Exercising for a better mental health

Olly’s road to Ironpup

My human mum sent me away on holidays again to Tenby while she prepared herself for one of her biggest challenges to become an “Ironman”. I get so excited about going to Tenby as I get so spoiled by my Nanny and Bampi but I also know that my human mum will miss me loads as she attached a Fitbark (Fitbit) tracker to my collar before I left just to keep an eye on what I was doing and how my training was going.

On arrival in Tenby I quickly checked out the house and garden. All the plants had been lifted off the ground onto tubs so I now have to cock my leg up even higher to water the plants. My bed and toys have been put in the kitchen but don’t know why they continue to do this as the only place I am going to sleep is on their bed.

I am also in training to be an Ironpup so I need to get the miles in. On my first morning I was dragged off the bed and pushed into the garden for a quick pee but was back on their bed before Bampi could finish making the tea. I’m not a morning dog, in fact I like to laze around until midday when I start coming to life.

On day one, like most days, I’m driven to town, my Nanny goes one way for coffee with her friends while Bampi and I go for a walk. Today I am dragged onto the South Beach but I’m not up for a long walk. If there were more dogs around to sniff I might have wanted to stay but after a couple of stretches I dig my feet in and decide its time to go home. My thoughts are in Barry where all my doggy friends are.

My days are structured much like my human mum, I get out walking three times a day although two would suit me better. On one evening walk with Bampi I picked up a large clump of cut grass which I had planned to take home to play around with but the human tried to get it out of my mouth. I don’t like people trying to open my mouth or sticking their fingers down my throat so I bit him. As soon as I did it I was immediately sorry as he was jumping around looking for a hanky. He was not happy with me and he virtually dragged me home only to be put in the garden in the dark. After a couple of minutes he came looking for me but I had hidden from him under the garden table and I would not go to him. Nanny then came looking for me and after some persuasion I went back into the warm house with her where I spent the rest of the evening lying on her lap and completely ignoring Bampi.

Next day all was forgotten and we were friends again so off we went to Giltar Point, this is one of my favourite walks. For those dogs out there get your humans to park in Penally station car park, which is free, cross the railway line and follow the path to the headland keeping the MOD firing range on your right. No need for a lead as I run free and fast and there are loads of places to stop and sniff. The views of Tenby and Caldy Island from the top are beautiful. My favourite run is down the sandy cliff face from the top of the headland, through the wooded area to the beach below where a fresh water stream runs into the sea. When we do this walk I leave Bampi behind and watch from the beach for him to make his way slowly down the narrow path. When he catches up with me he says that the next day we will do it again as he has spotted loads of blackberries that Nanny would like to make a tart with.

My Ironman pup training also takes me to Manobier beach which is dominated by a castle overlooking the sandy bay with loads of rocky pools for me to explore. On the path leading to the beach I spot where a horse has left a huge mound of poo which I try to get to but I’m dragged away. There is something about horses and foxes poo that I am attracted to. On the beach I do find some and the race is on to avoid Bampi from catching me. I’m too fast for him while I dodge in and out of people sitting in their deck chairs and kicking up sand while they watch the sun go down. I know he is not happy but he leaves me to it while they both take a rest.

With one day to go before by human mother arrives, my Bampi goes off to play bowls so its Nanny’s turn to take me on my run. She decides to take me into the field alongside the house. The field is earmarked for housing development which is a shame as its a playground for many animals, birds and other wildlife but people need housing unfortunately at our expense. The field is big and Nanny does not like being in it by herself but I try to remind her that I will look after her but we still end up jogging around it.

I had a restless nights sleep as the next day my human mum was arriving. The day saw loads of activity in the kitchen as a chicken dinner was being prepared, which I always look forward to and the cooking of a blackberry and apple pie which I help pick on Giltar Point. Like myself my human mother gets spoiled when she come home. When she walked through the door I had so many hugs I knew she had missed me.

The day before Ironman Sunday we all walk down to town to visit the Expo tent to buy some goodies. I get myself an Ironman snood as a belated birthday present while the humans buy tee-shirts. Human mum and her friend then spent the afternoon relaxing playing pool badly from what I can see. My human mum leaves me later to go off to her hotel to chill out by herself and organize her kit for the big day tomorrow. I give her a great big kissie.

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It’s Sunday September 9th and the big day is here. I’m forced out of bed at 5.30am, dressed in my new Ironman snood and ready to go within a half an hour. Treats have been put into pockets and the long day begins.

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When we get to town I have never seen so many people, we have to make our way to the North Walk to watch my human mum swim the first leg of the Ironman which means walking through a forest of people that goes on for miles. I am only small and all these people are towering over me, I’m scared and what is making it worse is that I can hear cow bells, clappers and banging things going off. We finally arrive at our vantage point to see the swimmers take to the water. Its like watching a shoal of piranhas after a piece of meat, the water is boiling. My human mum is being tracked so we know she is doing well and is going to finish in a good time.

We leave the sea front to make our way into the town to see my human mum head for the bike transition station. I see here coming down the road and start barking but she is looking the wrong way but finally turns to wave to me. Now that I started barking I can’t stop so loads of treats are forced into my mouth. Some minutes later she passes on her bike but with so many people about she doesn’t see me.

With my mum now heading out into the country we head home, this is another mile walk all up hill for breakfast. I know that my training is going to pay off today. After a bowl of meaty delights and a little rest we are off again to the Bell’s Corner to watch the first bike riders come in heading for transition and the slower ones complete lap one. The race leaders are on the marathon leg of the race when my human mum comes into view on her bike which starts me barking again. She is doing well. After a period of barking at the bikes we decide to pop home for a drink.

Having had a short break we head back to town to see the leading runners. Again we head for the crowds which are scary. I am about to cross the road when a runner appears, I get excited and jump out and frighten the startled runner who was none other than the women’s champion Lucy Gossage. I was then put on a very short lead. Sorry Lucy.

I needed a rest by now and as my human mum had some time before her transition from bike to run I pulled my supporting family towards the Bowling Club. This is a “no dogs allowed club” but I get special treatment as I’ve been called a “squirrel” here since I was a little pup. I managed to get some sleep on the lap of the chairman before we go back out to cheer our human cyclist over the last 100 metres of the bike ride. Again I could not contain my barking on seeing her pumping the air with her fist knowing that she had cracked the hardest part of the race.

After a little wait my human was out of transition and heading out on her marathon run but not before she gave me a great big cuddle or as my Nanny would say a “cwtch”. With 4 laps of running in and out of town we set out for a vantage point not far from home. After getting some chairs to sit by the roadside I was getting tired and grumpy barking at all the runners so I was taken home for an hour to get some sleep.

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It was dark when the door opened and I had my lead put back on. We were off for the final stage of Ironman Wales. We got to a position on the finish line and with Bampi carrying me we waited for my best friend to complete a challenge she had trained for a year. I saw her as she hit the red carpet and barked as loud as I could, she had done it, I hear her name being shouted out….Georgie Lloyd you are an Ironman. I barked and barked my love. After loads of hugs and kisses we made the mile long walk home only for me to collapse on the rug at home and fall a sleep. I had done my Ironman and my human was a legend with the medal around her neck.

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The road to Ironman Part IV

Tuesday 25th September 2018 (1.33 pm)

No need for the two alarms in the end, the first one on my iPhone did the job as I woke up excited and looking forward to the day. I slept really well which I did not think would happen. I woke a few times during the night, slightly panicked by the wind outside. I jumped out of bed just after 5am to see what the sea was doing. It was dark and I could not see a thing. 

I had a shower to freshen my head, splatted a tub of vaseline in areas that I know would rub, put on my tri suit, half wetsuit, took my sea sickness tablet, picked up my special need bags, pink bag, hat, goggles and bike nutrition and left the hotel. All of this with no nerves (surely not right).

It was still dark as I made my way the 100m or so to the special need bag drop off point. It was starting to get busy as people made their way to transition, some on their own, some chatting with friends, some eating bananas or energy gels. Everyone seemed to  have that same feel of excitement mixed with terror. 

As I entered transition I walked towards where I left my bike (or where I thought I left it). Once again trying not to look like a complete amateur I walked up and down the side where I thought it was. I could not see it. I could not even work out the numbers and where 502 fitted in to the sequence. Not being great with numbers anyway I tried the other side of the rack. Were the numbers going up or down? My brain could not work it out. After a few more minutes of searching, I was finally reunited with my bike. It looked easy yesterday when there were far less bikes. Not to make the same mistake again, I gave it an easy reference point, which was 4th rack in and opposite the ‘M’ in ‘IRONMAN’ written on the side of a truck. All I had to do was pray that they did not move the truck.

After putting my water bottles and food bags on my bike, checking my tyres to make sure they had not deflated overnight and then zipping up my wetsuit I made my way to the swim start. At this point I ate half of my porridge bar and had a few sips of water. I chucked what was left in my pink bag and waited with over 2000 people to get this thing underway. 

The atmosphere at such a ridiculous hour was incredible. You could not move for the amount of people. As the professionals made their way into the water, I walked slowly down the North Walk. I was just hoping that I could find my 502 pink bag hook! Thankfully I did, so with my trainers added to the bag I carried on walking to the beach holding my red swim hat and goggles. I hate wearing swim hats so left it late to put on. I then put my goggles over my head, adjusted them with my hat about 15 times then put my game face on. I was still amazed about how calm I felt. I don’t usually get nervous about events as I happily just rock up to them and go. This was different though. This was Ironman Wales which had been my goal and focus for the last 10 months. My head was in a positive place and there was no way that I was not going to finish the swim. My strategy for the day was to take one event at a time. Three different sports. Do not think about the next until you finish the one you are on.

I had a good start in the swim, helped by seeding and where I positioned myself. I am not afraid of being bashed about, you accept that in mass event open swimming. I just had to swim my race, not be bothered by anyone else, hold my ground and remain steady with my breathing. I am confident in the water, helped by all of the training I have done and importantly open water swims and events. For me, competing in Tenby Long Course weekend was critical as I knew exactly what to expect in terms of distance and line to follow.

As usual, the swim around the 1st buoy was a free for all. I  knew I wanted to take it wide to avoid the chaos; however, this didn’t quite go to plan as I got swept up in legs, feet and arms and ended up closer to the buoy than what I wanted. There was no way I could swim around it; so I reverted to some sort of doggie paddle (I knew that was in my training program for a reason) and I literally got pulled around by everyone else. It was a great tactic and felt like I was floating around the lazy river. Time to start swimming again to make the long drag out to the life boat station. Not even the jelly floaters could stop me in my tracks as I ramped up the kick, got around the 2nd buoy and headed to Goscar rock and the beach. Lap 1 completed as I walked around and composed myself before jumping back in to start lap 2. 

Lap 2 was not as busy as swimmers had spread out by this point. I often had large sections of water to myself and had to keep checking that I was still on course and not in Saundersfoot. As I headed back onto the beach with a swim time of 1hr 16, it was now that I could start thinking about the bike leg. I was more than happy with my time as I walked back up the North Walk whilst undoing my wetsuit. I collected my pink bag, washed the sand off my feet with my water and put on my trainers.

Running the kilometre through town was crazy, people shouting and cheering. Many calling out my name but I was unable to make people out in the crowds as I headed towards transition. I made my way into the tent, and changed into my bike gear. I took my time making sure that my feet were dry and talced and that I had everything I needed.

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Thankfully, I located my bike (the truck had not moved).

I did not think about how many miles I had to do or how long I would be on the bike for. For me it was being in the ‘here and now’ (maybe the first time I have ever used mindfulness). I did have the cut off times in the back of my head though, but I just told myself to keep pedalling, keep fuelling and not to overdo it in the early stages. My Garmin buzzed every 5 miles and whilst I was aware of this at first, the longer the ride went on, it just faded into the background.

Having cycled 99% of the course before I knew what was coming (hills), but yet again I was not thinking about them until I was there. I was prepared for them, I had trained for them and my motto was to deal with them as and when. I lost count of how many times I said ‘slow and steady will get you to the top’.

I had my first wee stop on lap 1 at Lamphey. I decided to keep my tri suit on after the swim and manoeuvring myself out of my suit in a small port-a-loo was one of the hardest things that I had to do all day. My race belt had to come off and the last thing I wanted to do was drop my nutrition from my back pockets down the toilet. After 10 minutes of faffing, followed by a drink change over and 1/4 of a banana I jumped back on my bike thinking to myself that I would not be doing a toilet stop again (well not on the bike anyway).

Hills that I hated (the most) Freshwater, Wisemans Bridge and Saundersfoot. I was grateful to see my special needs bag at New Hedges. Here I stopped, had a bite of sausage roll, a few crisps and some lemonade. All acted like rocket juice as I headed into Tenby. It was so good to see my support crew as it was just the lift I needed before going back out on to the second loop.

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Cycling out of Tenby along the Marsh Road and towards Kiln Park was where I experienced my demons for the first time. Doubts started to arise, the wind started to pick up and I allowed myself to think about what was ahead of me. I was thinking about the hills I had to face and what they had already taken out of me. I knew that I should be ok for the cut off times as long as I kept my pace, stuck to plan and did not let my head overtake.

It got tough but at the right times I chatted to other cyclists along the route. This gave me what I needed as I dug deep, told my head to ‘do one’ and just went for it. On lap 1 at about 50 miles in I started to get pain behind my left knee, this became a problem when pushing down hard on the pedal and whist hitting Wisemans Bridge for the second time I knew that there was no way I could cycle up it. I needed to get off and stretch the leg so I walked up the hill. This helped as I got back on and attacked Saundersfoot. I stopped again at my special needs bag and grabbed a pack of crisps which I ate on the way back into Tenby. I knew now that I had done it, I had completed the 112 miles. I had beaten what I was most fearful of. Now it was time to rack the bike, manoeuvre my way out of my tri suit for another wee, put on my fast daps and head out onto the run. I cannot describe the relief I felt to be off the bike.

As I stumbled out of transition I saw my support crew, I quickly stopped to say hi, have a kiss from Olly before heading out on the 26.2 miles of yet more hills. This was the first time that I allowed myself to think about running a marathon. I made it easier by breaking it down in to 4 x 10k runs (+ a bit more). Four loops of Tenby and New Hedges which I had 7 hours to finish in. Could I? Would I? Don’t even think that far ahead George!

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I grew up in Tenby, I have walked the part of the marathon route a zillion times, but until I came to run it after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of biking I never knew how hilly it was. Never underestimate a gentle slope when your legs are shot and you have missed out on your Sunday afternoon nanna nap. Initially I was in too much pain with my foot (?) to run so I had to walk. Knee was ok (used to that) but it took me a while to get my shuffle going properly and when I did, it did not last long. In the end like many others, I walked up the hills and kind of ran down them.

Every loop, I collected a coloured band (hair bobble) from New Hedges. The first one, green meant that I was at least off the mark though I was only a few miles in. I kept looking at other people to see how many they had collected. When I realised that some people were on their last lap I couldn’t help but envy them. I still had a long way to go.

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I found the second lap hard, as I walked past my supporters at the bottom of the hill where I live (which I was to pass 8 times) I remember muttering ‘this is hard, its tough’ but I continued on to collect my blue band. Almost half way there. As much as I could I kept positive and I kept smiling, grateful of the all of the support around. The pain in my knee meant that any sort of extension of my left leg hurt, as my shuffle became even slower. I knew I was still well within time, even if I had to walk the remainder.

Grateful again of my special needs bag I ate the Mars bar and crisps that I was craving. On one loop, I could not even remember my number when I had to shout out for my bag. Shouting 504 would not have got me my goodies. The sugar rush and some energy from somewhere spurred me on to collect the red band. Only 1 more to go.

As I headed out of Tenby on my last lap and the final yellow band I allowed myself to think about the medal at the end. I stopped to chat to my family and later heading back I spoke with my friend who filmed me. I remember saying that I had ‘a park run to go and 2 and a half hours to do it’.  I smiled and hugged her as a limped off. Thank you Julie for your support that day.

After 15 hours and 19 minutes I crossed the finish line as an Ironman. I started in the dark and finished in the dark. I had actually done it. I had my medal. My mum, dad, partner, Olly, aunty and uncle at the finish line to greet me. I momentarily said hello before heading back to the tent to grab my kit. A lovely lady took my timing chip off my ankle and allowed  me to keep the strap. I stumbled through the tent where I collected my t-shirt, grabbed some pizza and a drink and then somehow managed to carry all of the bags and bike out of transition. I was met again by family, all of whom had relieved faces.

I then uttered those words ‘never ever ever ever again, if I ever say I am going to do it again, don’t let me’.

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I hobbled the 100m back to the hotel and took the lift to the first floor (I always walk the stairs). I fell on the bed and could not move for 10 minutes. Outside I could hear people crossing the finish line and being called an ‘Ironman’. 

What a great feeling.

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Now, as sit here writing this I have had over two weeks to reflect on the day. It was the hardest thing that I have ever done. It is probably one of the proudest moments of my life. Ten months of hard work, physically, yet alone what I have been through mentally. The day to day struggles were there throughout, they are real and I still battle them. I am physically tired but that is expected. I no longer have my routine of training and this is what I miss most. I have one event left of the 12 that I am completing in 12 months and that is Cardiff Half marathon a week Sunday. That will be for fun, no time pressure, just go and enjoy.

Where I go from here and what I do next I don’t know. It is too early for me to sign up to any events. I feel that I need some time to chill out, work on my book, maybe take a holiday.

I owe special thanks to my family, my partner and Olly who have been on this journey with me with their ongoing love and support. Thanks to Rhys and John, two amazing coaches who got me over the line.

Would I do it again? ‘Hell yes’

Olly’s road to Ironpup to follow

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The road to Ironman Part III

Tuesday 18th September 2018 (11.02am)

Friday 7th September, the training was done and there was no going back.

I had clocked up hours and hours of training totalling:

🏊🏼‍♀️ Swim: 121 miles

🚴🏼‍♀️ Bike: 2437 miles

🏃🏻‍♀️ Run: 554 miles

After last minute bike checks, bag checks and nutrition checks, I loaded up the car and headed to Tenby. Like a proper athlete, I stopped off for a cooked breakfast on the way. It is said that you should not change your nutrition and stick to what you know and I trusted that along my journey. The only thing that changed was the quantity. I was stuffing a lot more as I became addicted to aero bubbles and twirl bites. I planned to take this seriously 😂

In terms of my weight I was slightly heavier than what I was 12 months ago but healthier. My body shape became more athletic, my legs which previously looked like lifeless hot dogs after so much surgery developed muscles, my core strength improved and for once I felt fit to face a challenge. This is not to say that things were easy along the way. I still had moments where I looked at myself and said ‘I am not going to eat today as I am fat’ or I did not want to take my medication as it was making me put on weight. Being focused on my training and events did not take away the problems suffered with mental illness. I have written about such moments along the way in earlier blogs.

Myself and my partner arrived in Tenby early Friday afternoon where I was greeted by one very excited Olly and my parents (slightly worried *mother*). First up was registration where I had my orange (access all areas) and green bands (first timer) slapped onto my wrist. The much awaited Ironman back pack was given to me (impressed), I signed some sort of disclaimer thing to say that it was my fault if I die and collected my number (502).

I then collected my special needs bags before hitting the expo with my dad and his bank card. A lazy afternoon and evening followed, stuffing my face with my mothers chicken dinner and blackberry & apple pie. Even though my parents live in Tenby, I decided 12 months ago to book the Giltar hotel on the finish line and close to transition.

I had another cooked breakfast Saturday morning before having a walk around town to soak in the incredible Ironman atmosphere. I checked out where my hook was on the north walk to hang my pink bag (which would include my trainers and drink before and after the swim) and worked out where I would seed myself and stand for the swim start. I was planning to get the swim done in under 1hr 20 so found the relevant yellow marking on the road. This is where the Long Course swim which I did in July came in handy as it gave me an idea of expected time.

Next up was the all important job of sorting out transition bags. I had two bags, blue for bike and red for run. I packed the relevant kit which I would need for each discipline into each bag. Thankfully I had made a list earlier in the week, as at this stage, excitement set in and I would have probably forgotten something. Ticking off the items on the list as my helmet, shoes, trainers talc, towel etc went into each bag was like a military operation. These bags along with my bike needed to be in transition by 3pm on the Saturday.

To get into transition, my bands, bike and bags were checked against my number, I had to have my helmet on and strapped up and then have my photo taken. The bike racks were labelled up and signposted with numbers to make your bike easy to find (allegedly). I put my bike in my 502 slot then headed into the transition tent. The tent was full of racks with hanging blue and red bags. Once again I found my hook, chucked my helmet in my blue bag and hung up my bags. Only I could hang my bags the wrong way around, blue on the red hook, and red on the blue so after a quick look around to see if no-one was looking at my amateur skills I swiftly changed them around.

After making sure my bags were hanging up nicely and correctly I collected my timing chip. I put this on my left ankle and wore it around for the rest of the day like someone proud to show off that they were on tag. I left the transition area with the bike racked, the bags in and the chip on my ankle.

After all this hard work I rewarded myself with a well deserved Greggs corned beef pasty and my 3rd hot chocolate of the day. A few games of pool followed (pleased to say I beat my partner 2-1) before heading back to hotel for a chilled out evening (with a Dominos pizza for one).

I was surprisingly calm and relaxed as I sorted out my special needs bags (packed with sausage roll, pasty, 3 packs of ready salted crisps, chocolate bread, 2 Mars bars, small bottles of lemonade, ibuprofen, plasters and extra Tailwind to add to my water bottles). I also packed my small bike bag with cola power shots and whatever chocolate bread I could shove in it). **if anyone would like any ironman nutrition tips then please give me a shout.**

I took my evening sea sickness tablet and I went to bed knowing that all was ready for the morning, all I had to do was get up at 5am and rock up for a long day at the office.

I set two alarms (iPhone and Garmin). I never do this. Did I really think I was not going to get up for one of the biggest days of my life?

The road to Ironman part IV to follow

The road to Ironman Part II

Monday 17th September 2018 (9.56am)

As the months went by I was able to tick off the events which I had planned in my calendar. First up was the Big Vitality Half marathon in London which I was invited to do. Unfortunately this did not get off to a great start as in March thick snow began too fall. Having booked my train and accommodation, I had to cancel late on due to no trains departing. 

Not being the only one to be disappointed by the snow, London Marathon Events made the decision to award medals to those who completed the distance within 7 days and evidence it on Strava. A few days later as the snow meted I completed my London half marathon around the streets of Barry and Penarth. Medal number 1 of the year received. 

My Ironman training continued, using the events as training sessions for variety and to monitor progress. As I started into April, the focus of my training changed and became more run orientated as I prepared for the London marathon.  I knew that I was both physically fitter and mentally stronger than when I completed the marathon in 2017. Never expecting to run it again I was given the opportunity and not one to say ‘no’ I jumped at the chance. 

In the lead up to the event I was invited to the 2018 launch of the London marathon at the Michel Roux restaurant in Parliament Square. Whilst talking to the organisers of the London marathon a seed was planted in my head to go for the London classics medal which consists of the marathon, a 2 mile swim of the Serpentine and Ride London (100 miles). I will be swimming the Serpentine on Saturday and plan to ride London next year.

The day of the London marathon was hot and I knew I had to play it sensibly. I had no particular time in mind but based on current fitness levels I knew I would be able to finish around the 4 hour mark. The punishing heat bouncing off the tarmac meant that I had to slow my pace down. I had to remember that this was a training run. I had been having treatment for plantar fasciitis for the last 5 months and it was not worth the risk to push it above a comfortable level. I finished in 4 hours 31 with the body still in one piece. Medal number 2 in the bag.

On returning from London I began working with a new coach. The sea temperature now deemed acceptable (by who I don’t know) for swimming meant that it was time to get in and get used to the unpredictable conditions which the current and waves chuck at you. I was not new to competitive sea swimming having completed Tenby Long course 2.4 mile swim for the last two years. All I had to do was control the sea sickness and I knew that I would be ok. 

The first swim of 2018 was a shock to the system. Whilst it was a lovely sunny day in early May, the sea temperature was baltic. I had the worse case of head freeze ever and I was unable to move my hands and feet which I am convinced turned to ice. Not one to moan (much) I enjoyed my swim out at Jacksons bay, Barry. It was good to be back in the wetsuit putting all of my pool sessions into practice. I was also beginning to have faith in my sea sick tabs!

Late May, I needed a break and decided to go abroad for a week. My head was ‘going off on one’ and things felt pretty crap. It was also the only time which I could get away before Ironman. I took my trainers with me and did a few runs in the hot morning sun. The holiday was what I needed to refresh the body mentally. Physically the rest was good for me and on returning I knew that the hard work was about to begin.

On June 3rd I had my first triathlon of the year. It was sprint distance with the aim of enjoying it, practicing transition, trying out new kit and getting through it in one piece. All of which I managed.

I began swimming at the age of 3 or 4 and did so competitively until the age of about 14. Other sports then took over causing me to completely abandon swimming. When I decided to do my first Tenby Long course swim in 2016, I knew that I had to get back in the pool. The first few sessions were hard  (I was much faster when I was 8) and I lacked any sort of structure to my training. I was out of touch with drills and I had no idea what my technique was like. I did see improvements with distance and time so I thought that I must be doing ok.

It was only when I started working with a coach at the end of last year did things start to click into place. I finally had structure and progressive drills and techniques to work on. In June I had my stroke analysed in the endless pool (pool treadmill). Thankfully, I only had to make some minor adjustments to improve my efficiency. My subsequent pool and sea swims enabled me to practice and refine what I had learnt. It made me think about my stroke and body position which I am still working on today. Improvements can always be made.

Next up was a new bike. I decided to go for an aero road bike with tri bars. Not a necessity but the body position and comfort which it offered would be a massive help when riding 112 miles. The bike was put to good use the following week at Cardiff triathlon (Olympic distance) and a few weeks later Velothon Wales (87 miles).

The big test for me was to be Tenby Long Course weekend in July. The swim would be the same as Ironman and the bike distance would be the same 112 miles but a slight change of route. I decided to run the half marathon rather than full as I did not want to put the knees though another marathon when there was no need to. It was the swim and bike I wanted to crack.

I got off to a really good start on the Friday evening with the swim, knocking over 10 minutes off my time from last year. I felt confident in the water. I was happy with my stoke and I knew I had extra in the tank in terms of my fitness.

I have tried the 112 mile bike route on two previous attempts but the hard hilly course has got the better of me so I only ended up doing the 66 miles. I was not going to be beaten this year. I knew I had it in me after hours and hours of structured training on the Wattbike and work out on the roads. It was a tough day in the saddle but having thought about and practiced nutrition I completed it. This was a biggy for me as it gave me the much needed confidence going into Ironman. My physical fitness and mental strength evident. These two events gave me an indicator as to where I was and what we needed to work on. The final event of the weekend, the half marathon went without incident giving my a hat-trick of medals.

The final event before Ironman was the Barry Island 10k. A chilled out fun event saw me collect my 9th medal of 2018.

The road to Ironman part III to follow

The road to Ironman Part I

Thursday 13th September 2018 (11.58am)

At 1911 hours on Monday 18th September 2017 I signed up for Ironman Wales. One week before I had been watching it (again) and knew that it was something that I had to do.  I sat at the kitchen table looking at the details I had filled in on the website before closing my eyes and hitting the enter button. I felt sick for having just spent over £400 on an event that was going to cause me pain and consume my life for the next 12 months. I did not care, the ‘all or nothing’ in me knew that no other event would ever be good enough. This was the one I wanted. This was the one I was going to get.

I knew that I was in good shape after training for and completing the London marathon and Tenby Long Course weekend. I knew I had the distance in me, it was just a matter of the body holding out for the training which would take me to another level.

I told my parents (mother panicked) and publicised it on my social media. There was no going back after that. Excitement of a new challenge gripped me knowing that I would push myself to the max mentally and physically. I gave a shout out for a coach on Twitter and was overwhelmed by the number of people who responded.

I continued with my normal training clocking up the miles in the pool, on the bike and on the road.

My coached program started on 27th November 2017 and this is where I began to record my Ironman miles.

I liked the structure that the program provided. Mentally, it was what I needed. It gave me something to do each day. I am an organised person who likes routine, without this I could easy waste myself away into deeper depression. Not only was I accountable to my coach, but more importantly I was accountable to myself. If there was an activity on my program then I did it, and it did it well. Even early on into the training there was no point in cheating my way out of it. I would be the one come Ironman day to suffer, nobody else.

The cold winter months were hard, I spent time with relatives in London pre Christmas and would run, taking in the sights of the London marathon route but this time being able to enjoy the beauty of the iconic sights around me. The snow eventually stopped me in my tracks, but I used this as rest. Christmas Day took me home to Tenby and of course my trainers came with me as I ran through Kiln Park, the South beach and through the town. 

As the new year began, I continued with my program. The days were cold, the days were short, and the evenings were colder. I would take Olly out at 3pm walking along the beach in the biting wind, knowing that when I got home I would have to do a strength & conditioning session and/or a run, having already either done a swim or bike session earlier in the day. I recall many times laying on the sofa trying to motivate myself to get into my PE kit to a run hill session. I would use every excuse in my head not to go. I would then give myself a sharp reminder ‘Do you want to be an Ironman or not?’ Reluctantly I would change and step out into the cold air whilst trying to start my Garmin with thick gloves on. As always, it was never as bad when out there running, the relief of getting home knowing that it was done and your activity turned to green on Training Peaks was a great feeling. Another session ticked off. Another day closer.

When I signed up 12 months in advance, it felt like I had plenty of time; yet it was amazing how time suddenly was eaten away. 12 months became 7 months, then 4 months, then 2 months, then 2 days. I am glad I got myself organised quickly in order to have a progressive plan of training. I changed coached in April and as time ticked away, I continued to see fitness gains and improvements. I worked on my swim technique, bike strength and performance and running efficiency all of which were specific to me. Power output, watts, and swim drills became second nature.

I worked to time, not distance (apart from in the pool) so I was never consumed by miles or data. My coach took care of this, I  only counted all of my miles just for interest. The variety in my training kept me motivated and on track. Weekly discussions with my coach made sure that all was going to plan. When things were hard, or I felt rubbish, I trusted him, I trusted his knowledge, and expertise. Importantly he also trusted me.

The road to Ironman Part II to follow 

The blog of two questions

Monday 13th August 2018 (2.50pm)

The questions I am being asked at the moment are:

1.  ’What will you do after Ironman?’

2.  ’What is your favourite out of the three – swim, bike, run?’

Firstly, tackling question 1, my carefully considered response is ‘retire’ (again).  With less than four weeks to go until the big day I am thinking about my options. These though depend on A) surviving the event itself and B) employment status.

What I do know is that my wetsuit will be left to sail into the Bristol Channel, my bikes will be in the nearest skip and my daps will be burnt somewhere along my favourite run route.

Then I remember that two weeks after IMW I am swimming the Serpentine, then two weeks after that I am running the Cardiff Half Marathon. Maybe I wont retire after all. In 2019 I have plans to run the London Marathon and to Ride London. My aim is to get the London Classics Medal. To date only 649 people are recognised in the hall of fame.

In reality I do not know how I will be either physically or mentally four weeks today. Physically I have an idea that my body will be broken. Currently, my knees hang on by bolts and threads and my left hamstring / glute scream if I sit down for too long. I am seeing a Physio on Thursday who I am hoping has a magic wand. I am not too bothered by these niggles and they are not concerning enough to keep me from the start line.

I have trained for this since last November and I can say that I have done my absolute best following the plan and directions of my amazing coach. There is no way that I would have been in the shape I am in today without such guidance. The structure has been what I have needed giving me focus each day. My body has achieved things over the last few months which I never thought it would. If it was left to me alone, I can assure you that I would not have had the discipline to do what I have done.

I have enjoyed every moment of my training (well 99%). I look back to the cold dark winter months being out in all weathers which was a serious test to my commitment. Sitting here now (in Costa) I cannot believe where the time has gone. I have met some supportive people on this journey, both in real life and through social media. Such people have been so inspirational in their own journey which has given me the motivation to keep going.

I will not just stop training when this is all over. I will drop the intensity then maybe take a short break. I don’t know. I know that mentally, exercise is my therapy and has become a lifeline over the last few years. I will need time to reflect on what I have achieved over the last year, often through some tough times. I usually book my activity diary up in January so no doubt I will be looking.

I have said to myself that I will not commit to a full Ironman again. I have other things that I would like to invest my time in which are as equally as important and therapeutic. I have had to put my book on hold and I would like to do more with my blog. I have a number of ideas in terms of where I want to go and what I would like to do but most of this is dependant on what happens with my employment situation. 

What I do know is that I have to keep my brain active as this helps it declining into a negative slump. I have even considered doing another degree or course (online). I will not be putting any pressure on myself for anything, and these are just ideas which are currently floating around my head. I need to do things in my time and not be dictated by anyone or anything.

The answer to question 2 differs every day. I do not have a favourite as I enjoy all for different reasons. I love the freedom that I get from hours on the bike, the places that I discover and sites I often miss when driving. 

I love the buzz that I get after a run and the friends which I have made through the local run club. I will never forget how lucky I am to actually be able to run after being told that I never would again. 

The feeling I get when hitting the sweet spot through the water is incredible. Mastering the skill and technique takes patience and time and it is an area which I have worked hard at and seen big improvements.

There are times when I am cycling and my legs are screaming at me and all I want to do then is put on my run legs. This works both ways. 

Though I have no particular favourite, the one I see as least going wrong and the one I will look forward to is the run, yep 26.2 miles of running (or shuffling). Not only is it the last event, but I feel that if I can get to the run, I hopefully will get to the finish. The bike cut off times scare me and there is always the chance of a mechanical or crash. Before any of this though is the swim. I just hope I can keep the sea sickness away and not get eaten by Tenby size jelly fish.

Remind me why I do these stupid things?

Today I am a Proton

Wednesday 8th August 2018 (11.44am)

The last couple of weeks have not been great, hence my avoidance of any blog. I have felt that I have not had my shit together to put into context what has been going on. My mood has certainly not been as low as it has been but it is different. There are NO suicidal thoughts or urges to self harm, it is more of a deep downer compounded by what has felt like extreme fatigue.

Last Monday I had an appointment at the Psych Centre where I saw 2 mental health nurses. It was a follow up appointment combined with a new referral from the primary care team in relation to having some emotional regulation therapy in the near future. Once again, I put on the professional face (not advised, but its what I do) and confidently and competently answered the questions which were asked. The crux of my mood and state of mind is primarily down to being stuck in limbo with the whole work situation. I have spoken about this rock and hard place before so wont dwell on it here, but the not knowing and the anxiety and fear I feel regarding this plays heavily on my mind. I am awaiting any decisions / outcome of this meeting. My GP has also increased my medication.

This has sunk me back into my bubble where all I have wanted to do is hide from the world and isolate myself from everyone. It has required honest conversations with myself and my partner as to how I / we get through this phase of uncertainty. My attitude towards my training and writing which are usually my forms of therapy has been poor. I have simply not had the motivation or desire to do either. Thankfully, the training has continued but not with the level of enthusiasm which I normally apply to it. There have been times when I have felt like quitting the whole Ironman thing but I have travelled on too far a journey both physically and mentally to let this go. It would also be one of my biggest regrets if I was not on that start line (in the dark) on Sunday 9th September.

Now I just want answers and a decision to me made. Everything is out of my hands which makes it harder. Stuck in a process which I can do nothing about. Stuck in my head of confusion. I just want to be able to move on with my life in a positive manner and that is away from the police service for my own health and wellbeing.

The title of the blog ‘Today I am a Proton’ reflects that I am sitting here in Starbucks (I have just swam 3150m, and have to run for 1hr 8 mins later) reflects that I have a positive charge about me (those of you who listened in Chemistry will get this) more so than over the last few weeks. I am hoping it will last, who knows?

Too many tabs open

Tuesday 24th July 2018 (2.23pm)

It’s been a while since I last wrote as things have been really busy in terms of training and events. I have certainly clocked up a few miles in the pool, sea, on the bike and on my feet. I am pleased with how my training is going and the hard work is starting to show. With Ironman Wales less than 50 days away, I have a tough few weeks ahead. Physically the body is withstanding the intensity I am smashing it with (thankfully).

Mentally I feel like I am not on the same page. My head resembles a busy interchange with signals and craziness flying all over the place. Once again I have the image of Mr Messy from the Mr Men in my head, with his pink messy scribble character unwinding and unfolding so the mess becomes looser before tightening back up again. This does not go away. 

Having too may tabs open is a permanent feature of my brain which I wish I could just switch off as it scrambles around at super speed. This is not easy to live with, and my partner deserves a medal for putting up with me. My mood is erratic which I cannot explain. I hide behind my eyes as I stare into space trying to fathom out what exactly I am thinking to try and put some normality on it. When I am asked to explain, I can’t, it is too complex and I complicate things putting it into words.

I just wish I could find some stability and consistency within my brain as minute to minute it may have spun around so many times before coming back to the initial thought. I continually question what am I doing and where I am going. This applies personally as well as professionally. My partner is aware of this as together (often after I have gone off on one) we try to work out how and why. This is not easy and it is evident that I still battle with my diagnosis of a personality disorder and adjustment disorder. My last Psychiatrist said that I no longer suffer with this, but I believe it is still there. It is like I play two characters off each other, ‘nice George’ and ‘pain in the ass George’.  With the latter, I know that I am behaving or acting like an idiot but there is nothing I can do to stop it. Words come out of my mouth which I do not mean and do not want to say, yet I cannot stop it. It is the same with my actions, I back away from any closeness or attention and all I want is to be alone… but I don’t, as all I want is a hug. I agree that this all sounds off the crazy scale, but with me it is there, day in day out as I try and function with some normality. 

I am lucky to have people around me who put up with me. I am grateful that however often I push people away, they are still there. I certainly do not deserve it. I am due to see my GP Thursday, where no doubt I will discuss the above. It could be a matter of altering my medication dosage, I don’t know.

Being in limbo with my work situation does not help. Things are out of my hands as reports are prepared and decisions are made which are out of control. What is evident is that my deterioration happened the same time as the outcome of my SMP report. This is in the back of my mind as my future, which ever which way it goes will be determined, I am hoping in the next few months.

For now I continue to keep my focus on Olly and my training as this is what gives me purpose, direction and some sort of meaning.

Stuck between two worlds

Wednesday 11th July 2018 (12.16pm)

Yep, that is how I feel, stuck between two worlds, between the life I once had and the future I saw, to where I am now and where I see myself going. I know I can’t turn back the clock to the past and I have no crystal ball to see what will happen. I feel that there is something stopping me from moving on and embracing the happy future which I could have. I cannot erase memories of good times and I don’t want to; yet as I sit here, my brain spins around knowing that it is wrong to look back. People (whoever these people are) say you should not go back and move on, but is it really that easy? How can you suddenly chuck out a piece of your life which has been so important and so significant.

It is like the ‘sliding doors’ moment where your whole future changes based on a split second where you either miss the train or make it. I sit here and reflect on how different things could have been in my life. I could have had an 18 month old child, I could have been juggling child care, work, the rat race of promotion. Instead, I sit here in Costa training for the endurance event of my life, on the back of a life changing two and a half years. Different paths based upon the outcome of IVF treatment and a marriage break up.

There are no regrets as to what has happened. I am certainly a better and stronger person for it. I do not dwell on the past, but at times, things flitter through my head as a Facebook memory unexpectedly pops up or friends announce their new arrival. I am not saying I want children, I cannot even look after myself 😂. I have the crazy pup who is more then enough for me.

Why this now? I don’t know, perhaps it is because I have started a new chapter personally. Perhaps there are some things which I thought were boxed away and are not. I don’t know. I thought things were dealt with.

I hope this does not sound glum, that is not my intention. I am ok and I will be. Just put it down to a moment of overthinking. This is what mental illness does to me. It is like the devil chipping away with negativity when things are seemingly going ok. Constantly reminding me that I am not worthy of what I have. Getting in the way of life, altering my mind set and mood. Telling me to put up barriers which I have tried to drop. Encouraging me to push away relationships and isolate myself from friends. I know I am stronger than these thoughts which plague me. I know this will pass.

As for work, the next stage is progressing through my Federation Rep. It is just a waiting game. Things are out of my hands. There is nothing I can do as I await further reports. Frustrated and let down by a system whereby I still receive no pay even though I cannot return to work. Tomorrow I see my Force Dr, nothing has changed and nothing will. Formality.

I am always grateful and thankful for what I have. Over the last 20 years a verse from Scripture has guided and encouraged me on so many occasions and today it is shouting at me:

Proverbs 16 v 9

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps

Part 3 – Where I am now

Monday 18th June 2018 (11.51am)

I have purposely left part 3 for over a week or so I could (hopefully) report on some improvements. Are things more positive? Yes, but I feel that I still have a long way to go with it. After I wrote part 2 on Friday 8th June, things got progressively worse for me. I could not control my mood, I pushed my partner away saying that I wanted to be alone and was no good at relationships. I felt angry at myself for not being able to change my stroppy, obstructive behaviour. I felt angry for pushing people away. It felt like my body had been taken over by the demon destructive alien which I could do nothing about. 

Something had wormed its way into my head telling me to act like a complete and utter tit and nothing could stop it. I felt a tornado ripping through my body and look out whoever got in my way. All day I simmered as I fought to keep my temper and anger under control. I was angry at me, no one else. I was angry for feeling the way I was. The tornado had spun me around in a destructive circle and all I wanted to do was punish myself for it. After throwing things across the kitchen, banging my head on the cabinet and punching my fists down the worktops, things which I had not done for years, I knew that I had to go back onto my antidepressants. It was only then that I realised that over the last 2 and a half years it was those pills that were keeping me stable. Those pills which I had neglected to take for over a week. Those pills which I wanted to flush down the toilet as I didn’t think I needed them.  I reached out for them and ever since things have stabilised. 

I am not saying that I have returned to a fully functioning human being (if I ever was one) but I am getting by. Thankfully I have an understanding partner who did what she could to help, even though I pushed and pushed before completely losing it. I have a focus on my training which gives me structure each day, and of course I have Olly who probably understands me more than I give him credit for, as he cuddles in to me on the sofa staying close, looking after his human.

My work situation is still uncertain as I await my next instructions with the appeals process. This is not helped by the no pay situation, as I continue to sit between my rock and my hard place as the process drags out. 

I have not been able to concentrate on writing my book since returning from holiday, but I feel now that I am able to pick it up again. This demonstrates a more positive mind set as my brain settles down back into a calmer rhythm and pattern.

I am looking forward to taking part in a triathlon on the weekend, the buzz of an event bubbling away in me as I continue to see fitness improvements demonstrating the pay off of all of the hard work which I have been putting in.

I am ok, I know I will get there and things will improve. it will take time; however, If anyone has any spare patience just send them my way 🙂