So What Next, IronBean?

The Aftermath

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how I felt after Lakesman.

Newly crowned as IronBean, the initial buzz wore off fast and I was left feeling……. disappointed.

DISAPPOINTED?! I hear you ask…..

Yes. I’ve been racking my brains for two months and that is the best word I have in my vocabulary.

In the end, you can only race the race you’re given. I far surpassed my expectations on the swim, but the bike was my biggest downfall that day. Post-race diagnostics revealed that if I’d just kept adjusting the gear cable (which I was trying to do on the move) I would have restored almost full function on the rear mech. I half wish I didn’t discover this. But alas, I still managed to finish within cutoff. And the extra hour on the bike meant I had to cram far more nutrition in than planned, which scuppered my stomach for the run. I truly got my money’s worth. And finished in the dark, in heroes hour.

Dissection aside, I felt fidgety. I immediately wanted to look at other full distance races and go swimming and running and cycling. But I knew my body needed a rest. I gave it a week before trying anything, but, when I eventually tried Sport, it was as though the pool had been filled with molasses and my trainers had been filled with lead.

My body was wrecked.

I have read articles which discuss the toll an iron distance race takes on the body, even on a cellular level. I mean, I was out there, exercising, for 16 hours and 21 minutes. Now I’m no human biologist, but I’d wager that doing ANYTHING for 16 hours and 21 minutes that is not sleeping, is bad news for your organs and your muscles. But because I hadn’t done “very well” (by my own definition… and yes I know how stupid that sounds….) I didn’t think I deserved to feel fucked.

wanted to exercise. But I just had no desire to once I actually started. It felt awful.

So. I rested, right? I burned all my kit and just chilled the fuck out, yeah?

No. I entered the GSS 10 fucking kilometre swim.

*facepalm emoji*

Now I look back, I realise the bit that needed the most rest was my mind. Back when I trained on a hybrid plan, I pushed and pushed and PUSHED myself. Constantly. I’d usually end up broken. It has taken 2 long, hard years to re-learn how to listen to my body and to train holistically and mindfully. With this constant pushing and shoving going on in my head, I had neglected the fact that I am a normal person. With a stressful job.

But anyway. I had a BIG FUCK OFF SWIM to train for.

Ideal.

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My most favourite race pic ever – Thank you Eilidh McKibbin (c/o Endura)

Finding my Mojo

After a few weeks of dossing about, I knew I had to get back in the gym. I set about focusing on 2 strength sessions a week, plus 4 swims, maybe a jog and definitely a bike if I felt like it.

This approach seemed to work on a self-care level and I soon rediscovered my mojo, putting in some excellent swim times in the pool.

I started to feel like the athlete I deserve to call myself but don’t because carbs.

I also now had something I was really looking forward to. I was actually going to RACE! In Open Water! I had joined some pals and their team for Aberfeldy Middle Distance triathlon. I was their pet mermaid. And I was EXCITED.

It’s a competitive race, and it is the exact race where I fell in love with Triathlon back in 2014 while spectating. In 2015 I smashed any target I ever could have given myself. So getting to do the swim and then sit on my bum for the rest of the day, cheering on amazing people taking part in my favourite sport?

A THOUSAND YESSES TO THIS.

My swimming had been getting increasingly good, so I set a target of sub 35 minutes for the 1.2 mile swim. Fairly leisurely given my 1:08 split at Lakesman (still smug about that #secondlady) but quick enough considering I was tired after over a year of training.

The day before the middle distance, the weather was NOT kind. Swimmers at the Sprint Tri were DNFing left, right and centre.

I was nervous.

I can handle chop. But this sounded extreme and I was TIRED.

However, by some miracle, Loch Tay was flat-ass calm on the Sunday Morning. The race was ON.

I waded in, letting the icy waters of Loch Tay find my bum crack (always the worst bit) and moved to the front left of the field. With zero ceremony, the relay wave was released and I successfully avoided the stramash of legs and arms. I soon found my rhythm and my watch hit 500m. 7mins14s. Oh. That is VERY quick…. ok. Maybe too quick. Slow it down a bit. Just let the diesel engine you’ve built kick in and tick over, Bean….

2nd 500 – 7mins48s

I wasn’t out of breath. What the shit?

With less than 900m to go I thought “fuck it”. And just went for it. Strong, calm strokes. I had fully overtaken most of the previous Blue Wave and was now nestled firmly amongst the stronger swimmers in the leading pink wave. I hit the exit ramp at 31mins51s. I was absolutely BUZZING. A few hesitant seconds were spent in a confused state trying to locate my wetsuit zip but I was soon launching myself up the carpet to find Joe, our cyclist. Wetsuit stripped (apparently only flashed half a boob) and chip handed over, Joe was off in the pissing rain. And I was stood shivering in said pissing rain. In my swimming cossie. Dignity on the floor along with my limp wetsuit.

Ella and I eventually found each other and I slipped into the warmth of a DryRobe. I’d also managed to locate my flipflops to rescue my feet from the gravel before cheering the our rival teams swimmer out of the water, and their cyclist on his way.

Joe smashed out a 2hr41 bike split in atrocious conditions, 2 weeks before he heads to SA for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs. And then Ella provided the icing to the cake with a brilliant 2 hour half marathon (literally less than a month after a 100km ultra, FYI). Our transition times were unbelievable (under 2 mins for T1 and 35s for T2!!) and our total time was 5hrs16min. 4th mixed relay overall. Amazing.

I felt buoyed (swim joke LOLZ) by the success of our team and, with a week to go until GSS, started to look forward to my long swim.

TriSexuals

A bloody long way

10km. 10,000m. Shit.

Such a good idea at the time. At 4am on Saturday August 25th, it was 100% NOT a good idea.

Having arrived in Balloch too early as usual, a van pulled in in front of me, and my nerves evaporated immediately: The Lakesman Watersafety Team had arrived. I shit you not. And they’d parked in front of me.

If I have ever needed a reminder that I’m a badass, it was at that moment. And the Iron Gods delivered.

I forced down breakfast and took a wander to the start. The initial breeze soon died down and the loch looked inviting.

maid

Initial temperature readings had read 17 degrees C at the start of the week. But I know my Great Swims, now. And I knew that would be complete and utter bollocks.

On my wandering, I stumbled upon an Ironman who was swimming the 5k (with like no training…) and we got caught up and speculated about water temp. It had spent a few days hammering down with rain, so it was obviously going to be lower than 17.

“15.6” so wetsuits were optional.

The .6 was totally ambitious. But people still went for it in skins…. nails.

Acclimatisation proved my point. It was cold. Very cold. And I was about to be submerged for 3 hours. Ok, good.

My new Speedo wetsuit felt really good but I was nervous now. The neoprene is thinner across the chest and shoulders for better flexibility, and I was worried that I hadn’t worn an extra layer underneath like last year.

With very little time to worry, we set off.

The Big Yellow Bastard 

I always forget how vast the course is at GSS. It’s a mile lap but I’d be swimming it SIX times. To break it up and help me keep count (it never measures accurately and after 2 hours in cold water, YOU try doing distance maths…) I’d stop every 2nd lap for a gel.

To help pass the time, I named the buoys. First there was Pointy Bastard. The Giant Green Prick, then Big Yellow Bastard, then Smaller Orange Pleb, then Pink “Halfway” Bastard, then another Green Prick, then Yellow Fucker, then Turny Green Twat then it was back to the start again.

Big Yellow Bastard was so fucking far away from the start buoy that I wanted to cry every time I started a new lap.

Because I’d done this before, I was in complete denial about how hard it is. Fucking hell it’s SO hard.

I was keeping pace extremely steady, but consistent. I felt ok until about 4km when my left shoulder finally decided that I’ve done far too much swimming this year and gave up. I felt the pop and then the burning sensation spread through my deltoid. With the cold getting deeper into my soft tissues, my hands now felt like a cross between seal flippers and claws.

Tremendous.

I could have called it, rolled over and thrown my limp, claw hand up and hailed a water taxi back to shore, but I’d rather have my bloated corpse dredged from the murky depths of a loch. So I pushed on.

“THIS IS THE LAST RACE OF YOUR SEASON, BEAN. YOU DON’T NEED YOUR SHOULDERS ANYMORE. FUCK IT”

So I blocked out the (now agonising) pain and swam faster…. Go figure!

Before long (lie. it took fucking ages) I was playing “next time last time” and was accutely aware of the chafing on my neck, the pins and needles in my left flipper, the fact that my hands were now totally numb and that if I even THOUGHT about kicking, my hamstrings would immediately spasm and I would die right there. In the NOT 15.6 degree waters of Loch Lomond.

There was also now a significant chop to the water at the far end of the course. What I had initially believed was safety boat wake, were actual waves and I was having to fight cramp, a burst shoulder, the urge to cry AND a current. Oh joy.

Happily, the wind direction meant that as I turned into the final straight for the last fucking time I had a wee push to the end. And boy did I use it.

I am extremely proud of my training this year. Especially with swimming. I have really, truly focused my efforts on a solid swim fitness level. I don’t pansy about in the pool with IMs and breastroke warmups. I set targets, hone my technique on front crawl and spent 4-5 hours per week minimum tweaking my diesel engine to make it powerful. With all of this behind me, after 9000m I had enough left in the tank for a strong final 6-800m.

Looking at my watch, I was frustratingly close to last years 2hrs53 (which I had achieved after a solid summer of training sans ironman) and for my sanity I HAD to beat that time.

Happily, on a course measuring 2-300m longer than last year, I was a whole 4 minutes faster. Finishing in 2hrs49mins. 10th lady overall and I’d broken the 2hrs50min barrier.

After initial frustration that I hadn’t gone EVEN FASTER, I realised the magnitude of what I’ve done this year.

Consistency. So. Much. Consistency.

A 140.6 mile race. A sub 32min HIM swim. And now a sub 2:50 10,000m swim.

Achievement: Unlocked.

beabn

I have long maintained that the only way to get faster at swimming is to swim. I’ve often been laughed down by so-called “experts” who attempt to teach people about a sport they have never mastered themselves. But my consistency speaks for itself:

The above graphs make me super proud of my arms: 2015 training for HIM = 95809m. 2016 spent rehabbing injuries borne from INconsistency = 63561m.

2017. Where it clicked. and I started to FOCUS on consistency = 211,762m. And then 2018. Where, to date, I’ve swum over 247000m and constantly proved myself (and the haterz) wrong.

I love my sport.

Now that I know the key, I fully intend to apply this to cycling and running. I WILL go back to iron distance. The jury is out on another 10km swim though…….

On to the next chapter.

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Iron Ready?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s 100% horrendous.

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

I’m so close that I can touch it.

And yet I’m terrified.

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

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

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

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

Just. A. Marathon.

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

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

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

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

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

*hyperventilates*

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

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

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

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

Next week. Shit the bed.

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

Shit.

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

Build, Build, Build

Shit. Is. Getting. Real.

As of today, Lakesman is 10 weeks away. That’s far enough away not to stress too much, but in contrast, is close enough to start having LakesmanMares and sporadic meltdowns about how shit I am at 2/3 disciplines.

Totally normal. Right?

Things are going as I would have expected them to go, knowing myself: with the usual niggles rearing their heads and sleep completely escaping me! Despite being 100% fucking shattered all the fucking time.

Thanks to the amazing* Scottish weather, my bike confidence has been at an all-time low. Sure, I’ve turbo’d myself into oblivion but that does not an ironman make. Winter has been hella long, this year. With deep snow and biting cold winds. Not exactly road-biking weather for the fledgling ironman who doesn’t want to risk a broken collarbone or worse, a broken bike.

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*not amazing. Not amazing at all.

So where am I at, fitness wise?

Well. I have had several tiny meltdowns about this over the last few weeks. Culminating in having an ugly cry in Bannatyne’s changing room after a particularly grotesque run where I literally thought my legs were just going to stop working. (I know. I am such a chilled person, this may come as a shock…).

After a very tough week, I decided to take a rest and cut training right back for 7 days. Usually this is all I need. But no. Body wanted MORE rest. (MOOAAAR?) So I kept things light and now I feel like I might be ready to get going again. Maybe. After this donut and nap.

As I snivvled in a changing room, I was reminded that this is not supposed to feel easy. It is meant to hurt. It is normal to feel so tired you might actually nap standing up. If it was easy, everyone would do it!

I picked myself up, blew my nose on my compression sleeves and got dressed. No one even suspected I’d been crying either because I still had that post-run glow**.

 

**beetroot face.

 

Pre-bike anxiety seems to be A Thing for me. I was awake at 4am this Sunday. I wasn’t due to head out until about 8am. So this was somewhat frustrating seeing as I am permanently fucking shattered, mate. I got up at 6, ate porridge with Nutella, drank a pint of water and set off just before 8am. Chamois-buttered up (I have my first ever saddle sore. We are not ok with this) and dressed in my finest Endura kit.

I went off exploring some local bike-friendly routes. Quiet lanes, NO HEADWIND (this will be the only time ever that there is no headwind. Excuse me while I jump for fucking joy about this) and 100km of quiet, fun biking.

Mojo: Restored.

Lomonds from Drunzie
The Lomonds from Drunzie 

Swimming has taken a wee back seat over the last week as I wrestled with an existing injury that strikes whenever I’m at a low ebb. Nice how my body likes to rub salt in it’s own wounds…. However overall, it’s been going…. swimmingly….. soz.

Aside from one particularly unsavoury encounter in Livingston’s Bannatyne’s at 6am, where I was asked to leave a lane before I’d even finished fucking about with my goggles because the bloke presumed I’d be swimming “Granny Breasktroke”. Well. I sure showed that prick. By catching him from a whole length behind within 2 lengths of him slating me. He soon learned not to judge a swimmer by their pink Speedo cap….. fucktard.

Running is…. well it’s running. I’ve been heading out with a colleague at lunchtime, which has helped my pacing. Laura is speedy AF so it’s great training for me as I hate running so I rarely push myself. This has all improved my CV fitness and I’m definitely seeing the benefit on my longer weekend runs. Even if my legs feel as though they are actually going to buckle.

I have been examining my training logs from past races, as well. My biggest Month in prep for Aberfeldy in 2015 was 870km. In March, I travelled 840km. And I’m nowhere near peaking yet! So really, my body is capable of more than it ever has been. And that is simply incredible.

I’m not doing this all for myself though, I’m doing this to raise awareness and vital cash for Lymfund. If you’d like to support me as I struggle through the next mental phase of training,  I’d be super grateful for your donations. As would Lymfund, who need your help to provide critical treatment for people living with Lymphoedema and Lipodema.

Thank you x

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ginnie-kennedy

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…..)