I DID IT!!!
I’ve actually gawn and done it! My first 140.6 triathlon! And, even more weirdly and surprisingly, I was the flippin’ first female to cross the finish line…
I’m still in a bit of a surreal, other-worldly state – it’s only a few days after this 140.6 triathlon, and last weekend seems like yonks ago, and I keep forgetting what happened on that weekend anyway!
I’ve not posted for a while because I’ve been very low – I do NOT know how other mental health bloggers maintain their blog. I kept thinking that those low times were actually the ideal times to post my thoughts, because that’s the reality of living with depression and social anxiety. But I couldn’t bring myself a) to write anything of length, and b) to share my bleak mindset. It felt like I was adding to my being a burden to others.
In recent weeks, I’d had a few longish bike rides (max. distance of 90miles), and I also did one 18mile run, but these were in isolation, never as part of a brick session. So I was a tad concerned! Two weeks before the event though, I had the good fortune of animal-sitting for a few days, which helped me to have a few sessions of cycle/swim/run back-to-back, albeit at shorter distances. It was quite strange, knowing that I was doing daily longer-than-sprint-triathlons, but I do think that those days gave me a bit of a boost. It’s always a pleasure looking after those animals anyway, and it definitely helped my mood this time around!
So, back to the 140.6 day itself…although I probably should mention here that I’ve been an unpleasant person to know, especially during the week leading up to the ironman – nervy, anxious, irritable, snappy (hmm, is that just my normal state?), oh, and terrified. I’d made lists of lists, and printed out the routes, and plans (and plan B’s. And plan C’s.) of what I would need to be doing beforehand, during each stage, and during each transition. I love my folders and stationery, so this extensive planning also helped with my mood. It didn’t help that I kept checking the weather forecast, which grew worse with each check: increasing wind speeds and gusts, rain and low temperatures for the time of year. AAAAAAARGH!!
We travelled up to the location two days before, and I’m glad we did, as the journey was hellish. It did occur to me, though, that for all the hours we spent driving up there…well, the equivalent time would see me still in the midst of the ironman, hours away from finishing. That didn’t help with my mood and nerves! I’d had problems yet again with my sleep so, although I was trying not to focus on how little I’d slept in the week, it was still a concern. I don’t worry about not sleeping the night before an event: it’s whether I’ve slept much in the week before. Luckily, the hotel was quiet and we backed onto countryside – I’m forgetting that an ‘A’ road was close by – and that was quite pleasant.
Righteo – here comes Saturday: registration and the safety briefing. We also drove round the bike route twice, so I could gain some sort of idea about hills, the state of the roads and not getting lost! I’d been studying the route elevation thoroughly, and it turned out that my hopes (that them thar hills wouldn’t be as bad as the ones I ride at home) were pretty accurate. But it was clear that the crosswinds were hefty, and the trees were swaying loftily as we went by. My nerves were going crazy… I was one of the first to register, and it was quite nice seeing others coming along too and racking their bikes alongside. There was such a mix of bikes – blimmin’ fantastic specimens next to so-called ‘normal’ bikes, and there was an absence of smugness and alpha-attitudes in the area. Some swaggering was happening, yes, but in the main most of us were looking pale and rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights-ish…thankfully the safety briefing had been brought forward (owing to people’s requests that they be able to see the World Cup football instead (!). Had this not happened, then we would have been back at the hotel by about 8pm, which had been worrying me.
I did have moments of panic during the safety briefing, and in the walk down to the lake the following morning, as there were – of course – so many people there. I think I tried to block everyone else out of my mind, it was strange – but I knew I couldn’t exactly run out, as I didn’t want to make a scene and then have everyone look at me thinking, “Nutter!”…I stayed and tried to feel invisible…
Roll on to 4am the next morning. I followed my plan and things were ok, but I was pretty much silent. I felt so, so very, very sick. I’d chosen to do this – no one had made me. It was my choice. Why on earth was I doing it? I knew why: I wanted to prove to everyone that I’m not an utterly useless piece of nonsense, with nothing to her name. I also knew that, if I make it to a ripe old age (maybe not so ripe!), I would regret having done only a half-ironman (“only”!!!) and not having at least attempted the long distance. I told myself repeatedly in the week before that it was all ok if I didn’t finish it or if I finished beyond the cut-off time. Of course I had thoughts that it would be fab if I had a time of 11hours (double my time of the half/70.3), but I didn’t think this was very realistic! As long as I made it to the start line, and didn’t quit before I’d even started, then that was supposed to be fine. I reassured myself that I could finish after the swim (although it would’ve been an expensive ol’ swim!), and that if I carried on after that, then all well and good. I’d planned to take it easy, to stop at the feed stations during the cycle and stretch my limbs and use the loo if necessary. Oh, and smile a lot. The run? Well, that was going to be a mixture of running and walking (Ha! And how I did indeed stick to that strategy…!). If I finished, then hallelujah!!
I think one of the main things for me was that I’d expected that I would have many, nasty lows throughout the event, and had thought about how I was going to deal with them…
I’ve had to stop writing here, as it’s just really occurred to me that this ironman was a massively HUGE achievement for me, for so many reasons. I didn’t give up – although I came close…but I just couldn’t quit – and it’s two fingers up to that man who did those things to me. I’ve done it in spite of him, and he’ll never take this experience and achievement away from me.
Back to the day…with my mantras on my arm, goggles, hat, lube and watch on, we made our way down to the water. The wind was getting up, and it wasn’t cold – but the air wasn’t exactly warm either. I tried not to panic too much…it helped that people were friendly and that there was a chap swimming in a loose (!) spiderman wetsuit – blimey, all respect to him! As the minutes and seconds were counted down, a quiet voice said, “So we swim up to that buoy and back again?” – er, no! Lots of advice on where we did have to swim was given and then, oomph! The starting whatnot went off! Eeeeek! This is it!
The water was lurvely…the clarity was pretty good and it tasted nice too! I found my rhythm quite quickly and, unexpectedly, felt ok. I didn’t want to rush this bit – I knew that swimming was my thing, and that I was lucky enough not to have to push too hard in order to get a decent time. I also knew that the distance was no problem for me, thank goodness. I had a small group ahead of me and didn’t chase them, I was swimming on my own and I quite liked that. I just stayed at my own pace and enjoyed it all – even the swans who came a little too close for comfort weren’t really on my radar at that time. I started to think about the rest of the race, then told myself off as I could do nowt about it all at that time and that I was to focus on the present – I could start thinking about the transition etc in the second half of my last lap. Until then, I wanted to switch off and enjoy the feel of the water, of feeling graceful in that water, and enjoy the Level 42 song that was playing in my head!
I emerged out of my final lap, finishing the 2.4mile swim in 1:07hrs – and hearing the commentator’s voice announce that I was the first female out of the water did make me trip up in surprise and disbelief!
My first transition wasn’t the best, but I was cold and then had problems with my cycle jersey’s zip, which decided to break. An unbelievable calmness came over me and I finally mended the zip…I’d also had some calls to make about what to wear, as it was cold and rain had been forecast during the cycle stage. Humph. In the end I went for arm warmers under my cycle jersey, put on my winter gloves (I clearly don’t care about what I look like, eh) and ditched my plan to wear my waterproof cycle jacket. If it rained I’d have to make do with my very lightweight running jacket that was packed along with my spare inner tube, puncture repair kit and tools…
Headed off on the bike, narrowly falling off because my elastic bands on my tri shoe had fallen off (!), Bizarrely, my first thought when I put my foot back on the ground was, “Aargh! Now I’ve failed!”… I somehow obviously imagined I was back taking my Mod 1 motorbike test, where a foot-plant in the relevant stage is a fail. Gawd knows where my brain was at this time! It’s a triathlon, woman!
I’d told myself not to look at my cyclometer for ages, as I knew seeing single figures would have a yucky effect on my mood. That helped a bit. I just tried to get my head down and get on with it – which would’ve been great and lovely if it hadn’t been for those blimmin’ winds. So much for crosswinds, yep they were there – but so was a massive headwind. What happened to the tailwind??! Ah well…I knuckled down and tried to get through it all. Various songs played in my head (yes thank you, Enya, I’m sorry but I’ve never really been a fan…but your music did help for a fair old while, I admit. Better than Rupert the Bear, at any rate. Thanks for that agony, brain!), the scenery was wonderful (although the darkening skies and brooding, angry-looking hills/mountains in the distance were worrying, to say the least) and there were various people watching the event who, plain and simple, were fantastic – and the marshalls were lovely too, despite the grotty weather. And the people at the feed station were great, just so great. Being teased for looking like a hamster with flapjack in my gob will never sound as sweet! And thank you, the volunteer who sold me onto the idea of venturing near a jaffacake – it worked, even though I don’t think I’ll ever properly like the things!
You peeps who shouted words of encouragement – including the male cyclist who whizzed past me but said, “Looking strong there!” – well, thank you. Thank you SO MUCH. You will probably never know just how much your words boosted me and lifted me out of dark places. Thank you.
Oh dear, welling up again.
The dark places. They were foul. I had felt reasonable up until around 70miles, and then the demons struck. I questioned why I was doing such a stupid, utterly stupid thing, why I was still involved with triathlon at all when I’ve come to loathe it. I was in pain, I was a fool, why had I imagined that I could do this, I could do nothing of any worth, this would just prove to everyone that I was useless. I still had 40-odd miles to cycle, in horrible winds, and then oh my gosh there was still a marathon to run. ENOUGH.
And then I realised that I’d expected this, that my mood would plummet. I remember actually saying out loud, “This too shall pass…”. I reasoned with myself that I was going to feel bad, of course I would: after all, I’d been exercising for 4 hours and that was on top of the general and social anxiety and nerves etc. “You’re ok, you’re ok…give yourself a chance…you’ve got through ghastly stuff and this is all ok, you’re clearly strong enough ‘cos you’re here and now. And your limbs work, make the most of them. And if you don’t finish, then what? Will it really matter?” And I thought about what my psychiatrist might say to me had she been there, and thought about Paddington Bear (long story!), and I thought about my family, and about my partner, and how much support he has given me – despite nearly 7 months of anxiety and moods about this event (on top of my normal moods). I determined to come on, gal! and focus on the here and now.
And finally, after 4 laps of the cycle route, having waved and cheered on other competitors (who by now were becoming like old friends to me), I made it to the end of the last lap. Oh thank goodness – the wind had done its best, and the rain had lashed my limbs…but I’d defeated them.
Oh man: and still at least 4.5hours of exercise to do, and my worst discipline to boot. A metaphorical head-in-hands moment of agony. I emerged from the transition area and ran, nay, jogged – er, well, shuffled onto the run course. 6 laps of lake-ness and closed roads. I really did not know if I could finish this. The first lap wasn’t too bad, but I had a few moments where I couldn’t catch my breath and had a pain around my left chest and shoulder. Made it to the first feed station and shuffled on, gradually slowing down even further. Clearly, this stage was not going to be at my typical running pace!
I hesitate to think much about the run in this event, as it was physically and emotionally agonising. My left ankle was giving way and I had a headache from hell. I’d emerged from the swim feeling really thirsty, despite having been careful about my hydration leading up to the ironman. Strangely enough, I had drunk water at the feed stations, and I’d been drinking coconut water whilst on the bike and, whilst I felt sick, I didn’t actually throw up (you all know about my gastric/digestive problems and conditions) – but I knew that I was probably dehydrated, hence the headache and slowing down etc. I’d taken in a couple of salt tablets and I’d also eaten on the bike, and again was relieved that it had all stayed down, so to speak, but I’d taken in a maximum of only about 300 calories (I roughly estimated that I used up around 6-7000 calories during the event). But I could not take in food during the run, as my stomach was in agony and I felt that even taking sips of water was pushing my limits. I did chance upon a spare orange segment at the feed station at around 14miles in and it was heavenly…nectar…which is why I then grabbed a whole orange and gripped it for the rest of the marathon…!
So, six laps. By the end of the second lap I was in another very bad place – very bad: it’s odd to think about you-know-what when you’re shuffling along. A whole load of contradictions and messy thoughts happening.
The end/start of each lap was back in the main arena near the lake and transition area, and my partner had been there cheering and supporting me (and the others) throughout the whole day, despite the weather. I stopped, close to tears, and just told him that I couldn’t do this anymore, I had nothing left and I was in so much pain. He was very good, calmingly reassuring me that I could stop, it didn’t matter, that it was ok.
Which I then responded to with a tearful, “But I can’t quit! I’ll have failed everyone, including me! I can’t give up! I have to do this!”. Oh, very clever reverse psychology…but it worked. And wow, it worked well. Because he had given me honest, no-worries permission to stop, without any judgment, and because he clearly thought a lot of me and was obviously proud of me – well, I got on with the task. How bizarre. I thought little about it at the time, but the next day I considered it all and realised how profoundly clever his actions at that time were, if that makes sense.
The next four laps were incredibly slow. I chatted to people at the feed stations and shared pain concerns with other competitors – and the poor volunteers – and had two of the event crew (who were on their bikes keeping on eye on, and encouraging, the runners) repeatedly telling me that I was the first female. So come on, get a move on! Oh yeah, riiiiiiight. I honestly thought they were just joshing and teasing me. I couldn’t possibly see that my dreadful run would still see me being in first place.
The sun started to go down, along with the temperature, and I really began to worry about having to run in the dark. It was lovely though, to share others’ joy as they announced that they were on their final lap (some walking it) and that they were obviously going to FINISH!! I really, really was pleased for them! I can’t remember what I was thinking about during this time, the only details are that I was desperate to see my partner when I reached the end/start area each time, I was gripping a rather soggy, sweaty orange, and that at one feed station I stopped at, one spectator said to me, “You’ve done us proud, m’girl”! And yes, I did start getting teary at that – thank you for those absolutely lovely words, whoever you are.
And then…I realised I was heading back towards the main arena for the last time. I checked behind me, for some reason, went through the entrance and all I could hear were cheers and my name being shouted – “Well done!”. I turned into the shute towards the finish line, managed to find energy to sprint, heard the words, “…the first female…” and crossed that oh-blimey-so-very-welcome Finish Line. And was then told that I’d won the female 140.6…
…and then I cried in sheer relief and sheer disbelief. I’d done it. An achievement I could never have imagined…!
I’ve done it. I’ve done a long-distance triathlon, despite all the depression, social anxiety and flippin’ mad eating disorders. It can be done!!