Tuesday, 17 January 2017

To Change or Not to Change



Airplanes. Often the perfect location for reflection and thought gathering. 
Often not. Largely dependant on your neighbour, the energy levels of the 4 year old sat behind you and your proximity to the lavatory. 
That £600 upgrade suddenly seems like a wonderful deal after all. 

Airplanes do however, offer the travelling athlete enforced rest time. A chance to put your feet up without distraction and watch all 47 films you were definitely going to go and see in the cinema, if only they didn't clash with meal, and, or bed times. You can sit through an entire feature length without feeling guilty for not torture rolling your thighs or performing a circus style balancing act on a blue ball that takes over your living room. The fact that when you disembark your ankles resemble your Grandma’s and your back feels like its been subjected to some form of medieval torture device is by the by. I’ve sat on my arse for 24 hours, something I’ve been dreaming about for the last 24 days! 

The novelty does wear off quick though. Four hours passes so much quicker sat on a bike than it does sat in seat 37D en route to Sydney, via Singapore. I’m sure that little black saddle is more comfortable than this, used to recline but hasn't for a some time now, reclining chair. And seriously, did someone give that 4 year old a bucket full of blue Smarties before take off?!

So, sat in my less than perfect, not so comfortable, fairly distracting, location, I’ve decided I’m feeling far from thoughtful and and not so reflective. Sleepy and irritable spring to mind, but in a valiant, but probably unsuccessful, attempt to beat jet lag I’m forging on and battling the odds. I also realise that my last update came in the depths of post Olympic blues, and despite what Olympians are led to believe, the world doesn't end with the party. Weird. In fact we even seem to have entered a new year. One that no longer ends in a 16. Who’d have though?! Apparently no roads lead to Rio anymore. It’s all aboard the bullet train to Tokyo.

The end of an Olympic cycle often brings about a number of changes. People retire and leave the sport, make new goals, take different directions, try new things. Set ups change. Staff come and go. It’s the last phase, or maybe the first, of a 4 year ride. 

In many regards lots of things have changed for me. But lots of things will also remain the same. Change is good, but consistency is key. Some things I have changed myself, other changes have come about around me. Change is inevitable. It’s life. Sometimes its for the best. Sometimes you have to accept and adapt even if you don’t want to. 

I’ve unfortunately lost some world class training partners, not just in ability, but in personality and character. Not changes I would have chosen, but changes that are exciting and full of opportunity for them. This also means I’ve lost house mates and partners in crime. People that made me smile on a day to day basis, and made the tough days bearable. Vicky, Heather, Rhys; Thank you. I miss you all already. 

I’ve also had a switch up in my winter location. The last 5 winters have been spent in Leeds. Tough but fun. I’ve enjoyed every single one, in one sadistic way or another. I am a proud product of the Leeds machine, but I needed to thaw out a little before braving another. So this winter I’ve split my time between the sunnier climes of Australia and that beautiful place I call home. 

A warmer start to a year of training, and a change of scenery has been refreshing. Needed, both mentally and physically. And although my time in Australia has been important in a number of ways, it has also reaffirmed and strengthened my belief that the Leeds Triathlon Centre, its staff, athletes, terrain, sometimes weather, is the best environment for me to continue developing as an athlete. I may spend a few more weeks away than I have done in the past, but ultimately Leeds will continue to be my base, and my home. My coaching team won’t change; they are the consistent factor that hold me together and keep pushing me forward. They understand me as a person, and not just an athlete; an essential quality that is overlooked by too many. I am immensely proud to be associated with them, and will always be grateful for the time and effort that they continually invest. I am proud of the way in which they represent me and can only hope that I do the same in return. 

Neither have my goals or ambitions changed. If I think back 4 years I’m still harbouring the same hopes and dreams. I may be older, more experienced, but there’s still much unfinished business. My first Commonwealth Games eluded me in the last cycle; representing Wales has been on the agenda long before my 9 year old self decided the Olympics was a dream. On that note, the Olympic flame still burns bright in my belly and a ride on that bullet train would be nice. And as with anyone, in any walk of life, there’s still a continuing willingness, determination, to be better than I was yesterday, to be the best version of my self, both in sport and in life. 

Unfortunately my attempt at cracking jet lag is, indeed proving to be ambitious. You’d have thought that as an athlete I’d have learnt long ago that you can never beat time.  The inevitable sugar crash of my new mate Charlie has finally descended too, and the cabin crew have dimmed the lights indicating that they really do wish that you'd go to sleep and stop ordering fun size snacks and mini cans of fizzy happiness. 



So here’s to 2017 and beyond. Whatever it may hold. And whatever changes it may bring. 


Thursday, 1 September 2016

The 2016 Rio Olympic Games

Just under 2 weeks ago I officially became an Olympian. Life long ambition achieved. Precious memories that will stay with me for the remainder of my days. Yet it already feels like a lifetime ago. Such is the Olympic bubble. It's a different world. Like stepping through the wardrobe doors into Narnia. You're lost in a parallel world that's cut off from normality and reality. Not much penetrates. The outside world is but a hazy blur that passes on the other side of the bubble. Your vaguely aware that it's there but, selfishly, you let it pass by without too much consideration. In the Olympic world you're cooked and cleaned for. Your constantly surrounded by a team of people working hard to make your life as easy as possible. It's filled with packet fresh kit from Beetles offspring, accreditations and lanyards, pin badges, flashing shoes, giant dining halls, free McDonald's, news of incredible triumph, and stories of dream shattering losses. It's a crazy, cool, unforgettable world that I feel privileged to have experienced.

But suddenly, you stumble out the other side, tired and bleary eyed and wonder if it did just happen or if it was all some weird dream. You stare at the kitchen and try to remember how everything works. You begin to get your head around the oven again, and then realise that in the real world you even have to buy your own food. But where from?! 

Everything is so quiet and calm. You have time to sit on your sofa with a cup of tea and reflect. 

"Fourth is the worst place to finish at an Olympic Games" 

We've all heard it. We've probably all said it. Remarked at that poor person who just missed out on a medal. But you never think it's going to be you in that situation. It never crossed my mind anyway. But I was fourth at the Olympic Games. 

"Better than 5th at least!" 

That's the spirit. True plucky Brit logic. Maybe it's true? Or maybe I would have preferred to have finished 34th, too far away to feel the heartbreak of coming so close? I've considered both options. Sometimes I prefer one over the other. Other times times my emotions sway me a different way. The grass is always greener, as they say. 

There were 306 podiums in Rio 2016. 306 Golds. 306 Silvers. 306 Bronzes. And therefore 306 fourths. I was certainly not alone. I wondered how many of the 306 fourth placers were at home now, happy with their result? Or how many were wallowing in self pity after coming so close? I wasn't really sure what I was supposed to think. Jury was out. I was sat on the fence. Well dangling my feet either side at least. 

"Fourth at your first Olympics! You should be proud!" 

Rationally, I know this is probably true. But the irrational side of me cried a few tears. Disappointed in myself. Disappointed for all those people who invested so much time and effort in me. Disappointed for all the friends and family I neglected in pursuit of an ultimately elusive dream. 

But this is starting to read like a pity plea. And pity is not what I'm after. I've rationalised. I was fourth at the Olympic Games. Yes it fell short of my own, and I'm sure others, expectations. I didn't perform to my ability and I didn't deliver the performance I wanted. I'm not going to bore you with excuses as to why I wasn't good enough. But I gave everything I had on the day, and for that at least, I have to be proud.

I think it's human nature, or maybe a flaw, to never be satisfied. To always want more. As an athlete it can be a strength and a weakness. The need to be better, to continue achieving, it's what gets you out of bed, it's what makes you push harder, push limits. It also makes you vulnerable to the highs and lows of sport. I wonder if I had held on for bronze, would I actually be satisfied? Or would I be wondering what it feels like to be one or two steps higher? I don't need to wonder, I already know the answer. 

Regardless of the outcome and my interpretation of it, my Olympic experience was a special one. Hopefully it won't be my last, but that's impossible to predict. An endless number of people contributed to this journey. Some more than others, but ultimately every one that helped, supported, believed, enabled, endured and cheered deserve thanks. There are far too many to mention here, so I'll spare you. But to everyone that I can't reach personally, Thank You. 

A special mention and of course congratulations must go to the three that crossed the line first. 
Gwen breathtaking as always. 
Nicola as inspiring, if not more, than 4 years ago. 
And Vicky. You already know everything that I could possibly write here and more. You know 'us' better than anyone else. So simply, Thank you. 

And if you're wondering, this blog, as usual, is the result of another long haul flight. One in which my e-reader has unfortunately broken and entertainment options are otherwise limited. Which means I must be on the road again. 

Onwards. Always. 

One of my favorite images from the Games. Thank you for whoever captured the moment from their TV screen! 





Sunday, 1 May 2016

4 Years; a Lifetime Away or Just Around the Corner?

The last time I laced up my racing shoes on South African soil the circumstances in some respects were the same, but on the whole, they couldn't have been more different.  

First race of the season. Check.
Olympic year. Check.
Table mountain in the background. Check.
Genuine, if not slightly unnecessary, fear of being eaten by sharks whilst dressed as a seal. Check. 

That's probably where the similarities end, because fortunately, the day's played out very differently. 

The first occasion was in February 2012. An early season Continental Cup. I was on the points chase. Not an Olympic points chase. Far from it. I just wanted enough points to maybe, just maybe, get one of those elusive World Series starts. So shiny and exciting in all their blue carpeted glory. I had two or three rather dismal attempts the season before on the big stage, most of which had ended with DNF's for one reason or another. Lapped athlete being an almost reoccurring theme. Undeterred however, I was determined to try again, my eyes set on the iconic chase around the Sydney Opera House. Apparently completely ignorant to the lack of promise or potential I had displayed in any races up to that point. 

The day did not get off to the best start. A good luck text 60minutes before race KO roused me from an unusually deep, pre race sleep; I'd managed to snooze through an alarm that hadn't even accounted for the one hour time difference in the first place. Slightly panicked I jumped out of bed and frantically dashed around the room collecting my things. The only thing I could find to eat was a fairly squashed slice of banana cake that I'd probably squirreled away from the BA snack bar during my flight a day or so earlier. 

Bed to athlete lounge in 15 minutes...must be some sort of ITU record?! I'm claiming it anyway. 

Unsurprisingly the race didn't go much better. It got off to an equally dyer start and ended with me being tripped mid run, performing some overly elaborate tumble, jumping up and running in the opposite direction, only to be completely confused when an equally confused Dutch athlete rounded the corner into me. I managed to eventually find my way to the finish line and spent the rest of my stay nursing a concussion and a dented sense of pride in the shadows of Table mountain.

Fast forward 4 years and I'm sat atop of afore mentioned mountain, basking in its sunshine instead of sulking at its foot, marveling at the age old adage "what a difference 4 years makes". Ok so no one ever remarks at the wondrous changes that occur in 4 years. 4 years is actually a pretty long time to instrument some significant changes. Rome wasn't built in a day, but I bet they made some seriously straight inroads into changing its skyline over the course of a few years. 

So what was different?

Thankfully the start, middle and end all played out to a completely different tune. 

I woke up in ample time and ate a substantial breakfast. 
I nearly had enough time to get bored in the athlete lounge. 
I encountered a slight hiccup when an official decided he'd try and hurdle me in the pre race line up but instead ended up kneeing me in the head. Luckily I could laugh this one off.
I managed to stay upright the entire race and didn't once run in the opposite direction to everyone else. 
I won my first World Series race in almost 3years. 

So much has happened in the time between those two Cape Town races. Yet the time has genuinely flown. It feels like only last year I was stood cheering from the sidelines of London 2012, yet here I am now, a whole Olympic cycle later, preparing to compete in the Games myself. 

So what's really different? Not a lot. I'm still the same athlete and the same person. I just found a good road and made decent headway in evolving my own skyline. And depending on how you look at it, a lifetime away or just around the corner, 4 years is just about enough time to make the unattainable, attainable and seemingly elusive dreams a reality.

'Enjoying' the view from the top. I'm actually pretty terrible with heights and definitely posing rather tentatively!
I do enjoy the new 'Pano' function on the iPhone...
Getting the work done on the bike.
Photo credit: Delly Carr
Job done. 
Photo credit: Delly Carr


Friday, 22 January 2016

My Declaration to Patience

Four years ago today I posted one of my first ever blog entries (well second ever if we're going to be pedantic about it). I was initially asked to start the blog to document my build up to the 2012 Olympic Games. Without even reading that particular entry I remember it quite well. I remember being quite surprised that 2012 had already come around; 7 years since the announcement that London would host the greatest show on earth. Aptly I was with Team GB at the 2005 Youth Olympics when the announcement came. And like every other starry eyed kid on the team I thought to myself "I'll be there!" 

Some of those kids did make it too. They donned their Stellar McCartney, stepped out onto the various stages of London, and did the class of 2005 very proud. Most of us however, didn't quite fulfill the lofty ambitions of our 15 year old selves. I watched from the sidelines, full of enthusiasm and admiration for those who had managed it, but at the same time vowing that next time it would be me. 

And so we have arrived yet again. Another Olympic cycle in its final quarter. The finishing straight. 11 years on from 2005, but 18 years since I asked my mum if I'd "ever go to the Olympics?" And 'only' 4 sports later I've finally booked my ticket. This time I won't be standing on the sidelines either. I'll be toeing the start line. Childhood ambition fulfilled. 

But again I can't quite believe it's come around so quickly. 

Already I've been asked countless times; "are you excited about Rio?" 
I don't think the question even needs answering. 
Sun. Sea. Sugary cocktails. 
The Olympic Games.  
What's not to be excited about?! 

After all it's only taken 18 years of dreaming. And I only have to dream for another 7 months before it becomes a reality. 

But a lot can happen, and needs to happen, in those 7 months. Like all athletes, Olympic bound or not, they will be predominately filled with hard work. Countless bleary eyed, chlorine filled mornings. Although with less than 200 days to go I probably could count them up if I cared to. Endless hours chasing that golden "chamois time", and ample opportunity for repetitive strain injury from tying shoes laces. 

But for me, that's the easy part.

Seven months of being patient. Now that's difficult. 

Patience is probably my biggest nemesis. I find waiting 20 minutes for my dinner to cook agonising. What do you mean I have to wait 14 days for my Amazon delivery?! How much is next day?! 

But as an athlete I've learnt the hard way, on too many occasions, that patiences is a virtue. A virtue worth mastering. I definitely haven't got my 10,000 hours yet. But I am aware that patience is probably my biggest hurdle between now and August. My coaches routinely preach this sacred scripture to me. They know me too well. Far better than the devil on my shoulder would like. She's really pissed off right now after being told to be patient since starting back training in November. If she had her way I'd be ready to go already. Luckily my rational side is just about reigning supreme. Just. 

So I will use this blog as a declaration of my commitment to 'Patience'. I know this will come around to bite me in the backside in a few weeks when I'm arguing with said coaches;
"Just one more hour please?"
"What harm will that extra rep make?"
"Can I run those laps just a few seconds quicker?"
And they will smugly bring this blog up and declare they have it all in writing. But if that's what it takes to make an Olympic start line in better than 'one piece' then so be it. 

Patience I am your disciple. Yours sincerely, Non Stanford. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Please, Dance on Tables. And other lessons learnt.

The last time I left you I think I was cha cha-ing around my living room to a naughty naughties anthem, cursing my two left feet, or rather my one broken left foot, outwardly optimistic that things could only get better (90's floor fillers are soooo much better than their successors) but  inwardly panicking that my story was more akin to a Celine Dion power ballad. 

Fast forward, what, some 18months, and I'm sat on board a plane somewhere over Greenland, in pursuit of a new stamp to add to my passport's collection. 
Purpose of visit; fortunately not to contest a dance competition. 
More a matter of business. 
Or pleasure? 
I never know what box to tick when faced with that question at customs. 

And what, I'm sure some of you are wondering, is the purpose of this spontaneous need to update the world, or the handful of people that happen upon my blog, after such a long leave of absence? If I'm honest, I've watched a couple of films (50 shades. Followed by the latest Disney release. Ironic coupling), my partner in crime is selfishly snoozing the hours away instead of keeping me entertained, and I still have 2 hours to kill until they feed me again. 

Voila! The perfect recipe for some random ramblings from moi. Or not..?!

Either way I'll start, or continue as I appear to have already started, by enlightening you with some valuable lessons learnt over the past year and a half.

Lesson 1
Discarding crutches and dancing on tables in your air cast boot is good rehab. Have your physio write it into your programme.

Lesson 2
Removing said boot and allowing someone to drink a pint from it is not good. Especially when you still have several weeks left in your now very beery, very damp boot. 

Lesson 3
Double swim days are never a good idea. Don't be fooled. Or at least proceed with caution.

Lesson 4
Plan aqua jogging session to coincide with the '90's Club Classic's Water Aerobics' class. Rhythm really is a dancer. 

Lesson 5
Running is hard. So hard. Breathlessness, nausea and an overwhelming need to sit down during the first few months of the 'Return to Run' schedule are to be expected. Other side effects include self pity parties and irrational outbursts at the long suffering, but ever patient, coach.

Lesson 6
Running will get easier. 

Lesson 7 
Learn from your mistakes. Put your wetsuit in your sodding box.

Lesson 8
Triathlon is hard. So hard. Breathlessness, nausea and an overwhelming need to sit down during the first few races are to be expected. Other side effects include self pity parties and irrational outbursts at the long suffering, but ever patient, coach.

Lesson 9
Triathlon won't get easier. But it will be more enjoyable when you remember how. 

Lesson 10
Rio is cool. I'd like to go again. 

Insightful I'm sure you'll agree. Useful for anyone other than myself? Maybe not. Unfortunately lessons are better learnt through personal experience, rather than through the experience of others. I'm sure you'll still start and an injury full of enthusiasm for double swimming and aqua jogging during 'Family Fun Hour'. You'll start back running and wonder why 10km hasn't been categorised as an 'ultra marathon' yet. You'll contact trading standards and insist false advertising after you ease yourself back into racing with a 'sprint' triathlon. Hell, you probably won't even put your wetsuit in the damn box. 

I do however, hope you maintain a sense of humor and perspective, learn your own valuable lessons, and remember that patience is indeed an important virtue. Because if you take anything from my experience, it's that the road might be long and winding, but it will lead to that door, eventually (thank the Beatles, namely Paul, for that pearl). 

Oh and one other thing. Please, dance on tables. 

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Non Stanford: Optimist and Expert Cha - Cha'er





This recently caught my eye and drew a smile. A knowing smile. 

These words rang true for me and almost immediately drew a line under the past 6months. I feel like I’ve Cha-Cha’d my way from March to September, and not to my own tune. In fact, in time to one of those really annoying radio jingles that gets stuck in your head and repeats on an endless loop. 

It’s been pretty frustrating Cha – Cha’ing in one spot, BOGOF jingle in tow (because one injury apparently entitles you to another one, completely free of charge), while everyone else has been gracefully fox trotting into the distance. Each time I made a step forward I seemed to be right back where I started. 

So I decided it was probably time for a short interlude. A pause in proceedings so to speak. And like all good half time breakes, mine included ample ice cream, sweet treats and chilled beverages, along with some unorthodox trips to sunnier climates. What can I say my interlude was less 15 minute loo stop, more 3 week holiday. 

Radio jingle firmly forgotten, I returned to the dance floor last week. I was even ready to integrate my well rehearsed Cha-Cha into the more complex Cha-Cha slide. After doing a quick run through of DJ Casper’s expertly choreographed dance in my front room, I was delighted to discover that, if followed correctly, the dance does leave you further forward than your original starting point. Much better than the basic Cha-Cha I’d been perfecting all summer. Albeit there is a lot of toing and froing, side stepping and sliding, but after the biggest jump forward (5 hops to be precise) there’s even some self appreciation time, where Mr Casper encourages you to applaud your journey thus far with the simple yet effective command ‘Everybody clap your hands’. 


Perfect. 

Sounds exactly like the tune to which I will dance this coming winter. Realistic that progress will be slow and sometimes turbulent, but optimistic that progress will be made all the same. Hopefully come March next year, a full 12months on from D-Day, I will be ready to dance the quick step, to my choice of tune. Preferably a mix tape of  ‘Run Like Hell’ Pink Floyd, ‘Don’t Stop’, Fleetwood Mac and ‘My Party’ Kings of Leon. Now that’s my idea of a triathlon. 


On that note; probably time to put my best foot forward… 


Friday, 13 June 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons...


When life gives you lemons…

Well I’ve pretty much got a swimming pool of lemonade out back right now.

And last week I got my second truckload of freshly delivered lemons.

I can’t quite believe that I’m sat here having to write this. I try to avoid using my blog as an avenue for venting frustration and making excuses. But after 3 months of avoiding questions of when I’ll be back and how things are going, I thought I would provide some answers and explanations. Well in my own round about way at least. After so many humbling messages of concern and support I feel it’s the least I can do.

The first delivery of yellow goods arrived back in March when I tore my plantar fascia. At first I didn’t quite know what I was supposed to do with them. I definitely quietly contemplated their presence for a few days. Was I supposed to simply ignore them and hope they disappeared? Maybe throw them around aggressively and let everyone else know how damn unhappy I was that they had inconveniently, without being ordered, arrived on my doorstep?

I considered the latter option. But I feared a back splash of lemon juice to open wounds would be quite painful. Plus I guessed no one else would massively appreciate the potential mess it would leave.

So instead I decided to crutch them out back and crack on as best I could. I was pretty lucky that I had great team of people and the sweetest group of friends to assist me. I kept smiling, stayed positive and tried to enjoy doing something different for a change.

Come May I’d pretty much juiced all the lemons. There we’re a few remaining but I was working hard to finish the job.  It looked like the lemonade would be ready just in time for summer! I missed a few parties but the promise of doing the funky chicken in London kept me going.

Unfortunately London rolled around quicker than I could work. The final product wasn’t quite sweet enough. It definitely left a slight bitter taste in my mouth. It was one of the tougher days for sure.

It was also that weekend that the rumbles of the next delivery could be heard. An unexplained pain in my ankle started to bother me. As a rehabbing athlete I was on high alert, and any new pain caused mild panic. I’m incredibly lucky to have a great medical team at my fingertips, ready and willing to listen to my irrational worries!

Within a day I was lying in an MRI unit. And by the evening? Yep turns out lemons can be delivered after 8pm. Now that’s customer service for you.

“Navicular stress response” said the delivery man.
“@*$! off” I replied.
I thought the driver had got the wrong address. I couldn’t possibly have a stress response.
“I’ve barely run a step since March!” I pleaded. “These are not my lemons!”

Turns out they are my lemons. Looks like it’ll take a couple of months to make palatable lemonade with them too. Apparently Glaswegians don’t like lemonade either. But I’ll keep juicing regardless.

I’m hoping my lemonade will be ready for a Canadian summer. But these things can’t be rushed. It’ll have to be a work in progress, only to be drunk when it’s sweet enough. I guess that’s in the hands of the lemonade gods.

And I suppose, after all this, it’s a good job I quite like lemonade!