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. 

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. ❤️

“You’re In”

In a moment of madness, and perhaps hysteria, I entered the VLM 2017 Ballot the day it opened. I was still high on the buzz of finishing VLM2016 in one piece and being able to walk immediately afterwards. Of COURSE I’d do it again. Who WOULDN’T?

It’s SUCH a difficult ballot. People try for years to get in. People also enter knowing full well they don’t really want to do it or couldn’t commit to training for what is an incredibly tough challenge and then get in. Proper waste if they decide not to nut up. (The less we say about those gits the better…) So I’d basically decided I wasn’t getting in. I hadn’t opted to pay on application (because I’d recently lost my job) so I didn’t double my chances. I’d applied and been rejected for 2015 so I just assumed I wouldn’t get a place.

It wasn’t until the week before last when my pal reminded me the results were due out that I began to worry that I would get in. I have set my sights on a 10km swim in June and training for that will be tough enough. I remember how utterly killer marathon training is. Especially through winter. It’s bloody tough. You need proper balls.

Still. I wasn’t getting in.

vlm2017

Oh.

OH!

Shit.

Ok. Wow. Wasn’t expecting that. How amazing?! Was I going to pass on this opportunity? Was I fuck. London, Baby!!!!!! I’d already seen so many wasted ballot places that I was never EVER going to turn down this incredible event. Turn down the opportunity to run over Tower Bridge? Down Birdcage Walk? Turn down the opportunity to earn my third marathon medal? No. I was not passing up this chance.

Not only did I inexplicably get a place, but Michelle, fellow Team Painless athlete and mega bad-ass, FINALLY got in after five attempts. So we immediately booked our hotel and flights. I can’t believe that I’m sitting here, less than a week after receiving my magazine and paying for my place, with plane tickets and a hotel reservation for London next April.

Of course, now the all-too-familiar hard work begins. With a better base than ever. Training Peaks has me at my fittest EVER so lets flipping keep it that way, yeah?!

It’s going to be a helluva challenge to fit this in with swimming and strength work as well as having enough flexibility in my training plan to have FUN and take days off now and then.

But……. VLM2017 – – – – I am coming to GET YOU.

#SheBelievedSheCouldSoSheDid

The Exciting Thing

Today something magical happened. 

You all know of my struggle since Marathon. The damage to my hips has been significant enough to make even walking slightly Quasimodo-esque. Running has been out of the question and also largely banned by physio. Initially, it looked like running would never ever be the same. But…

Last week, I was told to try running. Gently. For a short distance. Today I did it. 

1 mile. 9:52. Mild discomfort only. I felt exactly the same elation as I did when I finished the Marathon. Except more because I wasn’t actually dying and it wasn’t the middle of a thunder storm and my sister wasn’t making me cry. 

This enormous victory happened because of one major thing: I’m a determined little bastard. 

Competitive? Me? NO!

This determination stems from my very VERY competitive nature. I’m the worst kind of competitive. I will go out of my way to win if I can. And I’m competitive with MYSELF. A good example would be a new phenomenon I’ve discovered since re-kindling my Swimming Love. 

Picture the scene: You dip into the water. You’re ready. Garmin set to Swim mode. In your peripheral vision you spot a swimmer of a similar age/build. They are head to toe in club kit. They mean business. They’ve seen you look. They know you’ve clocked them. DAMMIT. You’re already weak. So you swim. You swim hard. Fast. Relentlessly. 8 hard years of turn practice and  stroke perfection coming back to you. You overtake. A lot. Then they start to gain on you. So you push a bit harder. You’ve surpassed your planned distance for the session. You care not. YOU WILL WIN. 

Absurd. But awesome. And yes. I won.

The Determination

One thing I’ve learnt about myself over the last 6 months is that I am a lot stronger mentally than I ever thought I was. It takes a special kind of grit to push yourself to run a 5:40:16 Marathon and still be able to function at the end. (I use the term “function” VERY VERY loosely. I basically ate Pringles and Bananas constantly for 2 hours while crying like a toddler) 

It takes an even greater mental strength to realise at 5:05 hrs that you have not a hope in hell of finishing sub 5 or even sub 5:30. And when that moment is in a deserted street in Prestonpans while you stretch your seized quad beside a man dressed as a smurf, that feels pretty damn bleak. I tell you.

I wanted to run a marathon for me. I wanted to do something good with it, so I did. I helped a wonderful charity. I wanted to run a marathon to prove a point. That I COULD. I was fed up of being chubby, of telling myself I couldn’t do things. Or that I wouldn’t. I needed to change that and I am so so happy that I did. 

There’s a song on repeat on Radio 1 at the moment, and if you can get past the fact that it’s a wildly overproduced pop-fest with a slightly chavvy edge, the lyrics stick in my head…. 

“I never held back from the edge
We all hit the same line in the end
But I don’t wanna fall down too soon
Take every moment I can with you
Not over till we’re in the clear
Hold tight and let go of the fear
All the trouble we’ve left behind
We’re not gonna get home tonight”

Here’s a link to the audio… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ES8U9phh0SE

It just makes me think, I’ve let go of so much negativity and self-doubt. I actually heard myself speaking to a colleague today saying “the only thing standing in the way of you doing something, is yourself” and that is so true. Loads of people have scoffed and said “there’s no way you’d run a marathon” and “if you’re this injured do you really think you’ll ever do another one?” and I’ve realised a bit that those people don’t matter. You can do things to prove the haters wrong, and it’s a happy by-product of achieving your ambitions, but in the end, DO IT FOR YOU.

I can and WILL be #RunnerBean once more. I can and WILL be #TriathlonBean within a year. 

 

Bring. It. On. 

 

 

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