Ok so let me just kick things off by saying FOR THE SAKE OF ACTUAL FUCK, WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING.
And breathe. That feels better already.
So far, the only good thing to come out of this year are the memes, which have been out of this goddamn world. Other than that, 2020 has felt like one of those anxiety dreams where you’re trying to get somewhere and there’s planes crashing around you and the ground has been replaced by treacle and someone has tied your shoelaces together. AND IT IS ONLY APRIL.
We all waited with baited breath for BoJo to tell us if we were going to be allowed outside during lockdown. The collective sigh of relief from everyone on Strava was audible around the country. Now if only the fucknuggets could stop driving to parks and public spaces to exercise their brats and dogs, that’d be great….
Despite the fact that December was actually in fact last year(NO, REALLY), it feels like it’s been 1900 months since we started hearing about this new Coronavirus that was taking out cities in China. My line of work involves every day dealings with the Far East, and it was clear from the start that this would have a significant global impact.
China shut down for CNY and then remained closed. It started spreading. And now it is here and suddenly everyone is making banana bread, naming their sourdough starters and stockpiling bog roll while watching Tiger King. What a time to own a conference calling platform, eh?
I started working from home around the 18th March which was surreal. I’m very lucky that we have office space in our house so my work PC and desk plant have come home to live here for a bit. Then, on April 1st, I was put on Furlough. A relatively new word to most of us but one we’re now hearing many, many times a day.
Furlough is bizarre. I have never not worked. Not since my first job at 15. So being UNABLE to work, or check emails, or do ANYTHING work related makes me exceptionally anxious. At the moment, we are able to run or cycle or walk outside once per day as exercise. Which means that I can train to some degree. However I had signed up for the small matter of a 140.6 and this change in routine and lifestyle has COMPLETELY floored me!
I haven’t swum for nearly a month and that makes me so unbelievably sad inside. Our back garden isn’t the right layout for a paddling pool plus tether set up, so I’m restricted to focusing on upper body and core work to ensure I don’t lose too much strength. I am gladly in the position where my swim is still strong AF, so I should hopefully not lose too much speed.
The arrival of a smart trainer has massively boosted my cycling fitness. There’s no hiding from resistance now! (I see you, Strava wankers with your low AF heart rates and massive speeds…..) And I managed a very consistent and not-at-all-traumatic half marathon round Loch Leven on March 29th as Alloa had been postponed.
I also notice that all it’s taken is the apocalypse for Scotland to have some outstanding weather. One theory I heard from a tinfoil hat wearer was that the weather has suddenly improved because there are no planes in the sky……
My gut is telling me that it is EXTREMELY unlikely that Kalmar will go ahead this year. Which is a pain because I was hoping to spend next year planning a wedding (lol – yup you read that right…..) however I refuse to let anything get in the way of doing what I can in case it DOES go ahead…. Am I nervous about bike fitness? Absolutely. But I can only do what I can, and literally everyone in the world is in the same situation.
Mentally, I’ve been very much up and down. Not being able to hug my sister when I asked her to be my maid of honour was rough (I’ll elaborate in a sec) And not being able to cuddle my mum and dad is the actual worst. I miss my niece and my friends and I worry so much about my parents and Beardy’s as well. But I am reassured that they are all taking the threat VERY seriously and letting us help them by doing their weekly shops. Being able to help gives me something to focus on.
So. Maid of Honour, eh? Well. Lissie came round to pick up some stuff for Rosie and, through my open office window I handed her an envelope, inside which was a card and a bracelet asking her to be my matron (LOL – cause she’s old and married) of honour. We cried, held hands through the open window, and then dutifully applied hand sanitiser….. certainly an experience I won’t forget in a hurry. No less meaningful, but certainly drove home how much our lives have changed over the last month.
One thing I find I struggle with massively, is the open-endedness of all of this. Not knowing when I’ll go back to work, not knowing if Kalmar is definitely off, not knowing when this will subside here and just general horrible news everyday is really piling up and pushing me under. I know I am very much not alone. My friends and I send each other video notes and voice notes every day in an attempt to help combat the perils of isolation, I’ve been baking and cooking more and working my way through a very (VERY) long to-do list for the house and garden.
I’ve had good days where I’ve felt like I’ve really accomplished something, and I’ve had bad days where I’ve just felt like this will never end and had absolutely fuck all motivation to do anything!
I try to see this as a huge opportunity to read the books I’ve not had time to read, try some distance-learning, do what I can fitness wise (I’ve started practising yoga properly every single morning which was bloody unheard of for me!!) and I am trying to make the most of being at home and unable to go anywhere. I guess as a Millennial, this is the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing retirement(LOL FML)
I’ve given myself a daily schedule and I set my alarm for the same time every day so that I don’t waste the mornings lying in bed scrolling. I also try not to get sucked into rolling news coverage. There’s only so much I can take before I’m being drawn back into the whirling vortex of dread where I realise it could actually be another 3 months before I get my balayage topped up.
Whatever the next few months brings, my house will be spotless, my cat will be sick of the sight of me and my baking skills will have improved wildly.
I look forward to emerging bleary eyed from the apocalypse into the bright sunlight with quads like kegs and a monobrow, ready to fight to the death in the streets for the last remaining roll of Charmin.
Stay well, friends. And may the odds be ever in your favour.
As I pulled into the drive, my phone buzzed as Beardy sent me this message. I’d been looking forward to my Friday evening bike ride all day. The weather was perfect! Not too windy, sunny and warm. Beardy was on day 13 of his Vuelta challenge, which involved cycling every day of the race. His finishers medal had arrived the day before and I’d managed to source a good finishers jersey for him, as I did when he completed his TdF challenge last year.
He arrived home shortly after me, and after all the usual faffing, we were out the door and into the sun.
Our plan was an easy hour or so of biking on my favourite roads out the back of Glenfarg. “Why don’t I show you the Hilton of Duncrievie climb?” said Beardy about 3km in. I agreed, cautiously. I am not the best climber but he reassured me it was just a short slog followed by a nippy descent.
He was right, as it turned out. (For once). I managed the climb easily and we were soon cresting the top of the hill where he announced he was off to blast the next Strava segment. Nothing unusual here. I followed as he stomped the pedals and disappeared down the hill. I caught sight of him wobbling slightly as he disappeared round the corner at the bottom of the road.
The next few seconds are a blur. As I rounded the corner behind him I was aware of a flash of something. And then I saw him: lying on his back in the road, his hands up at his face, his bike nowhere to be seen.
“Oh FUCK” is basically all I said for the next minute and a half. I’m used to seeing him fall off his bike a lot, as he is a go-hard-or-go-home type of guy. But this was different. This *felt* different straight away. His words were jumbled. I don’t remember getting off my bike but within a second I was standing over him shouting at him to tell me what hurt.
“Why are you here?”
OK, Bean. Remember your first aid training:
check for danger: you are in the middle of a road. There is a blind corner. It is harvest season and we’ve already seen loads of tractors out. There are dozens of farms locally. Get him to safety.
Is he alert? Yes. Sort of. Dazed but he’s awake and able to speak.
Me: “Ok I need you to think and tell me where it hurts”
Beardy: “My face. My face hurts”
Me: “what about your neck? or your back? can you move your legs and arms ok?”
He could move. It didn’t look like he’d broken anything. Blood was POURING out of a deep cut on his face below his eye but otherwise, physically, he seemed relatively intact.
I got him to the side of the road, where there was no flat ground to lie him, and sort of propped him against a rock while I moved the bikes and tried to come up with a plan.
He was bleeding heavily and he wasn’t making sense. I knew that we weren’t going to be dusting ourselves down and cycling home. This was 999 territory. I asked him some more questions and it became clear that he needed urgent medical help. As I wrestled my phone out of my pocket (damn you, grippy phone case!) a car pulled up and I waved my free hand (the other one was keeping pressure on Beardy’s cheek). A woman got out and asked if we needed help. I explained what had happened and she gave me tissues and said she was going to get her husband and would be right back. I dialled 999.
“Which service do you require?”
“I need an Ambulance”
“Transferring you now”
“999 what’s your emergency?”
“My partner has crashed his bike, he’s bleeding heavily from a cut to his face. He is awake, breathing and responsive but is showing signs of a concussion and he needs an ambulance”
After answering some safety questions about his general state, and the type of bike he was on and speed he was doing, the woman (who was amazing) advised she would send an Ambulance right away.
“I need an address. Do you know where you are?”
Sort of. But no. I tried to explain where we were. But it wasn’t working. We were on a very rural unclassified back road. She was struggling and I was panicking. (We now know that the coordinates passed to ambulance dispatch were along the A91 near Strathmiglo which was MILES away)
Another car pulled up and out jumped a girl in her slippers. “What can I do to help?” she shouted as she ran over. “Do you know where we are? are you local?”
She was. “Please can you tell 999 where we are??”
She grabbed the phone and gave a precise location to dispatch (Thank you, Lauren, you god send) and when she gave the phone back the girl on the other end started talking me through some pointers to watch out for.
At this point, it gets a bit grim. Beardy started to drop out of consciousness a bit. He was grey and sweating profusely. He was very confused and couldn’t remember even being out on the bikes. I still feel a bit sick when I remember this bit as I really thought he was in serious danger. The girl on the phone was so lovely and tried to keep me calm and talking. Lauren got us a blanket from her car and Linda had arrived with Gordon, her husband, who was busy reassuring us that our bikes would be looked after in their garage until we could collect them.
After what felt like 18 years, the girl on the phone said she was struggling to locate an ambulance close by. “We don’t know how long it will take to get you help. We’re sending the air ambulance”.
About 10 minutes later, I heard it. Gordon had his hi viz on and a torch. He’d opened the gate to a field and was waving the helicopter over. They circled, down-draft kicking up dust from the road, as they scouted out places to land in the deep valley we were in.
“what’s that noise?” asked Beardy.
“It’s your lift to hospital” I explained.
Naturally, as Wendy and Rich the SCAA paramedics arrived by our side, so too did the road Ambulance, a police car and a doctors car.
5 paramedics began assessing Beardy and I was allowed my, now very bloodied, hand back.
I stood back and watched them work, taking his blood pressure, blood sugar, assessing his wound and asking him questions.
Worryingly, he had now started repeating himself on a 90 second loop.
“Oh I think I know what’s happened here, guys. It’s ok. I’m piecing it all together. I think I’ve binned it on that corner, haven’t I?”
He’d say it with such confidence, everyone would nod and say yes, he’d go quiet and then a minute later say the same thing.
My stomach dropped.
I started to busy myself with picking up bits of his glasses, switching off our Garmin’s and getting the bikes into Gordon’s car. Later, Beardy would ask on repeat how his bike was. I’d tell him it was fine. In reality, I gave it a cursory glance and as everything was pointing in the right direction, decided to tell him it was fine.
(Miraculously, it is completely unscathed. Much to my relief)
The hill Beardy came down at 63kph before he lost grip, his brakes locked and he hit a “soft verge” which turned out to contain a boulder. The skinny black line in the foreground is his “OH FUCK” marks from his tyres.
His MTB instinct had kicked in as his brakes locked up, and he’d aimed for the soft ground. Unfortunately it wasn’t that soft, but it was still the safest option given that he couldn’t see if there was any traffic on the road.
His GCS score was moderate, so the road and air paramedics needed to decide if he’d be taken by air straight to Ninewells in Dundee, or driven by road to Perth. So marginal was his score that they phoned it in and were told Perth would be fine. This was GOOD news. It meant his condition wasn’t horribly serious. (I would be lying if I said I wasn’t totally gutted to miss out on a helicopter ride though………)
We were packed into the Ambulance and headed for Perth.
Beardy kept asking to see his helmet, asking how his bike was, asking what his face looked like, asking if he’d crashed his bike etc the whole way there. Once I got over the initial horrifying dread that comes with your significant other sustaining a TBI meters in front of you, I started to laugh at his verbatim reactions to each answer I gave him.
He’d take his helmet off me and say “ooooooaft. Your work need to see this on Monday” (He was wearing an Endura FS260 Pro Helmet) and then hand it back. Then he’d ask about his face, I’d tell him he’d need stitches and he’d say “my mum is going to kill me, isn’t she”.
It obviously wasn’t funny, but your brain does things to you when you’re in shock, which I very much was.
At PRI in Perth, he was assessed by a young doctor who cleaned up his wound and stitched him up with some of the neatest stitches I’ve ever seen. After an hour, he was a bit concerned about the repetition, so put in for a transfer to Ninewells for overnight observation. The next few hours are a blur of telling parents (awful) and being driven to collect clothes, back to the hospital and eventually home to a cold, empty house (other than our very confused Stigbug)
As I’d taken him his glasses, he was able to text and tell us all several times that he’d made the text on his phone big and he was being transferred about midnight.
I didn’t sleep, instead replaying everything in slow motion.
At 0530 I cracked and called the A&E short stay ward at Ninewells, who told me that although I wasn’t technically allowed in out of hours, I could come up and see him for a bit if I wanted. At 0730 I was curled up beside him as he apologised profusely. He was much better. Sore and very bruised, with some serious road rash on his face, but his repetition had stopped and he was able to remember being in Perth (still nothing after locking his brakes up). He was also now acutely aware that this little adventure had cost him the rest of his Vuelta challenge.
After 15 minutes, I was politely asked to leave and come back after doctors rounds, so I wandered round to my sister’s flat up the road and had my mind taken off things by my gorgeous baby niece and sister who scooped me up in a giant hug and fed me tea.
Doctors rounds were at 0930 and I was a bit peeved to be told I wasn’t allowed in, despite Beardy having NO RECOLLECTION of ANYTHING. So when I got the text to collect him at 0945 I was hugely annoyed that there was no CT. I should have been relieved that they didn’t deem it serious enough for that but I know how sneaky concussion can be.
Examining Garmin data, we now know he crashed at 58kph. His graph shows 63kph – 58kph – 0kph in about 5 seconds. His forehead took the impact of the ground and every paramedic, nurse and doctor we saw were gobsmacked at how lightly he got off and completely certain that his helmet saved his life.
(WEAR. A FUCKING. HELMET)
Once home, we visited and were visited by parents, I collected bikes while my mum kept an eye on Beardy, his mum and dad made and brought us meals, he slept and I still didn’t. But we were home and he was on the mend. I googled everything I could about TBI’s and concussion. (This did not help the lack of sleep…)
I felt overwhelmed at the kindness of people. Linda, Gordon and Lauren who all stopped and stayed with us until we were safely in an Ambulance. The girl on the phone at 999 who kept me as calm as she could. The police, paramedics, pilot (?!!??! A fucking actual PILOT) and doctors and nurses who all showed us nothing but compassion and empathy. It was a truly humbling experience.
Of course, I am already eternally grateful for the NHS, but this was just further proof that we NEED it. And we MUSTN’T take it for granted. I am also incredibly thankful for SCAA: Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance. They are funded 100% by donations, and not by the government. Quite often, Scotland is viewed in terms of population as opposed to geographical scale, therefore, we have 2 funded helimeds in Scotland. SCAA takes our total to 3. To cover a very widespread population within 31000 square miles. SCAA is a charity that relies entirely on members of the public digging in their pockets and giving them their hard earned cash. Soon, they’ll be launching their second Charity Air Ambulance in Aberdeen, which will further their reach within the country and help even more people.
Before we’d even left the scene of the accident, I had already decided to do Ironman Kalmar for SCAA.
Having registered the day it opened, Kalmar is my focus for 2020. And now I have an even bigger incentive: I want to raise £2500 (the average cost of a call-out).
I immediately messaged my friend who works for SCAA to tell her about what happened and then arranged, once we were home and Beardy was on the mend, to visit them at Perth Airport and speak to the pilot and paramedics.
We had such a great time meeting them and getting an up close look at their “wee buggy” as they called it.
Rich was one of the paramedics who came to our aid. G-SCAA is smaller than I imagined it would be as it regularly flies over our house on it’s way to medical emergencies around Scotland.
My Justgiving link is below for you to donate, if you wish.
To summarise, Beardy is lucky he got away with a mild concussion and 6 stitches in his face. He has bruised ribs, ruined knuckles and cannot remember crashing at all. He has been told, in no uncertain terms, that 63kph is TOO fucking fast. It is also close to the speed Froome was doing when he blew his nose and hit a wall. He did not get off so lightly.
All of this has made me even more frustrated with people who don’t wear a helmet. I will NEVER understand the arguments they come up with and will, forever more, file them under “vain and stupid”. There is no question that Beardy was saved by his helmet. Had he not been wearing it, his skull would have taken the full force of the tarmac. I’m no doctor, but 14 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy has taught me enough to know that an impact to the skull at that speed is pretty much game over.
Although he was doing stupid speeds, you do not need to be going fast to do yourself damage: in 2014, I was cycling my MTB along the Great Glen Way, slipped on a tree root at no more than 4mph (I’d just pushed off to move) and had a slow motion sideways fall onto a rock, which smashed my helmet and left me with a concussion. If I hadn’t been wearing that helmet, even in slow motion, I would have been left with permanent brain damage.
Helmets can’t save you from every disaster, but they can limit and prevent damage. So don’t be a total dick, and WEAR A FUCKING HELMET.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Tube in pocket (I always carry a spare spare)
Race belt on
Dry feet and face (fucking pointless but feels nice)
T1 : 04.26
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.
T2 : 2.38
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.
I’m not sure how I thought I’d feel by now. Did I think I’d feel like an athlete? Did I think I’d look ripped and muscly? No and also no because Jam. And cheese. And bagels. And sausage suppers. But I definitely expected to feel different: Fitter, stronger, highly tuned. Less like a sofa dwelling carb-addict and more like Leanda Cave.
Alas, I’m much closer to the sofa than the Cave. Literally.
I guess I must be different than I was, though. Even with my gut and bingo wings. All the indicators suggest I am at my fitness peak. But I still feel like me. I still feel normal.
I’ve gone into taper feeling ready for it. Not totally wrecked but with plenty of niggles and a requirement for plentiful sleep and water. I made it to 82 miles of my last century ride before I lost my shit. This is progress!
I had a beer and managed to finish it for the first time in months! I’ve been eating well and trying not to overdo the carbs as I taper down my efforts.
I’ve also been driving myself, and my people, CRAZY with taper madness. It is a real thing and it is happening in my head ALL THE TIME.
If I thought Maranoia was a thing before, I was wrong. Try Iron Maranoia.
It’s 100% horrendous.
I’ve trained for a year, but I’ve prepared myself for THREE years for this challenge. Painstakingly ticking off bucket list stuff en route to hopefully one day becoming IronBean. And the job is barely finished. I have the actual work to do now.
I’m so close that I can touch it.
And yet I’m terrified.
I’m terrified of that which I have no control of: Bike mechanicals. Relentless headwinds. Torrential rain. Unbearable heat. Hungry Pike. Cramp.
I can control none of these so naturally it’s all that consumes me as I beg for last minute mechanical tutorials on repairing chains and dealing with snapped mechs.
I guess the thing that frightens me more than anything I’ve done so far, is that I might not finish. I could have A Disaster. This isn’t set in stone. You can’t wing 140.6 miles. If something goes tits up and it’s non repairable, it’s game over. You can walk a marathon or an ultra. You can breaststroke a 10km Swim. For me to feel home and dry, I have to get to the marathon. And even then, I’ll need ample time to finish the damned thing.
Just get to the run, girl. Then you’re on the home straight. Then it’s just a marathon.
Just. A. Marathon.
I have never had a good marathon. (Ssshhh. Nothing could be good after 112 miles on a bike. Not even sitting down is good. You’d rather be running.)
I’ve been waking up at 4am bathed in sweat panicking about why my bento box won’t sit right on my top tube, how much lube I should apply, what if the photographer gets my chins from the wrong angle, what if I forget to hit save on my Edge….. all crucial, of course.
The last few weeks have passed in a blur of busy work days and last minute Lakesman fretting. Somehow, I’m about to enter the final week of taper and pack for the Lake District. So….. I’m basically going to do this, then.
I’m watching my footing, wearing sensible shoes and glaring at anyone who dares to cough or sniff in my presence.
I’ve had shoulder issues and a gammy knee which, at 8am on Sunday was ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY A MEDIAL MENISCAL TEAR OR AT THE VERY LEAST A TEAR IN MY MEDIAL COLLATERAL LIGAMENT OR OH FUCK WHAT IF ITS ARTHRITIS.
Physio was booked for Sunday anyway, and Sarah reassured me that it was literally not even one of those things.
And relax, Bean. Do your stretches, Bean. Eat your protein and your fibre, Bean.
It’s all just come round so fast! (The exact opposite of how the event will go, just FYI)
Lakesman was a distant dream last June when I psyched myself up to register. Now it’s next fucking WEEK.
Next week. Shit the bed.
140.6 miles. Iron. My dream. My goal. THE goal. (Insert 18,000 ridiculous instagram hashtags here)
Am I ready? Who the fuck knows. But it’s time to HTFU and find out!
You see, my relationship with running has a chequered past. When I was wee, running was literally only away from stuff that I didn’t want to be near. As I grew up, I was forced (forced) by our education system , to partake in this absurd activity.
Cross Country PE. Reserved only for the most frosty of winter mornings. And also the words that reduced me to a quivering wreck and latterly resulted in me bribing my mum to write me excusal notes for most of 5th and 6th year.
When I did take part, a permanent stitch, a hatred of all physical activity and a general loathing of being outside and/or cold, ruined any possible enjoyment of the sport.
Fast forward 15 years and 15 year old Bean is rolling her eyes so hard she’s practically seeing out the back of her head.
And to be honest, running still sucks.
3 marathons. I’ve run THREE and number FOUR is in a matter of weeks. So why? If it sucks why do it?
Usually my approach to endurance is that if it’s not fun, why do it?
However. Running is such an important part of going long. It’s psychologically tough on me. Therefore each long run I do is designed to test my mental strength. Much like doing all the swimming.
Similarly to the mental toughness of the actual act of running, preparing for a run is also character building.
For example: on longer runs, I like to wear my 2XU compression socks. They may or may not help but I like how garish they are and they make me feel less like my calves will explode while I run. Because that happens.
Putting these on, however, is not an easy task. Imagine trying to wrestle a sweaty body into an already damp wetsuit. Then make the wetsuit two sizes two small and swap dexterous hands for a pair of fluffy mittens. Add some face-punching (your own hand and your own face…) and 18 minutes of swearing per calf and your only at the ankle.
Once the ordeal of getting dressed in all manner of compression gear is done, it’s just the running to do. Oh good. At least I’m warmed up. Right?
Now. I feel I should add that I like how running makes me feel afterwards:
Empowered, satisfied, strong.
I do not enjoy how it makes me feel during:
Shoogly. What’s that crunch? Oh it’s my hip. There’s another stone in my shoe. Why does my shoulder hurt? Why am I so shit at this? My shorts are giving me camel toe. I need to pee.
When I am asked “how was your run?” The reply is usually “GREAT! Apart from the part where I had to actually run. ”
My body is categorically not designed for running. Evolution has bestowed upon me a level of laziness that is satisfied only by getting off the sofa and walking to the fridge. It has also given me flat feet, a rotated pelvis (holla at me ladies), one leg significantly longer than the other, two tendons in my left hip joint that crunch together with every. fucking. excruciating. step, terrible posture and boobs that need to be strapped firmly down.
(I realise I’ve just painted the most epic picture of myself.)
Like most women affected by the rotated pelvis issue (it’s common AF), running any kind of distance results in real, proper pain that keeps me awake at night. So I also have to stretch. A lot. Which is boring and painful. And it usually results in me falling asleep on my yoga mat, or getting distracted by intagram stories. #FirstWorldProblems
I digress. The plan now is just to gently ease up the miles, and prepare mind and body. I have 5 weeks (I think?? I’ve stopped counting) until the marathon and in the words of RuPaul: “good luck. And don’t fuck it up”.
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!
You may recall that back in June, I was supposed to swim 10km in Windermere. Unfortunately, Weather occurred so events were cancelled and although they allowed us to swim 1 mile, I still had a “burning desire” (see also: weird and fucking stupid desire) to swim that distance. So I entered the Great Scottish Swim 10k as a back up.
For the last two months I’ve trained hard while also convincing myself that GSS would be cancelled and OH WELL NEVER MIND I WON’T HAVE TO DO IT EVER.
No such luck.
I awoke at 3am on race morning with the familiar knot in my stomach and the even more familiar pre-race lack of appetite. I forced a crumpet down my neck and performed the standard last minute OCD checks on my kit. Everything present. Everything correct.
I had prepped an array of car snacks and a Sensible Breakfast of porridge and banana to “enjoy” en route and at 06:32 I parked up at Loch Lomond Shores and settled down to try and not vomit while eating the aforementioned porridge and banana. Somehow I managed. Even if I fluffed the swim, this was a great achievement.
I gathered my many belongings and trudged unwillingly towards the event site. The Loch was flat-calm. The rain was on and off and the air was still. The conditions were completely perfect and this was going to happen.
As I stood on the pier dry-heaving at the mammoth course laid out in front of me (the curvature of the earth actually prevents you from seeing the far buoys I promise), I spotted IronPugsley and his friend looking a tad more awake than I felt. It’s Dougie’s fault that I’d entered this stupid race in the first place. He was calm and confident. I was a wreck.
We wandered round to the changing tents which had moved from their usual spot (that’ll learn me for not checking the signs…) and went off to slip into something a little less comfortable and a little more rubbery.
I took my time, applying Body Glide liberally to any bits of skin that may or may not chafe. And some more just for luck. I prised myself into my Orca, got my hair in place and grabbed the rest of my stuff to head round to the start.
Kit wise, I had layered a tri-top over my swimming costume just for an extra layer. I’d not opted for gloves or booties. I knew I’d struggle with numb hands but the gloves were heavy and I’d just rather not have extra weight to drag about for 6.2 miles.
I found Dougie, Jan and Andy all suited and still ridiculously awake. Much mockery of D’s silicone “neck protector” (Soz but it looks like a sex toy) and other silly carry on. It wasn’t until Dougie asked me which colour goggles I’d gone for that I suddenly thought OH FUCK. GOGGLES. Thank FUCK I’d packed them. A half-sprint-half-barefoot-hobble-on-rocky-tarmac later, I had them firmly in my grasp. That was close. What a pisser that would’ve been.
Dougie introduced me to his pal that runs the Forth Swim. He tried to convince me to enter but I’m not 100% sold on swimming through human jobbies. We’ll see….
We were soon allowed into check in and went straight into the acclimatisation zone. Which sounds fancy but is actually just the boat-launch cordoned off with a lady shouting at you that they’re closing it soon.
By this point, I was a complete bag of nerves. The loch was 16 degrees but that’s not exactly a fucking bath and I was worrying about freezing to death. I went through my mantra in my head on repeat while everyone buzzed around me. (I like to have a quiet moment before a race kicks off):
Lap twice. Stop for gel. Lap twice. Stop for gel. Lap twice. Medal.
Kerri-Anne Payne was on hand to start us off and before I knew it I was saying goodlucks and goodbyes (thanks Andy for the hilariously awkward are-we-high-giving-oh-wait-fist-bump-nope-hug moment) and dipping into the loch with Dougie to start our 10km.
Shiiiiiiiiiit that’s cold.
Ok. Draft a bit. Swim a bit. Draft some more. Panic a bit. Breathing! Remember breathing! Breathing is so important. Lift your head to breathe. Perfect. Off we go.
I’d posted in an all-girl group I’m in on FB for some words of wisdom and the women were AMAZING. Their words went round in my head and Rach (off Twitter!) who is a swimming queen gave me some great breathing advice. I stuck to her words and soon found my rhythm.
The first lap passed in under 30 minutes and I was feeling great and full of energy. Just one more lap and then it’s BOAT SNACK TIME, I kept telling myself.
Lap two done and I clung to the side of a rib boat while a lovely man handed me water and a Cliff gel to chew/swallow (they are a fucking weird consistency. Sort of like thick snot. And also opaque yellow like snot. A lovely thought. You’re welcome.) I have to say, I was a little upset to learn that the “snack boat” didn’t have a buffet of pasta dishes and hot tea. Nope. Just jelly babies and gels. But at this point I’d have eaten roadkill if I thought it would have given me the beans to keep going…
Onto lap 3 which meant I would be HALF WAY!! I checked my watch. It was clear that either the course was going to come up short or Garmin was being a tad lazy. Not to worry. We battle on.
By now I am catching the subsequent wave. Picking through the slower swimmers definitely cost me time but I took a draft where I could get it and managed to avoid any painful kicks this year. I was passing caps from my own wave and nothing was sore or tired yet. WTF. Was I kicking ass at this?! I went through 5km at bang on 1hr30 (including gel stop). Yes. I was kicking ass at this.
Through laps 4 and 5, my index fingers on each hand had gone numb, I was fighting the onset of calf cramp and I was really suffering with lower back pain (which has all but completely fucked off lately so I was NOT happy about this!). My head started to tell me that I’d had quite about enough of this charade and it was time to find a kayak and die quietly.
At the end of Lap 4 I found the boat and “enjoyed” another “delicious” snotter/gel. Unfortunately, as I was clinging to the boat with my claw-hands and trying to stretch out my back, my leg became tangled in one of the buoy ropes. Not even a little bit tangled. Properly fucking caught. Like a sodding fish. I was snagged. This was going badly. I shouted to the boat dude who was about as confused as me as to how this had happened. Thankfully, the very nice man beside me swam under the boat to untangle my leg and I was able to continue. Amazingly, no cramp was sustained during the ordeal.
5 minutes lost to being a twat, I continued onto my penultimate lap to play Next Time Last Time.
Next Time I see this buoy it will be the Last Time. For a mile. A confusing mile, at that. My watch was showing that the course was 400-500m short. But my tired, water-logged brain as beginning to convince itself that we’d somehow missed a lap. I retraced every stroke and after *some* debating, I decided that this was 100% my 5th lap. No doubt. Stupid GPS.
Last lap time.
It was now that a Huubster appeared. A pink cap (2 mile swimmer I think ) and a £500 Huub Archimedes suit plus matching goggles. He appeared to my right and swam directly over me without stopping. He was not going in the right direction. Having been dooked unwillingly and by surprise, at 5 miles into a 6 mile race I needed to gather myself and swear at him loudly. A woman doing breastroke to my right checked I was ok before we laughed as she asked where the fuck he was going. Apparently £500 can by you an incredible wetsuit but not a sense of direction…
A weird thing began to happen: I started to have fun. For the first time LIKE EVER, my goggles had not fogged up at all. I was picking red caps off and passing swimmers like a proper fast swimmer. The TV chopper was over me the whole last lap. The noise was deafening. I was KICKING ASS AT THIS! My watch had me finishing well under 3 hours. Even with the shorter distance I’d be under Dougie’s (seemingly ridiculous) prediction of 3:05.
I AM A SWIMMING QUEEEEEEEEEEEN I shouted in my head.
The final buoy was in sight. I just had to swim past that, through the pointy buoys, under the gangtry and that was it finished! Let’s GOOOOOOO.
I gave the last 400m everything I had. My best technique, no kicks, strong, positive pulls, slight bend at the elbow with a straight arm exit from the water. Smooth, effortless gliding but with breathing that sounded like was seconds from death. Ignoring the fire in my shoulder muscles and the numb as fuck hands.
I reached the finish funnel and attempted to stand up. Wobbling and probably not smiling, I stumbled over the finish line to the ankle-beeper where the guy asked my name and it took me far too long to remember it.
I was done. It was finished. 2hours 53 minutes and 46 seconds.
That’s not just a little bit good, that is BRILLIANT.
As I staggered past chip-removal towards the goody bags and my warm clothes, a young lad shouted “YOU JUST DID THE 10k! YOU NEED TO GO THIS WAY CAUSE YOU GET A BETTER GOODIE BAG!!”
Oh YAS! I thought. FINALLY Great Swim have bowed to pressure and made a non-generic medal for the 10k swimmers. Gimme!!
This really did not impress the two-mile swimmer next to me who moaned a “that’s not fair!” At the lad before he gently but firmly suggested that if she wanted a 10k goodybag she could nip back in and swim another 4 miles. She declined…
As with every GSS I’ve done so far, the heavens had opened as I was dragging my carcass out of the loch. I padded painfully round to the sweaty changing tent, shivering violently and acutely aware that my arms were absolutely livid with me. I had to ask a stranger to unzip me. I then had to apologise to two other strangers who were freaked out by my squealing as my hand found my chafed neck. I borrowed a chair and used it to try and assist with dressing. This was more challenging than the fucking swim.
I did all this while shovelling pretzels into my face and downing water. I felt ok but I knew I’d soon bonk if I didn’t take salts and carbs on board.
Eventually I staggered to my car. Dougie and Jan were walking down the road and had both had as much fun as you can while swimming endurance distances. Dougie swam 10km in under 2:40. I mean really. Half man half fish.
Once in my car I asked a marshal to direct me to McDonald’s where I horsed a Big Mac meal and large milkshake before hitting the road. Somehow, I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel. But my arms are all but useless now. Honestly I’ve typed this with my nose.
I am over the MOON. This was one hell of a challenge. Unsurprisingly, swimming 10km is not on many athletes radar as something they want to do. But I did it and I did it well and wildly over-achieved on my original target of 3:30.
Thank you, Great Swim for another fantastic event.
I am now a marathon swimmer! And I’m waiting for my certificate welcoming me to the Mermaid community.
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.
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!
“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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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……
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.