Aberfeldy Middle Distance 2019

Ok. Let’s cut right to the chase: this was a tough day out.

Going back to last year, after Lakesman I decided to take a step back on distance and have another go at 70.3. Now don’t be fooled, dear reader. Just because it’s half the distance, doesn’t mean it’s half as hard.

Pre Race

Race build up was not ideal. Some late nights and busy days at work meant I was in a sleep deficit for the week and feeling a little run down.

I had been catastrophically and uncharacteristically disorganised with plans and, having made the executive decision never to have to get up at 3am for a race again, I’d wanted to stay in Aberfeldy the night before.

“No chance” said google.

So I reached out to Neil and Beth Scholes (of Performance Edge Coaching. They are total couple goals) and, thanks to a last minute cancellation, they managed to snare me the last room in Feldy for Saturday night at their friends B&B.

Fernbank House is stunning. Tina and Jason are so kind and welcoming. They sorted me out with pre race porridge and basically let me make myself (and all my kit) at home. If you’re ever looking for somewhere to stay to relax and explore the surroundings, I can’t recommend them enough.

I had a chilled morning at home on the Saturday. Until I received a text from a friend doing the sprint tri in Kenmore: “do not go near the carpark”

Since the route changed to not actually really involve Aberfeldy at all (apart from a bit on the bike course), race HQ, T2 and the finish are all in fields outside Taymouth Castle Estate. T1 is still over at the Marina. If you know Kenmore, you’ll know parking is scarce, which means it’s a field for race weekend. And what has it been doing since basically May? Raining.

Last year, with a bone dry summer and a few days of rain pre race, the entrance/exit to the carpark was sketchy. This year, before even midday the day before the 70.3, cars needed towing out. How did Durty Events not see this coming??? On Saturday night they put mats down but it didn’t stop the carpark itself becoming a mud bath.

This had me panicking. I left early to head up to register and go to briefing. In the end this worked out well as traffic was fucking awful!

I managed to snag a space on the road outside the church (where there was a wedding full of very confused looking people. I felt for them. Their photos were probably ruined by hundreds of Triathletes posturing outside their church) and head to registration. I bumped into Rosie (hello fellow Twink) who had a stand showing off beautiful laser cut wood as her charity made the medals for the events. While speaking to her, I met Leanne who follows me on strava. We headed to the tent where I found a lost soul called Leslie. She needed her race number. I found it and we started chatting.

When I’m nervous, I tend to find other nervous people and talk to them. It makes me feel better, especially if I can talk to them about the race and put their minds at ease. I also bumped into Michael who I know from school. With so many friendly faces, it was starting to feel far less intimidating being there on my own.

Briefing had its own drama: a woman standing in the packed hallway outside the main hall had a paddy cause there was no room and started hollering at people to squeeze in. This really wasn’t possible and someone eventually told her to pipe down. Instead she went outside and started banging on windows shouting at people to move back. What a rocket.

We all walked down to the swim start after briefing just to have a look and get some air. Swimmers were coming out of the water from the various swim distance events they had on for the weekend. Dryrobes everywhere. It looked slightly choppy, but beautiful. I was excited.

Soon it was time to head back the the B&B, have some more snacks, lay kit out and rest.

I had packed an array of carb heavy food so tucked into that while fettling with kit and race numbers.

I wandered into town and met Dan and his folks at The Black Watch. Paul (Dan’s father) had taken on and smashed the sprint tri so they were celebrating. It was so nice to catch up with my drinking buddy. I broke with tradition and had lemonade instead of a hundred quids worth of cocktails…. just this once.

After getting pumped at pool, I sourced chips and headed back to the B&B where I had a very leisurely bath and crawled into bed.

Race Morning

I woke very early and dozed. I ate porridge. I applied lube and suncream. I dressed and headed out to the car with all my stuff.

I was scared about parking. But by some incredible luck, I got the last space outside the Kenmore hotel. WINNER.

I pumped my tyres, prepped nutrition and bottle and headed down to T1. A calming voice had appeared in my head and I managed to rack quickly but efficiently and head towards T2 to leave my bag and keys. Gladly, I opted for a waterproof bag. It was still raining and there was mud EVERYWHERE.

Once the faffing was done, I headed to the start. By this time, Ironman had found me. He was up supporting for the weekend and had clocked my nervous face. He was on hand to help me zip up my wetsuit and provide some last minute helpful advice. As well as the usual light mockery.

And with that, it was time to start.

The Swim

We all piled on to the start ramp and I heard my name. I looked up, and there was Laura and Neil!!!! My Runch buddy and her husband!!! WHAT? BUT ITS YOUR DAD’S BIRTHDAY PARTY TODAY!!!!!!!! All week she’d been telling me about it except it was LIES! She’d made a sign and everything. I was so blown away that she’d come to the swim start to see me!!! I hugged her, had a small cry and headed for the water.

Race nerves are weird. I build things up a LOT in my head, but that’s normal, and whenever the klaxon goes, it stops, goes quiet, and I just do the things. I wanted 35 minutes. I knew I’d never beat last years 31. Given the fact that I wasn’t a relay swimmer this year so I had energy to conserve, and also I’ve had a lot of problems with my neck and shoulder again. Goals aside, I waded in.

The water wasn’t particularly cold. I mean, it was cold, but it felt fine. I had a wee panicky moment at the start but just focused on breathing and treading water. I thought I’d secured myself a nice wee bit of space but as I looked round when the klaxon blew, I realised I’d drifted into a crowd. Damn. Immediately I was in a washing machine. Punches and kicks were thrown. I struggled to get into a rhythm and found myself next to a Huub with no ability to a) sight or b) maintain a set course. I fought to get past them and succeeded just before the first buoy.

Given the strength of the wind, I was amazed that there was relatively little surface chop. Surface chop can destroy your swim time. Punching through waves and having to crane your neck to Sight is very energy sapping. The issue here was swell. I’ve never experienced swell like it in a Loch. We were being lifted a few feet and dropped. This did make sighting hard, but at least I could maintain a steady stroke. The second buoy took FOREVER to appear. My watch was showing increasingly quicker splits averaging about 1:44/100m. Not my best. But not bad at all. Once I was round the second buoy, the swell was behind us pushing us back towards somewhere that was not the Crannog. I struggled a lot here. The last buoy was small and I couldn’t lock eyes on it. Eventually I used the flags at the Marina to sight but in conditions like that, more large buoys would have been great.

Around now, another Huub came from nowhere and swam right over and across me. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE WITH ABSOLUTELY NO ABILITY TO SIGHT AT ALL. He narrowly missed taking my goggles with him but I got a nail full of his ankle skin. Serves him right.

I dragged myself from the depths and crossed the timing mat. 35.45. Nailed it.

Jogging up the mats, I managed to successfully escape my wetsuit. My feet were already numb so I didn’t feel all the stones on the tarmac. It was hosing it down, but I was already wet. So I knuckled down and got on with the business of T1:

  • Helmet on.
  • Jacket on.
  • Tube in pocket (I always carry a spare spare)
  • Garmin on
  • Race belt on
  • Dry feet and face (fucking pointless but feels nice)
  • Shoes on
  • Go

T1 : 04.26

The Bike

I was almost immediately soaked. It. Was. Hammering down.

I had put my bike in a lower gear than needed so I focused on waking my numb legs up and getting into a rhythm. After a few kms I started eating. Veloforte bars are amazing. Pricey, but tasty and packed with everything you need. They’re also really easy to chew and don’t dry your mouth out. At 240kcals per bar, they keep you going for a good while. Really hard to open with wet hands though and I cursed myself for not cutting the packets in preparation.

The new bike route has given this course about 3-400 more metres of elevation. You now start with a loop out via Fortinghall before starting the Schiehallion climb out of Coshieville.

It poured. The roads were flooded in places and like a river everywhere else. I was mercifully warm in my custom Endura suit and Pro Adrenaline Race Cape. I didn’t opt for gloves but I was doing ok. My feet, however, were not ok hun. I couldn’t feel them. At all. I assumed they were there and just kept pedalling away.

After about 20km, you turn left and literally up the Coshieville climb. 7kms worth of grinding away. I knew I’d need to spin this out to have any chance of surviving the bike, so I got into the easiest gears and spun.

The rain eased and stopped enough to allow some sun to poke through the clouds. Ideal timing, extra warm with a sweaty jacket on is just what I needed.

I’d already started getting passed by almost everyone ever. But I just kept my head down and got on with it.

The thing about being a good swimmer, average cyclist and not-a-natural-runner is that you have to get used to being overtaken all damn day. It’s fun to play “nice TT bike, shame you’re such a shit swimmer” for the first 2 hours but then it just gets annoying. One day I’ll be better on the bike and it won’t be so constantly frustrating. ONE DAY. (I’ll never be a runner. So that’s fine I guess)

The descent into Tummel Bridge was wet but sunny and I was very grateful for disc brakes. They allow you to brake later and more efficiently than calliper brakes so I could be slightly more aggressive without being too careless. I actually enjoyed this bit immensely and smiled the whole way. I even passed some other athletes!

By this point it clocked that my bike computer was drunk. From experience, I know that the Coshieville climb is approx 250m. My Edge was showing 52m of elevation gain. LOL. Wake up, mate. Looks like it woke up eventually though…

Next comes the Trinafour climb. A nasty fucker. It’s not particularly steep other than a couple of wee kickers, but it’s a long grind. More spinning, more food, energy drink and water. I was feeling great!

The descent is short and sharp from this hill, straight into a road round a VERY sharp bend. An ambulance was loading a casualty as I passed. Sobering to see but a good reminder to take it easy.

By now the heavens had opened again. I was glad of my jacket. I saw a lot of very cold athletes in sleeveless tri suits with no extra layers. Brave, I thought.

The sweeping descent down into Kinloch Rannoch was fun. But it really was pissing it down and I was getting bored of the sound of rain. The wind here was totally unforgiving. Pedalling downhill is never a good sign.

I’d continued fuelling because the next climb is the ominous Braes of Foss. The steep KOM stage followed by a lengthy grind. I’ve done it 5 times now through training and racing. It never gets any easier.

The rain was utterly relentless. I was suffering but in denial that I was getting colder. “Just work hard on the hills, girl. You got this” I kept saying.

Again, the rain eased at the top and I got to enjoy the sketchy as fuck descent into Coshieville. This was followed by a fast spin to Aberfeldy with a wonderful tail wind. This used to be the home straight, but with the new route, there’s now one final fucker of a climb over to Kenmore from Feldy. I passed a lot of riders here. It’s a tricky climb that just keeps giving and when you’re 80km into your bike leg, that’s a lot to deal with. Happily, it’s downhill into Kenmore. With a slight lump before turning through the castle gates and down the mudbath hill into T2. …

…. which was a fucking JOKE. It was a total mudbath. Not what you need after 89.5km of riding. My feet and legs were numb. I somehow racked my bike and got my socks and shoes changed and cap on, jogging out in 2.38. My quickest ever transition.

Laura sprinted up to the barrier “you’re doing amazing!!! You smashed the bike!!!!” She shouted. Oh yeah!!! I’d wanted sub 4. That’s all. The hills are plentiful and I’m still working on my bike split. I clocked ironman and was immediately jealous of his umbrella. It was going to be a soggy 13.1 miles.

Bike: 03:58

T2 : 2.38

The Run

The first few hundred metres were a fucking slip and slide. Down through muddy woods onto a muddy, flooded trail. My socks were no longer dry. Not that I could feel my feet anyway.

As I jogged along the path I heard my name and looked up. I couldn’t believe what I saw. My Runch gang!!! Robyn, Emma and Josefine!!! They’d driven all this way for me and I was soooo emotional about it. I managed to get round the corner before I had a cry. I felt so loved. It was amazing.

This gave me such a boost.

The first few km felt strong and consistent. I was impressed with how good I felt. Brick training had paid dividends and I sunk into a 6:30/km pace. Comfortable and easy. Things started to go a bit downhill after the 6km feed station. I started to get tummy cramps and had to pee in a bush (good sign that I was hydrated, but energy sapping having to stop and start again) and pretty soon the mind games started.

“You’re last. You’re not getting your sub 7 target time. Give up. Stop. It hurts.”

It did hurt, to be fair. My feet had woken up and my baby toe felt like it was being mashed. I stopped and adjusted my sock but it was too late. I’d have to amputate, I was sure.

I started walking the hills. It’s not a “hilly” route but it’s undulating. And to be honest it felt a lot worse than it was. I was eating ok (salt and vinegar oat cakes for the win) and drinking plenty.

By 12k I switched to water only. My tummy was really not happy. The old Code Brown situation was coming. I could feel it. Somehow I kept jogging and walking the hills. My splits were now shameful and I was beginning to want to quit.

The route is out and back. I knew when I got to the campsite it would only be 2km but it felt like another 10. It felt like SUCH a long course. I felt awful. Every time I tried to run, I ached. When I reached the 20km sign, I started to jog again. And then run. I made it into Kenmore to find my Runch gang armed with the most EPIC signs. I was utterly blown away by their support. Standing in the rain and mud for HOURS.

I felt guilty that I’d taken so long. I knew my sister would have been waiting for ages with baby Rosie and Sean. And Beardy would have been waiting and he’d cycled from Pitlochry so would have had the same weather and he’d be cold.

I got to the last 500m and started walking the hill when Tina (my B&B host who was running the relay) appeared behind me about to finish her run leg. “Come on let’s finish together”, she said. And she basically dragged me through the muddy fields, up the slidy hill and round the last few corners. She saved the day for me. Truly. I crossed the line and can’t really remember much for about 5 minutes. I stumbled around trying not to puke and then my sister scooped me up in a cuddle while I cried cause I was sorry I was late. Beardy appeared too and we all had a family hug. Rosie slept through the whole thing but I’ll let her off. She’s only 12 weeks old.

I cannot thank these girls enough. What a gang. I’m so lucky to get to work with this lot.

I even managed to catch swim pal Dougie for a quick evaluation of the race and then find my poor, muddy, soaked bike and kit before heading for the car.

Overall, my initial disappointment at my time has dissipated and I’m so proud I was able to finish in conditions that many had to bail because of.

I’m tougher than I give myself credit for sometimes. I guess it’s easy to gloss over things in retrospect. I tend to focus on the humour of things instead of actually taking stock of what I’ve achieved in such a short time. I’m proud to be a triathlete. And excited for the next adventure. Which will hopefully involve less mud.

Advertisements

Lakesman 2018

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

The build up

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

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

OH YEAH, GUYS.

DEAD. DIED. DEED. RIP. FML.

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

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

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

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

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

The Saturday – Greig vs. Triathlon X

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

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

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

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

Fuck that noise.

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

Race Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Swim

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

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

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

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

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

OUCH.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh. My. God.

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

Swim: 1:08

Transition 1: 6 mins.

The Bike

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

img_0675.jpg
Sailing out of T1

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

Clickclickclickclick brrrrrrrrr ping.

What. The. Fuck.

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

This was going to be an issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate
The BEAUTIFUL and MENTAL Kate

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

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

This section took for-fucking-ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bike: 86 years.

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

Highway to Hell. The Home straight x 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had the fear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d survived. Dignity relatively intact.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One things for sure: I am tougher.

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

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

IMG_0685
On the Run with Brian

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

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

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

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

Job done.

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

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

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

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

finish 2
Pic courtesy of Endura

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

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

The Lakesman

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

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

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

The Reason

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

Thank You’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did it. I am IronBean. 

Iron Ready?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s 100% horrendous.

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

I’m so close that I can touch it.

And yet I’m terrified.

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

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

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

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

Just. A. Marathon.

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

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

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

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

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

*hyperventilates*

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

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

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

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

Next week. Shit the bed.

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

Shit.

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

The Surprisingly Good Run

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck it. Let’s do this. 

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

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

Fuck. Come on. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m sure this won’t last…. 

next stop? The Dramathon. Gulp. 

Iron [Keyboard] War

Before I start this, I have an apology to make. I made a huge error in my previous blog. Catastrophic, in fact. I referred to my pal @ironpugsley as a mere four-time-marathoner, marathon swimmer, ultramarathoner, two-time Ironman and soon to be swim-runner. I neglected to mention Alcatraz Escapee. Sincere apologies for my devastating oversight, Ironman. 

So…… Back to business. 

140.6 miles. That’s the distance from my house in Not Fife almost to Wick. Which is basically the top of Scotland.  Which is essentially the North Pole. 
It’s a distance that, over the last 3 years, has become the epitome of Awesome to me. I idolise Ironmen and those who can push their bodies and their minds to complete a race of such a punishing distance. 

I respect the distance. I aspire to be the level of Nails required to complete a race that encompasses everything I have come to admire about the sport of Triathlon. 

Recently, with the inaugural Ironman 70.3 race in Edinburgh, it’s brought Triathlon newbies out in force. Let me just preface this slight rant by making the point that this is a very good thing. Triathlon is marvellous. It teaches you so much about yourself. Technically I am still a newbie, having only done a single tri. 

But. 

Much like the fact that you wouldn’t swan into the office on the first day of a new job stating that you take your tea with just the right amount of milk and that the office temperature must always be no more or less than 21 degrees…. you wouldn’t call yourself an Ironman for finishing a 70.3. Would you? Oh, you would. Well. I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy religiously for well over 7 years now, can I just go ahead and start practising medicine? Call me Dr Bean. 

Ordinarily, something like this wouldn’t bother me so much. People call themselves stuff every day. But…… Sometimes, something just means too much to you to let the Internet tarnish that significance. Let me explain why I took offence to the remarks of a fool in a forum. 

To me, there is currently no achievement that I want more than to be able to cross a finish line at the end of a 140.6 mile event. It’s a goal that will require sacrifice, commitment and the type of drive that’s taken me 3 years to realise I may actually possess. 

In one Facebook group, I saw someone announcing that as of Sunday evening they would now be calling themselves an ironman. 

What a fucking liberty. 

The keyboard warriors destroyed them but it really stuck in my head. I managed not to engage, having already had The Debate with some good friends who had, despite the grotesque conditions, each done an incredible job at finishing the race. 

Having sat on this for a week, I wanted to take a minute here to think about why that is such an audacious thing to do in my mind. 

First let’s have a history lesson. John Collins et al held the inaugural Iron Distance race in Hawaii in 1978. It was a combination of the 2.4 mile Waikiki rough water swim, a 112 mile Round-the-Island bike race and the Honolulu marathon. It was a competition, following a booze fuelled debate amongst talented athletes in each individual discipline, to see who was toughest. Who could complete this gruelling race first? Surely he (or she) would be the epitome of athleticism. 

John Collins famously said the words “whoever won that ought to be called Iron Man”. And so the race was born. 

Note: not 70.3. 

History lesson over, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture, shall we?

I must point out that I am not discrediting the toughness required to complete a 70.3 race. I’ve done one. It was hella tough. I trained my ass off and still hold that finish line feeling as one of my greatest memories and achievements. So if you’re sitting there sucking your teeth and calling me bitter, kindly swivel. Because I’ve been there. I know What’s required. I didn’t have an easy ride, either. Injury, illness and niggles all tried to derail me. I didn’t blag it (which you can do, if required) But I made it. In 6hrs43 mins. I did it. And it was phenomenal. 

Unfortunately for my tired legs, it was never going to end there. As soon as I crossed that finish line and located the nearest Big Mac, I knew I had the bug. I’ve dreamed of doing a full iron-distance tri for years. I wanted more. I wanted to push harder. Go further. But I knew I couldn’t yet. I wasn’t ready. 

To me, 140.6 miles is an unparalleled achievement. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea and, at the moment, I am receiving two reactions. 1) OH THATS AWESOME! And 2) Ummm, you’re gonna do what?

I hold it dear to my heart. I feel like it’s something I have to respect and do justice. I feel like, after being mentored by my IronBuddy that I owe it to the race to do the best I possibly can. 

So to hear and see people throwing that Iron Title about defending their choice because Ironman is a global brand, just rubbed me up the wrong way. It didn’t start as a brand. It BECAME a brand. It is about so much more than a title. It’s about being so mentally robust that you can push your body past the point of pain and giving up.  These races don’t allow outside assistance. You do that shit alone.

I can’t bear to see people devalue the status of being Iron. Being Iron is something to strive for. To aspire to. Not a term to be chucked about haphazardly. 

I’m not one to take such grave offence at the remarks of keyboard warriors, especially those with no understanding of the history of the race they try to lay claim to. But this was different. 

The fuss has died down now and hopefully the absence of Paul Kaye shouting “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” at the finish line was enough to drive home the point that they are not now in fact an ironman. 

The biggest issue I have with this whole ‘pavlova’ (hi, Tucker ❤️) is that they are detracting from the incredible achievement that is finishing a 70.3 mile race.

Don’t simultaneously stomp all over my dreams while crushing my sense of achievement, you pests. 

In the mean time, I continue to fuel my excitement for the unbelievable challenges ahead. I’m inspired and focused and it feels amazing. It won’t last, so I’m making the most of it! 

Iron Dreams

“To accomplish something extraordinary, one must have an extraordinary dream. A goal so high, a journey so demanding, that it’s achievement, to most, seems impossible….”

Daydreaming. We all do it. On a quiet afternoon in the office when the rain is running down the windows. When you’re stuck in traffic. Before you drift off to sleep. Sometimes when you can’t sleep…

Most people daydream of holidays, beaches and switching off their work emails. 

Me? I dream of 4am alarms. Porridge that sits in your stomach like lead. Nausea. Nerves. Wobbly-bottom-lipped and misty eyed goodbyes and good-lucks with family. Ice cold lakes and clear lochs. Lycra. The whoosh of disc wheels. The quiet, metronomic ticking of a cassette. The quiet pad of feet on tarmac. Pain. Determination. Up to 16hrs 59 minutes of just….moving….forwards. A red carpet. A clock: I dream of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a marathon. I dream of 140.6 miles.  

It’s not always been that way, believe me. Bean of Yesteryear would have daydreamed almost exclusively of hot beaches with unlimited ice cream and a device that changes your DVD for you so you don’t have to move. 

What was it that sparked this apparent lapse in judgment, you ask? Was it a head injury? U OK hun? 

Well… Around 3 years ago, a seed was planted in my head by a dear friend and accomplished endurance athlete. “You know you could become IronBean…. if you really want to….” 

I watched endless YouTube videos of ironman races, Celtman, Norseman, Swissman, you flipping name it. I anxiously tracked friends as they tackled these unfathomable distances. I coveted that title of being “Iron”. Knowing just how much commitment and drive it takes to complete such a thing. 

Oh, I wanted to be IronBean. But I knew that what was required would be too much, at that time. I trained for marathons, a 70.3 and various other events but training for those was extremely demanding. I could never commit the time and energy to training for an Iron Distance race…. 

…. could I…..? 

In 2016, a new race was launched. The Lakesman. 140.6 miles of stunning Lake District route. I pored over race reports and excitedly waited for updates from twitter buddies who were racing there. And once I heard their stories and saw the pictures, I knew that would be my Iron Race. 

I briefly considered saving up, selling organs and cars and sacrificing meals to pay for entry to a branded Ironman race, but swiftly laid those thoughts to rest on the realisation that it’s the DISTANCE I want to do. It’s fuck all to do with brand. And reading race reports for every conceivable brand or type of 140.6 event, I knew Lakesman’s atmosphere and ethos was 100% for me. 

So I waited. I bided my time. I put in serious fucking groundwork and experimented with huge volume training weeks on swimming and running. I began to develop self belief. The kind of belief that says “if you worked hard at this you could do it.” 

This couldn’t be a selfish choice though. I’d be sacrificing a lot of time. I’d need all the support I could get at home. I discussed this idea with Beardy and in his typically non-chalant way, he shrugged and offered his support. Probably somewhat relieved to be signing up to 6 months of total peace and quiet. 

And then came the day the entries opened. I sat at my desk, bank card at the ready, anxiously refreshing their page. There are only 400 slots. And chatter on social media indicated that a large number of people were interested and looking to enter. 

Please please please Let me get a spot…..

….. and I did. 

So there we have it. June17th 2018. Lakesman day. 

It’s going to be an epic adventure. I have the small matter of another marathon and a 10km swim to get done first before I can knuckle down and start a 30 week plan. 

But it’s happening. I cannot wait. 

This is not impulsive decision. I know, and have suspected for a while, that I am ready for this. 100%. In my head and my heart. My body will just have to accept it. 

Mission IronBean is GO. 

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.