Feeling like a Fat Rocky

The comeback is nigh (as I write this from the comfort of my sofa, in my cozy dressing gown, with a glass of wine).

It’s just so hard!

Injury sucks!

I don’t like to moan or whine, but this is seriously depressing me. My body feels totally broken and it’s past the point of driving me insane. I am on the low ebb of a wave that’s likely to take me directly into the black fog and I am frantically trying to find the answers to turn my metaphorical depressing ship around.

After my random ankle injury, I have now ended up with a *random shoulder injury. Ankle is getting stronger, shoulder is just really, really painful. I can’t currently do any boxing, which I find fantastic therapy (and also teach) and I feel like a fraud for not being able to join in, even to hold the pads.

[*shoulder injury happened sometime through the process of watching my man run 50 miles and/or sleeping in a tent. For details of random ankle injury info please read earlier DNFF blog].

I have a love-hate relationship with running. I love tootling about the countryside. the wind in your face, the elements against you. Hills are tough, but I love that feeling of elation when you get to the top. I love to run for fun. I hate it when I have to compete and then feel like I’m not good enough. I hate it when people I know beat me. And, don’t get me started on Road Running, “How fast can you do a 10k?”, “What are your splits”, “What’s your best half marathon time”…

I don’t know and I don’t care.

Except I do (but that’s another story).

It’s only when I HAVE TO STOP running (enforced stoppage through injury) that I realise how much I love it…. and how much I miss it…. and how much it affects my mental health. I am sad when I can’t run, but I am also sinking, to somewhere I don’t want to be.

I am lucky that things are on the up (sort of). I can manage to run now at least – a little pain in the shoulder, but it’s manageable –

BUT MY GOD IT’S HARD WORK!!

Anyone would think I’ve been out for months not weeks. Where does your fitness go in such a short space of time? How did I ever think I was going to run 50 miles when now I can’t even manage 5!! Who’s that fat Nicky that’s just re-joined running club? – you know the tall, slow, ginger one – she used to be thinner than that, and she used to be a lot faster too.

Now, I’m sure that no-one says any of those things. Or maybe at least not all of them in one sentence.. but that is entirely how I feel. Anxious about what people are thinking of me. Overthinking. So then you tell everyone (including those who don’t want to listen) that you’ve been injured, then injured again – and this is why you might be slow, and why you might be a little less lean than you were before!!

Breathe. Rationalise…

OK, so I’m not fat, just a little out of shape, and who cares how fast I’m running – APART FROM ME?

I’ve done a little research (googling) on how to remain positive during injury. Difficult when you use exercise to boost your endorphins and thus maintaining some homeostasis of mental health. I just wish my movement in the shoulder wasn’t so limited so I could do more other stuff. It’s affecting my whole body and the constant uncomfortable pain is wearing me down. Research is good though, the help is out there…

  1. Google says; I should remember I’m not a one-trick pony.

Nicky says; I’m not currently an any trick pony.

2. Google says; Don’t get stuck in the denial phase.

Nicky says; I tried to run an off-road marathon during the denial phase. Lesson learnt.

3. Google says; Face the facts, you have a new normal. Comparison is the thief of joy.

Nicky says; I will never be normal. What the F is a “new normal”? If this is normal, I want to be abnormal. I want to thieve the joy.

4. Google says; Plot your comeback. Planning and anticipation can be a real happiness booster.

Nicky says; I am Rocky F*@ck£ng Balboa. ONE MORE ROUND.. Just let me finish my wine first, get rid of my shoulder injury, and then we’re good to go.

Larry Winget says; “Nobody ever wrote down a plan to be broke, fat, lazy, or stupid. Those things are what happen when you don’t have a plan.”

Yes, Larry.

5. The PT (other half) and the Physio say; Do the Rehab, be patient, give it time.

Nicky says; It’s about time I was sensible and listened to the professionals.

“All legends start simple”.

6. Google says; Trust the process. It can be a long road to recovery.

Thank you Google.

So, seriously, I am now Fat Rocky on a come-back of epic proportions. I successfully managed a whole 4-miler tonight without too much grief from the injuries. It may be a long road but I have some goals, and it feels good to be getting steadily back in the game.

First up, DT40km route (incompleted, DNF, and bugging me). I may need some friends to drag me round but I am determined to complete it, race or no race!!

Second up, Deerstalker (RatRace, March 2018) – a performance (of sorts) is due in one of these events I do, so I’m making it this one – aiming for the top 25 women. About time I got a tiny bit competitive.

Some day, somewhere in 2018 – my first Ultra – yet to be attempted or completed and I have no idea when or which one. “All I wanna do is go the distance.”

I need focus, determination and strength of spirit, and not just for the events, but for the journey in between. There is a lot of hard work to come. It’s good to have goals (Google said). My bum may be huge but my mind is steely stubborn right now……

““Remember, the mind is your best muscle. Big arms can move rocks, but big words can move mountains.” – Rocky Balboa

Rocky

Thank you Rocky.

Nicky J

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.

“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.

 

 

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

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.

Who left the taps running?

So, I guess it’s that’s age-old story of opening the flood gates.

I’m such a cliché –  Once you start you can’t stop? Just like a tube of Pringle’s.

I have so much buzzing around in my head – now I have an outlet – I just don’t know where to start! I’m now the epitome of the creative type; sat with lap top and glass of wine until the early hours of the morning (because that’s what all creative types do). The desire to let out what’s in is greater than the desire to sleep, which is a little unfortunate seeing as I have a full day at work tomorrow and a 32km race (very hilly off-road) on Saturday for which I should be getting plenty of rest. But fuck it.

It’s really hard to know where to begin; with the tale. I have a story. I’m just not yet sure how much I am prepared to, or can literally, share. I struggle to talk about my issues with mental health. Not because I am embarrassed or ashamed, but quite simply because I sometimes struggle to find the words. You will only ever understand the fog, the black dog, the panic, the worry, the struggle, if you’ve ever experienced it. And I’m sure not everyone’s experiences are the same – so how can I describe mine? I don’t know how to explain how I was feeling, or how I still sometimes feel. Write it. How?

I am OK.

I am – on some days – bloody brilliant. But I can be Wonder Woman and a little ball of tired, scared fluff – all at the same time. I am low, stressed and anxious, then the strongest person on the planet. Fierce. Then back to the broken girl of old……

Bent not broken. I’m not broken.

I am bold. I am brave. I am brilliant.

I am weak. I am wobbly. I am wandering.

But I am better. 

I have to be careful how I approach this exercise. I truly want to share my journey with my depression, and then, in the later years, the anxiety. I want to share the battle that has been fought, but never won. I want to help other people understand that there is light at the end of the tunnel. But, in doing all of this, I have to be careful I don’t just leave the taps on.

I went for some counselling – about 6 sessions I think – a good few years ago now. She was bloody amazing and I won’t be lying if I say she saved my life. In lots of ways. It was life changing. In amongst all of the tears and the talking, there were 2 very important messages (the other one I’ll get to at a later date).

When you shut out the darkness, you also shut out the light.

The self-preservation numbness has to be gently erased in order for the light to shine back into your life. Bit corny? True though. And if you turn the taps on full blast – what happens? You get soaked with emotion, overwhelmed and unable to cope. I am comfortable with being vulnerable, but it’s not time to leave the taps on just yet.

Eek it out, a little at a time. Gently open the tap, and then close it for a wee while. Then perhaps, the next time, open it a little more. It’s a gradual process.

And so it shall be.