Saturday, 10 September 2016

Small piece of weather

My name is Rachel n I'm suffering from post race blues.
I am using endorphins to regulate my mental health.

I said it. 

I feel like I am at the beginning of an episode of depression. 
I can feel it. 


Waiting to pounce. 

I am balanced on a knife edge, in fact, no, worse than that, I am balanced on the tip of the blade. 


In all the directions.

It could all go horribly wrong at a moments notice.  Or maybe even without notice. 

Into the abyss. 

Currently, because I know I might fall, I am furiously packing. 
Preparing things that might help. 

Rope ladders, pick axes, safety nets n the like. 

I am setting goals n entering races.
I am making plans with people, which I will invariably cancel when I am in the abyss. 
Mainly because, deep dark hole n inability (lack of energy) to climb out of it. 

Mainly because I will be in bed.
Or in tears.

I am telling people about my standing on the edge n peering in.... Wondering if it's easier to jump than to wait to see if I fall. 

I don't want drugs. 
I have used drugs MANY times before n while the regulate, they make me feel just as void n empty as when I'm depressed. 
They stop me feeling altogether. 
At least when I'm under a heavy blanket of misery, I am still feeling. 

And feeling gives me hope. 

While I can still feel, I am still alive. 
And that's why I don't want drugs, I don't want to become mono-feeling n robotic. 
I'm aware that other people may not perceive me like that when I'm on drugs, but that's how I remember them. 
I know drugs have kept me afloat n alive through more than one winter. 
They are a good thing. 

I know antidepressants aren't even admitting defeat. 

This isn't a battle. 
It isn't something to win. 
It just..... is

I have wonky brain chemistry. 
Drugs stop it being wonky. 
That's all there is to it. 

Endorphins stop it being wonky too. 
Or at least, they do most of the time. 

Trouble with endorphins is this.... 

What goes up, must come down. 

And when I am like this, my biggest problem is my inability to regulate. 
I swing too low. Then it takes more and more to get me back. 

Highs are giddy n fleeting. I cannot hold on to them.
I feel bereft when they vanish.

I am a junky.
I have had LOTS of endorphins recently. 

Norse endorphins
Rio endorphins
Because reality, I came home. 
And went back to work. 

September is historically bad for me anyway. 
Winter starts to creep in, days have more hours of darkness than light. Vitamin D intake drops. 
SAD wraps itself around my being n threatens to drown me.

Add post race blues n all the hope, anticipation, preparation n hype that a big race holds.... Then remove any sense of purpose or forward momentum. 

Add work being horrendously difficult n desperately unhappy (combining of course shift work, emotionally challenging children and colleagues I struggle with)

It all gets a bit much. 

I have been told (on more than one occasion, by more than one person) that my appearance physically alters when I am flat/sinking. 

I cannot fake it to those who truly see me.

I had a little epiphany when I was about 150km into the 180km bike leg of Norseman. 
I was OFF MY FACE on feel good n had accomplished a HUGE physical undertaking. 

I was riding across a deserted moorland, designing my next tattoo.
My face hurt from smiling. 
Joy leaked from my eyes.

There was a huge rock in the middle of nowhere. It hadn't fallen off a cliff. It hadn't rolled down a hill. 
It was on the tops. 
Nothing was above it. 

I concluded, in my delirious state, that a giant must have thrown it n that's where it landed. 

What's the relevance of me telling you about the rock?

Well, the thing with wonky mental health is random thoughts appear, without explanation or warning. 
Often big, heavy, unwanted fuckers too. 
Like the random rock. 

As I rode past the age old lump of stone n mineral, I was thinking about weather systems and seasons. 

How cyclical 'things' are. 
How change is necessary and how the seasons are wonderful in their own way. I love all of them. 
How the shedding of skin n growth happens to us all. 
How it is Ultimately Good. 

How we evolve. 
How our needs change over time. 
How we respond to our environment. 

How the weather is a good representation for emotion and mood.....

Sometimes, the sun shines. There is light n warmth cast on all things. 
Growth is fast. There is a positive energy. Everything is easier in the sunshine. Any shadows are easily explained, they shift quickly. 

Sometimes, there is rain which is warm and nourishing. It smells of earth n goodness. 
Petichor. A good name for a good type of rain. 

Occasionally, the rain is barely visible, but soaks you to the skin. 
Fine, wet drizzle. 
The inconvenient type that there is little protection from. Wet rain.

Then of course there is snow. 
Good fun. 
Beautiful. Cold. 
The sum of its parts altering its combined matter. 
Or of course, inconvenient.

The fog does exactly what it says on the tin. It disorientates. Traps, confuses, makes you feel isolated and lost. It is rarely pleasant or easy to find your way out of. 

Thunder and lightening bring change. Clashes, changes in atmosphere, disturbance, pressure. 
Warm meets cold. 
Shouting. Banging. Electricity. 
Resolution. Clarity.

Of course.... After the wet stuff, when the gloom lifts and the light begins to shine again, there is the magic of rainbows.

I decided on that mountain top that I would try treat my mental health like the weather. (And the weather would feature somehow in my next tattoo)
Something that is ever present. 
Something that I cannot control. But I can respond to. 
There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Control what you can.

I'm not one to let the weather stop me playing out. 
There is nothing I love more than open water swimming in the rain.

So, when the fog consumes me, I will either send out flares, or lay low until it lifts (rather than wondering aimlessly, becoming more lost)

I will wrap up warm n snuggly to combat against the cold of winter. 

I will top my chemicals up regularly. 
With exercise.
With laughter
With good self care
With love
With good food, containing proper nutrients (and grown in the sunshine)

My brain may behave as though it has a broken valve and allow the chemicals to leak, but if I top up regularly n ask others to check on me, I can ride this out.

My survival rate is 100%

And it's just a small piece of weather.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Norseman 2016

I will apologise now for the length of this blog. In fact, no I won't. I'm not even a bit sorry. 
I want to ramble n empty my head in case I forget it when I am an old lady. 

I want to tell the world what I achieved. I want to inspire strangers who think they can't, and let them know that they can. I want to send people to sleep with my mindless drivel. 

I don't ever want to forget. 

I want to shout from the roof tops about how proud I am of my little body. My little body that isn't the right shape to be athletic. My little body that doesn't have big paddles or flippers for swimming fast. My little body that probably had the most body fat on race day within the field of athletes. My little body that only started all this sporting lark in 2010 with an open water swim, and a sprint tri at the back end of 2013. My little body that is driven by my own stubborn n other people's self doubt. 

I didn't think it was possible to enjoy something so tough and so painful as Norseman was. 
But I did. I properly loved it. 

And I think I am now ruined forever. 
No racing experience will ever come close. I don't even think I can find the words to describe it.

I knew before I arrived in Eidfjord that Norseman was a magical experience. 
I knew when my name came out of the ballot in November last year, that my life would change ever so slightly. My life would change because of the 9 month journey to follow, but equally, it would culminate on one special day. 

I had been to Norseman before as support crew in 2014. I had vowed that I would never return. 
But it had got under my skin. 
My soul was stirred. 

Personal circumstances changed in the lead up to the race, which resulted in a change to my support crew and me having a couple of days to myself in Norway before the race. In the end, it worked out perfectly.

Cathy and Jayne did everything and more. They kept me calm, had foresight, they knew were where I needed them to be, when I needed them. Most of all, they had fun. 
In the midst of the extremity, the rain, the cold and the fog, they remembered to smile n enjoy themselves.... But never to the detriment of my race. 

During the time I was alone in the days before the race, I was able to float in the fjord, fettle with my bike, Alice, n get her set up sorted. 

While Norseman is a race, more than that, it is an experience. 
It is both brutal and beautiful and delivers everything it says it will and more. An extreme triathlon that is basic, true and unique.

The sense of community and camaraderie is astounding. 
One competitor arrived without his luggage or bike due to airline issues. He started the race n finished black. This was on the back of competitors and their support crews donating various items of kit. Human kindness prevailed.

They tell you to train as hard as you can for Norseman.... then train even harder. The initial email telling you that you have a place says 'train swim, train bike, train run, train hills, train cold, train nutrition.... Then train some more'

They don't lie. 

3*C in August soaked to the bone n with minimal visibility isn't much fun. But I LOVED it. There were people dropping like flies due to the cold. 
My bioprene paid off. 
Huzzah for having a bit of podge.

Support cars making space for filthy bikes, athletes retiring, frozen n shivering. Not the day they had prepared for. 

The days before the race had perfect weather. Calm clear waters in the fjord.  I had arrived late on the Tuesday and swam as soon as I could on the Wednesday. 

I was alone and so very tiny in a massive fjord. The mountains, the perfect backdrop, falling into the waters edge. 
I was like a pig in poop. So very happy and totally at peace.
I was happy to swim sans wetsuit on the Thursday the water temperature was so warm.

When the social swim happened on the Friday, myself, Cathy and Jayne were the loony Brits getting in without neoprene. There were a couple of others, but not many. 

It was properly glorious. Never have I been so calm before a race. 

Registration happened, briefing happened, tears and goosebumps happened.... And then we checked into the Tricamp. 

A school hall full of nervous athletes the night before a race. 
I'm glad we couldn't book the hotel until race morning. I LOVED sleeping on the floor with everyone else. 

Somehow, we all slept. I think we all slept reasonably well. Cathy slept so well that she snoozled through the lights being switched on at 2am n a couple of 100 people getting up n ready to race!!

Carnage in the school hall
The journey to the start passes quickly, nervous athletes sat around on a ferry in wetsuits is quite the site. The atmosphere crackling with anticipation, nerves and excitement.

We are summoned to the car deck. 
It is almost time to jump. 
The hose is pumping sea water so that everyone can acclimatise before the jump. 
I spend a few minutes under the spray, filling my wetsuit. 

Then, it is time.

The bit that i was dreading was the easiest thing in the world. 
I didn't even think about it.  
No fear, no hesitation. 
Just leap into the sea in the dark.
All races should start this way.

Quickest part of the day is leaping off the back of the boat

The overwhelming thought i had while swimming over to the start of the swim was 'what kind of knobhead wears polarised goggles in a swim that starts in the dark?' (that would be me then) 

The ferry horn signaled the start of the race.
We were told the fastest route was along the shore line - at times I was wide of the pack to get out of the washing machine. I would have periods of swimming completely alone - and then a wave would come and throw me back in to the pack.

I made sure that enjoyed the swim - watching day break against the backdrop wasn't something i would get to experience again in a hurry. Although, I was reminded of why I dislike swimming in anything with salt water or a tide.
The final 500m across the front of the pontoon seemed to go on forever - it was like being on a watery uphill treadmill. 
The swim was long, or I swam long. 4km overall and much slower than I was capable of.
I later learned that others who swam a similar pace to me found it tough too.

T1 went to plan and was fairly uneventful apart from weeing on Cathy - little did we know it would be the first of many that day. Somehow, she is still my friend.

The bike starts to climb fairly quickly and doesnt stop climbing for about 35km. The first climb peaks at 1271m (that's what my Garmin got it at)

The climb is beautiful. The old road winding in such a way that you can look up and see cyclists on the path above you, winding through tunnels in the mountainside, the path you don't see or experience when driving it, Voringfoss to the left as you climb.

You can see the bikes below - there is another layer too.
I knew early on that I was bleeding places - I couldn't make my body work at the right intensity.
I had planned to ride to a certain power, but couldn't sustain it.

On the day, my head was stronger than my body. It was an odd thing, having such amazing acceptance so early on and being happy about the fact that I knew I wouldn't achieve black finish.  I accepted that I might not make 18 hours. The weather was cold, so very cold on the tops. Reaching Dyranut meant that there was a tailwind - but it was about 3* and visibility was poor.

Having finished the first climb, knowing that my body and brain weren't working together, I wondered how I would make it to the end of the bike. I knew what was still to come - and people were dropping like flies around me due to the conditions.

Not once did i think 'I cant do this' (which is rare for me) I only ever thought 'I don't know how I will do it' - so i kept on pedaling.

I smiled alllllll day - even through the grim bits
Turning right at Geilo meant that some of the worst weather was over - it was just going to be wet now. I had standing water in my shoes and another 90km to go - and still i smiled.

Cathy took 'make sure i can see you' to a whole new level. 
There were descents where I had rain blasting in my face so hard that I couldn't see properly.

When I stopped at the bottom of Imingfjell (to wee on Cathy again), I was already Unsure about my ability to make it to the top of the climb.  It was 'only' 20km, but I had already climbed LOTS and had around another 800m in the last climb.
(The total bike elevation for the day was 2963m which is 9721ft)

I was tired and cold.
My legs were empty.
But my head was strong..... Ish

I hadn't come all this way to give in on the last climb.
I might finish white, and I might finish last, but I had to do everything I could to actually make it to the finish.
I had to know that I had done everything I could - even if they pulled me off the course.

So i set off with Alice, climbing for the last time.
Cathy and Jayne over took but pulled over when they realised I had stopped shortly after setting off.
Jesus this was going to be hard.
They came back to cheer me on.

I was so very empty that I had to do it in short bursts.
I physically couldn't keep cycling.
300m then stop. Have a rest.
500m then stop. Have another rest.
This was awful.
My brain was screaming that it would hurt just as much, but would be over quicker if we could just carry on.

My legs wouldn't work.
I couldn't turn the pedals.
Carry on.
Ad infinitum.

I stopped just after one of the hairpins and a chap from one of the other support crews asked me if i needed a push.
Thank you.
I will do this.
It will be me.
All me.
Thank you for the kind offer, but I'm fine.
I have survived many things in my life, I'm certain that I'm not going to be beaten by a hill.

Many small chunks later, we reached the dam.
The climb was over.
Shortly, I would be descending to T2 and my bike leg would be over.

I had done it.
I allowed myself a little cry.
A broad smile that made my cheeks hurt and my eyes leak.
Somewhere in the desolate Norwegian Moorland, a sheep rang its cowbell in celebration.
I had actually done it.
Now the small matter of surviving the downhill to Austbydge.

As it got warmer and the miles ticked from 105 to 110, I found myself sad that the bike leg was going to be over soon.
I was sad that I couldn't have given more, but was so very pleased that I had loved it all - even though it was grim in all the ways possible. Never again would I complain about weather on the bike!! I also knew I had given everything that I could.

Just the small task of a marathon left.
T2 seemed to take ages - I couldn't co-ordinate my hands and for the first time ever, I had a desire to eat real food during a triathlon.
I went all diva-ish and demanded Brioche - Lo and behold! Brioche appeared.

I tried my best to override my body and make it run - i managed about 8 minutes of my run walk strategy and it all became too much. My feet were swelling and my body was resisting.
It wouldn't let me damage it any more than i already had.
I knew by now that I was in white position 200 and somethingth (210, i think?) - no amount of chasing would get me to a black finish.

If i maintained a reasonable march, I would make all the cut off's with time to spare.
So that's what I did.
I marched.
When I could, I ran and when I couldn't, I made sure i maintained a reasonable pace.  I ate proper food (who am i?) and enjoyed the scenery.

Somewhere around mile 10, I picked up Charles and distracted him for a while - we talked drivel at each other and debated whether it was an ogre or a moose we heard roaring.
But we kept walking.

Jayne met me at the bottom of Zombie Hill and was relentless in her quest to get me up the hill to the checkpoint. Somehow, we were over taking people - we were over taking quite a lot of people.
Who knew that was a thing?

Having made the check point, new time goals were set - sub 18 was still achievable.
Who knew I would be so pleased with a sub 18 hour?

What nobody tells you about Norseman and the white finish, is this..... you do laps of the car park to make up the distance.
Its like becoming the ultimate Strava wanker.
The only difference is, you get music, dancing, cheering and your card stamped as you tick off each lap. It was ace.

I would've loved to finish black.
I really would.
And maybe a few years ago, I might have had it in me.
Year on year, the field is getting faster and stronger - and I don't ever think I will be able to compete in that way. Not on that course and in that environment.
2016 is rumoured to have been the worst weather conditions recorded on race day. I also heard something about the biggest DNF rate ever.

I am stupendously proud of what i achieved.

Thank you Norway.
Thank you Norseman.
You were awesome.