Saturday, 24 April 2010

Being a teacher (and a pupil)

I love my job. I often meet people who think I joke when I say this, more so in Greece than in other places, but hand on heart, I really do love my job. Yes, it's tough. Anyone who has spend more than an hour with 7 year olds knows that it's not a walk in the park. They are demanding and require massive amounts of energy, attention and love. It can be draining, sometimes at the end of the day my feet are killing me and my head is buzzing, but it is also uplifting and very very rewarding.

I have always considered myself lucky to be doing what I do and my job has really pulled me through this difficult time in my life. Kids can be selfish, they don't care what kind of day you are having. In a nutshell: the show must go on! Yet, still, they care and they too, give back to you in so many ways.

I feel happy to know that I am changing lives, the lives of young people who are the adults of tomorrow. But I feel even happier and privileged when I think about how they change me! Every class I have taught has always taught me something - almost every kid I have spent time with day in, day out for a year has given me an insight into the world. The girl who never gives up. The little boy who copes with the crippling reality of having a dozen allergies without so much as one complaint. The child who comes to school speaking hardly any English, yet makes friends and moves on.

Children are so resilient and they are a lesson to me, everyday. They are resilient because their life-force is so strong. Life is resilient. Resilient, yet flexible, bending along with the wind, yet standing up at the end of every day.

Today we had a 'clinic' for beginning triathletes, introducing them to this wonderful sport of ours and giving them tips for their first race. I look and find inspiration everywhere, and as with my other class, in this one too. I was surprised and in awe of people's ability to 'give it a go', to try something new, to leave their comfort zone. To try and swim 750 meters in cold water, to keep running when their legs screamed. I hope we gave them some help and tips for their first race, but, let it be known, I got a lot more back - lessons for life and sport, as well as the mixture of fear and excitement of getting ready for your first race.

... and practice
On the back of all these thoughts I have had a very good week of training, that has left me hungry and tired every single night this week. On course for a solid 12.5 hours, as well as 40+ hours of work and 7 hours of training camp for with (thank you Stelio and Christina!).

Good luck to Robbie, Spyro and Laura who are racing IMSA. Enjoy the race, guys!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Train, eat, sleep and be happy!

It's been a good week. I am feeling more like myself, I am happier, healthier and have even put some weight back on! Training has been, it feels like, very solid. My sleeping patterns have returned to normal and I have really enjoyed this week at work too!

So it seems life is good. Most of the time. Dark moments lurk where you least expect them and I find that I can change from one minute to the next, from happy to deeply sad. Like at the wedding we attended last night - full of happiness and excitement and I really felt happy for the couple. Yet out of nowhere tears came to my eyes and a heavy sadness when the bride danced with her dad.

I have had a lot of good advice and would like to thank everyone for it. I take a special kind of strength from people who have been there - their words have a special meaning to me and I welcome their advice. The most important piece of advice: be understanding with yourself and let yourself feel whatever it is. There is no right or wrong in grief.

And so I move forward, as I must, as my dad would like me to as well. I feel more anchored this week - it could be the training or just the full nights of sleep. It's also the new sense of purpose that the impending race has brought to my life.

Monday was a solid day of training, with a long swim that felt wonderful. It was full of glide and I felt almost 'slippery'. Good thing too, as it ended up being my one and only swim for the week - life got in the way! The swim was followed by 40 mins of weights and a run. I meant to keep an eye on my heartrate during the run, but running with others makes that hard, so I gave in and went with the flow. I know... not very useful as I am trying to build my base, but fun nonetheless. As much as aerobic capacity is a goal for my training, fun is higher on the list.

The rest of the week went smoothly, apart from our Thursday night mountain bike. Towards the end of the ride Duncan decided to do a few extra minutes, so I headed home, while he headed back up the mountain. I got home and made some tea, waiting for D to come back. After 30 long minutes I started getting worried, but I got even more worried when it got dark and there was no sign of D. I knew he had no lights and the mountain is pretty dark... I checked my phone, to find it was on silent and had two missed calls, yet when I tried to call him back his phone was out of order. I started thinking of the worst: Duncan with a broken leg, concussion, unconscious, abducted... you name it, it crossed my mind. Of course, it could have been something as simple as a flat... especially as I carried the pump...

I don't drive, but even if I could a lot of the mountain is inaccessible by car. I couldn't get hold of anyone to come with me, so after a while I took my head torch and headed out back towards the mountain. It was dark and was getting chilly, but I had no option.

To my delight, 15 mins into my ride, I saw a yellow fluorescent vest bobbing up and down into my headlight. I could hear the clippety clop of Duncan's mtb shoes on the asphalt and after a while I could clearly see him running downhill, wheeling his bike alongside him. I was so relieved I started to cry, while he started shouting at me for not answering my phone. I didn't care at all and after a few minutes of silence he apologised. Tyre fixed we rode in the pitch black back home.

That night I felt happy to have him lying in bed with me, my legs tired from the ride, my lids heavy from another full day.

Second week of training was productive and I have left every workout wanting more. That can only be a good thing!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

First week of training and the many faces of grief

Grief, I am learning, takes many guises. For some it's paralysing, for others it's a weight they carry around for a long time. I thought I was immune, or rather I thought that because I was prepared and because I had cried it would be mild for me, I would sail through it, a mere sadness, and come out the other side. I was wrong.
It has long been accepted that grief is not only an emotional response, but elicits physical, cognitive and behavioural symptoms. I neither knew that, nor was I able to accept it straight away. I found myself unable to sleep, tired throughout the day, wired at night. I was getting ill, yet continued on, because I felt it was all going to go away. I was getting anxious, I was getting physical symptoms and had nothing to attribute them too. Until I opened up and spoke of what was happening to me. I sought help and it came in the form of knowing that what I am going through is normal. That the stress I (and we as a family) have been through in the last year has been enormous. That my symptoms are not unlike Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. That to see your loved one die, day in day out, to hold their hand and be there for him, to lose them in the end, takes its toll, physically and mentally.

At first I got scared. I got scared of having to be like this - it's not a nice state. But then I accepted it - this too will pass. And strangely enough, accepting this state alone, has been healing. I am already better and I am finding more and more ways to help me cope. Harvesting the positive, keeping a routine, cherishing the good things, giving myself time.

So my first week of training for the huge feat I have taken on (it feels like that anyway), started last Sunday. In hospital, with IV antibiotics being poured into me. Glad to say that I was out and back on the (training) horse by Wednesday, with a very solid 2k swim, followed by weights. The distance again felt doable. The fact that I did not manage to sleep so well on Wednesday night unsettled me, but I hoped that Thursday would be better.

Thursday consisted of a wonderful mountain bike ride, on our old circuit, along with Duncan. It was a beautiful evening and we left the house around 6.30, when the sun was already low and giving out caramel highlights to everything around us. The mountain was good to us both, we returned exhilarated and unscathed. I slept like a baby that night.

Friday we had a run planned, but we had guests at the house. A couple of colleagues had come for coffee and as the conversation flowed coffee turned to dinner plans. Duncan and I wanted to run, but didn't want to appear inhospitable either. After tentative attempts to see if our guests would be happy entertaining themselves for an hour while we ran, we figured they'd be OK and headed out. My mother would be truly mortified!

Saturday came and the weather looked about the same, beautiful sunshine, 20 degrees. The wind had picked up, but I was heading out to do the first long ride of my training and I was not going to give up (so quickly...) After all I had just 90 mins of ride to get through. The training day started with a swim in some rough waters. I was pleased I could stick with Duncan and that my stroke felt strong. We did a couple of kms and I felt like I could have kept going, despite the cold water and waves.
Onto the bike (and D off to do his long run) I realised just how windy it had got. It was fine while the wind was head on or tail, but as soon as I turned and the wind came from the side I felt very unstable and tensed up. I had to concentrate hard, make sure my weight (of which there isn't all that much) was on my handle bars and keep my wits about me for any gusts. I am very proud to say I stuck it out, all the time thinking of the conditions I might have to face on race-day. It is a flat and fast course, but also very windy. I made it off the bike and onto a quick run, where I met Duncan and we ran back in together.

All in all (and considering the start of the week) it has been a good first week. It has done little to alleviate my fear for being prepared for the distance, but has shown me that with a bit of help and listening to my body I can overcome most things - from grief to Ironman training. The next few months will prove me right... or wrong. Life is a gamble.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Climbing a mountain - or 19 weeks to Challenge

Having a rest before we continue upwards, with Jenny.
Lovely spot we found in Evia.
It's been a bad "holiday". It started well enough, with my friend Jenny coming to visit and with Duncan and me having BIG plans for a romantic/active getaway, some sun, some sea, lots of sleep and time with each other. We went to Evia for a few days, enjoyed some peace and quiet and climbed a mountain.

Since then I have been ill. Temperature-doctors-tests-antibiotics - kind of ill. Unable-to-do-much-kind of ill. I have also been upset and tired, the frustration and tiredness and sadness of the last 9 months finally coming out. I even started feeling sorry for myself, which doesn't happen often.

And so I decided to do something crazy - to grab the bull by the horns and get busy. I entered Copenhagen Challenge. For those who are not familiar with triathlon, it is an Ironman distance race in August. I had a quick chat with Duncan along the lines of: "Do you think I COULD do it?" and then "Do you think I SHOULD do it?"... The decision was made and 10 minutes of electronic dealings later I was all paid up and ready!

I have been excited ever since and have been thinking about how wonderful it is to finally plan to do something I have been dreaming of doing for the last 6 years! I have been oscillating between excitement and fear, but I have decided both are good. I am embracing both - if nothing else I will need both to do the training before that start line.

So I googled "16 weeks to Ironman" looking for a vague idea of a training plan. Hmmm... Not much came up. Started to worry. "16 weeks to your first sprint" came up... Hmmm... Worry setting in, doubt gaining ground. "24 weeks to a Half-Ironman". Cold sweat... Have I bitten off more than I can chew (in the time given)?

"13 weeks to a 13-Hour Ironman". That was more like it! I liked what I saw (and could finally breathe out). There are others out there who think that you do not need 3 years to train for an IM!

I know that I am not looking at a good time. I am looking at a looooong day out there. Fine. I am fine with that. I know that 13 hours, as per the website above is very optimistic, I am fine with that too. But I also know that I want to and I can finish the race. So my journey back to tri has just taken a turn towards some sharp learning curves. I am ready to climb that mountain and I am very excited (and scared). Any ideas welcome!