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. ❤️

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…..) 

“You’re In”

In a moment of madness, and perhaps hysteria, I entered the VLM 2017 Ballot the day it opened. I was still high on the buzz of finishing VLM2016 in one piece and being able to walk immediately afterwards. Of COURSE I’d do it again. Who WOULDN’T?

It’s SUCH a difficult ballot. People try for years to get in. People also enter knowing full well they don’t really want to do it or couldn’t commit to training for what is an incredibly tough challenge and then get in. Proper waste if they decide not to nut up. (The less we say about those gits the better…) So I’d basically decided I wasn’t getting in. I hadn’t opted to pay on application (because I’d recently lost my job) so I didn’t double my chances. I’d applied and been rejected for 2015 so I just assumed I wouldn’t get a place.

It wasn’t until the week before last when my pal reminded me the results were due out that I began to worry that I would get in. I have set my sights on a 10km swim in June and training for that will be tough enough. I remember how utterly killer marathon training is. Especially through winter. It’s bloody tough. You need proper balls.

Still. I wasn’t getting in.

vlm2017

Oh.

OH!

Shit.

Ok. Wow. Wasn’t expecting that. How amazing?! Was I going to pass on this opportunity? Was I fuck. London, Baby!!!!!! I’d already seen so many wasted ballot places that I was never EVER going to turn down this incredible event. Turn down the opportunity to run over Tower Bridge? Down Birdcage Walk? Turn down the opportunity to earn my third marathon medal? No. I was not passing up this chance.

Not only did I inexplicably get a place, but Michelle, fellow Team Painless athlete and mega bad-ass, FINALLY got in after five attempts. So we immediately booked our hotel and flights. I can’t believe that I’m sitting here, less than a week after receiving my magazine and paying for my place, with plane tickets and a hotel reservation for London next April.

Of course, now the all-too-familiar hard work begins. With a better base than ever. Training Peaks has me at my fittest EVER so lets flipping keep it that way, yeah?!

It’s going to be a helluva challenge to fit this in with swimming and strength work as well as having enough flexibility in my training plan to have FUN and take days off now and then.

But……. VLM2017 – – – – I am coming to GET YOU.

The Dark. 

“I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” – Galileo 

I’ve never been a big fan of the dark. I’d happily stargaze forever but I couldn’t do it alone. When I was little, grandad would tell me that it’s never *really* dark. There’s always light to be found if you know where to look for it. That’s true of the sky and that’s true of life. 

Sometimes it gets very dark. And I’m not talking about the winter. Or when you flick a switch in your living room. I’m talking about the type of dark that encircles you. Makes you feel isolated and scared. Makes you feel embarrassed and ungrateful. And makes you want to just lie down and not move. It can come all of a sudden or you can spot it lurking on the horizon and, despite your best efforts to stave it off, it just gets you by the scruff of the neck anyway. 

Over the years, you learn to ride out storms. You try to learn how to know the signs. Sometimes you need someone to show you the best path. Sometimes you need a hand to pick apart your puzzle and help you figure it out. Sometimes you just need to sit in silence with a hand squeezing yours. 

Sometimes it feels like it will never get light again. Sometimes it hurts more to find light than to remain in the dark. But here’s the thing: it will always get light again. It is always there. Even if you don’t look for it it will find its way to you. 

You might, over time, learn to accept the dark. To understand it and not to fear it quite so much. 

As Galileo said of the night, you might learn not to fear the dark so much. You might find your light in the dark. 

Often, darkness has a stigma whereby acknowledging its existence makes you weak. But you’re the opposite of weak. Remember that when you pull yourself out of it for the millionth time. 

Although everyone has light and dark in their lives, it varies. And some are unaffected by their dark. That doesn’t make you less of a whole person. It’s all relative. Remember that. Your battle is yours. 

You are not weak. And it doesn’t stay dark forever. 

Great Scottish Run 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

El Magico Fifty. 

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

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

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

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

Frosty morning. 

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

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

The walk to the start. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nice, that Lucozade stuff…. 

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

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

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

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

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

2:07.39

Nailed it. NAILED IT. 

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

*agonised

**death-shuffle 

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

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

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

That was hard, hard work. 

But. 

Amazing. 

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

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

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

365 days

I would consider 365 of most things to be ‘a lot’. Other than donuts. That, my friend, is a challenge. Or hobnobs. Or peanut butter cornetto’s….. I digress… A lot can happen in that many days. But equally, it’s not a lot of days. It certainly doesn’t feel like that long since I tackled my first ever triathlon. 

Much has happened in the days, weeks and months since August 16th 2015: about 8 Big Macs in the immediate aftermath, for a start. Then a not non-serious back injury, chest infections, ruptured hip flexor, subsequent evil French Physio, his elbows, redundancy, London Marathon, numerous 10ks and a new job. 

It was Facebook that alerted me to this milestone memory. “You have memories”, was the reassuring notification this morning. Glad to see I’ll still have the ability to recount tales from my past should my cognitive functions ever be compromised. 

 I thought about it for a bit. Wondering if it was really that big a deal. Cringing at my gushy, triumphant blog. And then I snapped out of that. It’s easy to discount an event once it’s done. Once the rose tinted glasses have gone on. Once you’ve tactfully removed memories of almost peeing on your beautiful carbon bike, crying at 15km into your run, mainlining brownies while lying on the floor, bursting into tears when you saw your mummy and punching yourself square in the jaw during the swim exit. 

I am very lucky (#blessed 💁🏻) to be surrounded by wonderfully accomplished friends. I have ironfolk who inspire me all of the time. When we chat about their achievements, it makes my Wee 70.3 (and I’ve still only done ONE tri!!! Been busy with other shiz innit) seem a bit…. Well….. Wee. And to be honest nothing else has appealed to me as being worth getting my hair wet for. 

But at the time it took over my life. I didn’t just want to survive it, I wanted to do it as best I could. And I did. I put in one of my best ever swims.  I couldn’t have pushed any harder on my bike or I’d have done worse than piss on Stella. By 18km in to the run I literally had nothing left. My bro in law had to drag me to the finish. 

I trained 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day for MONTHS. I ate upwards of 3000kcals on big training days (fucking BLISS, by the way. Yes. Yes I will have that piece of cake. AND THAT ONE. And I’ll have an extra side of JAM PLEASE.) 

It was a MASSIVE achievement. Seventy miles. That’s fucking FAR. and there were bastard hills as well. So it’s not like I could cruise it either! 

My little legs took me a long way. And continue to take me long ways. Even my arms are getting stuck in now, with hopefully a 5km swim in a couple of weeks. 

I guess my point is this; while it’s good to focus on the future, and your past will always fade a bit with time, never forget the journey. Because the journey is what makes you who you are. (Deep. As. Fuck) 

Once you’ve finished cleaning up the vomit I’ll continue…..

I’m stronger, more resilient, faster, fitter and much much more determined. I also give fewer fucks about what other people think. Which is a new development for me. Miss Cares What Every Body Thinks. 
I know I can do things. I don’t even care remotely how fast or slow they are unless I’m comparing them to my own effort because, let’s face it, very few of us are pros. So what’s the actual point in getting worked up about age group positions when actually what you’ve achieved compared to your own efforts is nothing short of miraculous. 

Aberfeldy changed me. And I love that I pushed myself to do that. So today I am INCREDIBLY proud of myself.

If it looks like shit and smells like shit…. It’s probably shit. 

So about 3 weeks ago, two of my colleagues, who are also mental, decided to convince me to enter the Spartan Sprint race in Edinburgh. 

“It’s just a few obstacles and it’s only 6km” turned out to be the two biggest lies I’ve been told in my adult life. 

The clues were in the waiver we all had to sign. There was an actual list of things that could kill you or “cause serious illness” such as “ingesting faeces”, “burns” and “animal bites and stings”. Oh tremendous. 

On a cloudy Saturday, me and the guys headed to a wee farm just outside Edinburgh and realised we’d be running up a LOT of hills. 

After a hilarious warmup and some burpees, we were let loose. 

We realised pretty quickly that it was absolutely unquestionably not “only 6km.” Looking at strava routes recorded by people brave enough to use Garmins, it’s sitting between 8.5-10.5km. And 23 obstacles varying from jumping into neck-deep vats of slurry (“GUYS WTF IS THIS SURELY ITS NOT ACTUAL SHIT???” “Mate if it looks like shit and smells like shit… It’s probably shit!”) and carrying 30kg of gravel in a slippy bucket.  Fucking brutal. 

Lots and lots of climbing, scrambling and literally being dragged up a hill by Owen while shouting Eminem lyrics at each other. 

My biggest moment of glory? Throwing a fucking spear at a fucking target and nailing it. Perfectly. 

Low points? Getting Actual Shit in my mouth (currently awaiting the onset of diphtheria) Tearing holes in the Arse of my leggings and my back on barbed wire, ending up backwards exiting the barbed wire crawl while pissing myself laughing, getting stuck in a queue on the log carry because the obstacles were so tough to negotiate and everyone was having to take it slowly, having to lug 20-30kg of gravel up a HILL in a fucking bucket which about broke my back, failing a rope climb miserably and having to do 30 burpees. Losing the skin on my heel within the first 3 km. 

High points? Rapping Eminem on the side of a Pentland hill, swimming in shit, lots and lots of jumping in freezing streams, getting mud wiped all over my face, throwing actual shit at my mate, helping fellow competitors over and under obstacles, climbing a rope ladder on top of a hill, letting gravity pull me down the hills, getting told where the “girls weights” were and shouting “NAH FUCK IT” while lifting a “boys weight” 40kg kettle bell right up to the top of the frame, Bossing some monkey bars, and finishing it all with my buddy. Who I managed to kick in the face. Soz. 

Time is virtually irrelevant in a race like that. 2hrs 7 minutes for us with over 550m of elevation gain and 23 obstacles, a lot of walking and wading through thigh deep mud. And 20 minutes of that 2 hours was spent waiting for the log carry obstacle. I was 75th female out of 373 and 18th out of 82 30-34 year olds. Absolutely chuffed to bits with that and loved the whole experience (sort of). 

Owen, former marine, was absolutely the person to get me round the course, giving me the best ways to complete the obstacles and not die. Although I nearly killed him afterwards when he told me he found it easy. I suppose anything is easier if you’re not being shot at! 

I managed to get to the penultimate obstacle before throwing a teeny tiny strop. 3 angled wooden ramps angled backwards towards you so that you couldn’t get purchase on them to climb. My arms had literally nothing left. I just. Could. Not. Do it. I had to rely on leg-ups to get me over them and then again for the last 3 wooden walls. It was here I managed to pull myself up so severely that I have bruises in places I didn’t think it was possible to bruise… 

The final wee jump was over ACTUAL FIRE! We crossed the line triumphant and while a wifey in a dry robe shouted “YOU. ARE. SPARTANS.” Bloody amazing. You’re handed the most outrageously chunky medal and some SiS stuff to refuel. 

After the run, the need to shower was strong. This meant marching into a stream of FREEZING water with a bunch of men shouting “pass the soap, lads” and being watched by those sensible enough not to bother with the whole horrid affair. 

The changing tent was a dark, harrowing place. I had to bin everything. Literally everything including my sports bra. It was a brutal retirement for my old, worn out Asics GT1000s. Trying to get my clothes back on to wet skin in a low-ceilinged, dark tent was an experience not for the faint hearted or impatient. I tell thee. I punched myself in the face a few times and there was actual mud in my belly button. 

The whole event was bloody brilliant. It was ridiculously expensive when we first entered but you get a LOT for your cash. Free race photography (it remains to be seen how absolutely WRECKED I look in the photos), gels and water at two stations, incredible support from marshals, a bloody amazing medal and t shirt plus the whole thing is run seamlessly. We had a GREAT time. 

What did I learn about myself? I’m tougher and stronger than I gave myself credit for. I’m a determined wee fucker when I want to be. And I CAN do difficult things if I really bloody grit my teeth. 

I’ve also discovered that I adore the freedom of running off-piste. It’s inspired me to sort myself out with some decent trail shoes and find some hills to crawl up. 

In the mean time, I can add SPARTAN to my title. 💪🏻


The Familiar Twinge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest it is, then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*insert mermaid emoji here*

It is hard to describe the cold shock of open water swimming. Imagine an air temperature of 12-15 degrees. Not that cold, is it? You probably need a hoodie but not a coat…

12-15 degrees (Celsius. Not farenheight, Americans) feels*quite* different in water. 

Growing up in an old house, I’m familiar with how cold the shower goes when someone turns on a hot tap somewhere in the house. This felt like 4-5 degrees at the time. Actually it was probably closer to 12-15.

For those of you lucky enough never to have experienced Showerus Interruptus, I can only liken the shock of the cold against your skin to accidentally planting a bare arse cheek against cold shower glass at 6am on a Tuesday. The “FUCKSAKESTHATSCOLD” dance. Except you can’t escape. Because you’re getting into a Loch to swim for a mile.

So! Fresh from my dismay and subsequent relief of a shortened swim at Aberfeldy Middle Distance two weeks previously, I was very excited to give my wetsuit what will probably be its farewell for 2015. And what better place to celebrate a year of athletic adventure than Loch Lomond.

I’ve always been a fish. I swam competitively from the age of “small” and I have a large box of gold medals, ribbons and certificates somewhere. I guess I was just a natural. Like a wind up toy that starts kicking and pulling as soon as you let it go. I LOVED swimming and then did it so much that the love dwindled and the flame flickered out for 10 years.

A whole 1/3 of my life later, I’ve rekindled the flame. And it’s wonderful.

I have a buddy who’s done the Great Scottish Swim for YEARS (he’s really old) and he’d waxed lyrical about it so much that I promised myself, as a post Feldy present to me from me, I’d enter and swim the mile if I was uninjured. I AM uninjured. Happy days!

You can swim 1/2mile, 1 mile, 2 miles or 5k. I *could* have done 2 miles. But cold. And I’m not insane enough for 5km. 1 mile it was. And I loved every chilly second.

My other half realised at Feldy that if you’re not particularly in to the type of sport you’re watching, waiting 4 hours for your girlfriend to finish is BORING. So I knew he’d probably sooner drink loch water than watch people swim in it for ages. I came up with an idea that he and his dad could take their cyclocrosses up the West Loch Lomond cycle route while I swam and faffed about. This worked out well. They had fun. And although the beastly headwind held them up on the way back (not that I was worried at all…) the scenery was gorgeous. Good plan, Bean.

As I changed in the tent, a girl came in with her friend who hadn’t coped with the cold at all. It took about 4 layers of coats and towels and 3 of us rubbing her feet and back under a hot air blower to make her start to feel human. She was lovely. I hope she’s ok now. That’s what the cold does to some.

Changed and ready, I ditched my bags and headed to the start.

I was in the 11.30 Orange wave. We were called to check-in, numbers written on our hands, chips beeped and let into the starting pen. Cameras filmed us, all rubber clad in our silly hats, the presenter was chatting away to us all. It was calm! Then they announced that Acclimatisation was open. You’re allowed in a bit to get a feel for the cold. Did anyone step forward? Did they fuck. Except Bean.

“Excuse me. Step aside. Thank you”

Ever the pro. I jumped in and it was fine. IT WAS FINE. (It was fucking FREEZING) It’s always a shock. I splash my face and neck first. But the bit where it goes down your back is the WORST. Ok. In. Quick splash. Quick float. Out.

Then 10 minutes of trying not to get cold back in the start pen.

Ross Murdoch and Robbie Renwick started our wave. That was ace. I watched the swimming at the commonwealth games and the Olympics religiously. They were interviewed, wished us luck and fired the air horns to start our wave.

There were some clearly very experienced and speedy looking swimmers in my wave. So I kept wide and to the middle.

This turned out to be shite planning because a lot of the “speedsters” we’re, in fact, total pansies that got to the water and did a weird mini breaststroke thing. I had to pick my way through two dozen or so of them before I found some clear water and got on with the business of swimming.

It was so busy in the start chute that at one point a man stood up and shouted “NO” at someone who’d swum over him.

I didn’t notice the cold after 100m or so. I got into my rhythm pretty quick. Pull pull pull breathe right, pull pull pull breathe left. Minimal kicking. Save the legs. I was overtaking. Lots of overtaking. I was approaching a neon wetsuit who, when I was to his left about 4 ft behind must have switched to Breastroke as I suddenly received a kick to the chest so violent that I got a lung full of water and had to take a minute to calm the fuck down.

Once over the shock, I battled on. Sighting every 12th breath or so. I spotted what I thought was the turn buoy. I’d been swimming for what felt like eternity. It’s a funny almost rectangular shaped course. 1 lap is all. Easy. But that turn buoy turned out to be just a course marker and I still had the same distance to swim again. Bollocks.

By the time I reached the turn buoy, the waves were making me feel a bit pukey. Id never swum so far out in such a deep loch before. The course at Loch Tay was short and pretty shallow so there wasn’t a swell. The waves weren’t high but you could feel them building. As I turned to swim across the loch to the half way buoy, the waves were hitting my left side. I switched to right side breathing every fourth stroke and that kept me calm and balanced. Breathing every two strokes is too frequent for me. I’m a calm swimmer. Despite my splashy sprints, over long distance I like to slow my stroke down.

The half way buoy appeared and I knew I could finally start to push speed a bit. I kicked a bit more and concentrated on pulling myself through the water with some strength. I had to dodge swimmers who were from two waves previous to mine. And then two kayaks helping someone who’d come into difficulty. When I spotted the finish buoys and timing pontoon I knew it was time to hit the accelerator. I engaged my actually pretty strong kick and overtook 4-5 people before stumbling out of the loch, rather unglamorously to to beep my chip, confirm my name (which I almost forgot through water confusion) and find my finishers pack.

I asked, and was told my time. Which I immediately forgot. And then staggered deliriously to the changing tent in a torrential downpour to get warm and dry.

Once dressed, I checked my phone and discovered that Ironman was about somewhere. @ironpugsley was swimming the 5k (certifiably insane) so I wandered off to find him. Yet again it was the Oakleys I spotted first. Big hug. Lovely catch up. Brilliant. I showed off my bling and let slip that id turned up to an event in my Aberfeldy finishers tshirt WHICH I STILL HATE THAT I CANNOT WEAR TO WORK. After a good laugh and some encouragement for my mental friend, I began the 10 mile hike to the car.

The boys had had a fun adventure and were both pretty shattered which meant I volunteered to drive Mike’s BMW home. Fun!

Everyone got a nap except me, I think. And it’s 6am the following day and I’m STILL buzzing.

Because I wasn’t shit. I checked my time when I got back. 34:42. That’s ok! 115th. Oh. There were only a couple of hundred in my wave.

Wait. It’s out of 1000??? Oh!!! And 20th in my gender age? Out of how many? 187?

Bloody hell.

What if I hadn’t been kicked? Or placed myself further up the pack??!! Or stopped to take in the view?

Amazing.

Best day out. Loved every second. Next year I’ll consider two miles. Maybe.

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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.