Ironman Mallorca – An accidental race report

Ironman is a wonderful beast. An oxymoron of ferocious simplicity. On paper, it is the easiest thing in the world to execute. You just swim, then cycle then run. The difficulty comes from maintaining momentum. To keep going when everything hurts and the will to stop can feel so momentous.  
Even the best in the world recognised it. Chrissie Wellington, Ironman World Champion times oft quoted her favourite poem, Rudyard Kiplings ‘If’…

“And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!'”

There’s a reason why people describe it as life changing; Pivotal; mesmerising, addictive; humbling. It’s addictive to be around whether you are there as supporter or participant. And just one week ago we arrived at our final Ironman destination of 2016. The official pirate champs in Mallorca.  
I’ve had three Ironman entries for this year and started none of them. I don’t view that as a failure, rather as a lifeline. During our time battling with businesses, mental health, physical health, homelessness, bitterness and heartbreak. These respites have offered a hook to hang our coat on. A time of respite and rejuvenation. 

And now, when we are almost nearly there, it was symbolic that three days after our arrival on the island, I crossed the Ironman finish line with my beloved whilst supporting my most loyal friend.  
Ironman is unforgettable, each bringing moments of its own specific challenges with each event.  
As we left the hotel early on race morning, the sky was still dark. luminescence from lightening rattling around us from the surrounding mountains and combined with a strange dense humidity. It was clear even without an official forecast that this time it would be environmental.

We had a coffee then made our way down to the beach to watch the swimmers, who at that point were huddled into self seeded time bays. The darkness lifted with a spectacular sunrise, revealing cumulus clouds heavy with rain. Many photographs were taken as we watched first the elites and then the numerous age groupers make their way into the water to start their day.  
It was race time!

Once they were off, we made our way to the exit of T1 to watch riders come out and onto their bikes. Slowly at first the first male, then second, then not long after the first female brought bikes to the mount line, swung over legs (or if brave enough roll the bike first for a moving mount) and set off. A trickle became a critical mass causing many comedy moments. Shoes flying off bikes, people riding into others, bottles being cascaded over the road. And then gradually pirates started to come through and we shouted and cheered and arghed until it was time to go for breakfast.  

Much refreshed and energised later we made our way to the run course to cheer the runners on the final leg of their triathlon, the marathon. It’s often barely possible to conceive of running a marathon after a 2.4mile swim and 112 mile cycle ride.  

The organisers tend to plan laps for the run. This works really well from a logistical perspective, ie only needing to provide three water stations rather than many. It also benefits the runners from a psychological perspective, ie easier to break the run down into chunks and normally plenty of support from both fellow athletes and supporters. Normally, I’d avoid a lapped marathon with a passion but I absolutely love lapped Ironman runs.  

We found ourselves a spot on an ‘out and back’ portion on the coast near the port. We settled ourselves into a bar and enjoyed a late lunch and a beer or two.  
Then the rain started, gentle potter patter at first and then got heavier and heavier. Then came the wind and the thunder and lightening returned. Even bigger and louder than before. Although a few of the elites and faster age grouped had made it to the run course now, talk turned to the slower age groups who would be approaching the only real climb and technical descent on the bike course.  

The fact it had been treacherous out there was already apparent. Athletes passed us with grazes and cuts, bruises and in one case an arm in sling. Determined to carry on despite their injuries. And we all got wetter and wetter as showers turned to torrents. Even under canopy we got soaked and more importantly cold. Up there on witch mountain it would be bloody awful!

We went back to the hotel for a regroup and change of clothes and then returned to our spot once the rain eased a touch. By now there were many athletes out on the run course. Three pirates had not made it, we felt sad for them and then turned our attentions to those who had made the cut off. These included Penny, by the skin of her teeth by all accounts.

Pen marched passed us, her face set but managing a smile. I knew she had programmed her watch to one minute walk and then one minute run and she was following it fairly closely on the first lap. The miles averaged out at around 15 minute miles and I knew from experience, it would be tight but at that pace she would make the 16 hours and 10 minute cut off.  

By this time several pirates had passed us. All looked comfortable or determined with gritted teeth. A fair few we probably could have quoted ‘If’ at. We stopped drinking and spent more time at the barriers shouting encouragement. It was a tough day out there and every bit of energy we could give them would potentially help.

One poor ‘Tyne and Wear’ rescue guy got abuse every time he went past. We shouted ‘ha’way the lads’ and ‘Canny bag a Tudor’ at him loads. He seemed to enjoy it.  

On the second lap Pen asked for something salty and we managed to track down some salted potatoes and crisps for her. She was lucky, the barman mistook our peanuts request for ‘peach schnapps’. The mix up was soon clarified.  

By lap three she had slowed down, crisps were taken but slightly more reluctantly and I feared for her finish. It was clear she would have to speed up but at this stage it’s so difficult to do it. By now we had worked out what order people would arrive in. And when ‘Fraggle’ arrived for one last time looking tired but determined asking ‘What time is it?’, our reply of ‘don’t worry you have plenty’ was true. 

Happily she did great.  

So far, so good, all pirates out on the run course had made it over the line. Now for the final one…  
No one came for five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes oh my goodness, where is she. I was just vocalising my theory of the organisers stopping her when over in the distance I could see the familiar run of Pen. She had got this far but she looked like she was in pain. Her face set and weary.

Oh goodness. I felt for my mate. I’ve been there and it feels grim. We’d established that we were roughly eight kilometres from the finish at this point and she had roughly 1 hour 15 minutes to do it. Possible but it would be so, so close and she would certainly have to move faster than she had been.

After a day of standing up, my muscles, especially my feet, we’re killing me. But I knew what needed to be done. The small miserable part of me hoped she would say no, and when I uttered ‘Do you need some company’, she considered and then replied ‘yeah, that would be welcome’.  It was without regret I set in next to her and joined by one other we walked and ran the out and back portion to G and the others.  

At that point we were joined by G and Shiraz, our small collection growing to a group.   For a brief moment I fantasised that our band would be an ever growing band of pirates.  

What fun!  

It had a film fantasy ending to it, which was snuffed out when we passed through town and then right onto a soul destroying loop of pavement and darkness. The people leaving transition with bikes and medals and glory drowning out their own pain put me in mind of Michael Collins, son of John Collins (the inventor of Ironman) who had once taken over 24 hours to complete the race. When he was interviewed about it later he said… ‘A bad day is when you’re walking in the marathon and you’re walking through town and you see the paperboy and he’s delivering the paper with the results of an event that you’re still in. Now that’s a bad day!’

So no fairy tale finish then, just each of us gently nudging Pen on, to run when she could but most importantly keep going. Eventually, we got to a water station with no water laid out. Only coke and Powerbar. We urged Pen to go on while we sorted it and having eventually located and filled four cups with water, had to adopt an ‘It’s a Knockout’ style run walk to catch her up without spilling it all.  

Job done, we were just setting back in when a Bloke on a moped turned up and started using Pen onto the back. ‘You’re not going to make it’ he said, ‘get on the back and I’ll drop you off round the corner from the finish’ he cooed, ‘no one will know’.  

He got the full force of British indignation for that one. 

And although he was persistent, we formed a bubble around her to protect her. She had made clear she wanted to get to the finish under her own steam and we would do anything to enable her to do it, even though by now it was apparent to all that she would be outside the cut off.  

Moped guy didn’t go away but had to be content to follow at a pace behind us. Pen had now said, no more running but had set a walking pace that was challenging enough for us all to try and keep up with. We were a quiet group but formed of resilience and fortitude. As we completed the last ‘out and back’ portion and then turned right towards the beach, we knew she would make it, even if it was the wrong side of the fireworks.

I’ve never been so proud of my friend. I tried to tell her but couldn’t stop the tears from building and the lump in my throat expanding. Eventually, I blurted it out, before words failed me and I’m not sure she got the full extent of them. But now I can write them at leisure and she’ll know how much she means to me.  
We turned left and over the bridge which was steep as a mountain and at that stage must have felt like one and now we were one the blue cycle path and the home straight. Less than a mile to go.

People started to walk towards us along the path. Many would stop and cheer, and we would thank them before passing. Soon after, rather than just offering congratulations, they started to say ‘they’re waiting for you’. It was all rather odd.   

We were joined by Hollywood (I think) who smiled and said ‘They’re waiting for you’ before joining us. Stranger and stranger.

Then the magic happened. One by one, pirates would come up to us, and utter ‘they’re waiting for you’, and then tag on to the ever growing group. The group became a critical mass. Rather than have to create a diversion and shove Pen up the finish funnel against objected as we had feared and planned for, we began to see she would be welcomed with open arms.

Seren appeared with a pirate flag and the same greeting, ‘they’re waiting for you’. It was unbelievable. Pen walked faster and faster, gathering energy from the masses. Hollywood complained enough to ask her to slow down. We all laughed and pushed onwards and upwards, like we were in the final stages of the last battle or Narnia. (Or even The video of Vindaloo if you prefer).  
Now the M Dot was in sight, glowing red in the darkness. Home and we were so nearly there.
More and more pirates joined us. All with the words, ‘they’re waiting for you’ and ‘now, we can join you, we’ve been allowed to come down the carpet with you’.  Pirate flag aloft and Pen breaking into a run for the final time that day, we escorted her down the finish chute to the greeting of the announce Paul Kaye and the male and female winner of the race.  

Pen had nothing to prove, she was already an Ironman five times over and though in this race she was deemed as a did not finish, she finished. She had held on, and done it in style.  
On the evening they presented her with a finishers tshirt and a medal at the awards ceremony the next day. Me, I got to cross the finish line of another Ironman and though I’ve not completed a race this year. The symbolism was not lost on me.  

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southwater relays

35 Weeks to Ironman Lanzarote

I have a cup of tea in hand, Bacchus 2016 is nigh on done and dusted, the shop is four weeks from closure and the light at the end is less fag end and more torchlite.  It must be time for a situation report!

In preparation, I’ve been out and bought books to read, booked a sewing class to keep my amused during the winter and somewhere in the back of my mind have started to ruminate on future plans.  But nothing concrete just yet.  Not even formative.  I’m keeping that promise to myself to have some time off before I make any decisions.

I’ve finally stopped crying (almost!)  Although, in a parting shot I managed to make the staff in Costa cry with me.  Alex has been so incredibly supportive.  In bad times feeding me coffee with a gentle smile.  He left to go to university last week and so I had to go and see him one last time.  It was important I told him how much those gestures had helped in those dark, dark times.  It wasn’t until then I realised how much he had seen and we both ended up in tears.  Humanity is alive and well and I wish him all the luck in the world, I’ll miss him.

Alex did a much better job than the staff at ‘Time to Talk’.  The NHS counselling service got the wrong person three times then tried to section me, accused me of alcohol problems and using their services to seek help for my ‘business problems’.  Sent me on unwanted group therapy by powerpoint then when I finally got one to one counselling didn’t turn up.  I’ve had radio silence since so I’ve given up.

From a physical health perspective it could be better.  I’m still a million stone overweight, have breathing problems every time I venture from my chair, something akin to plantar fasciitis in both feet and knackered hips.  And have 35 weeks to prepare for Ironman Lanzarote.

We made a start a couple of weeks ago when Pen, G and I did Southwater relays as a team of three.  Pen went first to enjoy the swim bun fight, I enjoyed the anonymity of going second and fed G a dead last place going into the third leg.  He snatched glory from a desperate position by tripping up a bloke in transition and doing another lady on the run.  Third last is better than third in my view – value for money certainly.

We had scoped the actual route the week before the race so knew what to expect.  Sprints have a habit of being brutal but my only plan was to take it easy and get to the finish.  We’ve been in Southwater lake a couple of times and it’s lovely.  Although it was pretty warm, around 20 degrees, wetsuits were compulsory for safety.  I dragged myself into mine and felt like sausage meat stuffed in a casing bursting out of both ends.  I must have had the fattest ankles in history.  G managed to shoehorn me in before Pen arrived in handover.

I was last at this point, waddled over the pontoon and plopped myself in.  Used to mass starts or at least a line of people being shooed into a pool, it was a bit weird having the whole lake to myself.  It took me a moment or two to realise I ought to be swimming and then off I went.  Well, after 200m I was absolutely shagged.  My arms were killing and I was still only halfway.  I turned around and headed back to shore, for another ungainly hoiking out by the nice chaps stood on the concrete ramp.

14 minutes for 400m!! Yikes (I later found out it was closer to 500m so phew but still pretty rubbish!) I ran to T1 and then had to rest for a minute to get my breath back before getting on the bike.  Pen beat me in T1 by over a minute and considering she normally has time to get the kettle out and have a cup of tea before doing her hair it gives you an idea of how much faffing there was.

I wheeled Piri to the mount line and having watched the comedy gold of the mounts of the first leggers I gently swung my leg over, clipped in and pedalled off up the hill in a sedentary manner.

By the top I couldn’t breathe again.  Used to getting on a bike and flooring it, it was a strange experience.  But I went with it and geared down, spinning until I could calm the breathing down.  It took about five miles but I got there in the end and then picked up the pace a tad.  In the end I averaged 16.8 mph which I was pretty chuffed with to be honest.  It could have been a lot worse!

The run was carnage but I got round by adopting scouts pace and walking the hills (which were substantial in places).  I was just trying not to set off a panic attack, but still handed over to G while hyperventiliting.  Enough for Penny to get all motherly, sit me down, fetch water and carry my bags for me (I must remember that for the future😉

So, in summary my swimming is shite, my cycling is ok and I need to go to the doctors and get a solution to the breathing problem.  Of course 35 weeks will be enough time!

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A little allotment time

29-08-2016 rosemary

So, I said to you when I first started this blog that I had no idea what it would become.  It was a story about training for a triathlon and then it became a story about dealing with mental health issues.  Underneath it all, has also been an attempt to live a paleo lifestyle.  Sometimes successfully and often not at all.

Although never explicit, I suppose all of the topics are about the same thing.  In essence, how to cope with the modern world.

In the last few months, for the sake of my mental health, I have decided to turn my back on a modern lifestyle.  No nice car, big mortgage and stressful job.  Instead, to live simply, make and grow as much as we can and move towards going off grid as much as possible.

There is still a story about a triathlon.  A goal that is, as yet, so far away but will hopefully be a reward for rediscovering both physical and mental health.  But training for an Ironman, although catalyzing a metamorphosis, cannot be the root of health.

That has to be found elsewhere.

In the garden, in a book, outdoors, via craftwork and cooking and most importantly… sleep.  It is only natural now that the blog reflects those too.

In full, it is a search for wellness.

29-08-2016 window herbs

After a busy morning scoping the cycle route for next weeks Southwater Tri (and most importantly making sure the wetsuit fits – it does, as long as I don’t breath out) G and I headed for the local garden centre.  We were motivated by a search for coffee, but also for kilner jars and herbs after I’d seen a project for window herbs on Pinterest.

We originally had Wills and Harry the chilli plants either side of Basil.  But an unfortunate case of Greenfly put pay to them – they’re now compost although we did salvage a few chillis to make some chilli oil out of.  More on that soon.

Anyway Basil now has company in the form of garden mint and thyme in said kilner jars looking mighty pretty on the window sill.

The thyme is lemon thyme since I still can’t bear the smell of regular thyme after an unfortunate New Year’s eve involving a bottle of apple and thyme vodka and an over-ridden off switch.  (Still blaming you both Pete and Corinne).

After a succcessful trip – we headed off to the allotment to recycle the godforsaken courgette plants (yup, a glut of courgettes means we’re well beyond the curry stage and never want to see the bloody things again)!  Plant the lavender and rosemary from their temporary home in pots into the ground and move the strawberries to their permanent home.

We also made an inpromptu leek purchase and so had to find a home for them too.

Part of the allotment is being turned into a nursery and seating area with left over flag stones and a lot of digging.  G got on with that while I recycled, dug and then planted.

29-08-2016 Strawbs

The strawberry plants were a gift from Laurie who in turn had received the plants from some runners I had given him years ago from the garden in Overdale.  The circle of life is fab, and I thought it cool that these were probably fourth generation strawberry plants from the originals I had ten years or so ago.

They’ve thrived this year and produced enough babies of their own for us to fill a bed with them.  Providing plenty of fruit for next year hopefully.

29-08-2016 leeks

Next up was the leeks.  And with light fading (where does the time go) and G repositioning the blueberries on his newly cleared patch, I took up the last of the beetroot and a crop of bindwind that had seemed to make a pitch for the plot and popped the leeks in.  It’s only the second time I’ve attempted leeks but I know my Dad was amazing at them and so, (since he’s no longer with us and I feel closest to him when I’m in the garden) I’m hoping he will send down some good luck.

No pressure there then.

Sweaty and up to my elbows in mud but happy and content, we picked up our crop of beet, courgettes and about ten tonnes of runner beans and headed home for a little blanching action.


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39 Weeks to go…

womens triathlon 2016

In 39 weeks time I’ll be no doubt getting ready for bed thinking about one of the most difficult physical challenges of my life.  It seems a bit ridiculous writing that actually when one takes into account the last 18 months.

I’ll certainly be thinking ‘what the fuck was I thinking’.  (I might have had a bit of that in the last 18 months too).

The mental challenges of life and sport are intrinsically linked in so many ways.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last couple of weeks.

At this current moment in time Britain are heading towards a record medal total at an Olympic Games.  The team have been phenomenal, in their breadth and depth.  More times than I care to remember, I have been in tears watching performances led by head and heart.  And without exception, each and every one in their post performance interview has described how hard it’s been.  Citing moments of doubt, injury, lack of form, lack of belief but then, as a climax how they were driven by an inate desire to succeed, to push beyond the pain barrier to that sublime pinnacle.

It’s difficult to pick a favourite performance but one thing the GB Triathlete and gold medallist Alistair Brownlee said in the media (and quoted by the lovely David Rowe on Facebook) did stick out.  “It’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard, winning stuff.”


Not that I expect many of us to win stuff in the conventional sense.  I guess, the point behind this ‘winning stuff’ blog is in the real world.  The fight for life and specifically, living a worthwhile life.  The difference between the path of least resistance and the high road.  The circumstances that lead Dumbledore to quote, ‘there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right’.  You know what I’m trying to say, when the stakes are high, the reward is great.  When I think about crossing the finish line at Ironman Lanzarote next May, I feel the reward will be great indeed.

It’s a thought that I have to hang on to at the moment.  The last two weeks have been mentally challenging indeed.  Mostly I think because I’ve been feeling so bloody knackered and ill.  Raging toothache (extraction or root canal), chronic pain in my feet making it difficult to walk (never mind run) and then when I do, two asthma attacks in the space of two weeks – totally out of the blue – which have been really scary.  It’s time now to dig in and take action.

As my previous post hinted, I can still cycle.  So, a little more of that at the moment while I’m unable to walk properly.  I need to make a dental decision (which will almost certainly be financially based) then a trip to the chiropractor to sort out a back problem that is probably a significant cause of my foot pain.  I now have an inhaler to see if that sorts the breathing issue, so the physical issues are at least being considered.

In the last few weeks I have described the battle to get some mental help from ‘Time to Talk’.  After wading through the initial procedures I was rewarded with counselling only for the counsellor to fail to turn up.

Nothing heard from them in the last week so I have given up and will look elsewhere for help in that regard.  Thank goodness for the most wonderful Sue who put me back together yesterday when things had been unravelling so hideously again.  I cannot recommend her highly enough and honestly wouldn’t know what I would do without her.

In that respect, I also need to mention the wonderful Pen.  My friend and my greatest support who stepped up to the mantle while I needed to put down the burden for a little while.  I am eternally grateful.

So, tough times but at least for the moment there is a plan of sorts and inspiration in buckets.  I’ll keep you updated.

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It’s time to get back on the bike

Florence on trip home

If there was a degree in excuses I’d be a PHD but sooner or later, if you want to make progress in life, the excuses have to stop.

How many times have you got to a point or a date and looked back and started the sentence… ‘If only I had started (losing weight, training, eating healthier, you get the drift) I’d be done now or at this point or that milestone.  It’s a rhetorical question, you don’t have to answer it, but have a ponder when you get a moment.  It can kind of help with motivation.

I counted back yesterday morning and I have 40 weeks until Ironman Lanzarote.  40 weeks! It sounds like a long time, but it isn’t.  It’s possibly not even enough.  But I have vowed I will be on the start line come what may.  And in 40 weeks time, when I look back I want to be able to say that I started now.

It was with that thought in mind, that after months of promising I would cycle home, I actually did.  For once, the weather was kind, I finished on time and the bike and kit were with me.  I had no excuses really.

It was a wonderful cycle ride with no drama other than my legs didn’t really want to come with.  Rather rude really.  They eventually stopped sulking in Horsham and at least got me up the hill to Southwater from there.

The next morning was all rather different when my sulking legs actually went on strike.  It was agony to walk and breathe making it all rather difficult to think about getting on a bike.

So, while in bed I formulated plan B.  Cycle to Horsham, get the train to Dorking then cycle along to leatherhead.  Fab.  At least until I got to Horsham to discover a derailment at Dorking.  No trains would be going there today.  Damn it!

Plan C was a bit like the Brexit Treasury plan AKA it didn’t exist.  So, with no choice other than to get on the bloody bike and pedal, that was what I did.  Every stroke was agony.  Even pedalling on the flat (well, as flat as top dressing gets) meant granny ring.  It was diabolical.  Even walking up the hills was torture.

I was pretty certain I wasn’t quite ready for the Olympics yet.

But despite all the grumbles and groans and a stop to phone McGill for a proverbial kick up the arse, I was only a couple of minutes slower than I normally am.  Which goes to show, nothing is ever as bad as you think it is and moaning is generally just a waste of energy.

A lesson for this evening when the running shoes need to come out and I have an excuses list already in production.😉




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IM Maastricht, the non-race race report

A few years ago, Laurie and I enjoyed an entertaining discussion regarding how people see their environment.  He, for example, sees a pregnant lady in the ‘New Look’ logo (and now, so will you😉 his wife (a forensic scientist) looks a spatter patterns on floors and interprets them.  

I look at people’s feet, constantly, assessing gait and looking for knee traction, pronation, anomalies and at this time of year generally tutting at flip flops.  I occasionally look out for bad people hiding behind things.  I also look at road names. (Day 1, rule 1 of the police training course – always know where you are!)

In essence, our experiences give us our measuring tools.

This thought occurred to me as G, Lindi and I were stood in line next to the River Maas in Maastricht the other week.  We were attempting to assess the flow of the river.

While the others discussed Pooh sticks, my only bench marks to assess water flow are as follows…

1. If, when you get into the water you have to swim hard to stay still, the river is running quite fast

2. A dead person floating downstream in the Thames at ‘scouts pace’ is also really quite fast. 

3. At neither time in the above two incidences did I really want to be in the water.

Once the discussion over Pooh sticks had finished, I chucked in my two’penneth, unsurprisingly had no ‘dead person’ volunteers and then looking at the river flow came to conclusion number three.  With this in mind I was rather relieved I’d already made the decision not to start and had left my wetsuit behind.

I had however, brought the bike and since we were in holland where the bike is revered as the primary form of transport had plenty of opportunity to use it.

Fascinatedly watching people pootle around on their fixies (don’t forget to pedal backwards to stop, don’t forget pedalling backwards makes you stop!). It’s at times like this I long to go and live in a European country (cheers Brexit).  Cars stopped at junctions to wave cyclists through, without a hint of “bloody cyclist”.  Cycle paths made sense, there were no trees or raised kerbs or bollards growing in the middle of them.  They were generally well kept and swept.  It was wonderful.

The bikes were all pretty uniform, so I felt like a bit of a cock on Piri, in cycling kit.  I could see why cycling in Europe was so successful and cycling in England is not.  Over there, it is embraced wholly as a form of transport.  No fancy kit, no fancy bike, brollies or plastic macs if it rains, masses of cycle lanes and bike parking wherever you go.  But the method of cycling is also different.  No talk of torque or RPM or power output or (God help us) Strava.  Everyone was laid back, making progress but not in a frenetic way.  I watched and envied them.

IM Maastricht was in its second year.  It’s a bit of a busmans holiday in truth.  Watching how others set up their events, especially something as big as Ironman is becoming a bit of a habit.  We’ve seen a few now, Lanzarote twice, Switzerland, Austria twice and Regensberg in Europe and IM New Zealand based in Taupo.  

It’s fascinating to watch.  And Maastricht did it well.

Typically of many in Europe, the heavens opened on race morning and as we made our way to the bike course, getting monumentally wet, I felt for the athletes out there. 

Everyone was filthy.  Above and beyond the normal road crud.  And there were a number of cyclists with road rash, many more than you would normally expect.  It turned out, Cycling conditions were really tough, especially as much of the ride was on farm tracks in Belgium.

Once we’d seen Lindi and a couple of the other pirates go through we made our way back to town and settled down to enjoy a pint or two and watch the first of the runners coming through.

It is here that dreams are made or broken.  And as the light started to fade, G and I strengthened our resolve to come back stronger. 

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Group Therapy

therapy seminar

Last week I attended my first of three group therapy sessions provided by the NHS as a gateway to counselling.

I’ll be honest, I was apprehensive.  While therapy is generally a really good thing, the thought of discussing my deepest thoughts with others present is not.  Despite my prediliction for crying in coffee shops, I’m not in the habit of displaying emotion in public generally.

I parked at Horsham Hospital and made my way to the wheelchair wing as instructed.  Seeking directions a couple of times on route, despite copious instructions beforehand, the location is really well hidden.

Although I was early, I was also the last to arrive.  Two ladies and two gents were already settled in their seats, their clumping defined by gender and looking as nervous as I felt.  It was clear they had already introduced themselves to each other and wearing sticky labelled hand written name badges with resilience.

I ignored a seat clearly available in the girls section, and plumped for the seat next to one of the chaps primarily because it was near the door.

I was handed a name badge with ‘Nicola’ written on it (which instantly went into my bag) and another of those godforesaken ‘risk assessment’ forms, ‘on a scale of 1-10 answer as honestly as you can, how are you feeling about…’ which I’ve now learned not to be honest on at all, (or risk sectioning or being labelled an alcoholic) and then looked up to take in the scene around me.

We were sat in semi darkness, with the blinds half closed and the lights off.  The room was warm, much warmer than the ambient temperature outside.  Despite the darkness, I could clearly make out the typical stains on a ‘much loved’ NHS light blue carpet and ubiquitous scuffed magnolia walls.  The plastic chairs were formed in a wide ‘U’.  Perfect for facilitated discussion.

The room had a more than generous amount of plug sockets indicating it may have once been a computer room or office.  The whirring of a projector sat atop a table in the middle of the room, in front of the chairs.   On it, causing my heart to sink, was the start of the most dreaded thing in the world (for an ex trainer), a powerpoint presentation.

“Surely he’s not going to lead a ‘mindfulness’ seminar with a powerpoint presentation” I thought.  Low and behold, he did and gave us a hand out with it on too and then if that wasn’t enough, bloody read it out blow by bullet point blow.

Anyhoo, it isn’t the point of this blog post to lament inappropriate power point usage or the point of facilitated group mindfulness, or indeed compare one persons mental illness manifestations to another.  The point is, as usual, that life will give you directions when you are least expecting it, as long as you are generally open to it.

The quote above was on page 2 of the presentation.  The group read it and oooed and ahhhed and isn’t it lovely and what an amazing thought before moving on.  But I wonder how many of them are willing to change their views on life to learn from it?  It’s a rhetorical question, I don’t need answers on a postcard.

For me, the quote was a verification of all of the things I’ve learned in the last year or so.

Things (while being nice) are not important.  When it comes to it, they cost a lot (not just in terms of financial outlay) and are easily lost.  Health, friends, experiences, peace of mind, love, these are the things to be coveted.

All around me I see the misery of people either with a sense of entitlement or unwillingness to give up “keeping up with the Joneses” with the view it will make them happy in the end.

While I sat there tuning out the discussion of lack of coping strategies, and SMART objectives for next week, I let my mind drift to the future.  To a time when Run to Live is gone and I have a clean sheet to start again.

As I said last week, I have no plans for the future, but then, in that dark computer room/office I knew that most importantly that money is not everything.  I considered plans that will crucially involve downtime and what that will actually mean.  Time for trips to the seaside, runs in the country and bike rides to visit unexplored places.  They will involve sitting in the sun with nothing more than daydreams to keep me company and snuggling on dark winter evenings to read my book.

And most importantly they will include mindfulness.  Drawn from a lifestyle we evolved to live, and without the need for group therapy to achieve.  Sunshine, being outdoors, sleep, exercise, healthy food and positive company.  The most valuable things of all.

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