The One That Wasn’t To Be

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

Then this happens:


Well, shit. 

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

Bollocks. 

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

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

Meh. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


I digress.

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

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

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

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


No problemo. Or so I thought. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t just a little bit choppy. 

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

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

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

Oh. What. An. Understatement. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Oops. 

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

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

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

It was emotional but so worth the winding roads.


Ambleside, you’ve been wonderful. ❤️

Hobbled. 

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

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

(Cough)

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

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

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

Oh how I fucking laughed. But seriously, help. 

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

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

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

I put my feet down and OW. 

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

This isn’t good. Try again. 

Nope. Fuck. 

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

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

Good. Fucking. Work. Bean. 

Somewhat shockingly, this didn’t hurt. 

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

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

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

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

Oh, well fucking kill me dead. 

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

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

*sniffles* ok. You’re right. 

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards, with a limp. 

The Dark. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Familiar Twinge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest it is, then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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