Chantilly Sunrise

It’s 6.30am, a Sunday morning. It’s still dark and the quaint, narrow streets of Chantilly are quiet and deserted. A couple of triathletes cycle silently past, headed for the cobbled road that leads up to the Chateau.

A woman walks steadily, pushing her bike. Beside her a tall man, carrying her heavy kit bag on his shoulders. They walk in silence. They cross the road and she slows to take a breath, as he walks on ahead. It’s a cooler morning but there is still no air. As she tries to breathe her chest becomes tight. Her heart is pounding and her stomach churning. The magnitude of what she is about to take on is overwhelming and a mild panic is setting in. She tries to take another deep breath. There is still no air and a dull ache lays heavy on her chest. She feels dizzy. A silent tear rolls down her cheek. “It’s OK, you got this,” she whispers to herself. She lifts her hand to wipe her damp cheek and as she does so the tall man turns around.

“Hey?” he says gently, walking back towards her, “what’s the matter?”. Only, he knows instinctively exactly what is wrong. She shakes her head unable to speak, afraid that words will unleash further tears. He reaches out, wraps his arms around her and pulls her in tight. Her head to his chest, a few more silent tears fall. He kisses her gently on the forehead. She looks up at him. “I just can’t breathe”, she says. He nods and pulls her back in his arms. She rests her head there a while, and the air gradually returns. They walk on in silence and as they approach the Chateau the sun begins to rise. It’s beautiful. The Chateau is magnificent, proud, steeped in history, glorious.

“It’s beautiful”, he says quietly. She nods, and smiles.

“It’s OK. You got this,” she whispers in her head.

And still I rise.



At the moment, I give myself a pat on the back for just getting out of bed and dragging my arse to work, so how on earth I’m supposed to tackle a Middle/Half Iron distance Triathlon this weekend  I’ve no idea. Where do I muster up that kind of physical, mental and emotional energy from right now?

It’s a struggle some days just to get up. I am wading in deep, clay mud and trying desperately not to sink. As usual it’s been gradual, and despite the warning signs (randomly bursting into tears, self-medicating with alcohol to aid sleep, eating either everything or nothing, and feeling frustrated, sad and angry) it seems at the moment there is nothing I can do to stop it. I wake most days with a dark, tired, fog sitting behind my eyes and my body feels constantly ragged after a restless night’s sleep. The witching hour(s) brings the unwelcome visitors of chronic anxiety, panic and insomnia. It amazes me how I can vividly imagine so many ‘wrong’ things in one go, but the darkness of the night makes the worry so real. I try to ride the wave and let it pass, to allow my thoughts to present themselves like a rain cloud that soon will be blown away by the wind. I try my progressive relaxation methods. I try the breathing techniques – in through the nose and out through the mouth. I try to imagine a warm sandy beach, the waves lapping on the shore. I try to meet my anxious thoughts with “loving kindness”… And…BOLLOCKS!! I can’t keep them out any longer. ARRRGGGHH!!!

I am crashing into a bunch of cyclists because I can’t get my feet out the clips. I am toppling into traffic. I am getting sworn at by a French marshal because I’m a stupid English woman who doesn’t know what she’s doing. OK, forget that, I am swimming, I’m good at swimming, long, languid strokes in the water – SHIT – nope, swallowing water and unable to breathe. Emergency breaststroke. Panic. My goggles have come off. I’ve lost a contact lens and I can’t see. OK, let’s not be silly, the run’s OK – let’s focus on the run. I’ve done lots of running, what can go wrong with the running? – FFS – my legs are cramping and I can’t run. I trip over. I fall. I FAIL. I can’t do it. I want to cry right now and I’m not even there yet.

I make lists in my head of all the things I mustn’t forget to take with me, but the words are just repeated over and over AND OVER, so they’re not helping at all. Not helpful. Just in case I didn’t get it the first time. Make sure you remember -passport, wetsuit, cycling shoes, don’t forget you will be on the wrong side of the road now!! Stupid English woman. Passport, racing belt, sun cream, socks, tri suit – that pink sports bra because it’s really comfy – and not the grey socks because they make your little toe sore in your trainers – trainers, cycling gloves, sunglasses, wetsuit, passport. Paperwork – insurance documents, British Tri membership card, John’s spectator pass. Passport. Bike. Trainers. Cycling Gloves. Wetsuit. Membership Card. Passport. Bike. Money. Need Euros. Passport. Bike???

LIKE I CAN FORGET MY BIKE????? OK….FFS.. That would be the best excuse ever!! I can’t possibly do the Gauntlet! I FORGOT MY BIKE!!!

I’m all smiles and no nonsense, supremely organised and efficient. I am an intelligent woman. I know all of this is crap, but if it’s crap why is it keeping me awake at night, why is it waking me up in the middle of the night? My brain is on overdrive, and showing no signs of slowing itself down.

So, I’m pretty sure my current mental health state is overworked, stressed and tired. Fatigue is setting in. I’m ready for a holiday. The 50+ hour weeks have taken their toll, and where I have, on some days, desperately tried to find the time to train, I have also, on occasions, tried desperately to find excuses not to. Knowing that I haven’t been able to fully commit to the training has meant that I haven’t given it 100%, and my anxiety about being on the bike is currently off the scale of normality. I am frazzled, worn out and physically and emotionally exhausted. I need a break.

So, with some seriously bad planning, the Half Iron falls half way through a week of what will be our only holiday this year. Knowing that I am pretty much on the brink of some kind of serious MELT DOWN, I find myself faced with a huge dilemma. I don’t want the anxiety to win. I cannot admit defeat. But I also know that right now I don’t need to be awake for several hours a night worrying over something that I have unintentionally found myself completely unprepared for. I am right where I did not want to be. Sure, I can get round. But will I actually enjoy any of it? Or will I just be holding on for dear life and struggling on to the end? I am supposed to be looking forward to my holiday not dreading it!

Even more than that, my body and brain are both telling me that I need to rest. When you find yourself crying at your desk at 5pm on a Friday night, you know you’re about done in.

I will take all of my gear, just in case, but I currently have no desire whatsoever to take part. I want a holiday and I need a rest…

…but if the mood takes me and I feel recharged enough by Sunday…

To Half Iron or not To Half Iron…

Nicky J

Not quite an Iron Lady after all, YET.

Wilderness is a necessity and there’s not an app for that…

“And, into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” – John Muir

~Forest Bathing~ (otherwise known as shinrin-yoku)

This delightful phrase conjures up all sorts of images in my head – some ethereal beauties in a mystical place, with floating white dresses, sunlight flickering through the trees and glistening on a warm pool of clear water. A lush green forest. Wine drunk out of goblets. Someone playing a flute.. and a harp…Merriment and laughter.

Turns out Forest Bathing doesn’t quite include all these things, which I have to say I find marginally disappointing.

So what does it actually involve? Forest Bathing is based on the very surprising theory that spending time in nature can lower your blood pressure, fight off depression, decrease stress levels, boost the immune system, and increase everything from memory to creativity.

The idea with shinrin-yoku, inspired by ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices, is to let nature enter your body through all five senses.

As a repeat sufferer of anxiety and depression and a firm believer that prevention is better than a cure, I enjoy researching various “natural” ways to aid my mental health. I like to think of it as arming myself with a little self-care tool kit of ammunition against the BLACK DOG.

I am lucky enough to live very close to a beautiful wooded area, and I have to admit, it is definitely my “happy place”. I love running in the woods. It’s peaceful, it’s hilly, often muddy, and I feel at home. Relaxed. Unfortunately, in forest bathing terms, the word on the street is… that you don’t quite get the benefits if you’re tearing around the trails on your feet (or on a mountain bike perhaps). This is because you are quite likely to still be hitched up to civilization – connected to your phone or your Garmin possibly? More than that, yes of course, you are obtaining some physical and mental benefits, but to really get the most out of nature, you actually need to be present in it, not distracted by your own great story of self. “When you’re pursuing a sport, you get cardiac points, but you’re not necessarily getting nature points,” – Rachel Kaplan (researcher University of Michigan).

The idea is simple: a person basically visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way (like Mr Soft perhaps?) Although, forest therapy in groups tends to involve guided activities and meditation as well.

According to (what is now becoming quite extensive) research, to experience the ‘healing’ power of trees, you only need to be in the woods for a short time. By spending as little as 15 minutes among the trees there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.

So, as we are dog sitting for friends this week, I thought I’d multi-task and have a go at this whole forest bathing thing whilst on our early morning dog walk. I’ve been feeling a bit stressed out with 50 hour (plus) working weeks, impending Half Iron I’ve not done enough training for and business plans that need a whole lot of attention that I don’t have the time to devote to at the moment….

…..Wander calmly, with “soft fascination” (love that phrase). Peace and serenity. Breathe. Take in the smells, sights and sounds. The woods are alive. Sunlight. A gentle breeze. I totally get this forest bathing malarkey. I am feeling holier than a monk and very, very pleased with myself – for a good few minutes at least. Then the mind starts wandering, thinking about work and the day ahead, what I’m going to make for dinner later. What time I have to be up tomorrow morning? How long will it take us to get there? Did I ring that gentleman back about his granite worktops? How many steps have I done so far?… Then all of a sudden the dog spies/hears an animal deep within the bushes and goes bounding off, hurtling through the undergrowth, chasing his prey with great vigour. Seemingly the dog finds the woods his own little “happy place” too. Only he must have had a little too much enthusiasm for hounding his victim and I can no longer hear his big bouncing doberman body crashing through the vegetation. For the next 5 minutes (no exaggeration) shouts of “Murphy” “HERE!!” “Murphy Dog” “Murph” “MURPHY!!!” are echoing through the woods, my screechy voice (can’t shout) interspersed with varying degrees of successful (and unsuccessful) wolf whistles. I am now in a mild panic and start swearing under my breath a lot, wondering how I would even begin to explain that I’ve lost the doberman and where on earth would the search party start? Deep breath. Last really, really long and loud wolf whistle (the kind which would make my Dad proud) and he comes lolloping back (from an entirely different direction), totally out of breath, one ear flipped back and stuck to his head, half a tree attached to his collar and looking entirely pleased with his little adventure.

OK, so maybe it would be better to attempt my mindful wandering without the big, daft dobey, but by the time we had finished our walk I felt good. The blood was pumping a little, I was warm, flush in the cheeks. I felt totally energised. Also, although my thought patterns had appeared entirely random, wandering, lost and completely in the way of my serenity, I felt like all the worries of the day had already been solved. I was ready to face the day. I believe it’s what they call “clarity of mind”.

So, it seems that Forest Bathing is the next “new” thing on the agenda for mental wellness. A trend almost, like yoga and juicing. However, forest therapy (along with other holistic approaches – like yoga) such as Shinrin-yoku, have roots in many cultures throughout history. With the ever growing development of overweight screen addicts, aggressive/distracted lovers of the social media, those maintaining several platforms so they can be likers, sharers and seekers of approval, we have arrived at the age of Urban Desk Jockeys and Digital Narcissism… and of course the more important statistic of 1 in 4 people now sufferers of stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health issues  .. perhaps we should all go and hang out in the woods.

As John Muir wrote, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.”

There’s not an app for that.