Baywatch – not quite

A few weeks ago I signed up to do something never in my life had I ever considered doing before – a Lifeguard course.

Yup. She who swims like a dead fly thought being a lifeguard was achievable.

I will give you a minute to stop laughing and wipe the tears from your eyes…..

Ok. Let’s start with signing up.

There weren’t any courses in my city within the next few weeks of me deciding this but there was one in the next city. This had its benefits. It would be unlikely I would know any one there so I could keep it secret, and, with the extremely high chance of me failing, this would mean fewer people finding this out. Why should that be a concern? It shouldn’t. But it is. I find it very difficult when people talk about me.  But I’m working on ignoring it.

So I signed up to do it in Dundee.  What a call that was.  Oh my.  I may have previously worked in a call centre but I wasn’t on the phones.  This turns out to be a good thing as I am useless on the telephone.  There is no delete button and I blurt things out without thinking.  ‘Am I the oldest on the course?  I mean I don’t really care as I am doing it anyway but a heads up if I am going to be the granny in the corner would be good.’  The woman on the other end of the phone found this hilarious – don’t know why.  She basically said without checking dates of birth she couldn’t tell me but they do get a range of ages however most are quite young.  Cue panic number one.  Founded on embarrassment and confirmation that I will indeed be the wrinkly in the white bobble swim cap.  Great.

The course was 30 miles away presenting Fear Number 2. Finding the bloody place. For someone who gets lost in a packet of crisps this is the stuff night terrors are made of. Just during the day. Awake. And living through it.  I had to leave before I could drop the kids off and wouldn’t be back until late so it was old faithful Nanny to the rescue again.  What would we do without my mum?

Needless to say the night before I got very little sleep.  The clock said 4:30am the last time I looked at it and the alarm went off at 6am.  So many fears going through my head.  Could I really do this?  I’ve never considered myself a good swimmer.  Should I be doing this?  I’m 36 and have 3 kids, I have responsibilities.  The easy and obvious choice would be an office job surely.   What if I couldn’t do it?  Didn’t pass?  Could I take yet another blow this year?

3 wrong turns and a near collision because I was in the wrong lane and I was sat in the car park at the college.  Deep breaths Ella, deep breaths.  I had forced down a banana for breakfast knowing that I would need energy and had sipped on a red bull to try and get me awake.  The instructor was called Marco and he was from Italy.  His accent was strong and he had been doing this for a long time.  ‘You’re not actually the oldest here’ he said to me.

Mortified.  I was mortified.  Quite clearly my little slip on the telephone had done the rounds.

We started with learning how to use the torpedo and how to pull someone.  I repeatedly caught my feet in the strap and kept getting burns.  But I had to be able to pull someone holding on to it for 20 metres – fast.  And that someone was guaranteed to be bigger than me.  Then, as if that wasn’t going to be hard enough, I had to dive 3 metres and retrieve a heavy manikin.

Excuse me how deep?? That’s literally twice my height!  No word of a lie!  What number of Fear am I up to now?

After a morning in the pool we had a break and were able to catch our breath and talk to each other.  It was a class of 12 and we ranged from just turning 16 the week before to over 40.  There was even a fellow mum there.  The rest of the day was spent in the classroom before returning to the pool to learn more holds.

Unsurprisingly I was exhausted when I got home.  And I had a book the size of War and Peace to read through.

The next day was much the same.  Although this time I managed to cut it down to just 2 wrong turns on the way there.  I passed the swim test and I retrieved the manikin.  I almost kept a straight face when Marco referred to 2 guys on the course as ‘sinkers’ – his translations weren’t always the most accurate shall we say.  Luckily the guys he was referring to took it in good spirits (although one of them looked like he had zero body fat and was skin and bones – sinker was an interesting word for that one).  I wasn’t fast in the pool at all but I wasn’t the slowest.  I had to work really hard but I could do it.  Just.  This scared me.  I didn’t want to just scrape through.  The threat of failing was always there.  Marco stayed and chatted to 3 of us after the pool on Tuesday and we practised a bit more.  I went home feeling slightly better, but definitely not confident.  I was also covered in bruises – from swimming? – getting in and out of a pool is hazardous for your health!

Wednesday came and it all went wrong.  It will forever be known as Woeful Wednesday.  It started with the journey there.  I added a speeding ticket to my 2 wrong turns, 1 wrong lane and now bump on the kerb.  I almost got lost in the campus trying to get to the pool – yes the same pool I had spent the last 2 days in.  Worst of all, I failed my swim test.  I had to get under 45 seconds and I was 46.  When I was towing the casualty back with my arm we just didn’t move through the water.  The problems kept on coming.  I dropped the manikin in the deep water rescue and almost didn’t surface with it first time.  In the final exam you get one chance and one chance only.  Then my hand slipped pulling myself out the water and I landed on my shoulder with a thud.  Something else to add to my embarrassment and multitude of bruises.  In the classroom I felt I wasn’t picking anything at all up and when ever I asked a question Marco didn’t seem to understand me.

That night I sent a frantic essay of a message to a guy in the road runners who was a lifeguard.  He gave me a call.  ‘Ok, first thing, take a breath, stop panicking.  Why are you doing it in a 3 metre pool though?  Perth pools are only 1.8’.  He talked me through what the assessment would be, the key things I would need to know for the exam and for being in the job.   As it turns out he is an assessor too.  I spent the entire time kicking myself for not waiting until he was running a course.  Why was I putting myself through this when the pool in Perth isn’t as deep as 3 metres?   What was I thinking?  Just because I was a wimp and was scared someone might recognise me – what do you think is going to happen if you end up working at your local pool?  That no one at all you know from your 36 years of living in the same place is going to come in?  They are all going to stop going?  Put your big girl pants on for god sake!  Honestly!

Thanks to that call I did manage some sleep that night but not much.  I kept dreaming I was going to slip and bang my head, fall in the water, blood pouring everywhere, Marco annoyed at the mess I was making, everyone looking at me and shaking their heads – not saving me because I should be able to save myself, and then of course there were ‘things’ in the water.  Something else to add to the long list of failures of 2018.  It’s no wonder I didn’t really sleep.

In the car on Thursday morning and I was white as a sheet feeling sick as a dog.  I had dropped to only 30% convinced I could do this.  The chat I had the night before was great and it had helped calm me down so I tried to just think about what he had said and that he was honest admitting it is a tough course.  Driving along and Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger came on.  I started tapping the wheel.  Kind of out of nervousness but also out of a bit of ‘come on, push yourself a little’.  I started singing along.  I got louder and louder.  The tears started.  First just a few drops but very quickly that was it.  Floods of tears, eyes streaming, voice screaming along to the radio.  ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you STRONGER, stand a little TALLER’.  Oh what a sight!!

But it worked.  I needed to get it out.  I felt slightly better.  Slightly stronger.

Can you smell the cheese?

Standing at the pool waiting for the swim test and I was back to shaking.  Well that burst in the car didn’t last long.  I asked my swim partner if I could go first.  She could tell I was nervous as hell – THAT I am 100% confident of!  ‘Of course you can, don’t worry, we will practise as much as you need’.  She had failed it the day before as well and was also nervous but she had a strong resolve of just trying again.  I had a plan though.  On the first test I had 15 seconds to spare.  If I held back on that one I could give more on the second. I had to get under 45 seconds on it. I couldn’t take failing on it.  It would kill me.

First swim done and it went as planned.  Then it was straight on to the second.  Nerves were just horrendous.

‘3 whistles lifeguard going in’ – I was off.  I reached my casualty and I was on the way back.  My legs have never kicked so hard in my life.  I was trying to pull exactly as I had been told.  I crossed the line and looked desperately up at Marco.  ’38 seconds’.

‘Fuck yes! Oh god sorry for my language!’  The relief was immediate.  I needed that.  My partner nailed her swim test too.  As for the manikin – not easy but done.

Friday was much the same.  Pool in the morning with the swim test and holds, classroom before and after lunch then back to the pool.  We were put in to 2 groups of six and our group worked well together.  We took tips from the younger ones who were club swimmers and we shared advice with them on how to study for the questions.  Turns out we all had our strengths and that in itself helped to boost confidence.

Saturday was exam day.  It was an early start of 8.30am and through what can only be described as a miracle I found myself sitting in the car park at 7.30am.  No wrong turns.  But maybe a wrong lane.  It’s hard to tell.  Sitting outside in the sun everyone started to arrive and we discussed holds, CPR and nerves.  I was unsure I was going to pass this and even though you get a few weeks to re-sit I really didn’t want to be in that position.  No it wouldn’t make any difference in reality but in my head, it would.

Standing at the side of the pool and there was only 11 of us.  One of the younger lads hadn’t turned up.  The assessor asked someone to call him.  No answer.  An important part of being a lifeguard is being on time as a pool can never be left unattended.  We had our first fail.

Swim test was first.  I wanted to get mine out the way but it was assessors choice so I ended up in the second group.  Deep breaths.  In and out.  Slowly.  First test done.  Straight on the second.  A quick look at the clock and I can see I have done it.  Oh thank god!  We worked our way through the rest of the pool test.  It was intense.  There were tears from a few.  I heard the assessor from the other group say he had never seen anyone do a hold like that before and don’t ever do it again.  This was intense.

We re-grouped in the showers before the classroom test.  The other group had been told they had all passed the water test but they couldn’t get a single thing wrong in the classroom.  Our assessor hadn’t told us if we had passed or not.

I was confident with the questions so tried to focus on that.  I’m a bookworm, I can study, and if it is something I’m interested in I will research the sh!t out of it.  Yup.  You found my geek spot.  Unfortunately we were in a gym hall next to another gym hall that was holding a HIIT class.  So questions went like this ‘give a sign and symptom of go deeper 2,3,4‘.  Nightmare.

We moved on to the CPR to find the other group had finished.  Out of the 5 of them that had turned up 2 had failed.  We were up to 3 fails.

CPR done and it was an anxious wait.  I tried so hard to tell myself I could re-sit in a couple of weeks and I would be more relaxed with it.  I expected the fail.

So when he said I had passed, well, to say I was happy is an understatement!  I had done it!

This was different from anything I have ever done before.  When I have signed up to something there has always been a time I could see myself crossing the finish line.  With this, for some reason I just couldn’t picture that conversation of ‘you’ve passed’.  And I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because this is more serious.  If I’m the lifeguard on and get something wrong someone could actually die.  No one loses their life if I don’t finish my race or don’t run it within a time I had set myself.  We had 4 fails in the end out of 12 who had started the course.  We had someone injure their knee in the pool, someone who was sick after a swim test because they were pushing themselves so hard – and we all had the shakes from nerves.

I have no idea why I failed my swim test that once but that’s all it takes to remove that last sliver of confidence you have.  My mid-week freak out was only calmed down by being able to speak to someone who understood and I trusted.   Instead of shutting down I was honest and asked for help.  When I told my friend about my speeding ticket and he replied ‘shame you don’t swim that fast’ it didn’t help in the same way no, but it made me laugh.  (and he better hope I never have to save him as I bet he could reach the bottom of the 3 metre people he’s that big, ha ha)

So my first steps in changing career are done.  I’m on the first rung of a ladder that goes 40 storeys high and no doubt 300 metres wide.  Let’s see where this takes me.

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Worms, Spots and Life

I am bored.

Actually I’m more than bored – I’m beyond bored.

What do people DO all day??

I get to about 9:30am and I’m hanging upside down off the couch contemplating what life even means.

Not dramatic at all, nope.

What’s making it worse is I’m now on taper.

Taper. Who came up with that word? Where did it come from? ‘Oh, I know, runners need to reduce their running before a big race so let’s annoy them even more by calling it a stupid name!’ Pah.

Taper.

That’s a worm!

‘Are you not running Ella?’

‘No, I’m tapering’.

‘Oh, You’ve got worms?!’

And so it goes on.

I did do a trail race at the weekend though. 4 miles, 2 loops of some difficult hills. Came 4th female!! Lost third on the last hill, gutted. First in my age category though.

Of course there was only just over 50 runners……. minor detail.

So back to the taper.

It’s very difficult when you have a lot of time on your hands. I usually end up going for a little run or heading to the gym.

Shall we talk about my new gym?

Yes. Let’s.

So naturally I’m looking for my new ‘spot’. Surprisingly for me I’m comfortable in the middle section. Usually I like to find the quietest corner and sneak in and out unnoticed. I’ve been drifting to the same locker each time too in the middle so looks like it could be ‘the one’.

However…

(Oh come on you knew it wasn’t going to be that easy).

It has become apparent that the times I like to go to the gym are the same times your older type woman does. And they like to spread their shit EVERYWHERE! The bench in the changing room is huge. I mean you could stick a mattress on it and sleep comfortably.

So why then, do these women insist on taking up the whole thing?

I’m small. My stuff is small. I have ONE bag. One. Unlike you. You have your designer handbag. Your family sized hold-all that could contain the rest of the bedroom furniture and that you empty on to the bench because, you know, why would you not need two hairbrushes, your makeup bag, your small make up bag, your hairspray, your clean clothes for after, last weeks newspaper, this weeks lottery numbers, next year’s calendar right in front of you right now?!?!

I’m not a bolshy kind of girl so I won’t even politely ask someone if they could possibly give me an inch of the bench a la Oliver Twist style. I will struggle in the tiniest of spots in front of my locker, try to get dried and changed and not drop all my stuff. Because I don’t want to be rude.

At least, that’s what I used to be like. Before I had my precious spot wrenched from under me in the most vile way. Not just a number? ‘Ok then’.

She was small. She had a huge bag. She also had two smaller bags?? She had a coat. She had a Club La Santa water bottle so in my opinion, she should have been clued up on ‘space in the changers’. She was wearing a bikini when I waddled in from the pool so she obviously wasn’t going for a proper swim. She had no goggles either. The kitchen sink yes but no goggles. Sherlock Holmes deduced she was going to the sauna. There was no room for me to even place my goggles on the bench. She somehow even managed to take up the area beside the bench as well with her locker door wide open so I was left to drip at the side blocking the walkway. After the third ‘excuse me’ of people wanting past I snapped.

This was ridiculous.

I stormed all of the two steps over to my locker, opened the door and left it wide open and put my wet goggles and water bottle on the tiniest of squares on the bench – knocking some of her stuff off. (That was an accident – but I didn’t pick it up).

She. Tutted.

So I proceeded to strip out of my swimming costume not carefully so yes, she may have gotten splashed, it’s certainly no bikini. You could probably cover a small country in the amount of material but I’m there to swim. Not prance around or pretend to workout. And I’ve found when in the changing rooms many others get very uncomfortable with nudity. I used to be one of them. Getting changed under a towel or covering myself up whilst taking one piece off and trying desperately to put another on. Now I don’t care. The faster I get changed the faster I can get to the gym or the pool and get things done. And quite frankly, if you don’t like what you see, don’t look. There are plenty of mirrors for you to stare at your own beautiful body.

She didn’t like this either. She moved some of her stuff away from me. Presumably because she thought my nakedness would infect her Louis Vuitton bag with I don’t know what but hey, it worked. I quickly dumped my Ironman bag on to what was now ‘my spot’.

Along with my Asda carrier bag. Balance and all that.

Mission accomplished. I did feel slightly triumphant but I’m also aware that by this stage I was also slightly hangry so that wouldn’t have helped. It’s done now though. And she still had at least 3 quarters of the bench.

So overall I would say tapering is going well ha ha. Sorry, my worms are going well. I’ve got my fiftieth Parkrun on Saturday which I’m running with Lorner and the clubs ten mile race on Sunday. My appointment with Mr Cardio is booked for after Manchester which means I can concentrate on GFA. I’m under strict instructions to take it easy until our chat and I’m not stupid. I know if I push it he could pull the plug on some of my events so I will heed his advice and if any symptoms start then the goal will just be the finish line.

It is what it is.

Road Runners Do Tri

It’s been quite a week.

First the Perth Half last Saturday – let’s not say anything more about that. But I have picked my next half where I will get my club standards time or die trying! Speaking of ‘Tri’, the day after Perth Half was the Relay Wild Triathlon. I did this last year  but this year I was in the Road Runners team. Tuesday after that was a race at Knockhill (Tuesday, not the Wednesday that I thought) and finally last night was the clubs duathlon. So yeah, pretty busy.

Relay Wild Triathlon

This year in the team was myself, Scott and Debbie (2 road runners) and my other half. It’s a fun event rather than a serious one but that doesn’t make it easy. The distances are short which means you don’t get in to your stride before you move on to the next discipline. Each member of the team completes all 3 before passing the timing chip to the next member.

The weather was very sporadic throughout the day which was unfortunate as last year it was great and we could sit out on the grass. A few from the club came out to support as well which is always great to see. Shows how friendly a club it is. Debbie has done a few triathlons before but this was to be Scott’s first and he had joked he was going to wear his speedos as he didn’t have a Tri suit.

We were joking about before hand – Stuart had his sons (fake) swords and daggers so we were debating about taking out some of the very serious looking competition with them. At least 50% of the field was half my age and there were a lot of club Tri suits. I didn’t care, I had my HUUB suit, and it has pink on it!

Debbie went first and we waved her off and made sure we were there to shout her on. She looked like she was loving it! Before long she was out and back in on the bike then off for her run. She passed the chip to Scott. Turns out, he wasn’t joking about the speedos! There’s not many almost 50 year old guys that can pull that look off. Hats off to him though, he raised a few eyebrows. Just a shame most of the females there were young enough to be his teenage daughter ha ha. (Just kidding Scott).

It wasn’t long before he was back and I was off. True to form no matter how ‘relaxed’ the race is meant to be I stood waiting for the chip saying to myself ‘why am I doing this’. I’m fine once I get going but every time before the start I get that exasperated feeling of ‘what are you doing?!?’. Also true enough I messed up my swim. I had a pre-pubescent boy continuously stroke me up the very first length. You only need to tap me once to let me know you’re there! Good thing I didn’t have Stuart’s sons dagger that’s all I’m saying. On to the bike and I felt ok. I’m still embarrassed by my bike time at Edinburgh Half Ironman so haven’t been on it since then. I wasn’t expecting much here and that’s what I did – ‘ok’.

On to the run and I remembered how bad I felt running at last years event. I’m surprised I even got round the course then! This year was different though. It was still hard and I was still breathing heavily but I was keeping pace not too bad. Stuart had come down to the run route to ‘encourage’ me on (or shout abuse, pretty sure it’s the same thing). That did stop me from slowing down though.

I passed the timing chip to Joe and as he’s now part of the Tri club and another member was in another team it was clear from the get go they were racing! Joes just a ‘little’ competitive shall we say.

His challenger finished the swim first. He wasn’t happy. I on the other hand took great delight in telling him his friend was in front of him. Until I remembered Joe was actually on my team and we needed him to win.

Whilst waiting for Joe to come back from his cycle I went and got a print out of my times. I knew my swim had been bad and wanted to see just how bad.

”7 minutes 55?!? I don’t bloody think so!! What the hell!!’.

There was no way my time was as long as that! I had it down to 4m 5 in the pool. Absolutely no way! It did not take me almost 4 minutes to walk from the pool to the door!! (You weren’t allowed to run for safety reasons).

‘Can you get it checked?’ Asked Steph. ‘I’m bloody going to!’ I’m pretty sure I replied before she had even finished. I was raging. Livid! Who do I speak to!! How dare they! Steam was actually coming out of my ears! I can’t put this in my scrap book!

Then it was pointed out to me I had asked for the wrong number on the print out. I had someone else’s times.

Tail firmly between my legs I went back to the van and with my head hanging in shame asked for the correct number.

When Joe came back from the cycle he was still behind his friend so I ran down to the run route to coax him on. I was at the side shouting and taking photos when another runner on the route apologised to me for ruining my photos. ‘Don’t be daft no you’re not love’ I shouted to her. Then she said I could help her by running with her.

How do you say no to that?

Why would I say no to that?!

So I did. I found out she had started running but hadn’t really enjoyed it so was mixing it up by doing triathlon. Her first one had been in April. I told her to keep going and that the biggest cheer is always at the end and always worth it. I ran with her until we reached her husband who got her to the end.

Lovely Woman
Lovely Woman

I went back to the others and to see how Joe had done. He had overtaken his challenger on the run and beaten him overall (he too had been quick to the van to check, although with the right number the first time…) so he was happy. Looking at the teams overall time we had done really well so looked like we were in a good position to place in the top 3 – wa hey!

We stuck about for the food and the presentation – after all, you can’t go home without picking up your prizes, that’s just rude. Debbie kept us entertained with her Yoda impression too.

The rain started again so we went in to the hall as they read out the results. The all males and all females teams were read out first. The prizes were mostly beer and yes, we did have a joke about whether they were old enough to drink it (some non alcoholic prizes were handed out, I’m sure they didn’t give underage kids alcohol!). Then came the team prize. Ok, we are up for this! I was thinking second. Hopefully first but it was quite competitive so may have just missed it. The results were read out in reverse order along with times.

We didn’t win.

I’m putting my money on the winning team being a mum, dad and their two kids! Thought this was supposed to be a fun event? Yes I’ve done a half ironman but you would never have guessed it with my performance ha ha. Joe pointed out that would quite likely be us – especially when our youngest is old enough. Fair point.

There was a prize for fastest swimmer and whilst I was under no illusion it would be me I was hopeful it may be Joe. There were two people with the exact same time. They read out the first name and there was a loud cheer. The guy went up. ‘If its you I’m cheering way louder than them’ I said to Joe.

It was Joe.

He didn’t hear it though because I was screaming. Yes, that’s me, the overexcitable supportive wife. I do like a good cheer! Just wait until your next race!

‘Slightly’ disgruntled at no team prize we still had a great day. All jokes aside it is a fun day and I would do it again. Hopefully we will get another team from the road runners next year, possibly even two. Its fantastic that some people from the club come out and support too – definitely tells me I chose the right club.

Next Up

What to do, what to do, what to do.

I just don’t know.

A week on from the biggest challenge I’ve taken on so far and I feel…..well….. confused.  Something’s missing.  I almost feel empty.  I’ve genuinely been round the houses time and time again trying to figure out how I ‘feel’.

The only thing I can put it down to is this – I know I can do more.  

Yes it was damn hard.  Yes the swim was one of the most petrifying things I’ve ever forced myself to do.  No I am not the biggest fan of cycling truth be told (and clearly my split on the bike backs that up).  Yes I was happy with my result.  I crossed that line and met every cut off.  I absolutely loved the run.

But…

I could have done better.  In ALL sections.  I wanted to enjoy it, that was my main aim, so I did allow myself to take a moment when I needed it.  And at the time I was happy to do so.  I race to enjoy – not to break myself.  But I’m left feeling ‘unfulfilled’.  Not quite complete.  

I did come to the conclusion that another Half Ironman at a substantially faster pace may fill the void.  And Weymouth is the ideal candidate for that.  However I’m not the only one who gets anxious about leaving the kids and us both racing hundreds of miles away without them there is too much right now.  Weymouth is the one he said he would be giving it his all at so it’s only fair I don’t affect that.  I absolutely love supporting as well so it’s not as if I will have a miserable day.  I will be on that start line next year though.  And there are of course other options, other races.

But I am still undecided.  Nothing confirmed.  Not a thing set in stone.

Hmm stone.  There is an ultra run called Race To The Stones…. that’s another option.

All I know for sure is that I have never felt like this after a race.  I’ve read all about the ‘down’ you can feel after a big race but this isn’t that.  I’m not depressed about it, I’m not gutted it’s all over, I don’t have a big space where my training used to be.  I’m doing a 10k followed by a 5k race tomorrow and I’ve got my GFA to earn.  I’ve got plans.

I just don’t seem to have that plan.  It may very well be that all important GFA but right now it doesn’t feel like it is.

The only thing I can guarantee is one thing – I’m not done.  I have not peaked.  I most definitely have not pushed my limits as far as they can go.

There is more to come from Ella.  Much more. 

Anything IS Possible

3:15am and our alarm goes off.  

This. Is. It.

The day I have been training for 6 months for.  6 solid months.  

It’s a quick shower, a quiet one.  No music this morning.  Just focus. Upstairs it sounds like my oldest has only just gone to sleep.  Ah to be 17 again. (Actually no thanks!).

Joes made a huge mound of porridge and I try to get as much down me as I can but I don’t manage a lot.  Eating at that time of the morning is near impossible.  Aware it’s not enough I try to top it up with half a bagel.  

Into the van and we are on our way to pick up Joes dad.  First panic of the day.  Do I have my timing chip! I ‘ask’ Joe to pull over even though we are only 2 minutes away from his dads so I can get my bag from the back of the van and precede to empty it’s contents eventually finding it in the ‘safe’ pocket I had put it in the night before.

No comment needed.

His dads there bright and breezy with his coffee and we are soon on the road to Edinburgh.  Unsurprisingly it’s clear and it’s straight through.  We park up and the minute the door is opened I can feel the wind.  It’s the sea front though.  It’s expected.  I take a quick look at the water and can quite clearly see the course marked out is not 1900 meters.  We will find out soon though.

Walking in we see Heledd straight away – she’s volunteering as Kevin is racing too.  The poor soul is already freezing but she tells us she is about to be moved position so she can warm up.  I wish I had taken photo with her at the start.  At 6am we hear the announcement that they have shortened the swim – for the pros as well.  What? That’s unusual.  They normally have to do full length regardless.

Into transition for the last checks on the bikes and we see some from Perth Tri Club. I join the queue for the toilets and remain there until very close to start time.  Luckily, it was worth it and I had ‘movement’. I get into my wetsuit and we head over to the start.  


We are at the back of the line but can’t see any signs telling us where to be for what predicted time so we can’t place ourselves very well.  Turns out the signs were on the inside of the fences.  Not very useful.  It’s impossible to move forward so we stay where we are.  There’s a few comments about the swim (‘may as well just chuck a bucket of water over us’ raised a fair few eyebrows around). I don’t look at the sea, I don’t even try.  I wanted to see the pro athletes but I’m tiny and can’t see over people.  I’m thankful for it though because I really didn’t want to look at what I was about to attempt.  Over the tannoy we are told it’s tough conditions and to give sharp hard kicks at the first buoy and that should get us round.

Should?!? 

We get to the front and a Marshall is there shouting ‘does anyone need goggles?’.  Nice touch have to say.  He follows it up with ‘or a choc ice or ice cream’.  Made me smile. I’m at the gate now.  I’m through the gate – my god that was fast! Joes through at the same time but he’s off and in the water.  The first wave hits me and I’m pushed back.  Holy hell.  Ok.  Just get in.  I dive in and I’m hit with other athletes trying to move forward but being pulled back.  I can still see Joe at the side of me, he’s having just as hard a time.  

I’ve only just started and I see a couple of kayaks just laden with people and pulling more swimmers out.  There’s lots of shouting but I can’t make any of it out above the noise of the waves.  I have a very fleeting thought of grabbing the kayak but I throw that out my head instantly before it festers.  I get to the first buoy and I can no longer see Joe, he’s probably already on to the second.  I’m now chocking on the sea water, badly.  I switch to breast stroke to try and calm down.  Works only marginally.  I’m swallowing so much water how can there be any left to swim in?!? 

Right, come on.  I see another kayak – swamped by more people.  I start thinking of all the people who know I am doing this, those who have donated, my kids – and I start thinking how embarrassing it would be for me personally not to do this.  The pros were out the water in less than 15 minutes.  15 god damn minutes.  Move your bloody arse Ella and get to the end.  Over a thousand people are doing this – it is NOT impossible.  Stop being a bloody wimp.  

I find some sort of rhythm and begin to go with the waves.  Front crawl works for a little while but you can’t sight and have to switch to breast stroke to make sure you’re still on course.  I take a few hits but nothing major.  Then an arm smacks me on the face not once but twice.  Goggles!! Oh my god my goggles!! I can’t get them back on if they come off!! Not in this!! They’re still on though, squint, but still on.  I feel something on the top of my neck and just before I freak out it’s a jellyfish I realise it’s my nose plugs.  I’m close to the next buoy and the waves are as high as the top it.  I consider jumping on it to get out the water and just bobbing around on it for a moment. 

It’s a nice thought.

I’m making the turn now so I tell myself I’m over half way, I may as well swim back.  There’s a new challenge now though – the sun.  I can barely see a thing.  I’m still surrounded by people so I must be on course.  The last and final buoy comes in to sight.  I turn and I’m on the final straight.  It feels like forever but eventually I can stand up. 

Well.  Wobble up.  Like bambi I make my way up to transition, occasionally trying to run.  I gave a great impression of a baby giraffe – award winning performance I would say.  I click my watch and it says 33minutes.  That’s embarrassing! I must be one of the very last out the water.  I’m trying to get my wet suit zipper down and another athlete does it for me.  I was incredibly thankful.

Just outside the tent I see Heledd shouting.  What a perfect time to see a friendly face! Gave me that moment to calm down and take a breath.  Of course I’m pretty sure my face just read ‘oh my god I almost died, why did I do that’ – but I appreciated seeing her. 

I need water.  Oh the irony!! Swallowed so much sea water I now needed plain water to help bring it back up.  I knew my transition time was going to be bad so I try to speed up at the same time as calming myself down.  I head out to my bike (still in shock) and as I take it from the rack I hear something very strange on the tannoy’

‘Joe Webley’

What? Is he just coming out of the water? I pause for a minute and fight the instinct to go back and check he was ok.  Something’s clearly happened. It’s not what you are meant to do though and he would shout at me if I did so I carry on to the bike.  

As soon as I’m in the saddle I can feel my front wheel wobbling.  Like really wobbling.  This isn’t good! What’s happening? It’s that bad I stop and check it several times.  Doesn’t feel lose when I’m stopped but doesn’t feel safe when I’m cycling.  I don’t know what to do.  I can’t find the problem but I’m not confident.  

So yeah, I carry on.  As you do.

I know I have to start re-fuelling as soon as possible on the bike but I can’t face an energy bar or a gel so I opt for the jelly babies I had bought last minute. Aware this was a very risky thing as I hadn’t trained with them I still put one in my mouth.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Those jelly babies were a life saver.

Nigel came past me with a cheery hello – I love that.  Then at seven miles I hear what I really, really needed to hear.

‘There she is.  Alright wife.’

‘YEAH!!!!!’ He’s caught up with me.  He’s fine.  What ever happened in the water hasn’t stopped him and he’s not in the medical tent.  He’s all smiles and laughing.  ‘What about that swim eh?’ He asks.  ‘I am never doing that again’ is my reply.  I tell him Nigel’s just ahead and I will ‘just stay back here’. It was a good boost and feeling of relief.

I know the Gifford loop is coming and at about 26 miles the course gets incredibly hard.  I’m honestly scared of one of the downhills that turns sharply in to a steep up hill so I’m preparing myself for a quick unclip – possibly even a fall.  First few climbs are hard but I do it.  My cornering is shocking but I’m still wobbling a little on the front wheel.  Still convinced it’s coming off.  I pass a few with punctures at the side but I don’t see any crashes.  Down through the first bad corner and I’m still up right.  Back up another hill.  I pass one or two and it gives me a little boost.  Further up I see a couple walking up and I use them as a ‘target’ to keep going.  Next comes the dreaded hairpin.  But – it’s not as bad as I had dreamed it was.  I slow right down but I still keep going. 

I’m still waiting on the dreaded downhill-sharp left-steep incline section when I get back in the village.  Huh? Where did it go? It was definitely before here.  I must have already done it!! Whoo hoo! Cycled the part that had given me nightmares and didn’t even realise it! 

Just a few miles on and I’m getting sore.  That love QL muscle is nagging away.  I don’t know how my youngest is as I wasn’t going to phone my mum at 6 in the morning.  My throats seriously hurts from all the gagging in the swim.  My swim was bad and I’m not convinced I made the cut off.  What if I don’t make the bike cut off? I’m well aware I’m not hitting my target time. 

So, I start singing.  

‘I love you baby, and if it’s quite alright I miss you baby, hold you tight’.

This carries on for a few miles.  

As does the wind.  At times it feels like I’m going backwards it’s that strong.  The crosswinds catch me a few times as well and I sway across the road. I don’t like cycling in the wind.  I don’t like it at all.

I count down the last 10 miles.  The cobbles were ‘interesting’.  My under carriage didn’t appreciate them.  Neither did the guy next to me.  ‘What the bloody hell is this!! This isn’t a road! And are we going up there?!?’

I got the sense he hadn’t enjoyed his cycle so far.

I knew what the last climb was and I knew where it levelled out so I went for it.  ‘Up, up, up you go Ella’ – got me a few funny looks.  I also knew the last downhill section was steep.  Taking no chances this late in the stage I kept hold of the brakes.  Maybe one day I will be confident on the bike but today wasn’t the day for risks. 

Up to the line and I dismounted. The woman next to me didn’t dismount until after the line then looked at the Marshall as if she didn’t know what he was saying.  I heard them arguing as I ran off.

Bike racked and I changed into my trainers. Ah my trainers.  My lovely, lovely trainers that meant I could now run!!! The part I love!! I know I can run 13.1 miles! My stomach wasn’t too good – still had salt water in it – so it was a quick stop in the porta loos. 

I’m out on the run and my legs feel surprisingly good.  I know it’s a flat before it starts to climb and I can already see people walking.  I pass a fair few but it’s impossible to say what lap of the three anyone is on.  I’m only half a mile in and I have a light bulb moment.  My front wheel wasn’t lose.  I was Sea sick from the swim! I laugh out loud at myself, not sure it’s something I should admit to but know I will later on.  

Top of that hill and I see a 6 foot tall ginger lad on a bike.  My arms are up and I’m waving like mad.  ‘Frazer!! I didn’t die!!’.  ‘Yeah!’ He shouts back.  What a boost to see my original running buddy at that point! He tells me Joes just ahead and I can catch him which I laugh at as this is quite clearly a lie and meant as encouragement – it’s appreciated.  

Along the first straight that goes over the tunnel and I see him.  My arms are up again.  I am so happy to be running and to see that Joe is in good form.  A high five as we pass and it’s smiles all round.  Now it’s into the tunnel which is nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be.  In fact, I quite liked it! I was getting a comfortable pace through it.  Back out and the sharp incline took its toll on my legs and I resorted to a short recovery walk for 10 seconds.  

Not long after was the feed station, typically  going up a ‘hill’ also.  Although happy to be running I had had enough of hills at this point.  A Marshall came right in to my face ‘go Ella’.  A bit taken aback I almost stopped.  Then I realised it was Gosia, another running friend.  What a cheery sight! ‘This is hard’ I tell her.  ‘What did you expect, it’s ironman’ she laughs at me.  


I push on to my second lap and instantly get confused on when I need to turn in to the finish.  Counting is not my strong point when running! I see Frazer again and give him a big smile.  I saw him earlier cycling along the side of Joe which was great to see.  He was working later so I knew he wouldn’t be there at the finish.  I saw a few more I recognised and cheered them all on.  I was actually enjoying the laps (once I got in my head when I had to turn in) and it broke it up fantastically.  I passed Kevin going the other way in the tunnel – Heledds partner – he was on his last lap.  I sang a little in the tunnel too, hard not to when the tunes were blaring at the turn.

Coming down near the last section of my second lap I see Kevin at the side stretching his leg.  ‘Are you ok?’  He’s got cramping in his leg.  He starts running with me and tells me he arrived late to the start so started at the back of the pack.  He didn’t find the swim easy either.  I really enjoyed running that short section with him and as he turned up the finish I shouted after him ‘Take it home Kevin’.  (If you’ve ever listened to Lonely Island you’ll know why I’m laughing, Michael Bolton can actually be funny).  


Last lap, last lap, last lap.  I’m doing this, I’m doing this I Am Doing This.  I wanted to enjoy every last moment of this race.  There was definitely no sprints for me! Last time past Gosia and her station and what a cheer I got from them.  Put the biggest smile on my face! Through the last feed station manned by West Lothian Tri Club and lots of encouragement again.  

Final section.

I can see Joe at the side, cheering me on.

I turn up to the finish.  No one is in front of me, no one is behind me.  I fight back the emotions threatening to make me cry.  I have THE biggest grin on my face ever.  I push right to the end.


Holy shit I just did it!!!! I just completed my first Half Ironman!! How did I do that??

Finisher photo taken and I make a bee line for the food.  I don’t move from the watermelon for a good five minutes. I can’t eat anything apart from that and the orange segments.  But I don’t care.  I am officially a Half Ironman. 

Meeting Joe and his dad outside the finishers tent he tells me to quickly put more layers on before the cold hits me.  It’s been raining on and off and the wind was bringing a chill.  He also gives me an update on our youngest who had had a bad night but was ok, not to worry. 

Of course I hit the expo tent.  Card in hand. Proud memoribelia purchased.  

On the road home and I check my phone.  I  had absolutely loads of support from the road runners and friends.  How I didn’t cry when I was reading it all I will never know. It was fantastic.  

Joe and I talked non stop on the way home recalling the achievement we had just accomplished.  He had struggled with the waves and had grabbed a kayak at one point.  He knew the swim was going to be his hardest part and seeing an overturned safety boat didn’t help. He had done it though and pushed himself through.  And it hadn’t put him off.  Just made it all the more important to get more sea swim practise in.

One of the pro athletes dubbed the course the hardest she has ever done – and it makes Staffordshire a walk in the park in comparison.  That settles it in my mind for me.  It was right to cut the swim.  It was not an ‘easy’ option.  Around 50 people got pulled from the water.  Many chose not to even start and the latest figures I read quoted a 29% DNF rate overall.  The swim conditions got worse the later you went in.  

I did it though.  I did every part of it.  I may not have been the fastest, I may not have ranked high in the results but I did it! I crossed that finish line.  

So yes.  I believe that Anything IS Possible.  I’m having a couple of days rest to let my body recover and I’m going to wear my finishers t-shirt for a week! I’m in no rush to scrub off my number tattoo and my new Ironman bag will be going everywhere with me. 

I bloody did it!! 

Ironman Weekend – Friday/Saturday

The weekend did not start out great.  Our youngest started coming down with something on the Thursday night and by Friday evening it was clear we couldn’t possibly have him with us for the event.  Nothing quite sets you back as much as not having your kids there and not having your parents there.  Yup, it was Nanny Netty to the rescue again (and my dad) They kindly had them and stayed at home whilst Joe and I ran around all weekend.
On the Friday we went to register and attend the novice briefing.  We may have done a few triathlons but we haven’t done this distance and I didn’t want anything going wrong.  I knew they had strict rules on things and I didn’t want to be DQ’d over something I could have learnt at the briefing.  I picked up some good tips.  Best place to put your things, what to do if you panicked in the swim, a reminder of the drafting rules and a joke or two about the ‘flat’ course. (I think the comment was who ever designed the course has a wicked sense of humour).  


We bought a t-shirt each from the expo – the one that has everyone’s name on it – but I didn’t want to tempt fate and buy the actual Edinburgh Finisher tshirt.  I did however plan exactly in my head what I would be buying when I crossed that finish line.  (So many more things than that tshirt ha ha).


Once the briefing was done we did a recce of the run route as it was close by.  ‘It’s not too bad, you get a flat start then it just climbs slowly’ I said as we walked up the first section.

Then we kept walking up, and up, and up.

‘You were saying?!’ Joe said as he turned to me with raised eyebrows.  Hmm, this wasn’t going to be as easy a run as I had pictured.  We went to find the now infamous underground tunnel everyone had been raving about.  It was dark.  It was wet. It was creepy.


I insisted on walking all the way through it to ensure there was no where someone could jump out and try to kill me.  I refused to read the graffiti on the walls as I was convinced it would say ‘R.I.P – what made you think you would get out alive?’

The only way out the tunnel was up another steep hill.  It was short though.  Think positive Ella.

We had to head back through on the Saturday to rack our bags and bike and go to the practise swim.  Tensions were high! Let’s just say we spent a large portion of the day ‘discussing’ things and these ‘discussions’ only got hotter and hotter.  Much like the temperature that day.  There were many clenched fists in the mouth moments.  (Our own clenched fists in our own mouths I hasten to add!) Could have been avoided though, had someone stuck to the plan. Or even made a plan like he was supposed to but no.  Someone knew better.  Because someone  knows everything.

Just saying.

Joe.

Anyway.  A few back and forths, a few u-turns and fast accelerations (I won’t mention the parked car incident) and we headed to the practise swim.

Ah the practise swim.  

It was not smooth.  It was not calm.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to get my wetsuit soaking and not dried before the actual swim so when I saw how rough it was, I said ‘no thanks’.  Yes ok I chickened out.  But I wasn’t alone.  There were a lot of people there and not many who actually got in the water.  No I didn’t expect it to be very calm but I also didn’t want to get a fright or a panic the night before so I passed.  A few from Perth Tri Club went in and they all came out saying it wasn’t as bad as it looked.  A few also came out with cuts and grazes.  I pushed this to the back of my head.  There was already chat about the likely hood of the swim being cut due to the conditions.  I had mixed feelings about this.  I really wanted to do the full distance.  I had trained to do the full distance.  But I had never swam in choppy water like that before.  

As soon as we were home the email came in.  ‘Potential shortened swim’.  

And just as fast – the keyboard warriors were out.

‘That’s ridiculous if they cut the swim, it’s not even cold!’ ‘If you can’t handle a sea swim you shouldn’t enter a 70.3!’ ‘Wales 2015 was much worse and they didn’t cut that’.

Oh my god get over it!! 2015 was 2 years ago!!

The decision would be made at 6am.  And that decision was final.  It would be what it was.  

A quick trip to the supermarket to get a couple of back up gels and I picked up some jelly babies as well to try and eat on the bike.

We packed our bags with the last of our stuff and went to bed early.  Nerves were ridiculously high.  My daughter kept sending me snapchats of her and our youngest which were really cute and helped remind me of one of the reasons I was doing this.  I watched a ridiculous amount of motivational videos on YouTube that I have become addicted to.  I visualised myself at the finish line over and over again.  That was where I was going to be just after lunch time. On. That. Finish. Line.

Yeah I Did!

Drum roll please……

In fact forget the drum roll I want a great big massive Mexican wave spanning countries and countries, flags waving, children clapping, streams of coloured paper in the air – get it done!

Basically I just completed my FIRST EVER open water swim. 

Now you can understand the celebrations!

It’s just under 7 weeks to the Edinburgh Half Ironman and I knew I needed to get past this mile stone so headed down to the nearest organised open water swimming (safety first after all, can’t just go jumping in the local river!).

Time was tight and we didn’t get there until after the session had started but that didn’t really matter. I wasn’t convinced I would be able to force myself to properly swim anyway so was going with the intention of maybe getting about 50m along the front – possibly.  

We changed in to our wet suits and headed down where we saw Brian on his bike.  Stopped for a little chat and as Joe went to put his swim cap on….it broke.  He headed back to see if he could locate a spare.  Standing at the side of the Loch trying desperately not to look like I didn’t belong there I waded very slowly in.  Very slowly.  I waited for the water to start dribbling in and surprisingly it wasn’t as cold as expected.  I looked back at the shore and Joe still wasn’t back.  People were going off in dribs and drabs, it was very relaxed.  I was not.  

Right come on and you going do this?  No. Seriously? Man up! No, I will just wait for Joe.  Why? Isn’t that what I’m meant to do? What, you think he’s going to swim with you? You’re not fast enough.  Right fine!!! 

And I was off! I was actually off! Put my face in the water and went for it!!

I very quickly took my face out the water.

Oh My God I can’t see a thing!! Gasp gasp gasp!! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.  

But…. I’m still going.  Yes, I am still swimming.  Head for the huge yellow thing, it’s right there.  Deep breathe – intake of Loch water, choking, spluttering, BUT still swimming!

Round the yellow marker and on to the next one.  Still going.  Still can’t see a damn thing in the murky water, still not thinking about that, or what might be in here with me, including the massive pike the registration form ‘joked’ about.  Still swimming.

I get back to the shore and pause my watch (if it’s not on Strava it doesn’t count after all).  Holy crap I’ve just swam in that Loch! I was ecstatic! It might have been beyond slow – although I didn’t really get over taken – but it was a swim.  Joe was back and had located another swim cap so we headed back in so he could do his first loop and I could do another.  I waited for him to go first before going again.  

A lot less gasping this time but still struggled to put my face in the water however, still got round.  Again.  This time my hand brushed some weeds but I was surprisingly calm.  Didn’t panic at all.  It was weeds.  I am telling myself it was weeds.  Nothing else.

I managed one more loop before time was up.  On the last loop I got grabbed a few times and had to handle a crowded turning but I was fine.  I did it.

Back at the van and I was straight on the phone to Ben who has given me a few swimming sessions.  ‘I didn’t die!!!’ Was my message.  ‘Woo! Gold star for you’ was the reply ha ha.

So it’s done! Milestone achieved, level unlocked, nappy changed!  Can’t wait to go back and do it again.  I’m genuinely shocked at how much it didn’t kill me.  Don’t get me wrong it was far from perfect and it was only about 1000yards but it wasn’t as slow as it felt.  I was only a few seconds off my standard swim time.  That was a shocker.

So.  More swimming to get more used to it (but I didn’t die!).  Marathon this weekend.  Then focusing on the final weeks of training. 

I’m still excited about this:)