First off all the trigger warnings for talk of babies and traumatic labours. Second off this is my story with no fault or blame to be placed on anyone, least myself. Lastly this will not be everyones cup of tea and that’s ok, you have been warned read if you want and don’t if you don’t
On a routine check a few days before my due date my midwife said ‘so I can see your induction has been booked for Sunday’. I was shocked as no one had told me I was being induced, and especially not in 4 days. I explained how confused I was and she said she’d call the hospital to make sure it wasn’t a mistake. They confirmed my consultant had requested my induction and at 39 weeks pregnant, on my own in the room I said ok then. Assuming that if my consultant had asked for it, it was needed. Attending these appointments alone had become a normality in my pregnancy, but not having my partners brain available at this last stage to push and ask the hard questions was the start of a series of unfortunate events that lead to a very difficult birth.
On Sunday James and I turned up to hospital for my booked induction at 10am, we had been told he could be there for the induction only to have him turned away at the door. Due to covid I had to go it alone. I kissed him and nervously walked in to a room where I was left alone. A midwife entered and told me I was early (i wasn’t), she said I should have been called and told that my induction was delayed (I hadn’t). So I sat in a room on my own, well me and bump and waited. I waited 2 an a half hours and then a consultant came in. He told me what would happen, I had read online that I could go home in-between my induction and active labour, I asked if I could and he said no, due to covid I would have to go to the ward. I should have gone home.
I had a balloon inserted at lunch time and was told that it was to be removed in 12 hours. I went to the ward and settled in. Tried to get some sleep, walked around the hospital and got ready for the midnight, 1am call up. I knew once I went through to delivery Jim could be with me and I wanted him there so badly. Midnight came and went and nothing happened. I called for a midwife, ‘oh don’t worry you are next’. I called my husband excited. At 4am the woman across from me in the ward was taken through. I called the midwife ‘oh no, no one should have told you that, you won’t be taken through till shift handover at 8am’. I was so sad, I called Jim and told him to rest up and to come in at 8am. 8am came and went I called for a midwife again. ‘It’s very busy, it might be a while’. I broke down. I knew I had a 24 hour window for the balloon to be removed. I explained this meant I had a mere few hours left, I felt like I was a ticking time bomb and I was quite quickly dismissed.
I called Jim in tears, alone in hospital and scared. He called in to complain, which did prompt some response. With 20 minutes to go before my time was up two consultants came to my bedside to explain the options. If they take the balloon out they have 2 hours to break my waters or we have to start again and they’re not sure they have space for me in delivery, or they leave the balloon in and it’s unlikely to do any harm. I was in tears, what does unlikely mean?! Is this my choice? Is this your choice? The two consultants had a debate (aka argument) in front of me fighting for each side and settled on leaving it in, I didn’t have a say, I’m not even sure they knew I was there by the end of it. I sat tired, deflated, heartbroken, the exact opposite of the zen calm state I should be in for a positive labour. I was so tired and deflated, I just sat staring at the wall wondering if this was all normal, if I was over-reacting?!
27 hours went by from my induction and I was finally called through to delivery. I called Jim straight away, he was there in minutes. I hugged him so hard. My waters were broken and now we were underway. Except we weren’t. We then had to wait another 4 hours for the synthetic drip to start, again delivery was too busy and our doctor was needed elsewhere. I totally understand emergencies need their attention, but we were left in a room for 4 hours with no information. This was valuable time when I could have been sleeping or resting but instead we just sat waiting. I had now been awake for the best part of 32 hours.
At shift handover we got our midwives who would stay with us until our baby girl was here and despite what unfolded they were an incredible team. Once my drip was started things went downhill pretty quickly. My contractions had started before the synthetic hormone was administered, and the influx of drugs made our little ladie’s heart rate drop. To the scary point of emergency buttons being pushed and teams of medical professionals being in the room. I have never been so scared in all my life and the team of people by my side instantly was incredibly reassuring.
The next hurdle was my heart murmur, something I had told my midwife at my very first appointment but had caused no concern up until this point. In came some more consultants who asked why I hadn’t told anyone about it, strong accusation in their voices. In between very strong contractions, and a medical team attaching monitors to the babies head inside me, I told them I had, and no one had been concerned. They clearly did not believe me. They were clearly concerned! I was then hooked up to an ECG and had god knows how many blood tests taken. A particular low was someone trying to get blood out of my hand whilst I was having strong contractions, and just poking me over and over again and unable to get anything from me. I think I said something like ‘please can you just do that another time’. By this point I was in a bad way. I had a fever and had been being quite sick. I’d contracted an infection, a bad one and I was at high risk of passing it to the baby. I was extremely tired and asked for an epidural which was administered quickly and professionally, and allowed me to get some much needed rest.
I was woken to the news that it was time to push, still feverish, still shaking, still broken. I had said all along that I didn’t want my epidural to numb me completely I wanted to be able to move and feel some of what was going on. I think this was helpful for what came next. First time mothers are given 2 hours to push before intervention is offered. I was told that due to my heart condition I would be allotted 30 minutes or it would be the slice me open approach. I honestly thought fuck that, I am not going through everything I’ve just been through to not push this baby out of me so that’s what I did. I was allowed 47 minutes in the end to get her out, and I was so proud of myself in that moment. There is so much stigma around epidurals, as if you have one then you have somehow cheated in labour, I can wholeheartedly say I didn’t cheat or take the easy way out. I gave everything I had and if it wasn’t for that needle in my back I really don’t know what would have happened.
I would love to say things improved from there, but the next few days were the loneliest and hardest of my life. Alone on a ward to recover from a serious infection, hooked up to an IV and taking care of a newborn who was also poorly, with just a 45 minute visit from my partner. Visiting hours restricted due to covid. I hoped this restriction meant that the teams that were there to take care of us all would be able to really support the women and babies, but that was not my experience. I will not go into all the poor treatment I felt we received in hospital but to give a flavour on our second night I was in floods of tears at 3 am with a screaming newborn begging, and I mean actually begging, a midwife to help me get just 20 minutes of sleep. I was broken, alone, scared, anxious, extremely ill, and a new mum. The day I got discharged was the happiest day, recovering at home so much easier and simpler, support from my partner felt like a miracle. But none of that should be a miracle, women should be able to have all the support they need after giving birth.
From that moment although we settled well in to home life and our recovery increased. The support for us as a new family continued to be non-existent. The lack of support for the women especially was so paramount. What other major trauma do you go through where you have no follow up?! My husband had more checks following his broken leg than I had after pushing out a near 9lb baby with a world of complications. The one check-up supposedly for you, is purely focussed around contraception. An actual joke that doesn’t consider the woman and her bleeding, broken, disfigured genitalia, but instead assumes that her priority is to please her partner once again. The idea that women need to ‘bounce back’ quickly from pregnancy really is ingrained in our medical professionals almost as much as it is portrayed on social media.
Following the birth I felt like I had failed. I’d done the hypnobirthing, I’d followed the breathing and positive affirmations and nice music and it didn’t work for me, did I do it wrong?! There was only places to write and share your positive birth story, no one wanted to hear my negative birth story, but I wanted to talk about it. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “but she’s here now and healthy” a very true and well meaning statement, yet it’s a dismissive one, one that says your pain doesn’t matter, you are not important here. Something I personally feel a lot of as a new mum, suddenly your needs are second in every which way to your beautiful new babies.
So here it is, my very negative birth story, a catharsis for myself. And a message to anyone who needs to know that however your baby came out of you, I’m in actual awe. You are the most incredible, strong, beautiful women and if you feel cheated by covid, I do too. I’m loving my baby girl, I’m loving being a mum but I am still grieving for a normal pregnancy, a normal birth, a normal recovery – whatever that is…
I will leave you with this. I know my baby girl will grow up to be a strong woman, because she was born in to a time that demanded the most strength from her mother and all the women that have delivered during this pandemic.
I’ve wanted to write this for a while, but haven’t really been able to. I’m not sure why, a part of me thinks maybe it’s for fear of some sort of back lash and the other part of me thinks it’s because I don’t want to make anyone who is going through the journey of trying to have a baby feel like shit. We stopped and started our journey to pregnancy a fair bit, life is not simple, and getting pregnant even less simple! They don’t tell you that bit in school… So I guess if you’re struggling this is your warning I’ll be talking a fair bit about the baby bear, and I totally understand if it is just not what you want to read. There was definitely a time when I couldn’t bring myself to look at anything to do with someone else’s very happy news, and if that makes me a bitch so be it.
I rocked up to the start line of the New York city marathon 8 weeks pregnant, I had ummed and ahhed about if I should do it or not a fair bit, I read articles and spoke to the limited people I could about what I should do, but in the end it would have to be a personal choice for James and I to make. The reason I say James is because this is his baby too and I needed us both to be comfortable with that choice. He luckily has always trusted me to do the right thing. Even when I had a freak out the day before and I called him to ask what I should do, he said “don’t be silly you know what you’re doing here”, and he was right. The professionals tend to say If you’re active prior to getting pregnant then staying active to a similar level (without pushing yourself) is considered a ok, and if you’re not active well it’s probably not the best time to start. Not a doctor in any way, so this is just me rambling off what I’ve read or been told. I would say there isn’t really a lot of advice to be given on endurance sport during pregnancy out there, which I think is a bit of a shame. The advice you get given from doctors also seems to be largely dependent if they themselves are active. I guess we are all subject to a bit of personal life bias. There was always going to be risks associated, but I felt there were already so many risks just from me sitting still, I wasn’t and couldn’t let being pregnant stop me from being.
I was in New York with my lovely friend, Luisa. She was one of the few people who knew about my news, from a safety point of view, and also because I was being sick most mornings/afternoons/evenings. I had told her before we travelled, and let her know if she would rather go with someone else less pregnant then that was cool, luckily she was happy to have us along still.
It was early and we were nervous, but the organisation had been spot on. We had got the bus over to Staten Island and it was super slick. Arriving at the start there was food, hot drinks and even therapy dogs, and we just found a spot to chill and have our breakfast. Before we knew it we were in our start pen, where there were porter loos for any last minute nervous wees, and the bins to chuck your keep warm clothes. New York New York being blasted from the speakers at the start was super emotional, this was/is the greatest marathon in the world! Luisa and I wanted to start together even though we knew we would lose each other instantly. Her going after Sub 4 and me going after slow and steady.
You start by running over the Verrazano bridge with it’s incredible views of the city, this is a view like no other. Helicopters fly along side you and it is just the most epic start to a race I’ve ever had. A total of 5 bridges would be crossed over the 26.2 and believe it or not this is a decent incline. New York, as it turns out, is far from flat. Quite a lot of people stopped on the bridge to take a selfie with the view, I was a little disappointed by this. Call me old fashioned but I think there are just some moments that should be locked in your memory forever, not in your phones camera roll.
Off the bridge and into Brooklyn as the crowds roared “WELCOME TO BROOKLYN”. When I say roared I mean roared, running through the streets of Brooklyn was my favourite part of this race, I have never heard noise like it. The crowds were already 10 deep, there was music everywhere, people everywhere, dogs everywhere and I was loving life. My favourite soectator was a little baby in a chicken costume, mumma holding a sign saying ‘good cluck’.
I spoke to the baby bear all the way round, fully aware it has no ability to be able to hear me. I narrated what I was seeing, and just checking in with my body to make sure it was happy with what I was doing. I walked the hills and stayed around a 10.30 minute mile through out, some of the downhills maybe a little quicker. I ran past gospel choirs, high fived the NYPD and had the most intense experience of enjoying everything a marathon is about when it just simply can’t be about speed and grinding your body in to the ground (something I also love).
At about 15 miles you come to the Queensboro bridge, this is a really weird one because the bridge is long and silent, all you can hear is the feet of runners pounding the road. You know you’re about to hit Manhattan, and you know it’s about to go insane. It’s a really calming moment to take in everything you’ve just seen and prepare yourself for that final 10 miles, however this incline is one of the biggest and hardest of the day. As you come off the bridge you can feel the noise building, yep you actually feel it in your bones. And if you thought Brooklyn was loud, Manhattan is just another level. The crowds are huge, lining first avenue with signs and shouts. Not gonna lie I was pretty dead here, running a marathon, not easy! Running a marathon pregnant, also not easy! I stuck with my plan and when it felt too much I walked, and I probably spent a fair bit of the last 10 miles in a quick stroll. Anything that felt like an incline basically, which was quite a lot.
The last 10 miles of the NYC marathon are not easy, it is hilly in places and the bronx doesn’t have the best support. It is still good, but the problem is you have been so spoilt throughout the rest of the route, especially with that stretch through manhattan. It all just starts to feel flat and a little slow, as you start to feel the same.
Once you reach central park though however it is all change again. I cried from the moment I entered the park to the finish line. The park is undulating, but I actually ran the whole thing. I loved the rolling ups and downs, the ups were never long and the downs felt incredible. I loved the crowds, I loved the greenery, I loved the fact I was so close to the finish, but most of all I loved the fact I listened to myself and did this thing with our baby growing away nicely inside me.
I’ve done this 26.2 a fair few times, but crossing this finish line really was everything!!
The organisation here unfortunately gets a bit of a bad rep from me. Walking for what felt like miles to get to the poncho exit, there was a bit of confusion about poncho handouts. This led to a crowd ruckus, which I obviously was not going to get involved in, so instead I had to wait over an hour to pick up my poncho, by that point I was freezing.
I got my poncho, got my friend and gave her the biggest hug. I knew she would be gutted (not my story to tell), but I had been tracking her the whole route and was super proud of what she had done!
We walked 30 something blocks back to our hotel, getting all the love from the locals. Picked up some $2 slices of pizza, laid in bed eating and watching disney movies. It was bliss.
I’ve never been prouder of my body, for creating a human, creating a safe space for this little person to grow, and for allowing me to still be me (to some degree). I know there will be people out there who couldn’t think I was more stupid for running, but honestly the only voice you ever need to listen to is your own. It will let you know what the right thing to do is.
Marathon 22 was all for you!
This is going to be long, not as long as it would’ve been mind, but bear with me none the less. I’ve tried to write this a few times and I’m concerned there isn’t a way to do it without me sounding over dramatic. But after a lovely comment from someone about my blogs I thought it best I write it, rather than just keep burying it under the carpet with the rest of my emotions (see dramatic)!
I’d spent the last 9 months of my life, dreaming, thinking, obsessing over every detail of this day. Everything I ate, everything I read, everything I did outside of my proper job and my other not so proper job (here’s looking at you Run Things) was in preparation for this moment. I’d done the training, rehearsed the route, read countless books, and watched the previous years races. I was ready, or as ready as I’d ever be. Turns out in all the countless hours, days, weeks, months of obsessing and planning, i’d missed out one key element, what the hell I’d do if it was cancelled…
My alarm went off a little after 3 and I got up to make my three breakfasts. That sounds excessive I know, but it was gonna be a long day and I’m not great at eating big meals at the best of times and especially not on race day. So I had my routine starting at 3:30 and ending somewhere around 5:30, consisting of 3 smaller breakfasts that would get me to the intake I needed, without me puking from force-feeding. Rocking up at the start line of outlaw 2019, I was more nervous than i’d ever been, much more nervous than my 1st marathon. The thing about a big triathlon like outlaw is that all the transition and change areas are on lock down to competitors only. So I left my sister to go and load up my bike with all it’s gear, nutrition and computer. I’d downloaded the bike course so I didn’t get lost, and Jim had spent the evening carefully prepping all my food in to bite sized chunks, perfectly measured so that I was fuelled to perfection by the time the run came about. I then got ready in to my wetsuit, still all on my own. I was so proud of myself for this bit. I know it sounds stupid, but walking into that change tent alone where almost everyone looked professional, comfortable, and seemed to have a friend or club mate to talk with. I just did what I had to do and made sure I had enough time to pop back out past security and give my peoples a hug.
I returned to wait by the waters edge, still not having a soul to chat with. I recited mantras in my head and took big deep breaths until we were ushered in. This was a deep water start, essentially you all get in to the water a few minutes from the start to just bob around, rather than all running/jumping in when the horn goes. This was good for me, it meant I could do all the things I’d been taught to help keep panic at bay, acclimatise! I did a few strokes, held my head under the water, flushed my wetsuit through, and kept my heart rate elevated.
I had a strategy which was to start at the back and stick close to the bank so my sighting was easy and therefore panic wasn’t an issue. My panic attacks in open water have been a bit of an unexpected hurdle of this journey. I love swimming and I’m actually pretty good at it, but the sighting and temperature issues in open water really do stress my mind out. The rain was coming down pretty heavy now as the countdown started. We were off and I was straight in to front crawl. I soon realised that what I thought was the back was somehow the middle and I was in the thick of it, nowhere near the safety of the bank, and with terrible visibility due to the rain. I bobbed up and down and focussed on my breathing, I just had to let all the crazy go by, but it never really did. It was so busy and I had to get moving. It was so hard to get into a rhythm, every-time someone kicked or knocked me I’d panic and have to breast stroke it out. It wasn’t until the return of our first lap that I was able to get in to the position I wanted, with the bank to my side I felt comfortable in front crawl and everything starter to go so much better.
By the time I was exiting the water for the start of lap two I was in a good place, happy with my time and feeling positive. Then the news, I heard the announcer say that the bike leg had been cancelled, I was really confused. I didn’t know if I should be getting back in the water or if it was all over. Other people were getting back in the water so I just followed. It was super tough to stop my head from going in to overdrive, but I thought I just need to get the swim done and then I could figure out what was happening, who knew maybe it would be back on by the time I got out. I’d always wanted to put a decent buffer between myself and the bike cut off by having a good swim and I knew I was on track for that. The second lap was much better, much quicker and zero panics. I exited the water to Jim telling me the bike had been cancelled, he asked if I was going to run and I said yes. Next up was Kev who asked a similar thing. Having had my initial instantaneous reaction of yes, I asked Kev for his advice which I really value, he said it was up to me and either way was the right call. I followed with probably the most insightful and pragmatic thing I’ve ever said “I can only do what they put in front of me, right?!” and off I went into the changing tent.
Little did I know it would be another 90 minutes before I would run.
I had an hour and a half between the swim and the bike, I know so many people who had even longer as they had to stagger us as they’d never imagined to have over 1000 people starting the run at one time. This wait was pretty tough, all the highs of a good swim soon drained and the reality set in that I was gonna have to run a marathon now, I wasn’t ready for it, didn’t think I deserved it. I busied myself in the transition tent. I got fully changed out of my trisuit as it seemed like a good idea not to stay soggy for the whole time. I chatted to some people, there were lots of tears and I just tried to focus on anything but that fact I wasn’t going to be an ironperson today.
Soon enough I was on the start line, I wasn’t even excited. I tried to psyche my self up with the music, but some how I felt like i’d cheated. I wasn’t meant to be on this start line, not yet. They let the runners off in 5 second intervals as they hadn’t expected to be in a position where so many people would all be running at the same time. People were talking about how they would try for PB runs, but I hadn’t trained for that. I’d specifically picked an ironman to get my head out of speed and times on the run, my focus throughout training, my game plan for the mara, was to run the first lap (10 miles ish), and then see how I felt. Intersperse the running with walking from that point on. I’d done one slow 20 in training and a handful of halves. My focus had purposefully been on the swim/cycle elements, especially focussed on running off the bike. None of that mattered now, I just had to do it.
We started and I decided to try and stay below the 10 minute mile mark for the entirety, running a 4 something marathon seemed realistic on the little training I’d done for this bit. I got chatting to a lady at about 2 miles in and we stuck together for the next 16 which really did help shift the time. The route is not inspiring, it is laps (x 4) of the lake and an out and back along the river (x2). The weather was atrocious, the paths were essentially mud baths and everything was drenched. Trail shoes would have been an advantage. At this point I should have been riding the wave of killer legs, and shear joy that I was gonna do the thing. Instead it was the biggest mental battle to not just say f*** it and walk off course. I had countless toilet stops which I’m certain is down to the fueling being a mess, as I should never have been running at this time, and my fully tries and tested plan hadn’t accounted for not being on the bike for 8 hours. The outlaw crews out on course were incredible and the people who did brave the weather were heroes, but the atmosphere was pretty dead, which is such a shame after all the great things I had heard about the outlaw crowds from previous years. By mile 19 I was so done, and in no way shape or form interested in running another two laps of the lake. Passing the finish line, and my bike which was still in T1 at every lap, was a particular kind of kick in the stomach.
I ran down the finish shoot with more determination and probably frustration than I ever have done. It was over. And it was shit. Not outlaw, not the decision they had to take, not ironman distance events, not the swim, not the marathon, not the weather, not the lack of support, but the finsih of a thing that was not the thing I was meant to be doing.
I have no idea if I would have done it, I can make assumptions based on my training and the good time I got in the swim, but who knows, two punctures and it could have all ended with me only being 1/3rd an iron person, at least I’m for certain 2/3rds. I’m not mad they cancelled the bike, I saw the pictures, I heard the stories and I’d rather that than someone be injured or worse. But I am sad, so sad for everything I lost, and very little of that relates to the day. You see the day is just a victory lap, the bit that makes all the pain worth it.
Now none of that matters I know, I did the training, I did the things I could do on the day, and I finished what was in front of me. I get all that, But also I don’t. Because I wanted to quit so many times over the past 9 months. I pushed my self to every single end of every single limit I had, because I told my self it would be worth it, and heres the crutch of why I’m so sad, it wasn’t, and that seems so unbelievably unfair.
Now before anyone gets too concerned about my mental state, I am also so totally fine. I am aware that this is just the highs and lows of sports, that it is a privilege that I get to train 6 days a week, and push my self to the edges of what my brain allows me to believe is possible. I am also aware that I am not a professional athlete, and despite my desire to get paid for running around at a very average pace, I never will be. I also am highly aware that at any moment in time I can sign up for another event, commit the time and dedication and complete it. I am certain that I can do an iron person distance event, because I am certain that anyone could. I believe that the only thing that ever stops us from doing these things is our brains ability to comprehend just how awesome we are, and our willingness/desire to dedicate the time.
People often ask me why I do what I do. What I’m searching for in all this activity driven stuff. What I’m running from, hiding from, trying to prove? Why I do the things that sometimes break my heart, and then do them again and again? Why I am so dependent on sport, and why I keep coming back for more? I don’t always know the answer to that, it’s not always clear in the moments after a bad performance, or a hard blow. I also am not totally convinced there has to be a deeper meaning, reason or purpose. I just do what I do, and even in the moments when it breaks me, I love it, in fact I love it more for testing me, it’s brutally honest.
So i’m going to leave you with this, as I’m not sure what’s next or when I’ll be writing again.
I spent the last 9 months:
- making new friends
- getting stronger
- being wild
- being brave
- overcoming obstacles
- being in nature
- jumping in
- eating cake
- drinking beer
- breaking the rules
And when you look at it like that, then maybe I’m not the crazy one for going after the big impossible dreams. Maybe it’s the best thing that any of us can ever do.
go get the thing
I’m sat scrolling through my Strava, trying to remind myself of all the things I’ve done to get to this point. It feels so surreal sitting here with just days to go before I line up in that cold water waiting for a mass start that I’m sure will fill me with fear. I’m mostly consumed by the memory of weeks where training didn’t go to plan, in my case that was most weeks. Yet my brain sparks up with lofty excitement every-time I scroll over a day I did something big. As if it has forgotten that I did any training at all. The brick sessions, or cycling 100 miles. The Half ironman, or the long distance swims. And isn’t that the truth that our brains naturally drift to the places and days where everything went wrong, every moment that could derail us. Rather than linger in the moments that might just see us through, that might just be enough.
It feels so strange to be in a place where I’m about to do a thing I’ve never done before. The nerves are building and my mind is starting to race away with the endless possibilities of what can happen over potentially 17 hours of racing. The thought that I’ll be starting as the sun rises and ending in darkness, makes virtually no sense. The thought that I’ve done all the elements but never together, never to the extent that will be asked of me makes no sense. The thought that a single mechanical error could ruin the whole thing makes no sense. I keep running the words trust in the process over and over in my head, crossing things off my to do list, and then adding something I’ve forgotten on to the bottom.
I have a transition bag now that is slowly filling up with trainers, cleats, wetsuit, trisuit, goggles, spare goggles the list goes on. My brain is full with everything I have to remember. My stomach is full of pizza and butterflies. My legs are full of aches and pains that I know do not exist. One of the things i’m most sure of after 20 marathons is what is real pain and what is not.
Ironman training is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I feel like I need at least 6 more weeks to be ready, and probably then when we got there i’d say I need another 6 weeks to be ready, and in fact I’d just never be ready. I would recommend running to everyone, triathloning to everyone, but this… I’m not so sure. It’s another level, it breaks you down in so many ways, and although the highs come. I’m still not sure how I feel about all the scrapes both physical and mental that I’ve been through in the last 6 months.
The thing I am still most scared of is getting pulled from the bike, the cut off times seem so close to my capability, with little room for error. But I keep reminding myself of everything I’ve done to get to this point, that has to be enough, oh gosh I hope it’s enough.
I keep thinking back to that day I sat bloody and bruised and covered in chain oil on the side of the road, so ready to pack it all in. The tiny speck of hope that was left in me that day has grown over recent weeks. I think it’s what’s kept me driving 45 minutes to a lake every week to practice in open water. Which has equipped me with a good strategy for when my panic sets in in the water, and if I can just get out on to the bike with a bit of a buffer… the glimmer of hope starts to grow as I think about it more. It has to be enough.
I remember riding over to Brighton marathon in April and then setting off at a ridiculous pace, of course not being in any position to hold it, but loving every minute of that run. The thought of marathoning off the back of 112 miles, whilst scary AF, is kind of keeping me going, I know 26.2, I can do 26.2, that bit can’t fail me. Surely it has to be enough.
The believer in me is fighting to be heard right now, maybe because the sheer volume of stuff going through my brain drowns her out, or because there have been more downs than ups (unless we’re talking about hills and then I’m fairly certain there has been many more ups). But oh my I hope she finds her voice come Sunday morning.
I keep telling her to remember all the swims, rides and runs. Remember every time she’s had to get up and dust me off. Remember the tears, the sweat and the blood. Remember crossing the line of the half ironman. Remember falling off time and time again. Remember the friends we’ve made. Remember the adventures we’ve had. Remember the fights we’ve won to be here. Remember everything we’ve sacrificed. Remember when the pain sets in you just have to keep going. Remember this is your moment. Remember you have nothing to prove. Remember that this is for us.
You are the bravest and most beautiful part of me. Thank you for pushing me to the end of my possibilities, for never being satisfied, for searching, and fighting, and living, and breathing, and speaking up, and being bold, and brave and oh I’m so proud of you little one.
There is nothing more to do.
It has to be enough.
The challenge of a lifetime awaits
I stood pretty much glued to the floor looking out at the lake, trying to watch for someone who was floundering like I do. Of course nobody was, this was the ironman distance swim, and they were all professionals. My heart sank. I wanted to run away, but I knew I couldn’t. I knew what it would mean if I did. That this was all over. That bit of me, the tiny bit of me that didn’t want that to be the case. That’s the bit that has been keeping me going all this time. God I love that bit.
I was mostly nervous because my 3 attempts at open water swimming thus far had all been full of panic. Something to do with the temperature and wetsuit pressure on my chest I think. I would start each practice session by being sent in to a whirl of panic, to the point where even putting my head in the water seemed like a physical impossibility, not the ideal starting point for a 70.3 distance triathlon. My first triathlon none the less.
The briefing started and it was extremely jovial. I felt a little lighter as we laughed as a group of wetsuited weirdos, up at 430am to exercise. The race director asked if it was anyone’s first time racing in the New Forest and about a third of the hands went up, then he asked if it was anyone’s first triathlon. I tentatively raised my hand to cheers and whoops. It felt nice for people to be excited about that for me, maybe they knew something I didn’t, maybe they knew I’d be ok?! Being told that if you can manage the logistical nightmare that is the forestman you could manage any triathlon was both incredibly unnerving and weirdly comforting.
Before long we were ushered into the water, my panic alarm was off in about a millisecond as I dipped my head under the rope to get to the starting point of the lake. I kept repeating over and over again, you are here and this is now. A little meditation mantra I use when I’m having a panic on dry land. I was using it here to a) try and calm myself the fuck down but b) as it was true. You only get one first chance at something, and this was mine. It was here and now. Only I could do it, and only I could get in the way of not doing it.
This week I have done a grand total of nothing, well that’s a lie I managed a spin session on Wednesday. Life has thrown in some rather abrupt curve balls of late, most related to that proper job, the one that keeps everything ticking and turning over, keeps a roof (with a hole in it) over my head, and a bath where I can try and soak all this away. The balance I fight so hard for every day is eroding and I am once again left flailing, fire fighting, trying to catch my breath. And as my chest tightens and my eyes well, I know that I am tired, ever so tired, and ever so alone. Why do I only write when things are going to shit?!
So instead this week all I really could do, sat at my desk surrounded by paper, is consider what this means. Training has at best been sporadic and all the questions you should ask yourself before taking on a massive challenge like this, all the fears that you have before the start, it seems have been realised for me. I’ve got through to the 3.8km swim, I’ve got through the 26.2, and I’m ramping up the bike miles each week 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100! Is that enough though?! Although to the untrained eye, yes of course it is. To the trained the answer is no! No it is not enough, missing 5 workouts in a week, and no it is not enough to miss long runs and tempo rides and strength sessions and endurance swims. Another 12 hour day and a shandy in hand, when I should be somewhere else on feet, or wheels, or water.
I am stretched very thinly, and all the comments from before I started fill my head like angry little ghosts from the past. ‘You’re taking on too much’, ‘why are you doing this’, ‘you won’t be able to’ ‘you’re being selfish’. The guilt of everything I’ve already missed throughout this weighs heavy on me, the times I miss with friends and family, the relationships that take hit after hit.
The biggest emotion is fear, fear that maybe this is the thing that will forever be unattainable, that all the hours so far will come to nothing in the end. I’m scared that what everyone said at the start was right. I’m scared that I will fail. I’m scared most by how much I’m currently failing, those daily, weekly fails that are adding up, with a ticking clock, and the knowledge that those things together mean that I’m running out of time to pull it back.
And of course I know that nobody cares apart from me, and I only write these words to stop the tears from coming, and to try and realign my thoughts in to some sensible pattern. I’ve learnt so much, I’ve come so far, these are the words I must hold on to. As I repeat them over and over in my head.
The hard and fast truth is that everything hurts from trying or failing, brain included.
My heart is heavy. My air BNB is booked.
Just keep going.
I must keep going.
The start of 2019 brings to an end a few months of trying out Tri training and begins the start of a more focussed and dedicated iron(wo)man training plan, and with it a chance for me to return to more regularly scheduled blogging.
This time last year I was getting ready to run the 12th (or 13th) of the 12 marathons in 12 months challenge. That seems like a lifetime ago, a dream land that I once lived in, a thing that if I did it now I’m not sure I could, or would!
My general rule of thumb is you should never blog angry nobody wants to read that. Well I’m a rule breaker so as I sit on a plane feeling bitter and frustrated I decide to write. Probably a bad idea.
Graz is a cute little town in Austria, it has a clock tower, cobbled streets, ice cream and a cake that translates to Mozart’s Balls. It’s about 2 hours outside Vienna, which was where I had flown into with my sister, to stay with our friend Lisa (Austrian native and tour guide extraordinaire). Lisa and her sister would be running their first half marathon in Graz and I would be running the full, because I’m an idiot and it’s a marathon and I just can’t help myself.
On the trails amongst close friends my nickname is Dik Dik, it’s a tiny member of the gazelle family and runs pretty well on its little legs, I also can be found quite often running alongside an actual Gazelle, so it fits you see. The other reason is because I am an actual dick, I don’t listen, I don’t pace, I race hard always, I do all of the things I shouldn’t do most of the time, and expect it to work. It doesn’t. This will all be proved time and time again over the next 26.2.
Graz Marathon is a half marathon, a relay and a full, so at the start there is quite a buzz. It is a lapped course, just 2 laps which doesn’t sound terrible right? Wrong! The laps are essentially made up of two long straight out and back roads about 3 miles each way and then a weird squiggly bit of city centre running through cobbled streets, over tram lines, alongside shops and cafes. The long out and backs are pretty tough to do once, let alone to then have to turn around and do them again. The other terrible thing about these laps is after the first lap all the half marathoners leave you, and you realise the marathon is actually tiny, and you are now all alone to tackle the drudgery of running on a hot day and uninspiring route.
I feel bad, this is not Graz’s fault, this is very much my fault!
I started ahead of the 3:45 pacer (see Dik Dik), and I set off at what felt like an easy pace, I got a message on my watch to say I was running too hard and I was like yeah whatever. My watch was reading out some weird times anything from 13 minute miles when it felt hard to 7 minute miles when it felt easy. As my mile splits beeped up it transpired that the density of the buildings was making my watch misread everything and I in fact was running way too fast. Practically my 5k pace (massive Dik Dik). It wasn’t until Mile 4 rolled around and the 3:30 pacer passed me that I realised I actually had totally fucked it and this was going to be a tough morning. The first half came and went and to be honest I felt ok. The route as I’ve said was fairly generic of a city marathon, which I am now convinced are mostly all the same, bar a few notable exceptions. There was an industrial bit, a quiet bit, a busy bit, some nice architecture a few bridges, you get the idea.
My sister was out supporting and I saw her a lot in the first half. I shouted at her how hot it was, not really sure why, but it was nice to chat and she agreed it was seriously hot. Yep in Austria in Mid-October, and I’m covered in a thick layer of salty salty sweat after the first few miles!! What?! How?! Global Warming that’s how! Any climate change deniers out there eat your heart out, I’m pretty sure this is actual proof.
I knew the second half would be super tough A) because I’m a massive Dik Dik, and 2) because the route was really shitty. I was not prepared for how shitty it would get!
So as I mentioned at the half way point all the Halfers jolly off to the finish to have a beer, and all the idiots go out for round 2. Round 2 was dead, there was no one, at one point I looked behind me down a long stretch of road and I could see not a person. I carried on pushing, but if pacing was hard in the first half with people around to pace against, it was now near impossible with no reliable data and no reliable runners. That being said I was pretty comfy up until mile 17 when it all fell apart and I wanted to die, hit all the walls, cried, threw all my toys everywhere, and also officially melted. The long stretches of out and back had very little shade, very little support, very little anything. I felt alone and tired and fed up and cheated and bitter and miserable.
By the time I saw my sister at mile 20 I was having a full on cry, she told me just one more out and back and I was done and she’d be there at the finish. She was right just 1 more out and back, but I’d already done so many out and backs, I couldn’t handle another 3 miles of long straight hot road, followed by a turning point and running the same 3 miles back. I didn’t want to! I spent the next 6 miles fighting between total toddler tantrum ‘I’m quitting’ and total wonder woman ‘fight this thing all the way to the finish you warrior goddess’. It was tough. OH and I forgot to mention the relayers! To make matters worse every so often some spritely, happy, amazing, super-fast, super fit runner would run past you making you feel like a sad, old, pathetic, shit, loser runner. So you would see no one, no one else to die alongside, and then suddenly some chump doing a relay would come whizzing past you all fresh legged, making you realise how dead on your feet you actually were!
Again Graz not your fault. My fault. 10000000% my fault.
You see I’d wanted to do something spectacular in Graz – spoiler alert – I didn’t! I wanted to be spectacular because the world had been telling me for the previous x number of weeks that I wasn’t good enough, and I wanted to prove to the world that I was good enough by running a time I hadn’t trained for, at a marathon I hadn’t trained for, in a season of racing that has broken me both physically and mentally, after a year of injury battles, and after the most stressful week of my life in recent times, see world’s biggest (and now most entitled) Dik Dik.
I started to ask myself why I was even there, why I was even running, what was the actual point of any of it. Then I thought about Lisa who was no doubt now finished with her First Half Marathon (Spoiler Alert – she did amazing and I love her). I thought about how she was about to experience that moment where you feel you definitely can’t do something and then you go and prove to yourself that you can do anything, anything at all, and you are an actual super woman. She was doing it for her reasons and I remember when I started doing it for mine! I got mega emotional for her and for me; and for times in our lives that feel like they are going to break us, and instead of breaking us we take all the energy both positive and negative and power it hard in to something huge! That just about got me to the finish.
If I learnt anything in Graz this was it. Marathons are brutal and hard and beautiful and amazing. Running is all of those things. Life is all of those things. Breaking doesn’t mean you’re broken.
I do think running and the running community has broken me a bit this year in ways I’ve shared and in ways I haven’t, so it feels fitting to step away for a while. I will still run, train, improve, chase times, chase distances, and chase puppies that I see out on the trails. I will still believe, I will still push, I will still fight, and I will probably still post lots of little square pictures. But I’m honestly jaded by it all, by what I see and what I hear and what I’ve experienced.
So yes I need to focus on doing that thing that reminds me that even when my whole world is crumbling in to tiny little unmanageable pieces of rubble I can take all that energy both positive and negative and push it in to something huge. I can start something that I might fail at, and that I can finish something and not feel like a failure.
I need to remind myself of all the reasons why I started and find the joy in dreaming big and fighting hard and proving people wrong (myself included)
Marathons I miss you already, but I’ll see you in the spring when hopefully I’m a little less bitter and a little more fitter
So what’s next? a question i loathe but find myself asking all the time. As if one achievement in a life time isn’t enough. When you get into sport of any kind though, when you really really love it, then is there ever such thing as enough? I’d quite happily run everywhere everyday if I could. I’d quit my job and just run things, anything, everything! For people who go out and do a Marathon one year, train for it, complete it, and say yep that’s it, checked off the list! That’s totally fine, more than fine, it is incredible. I’m just not one of those people, I didn’t start running to one day stop, I started, and knew pretty sharpish that I never wanted to stop.
So when I got injured earlier this year my world fell apart, I felt like the fragile lost puppy I spend most of my time trying to convince the world that I’m not. My biggest gripe was that running hadn’t injured me, life had, life once again got in the way! It was an eye opener to my resilience or lack there of, to my addiction, to the immense and unconditional love I have for this sport. So when I got it back I wanted to go hard after it, I did that! I ran a marathon, and then I ran another one a week later, and in 10 days I’ll run another, and I realised I was ignoring all of the life lessons not running had been teaching me. Mainly that putting all your eggs in one basket makes no sense for a healthy brain, and that actually although running will always be my one true love, I love being active most of all! But all that got lost quick! I forgot what the pool looked like, I let my bike gather even more dust, and I just ran.
Then I did something crazy. I messaged the only two people I know insanely powerful enough to do an Ironman and said can I do it? it’s a very similar scenario to how I signed up to my first marathon, after running a 10k race and emailing a friend to say “can I”? Except this time I’ve never actually done a triathlon…
Neither of them said “yes, oh my god you will smash it you incredible super human”, they gave me the brutal honest truth, which I needed to hear.
And then I signed up!
Not because I’m taking this lightly at all, it’s insane, stupid, unachievable, but I heard all the insane. I heard all of the hard work and terrifying moments I will have to break through just to make it to the start line. It sounded like it would (and probably will) break me 100 times over. The funny thing is after hearing all of it, i wanted it more than I did before I asked.
I have never done a triathlon. I use my bike as a hallway ornament currently, she’s beautiful. I can swim alright, but I’ve neglected the water for a little too long now, oh and I can do that run bit, if (and it’s a big if) it’s on it’s own. It’s a far cry from any comfort zone, and probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. There is 95% chance of failure, but that leaves a 5% chance I might just pull it off. I hope to improve those odds as we go along.
I wasn’t going to tell anyone, it seemed like a safe option. If I kept it to myself and failed then did I really fail? Well the answer is yes, I failed twice. Once because I actually failed and twice because I bought in to the worlds biggest lie, that there is something wrong with going hard after something BIG and falling down.
Anything could happen between now and July 28th. I want to talk about all of those things along the way, I want to be honest with how much of an idiot I am. I’ve used this space successfully to document all of those idiot moments thus far. I love reading back over them, seeing how much I’ve changed and adapted along the way. You don’t have to tune in. This isn’t for anyone else. This is for me. One of the few joys of the internet is the ability to ignore anything you’re not interested in.
I won’t go in to the why, but lets just say it’s been another odd year to be alive. I have had some dreams on my bucket list, and this is another one. Maybe I will be the type to just triathlon once (well hopefully more than once as I plan to do at least one in training) and then say nah not for me. Or maybe I’ll fall hard in love with it like I did the marathon. There are so many reason not to do it, but I like the one that lingers in my brain saying ‘go get it’, I need to, or at least need to try to do this and that brings me to my next part.
An open letter to my friends and family
I need to be selfish one last time, (that’s a massive lie I will be selfish loads more times). I need you to know that I will miss important things, that I will cancel plans, that I will be boring; in bed, on the bike, in the water or hitting the trails. I need you to know that if you want to see me you will probably need to take up one of these 3 sports in order to do so. I need you to know that I will be spending money on mostly kit I don’t need, and some very expensive kit I definitely need, and I have no idea what the difference is! I need you to know that I will only be reading books on triathlon, which means I won’t have much else to talk about. I need you to know that all of this sounds like I’m going to be the worlds worst friend, sister, wife, daughter and I need you to know that’s true, and I can only say that It’s going to get worse because the next bit is just so totally unfair…
Not only am I going to be totally terrible from this point forth, more terrible than running 12 in 12, more terrible than being a total run bore. The worst thing is I need to ask you to do this with me! I can offer you nothing in return, literally I can’t even promise that I can give you my time or attention or that the times you are with me I’ll be a joy, because that’s probably all a lie too (see i’m learning). I will most likely shout and grumble at you when things fall apart, blame you for things that are not your fault, and require you to be 100% there for me but then also 100% not there for me depending on which mood I’m in. Oh and you will have no way of knowing which mood that is, you just have to guess and deal with the consequences. You may have gotten used to me being a total run bore, but now you must listen to me become a trifector of bore! I will need you to talk me down when I say I can’t and pick me up every single time I fall (off the bike). I need you to research what the heck I’m doing, I need you to tell me I’m the right amount of crazy, and I need you to take me on super long bike rides (Hayden!) because i’m mostly petrified of that bit. Oh and also swimming in a lake and getting eaten by a large fish snake hybrid!
I probably can’t do this at all, but I definitely can’t do this alone. 9 of the hardest months of my life are about to start, and I know many of you would be hoping that 9 months would be spent cooking up something other than a crazy sporting dream, but hey as always I do things a little differently.
I promise at the end of this, whatever the outcome, I will love you so much, and I just hope you will be able to still love me.
So what’s next?
I guess this seals the deal that project IRONWOMAN is officially underway! Well actually it gets underway on the 28th October, happy 31st birthday you crazy little lady! (I talk to myself sometimes)
I’m sorry (but also I’m a trail runner and we’re massive liars)