Monday, 26 May 2014

Challenge 5 - Aberfeldy Sprint Triathlon

Yesterday, Sunday the 25th of May 2014, I took part in my first ever Triathlon, which as I've written about before was a huge achievement for me for a couple of reasons. The main reason that it was such an achievement is because at the beginning of this year I could barely swim. It was also a pretty impressive achievement in another respect because yesterday I strutted about in public in a Triathlon suit and this previously would have probably resulted in my suffering a full blown panic attack at the dreadful thought. Oh also, it's a pretty impressive achievement because anyone who read about my experience of duathlon probably didn't hold much hope that I would manage to cross the finish line yesterday. However, I managed to take some of my own advice and so am now a bona fide athlete.

I took part in a sprint Triathlon so the distances were 750m swim, 20k bike ride and a 5k run. I was confident enough about the bike and run but was absolutely dreading the swim and then coming out of the pool dripping wet, to get on my bike for an hour. Of course, in my typical style, it was only about two weeks ago that I realised that this would be the case. I was operating under the illusion that I'd come out of the pool, go into the changing rooms to dry off and change into dry clothes, perhaps even blow dry my hair and then everyone would line up for the start of the bike race. One of my work colleagues broke the dreadful news to me that this would indeed not be the case. Since then, I've been having recurrent nightmares about this aspect of the challenge.

The thing is, I really hate being cold and go to extreme lengths to avoid it ever happening. For example I wear a heavyweight parka for eleven months out of the year, switching it for a slightly lighter weight parka in July (weather dependent of course). I'm also the type of person who never goes without tights and wears two pairs of pants if I'm wearing a skirt just incase I get 'a chill'. So getting out of a pool soaking wet and spending the next hour and a half outside while sodden didn't really appeal to my natural desire to keep warm at all costs. Of course, despite my constant prayers, wishes and crossed fingers for sunshine, I woke up on Sunday to the sound of rain bouncing against the window.

The Triathlon started at 10am so we had to leave Dundee at 8am in order to get there in time so it was an early start to the day. I was bloody miserable and was grumping at my family who had kindly given up their Sunday to stand in a rainy car park while I fulfilled this task. I prepared my transition area sadly, laying out my jacket, shoes and towel for when I came out of the pool. I hadn't even finished laying everything out and it was already wet because of the rain. I felt like crying.

Then before I had time to change my mind I was easing myself into the swimming pool. As swimming is the weakest aspect of the Triathlon for me, I'd been working fairly hard to practice this but I still had never managed in training to get to thirty lengths without feeling like my lungs might explode or my arms might fall off. For some reason though, in the heat of the competition, I was powering through the swim. I was the fastest one in my lane which felt great and I started to get a little bit of adrenaline going. I lost count of how many lengths I'd done but soon I was getting batted on the head with a float to signal that the next length was my last and that it was almost time to get out and face the dreaded cold.

I dragged myself out of the pool and started to run outside, stopping only briefly to chuck my goggles and nose clip at a random woman in the crowd who I thought was my Mum. She looked nothing like my Mum but I never let that get in the way. I ran down the little blue carpet and then down to my bike where I grabbed the towel and gave my bare arms and legs a quick rub to get rid of the excess water. Then I tried to pull on my clothes over my Triathlon suit. Just a quick FYI for anyone thinking of doing a Triathlon. THIS IS THE HARDEST PART! It took me three minutes to pull clothes on and most of that was spent trying to get my socks on my slightly damp feet and they kept ending up squint. I was so enraged by the process of getting dressed that I forgot all about how cold it was.

Then I was off on the cycle which was a gorgeous route. If anyone is keen on cycling I'd definitely recommend a venture up to Aberfeldy. Also, because I'd practiced the route beforehand I knew what to expect so even when the really steep hills kicked in I didn't stop because I knew that once I reached the top it was an easy(ish) ride down to the finish line. I cycled in to the transition area and tried to park my bike pretty unsuccessfully as it kept falling over so it took me a good minute to get through that transition which was a bit annoying.

I jogged out to the run and was instantly faced with an incredibly steep hill. I hadn't done any hill training during the past few months. Perhaps I enjoy being underprepared for things. Anyhow, I walked up the first part of the hill and then once the incline became more gradual I picked up the pace. It was uphill for 2.5k and at the turning point the views over Aberfeldy were incredible. Then on the way back it was all downhill, which you would think would be good but it's a lot more jarring running downhill and I developed a really bad stitch. It started to get really bad at the 4k mark but I was determined not to stop. I just ran along shouting 'ouch' and 'oh ya f......' quite a lot. I had to slow down quite a bit and about 100 yards from the finish line the pain pulled me up and I bent over double yelling with the pain. Two runners ran past me at this point and looked slightly baffled by the weird girl shouting to herself. One shouted 'keep going' at me which I thought was thoroughly helpful advice.

I managed to pull myself together and ran the last 100 yards to cross the finish line where I promptly collapsed on the bench in an exhausted heap. I crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 3 minutes which was around the time I was expecting.

I changed into some dry clothes and we went to get some lunch at The Inn on the Tay which was gorgeous. I sat down in the restaurant only to start shivering uncontrollably and my lips and hands started to go white. Once the adrenaline had gone I think my body started to realise how cold it was. Nothing that a wee cup of tea and some scran didn't solve though.

Overall, it was a great day and I'm immensely proud of myself for pushing myself to learn a new skill and for looking hypothermia in the face and laughing. If you think that this deserves a wee donation please, please donate to either Stroke Association or Sick Kids Friends Foundation by following the links.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Sunday Strolls

Forgive the lack of words in this blog post. It is quarter to nine at night on a Monday morning and I've just returned from a 7 hour round trip in the car (I drove to Dingwall and back today for a meeting). I'm keen however to do this blog post as soon as possible because once this weekend hits the challenges will be coming thick and fast so I'll be focusing on them a little more.

I went out with my friend Lorraine's walking club yesterday and we went for a 12 mile stroll around the Pentland hills in Edinburgh. Despite living in the city for four years this is the first time that I've ventured over to the Pentlands and I was very pleasantly surprised. The paths look great for taking my bike around so I might try that sometime after I've recovered from the Triathlon.

We stopped for sandwiches and this little lady was quick to befriend us and look longingly at me in the hope of receiving some leftovers. She obviously doesn't know her target audience. Ain't nobody gettin' my sandwich.

As we were walking along a ewe and her two lambs came down the hill, clambered through a small stream and ran across our path into the field next to us. They were moving at a fair speed. That's a full pelt gallop in the photograph above!

The next post from me will be after the Triathlon this Sunday. Hopefully I'll complete the challenge this time!!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

A history of my words

When I was a child I wrote extensively, mainly depressing stories and poems about the holocaust (whatever floats your boat eh?). I liked to team this depressing morbidity with activism and so in between poems about genocide I wrote faux angry letters to companies which tested cosmetics on animals and wrote stories about a gang of spies who investigated crimes against animals. It could be said that I had a definite niche.

Then I became a teenager and kept an angst-ridden diary which fumed at whichever boy had decided that week that he didn't want to look back in my direction. However, the time eventually came when boys did look back in my direction and so the diary promptly got dumped and only resurfaced when a small heartbreak was on the cards.

As I grew older I kept another diary. A small, black snakeskin diary. I'm sure it was read once by someone I'd rather hadn't read it. I've since binned the diary, angry at the story told by those scribbled, blue lines on the white pages.

Over the years I've written three letters to people to express the words that got stuck in my throat when I tried to say them out loud. I wonder if the recipients have held on to them or if those letters are no more substantial than my memory of the words. Somehow the process of writing it down made the apologies seem more sincere to me, like they could be held on to forever and thus the words were binding, as opposed to the fleeting existence of them if they had been spoken.

At some point in my timeline writing became an academic pursuit for me. Over the past decade I've written hundreds of thousands of words, most of them carefully abstracted from someone else's thoughts and words and carefully referenced Harvard style. Now in my current job I write mainly to pass on information, yet there is still a pleasure in putting the thoughts in my head into words on paper (or technically MS Word but it doesn't quite have the same ring to it does it?)

Then I made the decision to start this blog. I'd tried before this but had always chickened out, deleting it after a couple of half-hearted posts. This time it began as a way to chronicle a twelve month challenge, giving me a reason to write. It's morphed into something else though, which is tricky because I'm not sure how posts like this sit within the overall framework of what I'm doing this year and it probably doesn't make any logical sense but I'm cracking on anyway. The more I write, the more I have to write about and I'm thoroughly enjoying the blogging experience this time around. I'm enjoying the opportunity to write freely about whatever I like, unconstrained by academic deadlines or principles. What's more, I'm enjoying the process of seeing something that's been buzzing about my head transformed into a full blog post which is being read by more than just me (I think. I hope.) 

Monday, 5 May 2014

A weekend of ACTIVITIES

I spent this past weekend with my friend Andrea at her Mum's home in Aberfeldy and it was a training extravaganza! The Triathlon I'm taking part in at the end of this month will be held in Aberfeldy so Andrea suggested that it would be a good idea for me to try cycling the route before the day of the event. I agreed, although it does go against my tried and tested method of just turning up and hoping for the best so I took some persuading.

Andrea's much more sensible than me though and in addition to her excellent idea of practising the Triathlon cycle route before the event, she also suggested that we climb a Munro to prepare for the climb up Ben Nevis in July. Suddenly, it's clear to me why this girl is my friend. Evidently I surround myself with sensible people in order to compensate for my failings in life. (I'm sure Ryan will agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment.)

Once the idea of being properly prepared for something was planted in my mind I decided to go the full hog and even buy the proper kit. I was only prompted by Andrea three times to do this, so I'm going to take full credit for the idea of buying walking boots to climb up a mountain. I did however forget a waterproof jacket, gloves and decent socks but luckily Andrea and her family had it in hand and I borrowed all of their gear.

Schiehallion: My nemesis

Saturday morning came and it was an early start for us mountaineers, waking at eight am so that we were ready to climb the mountain at ten. We were climbing Schiehallion which is in Aberfeldy so the car journey there was only about 5 minutes. I did at one point consider leaping from the car in dramatic fashion (Lara Croft syndrome again) to avoid my fate but by the time I'd visualised my escape route we were parked and heading on our way up the hill.

I won't lie. The first ten minutes were not good, mainly because it was so cold and I had on quite light layers. However, apparently climbing up a vertical incline is pretty good for getting your body temperature up because soon I felt quite toasty. The key to keeping yourself warm without overheating on a mountain expedition is light layers apparently. I'm so good at this stating the bleeding obvious advice malarkey.

One other thing I did learn during this climb was that I really don't have the forehead for getting away with wearing a hat over my ponytail. It is not a good look.

I should also probably invest in contact lenses if I'm to pursue this ridiculous active lifestyle.

The climb up wasn't as hard as I'd imagined and we were really lucky to get a view because often the clouds are quite low and when you get to the top you can't see anything, which renders the whole thing vaguely pointless. Anyhow there were no tantrums from me on Saturday because as you can see it was fabulous and we could see EVERYTHING. I think I could even see my house in Edinburgh from the top of the mountain. Maybe?* Obviously I have no idea what direction Edinburgh would be in, but I'm sure that you could see it anyway.

*there is no way that you would see Edinburgh from here. No idea what is in the background. More mountains mainly.

So the climb up was relatively easy and so filled with exuberance and thinking things like 'I must be really fit!' and 'this was easy!' I began to skip down the hill. What a naive, stupid woman I was. Going downhill is the hardest part. After 10 minutes of vertical descent I was dragging my big clunky feet along, tripping over rocks and wincing in pain at my burning thighs.

We made it down in once piece though and I didn't have to be carried once. In all, the trip was completed in about four and a half hours which we were happy with. After the climb we returned to the house in Aberfeldy, drank copious amounts of tea to bring us back to life and then demolished Sharon's home made spaghetti bolognese. Then it was off to bed at 10pm and up again Sunday morning at 8am to go for a cycle round the Triathlon route.

We got another lovely day in Aberfeldy for the cycle and it was very enjoyable despite the number of hills dotted around all over the place which pushed my poor, wee, sore thighs to the limit. Of course, we stopped in Aberfeldy to pick up a cake to refuel half way round the cycle which would probably be frowned upon in the actual race. I think?

Once the cycle was complete it was back to the house to have some lunch and a cuddle with our wee pal Toby the cat who looked very impressed with our achievements.