Exercising for a better mental health

Left Behind

Picture shows all three journals 

9th November 2018

**This was written today at 2.03pm in my journal**

Firstly I cannot believe that it has been 1 year and 2 days since I last wrote in my book. During this time all of my blogs have gone out live without any retrospective entries. There are both positives and negatives to this. Whilst a positive is that you get to read what I am feeling at the time, a negative is that I am often not true to self. To me it is important not to upset or worry those around me if I start using words such as ‘help, despair, hurt, suicidal, self harm, or destructive behaviour’.

By writing in my journal, I can put a protective barrier around myself and when I am ready to make my thoughts and feelings public then I know that I am safe and there is no need to worry. Just like how I used to do things in the early writing / blogging days. Using my journal allows me to say it exactly how it is allowing me to get all the rumblings out of my head without having to think about a careful edit.

The best way to sum up how I am feeling at the moment is that of being ‘left behind’. I have previously read a book titled this. It focused on people left behind after ‘the rapture’ and how they faced difficult times and suffering. This is where I feel like I am; stuck, being unable to move on like my feet are superglued to the floor and my brain is on pause.

I use social media a lot, it is part of what I do, it is part of my profile of standing up for those struggling with a mental illness, especially within the police service. I also use it positively to document that my ill health has not stopped me from becoming an Ironman, 2 x London marathon finisher and a survivor. The whole social media game is important to me as a blogger, a writer, and of course I like to see what people are up to. I take a great deal of news and factual information from it and I have learned (mostly) to screen out negativity and things which stir and upset my brain.

This is where I come on to feeling stuck and/or left behind. I see my employers post stuff on Twitter celebrating award ceremonies, promotions, documenting good work and arrests. This is hard for me as it is a world I was once part of. A world I lived for, yet a world I almost died for. It hurts when I see people getting promoted who I worked with, knowing that it could have and should have been me. It is not jealousy, as I wish everyone well in their career. It is the fact that these people are able to move forward with their lives, jobs and families and I can’t. The easy answer would be to unfollow everyone and everything to do with work, but I do not want to have to do that, not yet anyway. I have a lot of friends in ‘the job’ but  people drift and I see this happening month by month. 

Whilst I stand here with what feels like thick superglue stuck to the bottom my trainers and unable to metaphorically move one foot in front of the other, I ask myself if I would like my previous life and high pressure job back. I like the idea of it, but there is no way that my head can take the reality of it. To return would be like putting me in a pressure cooker waiting for the time when the lid blows off. I can no longer deal with demand, or spin 100 plates on my little toe, whilst balancing a book on my head and cooking a Mary Berry special sponge cake.

Yet, two and a half years after walking out, it still hurts, the pain of reality is still there. I didn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve and feel like I have failed. This is what saddens me when I see what I do on social media. I have lost a massive part of my life. As my final meeting to determine my future gets closer I can feel myself become more tense, stressed and anxious. I am unable to manage my depression like I have been doing recently. My hands are slipping from the anchors which I have gripped on to and I do not know what to do about it.

Many of the people I hang around with now, did not know me as a police officer so they are unable to see the differences in me or understand the difficulties I currently face. They did not know me as the professional in the uniform or the suit working long hours. They did not see me come home after dealing with complex child abuse cases or dealing with bereaved relatives or victims of burglary. They have no idea of the hours I put in to do the best job I could. They didn’t walk with me through promotion exams and interviews. This life defined me and made me the person I am. All they know is Georgie from the gym, the beach with Olly, from Mind over Marathon or Ironman. Do they really know what makes me tick? I don’t suppose it matters as these people have become great friends and sources of support (often without them knowing).

This feeling of being left behind does not only relate to work. I look at my friends who are doing things that I would like to do; but I cannot. I am unable to plan. I have no idea what my future will be about and where I fit into the bigger picture. Such things grate on my brain. Lost and stuck in an evolving world with a head that does not have the ability to see one day from the next. Often racked with guilt and emotion as I keep inside what really goes on until the bubble bursts. Waiting, continually waiting for the next bubble to come along. One day, I know it will not burst. I await that day.

All of this instability has once again caused me to back off, isolate myself, and deal with things my way, in the only way I know and that is on my own.

People envy me and what I have achieved, apparently I inspire people. I do not see that. I am just being me, trying to get by in the only I can. So much has changed in me and around me over recent years. There are things that I embrace positively and there are things which I do not like. I am trying to change some attitudes, behaviours and emotions. I am trying to be a better person but this will not happen over night and this frustrates me. Yet again the circle of gloom or the spiral of defeat strikes. My current therapy is trying to address this and only time will tell. 

I was not going to put this blog out today but I felt I needed to. There are things which I wanted to say. I will continue to write in my journal and then publish when I feel the time is right. If you do not hear from me for days or weeks do not worry, I have not gone anywhere. I am writing behind the scenes. 

It is time for me to get back to being honest with myself for a while. I have lost me and need to reframe and work things out in my brain. Time to invest in what is important and that is finding progress and the way ahead.

Catch you soon xx  

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The story behind the Ironman tattoo

Friday 2nd November 2018 (11.47pm)

I am not a fan of tattoos and I never thought I would have one, let alone one which symbolises a 140.6 mile Ironman. I am someone who does not particularly follow trend, does not do what others do and plays it safe when it comes to everlasting decisions.

Having a tattoo seems to be the done thing after an Ironman and people who have them do it for their own personal reasons. For me, I thought to have a brand stuck to you for life was a bit odd. I mean, you wouldn’t walk around with the Starbucks or McDonald’s logo tattooed to your arm (I apologise to those who have, I am obviously out of the loop). So for me it was a no go and not something which I looked to do… until 2 weeks ago.

So why the 360 change?

I decided that I wanted something that would have meaning which could act as a reminder to what I have achieved. I don’t necessarily mean on the day itself, of course that it is important, but I wanted it to reflect what I went through in the 12 months leading up to it. I wanted something to look at as a reminder that whatever mood I am in, however low or desperate I feel, I am stronger than what I think, and if I can do an Ironman than I can get through anything.

The mental and physical challenges I faced are well documented in previous blogs so I won’t dwell on that too much.

I never know when I am going to blog, I have no plan or set days. If I have an idea or the words are there then I will, and today is one of those days. I woke up with very little motivation to hit what was on my training programme. In fact I felt a bit rubbish, work related reasons, and when this happens I get knocked back to the hole which I have worked my way out of. Suffice to say, I got my shit together and made the journey across the city to the gym. Still with very little motivation for my strength and conditioning session.

Today, I had one of those ‘you can do this’ reminders as I accidentally caught site of my wrist whilst doing a dead bug. Seeing my tattoo gave me a sharp reminder that I am stronger than I think and that I am bigger and better than the stuff going on externally which I cannot control.

When faced with adversity, pain or suffering I can look down at my wrist and appreciate that nothing can be as bad as what I went through that day. An event which battered me physically and took every bit of my mental toughness to succeed. When I look back to the months of training, I could have easily thrown in the towel (along with the wetsuit into the sea) but I didn’t, my desire to succeed over powered every negative thought in the end and won out.

So that’s why I decided to get one … to remind myself that I can do whatever I put my mind to and that I am a survivor.

My next consideration was what to have done. I wanted something small and simple and which could be hidden should I have to. I knew all I wanted was the ‘M dot’ but not sure in what way. After trawling the hundreds of Ironman tattoos on the internet I came up with the one as depicted.

From here I go on knowing that what I have been through and have achieved has defined me as a person, a better person than what I was 1 year ago. There is still some way to go, but my little reminder shows me that whatever it is I can do it.

You can to xx

Laying it on the line

Monday 29th October 2018 (12.55pm)

Not every blog I write I publish. Sometimes I type or put pen to paper to express my feelings. It’s a way of getting the jumble out of my head instead of it whirling around, festering and becoming a bigger problem. At times I wish my head was not so active. It still has this ability to not want to switch off as it becomes ingrained in a deeper trauma. Sometimes I do not want to share for fear of worrying those who read so I will only make my words public when I am in a safe place and back on even ground.  Secondly, I have a private life which others are a part of, and whilst I am careful about what I publish about myself I have to consider those around me.

I suppose the above paragraph is preempting what may be coming and the reasons for me saying this now rather than on Saturday. Nothing bad has happened, I have not done anything stupid or wrong, it is just that my thoughts fell down the rabbit hole and I could not see an easy way out. Things started to spiral on Tuesday, nothing started it, it is just classic depression winging its way towards the head where its brews waiting to erupt. 

My usual barriers enclosed around, hiding me from reality and the outside world, where nobody or nothing could penetrate. The switch had been clicked causing shut down mode to those close to me; yet I was still able to function when I needed to, putting on that face to avoid having to answer questions. To those around I looked and appeared like all was good with the world, but inside I was on my way to destructing.

I pushed away my partner saying that I needed time alone, I could offer no explanation as to why, I couldn’t, as I did not know what to say. I could not even formulate things in my own head, let alone verbalise it. I have got years of experiencing me and how I react to my head and what I do. Others are new to this, they are still learning and understanding, quite often not knowing what to say or do for the best. My monosyllabic answers to questions reverberating around my own head, as I sunk deeper for acting the way I did. Mental illness is a minefield, I hate experiencing the ups and downs. I live for the plateaus and the days of happiness which come and go. I am not expecting a rosey world and happy feelings topped with glitter. I am a realist and I know such euphoria does not exist without chemical (often illegal) intervention. 

What I am talking about is what really happens when the switch uncontrollably goes and the rational mind turns into one of wanting to self harm and hurt. There were times towards the end of last week when I was thinking about what I could do to myself. I could have easily reached into my drug cabinet or got in the car to run away. The overwhelming desire that I had to escape my head pulled me in so many different directions. Once again, I would look at Olly as he lay next to me without a care in the world. The unconditional love he expresses with his eyes made me feel guilty for having such negative thoughts. I had to dig deep into my resources, empty myself of the hate I had for myself and reach out to my partner who I had pushed away days before. I felt saved when on the phone she said “lets go and get fishcake and chips”. I knew then I that I would be ok, we would be ok as I did my best to explain myself. Such a simple gesture on Saturday evening  spun my world back to where it should be.

I could have easily said no to the chips, in fact the old stubborn me would have which would have caused me more misery and pain and the circle would have repeated itself until I would have dug a way out (maybe).

As for now, I am doing ok. I am sat in a coffee shop as I write just having spoken to my best buddy. I have been to the gym, put the Wonder Woman pants back on and this afternoon I will take a walk with Olly, watching him as he runs with freedom and joy. Maybe I should be more like Olly, maybe I should forget the worries and stress of everyday life, pin my ears back and run into the wind with a smile on my face and without a care in the world.

Maybe just maybe.

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Where is my motivation?

Monday 22nd October 2018 (11.46am)

It’s been a while as I have not had the motivation or words to write. Even now I don’t really know what I am going to say. I guess you could say that things are a bit flat, like I am sitting on a plateau waiting for something to happen. What that is I do not know. My events are done which ended with Cardiff half marathon a few weeks ago. I am running (or walking) a 5k on Saturday for The Royal British Legion and the Poppy Appeal and apart from that I have no other concrete plans for events for next year. There is something in the planning phase but I will update on that when I know more and everything is confirmed.

I am still working with my Ironman coach as I need his structure and planning in my daily routine. Today I started back on a program in anticipation for 2019. I am not putting any pressure on myself to do what I did this year. 2018 was incredible and it took a lot of dedication, hours and commitment and at the moment I am not interested in putting myself through all of that again. I would like to do something in a different country and have looked at marathons in Paris, New York and Berlin. I have been extremely fortunate to have run London the last two years but perhaps now it is time to run other roads, and get a mini break out of it. 

Last Wednesday I returned from a week away in Dubai. It was a last minute book as I decided that I needed to get away to physically recover and mentally reset. Things were starting to get on top of me and my head felt too consumed by everything. It was racing around with no escape. I felt plagued by physical and mental exhaustion and I could only feel things getting worse. I went on my own and my days consisted of lying on my sun bed, eating and reading books. Perfect in hot temperatures. My P.E kit came away with me but stayed in the wardrobe. I had no energy or motivation to do anything. I don’t think I have ever felt so demotivated than what I have over the last few weeks. I just have no energy to do anything so I am hoping that my training program will give me a good kick up the ass.

On Thursday I began my Emotional Regulation Therapy course. This should be interesting considering my emotions have been drained from me over the last few years. It is 12 weeks long so hopefully I can grab some useful tools from it.

I had my routine appointment with GP earlier. We discussed my blood test results which I had done before I went away and I am being sent for a head scan to rule out anything with regards to my constant brain ache. It is likely to be down to stress and tension with everything going on so I am not particularly bothered. My medication has also been dropped a dose to see if that will keep me more awake. 

I am conscious that this all sounds a bit doom and gloom but it isn’t. I am ok. My relationship is great, Olly continues to entertain and I am always grateful for the people I have around me.

Thoughts just Thoughts

Thursday 27th September 2018 (1.11pm)

Participating in events takes me away from reality. It puts me in a time and space away from the real world. A world where things are about enjoying the moment around you, being out in the fresh air with other likeminded people achieving a goal whatever that may be. For me training is the same, it provides a stimulus which can block out the negativity which I may be feeling. That is not to say negative thoughts don’t creep in during a run, bike or swim, they do. It is the way that I am able to deal with them at that time that matters. 

I have to remember that they are only thoughts, of which we have about 60,000 a day. Thoughts can’t harm me, they are fleeting and most of the time they are irrelevant or they don’t interfere with my conscious thinking. Some thoughts stick and they whirl around as I try to think of processes to work my way around them. This is otherwise known in my world as ‘brain drain’ which pulls you down which tires you out mentally and physically.

This is where I am stuck now, I have thoughts in my head which I cannot work out. Thoughts of work, thoughts of my future and even thoughts about my relationship. Things that I cannot change, things that are stopping me from being me. Things which are holding me back from a purposeful life, things which are halting my recovery. Stressors as I wake up in the morning and go to bed at night. You may be alarmed that I am taking about my relationship in this way and this may not make much sense but stay with me. 

My relationship with my partner is not just about the two of us, but my head becomes the gooseberry in the background. It interferes with everything, attacking me. If my head is shit, so is my mood and shut down mode surfaces. I don’t want to talk (or do I), I don’t want to see her (or do I), I want time away (or do I). Too many confusing and conflicting messages which can cause the brain signal box to burn out. 

I go back to where I started; exercise. For that hour, two hours, 15hrs 19, whatever it maybe I am able to be me. I am able to process things quicker, my head is clearer and I feel that I am actually a functioning human being. I am coming to the end of my 12 challenges in 12 months and it is that that has kept me relatively sane in my mad world (as well as Olly of course). At the moment I have no goal, I feel stagnant, not helped by a continuous banging head. I have been to the gym this morning just to see if that would help. 

Did it? No. My ‘go to place’ let me down.

What I am learning is that such a ‘go to’ place, sport or events may not always be there for me. This is what I have to accept. Exercise may not always be the answer, and thankfully I have my writing to gobbledegook it all out. Same goes for you out there. Don’t feel frustrated, let down or a failure because of such thoughts. Reframe them and put your effort and energy into something else, this could be as simple as sitting down reading (which I will do later as Olly will be in the spa), walking or whatever you enjoy.

Don’t dwell on those thoughts, tell them to get lost (or something else). This is what I am doing. 

Thinking and worrying about things gets you nowhere. 

A bit like a rocking horse really.

Olly’s road to Ironpup

My human mum sent me away on holidays again to Tenby while she prepared herself for one of her biggest challenges to become an “Ironman”. I get so excited about going to Tenby as I get so spoiled by my Nanny and Bampi but I also know that my human mum will miss me loads as she attached a Fitbark (Fitbit) tracker to my collar before I left just to keep an eye on what I was doing and how my training was going.

On arrival in Tenby I quickly checked out the house and garden. All the plants had been lifted off the ground onto tubs so I now have to cock my leg up even higher to water the plants. My bed and toys have been put in the kitchen but don’t know why they continue to do this as the only place I am going to sleep is on their bed.

I am also in training to be an Ironpup so I need to get the miles in. On my first morning I was dragged off the bed and pushed into the garden for a quick pee but was back on their bed before Bampi could finish making the tea. I’m not a morning dog, in fact I like to laze around until midday when I start coming to life.

On day one, like most days, I’m driven to town, my Nanny goes one way for coffee with her friends while Bampi and I go for a walk. Today I am dragged onto the South Beach but I’m not up for a long walk. If there were more dogs around to sniff I might have wanted to stay but after a couple of stretches I dig my feet in and decide its time to go home. My thoughts are in Barry where all my doggy friends are.

My days are structured much like my human mum, I get out walking three times a day although two would suit me better. On one evening walk with Bampi I picked up a large clump of cut grass which I had planned to take home to play around with but the human tried to get it out of my mouth. I don’t like people trying to open my mouth or sticking their fingers down my throat so I bit him. As soon as I did it I was immediately sorry as he was jumping around looking for a hanky. He was not happy with me and he virtually dragged me home only to be put in the garden in the dark. After a couple of minutes he came looking for me but I had hidden from him under the garden table and I would not go to him. Nanny then came looking for me and after some persuasion I went back into the warm house with her where I spent the rest of the evening lying on her lap and completely ignoring Bampi.

Next day all was forgotten and we were friends again so off we went to Giltar Point, this is one of my favourite walks. For those dogs out there get your humans to park in Penally station car park, which is free, cross the railway line and follow the path to the headland keeping the MOD firing range on your right. No need for a lead as I run free and fast and there are loads of places to stop and sniff. The views of Tenby and Caldy Island from the top are beautiful. My favourite run is down the sandy cliff face from the top of the headland, through the wooded area to the beach below where a fresh water stream runs into the sea. When we do this walk I leave Bampi behind and watch from the beach for him to make his way slowly down the narrow path. When he catches up with me he says that the next day we will do it again as he has spotted loads of blackberries that Nanny would like to make a tart with.

My Ironman pup training also takes me to Manobier beach which is dominated by a castle overlooking the sandy bay with loads of rocky pools for me to explore. On the path leading to the beach I spot where a horse has left a huge mound of poo which I try to get to but I’m dragged away. There is something about horses and foxes poo that I am attracted to. On the beach I do find some and the race is on to avoid Bampi from catching me. I’m too fast for him while I dodge in and out of people sitting in their deck chairs and kicking up sand while they watch the sun go down. I know he is not happy but he leaves me to it while they both take a rest.

With one day to go before by human mother arrives, my Bampi goes off to play bowls so its Nanny’s turn to take me on my run. She decides to take me into the field alongside the house. The field is earmarked for housing development which is a shame as its a playground for many animals, birds and other wildlife but people need housing unfortunately at our expense. The field is big and Nanny does not like being in it by herself but I try to remind her that I will look after her but we still end up jogging around it.

I had a restless nights sleep as the next day my human mum was arriving. The day saw loads of activity in the kitchen as a chicken dinner was being prepared, which I always look forward to and the cooking of a blackberry and apple pie which I help pick on Giltar Point. Like myself my human mother gets spoiled when she come home. When she walked through the door I had so many hugs I knew she had missed me.

The day before Ironman Sunday we all walk down to town to visit the Expo tent to buy some goodies. I get myself an Ironman snood as a belated birthday present while the humans buy tee-shirts. Human mum and her friend then spent the afternoon relaxing playing pool badly from what I can see. My human mum leaves me later to go off to her hotel to chill out by herself and organize her kit for the big day tomorrow. I give her a great big kissie.

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It’s Sunday September 9th and the big day is here. I’m forced out of bed at 5.30am, dressed in my new Ironman snood and ready to go within a half an hour. Treats have been put into pockets and the long day begins.

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When we get to town I have never seen so many people, we have to make our way to the North Walk to watch my human mum swim the first leg of the Ironman which means walking through a forest of people that goes on for miles. I am only small and all these people are towering over me, I’m scared and what is making it worse is that I can hear cow bells, clappers and banging things going off. We finally arrive at our vantage point to see the swimmers take to the water. Its like watching a shoal of piranhas after a piece of meat, the water is boiling. My human mum is being tracked so we know she is doing well and is going to finish in a good time.

We leave the sea front to make our way into the town to see my human mum head for the bike transition station. I see here coming down the road and start barking but she is looking the wrong way but finally turns to wave to me. Now that I started barking I can’t stop so loads of treats are forced into my mouth. Some minutes later she passes on her bike but with so many people about she doesn’t see me.

With my mum now heading out into the country we head home, this is another mile walk all up hill for breakfast. I know that my training is going to pay off today. After a bowl of meaty delights and a little rest we are off again to the Bell’s Corner to watch the first bike riders come in heading for transition and the slower ones complete lap one. The race leaders are on the marathon leg of the race when my human mum comes into view on her bike which starts me barking again. She is doing well. After a period of barking at the bikes we decide to pop home for a drink.

Having had a short break we head back to town to see the leading runners. Again we head for the crowds which are scary. I am about to cross the road when a runner appears, I get excited and jump out and frighten the startled runner who was none other than the women’s champion Lucy Gossage. I was then put on a very short lead. Sorry Lucy.

I needed a rest by now and as my human mum had some time before her transition from bike to run I pulled my supporting family towards the Bowling Club. This is a “no dogs allowed club” but I get special treatment as I’ve been called a “squirrel” here since I was a little pup. I managed to get some sleep on the lap of the chairman before we go back out to cheer our human cyclist over the last 100 metres of the bike ride. Again I could not contain my barking on seeing her pumping the air with her fist knowing that she had cracked the hardest part of the race.

After a little wait my human was out of transition and heading out on her marathon run but not before she gave me a great big cuddle or as my Nanny would say a “cwtch”. With 4 laps of running in and out of town we set out for a vantage point not far from home. After getting some chairs to sit by the roadside I was getting tired and grumpy barking at all the runners so I was taken home for an hour to get some sleep.

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It was dark when the door opened and I had my lead put back on. We were off for the final stage of Ironman Wales. We got to a position on the finish line and with Bampi carrying me we waited for my best friend to complete a challenge she had trained for a year. I saw her as she hit the red carpet and barked as loud as I could, she had done it, I hear her name being shouted out….Georgie Lloyd you are an Ironman. I barked and barked my love. After loads of hugs and kisses we made the mile long walk home only for me to collapse on the rug at home and fall a sleep. I had done my Ironman and my human was a legend with the medal around her neck.

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The road to Ironman Part IV

Tuesday 25th September 2018 (1.33 pm)

No need for the two alarms in the end, the first one on my iPhone did the job as I woke up excited and looking forward to the day. I slept really well which I did not think would happen. I woke a few times during the night, slightly panicked by the wind outside. I jumped out of bed just after 5am to see what the sea was doing. It was dark and I could not see a thing. 

I had a shower to freshen my head, splatted a tub of vaseline in areas that I know would rub, put on my tri suit, half wetsuit, took my sea sickness tablet, picked up my special need bags, pink bag, hat, goggles and bike nutrition and left the hotel. All of this with no nerves (surely not right).

It was still dark as I made my way the 100m or so to the special need bag drop off point. It was starting to get busy as people made their way to transition, some on their own, some chatting with friends, some eating bananas or energy gels. Everyone seemed to  have that same feel of excitement mixed with terror. 

As I entered transition I walked towards where I left my bike (or where I thought I left it). Once again trying not to look like a complete amateur I walked up and down the side where I thought it was. I could not see it. I could not even work out the numbers and where 502 fitted in to the sequence. Not being great with numbers anyway I tried the other side of the rack. Were the numbers going up or down? My brain could not work it out. After a few more minutes of searching, I was finally reunited with my bike. It looked easy yesterday when there were far less bikes. Not to make the same mistake again, I gave it an easy reference point, which was 4th rack in and opposite the ‘M’ in ‘IRONMAN’ written on the side of a truck. All I had to do was pray that they did not move the truck.

After putting my water bottles and food bags on my bike, checking my tyres to make sure they had not deflated overnight and then zipping up my wetsuit I made my way to the swim start. At this point I ate half of my porridge bar and had a few sips of water. I chucked what was left in my pink bag and waited with over 2000 people to get this thing underway. 

The atmosphere at such a ridiculous hour was incredible. You could not move for the amount of people. As the professionals made their way into the water, I walked slowly down the North Walk. I was just hoping that I could find my 502 pink bag hook! Thankfully I did, so with my trainers added to the bag I carried on walking to the beach holding my red swim hat and goggles. I hate wearing swim hats so left it late to put on. I then put my goggles over my head, adjusted them with my hat about 15 times then put my game face on. I was still amazed about how calm I felt. I don’t usually get nervous about events as I happily just rock up to them and go. This was different though. This was Ironman Wales which had been my goal and focus for the last 10 months. My head was in a positive place and there was no way that I was not going to finish the swim. My strategy for the day was to take one event at a time. Three different sports. Do not think about the next until you finish the one you are on.

I had a good start in the swim, helped by seeding and where I positioned myself. I am not afraid of being bashed about, you accept that in mass event open swimming. I just had to swim my race, not be bothered by anyone else, hold my ground and remain steady with my breathing. I am confident in the water, helped by all of the training I have done and importantly open water swims and events. For me, competing in Tenby Long Course weekend was critical as I knew exactly what to expect in terms of distance and line to follow.

As usual, the swim around the 1st buoy was a free for all. I  knew I wanted to take it wide to avoid the chaos; however, this didn’t quite go to plan as I got swept up in legs, feet and arms and ended up closer to the buoy than what I wanted. There was no way I could swim around it; so I reverted to some sort of doggie paddle (I knew that was in my training program for a reason) and I literally got pulled around by everyone else. It was a great tactic and felt like I was floating around the lazy river. Time to start swimming again to make the long drag out to the life boat station. Not even the jelly floaters could stop me in my tracks as I ramped up the kick, got around the 2nd buoy and headed to Goscar rock and the beach. Lap 1 completed as I walked around and composed myself before jumping back in to start lap 2. 

Lap 2 was not as busy as swimmers had spread out by this point. I often had large sections of water to myself and had to keep checking that I was still on course and not in Saundersfoot. As I headed back onto the beach with a swim time of 1hr 16, it was now that I could start thinking about the bike leg. I was more than happy with my time as I walked back up the North Walk whilst undoing my wetsuit. I collected my pink bag, washed the sand off my feet with my water and put on my trainers.

Running the kilometre through town was crazy, people shouting and cheering. Many calling out my name but I was unable to make people out in the crowds as I headed towards transition. I made my way into the tent, and changed into my bike gear. I took my time making sure that my feet were dry and talced and that I had everything I needed.

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Thankfully, I located my bike (the truck had not moved).

I did not think about how many miles I had to do or how long I would be on the bike for. For me it was being in the ‘here and now’ (maybe the first time I have ever used mindfulness). I did have the cut off times in the back of my head though, but I just told myself to keep pedalling, keep fuelling and not to overdo it in the early stages. My Garmin buzzed every 5 miles and whilst I was aware of this at first, the longer the ride went on, it just faded into the background.

Having cycled 99% of the course before I knew what was coming (hills), but yet again I was not thinking about them until I was there. I was prepared for them, I had trained for them and my motto was to deal with them as and when. I lost count of how many times I said ‘slow and steady will get you to the top’.

I had my first wee stop on lap 1 at Lamphey. I decided to keep my tri suit on after the swim and manoeuvring myself out of my suit in a small port-a-loo was one of the hardest things that I had to do all day. My race belt had to come off and the last thing I wanted to do was drop my nutrition from my back pockets down the toilet. After 10 minutes of faffing, followed by a drink change over and 1/4 of a banana I jumped back on my bike thinking to myself that I would not be doing a toilet stop again (well not on the bike anyway).

Hills that I hated (the most) Freshwater, Wisemans Bridge and Saundersfoot. I was grateful to see my special needs bag at New Hedges. Here I stopped, had a bite of sausage roll, a few crisps and some lemonade. All acted like rocket juice as I headed into Tenby. It was so good to see my support crew as it was just the lift I needed before going back out on to the second loop.

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Cycling out of Tenby along the Marsh Road and towards Kiln Park was where I experienced my demons for the first time. Doubts started to arise, the wind started to pick up and I allowed myself to think about what was ahead of me. I was thinking about the hills I had to face and what they had already taken out of me. I knew that I should be ok for the cut off times as long as I kept my pace, stuck to plan and did not let my head overtake.

It got tough but at the right times I chatted to other cyclists along the route. This gave me what I needed as I dug deep, told my head to ‘do one’ and just went for it. On lap 1 at about 50 miles in I started to get pain behind my left knee, this became a problem when pushing down hard on the pedal and whist hitting Wisemans Bridge for the second time I knew that there was no way I could cycle up it. I needed to get off and stretch the leg so I walked up the hill. This helped as I got back on and attacked Saundersfoot. I stopped again at my special needs bag and grabbed a pack of crisps which I ate on the way back into Tenby. I knew now that I had done it, I had completed the 112 miles. I had beaten what I was most fearful of. Now it was time to rack the bike, manoeuvre my way out of my tri suit for another wee, put on my fast daps and head out onto the run. I cannot describe the relief I felt to be off the bike.

As I stumbled out of transition I saw my support crew, I quickly stopped to say hi, have a kiss from Olly before heading out on the 26.2 miles of yet more hills. This was the first time that I allowed myself to think about running a marathon. I made it easier by breaking it down in to 4 x 10k runs (+ a bit more). Four loops of Tenby and New Hedges which I had 7 hours to finish in. Could I? Would I? Don’t even think that far ahead George!

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I grew up in Tenby, I have walked the part of the marathon route a zillion times, but until I came to run it after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of biking I never knew how hilly it was. Never underestimate a gentle slope when your legs are shot and you have missed out on your Sunday afternoon nanna nap. Initially I was in too much pain with my foot (?) to run so I had to walk. Knee was ok (used to that) but it took me a while to get my shuffle going properly and when I did, it did not last long. In the end like many others, I walked up the hills and kind of ran down them.

Every loop, I collected a coloured band (hair bobble) from New Hedges. The first one, green meant that I was at least off the mark though I was only a few miles in. I kept looking at other people to see how many they had collected. When I realised that some people were on their last lap I couldn’t help but envy them. I still had a long way to go.

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I found the second lap hard, as I walked past my supporters at the bottom of the hill where I live (which I was to pass 8 times) I remember muttering ‘this is hard, its tough’ but I continued on to collect my blue band. Almost half way there. As much as I could I kept positive and I kept smiling, grateful of the all of the support around. The pain in my knee meant that any sort of extension of my left leg hurt, as my shuffle became even slower. I knew I was still well within time, even if I had to walk the remainder.

Grateful again of my special needs bag I ate the Mars bar and crisps that I was craving. On one loop, I could not even remember my number when I had to shout out for my bag. Shouting 504 would not have got me my goodies. The sugar rush and some energy from somewhere spurred me on to collect the red band. Only 1 more to go.

As I headed out of Tenby on my last lap and the final yellow band I allowed myself to think about the medal at the end. I stopped to chat to my family and later heading back I spoke with my friend who filmed me. I remember saying that I had ‘a park run to go and 2 and a half hours to do it’.  I smiled and hugged her as a limped off. Thank you Julie for your support that day.

After 15 hours and 19 minutes I crossed the finish line as an Ironman. I started in the dark and finished in the dark. I had actually done it. I had my medal. My mum, dad, partner, Olly, aunty and uncle at the finish line to greet me. I momentarily said hello before heading back to the tent to grab my kit. A lovely lady took my timing chip off my ankle and allowed  me to keep the strap. I stumbled through the tent where I collected my t-shirt, grabbed some pizza and a drink and then somehow managed to carry all of the bags and bike out of transition. I was met again by family, all of whom had relieved faces.

I then uttered those words ‘never ever ever ever again, if I ever say I am going to do it again, don’t let me’.

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I hobbled the 100m back to the hotel and took the lift to the first floor (I always walk the stairs). I fell on the bed and could not move for 10 minutes. Outside I could hear people crossing the finish line and being called an ‘Ironman’. 

What a great feeling.

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Now, as sit here writing this I have had over two weeks to reflect on the day. It was the hardest thing that I have ever done. It is probably one of the proudest moments of my life. Ten months of hard work, physically, yet alone what I have been through mentally. The day to day struggles were there throughout, they are real and I still battle them. I am physically tired but that is expected. I no longer have my routine of training and this is what I miss most. I have one event left of the 12 that I am completing in 12 months and that is Cardiff Half marathon a week Sunday. That will be for fun, no time pressure, just go and enjoy.

Where I go from here and what I do next I don’t know. It is too early for me to sign up to any events. I feel that I need some time to chill out, work on my book, maybe take a holiday.

I owe special thanks to my family, my partner and Olly who have been on this journey with me with their ongoing love and support. Thanks to Rhys and John, two amazing coaches who got me over the line.

Would I do it again? ‘Hell yes’

Olly’s road to Ironpup to follow

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The road to Ironman Part III

Tuesday 18th September 2018 (11.02am)

Friday 7th September, the training was done and there was no going back.

I had clocked up hours and hours of training totalling:

🏊🏼‍♀️ Swim: 121 miles

🚴🏼‍♀️ Bike: 2437 miles

🏃🏻‍♀️ Run: 554 miles

After last minute bike checks, bag checks and nutrition checks, I loaded up the car and headed to Tenby. Like a proper athlete, I stopped off for a cooked breakfast on the way. It is said that you should not change your nutrition and stick to what you know and I trusted that along my journey. The only thing that changed was the quantity. I was stuffing a lot more as I became addicted to aero bubbles and twirl bites. I planned to take this seriously 😂

In terms of my weight I was slightly heavier than what I was 12 months ago but healthier. My body shape became more athletic, my legs which previously looked like lifeless hot dogs after so much surgery developed muscles, my core strength improved and for once I felt fit to face a challenge. This is not to say that things were easy along the way. I still had moments where I looked at myself and said ‘I am not going to eat today as I am fat’ or I did not want to take my medication as it was making me put on weight. Being focused on my training and events did not take away the problems suffered with mental illness. I have written about such moments along the way in earlier blogs.

Myself and my partner arrived in Tenby early Friday afternoon where I was greeted by one very excited Olly and my parents (slightly worried *mother*). First up was registration where I had my orange (access all areas) and green bands (first timer) slapped onto my wrist. The much awaited Ironman back pack was given to me (impressed), I signed some sort of disclaimer thing to say that it was my fault if I die and collected my number (502).

I then collected my special needs bags before hitting the expo with my dad and his bank card. A lazy afternoon and evening followed, stuffing my face with my mothers chicken dinner and blackberry & apple pie. Even though my parents live in Tenby, I decided 12 months ago to book the Giltar hotel on the finish line and close to transition.

I had another cooked breakfast Saturday morning before having a walk around town to soak in the incredible Ironman atmosphere. I checked out where my hook was on the north walk to hang my pink bag (which would include my trainers and drink before and after the swim) and worked out where I would seed myself and stand for the swim start. I was planning to get the swim done in under 1hr 20 so found the relevant yellow marking on the road. This is where the Long Course swim which I did in July came in handy as it gave me an idea of expected time.

Next up was the all important job of sorting out transition bags. I had two bags, blue for bike and red for run. I packed the relevant kit which I would need for each discipline into each bag. Thankfully I had made a list earlier in the week, as at this stage, excitement set in and I would have probably forgotten something. Ticking off the items on the list as my helmet, shoes, trainers talc, towel etc went into each bag was like a military operation. These bags along with my bike needed to be in transition by 3pm on the Saturday.

To get into transition, my bands, bike and bags were checked against my number, I had to have my helmet on and strapped up and then have my photo taken. The bike racks were labelled up and signposted with numbers to make your bike easy to find (allegedly). I put my bike in my 502 slot then headed into the transition tent. The tent was full of racks with hanging blue and red bags. Once again I found my hook, chucked my helmet in my blue bag and hung up my bags. Only I could hang my bags the wrong way around, blue on the red hook, and red on the blue so after a quick look around to see if no-one was looking at my amateur skills I swiftly changed them around.

After making sure my bags were hanging up nicely and correctly I collected my timing chip. I put this on my left ankle and wore it around for the rest of the day like someone proud to show off that they were on tag. I left the transition area with the bike racked, the bags in and the chip on my ankle.

After all this hard work I rewarded myself with a well deserved Greggs corned beef pasty and my 3rd hot chocolate of the day. A few games of pool followed (pleased to say I beat my partner 2-1) before heading back to hotel for a chilled out evening (with a Dominos pizza for one).

I was surprisingly calm and relaxed as I sorted out my special needs bags (packed with sausage roll, pasty, 3 packs of ready salted crisps, chocolate bread, 2 Mars bars, small bottles of lemonade, ibuprofen, plasters and extra Tailwind to add to my water bottles). I also packed my small bike bag with cola power shots and whatever chocolate bread I could shove in it). **if anyone would like any ironman nutrition tips then please give me a shout.**

I took my evening sea sickness tablet and I went to bed knowing that all was ready for the morning, all I had to do was get up at 5am and rock up for a long day at the office.

I set two alarms (iPhone and Garmin). I never do this. Did I really think I was not going to get up for one of the biggest days of my life?

The road to Ironman part IV to follow

The road to Ironman Part II

Monday 17th September 2018 (9.56am)

As the months went by I was able to tick off the events which I had planned in my calendar. First up was the Big Vitality Half marathon in London which I was invited to do. Unfortunately this did not get off to a great start as in March thick snow began too fall. Having booked my train and accommodation, I had to cancel late on due to no trains departing. 

Not being the only one to be disappointed by the snow, London Marathon Events made the decision to award medals to those who completed the distance within 7 days and evidence it on Strava. A few days later as the snow meted I completed my London half marathon around the streets of Barry and Penarth. Medal number 1 of the year received. 

My Ironman training continued, using the events as training sessions for variety and to monitor progress. As I started into April, the focus of my training changed and became more run orientated as I prepared for the London marathon.  I knew that I was both physically fitter and mentally stronger than when I completed the marathon in 2017. Never expecting to run it again I was given the opportunity and not one to say ‘no’ I jumped at the chance. 

In the lead up to the event I was invited to the 2018 launch of the London marathon at the Michel Roux restaurant in Parliament Square. Whilst talking to the organisers of the London marathon a seed was planted in my head to go for the London classics medal which consists of the marathon, a 2 mile swim of the Serpentine and Ride London (100 miles). I will be swimming the Serpentine on Saturday and plan to ride London next year.

The day of the London marathon was hot and I knew I had to play it sensibly. I had no particular time in mind but based on current fitness levels I knew I would be able to finish around the 4 hour mark. The punishing heat bouncing off the tarmac meant that I had to slow my pace down. I had to remember that this was a training run. I had been having treatment for plantar fasciitis for the last 5 months and it was not worth the risk to push it above a comfortable level. I finished in 4 hours 31 with the body still in one piece. Medal number 2 in the bag.

On returning from London I began working with a new coach. The sea temperature now deemed acceptable (by who I don’t know) for swimming meant that it was time to get in and get used to the unpredictable conditions which the current and waves chuck at you. I was not new to competitive sea swimming having completed Tenby Long course 2.4 mile swim for the last two years. All I had to do was control the sea sickness and I knew that I would be ok. 

The first swim of 2018 was a shock to the system. Whilst it was a lovely sunny day in early May, the sea temperature was baltic. I had the worse case of head freeze ever and I was unable to move my hands and feet which I am convinced turned to ice. Not one to moan (much) I enjoyed my swim out at Jacksons bay, Barry. It was good to be back in the wetsuit putting all of my pool sessions into practice. I was also beginning to have faith in my sea sick tabs!

Late May, I needed a break and decided to go abroad for a week. My head was ‘going off on one’ and things felt pretty crap. It was also the only time which I could get away before Ironman. I took my trainers with me and did a few runs in the hot morning sun. The holiday was what I needed to refresh the body mentally. Physically the rest was good for me and on returning I knew that the hard work was about to begin.

On June 3rd I had my first triathlon of the year. It was sprint distance with the aim of enjoying it, practicing transition, trying out new kit and getting through it in one piece. All of which I managed.

I began swimming at the age of 3 or 4 and did so competitively until the age of about 14. Other sports then took over causing me to completely abandon swimming. When I decided to do my first Tenby Long course swim in 2016, I knew that I had to get back in the pool. The first few sessions were hard  (I was much faster when I was 8) and I lacked any sort of structure to my training. I was out of touch with drills and I had no idea what my technique was like. I did see improvements with distance and time so I thought that I must be doing ok.

It was only when I started working with a coach at the end of last year did things start to click into place. I finally had structure and progressive drills and techniques to work on. In June I had my stroke analysed in the endless pool (pool treadmill). Thankfully, I only had to make some minor adjustments to improve my efficiency. My subsequent pool and sea swims enabled me to practice and refine what I had learnt. It made me think about my stroke and body position which I am still working on today. Improvements can always be made.

Next up was a new bike. I decided to go for an aero road bike with tri bars. Not a necessity but the body position and comfort which it offered would be a massive help when riding 112 miles. The bike was put to good use the following week at Cardiff triathlon (Olympic distance) and a few weeks later Velothon Wales (87 miles).

The big test for me was to be Tenby Long Course weekend in July. The swim would be the same as Ironman and the bike distance would be the same 112 miles but a slight change of route. I decided to run the half marathon rather than full as I did not want to put the knees though another marathon when there was no need to. It was the swim and bike I wanted to crack.

I got off to a really good start on the Friday evening with the swim, knocking over 10 minutes off my time from last year. I felt confident in the water. I was happy with my stoke and I knew I had extra in the tank in terms of my fitness.

I have tried the 112 mile bike route on two previous attempts but the hard hilly course has got the better of me so I only ended up doing the 66 miles. I was not going to be beaten this year. I knew I had it in me after hours and hours of structured training on the Wattbike and work out on the roads. It was a tough day in the saddle but having thought about and practiced nutrition I completed it. This was a biggy for me as it gave me the much needed confidence going into Ironman. My physical fitness and mental strength evident. These two events gave me an indicator as to where I was and what we needed to work on. The final event of the weekend, the half marathon went without incident giving my a hat-trick of medals.

The final event before Ironman was the Barry Island 10k. A chilled out fun event saw me collect my 9th medal of 2018.

The road to Ironman part III to follow

The road to Ironman Part I

Thursday 13th September 2018 (11.58am)

At 1911 hours on Monday 18th September 2017 I signed up for Ironman Wales. One week before I had been watching it (again) and knew that it was something that I had to do.  I sat at the kitchen table looking at the details I had filled in on the website before closing my eyes and hitting the enter button. I felt sick for having just spent over £400 on an event that was going to cause me pain and consume my life for the next 12 months. I did not care, the ‘all or nothing’ in me knew that no other event would ever be good enough. This was the one I wanted. This was the one I was going to get.

I knew that I was in good shape after training for and completing the London marathon and Tenby Long Course weekend. I knew I had the distance in me, it was just a matter of the body holding out for the training which would take me to another level.

I told my parents (mother panicked) and publicised it on my social media. There was no going back after that. Excitement of a new challenge gripped me knowing that I would push myself to the max mentally and physically. I gave a shout out for a coach on Twitter and was overwhelmed by the number of people who responded.

I continued with my normal training clocking up the miles in the pool, on the bike and on the road.

My coached program started on 27th November 2017 and this is where I began to record my Ironman miles.

I liked the structure that the program provided. Mentally, it was what I needed. It gave me something to do each day. I am an organised person who likes routine, without this I could easy waste myself away into deeper depression. Not only was I accountable to my coach, but more importantly I was accountable to myself. If there was an activity on my program then I did it, and it did it well. Even early on into the training there was no point in cheating my way out of it. I would be the one come Ironman day to suffer, nobody else.

The cold winter months were hard, I spent time with relatives in London pre Christmas and would run, taking in the sights of the London marathon route but this time being able to enjoy the beauty of the iconic sights around me. The snow eventually stopped me in my tracks, but I used this as rest. Christmas Day took me home to Tenby and of course my trainers came with me as I ran through Kiln Park, the South beach and through the town. 

As the new year began, I continued with my program. The days were cold, the days were short, and the evenings were colder. I would take Olly out at 3pm walking along the beach in the biting wind, knowing that when I got home I would have to do a strength & conditioning session and/or a run, having already either done a swim or bike session earlier in the day. I recall many times laying on the sofa trying to motivate myself to get into my PE kit to a run hill session. I would use every excuse in my head not to go. I would then give myself a sharp reminder ‘Do you want to be an Ironman or not?’ Reluctantly I would change and step out into the cold air whilst trying to start my Garmin with thick gloves on. As always, it was never as bad when out there running, the relief of getting home knowing that it was done and your activity turned to green on Training Peaks was a great feeling. Another session ticked off. Another day closer.

When I signed up 12 months in advance, it felt like I had plenty of time; yet it was amazing how time suddenly was eaten away. 12 months became 7 months, then 4 months, then 2 months, then 2 days. I am glad I got myself organised quickly in order to have a progressive plan of training. I changed coached in April and as time ticked away, I continued to see fitness gains and improvements. I worked on my swim technique, bike strength and performance and running efficiency all of which were specific to me. Power output, watts, and swim drills became second nature.

I worked to time, not distance (apart from in the pool) so I was never consumed by miles or data. My coach took care of this, I  only counted all of my miles just for interest. The variety in my training kept me motivated and on track. Weekly discussions with my coach made sure that all was going to plan. When things were hard, or I felt rubbish, I trusted him, I trusted his knowledge, and expertise. Importantly he also trusted me.

The road to Ironman Part II to follow