Aberfeldy Middle Distance 2019

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.

Pre Race

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.

Race Morning

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.

The Swim

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:

  • Helmet on.
  • Jacket on.
  • Tube in pocket (I always carry a spare spare)
  • Garmin on
  • Race belt on
  • Dry feet and face (fucking pointless but feels nice)
  • Shoes on
  • Go

T1 : 04.26

The Bike

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.

Bike: 03:58

T2 : 2.38

The Run

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.

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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!

The Surprisingly Good Run

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! 

I’m sure this won’t last…. 

next stop? The Dramathon. Gulp. 

When Do I Get My Clam Bra? 

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. 

Easy. Right? 

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. 

Holy. Shit. 

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. 

Grand Ideas 

“The sky is not the limit… I am” T F Hodge

As soon as the words “I’m thinking of trying a 30km swim streak” left my mouth, I almost instantly regretted it.

You see… stick me in a race with other runners, cyclists or even swimmers and, if I think or know they are a lot quicker, I won’t bother my arse to compete… But when I throw my own gauntlet down, I strive to achieve the goal. So the challenge was on.

To facilitate this absurd idea, I’d need to juggle some stuff about. Luckily, my current employer offers flexi-time which is a god-send for a the wannabe Ironman. I can flex hours between 7.30am and 5pm to suit and usually I opt for 7.30-4pm. It means getting up at 5am and commuting over the Forth Road Bridge, but I’m home for 5pm.

For my Big Swim Week, I switched it up. Bannatyne’s have permanent lane availability and open at 6am. Ideal. I’d work 8.30-5, swim at 6am and, traffic dependent, 6pm. I could never have done this at my faithful Cooncil Gym due to limited pool access for *actual* swimmers.

As the week approached, 6km per day hovered in my sights like a big, fat, fuck-off neon sign. My biggest swim week in prep for Windermere (AKA: The One That Wasn’t) was 15,000m and I was 15,000% dead by the end of it.

 This. Was. Gonna. Suck. So. Many. Balls.

By this point, I can hear the educated amongst you murmuring something about Junk Miles. And you’d be absolutely correct. Technically, swimming 30km in a pool over 5 days could indeed be classed as junk miles. But… I don’t do junk miles. Even ridiculous challenges like this have a point, because the thing about Endurance training is that as much as we bang on about “smashing it” and “having all the lolz” sometimes it’s fucking shit. Sometimes you definitely do not want to smash anything apart from your face into a pizza. So I chuck stuff into my routine that sounds awful and intimidates me in order to strengthen my mental toughness. It works. The added bonus of swimming is that it’s largely low impact and the best way to get quicker at swimming is…. well…. to swim. 

And so it began…

Day 1.

Mood: Grim. Hair: Still glossy. Arms: Attached, if a little nervous

The first morning was awful. I’d tapered the previous week, reduced strength work and rested for two days before the streak started. I have a nasty recurring trapezius injury which has a habit of flaring up during quick swims, so everything was kept very slow below 1:50/100m. Miles below my current CSS pace of 1:41/100m but enough to hopefully keep injuries at bay.

Unfortunately, someone had replaced the water in the pool with treacle over the weekend. I felt shit. My arms were made of spaghetti.

This was going to be an extremely tough week.

Monday evening’s swim was also awful, and, just to add icing to the cake-of-shit, I was joined in the lane by a Master’s age grouper at the end of my set. Who was a sprinter. And was not even sprinting. Not to sound cocky, but I’m well used to being one of the quickest swimmers in a standard gym pool, but I am by no means fast. This guy was just the most elegant swimmer. And my splashy, inefficient 1:55’s were being destroyed by his effortlessly graceful 1:30’s. I went home feeling deflated and dreading the coming days.

Day 2.

Mood: More Grim. Hair: 8% less glossy. Arms: “pls no”

Tuesday was almost the end of the challenge. I really, truly, 100% did not want to be doing this. “This is a stupid idea” I muttered to myself as I dipped into the chilly pool at 6:02am. The water still felt like solid matter and everything that could possibly irritate me was doing so with a vengeance.

“But this shit is gonna make me nails” I reminded myself, “if I can get through this, surely I can get through the 10k swim.”

Tuesday evening saw the beginning of The Shit Traffic. For some reason, everyone in Scotland decided to head north over the FRB every single evening this week. I was already ragey by the time I got to the pool, so when I saw the lane was hoaching, I knew I’d be in for a quicker swim. Fuelled by anger and impatience.

Elbows out, I slipped under 1:50/100m just to get passed the choppers. (Seriously. If you are slow, do NOT swim in the fast lane if it is busy. And ESPECIALLY if you are gonna do fecking breastroke) See below chart if confused:

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Day 3.

Mood: Grim, tired, nose ingrained with Chlorine. Hair: Mess. Arms: “hlp mi pls”

I’d quite simply had enough. My head was struggling to get through it, 3km sessions felt like 30km and my pace was in the gutters. I tried a new set instead of 6 x 500m (which usually feels ok) and opted for 400,300,200,100 x 3. This broke things up, gave me a smidge more rest and I could count the distances down. However… mind that injury I mentioned earlier…? Towards the end of my evening session, the ping in my left trap told me it was time to rest.

Day 4.

Mood: Less Deathly. Hair: Had to resort to neat Argan Oil…  Arms: So much nope. And yet I feel like I look like Jonny Bravo.

I gave myself an extra hour in bed on Thursday morning, feebly convincing myself that 27km in 5 days would still be badass and right enough, the rest paid off and I was right as rain for Thursday evening’s session.

I had a lane to myself until my last 1000m, when a man sat and watched me swim for 5 or 6 lengths, before proceeding to jump in and push off RIGHT as I got to him. Not correct etiquette. And oh good he’s much slower than me.

Everyone starts somewhere and I am, by absolutely no means, Michael Phelps, but I cannot understand how a person can be working so hard to stay virtually stationary in the water. I was doing doggy paddle and still catching his toes.

The worst bit? He didn’t stop to let me pass at the end of the length. Oh my god. Rage.

The slow lane was empty. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking this was maybe some weird drill I’d never seen. Or a warm-up. Maybe (It wasn’t) And being too polite to ask him to perhaps consider the alternative lane, I had to keep overtaking. Each time he would splash the water hard as if to tell me to fuck off. Yet each length (I was passing him twice to each of his single lengths) he didn’t bother to stop.

If anything, this kept me occupied and I was relieved to get out of that pool and visit my mum and dad. (Mum is now 1 week post knee replacement!)

Day 5.

Mood: Buoyant (swim pun yaassss) Hair: Ruined. Arms: “ohgodpleasedon’tmakeusswimagain”

Work-based anxiety woke me at 3am. And 3.15am. And every 10-15 mins until 5am when I finally decided to make some toast.

At 6:02 I dipped into the pool alongside a lane mate who exhibited absolutely perfect lane etiquette. We were very similarly paced and while he was doing fast 50’s we managed to time our sets well so we were never in each other’s way. MORE OF THIS PLEASE.

I was pleasantly surprised by the ease at which I was able to get through my 500’s. Due to my trap niggle, I’d switched from my usual bilateral breathing, to right side only every 4th stroke. This helped me relax. 3000m flew by.

12 hours later and I was back for the last swim of the week. And what a difference! My 1:50/100m average dipped to 1:44 for the whole, consistent session.

Despite being joined by 2 choppers (one definitely did NOT like being slower than a lassie), I loved this swim and shoulder tiredness aside, I felt strong and relaxed and above all, finally ready to tackle 10km in Loch Lomond.

27,000 metres. TWENTY ACTUAL SEVEN KILOMETRES IN FIVE DAYS. (Which is 16.77 of your junkiest junk miles). All front crawl. All pull.

I have 100% earned pizza.

Interestingly, along with developing a new love for expensive shampoo and conditioner (thank you Kerastase) I realised, as the week progressed, that the problems I was experiencing in the water were well and truly in my head. As much as I set my own goals and work hard to achieve them, I also set my own limits. The minute I choose a goal, I often choose the obstacles. Even by identifying potential issues, I throw spanners into the works well before I reach a possible hurdle. It’s time to relax and just let things happen.

Loch Lomond – I am coming for you.

Patience

The year is 1990. My 10 month old baby sister toddles anxiously behind the baby gate watching me fly past on the “big girl bike” I’d received for my 4th Birthday.

No training wheels for Bean.

The Silver Big Girl Bike lasted around 6 months until Dad reversed the Ford Escort over it. It was 4 years and one big move to America before I got my next bike. A pink and white girls bike. With streamers. And TRAINING WHEELS.

Turns out you CAN forget how to ride a bike… if you’re 8.

8 year old Impatient Bean DETESTED the training wheels because I knew I’d ridden without them. There were tears. And tantrums (I know. Some things NEVER change…) and when they came off there were scrapes and bits of driveway in my knees and elbows. I think those were my first ever FML moments.

Nowadays, my lack of patience has spread across the athletic board. You may remember my recent “How to use cleats” escapade with The Other Half who’s off the wall teaching technique would have been frowned upon by even the most evil cane-wielding 1950’s school teacher. “I’M TRYING TO TEACH YOU TO REACT AND ACT EVASIVELY” …. I’ll let you all in on a secret – you can’t train someone to react quickly by cycling at them and crashing into them. They land in dog shit and cry in front of the kids on the swings. And then become chronically phobic of cleats. And bikes. And dog shit. And kids.

Of course, no one likes to be shit. Myself especially. I want to be awesome immediately. The day after Marathon, I cried when someone trotted past my car in their 2014 finishers tee and I couldn’t even stand myself up. I literally wanted to run before I could walk.

Now. I’m not saying I’m not awesome at some stuff. I’m very skilled at The Sitting and The Watching of Telly and Sleeping and Beer Drinking and Chat. And I am pretty good at The Day Job. But. Sometimes things (running) just don’t come naturally. Especially to a long-term sofa dweller like me.

And I’m only really now beginning to learn that this is actually ok.

My recent and slow comeback to running has been pot-holed with painful setbacks and the kind of stupidity that makes you hate yourself.

“Oh my knee hurts, oh I’ll just keep running and maybe if I go a little faster it will realise it’s actually fine and oh no it’s worse”

Yeah.

Also, I have some lovely friends who give me amazing advice. Experienced advice. That I often ignore. Not on purpose, because I’m not a total dick. It’s just that obviously, I know better.

Ahem. (Incidentally, if you’re reading this and thinking “You bitch. I gave you advice…” then don’t sweat it. I usually learn the hard way and you get to be all smug and correct and stuff)

To conclude: I’ve decided that I cannot learn patience. I am instead learning how to understand that, if I can’t be patient, I have to deal with the ensuing fallout. And what is worse? Giving myself a couple of days rest or getting the fuck back out there and ruining my chances of improving?

Exactly.