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Learning Lessons at the Loch Ard Swim Festival

Posted on September 5, 2016. Filed under: loch ard swim festival, open water swimming, swimming, Uncategorized, vigour events |

It will be my 45th birthday this week.

Forty-fecking-five. Three hundred and sixty five days of “mid 40s”, a brief oasis between the loss of my early 40s and, ughh, my late 40s.  The slack water in the ebb and flow of a decade.

Why do I tell you this, because age is something I rarely think of?

No, it’s not a hint for presents (although gin is my favourite, I love gin), (and beer), (and if anyone wants to get me vouchers for the Cappadocia Kebab House…..) but rather it is a moment of pause where I realised I learnt two big lessons this year. One I learned as the year trundled on, growing on me gradually, and one quite suddenly when I was up to my neck in chilly Loch Ard.

Anyway, having finished the Great Scottish marathon swim 19 minutes ahead of expectation and with a fortnight to go until the Forth Crossing race, I didn’t feel I was done with distance swimming for the year. So based on a great experience at the Forth race last year I entered the Vigour Events Loch Ard 5k.

Vigour Events are Scottish and put on races in some amazing stretches of water. I’ve loved doing smaller races this year that are elegantly understated and Vigour do that just perfectly. Robert did the race briefing in a huddle in the rain under the start arch. We were assured of our safety and to watch out for the cold and each other. And most importantly the paramedics were paid for so feel free to use them. Twice if we wanted.

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The water temperature was 15c and air temperature just above 10c. I have been spoiled this year. The water in Windermere for the Great North Swim 5k was 20c, in the Thames for the  Thames Marathon was 20c, in Loch Lomond for the Great Scottish Swim 10k was 16.5c so this was going to be nippy by comparison. By the way, Keswick Mountain Festival was supposed to be 11c but was it monkeys, it was roasting.

Anyway, I digress. Back to Loch Ard and lesson number 1.

We were up early and ploughed through the rain and mist to be at Kinlochard for registration closing at 0915. Of course we weren’t, we were late.

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Registered got a cap and Tunnocks Teacake (which reminds me I have a crushed Tunnocks Teacake at the bottom of my rucksack) and got suited up ready to go. Applied my patented neck tape to prevent the garrotte, checked in under the arch and paddled. As soon as we got the all clear to go in the water I was first in. I have a desperate need to quickly get my body temperature down before a race. And I needed to pee. Mainly I needed to pee.

While the water was mildly chilly, and the weather was properly foul (but I was wet anyway), the water conditions were amazing. Flat, calm and barely a breath of wind to distract from just enjoying the swim.

We had a couple of minutes floating in the water while some 10 and 12.5k swimmers rounded the buoy. And then we were off.

I had a dream start. Two guys went VERY FAST, and I jumped onto the toes of the second guy. It was fast and furious.

As a trio we went well clear of the group easily making 50m in the first 200m.

And then I felt it.

I was struggling to get a breath. Breathe every stroke. I can hold this.

Sitting on the tipping point. Get enough oxygen in and the moment will pass, don’t and, well, it won’t.

My chest tightened. I sighted. Mouthful of water off the kick from the guy in front.

Bugger. It’s coming. Another breath, half hearted now, I know it’s coming.

I tread water to sight.  WTF is that all about?

Six more strokes I stop dead in my tracks. Gasping for air but finding none. The rising anxiety. The sheer terror of the constriction of the wetsuit. The main group passes me. The rescue boat is right with me.

I could just get out. Get in that boat.  Everything in my body is screaming GET OUT. Robert looks at me with concern. The back markers swim past me. I feebly thumbs up. I would shout “I’m OK”, if I was capable of making noise. Still a look of concern from the rescue boat. The panic is easing. The wetsuit loosens. My breathing calms. I am calm.

Another thumbs up from me. Returned this time, with a smile.

I am OK.

LESSON #1 With confidence comes hubris

I have swum well this year. Measured performances, each getting better. I thought I could race with the big boys at Loch Ard but my confidence completely disregarded my brain which knows I need a slow and deliberate start (See the Great North Swim blog). A useful lesson to be humble or be humbled.

Anyway, face in the water, I ease myself back into it. Looking back at the data I had set off at sub 1:20 pace, but now I was at a much more comfortable mid 1:30s.

I start picking my way through feet until eventually there aren’t many more feet to see.  I then swim with the same guy for the last 4k. I had no idea where we were in the race but it was a settled pace and we were both moving together.

The course was two 2k loops, that felt massive, and a 1k loop to finish. The end of each loop was really close to the finish arch but I never really paused to look. I wanted to make up the time from my premature breather.

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I finished in 1:25, just off the pace of my last three 5k’s of 1:21, received a medal, half a banana and a bottle of water before returning to a burger and civilisation.

My final placing was 6th. Having re-started after my false start in dead last I was pleased to have carried on and made progress. Third place was 1:21, by the way.

Which brings me to my second lesson that slowly dawned on me during 2016.

LESSON #2 With confidence comes new found love

Until this year I probably last enjoyed a swim race in the late 80s. I’ve dabbled a bit but I’ve not loved it. But after getting the swim monkey off my back last year I have been enjoying racing and training more and more. I love swimming on the feet or shoulder to shoulder, ready to race. And this year I have found myself work my way up the rankings against some serious swimmers. My second lesson – rediscovering my confidence in the water has made me want to race again. And train. And I love that.

There is only one swim of the season to go – the Forth Crossing Race next weekend. And then the Berlin Marathon a couple of weeks later. It feels a long season but, without a doubt, it’s the most fun I’ve had in years.

 

There is even a video from the swim festival that, thankfully, failed to capture my spluttering indignity.

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Swimming The Big One

Posted on August 27, 2016. Filed under: great scottish swim, marathon swimming, open water swimming, swimming, Uncategorized |

From the second I saw it announced I knew this was the race that I really wanted to do in 2016.

I had stuff I wanted to do – run an ultra, run a barking mad hill race, swim the Bridge to Bridge, swim the Forth again, and run the Berlin Marathon – but the Great Scottish Swim 10k would take me back to where it all started. Me, in water. One of my favourite bits of water. A race that I have competed in every single time it has taken place.

I did it in 2009, before I started to blog. I did it in 2010, when it didn’t really happen. I did it in 2011, with my bessie about 10 minutes after I finished an Ironman. I didn’t do it in 2012, no one did because of flesh eating swan shit in Strathclyde Park or some other nonsense. I did it in 2013, when I was mauled by a wasp and ended up hanging out with the medical professionals. I did it in 2014, I must have done because I have a medal, but I inexplicably wrote nothing about it.

And then I did it in 2015, with a raging hangover, had my first ever good Great Scottish Swim and  laid some pretty ugly swim demons to bed.

I wanted to swim longer. Why not do a swim marathon? Anything is possible.

Sure, I did the Thames Marathon, of which I am immensely proud. But two things niggle me about that achievement that don’t allow me to put it on the top shelf of achievements – there was a current and the water was warm. Like running a 100k ultra on a gentle downhill in mild spring weather – it’s a feat, but it’s not super mental. It was a great fun day out but as a bone grinding endurance event, it wasn’t the toughest.

So, the Loch Lomond 10k was always going to be a special event for 2016.

Preparation, as ever, was imperfect. I am still being dry needled and pummelled by a physio twice a week as I seek to regain feeling in my left hand. But, no excuses, it might stop me picking up a coffee cup but it’s not affected my swimming.

Race Day. A 4pm start for a swim is a weird ass thing. So I spend a couple of hours moseying across the M8, stopping occasionally to purchase forgotten lube or pausing for caramel shortbread, or ice cream or other decadent treats.

Just after Dumbarton, at the drive through Costa, I get an Americano, a cup of hot water and a spoon. Each ordered infuriatingly separately for the increasingly infuriated drive through lady.  Yup, I am going to eat a porridge pot at three in the afternoon.

At Loch Lomond shores it is T-60 minutes. Time to shake and bake.

I make up the porridge while I tape up my neck. I look like a mummy yet, I can assure you, this attracts less attention than the alternative look – garrotted auto-erotic asphyxiation. I pop on a down jacket for later and head down to the race area.

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Wetsuit on to waist, lubed and baggage away. I wander for a while just letting my body temperature drop. And then it’s time to check in. There is the usual process of being zipped up and helping others zip up. Thankfully there was no repeat of zipgate.

I do three laps of the acclimatisation area and hang around, floating, in the deep end for a bit until we are told to get out. All I have is an awareness I am going to be in the water for a very long time. At 16.5c that is no mean feat.

The usual race briefing – don’t drown, don’t be shit, don’t shit yourself etc. I may have paraphrased that. And then Olympian Keri-anne gives us some last minute tips. Keri-anne started my first GSS in 2009 so it was lovely symmetry for her to start my longest one 7 years later.

And we’re off.

It’s always choppy and a bit kick-in-the-facey down the first channel until we are clear of the Maid of Loch. But unless you’re a diddy you just keep your face out of the feet and fist zone. It’s a long swim, there’s absolutely no point fighting for space in the first 50m.

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My race plan is Take it Easy. The miles are banked there is no need for daft swimming.

Lap one is straightforward. A bit congested but no drama. Towards the end I decide I will stick with the two feed strategy at 2 miles and 4 miles.

Lap two is equally straightforward. I find some feet going straight and at the same pace as me and I stick to them.

At the end of Lap two I take on 3 jelly babies and half a bottle of water. 50 minutes.

I start Lap three. I can’t see the buoys. Must be a canoeist in the way. Sight. Nope, no buoys. Sight. Holy shit. All I can see is The Weather. The Weather obscures the hills, the buoys and The Weather is appearing in the form of raindrops the size of cannonballs. At that moment I really appreciate the volunteers. And I really hope they have great waterproofs.

I start lap four and I start to feel cramp in my foot. I stretch and my calf cramps violently. I try to stretch my calf and my quad goes.  Under the water there is a noise like a wounded animal. I roll onto my back. I realise I am cold and it’s got into my muscles. I try to use my left leg to stretch the right. It cramps. I am literally floating on my back with all the dexterity of a log. Two canoeists make their way towards me. I wave them off. Sod this – no one is retiring me. I roll over and drag my legs cramping like a wizened claw behind me. I have to roll onto my back a couple more times just to get enough oxygen in. I have a canoeist shadowing me. No way. No fucking way am I stopping until I decide I’m done.

I get a rhythm going again. I settle my breathing. The cramp eases. It’s still cramp it just doesn’t feel like Guantanamo torture any more. Every now and then I am gripped with panic as I feel the rising creep of tightness, just waiting for it to kick off.

At 4 miles I get to the feed station.

“What do you need?”

“I’ve got cramp real bad, give me everything!”

Three jelly babies, a glucose tablet and half a litre of water and I’m on my way.

About half way the pace line is in disarray. A buoy has lost it’s mooring. We are directed onwards.

I amuse myself with the Next Time game. Next time I pass here it will be the last time. Every. Single. Buoy. gets Next Timed.

I start the last lap. Now I can play Last Time.

This is the Last Time I’ll pass here. Last Time. Last Time.

I felt tired but fresh. I’d lost pace but I could swim it all again. Easily.

I pass the last turn buoy. Last Time. I get to enter the finish straight.

I walk out. I’m done. 10 actual kilometres of swimming with no tail wind. As big an achievement as anything I’ve done but I felt well within myself the whole way.

Unexpectedly my sister and Kelly shout on me. The 10k doesn’t attract the crowds of the Saturday at GSS, so my supporters were most of the crowd.

I change. I inhale McDonalds. I drive.

I stop at Harthill for McCoys and Coke. I have tape on my neck, I’m shivering, I have an exceptionally odd cramp influenced walk and I have a number sharpied on my hand. That, it seems, is what it takes for a Harthiller to look at you like you are an oddball.

I get home. Relax. I finished in 2:41, 36th overall and 6th in age group. I’ll take that.

Two weeks until I cross the Forth again. Maybe I’ll have a fully functional hand by then.

 

 

 

 

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The Thames Marathon

Posted on August 10, 2016. Filed under: 2016, henley bridge to bridge, henley swim, marathon swimming, open water swimming, race report, thames marathon, Uncategorized |

“Technically a crisp packet could do it.”

The unhealthily speedy amphibian Steve Mott certainly intended these as reassuring words but, as I drank more wine the evening before the Thames Marathon swim, I began to get pre-occupied that I would reach Marlow with a somewhat forlorn breast stroke, some distance behind a carelessly discarded prawn cocktail carcass.

This would be my first attempt at a marathon swim and I had no concept what to expect.

It started so innocently in September.

Jan: Fancy coming down to do the Bridge to Bridge swim?

Me: Sure.

You’ll notice I didn’t pause to think about it. If the same offer was a run or a bike I would at least have spluttered into my gin and tonic, just before a significant monologue of expletives, finally ending the conversation with at least one “NO”.

How hard could it be?

Somewhat contrary to my usual approach to swimming I tried the training thing.  That didn’t work out so well for me as I wrecked my shoulder (yet again) and got an ear infection.  However it was probably better preparation than drunkenly commandeering a taxi in Newcastle to drive thru Mcdonalds the night before a long distance swim.

But it’s all swings and roundabouts. Ying and yang and all that. As long as I could feel my fingers and had some Monster Munch as a pacer I would definitely make it from Henley Bridge to Marlow Bridge the long way.

Thursday night I chuck the wetsuit and goggs in the case. Friday morning we pack up the entourage and head south. Friday lunchtime the Google Maps lady kidnaps Sharon and holds her hostage in a dark part of the T5 car park until we offer Roar as a ransom. Or she just got lost. But I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

As ever, Londonshire gently poaches me. And grills me. I get sweaty and turn red. I turn my mind to the Thames. I will probably need to cut my wetsuit arms and legs off. In fact I will probably have to transform it into neoprene speedos just to get to the end without expiring. But if I do that I’ll end up on some register. Decisions, decisions.

Weekend events progress. Beer. Wine. Blackwoods Gin in the campest glass EVER. A foregone fancy burger. Pokemon Go. Taking a picnic up a hill. Arriving back at car sans car keys. Children talking. And talking. More effing Pokemon. Waiting. Rediscovered car keys. SUNBURN. Children talking at 5am. About Pokemon.

We get to Saturday evening. Shits getting serious. Jan and I do goggle and rubber suit stuff. While drinking beer. We carb load on Sharon’s amazing risotto. Asparagus risotto. (Hold that thought) Wine? Don’t mind if I do. A few last minute texts along the theme of “don’t be shit”, “don’t die”, “beat the crisp packet”, “don’t drink the shit flavoured water”. Awe inspiring stuff.

I lay down the law. “Be in the car at 6:30 or we’re leaving without you”. Which was quite bold given that I wasn’t even the driver.

Asleep.

Awake. Jammers on under my shorts. Porridge. Tape my neck up like a fetishist.

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The bold statement works; the 6:30 headcount confirms no children have been left behind yet Pokemon playing adults are borderline. We’re off.

We arrive at Leander Club in Henley. Not a bad spot for a race. I find my own square of grass amongst the rubber suited fetishists and organise my neoprene and lubes and tapes. Wetsuit to the waist I wander over to watch the first (mainly fast) wave start.

Hooter. W.T.A.F. THEY ARE ALL GOING THE WRONG WAY.

Oh. Wait. Maybe it’s me that is disorientated. Yup, that’s what it is.

Race briefing: basically along the lines of try not to die. I paraphrase a very thorough briefing but that’s kinda all I heard.

Set my Glympse app to transmit. Zip up. Inflate tow buoy. Into the Thames we go.

According to Leander club the river flow was normal, however, the difficulty that we had holding a start line suggested there was a decent current. Which was lucky because I followed my usual swim race routine. Remember the asparagus? Yup, already on it’s way to Marlow.

Jan and I have a final moment of bon mots and the horn goes.

As has become the norm I have assumed everyone has seeded themselves with some degree of self awareness. As has become the norm I swim straight into frog’s leg soup and head up breastroke.

I know to keep my cool so I just go with the flow. Find a space. Fill it. Move on to the next space.

I will emerge from the stramash without concussion.

After a couple of hundred metres I look up and I am in a small group, maybe a dozen. A few minutes later I look up and I AM WINNING THE FRIGGING RACE. Admittedly it was a bit early to call it victory.

A group of three of us start working together and a breath under the arm suggests that we are making some distance on the pack. Something bizarre must happen with the flow in the Thames. Groups would suddenly fracture and disconnect with no change in pace and then come back together, which must have been to do with currents within the flow.

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Me. Ahead of People. My new favourite thing.

I lost all sense of time on this section. I knew I had 4k to swim but I had no idea how far out we were. And then I breathed and noticed the exit sign behind me. My group of three had swum past. Anyway, I backtrack and get out. I’m handed a wipe and use some antibacterial gel. I slop some vaseline on my neck. Grab half a banana and a square of soreen and make my way through the transition. I instantly realise the error in the order of the aid station table as I try to eat soreen preserved in petroleum jelly.

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Just as I reach the entry point back into the river I see the sherpas. “I WAS IN THE LEAD. Briefly”.  KEEP GOING.

The next 6k section is going to make or break the day. I get back in but I’ve lost the group. They are about 50m ahead. I decide not to burn any matches but to make my way back up to them very gently.

It’s a lonely business. I check out follies and giant estates on either bank. Something catches my eye in the sky. I take three exaggerated breaths to properly look. It’s a plane. But now I’m waaaay off line. BANG. Canoe. Soz.

For the first couple of km I swim alone and then I see the lead group start to splinter. (The tow buoys and perfect for sighting groups). I think I’ll catch those that are dropped, take a brief draft then move on to the next one. But those that are shelled by the group are dropping back like stones. A lot of pink caps from the first wave starting to struggle.

About 4k into this section I catch the group just at a sharp left turn in the river. I feel surprisingly amazing.

I see a weir up ahead. It can’t be that time already. Nah. Everyone is definitely swimming past it on the right. I breathe. Haud on, that’s Sharon. I hear Rory cheering. Yaaaaaaas. 10k nailed.

Volunteer:  “How are you feeling?”

Me: “OH MY GOD I AM LOVING THIS I SO WANT TO DO IT AGAIN OH MY GOD IT’S SO MUCH FUN”; my inner 10 year old girl escapes in the excitement.

I clamber out. My neck feels raw. And my ear. MY EAR.

I am handed a wipe. I wipe my face. Pam asks where all the blood is coming from. Nowhere apparently. But MY EAR IS SORE.

I eat about an inch of a Boost bar and take a handful of crisps. Rory eats the crisps. All kids look at the aid station with the covetous eyes of confectionery predators. I chuck back two cups of energy drink (Jesus shit, that was buggering awful stuff) and two cups of water. Neck lubed. Ready to go.

I am held by a canoeist as a couple of boats pass.

We swim about 20m to a stepladder, up and onto an island. A short trot across the island and back into the river. It’s rocky. I watch people ahead of me mince in on the sharp rocks. I note where they get just above ankle depth. I get there and bellyflop into the water and drag myself, belly down, over the rocks.

The third section is only about 1.5k, narrow and we swim on the left hand side. This feels like the home straight.

At the third exit I fumble on the stepladder. The lowest step is just about at water level leaving me contorted on my back, in a rubber suit trying to get out.

Quite a long walk this time. Crisps. Water. Lube. I’ve mastered the order of the aid station.

I chat to all the marshalls thanking them for an incredible day. I chat so long in fact that a bloody great cruise ship gets between me and the main group. I get held back.

Then it’s time for the final section. “Once you turn the corner you’ll see the bridge. 2.2km”.

“Is this deep water?”

“Yes”

I bomb. Like a naughty 10 year old. I am loving this waaaay too much.

The last section is lonely. I swim alone, only ever seeing dropped pink caps.

I am mesmerised by the weeping willows that line the bank. Then the long balustrade that the pushes long shadows onto the Thames. Then the little cube hut. Then I see the buoy.

I am probably tired but I don’t feel it. This race should be shown the respect it deserves. I start to pick up a kick, turn my arms over faster. This is a proper event; I’m going to finish this like a proper swimmer.

The buoy gets closer. My mind searches for the memory of the finish procedure. Nah. It’s gone. I ask a canoeist.

“Over there”, he points at a densely populated bank with dayglo signs and marquees.

“Ah, yes. Now I see”

“You’ll need to wait for these boats to pass”.

“No worries”

“OK, on you go”

Head down. Elbows high. Long strokes. 6 beat kick. This is what it’s all about. This is why I love to swim. This makes all the hours in the pool worthwhile. I. AM. A. MARATHON. SWIMMER.

I get medalled. But, more importantly, I find out I finished in 3:27. Ridiculous. A bit ahead of my anticipated 4:30 and probably indicative of a decent current. I beat the crisp packet. But Loch Lomond will give me an idea of my real pace.

I get dry and change. Jan comes in at 3:59:58. Now that’s a proper sub 4!

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What can I say about the Thames Marathon? An amazing event – expensive, with very little fluff over and above the swim but an incredible venue, assuring water safety, the BEST volunteers and a buffet that would delight any 10 year old at every stop on the river.

Incredible thank yous to Jan for asking me, and to Sharon, Jan, Molly and Finn for being the best hosts. It was a proper whole weekend experience!

The show moves on to the Great Scottish Swim 10k in 3 weeks. I need a solution to a chafing ear and I need a bit more release by the physio of my shoulder and my thoracic spine.

But in all other respects:

I. AM. READY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fingers n Ears

Posted on August 1, 2016. Filed under: henley bridge to bridge, Uncategorized |

It’s never truly an event unless there is a major calamity within a few weeks of it. And you’re never sure you are truly ready until you have at least had a couple of calamities.

My preparation for the Thames Marathon had been going well. I had actually been swimming. In water. Even in open water. Drafting, racing, coaching with great friends and, in my own small way, recovering some of my love of swimming.

In fact between preparing for the Thames and for Berlin I had actually reached, and possibly surpassed, the Ironman training levels of aches and pains.

So, as I approached peak training volume I already had that feeling that calamity was galloping towards me from just over the horizon. And then she arrived, all guns blazing, reducing me to a whiny wimp in a single incident.

Waking up to head to Bolton to lead the a crack team of sherpas at Ironman UK, I had the distinct feeling that a lead footed, clod hopper had been dancing on the side of my face. Taking my standard approach to all things aural I rammed a cotton bud in my ear which might as well have been a 3 foot, metal kebab skewer. My face, ear, head and other indistinct points of my body exploded in a burning, fiery hell of excruciating pain.

Shite. Ear infection.

The first stop en route to Bolton was the pharmacy about 2 minutes from the house.

“Have you got anything for sore ears that works really, really fast?”

“It’ll sort itself out. Try this for the gunk”. (The pharmacist may not have said gunk. But gunk it was)

As I was halfway out the door…….”Can I swim?”

“Indoors but I wouldn’t recommend outdoors”

“Oh”

“Oh?”

“I’m swimming 14k down the Thames in a fortnight”

“OK. Listen, there is only one option left for you to prepare for that”

Expectantly: “What’s that?”

“Find the filthiest, smelliest toilet that you can find and stick your head in it to acclimatise”

Cheers.

Anyway. Bolton was a kind of muted affair for me. Literally, I was functioning on about half an ear. I was probably also talking very loudly like the Major from Fawlty Towers.

Topped up with millions of milligrams of vitamin C and with a steady flow of greasy ear drops running down my neck I saw Lottie and Roar in for Ironkids and then Andrew and Andy in for the main event.

I pretty much lost my voice. My hearing. And my sanity in a flurry of bike course calculations.

As ever, Bolton threw a magnificent event and, as ever, there appeared to be a release of tear gas as the finishers started rolling in. As I say to everyone, go and watch an Ironman at least once in your life.

So after a weekend of not training it was time to get back. And I literally bought every kind of ear plug that existed before settling on wax balls. And now, with the world completely shut out, I settled into double swim days hitting up to 7k in a day. Sometimes pool in the morning and loch at night, swimming hard, yet still enjoying spells gasping in “the shallow end” with the sun on my face in the most pleasant conditions.

And this went well until last week when my fingers stopped working. I was basically suffering alien hand syndrome. I couldn’t even have the satisfaction of picking my own nose.

But it was cool because I could still swim.

And then it got worse. Basically when I reached the point that I couldn’t sleep more than 20 minutes without waking in agony. I phoned the fizz for an appointment. Helpfully for him, I also self diagnosed – I have a trapped nerve and a 14k swim a week away. HELP.

After a weekend of jogging with my arm flapping about like a whole, numb, parma ham and swims followed by muscular convulsions in my chest and my tricep I was definitely ready to see the physio this morning.

Diagnosis? My traps, rhomboids, pecs and first rib are all so gnarled that they are sitting heavily on the root of a nerve. Making my hand numb and my arm spasmic.

Prognosis? Some needles whacked into me, strapped up like Tutankhamun and some massage with a pneumatic drill today and Wednesday mean that I will be fit as a fiddle by Sunday. Go figure.

And then it will be time to swim. In shit. But anyway.

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Jogging and Swimming at the Keswick Mountain Festival

Posted on May 24, 2016. Filed under: 10k, 1500m OW Swim, 2016, Hill Running, Keswick Mountain Festival, open water swimming, race report, race review, running, swimming, Uncategorized |

In March, while visiting the US, I discovered a new phenomenon – Granny’s Apple Fries – deep fried Granny Smith apples. As an international junk food explorer it was my duty to try them:

“Granny’s Apple Fries, please”, I request politely.

“Regular or Large?”

Duh, thinks I. “Large”

“Alamo?”

“……”, I pause to process the question.

“Alamo?”, louder still.

My mind processes the request, the frustrated look and the lengthening queue. Alamo. Davy Crockett? Served in a raccoon fur hat? Are we hunkering down to see off the Mexicans in the queue as a Trumpian private army?

I go all British. “I’m terribly sorry, I don’t understand the question”

“ALAMO”, louder still, using the British technique for bridging international communication issues.

A supervisor approaches. They mumble in American to each other.

“A la mode!?”

I speak pidgin French, I can do this. Wait. That means “in fashion”.

Speechlessly I do my confused face.

“Do y’all want your fries with ice cream?” A question I thought I’d never be asked as a grown up.

“Oh yes please”. I gasp, exhausted and broken.

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***

This exchange brought me to two conclusions about America. Firstly, they invented deep frying apples – I don’t know what this means but when they write the history of the world I feel it will be significant. And secondly, as Oscar Wilde said, we are indeed two nations separated by a common language (and they can mangle French quite effectively as well).

Which, in a very indirect way takes me to my point.

The KMF Trail 10k brought my total of trail races to three and I can now safely conclude that trail runners and other runners are a common breed separated by a common language. Where a trail runner says hill, I see mountain. Where a trail runner says gently sloping, I see near vertical mountain face.

And so it was that I found myself contemplating the Keswick Trail 10k, described tantalisingly as “perfect for entry level runners who want to start trail running. It’s a mixture of wide open trails, some single track, a few easy hills with some road and fields to finish”.

I shall return to this but back to the beginning.

***

After her Glencoe half Pam signed up to do the Keswick 25k and while browsing the website I found a 1.5k swim and entered. After a little more browsing I discovered I could also squeeze in a 10k, although I knew it would be a big ask 2 weeks after the Glen Lyon ultra, but what the hell. Lets make a weekend of it, joined by Pam’s running partner and cousin Sandi and her family.

IMG_20160520_203558The Festival opens on Friday and has an amazing laid back atmosphere with kids and dogs and down jackets and trail shoes and marquees and bands clinging on to the sloped shoreline of Derwentwater. There are live bands and a million distractions but the real star of the show is the stunning view down the lake that changes with every change in the weather, of which there were many.

Pam and Sandi were duly dropped off on Saturday morning for the gentle hills of the 25k as the skies opened. All 450 runners and sherpas squeezed into the registration marquee for the race briefing as the rain upped it’s game from epic to biblical and then, without fuss, the race kinda started from inside the marquee. An hour in the beer tent later and the weather went saharan. Great for the sherpas but a steamy run for the runners on their undulating loop round Derwentwater.

All the trail events finished on the lake shore with a long (uphill) run through a knowledgeable and supportive crowd. Every runner was cheered in no matter how long they took. The finish area was probably the best supported that I have seen outside of Ironman or VLM which is incredible for an event in the depths of the lakes.

Anyway, Pam and Sandi finished without incident, loving the course and the volunteers, which means we can end the preamble and get on to the main events.

Sunday morning saw the ultra runners away at 6am and, when I arrived just before 9, I am pretty sure that I saw the last of the casualties from Toploader and Scouting for Girls crawling out of the fragrant portaloos.

KMF 10K Trail Run

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There are many things that are unique about the KMF but the boat trip across Derwentwater for the start of the 10k must be one of the most special. The sky was blue, the water was like a mirror and the sun shone down on Catbells.

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Yes, the sun on Catbells. Oh. What is that glinting in the sun? Oh. Runners. 10k runners. UP A FRIGGING MOUNTAIN. A few easy hills, MY ARSE.

I look at the lady next to me on the boat. I point and soundlessly mouth words. She nods. My heart sinks.

As we dock we head to a field. At which point a hundred or so people disappear into the woods, emerging a little later tightening drawstrings at their waists. We are given the one minute warning to move to the start line. As instructed I move to the start line. I look around, no-one else has moved to the start line. HOLY SHITE I AM AT THE FRONT.

GO!

On a track maybe three runners wide, gnarly with tree roots and rutted. A few racing snakes overtake. I am behind a girl dicking around with her iPod playlist as the path narrows to single file. Oh bugger, I AM the traffic jam.

After a kilometre or so we start climbing through wet mud and tree roots still pretty much single file. I am still running, thank god. And then we pop out on a downhill road. And then we climb.

Apparently the route is the Catbells Terrace. I don’t really know what I am talking about but I would describe it as technical as we slid and clambered on loose scree. After a kilometre the scenery opens up looking down the lake to Keswick and Derwent Isle that I will be swimming around in a couple of hours. The route changes to a steep downhill and I happily trot down actually taking advantage of ballast and gravity and overtaking some of the frailer racing snakes. Until we climb again, this time I insert some half hearted jogs – I exchange positions time and time again with the more steady runners that keep up a metronomic pace. I run like an attention deficient four year old, sprinting, walking, gasping.

At about 6k we cross a road into some woods. I inhale deeply and a mouthful of midges hit my sick trigger at warp speed. The next couple of kilometres are characterised by me hoiking up and snot rocketing mangled midge carcass. I skip the water station for fear of swallowing dilute insect protein.

The last three kilometres are pretty flat. I get overtaken by ultra runners 49km into their race but I don’t care. I enter Crow Park and Rory meets me half way up the hill, runs with me to the finish and claims my medal.

It was a truly amazing course in wonderful weather. As a bonus we got an extra 0.7k too! Coool.

With the ultra still in my legs and knowing the ascent (to give Edinburger’s some context the middle 5k was like 3 times the ascent of Arthur’s Seat) I was hoping to come in under 1:15. With the extra 0.7k I managed 1:13 and my legs actually behaved themselves. And that is a result I am quite pleased with.

Without any further ado I went straight to the sports nutrition tents (just kidding) to ready myself for the swim. A chicken tikka kebab and a can of coke, as always, were the recovery choice of this champion.

KMF 1500m Derwent Isle Open Water Swim

A couple of hours later I found myself in a rubber suit for the second time in the same week. Indeed the second time this year. With a total of 38k swimming this year, it was really just a kickstart to the longer swims later in the year but it looked fun so what the hell.

The water temperature was announced as 11c but I would guess it was nearer 14c as I was one of the first swimmers in for a very protracted entry and I thought it was lovely. With 144 swimmers lined up for a deep water start we got a countdown, that I didn’t hear, and then an air horn, which I did, and we were off.

Then it got weird. No stramash. No banging of limbs. No ducking. I breathed right. No-one. I breathed left. No-one. False start?

I looked back. Nope. We were away. AND I WAS LEADING.

After 100m I was conscious of three swimmers on my left. I breathe right and no-one was there. I started catching arms with the swimmer immediately on my left. We keep clashing until we are off the shore of the Island when we have a bash that stops us dead. I look up and see one swimmer ahead and three in a row with me.

The whole swim is shallow and we were warned to stay out from the Island to avoid tree roots. I come very close to a boulder under the surface which stops the swimmer next to me dead. Around the back of the island it gets choppier and I lose sight of my line. I pick a canoeist to follow and assume that he knows where he is going.

At this point I have a dawning awareness that there isn’t going to be a surge that will leave me mid-field. I am at the pointy end with hardly any training.

As we the beach comes into view I have to dig deep to keep up the pace. I am swimming beyond the ability of my diesel engine. And then the morning 10k starts to make itself felt. First in my calves and then spreading to my hamstrings. That knife edge where crippling cramp is one ill-judged wiggle away. With 200m to go I am swimming with my feet perpendicular to my body position. I am shoulder to shoulder, stroke for stroke with a guy – we will definitely fight it out for a place.

We hit the pontoon together. We climb out for the run, both my hamstrings cramp. Bugger. I spend a moment on my knees trying to re-straighten my legs then I run up the beach to trigger the timing mat. As we get our Bio Security hose down by a National Trust volunteer I notice that I managed to stay up with the speedsters. I pick up my medal with a warm feeling inside (not pee in the wetsuit) that I can still pull off a swim performance if I concentrate.

I grab a zebra burger for recovery and sit on the one spot in Crow Park where there is a data  signal and my result comes through in a text. I am glad I am sitting down. [Warning: HUMBLEBRAG KLAXON] I was 9th overall, 4th male and 1st Veteran (that apparently means I am old and not a cow mender) [HUMBLEBRAG ENDS].

Later, at dinner, the sherpas get animated – “I can’t believe you didn’t swim harder to get on the podium. The kids would love to have seen that”. I humbly remind the sherpas that most of them were on a boat trip during my swim and the podium presentation.

And then we marched the kids up a hill for some amazing evening views.

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So, would I recommend the Keswick Mountain Festival? Absolutely, and I am sure that I will be back there next year. Amazing family atmosphere, great events that use the wonderful outdoors on their doorstep and great marshalls and volunteers.

Top work Keswick!

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parkrunning

Posted on May 1, 2016. Filed under: edinburgh, parkrun, running, ultra running, Uncategorized |

Yesterday I parkrunned. Or parkran. OK, I may not be fluent in the verb construction but I ran in a park, organised by parkrun. Always one word, lower case. Remember that.

With an ultra a week away, tapering and still wanting to go for a jog I thought I’d pop down to parkrun for the first time in ages.

parkrun is a very British phenomenon. A bunch of people meet in a park on a Saturday morning for a timed 5km run. Dog walkers look on bemused as the lycra clad do their stretches, drink coffee and catch up with virtual strangers as they await the start. Those strangers could as well be an Ironman World Champion as it could be the old lady that sells  you sausage rolls in Greggs. It is inclusive and classless and free.

Quite frankly it is cult like. Numbered t-shirts mark out the elders, everyone is a selfless volunteer and it is free to join. I have prayed at the altar of the cult for several years. Of course, when I say “prayed at the altar of the cult”I mean that I have projectile vomited on my shoes at the finish line. And with that vivid memory in mind I wore my Special Trainers. The ones that, if Asics did paint samples, would be called Corrosive Lime Zing. The ones that could cope with a projectile spinach smoothie and not look sullied.

There is probably a bawhair in distance between my two closest parkruns but as Dunfermline is, quite frankly, Himalayan and I ain’t no sherpa I opted for Edinburgh.

Now, there are two kinds of Edinburgh parkrun. The kind where the dank, grey sky presses down on the grey waves of the Forth topped with white horses galloping to escape the icy, razor rain that strips the flesh from the skin. Or the big sky Edinburgh parkrun where the cobalt waters draw the eye across the islands jagging from the Forth to the snow topped Ochils behind the Forth Bridge.

Yesterday was a big sky day.

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Having done only two speed sessions this year as I concentrated on plodding long distances in hills it is fair to say that my parkrun expectations were modest. Pedestrian even. But the great thing about parkrun is that everyone is welcome and no matter how you finish you get great support.

I can’t recall running 5k in under 31 minutes so far this year so in my mind I had a plan that went 5:30 for first three kilometres and then try to finish strongly but be somewhere near 27:30.  It’s always good to have a plan.

As 500 odd people (odd meaning roughly as opposed to strange, although some were) mingled around the start area I found myself in the shade of a tree. There was a slight chill in the shade but I stayed there, warned off by the smell of cooking bacon in the air as the remainder of the field’s Scottish skin was grilled under our re-discovered sun.

It didn’t escape my attention that there were more than five times more people loitering around to run 5k than there would be at my ultra to run 30 miles next week. Next week will see no congestion.

With little fuss the run started. It was so busy that I just went with the crowd with little consideration for my pace.

I heard my watch beep 1km but it was still desperately busy and I didn’t want to clip a heel by looking down.

Sweat was rolling into my eyes. My breathing was progressing through telephone sex pest to asphyxiation.

Beep. Second kilometre done.

I glance down. Lap 2 : 5:12. Bugger, a bit quick.  Cumulative time : 10:24. Double bugger. It had been good to have a plan. A plan to completely disregard.

I could feel the bloody, metallic taste of Too Much Effort Too Soon rising in my mouth. I consciously eased a little.

Beep. Lap 3 : 5:21.

I was right in the hole on lap 4. I couldn’t get air in my mouth fast enough. Ironically my legs felt fine but I couldn’t get the fuel to them quick enough. 5:28. Still faster than The Plan though, but I was fading.

The last 500m of Edinburgh parkrun is a bit off road. A lady overtook me on the grass. I let her go but I though “what the hell” and cranked back up the engine. I ACTUALLY OVERTOOK SOME PEOPLE. Having said that I am not entirely sure if they were doing parkrun or just walking their dogs.

Finish line. Gasp. 5:22. Gasp. 26:47. Gasp. Better than plan. Gasp. No vom.

And that was my first parkrun in ages.

If you’ve never done parkrun – register and go. If you haven’t been for ages – find your barcode and go. If you are a parish council thinking of charging parkrunners to use your park – get a grip and don’t be dicks.

Next week I am running 30 miles in the wild Highlands. If I haven’t blogged by mid week, alert the authorities. (That is a joke, by the way)

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Catching the Bug

Posted on November 25, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I ran 12 kilometres this morning. Not far in the scheme of things. Nor fast. But fun.

It is, in fact, my longest run since May when I ran the Edinburgh Mara-hen. And before that it was May and my London Mara-hell.
If I am completely honest with myself I have not really loved running since I ran the Rome Marathon in 2010. I’ve run marathon distance four more times since then and I’ve pounded the streets for many miles and hours. But it’s always been a chore.

On 25th October I titled my 5.3k trail run in Training Peaks “Start of Project Ultra”. Every run starts with that first step out the door and every run campaign starts with that first run, no matter how fat or unfit I am or how short or slow the run is.

Since then I’ve just had fun. More fun than I can remember running ever being. I’ve run mainly off-road. I’ve hunted hills. I’ve got wet and muddy. I’ve run in the forest with a head torch.

Basically I am not plodding the pavements.

I am meeting dog walkers and seeing deer. I am stopping and chatting to people. I am accelerating when I see remote woodland psychos. Everything is fun. It is like the old days when every run was a new distance, a new PB, or a new route. Running is exciting again.

Today I thought I’d test run “the snack pack”. Also a transformational experience. Not least because I was wearing a couple of soft flasks with half a litre of water in each simulating, I imagine, the experience of jogging with huge silicon boobs wearing only a flimsy Ann Summers bra.

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No, the snack pack was more transformational. It had pockets. I didn’t have to worry about losing the car keys and hunting for them into the night as the doggers arrived. I could carry my phone with a map saved on it. I had a waterproof on my back. I had water.

Small things but things that normally need planning and fannying about.

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And so I hit the trails. The Blairadam forest is lumpy. But it is beautiful. Spruce and beech scents and scenes line the trails. There are no sounds but my rasping breath, thumping feet and the furious gush of swollen burns. Hat, gloves, buff, under armour, white beard and shorts versus icy puddles and frosty trails.

I’m not built for hills but I have noticed that most ultras seem to chuck in a hill or two. So I go head to head with hills now. The whole outward journey was uphill, at times so steep and icy that I was in danger of matching a gravel face peel with my silicon chest. Hillbilly cosmetic surgery is the way to go.

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Then I hit the high point with 205 metres of climbing in my legs, looped round and it was downhill most of the way home. Save, of course, for one last steep climb of 1.5km. I followed the ultra principle of walking some of the hill. Not, you understand, as a deliberate training technique but I just couldn’t run and squeeze my thumping heart back between my ribs simultaneously.

For the whole downhill all I could do was grin. Still silence, but for creaking trees and thundering streams. I met one man and two dogs in 12 kilometres of beautiful hilly woodland. I stopped for a chat, something I’d never contemplate on a road run.

Filthy, sweaty, cold and with an overwhelming sense of calmness, I finished ready for more.

I seem to have caught the bug again. And I don’t even mind.

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Ironquality

Posted on November 19, 2015. Filed under: 50womentokona, Ranty McRantface, Uncategorized |

Apparently it’s International Men’s Day. I have no idea why we need International Men’s Day. Perhaps, to celebrate our privilege? To rejoice in our ability to pee standing up? A protest against the shewees that threaten to neutralise our peeing super power? Who knows? Who cares?

Anyway, let me digress.

Two of the questions I was most frequently asked after my “When is an ironman an Ironman?” rant post were these:

“Why would you get a brand tattooed on your skin?  What if the brand became associated with something really evil?”

Good questions.  (Not really but lets play along and pretend they are).

Well my answer is simple. Other people may think that I have a brand inked on my skin, but I don’t. I have a reminder of a day in August where I fought every instinct to quit and did something that I never thought was possible. I don’t have a brand on my skin (others can conclude that I do but that, quite frankly, is their business and I care not one shit what they think) I have a momento. A reminder of what I can achieve. Just like the stunted toe nails that I have from my first marathon and the sunburn scars that I have from when I escaped from Alcatraz.

The second part of the question is far more interesting though.  What if Ironman became associated with something truly heinous?

Again, there are two parts for me. Ironman for me, as I explained in the previous post, is not a traditional brand. It is a spirit that is bigger than mere business.  The current custodian of that spirit is the Dalian Wanda Group who own the World Triathlon Corporation. The previous custodians were Providence Equity Group and then some of the originals who were involved back at the start in Hawaii – Valerie Silk and the very first race director and finisher Commander John Collins. There will be many more custodians of the brand in the future – some will be good and some will be arseholes.  However, don’t confuse Ironman, the event, the attitude and the spirit with the business.

To avoid confusion and to address the question slightly indirectly – I cant’t see Ironman becoming involved with something despicable but it doesn’t take a giant leap of imagination to see WTC doing something really dickish.  And the reason I say that is because they already are.

The World Triathlon Corporation is run by a bunch of privileged white males who, it would appear, consider themselves to be like Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe.  Old fashioned, patronising misogynists.

Let me explain.

The Ironman World Championships are held at Kona every year. There are 50 slots for male pros at the championships and 35 for women.  “Eh?”, I hear you say.

Yup.  WTC could solve this with a wave of the hand.  But no.  Instead the CEO, Andrew Messick, who I imagine struts around WTC Towers clad only in red speedos and Hawaiin Tropic like a bombastic Colonel Kilgore got the WTC spreadsheet monkey to fire up excel.

Now fair and equal seem fairly simple terms to understand but if you are a misogynistic dinosaur you call on the spreadsheet guy to come up with a formula. In a real company they’d probably have an algorithm but the numbers guys skipped class that day to do push ups.

“I know”, says spreadsheet guy, “if we apply the percentage that females take up in the general population of Ironman starters then 35 pro slots for women is fair”.

WTC spreadsheet guy drops the mic to spontaneous applause.

If he was in charge of the civil rights legislation you can imagine his algorithmic machinations – 50 seater bus, one Rosa Parks whining about getting on the bus…..input numbers, calculate, disengage brain…..2% of seats on the bus should be available for black women.  Halfwitted WTC logic.

No. That is not fair. That is a mealy mouthed equation that does nothing for anyone save to make WTC look dumber than they ever aspired.

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Fair is equal numbers of men and women. That is just decent. We want companies to be decent right?

But also, if WTC hope to grow the number of women in the sport and I hope they do, then they also need to realise that fair allocation of slots helps that too. Strong pro female role models will breed participation. For the hard of thinking at HQ I have included a simple diagram.

Sure, you could discount the slots isssue as one faux pas. Albeit a pretty significant one. But it’s a pattern of behaviour.

If you, like me, sit down every year to watch the Ironman World Championships then you will have experienced the excruciating commentary. That is, of course, until you have extracted all the unintended hilarity from it and hit the mute button.  These dull old white guys make Statler and Waldorf seem engaging.  And respectful.

Their commentary is of the men’s race and the girl’s race.  The first man out the water and the first girl out the water.  Well, chaps, either call them boys and girls or men and women. Don’t be consistently patronising. “Pink it and shrink it” may be the attitude of most suppliers to the triathlon business but we can expect better from the governing body.  Much better.

Hell, “girls” like Leanda Cave got back on the bike after a brutal bike crash and chased back to the lead while a “hardman” like Chef Ramsay hit the showers after one hot shart. HTFU Gordy, it ain’t Ironman if you ain’t shit yourself. And don’t take up a place at the world championships without qualifying unless you are prepared to drag your broken, shitting, puking body 140.6 miles.

Should there be Ironman and Ironwomen? Personally, I don’t think so – it’s a unisex status like President or Prime Minister.  140.6 miles of hard graft gives not one shit whether you are a man or a women. But it should be fair.

So, there you go, I’ve managed to make International Men’s Day all about women.  It’s not normally the kind of thing I’d write about but it just seemed the right thing to do.

Always remember – Anything Is, ahem, Possible.

 

 

 

 

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Running on Mince

Posted on May 17, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Like Forrest Gump’s chocolate box, life is all about choices.  Some are hard and some are easy.  Some are happy and some are sad.  Some are life changing and some are mundane.  Before you make the choice to stop reading let me assure that is as deep as this gets.

As I was getting ready to run the other day something quite profound struck me.  I wasn’t procrastinating.  I did a double take of myself a day later when I got on the turbo without any fannying about.  I have even been for a tentative swim recently.  Why is this significant?  Because I had made a choice to do these things with no nagging sense of having to do it.

I remembered something really important that I had forgotten.  I swim and bike and run because I enjoy them and they keep me fit.  When I feel an obligation to do them I lose the sense of fun – yet, as a contradiction, I need something to keep me focussed.  That is when I remembered why I don’t enter loads of events.  My motivation comes from having one big, hairy objective rather than trudging around the country, constantly on the verge of injury, picking up ill fitting cotton t-shirts I’ll never wear and a lifetime supply of tiny packets of flaxseed and god awful cereal bars.

I don’t think I ever said it out loud but the London Marathon had started to drag me down.  There wasn’t sufficient satisfaction from proving my hypothesis that a 16 week from illness to marathon plan was stupid, to compensate for the misery of trudging long distances when not fully fit.  But now, without the marathon as a millstone, I am thoroughly enjoying the freedom to just go for a jog, or to choose to jump on the bike instead or if I am blind drunk and having taken leave of my senses even go for a swim.

Here are some numbers.  Since Ironman Austria last year

I have run 597km.  42.2 of those kilometres were an actual marathon

I have “cycled” 623km.  All but 18km of those were indoors. I can hear the gasps of horror from the outdoor cycling nazis.

I have swim 4.4km.  Still averaging 1:45/km so not too bad for a landlubbing ex swimmer.

I expect these numbers will start to pick up now that I am just choosing to do them for fun.

Next thing up is the Edinburgh Half Marathon.  The thing you need to understand about the Edinburgh Half Marathon this year is that it is not so much a race as a hen party.  The legendary Iron Nessie is getting married and on account of me not being a chick I didn’t get an invite to the hen do; despite me being the chief bridesmaid.  Or something like that.  So we decided to do an event to make up for my NFI.  Half Ironman we said back when we were fit.  Then we noticed neither of us had been swimming very enthusiastically. Or riding bikes.  So we settled on a jog.

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One day post marathon foot

Sudocreme cures everything, right?

Sudocreme cures everything, right?

Bizarrely this will be my first ever half marathon.  I checked the record books and in the last few years I have run over 13.1miles 37 times but never actually done a half marathon.  So, if you are spectating, feel free to chuck us some booze and pringles to celebrate the upcoming nuptials and, more importantly, my FIRST, EVER half marathon.

Normally just after a marathon I would declare a half marathon as easy-peasy.  However.  How-fecking-ever.  The HORRORS.  While running London my feet were sore.  On finishing and inspecting them they were declared sore but undamaged.  Then they started to go wrong.  Firstly they were just bruised, scabby, broken feet.  But now they are mince.  So spare a thought for the chief bridesmaid running towards a power station on mince.

Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me if I haven’t had the opportunity to thank you personally.  If you would like to donate to the Make a Wish foundation or (please) just have a read about what they do then just pop over here…….

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

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Running in Squares

Posted on March 30, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

You don’t often read about casual runners in the newspapers but, when you do, they have invariably discovered a body.  This week as I ran I studiously examined hedgerows, ditches, and alleyways looking for anything that would give me an excuse.  I wasn’t just looking for a body, any excuse would have done really.  Any excuse to end the purgatory of runs that just didn’t feel good.

I know, I know, what doesn’t kill you blah, blah, blah etc.  But, this should not be so painful with four weeks to go.  Four.  Fecking.  Weeks.  To. Go.

To be sure, I am shipping more timber than normal after half a year of lung enforced sofa dwelling, but as a veteran of two Ironman and lots of long distance running, swimming and cycling I should be comfortable with suffering.  But I’m not.

I have no idea if I’ve gone soft or if The Click just happened yet.  If I am going to harden up or Click I wish it would happen soon because I have very fresh memories of 26.2 mile pain.  That beast outweighs the Ironman, 5k swims or century rides for pure, unadulterated discomfort both during and after.  As well as toughening up the chafe points, strengthening the knees, bones and muscles and cold weather readiness I could really do, right now, with my brain being on my side.

It’s a bizarre situation – I will run about 10 or 11 miles at a steady pace, full of the joys of spring and then my mind wanders and I hit a mental brick wall.  It’s like my legs and brain are completely disconnected.  You know the old films where the bearded (I am currently bare faced and this in itself may explain the lack of superpowers) salty old seadog captain of the ship bellows down the speaking tube to the engine room?

Captain (Me, obvs): *blows down tube* FULL SPEED AHEAD, ENGINE ROOM

Engine Room (Legs. Again mine, equally obvs):  Aye, aye Skipper!

*awaits surge of power like a doped American sprinter*

Captain:  Errrrr, Engine Room, full welly please!

Engine Room:  *splutters, coughs, bangs, seizes*

When I try to change pace or terrain my legs just turn into a bag of spanners.  As the pedalling expression goes, sometimes I just feel like I am running in squares.

But, I have a theory.  Bear with me.

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What goes down, with grace, must come back up with little dignity and a crushed spirit.

I live on a hill.  Not a normal hill, but a gradual, sleekit, insidious snake of a hill.  The kind that you only notice going uphill and you can only prove with a GPS plot.  As I have done longer runs, so it is that I have had longer returns.  And now, on the return I hit the hill more fatigued.  When tired, and shipping some extra timber the smallest incline becomes a mountain.  6 miles of continuous mountain just crushes the soul.  A rapidly fading lightbulb smashed under the jackboot of ascent.

haggiThere are only two solutions to the hill mental block.  And while I normally subscribe to the theory, “the hills are your friends” comments will be glared at with my withering 1000 yard stare.  These hills have not bothered me a jot training for any event until this time; and now only when mileage hit the teens.  It’s a temporary hill motivation problem.

Firstly, and least likely, I could run concentric circles around the contour lines of the hill to avoid the ascent.  However, I fear I would end up with legs like a haggis.  Having freakishly stumpy legs anyway I am not sure the lopsided look would suit me.

The better option is to travel a little for my last two long runs.  For flat Ironman courses I normally use Loch Leven or the Union canal to get used to slogging out long flat miles.  It will also be useful for getting my distance confidence back up after some horrendous uphill walk/run yomps.  One of each probably – scenic, mentally soothing and flat as pancakes.

Perspective is also important.  Reviewing the run data after yesterday’s run, I realised that I climbed more in 9 miles than I had in the whole London Marathon course in 2012.  My 16 mile run on Friday was double the climbing of the London course.  I don’t feel much like a mountain goat but I am certainly spending a lot of time going upwards.  I know I don’t have the distance in my legs for London but skipping hills to allow me to cover more distance is just what I need at the moment.

That sounds like a plan.

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Congratulations if you’ve made it to the end.  This was just one of those cathartic posts I needed to get off my chest.  I shall now HTFU and shut up.

Four.  Weeks.  To.  Go.

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