that this would have a significant global impact.
China shut down for CNY and then remained closed. It started spreading. And now it is here and suddenly everyone is making banana bread, naming their sourdough starters and stockpiling bog roll while watching Tiger King. What a time to own a conference calling platform, eh?
I started working from home around the 18th March which was surreal. I’m very lucky that we have office space in our house so my work PC and desk plant have come home to live here for a bit. Then, on April 1st, I was put on Furlough. A relatively new word to most of us but one we’re now hearing many, many times a day.
Furlough is bizarre. I have never not worked. Not since my first job at 15. So being UNABLE to work, or check emails, or do ANYTHING work related makes me exceptionally anxious. At the moment, we are able to run or cycle or walk outside once per day as exercise. Which means that I can train to some degree. However I had signed up for the small matter of a 140.6 and this change in routine and lifestyle has COMPLETELY floored me!
I haven’t swum for nearly a month and that makes me so unbelievably sad inside. Our back garden isn’t the right layout for a paddling pool plus tether set up, so I’m restricted to focusing on upper body and core work to ensure I don’t lose too much strength. I am gladly in the position where my swim is still strong AF, so I should hopefully not lose too much speed.
The arrival of a smart trainer has massively boosted my cycling fitness. There’s no hiding from resistance now! (I see you, Strava wankers with your low AF heart rates and massive speeds…..) And I managed a very consistent and not-at-all-traumatic half marathon round Loch Leven on March 29th as Alloa had been postponed.
I also notice that all it’s taken is the apocalypse for Scotland to have some outstanding weather. One theory I heard from a tinfoil hat wearer was that the weather has suddenly improved because there are no planes in the sky……
My gut is telling me that it is EXTREMELY unlikely that Kalmar will go ahead this year. Which is a pain because I was hoping to spend next year planning a wedding (lol – yup you read that right…..) however I refuse to let anything get in the way of doing what I can in case it DOES go ahead…. Am I nervous about bike fitness? Absolutely. But I can only do what I can, and literally everyone in the world is in the same situation.
Mentally, I’ve been very much up and down. Not being able to hug my sister when I asked her to be my maid of honour was rough (I’ll elaborate in a sec) And not being able to cuddle my mum and dad is the actual worst. I miss my niece and my friends and I worry so much about my parents and Beardy’s as well. But I am reassured that they are all taking the threat VERY seriously and letting us help them by doing their weekly shops. Being able to help gives me something to focus on.
So. Maid of Honour, eh? Well. Lissie came round to pick up some stuff for Rosie and, through my open office window I handed her an envelope, inside which was a card and a bracelet asking her to be my matron (LOL – cause she’s old and married) of honour. We cried, held hands through the open window, and then dutifully applied hand sanitiser….. certainly an experience I won’t forget in a hurry. No less meaningful, but certainly drove home how much our lives have changed over the last month.
One thing I find I struggle with massively, is the open-endedness of all of this. Not knowing when I’ll go back to work, not knowing if Kalmar is definitely off, not knowing when this will subside here and just general horrible news everyday is really piling up and pushing me under. I know I am very much not alone. My friends and I send each other video notes and voice notes every day in an attempt to help combat the perils of isolation, I’ve been baking and cooking more and working my way through a very (VERY) long to-do list for the house and garden.
I’ve had good days where I’ve felt like I’ve really accomplished something, and I’ve had bad days where I’ve just felt like this will never end and had absolutely fuck all motivation to do anything!
I try to see this as a huge opportunity to read the books I’ve not had time to read, try some distance-learning, do what I can fitness wise (I’ve started practising yoga properly every single morning which was bloody unheard of for me!!) and I am trying to make the most of being at home and unable to go anywhere. I guess as a Millennial, this is the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing retirement(LOL FML)
I’ve given myself a daily schedule and I set my alarm for the same time every day so that I don’t waste the mornings lying in bed scrolling. I also try not to get sucked into rolling news coverage. There’s only so much I can take before I’m being drawn back into the whirling vortex of dread where I realise it could actually be another 3 months before I get my balayage topped up.
Whatever the next few months brings, my house will be spotless, my cat will be sick of the sight of me and my baking skills will have improved wildly.
I look forward to emerging bleary eyed from the apocalypse into the bright sunlight with quads like kegs and a monobrow, ready to fight to the death in the streets for the last remaining roll of Charmin.
Stay well, friends. And may the odds be ever in your favour.
As I pulled into the drive, my phone buzzed as Beardy sent me this message. I’d been looking forward to my Friday evening bike ride all day. The weather was perfect! Not too windy, sunny and warm. Beardy was on day 13 of his Vuelta challenge, which involved cycling every day of the race. His finishers medal had arrived the day before and I’d managed to source a good finishers jersey for him, as I did when he completed his TdF challenge last year.
He arrived home shortly after me, and after all the usual faffing, we were out the door and into the sun.
Our plan was an easy hour or so of biking on my favourite roads out the back of Glenfarg. “Why don’t I show you the Hilton of Duncrievie climb?” said Beardy about 3km in. I agreed, cautiously. I am not the best climber but he reassured me it was just a short slog followed by a nippy descent.
He was right, as it turned out. (For once). I managed the climb easily and we were soon cresting the top of the hill where he announced he was off to blast the next Strava segment. Nothing unusual here. I followed as he stomped the pedals and disappeared down the hill. I caught sight of him wobbling slightly as he disappeared round the corner at the bottom of the road.
The next few seconds are a blur. As I rounded the corner behind him I was aware of a flash of something. And then I saw him: lying on his back in the road, his hands up at his face, his bike nowhere to be seen.
“Oh FUCK” is basically all I said for the next minute and a half. I’m used to seeing him fall off his bike a lot, as he is a go-hard-or-go-home type of guy. But this was different. This *felt* different straight away. His words were jumbled. I don’t remember getting off my bike but within a second I was standing over him shouting at him to tell me what hurt.
“Why are you here?”
OK, Bean. Remember your first aid training:
check for danger: you are in the middle of a road. There is a blind corner. It is harvest season and we’ve already seen loads of tractors out. There are dozens of farms locally. Get him to safety.
Is he alert? Yes. Sort of. Dazed but he’s awake and able to speak.
Me: “Ok I need you to think and tell me where it hurts”
Beardy: “My face. My face hurts”
Me: “what about your neck? or your back? can you move your legs and arms ok?”
He could move. It didn’t look like he’d broken anything. Blood was POURING out of a deep cut on his face below his eye but otherwise, physically, he seemed relatively intact.
I got him to the side of the road, where there was no flat ground to lie him, and sort of propped him against a rock while I moved the bikes and tried to come up with a plan.
He was bleeding heavily and he wasn’t making sense. I knew that we weren’t going to be dusting ourselves down and cycling home. This was 999 territory. I asked him some more questions and it became clear that he needed urgent medical help. As I wrestled my phone out of my pocket (damn you, grippy phone case!) a car pulled up and I waved my free hand (the other one was keeping pressure on Beardy’s cheek). A woman got out and asked if we needed help. I explained what had happened and she gave me tissues and said she was going to get her husband and would be right back. I dialled 999.
“Which service do you require?”
“I need an Ambulance”
“Transferring you now”
“999 what’s your emergency?”
“My partner has crashed his bike, he’s bleeding heavily from a cut to his face. He is awake, breathing and responsive but is showing signs of a concussion and he needs an ambulance”
After answering some safety questions about his general state, and the type of bike he was on and speed he was doing, the woman (who was amazing) advised she would send an Ambulance right away.
“I need an address. Do you know where you are?”
Sort of. But no. I tried to explain where we were. But it wasn’t working. We were on a very rural unclassified back road. She was struggling and I was panicking. (We now know that the coordinates passed to ambulance dispatch were along the A91 near Strathmiglo which was MILES away)
Another car pulled up and out jumped a girl in her slippers. “What can I do to help?” she shouted as she ran over. “Do you know where we are? are you local?”
She was. “Please can you tell 999 where we are??”
She grabbed the phone and gave a precise location to dispatch (Thank you, Lauren, you god send) and when she gave the phone back the girl on the other end started talking me through some pointers to watch out for.
At this point, it gets a bit grim. Beardy started to drop out of consciousness a bit. He was grey and sweating profusely. He was very confused and couldn’t remember even being out on the bikes. I still feel a bit sick when I remember this bit as I really thought he was in serious danger. The girl on the phone was so lovely and tried to keep me calm and talking. Lauren got us a blanket from her car and Linda had arrived with Gordon, her husband, who was busy reassuring us that our bikes would be looked after in their garage until we could collect them.
After what felt like 18 years, the girl on the phone said she was struggling to locate an ambulance close by. “We don’t know how long it will take to get you help. We’re sending the air ambulance”.
About 10 minutes later, I heard it. Gordon had his hi viz on and a torch. He’d opened the gate to a field and was waving the helicopter over. They circled, down-draft kicking up dust from the road, as they scouted out places to land in the deep valley we were in.
“what’s that noise?” asked Beardy.
“It’s your lift to hospital” I explained.
Naturally, as Wendy and Rich the SCAA paramedics arrived by our side, so too did the road Ambulance, a police car and a doctors car.
5 paramedics began assessing Beardy and I was allowed my, now very bloodied, hand back.
I stood back and watched them work, taking his blood pressure, blood sugar, assessing his wound and asking him questions.
Worryingly, he had now started repeating himself on a 90 second loop.
“Oh I think I know what’s happened here, guys. It’s ok. I’m piecing it all together. I think I’ve binned it on that corner, haven’t I?”
He’d say it with such confidence, everyone would nod and say yes, he’d go quiet and then a minute later say the same thing.
My stomach dropped.
I started to busy myself with picking up bits of his glasses, switching off our Garmin’s and getting the bikes into Gordon’s car. Later, Beardy would ask on repeat how his bike was. I’d tell him it was fine. In reality, I gave it a cursory glance and as everything was pointing in the right direction, decided to tell him it was fine.
(Miraculously, it is completely unscathed. Much to my relief)
The hill Beardy came down at 63kph before he lost grip, his brakes locked and he hit a “soft verge” which turned out to contain a boulder. The skinny black line in the foreground is his “OH FUCK” marks from his tyres.
His MTB instinct had kicked in as his brakes locked up, and he’d aimed for the soft ground. Unfortunately it wasn’t that soft, but it was still the safest option given that he couldn’t see if there was any traffic on the road.
His GCS score was moderate, so the road and air paramedics needed to decide if he’d be taken by air straight to Ninewells in Dundee, or driven by road to Perth. So marginal was his score that they phoned it in and were told Perth would be fine. This was GOOD news. It meant his condition wasn’t horribly serious. (I would be lying if I said I wasn’t totally gutted to miss out on a helicopter ride though………)
We were packed into the Ambulance and headed for Perth.
Beardy kept asking to see his helmet, asking how his bike was, asking what his face looked like, asking if he’d crashed his bike etc the whole way there. Once I got over the initial horrifying dread that comes with your significant other sustaining a TBI meters in front of you, I started to laugh at his verbatim reactions to each answer I gave him.
He’d take his helmet off me and say “ooooooaft. Your work need to see this on Monday” (He was wearing an Endura FS260 Pro Helmet) and then hand it back. Then he’d ask about his face, I’d tell him he’d need stitches and he’d say “my mum is going to kill me, isn’t she”.
It obviously wasn’t funny, but your brain does things to you when you’re in shock, which I very much was.
At PRI in Perth, he was assessed by a young doctor who cleaned up his wound and stitched him up with some of the neatest stitches I’ve ever seen. After an hour, he was a bit concerned about the repetition, so put in for a transfer to Ninewells for overnight observation. The next few hours are a blur of telling parents (awful) and being driven to collect clothes, back to the hospital and eventually home to a cold, empty house (other than our very confused Stigbug)
As I’d taken him his glasses, he was able to text and tell us all several times that he’d made the text on his phone big and he was being transferred about midnight.
I didn’t sleep, instead replaying everything in slow motion.
At 0530 I cracked and called the A&E short stay ward at Ninewells, who told me that although I wasn’t technically allowed in out of hours, I could come up and see him for a bit if I wanted. At 0730 I was curled up beside him as he apologised profusely. He was much better. Sore and very bruised, with some serious road rash on his face, but his repetition had stopped and he was able to remember being in Perth (still nothing after locking his brakes up). He was also now acutely aware that this little adventure had cost him the rest of his Vuelta challenge.
After 15 minutes, I was politely asked to leave and come back after doctors rounds, so I wandered round to my sister’s flat up the road and had my mind taken off things by my gorgeous baby niece and sister who scooped me up in a giant hug and fed me tea.
Doctors rounds were at 0930 and I was a bit peeved to be told I wasn’t allowed in, despite Beardy having NO RECOLLECTION of ANYTHING. So when I got the text to collect him at 0945 I was hugely annoyed that there was no CT. I should have been relieved that they didn’t deem it serious enough for that but I know how sneaky concussion can be.
Examining Garmin data, we now know he crashed at 58kph. His graph shows 63kph – 58kph – 0kph in about 5 seconds. His forehead took the impact of the ground and every paramedic, nurse and doctor we saw were gobsmacked at how lightly he got off and completely certain that his helmet saved his life.
(WEAR. A FUCKING. HELMET)
Once home, we visited and were visited by parents, I collected bikes while my mum kept an eye on Beardy, his mum and dad made and brought us meals, he slept and I still didn’t. But we were home and he was on the mend. I googled everything I could about TBI’s and concussion. (This did not help the lack of sleep…)
I felt overwhelmed at the kindness of people. Linda, Gordon and Lauren who all stopped and stayed with us until we were safely in an Ambulance. The girl on the phone at 999 who kept me as calm as she could. The police, paramedics, pilot (?!!??! A fucking actual PILOT) and doctors and nurses who all showed us nothing but compassion and empathy. It was a truly humbling experience.
Of course, I am already eternally grateful for the NHS, but this was just further proof that we NEED it. And we MUSTN’T take it for granted. I am also incredibly thankful for SCAA: Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance. They are funded 100% by donations, and not by the government. Quite often, Scotland is viewed in terms of population as opposed to geographical scale, therefore, we have 2 funded helimeds in Scotland. SCAA takes our total to 3. To cover a very widespread population within 31000 square miles. SCAA is a charity that relies entirely on members of the public digging in their pockets and giving them their hard earned cash. Soon, they’ll be launching their second Charity Air Ambulance in Aberdeen, which will further their reach within the country and help even more people.
Before we’d even left the scene of the accident, I had already decided to do Ironman Kalmar for SCAA.
Having registered the day it opened, Kalmar is my focus for 2020. And now I have an even bigger incentive: I want to raise £2500 (the average cost of a call-out).
I immediately messaged my friend who works for SCAA to tell her about what happened and then arranged, once we were home and Beardy was on the mend, to visit them at Perth Airport and speak to the pilot and paramedics.
We had such a great time meeting them and getting an up close look at their “wee buggy” as they called it.
Rich was one of the paramedics who came to our aid. G-SCAA is smaller than I imagined it would be as it regularly flies over our house on it’s way to medical emergencies around Scotland.
My Justgiving link is below for you to donate, if you wish.
To summarise, Beardy is lucky he got away with a mild concussion and 6 stitches in his face. He has bruised ribs, ruined knuckles and cannot remember crashing at all. He has been told, in no uncertain terms, that 63kph is TOO fucking fast. It is also close to the speed Froome was doing when he blew his nose and hit a wall. He did not get off so lightly.
All of this has made me even more frustrated with people who don’t wear a helmet. I will NEVER understand the arguments they come up with and will, forever more, file them under “vain and stupid”. There is no question that Beardy was saved by his helmet. Had he not been wearing it, his skull would have taken the full force of the tarmac. I’m no doctor, but 14 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy has taught me enough to know that an impact to the skull at that speed is pretty much game over.
Although he was doing stupid speeds, you do not need to be going fast to do yourself damage: in 2014, I was cycling my MTB along the Great Glen Way, slipped on a tree root at no more than 4mph (I’d just pushed off to move) and had a slow motion sideways fall onto a rock, which smashed my helmet and left me with a concussion. If I hadn’t been wearing that helmet, even in slow motion, I would have been left with permanent brain damage.
Helmets can’t save you from every disaster, but they can limit and prevent damage. So don’t be a total dick, and WEAR A FUCKING HELMET.
Ok. Let’s cut right to the chase: this was a tough day out.
Going back to last year, after Lakesman I decided to take a step back on distance and have another go at 70.3. Now don’t be fooled, dear reader. Just because it’s half the distance, doesn’t mean it’s half as hard.
Race build up was not ideal. Some late nights and busy days at work meant I was in a sleep deficit for the week and feeling a little run down.
I had been catastrophically and uncharacteristically disorganised with plans and, having made the executive decision never to have to get up at 3am for a race again, I’d wanted to stay in Aberfeldy the night before.
“No chance” said google.
So I reached out to Neil and Beth Scholes (of Performance Edge Coaching. They are total couple goals) and, thanks to a last minute cancellation, they managed to snare me the last room in Feldy for Saturday night at their friends B&B.
Fernbank House is stunning. Tina and Jason are so kind and welcoming. They sorted me out with pre race porridge and basically let me make myself (and all my kit) at home. If you’re ever looking for somewhere to stay to relax and explore the surroundings, I can’t recommend them enough.
I had a chilled morning at home on the Saturday. Until I received a text from a friend doing the sprint tri in Kenmore: “do not go near the carpark”
Since the route changed to not actually really involve Aberfeldy at all (apart from a bit on the bike course), race HQ, T2 and the finish are all in fields outside Taymouth Castle Estate. T1 is still over at the Marina. If you know Kenmore, you’ll know parking is scarce, which means it’s a field for race weekend. And what has it been doing since basically May? Raining.
Last year, with a bone dry summer and a few days of rain pre race, the entrance/exit to the carpark was sketchy. This year, before even midday the day before the 70.3, cars needed towing out. How did Durty Events not see this coming??? On Saturday night they put mats down but it didn’t stop the carpark itself becoming a mud bath.
This had me panicking. I left early to head up to register and go to briefing. In the end this worked out well as traffic was fucking awful!
I managed to snag a space on the road outside the church (where there was a wedding full of very confused looking people. I felt for them. Their photos were probably ruined by hundreds of Triathletes posturing outside their church) and head to registration. I bumped into Rosie (hello fellow Twink) who had a stand showing off beautiful laser cut wood as her charity made the medals for the events. While speaking to her, I met Leanne who follows me on strava. We headed to the tent where I found a lost soul called Leslie. She needed her race number. I found it and we started chatting.
When I’m nervous, I tend to find other nervous people and talk to them. It makes me feel better, especially if I can talk to them about the race and put their minds at ease. I also bumped into Michael who I know from school. With so many friendly faces, it was starting to feel far less intimidating being there on my own.
Briefing had its own drama: a woman standing in the packed hallway outside the main hall had a paddy cause there was no room and started hollering at people to squeeze in. This really wasn’t possible and someone eventually told her to pipe down. Instead she went outside and started banging on windows shouting at people to move back. What a rocket.
We all walked down to the swim start after briefing just to have a look and get some air. Swimmers were coming out of the water from the various swim distance events they had on for the weekend. Dryrobes everywhere. It looked slightly choppy, but beautiful. I was excited.
Soon it was time to head back the the B&B, have some more snacks, lay kit out and rest.
I had packed an array of carb heavy food so tucked into that while fettling with kit and race numbers.
I wandered into town and met Dan and his folks at The Black Watch. Paul (Dan’s father) had taken on and smashed the sprint tri so they were celebrating. It was so nice to catch up with my drinking buddy. I broke with tradition and had lemonade instead of a hundred quids worth of cocktails…. just this once.
After getting pumped at pool, I sourced chips and headed back to the B&B where I had a very leisurely bath and crawled into bed.
I woke very early and dozed. I ate porridge. I applied lube and suncream. I dressed and headed out to the car with all my stuff.
I was scared about parking. But by some incredible luck, I got the last space outside the Kenmore hotel. WINNER.
I pumped my tyres, prepped nutrition and bottle and headed down to T1. A calming voice had appeared in my head and I managed to rack quickly but efficiently and head towards T2 to leave my bag and keys. Gladly, I opted for a waterproof bag. It was still raining and there was mud EVERYWHERE.
Once the faffing was done, I headed to the start. By this time, Ironman had found me. He was up supporting for the weekend and had clocked my nervous face. He was on hand to help me zip up my wetsuit and provide some last minute helpful advice. As well as the usual light mockery.
And with that, it was time to start.
We all piled on to the start ramp and I heard my name. I looked up, and there was Laura and Neil!!!! My Runch buddy and her husband!!! WHAT? BUT ITS YOUR DAD’S BIRTHDAY PARTY TODAY!!!!!!!! All week she’d been telling me about it except it was LIES! She’d made a sign and everything. I was so blown away that she’d come to the swim start to see me!!! I hugged her, had a small cry and headed for the water.
Race nerves are weird. I build things up a LOT in my head, but that’s normal, and whenever the klaxon goes, it stops, goes quiet, and I just do the things. I wanted 35 minutes. I knew I’d never beat last years 31. Given the fact that I wasn’t a relay swimmer this year so I had energy to conserve, and also I’ve had a lot of problems with my neck and shoulder again. Goals aside, I waded in.
The water wasn’t particularly cold. I mean, it was cold, but it felt fine. I had a wee panicky moment at the start but just focused on breathing and treading water. I thought I’d secured myself a nice wee bit of space but as I looked round when the klaxon blew, I realised I’d drifted into a crowd. Damn. Immediately I was in a washing machine. Punches and kicks were thrown. I struggled to get into a rhythm and found myself next to a Huub with no ability to a) sight or b) maintain a set course. I fought to get past them and succeeded just before the first buoy.
Given the strength of the wind, I was amazed that there was relatively little surface chop. Surface chop can destroy your swim time. Punching through waves and having to crane your neck to Sight is very energy sapping. The issue here was swell. I’ve never experienced swell like it in a Loch. We were being lifted a few feet and dropped. This did make sighting hard, but at least I could maintain a steady stroke. The second buoy took FOREVER to appear. My watch was showing increasingly quicker splits averaging about 1:44/100m. Not my best. But not bad at all. Once I was round the second buoy, the swell was behind us pushing us back towards somewhere that was not the Crannog. I struggled a lot here. The last buoy was small and I couldn’t lock eyes on it. Eventually I used the flags at the Marina to sight but in conditions like that, more large buoys would have been great.
Around now, another Huub came from nowhere and swam right over and across me. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE WITH ABSOLUTELY NO ABILITY TO SIGHT AT ALL. He narrowly missed taking my goggles with him but I got a nail full of his ankle skin. Serves him right.
I dragged myself from the depths and crossed the timing mat. 35.45. Nailed it.
Jogging up the mats, I managed to successfully escape my wetsuit. My feet were already numb so I didn’t feel all the stones on the tarmac. It was hosing it down, but I was already wet. So I knuckled down and got on with the business of T1:
Tube in pocket (I always carry a spare spare)
Race belt on
Dry feet and face (fucking pointless but feels nice)
T1 : 04.26
I was almost immediately soaked. It. Was. Hammering down.
I had put my bike in a lower gear than needed so I focused on waking my numb legs up and getting into a rhythm. After a few kms I started eating. Veloforte bars are amazing. Pricey, but tasty and packed with everything you need. They’re also really easy to chew and don’t dry your mouth out. At 240kcals per bar, they keep you going for a good while. Really hard to open with wet hands though and I cursed myself for not cutting the packets in preparation.
The new bike route has given this course about 3-400 more metres of elevation. You now start with a loop out via Fortinghall before starting the Schiehallion climb out of Coshieville.
It poured. The roads were flooded in places and like a river everywhere else. I was mercifully warm in my custom Endura suit and Pro Adrenaline Race Cape. I didn’t opt for gloves but I was doing ok. My feet, however, were not ok hun. I couldn’t feel them. At all. I assumed they were there and just kept pedalling away.
After about 20km, you turn left and literally up the Coshieville climb. 7kms worth of grinding away. I knew I’d need to spin this out to have any chance of surviving the bike, so I got into the easiest gears and spun.
The rain eased and stopped enough to allow some sun to poke through the clouds. Ideal timing, extra warm with a sweaty jacket on is just what I needed.
I’d already started getting passed by almost everyone ever. But I just kept my head down and got on with it.
The thing about being a good swimmer, average cyclist and not-a-natural-runner is that you have to get used to being overtaken all damn day. It’s fun to play “nice TT bike, shame you’re such a shit swimmer” for the first 2 hours but then it just gets annoying. One day I’ll be better on the bike and it won’t be so constantly frustrating. ONE DAY. (I’ll never be a runner. So that’s fine I guess)
The descent into Tummel Bridge was wet but sunny and I was very grateful for disc brakes. They allow you to brake later and more efficiently than calliper brakes so I could be slightly more aggressive without being too careless. I actually enjoyed this bit immensely and smiled the whole way. I even passed some other athletes!
By this point it clocked that my bike computer was drunk. From experience, I know that the Coshieville climb is approx 250m. My Edge was showing 52m of elevation gain. LOL. Wake up, mate. Looks like it woke up eventually though…
Next comes the Trinafour climb. A nasty fucker. It’s not particularly steep other than a couple of wee kickers, but it’s a long grind. More spinning, more food, energy drink and water. I was feeling great!
The descent is short and sharp from this hill, straight into a road round a VERY sharp bend. An ambulance was loading a casualty as I passed. Sobering to see but a good reminder to take it easy.
By now the heavens had opened again. I was glad of my jacket. I saw a lot of very cold athletes in sleeveless tri suits with no extra layers. Brave, I thought.
The sweeping descent down into Kinloch Rannoch was fun. But it really was pissing it down and I was getting bored of the sound of rain. The wind here was totally unforgiving. Pedalling downhill is never a good sign.
I’d continued fuelling because the next climb is the ominous Braes of Foss. The steep KOM stage followed by a lengthy grind. I’ve done it 5 times now through training and racing. It never gets any easier.
The rain was utterly relentless. I was suffering but in denial that I was getting colder. “Just work hard on the hills, girl. You got this” I kept saying.
Again, the rain eased at the top and I got to enjoy the sketchy as fuck descent into Coshieville. This was followed by a fast spin to Aberfeldy with a wonderful tail wind. This used to be the home straight, but with the new route, there’s now one final fucker of a climb over to Kenmore from Feldy. I passed a lot of riders here. It’s a tricky climb that just keeps giving and when you’re 80km into your bike leg, that’s a lot to deal with. Happily, it’s downhill into Kenmore. With a slight lump before turning through the castle gates and down the mudbath hill into T2. …
…. which was a fucking JOKE. It was a total mudbath. Not what you need after 89.5km of riding. My feet and legs were numb. I somehow racked my bike and got my socks and shoes changed and cap on, jogging out in 2.38. My quickest ever transition.
Laura sprinted up to the barrier “you’re doing amazing!!! You smashed the bike!!!!” She shouted. Oh yeah!!! I’d wanted sub 4. That’s all. The hills are plentiful and I’m still working on my bike split. I clocked ironman and was immediately jealous of his umbrella. It was going to be a soggy 13.1 miles.
T2 : 2.38
The first few hundred metres were a fucking slip and slide. Down through muddy woods onto a muddy, flooded trail. My socks were no longer dry. Not that I could feel my feet anyway.
As I jogged along the path I heard my name and looked up. I couldn’t believe what I saw. My Runch gang!!! Robyn, Emma and Josefine!!! They’d driven all this way for me and I was soooo emotional about it. I managed to get round the corner before I had a cry. I felt so loved. It was amazing.
This gave me such a boost.
The first few km felt strong and consistent. I was impressed with how good I felt. Brick training had paid dividends and I sunk into a 6:30/km pace. Comfortable and easy. Things started to go a bit downhill after the 6km feed station. I started to get tummy cramps and had to pee in a bush (good sign that I was hydrated, but energy sapping having to stop and start again) and pretty soon the mind games started.
“You’re last. You’re not getting your sub 7 target time. Give up. Stop. It hurts.”
It did hurt, to be fair. My feet had woken up and my baby toe felt like it was being mashed. I stopped and adjusted my sock but it was too late. I’d have to amputate, I was sure.
I started walking the hills. It’s not a “hilly” route but it’s undulating. And to be honest it felt a lot worse than it was. I was eating ok (salt and vinegar oat cakes for the win) and drinking plenty.
By 12k I switched to water only. My tummy was really not happy. The old Code Brown situation was coming. I could feel it. Somehow I kept jogging and walking the hills. My splits were now shameful and I was beginning to want to quit.
The route is out and back. I knew when I got to the campsite it would only be 2km but it felt like another 10. It felt like SUCH a long course. I felt awful. Every time I tried to run, I ached. When I reached the 20km sign, I started to jog again. And then run. I made it into Kenmore to find my Runch gang armed with the most EPIC signs. I was utterly blown away by their support. Standing in the rain and mud for HOURS.
I felt guilty that I’d taken so long. I knew my sister would have been waiting for ages with baby Rosie and Sean. And Beardy would have been waiting and he’d cycled from Pitlochry so would have had the same weather and he’d be cold.
I got to the last 500m and started walking the hill when Tina (my B&B host who was running the relay) appeared behind me about to finish her run leg. “Come on let’s finish together”, she said. And she basically dragged me through the muddy fields, up the slidy hill and round the last few corners. She saved the day for me. Truly. I crossed the line and can’t really remember much for about 5 minutes. I stumbled around trying not to puke and then my sister scooped me up in a cuddle while I cried cause I was sorry I was late. Beardy appeared too and we all had a family hug. Rosie slept through the whole thing but I’ll let her off. She’s only 12 weeks old.
I cannot thank these girls enough. What a gang. I’m so lucky to get to work with this lot.
I even managed to catch swim pal Dougie for a quick evaluation of the race and then find my poor, muddy, soaked bike and kit before heading for the car.
Overall, my initial disappointment at my time has dissipated and I’m so proud I was able to finish in conditions that many had to bail because of.
I’m tougher than I give myself credit for sometimes. I guess it’s easy to gloss over things in retrospect. I tend to focus on the humour of things instead of actually taking stock of what I’ve achieved in such a short time. I’m proud to be a triathlete. And excited for the next adventure. Which will hopefully involve less mud.
BREAKING NEWS/SPOILER ALERT: I entered a bike event, made it to the start AND FINISHED IT.
The first bike event I entered was Etape Caledonia in 2016. It was 2 weeks after my first London Marathon. I ended up DNSing due to an epic bout of tonsillitis. The second event I entered was Dirty Riever…… and we all know how that went. This HAD to work. I HAD to finish this. And I did!
Now, with that out of the way, allow me to furnish you with some details of this brilliant event:
I decided to enter this as part of 2019’s master plan to get the bike split nailed. With 3 route options to choose from (Blue, Red and Black) I opted for the 68mile/109km Red Route which features 2 gnarly local climbs and totals 1000m of elevation over the 109km.
With the disaster that was Dirty Riever, my confidence was knocked. So the weekend after, while Scotland bathed in 20+ degrees and stunning sunshine, I hit the road on Stella and headed straight for Dunning to attempt the second climb of the Sportive.
What I ended up with was a brilliant adventure that left me filled with excitement for the event. I didn’t die on the climb. I DIDN’T DIE!!! ON THE CLIMB!!!
60kms in the sunshine also gifted me the opportunity to trial nutrition for the day. Veloforte is pricey but, in my opinion, worth the cash. The bars are packed with natural ingredients, don’t cloy or stick in your mouth, and taste incredible. My faves so far are the Chocolate one and the Sea Salt one which is LUSH.
With my cycling tan kickstarted, and my confidence renewed, it was time to plan kit and look forward to 109kms on some brilliant roads.
The weather forecast was typically Scottish. All seasons, one day, no particular order, totally random. Kit required some thought, and with the drop in temperature, and my predicted slow-ass attempt, I went for: Endura pro thermo bibs, Pro SL jersey, FS260Pro armwarmers, Pro SL Primaloft gilet, grip-grab overshoes and Pro Adrenaline race cape. I opted for mitts over gloves as my hands heat up WAY too much on long rides. In the end, the kit was perfect. I didn’t need the waterproof until the last climb when the heavens opened.
We set off from home just before 0830 and pedalled up to the high school to Event HQ and the start. What an absolute treat it was to be able to sleep until normal time and then roll outta bed and eat a good breakfast before leaving at a sociable hour. Beardy was also tackling Red (albeit, WAY quicker than me!) and we got ourselves registered and joined the back of the queue for the start. You’re released in groups of around 20 at 2 minute intervals. Once we got to the front of the queue, and the timer set us off, I was pretty much on my own.
Beardy was immediately off in a group of speedy speedsters, so I just enjoyed the fact that the morning sun was warm and I was picking off some people from previous waves.
The route is as follows:
Kinross-Scotlandwell-Kirkness “bump”-Auchmuirbridge-Leslie-Falkland-Newburgh-Bridge of Earn-Forteviot-Dunning-Yetts’o’Muckart-Crook of Devon-Cleish-Kinross
There are two large climbs on the route: Falkland and Dunning. Falkland feels worse as it’s shorter and arguably steeper, although it has less overall elevation gain. The descent into Falkland is marked as dangerous and for good reason: Narrow roads, tight, blind corners and slippery tarmac from 2 days of rain made for some twitchy bum time on the very fast descent. As I hit the last corner I was met almost head-on by an Ambulance. Ideal, to be fair, but he was on his way to rescue a stricken cyclist, so I somehow managed to avoid him and continue my long, terrifying brush with death!
The other climb comes after 60km, which I’ll get to later, and despite being longer and more challenging on paper, it didn’t feel so bad!
After the nail biting descent into Falkland, its off to navigate the Howe of Fife towards Ladybank and through Lindores. Eventually, you end up at Newburgh and it was time for feed station 1:
My nutrition strategy had been to eat from 30mins in and drink energy drink until the first feed stop when I’d top up with water and continue with food. Over time, I’ve learned that sweet energy drink starts to make me feel rank after a couple of hours. With this in mind, I planned to use mine up and then move to water. With a backup electrolyte tab in my bento box in case I started to sweat more.
The plan was going pretty well. I’d got through about 400ml and half a Veloforte bar (150 kcals ish) when I swung into the feed station to find….. no food. Or water. At all.
Now. I’d set off 2 hours previously. It was only 11am. Sure, a few hundred cyclists had passed through but there were still hundreds more to come. The poor marshals were adamant that more supplies would be along “soon” but for the hundred or so cyclists getting cold, this was not a good situation to be in. I’d now have to eke our 350ml of fluids to get me another 40km. I only have one bottle cage on Stella just now after the seatpost jammed in the down tube, so I was relying on this feed stop.
Hopefully they can plan this stop a little better for next year. After 8 years (this year being the 9th) you’d think Kinross CC would know how to correctly stock a feed station.
Anyway. Rant over. Things were about to get hella fun!
I am a bit of a lone wolf during training. Being a triathlete I’m used to non-draft-legal races. So I NEVER get to play at drafting. Also, being chronically glacial, I tend not to get the chance to keep up with anyone.
Well. That changed today.
I was already pleasantly surprised to see 24kph average on my garmin (yes, cyclists. You read that right. I’m THAT slow and that’s quick for me over distance) so I kept assuming I’d blow up and die on a quiet Perthshire lane somewhere.
Imagine my surprise when I caught a group at some lights, and as I looked back I noticed I’d caught a chain gang who were all now using my draft. After 5 minutes or so, the guy behind me took the lead and I kept to his wheel and immediately discovered why there were so many pelotons swishing by earlier! This was MEGA! Pretty soon we were gliding along at 30kph and it felt effortless. I took turns up front and we chatted and discussed the ride so far.
This lasted all the way to Dunning. It was well timed as the hydration panic had begun to set in so, mentally, I was flagging.
At Dunning, I found the second feed station. And oh MY was it good. There was a fantastic selection of baked goods so I tucked into half a yumyum and refilled my bottle, downing about 500ml extra of water just to be safe.
If you’re on the black route, from Dunning you head for Glenfarg via Rossie Ochil and the aptly name section of road called “The Dragon”. As I’d opted for the slightly tamer Red Route, I began the slow and steady ascent of Dunning Common. It’s a grind, this one. So I just spun it out in as low a gear as possible and tried not to look up too much.
The views on this part of the route are superb and you’re soon winding up between beautiful houses on smooth tarmac.
A strange thing was happening, as well: with this being a sportive with a rolling start, it’s unusually to be totally alone with no one else in sight. But now I was catching cyclists. I was passing other riders on a hill. I’m not used to this!
After what felt like hours of spinning in the granny ring, I made it to the end of the timed hill climb and began the much more gradual, pleasant descent in the pissing rain.
I made my way down to Yetts’o’Muckart and the worlds most complex junction then headed for Rumbling Bridge and Crook of Devon. A brief spell on a busy road with the only shit driving of the day (Audi. Obvs) then a wee wander along a lovely lane towards Lendrick Muir. My average speed was sitting back at 23.4 but was climbing. How was I doing this?!
I wasn’t looking forward to the next stretch. The road from Crook to Cleish has really crap surface that’s tarmac but the tar has all but fucked off so you’re left with the stones that shake your teeth loose. I was on my own again but maintaining between 26-30kph. This road feels like it lasts forever, but I made it to Cleish with my teeth intact, to where the surface becomes smoother and I could maintain pace with greater ease.
A wee climb up past the Fruix and over the motorway and onto the last long drag back to Kinross.
Here, I caught Chris again and we worked together with a guy from Kinross CC to draft back to town. From the 30 sign at the bottom of Kinross, I started my strong finish up the new road, negotiated the Sainsbury’s junction and roundabout, hammered it along Springfield road and when the Marshall at the high street gave me the clear to pull out, I gave it the beans and clocked 45kph coming in to the finish.
I cannot BELIEVE how strong I felt until the last minute. I’ve never been able to sustain that amount of output over distance, so it’s safe to say I’m delighted.
My chip time is 4:48 thanks to a pee stop and a yumyum stop. But my garmin read 4:33 moving time and I am so chuffed with that.
If I can now build on this and work towards a huge PB on the bike split at Aberfeldy, I can hopefully combine that with a decent swim and maybe survive the run with a more respectable time this year!
I’d gone into this battered, with low expectations of myself. Initially thinking I’d be happy with 5hrs30, to come away with 4:33 moving time and legs fresh enough to pedal home after, is a huge victory for me.
Of course, the main incentive for finishing today was the temptation of Chinese food for dinner. The qualifying 100km ride was achieved. It was time for Sesame Beef in Honey Chilli sauce…. and a cuppa in my new Sportive mug!
I definitely rate this event if you’re looking to build confidence on the bike and on some steep climbs and descents.
Now it’s time to focus on the A Race this year and build towards Aberfeldy!
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…….
Warning: this blog contains my standard swears and chat about poop and sharting. It is also 8 years long. So as to do justice to 16hrs21mins of race time. Continue reading at your peril…
The build up
I’m pretty sure that the week before your first iron distance should be spent resting and tapering to prepare for the big day upon a bed of soft things, wrapped in cotton wool, in a safe and hermetically sealed environment.
It probably shouldn’t be spent nervously refreshing tracking info on the emergency Garmin you’ve had to order from Wiggle because your extremely expensive, flashy, all bells and whistles Fenix 5s has DIED.
OH YEAH, GUYS.
DEAD. DIED. DEED. RIP. FML.
I’d gone for a taper swim on Tuesday and noticed that the watch wasn’t syncing or recording HR. It stubbornly refused to restart but once it did it seemed ok. UNTIL IT TURNED OFF.
Then it would only power up under charge. 100% not impressed. 4 days before Lakesman. NOT IDEAL.
I hit return on wiggle and promptly ordered a 735xt which, ironically, had been my second choice to the Fenix.
It turned up in the nick of time and I’m happy to report that so far it works apart from a brief glitch the evening before the race. (Don’t even go there)
What I probably also could have done without, was a vague text message from Beardy requesting immediate assistance after a MTB-off in Whinlatter forest had bent his handlebars and scraped his knee. THIS WAS NOT A TIME FOR VAGUENESS. The panic was a little much for my heart rate but the run across Keswick carrying all my registration kit was a nice warm up for the main event… (Beardy is fine. If a little bruised and scraped. The bike is also fine)
The Saturday – Greig vs. Triathlon X
We had rented a cottage with our good friends for the weekend. Katherine and I worked together at the shop, and her lovely hubby was tackling the absolutely monstrous Tri X the same weekend. It made perfect sense to base ourselves in Ambleside. Mostly because Greig’s swim start was 4.30am. Yup. You read that right…
They were up and out in the middle of the night, so we had a lazy morning before I headed to Keswick to rack and attend the briefing.
Tracking Greig was virtually impossible thanks to very shoddy signal for the timing guys on the fells. The weather was bad even for the Lake District, with driving rain and unforgiving wind.
Climbing ANY hill in that weather would have been horrific. But Kirkstone, Aira Force, Honiston, Whinlatter, Hardknot, Wrynose, Coniston in that weather? Then a run up Scarfell Pike and back?
Fuck that noise.
But Greig has been chasing this for two years. And having had his training derailed by a horrid injury in 2017, he managed to smash Triathlon X in 14:51.23 placing 13th Overall. Absolutely astonishing and watching him try to walk up and down the stairs in our cottage afterwards was both hilarious and a worrying indicator of how I’d be spending the next few days…
My alarm was set for 0305. Boke. I woke up at 0248 and couldn’t lie in bed for another minute. I got up and made porridge and toast. Dry heaving as I forced myself to eat the only actual meal I’d have that day.
Beardy surprised me at his level of enthusiasm so early in the morning. He was up and dressed and ready to go ahead of schedule. We navigated our way to the car and set off for Keswick.
I was struggling to keep myself from throwing up. I sipped water carefully and only had to stop the car once for an emergency pee (no mean feat in a tri suit)
I was met at T1 by Eilidh, one of my colleagues from Endura, who had travelled down to document my day (amazing) as I debuted my custom tri suit. My mum and dad soon appeared and I had my first cry of the day!
I found Brian and Kate off of facebook/twitter and we shared laughs and hugs. And then it was time to walk down to the swim. Shit. I was actually going to have to do this.
An excited buzz surrounded the crowd of neoprene clad athletes as we filed down to the edge of Derwentwater. The view was breathtaking. I felt ready, scared, excited and not as overwhelmed as I expected.
I had prepared for this moment. I wasn’t emotional as I had expected to be. But extremely calm. It was time to do three things.
I waded in to the warm, slightly choppy water of the lake into a deep swathe of weeds. Like…. hip deep. Gross. Splashed my face and dipped in to get myself ready to go. On the advice of my swimming buddies, I positioned myself toward the front and out wide to the left. We treaded water for about 4 minutes and then the horn was blown. I got my head down and got stuck in. The water temp was perfect and it was so clear! They had laid out 25 buoys for us which was very generous. I had a bit of a Dougal: Small/Far Away situation because the buoys looked like they were small and close. But actually they were very very large indeed. Just far away. Really fecking far away.
I swam straight for about 10 minutes before edging over towards the buoy. (140.6 miles is quite far enough without adding distance, thanks.) I managed to hug the buoys without drama for the full course. Up towards the island, the wind was whipping up some small waves, not big enough to cause problems but big enough to give me a nice lungful of water as I lifted my head to sight. Across the island, there was shelter and then all the way back there was a nice tail wind to give me a push. My splits flashing up every 500m looked good but I really felt like I was struggling to keep a solid pace. I tried not to get too worried and just keep swimming. Eventually I realised that the finish was only about 500m away. I started upping the pace and was promptly kicked in the face by a swimmer who just appeared in front of me. Punch-drunk, I pulled myself onto the exit matt, put my right foot down and felt cramp take hold of my calf.
I was trying to remove goggles, cap and earplugs and run and take off my wetsuit and listen to instructions and felt extremely overwhelmed. Stopped and saved the activity on my 735XT (didn’t even look at the time cause it felt terrible) and then someone shouted “YOU’RE THIRD LADY!”
Wait. WHAT? I wanted to stop and check but I needed to RUUUUUN the 8 miles to T1. Then someone else shouted “YOU’RE SECOND” and then Beardy confirmed this as I ran passed.
WHAAAAT? Shit. That’s serious stuff. I wondered how close I got to my goal time of 1:10.
My friend’s words of advice rung in my ears as I trotted into transition stuck firmly in my suit. “Don’t waste any time.”
I didn’t. An amazing volunteer effortlessly removed my wetsuit while I shoved my helmet on, dried my face and feet, applied chamois cream, threw bike shorts on over my tri suit, and put my gloves on. The same volunteer then helped me put my socks and shoes on my claw-feet. She was my hero. I thanked her and trotted out to T1. I was the first biker into my section!!!!!
I wobbled to the mount line and the girls clapped shouting ” YOU ARE FIRST LADY ”
Oh. My. God.
That is the first and last time that will ever happen in a race. I breezed out of T1 and onto the bike.
Transition 1: 6 mins.
I was pretty much immediately NOT first lady. Or second or even third. But I’ve always been an barely-above-average cyclist and a decent swimmer. The plan was always to just get through the bike. It was the bit that frightened me the most. The possibilities of what could go wrong are pretty limitless. I felt intimidated and not at all confident.
My concerns about retaining my initial crown were almost instantly replaced when I tried to change gear.
Clickclickclickclick brrrrrrrrr ping.
What. The. Fuck.
I’d taken my bike apart to bring it to the race and when I’d put the back wheel back on, I’d run it through the gears but hadn’t made time to ride it and run through the gears under load. It was immediately obvious that the cable tension was off. I adjusted it on the move but no improvement.
This was going to be an issue.
Not to worry. Just find a gear that’s comfortable and quiet and preserve that fucking chain! JUST GET THROUGH THE BIKE.
The roads out to Cockermouth (fnar) were smooth and gently undulating. I was passed by almost everyone. (That’s how it felt) I shouted encouragement at everyone who passed. Unless they were drafting (there was a fair bit of that!)
From Cockermouth we made our way down windy, winding roads to Egremont where we had a short out and back before turning up the coast with the wind behind us. My pace shot from 23kph average to 31 and I was making good time. By Workington and Maryport I was bang on track for a 7hr bike split. I was living my best life. Feeling good, nailing nutrition and in a gear that felt workable and safe for the bike.
There were some long drags up dual carriageways which were arduous and pretty scary, with the apalling driving of some motorists. I was bursting for a pee and had tried several times to pee while cycling but for some reason my brain won’t communicate with my bladder and I cannot do it! I stopped at an aid station, picked up a banana and a fresh bottle of PowerBar isoactive. I didn’t waste any time and quickly made it back onto the road. Still on target. Still ok. Just get through the bike.
I wish I’d made the most of the tail wind. Because life was about to get tough.
At Silloth, an odd wee town on the coast that I could see Scotland from across the Solway Firth (“ha!” I thought, “I’ve basically cycled home”) you turn back and head in a loop to Aspatria before heading back to Silloth. The headwind was constant and unforgiving. With nasty gusts from in front and the side. The terrain had evolved from flat coastal roads to lumpy countryside with some sharp wee kickers. Of course, I couldn’t spin my legs in the granny ring up these because Stella wouldn’t let me select that gear. Instead I had to stomp the pedals. This approach is faster over a shorter distance, in theory, but it saps the legs. I was soon having to take on more fuel to avoid bonking. This would cause problems later…
Around about now I heard the words “ALRIGHT MY LITTLE PASTYYYYYYYY” from behind. KATE!!!! Man was I pleased to see her. She breezed past looking strong as hell. “I HAD AN ABSOLUTE SHITTER OF A SWIM, MATE” she shouted as I dropped back and she moved forwards out of the drafting zone. “ME FUCKIN GOGGLES SNAPPED IN THE SWIM”. I shouted encouragement after her and watched her pedal off into the hills.
It was on this first loop that I executed the perfect bottle swap. Chucked my empty bottle directly into their bin from the bike, shouted “WATER AND A BANANA PLEASE” at the amazing volunteers who duly held these out to me, grabbed a bottle, put it in my teeth, grabbed a banana and shoved it in my pocket, switched my rear bottle to the front cage and put the water bottle in my rear cage, then peeled the banana WITH MY TEETH like and actual PRO and all without losing what little speed I had. That, right there, is winning.
Once the top of the lap is completed, you do 16 miles of it AGAIN before turning towards Cockermouth from Aspatria.
This section took for-fucking-ever.
After about 20 minutes I heard “THERE SHE IS. GINNIE BABE. KEEP GOING YOU’RE DOING AMAZING” and it was Kate again! “Nice work babe. are you on your second lap now?” “NAH MATE. TOOK A WRONG FUCKING TURN LIKE A TWAT. WENT AN EXTRA TWO MILES. FUCK SAKE”
This was the first time I’d laughed all day. It felt good to laugh. Off she went again. Pedalling like the machine that she is. (She did GUCR – all 152 miles of it like 3 weeks ago. And then won an iron distance tri the following weekend. Just in case you weren’t sure how badass she is…)
After another half hour, my good mood had subsided. I had spent the whole day being over-taken and felt like I was dead last. This is when the first Dark Place happened. There was a 3km climb, it was doable in the gear I was in but my quads were in tatters and my calf was beginning to noise itself up after the swim cramp.
I cried. I cried on a very quiet road because no one had passed for a decade and I was certain I’d missed a turning, was last, and was going to miss cut off. My pace had slowed to about 18kph which is really dire. All of a sudden, a man called Carl (I saw his bib) cycled past. “Why are the hills and wind at the end?!” I sobbed. “It’s just life, innit” he said.
Shit. That cut me deep. So simple. Yet so true.
Iron-distance races are designed to weed out the weak and ill-prepared. Maybe I didn’t get as many long rides as I’d have liked. But over the last few years I’ve developed mental fortitude. I’ve had meltdowns on long rides, but I’ve pulled through that to finish every single one. And as Carl so wisely observed, sometimes things get lumpy. You just have to knuckle down and get on with it. Just. Get. Through. The. Bike.
So I did. Save a brief moment at the 150km aid station. I’d literally been falling asleep on bike and the perplexed marshals held my bike while I sat on the kerb with my head in my hands for “just a couple of minutes please”.
Some tough love from the amazing marshals, a few more bits of nutrition collected and half a bottle of powerbar downed and off I went. Into the rain and wind.
“It’s only 15 miles back to Keswick” were the team’s parting words.
I may as well have had another 112 in front of me. Those 15 miles lasted FOREVER.
Eventually, I rolled into Keswick, passed the end of one of the out and back sections to see hundreds of runners on the marathon. Sigh. I had a lot of work still to do.
My earlier smiles had been replaced with a persistent grimace as my body was in absolute bits. My knees were killing me, my feet were numb and my neck was stiff from being so tense. I was so thoroughly fed up and knew that my goal time was now long gone. This was going to require every ounce of grit in my body.
I’d limped a very dodgy mech round 112 miles within a cut off. I’d made it. I’d made it on to the run. I knew now that I would finish. By hell or high water.
Bike: 86 years.
T2 – 6 minutes (including meltdown and pee break. THANK YOU to the incredible volunteer for her “tough love” which told me to harden the fuck up and get the fuck on with it. LOVED her.)
Highway to Hell. The Home straight x 20
5 Laps of an 8km course. Sounds totally ok, right?
Well let me be perfectly honest with you. I love everything about Lakesman. The organisers, volunteers, athletes, locals, location. I did NOT love the run route.
I mean, it was great for my support team who positioned themselves at various spots to see me. This helped immeasurably. But starting lap 1 when there were people on laps 3, 4 and 5 was absolutely shite. And turned a seemingly easy and flat course into much more of a test of mental strength and tenacity. There were ample opportunity to miss chunks of out and backs, especially as it became more and more quiet. But I walked and jogged every single meter of the assigned course. And it was brutal.
You start through Hope Park and then out through the woods into the back of the town centre. Then you run along the main road out to a wee path that takes you through fields. Small out and back here before your first aid station. From here you hit the Highway to Hell. a mile(ish) long section of road that you traverse FOUR times per lap. Yup. That’s 20 times in total. After the first up and down, you have two teeny out and back bits with another aid station. Then you’re back to HtH for another two traverses. After which you head back into town, winding your way for about 3km before you’re back at Theatre on the Lake, PASSED THE FINISH LINE (this is SO tough) and back out to the next loop.
Lap 1 passed fairly quickly. I exited T2, entered the park to rapturous applause from the huge crowd and my friends and family and then I see her. SARAH ACTUAL TUCKER!!! “Surprise” she shouts! So I cried. Again. And then I mustered the courage to head off. I spent the lap congratulating my fellow athletes on a hard days graft. I was reassured to hear other grumbles about the bike being such a chore. Not just me, then.
Lap 2 got a bit shit. I still had miles to go. And by this time, my stomach had made me very aware that it did NOT approve of 8 hours on a bike. My legs felt ridiculously good. But every time I tried to jog, I was becoming terrifyingly close to a Code Brown situation. The danger was real. PLEASE not in my custom tri-suit, guts. PLEASE.
There is a saying: “Never trust a fart in an ironman”.
I had the fear.
My guts were heavily protesting and I knew I needed to settle my tummy or the remaining 3 laps would be extremely challenging. I was being chased by cut off.
I knew what was coming. I knew I would need to use a portaloo on an ironman run. I have read things, terrible things, about this. I was more afraid of this than following through in my suit. But I was really, truly going to have to do this because no one wants to be that guy on the red carpet that’s shit themselves.
In a futile attempt to silence the extraordinary tummy cramps, at aid stations I picked up cups of water and coke and sucked ready salted crisps until they dissolved on my tongue. By the end of Lap 2, I was able to hold a jog for a couple of minutes before I experienced any, ahem, rumbling.
I’d noticed a portaloo with the door open on one of the out and backs. “It’s either so awful the door has to be left open, or it won’t be that bad because the door is open….” I thought to myself.
And I was EXTREMELY relieved to discover it was not as bad as expected. Tales of shit up walls and vomit everywhere had me shook. But this was fine!! THERE WAS EVEN TOILET ROLL. This was fucking luxury.
After what can only be described as an “uncomfortable” few minutes, I had to go through the ordeal of getting my tri suit back on my arms. It is the comfiest piece of kit I’ve ever owned, but at this stage my skin had a thin layer of sticky salt and sweat. I must have punched myself in the face 8 times trying to get back into it.
I’d survived. Dignity relatively intact.
By now, the field had thinned substantially. Stoic chit chat between athletes and the “chapeau, sir!” banter had been replaced by 1000 yard stares and unapologetic farting. This was the bit I’d been warned about. When it gets really tough and you can do nothing but dig in and just keep moving forwards. All the advice I’d been given, all the hours of boring turbo trainer rides, howling headwinds, bitter cold morning runs and long, early swims culminated in this last few laps of my first ironman distance.
“Just. Keep. Moving. Forwards. Bean. ”
I have never been a fast runner or a particularly good cyclist. I am well used to back of the pack. But after an 8:22 bike split and pushing on for a 6:30hr marathon, I was at rock fucking bottom and I felt utterly defeated. I thought about all the support from my family, friends and colleagues. My work had given me an incredible suit and I felt like I’d let everyone down. I admittedly gave thought to the haters. The ones who would only track me to watch me suffer and debate how soon I’d tap out.
Well fuck that. I’d come this far. I was finishing this. In Hero’s Hour. So maybe it wasn’t the 14 hours I’d wanted. 16+ hours of relentless forward progress is miles more than they are capable of. If anyone thinks for one mere second that I am not going to finish something I set out to do, then sorry, that’s not my style.
As I trudged passed the Crow Park Hotel for the 3rd time, I was greeted by Brian Drought. He’d had an unfortunate swim experience and had to withdraw. He asked how I was. I was quite honest. Something like “shite mate this sucks”. And he offered to chum me on my last two laps which were now going to be in the dark. Alone.
At the start of my 4th Lap, he joined me in his running kit with a spare waterproof for me. The weather had closed in by this time and my body temperature was becoming worryingly low.
He distracted me with chatter and held my cups while I tried to jog (it was definitely faster to walk by now). And we quick marched and tried to keep my pace up.
Beardy had stayed put at the highway to hell and had been clapping and cheering every runner through their final laps. He really seemed to enjoy giving people much needed encouragement in their final hours of The Longest Day. He saw a lot of suffering that day!
Lap 4 passed in a haze of trying not to shit myself and trying to keep up with Brian. Marshals asking if I was on my last lap made me want to cry but by now I knew I was capable of finishing within the final cut off. I had gone into this with no expectations, other than finishing. But it was still a weird feeling to be chasing the 2130 last lap cut off. Following advice, I had wasted as little time as I could. Stopping only when things got really desperate. But I felt panicked and worried. I didn’t want to let everyone down and I really REALLY had to finish this.
As we hobbled through the park to start the final lap, the support was amazing. I got my fifth and final band and we muddled through. I thanked, high fived and hugged every marshal and volunteer that I could. What a long day they’d had.
It’s hard to describe where your head goes at this point in a race. I had been moving for 15 hours. I was SO close to finishing. Yet the looped out and backs were absolute hell on earth. I mean, i knew this would be tough. But this was tough.
One things for sure: I am tougher.
We marched back into town. And I finally let myself think about finishing. After a year of hard work. 3 years of daydreaming of this moment. 6 Months of intense training. A new job. Injury. Stress. 4am starts. Zero social life. Sacrifice. Commitment. And not just from me but from my family and my friends and partner. I had to get there. I had to get there within cut off.
My entire day was spent adjusting my expectations. The goal was now: get to the end. Don’t be shit. And don’t shit.
Brian and I plotted the finish. He’d run through the short cuts to the finish and wait for me. I’d finish the lap solo. With a mile or so to go, he made his way to the finish line. And I hobbled in the dark towards the last aid station. As I was walking up the hill I heard “she’s coming!” “We’ve got another finisher” “come on girl!!!” “Well done Ginnie!!” Hugs, high fives and appreciation administered, I worked up the courage to run my last 200m.
When I met Lucy Charles, and asked her what to expect of my first race, along with some really solid advice on being prepared and soaking it all up, she said “You will only finish your first ironman once.”
With those words ringing in my ears, I ran down the hill towards the finish, the lights of the gantry now flickering through the trees. Loud music, cheering, my mum screaming encouragement, and I finally, after 16 hours and 21 minutes of relentless forward progress, got to turn left and cross the last timing matt and soak up the red carpet. I milked it as much as I could. High fiving and laughing and crying. They held the ribbon over the line for me and I crossed it to the words of “Congratulations, Lakesman”
I had done it. It was done. I laugh-cried as I was photographed by Eilidh and her boyfriend and handed a t shirt and medal. I cheered over the next finisher and then went to find my family and friends who had also had the longest day.
The next few hours are sort of a blur. I was absolutely exhausted but totally buzzing. My head had gone from the lowest low point to the highest high. I couldn’t process anything. The incredible support coming through from friends and family who’d had a worrying day tracking me as I slowly flung myself around the Cumbrian countryside was overwhelming.
I’d been warned that I wouldn’t sleep. However, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out cold.
I awoke at 5am. Sore and starving. It was time to bum shuffle up two flights of stairs to the kitchen, where I sat eating cocktail sausages and toast until Katherine and Greig joined me.
I’d earned my iron crown. And now it was time to bask in the sense of achievement. Compounded by the fact that I battled HARD to finish in time. And I truly earned my bling.
“Run”: 6hrs 35mins – my slowest EVER marathon
140.6 miles: 16:21.13 – got my moneys worth!
What a superb event, with an amazing, friendly and supportive team of directors and volunteers. Marie and Paul were there at the start and finish high fiving and meeting everyone.
The setting is beautiful. The swim is stunning. The bike is challenging in it’s own special way. The run is mentally punishing but the support on the way round was unbeatable.
I can’t think of anywhere I would have preferred to earn my iron status.
Lets not forget that I did this for charity. And so far, thanks to my incredibly supportive friends, family and colleagues, my total is sitting at £1600. That is going to help Lymfund in SO many ways.
At this point, I have some very important people to thank:
My mum, dad and sister. For their endless support and love. Lissie made dad facetime her to see my finish live. She cried more than me for the first time EVER. Mum and Dad were up from 4am and stayed on the course cheering everyone all day.
My other family: the Belchamber girls for being an amazing Cheer Squad.
Beardy, who kept me as calm as possible (give or take a few fraught moments……..) and who, over the last year, has helped me balance training and life. Often setting aside his own goals to help me achieve mine.
The Spences for your constant support and help for both me and Beardy.
My friends, who literally haven’t seen me for a year. And if they have seen me, they’ve patiently understood my need for a 9pm bed time.
To Tucker and Daniel who drove all the way down to see me on to the run and over the finish line. Thank you for being the absolute best and for bringing BONBONBONBONS.
IronBuddy. For literally everything. Your advice, patience and help. And your book recommendations. You kept me inspired and motivated. And thoroughly grounded when required.
My Endura family: for the incredible support and enthusiasm for this challenge. For my suit, for introducing me to Lucy Charles and giving me the best kit a girl could ask for.
Brian Drought. Thank you from the bottom of my blistered feet for marching around those two laps with me. Your chat kept me suitably distracted from the pain and you kept me smiling when I just wanted to cry. Your family are amazing and I’m so glad we all finally got to meet!
I’m not sure how I thought I’d feel by now. Did I think I’d feel like an athlete? Did I think I’d look ripped and muscly? No and also no because Jam. And cheese. And bagels. And sausage suppers. But I definitely expected to feel different: Fitter, stronger, highly tuned. Less like a sofa dwelling carb-addict and more like Leanda Cave.
Alas, I’m much closer to the sofa than the Cave. Literally.
I guess I must be different than I was, though. Even with my gut and bingo wings. All the indicators suggest I am at my fitness peak. But I still feel like me. I still feel normal.
I’ve gone into taper feeling ready for it. Not totally wrecked but with plenty of niggles and a requirement for plentiful sleep and water. I made it to 82 miles of my last century ride before I lost my shit. This is progress!
I had a beer and managed to finish it for the first time in months! I’ve been eating well and trying not to overdo the carbs as I taper down my efforts.
I’ve also been driving myself, and my people, CRAZY with taper madness. It is a real thing and it is happening in my head ALL THE TIME.
If I thought Maranoia was a thing before, I was wrong. Try Iron Maranoia.
It’s 100% horrendous.
I’ve trained for a year, but I’ve prepared myself for THREE years for this challenge. Painstakingly ticking off bucket list stuff en route to hopefully one day becoming IronBean. And the job is barely finished. I have the actual work to do now.
I’m so close that I can touch it.
And yet I’m terrified.
I’m terrified of that which I have no control of: Bike mechanicals. Relentless headwinds. Torrential rain. Unbearable heat. Hungry Pike. Cramp.
I can control none of these so naturally it’s all that consumes me as I beg for last minute mechanical tutorials on repairing chains and dealing with snapped mechs.
I guess the thing that frightens me more than anything I’ve done so far, is that I might not finish. I could have A Disaster. This isn’t set in stone. You can’t wing 140.6 miles. If something goes tits up and it’s non repairable, it’s game over. You can walk a marathon or an ultra. You can breaststroke a 10km Swim. For me to feel home and dry, I have to get to the marathon. And even then, I’ll need ample time to finish the damned thing.
Just get to the run, girl. Then you’re on the home straight. Then it’s just a marathon.
Just. A. Marathon.
I have never had a good marathon. (Ssshhh. Nothing could be good after 112 miles on a bike. Not even sitting down is good. You’d rather be running.)
I’ve been waking up at 4am bathed in sweat panicking about why my bento box won’t sit right on my top tube, how much lube I should apply, what if the photographer gets my chins from the wrong angle, what if I forget to hit save on my Edge….. all crucial, of course.
The last few weeks have passed in a blur of busy work days and last minute Lakesman fretting. Somehow, I’m about to enter the final week of taper and pack for the Lake District. So….. I’m basically going to do this, then.
I’m watching my footing, wearing sensible shoes and glaring at anyone who dares to cough or sniff in my presence.
I’ve had shoulder issues and a gammy knee which, at 8am on Sunday was ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY A MEDIAL MENISCAL TEAR OR AT THE VERY LEAST A TEAR IN MY MEDIAL COLLATERAL LIGAMENT OR OH FUCK WHAT IF ITS ARTHRITIS.
Physio was booked for Sunday anyway, and Sarah reassured me that it was literally not even one of those things.
And relax, Bean. Do your stretches, Bean. Eat your protein and your fibre, Bean.
It’s all just come round so fast! (The exact opposite of how the event will go, just FYI)
Lakesman was a distant dream last June when I psyched myself up to register. Now it’s next fucking WEEK.
Next week. Shit the bed.
140.6 miles. Iron. My dream. My goal. THE goal. (Insert 18,000 ridiculous instagram hashtags here)
Am I ready? Who the fuck knows. But it’s time to HTFU and find out!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Despite leaving Higher Education 10 years ago this year, I can still vividly remember the immediate aftermath of an exam: relief that the studying, cramming, all-nighters and red-bull (yuck) binges were done, coupled with crippling anxiety because you and your mates compared answers to The Big Question and your answer was different to all of theirs….
Why did we DO that to ourselves???
I thought I’d left all that behind until I started endurance training.
Now that most us are in our build phases as we approach our various races and events, Facebook groups are awash with “I’ve done this, what does everyone think” and “OMG I’ve only done this should I be doing that?”. It all makes for anxious reading. Especially if you’re injured, ill or in my case…. just plain exhausted.
I try to ignore most “comparative” chat in relation to Lakesman, because my goal is mine and mine alone. I can’t wait to meet everyone and share in the enjoyment and pain of the day, but seeing someone’s 6 hour road ride when all I’ve managed is 2 hours on a turbo trainer (and those two hours were wholly shite) can very occasionally fill me with The Fear.
I try to stick to encouraging my fellow Lakesman trainees and not let their progress detract from my own, however small it is in comparison.
I’ve been letting the world in. I’ve been letting Thoughts pile up. Because of this, the last week has seen me experience a massive crisis of confidence.
I feel drastically under prepared. I am SO stressed. Learning a new role in a fast paced business environment is tough enough as it is without having life and training to contend with. Training for a full distance triathlon around a new job and life is enough to contend with.
WHAT AM I DOING.
I have felt so out of my depth, so I’m trying to remember what I’ve been telling myself for years:
When you enter an endurance event, be it a half marathon or MDS or a half iron or an ironman (small i, FYI), you are making a commitment not just to put the miles in and diligently tick them off, but to try and prepare your body and mind for what it’s going to experience on race day. Training is supposed to be difficult. You are supposed to ache and feel tired.
Training plans may just look like a checklist of miles to run (speaking from experience), but it’s about so much more than your legs. It’s not just about miles. It’s about nutrition. Energy management. Mental strength.
You might think you’re tough, but what are you gonna do at 24 miles into your marathon when the last 2 may as well be another 22 miles? What’s going to prepare you for pushing on?
That’s what’s scaring me at the moment.
I’ve been steadily preparing, but I lack so much confidence with my bike fitness that I can’t see past the doubt at the moment.
It’s very tough. After every single ride, be it turbo or road or trail, I’m left thinking “how the hell am I supposed to get through 180km”.
The weather has not been kind. This time last year, we’d had mild weather so I’d been able to cross train for the marathon with some decent long rides. This year, when I actually NEED to be out on the road, we’ve had 2ft of snow, sideways rain and generally shite weather. With my desire to get to the start line of Lakesman sans broken bones, I’ve been playing it safe on the turbo.
Today was three hours. Three. Hours.
I am the most determined and stubborn person I know. So I know I can push through and do this. But the training is a lot.
I am trying to trust the plan. My plan. That I made. I’ve put a lot of faith in my own ability to know when to push through a barrier and when to stop and take stock. I designed The Plan to be the type that would push me out of my comfort zone. And it’s succeeding.
It’s so tough.
Of course, I’m motivated by more than just bragging rights and a medal. I’m doing this for charity.
Lymfund provide financial help to people who require critical treatment for Lymphoedema and Lipoedema.
There are two main types of Lymphoedema:
Primary: develops due to a faulty gene that affects the development of the lymphatic system. It can develop at any age.
Secondary: caused by damage to the lymphatic system through trauma such as surgery or injury, or through cancer treatment.
Lipoedema is often misdiagnosed as obesity. However, it can be an extremely painful condition, where the legs or buttocks are out of proportion with the rest of the body. It occurs almost exclusively in Women. It usually develops at times of hormonal change, prior to which, a person will have had a ‘normal’ body shape.
Both of these conditions can be treated using a technique called Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD). And I hope to raise £2000 to help MLDUK and Lymfund enable people to seek vital funding for their treatment, which will also include being taught how to perform self-massage to assist in the treatment of the condition.
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!
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.