Category Archives: challenges

swimming forwards but stepping back.

When I was thinking about this weeks blog I thought I would write something profound about lessons learned, or self improvements (who knows these blogs may still come). Mark the 12 week mark with a bang. What has actually appeared on paper is reality, a story of celebration, frustration and stepping back to move forward.

 

I have written before about my relationship with water and battles with open water swimming. This week I took my first tentative steps away from the safety of the pool and into a lake. Walking in with Beck by myside, the cold murky water  filled my wetsuit, my heart rate rose and the arguments bounced around my head. Four hundred metres later and I dared to go solo, each stroke became slightly less nerve racking. Suddenly the realisation hit, I was swimming in a lake, ALONE. Holy S**t I was alone in a lake (ok there was other people around but not actually with me), I could sink and nobody would realise. Stroke, stroke, breath, stroke, stroke, PANIC, stroke, stroke, breath.  400 metres further and I am out of there, wet suit off and I sit down watching the real swimmers continue. Realisation set in, I’d just swam by myself in a lake, an actual lake, and I’d survived. In my world that is grounds for celebration.

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Celebrating achievements is great, as is looking back through my training diary from the last 12 weeks. The frustrations of recovery are still present though. At this stage I feel stuck in a kind of no-mans land. I’m not ill or injured but then I’m not fully fit either. I’m making progress but it seems the progress is coming in every area but my core, and this is holding me back. For the second week running gymnastics seems to have aggravated my abs, this made Pilates tough as every other movement brought uncomfortable twinges or pain. The continued battle between pushing through and listening to my body was ever present as I participated in a class yet felt like an outsider, watching others I had been at a similar level as make it look easy. I have so much to be grateful for, recovery could have been much more complicated and the improvements I’m seeing in my swim, bike and run are reassuring and evidence I’m moving in the right direction. The problem is I know the true mark of recovery from this surgery lies in the core. A lack of core strength/endurance can lead to so many problems and injuries. This knowledge is another reminder that I need to take more time to get this right.

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This week I came to the realisation that I’d miscalculated the number of weeks until the triathlon, oops. Its now just five weeks until the big day. Realising this, I’ve made the conscious decision to take a step back in training. anything that doesn’t directly benefit either my core or the triathlon is taking a backseat. That means gymnastics, zuu and body pump are on hold, at least for the next few weeks. A frustrating call to make and one that feels like a huge step backwards, but a step back may just be necessary to move me forwards.

I may be slow but I’m Tri-ing

Another week down and we’re now 7 weeks from my first ever triathlon (that wasn’t scary until I wrote it down). Having been down for much of last week I was determined to try and have a more positive week. Being back at work proved to be a challenge that I wasn’t 100% ready for, and balancing that with training was a challenge I hadn’t fully prepared myself for, resulting in a shorter than planned working week (3 days rather than 5) and a couple of missed training sessions. Physically I am still getting tired much quicker than I used to, my body seems to need more rest than normal and energy levels fluctuate. The signs of overdoing things have reared their ugly heads on more than one occasion offering a reminder that overdoing it is still a very real risk.

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I would love to be back to “normal”, back to 100% physical and mental fitness, from what I’ve read it can take up to six months or more to be fully recovered. For now though I’m proud of my journey. I’m learning to listen to my body, developing the mental strength to take a step back or day off training (ok I may still sulk at this), these are huge steps forward from my previous Gung Ho stubborn mentality.

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Mentally I’ve been in a better place. I still feel like I’ve got work to do on the mental side of recovery, and I’m aware that I’m not as strong or mentally resilient as I was, but just recognising these is progress. Now is the time to continue working on strategies and push forward with actions. The first action is taking the time to relax and think, that sounds stupid, I’ve just had 2 months of relaxing and opportunities to think, if only I’d realised the importance of this earlier.

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Physically progress has really slowed, I knew this was coming having made good progress initially. My scar is finally healing having spent the last couple of weeks kicking out the internal stitches. Movement patterns are coming back and everything is starting to feel more natural albeit slower. I’m enjoying being back training and having to do less regressions. I’m almost at the end of my “endurance” (read “get back to doing stuff”) phase. I’m comfortably back swimming, I’m regularly cycling and am seeing progress in both disciplines. Run wise my 4Km time is currently slower than my previous 5km time was and my run training seems to be stuck in a rut. Progress is hard work and slow, it’s mentally draining seeing the data come back and show little to no progress. I’m really having to concentrate and remind myself I’ve not been able to run properly for well over six months and have only reintroduced it in the last month. Any progress is good progress!

The triathlon seems to be creeping up quickly, 7 weeks isn’t a lot of time. I know that just finishing it will be a huge achievement but more and more it’s an achievement that actually feels possible.

It’s not all physical.

I wasn’t going to write this week, I’m not sure where to start, but I want this blog to reflect my experiences so here goes.

It’s been half term which means a week away from work and my first solid week of training. This should make for a positive week, but instead I’ve just felt lost and tired. I can’t think of any good reason why I’m feeling this way, in fact having received a letter confirming the all-clear from histology and discharging me from the hospital I should be happy. Things could’ve been a lot worse, and I’m both relieved and grateful for this. I guess this could be my mind trying to process everything that had happened in the last ten months. Before now I have been either too tired as a result of the fibroid or focusing on the physical side of recovery. I hadn’t really given much time or thought to the mental side. Mayne now is the time.


Whilst this year hasn’t been easy, I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I have no idea what that reason is, however I promise myself that I will be a better person for having gone through it. No matter how I feel right now, I will come out stronger. 


I have a permanent reminder of this period, scars are reminders of the journeys taken. For now I’m going to keep looking forward, keep moving and accept that this journey still has some distance to go!

NHS courtesy calls and what’s next?

Eight weeks ago I had a six inch vertical cut made in my lower abdomen and the vast majority of my reproductive system removed along with a large fibroid. This week I had my first post-op contact with the gynae team at St James. No there was no anxious waiting in a busy waiting room, no examination of the incision site, no shaking hands with the surgical team, in fact there was no face to face contact.  What I received was a “courtesy call” (their actual words), now in my experience a courtesy call is what you receive after making a purchase or hired a car, never have I associated “courtesy calls” with major surgery (Surgery serious enough to have strict protocols including lifting nothing heavier than a kettle for 6 weeks). What made the “courtesy call” even more unbelievable was that the sister making the call had no idea whether I’d had key hole, bikini line or vertical incision. I was left trying to describe the blister like area of my incision (perhaps if the courtesy call is the way to go they could introduce the use of WhatsApp for such an occasion), a challenge the sister could only respond to by instructing me to go and see my GP. I feel lucky that, blood clot aside, I’ve had a relatively straight forward recovery which I attribute to preparing myself physically and mentally both for the surgery and the recovery.

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It’s fair to say that between the cancelled surgeries cancelled surgeries and minimalistic follow up care (I was also left waiting on the line while she fought with the system to find my histology results.) I’ve been less than impressed with the NHS. I really feel for the clinical staff who quite clearly are frustrated at having to deliver a first class level of care on a third string budget and support system. NHS aside I’m now 8 weeks post-op and getting back to more and more “normal activities” everyday, the countdown to my first post-op fitness challenge is on.

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It’s now just 9 weeks until I take on my first ever triathlon. It may only be a Super sprint (Castle triathlon series, Castle Howard), 400 m swim, 20(ish) km bike and 4 km run (or something along those lines) but it’s a bloody triathlon. At this point My max bike ride has been 6.5kms and I’m on run 1 of week 2 on C25K, not running more than 90 seconds at a time. The most worrying think is that these two disciplines only come into play if I survive the 400m open water swim. Having had to cancel two challenges that just came to soon post-op I really can’t wait for this. This triathlon has really been a motivation on the days when I was sore and didn’t want to go for that walk, or do the same rehab exercises for the umpteenth time.  It also helps to know that my wife and mother in law are doing the tri too, everyone knows you can’t let your mother in-law beat you. I wonder if Castle Triathlon Series know what they’ve let themselves in for.

Fear, recovery and womanhood?

Fear! Something you face every day. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of your own mortality, fear of the unknown.  The issue I have with fear is that it’s not tangible. I can’t give you a lump of fear, you can’t hold it in your hands, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  I’m a big believer in facing your fears, putting yourself in situations that scare you, thus making fear an optional concept, I choose not to be fearful.  I’m scared of water, so I completed an open water swim, I’m scared of pregnant women (feel free to continue reading when you’ve finished laughing) I’ve done pilates surrounded by pregnant ladies. In the build up to surgery I had no fear of the surgery, I’d done my research, had confidence in the medical professionals, I put myself in a position not to be fearful. Recovery can be treated in a similar way. Right now I have a choice, I can sit back, rest and do nothing or I can actively participate in the process do what I can, listen to my body and give it what it needs to recover. I choose to take control, to move forward, to be better physically and mentally.

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They say it takes 6 weeks to resume “normal” activities post-hysterectomy, which means today is the half way mark. In reality the 6 week mark will just be the start, the journey back to the activities I miss will be much longer. I miss the feeling of setting a workout, hitting the point where your body is screaming at you to stop and having the strength of mind to keep pushing through. I miss the feeling of sitting under a bar, legs threatening to give way and still finding a way to stand tall. Strangely, I miss the feeling of being on a run, lungs burning, legs feeling like they’re stuck in treacle and hitting that zone where nothing else matters, the minutes fly by as you empty your mind whilst contemplating life’s problems. I can’t understand why people take drugs when these feelings are freely available through physical efforts. With my main goal this year (rat Race Dirty Weekend) already ruled out I’m currently setting out to fill the next few months with as many challenges as possible, after all what says “F**k you” to fibroids and surgery better than pushing yourself through obstacles and challenges with a smile on your face?

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Prior to surgery many of the forums I read talked of a great sense of loss that women feel following a hysterectomy. The loss of ever being able to carry children and frequently the loss of feeling like a woman, the loss of “womanhood”. I often questioned the inevitability of these thoughts, after all I knew I didn’t want to carry children and keeping my ovaries would keep hormone levels relatively stable. Would the surgery really change how I feel about myself as a woman? Three weeks on and these feelings are nowhere to be felt. Am I any less of a woman because I’m missing a few organs? I guess that depends on how you look at things. Biologically yes, without my uterus, cervix and tubes I am less of a woman but in reality? My point of view is that being a strong woman is about being strong physically, mentally and having strength of character. Physically I’m doing whatever my body allows, mentally there have been good days and bad days but I keep working on my frustrations and occasional emotional outbursts, however no matter what challenge I’ve faced I’ve stayed true to myself and that, I believe, is what makes me a strong woman!

 

Another cancellation – Where to next?

This year one of the challenges I’ve set myself is to not get angry or worry about things that I have no influence over. If only I’d have known how challenging this would be.

I’ve tried to be honest throughout these blogs, whether the focus has been on fitness, events, feelings or physical well being and plan to continue this throughout this journey to surgery, recovery and back to fitness. So here is an update on my recent experiences and their impacts.

When my operation was cancelled for the second time I found it tough to move on and carry on with everyday life, just waiting for the third date. The constant questioning and sympathetic looks or comments that are well meaning just wound me up. So when the hospital called with a new date I told very few people. In the build up I tried to remain positive, “third time lucky” and all that. Despite my best efforts I don’t think I every truly committed myself to the possibility of the surgery actually happening, I was anxious about the surgery but more scared of the feeling of disappointment at another cancellation. Things began to feel real the night before, packing my hospital bag I was left wrestling with myself, was I really prepared? Am I really patient and disciplined enough for this recovery process? Would it actually happen?

The morning of the surgery I got up half an hour before I was due to fast to eat some fruit, then went back to bed contemplating what the day ahead might bring. The nerves really hit in when the phone rang. I recognised the number immediately. My heart sank. With trepidation, I answered and to my surprise it was the nurse asking if I could go in early. After discussing my breakfast, it was decided that an earlier slot wasn’t an option but I was reassured everything looked positive. Arriving on the ward everything felt real, the journey to “normality” would soon begin. We sat and waited in the reception area watching other visitors eat and drink and come and go for their appointments, one and a half hours we sat there with the only update coming when I asked the receptionist what was happening – “they are just waiting for the bed to be ready” I was told. The longer we sat there the more convinced I was that not all was well.

A voice I recognised called my name, it was the nurse that had called me 24 days previously to cancel my operation. We went into a side room where she began “it’s not good news I’m afraid”, following it with something about a bed crisis. To be honest I didn’t really listen to her, and my response was not particularly positive, how many times can this happen? what happens now? and how much longer do I have to live through this? She explained that these decisions were not taken lightly and when we fired a response of how long can this go on for she confirmed that actually cancelling “electives” was becoming normality over the past few months (note to self must time needing the NHS outside of the bed crisis next time). She could offer no other advice, no clue as to where I go from this point, other than confirming that my operation wouldn’t be happening within the next 4 days and would therefore fall outside of the NHS 28 day pledge. Her only other comment was that the surgeon (who had never spoken to me let alone met me) wanted to know why I had chosen a myomectomy over hysterectomy – Do they really think this was an appropriate time for this discussion? I left the room with anger, frustration, confusion and sadness all flying around in my head, I wanted to scream, shout, kick and punch yet here I was sent away with no answers, no support (other than a leaflet) and expected to just get on with it.

I called St James hospital Patient Advise and Lisason Service (PALS), these guys apparently deal with complaints and ease concerns over issues such as operations cancelled at short notice. The lady I spoke to was quick to comment that my experience was “not good”. She then told me she had logged the issue and someone would be in touch within two working days, since this was a Friday it would be Tuesday before I heard anything – this also happened to be the 28th day from the previous cancellation. Why did I feel like I had just called a helpline and reported my kitchen appliance wasn’t working? Not happy with this response I called Leeds west CCG, the response? Pretty much the same only I would be left until Wednesday for a response.

Tuesday arrived and no response, I called, left a message and eventually got a call back from a woman who was as rude and patronising a woman as I have ever spoken to, she gave me the feeling that I really was nothing but an annoyance to her. She offered no advice, no date, no new information other than I needed a new pre-op assessment and that “they were not working to the 28 day pledge”, that was that! When I asked her whether she would be happy if her family member had received the service I had, she told me she could no longer help, a manager would call me back and the phone went dead. Yes St James this is your PALS service, I’m sure you are proud! Leeds west CCG was just as helpful with continuous empty promises of phone calls back. I found myself a week on with no answers – for those counting that’s 7 of the 28 days wasted.

Desperate to make some progress I took matters into my own hands, called the secretary of my original surgeon. In that phone call I had a (potential) new date and a phone consultation with the surgeon. If I could do this in one phone call why was the hospitals own organisations having so much difficulty? The date was some weeks off and so I continued along the PALS and CCG route in the hope of a sooner date. After numerous more phone calls I finally received a call from Emily – GM of women’s services. Firstly, thank you for actually apologising and at least acting as if you were listening to my concerns. Unfortunately, the information you gave was so far from reality it could be filed in the “fiction” department.  I was given a new date, a number of a secretary to call to arrange a pre-op and everything looked hopeful. I called the number and was told the list for that date was full and there was no way I would be placed on it since…..wait for it……none of that surgeons cases ever gets cancelled – not only that but (in her words) it shows how out of touch management is because she doesn’t even deal with pre-ops. Imagine, if you will, you are a patient that has had numerous cancelled surgeries, you are given hope, made to feel like someone was actually listening and trying to help then you get this response.

The final straw for me was calling the CCG to tell them about the call with Emily and subsequent disappointment of false information. I explained how I’d arranged a surgery date and a phone consultation but just needed help arranging a pre-op, I’ll look into it and call you back was the response. Less than an hour later I actually received a call back, “Good news” it started, now here I was thinking they’ve sorted everything out, everything will be moving forward someone is actually going to help. Then she continued, I had been moved from the surgeon who’s list was full to my original surgeons list and her secretary would call to arrange a pre-op. Hardly good news and proof of just how well they listen since this was the information I actually called to tell them earlier. Hoping for something useful to come out of the conversation, I asked what the chance of the surgery happening and what happens if it’s cancelled again – the response well we just have to hope that it’s not and if it is call her back. With that my “complaint” was closed.

Throughout the past two weeks of calling numerous people, waiting for call backs, listening to empty promises, trying to arrange operation dates, pre-ops etc, I still had to hold down a job, manage constantly fluctuation emotions, pain and fatigue as well as holding myself together while every Tom, Dick and Harry gave useless advice or commented on how frustrated they were. Not exactly a walk in the park.

I’m aware that there are individuals in greater need of a bed than myself, but I’m also aware of those that are medically fit but in need of social care beds or care packages that are left in hospital beds because of issues within these systems. My frustrations – beyond the obvious of 3 cancelled surgeries, 2 on the day, 1 whilst actually on the ward – if as stated by the staff this is becoming a common issue there must be an outlet that is able to deal with those of us lost in a cycle of preparation, disappointment and uncertainty. A complaint/liaison service that allows people to express concerns and have these dealt with in a swift and reassuring manner should be the corner stone of any organisation with such fragile systems.  This is not the first time we have experienced a bed crisis in the NHS, nor will it be the last!

The end of Rat race 2017…..

It started with a moment of madness, signing me and my dad up to a challenge beyond anything we had done before – 20 miles and 200 obstacle. This blog was supposed to track my journey to the Rat Race Dirty weekend Full Mucker, well that was Plan A and things don’t always go to plan.

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If you’ve read my blogs from the beginning you would have seen that after a good start my journey hit a few speed bumps, namely a large fibroid (an unwanted growth in my uterus). This has had a huge impact on my life and training. I was relieved to be given a surgery date that would (If I was careful) give me just enough time to be ready for the Full Mucker. What had begun as a simple physical challenge had just grown to epic proportions.

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Working towards the surgery had given me a new focus, I was reaping the benefits of pilates and was back enjoying training (within limits). Fast forward to the 29th December, the day before surgery. I had just finished my last pre-surgery pilates class and was spending the day with my (incredibly supportive) wife getting our new house ready for when I was discharged. Then the phone call, two words “bed crisis”, that was it surgery was postponed (until when? answers on a postcard please). The initial frustration was soon joined by disappointment as I realised my journey to full mucker was all but over, for 2017 at least.

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So where to now? Well aside from the waiting game that I continue to be an unwilling participant of, I’ve decided that frustration and anger won’t get me anywhere; instead I will be working hard to make sure I am physically and mentally in the best shape possible for surgery. New short term goals have been set and a few more challenges are in the pipeline. As for the Rat Race we will be transferring our entries to the 2018 race. The journey continues albeit on a slightly altered route.

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Am I getting more mature?

For those that know me the notion that I am getting more mature is probably being met with barrels of laughter. In truth, in everyday life I’m not any more mature but in training things are different. Gone is the mind-set of just beast myself as hard as I can for the whole time I’m training every-time I’m training. Now it’s more of a measured approach, yes some days you will find me pushing myself, others you will find a more measured approach. If I’ve trained at a high intensity one day the next will be at a lower intensity, I’m experimenting with heart rate zones and actually enjoying just playing around with methods and styles of training. It’s difficult to see if it’s working, progress has certainly been made over the last couple of months but is it more or less than what my old style of training would have brought? Who knows! In reality the physical benefits to training is only a small part of what training has given me.

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Having returned to exercise having been advised to considerably modify my training I honestly believe I am in a better physical shape to tackle the trials and tribulations of surgery and recovery than I would have been if I’d remained at such a minimal level of training. Psychologically this is hugely important, and this is where the true maturity is developing. I know that what I’ve been doing the last month or so and what I do in the coming weeks won’t get me to the finish line of rat race dirty weekend but it will help determine if I get to the start line. And if I get to the start line the chances of me completing my challenge is pretty high.

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So there you have it, just a few days before surgery and I’m feeling surprisingly good. I’ve accepted there’s nothing I can do about what will happen on the day (and let’s face it with the NHS there’s always the chance it will be cancelled – Everything crossed this is not the case!), but I can change how I react to the challenges I face, to the frustrations of the recovery process, and the embarrassment of the hospital paper pants!

Happy new year!

Where I’m at and good friends/family.

I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks for a couple of reasons. Firstly the quality and quantity of training hasn’t been anything to write home about, and secondly I have been sulking. If truth be told I have managed only a handful of quality cardio sessions, even fewer weights sessions however I have stuck to Pilates and even introduced Body Pump. It’s fair to say the last couple of weeks have been a roller-coaster period but the point of this blog was to map my journey to the Rat Race Dirty Weekend, any journey worth taking is never going to be easy. So here goes an honest overview of where I’m at in my training.

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Cardio, up until a couple of months ago I had strangely fallen in love, not quite a cardio “bunny” but not a hater either. 60 minute runs were common place, providing time to clear my mind and reflect. Currently 30 minute runs are more common place, often at a much steadier pace. Cycling is almost impossible and even swimming can prove uncomfortable for more than 30 lengths.

Resistance training; Can someone just remind me what this is again please! Yes it is that bad! Previously I would weight train at least three times a week, Kettlebells, Bulgarian bags, dumbbells and Olympic lifting were common place now these tools are having a vacation from my workouts, and being replaced by bodyweight only exercises and body pump with “light weights”.

So that’s the crux of it, training has not been going well and yet my countdown app tells me there is only 167 days until we take on Rat Race.

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One thing I have noticed is how quickly “medical” people will tell you what you can’t do, lets just all take it easy (see previous blog for my opinion on taking it easy.)  while life passes us by. No thank you, I can’t help but wonder where I’d be fitness wise if I had trusted my instincts and simply adapted my activities rather than stopped them. Training and fitness has long been a part of my life and I am determined to get through the challenges that lay ahead and make it to, not only the start line, but also the finish line of the Full-Mucker.I have already experienced so many highs and lows on this journey and know there are many more to come, but the knowing that this journey will make the accomplishment of completing the challenge so much more pleasing and that two great charities will benefit from my end goal keeps that drive inside strong.

I am lucky to know some amazingly supportive and knowledgeable friends, family and colleagues that not only understand my need and desire to be active but also my stubbornness. So to those who have put up with my “angry elf” side sorry, thank you and please bear with me as although I can’t guarantee the anger, frustration and stubbornness may still raise it’s ugly head I am working on it and I appreciate the support! To anyone reading this that is facing a challenge, whatever it may, be find positive people and stick with them, they will make all the difference.

 

Taking it easy Vs Being sensible

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This blog was supposed to be a review of, what would likely have been, a great afternoon of fun at The Suffering, 6 months and 7 days before the big one, Rat race Dirty Weekend . However rather than a tale of excitement and fun, feats of endurance and strength as I dragged myself and family through what looked like an adults playground, this blog is about road blogs, sulking and geeking out!

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With my final Obstacle run of 2016 just days away and excitement building my body gave me a sharp reminder that not all is well, Body 1 – Fun 0! It may have been a shift at work involving lots of lifting, stubbornness at pilates (Note to self – that look and “is that ok” question actually means “try the lower option”) or it may have been the culmination of a busy training week. Whatever the reason the result was the same, a missed weekend with the family and an unused race entry. To say I am disappointed would be an understatement, and even by my relatively unsociable standards, I have been in serious need of an “approach with caution” sign above my head as I pulled off a rather impressive angry elf impression.

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Two days of sulking and being fed up is over, it’s time to return to being grateful for the progress I’ve made and look forward to the remaining journey to the Full Mucker. Six months, six days and 12 hours to prepare for a challenge that will test endurance, strength and guts. Plenty of time in normal circumstances however, in just over a months time I am expecting to undergo abdominal surgery with a 6-8 week recovery period. Yes that is cutting it fine, but I like a challenge.

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I’ve written before about controlling my competitive/stubborn streak and although I still need to work on that I am making progress. More and more I’m able to ignore others and focus on myself, my form and my movements. Despite this shift in attitude friends and family still insist on telling me to “take it easy” something I find difficult to understand when it comes to training.

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How much progress can actually be made by “taking it easy”? My thinking is not much! So here lies the problem, how can I make progress towards my goals of being in the best shape possible for surgery, facilitating my recovery and preparation for the rat race weekend whilst not aggravating my current circumstances. As a geek knowledge and understanding are my tools of choice, my thinking being, that if you understand how and why things work it’s easier to make informed decisions, make the most of training time and avoid anything that might aggrevate or detract from training. So this weekend my kindle has taken a hammering, a reading list containing texts on calisthenics, Heart rate training, Yoga and pilates  has been created as I look to plan my training for the next month in the most “sensible” way I know. Stay tuned to find out if it works or if the angry elf returns.

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Why I’m doing what I’m doing

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