Monday, 12 August 2013

Life and Death after Half Ironman

This is a belated blog. I wrote many versions of it riding on buses, walking to work, swimming laps etc. It was all about life after half ironman. The more I didn't write it, the more it changed. So here is the journey of this blog post, triathlon related and not.

I was never a natural athlete, so completing any one of the single disciplines of a half ironman was never a given - not even the run. As a result, training consumed my life. The fear of failure was a big driver for this, but also, so was the amount of change in my life. Living Up North as Ms Beardy Gal and step mum, unemployment, a change in work, country living - everything was different and triathlon seemed the one thing that was constant.

The race itself was great. Seven hours of pure fun. I'm glad I am slow - if I was fast I would have had less hours of fun. It was so much fun that I came home and put every 70.3 race in the UK in my calendar. I knew I could do it, I knew I could do it faster, or I could do it with less "fear of god" training. If the first half Iron was a leap of faith, then the second and the next, and the next was a redefining of myself. I was not a One Challenge Pony, I really felt like I loved middle distance triathlon. I returned to training with zeal, especially as Jon had his eye on lots of races that would take him away from home. I needed that constant again so I didn't feel lost at sea.

Then there was Freaky Friday. On Freaky Friday, I learned my dad's wife had cancer. I learned when she was already in surgery as my poor dad had also learned in that same period that his mother had dementia, and had threatened to harm herself and my grand dad. She had been sectioned. It was a lot to take in from a distant phone call and series of text messages. I set about the long distance telethon that is ringing one part of the family to the next to find out what is really going on. If you know a little about me in real life, you'll know that making these phone calls can often be the first contact I've had with family for years at worst, months at best. After one of these 1am calls I sat typing to my mum, musing how these sorts of things make you question your life's priorities, question how much time you give your family, amongst other Big Thoughts. It hit a note with my mother, and when I woke after a few hours sleep, I read an email from her, an outpouring of things I needed to know before it was too late. It's been great to have that honesty and intimacy with her, so fresh after her great support role at the race in Mallorca. But of course revelations like that knock you for six. I spent most of the week reeling with the Big Thoughts in my head. They are louder and bigger when you are in the countryside away from friends and family, I am sure.

On Sunday I attempted to cycle from Mossley to Liverpool. I got lost in Salford for about an hour. While this was happening, I realised that I needed to address some of the things that could make me more happy. I was missing the spontaneity of life, and the finances to do things - be it visit my friends in London or further afield, go to dinner, make a load of long distance phone calls and so on. Saving for a house, while taking part in a very expensive sport was taking a lot of resources - not just time and energy. I decided not to do the Middle Distance triatlon I had entered.

At the same time, as I was pedalling bored towards Merseyside, my grandmother died. I take some comfort that it was quick, that she didn't spend years wondering who the people were around her, that she was at least cleared from the mental health ward. I take little comfort that my granddad was ill-prepared and that my family did not have time to rally itself, that she died alone.

It would be easy for me tomorrow to wake up and choose some gruelling swim-set, disappear in the pool and then do a strength and conditioning session at lunch. That's what Tuesdays are for, right? But I hope that along with the realisation that I am a triathlete (and that won't change no matter what I do and don't do) I am also part of a strange group of disparate people called family, a clan of blood and tree-lines that don't speak much but have common links. And that if I can put as much time and effort into them as I do my attempts at sport, then maybe the next family member won't die by surprise or won't die alone. At the very least, I hope I'm not cycling the estates of Salford when it happens.