The One That Wasn’t To Be

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

Then this happens:


Well, shit. 

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

Bollocks. 

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

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

Meh. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


I digress.

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

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

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

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


No problemo. Or so I thought. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t just a little bit choppy. 

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

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

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

Oh. What. An. Understatement. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Oops. 

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

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

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

It was emotional but so worth the winding roads.


Ambleside, you’ve been wonderful. ❤️

Hobbled. 

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

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

(Cough)

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

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

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

Oh how I fucking laughed. But seriously, help. 

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

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

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

I put my feet down and OW. 

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

This isn’t good. Try again. 

Nope. Fuck. 

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

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

Good. Fucking. Work. Bean. 

Somewhat shockingly, this didn’t hurt. 

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

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

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

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

Oh, well fucking kill me dead. 

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

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

*sniffles* ok. You’re right. 

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards, with a limp. 

Back to Where it Began. 

There are certain races that draw you back repeatedly. For me it’s MoRun in Edinburgh. Tied in with Movember, the race company donates proceeds towards the fight against Prostate and Testicular cancer and helps raise awareness of cancer and suicide in men. 

The MoRun 10k was my first EVER race back in 2013. And it always draws me back every year. Apart from last year where I’d torn a muscle in my back and was at home with my mum in a huff, eating French toast. 

2013

Time: 1:11.19

Post-Race Leg Status: unable to walk down stairs for 4 days. 

Recovery time: 2 weeks. 


2014

Time: 1:04.54

Post-Race Leg Status: had only just been given the all-clear to run by Physio. 6 months post first-marathon. Stairs not ok for 2 days. 

Recovery Time: a week. 


2015

50kg reps of Deadlifts on October 20th  ruptured a muscle in my lower back. I was out for 6 weeks. It wasn’t the most fun ever. 

2016

Time: 1:01:54

Post-Race Leg Status: Pain-free trudge back to Waverley. Pain free when moving from sofa to standing. Leg win!

Recovery time: TBC 

My stomach was on it’s arse most of last night and this morning. I’ve not been well this week and haven’t had a consistent week of training. The demons had truly got into my head. I really really almost stayed in bed. BUT. I am glad I didn’t. 


So, aside from the improvement in medal quality, and my times, what else has changed? 

I’m much stronger now. And tougher. You may be looking at that time and scratching your head because it’s not *that* fast for me. I’ll explain: the route is 2 laps of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. I’ll say only that. And share a knowing grimace with the Scots among you. 

I’ve no idea why I want to do this race every year. That hill. Twice. 

The race itself hasn’t changed. Although there were LOADS more 5k runners this year and a lot less 10k runners. The double loop of the hill is pretty nasty, though, so I can’t blame anyone for opting for the single loop. 

Brian’s dad ran the 5k. His 3rd medalled race in 30 years. He’s diabetic and has made HUGE improvements to his fitness recently. He ran a great time and enjoyed the event. Awesome effort, Mike!

Brian, having spent the week unable to digest solid food after a tummy bug, managed to keep it under 55 minutes. Good effort for someone who admits to not training consistently! 

And, as always, it was ace to bump into friends. Ella and Frazer both ran excellent races. And I ALMOST caught Frazer up! 

The weather won the day. The forecast had been shite. But the sun shone and it was warmer than the week had been. I only needed one layer and, obviously, chose my VLM adidas long sleeved top. 

The video Mike got of me crossing the line shows me stumbling. I can’t remember much about finishing except that I really really wanted a nap. I learnt the hard way that, even though I ate enough by normal standards before the race, I should have made more of an effort given that the days running up to the run had fallen WAY short of my normal calorific intake. My blood sugar plummeted after the race and I was dangerously low on glucose. Luckily, Mike was on hand to feed me sweets until I could muster the strength to wander about. 

Another great event from MoRunning. Let’s hope they move to a flatter route eventually! 




“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.

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. 

Great Scottish Run 2016

I’ve never been one to deal well with post -race blues. This is why I knew I’d need something after the Awfy Long Swim to keep me from getting fidgety…

Having been scouring the net for a decent sized race towards the end of the summer (but not a marathon because hell no), an email from Great Swim happened to remind me about The Great Scottish Run. 13.1 miles around Glasvegas. Flat. Fast. Take my money. 

Having discussed race ideas with the bearded one, I decided to register him as well. Brian has been progressing well with the running and much to his outrage, I put him down for a 1:45-1:50 finish. #lolz. Well I wasn’t gonna let him have an easy time of it, was I?! 

Meanwhile, I popped myself down for the 2:15-2:30 category, thinking I’d not have the time to get below my current PB of 2:15. 

Immediately after the swim, coach and I set about adding to the graft I’d put in all year with my strength and conditioning. 

What followed was 6 weeks of metabolic conditioning, full body workouts, threshold work and LISS work. At times, gruelling. For the most part, INCREDIBLE. I can’t believe what my body is getting good at. It’s pretty exciting! 

El Magico Fifty. 

Two weeks on the trot, the day after a hellish metcon workout, I bashed out sub 60 minute 10ks. Something which has previously been illusive and required MEGA teeth gritting with DOMs that would last for days. 

But here I was, bashing the miles out with little-to-no muscular punishment. 

The week before the half, I was able to run 18km with ease and comfort at a pace I was miles away from when I arrived at the VLM start line earlier this year. 

So. October 2nd 2016. Brian and I found ourselves on a packed train to The Weege. It was freezing. Beautifully sunny but very cold. We shivered our way to drop bags and then parted ways. He was off to the white start. For fast folk. And it was pink wave for me. 

Frosty morning. 

I somehow managed to weave my way right to the front of my pen. Probably to the disgust of faster runners behind me, but to be honest I’m sick of having to pick my way through so fuck it. I’M GOING FIRST. ME. 

I was nervous. And excited. But nervous. Obsessively checking over my body in my head making sure everything was as it should be. The  11:50 start time became 11:57 and the atmosphere was amazing. The race starts in George Square and in the bright autumn sun it was perfect. Absolutely bang on, Scotland. Nice one. 

The walk to the start. 

As we set off, I was overtaken by literally everyone. Pegging it up the hill of St Vincent St is brave, guys! 13.1 miles is FAR. 

Running out towards the west end, my watch beeped 1km at under 6 mins. Oooooops. It was NOT the plan to beast it. 

I’d already clocked the 2:10 pacer in the start pen, that was the first and last time I saw her. Not because I was behind her, as per VLM, but because I WAS AHEAD. 

Omg. Just keep it consistent, Bean. You got this. 

2km was still quick. Bugger. Running down a motorway was pretty cool. (It was closed, I wasn’t lost). All the sights of Glasgow, from rough and ready to sprawling homes and gardens. All in crisp October sun. Lovely. 

By 3km my quads woke up and decided they were not happy at all with the situation. After a lecture they settled down for what would turn out to be a hard bit of graft. 

To my amazement, pacing stayed pretty consistent. I wasn’t being overtaken by anyone in fancy dress. The weather was incredible and so was the support. I stuck to my plan of gel at 5k and 12k and took water at each station to sip. 

Pollock park arrived. Along with a surprise hill. Which was not what I ordered. Legs continued to protest. Lungs stayed on my side, luckily. 

Lucozade was on offer. I imagine the elites and the super speedies took all the orange because all we got was raspberry (Ever puked up a raspberry daiquiri? That’s what it tastes like) alternatively there was “Tropical” which is basically Passoa puke. Lovely. 

Around the 8 mile mark I spotted the flame-haired Anne, my pal’s mummy who has so many running medals I’m surprised she isn’t in the record books. Hello’s and good lucks exchanged and we were in Bellahouston park. 

Pretty soon I was at the 10 mile mark with the telly chopper overhead. I was still in a pack but I was passing a LOT of people. I WAS GETTING FASTER. 

The sun had taken its toll on a number of runners who were receiving emergency care at the road-side. Huge shout out to the volunteer medics who kept everyone safe. Two of the four people I passed were completely unconscious. I hope they’re ok now! 

I spotted a lucozade station up ahead and figured a sugar boost would help me to the finish line. I bravely took a slug of Pukeozade and immediately my stomach turned into a fiery furnace of sulphuric acid. 

Nice, that Lucozade stuff…. 

I’d made it this far ignoring fire in each of my shoes.( I MUST see a chiropodist. Must. ) but my feet became lead weights as I crossed the squinty bridge onto clydeside for the “sprint” to the end. I was still at 5:50 /km. My elapsed time was under 2 hours. If I stuck at this I could get sub 2:10! 

My feet burned, my hips ached, my quads were screaming, but I was KILLING THIS! 

To put this in perspective for you, my relationship with running has been difficult at best. Forcing my body to do something it’s not designed for and not willing to do has caused me numerous problems. But taking on a strength coach has seen times tumble. So while my times may not be impressive to most, to me they are huge achievements. I could feel myself welling up with pride for my wee body. 

I pushed on under the railway bridge and towards Glasgow Green. The Finish chute loomed. I saw Brian waving and cheering (1:49 was a bloody brilliant first ever half!)…. I saw the gangtry. I saw  2:07.10 on my watch. 

SMILE FOR CAMERAS. SPRINT. MORE CAMERAS. FIST PUMP. SPRINT. 

2:07.39

Nailed it. NAILED IT. 

I can’t wait to see my majestic* finish line sprint** photos. 

*agonised

**death-shuffle 

I cross the line beaming proudly. But what’s this? Oh god, my body is rejecting life. Water. WATER. Finish pack. Find Brian. Sit down. Yes. Sitting down is nice. No, don’t make me get up. 

I force a 9 bar down my neck. I’m sure it’s normally very tasty but I may as well have squirted expanding foam into my ruined face. I chew for days. Eventually I start to feel the benefit and manage to avoid the dreaded sugar crash that floored me after VLM. 

Of course what you really want after any event what you really want is a long, painful shuffle to a train station! So hobbling back to Queen Street while trying not to puke and shit myself at the same time was exactly all the fun I needed right then in life.

That was hard, hard work. 

But. 

Amazing. 

I’ve really worked for that. And it’s paid off. It’s made me want to take a wee break from distance for a while, but I’ll be back. 

Home for Chinese and the most epic sleep with early Physio to flush toxins from my achy legs and I feel tip bloody top. 

Thank you, Glasgow! And especially huge thank you to the amazing volunteers who cheered us on and kept us all safe. 

The Familiar Twinge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest it is, then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthdays, Bikes and Bells. 

Where to even start!! 

It’s been a crazy week. The first of a fortnight off work (finally. It’s been AGES) but hectic none the less. I had a birthday (mine and other half’s) and a half marathon and cake-dates and a new bike. 

Let’s start with the bike. 

Built by Brian and his dad, my Dedacciai carbon framed beauty would’ve cost around £2k new. They have worked to build this absolute beast. And she weighs less than one of my cats. 

Hello Stella.  
Then the half marathon happened. Loch Leven half was my nemesis, this year. Last year I shouldn’t have done it. 2 weeks out from Edinburgh and properly injured, I forced myself to walk/run it in 2:27. 

This year is a different story. 

The plan was consistency and no injuries. I’ll probably know more in the morning but so far the only aches and pains are standard post-endurance niggles. 

My splits are pretty even. Although I did set out pretty quick by the looks of things. And I managed new PBs over 10k, 15k, 10miles and 20k. My final time for the half was (I think) around 2:16. I’m so proud. I didn’t walk. Apart from when taking on water. So all of 2 minutes walking in 2 hours is huge progress. 

  
The race itself is brilliantly organised. It’s a very “clubby” event though, so even at my relatively not-shit pace I was still quite far back in the pack. Because it’s such a popular race for experienced and fast 1/2 marathoners and marathoners, they all beast it in under 90 minutes. 

I smiled the whole way. I took a gel on around 10k in where there was a water station to wash it down. That was sensible. I got a boost before I started to flag and I really felt the benefit. At one point, I passed my buddy Michelle (another of Coach’s clients) who was in a bit of trouble. I checked she was ok and she waved me on. I managed to shout and wave at a Marshall further up to tell them to go find her. I know she’s fine now and took the tough decision to withdraw (she needs to save herself for Edinburgh in a few weeks). She took the most amazing finisher pic of me which I’ll show you in a bit. 

Oh. It was HOT! It rained a bit and was quite cool at the start, but as we turned a corner onto the flat ‘moss road’ on the way to Scotlandwell (where mum, dad and Lissie were all waiting) the wind went away completely and it was MELTING. Short-shorts and t shirt combo was the best choice. Even with SPF30 I think I have sunburn. Oops. 

I love this pic dad took of me. Mum shouted “bloody hell she’s not crying this time” and I got the giggles. 

  
Around 11km there’s a not-terribly-steep-but-terribly-steep-after-11km hill. I overtook a lot of walkers and this became the theme of the second half of the race.  
Having been in their shoes last year, I seized the opportunity to encourage and try to motivate each runner I passed. I know the route so was able to give those unfamiliar with it, a brief summary of how little they had left. I made some people smile, dished out some fist-bumps and high fives and continued on my journey. That was nice. 

I’d had a stitch on and off for a few miles and knew it was because of my quicker-than-normal pace. So I used breathing techniques and sipping water at water stations to make it fuck off and, for once, it worked. 

By 12 miles, my head was starting to question itself. “Walk. Just a bit. Go on.” But my legs kept going. I’d been feeling pretty worried about my shins coming into this race but they’d stopped niggling around 4 miles. By 10 miles, the IT bands were starting to ping a bit. And the old hip problems were causing some minor stiffness. But I just kept the pace slower and pushed on. 

Once I passed the “one mile to go” marker and ran into the housing estate before the school, I started feeling a bit anxious about the finish. I’ve no idea why I get this. It’s bizarre. I could have honestly stopped here and walked the rest. 

But I didn’t. 

Suddenly; I burst into a cacophany of bagpipes, cheers and neon Lycra and there was the finishing chute. 

I picked up my knees, high fived my buddy as I passed, waved for dad’s camera and sped over the line in 2:16. 

That’s 11 minutes faster than last year. And I’m not (so far) broken. 

  

So there we go. And the medal? A cowbell. Odd. And I’m not sure what the link is, but there must be an in-joke in there somewhere between the clubs. 

Today I have mostly eaten everything in sight. And legs permitting, I hope to give Stella her first flight tomorrow. 

It’s a very exciting time for this budding triathlete. 

  

Huge well done to my future bro-in-law too, who finished in under 2:10. Go Sean!!!

 
Peace out, for now x 

  

Diagnosis Almost Murder

WARNING: CONTAINS SELF PITY AND WHINING.

“It’s not a Labral tear, Ginnie.” Said the doctor.

“You’re sure? Like…. Positive? Because Google said…”

“STOP GOOGLING. I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s almost absolutely 100% IT Band. Google that if you have to. And see your physio. AND NO RUNNING.”

So there we go then. IT Band Syndrome. PhysioDan is in agreement. And I am still in pain. Albeit because Dan spent an hour kneading my leg like dough today. It hurt so much I almost punched him.

No running. No swimming. Some limited cycling. SOME. As in half an hour at a gentle pace. And then ice and then two days rest.

*googles gentle pace*

Just as well it’s not a triathlon that I’m training for.

Oh wait…

Panic. Sheer panic. And then depression. And now The Rage builds inside me with every minute I’m not releasing “the bad miaows” (stress). I hate this. AND IT IS ALL MY STUPID FAULT.

Cue self pity. ALL THE SELF PITY. And the worrying. And the paranoia. And the fear.

Training is my therapy. And now I’m back to sitting about with ice on my hip like I’m 86. Stress levels at work are increasing and I have lost 80% of my thinking time.

Being injured or “temporarily inconvenienced” has its benefits in that for the first week I didn’t feel bad napping or sleeping longer or reading. But now (although totally ridiculous and complete bollocks) it’s like I can feel my fitness, muscle tone and stamina disappearing.

My brain isn’t coping well with any of this. Stress in the office means that I write MANY lists. Which I find very useful. These lists usually contain very many things, but yesterday I was struggling to remember that we needed eggs.

So I wrote another list:

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See? Eggs.

What did I buy in Sainsbury’s?

Oh yes of course. Grazia. After I got home (I walked, by the way) I cried for 15 minutes. I really wanted an omelette.

Stress, hormones, pain, tiredness, more pain and various other issues are all sitting inside my head and this is making my usually sparkly, ebullient personality dull and grey and a little bit annoying, if I’m honest. I’m snappy, irritable and withdrawn. And I HATE EVERYTHING. I can’t even pick a decent song on my iPod (and yes thank you there is a good selection…)

Reading back through this its all very woe is me. Which is a bit shite really because that’s not what this journey is supposed to be about.

However none of this is supposed to be easy and sometimes the journey gets a bit shit. My lovely, supportive buddies who encourage me endlessly need to know that, despite my enthusiasm, this is HARD.

MoRunning, Mo Problems

Uh oh. Here she goes. Yet more moaning about running.

WRONG. You wish. This is a ANOTHER POSITIVE BLOG ABOUT RUNNING. While the title suggests otherwise, that is actually just because I found it really funny. No, you shut up.

Just after I got the all-clear from PhysioDan to start running again in July, I registered for the Edinburgh MoRunning 10k. Ambitious? Yes. Stupid? Probably.

As part of the whole Movember thing, all proceeds go to Prostate Cancer UK. It’s a brilliant event and a very deserving charity. This year I even managed to convince Sean (future bro in law and Cancer survivor at 24) to enter. He’d shaved an epic tasche for the event.

Pre-race pic….

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(He’s the one not wearing pink)

Sean, being a seasoned pro* (*lucky sod who just happens to be a very good runner) was set on a sub 60min and was as excited as me! It was really lovely to have a running buddy along for the occasion.

As a trained Marathoner, I couldn’t help but sit in awe at his pre race nutrition strategy: 2 bananas (barely chewed) and a giant hot chocolate from Starbucks. With cream. His efforts put my porridge and mint tea to shame. “Ha ha” I thought. “You’ll see that again on The Hill…”

Upon my gung-ho “it’ll be FINE” entry back in sunny July, I set the goal of sub 1hr. Equally ambitious. Equally stupid.
Or a PB. Sub 67 minutes. Less stupid. Still as ambitious.

I had to leave those dreams behind this week when mid Monday night 5k, my fabulously reliable and not at all annoying left knee (Medial Ligament. The bastard) decided otherwise. “Fuck you. No PB. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT”

I rested all week. Avoided bike which can sometimes help and sometimes hinder (remember how I don’t hold back very easily? Yeah…) and my mummy surprised me at work with my dad in tow on Friday and managed to K-Tape my knee in my office. Win.

With OH loaded like a pack horse with bags and coats, we set off for the start line.

I referred previously to the warning given to Sean regarding The Hill: The route consists of the roads up and around Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. You climb around 400ft in the first 2.5k. And on the 10k you do two laps. Brutal both physically and mentally.

Last year, I casually ignored warnings of The Hill from the other runners. Boy did I regret that. Having shot off the line (like an absolute fud) I quickly learnt of this Hill and its debilitating and mortifying effects on the human body and up-chuck reflux.

This year I kept that delightfully horrifying thought in the back of my head and managed to keep running the whole way up the first time. Slowly, but no vomiting.

However…..

Because I hung back a bit at the start so as not to be immediately swamped by pros, I got stuck in traffic. Absolutely nothing against a fellow Plodder, (I’m still a 10-11 minute miler) But seriously. 5 of you lined up across the road so no one can pass? Annoying. Once I eventually hit the flat section by the wee pond (small – not a pond of pee, my non-Scottish pals) at the top of the hill, I almost twisted my ankle having to swerve suddenly to avoid a runner who had come to an abrupt stop, not due to injury, no….. Because she was fannying around with her phone holder as she wanted to take a fucking SELFIE. Now…. I’m cool with selfie-taking (You’ve all seen my Instagram… and we all love RunSelfieRepeat) But in the middle of a road packed with runners, 3k into a race? Don’t stand sodding still. Get out of our fucking way. I, along with several others who, having just come out of a brutal hill-climb and then had to make a quick and evasive manoeuvre, may have called a fellow runner a twat. Oops.

At about 3.5k you come to the 1.5k of downhill bliss. By this point I’d found Natalie. Fellow Maggie’s Centre marathon runner. Having been plagued with injury and loss of mojo since May, this was her first run since Edinburgh and she did brilliantly! Kept me chatting the whole way. Certainly helped the time fly by and was great to catch up with a pal.

We cruised through 5k at about 32 mins. Just below PB time but happy and feeling strong. I knew, however, that The Hill Take Two was looming. At about 6.5k I could give no more. I’d got passed the steepest part of the climb but my breathing wouldn’t regulate, I had horrible anxiety and I knew my HR was through the roof. We walked for around 500m and then set off again at a 6:30/km pace. Much better. The anxiety stuck with me till the end but happily, the rest of the run was without issue. The downhill was really fun. It’s quite steep at first and once over the line, my back was hurting quite a bit. (*makes mental note to start regular hill training*)

Chip time 1:04:57. A PB. delighted. I know I can work on improving that now as I head towards 2015’s goals.

Sean smashed it in 56mins. A brilliant time for a cracking runner and wonderful guy. Super proud. 2 years since his diagnosis and he’s kicking my ass already.

Fantastic weather was appreciated and, despite baggage, my OH managed to climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat (as in, the actual Cairn, Scottish pals) and back down within an hour to watch us finish 8 minutes apart. He should probably also get a medal because the bag weighed more than a car.

So a very happy Bean this evening. Knee has shut up, anxiety has gone and I’ve eaten half a box of pastries. Good Saturday.

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