ARE YOU TOUGH ENOUGH??

Easter Bank Holiday Weekend brought us the latest instalment of “Are You Tough Enough” – not the SAS version (although that looks pretty challenging) – but the “Are You Tough Enough to be John Withinshaws’ girlfriend” version. Blistering heat, gruelling conditions and a true test of grit and determination.

OK, so I can be a little dramatic at times…

I’m not sure if it’s as we grow into ourselves as adults, or as we grow into ourselves as athletes (or both) but the challenges we present ourselves with are getting more and more extreme. The purpose of our trip to the Lakes over the Bank Holiday weekend was to start the arduous and lengthy task of recceing (knowledge = power, confidence and foresight) John’s biggest target to date – the Northern Traverse – 190 miles self-supported Ultra, following Wainwrights Coast to Coast from St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay, April 2020, with 5 days to complete (on foot).

Picture of a map and Wainwrights Coast to Coast book
We had discussed various options of how we were to go about this, John coming up with the idea of carrying a temporary home on our backs for a couple of days and doing a bit of wild camping. We decided (I persuaded) that as novice wild campers and carriers of really, really heavy backpacks and that one of us deals really badly with the cold, that perhaps we should ease ourselves into the dirt-bag lifestyle and do an out and back of the first leg of the journey, then move along the route in the car and do the same from point 2. We decided to leave out the first section for now (St Bees to Ennerdale – approx 14 miles) on the basis this should be relatively easy to navigate – fresh, daylight and among other people. So – park up at Ennerdale, walk from Ennerdale for as far as we could manage, put up tent for the night, wild camp and then head back the following day. Sounds straight forward enough.
Hiking items laid out ready for packing for a recce of the Northern Traverse

Of course we had to buy a tent, a rucksack for me, a tiny stove, a new coat, freeze dried expedition rations and a poo trowel before we were set to go. I researched and studied maps like my life depended on it (I take my role as 2IC very seriously), made notes, and a book of Wainwrights route that a friend had lent us became bedtime reading. Be prepared. This is a good time to practice my own navigation too. I got out all the warmest layers I could find that wouldn’t weigh me down too much – never has my packing been so minimal and organised… and then….

Cue the hottest weekend of the year so far.

Ennerdale Water in the morning sun

DAY 1

My anxiety was a little through the roof as we set off on the Friday morning – I can catastrophize better than anyone I know and if anything could go wrong on this kind of trip, I will have dreamt it up as the worst case scenario. I put my heavy rucksack on, breathed deep, pretended all was going to be OK and trundled along behind John, who was full of his usual enthusiasm and already 10 spaces in front, even though we’d only been going 5-10 minutes. We set off up Angler’s Crag (on Wainwrights advice, rather than trying to shimmy round the very dangerous shale at the bottom) and I instantly realise that I’m in a bit of trouble. I can’t breathe going up the hill, I feel slow and sluggish, but more than that – I’m in excruciating pain in my shoulders (and neck) with the rucksack. I don’t think I can walk 20 minutes, never mind 20 miles. John recognises I’m struggling and insinuates I may need to adjust the pack.

“I can’t do anything with the pack – it’s just really heavy.” I think I’m going to cry.

He finds a couple of straps at the top that I didn’t know existed, pulls them tight, which brings the top of the pack into my shoulders rather than dangling/dragging 3 inches away.

“Oh…” that’s a little better. FFS Jenkins.

The journey becomes a little easier after that, although we are picking our way through stony ground initially, so it’s not fast going, and of course it gets hotter and hotter as the day goes on. As we hit the forest path on a steady uphill, I start to become a little conscious of how much water we are (or aren’t) carrying and hope to god we find somewhere to fill up.

Black Sail YHA hut in the Lake District, Cumbria
We reached the Black Sail Hut YHA after about 3 hours or so of walking non stop in the heat. Wainwright describes it as the loneliest of all Youth Hostels in Lakeland. Not on this day. It was like heaven on a hill, and there were loads of other people who clearly felt the same. Not only could we fill up our water bottles, there is also an honesty shop where you can make your own cups of tea, coffee, etc. and buy flapjacks and crisps.

We had a rest, a cuppa and a bite to eat (crisps to get the salts back in and some delicious flapjack). This set us up in fine form for the climb up Seavy Knott, which is a very steep, stepped hill and a challenge with a heavy pack on your back (weight distribution – lean in). Steady away, take your time, rest when you have to.

Over the top we were treated to some magnificent views. The bonus of the hot weather was that we could see for miles and as John says, “your eyeballs just aren’t big enough to take it all in”. As we headed down to Honister I knew we had done the worst of the work for the day and started to relax a little bit. John bought me an ice cream at the Honister cafe – bliss.

View from the top of Seavy Knott in the Lake District

Seatoller was the next marked stop point in the notes, but there’s not an awful lot there so we headed straight to Rosthwaite, at which point we had covered about 14.5 miles, and walked for 7 hours or so. We stocked up with more water for camping and treated ourselves to a well earned pint.

Enjoying a pint of cider after a hot days walking in the Lakes

 

I have to admit it was tough to leave the pub. Feet were sore and hot and we still had a little way to go. John had earmarked a spot on the map a couple of miles away in Stonethwaite, but we had to walk past a campsite to get there – fields and fields (literally HUGE campsite) full of Bank Holiday revellers, relaxing, enjoying the sunshine, drinking beer, eating barbecues, children playing in the river…tempting.We found a lovely quiet spot, and then the next challenge – putting up the tent together – the maker and breaker of relationships. We make a pretty good team – John tells me how he would like me to help, and I do as I’m told. Saves millions of arguments.

It went up quick and easy and once happy with the tent we cooked our freeze dried expedition rations, drank a little Benedictine from the hip flask, had a baby wipe wash and settled into our sleeping bags before nightfall had even arrived.

DAY 1 – A HOT BUT TIRING SUCCESS

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FAILED IN THE DALES

“I’m glad you stopped when you did,” the words of my Physio. That’s not “My” Physio (as that makes me sound like some kind of elite runner), but my Physio friend who comes to fix me when I’m sometimes broken.

“You did the right thing,” the words of my Personal Trainer/Strength and Conditioning Coach/better half/fellow competitor/running buddy.

Still, the words get stuck and the letters choke me.

D.

N.

F.

There should be another swearing F. in there too. D.N.F.F.

I know I did the right thing, but that doesn’t help the little empty feeling I get when I think about it, nor the jealousy of John’s medal hanging proudly in the hall. I’m not bitter, but I hate not finishing things. It makes me sad. I feel like a failure.

I set myself 3 major challenges this year; the first was a Half Iron distance triathlon (in France, no less). All complete, no issues. Woohoo! Not the quickest time but I was so chuffed with myself. Dirty, horrible, weedy swim, super bike and baking hot 30-degree run. Challenge No. 1 – ticked off the list.

Amongst the training schedule this year (which didn’t quite go to plan) one of my main aims has been to stay injury free. I figure I can cope with a little lack of training if everything is intact. So, all year I’ve been careful to listen to twinges, work on strength, do some “clever” training. Oh, so clever. Until you fall out the shower. Yes, I fell out the shower. Oh, so clever? I slipped, bashed the inner ankle and probably twisted it a bit at the same time. This was 6 days prior to the Dales Trail Series DT40, challenge No. 2 of the year – the off-road marathon. I swore a lot…

I honestly thought it was going to be OK. The bruising had gone down, no swelling and it felt fine to walk on. A little tender to touch on the bone but I’ve certainly had worse. Got up on race day full of energy and feeling fine – nervous, but fine.

3 amigos in the car

JDW Fitness crew.  The Three Amigos. Pre-race selfie

I was surprised how many familiar faces there were. One happy little set of slammers (those taking part in the Grand Slam series) with a few extras thrown in for good measure. It was a very relaxing start to the race. I took it really easy up the first hill. There seemed to be a lot of walking going on so I didn’t feel out of place joining in. In truth, that is the only part of the race I felt OK. My ankle was uncomfortable even as we got onto the first grassy downhill section towards the stream. It got progressively worse going up the next hill and I knew at that point it was going to be a long 42km. You say all sorts of things to yourself as a runner, “just keep on keeping on, it’s all in your head, stop being a baby, and you can do anything if you put your mind to it”. So I did for a while. Then the pain started. It began under the arch of the foot, then around the ankle, then on the top of the foot. It felt weak and unstable.

It’ll be fine, just keep rolling along.

By about 11km, I knew I was in trouble. The pain had spread to further up the shin and my knee had started creaking and cracking with sharp pains right underneath the knee cap.

Deep breaths, it’ll be OK, relatively flat section (interspersed with stupid rocky bits) coming up.

I caught up with, and started running with, a lovely lady who I chatted to as we trundled along for a while, which took my mind off things for a bit. A rocky section downhill caused me to slip a little and seemed to jar something in my leg.

Never mind, just keep moving along, one foot in front of the other. It’ll be right.

We got onto flat ground again and out of nowhere, the pain in my thigh.  Like a dead leg. Jesus. The whole of my left side from the bottom to the top, stiff, painful and almost impossible to run on, but still I tried (and tried again). Passed the marshals and Mountain Rescue at around 16km and stupidly felt obliged to put in some effort – some of these people know who I am – so big smiles from me. I am perfectly fine. Going a little slow but perfectly fine….walk, run, walk, walk, walk.. more walking than running and a little limping now too.

Got to the water stop at 19km, Rocky Road solves everything. Bit of sugar and I’ll be fine. Then I start wondering if I’m going to make cut offs. Is there even anyone behind me now? I must be last, never mind, just keep going.

Onto the road and into the village and I was struggling to take any running steps at all. Sh*t.

And then it happened. Three lovely lady marshals I happened to have been chatting with at the start (sorry if you read this as I don’t know all your names) drove up behind me in the car – on their way back to base as they had finished their duties – they slowed down and wound the window down, “are you OK?”

Don’t cry, don’t cry. I shook my head, “it’s my ankle”. I managed to choke the words out.

“I’ll pull over. We can strap it up!”

Great idea… can you do my whole leg?

After some subsequent comical moments, the details of which I dare not divulge, involving the poor Good Samaritan’s car, a wall and the car having to be rescued by Mountain Rescue, I admitted defeat, threw in the towel and got a good humoured lift back to base camp.

Hardest part was trying to tell the organisers I was a DNF without crying. Everyone was lovely and the atmosphere at the finish with the marshals, spectators and competitors was great. I got warm, got refuelled (I had just run a Half Marathon nearly) and waited for John and Jase to return.

It was so hard to watch everyone getting their medals for completing all 3 races… as all the doubts started popping into my head. I don’t feel so bad now; maybe I could’ve carried on. Perhaps I should’ve limped round and earned my medal? I was sat with a big lump in my throat for a while. Then I gave myself a shake and stopped wallowing in my own self-pity. Massive achievement for all who completed and I am super proud of John, and our good friend Jase (his first ever marathon).

Three Amigos at the end

Fantastic work from John & Jase

It just means I’ll have to go back next year and do them all again. Entries for next year open soon!!

2nd Challenge of the year – Dales Trail Series Grand Slam – 20km & 30km complete,

40km – D.N.F.F!!!

 

3rd Challenge of the year is now unfortunately a DNS. I have sought medical advice, and am not in a fit state to take on a 50 mile Ultra just yet (as its next weekend). That one will have to wait until next year too. I have been relegated to Cheerleader instead!

If I look after myself and follow My Physios advice, I could be up and running in 3-4 weeks. This is not so much of a disaster as it could’ve been. All is not lost. Head up, shoulders back, deep breath, and begin again.

3 amigos in the pub

Post race recovery drink

 

 

COURAGE

FINALEMENT – PART 3 – THE RUN (LA COURSE), CASTLE SERIES, THE GAUNTLET, HALF IRON

I love the way the French say “Courage”. It holds so much passion and meaning. I heard it a few times on the bike, and then on the run, loads… more than enough to bring a tear to your eye (several times when you’re an emotional dimwit like me). So what does it mean? Courage in the English sense of the word, yes, but a little more than that too.

“Bon courage” is a fairly general well-wishing expression. It can be used in many contexts where the person being spoken to is about to perform a difficult action.

There is no exact English equivalent. Often, but not always, “good luck” can be used in similar situations. The expression “bonne chance” also exists in French, but far more than in English, it carries the connotation that the person will succeed or fail due to purely external factors. In contrast, “bon courage” implies that success will be due to the person’s strength. “Bon courage” also implies some ordeal, some difficulty (though it can be the difficulty of day-to-day life). If there is a genuine ordeal in the person’s path then “bon courage” applies. [I looked it up on Google – strange, but it has absolutely no mention of how such a simple word can lift your spirits so high].TRANSITION.jpg

So, as I get off the bike and Withinshaw is cheering me on and taking photos, I am trying to smile but I realise instantly that the warm sunshine on my little cycle ride has developed into a blazing, suffocating heat. I’m not being dramatic (honestly), but it’s chuffing roasting. Chantilly is having it’s own little heat wave just as I’m about to embark on my half marathon. Lovely. Thankfully I remembered my running sun hat, I would’ve been lost without it. I hate it when you’ve got a sweaty, salty face and it all gets in your eyes – I can’t run with sunglasses on, they get steamed up and annoy me too much. So, pretty well hydrated, hat on, I set out on the run course. It’s a lovely little route – 2 loops for the Gauntlet – which takes you through the forest on the grounds, then through the triathlon car park?? (not so pretty but full of support from people in the shorter distances who’d already completed), past the racecourse, around a field, through an avenue of trees, past the most beautiful stable buildings, across the cobbles and back round into the stunning (and, thankfully, mostly sheltered) wooded grounds of the Chateau. Repeat.

The legs start cramping as soon as I set off but I know John is watching so I better smile and plod along at least until I get out of sight amongst the trees. “Steady away wins the day Jenkins.” 2km in and all of a sudden I am desperate for a wee. Bugger. Well at least we are in a forest, sort of. Only it’s not a very thick forest – mmmm. Find a tree, find a tree. I dash off into the undergrowth, as covered and out of sight as I can possibly be. There’s no-one around.. It’s the tiniest wee in the world! Feel better though. There was no-one around….Sure as damn it a poor bloke gets a good eyeful of my naked white ass as he comes around the corner of the trail and I’m mid shorts pull-up. Never mind. He’s probably French.

I trundle along. Thankful of the water at 4km and shouts of “Allez, allez, allez” and “Bravo” and “Courage”. People are so god damn supportive, especially the women. It was like I was some kind of heroine on a mission. Electrolytes and water at 8km and back into the Chateau grounds where, at around 10km, I find my lovely boyfriend waiting for me again. He runs alongside, in his denim shorts and bare chest with his little backpack on. We chat a bit and I’m surprised I’m not even out of breath. It’s been a steady hour or so and I am starting to melt in the heat. It’s so energy sapping. John makes some comments about how well I’m doing and how warm it is but I really couldn’t tell you what actual words passed our lips. He leads me through, still shuffling along with me, and shows me where I am supposed to be going to start the second lap. I pass a lady spectator who is waiting near the finish – she gives me some massive claps and a nod of appreciation for my task ahead and says some really nice things to me in French which make me well up a little. So emotional. The spectators are plentiful and there is huge support. John, still by my side, whispers some more sweet nothings of encouragement to me before the heat gets too much for him and he has to stop running 😉  and once again I am alone. I head up the one and only hill on the route but my little legs won’t carry me and I have to walk. I get to the top and am a bit confused as to which way I’m supposed to go. A marshal shouts me over and I have to run around, through transition and around again. It seems like a real pain in the backside, but the support from people in the transition area is second to none. They see the white number bib (indicating I am hardcore) and I get a little bit of a cheer. “Courage”.

The second lap is quite simply a blur. This was the most difficult but also the easiest part of the race – all rolled into one. I have battled the demons and I know I am going to make it to the finish, but I am fading fast in the heat and my legs are severely cramping. I drink as much water as I can stomach at the feed stations, start necking the gels, stand in the “douche” (man with cold water hosepipe) for as long as I can take it, chat to fellow competitors (who are also still trundling along), make French jokes as we pass the ice-cream van (which are so much posher in Chantilly). I run, I walk. Run. Walk. A fellow French gauntlet competitor tells me to keep going as he stops for a drink. You keep going too Monsieur, we’re not done yet. The sweeping support crew catch me up in the van at around 16k (only 5 left to go!!) – they are doing the rounds to make sure no-one is dying/collapsing in the heat. Thankfully I am running at this stage. I hear a laugh behind me and a very English, Southern, “This is what you get for spending all day drinking in the boozer”, as one of them is hanging out of the window of the van. [Strange coincidence, but we had actually met them in a bar the afternoon before *not all day drinking before my Half Iron]. Funny man. “Give us a lift then?” I squeak back. Equally as funny. After all the hilarities and seriously witty repartee, they asked a few questions to check up on me properly, I think to make sure I was still coherent (I’m OK. Struggling along, but OK. Legs have gone, but I’ll be right) and then they move on to the tall French man shuffling along a way in front of me.

As I enter the Chateau grounds for the second time, and the marshal on the gates (recognising me from round one) starts telling me in French that all good things come to those who work their backsides off (I think), I start feeling powerfully moved. Tearful and emotional. The French language is so beautiful. I have about 2km to go and I am a wreck. It’s all bubbling over and I have to have a word with myself. Not now Jenkins, you got this, don’t ruin it all by becoming a blubbering mess. I walk, and take some deep breaths, I spy people and I can hear the noise from the Chateau, Run it in Jenkins, run it in. Keep on keeping on. A passerby tells me (in French – there’s so many of them foreigners out there) that I “just” have a really short way to go and it’s “just”around the corner. He claps. “Courage”.

I know where I have to go, I know it’s not far, but it feels like miles away, and then I hear a cheer in the distance as the crowd goes a little wild for the tall shuffling French man ahead. Hold it together Jenkins, deep breaths. I come round the corner, sun blazing, Chateau in full view. There he is again, my man, waiting for me still, my support crew “extraordinaire”. He is full of awe, super proud and buzzing!! He runs alongside me again, up towards the Chateau, telling me lots of nice things which I can’t now remember. The crowd are mostly competitors who have already completed and are sat in the shade amongst the trees. “Courage, Bravo, Courage”, lots of cheering and clapping. I am trying not to cry as I pass, “merci, merci, merci”. And then John leaves me to do the last little lap around the fountain on my own. I spy the same spectator lady from earlier – she is still there and has this really proud look on her face! “Felicitations”, “Bravo”, “Courage”…more clapping..(I’m sure my Mum sent her) and over the finish line.

And that’s it. I’m there. I have a medal. I AM DONE. Officially Half Iron Chick.

A ridiculous 2h and 29 mins to do a half marathon.. But I DON’T CARE.

7 hours and 14 seconds in total. And what a roller coaster ride to get there.

It’s a benchmark 😉

Officially Half Iron Lady

ALLEZ, ALLEZ, ALLEZ, BRAVO, THE CHANTILLY CYCLE

PART DEUX – THE CYCLE (LE CYCLE)

So there I am, feeling all proud of myself for accomplishing the awful swim, pretty relaxed, am owner of beautiful orange bike. I have remembered all my belongings required from transition to the cycle. I have eaten.

I am awesome endurance triathlete. Bravo.

Push my little beauty under the last inflatable gateway on the way OUT, past the “Mount” marking, leg over, confident cyclist will soon be on her way… Once she has attached her shoe on the clip. Mmmmmm. Nope. Shoe does not want to attach to clip. Remain calm. There are only a “few” people watching and they’re mostly foreign. [Stupid English woman]. Pedal goes round, try again. Nope not happening. OK, I’ll just go, we’ll worry about attachment of the feet to the pedals at a later stage. About to set off, quick look behind and a guy comes careering behind me, tries to go in the narrow gap around me (I’m at the side of the path out of the way), wobbling all over the place, ends up riding straight towards the little chains at 6″ high between some miniscule wooden posts. Stay on, stay on.. He’s off, he’s back on, he looks seriously embarrassed. He’s on, he’s OK, he goes, cycling furiously along the bumpy, dirt track as fast as he can. A wry smile to myself (I am not the only unsteady imbecile) and the foot is clipped in. Hallelujah!! I set off, steady pedalling, hit a bump in the track, ouch – my arse!!, and then that awful noise as you start to turn the pedals and there is nothing happening… Bollocks… the bloody chain has come off. ‘Thankfully’, I still have free foot, so pull over, steadily plant the spare leg, and lean down to (calmly) put the chain back on. OK. The bike still works (malheureusement), so on we go.

I was really not sure what to expect from the French roads.  I had been a little reassured when I actually got round to reading the competitor information (2 days before travelling) and realised that contrary to my anxious beliefs, the bike route was actually in a clockwise direction – cycle on the right-hand side, always turning right – ah, that would make sense [Stupid English woman] – Click here for cycle route.

Still a little hesitant, we get onto the main roads off the dirt track and I a hit a nice gear to get the legs turning. Not long before we encounter the first junction and I start to slow down. “Allez, allez, allez“. [Come on! Lets go! Chop Chop! Nice Work!] The marshals have these little round reversible red/green hand-held signs (think table tennis bat) and they are stopping all the traffic. Cool. After the next couple of junctions and a roundabout I realise that this is a supremely well organised part of the event. The gendarmerie are out in force, there are marshals everywhere (even at the tiniest of side junctions), and we have right of passage – ALL THE TIME. This is awesome!! I settle into the bike, hydrate, the clouds are clearing and it won’t be long before the sun pops its head out and starts to dry everything out, including me. Gauntlet cycle

The roads are quite wet in places, “doucement, doucement” at the sharp corners and the only “downhill” (there are no real hills in this part of France), along with lots of sign language to indicate the dampening of speed – softly, slowly. There is vast open road, fields for miles, quaint little French houses in the distance. I try to concentrate and occupy myself by working out my speed. Averaging 10mins per 5km, just keep the legs rolling. It’s a flat route, and unlike my pre-race catastrophic visions, it’s hardly bustling with cyclists like the Tour De France. I switch off and daydream for a while (typical Jenkins). I am reliving some emotional moments that have been a big part of my long journey to Half Iron and I get a little lump in the throat, and a tear in my eye. I decide, that as we’re now friends, I need to give my bike a name. I call her “Maya”, after Maya Angelou, one of my favourite authors (love the poem, Still I Rise – click here for beautiful, inspirational written art). I feel a tad emotional. We are growing together, learning to love one another… And then the strangest thing happens. I spy another cyclist ahead. I am catching this cyclist, approaching fast. I am going to have to overtake!!! How exciting!!. I check behind, I pull over a little and I go past. Pretty speedy there Jenkins. Another lump forms in my throat and I have a little tear. A nod to the gods. The Universe is pretty awesome at times.

Whenever I have done triathlons in the past I’ve always been pretty quick out the water, especially at Sprint distance. However, I then normally get passed by every other triathlete on the cycle – because I’ve always been a little slow. This was like the other way round – and it was a man too!! OK – so it was just the one….

Feeling a little chuffed, it isn’t long before I find some more Gauntlet competitors to overtake and I’m loving it! Me? – loving the cycling, and overtaking people and stuff!? Awesome.

The Olympic distance triathletes start to come flying past, you can hear the beautiful whirring of the expensive bikes a while before they’re about to overtake. I’m OK with that (being overtaken by professional athletes) as they only have half the distance to go too, slackers 😉 . There are quite a few GB Tri suits come whizzing by and I’m unsure if it’s common practice to shout encouragement or not and/or if I will just scare them by doing so. I decide to remain quiet.

First 45km lap goes pretty quick – just one more of those then Jenkins. Negotiating the first stages of the loop a little better second time around, I am feeling pretty good about my bike. Then I hit a real straight long bit of road and I realise I still have a long way to go. I start talking to myself.. eat a little, drink a little, check my speed. I start to pass some of the slower Olympic distance triathletes who seemed to be struggling – a mountain bike or two out on the course. Sing a little. Drink a bit more. The sun is now kicking out some heat and I am squinting. I remember my sunglasses from my back pocket and as I shift in my seat to retrieve them, I realise my bottom has become a little numb. I can live with a little (big, wide) numb bottom though, as this is the longest/furthest I’ve cycled since I did Pedal for Parkinsons (when I was in excruciating pain from about 30miles on). Got myself a proper bike fit from Paul Smith at Cyclometrics a week before the event – and not a twinge the whole way round the 90km (the man is a legend, and what he doesn’t know about cycling Bio-mechanics is not worth knowing).

The mental game kicks in…. 30km sign again (means I’ve done 75km), Just 15km to go…. 10km… 5km… bring me home Maya. “Allez, allez, allez, Bravo.” We turn back onto the bumpy, dirt track and I have to slow right down as my arse is in agony bouncing around. It seems to go on forever but eventually I spy the dismount ahead. I casually drop my left foot out the clip ( I just did that without any fuss AT ALL) and stop a little way before the line. Withinshaw is waiting there with a big grin on his face, shouting lots of nice things at me. I try to run the bike into transition but it takes a while to straighten up and get the legs working. Shuffling.

90km = 3hrs 27 minutes on the bike. Must be a PB…

Phase 2, successfully complete. Feeling awesome.

 

ALLEZ ALLEZ ALLEZ – THE CHANTILLY SWIM

PHASE 1 – THE SWIM (LA NATATION), CASTLE SERIES GAUNTLET/MIDDLE DISTANCE/HALF IRON

I’ve made it to the start line. A few tears and a mild panic attack or two on the way, but I’m here and I’m smiling.

I’m stood in the rain (yes it’s raining – and even a bit chilly) and some bloke is trying to give a safety briefing to 400 people in wet suits and blue hats, in 2 different languages. At first glance, it appears that 99% of the Gauntlet competitors are young, fit, tall, strong, buff males, and the two other English women who have managed to seek me out to chat to in the crowd are the only other female competitors. This is not strictly true, the females making up a grand 12.5% of the field (I worked it out after because I’m a bit anal like that). One of the Brit ladies asks me if I’m “actually” doing the whole thing? I must’ve looked a bit confused, she laughs and explains she’s part of a relay and she’s only doing the swim. Funny, ‘cos right now that’s not amusing me.

So, it turns out that the water quality is a bit poor – safe to swim as far as bugs/germs are concerned, but far too weedy – so they’ve changed the route. It then takes 2 men 3 attempts in 2 different languages to explain to 400 people in blue hats (getting cold in the rain) what the new swim route actually is. Instead of the planned one long circuit of a ‘T’ shape, we now have to do the ‘I’ of the ‘T’ and then 2 times round a much smaller than initially planned ‘T’. Confused? Yep, me too. All I know is, from the size of the revised route, the tight turns around the buoys, the volume of the swimming crowd – it’s going to be MAYHEM!!

Initiate Plan A = Stay out of the way, take your time, and try not to drown.

Gauntlet water

We finally get in the water – after a further safety “description” of the cycle route and run route and any obvious potential calamities along the way (in 2 languages) – and we are already about 10 minutes past our allocated start time. The water is awful. Awful awful. Weeds up to my waist and as I dip my head in to acclimatise, I realise there is zero visibility. It also has a very pungent smell. I love swimming, I really do. Just not today.

We set off at a slow pace from the back and I realise I am already in the wrong position; at 2-3 metres away from the bank the water is unswimmable for all the weeds. I breaststroke a bit, but it’s not really any easier going. Maybe they have just put us in here to dredge it ready for the Olympic distance!! I make an effort to get my head in and do some front crawl but I am struggling as to what to do with my breathing – I don’t even want to open my mouth in there – never mind do any letting of air out. And then the man next to me decides he needs to give me a big hug around the neck and I don’t get my head out fast enough and swallow a big load of water. I am a little sick as I cough it out. I do love swimming, I really do. I breaststroke a bit more to compose myself, still coughing dramatically, and try to figure a way around without drowning anyone, including myself. People are swimming in all sorts of directions, crossing over each other – can they not spot/sight?? and as suspected, the turns around the corner buoys are just ridiculous. People are walking in places as the weeds are too thick to swim in. Crack on Jenkins, crack on. I do some front crawl, interspersed with breaststroke, and eventually manage to get some kind of a rhythm going. I am now a bit more relaxed, all time goals out the window. Every now and then I pull a few weeds up with my stroke. They are hanging off my arm, all over my hat and my goggles, stuck to my feet. And that smell!!!

Finally we paddle round the last buoy – heads up in the melee – and I spot John on the bank. I give him a thumbs up. “Nice work Jenkins,” he shouts and this makes me smile as it’s probably the most appalling and ungainly swim of my life.  Nice to see him there though. I crack on for the last stretch and have never been quite so glad to reach the shore. There is a funny ramp we have to climb onto to get out and the marshal seems to be intent on helping everyone else out of the water apart from myself. It’s OK, I can manage, don’t worry about me.

I grin at John, who has made his way around the bank to the swim exit, and he is full of praise and support. I am struggling with my wet suit, so get him to unzip me before I make my way up the steps of the Chateau into transition. He told me afterwards that I looked a bit like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, sporting an attractive dark, dirty patch under my nose. Lovely.

Gauntlet swim exit

I’m not really tired or out of breath, as it’s not been a very quick swim from my standards (1.9km in 49 mins), but I’m still not very speedy up the steps, taking my time. The nerves seem to have dissipated somewhat and I feel more relaxed about getting on the bike than I have done in ages.

Wriggle my way out of my wet suit and then start the process of getting my shit together. Helmet on, mouthful of Chia Charge, drink of water. All my stuff is wet. Wet socks on, wet shoes on, mouthful of Chia Charge, drink of water. I can’t see out of my glasses and have nothing dry to wipe them on so stuff them in my back pocket for now along with an energy bar. Final mouthful of Chia Charge, race belt on (loaded with gels), gloves on, and away we go – push to the “bike out” then we go all the way around the ring of transition, under the inflatable, round the side, under the next inflatable and then finally we can mount the bike. Nice going Jenkins – a whopping 7 minutes in transition.

Phase 1 “successfully” complete.

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.

 

TO HALF IRON OR NOT TO HALF IRON

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.

You can choose courage or comfort, you cannot have both

I am struggling to walk properly today. The map on the back of the t-shirt may explain a little why. 32km hilly run in the Dales. IMG_20170715_185730_352.jpg

What a fantastic event. The DT30 (one of the Dales Trail Series events) is a beautiful but brutal offroad run, taking in some steep ascents, mud, bogs and outstanding scenery. Superbly well organised and fully waymarked route.

The atmosphere at the start of these events is amazing. Nothing electric or outstanding – just this gentle warm buzz in the air. It starts as you pull into the field  (pretty much in the middle of nowhere) and a friendly marshal directs you to where you should park your car. As we get out the car, a bit of chat with the neighbouring vehicle owners and we wander to the little tent that’s been set up for registration. We are greeted my smiles, nods, “morning”s, by marshals and fellow runners alike. A real chilled and friendly vibe. There are pre-race nerves evident at the start line, but more in relation to the task ahead than of a competitive nature. The offroad/endurance/fell runners are a different breed. Some may be fighting the clock, or for position, but most are just running against themselves, the hills and Mother Nature – just getting to the end is enough. This is why, throughout the course of the event, runners will hold gates open for each other, chat to you like they’ve known you for years, move out of your way so you can pass them, saying “well done” as you do. People offering each other salt tablets, sweets, words of encouragement and friendly banter, sharing the pain of cramps/swearing a lot and laughing while doing the “meadow shuffle” for the last 3km of the race. Such a large bunch of good humoured folk you could not meet elsewhere.

It’s doing events like this, challenging myself physically and mentally, that keeps me sane. Stepping outside of my comfort zone makes me stronger, and more able to deal with everyday life. I’ve understood for a long time that my mental health is improved through exercise, but this is so much more than that. To spend nearly 4.5 hours in tough running conditions, you have to battle all sorts of head farts, and when your body is screaming at you to stop and walk, you have to persuade it it’s a good idea to just keep going. [Running is such an analogy to everyday life. When things get tough, you just have to struggle along for a while.] And when you cross that finish line, having accomplished the task, the elation is second to none. Post race buzz is epic. The sense of achievement being long lasting. Endorphins like no other.

I used to like being comfortable. Comfortable life, comfortable job.

Life is so much more interesting when you step outside of your comfort zone. There is a whole other exciting world out there. Scary at times, but never dull.

Next on the list of this years challenges; my first Half Iron, the DT40 and then Lakes in a Day.

I choose courage over comfort.