Iron [Keyboard] War

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

So…… Back to business. 

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

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

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

But. 

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

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

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

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

What a fucking liberty. 

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

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

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

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

Note: not 70.3. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Busy, Busy Brain.

It’s been a week since I entered The Lakesman, and what a week it’s been. There is something wonderfully empowering about finally believing you’re capable of training for a 140.6 mile race.

I’m doing this. OMG. 

It’s been a week of excitement, fear, negotiation (with myself) deep thought, planning, organising and surfing the net for higher spec bike components! (Any excuse, but the prospect of 1000’s of miles of training requires unquestionable use of n+1 and Stella needs to feel loved as well……)

Don’t worry, my friends. I shall not be breezing past you, as you sip your pint outside the pub, clad in cycling skins and a sperm hat with a disc wheel whirring away. No. I leave the marginal gains to the pro’s. I’m pretty down to earth with this stuff, but my faithful Stella has done many thousands of kilometres already. With a carbon fibre frame, she needs plenty of TLC. I’m also not the smallest of athletes so she needs good components to make up for my somewhat un-dainty frame.

I digress.

It’s also been a week of reflection: I’ve come an awfully long way from the naive, clueless lass that decided to get fit by entering a sodding marathon. The fact that I’ve made it to the point where I feel I can commit to training for an event like Lakesman makes me feel incredibly proud. Even if the wheels fall off and I end up unable to do it, I know I made it this far.

So aside from bike browsing, welling up every 15 minutes at inspirational YouTube videos and also buying a very exciting new swimming costume which will likely make me look like a misshapen potato, I have been squirrelling away at excel spreadsheets, putting the bare bones of a training plan together. I am gonna be busy.

I’ve spent hours poring over race blogs, tips and life-hack posts to try and stand myself in good stead for the huge amount of adjustment this training is going to require.

My buddy @ironpugsley penned this blog just before tackling his second Ironman. It is the very best advice that I could have in my arsenal as I begin to start piecing together this massive puzzle. As a two-time Ironman, four-time marathon runner, ultra-runner and marathon swimmer, I can think of no one I’d rather take advice from when it comes to this stuff. Mostly because he’s a) a normal human with extraordinary grit, b) did these things while juggling normal life stuff and c) likes beer.

Every night this week I’ve gone to bed buzzing with ideas and excitement and apprehension. The race is a long way off in many ways, but not that far away in many other ways. I am relieved that I’ve got GSS and Dramathon to look forward to and occupy my legs and my mind. I just have to not get broken…

I’ve caught up with friends, started planning routes for rides and even found one which incorporates cake at my bestie’s house:

Check that view!

I’ve had fun inspiring/bullying new friends to take up endurance sports, setting challenges and generally mucking about on bikes beside lochs and up hills… 


It’s been a much brighter few weeks. 

It feels good to have finally taken the plunge and signed up to Lakesman. The last few months have felt tough. I’ve been all over the place inside my head. Huge highs and crushing lows and sustained periods of darkness had left me feeling empty, dulled and numb. Over the past few weeks my sparkle has started to return. I have a focus and I’ve regained my drive to not only tackle this next obstacle but have the most fun I possibly can in preparation.

 
It’s like someone has turned on a light. And I’m so ready to feel light again. 

 

Iron Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…. could I…..? 

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

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

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

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

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

Please please please Let me get a spot…..

….. and I did. 

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

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

But it’s happening. I cannot wait. 

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

Mission IronBean is GO. 

The One That Wasn’t To Be

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

Then this happens:


Well, shit. 

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

Bollocks. 

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

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

Meh. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


I digress.

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

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

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

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


No problemo. Or so I thought. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t just a little bit choppy. 

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

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

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

Oh. What. An. Understatement. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Oops. 

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

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

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

It was emotional but so worth the winding roads.


Ambleside, you’ve been wonderful. ❤️

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! 




Being Mentally Fit. 

A recent post on my training team’s Facebook page got me thinking. What IS good training for an endurance athlete…. like….. in general? 

I could sit here for hours and preach about strength training and distance work, but I’m going to look at the bigger picture: Not just particular training methods, but actual life stuff. Stuff that’ll put hairs on your proverbial chest. Give you the mental edge. Make ya tuff. 

1. Two words: Lunge Jumps

Fucking dry heave. The minute I clock these in my programming I want to curl up and die. Give me 1000 hills to climb on my bike. Give me 40 burpees and 300 kettle bell swings. But please. Please. Dont make me do lunge jumps. 

Searing heat in the quads. HR through the roof. These usually come at the end of a heavy leg session and are the precursor to a threshold run. 

If you can endure 5 sets of these bastards then you can endure a marathon. Word. 

2. A season of Grey’s Anatomy. 

Probably the one with the shooter. Or when Denny died. Or the plane crash. Or George and Izzy. 

The emotional roller coaster, frustration, sheer joy, laughs, tears, blood and other bodily fluids will fully prepare you for most endurance events, I’d imagine. 

Plus you get used to using proper actual medical terminology so that you can impress* medical staff upon your frequent visits to doctors and hospitals with yet more injuries and gross toenails. 

*irritate 

But don’t mock. I could absolutely perform complex surgery. I know ALL the terminology. 

3. The Magic Fifty.

…. or similar. My lovely coach likes to throw these at us occasionally. My equally lovely, but mostly mental pal Chris, absolutely loves these workouts. He asks for them. One time he requested The Magic ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY. 

They involve many reps. Usually featuring a few similarly horrible exercises. With as little rest as required. And generally you do these workouts once a week for a few weeks to try and get your time down for the total effort. 

There is nothing like the mental battle when you’re only 20 swings into 50 of with the kettle bell. You’ve got another two rounds to go. Your hands are basically bloody stumps and you just. want. to stop. 

But you DON’T. That’s what makes you NAILS. 

It’s entirely acceptable to puke after one of these. 


Me. Dead. After The Magic Fifty. 

4. Applying (or trying to apply) for Jobseekers Allowance. 

I was very fortunate that my obsessive search for a new job came to a swift end in May. Because I lost one day. One ENTIRE DAY to this farce of a process. And many have lost MORE than one day. 

Name. Age. DOB. Redundancy details. Not accepted. Name of first dog. Wrong.  Name of first neighbours pet hamster. Air speed velocity of an unladen sparrow. Nope. Wrong. Death. 

Honestly. It was the in the top ten most harrowing experiences of my life. But it taught me RESILIENCE in the face of adversity and you definitely need this for endurance. 

Me at the job centre. Aka Bridge Of Death. 

5. Shit-Awful Runs. 

You know the type: Lead legs, no energy, dog shit in your trainer tread. 

These make you head-strong. Not at the time, like. Cause at the time you just want to be on the sofa eating beige food, but honestly they do make you better at coping when the endurance stuff starts to hurt. 

6. Winter Training. 

Now I’m not going to say it’s tough in Scotland because in the grand scheme of things, a few weeks of ice and maybe a few snow days are nothing compared to a few months of solid night time and 8 feet of snow. 

However. 

In Scotland, we seem to be blessed with the type of weather that feels mild to begin with but then you find a puddle with ice at the bottom and because it’s so fucking dark and there are so many manky leaves everywhere, and you find out about this puddle as you wake from a coma with a broken hip. 

Winter training makes your lungs hurt. Makes your toes cold. Makes everything cold, actually. It makes your nose stream and your ears ache. But it definitely makes the summery runs feel better. 

As long as they’re not too melty…..

7. If it makes you hate life, it’s good preparation. 

And that sums it up, really. I love a good workout, but the ones that make all the difference are the ones that make you want to cry and stop moving forever. 

It’s the subtle things too, like that Economics Lecture you sat through at uni, determined for the stuff to stick. It didn’t. You tried. But it taught you that LITERALLY NOTHING is worse than that. 

So. Do more stuff you hate, and then nothing will seem as bad as that! 

(Not really…..) 

Seven. Days. To. Go.

If I think back to when I started this journey, I don’t think I’d ever have seen myself sitting in a hotel, with 7 days to go until my first tri, writing lists of things to remember to take with me.

I’ve changed so much that I’m almost unrecognisable to myself now. I mean, I’ve always liked lists, but physically and psychologically I feel like I’m a different person. Stronger in both respects. Hardier. More of a “doer” than a “nah. It’s cool. I can’t be arsed” type.

Endurance has completely changed me. It’s given me self-belief and the ability to shed renewed perspective on stressful situations. “Honestly this is not as shit as cycling in hail into a headwind”… I still freak the fuck out every now and then, but it’s easier for me to cope at work, where my workload has grown exponentially in the last 2 years.

I’ll never claim to be an expert in this stuff, I’m really only trying to get by and have fun, but I’ve learnt a lot about how *not* to do things. And that if things go tits up it’s ok, really.

I’ve stopped worrying about DNF and technical failures. Sort of. I know I can change a tube. I know I can fix basic problems on the bike. I know the run will suck. I know I’ll punch myself in the face at least twice while removing my wet suit. And I’m ok with all of that.

Now it’s just me, 7 full-on days of work and then a half iron distance swim-bike-run next Sunday.

Easy, right?

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. If I had to be completely truthful, I am largely shitting myself. Everyone keeps telling me not to worry, but I’d rather be nervous than not. This MEANS something to me. This is MY fight. MY time spent running in the snow, cycling into permanent gale-force head winds and swimming in 11 degree lochs full of Tesco trolleys. This is MY sacrificed social life. MY “sorry I’m bloody training AGAIN” texts to my VERY patient friends and family. I’ll be a bit pissed off if I don’t finish it. Purely because WHAT A WASTE OF A YEAR… Even though I’m at least 80% more ace than I was last year… So there’s that I suppose.

If I wasn’t nervous I’d question why I’d done all this hard work.

I’ve had the opportunity to raise some funds for a really brilliant charity  and I’ve met the most amazing people. I’d not change ANYTHING about this adventure.

Well. Maybe less falling off stuff.

I keep being asked what’s next? I’d kind of like to say I want to get this one out of the way first, but plans are forming in my head. I have loved triathlon training. Really truly. Well. Ok maybe less 5am sessions would be nice, but honestly I have loved watching my body change and the improvements in speed and agility have been amazing.

I remember back when I started training for the marathon, my buddy told me “it doesn’t get easier, you just get faster” and I’m starting to feel that happen now.

What was “race pace” over a 10k before is now a gentle effort. That’s huge for me.

I managed to pull an 18mph ave speed out of the bag over an hours ride last night. That’s a massive improvement (that’s NOT my Feldy pace… I’d die)

So it’s all coming together nicely. I’m actually enjoying “taper”. I’ve only really thrown one strop so far. And it was justified (I don’t even WANT to get into it).

I’m so goal orientated that it makes sense to give myself targets for the next year. I struggle without a Plan A. So once Feldy is done and dusted, I’ll start researching my next moves. (I’ve already decided but shhhh….)

So. 7 days to go. Bring it.

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 

  

The Good Run

If you are one of those lucky, LUCKY people who never have a “bad run” then stop reading. Because all of this will be things you already know. So off you go and be smug and stuff.

Right. That leaves the rest of you. Those of you who know all too well what a bad run involves.

For those reading who don’t run or have yet to draw the line between what you yourself consider to be either type of run, let me clarify what, to me, defines both “good” and “bad.

Such Good Many Run Such Wow

Let me point out that all runs have some degree of suck. Unless you’re high or mental or both or one of those “natural” runners. There are varying degrees of suckage. The Good Run involves the least suckage. Maybe only your left shin hurts. Maybe you got a stitch at mile 6 of 7 instead of mile 2. Maybe you didn’t shit your pants or puke. Maybe you even set a PB (Personal Best).

Yuck Very Bad Such Horror

This involves pain. Puke. Possibly crapping your pants. Possibly having to piss in a hedge and accidentally squatting on a nettle. Maybe tears. Probably shouting. Definitely a stitch. Legs so heavy it feels as if two full sized Orcas have somehow adhered themselves to you.

So now we’re clear on the definitions, I can begin.

The Good Run

I had one of those today. Naturally it sucked until 5k in. Because most runs suck until my legs stop hating me for making them get out of bed and my stomach stops trying to digest itself.

I often get asked why I run when it’s so damn bad for your legs/ankles/knees/hips/face and in my blog called But Why? I answered some of those questions. I didn’t so much discuss my love of running though.

Therapy

There’s something strangely therapeutic about running through the woods and fields sporting a face more twisted in anguish than a sock caught in the door of the washing machine. Ask yourself, when was the last time you were truly alone with your thoughts? My phone stays at home or in my pocket. I have no web-based distractions. The only distraction I have comes in the form of a friendly beep every kilometer to tell me I’m still moving. Occasionally a badly behaved or growly pooch will launch at me, which usually prompts some loud reminding that YOU ARE IN A NATURE RESERVE PUT YOUR OVERGROWN RODENT ON A LEAD.

But that’s it. Just me and my 1000mph brain. I have my best ideas when I run. And quietly berate myself for my worst. I clear my head of work stress and other life-nuisances.

If I’m out on a PB seeking 5k, I’ll probably just be moments from vomiting the whole time. But afterwards, a kind of zen-like calm descends and I have my most productive days following a run like that.

On a slow, easy 10k, I put the world to rights. By myself. It’s tremendous and in my crazy, chaotic life, I absolutely cherish those quiet hours alone with myself.

Noticing Stuff

When I’m out for a ride on the MTB, I rarely have much time to take things in. The only wildlife I see tends to be the deer that I startle or a local Jakey with his carry-oot. When I’m out running, I see much more. I’ve seen whole housing estates spring up house-by-house in the town and the trail I run has changed and become established and overgrown. I’ve seen every season on the trail for two years now. I like that.

My favourite animals to see are Robins. Granny used to tell me if a Robin hopped in front of me, it was someone I know checking in. That makes me smile. They don’t hop though, they fly like they’re racing. Or sit and watch me run by. I say hello to magpies, and sheep and cows and horses. I stop to fuss over collies and labs. Not yappy little pretend dogs though. Yuck. It’s like I’m Dr sodding Dolittle.

Fit Folk Bants and Lolz

I like to say hello to other runners and cyclists. Ones that are so deeply in the pain-zone that they can barely lift their eyes from focusing on a spot ahead. When I did hill-repeats on Saturday, a guy wearing the most complex Camelback I’ve ever seen asked me to wish him luck on his two-lap Marathon PB mission. Mental. One lap of the loch used to break my head. Imagine two. IMAGINE.

When the weather is shitty, (and I mean REALLY shitty, folk of sunnier/milder climes) and the ice is hitting my face and the wind is so strong I fall over, the exchanges become that of people who are equally bloody mental and they give not even the smallest of fucks. “lovely morning!” or “thank feck for thermals” are common hello’s that I get.

When I’m on my bike I don’t get long to converse in passing. But running is slower and more laid back. People always seem surprised when a runner smiles back. But I’m not looking for the pain-zone yet. I’m still getting my mojo back.

Trying a New Thing

On Saturday, I decided to get in my car and drive to another section of The Heritage Trail. A hilly section. Because flat is fabulous but I want a better ass. So off I went in Sheldon the Mini and we found a carpark and it was tremendous. Not the hill bits, because fuck that shit. But the change of scenery did me a world of good.

When it all just….works

Very occasionally, if I’ve been ever-such-a-good-Sensible, nothing aches. The breathing is labour-free. The lungs open. The snot goes away. The legs turnover without a second thought. And I could go on for HOURS. These runs are rare. I honestly never ever thought I’d have one. Marathon training will do it’s absolute best to destroy every ounce of fondness that you have for running. So these runs are the very bestest. The icing on the cake of Fit. The jar of Nutella you find in the cupboard after a shit day at work. The Jaffa Cake your colleague gives you at coffee time. Cherish this run.

Next time you find yourself growing bored of a route, change it. I read an article lately that recommended changing a route every so often so that your body has to re-adjust. There is an argument that not following a routine or pattern can make you more efficient, faster and stronger.

Notice things. Look at stuff. Stop to take pictures (the light was so amazing last weekend that I couldn’t not stop… this is where I run…)

run trees

Lastly, SMILE. Because running is a privilege.

#SheBelievedSheCouldSoSheDid

The Exciting Thing

Today something magical happened. 

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

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

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

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

Competitive? Me? NO!

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

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

Absurd. But awesome. And yes. I won.

The Determination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bring. It. On. 

 

 

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