Hiki No

Trust. Believe. Love. Appreciate. “Hiki No”: my guiding words for Ironman World Championships.

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Trust in my preparation and trust in my body, mind and soul. Believe that I am ready and capable and that I will deliver the performance on race day. Show love and respect for myself, for my competitors and for those that support me. Appreciate that when I demand of my body it responds to the pressures I place on it. Be grateful that I am in a position to demand these things of myself. Be thankful that I have the support, friendship and love of so many wonderful sponsors, mentors, coaches, friends and family. Believe in “Hiki No” – Hawaiian phrase meaning “Can Do”

My preparation was pretty much as good as it can get: a huge bank of consistent training and a great season of successful racing. I spent the final few weeks prior to Kona in The Woodlands, Texas. Here I was cared for and spoilt rotten by a wonderful triathlon community and I got my fill of pre-race acclimatization for heat and humidity! I trusted and believed, I loved and I appreciated. Hiki No, Can Do.

Race day started brilliantly. In my few weeks in Texas under the guidance of Tim Floyd at Magnolia Masters swim team my swimming had progressed massively. I exited the water in the perfect position to be competitive for the day ahead. Those of you who know me will know just how much this means for me. Swimming has always been the area that I have had to work the hardest on.  I am delighted not only to have improved so much but more importantly to have delivered those improvements on race day. This fills me with confidence and self belief that I can and will do the same again in the future.

On the bike I was feeling strong and comfortable and moving well with a good group of girls. I got penalised for littering – unbeknownst to me, one of the flimsy plastic water bottles provided at the aid stations had fallen off my rear carrier. I had to serve a stand down penalty just after the bike the turn-around point at Hawi. I knew that it would be crucial for my race to stay in contact with my competitors. I worked hard to get to the head of the group before the penalty tent to try and make sure that I could do this. I worked so hard to try and bridge the gap but just could not get back to where I wanted and needed to be. I refocused myself and concentrated on maintaining as high as power output as I could. I could see that my watts were dropping and that I was falling further and further behind. I shut off the negative doubts in my mind. I stayed positive and pushed as hard as I could. I hurt, but I expected to hurt – good results demand effort. I gave a shed load. I told myself that I could do it. I believed I could do it. I got into transition 27 mins behind the leader. I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.

I took my time to regroup but I had lost my belief and confidence that I could finish a marathon feeling the way that I did. I made the decision not to run. I hadn’t come to Kona to have an average performance – I’d done that in the past. I came to Kona to do myself proud. I came to deliver my hard work, effort and ability to the finish line. I knew that I couldn’t make that happen. It goes without saying that part of me will ponder what could and might have been had I committed to the marathon. I am disappointed and frustrated that I didn’t perform to the level to which I believe that I am capable. However, the honest and realistic part of me knows that I simply didn’t have the performance on that particular day. I don’t know why and I won’t make excuses. I will reflect and I will analyse. I will learn, improve, adapt and move forward. A race is the visible tip of an iceberg. An athlete’s performance is underpinned by hard work, commitment and dedication. Results that fall short of personal expectation do not diminish or erode my efforts. They fuel my desire and motivation to keep going.

On reflection I can see that qualifying and competing in Kona was about more than just the race. It was about proving to myself that I could compete again at the highest level following some testing times. It was about committing to a goal and working towards that goal. Challenging myself to qualify and compete gave me structure and purpose when I needed it most. For this I am very thankful.

Thank you to all my sponsors, supporters, friends and family for being part of this journey and making it possible. Special thanks to my coach Phil Skiba for the route map and navigation and to my husband Richard and good friends David Tilbury- Davis and Gordon Crawford for keeping me on the road- in more ways than one!

Well done to all who competed. I hope that you leave Kona content with your efforts and energised for your future plans.

Remember and believe: “Hiki No”

Pure Dead Brilliant

Setting and achieving goals is instrumental to most athletes, indeed to most people. Setting yourself a target gives you the motivation, inspiration and challenge to commit to your training and reap the rewards of your hard work. I spend a lot of time visiting schools in Scotland trying to instruct and encourage young people on how to set and achieve personal goals in all areas of their lives. I try to explain the satisfaction that is gained from achieving goals – not just the actual moment goals are realised, but also the lessons learnt and the experiences gained as you journey towards them. I often find it quite difficult to articulate to school pupils just how great it is when you do achieve something that, more often than not, seemed almost impossible when you first started thinking about it! When you are passionate about something it’s easy to be enthusiastic – transferring the enthusiasm on to an audience can be trickier. In all reality, it’s best to keep things simple. The truth is that when your plans come together and you have worked hard towards something that has become a reality then it’s pure dead brilliant!

In May 2013 I returned to competitive triathlon after a challenging 18 month break. Initially my goal was to train and race pain free and to simply enjoy doing the sport that I love. For every race I had no higher expectations than to finish and to enjoy the journey. As the season progressed I realised that I was becoming fitter and stronger and my body was coping well with training and racing. I knew that qualifying for the World Ironman Championships in Kona in 2013 was unrealistic, but 2014 was looking more achievable.

The question was: how do I qualify in the most efficient way? Slots for the World Championships are allocated on a points-based ranking system where the top 35 ranked athletes with the highest points are invited to race. The answer was to play as smart a hand as possible: get as many points as early in the season as possible to allow for uninterrupted training prior to the World Championships in October 2014. It was time to play the long game. The best opportunity to qualify was to get as many points from my three allowable 70.3 races and to do a solid mandatory qualifying ironman race.

Step 1: World Championships 70.3  Las Vegas, September 2013. A solid 4th place finish here gave me a first good set of points to start from, 2185.

Step 2: Lake Tahoe Ironman, September 2013. This was a little bit of an unknown. I knew that I was not in the best physical shape to do an Ironman. This Ironman race was one of the first opportunities to do a qualifying ironman for Kona 2014, so it was a risk worth taking. I finished 3rd, completed my mandatory ironman distance race and secured 1280 qualifying points.

Step 3: High points regional championship 70.3 races. This is where things get serendipitous. Auckland 70.3 is the first regional championship on the calendar. It’s in January, not in a European triathlete’s normal racing window. It’s also about as far away from Scotland as you can get! However, I was already booked to go to New Zealand to celebrate a very significant birthday of a good friend. It seemed silly not to race. A first place finish and 1500 points accumulated.

Step 4: Another high points regional championship 70.3 race – my third qualifying 70.3 race. Panama 70.3 in February offered the chance to race in another high point event, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to race again. I already felt as if I may be pushing things by racing so early in the season. When I got back from New Zealand I was back in the depths of Scottish winter. Consistent training was a challenge and I wasn’t sure I could maintain the fitness I had from Auckland to get through another race. Then I was concerned about getting ill after one long international flight and going into another and then I started thinking about the Panamanian heat and humidity. I could have written a book of all the reasons not to race! In the end I decided that by racing in Panama I was giving myself the best opportunity to qualify for Kona. It proved to be a good decision. The real lesson was that was that I had to really put my goal for Kona qualification at the front of my mind. I knew that I wouldn’t be quite as sharp or fit as I had been in Auckland. I always want to go into a race feeling 110% but I had to acknowledge and accept that I wasn’t as ready as I wanted to be. However, I had to believe that I was as ready as I needed to be. I fought hard, gave it what I had, and suffered when my running legs deserted me at about 2 miles from the finish line! I slipped from first place into second. Frustrating though this may have been, I was beaten by the better athlete on the day (congrats to Angela :-)). However, I did what I need to do and bagged 1275 points.

I’ve got lots of qualifying points on the board (6240) and only time will tell if I have secured a slot for the World Ironman Championships in Kona in October.  Last year the qualifying points cutoff was 4740 points, but the system changed in 2014. Whatever happens, I set myself a goal and challenged myself to achieve it. I’m quietly proud and very satisfied. It really is pure dead brilliant when your plans come to fruition! I may have made it onto the invitation list to the big dance, but now I need to start working on my routine. It’s time to get goal setting again.

Kia ora Aotearoa

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Five weeks ago I arrived in New Zealand. The excuse for the trip (not that I really needed one) was to attend a *significant* birthday party of a good friend. Over a decade ago I lived in Wellington, New Zealand. It was there that I joined my first triathlon club – Wellington Tri. It is more than fair to say that the support and guidance that the club members gave me as a novice triathlete really ignited my interest and passion for the sport. During the past five weeks I’ve had a wonderful time revisiting old haunts, exploring new places and catching up with many of the friends that I made all those years ago. I’ve also met a whole lot of new triathlon friends, particularly in Tauranga where I spent a fair amount of time training and racing. It was a real pleasure to see so many familiar faces both old and new cheering me on at the Half Ironman in Tauranga and at the 70.3 Asia Pacific Championships in Auckland. It’s always super to win races, but my recent successes have been extra special on a personal level. I’d like to think that it was one way of saying thank you to the New Zealand triathlon community for not only starting me off on my triathlon career but for welcoming me back so whole-heartedly. Your hospitality has been amazing and I am truly grateful. I shall endeavour to make sure that it is less than a decade before I return!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter: For it or Agin it?

It’s that time of year again: thermal vests, woolly hats, gloves and scarves – and that’s just for indoors! But do you welcome the change in seasons or hanker longingly for summer the instant that the clocks change?!

The “Fors”!

Mud: It’s time to bring out the trail running shoes and lube up the mountain bike. With sub optimal weather a perpetual threat it’s great to have some motivation to get outside – even when it’s manky! I don’t mind getting dirty (and moderately chilly) when I’m cruising the tracks, trails, mountains, forests and hills. With the off-season in full swing, training becomes less about speed, distance and time and more about puddle-jumping before succumbing to inevitable soggy feet; measuring the success of a mountain bike ride by avoiding near-death situations and remembering to put the central heating on “timed” before leaving the house.

Woman Cave: Whilst winter training is generally more relaxed, there are times when the numbers count. For those times I have me a “woman cave”: the converted (in a “Honey-I-ruined-the-house-type-fashion) garage/gym. In one half there’s a veritable mix of power tools, garden furniture, bikes, bits for (and of) bike and innumerable unidentifiable items that appear to have no discernible purpose. This side of the garage stereotypically belongs to my husband! The other side of the garage is the winter survival zone where I spend the majority of my time! It is equipped with a treadmill, computrainer, cross trainer and sound system. Best of all, it just gets the wifi signal from the house. Cue endless hours of vacuous TV watching to relieve the boredom of indoor training.

Playing “Catch-Up”: It’s time to have a social life. This is the time of year when I beg forgiveness from my friends and family who have been disgracefully abandoned during the racing season. It’s time to enjoy the odd glass (or bottle) of vino (sparkling please) and some traditional stick-to-yer bones stodgy winter food. I’ll have the odd night oot – this weekend it’s a trip to the velodrome to catch a glimpse of some bulging, lycra clad muscles!

The “Againsts”!

Mud: At best my mountain biking skills are “challenged”. Mix some common muck into the equation and it’s a sure recipe for ending up bathing in the stuff. My skin is in uncommonly good condition….it’s a pity that it’s covered in black and blue blotches!

Woman Cave: Time passes inordinately slowly when you’re exercising indoors, regardless of how luxurious your woman cave happens to be. Some days start in the cave before daybreak and end in the cave when the winter sun has disappeared below the horizon. Vitamin D supplements are my saviour!

Playing “Catch-Up”: This is the time of year when I have to deal with one of my major pet hates: leaves. Piles and piles of soggy, damp, smelly leaves that smother the grass and block the drains & gutters. No matter how many times I rake them up, more appear. Days and days of groundhog gardening. It’s also the time of year for doing the tax return. I’m good at procrastinating over this. It generally gets completed after I’ve dealt with those leaves…

All things considered I can’t actually complain. I’ve just had a productive couple of weeks training in Lanzarote and if that wasn’t enough my plans for Christmas and New Year involve ditching winter in Scotland and chasing summer in New Zealand. I’m all for winter, if I can spend it in the Southern Hemisphere!

Patience, Persistence, Perspective: Performance

Almost one year ago I was in London lying face down in the operating room having achilles surgery. Perversely, I was happy and relieved to hear the surgeon exclaim that I really did have fat ankles. Apparently the fat deposits harboured the nerve endings that were the source of many seasons of discomfort and frustration. Out came to fat and then out came my plantaris tendons which were embedded around the achilles – also a cause of the discomfort. It was good to know that I wasn’t being a hypochondriac (on this occasion).

It took a while to progress my rehab enough to start running again but 6 months later things were looking good. I was running every third day with only minimal discomfort. Since April it’s been all about learning to be the tortoise and not succumbing to any hare-like tendencies. Little by little I’ve been able to add intensity and distance to all of my training. 3 weeks ago I had a scan and got the magic “all clear” message from the surgeons. At the weekend I ran my way to 4th place at the World 70.3 Championships in Las Vegas (through a sprint finish of all things!).

This year it’s been more about the journey than the destination. It’s been about learning to train and race with a body that needed more than its usual volume of TLC. It’s been about concentrating on what I can do rather that what I can’t and not dwelling on what I was able to do in the past. After 18 months of limited training it’s been about finding satisfaction and joy from being able to return to doing the things that I love. It’s been about patience, persistence and perspective. And this has paved the way to performance.

So far I’ve had a super season. I’d be dishonest if I said that I was 100% contented with my training and racing. I’m definitely happy, but there’s room for improvement. It’s just a question about planning how: embracing the challenge to change things that need refreshing and to keep working hard in the daily grind. Learning, improving and evolving as an athlete and as a person.

It’s been quite a convoluted 24 months and I simply couldn’t have embarked on the road to recovery without a whole lot of support. Thank you to my friends and family. Thank you to doctors Professor Alfredson and Lorenzo Masci and physios Jane Kerr and Joanne Elphinston. Thank you to long suffering (and quick grey-ing) coach Phil Skiba. And thank you to my sponsors for their continued support through the ups and downs.

Drugs in sport: A personal reflection.

As an athlete I’ve been part of the UK Sport anti-doping register for over 10 years and the World Triathlon Corporation anti-doping programme since its inception. For over a decade I have declared my whereabouts for testing on a daily basis. The very thought of artificially enhancing my athletic performances has never registered – it goes against every grain of my being. It goes against the very reason that I compete: to push myself and my personal boundaries, to see just how much better I can become. A personal quest to reach my potential, wherever that may be. I simply cannot identify with any athlete who chooses to cheat, in any sport, through any means, including taking illegal performance enhancing drugs. These sentiments are in no way original and I believe are shared by the majority of athletes in triathlon and beyond.

I’ve been an ambassador for 100%ME, UK Sport anti doping athlete education programme, and I have actively submitted my thoughts on anti-doping protocols to World Triathlon Corporation. I like to think that I’ve played a part in trying to keep my sport honest. I’ve celebrated many wonderful clean sporting performances and I’ve been saddened and frustrated when I hear about athletes who actively choose to cheat, regardless of their sport. However, it wasn’t until this past weekend that I faced some of these frustrations on a more personal level. I raced against, and lost to, an athlete who has a proven history of doping and other nefarious practices. (http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/coverage/athlete-tracker.aspx?race=haugesund70.3&y=2013#axzz2YlpKTXnO)

The rules of our sport dictate that athletes who are found guilty of doping offences are charged and punished accordingly. In many cases they are subsequently permitted to return to elite competition. My personal feeling is that depending upon the details of the offence, allowing some athletes to return to competition is at best distasteful and at worst downright wrong.

Ethically and morally I simply do not understand why any convicted drug cheat would want to compete again. But then, should I really expect to understand this decision given that I can’t understand why an athlete would cheat in the first place? When an individual’s moral compass is so skewed, perhaps it is not surprising they wish to re-engage in their sport after they have served their penance.

On a scientific basis I have questions. Is there evidence to show that athletes returning from doping bans are on a level physiological playing field with their non-doping peers? Is there evidence to show that there are long term physiological benefits to be gained following a period of taking performance enhancing drugs. If so, what are these advantages? How long do they last? I don’t know. And until I do, I will be sceptical of some performances and I will question whether I am fighting in a fair fight.

I am frustrated that many of the fans and spectators of the race were not aware of the recent history of the winner. I feel as if they have been unknowingly denied of making an educated decision to offer support and congratulations for a performance. If they had known, would they have celebrated with the same passion, excitement and joy?

Competing against a drug cheat returned to the sport raised some interesting personal dilemmas. On one hand I want to believe that returning athletes are repentant and remorseful. I want to believe that there are no post-doping competitive advantages gained by these athletes and that we are competing on an equal basis. But I am sceptical. This scepticism makes me feel awkward. It is my nature to believe the best in people. I am discontented and disappointed to find that my personal response is one of cynicism. As a sign of my general lack of respect for the athlete against whom I competed at the weekend I chose not to shake hands, converse with or congratulate them. For many who witnessed the podium presentations I looked like a sore loser. For those who understood my actions, I was making a personal stand for clean, fair competition.

It is our responsibility as athletes and sports fans to push for more comprehensive drug testing in our sport: both in competition and out of competition. In doing so we may hope that fewer people chose to dope and that we have an increased probability of catching those who do. There was no doping control at the race at the weekend. This is simply not good enough.

What is most important is that I had a great race. I competed clean and fair. My racing and training always has been and always will be 100%ME. I sleep easy.

“What’s for you won’t go by you.”

There is a saying that reads: “What’s for you won’t go by
you.” I’ve often believed this. It doesn’t mean that I expect good things
in life to materialise or that I’m unmotivated to pursue my goals and dreams.
For me it means that when you want something, you strive to get there and if
you are unsuccessful despite your best efforts then perhaps it wasn’t meant to
be. Last year despite my best efforts I was unable to compete in St Croix. It was not meant to be.

This year because of my best efforts I made it to the race. In doing so I achieved the goal that has
been my driving force for the past 6 months of surgery rehab. I was so happy
just to stand on the start line. In fact I was more than happy. I was scared,
anxious and emotional. I probably cried more times in the past 5 days than I
have in a while. Tears were shed at the airport when I arrived and reunited
with my St Croix buddies. Tears were shed before the start of the race as it meant so much to be there.

Tears were shed after the race: of relief, of joy and of sadness. Often in sports psychology
the trick is to suppress your emotional side, to control your reactions and
concentrate on the act of performance. 18 months on the benches is a long time
and performance was not at the top of my race day goals. Much as I wanted to, I
didn’t need or want to compare myself to the athlete who had won this race in
the past. I wanted to have fun and enjoy simply doing a race. And I did have
fun. I smiled, I laughed, I enjoyed. I raced against myself the whole way. I
raced in memory of my Dad.  Every time it got hard, each time I started to waver and have doubts I put them aside and I pushed myself harder. I wanted him to be proud of me. I know how much he loved to
watch me race and in finishing the race I honoured his memory in my own way.
Being victorious was so very unexpected and very special. There is a place for
emotion in athletic performances, as long a it drives you onwards rather than
dragging you downwards.

St Croix 2013 was for me and for everyone that has helped and supported me through some tough times and for that I am truly grateful.

Tortoise and Hare.

On the surgeon’s table in October, trying to disassociate myself from
the sensations of my achilles being nipped and tucked, pulled and pushed and
(hopefully) bettered, I was day-dreaming. I could see myself lining up in the
warm seas of the Caribbean readying myself for the start of 70.3 St
Croix. In this pleasant daydream, I am, of course, tanned, race
ready, fighting fit and on the cusp of a performance that would stand me in
good stead to regain the 70.3 St Croix title.
The tan withstanding, these conditions have all been previously experienced!

Dreaming: freeing your mind to explore, finding something that you’d
ultimately like to achieve. The challenge is to then take that dream pave its path with goals, targets, blood, sweat and the occasional tear. On the continuum of ultimate ambitions and challenges doing a middle distance triathlon is not a particularly earth-shattering target for a professional
triathlete. However, having St Croix scribbled at the centre of my mental dart board has given me
some clarity and focus during my post-surgical rehabilitation. This race has
been and remains my focal point. I know that there are both potentially positives
and negatives to this myopic outlook. On one hand everyone can benefit from
defined aims and objectives in their training. I am no different. I enjoy
planning, preparing and executing. I thrive on having purpose and I derive
satisfaction and motivation in achieving interim goals: the ever-expanding
positive feedback loop! Being able to transition back into training has
returned some much needed structure to my life. With all the ups and downs of
last year it’s comforting to feel like things are back on an even keel.

There may however be some potential stumbling blocks in this sole focus
I’ve not explored any “What Ifs”. What if I don’t manage to get there? At present I
don’t think that I can contemplate this scenario. I’m investing too much
physical and emotional energy into the daily journey to get to the start line.
I don’t want to be distracted by the potential ramifications – real or
imagined, of not achieving this. All going according to plan, I hope that the
toughest post-St Croix challenge will be deciding which races come next.

One of the by-products my single goal approach is that I have had to be
brutally honest with myself on how well I can realistically expect to
perform. I have to remind myself that the goal is to get to the race: to be
healthy and physically capable of pushing myself as hard as I can on the day.
After a season on the benches this in itself should surely be reward
enough!? And therein lies the biggest challenge: acceptance of performance
based on present form- not past victories or unrealistic expectations.

I’ve been training reasonably consistently since the New Year tempered
by the usual periods of winter illness. I have developed a newfound ability to
respect my body and mind: I’m more proactive in trying to prevent injury and I
am learning to admit to and respond more quickly to signs of fatigue and
illness. I guess that that’s mostly attributable to age and experience!!

As St Croix approaches (faster than I would like!), foremost in my mind is that this race will be a measure of my current stage in rehabilitation. I can’t afford to risk my rehab progress by
over-doing training in the desire to get fit yesterday. I know that my heart, lungs and mind have both the capacity and desire to absorb volumes of training. My biomechanical, muscular and skeletal self are a little more
reticent. It’s all about finding a workable balance between what I want to do,
what I can do and what I need to do. In exploring this niche I am heartened by
the age-old and much repeated fable of the tortoise and the hare. And so I plod
on in the knowledge that the best things come to those who wait!

36 grey hairs!

 

I’m sure that I got 35 of them during the events of last year! Last week I”celebrated” my 36th birthday in true (long distance) triathlon style by doing a 5 hour turbo. It was all about the challenge, every last sweaty boring minute of
it. Sometimes you have to prove to yourself that you can do things that are more mental than physical, or at least I do! It certainly made the birthday cake and prosecco taste that much better. Two days later I lasted 90 mins. I was  fighting the whole way to the final whistle. I called time early. Things were just not right. I stepped off the bike somewhat ungraciously and ungracefully and drew a line under the day. Swings and roundabouts. Some days you’ve got it, some days it’s so far away you question if you ever had it in the first place. This is not an uncommon feeling for many athletes but when you are rehabbing and starting from a lower than previously experienced baseline these wee niggling thoughts seem to make more of a regular appearance. However, regardless of whether it’s up or down, there is definitely more happening in the exercise department than there was when I last sat down to blog. It’s been almost 3 months since my surgery. The scars have healed beautifully, although I don’t think that I will ever forget the clinking cutlery noises coming from behind me as I lay on the bed! And, as my ankles have never been viewed as one of my more redeeming features (unless I tell you the story of *that time* on the plane when a clearly deluded, but attractive, Spanish man told me I had the most wonderful ankles he had ever seen and invited me to run away with him……) I’m not viewing my scars as an aesthetic detriment. I’ve been able to start slowly building up my training. This was greatly aided by a cheeky wee trip to Aguilas, Spain which is my winter bolt hole. Richard and I booked our holidays from work and fled the country celebrating both Christmas and New Year in the sun. This trip was very relaxed. It was about exercising for no other reason than for sheer enjoyment. After being stuck in the blocks for so long I finally felt as if I was able to “take my marks”. I’m running regularly and have progressed to 35mins at a steady pace. When I reach the milestone of 10km I am sure that you will all hear about it!  Unfortunately I have to admit that my time away from running seems to have turned me into a bit of a softy. I enjoyed being outside in the warm in Spain but my present regime is all treadmill based. Option 1: cold and soggy underfoot and Option 2: ice rink conditions have encouraged me indoors!

Now that I’m at home again the challenge has been getting back into the swing of things. This typically takes me a week of pining for warm climates lost before I pull up my (thermal) granny pants. Usually this is in terms of training but as I’m presently at work I also got to suffer the indignity of having to ask for IT assistance when I couldn’t remember my login passwords. Three weeks of exercise and my brain is mush!

Thermal pants aside, the return to some structured training has at kick started 2013 on a positive note. Somewhere inside me there is a fit person fighting to make a re-appearance!

A New Chapter?

Those of you who read my sporadic blog (hi mum!) will be more than aware of the trials and tribulations of this year. Some of you may just want to stop reading now, or bed down with a pillow as you commit to read any further! As always, I truck on and endeavor to make the most out of sub-optimal situations. It’s now been over a year since I last raced. And over a year of inconsistent training during which time I have immersed myself in trying to figure out the who, what, where, why and how of my persistently grumbling achilles. During this time I’ve had other challenges to deal with. I’ve cried lots, laughed lots, learned lots and been humbly reminded time and time again that life is not about what gets thrown at you. It’s about how you respond.

 

If I’m honest, I’ve not really missed racing. It wasn’t difficult or stressful or emotional watching the season go by. It was certainly frustrating. But it was year of all sorts of wonderful athletic performances that I have greatly enjoyed. An Olympic year is always special. As an athlete it’s wonderful to watch all the pain, triumph, disaster and glory – you know what it is like, you empathize and sympathize. Most of all you are inspired. I’ve not missed racing because putting myself on the start line is a mark of being ready for the challenge. Racing comes when I am strong in body and in mind. It comes when I am prepared and when I want to show myself and others that I am up for the fight. And however much I want to be fighting, the truth is that this season it has been at best unrealistic and at worst impossible. I may not have missed competition but what I have missed is being in peak condition and having the privilege to make the decision to race. That’s where I want to be. That’s where I want to get back to: being able to choose to race. I have longed for the ability to train hard and to push myself. I want to feel the buzz of doing things that I thought were impossible and to revel in the deep satisfaction that comes from a long training day in the bag.

Injuries, whether they are short term (breaking my clavicle) or long term (ouchy achilles), are an emotional feast: denial, frustration, delusion, acceptance, tolerance and patience all come to the table in varying forms. When these emotions are directed inwards you run the risk of delving into the depths of self pity and when they occasionally turn out to the world you risk unfairly lashing out at those who love and support you. I like to think that I have, for the most part, kept things in check. Part of my coping strategy is to believe that things often happen for a reason and that “what’s for me won’t go by me”. I also subscribe to the belief that opportunities are out there, you just have to go looking for them. My personal athletic ambitions have been temporarily thwarted but at the same time I’ve changed tack and concentrated on what I can do rather than dwelling on what I can’t. I started to volunteer for the charity ‘Winning Scotland Foundation’ on their Champions in Schools programme (a role model programme that inspires and motivates young people through sport). This has kept my mind busy and allowed me to contribute to the inspiration and physical and mental well-being of young people in Scotland. This has now turned into a temporary part-time job – bonus! I am doing something I truly believe makes a difference in society, I am engaged, I am challenged and I have time to commit my own modified “training”.

On the “training front” I’ve been keeping my body ticking over at a level that I would have previously considered close to sedentary! However, one of the most important things that I have done is to re-set my fitness goals in line with my current situation. It is counter-productive to measure my athletic conditioning against where I have been in the past and where my peers are now. It’s more important to be active, healthy and happy. Sometimes even maintaining a basic level of physical activity has been challenging. For a while swimming was the weapon of necessity when running and biking were banned in the attempt to research their impact on my achilles. And then I had an altercation with the tarmac and the resulting broken collar bone meant that swimming became a one-armed “near drowning” activity. Biking ground to a halt until I could hold onto both handlebars and “enjoy” the delights of indoor cycling again.

And now? This week I took big steps. After 3.5 years of achilles discomfort and conservative management, 3.5 years of boom and bust running and 3.5 years of frustration and worsening symptoms it was time to accept that my body needed surgical intervention. I had both achilles scraped and 5cm of plantaris tendon removed from both ankles.
The procedure took little more than an hour and was performed under local anaesthetic. There was some good general banter between patient and practitioners, some priceless comments regarding the volume of fat infiltration into my tendons (medical verification of cankles!) and few personal panicky requests for some more anaesthetic. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

The surgical follow-up and report were all positive. I’m amazed. Just 5 days post-op I am walking with normal gait, (albeit slowly). Next week I will try some biking for range of movement purposes (honest!) and then a little jogging the following week. I promise not to run until I can walk and not ro run before I can bike and not to swim until well after the stiches come out!  I feel like I have turned the page, cliched though it may be,  a new chapter is beginning. If I concentrate on the present and commit myself to rehabbing as best I can then this whole story will end with a return to training and racing. It’s up to me to determine how it’s written. As I pen the text, I will bear in mind those things that this year has taught me: to value my friends and family more than ever; to seek and take opportunities; to be responsible for my own happiness and to find that little bit of gold dust in a sack full of muck!