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)
Because the last one was so long I’ll try and keep this one short!
Let me kick off by saying, i can’t pace, it’s not a strength I have or particularly want, my head will always drop at some point, I’m not consistent and I know that. My general race strategy is Go Hard or Go Home! It’s amateur as F***, but hey I’m a maverick and tend to do things my own way. That being said I have never ever ever been stupid enough to attempt to run a sub 8 minute mile in a marathon, that’s just another level stupid, I’m not fast enough for those games! Except on Sunday when out of nowhere I managed to clock up 4 of them! HERO/IDIOT!
Arriving at the start of Loch Ness Marathon is probably the worlds biggest pain in the bum, The race doesn’t start till 10, but you have to catch a coach at 7:15. Which means unless you’ve camped on the field next to the busses you’re getting up sometime around 6am. That’s EAARLLLY for a 10 am start. Being up 4 hours before a race really isn’t ideal in anyones world right?! Now that’s out of the way it really is my one and only complaint about Loch Ness Marathon! Even as I’m writing it I do not care about it at all, because it’s probably the most beautiful, and well organised marathon I’ve run, and I’ve done the leg work.
The logistics of transferring 4000 people form Inverness (the finish) to somewhere/middle of nowhere near Fort Augustus (the start) is an insane achievement, and it worked like magic. The coach ride is long, but beautiful and it gives you time to fuel and think which may or may not be your bag. When you see the Loch in it’s full glory though you will not care anymore about early starts, or coach rides, or life and its woes for that matter. All you will be able to think is how lucky you are to have two legs that allow you to run in this staggeringly beautiful place! The rest of the start is quite frankly hectic, toilets are sparse and queues are long! Again zero cares given because you’re surrounded by mother nature who is rocking out some of the dreamiest views for you, and all you have to do is just pay your entry fee, be there and look at them for X number of hours .
Let me also say this race is net downhill, that does not mean it is easy, if you think you’re going into it with a lovely little downhill jaunt to Inverness you will be sorely mistaken! It’s a hard course. The downhills are plentiful, but the ups are nasty! I found this image on another blog and just bloody loved it so much! So I’ve nabbed it and shared the link if you also want to read another point of view from a previous year. Basically the course is hell’a undulating, and your legs will take one hell of a beating.
The other unknown here is the weather, we had the craziest day of blistering sunshine and torrential showers. It was ice cold at times and quite toasty at others. Scotland as I’ve often thought is in fact a massive weirdo.
My race was also a massive a weirdo!
I stood with Joanna on the start line and I felt comfy cosy. which is odd because I had 26.8 miles in my legs from a measly 7 days before. But for the first time in a long time I felt happy to be running, mainly because I wasn’t scared about how my legs would feel when I ran. I’d loved marathoning again so much I just wanted to get going. We were off before I knew it, my tunes were on and I was flying. I kept looking at my watch knowing those tracking me would be telling me to SLOW DOWN! I couldn’t! That first down hill is a dream, I ran purely on how I felt, which was bloody marvellous. I was laughing at/with myself from the outset because my pace was actually ridiculous. But what i didnt realise was it would continue to be ridiculous for quite some time.
It’s not until a good way in to the race that you get to see the Loch in all it’s glory, it was staggeringly, stupendously, insanely beautiful. I’m the biggest fan of blues and greens and everything mother nature has on offer, and I actually screamed wow on a few occasions. I kept looking at my watch every mile or so, expecting my pace to drop massively and my legs to give way, but it never really came. I adopted the strategy of running sensibly to effort level on the inclines, and throwing myself down the declines like a loonatic. It worked and made me feel pretty unstoppable. Running down hill is an art form in its self and I’ve become rather skilled at falling with style.
The heavens opened hard on a few occasions, around 11, 17 and 20 something miles. This wasn’t a shower this was an insane ‘you’ve entered a new universe and the weather gods here are pissed at you’ kind of downpour. They did not dampen my spirits, instead I laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation and took it in my stride. This really was a bit of a metaphor for this year. How insane was it that I was injured, unable to train and yet running faster than i’ve ever run. it was laughable. So I laughed.
At mile 17 you start climbing and then you continue climbing for 3 miles, this part of the race it is a soul destroying section, there is no denying that. it was the only time my pace dropped to 10 minute mileing (minus the finish – we’ll get there), but to be honest I was proud to hold that pace on climbs after running a full 17 miles faster than I ever have, but more importantly more comfortably than I ever have done before!
When you then get to the downhill at 20, you think you’d be happy right?! wrong!! you have now pissed off your body so much it hates you immensely. I really struggled to pick my pace back up after those climbs, and wondered if walking them might actually have been a better strategy to conserve some leg karma, who knows?! I was pretty pleased to get my times back down in to the 9’s, and faster than I’d run most of Berlin the week before. I knew by this point that if I ran the last 6 miles averaging 9 on the dot I could get my GFA (sub 3:45) so I aimed for that pretty hard. I felt my hamstring twinge at mile 22, ignored it for the most part, but by mile 24 I knew it wasn’t happy. I decided for the first time in that race to not be a dick head. I could push for GFA and end up injured again, unable to run and prolong the misery of this year. Or I could slow it right down, take care of my body and be back to running like a normal person every day, pushing hard for that BQ in 2019. That consolation prize still meant a PB, and it still meant running 27 minutes faster than I’d run the previous Sunday on the worlds fastest course!
As I came in to the finish line I had enough in my legs to push for the sprint, it was perfect! I was laughing and crying at the same time, hysterically!!
My body is insane, your bodies are insane! they are full of the most incredible, unbelievable, imporssible, possibles! Go after them, believe in them, and when they break your heart don’t you dare give up on them! Because in that moment, when you get it, it is so so so so so so WORTH IT!
Loch Ness Marathon is beautiful and stupid and crazy and all the things I love. Scotland is increible. Go run there!
I’ll tell you this now, it’s gonna be a long one! Grab a cup of something warm and settle in, or if you’re not up for it, then this is your warning to come back another time!
A weekend maratholiday is just about one of my favourite things. Marathoning in a new city is awesome, teamed up with bumping into familiar race faces, eating local food and generally having a ramble around. What’s not to love?!
This time it was Berlin. Kev and I were kindly offered places to run for Mind in connection with the ongoing charity work we do for them both individually and together. We talk a lot about scheduling a race a year to tackle together, and this one was too good to pass up! Back when it was booked in the diary we were both going to be going for our Boston Qualifying times. As we’re all way too painfully aware, and probably quite bored of hearing about, that wasn’t going to happen for me. Up until the start line I had run a precarious amount of very painful miles, hopped up on painkillers and strapped up to within an inch of my life with KT tape. It wasn’t smart or pretty but it was my new normal.
We arrived in Poland (yep we drove from Poland to berlin) without too much of a hitch. I mean Kev insisted on going to the post office before we left, which meant we were running late and I was left speeding up the M25, but yeah apart from that very few hitches… We picked up the hire car, well actually we sat in the wrong hire car for a solid 20 minutes trying to figure out how to turn it on, before quickly realising it wasn’t in fact our car, finding the right one and getting on the road. The drive to Berlin was easy as anything, and it all felt pretty good. See hardly a hitch!
On Saturday morning we woke up to try out Park run Germany style. Hasenheide Parkrun is a delightful route through a really pretty park that was essentially 2 larger loops and one shorter (hillier) loop. We met up with some of our friends who were also running over the weekend, and it was the perfect morning, finished in park run style with a nice coffee. The parkrun marshals were superb. Their race had jumped from an average of 70 runners to over 500 over night, they adapted brilliantly with bi-lingual and extremely humorous race briefings! I felt really comfy, and even thought my limp had cleared up, but when I checked in with Kev he assured me I was still carrying the gangster lean. It didn’t matter, I felt good, and I needed to feel good because 26.2 on a limp is quite a different scenario to a 5k. I knew if my head wasn’t in the game this would be one tough day at the office.
This was followed by the quickest dash possible to the expo, where I refrained from buying even more new shoes. It was heaving, and I’m not great with huge crowds so kept it short and sweet, numbers, pictures, and go! The rollerblading marathon also takes place on the Saturday, it’s the craziest thing to watch, and well worth standing around to catch a glimpse of. It only takes them about an hour to go round the marathon course, which is frankly insane, and slightly terrifying! I considered taking up the sport for all of about 4 seconds before realising it would be a surefire way to break all the bones in my body.
Sunday brings us to the main event and the meaty chunky ‘I thought I was reading a blog about a marathon not your travelling escapades’ section! The Marathon!
Getting to the start line felt incredibly easy, public transport across Berlin felt easy and the starting pens were, well, easy. I queued for the ladies and didn’t even have to wait 5 minutes. I was amazed, it was packed but it didn’t feel hectic. I’m not sure if my pen was just a little less busy than others, or if I was just there early enough to get settled in, but I felt comfortable hanging out there. Martine found me wandering around aimlessly, we stretched and chatted and had a few pre race lols – the build up felt epic watching the Elites start! We did the Icelandic football chant, had a good dance, some slow-mo running to chariots of fire, and then we were off.
I felt incredible, like actually incredible! Being on that start line had been such a hit and miss thing for me. I’d wanted to be there so badly but even up to last week I was seriously considering a DNS.
The route was fast, I could feel it, and it definitely felt hectic now as runner’s elbows came flying at you as people tried to fight for a place at their pace. The sun was shining and Martine and I settled in to a comfy pace, chatting watching the crowds and buildings go past. It was WARM! I was a sweaty mess pretty early on and by water station two I’d opted to chuck a cup over my head and one down my neck.
Can we just talk about water stations for a minute? I have never heard a noise like it. The water was in plastic cups, and the carnage at every one was insane, runners fighting for a cup and then running off crunching down on this plastic. I had to mentally prepare myself every time we came up to one, as the noise level was just through the roof! It was unreal and something they just have to figure out and get better at.
The first half literally flew by, and we came in just under 2 hours, which was quite frankly astonishing to me. My dream was just to finish, so to be running really steadily seemed unreal. I’m not sure if it was the adrenaline or the spectacle of it all, but I wasn’t in pain. I knew the pace wouldn’t last, although it’s way off PB pace for me, it was still good going.
I strolled a few times at water points to save myself form getting trampled on, and took theses as opportunities to check in on Kev’s time and my other friends, stretch out any niggles and continue on feeling strong. It was just over half way when we found out Kipchoge had set a new world record, which was such a boost. Being out on a course running whilst history is being made is something else!
Now let’s talk about crowd support. I was a little disappointed if I’m honest. I think I have been spoilt by Brighton/London/Iceland memories and so when things don’t live up to that hype I get a little judgey. Now the streets were pretty packed with people, and maybe they’d lost their voices screaming Kipchoge home, or they’d just had enough by the time we came through, but I found the majority a bit lacklustre. There were some insane points, weirdly when ever we ran under a train track or underpass, but I was honestly expecting a bit more from the stories I’ve heard of previous years.
After about the 15/16 miles point I started to slow down, my fatigued lack of marathon fitness started to show, and I pleaded with Martine to leave me be. She was running incredibly strong and I knew she had sub4 in her, and I also knew I didn’t.
There would have been a time when that would’ve broken me, a feeling that I wasn’t as good as I once was, or as good as I needed to be, but after this year I knew better than to play that game. Progress isn’t linear, just because I’m not running a BQ now, doesn’t mean I won’t, and if I never ran ‘my fast’ again it wouldn’t ever take away from the fact that I once did. Wherever you are right now is good enough, and as long as you maxed out on your effort level in that scenario then you’ve done everything you set out to do! I knew I was maxing out on giving it everything I had, and I was so happy for that. In those moments, my mental strength showed me how much I’ve grown as a marathoner.
Martine of course didn’t leave my side, and although I had to dig deep in to the pain train, a smile never left my face. I was running a marathon again; and unless you’ve once had and then lost that ability for any length of time you won’t get how that feels. By 32km, I was struggling to hold my pace. I knew I had 5km to go before seeing friends and then a little over 5km to go the finish from there. So I sliced it up in to 2 park runs. Seeing friends cheer is the best, but seeing Becca and Lou especially lifted me, they both get it, and I cried and hugged them because I knew they knew what it meant for me to be out there.
5km to the finish, although my watch was wildly out of sync so I’d end up running an additional .6 of a mile somehow! The crowd support here where you need them most was probably my most disappointing part of the day; I’ve never known such a lack of noise so close to a finish line. If I think of the last 5k in Brighton as an example, it’s the craziest sea of noise to carry you to the end, and I needed that crowd support bad. It’s not until you turn the corner and your eyes set on the Brandenburg gate that the volume picks up! Note the Gate is not the finish, my watch had long ticked over 26.2 and I couldn’t believe how far after the gate you have to keep running. It was the longest stretch of sleepy leg time I’d ever experienced, and if you’d kicked it up gear for a sprint finish before the gate, there’s no way you’d keep it up to the end .
I’d done it!
I cried hard like the strong ass woman that I am. I hugged my friend and thanked her for the selfless performance she’d put in by staying with me, when she had everything in her to go harder.
I was emotional for all the reasons you’re emotional in a marathon, but for so many more. There is so much that goes on outside of blogs and posts and pictures. I have been broken this year, tested in ways that I don’t often feel I deserve, I rise to them the best I can, but I also am human, and I bend and break, and do stupid shit, and feel real things in real ways. When I run 26.2 or 26.8 in my case, I am reminded of the immense strength that I have. That reminder that against all the odds I can still come out fighting gets me through so much more than just running miles. It makes me who I am. Every single marathon delivers you something, a new perspective, something to fight for, something to go hard after. I’m in love with the way it challenges me and changes me. This moment refocused my mind about what I want, and how I’m going to get to that place. I very nearly typed get back to that place, but there is no going back, there is only going forward.
I posted after the race that this was by far my personal best effort, and I stick by that. The time is just numbers written on a page, that don’t add up to times I’ve run before. But what I did in Berlin far surpasses a perfect training block and a perfect race. I fought for so long just to be on that start line, and then I carried on fighting for 4 hours and 14 minutes, to make sure I crossed the finish line with my head held high.
Kev found us and I gave him a huge hug, I knew he was hurting, but that’s not my story to tell. He did what I expected he would and shifted focus telling me how well I’d done. I asked him questions about his race and we both agreed we didn’t want to spend the rest of the day sobbing, so we parked those for another time/place and headed for a pint/5.
Sunday came and went and Monday was spent strolling the city streets, finding roads we thought would have been better/prettier/more interesting to run down. Our flight was leaving Poland at 10:30 so we left Berlin in plenty of time at 18:30. We drove to within 4 minutes of our destination on the sat nav when I turned to Kev and said ‘this doesn’t look like where we flew in to’, realising quickly that we were in fact not going to the right airport at all! We had an hour before our flight left and some 40km in the other direction to the correct airport. It was time for the second marathon of the trip, albeit by car! Heart rates were through the roof as we raced through the streets of Poland. Thank god for tiny airports, as we got there with about 20 minutes to spare, running form the hire car drop off, they let us straight through security to get on the plane – thanks for that one mate!
All in all Berlin is a great fast and flat* marathon, the course is interesting enough, the start and finish line feels are good, but know it’s busy, super super busy, and the crowd supports a little tired.
Now it’s time to rest my legs as I have another 26.2 in 5 days…
*definitely felt a few gradual inclines