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. ❤️

It’s all about the what-now??

I was sent a link to a blog this morning. A blog that made me irate while lying in bed nursing a sore shoulder/neck after a weekend of athletic excess. A blog so unintentionally (I hope) insulting and condescending that I slowly staggered through to the living room from my pit of despair in order to write this probably slightly over-defensive rebuttal.

Click HERE for a link to Tom Demerly’s article.

To anyone who wants to see more people engage with triathlon, this probably seems like a great blog! And to be fair Tom Demerly clearly knows his stuff about endurance and triathlon and being an all-round awesome human with some ridiculously tough challenges under his belt. Who am I to argue with such an accomplished person?

I think what you might be trying to say Tom, is that the Triathlon industry could make more money by tailoring products and marketing towards those of us who perhaps aren’t “in it to win it” but want to better ourselves physically and mentally by becoming fitter and tougher. This isn’t a ‘day job’ for us. Just a hobby. So we don’t want or need to spend the earth either. Therefore stop trying to peddle £5k TT bikes to people who probably won’t actually get the gains you claim they will. And maybe make some kit that doesn’t accentuate sausage legs and back-boobs.

That’s kind of all you needed to say…

You cover some sensible and pretty accurate ground to begin with, making reference to how the recession impacted consumers who previously had disposable income and now have less cash to throw about or set fire to or whatever. All of that made perfect sense. Triathlon is an expensive hobby, but it’d be great if you could get decent enough kit for less than a trip to the moon. All fine.

But…. Then it all gets a bit “fattist”. Even the title hints at the underlying theme of “curves”

“The number of svelte, uber-athletes is smaller now than it was 20 years ago relative to the general populace, who apparently has been spending what’s left of their shrinking discretionary incomes on Krispy-Kremes, not qualifying for Kona”

*Shocked face*

Last time I checked, The Scale of Fat doesn’t go directly from ‘Svelte Uber-Athlete’ to ‘Skint And Crying While Mainlining Donuts’….

“The sport is growing from an increasing number of new athletes who are more average, heavier, less athletic but still inspired to participate– if not necessarily compete.”

The sport IS growing. And I’m sure Tom will agree, with his sporting pedigree and involvement in many an association geared towards improving Triathlon as a sport, that this is BRILLIANT! Look at all these people who want to push themselves physically and mentally?!! But hang on… “heavier” and “less athletic”?

Ouch.

Quite often, Joe Average takes up an athletic hobby because he or she is unhappy with their figure. There’s really no need to draw further attention to this. Especially in a sport famously rife with eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

“There has never been an ad campaign in triathlon featuring realistically sized, average age group triathletes.”

This is true in as much as most sports-based retailers, magazines and events use elite athletes to market them over  poor old Joe Average. It’s called Aspirational Marketing. It’s not un-realistic in the same way that fashion brands push skinny over normal. We know we’ll never look like Jess Ennis! But people would usually rather see her on the face of an athletics magazine than that of Charlene from the local Co-Op who did her 5K race for life last week. No offence, Charlene.

The faces they use to market products and services are not the problem, here. It’s the attitude that accompanies it. The elitist and frankly pretty snobby attitude that you get within ANY sport. That’s a real problem.

My final bug-bears lie here, Tom. Where you skip further towards dangerous territory:

“Apparel manufacturers have missed the mark too, alienating prospective customers with images of sponsored pros with little or no recognition among average triathletes and building clothing that is too tight, too short and in size runs that are humiliating to try on. If a forward thinking triathlon apparel brand introduced a tactfully marketed apparel line called “PR” with upward-adjusted size runs, modest cuts and middle-road visual appeal they would outsell too-tight, mis-sized brands designed to fit anorexic Kona winners.”

I agree. The sizing jumps are too big between S-M and L. All this needs is some light attention to pattern grading. Dress sizes. Easy. Not a sodding “plus sized” range! This now means Joe Average has to put up with kit snobbery as well as bike snobbery! Kick us while we’re down, why don’t you?

“Yes. I’m looking for your plus sized lycra. With ‘modest cuts’ because I do not wish to inflict my plus sized thighs on any ‘proper’ athletes. And my love handles may throw their focus off their race.”

And then. “Anorexic Kona winners”.

Oh dear, Tom. Oh. Very. Dear.

Let’s be quite clear that the likes of Sebastian Kienle, Frederik Van Lierde, Crowie, Mirinda Carfrae, Chrissie Wellington and Leanda Cave (to name but a few) do not in any way look ‘anorexic’. And I’m SURE your use of that term is purely “for the bants” and that you don’t actually mean it. Because that’s just outrageous. Bit insensitive to refer to an eating disorder when discussing an athletic pursuit that has experienced quite negative press about this before. The incredible Chrissie Wellington has revealed her own struggle with body dysmorphia within the sport, as has Hollie Avil. Who gave up her successful and still promosing career following two battles with an eating disorder.

These are fiercely talented, accomplished athletes who strive to be the best that they can be. They eat well, they live well and they work damned hard. Anyone entering the world of triathlon aspires to be at that level of fitness and skill. And what I think you’re suggesting is that newbie triathletes who are perhaps, as you say, “average” look at these incredible athletes and think “pah, she needs a kebab!”.

No.

What you’re doing is, yet again, drifting down into the depths of body-image and the rabbit hole that is body-dysmorphia.

Allow me to finish with the following:

I accept that I am considered “average” by elite athletes. But you’re getting a bit personal with the “heavier” and “less athletic”, buddy. What you’re saying here is “hey. It’s cool that you’re not as fast as the elites. You only need to compete with yourself! You’re average and it’s the taking part that counts”.

Let me tell you the most important thing I’ve learnt since deciding to undertake this Triathlon Adventure:

No one who has ever completed a triathlon is “average”.

I cannot emphasise that point enough. We may not be “elite” but training for a tri, especially if you have kids and/or a full time job (which we need to FUND this clearly incredibly expensive sport) requires über dedication and a kind of drive that differs to that of a person motivated by sponsorship and podium-payouts because TRIATHLON is their day job. The kind of dedication borne from a person who wants to be the best that they can be, while fully accepting but not really caring that we won’t be winning Kona anytime soon.

Don’t you dare belittle that by saying “ah it’s ok! You can do this AND be slightly fat and poor. It’s the taking part that counts”. You use the term “filling from the bottom” a few too many times, for my liking. Is that a fat-jibe or your way of saying that Triathlon is filling with average people who look rubbish in lycra? I think both.

We already know that. And to be quite honest, we’re not that arsed for winning! I just want to be able to eat cake and still look smoking hot in skinny jeans. I don’t need a crazy-experienced athlete to tell me that this is actually ok. Because I already know it is. I don’t need to win! My income doesn’t depend on winning. I have a job so that I can buy cakes.

That’s kind of liberating.

The Struggle

I’ve been struggling with something lately.

Those who know me will understand that I am a bit of a control freak. Those who know me well will understand that I am also a perfectionist who is very self-critical.

Combine these two, rather charming, characteristics and add a dose of body dysmorphia and you have the perfect recipe for a bad relationship with food and weight management.

I’m not going to call what I’ve struggled with an “eating disorder” because the bad relationship wasn’t with food as such, it was with myself.

I’m not exactly sure if there is a specific point at which I suddenly decided I was fat… I just remember becoming aware of my body. I was 15. I had never ever worried about what I ate before. Mum had tried diets and spoken about them to me but never in a way that instilled them as a quick fix or something I should ever consider. I just became aware.

I was called “chubby” by a school friend but assumed they were jealous because boys fancied me and I never needed make up or short skirts to get attention.

I just became AWARE.

Aware that my body was changing and that I couldn’t stop it.

Aware that I maybe had a bit too much chub around my hips.

Unaware that this was prepubescent, I began not eating. And then eating ALL the things. Thus never losing weight. Thus getting increasingly unhappy.

Things died down in my 5th and 6th year until by 3rd year of uni. I was living with two amazing but very VERY body conscious girls who were MUCH thinner than me. Their dieting and worrying rubbed off on me in new, scarier ways and my relationship with my body deteriorated once more.

Boys still fancied me. Clothes still fitted me. I never starved myself for longer than a day. But I fucking hated the way I looked.

“Oh poor you” I hear you say. “You have a lovely figure with perfect skin what have you got to complain about?”

Nothing. But. Everything. I HATED myself.

And that is sad. I’ve spent a good 50% of my life hating my body. Which has done nothing but exist and take what I’ve thrown at it.

I read about girls who have starved themselves to the brink of death. And girls who binge in secret like I once did, and I feel desperately sad for them. Mostly because I know that it will never go away for them.

Don’t get me wrong, I kicked the arse of my self-hatred. But it still comes back. Sometimes unexpectedly.

(If you don’t know me well, I will have come across in tweets as a cocky and arrogant shit. I am, of course. But it’s mostly for show.)

Now the hard part. The part I don’t want to have to admit to and the part I know will make my mummy sad.

I have to confess that since I lost loads of weight training for the marathon (32lbs), it’s been difficult if I’ve put any back on through overindulging or water weight or hormones.

In the last 4 weeks, I have skipped meals consciously. There. I said it.

I am not using exercise to lose weight any more. But to maintain it. Which is healthy. I’d just like to make that clear.

I am writing this down so that I’ve said it publicly. I don’t want any “oh but you look amazing’s”. No. What I want is for anyone that’s reading this that has had those thoughts ever, to stop for a minute and realise that you are not alone.

And it’s ok. Not to skip meals, but to know that you’ve done it. It’s ok to accept it. But you need to work out why. And get to the bottom of it. Which is what I’m trying to do.

You’ll be told you’re stupid. And self-centred. And aren’t there more important things to worry about in life?

Probably, yes.

But to be honest there is little that is more frustrating than achieving something amazing and not being able to enjoy it because it’s just not enough.

There is little that is more difficult to manage than anger at yourself and a lack of understanding as to how to deal with this.

There is little more frustrating than hating absolutely EVERYTHING about yourself and being told you’re stupid for thinking those things.

You are, of course, perfect in your own, silly, melodramatic, slightly chubby-in-the-wrong-places way.

You won’t like hearing that. But you are.

And you are not alone.