Revelations from training to be an iron(wo)man

Man's world in a woman's body

  Biz in action 

Biz Bliss is running a Marathon on Sunday in memory of her Dad as part of her build up to running the "Ironman". Please support her cause here.

Man's world in a woman's body

If you visit the Ironman website and consider the name, you might get the distinct impression that the race (26.2mile run, 2.4m swim and 112m bike ride) is aimed squarely at athletic men. So I thought, what would it be like to train for such a macho event in a woman's body, and how could my own findings support other people like me to engage with this world that feels a bit alienating and intimidating from the outset, and be me? Here are some of the findings from my explorations in training for an iron(wo)man triathlon which I'll be doing on 8 September on home turf in Tenby, Wales.

Seasons and cycles

Training is not a linear process of improvement but takes the form of a spiral, continuously, steadily improving whilst also going round in circles. As a woman I have a natural connection with a regular cycle: my menstrual cycle. This started with developing an intimate relationship with my cycle, for example clocking which day of the cycle I'm at, and according to that how I feel in my body, in my emotions, my energy levels, commitment, ability to focus and what feels good. When bleeding (Days 1-5) I have learnt to go inwards, take time for myself, go lie on the earth under a tree and simply be. I've learnt that a day of rest during this time is invaluable for my health for the rest of the month. From day 3 I'm able to train again, and notice relatively high levels of energy that peak around day 14 when I'm ovulating. Around day 20 I feel like I've been whacked round the head with a dead fish as my energy levels plummet, I need to eat more, my body feels heavy and the need to go inwards builds. Planning when I train, how I train (if I push myself or not) and where I do (outside, inside, with others, alone) around my cycle has been like tapping into a well kept secret and superpower, enabling me to work with, rather than against, my body and natural rhythm.   Coastal running

Fitting it in where you can

Modern life can go hand in hand with busyness, being on the move a lot, and not having a regular daily rhythm. I've moved 4 times since I started training and am on the move a lot, so I've had to work out how to carve out time and space wherever I am, with whatever water, earth and equipment I have access to, to get the training in. This has meant packing my trainers wherever I go, getting up at 6am and exploring where I am on foot, wearing high vis so I can run on roads with cars, always packing my swimming costume, in case there's a bit of lake, sea or pool I can swim in, taking advantage of public transport situations to run for the bus/train/passport control. Generally being a chameleon and adapting to the local environment!

Antidote to a life lived on screens

Modern life and living on screens also seem to go hand in hand, sitting at screens make my eyes go fuzzy, body feel achy and mood feel flat. Having a goal to work towards has meant getting me outside even when the weather's unfriendly, embracing the outdoors and feeling alive, as a contrast to sitting down and being in my head. Without the goal, it would be so easy to put it off until the next day. As soon as I'm out and in it, I feel much better and am able to focus better when I return to do work.

Grieving and healing

Last year my dad had a brain aneurysm, was in a coma for two months and then passed. I had already begun training, but didn't realise the extent to which it would become a support. Practicing regular yoga and running between hospital visits connected me with the life outside my family situation, hospitals and the building project we were spurring along in his absence. There's something about being in the body with the emotion that's passing through, being able to let big stuff wash through you and connect with something greater, that is very healing and supportive. I often feel his presence when I run outside, spurring me on, and when running up hills I can feel him pulling me up, his spirit is a source of strength I can draw on at any time. With his passing has come new responsibilities and less freedom, but when I'm outside and running up or down a mountain, for a moment I can forget and simply be in the expansiveness of the elements.

Finding continuity in chaos

The last year has been a lot of things happening to me, out of my control, and having to run with it, being flexible, adaptable and open to change, learning to sit in uncertainty and somehow find ground in myself. Having something in my life that I am working towards, a big goal, and slowly moving closer to it, getting better steadily over time and improving at something in a concrete way has been really nourishing, encouraging and life affirming. Of course I might sustain an injury, or not get there, I'll deal with those challenges as they come, but for now, it's nice to have a project that's mine, to feel proud for small accomplishments and to know that within everything else, I can hold onto this thread through life.

Connection with Nature

There is something truly magnificent about running on Dartmoor as water moves at a rate sideways into your entire body, like 1000 tiny needles tapping your flesh whilst the wind roars, the clouds shape shift above, the trees rustle and you feel 100% fully alive, muscles aching, heart racing and exhaustion creeping up your spine. My mother did always say I was a glutton for punishment, but really, this is a great feeling, totally immersed in the elements. Following the guidance of various teachers I have taken to sitting with trees, giving offerings of tobacco and food to the plants, rivers, seas, earth, and giving regular thanks for all the life we experience around us. Training gives me the opportunity to totally immerse myself in natural environments and simultaneously in my body. The best was recently running in Portugal down the mountain, diving in the sea, saying a prayer, and then running back up the hill singing to all the elements and drawing on their strength, to get me up the hill.

Music is magic

Throughout this time I've been on a strong journey with music, and the medicine it can be. As a means of dealing with grief, life and death, as a means of learning, and also as a source of energy, drive and go go go! Playing the right tracks, with the right rhythms at the right time on a run can send you run/dancing up a hill at speed, or at other times a more contemplative, slow song can give you the fuel to your spirit to keep on going after many miles run. I really appreciated the samba bands whilst running the Brighton half marathon, and since living in Brighton I've taken to running between the buskers and stopping to dance to their music on the streets. When my phone runs out of juice I sing to myself, using this mantra as a way to access new inner resource to reach the finish line.

Serving a cause

This has felt like a very personal journey but I would like to use it as a means of supporting others - by sharing my findings, encouraging others to take up similar challenges and to raise money. When I recently moved to Brighton I wanted to find a local charity to support and particularly wanted to support women. Brighton Oasis Project supports women and their families dealing with substance use. I really appreciate their gender-specific approach as the issues women are dealing with are different, and often come with child-raising responsibilities, and this charity takes a holistic approach to the situation, with long-term impacts. It feels good to be empowering myself through training, and simultaneously helping other women to get the support their need. If you feel inspired -

Please donate here