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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While the world is going to ratshit


All around me the world appears to be going to ratshit.  It seems as if God and the Devil have been playing with the tarot cards again and one of them drew ‘death‘.  Either that, or Voldemort is truly back.  Even the weather is maleficent at the moment.

Life has felt rather like being in the middle of a zombie movie armed with only a baseball bat and a sense of humour.  Just when I feel like I’m getting somewhere, a fresh wave of zombies rise up to attack.

This is not a political blog so I will not dwell on the referendum result here.  Historians will look upon 2016 with interest.  Only they will be able to discuss, with the benefit of retrospect, whether the out vote was a good one.  But it feels rather follied to burn down the house rather than address the leaky roof and squeaking door.

What is certain is that now everything is uncertain and people just don’t like it.  We are creatures of habit and embrace routine and regularity.  I’m still in shock and haven’t really processed it yet.  But it has impacted on plans hugely to the extent I no longer have any plans and have committed to living in the moment until things settle and become slightly more clear.

So, by now the word is out regarding Run to Live.  The last bastion of my old life.  Once the shop shuts in October, nothing from 18 months ago will be the same.  I’ve been in crisis management since April 2015 and that will continue for some time yet while I sort things out.  But at least (if all goes to plan) I will no longer have the £100,000 liability I was left to get on with.  And then, I can start to address the heart break of losing almost everything I held dear.

When the announcement regarding RTL was made, I received lots of e-mails and texts and comments from people who knew the shop.  During the last eight years I hoped that in our small corner of Surrey we had made a small difference.  But of course, you never really know.  Well, the comments were overwhelming and positive and lovely.   And they made me cry and smile in equal measure.

So now to looking forward.   As the world start to build a new house for us to live in, things will become much clearer.  I’m optimistic that things will improve.  But for the moment, my priority is my health.  It has suffered hugely in the last 18 months and will become my focus for the next 18.  I have my first therapy session on Friday and will be reunited with Sue tomorrow.

Already, the zombies are starting to retreat.

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Cause or Symptoms?

my chair

Over the years we have had a number of people in the shop with injury problems.  Sometimes the causes are obvious and easy to deal with.  Sometimes it needs a much more thorough investigation.

Irrespective though we ask questions and the most important of those concerns why has this happened and what do we need to do to rectify it?  The human body is very adaptable and so by nature often contrary.  By design it needs to find equilibrium and homeostasis.  Rather than fully correct issues, it will adapt around them.

It is both its strength and its weakness.

Its reasonable to assume that if this is the tendency of the physical body then it is so with the mental body too?

I was considering this in bed the other evening.  I had finally plucked up the courage to visit the doctor and had been referred for a mental health assessment to identify if I had a problem and what was the best way to deal with it.

It had not gone well.

I was really nervous.  I’ve been trying to cope for so long on my own – to ask for help is a really big deal.  It feels like an admission of failure.  The counsellor started by addressing the wrong person.  Not a good start for someone who was already struggling.  I addressed it and she apologised and re checked her files.  Started again and still had the wrong person!

Eventually, she pulled up the correct file.  Took one look at it and then asked me why I was feeling suicidal.  No warm up, no gentle introduction.  I was aghast and rendered speechless.

Tough love indeed.

Well needless to say I started to cry and then it went downhill from there.  As it progressed she accused me of being an alcoholic with eating disorders and at one point angled to have me sectioned.  She told me at least six times that they probably couldn’t help me as my problems were too severe.  When I eventually plucked up the courage to ask if they couldn’t help what other options did I have she replied none, that was it.  Via the NHS anyway although there may be other organisations available.

As I sat there feeling more and more helpless, the penny dropped that this avenue would not offer the help I so badly needed and everything just felt so hopeless.  As the tears ran down my cheeks, she said to me ‘what are you thinking?  Give me the word, let me own it for a while’.  The only thing I feared I could eloquently say was ‘fuck off’ so I said nothing at all.

When I left the clinic I rang McGill to tell him we have an alcohol problem (by implication – if I did, he did too since he generally finished the other half of the bottle if we opened one).  ‘I know’ he retorted, ‘We can only afford the cheap stuff’.  Well, it made me laugh anyway and set me back on the road to reconciliation.

It bugged me for two days until I came up with the analogy above.  I don’t feel like an alcoholic, I don’t drink any more than a significant amount of my friends.  I don’t hang onto a bottle as a solution or coping mechanism.  My eating disorder I refer to as ‘managed’ never cured.  It felt that symptoms and cause had been mixed up in the muddle of communication.  That she was fixated on a nagging knee pain rather than the fact my sacro-iliac joint was stuck.

A few days later and another round of ‘if you can’t address your alcoholism we can’t help you’ this time by phone, they have offered me ‘group therapy’ (which I’m terrified of) in a few weeks and will give it an open mind.  In the meantime, I’ve been delving into Sue’s toolbox for ways to cope with what has amounted to a very challenging few days.

Yesterday, as an antidote to the sadness derived from the result of the EU referendum, G and I headed out to the coast on our bikes.  He on Merc and I on Florence.  Just over an hour later we turned onto Worthing sea front (a wonderful perk of living much closer to the coast) and settled ourself down ourselves down to tea and rhetoric with Lee.  The time flew by, so much so we left it way too late to do anything other than a gentle cycle back and a quick hospital trip to visit his mum.

It was a reminder that sometimes the best solution is good company, tea, sympathy and a bicycle.    Or as my mate JB used to say, “Love in, hate out”.

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