Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Every Breaking Wave

A blog a little out of sync with my usual spoutings. Its a blog you may never get to read. Over the past 12 months I have written it about 100 times and deleted it each time. Sometimes it has acted as an outlet and other times it has acted as a frustration. It's entirely nothing to do with you and so in many ways, like social media, I question why i should write it at all? On the other hand we're encouraged to 'talk'. It's a serious subject that the media has made fashionable to talk about. Joe Marler being the latest to 'go public'. A rock of a man crushed by anxiety. Doesn't make sense does it?


I am kinda torn between getting it down, getting it written, publishing it - the click of the 'publish' button being the last act of total control - and not. After all its personal, the failings are personal, they're only in my control, they're harboured by me, protected. To publish is both an admission and a selfish attention seeking act. It also smacks of jumping on the bandwagon myself if indeed there is such a bandwagon - which there probably isn't. I would also question the validity of how i feel. To be able to rationalise it, break it down, get it down suggests, to me, its a falsity. A bit like when you're staggering around age 17 after two pints of Fools Gold telling everyone you're drunk. If you're aware you're drunk you're not yet drunk. Right? In the same way if you know you're losing it you can't actually be losing it. So I am inclined to take everything here with a pinch of salt. You, if you get to see it, should too.

'Sometimes I feel like I don't know
Sometimes I feel like checkin' out
I want to get it wrong
Can't always be strong
And love it won't be long'

I am often chronically sad and utterly consumed by grief and within the same moment I can be totally happy and full of joy. Don't get me wrong, in many ways I am the luckiest man alive. I am overwhelmed with love from Michelle and my two wonderful kids. I live vicariously through them. All the good, the joy, comes from them. Everything I wish I was I see in them. I see people every day in my job who literally have the world on their shoulders. They're crushed by immobility. Some of them have known nothing but the restrictions they live by and some have had their previous freedoms taken away by illness or accident.They are without choice. Their situation is beyond their control. I'm crushed by choice. By a weight of grief and sadness exacerbated by stress brought on by failure and excuses. My failure and excuses. I'm even failing in my attempts to stop failing and yes I have excuses for that too. I've always had excuses for my failures.

I've unraveled before. A couple of times. The last time was 2006 when I tried to get myself out of debt that only led to more intense debt that magnified the stress that exacerbated the sadness and grief. Thoughts darken, solutions less clear. Anxiety constant and panic instant and prolonged. Exhaustion unavoidable and the nightmares keep sleep a fleeting visitor. Bankruptcy a brief relief but resulting in a subsequent constant battle to stay afloat, to provide the basics, to breathe.

I'm here again, losing the battle. Unraveling. I'm trying to make the right decisions, facing my mistakes but I am being tested. Severely tested. My home is no longer a sanctuary. It's a noose, a weight, a restriction. I have no voice, no place. Fear is palpable, stunning in it's impact, inducing a sudden spike in heart rate, uncontrollable shakes and quivering voice. It's brought on by the simplest of things. One of the kids asking if they can have a couple of quid to top up their Xbox account or for a spot of lunch while out. Nothing major, they rarely ask for anything and certainly nothing unreasonable. The biggest fear is using a debit card. Even on pay day before the direct debits go out it's the scariest of moments placing it on a contact less pay unit with the wait to see 'approved' lasting an instant eternity. The post and the calls and deciding which bill we do or don't pay each month and the rapid escalation of cost in penalties for missing this and missing that.

I've battled debt for as long as I can remember. When I first got pocket money I bought a football in advance of the pocket money over the next 6 weeks. From then on I have been in debt. My paper round money came to me as a fraction of my pay after all the sweets and Coke through the week were taken off. My bar money would be non existent on pay day after the Strongbows were deducted. I then became a prized customer of Barclaycard, MBNA, EGG and whoever else. Almost tripping over themselves to give me credit I would never be able to repay, it would be easy to look at them and pass the blame. I could blame being part of a credit generation, the immediate generation. Of course that's not the case and it doesn't help to pretend otherwise.

I have allowed myself to become affected by the negativity of others. It's surprising just how much of an effect a negative influence can have. Negativity chips away. It doesn't hit in one impact, it doesn't overwhelm in an instant. It's a gradual stripping of defenses. A little bit here and a little bit there. It pushes down with a steady increase in pressure until your own outlook becomes negative. It doesn't even need to be aimed directly at me although some of it is. It's being around it, witnessing it, others laziness, reluctance to help themselves, their selfishness, their lack of respect for themselves and those around them, seeing negativity being inflicted on others.

Staying strong and positive is hard. In many ways I am surrounded by it and I am often relying on the positivity of others, leeching off it, stealing it, however it does become harder to do. Moments of clarity can become few and far between but with each one the relief, the release, the weightlessness is wonderful. Equinox 24 provided a whole weekend of being surrounded by positivity. 48 hours of being in a happy place with kind souls, no judgement just support. The determination, strength, kindness and achievement of others is infectious, healing, necessary.


I am mocked, lovingly, for my tears. Often they're entirely reasonable. Everyone wells up when Doc appears on the pit wall in Cars right? Or when Matt Dawson breaks to set up Johnny Wilkinson's World Cup winning drop goal? When it becomes more than that though. Uncontrollable. It might be a story on the news or the radio, a radio presenters husband talking about her last days battling breast cancer, a policeman describing his efforts to save a colleague, a story of a brief awakening from dementia brought on by a TMS commentary or the presenter thanking the nation for a deluge of well wishes for his wife's recent cancer battle, a moment after an assessment that brings everything home. Often something without explanation, an exceptional song, an exceptional sporting moment, a reminder or a memory. It's not always tears. It can be a freezing, a solid grip that takes hold in a moment that becomes prolonged, locked in.

'You know I need you to be strong
And the day is as dark as the night is long
Feel like trash, you make me feel clean
I'm in the black, can't see or be seen

Baby, baby, baby light my way'

I am lucky to come home each day to Michelle and the kids. It might be a dig in the arm from George or an introduction to the indecipherable language of a teenager from Ellie that snaps me back but more often than not it's a hug from Michelle, a look, a smile, a glint that says everything in absolute silence. She has a knack of timing a text, singing a song, stealing a glance or a touch, to perfection. She carries, she inspires, she loves unconditionally, selfless.



I don't intend to unravel completely, I don't think I will. The joy and happiness and love I absorb will always outweigh the fear, sadness and grief. Whilst the grief is constant it wavers in intensity and is directly linked to pressure and stress. Sometimes I can be grieving without any impact on the moment whilst in the next I can be floored by it. Reduced to a wreck.

'Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait
And I wait without you'

If I can rationalise it I can control it. If I can control it I can see through it and grow from it. The weight isn't physical but it's no less crushing. The battle is constant, the extremes instant and constantly switching. The Facebook Smile is always a con. Too often we hear of a suicide of someone behind the smiling profile picture. The perfect social media life. It's considered the cowards way out by many (probably those who haven't considered it) but in reality it's the ultimate bravery, the final selfless act when someone can't see a way out. Perhaps considered the only rational conclusion to an entirely irrational process. To erase the problem blighting the lives of everyone else. Freeing them to live.

Nothing is perfect in life or in a virtual world. The restrictions are too great. I can't truly speak my mind. I can't be honest for fear of impacting someone else's sensitivities, upsetting the narcissistic sociopaths that cling to a connection, a tenuous tedious link to someone they don't like, to monitor, to Big Brother, so they can be outraged, so they can choose to take offence, to be the victim they long to be, when the meme pops up that they deem to be about them, to be a slight or a virtual attack, because the the world (despite science suggesting otherwise) rotates around them. I've stepped away to do whats right, face my failings, take stock of my mistakes that cause the pressure, that lead to the stress, that create the weight. Make things right.

'And drowning is no sin'


Tuesday, 2 October 2018

EQ24 '18 - Nowhere to Hide

On the Friday night we were all calmed with a two hour set of Motown and Northern Soul. The Detroits gave us a set of energy and smiles and for those two hours - with a quick break for the Beer Mile - we could all relax and forget about weather, trainers, nutrition, how many laps, That Hill, chaffing, blisters, lack of training and injuries. Equinox is special to me, to many of us and I am not going to bang on again as to why, but this year it got a little bit more special. The Detroits are Roger on drums, Craig on lead guitar, Scott on bass guitar, Kevin on sax and Paul up front as lead singer. The other lead singer is our very own Michelle. She was taking her first step into the world of solo running. I've never seen her smile as much as when she is singing. She is truly free. At Equinox she was the most relaxed at the front of The Detroits as I have ever seen her. Afterwards, her comment was "it was like performing for a tent full of family and friends". For me, the energy in the marquee, particularly during the second set (they build it deliberately) was palpable, absorbent and infectious. I've talked in the past about the millionaires we would all be if we could bottle the essence of Equinox24. Bottling whatever was in the air that night would have been 'it'.


We set up site that afternoon. Team Poppyfields were in place. A wonder around the site throughout the afternoon allows a catch up with fellow Equinoxers both new and old. Attempts to give away the morphsuits failed. Discussions about injuries, training or lack of and the important "how many laps you going for?" were the main topics of conversation. Everyone is lovely. Bemused sometimes about what some of us would be doing, but always lovely and entirely supportive.

Race day dawned. I slept in until about 9am. Nick, the Team Poppyfields one man support crew, dished me up two bacon and egg cobs and I meandered up to seek out the physio team. It seems it's becoming a pre race tradition of mine. I told them the story, eyes roll as if to question the sanity of starting, then they get to work. Immediately the exact two spots in my calf giving me a problem are found and wow did it make me jump. She ironed out my calf as best she could, taped me up to give me the best chance and sent me on my way. I left Flamingo Lady on the table next to me and wished her luck. The next runner in line stepped forward to explain their niggles in the hope she would have the answer they needed. A quick lucky poo (obviously), the trial of popping in contact lenses, a full greasing of the underscrote and some fuel and water and, as much as anyone can be, I was ready for my 5th attempt at Equinox. My 3rd real attempt at 100 miles.

On the subject of 100 miles don't think I thought I could run 100 miles. With 8 weeks to go I was feeling strong and I was gaining fitness. All this really did was give me the confidence to have a real good go at 17 laps. To run 100 miles you have to be up a fair few levels of talent from 'fat winger' no matter how mentally strong you think you might be. The problem at 8 weeks out was a calf injury that required complete rest and then another tweak in a different spot of the same calf a week before. What that did was dampen my confidence and leave me with a more conservative approach. More of a just try and keep going for 24 hours and see what that brings in laps. 10 would be nice, 13 a PB, anything above pretty much wonderland territory.

I lined up with Ellie going out first in a team of 5, Mich & Georgina (soon to be known as the Singing Solos) and Ken, all virgin solos and Neil who was tackling his second Equinox as a solo but without the weight of dragging a fat Morph around the course with him.


Lap 1 and 2 were fine. Slow and steady, walk the hills, run the flat and downhills, fuel at the end of lap 2. The problem was it hammered it down during lap 2. Now I agree rain isn't normally a problem, after all skin is waterproof and all that, but in the morphsuit it gives me real issues with controlling my temperature and visibility. Many people were caught out by the rain. My temperature immediately dropped and my vision became more and more cloudy as the suit reached maximum soakage capacity. I ran in to the end of Lap 2 at about 2hrs 40mins on the clock. As long as I was out by 3hrs that was fine. I changed my under layers, dried out the top of the morphsuit over the fire pit, inhaled a jacket spud with cheese and beans and set off on lap 3 coincidentally with Ken and Neil.


We trudged off the ever muddening field together. Ken made an emergency stop at the crossroads portaloos and they both caught me up before we turned onto The Shitty Bit.


It was on the upflat start to The Shitty Bit I felt my calf go. It was a vicious little pop. I looked round for the sniper but the morphsuit meant I couldn't see my hands let alone an American Sniper 1000m away. So, within the first km of lap 3 I had had enough. Ken and Neil cracked on thankfully. Neil had learnt from last year that solo is an entirely selfish enterprise. He sacrificed an easy 10 laps last year to worry about me whereas this year, with my absolute blessing, he had his own race to run. I walked to the bottom of Not That Hill and I was ready to jack it in. The decision, the sensible and justifiable decision, was to give up and walk back to camp. Two runners then went past and said something nice. Lots and lots of runners were utterly lovely to me throughout the weekend but these two bestowed their loveliness at exactly the right time. I can't remember what they said I just remember thinking that it was a pivotal moment. I had just decided to walk back to the camp and instead I found myself walking up Not That Hill and most of the way to Hi 5 kid before I had a drink at the feed station. The calf was as painful to run on as it was to walk so I ran the rest of the lap in (apart from walking up That Hill of course).




Lap 4 was ace. I've no idea why but I was back to my strategy of run/walk. The calf was painful but I weirdly felt strong. Chatting with other runners helps massively and i am nosy so i am quite happy to hear their stories as to what brings them to be walking up a steep tarmac hill chatting to a morphsuited gangster!


The pain was manageable and again I ran the last 3km in feeling strong while chatting to a fellow runner who felt she should say hello as she had seen me in previous years but not had chance to speak. Whilst in my head I had whizzed round in about 1hr 15mins the reality was probably 1hr 40mins. That didn't matter as i felt good. Positive.




For lap 5 I had changed into the polka morphsuit and as I was concerned I could get caught out by the loss of light towards the end I went out with my head torch. I should explain that last year I made the decision to run in an unaltered morphsuit whereas in my first 3 attempts I had cut eye holes in the night morpshuit. I had adapted the morphsuits previously because I could't see anything in the dark no matter how good the torch was. It just lights up the inside of the morphsuit. Last year I worked a system of head torch on cap and the peak of the cap kept the light off the suit which allowed me to see a tiny tiny bit of light. Enough to get round but I would say that vision is down to about 25%. Think of being your most drunk, in the dark, with a rolling fog and looking through an ever shrinking tube with a piece of gauze over the end!


The lap went well and again I felt strong. At the time I felt that lap 4 & 5 were my strongest. The finish was much the same as 4 and again a runner kindly ran the last 3km with me making it so much easier. She was telling me about The Singing Solos who were apparently doing a full rendition of The Greatest Showman while running the course. From the description I am pretty sure I know who they were and it transpires Michelle and Georgina were easing their way around their first Equinox Solo attempt by entertaining themselves and others with their vocal talents.


I had one other to worry about while on course which was my eldest, Ellie. It seems I needn't have worried. She smashed lap 1 in 53 minutes which was a near 20 minute personal best. The pics captured by Glenn and his team brilliantly capture Ellie making running look as easy as I wish it was!


I finished lap 5 but I made the mistake of stopping and sitting for a while. I got cold and changed a few under layers but I used this an excuse to sit by the fire pit to warm up. I had a snooze and kept delaying going out. I think I was fearful of temperature issues on the course but I delayed too long. I did eventually go back out for lap 6 but I had by then probably lost the mental battle with myself.


I don't really remember much about lap 6 other than the fact it was so difficult to see where I was going. I don't remember chatting with people although i am sure I did. I don't remember That Hill in the dark. I do remember lots of bobbing lights and a support team down the back straight letting me warm my ass over their fire pit. I finished the lap and waited for Michelle to come in from her lap and i would then assess whether to go out again at all. What I had done through that lap was convince myself I was unable to carry on much further and I justified this through the pain in my leg and now right knee. The slips in the mud, the turned ankles in the invisible pot holes and the overall tiredness becoming too much.


We had a chat when she got back from her lap. It was 1 am or 2 am and we decided to walk a lap together and see how we felt afterwards. Had Michelle not made me go out on that lap I would have finished at 6 as I had the year before. Physically, probably, able to continue but mentally, probably, just not up to the challenge. She quite literally dragged me round the first 5km. I was now sure this would be my last lap and my body was responding accordingly by emphasising pain and tiredness. I stumbled whilst dozing a few times only for Michelle to keep me going. We made it to the feed station and i sat for a few minutes. This was definitely my last lap so i removed the hood of the morphsuit. I have done this in the past to either drink or eat but my rule is that I don't move without the hood on. This time I left it off. Cheating yes but my day was done so I justified it to myself as reasonable. Michelle put her back out going down the dip on the grass after the feed station. She had no real choice but to get through the lap. As she had done for me for the first 5km I supported her through the last 5km. It's nothing new for us. Whatever challenges we take on we always take on as a team. Lap 7 was our final lap. 17.5 hours and 45 miles was our solo efforts for 2018.



Being able to see for the last 5km was a revelation. The course is so beautiful and being able to see the ground ahead, the trees, fellow runners made it so much easier. This has raised the question of whether I should adapt the morphsuits for future attempts. To make the attempt at 100 Morph miles easier. The problem with that is that I have my own rules. The challenge is 100 Morph miles which requires 100 miles fully morphed. Hood and all. So, its staying as it is.

Ellie stayed awake for the full 24 hours. She was so out of it on the drive home as exhaustion set in. For a girl who claims not to like running, does a couple of 5km runs per week she blasted 4 laps in a team of 5 runners. Her quickest? An insane 53 mins! She is so much a better runner than she realises and tougher than I can ever be. It's easy for me to live vicariously through Michelle, Ellie and George. They're all everything I aspire to become.


I was disappointed with my effort because I expected better but I was thrilled with Georgina's 6, Michelle's 7, Ken's 8 and Neil's 10. How can I be thrilled for them and disappointed with myself? It's due to the pressure and expectation I place on myself. Fully fit or niggly injury I always have high expectations for myself and disappointment kicks in when I know I can and should have done better.


I learned a lot from EQ18 that I will take forward to next year. The most simple change being the addition of a weather proof running jacket. My fueling was better, no nasty visits to poo corner, and to a point I felt strong. The calf situation is a bit of a red herring. Yes it hampered my preparation, yes it hurt like a bastard initially but the truth is it didn't stop me. I stopped myself and failed to keep going for 24 hours. Next year things will be different.

Anyway, I had a kip for 3 or 4 hours with an intermittent cramp on and off in my right calf. I finally dragged myself out of bed and then supported runners up the finish straight. Some I got to talk to, have a hug with, pat on the back. Others were clearly unapproachable at that stage but I like to think that every shout of encouragement helps even when you're just too knackered to acknowledge it.


As the Poppyfields Teams finished we crossed the line together twice so ignore the official results suggesting I did 9 or 10 whatever it says. Whilst my own fundraising got nowhere near my target and as a result I was never at risk of having a Unicorn tattoo despite my poor performance, Team Poppyfields raised a fantastic £2000 and thank you to everyone that helped with that. After all that's why we do it. Over the weekend a figure in the region of £3500 in total was raised for Birmingham Children's Hospital and their research and treatment of child brain tumours.

A huge thank you to all of you out there that weekend particularly Michelle and Ellie, George and Nick, Johnny and Laura, their crew, volunteers, Glenn and his photographers, Matt and the caterers, physio, medics and supporters. To you fellow runners for the laughs, the camaraderie, the kindness, the strength, the one liners, the belief and the love. From the minute I pull up at Belvoir Castle to the minute I leave its my happy place, a stress free weekend of intensity, discomfort, moaning, laughs, hugs, high fives, disappointment and joy. See you all in 2019 when I am no longer fucking about, I will be fully morphed and I will be doing 17 laps even if Johnny has to stay out until it's dark!



Thank you. 

Friday, 29 September 2017

The idiot that turned up to Equinox 2017

I've tried to write this all week. It's important to get it down for me to look back on. It's memory capture. There's two parts to it really, My poor effort as a competitor and then my joy from other people's awesome. Blimey there was some serious awesome. One thing I can say, without hesitation, is that it was another brilliant weekend at Equinox. Big. So much bigger than before but absolutely retaining, enhancing even, it's wonderfully friendly, inclusive, humorous, kind, inspirational atmosphere. That is down to Johnny and Laura, their crew, the volunteers. Glenn and his team of photographers, Matthew Peaker of Pop Top, the caterers, physios and tape people. Obviously most important of all are you lot running it. Big team or small team, pairs or solo. Such ace people.
I'll tell you about a couple of them and they made Equinox for me and then I'll share the nitty gritty of why I got it wrong so there are bail points in the blog when you've had enough.


I am very lucky to be surrounded by great characters. Obviously I know Mich is ace. My strength is drawn from her. She smashed out 5 laps in a team all sub 75 mins, while crewing me, watching the kids, helping her team and supporting everyone else. I love it when someone tells me how lucky I am and how she kept them company on a lap, or they run past and ask after her or ask me to pass on a hug. She's the best thing about me and I'm the kind of trouble that she enjoys!


18 months ago Neil Taylor didn't run. After helping me on numerous challenges he laced up himself and he bit the solo bullet as his first competitive trip to Equinox. Despite me being an absolute arse throughout he ran ahead and told me about every trough in the field, every pot hole on the road, every puddle, every hazard. He tried so hard to keep me moving. He ruined his own solo attempt to help me and despite my protestations he wouldn't just crack on. The fact that in the morning he smashed two sub 80 mins laps being his 7th and 8th, goes to show just how capable a runner he is and, if left to his own devices, a silver pin is entirely within his reach. I can't wait to see him realise his potential. Neil, sincerely thank you.


My daughter Ellie was in a team for the first time. She doesn't run. Never runs. She did two laps. The first was on her own and she smashed it in 1hr 10 mins! The second a walking lap with others. She has big plans for next year!


Did you have your hair French plaited before the race? You gave a donation to a charity? You won't remember the details as you'll have pre race brain but that was Belinda Bryant who again gave up her time again to help raise money.
Team Poppyfields were great and supported throughout. Like so many groups and teams around the field we never run more than a few steps without a shout of encouragement.



Then there are the usual suspects and it was a privilege to give a bit back in support on the finish straight after I had given up. Too many to mention but you all know who you are. You've run round those grounds for 4 years with me now and as friends go my Equinox friends are the best around. Some of us may have failed to reach a goal, some will have achieved more than they had hoped for but all of them make Equinox what it is.
As do all the people new to Equinox. Some of whom turned up unannounced in the hope they could help me get round 24 hours, some had entered last minute without prep to run in memory of a fellow Equinoxer who passed away just a few weeks earlier. Some were running with serious injuries but were determined to at least get in a lap, some were running with a podium place in mind.
A special mention to Team Walker - running in memory of Colin Walker who many of us have shared laps with at past Equinox and who died just a few weeks ago after a battle with cancer. Throughout I think we all had Colin in our hearts. #RunByMySide


Personally, my challenge finished at around 4am. It took me a while to sort myself out but once I had I spent the last 6 hours or so cheering people up the home straight, I had to chase some with poles to keep them moving, encourage others with a shout, a pat on the back or a hug.


It sounds a bit much but the last 6 hours supporting up and down the finish straight was an awesome buzz for me. To see people push on, grind it out or simple fly past was inspirational. To share a flicker of that with a return thumb up, or nod, or a hug or a chat meant everything. I was so happy being there doing that and I apologise to anyone who found it a bit much. Because I've been there I feel I can have the banter but I'll always back off if I get the look of death or a 'you can fuck off!' in response to me suggesting #onemorelap.
Thank you, everyone, sincerely for everything.


So how did I go from competitor to supporter?
Equinox is tougher than you think. In theory running 10km laps say a lap in an hour and then rest an hour then run an hour and so on should be relatively achievable and would get you 12 laps in 24hrs. Equally, in theory, you can relatively easily (by easily I mean not die during) run/walk 10km laps in 90 mins and keep going which would get you to 100 miles. A sort of Holy Grail of mine for a 24hr run. The problem with Equinox is that theory counts for nothing. Fatigue, both mental and physical, can take you out. Good runners, and I mean seriously good proper runners, can be derailed.
The course is challenging. The first bit, The Shitty Bit, is a couple of km up and across a nobbly ankle turning muddy field and then along a muddy soggy gooey track. The next 3.5km along tarmac and up a long steep hill that is 'not that hill'. It's followed by 2.5km off road including the awful knee wrenching downhill before the energy sapping 'that hill', some more nobbly ankle turny bits. The last 2km is a tarmac 1km back to the field and then the final 1km around the field.


It's the continuity, the repetitive nature of lapping that takes its toll. It has to be taken km by km and you have to avoid looking ahead, of fearing 'not that hill' or 'that hill' or wishing the water station would arrive quicker or wishing for the end of the field. Once the negative thoughts creep in it is very difficult to get it back together.....and that's where it went wrong for me.
By 10pm I was done because I had lost the mental battle. Yes the knee was niggly, yes the legs ached and the feet hurt, yes the morphsuit was pissing me off from the start, yes it was hard to see through but all of these things, all of them can be overcome if mentally I was positive. Sadly, annoyingly, frustratingly (is that a word) I simply couldn't turn it around. I couldn't make it positive. I can deal with pain but I beat myself mentally.
I had done 5 laps I think. I hid under a coat and dozed. I rested too long and eventually went out for another lap at about 2am. It was awfully slow, fatigue was too much. Well, actually, I allowed fatigue to be too much. I was falling asleep while walking and I could not grasp positivity. I simply couldn't reach within and pull something out of the bag to get it done. By the time I got back I knew I was done. I had made the decision to give up. Yes, bits hurt but no more than usual and not enough to stop me physically but mentally I had kicked the shit out of myself. That's where I rested, recovered and switched to supporter.


So, ultimately I gave up. I've made peace with myself. I felt redeemed to give a bit back supporting. It is hard and there is disappointment. If you had spoken to me at 4.30am on Sunday I hated myself. If you spoke to me at midday I was buzzing.
It's the ultimate rollercoaster. Within a lap, light to dark, dark to light, start of straight to end you can go from sky high to desperate low.
Overall, it's the best way I can think of spending a weekend. It's made by you, all of you. Your kindness and your strength.


I'll see you next year, it will be my only focus. I'm going for gold in the Morphsuit.
Thank you for raising over £4500 for Team Poppyfields. Thank you.
It was another awesome Equinox weekend despite only 6 laps and, personally, it was something else to support the amazing efforts of everyone else.


Saturday, 29 July 2017

The Idiot that does Outlaw 2017


Outlaw is a bit special. This was my 4th outing and the initial idea was to train hard, race fast and raise money with a sweepstake on my finish time. I trained well through January and then lost my way. With a few days to go I had run a handful of times but no further than 6 miles since January. I had done about 4 pool swims with the longest 2000 metres and at a pace that suggested I would struggle to hit the cut off. I had done some OW training......500 metres at Cliff Lakes the Monday before Outlaw. I had been out on the Merida about 5 times but no further than 25 miles. The sensible thing to do was to defer but money had gone on the Justgiving page and at the end of the day it's about raising money for Birmingham Children's Hospital. You can help by the way. Just text MORF55 £5 to 70070.
Twice in the build up Mich had mentioned she had never seen me so nervous. She seemed sure that despite my lack of preparation I would do it. I'll be honest, I was worried. I was very worried I might not meet the swim cut off in particular. I kinda thought I could do the bike in time after all I was on the Merida with gears, big wheels and thin tyres. Surely I could do the bike quicker than the BMX effort of 7 hrs 56 mins in 2015. The run? Well the theory you often hear is that with 7 hrs you can walk it! 4 miles an hour is a tough walk pace if you're knackered but I would put money on myself that I would do the marathon if it came to it.

I was waiting for 'The Click' in the mind to happen in the week before. It didn't. I went to rack the bike and register on the Saturday. I got to meet a load of pals around HPP. Some I had tackled Outlaw with in the past. Some were battling it for the first time. At briefing I was distracted, nervous. I reassured a first timer I sat next to that he was about to have the best day. I stopped behind to thank Iain Hamilton the Race Director for his help and support with my fundraising. I didn't speak to Simon Ward the Triathlon Coach perhaps due to being a little embarrassed by my lack of preparation. It was great to catch up with Kyle Campbell. Each time I plan something daft he has usually done something even more daft. I hoped I would get to hear him announce me as an Outlaw the following night! I met Tom Jones, no not that Tom Jones, but Tom Jones the Stag and his stag party. What a brilliant idea and what a great bunch. Have a brilliant wedding pal.

I racked the bike and walked off to have a moment at the top of the red carpet. The moment of clarity I was seeking never arrived. The nerves still jangled. Doubt was all consuming. What is nice about racking and registration is that there is nothing left to do. However prepared you are is as prepared as you will be. I did a little Facebook live to try and raise a bit more sponsorship and left HPP. Sunday was going to either be a very short day or a very very long day.

The alarms went off early at 3.30am on Sunday morning. I had slept in my timing chip to make sure I wouldn't forget it. Michelle drove us up to HPP. It's a 45 mins drive so i get to listen to The Joshua Tree in full and sneak in Ultraviolet to leave that as my ear worm for the day. Ellie and Mich took turns to mock my uncontrollable emotions that sneaked out during the drive up. Mich nailed the drive and dropped me at the entrance to HPP at the bottom of the lake at 5.00 am. Usually at this point I am overcome with calm. Nerves replaced with a steely determination. The sunrise over the lake bringing a confidence for the day ahead. Not this time. Not yet.
I spoke with loads of ace mates new and old as I checked the bike and went into the change tent. I found a spot and levered myself into my all too snug wetsuit. I often use the Holgate line of 'see you on the run'. On this occasion it was more for my benefit than theirs. Trying to blag myself some confidence. As I came out of the change tent Mich and Ellie were frantically waving from the bank. Entirely with me in spirit and about to put a right big support shift in.The last hour before the start is the fastest hour imaginable. Before I knew it I was in the lake in the 3rd bay bobbing about with 1200 other competitors with 5 minutes until the off.
That was the moment of clarity I had been waiting for. A brief moment where the nerves subside and are replaced with a line drawn under the failings of the previous months. A calm and in this case a deal. A deal with myself to smash my arms for 2 hours to make sure my day doesn't finish at 8 am. I filtered through the bobbing white caps to improve my start position as the countdown reached 1 and then we were off.

I seemed to steer clear of any real contact for the first 500m. A bit of a bump or two but nothing major. My stroke was rhythmical with a 4 stroke and breathe pattern only using the two stroke breathe pattern if I needed extra air such as after swallowing some lake or after a bosh to the face around 600 metres. No breaststroke either. It was going too well. I knew I wasn't last, I knew I was going to get out in time and I hadn't yet made the turn. I reached the turn and avoided traffic. As I turned onto the 1 mile back straight I pushed it a bit harder, confident in my stroke. I used a couple of swimmers to help me sight and stuck by them and pushed for the finish. I even overtook a couple as I swam the last 200 metres or so. I had loved the swim, every stroke. I knew i was in time. I took the hand of the volunteer that pulled me out of the water and gratefully accepted the strippers offer to whip my suit off. I grabbed my wetsuit and ran into transition asking the volunteer on the door what time of day it was? 7.31am was his reply. I could have kissed him.

T1 seemd like 5 mins. It was 14 mins but still a PB for me. I went out to get on the bike with a plan to steadily spin for 112 miles. I couldn't sight Michelle and Ellie but I knew they would be watching me from somewhere. It was only afterwards they told me they missed me exit the swim as I was too quick. Instead they and Kyle had waited for the last person to come out of the water thinking it was me. Mich Facebook live recorded him as he came out and it was only when the cap came off they realised I was already out on the bike.
Now, I am used to being overtaken on the bike. My bikes go backwards compared to everyone else. I thought I was spinning relatively well and the first Southern Loop was reasonably good. A slight worry was how tired I felt and how much my arse hurt. A lack of hours in the saddle was going to haunt me. As I came off the Southern Loop Kit Walker came back onto it for his second time. This put him about 60 miles ahead of me and my podium chances had all but evaporated. Car Colson was a welcome relief as i spotted Michelle and Ellie and a few other familiar faces. This boosted me up to the Islands and then headed to the Northern Loop.

This is where I realised this was going to be a lot harder and closer than I had intended. The distance between the loops seemed much longer than ever before and the tiredness, the lack of response from my legs, was overwhelming. I struggled up Oxton despite reminding myself I had done it on a BMX just two months earlier. Other sections of the loop seemed harder than before and the ride back to the Southern took forever. I was now coasting where I could to alleviate the pressure on my arse and at each feed station I was off the bike to stretch and ease the pain. This probably added 25 mins to my day!

Mich and Ellie were giving it loads through Car Colson again but by this time I knew I was again last. At the Pirates a time check indicated I had time to do this but it would be close. I pushed it as hard as i could but at the last feed station it was clear I had 75 mins to do 16 miles. Ordinarily no problem at all. This time it would be a battle. The relief of coming off the Southern Loop for the last time is immense. The support from the volunteers just brilliant.
As I started the last few undulating miles with the loneliness of last taking it's toll, the heavens opened and reminded me of 2015. It only took a couple of minutes to soak me and only lasted a couple more. I was spinning the easiest gear on the big ring so knew i would be a slow 12 mph or so. Through the lanes and past the hall and a final push down the road alongside HPP. I didn't know if I would make it. I don't wear a watch so I just pushed it as much as I could shouting at myself to dig in.
I passed a few volunteers and pedestrians and they must have thought I was mad. A last shout and right turn up the path into HPP and there waiting was Mich indicating I was in time. I blasted down the path and bunny hopped the speed bump before skidding into the corner. As the adrenaline subsided I dismounted the bike to see 3:56pm as the time. I had made it with a barmy 4 mins to spare.

10 mins in T2 another PB after the disappointment of 8:11 bike split! I nipped to the loo and then started running. Got a huge hug of Mich at the bottom of the lake and set off. Everyone was ace on the run and the support was brilliant but by 5 miles the running stopped. Run/walk soon became walk and the path down the river back to the lake just became miserable. I had realised my pace was too slow, I couldnt walk quick enough and I didnt have the energy to go faster or the strength to run. Every point I had picked to start to run from had failed and as I rounded the top of the lake I realised I was not going to finish within 17 hours. Emotionally Outlaw had broken me.
As the noise of the announcers the music and the crowds at the finish line/13 mile marker became louder I went to pieces. It's now the regrets kick in, the failings become all consuming and the reality of failing on the day becomes too much. I started to run as I approached the crowds and I was desperately trying to sight Mich. I did spot Dutchy and shouted where was Mich. He pointed further down, near to the line and I ran along trying to spot her.

Thankfully I did and I fell into her arms and sobbed uncontrollably. I told her I couldn't do it, I had tried to dig deep and I had nothing. Nothing extra to give. I was ready to walk off the course. She said she was proud of me and loved me no matter what. That was it. That was all I needed. Flatfooted walked by and patted me on the back as i hugged Mich. I held on for a second and then ran on. Still sobbing I collected my band and rounded the lake. As I came up the path off the lake and grabbed some crisps Mich appeared, a little out of breath having legged it around the lake to make sure I was ok. She asked and I said yeah of course I was, apparently with a beaming smile. Whatever it was, whatever she had done was all I needed for the click in my mind. It is an actual swith that goes from negative and I mean entirely negative to utterly positive. The pain is still there but it's more bearable. Head is held higher. A spring returns to my step after 13 miles of scuffing feet that just won't lift. I know the body can always, always do more but while I was negative it was never going to happen. Once I switched to positive the body responded. From then on I had a run/walk strategy with a good run and a marching walk and this continued all the way past the war memorial and back to the suspension bridge.

I must mention the volunteers and support. It is no exaggeration to say that without it I wouldn't get round. Whilst confused by shouts of " go on Steven" (my real name was on the race bib) it's still the case that every shout drives me on. Every kind comment from volunteers, security, marshals, every hi five from a fellow competitor, every pat on the back, every sweaty hug. When I see a mate cheering me on, going out of their way to encourage me and the beaming smiles of family. Of Mich and Ellie. The boost is palpable. Do not underestimate the team nature of this challenge. I am happy to create the focus but it is everyone around me that makes it happen.


As I gained on the person ahead of me the bike marshal was with me. As I chatted he asked what my intentions were? I was confused. Apparently Iain Hamilton was asking if my intentions were to come last. I clarified that I will get finished, and by this time I knew, absolutely knew, that I would and I would finish in the best time I could manage.

The athlete ahead was Heather Clarke. It took a while for my brain to catch up but Heather and I had shared some of the run in 2013 (the morph year). She had waited for me to run the last 9 miles or so with me. We maintained a good run/walk strategy, Mich joined us on the run down the river and James Franco joined us on the bike to marshal us in. We overtook Steve Summers whose story of overcoming adversity, extreme adversity, is entirely inspirational. As we got back to the lake Mich peeled off to go the the finish and left me with a kiss and a squeeze of the hand that just transfers belief!
We lapped the lake to collect our last band. Hi fives all along the finish straight. Steve had retaken us. Heather and I were last. Heather was strong and picked all the points to run from and too. We talked Rugby and funerals to pass the time and came down the home straight in complete darkness. Heather wanted to run down the carpet with her 3 year old. I wanted to crack on and finish so we did a deal to finish in that order so everyone was happy. I was still finishing at the best time as i possibly could. A hug from Heather and James and I set off with 300 metres to left and ran it it. Ran it in strong as I hit the carpet. I couldn't see a thing as the human carpet parted to let me through but I sprinted it in to be announced by Kyle, for the 4th time, an Outlaw.

Mich was there instantly and I'll admit I broke down again. I've never been so relieved or had to dig as deep as I had that day. Heather finished seconds later and the fireworks went off to battle the rain as it came down. Lee and Kyle and the team looked after me and the bike and my kit and made sure the massage team hadn't left and there was a bowl of food for me Mich and Ellie.
As ever the day was amazing with the facilities, volunteers, marshals and supporters truly outstanding. I tried to thank all of them as i went round. I would not have finished without the support throughout the day. I would have cut it even closer had it not been for Heather. I would, however, have walked off the course at 13 miles had it not been for Michelle. That's the closest I have come to quitting any of my challenges.
I am an idiot for not training. I accept that but I had committed to doing it to raise money for Birmingham Children's Hospital so it was never going to be that I wouldn't start. It's not a disrespect for the sport or the event either. It is a disrespect for myself. I have said before that we only truly compete against ourselves. I nearly undid myself this time. Very nearly, but I can look myself in the mirror and know that I gave it my all for 16 hours and 41 minutes!
You've helped raise £1600 so far. Next up it's Equinox24 in 8 weeks. Bear with me because this time I am going long! Morphlong!


Thank you to Ron, Craig, Zoe, Dave, David, Dutchy, Catherine, Elly Mae, Wayne, Charlotte, Leeky, Ian, Gaz, Stuart, Mark, Keith, Lena, Billy, Gary, Ed, Andy, The Pirates, Flat Footed, Q & Jordy, Andrea, Kim, Helen, Zoe W, The Stag Party and all the others I have forgotten.
To Kyle, Simon, Lee and Iain.
To all the Tri clubs manning the feed stations and as ever I am sorry I keep you out so very late.
To everyone that sponsored me. As ever it is you guys that make the difference.
To Heather for kicking my ass for the last 9 miles and James for being her able assistant.
Finally, to Mich and Ellie and George (who didn't fancy the 3.30am start so went out with his mates instead) for putting up with a wannabe triathlete in the build up and for making it possible for me to start and giving me the strength to finish.