Race To The King 2019

Race To The King 2019

What a weekend I’ve had!

Saturday was Race To The King – this years ‘A’ race for me. I had to do better than Race To The Stones last year. That race was my wake up call. A true learning into the world of long distance running.

The original plan was to start the 500 mile journey at about 4am on Friday. This meant I could pack Thursday after work and take my time. Then Joe threw a spanner in the works and suggested/decided we were leaving as soon as I finished on Thursday. Now. I may have had a list but I hadn’t checked it so this made me a little stressed (and naturally I spent all day moaning about it because that helps).

We rented the campervan we had used in Skye giving us ample room so I launched everything I could think of in it. Dropped the kids at my parents and started down the road.

Usually the kids would come with us but I was in such a state after The Stones Lucie was a little unnerved so we decided against it.

We drove a few hundred miles then kipped in the camper before setting off again. I had picked out a camp site for the night but hadn’t had a reply from them so I spent much of the journey on the phone talking to their answer machine. I knew they had to answer at some point though so I wasn’t worried.

Joe hadn’t looked at anything about the race before now but noticed on the gps we were heading close to where his side of the family were. A couple of messages later and we took a slight detour to go and have lunch with them. Nothing quite beats seeing the youngest member of the tribe, a cousin on her birthday or a grandad who was on top form with his jokes. My face hurt from laughing so much.

It really was a flying visit though so after stocking up on chocolate biscuits (thanks aunty) we headed onwards to refuel the camper. At this point I eventually got through to the campsite. ‘Ah sorry we are full, there’s an event on’ they tell me. Oh no. ‘I can give you a number for another one though, it’s only 5 minutes up the road’. Phew. He gives me the number and the post code, a very helpful guy. I look at the post code. Hmm. I check the area code. Cambridge. I’m pretty sure Cambridge isn’t that close to Arundel. I google it. Shit. I’ve been phoning the wrong god damn campsite all day!! I quickly find the right one and beg for their last pitch. They agree to let it to us as long as it’s one night only. On to the campsite. The right one this time.

As we pulled in to our spot it was abundantly clear by the numerous tanned-to-an-inch-of-their (not very long left now) life’s other campers that not many younger folk stay there. Not that that bothered us – we weren’t exactly there for an all-night rave. Would have liked less staring though. God how they stared!

Early night before an early start though so it was roof up and curtains closed after our pasta and non-alcoholic apple and mango wine. (Not buckfast as someone thought ha ha)

 

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In the morning I had what turned out to be the most luxurious shower of the weekend (I actually had to shower at a service station!) It was already warm so I chose vest and shorts and got the rest of my gear together. I had as much of the porridge and banana as I could stomach and then we were off on the short drive to the start. Once there I made a bee line for the info tent. Last year I didn’t know about the temporary tattoos so this time around I was making sure I got them. I slapped the elevation one on my forearm whilst Joe kept slapping me with sun cream despite my protests of ‘its only 7:30am! I don’t need it yet’.

 

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Then it was over to the start line. The pen was already that full it was overflowing. I had no intention of trying to squeeze in so I ended up being one of the very last from my wave to go over the official start line. Unfortunately that made for a very slow first few miles. However. What’s missing from my story so far?

Tears.

There were no tears. Yes I was nervous but I hadn’t given myself enough time to get really worked up at the start. We had parked, walked in, tattoo’s and sun creamed up then I was off. No messing, no waiting.

Joe hadn’t looked at anything about the race so he didn’t know where he was going to see me or where he could get to me. I had given him all the postcodes but with my lack of geographic anything I could have given him a postcode from the highlands! (I did spot the mistake with the camp site though!). The only thing I knew was he that he was going to see me at check point 2. The rest he was playing by ear.

The chat around me from the start was fantastic. I fell in step just behind 3 guys who were chatting away about anything and everything. One of them mentioned he had started cycling to work. Nice, me too. He had worked out it was saving him £8 in petrol but he was eating more than £8 in food because of it. This had me laughing out loud. But he made a fair point.

 

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Check point 1 and I had to put a blister plaster on. I could feel that burning starting already. And definitely not in a good way. What I haven’t mentioned is that my big toe nail fell off a few days before the race. Not what you need before a double marathon! So I knew I was going to have issues. I gave Joe a quick phone to see how he was getting on. He told me to get plastered up and eat something. ‘I’m eating my trail mix, I’m good.’ I told him. He proceeded to tell me I needed more calories than that and to eat something better. I proceeded out of the checkpoint and didn’t listen.

A mile later and I was getting light headed. Should have eaten something better than trail mix. Damn it.

Mile 10 and the hill was vertical. Why are all hills so steep? You never get a nice tumbling hill. It’s always a vertical climb. And this was only 10 miles in. Sake. Up to the top and it kind of evened out a little. That’s to say it was more smaller hills than vertical climbs. The terrain was really difficult and I lost count of how many people I saw trip and fall and roll their ankles. This was not a speedy run.

My calves were feeling tight already so I made a mental note to put the compression sleeves on at the next check point. Joe text to say he was already there. As I came down the hill towards it all I could see was the ruddy great hill behind it I would need to go up. Fantastic. Then ‘crack’. Suddenly my heart skipped a beat and I was falling to the side. Too busy looking at the hill in front of me I had misplaced my footing and rolled my ankle.

‘It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine, doesn’t hurt, doesn’t hurt, does not hurt’.

I’m pretty sure that’s every runners mantra when they fall or hurt them selves. Tell yourself it didn’t happen! Thankfully, that seemed to work, and I was able to carry on running. I did then have a huge debate with myself about whether I had ‘heard’ a crack or ‘felt’ a crack and if I had felt it does that mean you subconsciously hear it too?

This ladies and gentleman, is what now goes through my brain on long runs. Crazy maths has now been replaced with just plain crazy thoughts.

When I got in to the check point I sat down to put my sleeves on and Joe started slapping me with the sun cream again. I protested at first but then he put it on my ears and since they were already burnt it hurt! Thing number 2 he was right about. Unusually for me I grabbed a caramel wafer bar. This was risky. Very risky! They have chocolate on them and Ella and chocolate do not go! No sir-ee. And out on a 54 mile run is most definitely not somewhere I want to be when I have a serious case of the runs! (Let’s not sugar coat this, facts are facts). Still. It’s what I seemed to be craving so I rolled the dice and took the chance. Hell my ankle had rolled and I was fine so maybe this will be 2 out of 2.

As soon as I got the sleeves on I was up and off again. Putting tight compression on elephant legs that are already sweating is not an easy job let me tell you! Mental note – buy the next size up – or, better still – put them on at the start.

Up the hill I went, all the time waiting for that ‘uh oh’ moment from the chocolate. It was bound to happen at some point so I kept scanning for bushes or rocks. Quite a good distraction as I was at the top sooner than I thought I would be. The last section I walked with a guy who was struggling with a stitch. He had been running with another bloke but was worried he was holding him back. He was in good humour though and gave very convincing cries of ‘go on without me. I will be ok. Think of me at the finish line. Name your first born after me’. By this time his friend was well out of ear shot but he was certainly entertaining me.

 

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Naturally, when we got to the top, we then had to run down. It was now my turn to provide the entertainment as I involuntarily started humming and singing my way down. I’ve come to realise when I’m nervous as hell, this is what I do to calm down. I don’t go full belt karaoke style – that’s saved for car journeys – but I sing a little tune to keep me steady. It’s usually met with some very weird looks and raised eyebrows. Plus the occasional ‘are you ok?’ Ha ha.

 

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And then back up we went. A steep mother of a hill at mile 20 is most definitely not what you want but this wasn’t even half way. Man up Ella you’ve not even ran a marathon yet! When I got the top I saw what you usually see at the top of corbetts and Munro’s. Have I just ran/walked up a bloody Corbett? Are you joking me?! Do you get corbetts in England? Or are they a scottish thing? Am I in England or Scotland? Or is this Wales? Definitely need to do the 3 peak challenge soon.

I’m telling you. Crazy thoughts.

 

 

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Once the hill had been sumitted (yes, sumitted, it was huge, it had a sumit) it was on to base camp. The plan was to be out of there by 1pm and I was well on track. Base camp wasn’t half way so I was very conscious not to treat it as if it were. I filled up my water, grabbed another chocolate bar (what are you doing???) and phoned Joe.

He wasn’t there yet. Hadn’t expected me to get there quite so soon. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a little smug. He said he was just about to park up and get changed as he had planned to run a little with me. I took a few photos and waited around a little.

And waited.

10 minutes later I phoned him again. I wanted to get going. I knew the major mistake I had made at the Stones was the amount of time spent at the pit stops. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. He was just at the camper so he told me to carry on and he would catch up with me.

 

I was out of basecamp on track.

 

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Within seconds he caught up with me. Handed me a few things and seemed genuinely impressed I was doing ok. He didn’t run too far with me as he had to double back to get the camper but it was nice nonetheless.

Pit stop 4 was just after – you guessed it – another great big ruddy hill. This one was weirdly entertaining. I had fallen in step with a guy who was also running solo but was quite a character. He said that once we were up this hill it was pretty much flat or down hill the rest of the way. I looked at him. Then I looked at the tattoo on my arm. Then I looked at him again. And pointed to my arm. ‘Erm, I don’t think it is’ I said to him.

‘Yeah it is’. He said. Followed by ‘do you know where we are? I think we are on Butser Hill but I’m not sure?’. He then asked a couple of people walking down the hill. They laughed. Rather worryingly. ‘Oh no sir, it’s not downhill to Winchester. Or at all.’

‘Lie to me’ he begged them – genuinely begged them. It was hilarious. His comedy honestly got me up that hill.

At the pit stop I refilled with water and carried on. And no. It did not feel downhill after that.

At pit stop 5 Joe met me again. It was time for more blister plasters. Now I apologise if you’re squeamish but truth of the matter is my feet were in pretty bad shape before the run so 37 miles in they weren’t going to be a bed of roses! I had blisters escaping out of the plasters that were already there and many, many more making an appearance. I pretty much looked like I had 10 toes on each foot. I decided the best course of action was to DNF right there and then. You can’t run with feet like that. That’s just stupid.

Ha, yeah right! I slapped on more plasters, wedged my feet back in to my trainers and carried on. Ignorance is bliss. Albeit a little painful.

I also had another chocolate bar. I mean what more could happen right?

More hills. More heat. Another very, very, very close encounter with the ground and the fastest I had moved the entire run (don’t you just love that scary quick movement forward when you trip?) and I get to checkpoint 6. It’s at this point I’m thinking my goal of finishing in the daylight might actually be achieved. I need to keep going though. Usually by now I’ve developed an old woman’s hobble that gets worse with every walk break. Thankfully that hasn’t appeared.

Joe tells me he won’t see me at the next checkpoint as he’s going straight to the finish to park then going to double back and run the last bit with me.

 

 

Pit stop 7 and the only thing I do is stop to take a photo and carry on. I’m getting to that finish before the sun sets. I make a comment about the sound of the crickets to other runners around me. ‘They’re bloody loud aren’t they?’ I say. ‘Eh, that’s not crickets love, that’s an electric fence. Don’t you go touching it now.’

I’m honestly just there to provide entertainment at these things.

 

It’s not easy but I’m running so much more than I expected I would be. I’m wearing my garmin but I’ve not been obsessed with it and I think that’s helping. I’ve also been trying to track Kev and Gillian – the couple who gave me a lift to Glen Lyon. They are doing the West Highland Way which is 95-98 miles! Only in the world of ultras can you be ‘one upped’ on a 53.5 miler ha ha.

Joe is surprised at how quickly I get through the last pit stop. He thought the race would take me between 13 and 14 hours, maybe longer. I have slowed quite a bit but I’m still on a for a good time – at least for someone like me. I see him soon after and he falls in step with me quite easily. I had been worried that I would be really irritable by this point and get annoyed with him but it’s going great. He chats away to everyone around including the supporters at the side who had run past to come and meet me. In the last couple of miles I keep asking him ‘how far now? How far now?’.

Eventually I see the 1 mile to go sign – utter relief. He speeds off at the last little bit so he can catch me crossing the line.

A guy goes past me. I don’t care. Then we turn the corner and the finish is right there. Stuff it.

Sorry mister but I’ve somehow got a little left in these legs so I’m speeding up to the finish! I go past him and whisper ‘sorry’. It’s not exactly a sprint finish but it’s not a walk! Not a stumble!

Oh but it might be! What the hell are these?? Bloody STEPS right before the finish – what the actual hell!! I’m pulling a face before I can remind myself there’s a photographer there. Oh yeah. He got a right good one! I expect to see that on a wall of fame.

I’m done! It’s daylight! It’s still bloody daylight! 12hrs and 23 minutes. Yes sir I most definitely WILL take that! 8pm finish! Get in!!

 

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A quick bite to eat and we then hobble over to the King Alfred statue. I can’t not get a photo of that. I will show it to Albert on the Inch back home on my next run ha ha.

I upload my data and start to get messages through. I get a really nice one from Sarah who I ran with at the stones last year which is just absolutely lovely. What a difference from then though! No hallucinations, no freezing cold, no 25 minute miles because I can barely walk. Amazing.

This weekend was a blast from start to finish. Getting that extra boost from seeing family the day before, Joe being an absolute star supporting me through out, chocolate not giving me any ‘issues’ but giving me calories when I needed it and the fabulous people I met en route through out. I can’t wait to complete the trilogy next year at the tower.

 

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Ever Changing

Last week it was snow and ice. This week it was sun and more sun. Does anyone still not believe in climate change?

Last week was brutal at work – the dreaded middle shift. Everyone hates it. I had a minor pro-lapse when I forgot I had swapped a day for a late to cover SLA but many apologies later to Joe and it was sorted. I also banked a few more hours teaching. I seem to always get the kids who talk about death. ‘What happens if you don’t turn your head to breath’ I ask them. ‘You die’ comes the rapid reply. I’m still unsure how to answer that when it instigates flash backs for me. But on that cheery note…..

Monday didn’t go as planned as the latest infusion has knocked Joe about. So Lucie did the cooking and I did the rest of the adulting. (We don’t need food poisoning on top of everything so best letting someone who knows what they’re doing handle the food). He had a bit more energy Tuesday and used that to shove me out the door with an order of ‘an easy 6 to 8’. Weather was amazing – just the right level of cool – and I loved that run.

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Wednesday. Third day of a middle shift. The plan was to run home from work. Joe was meant to have a quieter day at work (meant to, but I don’t think it’s been happening) so he had the car. He gave me instructions of when to eat – not that I need an excuse to shove a biscuit in my face – and he would see me at home. However, when finishing time came it was clear I wouldn’t be able to run with ALL my stuff so the plan changed to a short run then a walk home.

‘You need to do hills’ came the text.

I’ve just done 25,000 steps, I’m not running up and down no hill.

‘Get it done’.

‘It’s dark!’

‘Stop being a @*#${% and get it done’

The thing with this new found interest that Joe has taken is that I feel guilty that I can still exercise and train. He can’t. And it’s killing him. Obviously he has no interest in what I do – he’s more go hard or go home and I’m more oh let’s take a photo, finish line will still be there in an hour – but it’s not easy.

So off I go. In a complete mood don’t get me wrong, but I’m doing what he says. I get to the dreaded hill and I have to walk to the start point. Great bloody start. I have to remind myself everything’s changed in the last year and it affects my body greatly.

Off I go. Grumbling away under my breath. Just get it done. Come on. A couple of cars crawl past me and I mean crawl. Oh yeah, they’re having a really good look at the crazy lady running up and down a hill. Joe said do 3 repeats. I’m not coming all this way to just do 3. I’m doing 6. As I force the last one out, telling myself if I walk it doesn’t count, I realise what’s just happened.

He. Has. Played. Me.

How did he get 6 hill repeats out of me when I was only going to do 3 easy, flat miles??

I run back to work and text him. I’m not walking home. He can pick me up.

Which he does. With a grin slapped on his face.

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Thursday and Friday involved more ‘normal life’ and it was then big run Saturday. I say big run but it wasn’t really. ‘You need at least 12’ he says to me. Well that’s alright as I’m aiming for 14.

The plan was for Joe to cycle with the kids and chase me down then keep me company until their moans of child abuse got far too close to becoming a reality and he would head home. I set off, fully expecting to be caught within the first mile but put my music in to try and up my pace.

Mile 1 clicks by and they don’t so I aim to get to 2 before I’m caught. Still nothing. Ok. Let’s go for this. I know exactly where 3 miles is (having previously had to stop and vomit there before) so I set my sights on an impossible task. Every second rocking by I’m expecting to see my daughter sail by.

But. Nothing.

There’s absolutely no way I’ve out run them and realise there must have been some tantrum going on. Could have been from any of them – could have been all 3. By the time I get to 7 miles I’ve seen my first bumble bee (entirely relevant to my story) and I get a text saying ‘we will just see you at home’ with a laughing face. Can’t be too bad then.

My stomachs starting to go now so I make my way to Rodney to use the bathroom. I’m having to ‘pause’ every now and then and I’m beginning to think a walk might be in order. Then I check the time. Is 2:57pm. Rodney shuts at 3pm.

Thus commences the ultimate runners battle. Have you ANY idea how hard it is to run fast whilst also stopping dead for a wave to pass? Honestly – it’s like 3 steps forward one mighty lunge backwards in to the bushes.

The musics up full blast in an attempt to distract me from the potential volcano and I all but burst – as in person, not bodily fluids – in to the reception and beg to use the toilets, far too loudly thanks to my headphones. They are locking up but this is a case of life or death and thankfully they understand. Although I may pay for it next time I’m on shift there ha ha.

I manage a good few miles more but the hamstring and glutes start their ever reliable screaming so I call it quits at 16 miles.

16. I’m happy with that. I’m also happy with the pace. (Yes I did pause my garmin for the toilet saga). And I find out the reason they didn’t catch me was all down to a flat tyre. It was nice to think I had out run them for a little bit ha ha.

I’m not expecting miracles this weekend. I will be happy with a better time than Glen Ogle given – as far as I’m aware – this route is a lot flatter. However, this route requires more navigation. Could be a very interesting run!

From Viaduct to Nelson Mandela

I’m currently sat with a chesty cough that I quickly learned you can’t run with by the way (pace was really slow yet heart rate through the roof – an interesting feeling for me ha ha).   So I’ve been doing a little ‘thinking’.  And yes, my head now hurts, but that’s just something else to add to the collection.

I’ve been thinking about adventure.  And as bad as I could claim this year to be – injured from March, bum still hurts, hamstrings still bad, didn’t achieve GFA, didn’t get London, a few DNS – there has also been a few adventurous experiences in there.

Manchester. Ok so it didn’t turn out to be the London qualifier I was hoping for but it was a marathon ‘technically’ in another country. It involved travelling and education as I learned that no I wasn’t running through an area where no one wanted to live and was selling up but an area simply called ‘Sale’. Still find that weird though.

Ireland. No official race but does it have to be? I got to run for fun past one of my Bucket List places to go – The Titanic museum. And thanks to that I discovered the back of the museum which had the layout of the magnificent ship. I also had my first proper fall there when running and returned to the apartment bleeding and with a broken phone. Good memories.

Race To The Stones. The initial plan was to run the entire 100km straight through. Then I was hit even worse with the injuries and couldn’t run a step without pain. Mr Cardio was not so secretly pleased. I tried every single profession possible to find a solution – including a podiatrist (lovely man, Alistair Dall). I reluctantly changed my entry to complete it over 2 days. Clutching at straws but I was definitely in the ‘go hard or die trying’ camp by then. Even my physio had that look of ‘it’s not happening’ but she gave me lots of advice and understood my need. When I reached base camp half way through the race I changed my mind and pushed through. My challenge was to do it in one day, not two. It was pointed out to me a couple of months later how insane it was to just decide to start another 50km running at 5’o’clock at night. I learned so so much from completing my goal that day.

South Africa. I ran the Nelson Mandela Fun Run. Never will there be a cooler name of a race. Enough said.

50th parkrun. 2018 was the year I hit 50, and I’m not talking looks. I teamed up with my friend Lorner for a few and I completely removed the stress of going for a PB. I don’t care if it affects my average or any of that, that’s not my focus. I’ve kind of fallen out of love with my local parkrun though so I’m going to try some tourism.

Aberfeldy Middle Distance Relay. Ginnie was the swimmer (4th relay team out the water I believe) Joe was on the bike (sub 3hrs!) and I ran the half marathon at the end. It took me 2 hours and was no performance to be shouting of – we dropped places once I started running – but we all had fun. Would definitely do a relay again. Wouldn’t attempt to make porridge in a flask again though. Nope. Can still hear the gloopy sludge of the spoon being sucked in.

Glen Ogle 33. Loved, loved, LOVED everything about this race! From speeding up to register the night before and discovering Lorner gets travel sick, the pack lunch she brought me, seeing a friendly face at the start line, another at the bottom of what felt like a waterfall I had just ran down to the surprise of Joe and the kids finding me on the trail with just 3 miles to go. My second ultra of the year. And I got to run over a viaduct! A viaduct!  Well worth it.

Did I get any PB’s last year? No. Did I get slower? Definitely. Did I die though? No.

I didn’t manage to complete any of the road runners series and I’ve not won any awards. (I did get a nomination for club personality which genuinely put a grin on my face) but no medals or trophies this year. I’m also not doing Marcothon because I can remember how miserable that made me feel. A Christmas Day run is on the calendar though.

Next year starts with a return to my first ever triathlon – the New Years Day Tri. That’s just for fun. It also has more ‘adventurous’ running. It would be very easy to feel depressed about what I didn’t do this year but what’s the point, it won’t change it. I will get London one day. I will continue to run past places on my bucket list. And I will continue to try and not drown and not fall off my bike.

xx

Everything’s Changed

Work, life, goals, expectations and now even the weather. Everything’s changed. I’ve started a new job. Routines need put in place. School starts soon. And of course there’s the World Championships.

Life is different.

And with Race To The Stones now well and truly behind me it’s time to look for new race goals. Naturally, I’ve spotted a few.

So with that in mind I decided to embark upon a new exercise regime and build up my legs to help carry me over miles and miles of running. (Oh yeah, I’m not done with the ultras).

I’m now working shifts so I have to be ridiculously organised if I want to do anything at all. So yesterday I booked Oliver in to the creche so I could get a gym and swim session in before work. I did a few of my usual routines in the gym including weighted squats and lunges.

Big mistake. Huge!

Second set of the squats and the wobble appeared. I laughed to myself, realising I had picked up heavier weights than normal. Hadn’t thought much of it. Third set and it was a bit more than a wobble. Oh man.

On to the treadmill and as I raised my hand to increase the speed I paused. An image of me falling down and being torpedoed across the room flashed across my eyes. ‘Think I will just walk this off for a bit.’

2 and a half measly miles is all I managed once I got going. However the swim after did help a bit but by the end of my shift at work I had clocked up 28,000 steps and crawling in to bed after midnight I knew today was going to be a rest day.

The problem with getting injured is the ridiculously slow recovery you have to go through. Obviously I didn’t help by adding extra weight to the squats and lunges than when I’m 100% good! But hey, we all make mistakes.

So today I took the youngest to soft play. (Because rest days aren’t torture enough). I’m walking about the same John Wayne style as just a few weeks ago which is amusing. Still no t-shirt to justify it to the raised eyebrows I got however. And sitting there reading a book entitled ‘Why Mummy Drinks’ whilst clearly not able to play with my child probably didn’t score me any more points with the brood of perfect mothers with perfect children either. (They don’t run though, they ‘hot yoga’).

Step count for today? 5000.

I’m not bothered though. I’m actually beginning to feel happier again. And I’m looking forward to taking on another ultra. Especially now I know what to expect. I know what will bother me and I know not to let it. That’s the key.

I also need to find a marathon before the end of the year I can still enter. Oh yes, London is still very much on my mind.

And a little update on the heart situation. MRI showed an enlarged heart, which isn’t a big thing (no pun intended ha ha) and not anything to worry about. Mr Cardio wants to refer me on to his friend who does genetic testing.

Genetic testing?

Oh my god I’m going to be the next Spider-Man!! I am actually going to be Wonder Woman! Well ok maybe not Wonder Woman but at the very least I could be her little sister!! Little Wonder Woman. My new name! I could actually be a super hero!

No, I have no idea what genetic testing is. But Mr Cardio sounded very excited about it and he said his friend is very interested in my test results. As long as it doesn’t involve anything like a MRI machine I don’t really care. I just heard genetics and instantly pictured Peter Parker being bit by a spider.

Hey this might finally get me my GFA! Ha ha.

But just in case I have my training plan as a back up. I’m willing to put in the work and as a family we have a few exciting things left this year so finally I can say ‘all is good.’

Happy days

More Is In You

More Is In You

So many thoughts.  So many memories.  So many kilometers.

Race To The Stones was upon me.

I had spent the day trying to stay relaxed.  We couldn’t get in to see Windsor Castle thanks to a certain Mr Trump so we took the kids to the cinema instead.  As soon as the film was finished the panic set in though and I set off on a mission to find SiS berry electrolyte tablets I had purposefully left behind because they don’t work for me when running but now all of a sudden I just HAD to have them.  The staff in Decathlon did not help the situation when they didn’t know what an electrolyte was (isn’t this a sports shop?!).  Anyway, tablets found – thanks Tesco – and it was a dinner of pasta and pizza before trying to get an early nights sleep.

I woke up and my stomach was in bits.  Put it this way, I had no issue with the pre-race ‘poo’.  My body definitely knew how far I was about to run!  I was in Wave E and usually I am a stickler for the race rules.  I’m afraid to say though I had no intention of waiting until 8:30am to get started.  I tried to jump in to Wave B but got caught.  Another bathroom break and as I came back I saw someone from my wave just stroll right in.  So I stuck my nose in the air and acted like I belonged there.  Result!  This was the only part of the day by the way I showed any confidence – and even that was false.

Start to Pit Stop 1 – 10.3km

I had been pre-warned of the shuffle at the start.  From what I can gather they have a mix of walkers/joggers/runners in all waves to try and even it out.  This helped with ensuring I didn’t start off too fast.  First time ever!  A couple of guys from my club have told me a few times I need to start off slower, I know it’s a bit of a nemesis of mine, and I also had ‘the look’ from my physio in my head.  Unusually for me I also knew it wasn’t flat.  I know right!  Shock, horror ha ha.  But I was surprised at just how steep the first couple of hills were.  Close to hands on legs jobs.  I had kinda been hoping they weren’t going to be anything I would notice.  Should really lay off those pharmaceuticals…

It didn’t take long for me to notice that everyone around me was running in pairs.  I tried not to let it get to me and enjoyed listening to their conversations.  It was very strange hearing people chatting so early on in a race – usually all I hear is huffing and puffing.  Definitely never heard ‘At pit stop 3 we will get a bit of lunch, I’ve packed the sandwiches’ before.  Ultra running is a whole new world!

Pit Stop 1 to Pit Stop 2 – 12.6km

I didn’t stop long at the first pit stop.  I grabbed some ready salted crisps and some orange juice and got going.  I felt good!  Yeah baby I can do this!  The infamous ‘Field Of Dreams’ was on this leg and I knew the heat wave we had been experiencing would mean the crop (or whatever is in the field, I don’t know, I’m not a farmer) meant it wouldn’t be looking as grand as it could.  Didn’t really matter to me though I have to admit.  I was just concentrating on smiling for the camera at the end of it and getting a photo where I didn’t look like half my skin was falling off my body and I wanted to die.  I slowed down so there was space for the photographer to get (oh yes, I had thought this out!),  there was no one too close behind me so I didn’t have to fake a stop and get some space (I wasn’t lying about my thinking), ok, my turn.  Chin up, tummy covered, bib on show, thumbs up, smile and facial expression of ‘loving this’ plastered on face….

‘Oh don’t put your hands there!  It looks wrong!’

Where the hell was the guy behind me putting his hands???

Funnily enough I ran faster after that….

Pit Stop 2 to Pit Stop 3 – 10.9km

I don’t know why but I found 1 to 2 hard.  My hamstrings and glutes had started hurting so I took extra time at Pit Stop 2 to stretch them out – which helped for all of 5 steps.

Underfoot was tricky.  It was trail with tree roots everywhere.  So many people were catching their feet.  I only had one instance of catching my foot bad enough my body propelled forward in that comical way.  Well, it’s only comical if you don’t fall, which thankfully I didn’t.  I was getting annoyed though.  How am I tripping up so much!  For god sake lift your feet!  I let out a loud ‘grrrr’ at one point.  The guy next to me cautiously asked if I was ok.  Probably scared I might try to tear him apart if he poked the bear, poor soul.

Going down a hill and my stomach was now killing me.  I was struggling to drink or eat anything as I felt sick but I knew how crucial it was so it was a constant battle.  I was just sipping on the water when the woman right in front of me took a very bad tumble, landing on her knees then hitting her face.  Blood everywhere and a look of shock on her face.  I stopped to help her up with her running buddy and an american runner stopped too.  We washed her face down and could see a very bad cut straight up her lip.  It needed medical attention.  I could tell by her expression she needed a minute alone to cry it out with her friend so I gave her more bacterial wipes and told her I would let the medics know what had happened.  A local resident appeared and asked if she wanted a lift to the hospital which she declined.

This gave me a fright.  It was exactly what I was scared of.  50km each day was a very long way and I would inevitably be alone at some point.  As great as it is that strangers will help you it’s not the same as having the comfort of someone you know.  I tried desperately not to let this get to me, negative thoughts could end this run for me quicker than any injury.  They manifest and grow until they suffocate you.  Focus on the finish!  It’s not the end of the world if you fall, it’s just a graze.  Keep your head up!  Ok.  Positive pants on.

Shortly after I saw Joe and the kids.  Fantastic!  Sweaty cuddles all round and a comment from another saying how nice that was.  Then Joe told me there was ‘a bit of a hill’ coming up.  Positive pants came off.

Only joking!  I just shrugged.  ‘It is what it is’ I told myself.

Pit Stop 3 to Pit Stop 4 – 10km

I was finding the Pit Stops quite lonely by now.  I tried to make eye contact with a few people but the heat was that exhausting that everyone was already looking shattered.  I picked up some ready salted crisps and sat down to look at what the next section was when I remembered I had a cooling towel with me so looked in my bag for it.  That’s when I came across my little saviour.  I’ve always had a little ‘thing’ I become attached to that I use for comfort.  When I was pregnant with my youngest it was a stone I had found whilst hill walking.  Then it was a measuring tape I would wrap round and round my fingers.  And now.  It was my wonder woman keyring.  Comes everywhere with me.  I was no longer alone!  (Sort of).  Yes ladies and gentlemen.  I am 36 and I still have a comfort blanket.  Bite me.

I saw the lady in the medic tent who had fallen and went over to see if she was ok.  She was still in shock and she said she had ended up taking the lift here and was about to go to the hospital as needed stitches.  I didn’t know what to say.  What do you say? So sorry it’s ended your run for you?  I told her I had seen many people falling and it had been a really tough day before heading off.

The heat was blazing now and in my joy in finding wonder woman I had forgotten about my cooling towel.   Thankfully Joe texted to say they were at the next Pit Stop so that kept me going.  He also said he had my beloved red bull with him but for once I didn’t want it.  Oh my god the heat must be getting to me!  I better keep drinking the water.

I found myself running at roughly the same pace as someone with their music playing.  At first I quite liked this and was nodding my head along.  I hadn’t put my music on yet as wanted to try to talk to people so the bonus of hearing someone else’s would save my battery.  I was running along, humming away to the songs when I saw something I had to look twice at.  A man running in sandals.

Ok I need a medic – I am now hallucinating.

Nope.  He is actually running in sandals.  How??  Why??  He looked comfortable enough though.  I’ve seen many Vegan runners in specialised socks but not anyone in sandals.  Different.

I also saw paddle boarders with the most well behaved dogs on the boards too, chilling away.  I was jealous!  I wanted to be on the board.  Actually no.  I wanted to be in the water.  The cool water having a relaxed swim in this heat.  Hold on. It’s water Ella. Water is out to get you, especially when running. I moved along quickly, just in case.

Naturally there was another climb on what was becoming a very tricky track to run on to get to Pit Stop 4.  I could see Joe and the kids there though so it made it easier.  My eldest came in for a hug and I quickly warned him I was both stinking and sweaty.  He gave me a tap on the back ha ha.

Pit Stop 4 to Basecamp – 6.9km

Joe made me drink electrolytes at Pit Stop 4 and it took all my strength not to throw them back up. I didn’t get much down me.  The orange juice had ran out as well and I didn’t think I would take well to the coke that every one raved about so didn’t chance it – not with my stomach the way it was.  We discussed what the plan was.  I had already mentioned I may try to go straight through, it just depended how I was feeling.  Truth be told I wasn’t sure if I could cope being at base camp by myself.  It’s the strangest thing to be surrounded by over a thousand people but feel so alone.  I think he knew more than me that unless my legs were broken I was going straight through.  I wasn’t convinced.  The conditions were seriously tough and a lot of people were dropping out.  Experienced people with no injury that had crept back in.  Oh yeah.  That pain in my arse was back and the hamstrings were crying.  Best get a move on.

I quite enjoyed this section.  Probably because I was thinking that was it over and I was going to stop.  It was also going to be the furthest I had ever ran.  My previous ultra had been just shy of 30 miles.  This was going to be 31.  Happy days.

Basecamp

It was a bit strange crossing the line at base camp. It’s all very chilled and calm. There’s no cheering and whooping and high fives. You just…stop. I wandered over to the food tent and sat down. Too hot so I got back up and sat in the shade. I texted Joe to say I had made it and that my phone was going to run out of battery. He said he was coming to base camp. There’s no tracker at Race To The Stones so I needed my phone. I managed to book in for a massage without a long wait and he was there as I walked out the tent. I got myself some pasta and a slice of cake (which I knew I couldn’t eat but Lucie and Joe would) and pondered the decision of what to do. The massage had worked wonders and I was able to eat the pasta no bother.

Could I do another 50k? It’s a long bloody way! But it is getting cooler. Kind of. And Joe and the kids are going to have to go soon. But you could also just lie in the tent for hours on end and rest. The next 50k won’t be so hard after a rest.

Stuff it I’m going.

And off I went.

Base camp to Pit Stop 6 – 7.9km

‘We want to see you running as soon as you leave here and up there’ my eldest said to me as I left. Cheeky sod.

Underfoot was not great but 5 to 6 was probably the best I felt all day. Once you leave base camp you can’t go back. Decisions made. So you have to own it. And I did. For a few kilometres anyway. I got chatting to a woman called Sarah when we were walking up a hill but lost her when I started running again. Things were looking good.

Pit Stop 6 to Pit Stop 7 – 8km

Aware I had spent so much time at base camp debating what to do I knew I couldn’t waste too much time at the pit stops. My water was getting really warm so I poured it out and re-filled then sat down. For too long. Clearly forgetting I had to get a move on!

I saw Sarah again as I left and said hello as I ran past. Shortly after it was another hill and she caught up. This time I decided not to run ahead. It was getting late and we had been told to get in to pairs and groups and not be out there alone. I knew slowing at this stage would hurt me later but weighing it up I decided having company was the better option. She was glad of it too.

Not too much further up the road I saw a little boy running across the track. I knew instantly who it was. Definitely not a hallucination! ‘I think that’s my kids up ahead’ I said to Sarah. Yup. It was them. Signs in hands and more cuddles. Loved it. I didn’t think I would see them again as they needed to get checked in to the hotel. It had been a long day for them.

Pit Stop 7 to Pit Stop 8 – 12.6km

‘Spritz and melon, Pit Stop 7’ – quote of the entire race!

My favourite Pit Stop. Lots of melon, a quick rest, a chat with a few people (Sarah could talk to anyone) and we got back out there in good spirits.

However. My back was now hurting from not enough running. And the temperature was dropping. And we were losing light. Also, 7 to 8 NEVER ENDED!!

My god I hated that stretch. This was when the ‘seriously where is the pit stop, what km are we on now?’ started. The pain was immense and it was now dark. Dark brought with it the cold.

Cold?!? COLD???!!! Are you kidding me!! It was over 30 degrees during the day! I’ve done nothing but hear about people dropping out from heat stroke and now it’s cold?? How is that even possible?!?

No I did not have appropriate cold weather clothing with me. I had a top and that was it. I had even tried to tell Joe I didn’t need it but he had insisted. Thank god!

So it was no surprise that when we got to Pit Stop 8 (full of hate) that we saw several people shivering in foil blankets and 2 on the ground in makeshift sleeping bags trying to heat up. I briefly spoke to a guy who was dry retching. He hadn’t been able to keep anything down all day and he was now done. ‘I think it’s finally about time I re-consider some of my life choices’ he said in the most sincerest of tones. I felt incredibly sorry for him.

5 people called it a day in the 10 minutes we were at that pit stop. And we heard about 2 more jus minutes after we left. To get 80km in and have no more left in you, I just don’t know how you deal with that.

Pit Stop Hate to Pit Stop 9 – 8.8km

There is a ridiculously steep and difficult shirt section after Pit Stop 8. Doing it in the dark makes it almost impossible not to break an ankle. How we managed not to trip is a wonder. It took out quite a few at that section.

We passed a young lad who was with an older woman. She could have been his mum but I got the feeling she was more his running buddy from a club. His head was down, shoulders slumped and he never looked up from the floor.

‘This is your hard part. This is you hitting that wall. You can do this though. We just keep on going. It doesn’t last.’ In the dead of the night you can hear what everyone says. Her tone was soothing, she wasn’t forcing him, she was encouraging. You knew that she knew what she was talking about.

Onwards we went. Following the glow sticks. For once in my life I hadn’t gotten lost. This was beyond amazing. I always have that moment of ‘have I gone wrong’ but not once in this race did I have that. Hallucinations yes, route detours no. Exhaustion was making me see all kinds of weird things. I was convinced I had my sun glasses on even though it was early hours of the morning. Then I was imaging an old school Mickey Mouse playing about in front of me (shadows from my imaginary sunglasses). Took a while to realise it was the way the head torch was sitting on my hat. And yes, I may or may not have taken Wonder Woman out my pocket and do a conversation with Mickey.

A while later the young lad who had been struggling sailed past me. And I mean sailed. He now had 2 women with him, both with the same tshirt which made me think running club. He was in high spirits now talking away to them. I wanted what he had had! Amazing!

Pit Stop 9 to Finish – 12.9km

If I’ve ever had a near death experience it was this race. That’s what it felt like. I couldn’t feel my hands at all. My back was in absolute agony. I kept losing Sarah as I had to keep stopping. I had had MORE than enough of the god awful conditions underfoot where the path was chalk – CHALK – and the ditches weren’t wide enough for your god damn feet. It never ended. Ever. Like ever ever. Ever!

I had been getting messages from a few friends and family encouraging me on which I really appreciated and helped me going. The cat memes and the ‘your almost there’ when I still had 15km to go, well, not so much, but still. My hands were so frozen I couldn’t work the phone to reply. It was awful. I needed the messages to keep me going but I hated being rude and not replying.

Pitch black, middle of a field alone and I could hear a noise. Or did I? God knows at this point. Nope, that was definitely a noise. What was that? Actually, does it matter? If it’s something that could kill me then this torture will be over because let’s face it, I have no energy to fight back. There it was again. Is it….?

Oh holy crap I know what that is! It’s me! I can’t see anyone in front me so I turn to make sure no ones behind me. Bloody typical! Been alone for so long and now there’s a group of head torches! What am I going to do??

Decision was very quickly taken out of my hands. I barely made it to the side of the track. I definitely was not sheltered in a bush.

And the problem with head torches? They light you up like a Christmas tree.

‘Are you ok?’

‘Em, yup, I’m fine thank you. Just eh, couldn’t wait any longer. Had to go’.

I refused to look up. I don’t need to know who saw more than one moon that night.

Having proved that now there definitely was not ‘More in me’ (stupid tag line for the race) I trundled on. Joe had planned to try and run up the track to meet me and help me do the last few km but he text to say the marshals weren’t letting him. I’m really gutted about this because I’ve since learned that quite a few people did do that and I really needed it.

I eventually came to the infamous loop. It is at this point I really let rip. Not with ‘stomach issues’ but with temper.

‘You’re doing absolutely fantastic it’s just up to the stones, back down to me, then to the finish’

‘Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!’

It was out before I could catch it. That poor marshal.

‘I’m just going to …..’. I tried to apologise but all that was coming out was ‘What the actual fuck is this fucking nonsense, I’m absolutely fucking dying here. I’m sick of this shit. Absolutely fucking sick of this shit.’

It was barely a whisper due to lack of energy but I really hope he didn’t hear it.

Up the hill – obviously – to the ‘stones’, and another tirade.

‘I don’t give a fucking fuck about your lumps of stone, I’ve been walking and running on your shitty chalk paths and trails for god damn hours. I want to stop!’

My stones picture pretty much sums it up.

Back down the path and back to the marshal. He had to help me up the step to get in to the field. I couldn’t lift my leg high enough by this point. At least this was my opportunity to apologise. ‘Oh don’t worry, I’ve heard worse tonight.’

That field went on and on and on. And it was wet. Never have I been so close to a finish line and still not known if I was going to finish. So many times my legs had wobbled and I had thought if I go down I won’t be physically able to get back up. Even in the last 20 metres I still didn’t know if I was going to cross that line.

There was no sprint finish, no arms raised, no rush of relief. There was just a brief smile and a hobble.

The cold took over instantly and my entire body started shaking uncontrollably. I begged Joe to get me home. I didn’t want to end 100km in the medical tent. I just needed to get warm. Because of this I missed getting the race t-shirt.

Home

So that’s it. I actually did it. And I wrote war and peace part 2 to remember it! Ha ha. It couldn’t have been done without the support of Joe and the kids being there. I may have covered the distance but my god it was a long and hot day for them.

The lows were deep – lonely pit stops, large chunks with no one to talk to, the pain and seeing other people struggling. But there were highs too. The signs Joe and the kids made, the messages from friends and family, the massage at base camp and the eventual finish line.

Would I do it again? I lasted 24hours saying absolutely fucking not. (I’ve discovered that at certain times, I do indeed, swear like a trooper.). I would want to do it with a friend though. Doing it alone was too much. Yes you meet people but running through the cold night, you need a friend.

So it’s rest for a few days whilst I contemplate where my route goes next. And it’s unfortunately a very long wait for a t-shirt. Sunday didn’t quite feel right hobbling about with out the justification blazoned across me.

Wonder when I can get out for a run again though?

What a Weekend

I don’t even know where to start with this.

Last year I stepped up my running and had a really good year. I wanted to do more this year but for Joe to do what he wants to do it wouldn’t be possible so I took a step back as he cranked it up. (And then of course I got injured and just wanted to crawl under a stone for the first half of this year).

Ironman 70.3 Stafford was his first race and although he was fighting fit he had a mechanical on the bike and was sat for over an hour at the side of the road waiting for the support vehicle. He had a good swim though and he finished the race with a good attitude.

Edinburgh was the big one. It was the one he had been training for over the winter months. We had both done it last year but this year he wanted to really nail it. Plus there were championship slots available – it would be hard but not impossible. As soon as he had his plan he signed up and I put myself down for volunteering.

I didn’t see a lot of him in the week leading up to the race and I will be honest, some of that was my choice! I’ve never spent so much time in the kitchen. Not cooking, don’t be silly. More looking at the saucepans and wondering just how loud the noise would be if I actually did clunk him round the head with one.

We stayed over in Edinburgh the night before. I was marshalling at the swim and had to be there for 6am so it gave some extra hours sleep and time to relax. My favourite movie was on the telly and there was red bull in the vending machine so I was literally like a pig in sh!t. Joe got the best nights sleep he’s had before a race ever so it was a real win.

Down at the swim I kissed him goodbye and wished him luck. I was soon put to work stopping people entering the swim exit. Part of me wanted to be right down at the swim but to be honest, all areas were good to be at. I got to shout and whoop and encourage the athletes on as they were a bit more ‘with it’ by the time they reached me. I was marshalling a cross over point and the lovely girl I was working with was from China. She didn’t really know what Ironman was and had volunteered as she was doing Sport and Science at University.

I had a great position to see Joe coming into T1 and true enough I spotted him straight away. He was shoulder to shoulder with Barclay, another Perth Tri Club member. Unfortunately I missed Sarah who was Frazers relay team swimmer but I caught all the others from the club and also Steven Bonthrone. What I really loved about volunteering was the smiles on some of the athletes faces when they went past to my very loud cheers that just read ‘I did it! I did the first part!’ You could see it plain as day on their faces. I loved it.

I did not love the next part. Driving by myself in to Edinburgh city centre. Nope. Not for me. But I had to stay strong. Many many deep breathes and I turned the engine on. I clicked on the sat nav. I slowly pulled out of the car park. This part was ok. This road I kind of know as it’s the marathon route. The roads are also quiet – probably because it’s 9:30am on a Sunday morning. Ok. I’m approaching the centre now. This means more turns. I can do this.

‘Road closed’

What the f@ck!!!! Ok don’t panic don’t panic. I turn left, then left again, then left again. And yup, you guessed it, left again. Road still closed. Come on!! I then go up a ridiculously steep hill (what is that with Edinburgh?!?) and can’t see where I’m going. So naturally I pull out in front of at least 3 cars then brace myself for an almighty smash. Thankfully doesn’t happen but I apologise if that was you.

Eventually I just dump it down a side street, spend 20 minutes trying to figure out how to drop a god damn pin on my google maps to tell me where the hell I’m parked before realising that I’ve got about 15 minutes to get to T2 before Joe gets there. And I’m wearing flip flops.

I take off down the hill and almost fall off the kerb that in gods honest truth is at least a meter high, phone in hand with Mrs Google telling me to turn right (well it wasn’t going to be left again was it). I turn right and see Holyrood right in front of me. Result! And here wasn’t even any tears!

I’m desperate for a wee but there’s no way I’m missing Joe coming in. I check the tracker again and do a little calculation. I soon realise that I really should do a maths course as Joe is at least half an hour away. This allows me time to pee though so it’s not a bad thing. I pop over to the finish line (after I’ve been!) to see if there’s anything I can do to help and grab a bottle of water. Then I head to the Bike In. Tracker in hand. Sun cream on. I’m in a great position. So is Joe though. He’s in front of Barclay. I can only imagine the friendly rivalry going on between them right now.

I start getting really nervous. He’s having a great race and as far as I can see there’s no issues. Everyone around is cheering but it’s a dull cheer. I’m nervously looking between my watch, the tracker and the road.

Then I see him.

Had I not been jumping around so much I probably would have gotten a better video but I really can’t help myself. I run up to the fence and across to where he’s coming out on the run where I catch him again. He’s still strong but the sun is now so hot. This is going to be tough for him.

Barclay comes through just minutes later and I catch Andy too, who by the way, completed The Celtman just 3 weeks earlier!! If you don’t know what that is look it up!

The run is 3 laps and when Joe comes back down I know instantly he’s not feeling great. I shout to him he needs to take on water. I’m a bit concerned at how he’s looking so I head further up the route to try and surprise him at a difficult climb and give him a boost. Everyone’s struggling. The heat is relentless and it’s a hard run. I lose count of how many times someone comments on how hot it is. I see Andy coming back down the hill. ‘I spy a Celtman!!’ I yell out at him. ‘This is harder!’ He shouts back.

Steven’s wife messages to say she is at T2 and I head back down. I see her on the other side of the finish chute. Joes on his last lap and I’m not going to miss him on the red carpet. I’m gutted I haven’t seen Frazer at all but I couldn’t get him on the tracker. It’s the only problem I had with it. At the finish and I see Barclays wife and daughters. He comes in not long after all smiles. It’s an anxious wait for Joe. This is ‘A’ race this year. He wants a qualifier spot which we know is going to be ridiculously difficult but not completely out of reach.

I see him before the commentator does and I start banging like crazy on the boards. He’s had a much better race than last years and Stafford. And this is in more difficult conditions. As soon as he’s across the line I head to the finishers tent.

Where I wait patiently for over an hour for him to appear.

This is clearly a part of the day that needs more planning. That’s all I’m going to say.

He’s done a tremendous job. He really did have a good race. Unfortunately he’s not finished in the top 10 of his category but it’s a hugely competitive category. Still. I convince him to wait around for the slot allocation. If nothing else he will get to know what happens and what more he needs to do.

There’s a few hours to chill out before the slot allocation begins. Not a bad thing lying on the grass after thousands and thousands of steps. Then we head in to the marque. The awards are read out first and Alicjia from the tri club gets second in her category.

They then start with the World Championships South Africa slots. It’s a very confusing situation – at least it is for me, but it involves maths, so that probably explains that! Joe goes up. Did she say there are 34 or 36 slots? There are 34 people standing up there. Oh my god I’m so confused what’s happening?! Another guy goes up. That’s 35. No!! What does this mean?

Well basically this means HE’S ONLY GONE AND GOT A PLACE!!

This was the goal. It was THE goal and he’s done it! Holy cow!

I have a slight panic attack as I know we have to pay just now for it but they ask for credit card and we don’t do credit cards. I’m still a bit dazed when his coach comes over and says there’s a group going so it will be good and I won’t be on my own etc. Thankfully they take any card. Well, for that amount of money, why wouldn’t they?

So that’s it. Off to South Africa in 2 months time. I never doubted even for a second he could do it but I don’t think I realised just how soon it would happen. The next couple of months are going to be intense but I can’t get over just how awesome this is. He’s worked hard for it but what an opportunity.

Guess I need to stop joking at him now that it’s ‘still not a marathon or an ultra’ as you have to admit this is somewhat better ha ha.

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.