I did a big thing and I think you could too

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“I could never do that!”

Have you ever experienced someone achieving a big, often physical, accomplishment and you find yourself saying “I could never do that!”? I bet you have. I used to say it all the time. Heck, I still do say it from time to time. It’s a frustratingly common form of self-degrading flattery. Some of us tend to base our ability on what we have done, not what we aspire to do. That’s comfortable, that’s safe. We like it there, pint in hand, cheering our friends on from the side-lines or, more often than not, via social media in the form of tiny blue thumbs. We give them some well-earned kudos whilst simultaneously feeling a tiny bit worse about the fact we did not achieve a “surprise personal best this weekend! #inspo”. More often than not, we are the cheerleader, not the one being cheered. 

Even when you do get inspired and sign up to an event that will challenge you, don’t you find that those cheerleaders quickly take on a risk advisory role telling you that you’re “nuts!”, “very brave!”, or, worse still, genuinely asking whether “you really think that’s a good idea?”? Frankly, it’s a miracle that any of us make it to the startline of anything longer than a 10km race with all the well-intentioned scare-mongering that goes on. It takes some time and practice to hear all of this “advice” but not listen to it.

You should now be starting to understand why, when I had signed up to an Ironman 70.3 (or a “Half Ironman” in layman’s terms), I told no one for a few weeks. Not a soul. At the same time, I also signed up to a full Ironman. It took me a few more weeks to tell anyone I’d signed up to that monster; I already doubted myself, so I did not need the anxiety-inducing questions and worried facial expressions from everyone else.

But what even is an Ironman?

In case you’re unfamiliar with what an Ironman entails, it’s a triathlon involving the following disciplines and distances – 3.8km swim in open water, 180km cycle, and 42.2km (AKA a marathon) of death I MEAN running. The half Ironman is, as it sounds, half of that (it’s called the 70.3 because it’s 70.3 miles cumulatively). Even in isolation, each leg of either a half- or full Ironman is really quite far, so I’m not hugely keen on being reminded of that. 

Also, I forgot to mention that I only like 1 out of the 3 legs of a triathlon – the cycling. I’m terrified of open water after a drowning incident when I was very small and I am one of the slowest runners in existence (I have data to prove it). So, why, I hear you ask, am I doing this?? I’ll get to that later…kind of… (Spoiler alert: there is no simple or obvious reason).

Before Sept 2017, I’d never run further than 10kms. I did a sprint triathlon in 2012, but panicked in the water and ended up having to do breast stroke. It wasn’t a great moment and I avoided open water swimming from that moment until just a few weeks ago.

On the weekend, I completed Taupō Ironman 70.3 and I am honestly so proud of myself because it is one of those things I used to see others complete and would think to myself “I could never do that!”.

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I’m not writing about it to brag or feel smug (promise!), but to hopefully alter your perspective about your own fears and limitations in order to make you wonder what you could do if you just signed up and got to that metaphorical start line. I bet money on the fact you’ll pleasantly surprise yourself.

Below is a little write up about the Taupō Ironman 70.3 itself (in case you’re interested) and then a list of reasons for why I am constantly signed up to some masochistic challenge. I hope you find any/all of it reassuring at the least and inspiring at the most. 

The run up (no pun intended)

My intentions were SO GOOD when I first signed up. I was terrified, but I was pumped and fantasising about the badass athlete I was about to chisel myself into. But, listen, life happened and I was not an optimal athlete. Far from it. I definitely did not train enough, work often got on top of my training plans, I kept finding myself on surprise nights out, and I got ill a couple of times.

By stark contrast, my flatmate bought all the gear, got a coach, joined a triathlon club, bought a whizzy bike, a fancy turbo trainer, grew obsessed with his Garmin data and lost 10kgs. He would come home and would attempt to cheer me on by asking “what exercise have you done today, Alice?”, which would make me more nervous because oftentimes I had only done a fraction of his efforts. I promptly requested he stop asking me that (he thought it was encouraging to ask, but it had the opposite effect on me). It became abundantly clear that we were attending two very different schools of Ironman.

So, I decided to pull my finger out and bought a whizzy bike, which I still feel like a total fraud for owning and am terrified of crashing it. I decided to lose weight (N.B. I did not adapt my diet or lifestyle accordingly, so did not lose sed weight). I did a marathon in October, which was harrowing and I really hurt my ankles (probably should have lost a kg or two, right?). I ran or cycled to work (9kms). They were baby steps, but they were steps in the right direction regardless.

All of a sudden, it was November and I needed to buy a wetsuit and a trisuit. These are designed to be tight-fitting and make the person wearing them all zoomy etc. Honestly, the suits felt perhaps a tad too tight and I resembled vacuum wrapped meat when I put them on, but I at least looked the part, which is the main thing, right?

I rented a car and drove to Taupō and arrived 5 hours prematurely for my hotel check in. I grew up with military parents, who drummed it into us that we should “rush to wait” for important occasions. This was no exception and I found myself filling the time by registering for the IM 70.3, eating, building my bike, and checking, double-checking and triple-checking everything at transition.

My buddy, Rebecca, arrived at a much more appropriate time from Wellington. Like me, she did not have aero bars on her bike and we both felt like complete newbs surrounded by pros. Trying not to worry about our blatant novice status, we walked into town with another friend (Abbie) to find a suitable restaurant in which to carb load for dinner. We settled on pizza – a fantastic choice – before heading back to our hotel for a hot tub session and an early night.

In the hot tub, we met Brazilian Cassiano. He was hoping to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships racing alongside us the next day. The race happened to fall on his wife’s birthday, which we were horrified by. Cassiano reassured us, however, that he and his wife had come up with a deal (read: ultimatum). The deal was as follows: If he managed to qualify for the World Championships whilst racing on her birthday, that’s fine, but he will have to give up getting drunk for life. The man loved Ironman so much that he accepted this alarmingly unjust deal without question.

Cassiano was 41 but looked about 28 and told us how Ironman had helped him change his previously smokey, boozy ways to become the lithe and speedy athlete he is today. We wished him well and took off to apply our race number tattoos (which Rebecca managed to hilariously mess up) and got to bed before the clock hit double digits.

The Day itself

All of a sudden it was 5am. Nerves hit me as I slid into my sexy sausage casing and tried to eat a cereal bar. Rebecca and I parked as close as we could to transition before doing our final checks, checking in our gear bag, and making our way down to the start line. All of a sudden, it was 6.30 and we found ourselves having to rush down to the start line because I was due to start at 6.41am. No time for a final wee as I had already squeezed myself into my final sausage casing for the swim.

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Pretending I’m chilled as, bro

Rebecca was due to start at 7.10, so I said my goodbyes and good luck and entered the herding pen where we were asked to self-seed according to how fast/slow we thought we would be. I went right to the back with the 45min+ group and bonded briefly with other nervous first timers over our various nightmares in the run up to the event and our favourite/least favourite legs of the tri. 

All of a sudden I was up next and I could now clearly see the swim course. The long, looong swim course. My wetsuit seemed to contract around my neck. “GO GO GO!” shouted one of the volunteer organisers and off I awkwardly ran into the freshwater before belly flopping forward towards the first of many buoys.

Holy heck. It’s started. I’ve started. What am I doing? *KICK TO THE FACE*. Um, ow. The start was controlled, but still intimidating for little old me. I kicked and flailed around colliding with everyone and wasted precious energy doing my best impression of an apologetic Hugh Grant “Whoopsie daisy! Sorry!”. My words fell on deaf ears, as everyone around me cracked on and apologised for nothing. This is clearly something I’ll need to practise.

As reality hit me, I found myself panicking and struggling to catch clean breaths. Coughing and spluttering en route to the first buoy, I decided to roll over onto my back once I had cleared the corner to catch my breath and calm down. I looked up at the golden morning sky and reminded myself how lucky and privileged I was to be in this exact situation and lied to myself outloud “You love open water. You love open water. You love open water”. Conscious of the time I was wasting by star-fishing on my back, I decided to do backstroke and look up at the soothing clouds until I was able to breathe calmly. A few volunteers in kayaks asked me if I was OK and/or drowning, “I’m just a bit scared of water”, I gargled at them. Occasionally turning over to attempt front crawl, I realised I was veering spectacularly off course, which wasn’t ideal, but at least I was removed from the craziness and limbs. After what felt like an eternity (because it basically was), I finished the swim.

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Trying to unzip myself from my sexy sausage casing

And so began a deceptively long, uphill run to transition (650metres). As I was on my back suctioning my wetsuit off my already surprisingly tired legs, I saw Rebecca in the next row picking up her bike. Jeezus. How is she already here? N.B. Rebecca started 30 mins after me. 30 whole minutes. Not to worry, I was still doing OK for time – I had taken some stickers and written ideal, less than ideal, and emergency timeframes to complete certain sections of the race by. If I was too slow, I’d be taken off the course by event organisers and would DNF (which stands for “Did Not Finish”).

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The cycle was fun for the most part, but I struggled to eat enough. I had stuck gels and cereal bars to the top tube and only managed one cereal bar and a smidge of a gel. I also forgot to fill my water bottle, so had no water for the first 30kms. I didn’t go very hard initially, as I wanted to save my legs for the run. I had no power meter or garmin, so I was going by feel and I ended up going slower than I wanted to (lesson learnt for next time). The wheels started to metaphorically fall off in the last 20kms to 30kms when we hit a stonking great headwind in addition to seemingly never ending hills. As a result, the last 17kms took almost 1 hour! As I was struggling along, someone called “Wai Me” overtook me, which I read in a geordie accent as “Why Me?” and I said, under my breath, “I know, mate. I know”. It felt like the Ironman Gods were mocking me.

I was overtaken by people of all different shapes, ages, abilities, and nationalities. It was awesome to see the variety of people taking part. Some of my favourites were Angela, Charlotte, and Kaz (I think that was her name). Angela was constantly smiling and encouraging everyone. Charlotte’s trisuit was covered in fluro pineapples, which I was very envious of. Kaz had one arm and was a total badass with great chat. She told me that her arm was “a bit tired” from holding her up for 90kms on the bike. 

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We finally made it back into town and had a brief opportunity to relish some delicious downhill. As I approached transition for the last time, I saw just how many people had overtaken me; the run course was chocker and doing a really good impression of the M25.

The run course at Taupō is 3 laps of a 7km course. In order to make sure you run the right distance, you get given a wristband of a different colour each time you complete a lap. By the final lap, you would have a yellow, pink, and green wristband.

I popped on my old trainers and started to pound the pavement very slowly. I was feeling very hungry but also nauseous due to nerves and not eating enough on the cycle leg, but I just had to hold on for another 21kms and I’d be done. I picked up my first wristband and caught up with Charlotte, the lady with the awesome pineapple trisuit. She was in tears and limping somewhat. Worried she wouldn’t be able to run, as she had injured her foot, I did my best to cheer her up by explaining that we had more than enough time for her to walk the entire half marathon, if she needed to. 

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Trying to act all cool for the photographer, but secretly desperate for the loo

Entering the run course was where the real atmosphere began. Supporters lined up and down the esplanade calling out everyone’s names as they passed by. Volunteers appeared like angels every few kilometres handing out flat coke, water, electrolytes, and the occasional high five. I kept telling myself lies like “you love running…This is what you do…You’re flying…” even though I did not and was definitely was not going very fast at all.

I kept seeing Angela running around 4kms ahead of me – as she would start her second lap, I’d be half way through my first and so on. We kept calling out to each other to big each other up and cheer each other on. The last time I saw her, I was half way through my final lap and she was flying along towards the finish chute. “GO ON, ANGELA! ENJOY THAT FINISH LINE!“ I cheered. 

There was another lady of an uncertain age that I was cheering on because she was absolutely blitzing it. I couldn’t believe her energy levels. I learnt later that she was just a Taupō resident making the most of the closed roads due to the race and she had not done the swim or the cycle beforehand. She was still running really fast though, so I regret nothing. Words of encouragement: sustained.

I’ve already mentioned that I’m not a fast runner; I was a few kms behind the rest of the pack. However, despite the wristbands, those cheering us on didn’t necessarily know how many laps we’d done or, more importantly, how many we had left. I had many people assuming I was near the finish saying “last lap! Nearly there!”, but then I showed them I only had 2 out of the 3 wristbands and they would grimace out of pity. It was quite amusing initially but the reality was, I still had quite a distance to go and I felt sub-optimal to put it mildly.

I had my eyes shut for the majority of the last few kilometres (there’s quite a bit of photographic evidence of this). I was just so tired. I literally heard someone from the sidelines saying “Aw, bless her heart; she can’t even keep her eyes open anymore”. I just wanted it all to end.

To tell you the whole truth, I really really needed to go to the bathroom for the duration of the final lap, but I was so worried I would run out of time (as there were cut off times for all three disciplines, which I was nearing because the swim took me so long) that I decided to…er…suck it up, clench my cheeks and get to the finish (sorry, Mother). It was super uncool, but I’m proud to say that disaster was averted because, before I knew it, I was plodding over a big blue sticker on the floor that said “20KM!”.

Holy heck! I was in the last kilometre and I was about to realise something I’ve been looking forward to conquering for ages. I started thinking about how under-prepared, nutty, brave, and happy I simultaneously felt in that moment. I had wanted to quit at the start when I saw the swim course, at one point in the cycle (during the gross headwind), and a handful of times during the run. But I didn’t. I’m not going to DNF. I’m going to finish. 

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Trying not to cry (N.B. my closed eyes)

My friend from Wellington, Rebecca, and some new Welly friends Abbie and Chloe were cheering me on as I approached the finish chute and I felt my throat tighten as I tried my hardest not to choke up and cry. I finished with about 20 minutes to go until the cut off time and I couldn’t help but break down as I crossed the line. I was tired but I was mainly just so relieved I had faced a fear, completed each stage in time, and finished this thing.

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Crying like a baby (eyes still firmly shut)

There are things in my past that I’ve not managed to finish and, I know it sounds silly, but it has taken a long time to get over those failures. The Transcontinental Race (I got an aggressive achilles injury around 5 days in), getting into the Army (I am rubbish at press ups), hiking the Te Araroa trail (I broke my foot), and even an infamous 10km rowing test (I vomited with around 10 strokes to go and was forced to DNF). 

I could have decided to let those moments define me and not get back on the horse, but I healed and/or learnt lessons from the failures and moved on to a new challenge. I’ll be doing the same with this Ironman 70.3. I finished it, but I was nowhere near prepared enough and I know that I have a LOT of work to do if I’m to finish the full Ironman in March 2020.

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Two half-Ironmans (Ironmen? Ironwomen?!) ft. Port-a-loos

Afterwards, Rebecca very kindly bought me a beer. As I sat in my now salt-encrusted sausage casing of a trisuit, I forgot, for a brief moment, that what had just taken place was not another Ironman-related dream/nightmare. I’d done it. I’d finished a bleedin’ half Ironman! I sipped the beer in the scorching sun but struggled to finish it, as I still felt very sick. Don’t worry though – I was back to normal within a few hours. Abbie, Chloe, and “Boring Tim” (it’s an in-joke) invited me and Rebecca to their campsite which had a Pool with a swim-up bar and a massive outdoor cinema that was screening Beauty and the Beast. We arrived at sundown, proudly showing off our ridiculous triathlon tan lines, and enjoyed a delicious picnic before crashing into bed shortly after. Such a perfect end to the day.

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Shakaaaa!

But what’s it all for?

My father often asks me “but what’s it all for?”. It’s a hard question to answer concisely and everyone has different reasons for taking on challenges like this. 

However, I reckon these are the core themes that motivate me.

    • Because I’ve failed other things before
    • Because I signed up and put (rather a lot of) money down and I’m tight, so I know I need to turn up
    • Because I have a saboteur that makes me feel I haven’t achieved anything unless I’ve achieved something massive
    • Because I want to inspire others who might be intimidated by all the insta-ready, hyper-toned people. They do not represent everyone at the start or, more importantly, the finish line. I’m not fast. I’m nothing special. I’m not at “race weight”. I’m not sponsored. I don’t have a coach. I didn’t use tri-/aero bars. I don’t really like 2 out of 3 of the legs of a triathlon. I’m heavy and I am in no way a triathlon poster girl, but I managed it!
    • Because why suck at one sport when I can suck at 3?! I think people care too much about “sucking” or being a novice at something. Here’s the thing – no one, apart from you, cares how fast or slow you are. Most people are just impressed that you did it full stop. I’m happy for my goal to be to finish healthy and happy; I’ll leave the record breaking to others. 
    • Finally – I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again – I do challenges like this because I can, so I believe I should. You never know what tomorrow may bring. I know people who have never been able to do sports due to physical limitations or who no longer have the ability to do what they used to do.

Ironman has been on my bucket list ever since I first heard about it, so Taupō 2020 Ironman is up next. Now to train hard and get to that start line again in March. Why? Because I reckon I can, so I will. 

What about you?

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The London Marathon: Memories & Mistakes

It’s not long until the London Marathon and, as I watch friends prepare to toe the start line on 28 April this year, many memories are flooding back to me. The 2018 London Marathon was my first and, so far, only marathon. I thought I’d write a short post about my experience and what I learnt from it. Hopefully, other first time Marathoners will find some of it useful.

 

*If you want to skip the life story, head to the bottom of the page for a synopsis of mistakes I made and tips for anyone running the London Marathon this year!*

 

This time last year, I was manically searching the internet for advice on how to deal with the fear of doing your first marathon. Whatever I did, wherever I looked, my fear grew. Anyone I knew who’d done the marathon told me about the highs as well as the horrific lows of the distance and it was making me feel physically sick. As I had no housemates, I was in my own echo chamber. I talked to myself a LOT during marathon training. Out loud. The conversation would flip flop from negative to positive and back to negative again. “Why do I do this to myself? Why do I always sign up to ridiculous things that hurt and that I sometimes can’t even finish? Well, at least I challenge myself! I may not be fast, but I’m faster than everyone on the sofa right now! URGH. I’m an actual freight train. This isn’t even funny anymore. You’re a GAZELLE! A gazelle running on behalf of people who cannot! Isn’t that wonderful?! I wish I could back out now, but I’ve been posting about it all over social media and raised money for a great charity. PICK UP THE PACE, PAL. YOU’RE EMBARRASSING”. On and on and on it would go.

 

The fact was, I had trained hard, I’d been really disciplined and not drunk alcohol, I’d been sensible with my diet, I’d done all the things. 3 weeks before the big day, I completed my longest run, which was 36kms. 8 more kms and I’d have done a marathon. I finished that run and felt shockingly OK; I still had a few more kms in the bank. It was an insanely great feeling. Who had I become?! That was the confidence boost I needed and right when I needed it. I was 99% certain I could finish this thing.

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Snowy runs along the Thames tow path just a few weeks before Marathon

I wasn’t fast, I’d come to accept that, but I’d done it! What an absolute BEAST! “WTF?! I can run the majority of an actual real-life marathon and feel fine?! CHOOO CHOOO! ALICE THE FREIGHT TRAIN IS IN TOWN!” I thought to myself as crawled up my steep staircase to my flat where I had a trough of food waiting for me.

 

As I tapered in the run up to the big day, the feeling of strength and confidence waned and the fear seeped back in. I had to travel with work quite a bit and I ate at the wrong times, slept badly in hotel beds, and had a lot of work on. I was feeling quite knackered on the Friday before the Marathon, but everyone has jobs, I was not special in my tiredness. I tried to get an early night on both the Friday and the Saturday, as I would have to wake up at about 5 on Sunday and eat properly and travel to the opposite end of london to then run around London thereafter. But, of course, I couldn’t sleep. Classic. I also had a very jippy tummy from the nerves (lol soz, but I DID).

 

I calmed my nerves the only way I knew how, I went to Artisan (the best coffee shop in London) on the Saturday and I had my usual – a Large Long Black and a Bagel with Pic’s Peanut Butter.

 

As I chilled and chatted with the staff/my friends, I caught wind of a “heat wave” that was due to hit London during the Marathon. Oh God. No, please no. I checked the forecast. Highs of 28 degrees and clear skies were anticipated. Bearing in mind that during my longest run there was still frost on the ground and I was in leggings and a long sleeve the entire time, this heat wave that everyone was cooing about was terrifying news.

 

Every article I’d read, everyone I’d spoken to, they’d all said “whatever you do, make sure you practise in the kit you’ll be wearing on the day. Don’t change anything!”. Well, GUESS WHAT, EVERYONE?! I’m going to have to do the exact opposite.

 

So, there I was, the night before, fashioning a “skort” out of a skirt and bright pink shorts and preparing to have my guns out. Let the chafing commence!

 

After a meagre sleep on Saturday night, I awoke. Dread and excitement immediately came over me and I was suddenly very very awake. I had bought another Bagel with Pic’s Peanut Butter from Artisan the day before so that I could eat my familiar, bougie breakfast on the morning of the big day, but I was too sick with nerves to eat. I would try and get it down me en route to the start line. After a quick shower and a huge drink of water, I slammed on my sexy skort, picked up my bag that I’d meticulously packed the night before (probably around 17 times) and headed off to Greenwich on a series of trains and special busses that were being arranged for Marathoners (due to road closures).

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My family friend, Chops, was in the same starting area as me. It was so great to see a familiar face. We had a huge hug and discussed goals/nerves/excitement and went to our separate starting pens. If, like me, you’re one of the charity runners, you will be starting quite near the back of the group. The wait is long and feels even longer because you just want to get going and you can hear the unique London Marathon atmosphere erupting up ahead. The FOMO is short-lived though; before you know it, you’re shuffling forward and then, all of a sudden, you’re running a marathon.

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I am not being hyperbolic when I say that the support you receive during the London Marathon is totally and utterly amazing. You literally have people cheering you on every 20 seconds or so. You feel like a weird, sweaty celebrity for hours on end. It’s bizarre and it’s magic.

 

However, last year, that heat wave was no joke. I was running with a guy most of the way who, after the half marathon mark, began to vomit violently and collapse every few kms. Paramedics were begging him to leave the race, but he was hellbent on continuing “I’ve raised money for a charity, I can’t stop. Please!”. He kept going for a while, but I lost him at some point and I’m not sure if he made it to the finish line. Poor bloke. He wasn’t the only one having a bad day either. As we were near the back with the charity lot, many of the water stations had run out of water by the time we got to them, so my hydration plan went out the window. Growing desperate after 3 water stations in a row being dry, I had turned into a scavenger, picking up half-drunk water bottles that had been disregarded by runners and finishing off the precious nectar myself. I was also pouring them down my front and my back in an attempt to stay cool. It was a very glamorous exercise. Literally. PRO TIP: Don’t look people in the eye when you pour water over your chest OR when you’re eating a banana.

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My brother capturing my sweat in HD

My wonderful friends and brother came out to watch me at various points in the race. As I approached my brother on the Isle of Dogs, I believe his kind words were “Come on! You’re so slow!” as he papped me in high definition. “Bugger off, bruv! It’s super hot!” I think I replied. One of my fave humans, Nitch, was waiting for me on the other side of the Isle of Dogs and he was far more encouraging, “Yasss Gaga! Werrrrrq!” he hollered. What a babe.

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At about mile 20, I thought I’d seen the last of my friends. The chub rub was very real by this stage and I finally gave in to the Vaseline team, who were wearing latex gloves with swathes of the stuff in their hands. I high-fived them to get my share of the lubey goodness and, as I was ready-basting my inner thighs, I heard “GO ON ALICE!!! SISSY THAT RUN!!!”. My friends had surprised me one last time. Amazing. Embarrassing, but amazing.

 

At that moment, I saw Chops passing me on the other side of the road with those heading towards mile 24. He was crushing it! “YES, CHOPS!”. I’d planned on seeing him and his family at the finish line, but I was about an hour too slow for him. Plus ca change!

 

Due to the heat, I felt really sick whenever I ate my glucose-heavy food and I started to crash big time in the last few miles. I just didn’t want to stop and needed to get over the line. I tried my hardest to speed up and keep these heavy legs churning. As it turns out, I was actually negatively splitting (AKA getting faster) with each mile. The perceived effort was definitely increasing though, so I felt like I was getting slower and slower.

 

Seeing the Solomides parents at Big Ben was awesome, but I had to keep going, or I’d cramp up. I plodded on and, as I turned the last corner onto the Mall, there was just white noise. It was totally surreal; I’d visualised this moment for months, maybe years. “I could never do a marathon” I used to say. Yet, here I was, finishing a marathon. I feel a bit misty-eyed about it even now. Choking on my tears, I crossed that mammoth finish line and just melted. All of a sudden, I was like Super Hans in Peep Show when he runs to Windsor “by mistake”. My legs turned to al dente spaghetti.

 

My mum, who’d been tracking my every move, called me as soon as she saw my tracker had  reached 26.2 miles and we just basically cried at the phone/each other for a couple of mins. If there had been subtitles, they would have read [NON-DESCRIPT MIDDLE-CLASS BLUBBERY]. I told her that, in addition to running for my charity, I was dedicating my efforts that day to my Mum’s sister, Liz, who’d deteriorated and died quite suddenly the month before the race. It was emotional to say the very least.

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Note the poor chap having a moment behind me…

My best mate Eloise, Liam, Aaron and Vinny found me near the finish line hobbling about all dazed and confused. They photographed me with my medal and the amazing Ru Paul’s Drag Race-themed sign Eloise had made me and then guided me to a local restaurant for an immediate feed. PRO TIP: For so many reasons I will not go into, do not eat spicy food after a marathon.

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I then got the tube home, in all my sweaty glory. Each train I got on (I think I had to take 3 trains), someone gave me their seat. I’m unsure if it was my stench or my medal that made them do that, but I really appreciated having a little sit after all that time on my feet.

 

I had a cold bath followed by one of the best showers of my life when I got home. It was like I’d been to the beach, I was that salty. I then gingerly put on some compression leggings, had a stretch, drank a load of water and went to bed with the biggest grin on my face. The next day, my legs and feet were in absolute bits, but I’d booked the day off work to recover and boy did I need it.

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This photo is black and white because my feet/toe nails were so revolting

I was not fast, I made mistakes, but I ran a blummin’ marathon. It’ll forever be one of the best days of my life for so many reasons. I strongly recommend signing up. If you don’t get a place in the ballot, be a weirdo like me and secure yourself a charity place. It adds purpose to your training and to the day itself; it’s a win-win situation all round. DO IT!

 

Tips and Tricks to having an enjoyable (London) Marathon

  • Dealing with the heat – Most marathons take place in the spring/summer, so you’ll be doing the majority of your training during the cooler months. It’s hard to get acclimatised to the heat that you might endure on the big day. If you’ve got the budget or are going on holiday to somewhere hot, take your trainers with you! I found my training was a lovely way to see more of cities when I was travelling with work, which was a bonus!

 

  • Hydration – both in training and on the day itself, make sure you’re getting your salts with your water. I ate salt tabs every half an hour or so to stop my levels getting dangerously out of whack. Over-hydration or hyponatremia is not good. The tricky thing is, the symptoms of hyponatremia are very similar to those for dehydration, so people panic and continue to drink water, diluting their sodium levels further. Keep your sodium levels topped up, especially when it’s hot and/or you’re sweating a lot.

 

  • Don’t eat spicy food – I don’t think I need to explain this one in detail…

NEXT!

  • Listen to your body – There’s pushing yourself and then there’s doing unnecessary damage. I was aiming for a time of about 4.5 hours, which quickly changed when the heat hit me. I ended up taking more than an hour longer than I’d planned, but I made it to the finish line. If in doubt, be kind to yourself, and make sure you finish safely. You are the only person who cares about your finish time.

 

  • What are you wearing? – Try to decide on your outfit in advance and practise in it. Don’t do what I did! The smallest things can be annoying on race day – small seams can feel huge, baggy/tight clothing can stress you out, chub rub in those pink shorts might try and bring you down etc.

 

  • Don’t buy new trainers more than a month out – Honestly, if you do this, you won’t have time to break them in and you will be in a world of pain on race day. I broke this rule because I was worried that my trainers were too old. I should have stuck with what I knew because I had ALL THE BLISTERS afterwards.

 

  • Don’t bother with a playlist When I first started training and the fitness was not quite there, I relied on music a fair bit. Especially if I’d had a hard day at work, was tired, and still had to run 14kms home. However, I decided to make the shift from music to podcasts. Why? Music is almost too distracting and it can make you run at an unnatural pace. Sometimes music would bring me down or make me run too fast. Either way, it dominated my training and not in a helpful way. I started listening to podcasts that were informative or a series. It helped my cadence become more consistent and allowed me to run at a pace that was conducive with running long distance. It’s worth noting that many race events don’t allow you to listen to music for reasons of safety. Especially 10km and half marathon races. So, you might as well get used to it. Also, on the big day, the crowds are so loud and amazing 1) you won’t be able to hear your music and 2) you will miss out on the famous London Marathon atmosphere! It’s up to you, but I firmly believe that trying to run mindfully can be very enjoyable. One of my favourite training runs was without music, early morning, along the thames tow path and all I could hear were birds, rowers paddling in the distance, and wind in the trees. Give it a go.

 

  • Practise eating on long runs – This is easier said than done. I got stitches galore when I initially introduced food to my runs, but you do start to benefit from it. I practised with foods that were glucose-heavy and went down fine in the winter months, but made me feel really queezy in hot weather. It all depends on your constitution, but practice really does make perfect. Don’t eat totally different foods on race day because, full disclosure, you’ll probably have a VERY upset tummy…

 

  • Print your name on your shirt! – The London Marathon is one of the biggest events in the city’s calendar and millions of people come out to watch and cheer. Make sure your name is clearly printed on your top because people will personally cheer you on the whole way round and it provides such a massive boost. This is particularly important when you’re having a low moment or are starting to hit the dreaded wall.

 

  • Book Monday off! – You won’t regret it and you earnt it! Spend the monday chilling, stretching, eating. It’s great.

 

  • Suck up the pain – Try and avoid painkillers or anti-inflammatories. I know it’s tempting, but actually, you can risk injuring yourself more if you take them. Feel the pain, let natural adrenaline do it’s thang and, afterwards, wear some good quality compression leggings. The inflammation your body will go through, especially your legs, is important for recovery.

 

  • Chill! – Don’t rush back into hard exercise but enjoy the base fitness you’ve built up over the last year. I took a haitus from running for a long time after the marathon. I mainly did restorative and vinyasa yoga in the months after. However, I found that my base fitness lasted for some time and certainly helped me when I decided to cycle through Scotland with my brother later in the year.

 

  • If you love it, keep it up! – I’m a big, heavy person and I found that the training hurt my joints, but I still found that the longer the run, the more I enjoyed the training (which I never thought I’d say!). I now know that I’m definitely more of a long distance/endurance person than vice versa. I’ve signed up to the Auckland Marathon and Ironman 70.3 (Taupo) later this year and I’m looking forward to making fewer mistakes and maybe getting a slightly better time! Chops, on the other hand, immediately gave up running forever more (he might have changed his mind since)!

 

 

 

I hope this is helpful, perhaps even reassuring, for those lining up for the London Marathon this year. I’m weirdly envious of you all. Enjoy the atmosphere. Really live in that moment and try and just absorb all the sounds, smells, feels, pains, everything. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. Good luck!

 

One day Alice came to a fork in the road…

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” she asked. “Where do you want to go?” was his response. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

Today marks the Anniversary of my first visit to New Zealand. “So what?!” I hear you say.

Well, it may not seem like a big thing, but facebook memories reminded me that I touched down in NZ this time a year ago and, since the end of the year is fast approaching, I’ve been using my 20/20 vision (thank you, hindsight) to stop and truly appreciate the labyrinthine year I’ve had.

Much like my namesake, Alice in Wonderland, I’ve felt a bit lost this year and had to make decisions that I felt I wasn’t 100% ready for. But, the more I think about it, the more I appreciate the paths I went down in 2018. Arguably, some of the paths were predetermined, while others were opportunities that I actively decided to take.

I’ve spent most of today watching Charlie Brooker’s new and interactive Black Mirror film, Bandersnatch (which, curiously, is also a Lewis Carroll character). The film robs the protagonist of free will and hands it over to the viewer, allowing them to decide everything from the protagonist’s breakfast cereal and what music they “choose” to listen to right through to deciding whether or not to take a life. I found it quite thought-provoking and it got me wondering whether “free will” is a product of our species’ inherently arrogant nature and whether anything and/or everything is actually predetermined. But, don’t worry; I won’t go down that rabbit hole right now (if you’ll pardon the pun). Give it a watch – it’s on Netflix and I really want to talk about it with someone!

On the subject of free will and alleged destiny, I was joking earlier this week that I was basically Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors. Eventhough the joke fell on deaf ears (it turns out that German people aren’t very familiar with the film), I’ve come to realise that the parallels between the 1998 film and my 2018 life are surprisingly strong.

Much like Gwynnie, I’ve missed many a tube train, leading to what I call “Beverly Knight Syndrome” where I wonder what “shoulda woulda coulda” been. But, of course, we all only ever experience what actually happens. I did (kind of) lose my job and chop all my hair off, so there’s that. I’m not preggo though (which Gwyneth is in both iterations), so don’t start jumping to conclusions.

I digress.

What I’m trying to say is that all the forks in the road I experienced this year have led me to the sofa I’m currently sitting on in the Wairarapa Valley, surrounded by 3 dogs, 2 cats, and the gentle sounds of nature at night. Where would I otherwise be in my previous, london-based life? To be fair, I would normally have been alone and on a sofa, just in a different way. I’d normally be in a first floor flat on the south circular, surrounded by washing, listening (unwillingly) to the irregular interludes of sirens outside my window. I think we both know which sofa I’m happier sitting on.

2018 has been a funny year. To call it a rollercoaster of emotions is an understatement but, weirdly, it’s been one of my favourite years ever. I ran a half marathon, was (f)unemployed for 6 months, renovated my flat, got rid of most of my possessions, ran a full marathon, cycled through Scotland with my brother, turned 30, moved to the other side of the world, broke my foot, chopped all my hair off, got a new job, and made some awesome new kiwi friends. Some of what happened in 2018 was to be expected, but most of it was a surprise and pushed me out of my comfort zone both metaphorically and literally.

I practised much more Yoga when I was unemployed and, in addition to the physical asanas, began to learn about and exercise ‘Aparigraha’ or ‘non-attachment’. Essentially, you take only what you need, keep only what serves you in the moment, and let go when the time is right. It really helped me to stop concerning myself with the outcome of a situation and instead only concern myself with what I’m actually doing right now as I happen to be working towards that outcome. It’s not abandoning ambition. It’s not being careless or mindless. It’s actually quite the opposite; staying mindful of the deserving moment and not allowing the journey to be trumped by the destination. It’s pretty cool and I’m very grateful for having learnt about it.

To explain, here are some examples of where I used it this year:

  • Leaving my job – eventhough I had no idea if my vague plan to “move to NZ” would end well, it got the ball rolling and now here I am!
  • Breaking my foot – it was initially really frustrating, as it meant I had to prematurely end my Te Araroa hiking trip, but it meant I secured an awesome job and spent some time enjoying Wellington and making some really lovely new friends.
  • Accepting a new job in a city I’ve visited for a grand total of 3 hours – Taking this new job now means that I’m moving to Auckland in the new year, which I never thought I was going to do, but I’m saying yes. Why not?!

Who knows where ‘London Alice’ would be right now if I hadn’t taken the paths I took this year? Who knows where ‘Auckland Alice’ will be this time next year?

Much like Alice in Wonderland, I still don’t quite know which road to take, but, then again, I don’t know where I want to go, so I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m taking each day as it comes and am loving it.

Here’s to what 2018 brought and what 2019 has yet to bring. Happy New Year 🙂

Cheerio, Blighty! Kia Ora, Aotearoa!

“How are you feeling? Excited? Nervous? Sick?”

“Well, now I am, Anne”. I sometimes call my parents “Anne” or “Peter” just to be faux-precosious. We’re in the car en route to Heathrow and my mum is making every excuse possible to delay our arrival at Terminal 2.

“Oh, well the car says it can only go 150 miles; I’d better fill up, hmm?! Do you want a treat from the shop? No? Are you sure?”

Bless her heart. My parents are both very excited for me, but they are clearly finding my departure bittersweet.

Just as quickly as we join up with the dual carriageway again, the next suggestion for benign procrastination is aired, “Well, I think we’d better stop for some chips and a wee at The Scottish Restaurant, hmm?!”.

In case you haven’t heard, my family call McDonald’s “The Scottish Restaurant” and we bloody love a cheeky stop off there.

“No matter where you are in the world, you can rely on The Scottish Restaurant for a proper loo and some piping hot chips with a diet coke. Brilliant!”

My parents even have a written list of all the Scottish Restaurants they’ve visited in the world and, not only is that list surprisingly long, but they are proud of it too. From Moscow to Vancouver to Cooma to Windsor, they’ve visited a very large number of Maccas and had at least one icecream and a wee there. Ask them. Go on.

 

I mean, hey, I’m partial to a cheeky large fries and a medium diet coke, so I agree with my Mum that “yeah, we’d better stop” on our cumbersome one and a half hour Odyssey from Swindon to Heathrow.

 

Whenever I’m alone with my Mum, I immediately feel knee high to a grasshopper again. I was the youngest by 4 academic years and my Father was away with the Army for 6 months or so at a time, which meant that when I was between the ages of about 4 and 7 I was the “one left Alice” (my infantile way of saying “the last one left”) and so my Mother and I spent a great deal of time together. So, now, whenever it’s just us two, I feel small again.

We still enjoy the occasional trip together, just us two. Just like old times.

For some reason, though, today made me feel both young and grown-up simultaneously. Considering the pretty major seachange I was about to encounter it was hardly a surprise.

 

There was only so long and so many pennies we could spend in The Scottish Restaurant though and, soon enough, we were back on the motorway hurling (within the national speed limit ofcourse) towards Heathrow.

 

I’ve already said goodbye to my Father who made me a pint, yes a pint, of coffee this morning. He can’t make it to the airport, which is my fault really; I selfishly booked my ticket without checking if my parents were free to wave me off. This is typical of me. I’m a deeply emotional person, but sometimes I do just that – I keep my emotions buried deep and make overly indepedent and emotionless decisions without wanting to consider the impact. Long, drawn-out goodbyes are not my bag. I’m not a fan of crying in front of others (especially my family for some reason). This doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Quite the contrary, in fact. Evenso, I said a sleepy goodbye to Peter early morning before he had to head off.

It turns out that he was actually really gutted he couldn’t come to the airport and, unbelievably, he called me multiple times from his mobile when I was in the airport to make sure I was at the gate and ready to fly away. This is literally unheard of for my father; I have maybe received a phone call from him on his mobile (a device which he resents whole-heartedly) twice or thrice in my life. It’s hard to explain to others, but it is just too adorable that he put his mobile hatred aside to call and bid me farewell. He’s a softy really. Talking of which, he found a little teddy, a kiwi bird, abandoned in the road as we left london on Sunday. Too prophetic to ignore, he picked it up and immediately started cooing over how “we must take this little person home, wash it and send them to NZ with you as a mascot!”. So, true to his word, he washed the toy and now “Kuwi the Kiwi” is staring up at me from my hand luggage en route to Windy Welly.

 

After checking in my bag and having a diet coke at the Terminal 2 Wetherspoons (#glamour), it was finally time to go through security and after months of planning, talking, and wondering about this trip, head off into the sunset. Nerves building, I crack jokes. “Why isn’t the Ethiopian airline just called “EthiopiAIR”?” (said in a posh voice). “Yah, no, I’m flying to sydney on AustraliAIR”. My biggest fan, Anne chuckles away and then, all smiles, I give her a bear hug goodbye. Eventhough I can’t see her face, I can feel her bottom lip going. “Just really enjoy it and be safe!” she sobs. Trying my best to not cry, I awkwardly march off “OK, WILL DO. BYE! LOVE YA!”.

 

Still in a state of disbelief, I head off and treat myself to some fancy schmacy perfume and make some final calls to friends. Having travelled a lot with my previous job, it’s still not quite hit me that, this time, I’m literally moving to the other side of the planet. Casual.

 

Boarding goes surprisingly smoothly and, before I know it, we’re taxiing to take off. My best friend, Eloise, has made me a special playlist, which I start to play. She’s also given me a  letter that I am only allowed to read once I’m in the air and listening to sed playlist (she’s very loving and very bossy). As we slowly turn left to line up on the runway, I look out my windown and see a queue of 10 or more other huge planes waiting their turn. I wonder where all of them are going and I wonder what spectrum of reasons the people inside have for flying to that place today. Are they filled with excitement (like me), dread, ideas for that big business meeting, fear? Is it the start of a journey for them, or are they heading home? I’ll never know, but I can’t help but wonder.

 

Chocs away, it’s time to take-off and read my letter. Catch you on the flippety-flop!

 

WTF, I’M MOVING TO NZ!

 

Alright, we didn’t ask for your life story…

Disclaimer: I’ve set up this blog/site to act as a kind of diary where I will share with you what I get up to/discover during my time down under (if you catch my drift). There will be a lot of introspective stuff as well as some (hopefully) cool tales of awesome activities I’ve been up to, so, if that’s not up your street, look away now!

Hello Internet people!

My name’s Alice and I’m buggering off to New Zealand for a belated gap year! Well, two gap years in a row (technically). I recently left my job and decided to finish renovating my place, let it out, and do what I’ve never done; go travelling and move to another country for a little while. Woohoo!

I never took a gap year. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever gone on any kind of extended holiday. I’ve been working in recruitment in London for around 7 years now and it’s high time for a change. A change of speed, a change of direction, a change of environment. I suppose it sounds like I’m running away, and I guess I am, but it’s not a rash decision. I’ve never let myself do something like this trip. I’ve always had excuses or felt the need to follow some kind of script, whether it be from family, friends, society, or just a general feeling that I shouldn’t do something that many might feel is so self-indulgent. I grew up in an environment of flux (also know as being a “military brat”), moving house often and having to make and leave new friends on repeat until I left uni. So I grew up abroad, but I’ve never truly travelled. Not properly.

I didn’t take a gap year after school because I was encouraged to “maintain mental momentum” post A-levels. After I finished Uni, I craved consistency and stability, so I moved to London where I just got my head down and settled into a job I didn’t like. It was an attempt to “be adult” and make my student debt seem worth while. I’ve not stopped since.

All of a sudden, it’s almost a decade later, I’m 30 in a couple of weeks and I can say with certainty that I’ve not done half the things I thought I would have done by now (but that’s OK. I’m now in the process of doing just that, so watch this space).

I can barely tell the last few years apart from each other. They’re all much of a muchness; the only things distinguishing one year from another being new jobs and different relationships (how sad does that sound?!). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had loads of fun and made some incredible friends along the way through the tough times as well as the good. Recently, though, I began to realise that I had a secret sadness that was starting to seep through the cracks in my tired, jokey armour. You see, I’m the “Miranda Hart type”; I’m often described as big (I’m incredibly tall), silly, and a great mimic who is regularly relied upon to do impressions or silly accents. But, to be honest, being the “Miranda Hart type” is harmless in a way, but it’s not who I see myself as and I certainly don’t want to be seen as an affable clown for the foreseeable future (no offence, MH!).

But here’s the other thing: Until recently, I was technically a “business woman” working in the “Big Smoke” for one of the most highly sought after employers on the planet and, you know what? I was not happy. None of what I did mattered. None of it. Not really. I used to find comfort in the thought that, if something went wrong at work, it didn’t matter because “it’s just online shopping. This doesn’t have a real impact on people’s lives”. But this mantra, that was once a comfort to me, soon became a stark reminder that I was having no real impact on people’s lives (including my own). None of it matters. So, what was I doing there? This situation, this Groundhog Day (great film, but terrible if it’s your actual life), had made me feel less and less alive.

Last winter, I hit breaking point. I hardly ever go to the doctor, but, for the first time in my life, I was genuinely desperate after having a panic attack while I was travelling back from a work event in Germany.

Stoic and frustrated, I went in to see the GP and they asked the hardest question I’d had to answer in a long time “How are you, Alice?”.

I had prepared a precis in my head and, until that question, was ready to reel it off to him, but I started to feel my bottom lip go and so, punctuated by tears and embarrassed apologies, I told the Doc what was up. A few follow-up questions later, it was official, he informed me I was suffering from depression and, instead of medication, he prescribed me to change job and nurture myself/my personal interests.

I’m apparently a classic case of someone who “keeps b*ggering on and says yes to others but not to themselves”. He was totally right and I knew it. I left that room motivated to shake off the labels I felt had defined me before and to take control of what I was doing with my life. If I wasn’t enjoying my job, then let’s find something more meaningful and change that. Within a few months, I started re-evaluating my situation and, instead of longingly thinking “if I could just do x, y, z…” I began planning “when I do x, y, z…”.

I should probably write to that Doctor and thank him for reminding me that I should take control of my life and happiness. I’m so excited about the future. Today, I finished renovating my flat (which has been a long, expensive, and often frustrating process). In just over two weeks, I will be moving out with just a back-pack full of essentials and going after something I truly want to be doing. How great is that? I’m feeling very lucky and aware of my privilege, that’s for sure.

I fell in love with New Zealand when I finally visited last Christmas. I vowed to return and explore all it has to offer and, here I am, 9 months later, ready to do just that. I can’t wait. I’m only allowed to work 12 out of the 23 months I’m in the country, so I will get a fair amount of travel in when I’m there (cue loads of photos of me visiting Hobbiton, hugging gum trees, and hiking up Mount Doom!). One of my goals is to inspire myself with a big and badass adventure (like hiking the Te Araroa trail). But, I think, my real goal is to inspire other women the way Adventure Queens like my friend Ellie Perkins and Anna McNuff have inspired me. I would love for women and girls to see what I’m doing and think “Wow! What an adventure! I would love to do that. She knows what she wants and she goes and gets it!” But also, “Alice is just like me, so maybe I can do that too!”. This world is amazing. Sod waiting until retirement to see it from a cruise ship! I want to get out there now and show others that it’s possible, that it’s worth it.

My plan for my time in NZ is simple at the moment – spend time with my sister and her family in Wellington, find a sweet job that isn’t too stress-inducing, and go on a big ol’ hike. I’m not really sure how often I’ll be writing on this blog thing, as I don’t know how interesting my “content” will truly be. I’ll definitely be writing up some fairly nerdy posts about hiking gear but I’m taking a decent camera with me, so I might post some photos and stories from bush walks and other activities with family and new-found friends in the glorious NZ landscape.

I think that’s all for now. I’d better get back to donating most of my remaining possessions to charity and doing all the life admin I need to do before I go.

If you’d like much less wordy updates about my time in NZ, you can follow me via instagram at @alicerosella

Ciao for now!

Alice