Swimming Pool Race

I’ve been back swimming at our local pool for a few weeks now. I’ve noticed that getting there is a race and that this race falls into two parts.

Part 1:

Beating the online rugby scrum to get a swimming slot. This involves frantically checking the website every few minutes 7 days before you want to swim. The moment ‘slots are available’ pops up on your screen, you have to navigate the drop down boxes, enter through a number of screens and then hit confirm. You must do this as fast as humanly possible. Remember that others are doing the same thing at the same time and everyone is after that elusive gold dust – the swimming booking.

Part 2:

This is where the real fun kicks in. I’ve noticed that people disrobe and get in the pool at lightening speed. In fact, I’ve decided that everyone is in this unspoken race. It’s like a reverse triathlon. With this in mind I set off the other day to come first in my age category for this new sport.

First important thing to do is don your costume before you go to the pool. Thankfully its now hot weather so I was able to wear a loose fitting dress over my costume. This has just one tie at the neck so should just fall to the ground at a pinch. Not sure what trick guys would try in this scenario.

I’ve noticed that the other ladies in this competition wear flip flops. I hate these toe slicing evils with a passion so I opted for sandals instead. Its essential to wear something you can throw off your feet quickly. You could waste a minute trying to get out of something with laces.

Before going into the pool I leave my glasses wrapped around the gearstick. I feel smug. I know that will save me a few seconds. I queue up with 8 minutes to go (they let you in with 5 minutes to go). Annoyingly I’m second in the queue to a lady I’ve seen here before. She is fast. She looks a bit like Nancy Reagan and I notice she is wearing loose shorts and a T-shirt. Behind me three more people queue up ready. One guy and two more middle aged ladies wearing flip flops and keen eyes ready to race.

Beep….and we are in. The race is on. Nancy virtually skips in heading for the changing rooms. I walk in behind trying to catch her up as we make our way down the yellow matting.

Once in the changing room, I make one pull on my neck tie and I’m out of my dress. I start shovelling it into my rucksack, feeling pleased I kept it half empty so that I could do this easily. Stepping out of my sandals I spy Nancy out of the corner of my eye. She is ready and about to head for the door already. How did she do that? She throws me a smug look and I know the chase is on.

With one motion I throw my sandals in my bag and pick it up. I head out the door, throwing it over my shoulder as I go.

Stepping out onto the yellow walkway, I speed up and start to catch Nancy. I manage to grab my hat out of my bag and edge past her at the same time. We both arrive at the reception together but I’m in front and the space is only wide enough for one at a time.

“Name please” says the lady behind reception.

I provide my maiden name (I haven’t changed my membership yet) and simultaneously pull on my hat to save time.

Moving away I walk quickly into the swimming pool area whilst still shoving extra bits of hair under my hat as I go.

I can feel Nancy breathing down my neck so start to pick up some speed. I’d love to run over to the pool and dive in but, a) I’m carrying a small rucksack, b) I haven’t dived since I was 12 years old and its the shallow end and c) I still have the kiddy pool to navigate my way around first.

I head swiftly around the children’s pool as I feel Nancy move past on my left shoulder. She chats to me on the way past. Clearly an excuse to pull ahead! As we make the last turn towards the main pool, I see the chairs come into view where we will leave our bags. I make a few quicker steps to pass Nancy again and get there before her. Hah!! Agh what is this? There is a bag on the first chair. I look around my eyes darting about the pool to see the criminal that has beat me so to the first chair. I spy an old guy about to get in the far lane. Ah thats ok, its a guy. I can still be first woman!

I throw my bag down on the second chair and Nancy sweeps past me to the third chair. I’m about to lurch myself towards the lane I need when I realise I’ve forgotten to get my pull buoy and goggles out of my bag! Agh. How could I have been so reckless? I waste valuable seconds unzipping my bag and looking for my much needed items.

In the meantime two more ladies have joined the chair debugging transition area and are readying themselves to get in the pool. All three of them now turn and are heading for the first lane which is nearest. I make a dash for the middle lane, throw my stuff down and launch myself into the water with a splash.

The guy in the furthest lane turns to look and see what the commotion is. He looks for a second somewhat confused and then goes back to his doggy paddle. He clearly isn’t ‘in the game’.

I look to my left and I see Nancy with her feet in the water and the two other ladies standing behind her. They all look at me with their eyes narrowed. They know. They know I beat them at their own game.

I smile, pull down my tinted goggles and push off for my swim.

Exciting times and Training Peaks

With just two weeks to go until the time with my online coach starts, I’m feeling excited! As instructed, I’ve downloaded an app called training peaks.

Out cycling in the sunshine

I’ve synced the app to seemingly everything apart from the kitchen sink. Ok I’ve not synced it to the toaster (yet). However, its now linked to fitness pal, Zwift, wahoo element, Garmin and Strava. This means that all my swims, runs, walks, bikes, gym sessions and what I’m eating are now all in one place. It includes both current training and history. Every silly decision I’ve ever made is there for the coach to look at. Eek!

He will see (as I have now indeed seen) that after recovering from my fall and stitches I went from 2 hours of exercise to 7 hours in a matter of three weeks. Oops! No wonder I ended up injured again. Why didn’t I notice this by just looking at my Garmin or Strava you might be asking? Good question and I don’t really have an answer. I do, however, hope that the additional stats on training peaks will help. The app provides you with another calculation called TSS.

Without getting too boring about it, it essentially measures relative intensity and frequency as well as duration. Thus you can look at a number on a page and think yikes the number has jumped from 200 to 300 since last week!

The problem is, I dont know by how much you can increase your TSS week on week without it being an issue. However, I assume the coach will watch this and coax me along in the right direction. That’s what I’m paying him for after all, and I’ll be able to concentrate on enjoying myself and not worrying about the numbers.

It’s been a great weekend. We’ve seen my family yesterday. Great to be able to meet up and have a proper catch up in person rather than over a skype call.

Yesterday evening we went out with “the kids” for curry and beer and then plonked ourselves down in front of the Champions League final. Unfortunately the game did not go as my husband and his daughter would of liked and my ears are still bleeding…….. all good fun though 😝.

Today I started the day with a beautiful bike ride in glorious weather. I went out on my own aiming for a shorter ride. My husband went off on a longer one on his own. Half way through we exchanged texts, met up and came back together. I underestimated the distance and timing though and got home 2 hours after setting off. It was great to be out again and I look forward to being able to go out more often with my husband now. I’m also looking forward to finding nice cafes for breakfast or a coffee and cake (like the old days).

This afternoon Ive painted the decking with stuff that smelt awful but looks really nice. Meanwhile my husband washed our cars (lord knows mine needed it). He once told me that they should put the I’m a celebrity get me out of here contestants in my car for ten minutes as their trial (no snakes needed).

Managing the machiavellian, militant and memory losing menopausal self 😝

In a perfect example of memory loss I forgot I had eyebrow dye on. Packet said 5 minutes. It was 30 minutes before I remembered….

Last week I found myself watching a documentary with Davina McCall on Menopausal madness and nodding……. a lot.

Although the word menopause may inspire some to exhale loudly and walk the other way it is still worth knowing more about. Why?

50% of you are already knee deep in this delight or will be one day. The other 50% will undoubtedly at some point find themselves face to face with someone who is losing things, forgetting things and shouting at you a lot. So be wise, listen up and if you are the ‘other 50%’ be thankful (well a bit).

So whether this is you or someone you know, these are some of the things you can expect to happen.

  • You or the other person may forget anything that happened more than two minutes ago, may lose things and in general do crazy things. This week I found orange peel in our laundry bin. I must assume I was the one that mistook the laundry basket for a bin since it was me that tried to put the cereal in the fridge last week.
  • You or the person going through the menopause will feel moments of rage never experienced before. Think PMT * 100. Forget Mike Tyson or the Incredible Hulk. They are no match for a menopausal woman in the midst of a rage attack. Perhaps I should sign up to that SAS dares wins and channel my anger.
  • It can lead to a lack of confidence and increased anxiety.
  • Sudden acute awareness of hormones. You have moments when you think ‘oh and there you are…..’ (the voice of Jennifer Saunders in Absolutely Fabulous springs to mind).
  • Interrupted sleep. Ah what must it be like to actually sleep through an entire night? I don’t remember the last time I did that. So you or the other person will be a walking zombie for around 5-10 years. No biggy.

So how do we deal with all of this? Well if I had the answer to that I would be a millionaire but below are some things I’ve learnt so far.

  • Well there’s the medication route of HRT or natural supplements
  • Eating well
  • Exercise (of course I would say this!)
  • Finding a new goal or purpose. Perhaps one your younger self didn’t have time for.
  • Look deep into the abyss of those things that make you anxious or scared and do them anyway. Either this will do wonders for your confidence or you will fail spectacularly and have an amusing story to tell.
  • Accepting it and learning to work with it. I find going off to read a book when I cant sleep quite therapeutic.
  • Talking to others who are going through the same thing.

I’m sure there are more things that help but I’ll leave the reader to come up with more suggestions.

I’m back in the saddle again

Out where a friend is a friend. Out where the longhorn cattle feed, on the lowly gypsum weed. Back in the saddle again. Yeeeehah.

What a difference two weeks can make! Just 14 days ago I was sore, completely fed up and ready to lose all hope with my aspirations. Roll forward to today and I’ve seen a different physio and got a second opinion, He got me moving again (ah so mobilisation was the key!). I’ve been cycling, swimming, intend to restart running this week and even signed up to my very own running coach!! I’M SO EXCITED!!

So apparently if you have some inflammation, resting for 5-7 days is fine but after that you need to “MOVE!!”. So thanks to Christos as he has saved me wasting any more time and getting ever more stiff and sore.

So as previously mentioned Ive got my eyes set on doing a ‘really long run’ in Sept 2022. In order to make this happen, given that:

I’m a) not especially gifted; b) tend to injure easily; c) not particularly strong and d) getting a bit old (should I of said older…does that sound better?). Anyway given all of those things I decided that getting advice from an expert might just help a bit and be worth the expense.

I’ve found someone who is a triathlete and will build me a largely multi-disciplinary plan as I realise I’ve always been stronger when tri training and have generally injured when my perceived need to do more running has meant less cycling and strength work. Obviously I will still need to run though but hopefully it will be quality over quantity. Let’s see how it pans out.

It’ll be weird to have someone else dictate what sessions I do and at what pace I do them. I guess this is not for everyone but I’m quite looking forward to it. It takes all the thinking out of it and I think I will get a kick out of it once I see some improvement.

Hurdles – Accepting when you are wrong

I couldn’t find a picture of a physio studio so decided to include one of Mallorca instead. Relevance: None. Loveliness grade: 10.

Yup I said it. I’m happy to accept when I’m wrong. In my last blog I mentioned that I’d been doing strength exercises, yoga, stretching, basically everything I thought was right to ‘resolve’ my hip issue. This was because I wrongly assumed that the pain was caused by either tightness or weakness.

So according to the learned Physio I visited last Thursday – turns out there is a third option. Inflammation. Ahhhh. And what should do when something is inflamed? Rest it, rest it, rest it. Possibly ice or heat it and take ibuprofen. Ahhhhh whoops then.

Last week I was happily forecasting that the physio would send me away with a list of physio exercises to do and tell me to stop running for a bit. Well there was no fancy physio list of contortionist exercises or magic wand waving. Just realised. Im glad I didn’t ask my physio if he had a magic wand. Might of taken it the wrong way.

In actual fact the conversation went something like this…

Me: “So I assume I shouldn’t run?”

Him: “You assume correctly” (slight grin, raised eyebrow)

Me: “So should I do some, you know, easy physio type exercises?”

Him: “Nope. I want you to do nothing.”

Me: “What not even cycling?”

Him: “Nothing.”

Me: “What about swimming, I already booked myself onto two sessions?” (Eyes now twice the size, imploring – reminiscent of the cat in Shrek).

Him: “Hmmm. Well its not ideal.”

Me: “Well I could use my pull buoy (float between your legs) then it would only be an arm workout!”

Him: “Ok. If its only arms then you can do that.”

Me: “I was thinking I’ll keep it short like 20 minutes?”

Him: “And how many metres can you swim in that time?”

Me: “Um a few…..like 1000 maybe”

Him: “Make it 15 minutes max”.

Me: “Ok”.

I should explain that the reason he was being so strict about the ‘arm’ swimming is because I went to see this same physio last year with a rotator cuff injury….

Whilst he was attaching me to the Stims machine and letting me know I should speak up if my muscles start to contract too violently….I decided to tell him about my plan to run from John O Groats to Lands End in 2022. Instead of rolling around on the floor laughing (which to be fair would of been a reasonable reaction in the circumstances) he simply said, “oh thats really cool”.

Me: “So you think thats possible?”

Him: “Yes we will get you there. And you can put our name on your T-shirt as you come into the finish line”.

Me: “Whoop, great, I will”.

I think he was kidding and he was probably placating me like a child. Perhaps he will go home to his other half later and sit and laugh at the person who wants to run 1200 miles when they cant even walk right now. “Oh and then she said…..Isn’t that hilarious darling….”

Ok, my imagination is getting carried away with me. I doubt this guy calls anyone darling. And I’m probably doing him an injustice. He might actually believe I’m capable of this aim. To be fair I can walk a mile, thats a start right?

So since last Thursday until the next one I’ve done some front crawl (arms only) but otherwise absolutely zilch. Unless you count teaching my friends some belly dancing and salsa in a back garden after three cans of gin and two cans of wine.

No I know right. I didn’t realise you could buy wine in cans either.

Unfortunately we’ve now cancelled the Ultra end of August and I do feel bad for my husband as this obviously affects him too (we were running as a team). However, its better to admit its not going to happen now and I do feel relieved to not have that immediate pressure anymore. Next year is another matter.

When I will be able to start running again is still a mystery to both myself and the physio. I think I heard him say ‘weeks’ but equally it will depend on progress.

The other bonus about only being able to swim right now is that it is making me get up at stupid o’clock tomorrow morning. This is a habit I definitely grew out of during lockdown in favour of rolling out of bed into my joggers at 6.55am in order to start work at 7am. So swimming is going to help me get back into my old habits. With this being said it means that tomorrow I will get up at 5.30am to start my day. I cant honestly say I’m looking forward to this, especially as I would like to watch Line of Duty tonight at 9pm with a glass of vino. Hmmmm. I’ll let you know how it goes…

What a difference a day (week) makes….24 x 7 little hours….

A week ago, my husband and I were still planning our Westhighland Way 96 mile midge dodging, hill scaling Jog in June. Sadly on Tuesday I finally had to admit I could no longer ignore the pain in my hip flexors/psoas/lower back (take your pick). I also had to recognise that no amount of buttock clenches, bridges, massage or doing cat-cows or happy baby poses were making a difference.

So we decided to cancel it for now and hopefully rebook this later in the year, provided I can recover from this current ‘hiccup’.

I like the occasional obstacle in life, it allows me to take stock and think ‘how I will tackle this latest difficulty’. Sometimes you find interest in other things along the way. Things you just wouldn’t have seen or done if everything had gone to plan.

However, I would pretty please like a brief intermission from said obstacles. There was the sore back that stopped me running for a full year, 4 years ago. Then there was this little virus that strolled into all our lives.

Last year I pulled my rotator cuff and took three months to get to the point of being able to put my hand behind my back without clenching my teeth in pain (this is not some torturous desire or weekend circus act – but a seemingly necessary task a woman must do every day – think about it). It also made swimming uncomfortable and heavy weights went right out the window. Not literally! I couldn’t lift anything heavier than 1kg for a while.

After that things went hiccup free for about half a year. I felt fit, was running 50k a week injury free, the shoulder was manageable and we were looking forward to the West highland Way adventure and considering running a crazy 72k Ultra in August.

Thats when I fell over and punched a hole in my knee – see earlier blog…. enough said about that.

Amazingly I was up and running just 4 weeks after the fall with the scar, despite its alarming red and raised appearance, healing nicely. At the time I knew ‘don’t build up again too quickly’ your body doesn’t like this. I knew this and yet for some reason I told myself ‘go by feel’ your body will warn you if you are doing too much…..

Two months down the line and the ‘going by feel’ plan failed miserably. I’m now having sports massage weekly, drop and do yoga at the drop of a hat anywhere, anytime (no seriously) and groan like a 100 year old when I stand up after sitting in a chair for any length of time.

I’m seeing the physio on Thursday but I already know what they are likely to say. Do less running, let your muscles recover, rebuild your glute strength and then rebuild your running back up SLOWLYYYYYYYYY…….. but I still feel inclined to pay an expert a lot of money to tell me this. I’m still hoping they will wave some kind of magic wand.

Anyway I have digressed……I was talking about the enjoyment of obstacles. So, as ever, I’m looking for the positives in this latest development. Here are the ones I’ve discovered along the way and based on this latest hurdle.

– I love yoga now – in fact I love it so much, I may seriously consider training to be a Yoga teacher when I retire – are they called Yogis (are they smarter than the average bear?)?

– I take some comfort in now knowing my body really really well including all its flaws and weaknesses. I mean forewarned and all that right.

– I had dropped my strength work to just once a week. This experience has reminded me I need to do strength exercises several times a week (if you want to run long distance with an arched back that is).

– All the ‘breaks’ have given me time to do other things. I’ve enjoyed painting, baking, writing a book and in general just ‘chillin’.

– Having done less running miles in the last week or so I’ve had time to pull the route together for running JOGLE (John O Groats to Lands End) via the 3 peaks. I have had my heart set on doing this for 6-7 years and due to above mentioned obstacles have struggled to get this plan underway. I’ve also barely dared to mention it up to now since it does sound crazy when you consider how often I’m paying specialists to check my hips or pummel my glutes. But recent events have also reminded me how much I want this. There is now a space in the autumn of 2022 for the offing.

– So, having finally decided on the date for this adventure, I intend to arrive at the start uninjured and ready to go. Nothing will stand in my way (I do hope you are listening body). But if you do throw a few more obstacles in my way, I am learning to hurdle now….

Just a few more hurdles to go – wish me luck

Getting back up again….

For some time now I’ve been sans blog, blog less, in a brain fog with no idea for a blog, figgity foggity definitely not blogging…… you get the idea.

A little over a month ago I thought, I know I’ll write a blog tonight. I’m running 50k a week and our goal of running the West Highland Way in four months time is in sight. I’ll write about that.

I was having this thought whilst running on a beautiful but decidedly muddy ground day. I’d navigated my way over hilly, muddy and rocky terrain and was just on my 21st kilometre, feeling quite tired, when I fell over. I should rephrase that. I caught my left foot on something, my right carried on forwards, my left foot didn’t and I fell forwards and hit the ground hard and slid for a few feet.

None the less, falling is a natural side effect if you run a lot so I jumped up and thought I feel ok, I look ok, all good.

Then I noticed the hole in my leggings and some blood. Ah whoops. On closer inspection my leg looked ‘mushy’ underneath. It’s the only way I can think to describe it. Still I figured, no one gets that hurt out running for the day so I must be imagining it and I carried on walking up the hill. It was only about 3 miles home from there after all.

At this point I phoned my husband and I actually cant remember what I said as unbeknownst to me I’d obviously gone into shock. So I may have rambled. I do remember being determined to walk home though and he kept asking me where I was, which at the time, I found a tad annoying. In the end, he told me strongly to “stay still” and he would come and get me. Wise man.

I’ll save you the bit about how we went home first because I thought a plaster might do it…..

Anyway… a few hours, a visit to A&E and 12 stitches later and my life had changed. Not forever, lets not be dramatic here….but in the short term my running intentions and blog intentions had certainly been stalled somewhat. The nurse told me 1-2 months before I could run again and the latter was more likely. Ah….right then…..

So here I am. It’s 5 weeks later and I’m walking and running again. It’s oh so so slow and I’ve got a way to go to build up my distance again but I’ve made a start and recovery should be faster given my previous fitness.

I’m astonished at how amazing our bodies are. I’m amazed in all honestly at how delicate they are. I never thought a tiny fall would result in such a deep puncture wound and I equally never thought the body could knit itself back together so quickly. It’s kind of cool to see, in a weird way.

Time off running has given me more time to do other things. I’ve spent more time doing Pilates and stretching. I tried some one legged indoor cycling which I was rubbish at. I’m on my third jigsaw puzzle and I’ve started to give the house a good spring clean. Not sure why that feels good for the soul – but it does.

My version of a press up and crunches (not allowed to bend da leg)

With the West Highland Way we now only have 3 and a bit months to go and I wont be ready to run it all or even 80% of it (as I’d intended). However, I should be able to run half and walk half (I hope). I’ll be happy with that.

Moreover, having some time off has given me more time to mull over my ultimate dream. It’s a running dream that involves covering roughly 1,200 hilly miles. I’ve yet to iron out the details and of course there is the substantial training still to do, but more on that another day in another blog. Watch this space.

So long and thanks for all the fishing rights…

Well what a few years its been! A choice on Europe that divided the nation.

‘I think that person voted for Brexit, how could they? Oh dear sniff, that person is a remainer, I mean what else do you expect?’ This was followed, sadly, by people throwing virtual dung at each other over facebook, twitter and other social media. It also went on in cafes, bars and homes too. Once you had formed an opinion on this matter you were either a Brexiteer or a Remainer. Sorry is that label for life? With an irish background, this smacks of the old religious divisions where knowing someones surname would tell you what their religious background was.

Just at the point where we were all switching off the television, for fear that one more word on Brexit, would result in the need for copious amounts of gin and a straight jacket, along came the pandemic.

And so we were all glued to our televisions once again. Every day got more and more bizarre. The pandemic caused fear, illness and tragedy but also caused further division. ‘Have you seen that person wearing a mask under their nose. What do you mean, masks don’t work anyway. I don’t trust these politicians. I don’t trust these scientists. I wont be told what to do!’ I do not exclude myself from such banter. Its how we all live as humans and how we find meaning in amongst this utter madness. We make observations and we make judgements.

However, at times the diverging opinions can turn into further somewhat heated mud slinging; and not the kind that leaves you with a mud mask and glowing skin unfortunately.

And now as we roll towards the 1st January, we are down to the last moments of Brexit. Deal or no deal without Noel Edmonds or the possibility of prize money. And one of the main sticking points seems to be down to fish. I bet the cows are feeling smug right now. They can fill the air with their trumps as we all concentrate on the agreement over the seas.

With the new vaccine we can look forwards to a future without the pandemic. Covid may still exist but life should eventually return to normal, I hope. We can look forward to seeing loved ones and giving them big hugs. We can look forward to holidays or nights out with our friends.

With Brexit its hard to know what the future is but we can bravely face whatever it is together. The pandemic also showed us how we can all pull together. From millions raised for charity, runs and walks from inspiring people, communities helping each other get their shopping or standing behind their local businesses. It has brought us awareness of our local areas and the support we need to show each other.

For 2021 my new years wish would be, that we can put our wonderful diverse opinions aside and look forwards to the future, however hard it is, at least we are all in it together.

Fear

Part I

The doors slam shut and instantly I feel trapped. There is no way out – no escape.

I try to occupy my mind by reading a magazine but instead I wrestle with the pages, my sweaty hands sticking to the edges of them. I suddenly develop the hearing capacity of a bat. I can hear every breath, every sound, every word of every conversation going on around me. I need to urgently distract myself. I try talking to the person sitting on my left. “So where are you heading?” I try to sound calm and engaging. He doesn’t respond; I’m not sure he even heard me. I feel too embarrassed to try again and instead start to tap my fingers on my magazine over and over.

I realise I’m starting to become somewhat manic so try a routine to relax myself. I clench my hands and release them, tense the muscles in my legs, release, clench my toes, release. It isn’t working. I’m just focused on my tension, which is makes me feel worse.

The steward comes down the aisle and stands near my seat to begin his demonstration. Further behind him a stewardess also waits to show us everything we need to know. They start by explaining how to put on our seatbelts. Seriously if you dont know how to put on a seatbelt then how did you manage to navigate your way through customs? I mean even a walnut whip can apparently set off the baggage scanners.

The simple belt tightening exercise is followed by the inevitable and far trickier ‘and this is how you put on your life jacket’ – “You know,….” if the plane plummets to earth and lands in the sea…… I’m sure I will remember exactly where my life jacket is and how to put it on should such an inconvenient event occur – thanks a bunch.

Finally they finish off by recommending you look at the card in front of you. I’m sure it has horrifying pictures on it, although in all honesty I’ve never looked too closely at it. In all my years of flying I have never wanted to know exactly what I need to do should the plane crash. I dont want to think about that before take off – thanks.

The same people who just delivered the delightful ‘here is what you to do if we crash’ presentation, now proceed to walk up and down the aisles. Have you checked your table is up and your seatbelt is secure? Yes, yes, like a million times already. They start closing the overhead lockers and then all at once they disappear.

The silence is deafening. I hear nothing. Even the earlier loud chatter all around me seems to have abated. Everyone must be very engrossed in their iPad games or books.

Then it comes, the noise. I hear the engines start and the plane starts to move. The plane taxis to the runway. My anxiety steps up several notches as I realise we will soon be taking off and there is not a scooby doo I can do about it. That sense of being out of control, having to do something I really dont want to do is so intense. Yes I want to go on holiday and I knew this was the best way. But now the moment is here, I really really dont want to take off. Agggh, inside my head I’m starting to lose it although it’s not showing on the outside…….just yet.

The plane moves into position and moves onto the runway. The engines roar loudly and I feel the acceleration. The engines get louder and louder and I’m completely terrified. The fear is indescribable. I’m simultaneously aware of happy excited people around me (it must be alright surely?) and at the same time my own breathing is getting faster and faster.

The plane takes off. I start to panic. My thighs start to shake uncontrollably and I can’t stop them from moving, despite pushing my hands down onto them. The plane bumps as it climbs through clouds and I lose it completely.

All self control is lost.

My breathing is now audible to those near me. I can’t stop shaking. I feel like I will die. I can’t keep it together anymore and I start to cry. I’m now gasping and sobbing and the stranger next to me looks at me very concerned. “Are you ok?”

“I’m so so sorry”, I sob, “would you hold my hand? I’m terrified and it would really help.” The businessman looks at me slightly confused but then puts out his hand and grabs mine. “Its ok, it’ll be ok,” he says. “We are nearly up.”

I close my eyes and try to believe what he is telling me. I start to get my crying under control. He is right. We are starting to level out. My breathing starts to slow down and the shaking in my legs has stopped. I’m left feeling like I’ve run a marathon from the sheer physical effort of the panic attack. I start to feel calmer and feel the tension in my muscles start to leave bit by bit.

I let go of his hand and thank him. I try to laugh it off. “Sorry about that, I dont like flying”. Really? No shit Sherlock! Is that the best I could come up with? Surely I could of told him that the last time I flew the engine fell off or something.

It is at this point that I feel a new emotion – embarassment. There is nothing more shaming than everyone seeing you at your worst. I’d like to consider myself a brave person, a strong woman but in this moment I am weak and vulnerable. I sink slightly lower in my chair as I realise I have attracted too much unwanted attention.

The air stewardess comes hurrying along to my seat. I hadn’t realised but the businessman had called her over for me. “Would you like a little drink of something now?” I want to hug her and the businessman! What kindness people show. It makes me want to cry again but I blink and manage to avoid that moment. “Yes please, I would love a brandy. A double maybe?”

Part II

Where is this road going? I ride around yet another hairpin as the road snakes up and up, higher and higher. I’m on holiday with my husband in Mallorca. We set out to do a ‘nice’ 50k ride and appear to be lost. At least I assume we are as I’ve been told this route isn’t really that hilly. ‘We must be nearly at the top’ he says.

Don’t get me wrong, I dont mind going up this hill. It’s only 5% and I’m actually pretty good on that kind of gradient. But I’m terrified of steep downhill cycling or downhill cycling with mountain drops to the side and I dont want to do either. What goes up must come down and I’m scared of what is around the corner.

It’s 10 years since the panic attack on the plane. A fear of flying course, some relaxation techniques, an understanding of NLP and the slow reintroduction of some positive flying experiences where I didn’t panic and I’m over it. I truly do not feel afraid now, unless its really turbulent on landing but then who does like that right?

We finally get to the top of this climb after 10k. Hmm, its a decent hill by all accounts. Unfortunately my fear has meant heightened levels of adrenaline for some time now and I’m shattered. I chow down a gel.

We start the descent and my husband pulls away from me. That’s fine I want to go at my own pace. I manage an accceptable yet slow pace on the early sections but as soon as it gets steeper and I can see how high up we are I grip the brakes tightly. So tightly in fact, I could probably walk down this hill quicker. I see my husband ahead. He has pulled over mid descent and is waiting for me. “What are you doing? I’ve been waiting ages!” He isn’t aware of my fear at this point, certainly not the enormity of it. I snap at him and he looks hurt.

Fear makes you do that. When you are lost in a phobia there is no real way to explain it to someone. To them and most people its irrational. If you are terrified and there is no need to be and no one else feels it then how do you explain that? Feeling that scared and yet not being able to convey it to anyone is highly stressful. All you really want is for someone to say “I know this is hard for you”. At the same time you don’t want them to see how scared you are as it’s so embarrassing. I opted to be quiet. In that moment I had to just dig deep and get down the hill.

My husband looks at me and realises that I’m going through something even if its not something he can understand. He pulls in behind me and we move down the hill together slowly in silence. When we finally make it to the bottom I feel many emotions at once. Relief, shame, alone. Physically I have cramps in my hands now after gripping the brakes for 8k.

That was 5 years ago.

Since that time I have taught myself to ride downhill without fear and am getting quicker with every passing year. It took a lot of time and patience. It was not something anyone could help me with. I started with a small hill, then a bigger one and built it up slowly by taking on ever greater gradients and adding more speed, a bit at a time.

3 years ago we went up the same hill in Mallorca and I descended without fear averaging 25 mph all the way down the snaking road with the drops at the side. It’s not fast but I’m none the less very proud; I was able to do this with a smile too. My husband who understood my fear by then waited and applauded me when I got to the bottom.

Part III

I’m standing at the top of Kinder Scout. I need to run down the steep hill in front of me.

I look down and decide to climb down the tricky uneven path in the middle. Its really rocky and wet. My husband has taken a small grassy path on the left but its muddy and right next to the drop. My trail shoes are not good on mud and I don’t fancy getting it wrong so close to the edge. I opt to make my way down the stones but they also prove difficult and slippery.

I feel it gripping me – the fear. I take a few slow stumbling steps. Then I have a moment where I stop completely. I am incredibly frustrated with myself. I have run hard today and set a good pace uphill and now I will lose it all taking forever to get down this descent. I have conquered my other fears, why can’t I conquer this one?

It’s no good, the fear simply won’t go. I take one step at a time, sometimes down, sometimes sideways. It takes so long to descend the hill, time seems to stand still.

Part IV

I take a swig of sweet berry drink from my Salamon soft bottle and a bite of malt loaf from my pocket. The sun is shining but the ground is still wet and glistening from the downfall of rain yesterday. I look briefly down the hill and realise I am so high up I cant even see the bottom from here. I start to run forwards remembering to tackle only what is in front of me. I look ahead to check the next 10 metres, keeping an eye out for holes, roots and large rocks as I go. I switch off my overactive thoughts and focus in, only on this moment.

I start to build speed and feel myself flying down the hill, tackling every obstacle in my way. I’m in control and I’m excited at the prospect of catching someone up in the race and passing them, knowing that I will get to the next checkpoint at the bottom of the hill in good time. The rush of adrenaline is exhilarating. All my fears are gone.

This story is set in the future. I have not mastered this fear yet but I intend to. It’s life’s greatest challenge to take on our fears. I just need to work out how………to make this happen.