Category Archives: Fitness

My next challenge

I’d told myself I’d take a week of rest and relaxation after Castle Howard. The reality though was that I was left with a greater drive to push on. Having put myself under so much pressure to be able to participate in the triathlon it was a relief to come through relatively unscathed. The relief was soon overtaken by the desire to evaluate performance, why did the swim go so wrong? Where could I have made time up? When is the next challenge.


Thankfully the next challenge has been booked for some time. The Great Scottish SwimRun, 800m swim followed by a 5km run. My two weakest disciplines in the triathlon? Swim and Run. My biggest disappointment last week was my inability to overcome the fear during the swim, so to face a swim twice the distance in unknown waters in just 23 days is both petrifying and exciting(ish). 


I’m still trying to focus on my journey and my progress and achievements. I’m fully aware that for many an 800m swim is barely more than a warm up but this is the point that I’m at with my journey. I remember the days of learning to get my face in the water, the days where 2 lengths of a 25m pool was a challenge, my first terrifying attempt at open water swimming. I’ve put in the hours of hard work, tears, tantrums and failures to get to the point of looking at an 800m open water swim. Just over three months ago there’s an entry in my training diary referring to a failed attempt at a 25m swim. It’s been a rough journey so far with so much more to come. How do I feel about the 5km run? Well let’s think about that if I survive the swim. I’m excited and anxious to discover what part the Great Scottish SwimRun will play. 


In terms of personal journey this week has been great for reflecting on how far I’ve come. Don’t get me wrong, being one of the last out of the water and being overtaken by all ages on the bike and run isn’t great for the ego but you can’t judge without knowing individuals journeys. My journey in the last four months from open hysterectomy to triathlete has been a mega rollercoaster, it still is. I feel like I’m chasing my own expectations, expectations that are probably unrealistic, and expectations that are constantly changing. Less and less I’m looking at the performances of those around me, but rather focusing on where I’m at and where I’m going. This new mindset isn’t always easy to maintain, the competition is now me rather than others. Will this mindset help get me through not only the SwimRun but also my second triathlon? Well there’s only one way to find out. 

It’s the journey that counts.

Training for a triathlon while recovering from major abdominal surgery probably isn’t a recommended combination but that’s the challenge I’d set. I had 17 weeks, just under 4 months, from knife to skin until the start of the triathlon. It was a journey with a ready made excuse to take the easy path, to accept failure. There were days when I felt like sitting there and crying, giving up and letting the recovery process take it’s time. There were days when frustration boiled over to anger, days feeling lost, scared tired and in pain, taking one step at a time the start line was in sight.

20294036_10154965127268722_1265190860158748029_n

Arriving at the venue the nerves were bubbling, looking around everyone looked so fit, I felt like an outsider invading an unknown land where neoprene and lycra were the dress code. In transition people chatted about previous conquests while I worried about where to put my trainers. Wet suit on and the long trek to the lake for the safety briefing. The lake was taunting me like a Dementos from Harry Potter. “Don’t panic, take time to acclimatise and you’ll be fine” I keep telling myself. Suddenly the safety briefing was over, I had no idea what had been said. Into the water, 30 seconds until the race starts. WAIT!! What about acclimatising? I’m not ready. The weeds were everywhere, my head is going crazy, the weeds will pull me down, we haven’t even started yet and I’m not sure I ca go much further.

20293015_10154965127448722_5882161178089076932_n

 

The horn goes. Head down, stroke and breathe, No, PANIC! My legs feel like they’re tangled, my hands come out holding green slime. There’s nothing I can do, coordination and rational thinking has long gone. I’ve not felt this scared since my first open water swim. I’m not even 50m into the swim, there’s still 350m to go. Becky stayed with me talking me through each stroke, reaching the turnaround point things were looking up. I was swimming towards the exit, the weeds were virtually gone, I was doing it, I was swimming. Not soon enough the swim was over, a short 300m up hill jog to transition added an extra dimension to the transition.

20292919_10154965127408722_1636449274990805216_n

 

Transition one was a success, the coconut oil helped me escape my new speedo wetsuit (note to anyone wanting to try OW swimming, an actual swim wetsuit makes a huge difference).Wet suit off, top, race belt, shorts trainers and helmet on I un-racked my bike and I was off, careful not to mount my mean machine until after the white line. Having visited the area recently I knew the first couple of kilometres were nice climbs, what I hadn’t figured was the amount of energy wasted from panicking in the water. As the ride progressed my lower abdomen ached and twinged, almost as if it was reminding me of the journey we had been through. I was enjoying the challenge, the views were great and the kilometres were flying by. I was overtaken by the full age range of people, kids and veterans alike powered past me as I battled through the course. At first this frustrated me, then I smiled, sat up looked at the views, smelt the lavender and reminded myself of how far I’d come. Before I knew it I was dismounting and making my way through Transition.

20294203_10154965126973722_1667564857858481927_n.jpg

Transition 2 was over in a flash, I smiled knowing I only had 4km between me and the finish line. The first kilometre was completed in a PB time of 5:45, probably too fast but my legs felt great (thanks Ironholgs for introducing me to brick sessions in his books) and the ground was firm and flat. As we entered the wooded portion the ground worsened, the rain had taken it’s toll, it was largely up hill making the next 2 kilometres nothing short of an energy sapping muddy trail run. Progress slowed but with every step we were a step closer to the finish line. As we passed the 1km to go sign we noticed the mother in law just 500m back, the decision was easy, we waited for her and crossed the line together.

20245382_10154932578162852_4644313688505504255_n.jpg

I felt a little emotional crossing the line. The journey to this point has been tough, an emotional rollercoaster mirrored somewhat by the triathlon. The physical journey has been witnessed, it’s easy to see the progress from the first walk to the day room (20m) that exhausted me, the first pilates class through to finishing Castle Howard super Sprint. What’s not easy to see is the psychological journey, the fear of not doing enough, of doing too much, the frustrations of slow progress and watching others doing so much more. There have been times when I have been way too hard on myself and those around me, even crossing the finish line I wondered if I could have gone quicker, but for now I can smile, I finished my first triathlon, I pushed through fear, pain, the ups and the downs and I crossed the line holding the hands of those I love and care for. How can I not be content with that.

20257958_10154965126723722_7271409492419016039_n

 

 

Swim, cycle, run, sulk

As I write this I’m laid sulking on the sofa battling the after effects of a hill focused training ride. Whether it was the potholes, the hills or the overall training load of this week catching up with me my abdomen is screaming at me to rest. This is not how I imagined I’d be feeling 5 days out from my first triathlon. As frustrating as this feeling is I have to remember I’m still recovering, I’m little over 3 months post op and even a sprint distance tri is a big ask at this stage. 


My focus needs to change, it should be on finishing the challenge and a personal journey not on racing others. I’d love to take the credit for this change but in reality it came from a vomit infested pool that led to a chance meeting with an Ironman competitor while waiting for pool tests to give the green light to enter the pool. He had just got back from completing Challenge Roth despite falling ill early on the bike section. Our conversation didn’t focus on him but rather a chance encounter he had had with an older lady at an event in South America.  Long story short this lady had told him that it was all about focusing on yourself and that anything really was possible. As he recited the story I could feel the goosebumps on my arms, I felt on top of the world ready to take on any challenge. As inspiring as this was, it was also a reality check. I’ve spent too much time comparing myself to others (namely my wife and mother in-law) rather than focusing on my own journey. Thank you Mark for the lesson (pretty sure my wife has been trying to say this for a while but who listens to their wife?). I’m pretty sure the 5 minutes I spent on pool side listening to tales of triumph has had a huge impact on me and my journey.


Training wise I actually enjoyed an open water swim, the day had started with tears and tantrums as my fear of water raised its ugly head but ended with a steady 1.3km solo swim. On dry land I’ve broken my race-distance (4km) PB by 3 minutes and seen a marked improvement in my cycle times. The training is paying off, I can’t believe how far I’ve come in such a short space of time. Days like today are a stark reminder of what my body has been through. Am I fit? Am o good to go? Not at all, I’m still early in this journey but it’s exciting to see where this path leads.

A step too far?

With two weeks to go until “T-day” we (i.e. the wife) thought it would be a good idea to recce the area surrounding Castle Howard for the bike and run legs. You could feel the nervous anticipation rise in the car, and this was only a training ride/run. With the bikes unpacked and helmets on we made it just over 200m before we hit a roundabout. Right? Left? Straight? who knew? I had taken the time to write directions on my hand however a pre-ride trip to the bathroom resulted in me washing them off. We discussed and agreed it must be right and off we went (again). The undulating road suddenly got steeper, the quads burned, the eyes focused on the summit like a lioness stalking its prey. The view as we summited was almost as breath-taking as the climb itself, a taster of things to come. The sweeping rolling hills provided opportunities to practice the technicalities of road biking (like I know what I’m doing!). Playing with gears and riding positions I managed to avoid the pot holes and gravel patches, I was actually enjoying myself.

2ofus

The ride continued and amongst my happy thoughts were the words of my mother in-law “sharp left”, “big hill” no other words mattered. The turn arrived, it was time to get the pedals grinding. Suddenly I was overtaken, not once but twice. Here I was out of my seat, driving the pedals with all of my might, happy to just be moving and staying on the bike and they overtake me. I keep plodding along, checking back on Becky. the hill continues. I keep reminding myself everything ends, including this hill. The decent starts and finishes way to quickly for my liking. Becky shouts at me to stop, a quick pit-stop to adjust her seat and we were caught off guard by a sign saying Castle Howard left. Distance wise this was too early but with the directions washed away who were we to argue.

img_3790

We were into the final few kilometres and the last of the climbs, all that was going through my head was the dreaded thought that we had agreed to run after this. Arriving back at the car my watch confirmed we’d missed a couple of kilometres from the planned distance (must have been that left turn), at least we had gotten some good climbs into the legs. The bike was always going to be my best section, barring a few twinges along my scar line and into my groin I’d felt ok. With no time to celebrate my new farthest bike ride we gulped down some fluids and a couple of bites of flapjack and we were off on the run.

karli running

The run began along the car park, the brick sessions must be paying off as the jelly legs were hardly noticeable. We ran, and ran, I became convinced that the GPS on my watch wasn’t working as the time ticked by so much quicker that the distance. A left turn down the hill and I got my first look at the lake, a deep breath put the thoughts of the dreaded swim to the back of my mind. Back up the hill we trotted, I was giving my all to keep on Becky’s heels, she was looking fresh. The gates gave me hope as they offered brief rest opportunities. As my legs and lungs burned the twinges in my abs became stronger and more frequent, the arguments between my heart and head continued. On mre than one occasion equal amounts of energy were given to moving forward and stopping myself from breaking down in tears. This was tough, I hadn’t pushed myself like this in a long time, I knew I’d come so far in only a few months, I hoped I wasn’t pushing myself too far, but I had to finish.

dying

The gardens were beautiful, but the sight I longed for was that of the car. Never has a Ford Fiesta looked so good. We ran passed it. I looked at my watch, we were 400m short of the planned 4 km. Yes we were those people running laps of the car park until technology dictated we could stop. As the GPS ticked over to 4km there was a patch of grass surrounded by a wooden fence. My body took over as I leant onto the fence to compose myself, I felt like I’d been to hell and back, the muscles around my scar cramped, I longed for fuel. The focus now is recovery, manage the pain in my lower abdomen and plan next weeks training, the final week of pushing it before race week. The journey continues, it’s nerve racking, it’s exciting, most of all it’s fun, well most of the time.

dying2

This session had come after a tough week at work and in training. The triathlon feels almost achievable, I feel reassured that despite the relatively short preparation time I’m doing the correct things in training. Most importantly I know that if I hit rock bottom in the triathlon I should have the mental strength to push through. I’m only doing a sprint triathlon, people out there achieve much greater physical and psychological feats than this. This is my challenge though, my journey, my battles. I hope that in the future I can look back on this experience and smile knowing this is only the start of an adventure. We all start somewhere.

 

My wife is fitter than me – When did that happen?

Reality hit home this week, my wife is fitter than me! When did that happen? Now before I go on let me just say I am immensely proud of the work she has put in. In the last 8 months she has lost 4 stone and turned around her health and fitness habits. I love the change in her and the happiness it’s brought. It’s also amazing to share the enjoyment of fitness with her rather than feel guilty about leaving her to train. The reality remains though. As I’ve battled with il health and recovery my fitness has dropped as hers has increased to a point I can only aim for. Great for her, not so great for me! It’s a reminder of the last year, it’s proof of the progress I’ve made since surgery, but also demonstrates how much can be achieved through hard work and perseverance.


The circumstances surrounding this realisation was a simple post-swim run. As we transitioned from our wetsuit to running gear a nervous anticipation built in the pit of my stomach. Running has been the slowest discipline to improve post-op and I knew Becky had had some recent PB success over 5km. We set off, almost immediately alarm bells rang as the pace picked up and I settled at the back of the group, a position I hate. My watch alerted me to the 1km mark, completed at a pace 30 seconds quicker than my post-op best, my legs, brain and lungs screamed at me to stop, this pace was not sustainable. There was no get out option though, I had to continue. I took a deep breath and continued, counting down to the turn around Mark at 2km I resigned myself to hanging on at the back of the group. Just then Becky informed me we had just over 500m before turning around, looking at my watch that would be 2.5km, since when were we running 5km? Holy S**t could I actually keep up?


 The burning and screaming of various body parts continued far beyond the turn around point. I dropped further off the pace as the enjoyment of the run continued to drain quickly. Suddenly the sign post was in sight 200m and we were finished. A new 5km PB, the run was over and I’d survived. 


The run came at the end of a busy training week. Swimming, cycling and running have all progressed. My biggest achievement was a full solo (I.e. Out of arms reach of Becky) open water swim, my first ever and a full kilometre. Smashed it! Progress is coming, the triathlon is rapidly approaching, doubts are creeping in. Can I complete the challenge and defeat the demons of open water and doubts about fitness? 

The vanishing training.

So last week I wrote about needing to reign my training in a little. What I didn’t need though was to reign it in quite so much. By the end of the week my training resembled a largely blank piece of paper with days of the week written on it. With only 3 training sessions it wasn’t ideal and having worked diligently to build my activity level from near extinction I was desperately disappointed by this turn of events.


The week began positively with a 5km run, the time of 36 minutes wasn’t exactly headline worthy but a new post op distance PB. The distance was a huge boost, during the run it felt great, almost pleasurable, a return to this time last year when I developed a genuine enjoyment of running. Post run was another story, my legs felt great, but my stomach ached, twinges and pulled. The post run euphoria didn’t last long but the positive was there, the foundations are getting stronger.


Tuesday was a complete write off, I was exhausted all day, it was all I could do to sleep, eat and sleep again. A better night under my belt I woke up feeling more human. Gymnastics was already ruled out, Abs weren’t feeling great so all paths led to the watt bike. Nobody said the road to the tri would be pretty and 23km going nowhere staring at a Watt bike screen certainly isn’t that. It felt good to go the distance, good to sit and stare at that screen and demonstrate the mental strength to keep going when things get tough. Yes I would have rather been upside down at gymnastics, but needs must and every session is progress no matter how small.

My Total Warrior experience.

Travelling to Bramham on Saturday I had mixed feelings. I was gutted that I was once again not participating yet excited for my first taste of Total Warrior. Arriving just before 8am we were directed to the car park and then made our way to the volunteer tent. Registration was efficient as we were kitted out, provided with lunch and given our zone. I was to be on zone 5, given the number of water safety/lifeguards on the zone it didn’t take a genius to work out it would be a wet one.


After a quick briefing we were driven to our zone and given our first glimpse of our obstacle. Mud Moguls would be my obstacle for the day. I have to admit I don’t look forward to them when I’m participating. Seven energy sapping mounds of mud with a water dip between. How could they not be fun. They were dry as the first guys leaped and bound over them, almost as if they were mere speed bumps. As the masses began to descend the mounds got wetter and wetter, quickly becoming a series of mud slides, the stuff of dreams (well maybe not). Not one to let the participants have all the fun I was soon making my way around and over the moguls offering assistance and encouragement, ok I admit I may have been in the mud pits on more than one occasion, it would have been rude not to. Every participant was great, shaking hands, hugging and saying thank you as they navigated a deceptively difficult obstacle. As the last runners came through, it was time to say goodbye to the moguls, until next time.


Back at the event village we were given our food and drink tokens and thanked for our efforts. This may have been my first experience volunteering at an OCR event but I cannot fault Total Warrior for how they look after their volunteers. Overall I had a great day, I hope the participants had as much fun as I did. I will undoubtedly be volunteering and participating when Total Warrior returns to Leeds. 

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.

img_1707-1

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.

th4891XMMI

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.

balance

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.

2Relax

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.

running-slow-isnt-a-character-flaw-quitting-is.htm

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!