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Planning A Heartfelt 2014

30 Dec

A distinct lack of a blog can only mean one thing – a lack of positive topics to write about!

Following on from my last blog,  I’ll share a little of what’s happened with my heart and beyond that, how I expect things to change in 2014!

At the beginning of November, I went to see my cardiologist for a series of tests to find out what kind of condition my heart was in. I knew it was in no state for any long distance races or endurance training but there was a big question mark over how ‘gentle’ my exercising needed to be (note the change of wording, I no longer ‘train’!). I explained to the cardiologist that I had listened to what he had said previously and stuck to light exercise. This for me had meant short swims which slowly had got down to 500 – 750m. Chest pain and breathlessness had ruled out running and cycling. Even with easy short swims, I still didn’t feel great. I was feeling dizzy after any exertion which began to worry me.

I had the same set of tests as I had before, an echocardiogram and exercise tolerance test on treadmill, in which I had to stop and lie down as my blood pressure dropped. My echo looked ok, but I was asked to have an MRI to rule out anything sinister with my coronary arteries. Two attempts later and after 6 needles, a horrendous injection of Adenosine to speed up my heart, all was confirmed as normal. Lastly, I had a 24 hour tape when I had to try and bring on my symptoms whilst wired up to electrodes.

After the tests, I was left with reassuring results but a big question mark still lingering. In this situation I should be grateful that after all I have put my heart through, that it is still pumping efficiently! I am left with a series of symptoms that I am learning to live with, that aren’t particularly pleasant but could be much worse.

I was recently reading up on the five stage grief process for an NVQ assignment. By no means am I comparing my experience this year of having to stop training for Ironman and triathlon races to the grief of losing a loved one, but the process of handling a difficult situation I can relate to.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

In May I was certainly in the denial stage, when I first was told that I needed to stop the long distance stuff. I carried on training regardless, without admitting to myself or others that I was.

Anger is something I have felt at some times. I haven’t been the easiest person to live with (and for that Liam Pryer deserves a medal!).

I see my bargaining stages as the later part of November onwards, when I joined the local swim on a 6 week membership and stuck religiously to 2 short swims and 2 light gym sessions a week. This meant that if I went easy on my heart, it might get better and somehow allow me to do more!

Depression. Hmmm, well nobody likes admitting to feeling depressed, stressed, low or whatever. But there have honestly been times when I have felt so sad about having to give up something I love so much. I have missed going outside and losing myself in some empty lanes or fields, enjoying the quiet, fresh air and feeling of satisfaction. I have continued to avoid the subject of triathlon, situations and people that I associate with sport as it has just been too hard.

Acceptance. I think (*I hope*) I am there now. Others might argue that because I’m not my usual positive self but deep down I know that tri, marathons and Ironman have had their time. There will be something to fill that hole (and not marriage and babies please people!), I need to feel I am achieving great things outside a relationship, outside having fun with my friends, outside my career goals. I really am trying to fill that hole; writing a book is still going, albeit slowly!

I’ve always been one for new years resolutions, and annoyingly bug others about doing it too. After a sluggish Christmas period, I love how January gives you the feeling of a fresh start, similar to starting a new school year in September.

2014 for me means this:

  • Positively accepting I need to be nice to my heart, forever.
  • I want to be involved with triathlon and the best supporter out there.
  • Learning to feel good about myself even without the buzz of hard exercise!
  • Trying to help others appreciate the benefits of exercise.
  • Absolutely not allow any of the following: bingo wings, muffin tops, pot bellies (GYM!)

This is the recipe for my perfect 2014. Heartfelt of course.

:)

The New Sensible and Responsible Corinne…!

11 Oct

It’s almost 6 months since I visited my cardiologist and received news that my planned season of triathlon was not to be. One by one I cancelled my races in 2013, feeling the financial pain of the situation as well as the physical! Watching all the races was fun but each piece took a little piece away from me. Being honest, I had to almost switch off and ignore anything to do with Roth in July, as pulling out of that hurt so much – hence the holiday to Greece!

After seeing the specialist, I made an effort to reduce my training down, in volume and intensity, incorporating some yoga and gym work to keep me busy. But soon the lore of triathlon was back as I entered a local sprint tri in August. My training was back up to doing two sessions of each discipline every week. A few faster runs, an extra mile or two per hour on the bike, and regular sea swims. All of a sudden, and not surprisingly the chest pain returned – warning signs to slow down. I felt annoyed and frustrated, I was only training for a slow ‘sprint’  and my body couldn’t even manage that??

Those close to me asked me to stop training. I was running myself down and being grumpy most of the time! Letting go of such a big part of your time takes time and a great deal of patience – certainly not my forte!

I’m back to see my cardiologist in two weeks, fully expecting to be told off and given what for, again. I’ve learnt my lesson this time and this dodgy heart of mine is only going to get TLC from now on! Since my surgery 3 years ago, I have completed 3 half marathons, 2 marathons, several 5 and 10k’s, probably 10 Olympic distance tris, 4 half ironman and obviously Ironman Austria. Even though I was told my heart would be as good as new (maybe incorrectly), I don’t think the doctors could have predicted I’d go on to do all that!

Deep down, I felt invincible after my op, like it was a second chance to do whatever I wanted. In a way that’s why I’m not finding it hard to let go or give in. I feel cheated of all the things I still wanted to do and have a feeling that I have much more to give.

Having said that, I think I’ve finally accepted that tri is off the agenda, at least for the foreseeable future. I can’t trust myself to train sensibly so I’m better to have an almost complete break. As to running events next year, I still have hope but we’ll see. Ultimately, there is life outside of triathlon (shock horror). I have so much to look forward to and be grateful for, being selfish is just not an option.

Breaking my toe last week I’ve been told is a godsend, actually forcing me into resting. You may still catch me occasionally sneaking a few lengths in, eagerly pacing around the beach or lifting some weights in the gym, but that’s it.

Here is the new sensible and responsible Corinne. The one who puts health and the future first, not merely thinking of the here and now or giving in to the dreaded training guilt.

Just keep me away from the apple crumble please!

Life After Ironman, for real this time!

29 Jul

Over the last two months and since my last visit to my cardiologist at the beginning of May, the realisation that I won’t do another Ironman is finally sinking in.

Mallorca 70.3 was hard to watch but loved watching my friends’ race. My best friend did her first half iron distance and it was so great to be there.  I hadn’t pulled out of the event as it was so last minute so didn’t take my bike as I knew I’d end doing the full race if I did. Up until the day before, I was convinced that I could get away with doing the swim! In the run up to the race, we had several sea swims and I felt good. But doing a 20 minute leisurely swim with no pressure is slightly different to 1.9km in a hectic 70.3 swim!

At the finish line, the atmosphere was buzzing and all the emotions of a longer distance tri were present!  A couple of tears fell as I watched people finish. On greeting my friends and getting the sneaked-out medal and finisher’s t-shirt, the tears definitely fell!

In May, I cancelled the reminder of my races but struggled with the thought giving up racing altogether. The Challenge Henley half iron distance was the only event that would give me no refund whatsoever. This meant that I kept my entry and the little voice in my head was saying ”maybe, I could possibly do it’. Those around me were of quite a different viewpoint…

As the triathlon race season progressed, I supported at many races and enjoyed being the other side of the line! The run of ironman races was tough and listening to friends talk about the process was a challenge in itself! Not doing Ironman this year made me feel like I have a heart condition, made me feel different to those around me and not in the positive way that I had felt last year! Although I will always know I have a congenital defect, before I gave up Ironman, I had a feeling on invincibility, I felt I could do anything. The reality is whilst I believe you can do anything you want, sometimes the sensible course of action is to move to something else on the list.

Secretly doing lots of training (including yoga) was not my wisest move ever but it got me to where I wanted to be before going on holiday! I obviously listened to my body, stopping if I got any twinges of chest pain or breathless and taking rest days when necessary. It seemed my body could comfortably manage 1200m swimming, 30ish miles on the bike and around 5 miles running. Any more than that and it was game over. Once I had my parameters, I did stick to them (or others forced them upon me!).

Going on feel, not heart rate was another tactic, and it also took my focus away from sticking to a certain pace or speed, or trying to maintain a level of fitness which was now unrealistic.

Return to short distance racing began with entry to the Bournemouth aquathlon. Just having this in the diary helped with getting-over-ironman. I loved racing again. The sea swim didn’t go to plan as I got caught behind some tri newbies doing breaststroke but I made up for that with a great 5k run.

This event reminded me why I race. To have a goal, no matter how small, is a reason to get out the door when you’re tired or it’s raining, it makes you get up at 5:30 for a yoga class before work and drags you out on a ride on a Sunday when you could just chill in front of the telly. Ultimately triathlon doesn’t define who you are but it does define the kind of person you choose to be. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that sitting still just doesn’t happen with me, relaxing doesn’t come naturally and I always have more than one ‘project’ on the go!

Last week I took part in my tri club’s aquathlon. As an evening event, I felt slightly nervous as I’m strictly a morning person when it comes to training. I let negative thoughts get to me and ended up coming last! Doing things for fun really has to be the name of the game from now on! The truth is sprint distance isn’t my thing (yet) but while it is all I can do, I’m going to keep doing it! My next tri is a sprint at the end of August.

My other news is that I’ve finally started writing my book! Now feels like the right time as only now is it the real end of my heart surgery to ironman story. I got to where I needed to and now it’s the beginning of my life; still with triathlon in it, but only as a supporting character, not the main role! I am finally happier with where I am, and although I’m still struggling with reducing training and badly missing the buzz of ironman, I am more accepting of where my life is headed without it.

Heartbroken!

3 May

To some people ironman is stupid. They can’t understand why you’d want to do something which takes over your life, causes so much pain and requires so many sacrifices.  To me, it’s what kept me going when I had to deal with a diagnosis of a congenital heart defect and subsequent surgery. I achieved my goal of completing an Ironman and I’m so grateful I got the chance to. It really was the best day of my life!

Today, my chances of doing another have been taken away. I’ve received the official ‘no’ to another half or full IM from my sports specialist consultant cardiologist. Over the last few weeks I’ve experienced symptoms including chest pain, breathlessness, palpitations, wheezing – all not exactly confidence building with a race next week! I made the decision to stop and get it checked.

My VO2 test revealed figures that meant enough is enough. I am fit, healthy and I want to say that way. My heart, with years under a lot of pressure per-operation, just doesn’t like ironman training.  Carrying on now would risk shorting my life and heart failure. That’s good enough for me. It’s not me giving up….

I made a deal with him that if I quit ironman, he will give me a place, support and monitor me to attempt the London marathon one more time next year! I will still love all things swim, bike and run and will never give up but I need to have a break from it for now. I think it will take time to process, giving up a total of 6 races, including my two iron distances is heart-breaking (!), I am totally devastated to miss Mallorca 70,3, Roth and IM Western Australia, amongst other races, but I know it’s the right decision.

I will be back!

2012 – Heart Surgery to Ironman Year!

8 Jan

2012 was always going to be a big year! It was the year I turned 30, had lots of life, work and situational changes and of course, continued to work towards my big goal. In the space of 2 years, I went from heart surgery to the finishline of Ironman Austria and achieved my dream. I started 2012 in a positive way, building on a good 2011 season and very keen to work hard, buidling mileage over the winter. I enjoyed the routine of ironman training, early swim sessions, meeting  for long rides with friends in all weathers, running longer and generally feeling fitter. I dedicated the first 6 months of the year to Ironman, religiously sticking to my training plan (well, nearly!), eating healthily and avoiding alcohol!!

My training took a sharp increase when I headed out to Lanzarote for a week’s hard cycling. This was a definite highlight of the year, as it really tested me to my limits. The challenge of warm temperatures, wind and the immense climbs pushed my physical ability much more than I had ever experienced. I loved each day of cycling, seeing the stunning island and learning a lot about Ironman training and nutrition (see pic!). Pizza, chips, chips and more chips. This holiday was a highlight of my year, but it was also both a low and learning point afterwards when I ended up in hospital! A humbling moment occured where I was faced with giving up my dream of ironman. More about my Lanza experience can be found here: Lanzarote 2012

Other highlights included: My first 100k ride in February – this was my longest ride at this point, involved lots of navigation as I couldn’t keep up with the group, and the conditions were less than ideal, ice everywhere! I remember the feeling of achievement when I finished though, each time I went further on the bike, I loved cycling a little bit more! By April, I was ready to take part in a New Forest Wiggle sportive. 83 miles later, I was bursting with happiness and proudly showing off my medal!

The first time I completed 100 miles, back in June, I took the below photo of my watch. I couldn’t quite believe that I had done it. I had borrowed a friend’s tri bike a couple of weeks before in preparation for Austria and this was my second time out on it.  A solo ride, around the stunning D0rset Purbecks, I actually loved every minute.

By spring, it was all about triathlon. My olympic distance race in the New Forest was cancelled due to bad weather and I was so disappointed that I went on my turbo for 90 minutes then straight into a 9.5 mile run along the beach in a sandstorm! A photographer even asked to take pictures of me because I obviously looked completely crazy on an otherwise deserted seafront! My next race was Beaver middle distance in May, and my first DNF (did not finish!). Injuries plagued me throughout the year and with only 6 weeks until Ironman Austria, I had to take the decision half way through the run of this race. A huge learning point! Being strong enough to walk away from a race took more than I thought! There was a bit of a grumpy Corinne at the finish, I saw my friends finish then sped off to work and entertained people with my pond-weed styled hair and delightful smelling wet-wipe washed body!

The highlight of July, and my whole year, was obviously Ironman. Even though this was 6 months ago, I am still buzzing with the memory of that day. The time, energy, support, commitment and dedication that it took to get to the start line, as well as the finishline, will always be my biggest achievement and what 2012 was all about for me. Here is My race report.

After Austria, I was really tired and the cumulation of a hectic and emotionally draining 6 months caught up with me. I had to learn to rest when I needed to, otherwise the dreaded multitude of injuries would be back to haunt me. Finding a balance was one of the key learning points for me in 2012. Remembering to have fun, to stop working so hard, to spend more time with those close to me and to listen to my body was what 2012 taught me.

Other milestones of the year included my first 3.8k open water swim and long training runs of up to 22 miles in preparation for the Amsterdam marathon in October. This race was definitely a learning point, as despite training hard in the months leading to the marathon, on the way, I crashed and burned in a big way! It made me appreciate what I had asked my body to do during the year and that sometimes you have to just approach an event as fun, especially when in Amsterdam! I didn’t achieve my sub 4 goal but learnt a valuable lesson about simply finishing what I set out to achieve, doing your best on the day and having a big fat rest afterwards (aka a big night out in the Dam!).

Talking of fun, 2o12 was a year of celebrations, 30th birthday style! A trip to Prague was the first stop, with 3 nights of European fun and games. Next it was on to Las Vegas for adventures partying, pole dancing, vodka, nachos, big blisters, ledge ledges, room service and a concierge named Ron (don’t ask!). Before getting back to some serious training, there was time for a few more nights out in Derby, Christchurch and Newcastle. You only turn 30 once! My friends have been a massive support to me this year and spending more time with them was one of my new year resolutions that I kept willingly! People I met on my journey through my eventful year all added to the excitement, variety and absolute craziness that is my life!

I might now stop talking about my heart surgery to Ironman journey, as I have completed my goal and my two iron distance races in 2013 are just the icing on the cake – I’m doing them because I can. My first Ironman will always be special because it took so much to get there. You don’t need to have a heart condition or to have surgery to aim high, I’d recommend it to anyone. Having a reason to get out of bed early in the morning gives you a focus, an enthusiasm and purpose that I cannot imagine not having now. Going on a journey such as this makes you truely grateful for those around you. Massive thanks to all my friends, family, my coach, 110 % Play Harder, Ironheart Racing Team and all those I have met in 2012 – you made my year!

Take A Step

13 Nov

www.takeachallenge.org recently posted a photo with the following phrase: The first step is the hardest – take a step. This really struck a chord with me, especially as that day I had found the diary I kept for my rehabilitation after heart surgery. Each step then was a huge challenge, starting with a walk around the ward. I was told to walk every day and slowly increase the distance. Determination to improve, get better, become fitter and feel ‘normal’ again were the motivating factors.

But what if you lack the motivation to exercise, to take the first step? Or if you have previously had motivation but somehow lost it, what can you do? My personal drive is to focus on a very specific goal, be that a big race, a specific target such as my 6 miles in 60 minutes run goal after my surgery, or a dress to wear in Las Vegas :) If you lose sight of the reasons for wanting to achieve, chances are you won’t see it through.

When I have experienced low points, I have had to remind myself of the importance of health and fitness. I recently had a humbling experience when I went to see a sports cardiologist. Not satisfied with the input I received from the NHS, I sought out a specialist who understood why we do sport. I wanted to get an honest opinion from a professional about how safe it is to continue with training for Ironman, when you have or have had a heart condition.

Whilst there, I had a full set of tests to determine both the state of my heart and my fitness levels. The results were quite pleasing, however, the cardiologist sat me down and literally asked me how many marathons or ironmans I wanted to do. I found that hard to answer but was honest and said I’d like to do as many as possible! He explained that that wasn’t a great idea long term, that my heart as a muscle will never be perfect again and will likely tire if I continue with these endurance events. He also told me that I shouldn’t ever hope to be competitive or go for ‘fast’ times. This conversation was humbling because it put into perspective mortality, health and the reality of living with a heart condition (even if it is ‘better’).

My second method of motivation is thinking of those less fortunate than myself, those who can’t exercise for whatever reason. The consultant I saw does a lot of work with the CRY charity – cardiac risk in the young. With many stories of athletes and non-sporty people who have dropped down dead from an undiagnosed heart condition, how can you not appreciate your own health? This is just a subject close to me, but I believe everyone could relate to a cause or health condition that might have affected a family member or friend.

A friend said the following to me recently: “The ONLY reason I “came back” was to complete an IM.  While there is a lot of other good stuff about life that I appreciate, the dumb IM is the mountain I wanted to climb, and quite frankly, I didn’t much care if it killed me to try since one cant ask for much more than to be living life on the path you want to be on, rather than a path everyone else thinks your life should be on.”   Without realising, I was of a very similar thought process. Before completing Austria, it was my overwhelming goal, to finish, to achieve what I had set out to do. To be completely honest, there isn’t much that could have stopped me finishing that day. It meant that much to me. But on completing my goal, is it realistic to continue to pursue it again, over and over? This was my reason for seeking out a specialist, one who actively promotes sport, is passionate about it and has a desire to help athletes overcome physical obstacles.

When he told me that ironman is not for me forever, I had a sad moment. I thought of all the joy training brings, the build up to the day and the race itself. The experience was the most positive one in my life so I had been keen to continue getting that feeling. The cardiologist then went on to discuss the possibilites of my races in 2013. With the go ahead for 2 iron distance races next year, my sad moment turned into exhilaration. So what if I can’t race forever, I will just enjoy the time I do have and will spend it doing what I love – Ironman!!

 

 

 

Vitruvian Middle Distance – Heart Surgery to Half Ironman!

27 Sep

Vitruvian Middle Distance

Why I wanted to do it? The Vit was my A race in 2011. I trained all year for this race and it really meant everything. Finishing was then my biggest achievement to date and I was over the moon with a time of 6:37. This year, the race was a post Ironman goal, just to make sure my training was kept ticking over and I had a focus after July. Tied in with the Amsterdam marathon in October, Vitruvian helped me through those lost post Austria feelings!

Training

My training had a break after Ironman but I was soon keen to get back to some kind of distance work. Ironman spoils you in a way, going out for short distances just doesn’t seem to cut it! I loved getting back into some longer runs, the odd brick session and keeping my swimming going. Whilst my training for the race was less than ideal, I was still enjoying all the disciplines and felt ready to race.

The day

I viewed the Vit as a fun race, with no pressure other than to do my best on the day and hopefully beat last year’s time. With a year’s good training under my belt, I thought this was possible and had really looked forward to the race.

On the day, I attacked the swim as best I could. I was a little disappointed with a 42 minute swim, as I regularly achieved much quicker in training for 1.9k but exited the swim with plenty of energy for the bike. 3 minutes quicker than last year, so no real reason to complain.

Onto the bike, I hoped to stick around 16mph, but with the rolling hills of the course, my average soon dropped to 15.6 for the first lap then down to 15mph for the second. Gutted! Started to get really cross with myself on the bike, had to keep changing position on my new TT bike and generally had no power in my legs. I finished in 3:22, 5 minutes faster then 2011.

Onto the run, and all I can say is OUCH! Pain from the minute I started running. My back from the bike position, my right knee from a niggling injury, my foot, seriously – everything hurt! My pace plans soon went out of the window and it was case of survival. Had to pull a few psychological tricks out of the bag to keep going! Try imagining you’re in a hospital bed and being told not to exercise for months! Motivation to keep putting one foot in front of the other! A finish time for the half marathon was 2:20, a personal worst but a finish all the same.

Finishing was a huge relief. I had committed to completing Vitruvian and I was even more determined to get a PB. 4 minutes was what I managed on the day, in hot conditions, so I was pleased! A few days of pain followed but it was so worth it! Medals and t-shirts mean a lot!

What did I learn?

I learnt that Ironman takes a lot out of you, more than you think. Your body dictates how you perform and sometimes you have to listen carefully. I am lucky that I have been able to complete a full distance, two half iron distances and hopefully a marathon by the end of 2012. I am pleased with my progress to date and can’t wait to see what the future hold with more training. I also learnt that after all of that, I really need some new trainers asap! :)

Life After Ironman

13 Aug

6 weeks on and here are my thoughts on life after Ironman.

Completion of Ironman Austria was the biggest achievement I think I had made in my life up to this point. Just making the finishing line gave me the greatest feeling of success, even though the day didn’t go completely to plan. As soon as I finished, I began reflecting on my experience, thinking over and over about what happened and what I got out of it. To anyone who asked ‘how was it?’ my answer always started with ‘I loved it’! I genuinely did, loved each aspect of the race, the support on the day, the atmosphere and most definitely the finish. How could anything compare to that?

After nearly two years of build-up, life after such a big event takes a bit of adjusting to! After Austria, I had been warned about the ‘post-ironman blues’ – a time when all the craziness of your A race and focus for the whole year is over. When your post-race buzz is fading, there is a rather big hole in your life, when once you didn’t have a minute spare. Training is limited as your body needs time to recover. Mine felt ok immediately afterwards, I didn’t ache and I didn’t have any of the dramatic side –effects I had heard about. But then I did have a nice long cool down (6 hr 21 walk/jog!). Two full weeks off any structured training was just what my body needed but by the end, I was twitchy as anything.

I found my mind was still in ironman-mode, switched on and continually reflecting on my experience. It’s hard to quieten that voice in your head that says ‘keep going, you’ll be fine’! I had this voice finely honed from all the hard months of training. You absolutely cannot have a voice that tells you to stop.

3 weeks after Austria, fatigue hit and my motivation to train plummitted! Without the burning desire and crazy obsession with something, I found getting up in the morning difficult for the first time ever. I’d be in a beautiful lake with the sun coming up and still felt no love! On my bike, I felt alright but nothing special, not like I had the fitness to ride 112 miles! Running made my heartrate go sky high so had to be careful to keep it all under control. I lost my appetite, but this always happens to me after a race.

I had several interviews and blogs to write and this helped keep my focus positive, although inside I wasn’t necessarily over the moon about all aspects of my race. My main disappointment was with my time and how my body reacted during the marathon and in the heat. Lots of lessons learnt and to be improved on. I still maintained the overwhelming feeling of achievement for simply finishing, but I think it’s only human to always strive for better. I tried not to compare myself with others. I was reminded by the stats about those who have completed an Ironman after heart surgery and I’m still in the minority (made me feel better!).

The only sensible thing to overcome the temporary sadness was to line something up to look forward to! That for me was round 2. I entered Roth (iron distance event in Germany) a couple of weeks after finishing Austria. As the deadlines for next summer’s races were fast approaching, I had to make a decision. There was never at any point a question of whether or not, I’d do another Ironman. I knew a long time ago, in the middle of training for Austria, that this was for me.

I also entered a half ironman distance race for September which meant my training had a closer goal to work towards. Suddenly everything started to fit into place again! Speaking to friends, I heard that this is a common thing to do after Ironman and probably the reason why people go on to become lifetime endurance junkie.  Oh no, I think I might be part of that club already…!

After making it round the course in one piece, I am now determined to become faster, fitter and stronger. Another year’s training and I’m excited to see what is possible next. Was it all worth it? YES!

 

 

 

Heart Surgery to Ironman – The End of the Journey!

8 Jul

My 2 year anniversary of my heart surgery was 23rd June 2012 and Ironman Austria took place a year and a week after my operation. What better way to celebrate! I picked Austria as I was told it was a great course, amazing area, good weather (!) and support the whole way round.

We headed out to Austria on the Thursday before the race and the temperature hit us straight away. Mid 30’s was lovely for sunbathing in and relaxing by the lake but rumours were it was only going to get hotter by the weekend. Nerves had settled in and all of our thoughts were on getting things done, course recce’d, registration done, plenty of food! There were several occasions where I had to take some time to calm down, and think logically through what needed to be done. I had lists of lists but in the end, I decided to trust my packing and chill.

The day was everything I expected it to be. An announcement of a non-wetsuit swim added to the nerves but there was certainly a buzz in the air. My friend and I got to the start line with a mixture of anxiety, fear, excitement and sheer happiness. There is no feeling like being surrounded by nearly 3000 athletes and hitting the water all together. I made sure I took time to soak in the atmosphere and remember the moment that I had worked so hard to get to. I loved every minute of the swim and came out feeling full of energy. The lake was beautiful, especially with the sun rising.

Onto the bike, the sun really came out and the heat soared. 38 degrees was the recorded high! Support on the course was amazing and having my family and friends there made it even more special. I struggled at several parts but was determined to give it my all and make it in one piece to the run. My energy levels flagged as I suffered with stomach problems and was forcing down food and fluids. After a few stops on the bike, my times were slowing and the heat continued to increase. Crowds, DJs, music and the lively aid stations kept me going as well as the beautiful scenery. Despite being in a lot of pain, I managed to appreciate the view! I’m doing an Ironman, I kept telling myself!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The marathon was by far the most difficult part of the day. My stomach issues worsened and exhaustion set in. I got to the point where I could only tolerate small sips of water and energy drink. There were moments when I didn’t think I would make the 17 hour cut off. I could barely walk in a straight line and started hallucinating that there were worms everywhere – not nice! Once completely dark, motivation on the street was challenging and my focus had to be on moving forward and nothing else. Inside me were two voices, one telling me to stop, lie down, give in to the pain my body was suffering. The second drove me forward, told me to be brave, be patient, stay strong and finish what I set out to do. That voice came from two years of fighting, trying, hurting and achieving.

I will never forget those last few moments. The last km of the run was so hard physically but mentally I built myself up for the moment I had been waiting for. I started to run again, fought against anything that told me to stop. I was determined to run down the finishing chute whatever it took. Despite being emotional at other point in the day, at this time I wasn’t. I was quietly set on one thing and one thing only, finishing. At the realisation that this was going to happen drew closer, I felt unbelievably relieved. Not sad, not happy, not overwhelmed, just so glad to be there. The reception at the finish, in the dark, was something else. On my mind was my friends and family waiting for me, plus everyone at home that were tracking my progress. As I heard the Baywatch theme tune, I ran to the finish, stopping to have the picture that I will treasure forever. I had made it! Two years, almost to the day since I had open heart surgery and I am an IRONMAN!

Thank you to all of my friends and family for their support over the last 2 years. Certain friends have really been there for me during training. Thanks to my coach for helping me achieve what we set out to do – finish! My lovely Twitter friends, never failing to pick me up when I doubted myself and always there to give you a pat on the back.

The support I have received has been incredible. Emails I have got from people who needed some inspiration to try for their own challenge really touched me. I have come across so many stories of those who have overcome adversity and I am inspired to give something back to all those who have helped me. Maybe a book, who knows?

So, what’s next? The experience left me inspired, exhilarating and wanting more! I loved the training, have made some great friends and truly enjoyed the journey. Now I know what my body is capable of, I can trust it more and explore the possibilities of pushing further. Another Ironman is on the cards, of that you can be sure! Whilst this may be the end of my heart surgery to Ironman journey, it definitely the start of another! For now, I am enjoying the memories of the best day of my life!

 

 

2 Years Ago Today – Heart Surgery to Ironman

23 Jun

23rd June 2010.

My heart was stopped for 39 minutes. My sternum was broken and the hole in my heart patched up. I was in Intensive care and had 8 days in hospital. The pain was unbelievable. The recovery was slow and frustrating. To work my way through this experience, I needed to look to the future.

In my hospital bed, I made the decision firstly to run my deferred London marathon place the following April ( 2011) and secondly, complete an Ironman in 2012.

Why? I get asked this all the time. In usual circumstances, you could say the extreme element to the challenge makes it appealing. The feeling of satisfaction about pushing your body to the limit. It’s also actually enjoyable to train long and slow in all three disciplines. For me, the real reason for wanting to do Ironman is to prove to myself that anything is possible. I believed this before the diagnosis of my heart condition but afterwards, that confidence slipped away somewhat. I needed a clear positive goal that I knew would help me through the tough months of recovery.

Being both a physical and psychological challenge, I wanted to take my feelings about heart surgery and channel it into a positive experience. Another reason for wanting to do Ironman is to make the most of having an opportunity to get fit again. Many with a heart condition are severely limited and cannot exercise. I was lucky that my defect was picked up firstly as a result of exercise and secondly there should be no real long term complications. Once I was fixed, that was it – free to get back to the sport I love! That’s lucky. If I wouldn’t have been here in 10 years time, I need to make the most of what I have – an opportunity to do the things that really challenge you and push boundaries of what is possible.

There’s such a community of long distance triathletes, you really stick together. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through the training without my friends. Without support from those close to me, life would have been a whole lot tougher. No-one has questioned my decision to do this. My coach has been nothing but supportive, despite set-backs along the way. Having people believe in you makes all the difference when occasionally you question yourself!

Recent advice has included taking the time to take in the atmosphere on the day, to really get a sense of everything and to remember it. After working towards my goal for so long, it will all be over so quickly. When I swim my 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles, I will be thinking about all those who can not do this challenge even if they wanted to. I’ll be remembering the determination I felt after my operation when a short walk exhausted me. Above all, I will enjoy the day because I am lucky to be there.

Two years ago I was alone in a hospital bed after being woken for surgery. A last minute decision by the consultant meant that my operation had been brought forward and I was about to be rushed down to the operating theatre. I was petrified! Family had planned to visit early in the morning to wish me luck but I soon realised there was no times for goodbyes. I considered the risks previously explained to me and my heart raced. The very thing that keeps me alive was about to be stopped.

Lying in a bed connected to pacing wires, drains and drips is a funny time to start dreaming about Ironman. Maybe it was the morphine  but suddenly a seedling of an idea had clarity… it was my goal to achieve it. It was going to be a long journey with many ups and downs but now I’m here, with only a week to go, it’s been worth every minute.

Heart Surgery to Ironman, race report next!