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of those anxiety dreams where you’re trying to get somewhere and there’s planes crashing around you and the ground has been replaced by treacle and someone has tied your shoelaces together.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.
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…….
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!
This will officially be known as The Last Race That The Other Half Gets To Choose. Basically because every time he picks one, it includes the words “gently undulating” and “slight climb” in the race briefing which prompt the regulars to chortle knowingly.
Forget, for a minute, the weird distance. You do get over it. I promise.
4 weeks post London he felt I needed a bit of a kick start. And boy did I bloody well get one.
It’s fun to enter smaller, more obscure races. As long as you’re quick like a club runner, like Brian is. If you’re slow like a sloth then it’s not so much fun. But hey. Someone has to come last… (I didn’t this time…) I’m actually not *that* slow these days, but that’s by my standards. Bean is now faster (marginally) than a glacier.
This was actually a lovely wee race and one I would recommend to those in the locality. You’re piped down the hill (by a piper, not like on to a cake) beside the Hydro to the start line (note; it is the MOUNTAIN that you run back up at the end, by the way…) and then you’re set off on the main road. It’s a loop out of Dunblane to Kinbuck and then back round OVER THE ACTUAL BLOODY ALPS and then down into Dunblane only to be faced with over 200m of elevation in the last half mile. Which is fun.
It was hot. So damn hot. And from about 3 miles in my left calf had decided that this was definitely TOO FUCKING SOON, BEAN.
There was a mythical water station at “4 miles” which eventually appeared as a watery mirage after one of the mountain roads rounded a corner. I’ve never finished a bottle of water at a race yet. Until Sunday.
Brian, or Speedy McSpeedFace, had zipped off at the start. Both of our Garmins had failed to get a signal. Mine woke up after 600 worrying metres where I decided I really need to learn how to pace without a gadget… But his didn’t wake up until about 1.5 miles in by which time he thought by keeping up with those around him he’d be doing alright on pace. Turns out that 4.45/km otherwise known as “imminent death”.
Meanwhile, I’m bringing up the rear, where I’d found some lasses from my local running club which i have never attended (swimming night coincides, you see…) and it was lovely to chat for a bit before the hills stole all my words and my soul.
A very picturesque race on a sweltering Sunday meant that I soon began to reel people in. One thing I pride myself in is the fact that I no longer walk/run. It works for some people but not me. I’m better if I just keep on jogging. I was getting particularly hacked off with the girl that repeatedly SPRINTED PAST at under 6min/km and then walked until I’d JUST passed her before taking off again.
Eventually I decided to match her run pace behind her and then lost her. More efficient, my Arse.
The real bastard about this race is the end. Not often I’ll say THAT. But the whole time you’re running down hill back into Dunblane, you are ALARMINGLY AWARE of the fact that the hill back up to the Hydro looms over you. And you have to run up an equally impressive slope to get to the bottom of Death Hill.
By the time I reached the bottom of Death Hill, Mr Speedy had finished and come back down to find me, admitting afterwards that he had expected to wait a lot longer for me than he did. He jogged up beside me as I basically cried that I could absolutely NOT do this (I was doing it) and I overtook maybe 4 or 5 others on the way to the top. It really was brutal. And SO FECKING HOT.
Somehow, I’ve no idea how, but SOMEHOW I found the beans in my legs to beast the finish with an impressive (or not) sprint and even heard a chap say “Christ I’m amazed she has that much energy left”. Oh yeah, bitches. Check my impressive stride….
There were snickers bars and MEDALS! How lovely! Not the usual script for teeny races but an ace surprise.
£15 was decent value for money for a race that was VERY well marshalled ( by some wonderful people!), well organised and provided refreshments and bling. Thoroughly recommended (but practise hills. Honestly.)
I’ve loved writing about training for marathons (oh yeah… plural! That technically makes me an expert now) and writing about what happens when you run them. So it was about time that I wrote about what happens afterwards. This is just based on my own personal experiences and everyone is aware that I’m odd, but it’s always fun to share….
Be prepared in the days (and weeks) following a marathon, to wish to eat everything in sight. Twice. And then have pudding. It’s probably acceptable to “refeed” for the first few days and carbs, fiber and protein are the way to do that sensibly. Plenty of vegetables, water, pasta and chicken, right? Wrong. Bring on the donner meat, biscuits, cake and copious tea because “behold. I have just run a marathon. Bring to me cake and shower me with pasta and praise”.
And that’s ok. What probably is not ok is still maintaining that dietary approach 4 weeks later. My trousers definitely suggest that I need to quit the biscuits and start being sensible again.
The Medal Wearing
Thou shalt sport thy finishers medal for a minimum of 3 days and then carry it in your handbag for when you bump into people in Tesco and want to brandish it at them. “Hi yes my handbag is awfy heavy because of this enormous bit of bling”.
Remember that the only people allowed to wear your medal are you and children under the age of 10. Anyone else is an impostor and a fraud with no concept of what you’ve actually just been through and they must be attacked immediately if found wearing your medal. If they ask to wear it, just politely question them to see if they too have just completed a marathon. If the answer is anything other than “yes look at my finishers t shirt and this kebab I am enjoying it is my third today because I have just run a marathon” then punch them in the face and hobble away. (Don’t run. you probably can’t.)
The Finishers T-shirt Wearing
Largely acceptable for a week. I WISH I worked somewhere where finishers t shirts were an acceptable form of office attire. But alas. Never mind. I shall wear it immediately upon arriving home and at every available public opportunity. It is especially important that once you are able (and willing) to run again after the event, that you wear your finishers t shirt with pride and a grimace as your body makes you suffer for wanting to run again after 26.2 miles.
Try not to wear your marathon finishers tee to do a 10k. Or any race of a lesser distance. It’s a bit ‘boasty’. Especially if, like me, you’re not quick or you don’t, like me, possess terribly enviable form. I quite enjoy that EMF gave me two t shirts. One with 26.2 emblazoned on the back in GIANT LETTERS THAT CAN BE READ FROM MILES AWAY, and one which just states “2014” leaving fellow runners to guess which distance I completed that weekend. I’ve been tempted to wear my Aberfeldy 70.3 shirt a few times but no. That one doesn’t get worn for training. That one just gets worn for smugness.
(I will be a nightmare if I ever become an Ironman)
The night after a marathon, your brain and legs will be buzzing. Everything will tell you to PLEASE OH MY WORD PLEASE GO TO SLEEP and then just as you close your eyes you’ll remember A Thing or your calves with spontaneously go into spasm and then before you know it you’re on facebook and it’s 4am.
I actually find that two nights after the event is when I have The Giant Sleep. A sleep so deep that an elephant could fart in my ear and I wouldn’t even flinch.
Reliving the Event
This is the great bit and it doesn’t go away! To say “I’ve run a marathon” is a bloody brilliant thing. To say “I’ve actually run TWO marathons” is even more incredible. But to be able to say you’ve run the LONDON marathon is something I doubt I’ll ever get my head around. Your eyes will glaze over as your brain skillfully blocks out the portaloos, the sounds of shuffling feet and exhaustion, the sweaty strangers hand from a high five, the smell of deep heat and nervous fart and the pain (oh my god the PAIN) of covering 26.2 miles. You will say “it was wonderful” and recount tales of cheering crowds and landmarks (If you’re doing Edinburgh now, there are none. Not a single one. sorry. They demolished THE ONLY LANDMARK. Rubbish).
The Forgetting of The Pain
I imagine that this is a similar chemical reaction to what happens after a birth. The brain makes you forget what actually just happened. So you go online and you sign up for next years race before you can even bend down to tie your own shoe laces.
The glory of crossing the line, getting free stuff and generally basking in your own amazingness never gets old. Enjoy this. You deserve it!
Obsessively Checking for Finishers Pics
And then hating almost every single one because your thighs look shit. Seriously, camera men. I know you have hunners of folk to snap but at least try to make them flattering. (I actually doubt there is such a thing as a flattering photo anywhere during a marathon…) I managed to select a tiny number from 41 images where my thighs didn’t look like they were trying to peel themselves off my body and crawl away…
The Immune System’s Revenge
Steer clear of anyone you know who is remotely poorly after a marathon. In fact, turn your house into a germ-free bubble and refuse to leave for anything except more food. Because, when you least expect it, you will wake up with a HORRIBLE AILMENT that will strike you down for MUCH longer than you’re used to. My tonsils became incredibly disgusting within 8 days of London. And I was sick for nearly two weeks. Antibiotics and ALL the vitamins did virtually nothing until my body chilled the hell out and decided to be fine again.
Your body has been through a lot. Months of training and preparing for this and then the immediate drop in adrenaline leave you susceptible to all sorts of nasty shit. Feel free to punch anyone who sneezes in your vicinity. But make sure you wear sterile gloves while you punch them.
Whether it’s to new-and-not-stinky kit, new-and-not-stinky trainers, a holiday or some time off. Make sure you take some time to enjoy your achievement for yourself. Look after your body. And allow yourself time to recover before you throw yourself into the next challenge.
I turned 30 on May 6th. Not old. Not even a scary age, but a landmark none the less. I looked back on my 20’s of which the first 50% was fuelled by terrible choices, terribler tequila and terriblerer dietary decisions. The last 50% was fuelled by free Haribo and new bikes!
With plenty to look forward to, I was relieved to have a bit of time to relax after London.
However…. Last weekend, my throat became ‘a bit sciency’ and I felt literally as though someone had found an off switch. Zero energy. Zero awake. Zero sparkle.
I lamented on what I’d pulled my body and mind through over the last few months. Redundancy, uncertainty, the small matter of a marathon. All of these things (and more because #feelz) had clearly suddenly sunk in and my body gave up.
But it’s ok because I was also about to get stuck in to the Etape on the 8th….
By Monday it was pretty apparent that I had quite a nasty bout of tonsillitis. Plagued in my formative years I knew the signs and tried to kill it with fire* but it had other ideas.
(*vitamins and rest)
The out of hours doctor (who used her Galaxy S5’s torch to check them…) decided that I should be put on 10 days of penicillin. “We always prescribe 10 days”
I have never in my life been prescribed 10 days of Penicillin. But seeing as my medical degree is mostly 11 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, and googling any symptom I ever experience, I thanked her and started taking them.
Clearly the infection had gotten it’s disgusting claws in deep. The Penicillin may as well have been Haribo.
My GP rolled his eyes on Wednesday, gave me a decent dose of a different antibiotic (which will now be known as The One That Makes Me Want To Hide Inside Forever And Not Move) and it’s got rid of the majority of the Petrie dish that had appeared in my throat.
This week of sofa-dwelling and insomnia left me with a decision. I hadn’t really told anyone but I was desperately dreading Etape. I’ve no doubt that my legs could go the distance. But my back still struggles after a break from the saddle and I didn’t want to start my new job (YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT I GOT A JOB) on Monday with a gait like An Old and still nursing tonsils like golf balls.
I decided to withdraw and I am not gutted. And the fact that I felt like a weight had been lifted told me everything I needed to know about how right that decision was.
The 3am start would have been atrocious. Much less the 81 miles on a carbon road bike with less than 6 hours in the saddle this year so far.
It was the best choice.
There’s always a certain amount of unease for me going into any event I don’t feel 100% ready for. But life is too short to do anything you (and your body) don’t want to do. It’s not a case of chickening out. Sometimes you have to look at what you’ve achieved, how you’re healing and think about the impact of endurance sport on the body.
Happily, I was spoiled rotten on my 30th. My family have gifted me with so many thoughtful presents that it was quite overwhelming.
I’d also like you to meet my new bike (she is as yet unnamed).
Weighing decidedly less than my faithful Diamondback (which weighs almost the same as my Mini) and with suspension and the most amazing spec, I was straight out on her this morning. Nothing too energetic but I DID get a QOM!
So 30 is looking like it’ll be fun! Here’s to throwing myself (gently) down the side of hills!
It seemed like SUCH a good idea at the time…. Entering Etape Caledonia and then getting a place in VLM. What’s 81 miles in highland Perthshire, 14 days after a marathon?!
C’est ne pas un problem! (If one has trained adequately) Because the cycling should provide excellent cross training for the running. Provided I can do either at the same time or really at any point in the run up to either of these events.
Somewhat miraculously and despite injury woes and life-induced stress, I surprised myself at London with a 5:20 finish. At least I have endurance in my legs. And a little left in my mind…
My worry is my arse. My poor under-trained arse.
It’s covered a measly 407km in the saddle since January. I’m not going to sit here (comfortably in my chair) and wish I’d been less injured and sick (I wish I’d been less injured and sick). Instead I should focus on the fact that I know at least 50 miles of the 81 I’ll be covering. The loop round Loch Rannoch and the subsequent climb up Schiehallion were part of the Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon route in August. (Remember my epic race pic? Well it’s being used to advertise the 2016 event!)
So it’s not the route that’s freaking me out. Nor is it nutrition. My wicker basket* will be proudly attached to my bars beside my garmin and fully stocked with pastries** and sandwiches***.
* Bento box
The fear of arse ache is real. Also there is the small issue that comes with enjoying being a solo bikist. Riding en masse terrifies me. Though not as majestic or hairy, I’m very much like a nervous horse while wobbling along on my Stella. I scare easily and will need to be VERY careful not to be too twitchy when surrounded by other cyclists. If I fuck up my own day, I can live with that. I couldn’t live with fucking up someone else’s race!
Descents are not my fave. Climbs are fine. I enjoy them, in fact. But descents, which usually follow a climb in Scotland, are not so enjoyable. Despite what my self-conscious lady brain would lead me to believe, I do not have gravity on my side, and I’ve yet to master braking hard without flying arse over tit into my wicker basket of pastry heaven. Actually that doesn’t sound too terrible…
81 miles is fine. It’s not scary. Coming last isn’t even scary anymore. Just like Ross from Friends, I am fine….. FINE.
I’m hoping that by Sunday afternoon next week, my endurance adventure for 2016 will be done. I’ll be able to relax and get back into the sports I love so much at a pace that suits me. That, or find a sofa and NEVER LEAVE IT AGAIN FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.
Not one to not have a plan, and still with an unshake-able love of cake that requires regular calorie-burning to accomodate (I really truly love cake), I hope to build on confidence in corners and downhill through mountain biking (srsly). I’m looking forward to getting my running back on course and getting my CSS back from 1:55 to 1:45/100m in the pool in time for the Great Scottish Swim later in the year. And I’ll continue to build on my excellent strength improvements with coach.
I am keeping EVERYTHING crossed that the weather for this years Etape Caldedonia is better than it was last year. Scottish isn’t even enough of a description. Biblical would be better. Even if it just rains instead of being wet AND windy, then I’m fine with that. But PLEASE NOT BOTH.
On a positive note, I have been very pleasantly surprised at my recovery post marathon. If I remember Edinburgh’s aftermath, I was unable to bend my legs for several days. And stairs were out of the question for well over a week.
Somehow, I got on my bike on Tuesday. I “nipped” up some stairs quickly on Wednesday. I’ve been so OK that I keep expecting to wake up one day and not be able to move…. It’s almost like my body has FORGIVEN me. In record time. If it wasn’t for this bizarre sore throat and uber-tiredness I’d be off for a run today!
It’s this remarkable recovery that’s slightly unsettling. I think I’ll be spending this week not telling my arse what is about to happen to it.
Mum: “MLDUK have been given one spot at the London marathon. Do you want it?”
Bean: “no. Nope. No. Hell no. Not doing that marathon bollocks again”
7 months later, I found myself on a Southeastern train to Greenwich with 10,000 other runners, their kit bags and their nervous farts. I stood quietly, chewing on an oatmeal bar while my Painless Performance team mate Stuart shared the intimate details of his body-glide application. We were then shepherded off the train, through Greenwich where the drinking had already begun, and up a “hill” (let’s call it Mount Everest) to the Red Start.
Stuart and I had been tasked with getting a #TeamPainless selfie beside a VLM sign.
We found a sign with VLM on it and so ensued the funniest 5 minutes of my life featuring The Confused Man and quotes such as “yes we really want our picture taken by the female urinals” and “so what actually *is* a she-wee?”
I call this “Kneeling in pee”
We dumped our things at the lorries, Stuart re-lubed by Lube Tree and I queued in the not-terrible queues at the portaloos several times.
The smell of pre-marathon portaloos will stay with me for a long time. (It’s like a music festival but replace beer smell with deep heat and all your usual portaloo smells)
After about half an hour, Stuart and I parted ways. He was in pen 6 and I was right at the back with (literally) the Rhinos and the Jamaican sodding Bobsled team (what a fucking achievement. They were brilliant lads) in pen 9.
Tim “I’ve turned space exploration from death defying to dull” Peake started us off (which was pretty cool) and we slowly edged our way to the start. 29 minutes. TWENTY NINE MINUTES. I was FROZEN.
I listened to the two girls behind me draw up their walk-run plan which consisted of 1mile walk, 5 minute run the whole way. I spotted the 5:15 pacer about 10 miles ahead. That was the last I saw of their flag. Bugger. There goes my Garmin-battery-backup-plan.
We were funnelled through the gate as the Canadian family who live on the corner cheered us tirelessly and waved flags. And there it was: the start gantry of one of the worlds largest marathons. Goosebumps.
The first few miles were unremarkable. Some ace support and lots of high fiving kids and definitely a bloke who I then realised was probably on some kind of register somewhere. But hey. This is probably a once in lifetime event for me so I’m going to go with it!
Everything felt smooth and I quickly got into a metronomic rhythm at around 7:40/km. bang on.
Around 3 miles in, my left knee shouted at me. And then shut up and never bothered me the entire race. It was almost as though my body suddenly realised what was about to happen to it and shouted “STOP THIS MADNESS”.
Running through a-bit-I-can’t-remember-the-name-of-but-it’s-near-the-start, the music pumping out of people’s flats, the guy dj’ing and shouting runners names from his balcony (awesome) and all the happy smiley faces was just brilliant.
Soon we were over the first timing mat and I grabbed a bottle of water to sip. I hydrated well through the race. Every other water station I took a bottle, thanked a volunteer and sipped a few sips. At 10k, 20k and 30k I used water to wash down gels. I like this method.
Cutty Sark appeared after my first pee stop and that was something else. The crowd there was amazing an all through the town people were cheering and clapping. Quite an experience.
My next tick-box was Bermondsey. Mum and dad were there. Just one more 10k to go and I would see them.
I broke VLM down into 4 X 10ks. It worked very well for keeping my pace consistent. The plan, originally, was to build pace. I genuinely think I could have done that if I’d had a little more training.
1 10k down, 3 to go.
The run from Cutty to Rotherhithe and Bermondsey wasn’t terribly memorable. Most of the crowd had moved to their next spot so apart from the charity posts who shouted for everyone and the pissed locals and enthusiastic kids, there wasn’t a huge amount of support.
I was glad to get to the crowded streets of Bermondsey and then mum and dad appeared in the distance. They got a sweaty hug and a kiss and I made sure they were ok before jogging on towards half way.
Almost half way!
Running across tower bridge will stay with me forever. The crowd got bigger and louder until I turned a corner and there it was. Dodging people stopping to take selfies was the main challenge. It became an obstacle course which is just what you need half way through a marathon:
Top tip: it’s amazing what we’re part of but MOVE TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, THANKS.
After tower bridge, it was a right turn towards Canary Wharf. The crowds here were amazing and it was a chance to cheer for the runners that were almost at 23 miles. What we didn’t need, on our side of the road, was the guy on the party bus to shout, “THOSE GUYS OPPOSITE YOU LOT ARE ALMOST FINISHED. 10 MILES UNTIL YOU’RE ALMOST HOME”
What a bastard. That was the first time my head started to object. “No this is too far oh my god they all look fucked and you’re fucked already can we just jump the fence and then go get a burger and be done with this?”
No. We bloody can’t.
One foot in front of the other. Canary Wharf seemed to go on forever. Some firemen had loudspeakers blasting dance music out of their fire station. “KEEP MOVING, BEAN. YOU’RE LOOKING STRONG LOVE!” Was the reply when I thanked them for the boost.
Eventually I got to the curve that heads round to Mudchute where I was hoping mum and dad would be. And they were. Things were starting to hurt. I’d taken Ibuprofen and Paracetamol at half way but I’d yet to walk. At all. I told mum and dad I’d probably need to start walking a bit soon. But I was ok. Just sore. More hugs. More sweaty kisses and off I went.
Mile 17 “I NEED A CUDDLE”
More pee stops (15 minutes was added to my chip time due to pee queues. You men don’t know how lucky you are) and a minute of walking was all that was required to reset my sore pelvis so I could continue.
Before I knew it, 20 Miles came into view. I only had 10k (plus 2.2) left. I AM ALMOST FINISHED AND I HAVEN’T WALKED YET HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?!
The next 10k became a battle of mind over matter. It should have been easy! 10km isn’t far! But in my head it may as well have been another 26.2 miles.
My quads seized as they did during EMF2014 so a stop and stretch was required. I chatted to a young girl called Jess. I can’t remember which charity she was running for but she was emotional and sore from living with and training through an injury. She looked strong though and I hope she made it!
After being in Limehouse for what felt like FOREVER I reached 22 miles and then treated myself to to another quick walk (coach if you’re reading this is was faster than LISS pace) and began overtaking runners.
It was here that I welled up a little when the bastard party bus of earlier was playing Go Your Own Way at full pelt. My very best school chums and I absolutely love that song. So many happy memories. It felt like they’d stopped by to cheer me on. I ran along singing at the top of my lungs. I was running the bloody London marathon. For realz.
At 23 miles, I heard “GINNIE” my *actual* name. And there was my school-chum Robyn. Her bright hair and brighter smiler made my day. I’d really needed a lift at that stage. She got a sweaty hug whether she wanted one or not.
Then on to Blackfriars. I had been warned about this bit. But, disappointingly/ reassuringly there was no crying, puking or shitting. Just a woman over some loud speakers telling us we were amazing. No Somme-like experience. Just a bunch of tired folk having a walk and a bit of a word with themselves.
Coming out into the bright light of day, I clocked mum waving manically from the overpass. Brilliant. They’d made it! (On what was apparently the most horrid tube journey of their lives)
This was it. I was on the home stretch. “Where is Big Ben? I can’t see it. Must be Behind those trees. Oh it isn’t. FECK where IS it. Oh god it’s MILES away”
The Embankment was outstanding. So much support and it was basically like that until the end. As I rounded the corner past Oor Ben, I remembered to turn my cheerful grimace into a smile (thanks for the tip, D) and made sure every photographer got a smiley thumbs up.
There’s a bit after the road from Big Ben that you’re funnelled through onto Birdcage. Some army lads were lined up congratulating runners. Each of them got an enthusiastic high five. They were so lovely.
I am grateful I had sunglasses on. Birdcage walk was the first place I got choked up. I was about to finish the London marathon. I was running. I had run almost an entire marathon. On about 10 weeks of solid training. My battered, broken body and soul have had a fucking tough few weeks and months but I was about to smash this thing in the face. I was DOING it.
I was then brought out of my reverie by a bloke shuffling along in agony telling a photographer who’d shouted “CHEER UP MATE” to “FAHK ORF”. Amazing.
I passed the 800m to go sign and lengthened my stride, bringing my chin up and letting my legs stretch.
I reached 400m to go and started to feel like I may well puke.
I remembered my finishers pictures from Edinburgh. My “majestic sprint” was more of a holding-in-a-poo shuffle and my “bright smile” a twisted look of agony.
Not this time.
I shuffled Edinburgh, injured and wrecked in 5:40.16. At VLM 2016 I crossed the line in a time measured by my Garmin of 5:20.15. (Chip time 5:35. Fuck you, toilet queues) – 20 minute improvement. And no injuries.
Once I checked and revived my phone, I was utterly blown away by the support and encouragement from everyone. Not least my baby sister who went full beast mode and I don’t think anyone on Facebook anywhere in the world managed to avoid a Lissie-Update. Outstanding.
My mum and dad were the best Sherpas. They battled packed tubes with an arthritic knee and a sore ankle and provided endless hugs, kisses and high fives.
Naomi, our friend who let us crash at her stunning Highgate home looked after us lovingly and ensured that carbs and dogs were aplenty.
I could not be more proud. It was a huge experience. I smiled 90% of the time. And, most importantly, I have almost doubled my fundraising target for Lymfund.