Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Tri your luck

On Saturday, my boob was rather sore (yes, it's hot and heavy boob chat again - you've missed that, haven't you?). It felt a bit like when my milk had come in back on day three or so, when my boobs transformed overnight into gigantic, rock solid torpedoes rather reminiscent of Jordan's artificially enhanced assets (except they really, really hurt and spurted milk constantly, which I'm guessing doesn't happen with your average page three girl's fun bags). Well, it was a bit like that, but only on the left side, and only in one place, on the very top of the aforementioned boob. There was one section that just stayed hard all of the time, and was getting increasingly sore, to the point that I was wincing if Lumpy threw himself into my arms for a cuddle. And it's not great to push your toddler away, screaming like a harpy, when he's being affectionate. That's the sort of thing that leads to complexes in later life.

So, of course, I turned to Dr Google, as all sensible people do in this day and age. And there I discovered that I most likely had a blocked milk duct. The advice for curing this was to feed the Flumpy as often as possible, and to rest. Take to your bed, the interwebs said. Now, usually I would greet such advice with delight, and immediately gallop up the stairs with a week's supply of chocolate, IQ-lowering magazines, and Flumpy under my arm.

Unfortunately, this weekend I had something else to do. Something which didn't involve lying around in bed all day, stuffing myself with maltesers and reading about Jessica Simpson's baby bump.

Rewind about 9 or 10 months, when my lovely friend The Engineer suggested we sign up for Blenheim Triathlon. She wanted a challenge to aim for, and wanted to recruit me as a training partner. I had an inkling I was pregnant, so I held off a bit until we'd had the 12 week scan, all looked well, and we had a due date. Okay, so the due date was six weeks before the triathlon, but that would be plenty of time to recover and train, right? Wonderful thing, delusion.

Well, it certainly gave me something to aim for during the pregnancy. A little background: I've never been much of a runner. Swimming is good, I've been doing that most of my life and the 750m splashabout involved in Blenheim wasn't that scary a concept, even without much training. The cycling was a bit middling - I cycled every day to work and back (towing 30lbs of Lumpy on the way back), but that was only about 4 miles each way - in Blenheim I'd have to do 20kms - over three times that distance. And I'd never done any sort of bike racing before. But I reckoned I could do it, though probably not very fast. Then there was the run. Okay, so in a sprint triathlon that's only 5kms. I can run 5kms - in fact, just after the triathlon idea was voiced I ran that distance on a treadmill and it was only slightly horrifically painful. About a week after that I found out I was up the duffer.

As I documented last time around, I like putting my unborn child at risk by going mental in the gym throughout pregnancy, and this time wasn't going to be any exception. But this time I was going to run! I hate running, I'm crap at it, and every step is torture to me, but godammit I was going to run, and I was going to like it. Or not. But you get what I mean.

Since the treadmill 5km had been so excruciatingly painful, I decided to get back to basics. I found a couch to 5km program, and, pathetic though it felt, started to do that - walking for 1 minute, running for 1 minute, and building slowly up. Since Lumpy was born, I haven't had masses of opportunities for going to the gym, so I was pretty much limited to once a week. But I kept trogging along, shaking the running machine, and scaring everyone else in the gym as I got progressively bigger and more heifer-like.

And the really weird thing was that I started to enjoy the running. I know. I was baffled and concerned, too, but I decided just to run with it. Run with it. See what I did there? Ah ho ho, I am so amusing.

I got to the point of being able to run for a bit over 20 minutes, without too much distress, wailing, or random violence. By this point, I was about 32 weeks. Then, I got ill with the Evil Cough of Death and Suffering and missed a couple of weeks because I was too busy moaning about my cough. By the time I got back in the gym I had got a bit bigger, and a lot worse at running, all of a sudden. So I went back to running and walking, only managing about 1km of running at a time. I kept it up till 38 weeks, by which point I was only managing about 500m of running at a time and generally broke any treadmill I lumbered on. I then got banned from the gym, naturally, so couldn't do any more training. But luckily Flumpy plopped out less than a week later, so the was okay.

And the cycling? Well, I'd kept up the old commute and Lumpy drag as well, though also getting progressively slower and more sweary. The last cycle I did was on the Thursday, 5 days before Flumpy's arrival, having cycled in for my last day of work, heading back with a pot of tulips dangling from my handlebars. The day before that I'd hauled Lumpy home, and it had been the Worst Cycle Ever, officially. There was a gale force wind blowing in my face, pissing rain, well, pissing all over me, and I was not a happy walrus on wheels.

However, I knew I had a secret weapon up my sleeve. Or, rather, in my shed. Because for my birthday, Mr Badger had bought me this little beauty:

Photo: Awesome birthday present (have just about got over the fact it's not made of chocolate).

Yep, a real proper racing bike. It was a thing of beauty, and would no doubt make me super speedy, just through the power of its gorgeousness. Unfortunately, since I was 36 weeks preggo on my birthday, I hadn't actually got a chance to ride it. Also - check out that saddle. There's a chance that would disappear entirely if I attempted to sit on it. Yowzers.

So I had to wait. Until two weeks after Flumpy arrived. At which point I was ready for an adventure with The Engineer.

Photo: Awesome ride this afternoon on the new bike with my wingman May Deegan. C'mon Blenheim tri, I'll have you.

With all the glorious Oxfordshire countryside at our wheels, we decided to cycle around the ring road. This was mainly because it has a cycle path beside it, and we were a bit scared of falling under cars if we went on the actual road. My padded pants hadn't arrived yet, but luckily my big squishy gel-filled saddle had, so the lady parts just about survived the trip. And, man, was it a lot more fun than running. I abandoned my plans of becoming an Olympic marathon runner, and decided to go for the Tour de France instead. Over the next few weeks I got out on the bike a few more times, going right round the ring road again, because I just can't get enough of diesel fumes and tarmac, and also doing a bit of a Tour de Abingdon. It wasn't a lot, but I'd realized I could cycle 20km without too much trouble, and I'd learnt how to change gear, and how to get my water bottle out of its cage without falling off (getting it back in was a different matter).

I also went for a couple of runs. At the first one, about two weeks post-Flumpy, I reckoned I'd probably be able to run about 500m before needing to stop, as I had in my last session at the gym. So I started trogging up the road, fully prepared to stop running and start crying after a few minutes. But, to my great surprise, I carried on. I did just under 5km that day without stopping. Yes, it was very slow, but it was a start. And my god, how much easier it was than when I was carrying a sack of baby and all the trimmings tucked inside my abdomen. Who'd have guessed?

I managed about a run a week in the five weeks leading up to the triathlon from then. They got faster, and easier, and yes, to my shame, I started to enjoy them. I hadn't done any swimming for about 50 years, but as I said above, I had the confidence of an idiot on that front. In the last few weeks, I decided I'd better check I hadn't actually forgotten how to swim, and took myself down to the pool. And luckily my inner fish re-emerged - a bit stinky, it has to be admitted, but floating (bloated and on its back).

And that was it. My guide to (not) preparing for a triathlon.

On the Saturday it was The Engineer's turn, so I took my sore boob, and my numerous progeny, down to Blenheim to watch her. And she was magnificent. But my goodness, it looked like hard work. Luckily, I'm currently so sleep deprived, that I pass through life in a bit of a daze, so the reality of it didn't really sink in. Not until I was forcing my boobs into a rubber suit by the side of a lake, and saying goodbye to little Lumpy, possibly forever.

 Mmmm, mummy smells of neoprene. And fear.

And then I was throwing myself into a lake, along with 250 fellow loonies. Luckily, I've done this a few times before, so the whole frenzy of splashing, flailing bodies wasn't too disturbing. I knew that this element should be my strongest by quite a long way, but it still felt fairly hard. I hadn't done any open water swimming for almost a year, and hadn't competed for nearer two, and I quite wanted it to be over by about halfway. But I kept on flailing along with the rest of them, and didn't seem to be being overtaken too much, so assumed I wasn't doing too badly. However, because I am a total twat (as evidenced in numerous places on this blog) I hadn't spat in my goggles before the race started. If you're not into throwing yourself into cold water (and why aren't you? Weirdo) then you might not know that the difference in temperature between you and said cold water generally makes your goggles cloud up, seriously limiting your ability to see. For some reason (I'm a bit vague on the physics of all this), spitting into your goggles then rinsing them out stops this happening. But this time, for some unknown twattish reason, I thought, nah, I'm not going to do that this time. Who needs to see?

Well, me, it turns out. After about 300m my goggles started to steam up. By halfway I really couldn't see much at all. So I had to just follow the flailing bodies closest to me, and hope they were going in the right direction. I have no idea whether this led to me swimming in the wrong direction because I couldn't see. But somehow I eventually got to the finish, and was hauled out of the water by one of the lovely helpers who were standing at the shore to drag us soggy idiots to safety. The helper also unzipped my wetsuit for me, which was great, because I couldn't really feel my hands any more.

Then we came to the Blenheim Special - the sneaky little extra bit of the triathlon that they don't really tell you about until you're doing it. Once you get out of the lake, you have to run to the transition area, which is in the courtyard of the palace itself. Unfortunately, between those two things is a massive great mountain, akin, I would say, to Everest. Or Snowdon, at the very least. All right, it's just a bit of a slope, but lolloping up that while wobbly, barefoot, soggy, and trying to get yourself out of a rubber suit is a bit of a challenge, to say the least. I'd planned on walking up this hill, while calmly removing the top half of my wetsuit, but, caught up in the excitement of the moment I started to jog. It was bloody knackering. Eventually I got to the top of the hill, and heard the first cheer of my supporters.


 Yep, all those people were there to cheer me on. I'm really, really popular, you know.

I lumbered into the palace and managed to find my bike. I flapped around for a bit, then managed to get my helmet on, swig some energy drink, and peel my wetsuit off without falling on my arse - achievement! I almost left without putting my shoes on, but remembered at the last minute, before grabbing my beautiful steed and galloping (alright, still lumbering) towards the bike start. I leapt onboard, dropped down onto my handlebars, and started pedalling, attempting to channel my inner Chris Hoy (I have the thighs sorted, though the rest leaves a little to be desired). Luckily my adoring fans were there to scream at me, so I pedalled good and hard, and actually felt quite pro.

Now, The Engineer had told me about The Hill on the bike course. But I hadn't really taken in how big this hill would be. I pedalled up a couple of little mounds and thought 'was that it? That wasn't that bad, really.' And then we had a steep, exciting downhill bit, went over a cattle grid (thankfully covered), and I hit it. I changed down gear. Then down again. And again. And a few more times. We were now at the point where I was pedalling really rather fast but not actually going anywhere. Crippled snails were overtaking me. But I kept going. And the Engineer, bless her heart, had told me that when I got to the Portaloo, I was almost there, so that kept me going (while we're on the subject, why exactly was there a Portaloo at that point on the course? Are you really going to decide, nearly at the end of the biggest climb on the course, that it's a perfect time to hop off and have a wee? This didn't occur to me at the time, but it does now.) At the very top of the hill there was an almost comically stereotypical army sergeant dressed in fatigues, bellowing at everyone as they whimpered their way up the last few metres of hill. As I approached he reached a new level of incandescence, screaming 'Stop being so pathetic! It's almost over! Pedal!' I genuinely though he was yelling at me, because I was going so slowly, before he added 'Get back on your bike!', and I realized that, as I did still seem to be mounted, he was obviously talking to someone behind me, who was so despairing, they'd got off and decided to push. Though he did spit at me as I passed.

Not really.

After that, we had a bit of flat, and I found that even though I was quite woefully slow on the hill itself, everyone else seemed to go into shock afterwards, and I managed to overtake lots of people. The same was true on the massive downhill which came next. Everyone else seemed to use their brakes on this bit, while I flew past them yelling 'Come on, you saps! It's free speed! Free speeeeeeeed!' Before crashing into a fence in a ball of flames.

In surprisingly little time, I was nearing the end of the circuit. I knew this because there was suddenly a line of army cadets telling me to prepare to dismount ahead. The previous day, while spectating, we'd come across this part of the course, seen everyone jumping off their bikes, and assumed it was the lead in to transition. Then we'd noticed them jumping back on, about 10 metres later. It turned out that the previous day, a bus had crashed into the bridge built over that section of the course, which was meant to carry the mass of spectators safely across, without them being run over by speeding bikes, rendering it unusable. So the spectators had to run across the course itself in the gaps between cyclists. In an event with over 7000 people competing, there aren't a lot of gaps, so they were making the cyclists dismount, run for a bit, then get back on, while they screamed at the spectators to get across the road, now! Quick! Quicker! No! Stop! STOP!

It was lots of fun. And there's nothing like trying to jump off your bike, run for 10 metres, then get back on, with nervous, wobbly, bike-tired legs. Amazingly, I didn't fall on my arse, but many did, so at least the poor spectators waiting to cross had something to entertain them.

As I remounted and 'sped' off for my second lap, the course got progressively busier. It turned out that my swim, despite being done blind, had still been reasonably speedy, but now the rest of the field had got onto the course. This made things a bit more interesting. You get all sorts at Blenheim, from total beginners (like me), up to the real pros, with their reflective goggles and pointy helmets. Bike-speed wise, I seemed to be somewhere in the middle, which meant half the time I was being overtaken by pointy heads, and the other half I was attempting to get past people on mountain bikes.

Going up the hill a second time was actually better than the first. Partly because I knew what was coming (and had the shouty sergeant to look forward to), but also because there were a lot more people around this time, and - lo and behold - most of them were just as slow as me, which was strangely reassuring, and helped me to keep going. And I knew that when I got to the top, I only needed to do it one more time. Hurrah!

Once there, I powered across the flat, and zoomed down the hill as quickly as I could, leaving the sensible people (aka wimps) in my wake. Then it was off the bike, on the bike, and round once more. The third time up the hill there were even more people wobbling around beside me. One bloke, who became something of a personal nemesis during the race (we'll call him the green fuckwit because he was wearing green and yes, you guessed it, he was a fuckwit), seemed under the delusion that he was much faster than everyone else and plonked himself on the right hand side of the course, where he proceeded to go slower than everyone else, while also preventing anyone from doing any overtaking. He was also really quite wobbly, and incapable of going in a straight line. He wobbled over to me at the bottom of the hill, I swerved to the left to avoid him, and went off the course completely, and onto the grass. I was convinced I was going to actually fall off, but somehow managed to stay on my wheels. I then proceeded to chase the green fuckwit, overtake him, and smack him soundly round the head. Metaphorically, at least.

After getting up the hill for the last time, I felt rather revived, and pushed on through to the finish, even overtaking a few people on the remaining hills. Unfortunately, I seemed to have forgotten that the finish of the bike bit wasn't the finish of the entire race. As I stumbled back into transition, I realized just how knackered and wibbly my legs really were. I managed to find my racking spot, and hung my bike back up. I swigged a bit more energy drink, and decided to neck one of the energy gels I'd brought. It was fairly sticky and gross, and I realized what I really wanted was water. But there was no time for that, so I started stumbling towards the run start. Or what I thought was the run start. It was actually the bike start, again, and this caused a bit of confusion among the marshals, who started shouting at me, asking whether I was a runner or a swimmer. I considered saying I was a cyclist who'd forgotten their bike, but thought better of it, and followed their directions to the actual run start, which was right back up where I came from and all the way around the transition zone.

And it was at that point that I realized my legs really didn't work any more. They were just useless bags of flesh jelly flapping about beneath my hips. It was most disarming.

I somehow got round the courtyard, tried to escape out of the spectator exit, before a marshal helpfully shoved me in the right direction again. Then I had to climb over a bridge over the bike course (which miraculous had not been crashed into by a bus). It was steep. It beat me. I walked up the second half, before forcing myself to run down the other side. and onto the course proper. I was practically dead, and I had barely even started.

I limped and shuffled along the first straight, which, rather cruelly went right past the peel off for the finish. I knew I had to come round and right past it again before I would finally get to run down there and stop. Luckily, my cheerleaders were just at this point and screamed cheerily at me, while Mr Badger told me my time so far, and assured me that I was going to break 2 hours.

I had my doubts. I was running as fast as I could, but it really didn't feel any quicker than walking. I was barely lifting my feet off the ground, and already breathing like a total sweating pervert. I shuffled my way over the bridge, where I knew there was a water stop. I was desperate for water. The energy gel felt like it was lingering in my throat, which was therefore both sticky and sandpaper dry - a delightful combo. I lolloped past where the water had been the day before. A man handed m an energy gel. But there was no water. No water. I kept lolloping, hardly believing it. No water. I was going to die, surely.

At the 1km mark, I decided to eat the energy gel, though it was frankly the last thing in the world I wanted at that point. It was sickly sweet, cloying, and gross, making me thirstier, if anything else. Thankfully, just after this there was a big downhill bit, so I managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. At the bottom of the hill, the course flattened out. And then the overtaking began.

I have never been overtaken by so many people. In fact, I don't think I've ever really seen so many people. I kept plonking on, as I watched yet another back disappear into the distance, trying to console myself with the thought that I was making all of these people really happy by letting them overtake me.

I sang songs in my head. Counted steps. Recited Shakespeare's sonnets (yes, really). Anything to make the time, and the metres, pass. I couldn't believe how slowly I was going. This wasn't running, surely. But it was the best I could do.

At long last I got to the second (though actually first, wah!) watering point and almost rugby tackled one of the helpers to get the cup out of his hand. I let myself walk while I drank it, then forced myself to 'run' again. The course stayed flat, then started going uphill. I plodded on. By this point, the palace was back in sight, and there were people at the sides of the course, cheering everyone on. Some kids held out their hands, and I managed to raise mine to touch against theirs. We turned a corner, and the course went onto a patch of grass. If I'd thought running on the tarmac had been hard, it was nothing to running on this bloody grass. Eventually (i.e about 50 metres later) we got back onto the tarmac, and down the straight towards the finish. Except I wasn't allowed to finish. I had to do another lap.

My crew cheered me on again, Mr Badger telling me that I was apparently on to do the run course in 34 minutes, which even to my addled brain sounded wildly optimistic. However, this crazy time managed to distract me over the next kilometre or so, as I tried to work out how on earth I could be doing 5.4kms in anything less than an hour at this pace. I refused to take another energy gel of rankness, and made it to the downhill bit again. Just like on the bike, this second lap actually felt slightly easier. Though considering the previous lap had been one of the hardest things I'd ever done (exaggerate, me?) was not that surprising. At least I knew what was coming, and, more importantly, knew I didn't have to do it all over again.

I went though my sonnets and songs again, making myself say one particular one five times, counting on my tightly clenched fingers. And then I was at the water point again. I actually took two cups, making up for the lack of water at the first watering point (I was a little bitter about this - can you tell? I think I'm hiding it well.)

I was still being steadily overtaken by everyone in the entire world. But then I saw someone walking up ahead. I should have made this a target - to actually overtake someone else - think of that! But instead, my body rebelled, and took it as a an excuse to stumble to a walk itself. I let myself get away with that for a few steps, convinced that my 'running' couldn't be any faster than a walk anyway. Then I gave myself a kick up the arse (metaphorically, again - it was quite a metaphorical race in general) and started running again. And you know what? I caught up with the walking bloke. Surprisingly quickly. I was genuinely, utterly amazed that I was going faster than walking pace. And that was enough to keep me going for the rest of the race.

I had one wobble when I convinced myself that the yellow sign up ahead was the 5km marker, and that I therefore only had about 500m (or less than 10% of the total - I like stats when I'm suffering), to go. But, as I approached it, I realized it was actually the 2km marker from the previous lap, and I actually still had at least 1km to go. I almost sat down and gave up, but by now my legs were too numb to respond to anything going on in my brain, so I just kept 'running'.

Soon (well, not that soon, but it was all relative) I was back on the cursed bit of grass again, and then it was just the final straight to go. And this time I got to go to the finish! I tred to count down the metres as I dragged myself down this last straight. I tried desperately to up my pace for the finish, and even managed to wave at the crowd. But, my god, it was a long way. It took me two hours to get down that finishing straight alone, at least. And I still believed that, even as I crossed the line, and saw that my total time was 1 hour 51 minutes.

Oh my lord, it felt so good to finish. So, so good.

And, oh my lord, I want to do it all over again.

Check out those thighs, Sir Chris Hoy.

(and my boobs didn't actually explode. In fact, by the next day, the lump had gone, and they were back to their normal, merely gargantuan selves. So I'm insisting the official advice on the blocked milk ducts NHS page be changed from 'take to your bed' to 'do a triathlon'. Or at least 'wrap yourself in rubber and sweat a lot').